Paul’s Defense of the Faith
January 21st, 1979 @ 10:50 AM
PAUL’S DEFENSE OF THE FAITH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-21-79 10:50 a.m.
It is a gladness, a joy to welcome the uncounted thousands of you who are listening to the service on cable television in several states; all through Texas and listening on the two radio stations that carry this service at this hour. May I remind you that if you do not come to church tonight at seven o’clock, the Cowboys are going to lose that Super Bowl game. So you start listening at three o’clock when it begins, but by seven o’clock, let us be here. And then we will give God cause to make us rejoice. I do not know anything that is dearer or sweeter than to look out at this throng that jams this auditorium today; filled the auditorium at 8:15. And as I stand here, I feel myself the deepening interest and the prayerful listening of our people.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church delivering the message entitled, Paul’s Defense of the Faith. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, last Sunday, we closed with chapter 21 [Acts 21]. And today, we begin with chapter 22 [Acts 22].
The first verse says, Acts 22:1, “Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my apologia”—spell that out, apology—the first and original meaning of it was a defense, an apologia—“a defense which I now make unto you. And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue . . . they kept the more silence, as he saith” [Acts 22:1] Then follows the recounting—three times in the Book of Acts; here the second one—the recounting of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus as he met Jesus on the road to Damascus [Acts 9:1-18, 21:1-16, 26:12-20].
The occasion of his standing there and speaking on the steps of the Tower of Antonio was this: for the fifth time since his conversion Paul has come to Jerusalem, and for the last time; because from here, he is taken to Rome to be tried for his life, in which city he was ultimately beheaded. Coming to Jerusalem, he was in the temple, worshipping the Lord. There were Ephesian Jews there, who had been a part of that riot in Ephesus. And when they saw Paul in the temple at Jerusalem [Acts 21:27], they shouted saying, “This is the man. that teaches all men every where to depart from the customs of Moses and to despise this place” [Acts 21:28].
It created a violent reaction and a mob immediately gathered who seized the apostle, and with their fists they were beating him to death [Acts 21:31]. Now on the north side of the temple area the Romans had built a large fortress called the Tower of Antonio. And the steps of the tower went down into the temple area. And always there in Antonio was a contingent of Roman soldiers watching the scene below, just against such a development as now they looked upon. And when they saw the riot forming in the temple court, the soldiers poured out and down those steps and saved Paul’s life. They bound him with two chains and led him back up into the tower [Acts 21:32-33]. And as he was led back up into the tower to be scourged, by scourging to find the truth of what he had done, the apostle said to the chiliarch, the leader of a thousand Roman soldiers, to him, he said, “May I speak unto thee?”
And the chiliarch replied, “Canst thou speak Greek?” [Acts 21:37].
He had just spoken to him in Greek. “Can you speak Greek? I thought you were that Egyptian, a member of the Sicarii,” assassins who had heretofore led a disturbance in the city. And Paul replied, “I am a Jew of Tarsus, a citizen of no mean city: and I beseech thee, suffer that I speak unto the people” [Acts 21:37-39].
So the chiliarch gave Paul leave to stand on the steps of the tower of the fortress and to speak to that blood thirsty and maddened throng below him. And as he began to speak—not speaking Latin, not speaking Greek, but speaking Hebrew—those people in the temple the more earnestly listened to what he had to say. They were the greater in silence as he began to talk [Acts 21:40]. So this chapter, “Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defense which I make unto you” [Acts 22:1].
What would he say as he stands there in that dramatic hour with all of that maddened throng below him? What will he say? What speech will Paul make now? Wouldn’t you think that this man who is learned and taught and conversant with all the lore of the Talmud and has been trained in rabbinical casuistry, wouldn’t you think that this man who had sat at the feet of Gamaliel [Acts 22:3], one of the seven great rabbans of all time; wouldn’t you have thought that he would have spoken of those rabbinical discussions and arguments that he had been taught in that very city? Wouldn’t you have thought that at least he would have referred to somewhat or something of rabbinical argument, making his defense?
