The Beginning of the End
January 14th, 1979 @ 7:30 PM
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-14-79 7:30 p.m.
It is a gladness for us that we share this hour with the unknown and unseen and uncounted thousands and thousands who on the radio of the great Southwest voice of KRLD, listen to this hour; and on KCBI, the stereo Sonshine Station of our Bible Institute. You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. You have just heard our glorious choir and their orchestra in their song of praise to the blessed Jesus. And now you listen to the pastor of the church as he delivers the message from the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Acts. This morning we completed the last message in chapter 20, and now tonight, we begin with chapter 21 [Acts 21:1]. And the title of the message is The Beginning of the End.
In this chapter Paul is arrested [Acts 21:33], and the rest of the story in the Book of Acts, he is a prisoner of the Roman government. Now, the message will be on the entire chapter, all forty verses. But we are going to read just a part—beginning at verse 10 through verse 15. Acts 21, verses 10 through 15, and with us, you who listen on radio, open your Bible if you have opportunity and read out loud with us this passage in the twenty-first chapter of Acts, verses 10 through 15. Now together:
And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judea a certain prophet, named Agabus.
And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.
And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem.
Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.
And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done.
And after those days we took up our carriages, and went up to Jerusalem.
And this is the last and final time that he ever visits the Holy City.
Five times in this record of the life of Paul in the Book of Acts, does he go up to Jerusalem. When he was converted on the Damascus road [Acts 9:1-18], he turned his face toward Jerusalem [Acts 9:26], and there he created such violent opposition that the brethren sent him away to Tarsus, where he came from in Cilicia [Acts 9:26-30]. Then, after this man Agabus had predicted a worldwide famine at the conclusion of the eleventh chapter of the Book of Acts [Acts 11:28], Paul—Saul—and Barnabas take the offering they have made to the poor starving saints in the mother church at Jerusalem [Acts 11:29]. That is the second time that he visited the Holy City. The third time was at the conclusion of his first missionary journey; and upon this occasion he takes Titus with him, a Gentile convert. And there they enter into that first Jerusalem Conference described in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts [Acts 15:1-29] and the second chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians [Galatians 2:1]. Then the fourth time he goes to Jerusalem is at the end of his second missionary journey [Acts 18:22]. And now, at the end of his third missionary journey and for the last time, he comes to the Holy City, this last time, bringing the offering that the Gentiles had gathered up for the poor saints in Jerusalem [Acts 20:16, 22].
Now, it went like this as we follow the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts: he is at Miletus [Acts 20:15], at the conclusion of his third and last missionary journey [Acts 20:16]. And there in Miletus, on the seashore, he addresses the pastors, the elders from Ephesus [Acts 20:18-35]. So after having knelt with them in prayer, which was the message this morning, they accompany him unto the ship [Acts 20:36-38, 21:5-6]. And they sailed from Miletus to Cos [Acts 21:1], which is forty miles apart. Now Cos is a Greek island there in the [Aegean] sea. It was the home of Hippocrates, the father of medicine. There was a tremendous temple there erected to the Greek god of healing—Asclepius. And in the temple was also a school of medicine. They come to Cos—forty miles, and then the next day they sail to Rhodes which is fifty miles from Cos [Acts 21:1]. Now Rhodes, as you remember, was famous in the ancient world because it possessed one of the Seven Wonders of the World—that tremendous Colossus, standing at the entrance of the harbor of Rhodes.
You know, that’s a strange thing, that statue—it was about one hundred fifteen feet high; just a little lower, maybe fifty feet lower in height than the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. On a little island of rock, at the entrance to the harbor of Rhodes stood this tremendous Colossus; he stood there holding a torch in his hand. And the remarkable thing about it to me is that it stood there just fifty-six years, then it was hurled down— cast down into the sea after fifty-six years by an earthquake. And it lay there in the sea for nine hundred years. When Paul visited Rhodes, he could look down in the clear water and see that gigantic Colossus lying there in the water. It stayed there until about the seventh century AD, when the Saracens sold it, and it was cut up and wagged off in night by nine hundred camel loads of bronze and was used for warfare, melted and used for warfare. That is just an unusual thing, this great Colossus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World; how they were able to cast it and to erect it there in that ancient day was a miracle itself. It stood there about half a century, and then nine hundred years lay there in the water.
