The Parting Appeal of Paul
July 1st, 1979 @ 8:15 AM
THE PARTING APPEAL OF PAUL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-1-79 8:15 a.m.
And once again welcome to the thousands of you who are listening to this service on radio. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Last Appeal, the Parting Appeal of the Apostle Paul. This will be the last message brought from the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts. And I invite you on radio who are listening, here in the auditorium, who are worshiping with us, to read with me Acts 26, beginning at verse 27, and reading to the end of the chapter, Acts chapter 26, beginning at verse 27, reading to the end of the chapter. All of us now, out loud together, beginning at verse 27:
King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.
And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.
And when he had thus spoken, the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them:
And when they had gone aside, they talked between themselves, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds.
Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.
Sunday before last the sermon was on verse 27, "King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest" [Acts 26:27], and the title of the message was Believing What the Scriptures Say. Last Sunday the sermon was on the next verse, "Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian" [Acts 26:28], and the sermon was The Tragedy of Almost. And today the sermon is on the next verse, The Parting Appeal of the Apostle Paul, "And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except for these chains" [Acts 26:29].
As you can remember, there is no more dramatic scene in literature than the Roman court presented here in the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts. On a raised dais sits Porcius Festus, a man of the world, a hardened Roman soldier, the able administrator and procurator of the Roman province of Judea, the most volative of all the provinces in the Roman Empire. By his side is seated King Herod Agrippa II, the king of Lebanon, a scion of the Herodian family, and with him Bernice his sister [Acts 25:13, 22-23]. And below them on the polished pavement stands a prisoner named Paul, laden down with chains [Acts 26:1, 29]. The response of those two is no less tragic than it is amazing. As Paul stands in their presence giving his Christian testimony [Acts 26:12-23], Porcius Festus breaks in and says to the apostle, "You have lost your mind. You are mad. You are beside yourself. You are a fanatic" [Acts 26:24]. To him this time is all important, but eternity is insignificant. The things of this life are all inclusive, but the things of the life to come are inconsequential. "You have lost your mind. You are fanatic." The reply of the king was no less sad: "In a little, en oligō, you want me to be a Christian" [Acts 26:28], a sardonic, sarcastic sneer, "I, the king of Lebanon, to be a Christian." There are none so blind as those who will not see; for had they seen, they would have had to pluck out the right eye of sin and to cut off the right hand of iniquity, for Festus was a hardened man of the world, and Agrippa was living in incest with his own sister Bernice [Matthew 14:4]. Nonetheless, the apostle made an earnest and heavenly appeal [Acts 26:22-29].
When Agrippa said, "En oligō, in brief, you want me to be a Christian," Paul replied, "I would to God, that not only thou, but all that hear me this day, were not only en oligō, in little, but also en megalō, in much such as I am, except for these bonds" [Acts 26:28-29]. And the message today concerns our being like Paul: if we were like him, what would we be? The thing that fortifies the thought of the message is something that Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, in chapter 11 and verse 1: "Be ye followers of me, as I am a follower of Christ" [1 Corinthians 11:1],"I would to God, that not only thou, but that all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except for these bonds" [Acts 26:29]. If we were like Paul, what would we be like?
Number one: we would accept the testimony of the Holy Scriptures to the blessed and living Lord Jesus. In his testimony, Paul said, "I say none other things except those things which Moses and the prophets did say should come: that Christ should suffer, that He should be the first to be raised from among the dead, and that He should give light to the people" [Acts 26:22-23]. If I were like Paul, if I followed him, what would I be like? I would be somebody who believed the Word of God and the testimony of Christ written on these sacred pages. "To Him," said the apostle Peter, "To Him give all the prophets witness" [Acts 10:43]. The Scriptures point us to the wonderful Lord. And if I believe the Bible, I believe in the deity and in the saviorhood of Christ Jesus our Lord.
When I turn aside from the Bible, what do I turn to? If I don’t believe the Bible, what do I believe? Shall I bow down before Buddha, or before a Shinto shrine, or before Krishna, or one of the three hundred other gods of India, or shall I bow toward Mecca? If I turn aside from the witness of the Scriptures to Christ, what shall I believe? Shall I give my life to the state, to a collective socialist system? It’s a strange aberration of human nature that when a man turns aside from God he turns to the next most powerful thing he knows, namely a totalitarian state. If I turn aside from the Bible, to what shall I turn? As in America, shall I turn to humanism; to an existentialist philosophy of despair and hopelessness; to a worship of pseudoscientific gadgetry? All of these things are but man’s searchings after light and after truth and after God. But the Bible is God’s searching after us; the Lord reaching down His hand toward us. If I am like Paul, I believe in the witness of the Scriptures to the resurrection, to the deity, to the saviorhood of the Lord Jesus Christ [Acts 26:16-20, 22-23].