Or again, as he stands there, would you not have thought that he would have used something of the Hellenistic philosophical training that he had gained in the university at Tarsus in Cilicia? This is a gifted man. All of his letters are written in magnificent Greek, and his thinking and his reasoning is superlative. He stands in the presence of the supreme court of the Athenians; quotes to them their own Greek poets. Wouldn’t you think that a man as brilliantly trained in Greek philosophy and literature as this man Saul of Tarsus, that he would have made some kind of a reference to philosophical reasoning? But there is no hint of human wisdom or speculation in what he is about to say.
Or wouldn’t you think that as he stands there in that dramatic moment and speaks his defense to that bloodthirsty throng, that he would have found himself in inevitably winging upward in flights of oratory, in Demosthenean peroration? Paul had the gift of poetic fire; read the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians [1 Corinthians 13:1-13]. He had the gift of religious imagination; read the fourth chapter of the Book of Galatians [Galatians 4:1-31]. And yet as he stands there, there is nothing in his defense of rabbinical discussion, casuistry, hair-splitting argument. Nor is there any reference to all of the things to which he had been introduced in Greek philosophy and literature. Nor is there any gesture toward peroration. He stands there and recites, as a child would, what had happened to him when he was converted. There is no intellectual argument. There is no penetrating analysis. There is no show of erudition. He just recounts his experience of grace, what happened to him when he journeyed from Jerusalem to Damascus [Acts 22:6-11]. And after all, isn’t that the greatest defense of the Christian faith? A man’s experience, a defense, not in argument, but in life; not a defense in the presentation of speculation, or forensics, or syllogisms, or hypotheses, or theories, or philosophical meanderings and wanderings; but a man standing up saying, “This I know.” Not a book, but a man with incarnate experience; the defense of the faith.
As a fine Christian doctor in the heart of Africa, and he says, “I was going from Jerusalem to Damascus in the medical school fulfilling my internship in the hospital. And as I made my journey I met the Lord Jesus, and He called me to this mission in Africa to which now I devote my life.” Or a businessman, such as I heard last Thursday here at Bob George Way of Life business luncheon, stand up and say, “I was going from Jerusalem to Damascus. And my goals were monetary. I was seeking to be rich, and I was working toward material and earthly ends. But my heart was restless and my life was empty. As I went on my journey I met Jesus, and now my life is full and rich and blessed in the presence of my Lord.” Or a professor in a school, and he says, “I was on my way from Jerusalem to Damascus. And I was seeking, in science and in chemistry and in biology and in astronomy, the answer to the meaning of life; and I despaired. It seemed that life was nothing other than a lesson in futility, in sterility, in barrenness, and the end of it was to fall into the grave and to be food for worms. On that journey I met Jesus as my Savior, and now I have found life full of meaning and purpose and glory.” Or as an addict, as an alcoholic, “I was on a journey from Jerusalem down to Damascus. Down and down and down and down, and as I sank in the miry pit, in despair of my very life, I met Jesus in the way. He lifted me up, set my feet on a rock. And now I glorify His name every day.”
Tell me, what could a philosopher, or what could an agnostic, or what could an infidel, or what could a scoffer answer a defense like that? “I was on a journey from Jerusalem to Damascus, and on the way I met the Lord. And now I live a new life. I have turned in another direction. And I have found peace and meaning and purpose and glory every step of the way.” You see, to destroy Paul’s defense, you must destroy Paul’s life. Destroy his character, destroy his experience, destroy his work. It is unanswerable, what God is able to do with a man’s life; marvelous, the change, the conversion, the experience of grace.
When I was seated in that council room with my professors in the oral examination for my Doctor of Philosophy degree, all of those professors seated round the table and I in the midst, an intimidating situation just to think of it, much less be in it. And as I sat there, going through that oral examination, one of the professors said to me, “I am sure that, in your reading and in your studying, you have come across the avowal of the skeptic and the critic that the conversion of Saul, Paul, was a sunstroke under the hot, meridian, Syrian noonday sun. His conversion was a sunstroke.” And he said, “Further, I am sure you have read in your studying that the scoffer and the critic says of the trances and of the visions and of the conversion of the apostle Paul, that he was an epileptic and that these things were seizures in his life.”
I answered, “Yes, sir. That is correct. In my studying I have come across that several times. The skeptic and the infidel and the critic and the unbeliever say that the conversion of Paul from Jerusalem to Damascus was a sunstroke. And I have read that these trances and visions and revelations that he had were seizures, they were epileptic fits; yes, I have read that.”
