Paul’s Defense of the Faith
January 21st, 1979 @ 8:15 AM
PAUL’S DEFENSE OF THE FAITH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-21-79 8:15 a.m.
This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Paul’s Defense of the Faith. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we come now to chapter 22, and the first verse begins, “Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my apologia,” apology—in the first sense and use of that word, a defense:
Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defense which I make now unto you.
(And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence: as he said,)
[Acts 22; 1-2]
And then follows his story of conversion [Acts 22:6-16], the second of three times it is recounted here in the Book of Acts.
You remember the message last Sunday, the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Acts. Paul has come to Jerusalem for the fifth and the last time. That is, after his conversion [Acts 9:1-18], he’s come to Jerusalem for the last time [Acts 21:15-17]. He is bearing to the mother church in Jerusalem a gift, the collection from the Gentiles [Acts 20:1-5]. And while he is there and in the temple, there is a riot created against him, raised by Asian Jews who knew his work in Ephesus. And in the turmoil that followed, they were beating him to death, I would suppose, with their fists [Acts 21:27-31].
Now on the north side of the temple area the Romans had raised a tremendous fortress called the Tower of Antonio, and the steps from the tower led down into the temple area. And under the surveillance of those Roman soldiers, seeing the riot below, they poured down out of their fortress and seized Paul and bound him with two chains [Acts 21:32-33]. And when the chiliarch, the soldier leader of a thousand legionnaires, when he asked what the man had done, some cried one thing, some cried another. And in the confusion, the chiliarch said, “We will take him into the tower and scourge him in order that he might tell us the truth of what he had done to create so vicious a response” [Acts 21:34].
Well, taking Paul into the tower, he said to him, “Is it right to bind a man and to scourge a man who is a Roman citizen?” [Acts 22:25]. And the chiliarch, in surprise, said, “I thought you were that Egyptian who had deceived and misled thousands of people” [Acts 21:38].
“No,” said Paul, “I am a Jew, a citizen of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city. And could I speak to the people?” [Acts 21:39].
The chiliarch said, “So you speak Greek?” He was talking to the Roman legionnaire in Greek. “You speak Greek?”
“Yes,” said the apostle, “and could I speak to the people?”
So the chiliarch allows Paul to stand on the steps of the Tower of Antonio and address the maddened, bloodthirsty throng below. But when Paul begins to speak to that great mob of thousands of people standing below him, he speaks to them in the Hebrew language [Acts 21:40]. And as he began his address, they were all the more silent because they heard him speak in the Hebrew tongue [Acts 22:1-2]. And what follows is an astonishing defense of the faith [Acts 22:3-21]. What does he say? What is his speech as he stands there before that maddened throng and defends his life, and his commitment, and his work, all that he’d done? How does he speak? What is his speech?
Well, wouldn’t you think Paul, having been taught in all of that Talmudic lore and rabbinic casuistry, he had sat at the feet of Gamaliel in Jerusalem in that very city [Acts 22:3], would not you have thought that he would have spoken at least somewhat of all of that Judaistic, theological arguments that you find in the endless pages of the Talmud?
He’d been brought up, taught in all of that lore. Wouldn’t you have thought he would have said something of that, being a Jew, having been taught in Jerusalem, and now in that very place, wouldn’t you have thought he would have spoken somewhat at least of all of that argument that you find and discussion that you find in the Talmud? Or again, this man Paul had been taught no less in Greek philosophy, and literature, and reasoning. I would think he was a graduate of the Greek university in Tarsus. He speaks so perfectly at home before the supreme court of the Athenians, quoting their own poets [Acts 17:27]. Wouldn’t you have thought that as he stood there, he would have spoken somewhat at least of Greek reasoning and Hellenistic philosophy, the wisdom of men? Wouldn’t you?
Or once again this man is capable of great poetic fire and ecclesiastical, religious imagination. Witness the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians [1 Corinthians 13:1-13]. Witness the fourth chapter of the Book of Galatians [Galatians 4 ]. Wouldn’t you have thought that as he stood there that he would have fallen at least into somewhat of flights of Demosthenian oratory and peroration. Would you not? What does he do as he stands there on the steps of the Tower of Antonio and he speaks to that bloodthirsty throng below him? He began saying, “Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defense which I make unto you” [Acts 22:1]. Then he starts and he recounts as a child would the story of his conversion [Acts 22:3-16].