So from Rhodes, they came to Patara, which is a little harbor on the mainland. And then, finding a ship at Patara, they sailed to Phoenicia and came to Tyre [Acts 21:1-3]; the ancient city of Tyre, which by this time had altogether lost its glory. That was a distance of three hundred forty miles. Then after spending a week there in Tyre [Acts 21:4], they took ship to Ptolemais [Acts 21:7]—we call it Acre today—which is a distance of thirty miles. And then the next day, spending one day there, he entered a ship and came thirty-six miles down the coast of Palestine to Caesarea [Acts 21:8]. And then after tarrying many days in Caesarea, he takes carriage up to Jerusalem [Acts 21:15]. And in Jerusalem, he comes with a gift of the Gentiles for the poor saints in Jerusalem. And the day following his arrival in Jerusalem [Romans 15:25-26], he appears unto James [Acts 21:18].
James is the Lord’s half-brother. James is the pastor of the church at Jerusalem. The Lord personally appeared unto James [1 Corinthians 15:7] when His brethren did not believe on Him [John 7:5]. When on the cross, the Lord commended His mother, not to His brethren, but commended His mother to John [John 19:25-27], for His brethren did not believe on Him [John 7:5]. After the resurrection, the Lord Jesus personally appeared to this brother, James [1 Corinthians 15:7]. And he is the great, towering, religious Christian figure of the first century. You think of Paul, you think of John, or you think of Peter, by no means! The all-inclusive, tremendous character, leader of the Christian faith in the first century was James, the pastor of the church at Jerusalem.
When the conversion of the apostle Paul is personally recorded by him in the Book of Galatians, he says that he went up to Jerusalem and there visited James [Galatians 1:19], the pastor of the church. None other of the apostles did he see, he says, except Simon Peter [Galatians 1:18]. But he went up and visited James. When the tremendous conference in the fifteenth chapter of Acts is held in Jerusalem, it is James the Lord’s brother who presides over that conference, and who gives the final verdict as a judge [Acts 15:13-21]. Paul, Peter, John—all of the leaders of the Christian faith pay great deference to this man James. He is the leader of the Christian world and the pastor of the church at Jerusalem [Acts 12:17, 15:13].
So when Paul comes up, he presents himself to James, and all of the elders are present with him [Acts 21:18]. Then, as Paul appears unto James, the direction is given to him how he might circumvent and obviate to the Jews awful things that were said about Paul—that he was teaching the people of the Jewish faith not to observe the laws of Moses and not to circumcise their children; but to forsake all of the things that were taught the Jewish people in the books of Moses [Acts 21:18-21]. Then follows the story that we shall pick up in just a moment that led to the arrest of the apostle Paul.
Now, I want to speak just for a moment, leading up to this final arrest of the great apostle, I want to speak of the people that he met in the way, as he came down from up there at Miletus, down to Caesarea and then again up to the city of Jerusalem [Acts 20:17-21:15]. As he comes down, you will notice that he finds disciples in Tyre, and he spends seven days with them [Acts 21:4]. And when they leave, it says, that they took him to the ship, with their wives and their children, and they knelt down on the shore, and prayed [Acts 21:5]; which shows you that from the beginning, the Christian faith was a religion of the home [Acts 21:4-5]. It was a religion of the family. It was a woman’s religion. It was a children’s religion. In a Greek world, in a Roman world, that was an unheard of thing for a woman was barely above the statue of an animal, and a child was to be exposed if the father didn’t want it.
That was universal in the Greco-Roman world—the exposing of children, and the father could make the verdict. If he didn’t want the child, they took the little baby and set it out where a carnivorous animal would eat it; or worse still, where some unscrupulous someone would pick it up, and break all of its bones, and feed it and nourish it up, and then it set it on the side of a street to beg alms—a cruel and unthinkable thing. But that was universal in the Roman world in which Paul is preaching the gospel.