So the professor said to me, “What do you think about that?”
I said, “Sir, a very plain and patent and apparent thing. I have here in this Holy Bible thirteen letters from that man, Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul the apostle [Acts 13:9]. I have here in this Holy Bible thirteen letters written by that man. They are unlike any other literature in the world. They are beautiful in language, poetic in flights of imagination, precious and beautiful as they exalt the soul, as they glorify God.” And I said to the professor, “Sir, if the result of a sunstroke, and if the result of seizures could ensue in something like that, then may God grant all of us sunstrokes and seizures.”
The experience of a man’s life is unanswerable. And that was the defense of the apostle Paul. As he stood there in that dramatic hour, on the steps of Antonio, he just recounted what God had done for him [Acts 22:1-21]. “This I know. This is my experience. I met the Lord, and I have walked with Him in these days and years since, and He has been my friend.”
Could I make an aside here? When we come to the twenty-second chapter of the Book of Acts, and when we are listening to Paul as he recounts the story of his conversion [Acts 22:6-16], you are listening to a man who has come to the end of his life. All of these chapters now, are just—are just hurriedly, rapidly passing stories that lead up to his martyrdom. And we have been wondering, since we read of his conversion back yonder in the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts [Acts 9:1-18], since we have been following all of the story of the hardships and persecutions of his life, we have been wondering, how does he bear up under the heavy assignment of his apostolic labors? How is it? So the years pass and they have brought to him stonings, and beatings, and imprisonments, and denials, and scoffings, and scornings, and repudiations [2 Corinthians 11:23-27]. How does he fare after these years of the awesomeness of the hurt and trial he endured in the days of his apostleship? How is it? My brother, at the end of the way he is even more confirmed in the faith than he was when he first met Jesus on the Damascus road. And when finally, we read of his ultimate letter, 2 Timothy, he says, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day” [2 Timothy 1:12]. “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” [2Timothy 4:7].
I have never known an exception to that in the life of an old Christian, of an old disciple. As the years multiply, the Lord becomes nearer and sweeter and dearer. I’ve found it so. I have never known an old disciple who hasn’t found it like that. Sweeter as the years go by, more precious, more firmly and fully convinced that the decision we made for Christ in the years gone by was the most rightful and correct and reasonable decision ever made in my life.
Now one other thing: so Paul recounts his conversion here—a marvelous intervention from heaven. He sees the Lord Jesus above the brightness of the midday sun, and blinded by the glory of that light, he falls to the earth [Acts 9:3-4]. “Lord, Lord, who art Thou?” “I am Jesus.” “What wouldst Thou have me to do?” [Acts 9:5, 6]. And the Lord raises him up and sends him out to be His ambassador and missionary, His apostolic witness to the Gentiles, to the nations of the earth [Acts 9:15]. In defense of the faith, recounting our experience of grace; what if I have no experience like that? I have never seen a vision of Christ. I have never been blinded by the glory of that light. I in nowise have a dramatic experience to relate.
Mine is humble and brief. I was a boy ten years old, and I was converted as a boy ten years of age. Is my experience any less dynamic or authentic or real or genuine than that of the apostle Paul because I never had an experience like that, I can’t relate an amazing turning in my life like that? Oh, no, a thousand times no. Converted not by a light from heaven; converted not by being blinded; all of us, including Paul, converted by the grace of the Lord Jesus [Ephesians 2:8]. It is His love and mercy [John 3:16; Titus 3:5]]. It is His atoning sacrifice [1 John 2:2]. It is God’s gracious reaching down for us that saves us [Romans 5:8-10], and the experience may take a thousand forms.
The reason this experience took that form is because of what Saul of Tarsus had done. He had persecuted those Christian people unto the death [Acts 22:4], and when they were put to death, he cast his vote against them, he says [Acts 22:20, 26:10]. Evidently, he was a member of the Sanhedrin. He violently stormed against the church [Acts 8:3], the Bible says. And he executed the death of God’s first martyr, Stephen [Acts 7:59]. And when they stoned Stephen, they laid their garments at the feet of him who presided over that execution [Acts 7:58]. That’s Paul’s conversion. Out of a life of vicious and violent opposition, he turned and followed the Lord [Acts 9:1-22]. But that’s Paul’s experience.