No reference to any kind of astute learned erudition. No penetrating analysis whatsoever. No intellectual argument presented; just standing there on the steps of that tower in a most dramatic moment and simply reciting the story of his conversion. “I was on the way from Jerusalem to Damascus, and this happened to me; I met the Lord” [Acts 22:6-10].
I ask you, my brethren, today, is not that the most powerful defense of the faith of which we are capable of presenting to the world? “This is what I know, and this is my experience.” Not an intellectual argument, but what happened to me. This is what I know, what I have experienced. Not an opinion or a speculation. Not a syllogism. Not an argument. Not a theory or a hypothesis. But the best defense of the Christian faith is a man standing up, saying, “This I know!” Not a book. Not a treatise. Not an ecclesiastical argument, but a man, a living man standing up, saying, “This is my experience in the Lord.” That’s the most powerful thing in the world, defending the faith.
There will be a doctor, a medical missionary in Africa, and he will say, “I was on the way from Jerusalem to Damascus, and as I was in medical school and interning in the hospital, I met the Master. I felt His call in my soul, and I turned aside from a lucrative practice in a great clinic in America and gave myself to be a representative of Christ in this darkened and benighted continent.” Man, that’s powerful! Or a businessman such as I heard last Thursday at this Bob George’s Way of Life training to which you’re invited to come.
A businessman, “I was on the way from Jerusalem to Damascus, and I was seizing upon opportunities to make wealth and to be rich. But my life was empty, and barren, and sterile, and I was unhappy, restless. And I found the Lord. I met Jesus.” That’s great. Or again, a professor in the school, “I was an agnostic. I saw no meaning in life”; the goal apparently of all human effort and feeling, just to fall into the grave, food for the worms. I was on my way from Jerusalem to Damascus, and in the meaninglessnesses of my academic life, I found the Lord! And now all of life, it’s every part has wonderful purpose and marvelous meaning.” Or take again an alcoholic, an addict, “I was on the way from Jerusalem down to Damascus, down, and down, and down. And as I was falling in helplessness before my addiction, I found the Lord.”
Tell me, what could a philosopher, or an atheist, or an agnostic say about that kind of a defense? The Christian faith is not an argument. It is not a hypothesis. It is not a theory. It is not a theological discussion. The Christian life and faith is a great experience. “I have found the Lord!”
And what are you going to do with this apostle as he stands there recounting his experience of conversion? [Acts 22:3-16]. To contravene, and to controvert, and to interdict, and to obviate, and to deny what the man is saying, you’d have to controvert, and interdict, and obviate the man himself, his life, and his character, and his work, and his ministry.
I remember so well, naturally, I remember so well taking my Ph.D. oral examination. All those professors in the room around the table, seated me right there in the middle of it, and one of them said to me, “I am sure that in your studying, that you have come across the scoffers, and the critics, and the skeptics who say that Paul in his conversion, and in his trances, and in his visions was guilty of sunstrokes, and seizures, and epileptic fits.”
I said, “Yes, sir. I have read that from the hands, the pens of critics and scoffers several times.”
So the professor said to me, “What do you think about that? What do you think about that?”
I replied. I said, “Sir, I hold here in my hands the Holy Bible, and in that Bible are thirteen books written by the apostle Paul. Read them for yourself. Look at them for yourself. They are inspired letters, literature of the highest order whether you look at it in poetry, whether you look at it in language, whether you look at it in imagination and fancy, whether you look at it in truth, look at those letters.” And I said, “If that is the work of epilepsy, and seizures, and sunstroke, then may God make all of us victims of sunstroke and of seizures!” The defense of the faith, the man himself, his life, his character, his influence, his work; “This I know, this is my experience.”
Could I make an aside here? See, we’re coming to the end of Paul’s life and ministry. All of these last chapters are just like that, rapidly coming to the end of Paul’s long apostolic work.