But these women in the New Testament, they are loved and honored. And today, we name our children after those women of the New Testament—a Mary, or an Elizabeth, or a Martha, or a Phoebe, or a Dorcas, or a Priscilla. They are all through the Word of God. And you find it here in this congregation at Tyre. They are there, and specifically stated with their wives and with their children, they kneel down on the shore and they pray [Acts 21:5]. Then in Ptolemais, there is a church there, also. And they salute the brethren and abide with them for a day, and finally come to Caesarea where they spend, Dr. Luke says, many days [Acts 21:7-10].
Now we have met this man in Caesarea. He is making his home there. It is Philip the deacon and the evangelist [Acts 21:8]. We met him in the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts when he was holding that tremendous revival in Samaria [Acts 8:5-25]. And in the midst of the great revival in Samaria, the angel of the Lord says to him to go down into the desert [Acts 8:26]. God has a purpose for all of us, and when we listen to the Word of the Lord, there is always some holy purpose to be achieved in what God says, though we may not understand it. And I can well enter into the feeling of this man, Philip, when the Spirit of God said to him to leave that great revival, “Leave it!” People were being—the whole city turned to the Lord, “Leave it, and go down into the desert.” And he stands there by the side of the highway in the desert, having been taken out by the Spirit of God in that tremendous revival in Samaria. And then God sends by this treasurer of the nation of Ethiopia, and you have the wonderful story of the conversion of that Ethiopian treasurer and his baptism when they came to a body of water [Acts 8:27-39].
This is that Philip; and he is now living in Caesarea [Acts 21:8]. And it says something unusual about him; it says he had four daughters who were prophetesses [Acts 21:9]. They spoke the Word of God in grace and in power. Here again is the exaltation of the woman in the church. You know, I am asked world without end, “What does that mean in the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Corinthians, ‘a woman is not to speak in the church [1 Corinthians 14:34]; she is to be silent’”; or, “It is a shame for a woman to speak in the church” [1 Corinthians 14:35].
Well, if you would study the Word of God, all of those things fall into beautiful order. In the eleventh chapter of the first Corinthian letter, Paul describes how a woman is to dress when she prays and when she prophesies, prophēmi—speaks out for the Lord in church—how she is to dress. Wouldn’t that be an unusual thing if in the eleventh chapter of the first Corinthians letter, Paul describes how a woman is to dress when she prays and speaks for the Lord in the church [1 Corinthians 11:5-6], and then, in the fourteenth chapter, he says, “It is a shame for her to speak in the church”? [1 Corinthians 14:35]. Wouldn’t that be the program of an idiot to say something like that? To deny what he has just written in the eleventh chapter? Paul is no idiot, he is one of the great thinkers of all time.
What you find is this: the fourteenth chapter of the Book of 1 Corinthians, he’s talking about speaking in so-called “unknown tongues,” and he says a woman is not to do it! [1 Corinthians 14:34-35]. And then I have a little parenthesis here—you cut it out, for the women, and you will never hear it again; it will die of itself. It will never be heard from, never in the world. “A woman is not to do it,” Paul says, and that’s what he is talking about in the fourteenth chapter. But in the eleventh chapter he is talking about how a woman is to dress when she prays, and when she speaks out for the Lord [1 Corinthians 11:5-6]. So you find here that marvelous assignment of a Priscilla and of a Dorcas here in the church [Acts 9:36, 18:1-2]. This man Philip the evangelist has four daughters, and they are prophetesses; that is, they speak for the Lord [Acts 21:8-9].
Now while they are tarrying in Caesarea, there comes down from Jerusalem a prophet named Agabus [Acts 21:10]. We have met him before. In the eleventh chapter of the Book of Acts, it is Agabus who stands up before the church and signifies that there is to be a worldwide drought, and that drought came to pass in the reign of Claudius—Claudius Caesar. He says there is going to be a great drought [Acts 11:28].