"I would to God, that not only thou, but all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except for these bonds" [Acts 26:29]. If I were like Paul, what would I be like? Not only would I accept the testimony of the Holy Scriptures to the Lord Jesus, but I would associate myself and join myself to the people and the family of God. And Ananias said, "And now why tarriest thou? arise, be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" [Acts 22:16]. And Saul arose and was baptized [Acts 9:18]; then was Saul with the disciples which were at Damascus" [Acts 9:19]. And the rest of his life, until his execution, he was numbered with the people of God. If I were like Paul, what would I do? Immediately I would be baptized, and I would associate myself and join myself to the people and the family of God [Acts 9:18-19]. "Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it" [Ephesians 5:25]. In Damascus, he was numbered with the disciples of the Lord [Acts 9:19]. In Jerusalem, he went out with the people of Christ [Acts 9:28]. In Troas, he broke bread and drank of the crushed fruit of the vine in the Lord’s Supper with the family of Christ in Troas [Acts 20:7]. In Philippi, he was there at the prayer meeting with the women [Acts 16:13-14]. In Ephesus, at Miletus, he knelt down to pray with the elders of the church [Acts 20:17, 36]. In Tyre – one of the most unusual little side descriptions in the Word of God – in Tyre, when the assembly of the Lord came to greet him, it points out that Paul prayed with the assembly, with their wives and with their children, the family of God [Acts 21:3-5]. In Caesarea, he ministered to those who called upon that name [Acts 24:23-17]. And when he went to Rome, he was greeted by the brotherhood [Acts 28:17-24]. What it is to be a Christian is to avow that public [Acts 9:18], and unashamed confession before men by following the Lord in baptism and by being numbered with the people of Christ [Acts 9:19].
"I would to God, that not only thou, but all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except for these bonds" [Acts 26:29]. What would it be like to be like the apostle Paul? We would be in our pilgrimage witnesses to the grace and mercy and goodness of the Lord Jesus. This whole chapter is Paul’s confession of faith before the Roman court [Acts 26:1-32]. And when I turn the pages of the Book of Acts, practically all of the entire story is a recounting of the witness of the apostle Paul to what God had done for him; what he was and now what he is. And he is not alone in that testimony: there are hundreds and there are thousands who stand by his side, witnessing, testifying to what Jesus has meant and does mean to them.
He took away my sackcloth of sadness and clothed me with the garments of glory. He removed the ashes of despair from my head and anointed my head with the oil of joy and everlasting hope. The testimony of the people of God is this: "Taste and see that the Lord is good [Psalm 34:8]. Come and see for yourself that He is Christ the Lord’s Messiah." There is no hope and there is no life, the quality of which is like that of the dedicated Christian. Handle it. See it. Feel it. Taste it. Look at its substance and its fabric. The most beautiful home is a Christian home. The most godly children are Christian children. The most precious way to live is the Christian way, walking through the avenue of the years that unfold before us in the presence and in the company of God.
What would it be like to be like the apostle Paul? "I would to God, that not only thou, but all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except for these bonds, except for these bonds" [Acts 26:29], wearing, bearing our bonds in Christian dignity. Those chains are golden ornaments; they are golden chains that bind the apostle to Christ. The one who is laden down with the iron chains of slavery is Herod Agrippa, living in iniquity and in incest [Matthew 14:4]. But the one who is free is the apostle Paul. One of the most unusual things, as you read his testimony, as he stands before those who have the power of life and death in their hands, there is no syllable in all of the apology, in all of the defense, there is no syllable that he be liberated, that these chains be taken from his hands. He stands there wearing them in dignity; they are signs of his commitment to Christ. One of the most startling of all the truths that you could find is this: he is the one who is free; they are the ones who are in slavery and in bondage; "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" [John 8:32]. Bonds and stones and bars do not a prison make; the Christian is liberated, he is free. He’s free to follow holiness. He’s free to love and to serve God. He is free to grow into the image of his Maker. He is free to love, to pray to, to serve the great Creator and Redeemer all the days of his life.
"These bonds," and the end of the trial, the apostle returned to his cell and finally to execution in Rome [Acts 26:30-32]. Porcius Festus returned to his Praetorian palace, the iron man and procurator, the hardened Roman soldier, the man of this world and this life. King Herod Agrippa II returned to his palace of indulgence and pleasure. Who was right? Maybe only the great judgment day will tell. But I know this: George W. Truett one time said, speaking to an audience filled with lost people, he said, "If I am right and you are wrong, you have lost your soul in perdition. But if I am wrong and you are right, I have lost nothing in the beauty and holiness of the Christian life." The death angel has spread his wings and bears to us the death warrant – our final summons, not just to Paul who is executed as a Roman prisoner, but also to Festus, and to Agrippa, and to Bernice, and to all of the court. And how different, and how differently triumphant to say with the apostle Paul in that final and ultimate and inexorable hour, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is a gain [Philippians 1:21]:
I am now ready to be offered up, and the time of my departure is at hand, Henceforth there is laid up for me in heaven a righteous crown, which the Lord will give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love, wait for, believe in, His appearing
[2 Timothy 4:6, 8]
"I would to God, that not only thou, but all that hear me this day, were such as I am, except for these chains [Acts 26:29]. And even those chains bind us to the heart of God.
And that is our appeal to you this solemn and sacred and holy hour. To follow in the way and the love and the grace of the Lord Jesus, openly, publicly, unashamedly to commit your life to Him: "I believe the witness and the testimony of the Holy Scriptures to the Lord Jesus, and I stand confessing my faith in Him. In obedience to His Great Commission, I want to be baptized into the family of God [Matthew 28:19]. I want to be numbered with the people of the Lord. As long as God gives me breath, I pray He will bless my witness and my testimony to the saving grace of our wonderful Lord [Ephesians 2:8-9]. And until He comes again, may my pilgrimage be filled with glory and joy and gladness. And here I stand." May angels bless you in the way as you come, confessing your faith in the Lord, or coming to be baptized into the church of the living God, or placing your life and letter with us. A family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, in a moment when we stand to sing, be the first down that stairway, into this aisle. "Here I am, pastor, I have made that decision for Christ; and here I am." God bless you, and the Holy Spirit encourage you as you come; while we stand and while we sing.