You know we’d been wondering how that experience that he had as a young man, how it stands up under the wear and the tear of his apostolic life. For years now, he has been through those awesome hardships that he names in the eleventh chapter of the [second] Corinthian letter; shipwrecks, imprisonments, beatings, stonings, scoffings, denials, ridicules [2 Corinthians 11:23-27]. How does he stand up after years and years of that hard life of witnessing, and testimony, and missionary activity? I see it here in the twenty-second chapter of the Book of Acts out of which I’m preaching [Acts 22:3-16], and I’ll meet it again in the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts as he stands before Herod Agrippa II, still true to the faith.
And when I read his last letter before his execution on the [Ostian Road] in the city of Rome, still the same; 2 Timothy 1:12, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.” And then his last word: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” [2 Timothy 4:7].
It lasts. I said last Sunday, “I’ve never seen an old Christian but who was more confirmed in the faith as the years brought age and experience to his life.”
Now, last, I want to bring this down to us, our experience of grace, what we know about the Lord, our testimony of witness, our apologia, our apology, our defense. Very easy is it for us to think, to be persuaded, “You know, I didn’t have an experience like that. I never saw a light. I was not struck down in blindness. I had no such marvelous and dramatic conversion.” And sometimes we are maybe prone to think that because I wasn’t dramatically converted such as Saul of Tarsus, maybe my conversion was not genuine. Maybe it wasn’t real. Maybe it wasn’t authentic. And, of course, being out in the country so many years as I was preaching and pastoring, I met that kind of a reaction many, many, many times. And the people would seek after some monstrous experience like the apostle Paul’s. Or that they might stand up and recount some dramatic experience when they stood up and told God’s work of grace in them.
Well, I want you to remember something. When you look at the conversion of the apostle Paul, you have to remember, this is a man who persecuted this Way unto the death [Acts 22:4]. He says that, “I beat, and flogged, and haled into prison these that called upon the name of Jesus. And when they were put to death, I cast my vote—psēphos, little pebble by which you vote—I cast my vote against them” [Acts 26:10]. He could have been a member of the Sanhedrin. “When they were put to death, I cast my vote against them.” And he engineered the execution of God’s first martyr [Acts 7:58-60]. The life of the apostle Paul, until that journey to Damascus, was one of blood, and of bitterness, and of hatred, and of violence against the people of God [Acts 9:1-2]. Consequently, this man who had blood on his hands and whose fervent life was viciously directed against the people of God, when he turned it was a violent and tremendous turning [Acts 9:3-18].
Now I was converted when I was ten years old. All of my life I was brought up in the love and admonition of the Lord [Ephesians 6:4]. I haven’t killed any witness of Christ. I haven’t murdered any child of the faith. I haven’t persecuted ever the church, the people of God. And for me to reach after and long for a conversion experience like that is unthinkable and unimaginable and does discredit to the goodness and grace of the Lord, as though we are converted and become Christians by some tremendous, dramatic experience through which we have gone, instead of being converted and saved by the love and grace of the Lord Jesus [Ephesians 2:8-9]. That’s the first thing I want you to notice about our experience of grace, our defense of the faith. The second thing I want you to notice is that’s the only such conversion you will find in the Bible. There’s no other like that in the Word of God, just that one [Acts 9:1-18].
You look at how people were converted in the Bible. Look at the sainted apostle John. He was down there listening to John the Baptist. John the Baptist was announcing the presence of the Messiah and the kingdom of heaven [Matthew 3:1-3]. And John, son of Zebedee, listening to John the Baptist, accepted that word of proclamation and was baptized. And as he stood there on the banks of the Jordan River, the Lord Jesus passed by and John the Baptist said, “Behold, the Lamb of God. This is He” [John 1:29-30]. And John and Andrew began to follow the Lord Jesus [John 1:41]. As the Lord Jesus passed by they followed after Him. And the Lord turned and looked at them and said, “Whom do you seek?” What do you want? And those two disciples said, “Lord, where do You live?” And He said, “Come and see” [John 1:35-39]. And that day they spent the day with the Lord Jesus; and that day John accepted Jesus as His Savior [John 1:41]. That is the conversion of John.