Now there are two ways to use that word “prophet” [Acts 21:10]; the “office of a prophet,” and this man has it; and then the “work of a prophet,” they are two different things. The office of a prophet is like the office of an apostle. You didn’t have the New Testament in that day, and the church had to be guided in ten thousand doctrinal questions. So in the early church you had an apostle, the “office of an apostle,” and you had the “office of a prophet” [1 Corinthians 12:28], and the office of a prophet was to tell the church what to do. Now that by inspiration we have the New Testament [2 Timothy 3:16], you don’t have the office of apostle any longer, and you don’t have the office of a prophet any longer; we have the New Testament, and it’s sufficient for faith and practice [1 Corinthians 13:10]. But in that day there was the “office of a prophet,” who told the people what to do.
Now this man is a prophet by calling [Acts 21:10]. He occupies the office of a prophet, and he stands up before the church in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Acts and speaks of that great drouth [Acts 11:27-28]. And it is then—you remember?—that Paul and Barnabas gather an offering and take it to the starving church in Jerusalem [Acts 11:29-30]. That is this Agabus [Acts 21:10]. He comes down to Caesarea and to the home of Philip, where Paul is staying, and he takes his girdle. He takes the belt around his waist, and he binds his hands and his feet, and he says, “Thus saith the Holy Spirit”—thus will it happen to this man—that when he comes to Jerusalem, “he shall be delivered into the hands of the Gentiles” [Acts 21:11]. Now, we had been presented with that before. For up here in Tyre, where he stayed seven days, the Spirit said to Paul that if he goes to Jerusalem he does so at the peril of his life [Acts 21:4]. So the brethren there pled with Paul not to go [Acts 21:12]. Now, the same thing happens here in the city of Caesarea. When this man Agabus binds his hands and his feet and says:
Thus shall this man be bound and handed over to the Gentiles. When the company in Caesarea heard that, they pled with Paul, Do not go up to Jerusalem.
But Paul said, What do you mean to weep and to break my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but to die for the Lord Jesus.
And when he would not be persuaded, they ceased saying, The will of the Lord be done.
And they took carriages and went up to Jerusalem
Ah! That is the stuff that those first Christians were made of—fearless; unafraid! I think of Leonidas and the Spartans: it was against the law of the Spartans for a Spartan to flee from before an enemy. He was to stand there and fight until he died. That was the story of Leonidas and the three hundred Spartans who were defending the pass at Thermopylae. They stood there until they died—to the last man. This man is like that. Every Christian ought to be like that—fearless; cannot be cowered, cowed, or intimidated. “What mean ye to weep and break my heart? I am ready not only to be bound but to die” [Acts 21:13]. And up to Jerusalem he goes.
So when they come to Jerusalem, they are brought to a man’s home by the name of Mnason, and he’s an old disciple. And they were to stay with him. I wonder what that means by “he is an old disciple?” [Acts 21:16]. You know what I think that means? I think this man Mnason—I think he was a man who knew Jesus in the flesh, and had been a Christian even from the days when he first followed the blessed Lord. And you know what I have found? You never see older people departing from the faith. I’ve never seen it. You never do. Some of these who just come into the faith, they deny the Lord and forsake Him. But you never see older people do that. As we grow older, the Lord becomes nearer, and dearer, and sweeter, and more precious, and He becomes our hope and our stay. Older people—always moving into the nearness and dearness of the Lord, and this old disciple, he is called, is just like that.
So when they come and appear before James, James is glad to receive them [Acts 21:18]. And he says, “My brother, all of the whole Jewish world has heard about you. And you see, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are who believe? They are Christians; and they are all zealous for the law” [Acts 21:20]. Is that possible? It is. Why, all of these that first named the name of Christ were Jews, and they were zealous Jews, they kept the law. This man James—the pastor of the church at Jerusalem—is a Nazarite. His hair is uncut, and he abstains from any strong drink. He is wholly given to the observance of the law.
So when Paul comes and appears before James, he says to him:
You see how many thousands there are, Jews who are zealous for the law and belong to the church at Jerusalem.
And they have been told that you teach people not to obey the law of Moses, not to circumcise their children, [neither] to walk after the customs.
What therefore? This do. We have four men here in the church, who have taken a temporary Nazarite vow . . .
That is, they were not life-long Nazarites, but for a period of thirty days they have taken a vow, a Nazarite vow. And at the end of that thirty days, when they are purified and relieved of the vow they’ve taken, the sign of it is the shaving of their head and the burning of their hair and the offering made according to the law in the temple.