If you were to ask John, the sainted apostle John, “John, how did you find the Lord?” He would say, “I was on the banks of the Jordan River and John the Baptist pointed Him out, and I followed Him [John 1:35-39], and I have been following Him.” John lived to be a hundred years of age. “And I have been following Him through all of the multiplied years.” That is what John would say.
Simon Peter, how were you saved? Simon would say, “My brother Andrew was on the banks of the Jordan River, and when the great Baptist preacher pointed Him out, Andrew followed Him. And the first thing he did, he came and said, ‘My brother, Simon, I have found the Lord.’ And he brought me to Jesus” [John 1:36, 40-42].
The Ethiopian eunuch: “I was reading. I was reading the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah and Philip the evangelist, God sent him to me and showed me that this Suffering Servant who dies for the sins of the people [1 Corinthians 15:3] is named Jesus. And I accepted Him as my Savior” [Acts 8:30-37].
Our experiences differ so much. But it is the Lord who saves us [Acts 4:12, 16:30-31; Romans 10:13]. Not an angel. Not a light. Not a blindness by which we are cast to the ground. Our experiences; maybe as a boy ten years old, I met the Lord. Maybe as a sweet, precious darling girl, “I was a girl nine years of age, and I met the Lord.” Maybe as a member of the family, “My dear father or my sainted mother or my Sunday school teacher brought me to the faith.” Or maybe a business partner, “He was a Christian and I was not, and he led me to the Lord Jesus. And since that day, He has been my friend and my companion. He has been to me wisdom and help and comfort and strength. In a day of deepest crisis, when my soul is crushed to the earth, I have found help and strength in Him. In a day of not knowing; Lord, what shall I do? I lay it before Him, and He gives me wisdom and guidance in the way. Someday, in the hour of death, He will stand by my side. He will send His angels to carry my soul to heaven [Luke 16:22]. And some glorious and final day, I shall stand in His presence, look upon His face, and live” [Revelation 22:3-5]. That is the most powerful testimony in the world. That is the defense of the faith. “This I know. I have found the Lord, and He lives in my heart [John 14:23]. He walks and He talks with me. He blesses me and my family. And I have offered unto Him the lives and the tomorrows of my children. Oh, could anything be more dear or more precious than thus to know the Lord? This is my experience.”
Wherever you are, listening on television, listening on radio, if you have never made a commitment of your life to Jesus, today, this hour, wherever you are, would you bow your head and say, “Lord Jesus, I come to Thee as a little child, and I ask Thee to forgive my sins [1 John 1:9], to write my name in the Book of Life [Luke 10:20, Revelation 20:12,15; 21:27], to save me and keep me now, and in the hour of my death, and into the world that is yet to come.” Would you do it? It would be the greatest decision you ever made in your life [Romans 10:8-13]. Are you listening on radio? Wherever you are. Are you driving a car? Are you in a bedroom? Maybe in a bar? And as you listen, has the Holy Spirit said, “This is the way, walk in it” [Isaiah 30:21]. Would you turn and say, “Today, by the grace of God, I am going to walk with the Lord” [Ephesians 2:8]. And to the great throng of people in God’s sanctuary this holy and heavenly hour, thus to give your heart in faith to the blessed Jesus, “Today, I take Him as my Savior. F-A-I-T-H—Forsaking All I Take Him. I turn me today to God. And pastor, here I am. Here I stand.” A couple of you—the two of you come. A father, “Pastor, this is my wife, these are our children; we are all coming today.” As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, answer with your life. Make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand to sing, stand up, walking down that stairway, walking down this aisle. It will be the greatest step you ever made in your life. “Pastor, I have decided for God, and here I am [Romans 10:8-13]. Here I come.” May the Lord make you happy in that commitment. May angels attend you in the way. May every heavenly blessing only God could afford be yours as you answer with your life [Romans 10:8-13]. Do it now. Make it now. Come. God bless you, as you stand by the side of the pastor. “Here, preacher, here I am,” while we stand and while we sing.