The other who was converted that is, accepted the Lord that day, was Andrew. He first finds his brother, Simon Peter—Simon—and he says, “Come and see.” And he brought him to Jesus, and Simon Peter accepted the Lord that day [John 1:40-42].
And as the days followed, Philip accepts the Lord. And Philip finds his friend Nathanael and says, “I have found the Lord” [John 1:43-45].
“Well, where did you find Him?”
“Out of Nazareth.”
“Anything good out of Nazareth?” [John 1:46].
“Come and see.” And Nathanael accepts the Lord as his Savior [John 1:49].
When you go through the Bible, go through the Word of God, in the great Pentecostal chapter, those that heard Simon Peter preach, “What shall we do? How can we become Christians? How can we be saved?” [Acts 2:37].
And Simon Peter, who’d been preaching about the faith in the Lord Jesus [Acts 2:14-37] said, “Turn, repent, every one of you, and be baptized,” e-i-s; eis, “because of the remission of sins in Him” [Acts 2:38]. And they that received his word were baptized, three thousand of them that day [Acts 2:41].
Take again a conversion; the Ethiopian eunuch is reading the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah [Acts 8:28], and the Holy Spirit had sent Philip the evangelist to wait for his passing by [Acts 8:29]. And he hears this eunuch reading out loud—the Bible was made to be read aloud—he hears him reading out loud the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah [Acts 8:30; Isaiah 53:7-8], and he said, “Do you understand what you read?” And the eunuch said, “No. Come up here and sit by me” [Acts 8:30-31].
“‘All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all’ [Isaiah 53:6]. Of whom is the prophet speaking?” says the Ethiopian treasurer [Acts 8:34]. And Philip begins at the same verse and preaches to him Jesus [Acts 8:35]. And as they went on their way, they came to a certain water: and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. I want to be baptized” [Acts 8:36]. And Philip said, “You can if you will believe with all your heart.” And he said, “I do believe” [Acts 8:37]. And they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him [Acts 8:38]; the conversion of that treasurer of Ethiopia [Acts 8-39].
The conversion of the Philippian jailer, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” [Acts 16:30]. And they said, “Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” [Acts 16:31]. And he believed on the Lord with all of his house and that night was baptized [Acts 16:32-33].
My brethren, for us to reach after some monstrous experience alien to the mind of God is an affront to the grace of the Lord Jesus. “This is my testimony. This is my experience. I open my heart to the Lord. I asked Him to come into my life, to be my Savior, and that day, that day I accepted Him. I invited Him into my life, and that day I became a public and stated follower of the Lord Jesus.”
Paul writes to the church at Thessalonica in the first chapter. “You remember how you turned from idols to serve the living God” [1 Thessalonians 1:9]; the experience of grace, turning from the world and facing the will of God for your life, serving the Lord, our experience of grace.
Last, do you not see all of that in the invitations of the Bible? All of them, Psalm 34:8, “O taste and see that the Lord is good”; and my experience, I tasted and I found that the Lord is good. Take again Isaiah 1, “Come now, and let us reason together … though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” [Isaiah 1:18]. And I trusted the Lord Jesus, that He wash my sins away. Isaiah 55, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come to the waters…come, without money and without price [Isaiah 55:1], Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near” [Isaiah 55:6]. And I called, I asked, and He answered; experience of grace. “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden,” Matthew 11:28-29, “Take My yoke upon you”—enroll in My school, sit at My feet, learn of Me—“for My yoke is easy, My burden is light; and you will find rest for your souls” [Matthew 11:28-30], my experience of grace; I enrolled in the school of Jesus, and I have been sitting at His feet.
The last invitation in the Bible:
And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.
I praise God for a marvelous defense and experience such as turned the apostle Paul from his persecuting, bloodthirsty hounding of the church to a preacher of the faith [Acts 9:1-22]. I revel in that, I praise God for it, and any time I hear a man describe how he descended into the depths of degradation—he was a murderer, or he was a dope addict, or he was a member of the underworld, or he was convicted and in prison—and he was wonderfully saved, I praise God! I also praise God for you who never knew what it was to be a member of the underworld, to be addicted to dope or alcohol, to be a murderer, or to be convicted by a jury and sentenced to imprisonment.