Now Paul had taken a vow in Cenchrea and had shaved his head in Cenchrea [Acts 18:18], and he had carried the hair to the temple at Jerusalem to be burned according to the law. So, the pastor of the church, James, says, “We have four men in our congregation who have been under a Nazarite vow, and [they are] poor.” One of the habits that they followed in the temple service was, a man who was more affluent and was able would take the poor and pious Nazarite in his vow and pay for the offering. They were too poor to buy it and to offer it to the Lord. So, James the pastor of the church says, “You take these four men and identify yourself with them. Then, when they shave their heads, why, when they burn their hair from their heads and offer that sacrifice, you burn the hair that you have shaved from your head, and then pay for all five of the sacrifices. Then the people will know that you are true to the Jewish faith” [Acts 21:23-24].
Now, when you look at that in the apostle Paul, I want you to read what Paul says:
Though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.
Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law; that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without the law, as without the law…that I might gain them that are without the law.
To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.
[1 Corinthians 9:19-23]
So the apostle Paul, being a Jew anyway, is happy to identify himself with these four Nazarites. And he goes into the temple, and before the vow is completed, word is given to the priest of the seven final days of the thirty. So Paul goes into the temple for those seven final days. Now, when those seven final days were almost ended, he [was] with those four Nazarites in the temple, shaving their heads and now ready to burn the hair and to offer the sacrifices unto the Lord [Acts 21:26].
James says, “As touching the Gentiles, we have already written unto them that they are not under the Mosaic legislation, but we are; we choose to be” [Acts 21:25-26]. The first church was a Jewish church. And you can never disassociate the Christian faith from its Judaistic background. The basis of the religion that we profess and believe in is found in the Old Covenant, in the old Bible.
Moses and the Law and the Prophets are ours also. The only difference is they observe those things as they have been brought up in the Jewish faith. But we who are Gentiles are not in anywise observing the Law.
For example, if there was a Jewish family that became Christian and belonged to our congregation, and circumcised their children—perfectly fine, perfectly fine. If there is a Jewish family in our congregation and they don’t eat pork—perfectly fine, perfectly fine. The Gentiles are never under any such law, never at all. If you like to eat pork, fine. You go to heaven just the same. Maybe a little sooner than otherwise, but you get there just the same. But Paul was a Jew. And so he is in the temple as a Jew, being a Jew, to win the Jews [Acts 21:26].
Now, while he was in the temple, there were Jews—this is a Pentecostal feast—there were Jews there from Asia, and brother did they remember Paul! All of those things in the nineteenth and the twentieth chapters of the Book of Acts, telling about that tremendous revival and riot in Ephesus.
There were Jews there from Asia, and when they saw him in the temple, they stirred up the people and laid hands upon him, crying, Men of Israel… this is the man that teacheth all men everywhere against the people and the law and this temple. And further than that, he has brought Greeks into the temple and polluted this holy place — for, Dr. Luke writes—
they had seen Paul on the streets of the city of Jerusalem with Trophimus who was from Ephesus. And they just supposed that Paul had brought Trophimus, and brought him into the temple.
Now I want you to look at how people are: did you see here? They saw him with Trophimus, one Ephesian, but when they shout, they have it plural, “He has brought Greeks,” plural. They never saw him but with one, Trophimus. But they say “he has brought Greeks into the temple,” plural [Acts 21:28]. And do you see that? They saw him on the street—Trophimus and Paul—on the street [Acts 21:29]. But when they shouted, they say, “He has brought Trophimus into the temple and has polluted the holy sanctuary of God!” [Acts 21:29]. Of course it was against the law— the penalty of death. And we have in the great museum in Istanbul the very incised foundation slab on the wall that prohibits a Gentile from entering in the temple at the pain of death. So they cry aloud, and the whole city was moved, and the people ran together and they took Paul and drew him out. And the doors were shut, and they started to beat him to death, beat him with their fists [Acts 21:30-31].