Dear me, if that’s what it meant to be a Christian—that first we had to be vile in our lives—I don’t know what to think of the faith, and I wouldn’t know what to think about God. I wouldn’t know what to think about Jesus, and I wouldn’t know what to think about John. And I wouldn’t know what to think about ten thousand others, millions of others, who all the days of their life have loved the Lord Jesus.
Our experience of grace, when we testify to the truth of God, need not at all be dramatic and earth shaking. No. What do you know about the Lord? What is your fellowship and experience with Him?
Well, sir, this is what I have found in my life. When I was a boy ten years of age in a revival meeting, I happened to be seated back of my old mother. And when the preacher gave the invitation, she turned and cried, said to me, “Son, today would you take the Lord Jesus as your Savior?” I said, “Mother, today I take the Lord Jesus as my Savior.”
That is now fifty-nine years ago—fifty-nine years ago—when I said that to my sweet and sainted mother, and every day since it is more precious and more dear as I walk with the Lord and finally as I walk into the eternity beyond and through those gates of pearl and into the presence of the living Lord [Revelation 21:21]. Nothing can change that. No critic, or infidel, or caustic, scoffing philosopher can change that; all the days of the years of my life, been walking in the way of the Lord. That’s the greatest defense of the faith that I could ever know. This is my experience, sweeter, dearer, more precious as the days come and go.
And that’s our appeal to your heart today. A turning, that’s what the Bible calls repentance; a turning, a facing toward the Lord Jesus and a receiving of the Lord into your heart [Ephesians 2:8]; from this day on, count me among the children of God. I look in faith and in hope to Him; when I stand at the great judgment, that He forgive my sin, that He be my great pleader and mediator, my apologist, my lawyer and defense and in the world that is to come, that He make a place for me in heaven [John 14:3]. And I offer to Him the love and the adoration and the service of my life [Luke 9:23].
That’s what it is to be saved. It’s in the grace of God [Ephesians 2:8], the dearest, sweetest experience in the world, and it is ours for the asking [Matthew 7:7]. “The Spirit and the bride say, come” [Revelation 22:17], and let every one that heard this message today say, come. And let every one that finds need in his heart, come. And whosoever will [Revelation 22:17], somebody you, “I’m on the way, preacher. Here I am.” In a moment when we stand to sing, to give your heart to Jesus, to be baptized into the fellowship and communion of God’s children, to be numbered with us in the pilgrimage to heaven, make the decision now in your heart, and when we stand to sing, on that first note, down a stairway, down one of these aisles, “Here I am, pastor. I have decided for God.” May the Lord bless you and angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
PAUL’S DEFENSE OF THE FAITH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. The riot in the temple(Acts 21:27-32)
B. On the steps of the Tower of Antonio, permitted to speak to the throng
C. What speech will Paul make?
1. Theological arguments, rabbinical discourses, Hellenistic reasoning, heavenly eloquence?
2. He tells again the story of his conversionII. Greatest defense of the Christian faith is a man’s experience
A. Fine Christian doctor called to mission in Africa
B. Successful businessman whose life is now full and rich in Jesus
C. Professor in a school finding purpose and meaning in the Savior
D. Addict sinking in despair meets Jesus, and now stands on a rockIII. Philosopher, atheist, materialist cannot answer a defense like this
A. To destroy Paul’s defense, you must destroy Paul’s life
B. My Ph.D. oral examination
C. Notice the time in life he recounts this experience(Acts 26:1-23)
1. How does he fare after years of hurt and trial in his apostleship?
2. He is even more confirmed in the faith(2 Timothy 1:12, 1 Timothy 4:7)IV. Our testimony in defense of the faith
A. Paul’s marvelous conversion(Acts 9:5-6)
1. If ours is not a dramatic, earth-shaking experience, is it real?
B. We are all converted by the grace of Jesus – the experience may take a thousand forms
1. Paul’s experience unique(Acts 2, 8, 13, 16, 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10)