I want to make a comment here that I learned in bitter experience. These Asian Jews who turned that thing into that bloody riot, hating Paul: if people hate you, there is no amount of holy living by which you can countermand and counteract that censure and that bitterness against you. Now I say, I have learned that by bitter experience. When I was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention, we have in our Southern Baptist Convention a spectrum of all kinds of theological persuasions, all the way from deep fundamentalists such as I am, all the way up to these liberals that you will find mostly in the academic world. So as I started out—being president of the whole thirteen million Southern Baptists, with its thirty-six thousand churches and all of its institutions—as I started out, I did everything that I knew how to keep the thing going together beautifully; just prayed God to give me wisdom to do it.
So one of the astute denominational leaders of the convention came up to me, and he said, he said, “Criswell, I want to tell you something and the sooner you realize it the better. No matter what you do, these liberals are going to hate you. And you will never be able to placate them or to please them. You are never going to be acceptable to a liberal. Now the best thing for you to do,” he said, “is to be yourself. You are a fundamentalist! You are a Bible-believing, pulpit-pounding preacher! And you believe in the infallible and inerrant and inspired Word of God! Now you just be that! And if they don’t like you, they don’t like you. But they’re not going to like you anyway. So you just be yourself, and when you preside and when you speak and when you get up to lead, or to say, or to direct, you just be true to those deepest convictions of your heart and be yourself, and let these liberals find their own level.”
Man, I never forget the speaking of that denominational leader to me! And I stood up, and I pulled back my shoulders, and I looked the whole world squarely in the face, and I said, “I am in truth an uncompromising believer in the infallible and inerrant Word of God, and I preach it as such, literally!” And then I sat me down, and I wrote that book, Why I Preach that the Bible is Literally True! That’s where that came from.
Paul had not brought any Gentile into that temple. Paul had not been with Trophimus in that temple [Acts 21:29]. But these who hated him said that he did, and these implacable enemies are never satisfied. And the more you try to appease, the more savage they become in their demands. So, Paul is seized upon and the whole city is in an uproar, and they are beating Paul to death [Acts 21:30-31].
Now right up there on the north side of the temple, the Romans had built a great, tall tower called the Tower of Antonio. Because the people were so volatile, they needed a contingency of Roman soldiers there to keep the peace, and especially in days of feasts, and this is the Pentecostal Feast.
So, when the soldiers up there in the Tower of Antonio saw the tumult and the riot below, why, the chiliarch, the chief captain—a Roman legion was six thousand men, and one-sixth of a Roman legion was presided over by a chiliarch; that is, the leader of a thousand—the chiliarch, translated here “chief captain” [Acts 21:31], he took his centurions and his soldiers, and he came down among that seething throng, and he took Paul, and bound him with two chains; and asked what he had done [Acts 21:31-33].
Well, some of them cried one thing, and some of them cried another thing. And when the multitude shouted so many things that the chiliarch couldn’t find what it was, why, he took Paul and brought him up into the Tower of Antonio [Acts 21:34]. And as he stood there before the chiliarch, he said to him, “May I speak unto thee?” [Acts 21:37]. And he spoke in Greek. And that chiliarch, who must have been a cultured man—you would call him a colonel—as he spoke to him in Greek, he said, “Canst thou speak Greek? Art thou not that Egyptian which before these days madest an uproar?” [Acts 21:37-38]. You see, he thought that Paul was a member of that band called the Sicarii. The Sicarii were men who hid daggers in their long, flowing robes, and when they mingled with the multitudes at the feast, in a crowded throng, they would take out that dagger, and they would stab and murder those who were the objects of their hatred and contempt. And the chiliarch thinks that Paul is one of the members of that Secarii. “Are you not one of them?” [Acts 21:38] And Paul replies:
Sir, I am a man, a Jew of Tarsus, a city of Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city; and I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people.” And he suffered him—
he allowed him the privilege—
So Paul stood on the stairs—
that led down from the Tower of Antonio into the temple area—
And he beckoned with his hands, and there was a great silence, for he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue . . .
In their mother language, saying—and then we have the marvelous address of his conversion in the twenty-second chapter of the Book of Acts [Acts 22:1-21].
Well, our time is so far spent. We just need hours instead of minutes! I want to close with this comment. As I read the marvelous and incomparable dedication of this man Paul and those who are with him; this is where the faith began. It began in a dedication unto death. These are the men that are fed to the lions. These are the men who are burned at the stakes. This apostle—and I entitled the sermon The Beginning of the End—this is the apostle who here is incarcerated, he is weighted down with two chains [Acts 21:33], and the end of the story is the beheading of the apostle Paul on the Ostian Way. These are the men who laid the groundwork and the framework for our faith.
We were born in blood, born in fire, born in suffering, born in death! And sometimes when I look at the world and my heart trembles for the ark of God and for the church of the living Christ, then I remind myself, “Why should you be afraid, or why should you tremble at the things that are coming to pass in this present world, with the implacable bitter hatred of the communists, and the destruction of our churches in China, and all the other areas of the world where Satan raises up a kingdom to ride our people unto death!” Don’t be afraid men, we were born in tears, and in persecution, and in fire, and in blood. And just as you had in that day, men who laid down their lives for the gospel, you have world without number, men and women today who are willing to lay down their lives for the faith.
We haven’t been called to flowering beds of ease; we’ve been called to run a race, to fight a good fight, to keep the faith, to be true to Jesus unto death. When we accept the Lord, that’s what we do. Unashamed, unafraid, absolutely fearless, dedicating our whole lives to the blessedness, and the virtue, and the worth, and the grace, and the goodness, and the salvation, and the hope of the wonderful Lord Jesus.
My brethren, when you have a church like that and when you have people like that, God is glorified in it. And that’s the invitation we make to your heart, not to come down an aisle and join a club or an amusement center; come down the aisle and give your life to the blessed Savior, and faithful and true unto Him unto death, “Lord, here I stand, so help me God!” That’s what it means, that’s what it means. May the Lord number us as being followers of the Lamb, committed to Him unto death!
And that’s the invitation the Lord extends to your heart tonight—out of the world and into the preciousness of the life and love of the Lord Jesus, putting your life with us, magnifying Him in your heart and soul, pilgramming with us, singing the songs of Zion; loving Jesus every step of the way. Precious! Wonderful! You know, I guess I am overly persuaded of my own commitment and faith, but I can understand how a martyr could sing while he is being burned at the stake. His heart is filled with the glory of God! And though I have never experienced such a thing, I have read it many times, that they were so full of the presence of Jesus, that the fires did not hurt them! Their lives were burned out and burned up and destroyed, but they never felt it. They were so enraptured and glorified and raised up in heavenly places with the Lord Jesus that when they were burned to death, they didn’t even feel it. Isn’t that great? Just so given to Jesus that the problems and the hurts and the sufferings of life are as nothing. Filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit! O God, that we might walk with Him in the faith.
And that’s our invitation, I say, to you, to accept Jesus as Savior and Lord; to give your life to Him, to walk with Him, to live in His presence, to love His name, to confess Him before men and angels, to identify yourself with us in the church. Come! God bless you, as you answer with your life, and make you happy in Him; happy in your work, no matter what the trial; happy in your home, no matter what the difficulties, sharing all of the problems and frustrations of life together, telling Jesus all about it, O God, what a wonderful Friend—that’s the Lord! And that’s the invitation that He makes to you, your house, your home, your soul. Accept it! It’s the treasure beyond price; it’s the pearl beyond any value. It’s life now and heaven beyond!
In a moment when we stand to sing, “Pastor, tonight, tonight I’m accepting the Lord as my Savior, and here I stand.” Tom Gowan, our director of Career and College division, said, “Pastor, there are several young men and women here tonight, and I’m praying that they’ll accept the Lord as their Savior.” If God calls you, if the Holy Spirit speaks to your soul, say, “Lord, here I am. Take me, bless me, stand by me, walk with me, and here I come.” To put your life in the church, to bring your family, to be baptized as God says in His Book [Matthew 28:19-20], to be counted a member of the children and family of God, make the decision in your heart, and in a moment when we stand to sing, stand up, taking that first and everlastingly significant step down that stairway, down one of these aisles, “Look, pastor, here I am.” God speed you in the way, as you come. Angels attend you in the decision you make. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.