The Parting Appeal of Paul
July 1st, 1979 @ 10:50 AM
THE PARTING APPEAL OF PAUL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-1-79 10:50 a.m.
It is a gladness for us in the First Baptist of Dallas to welcome the thousands and thousands of you who are sharing this hour with us on television and on radio. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Paul’s Final Appeal; The Parting Appeal of the Apostle Paul. This is the last sermon on the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts, and we are going to read our passage together. So in your Bible, both for you who are listening on radio and television and for the throng in this great sanctuary, turn to chapter 26 in the Book of Acts; Acts chapter 26, and we are going to read beginning at verse 27 to the end of the chapter; Acts chapter 26, verses 27-32; all of us out loud together:
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 were gone aside, they talked among 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, our sermon was on verse 27: “King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest” [Acts 26:27]. And the sermon was entitled Believing What the Scriptures Say. Last Sunday, the sermon was on verse 28: “Agrippa said unto Paul: Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” [Acts 26:28]. And the title of the sermon was The Tragedy Of Almost. Today, the sermon is on verse 29; Paul’s Final and Parting Appeal. 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]. There is not in literature a more dramatic scene than this Roman court trial presented in the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts.
Presiding over it is the Roman procurator of the most volative province in the Roman Empire, Judea. His name is Porcius Festus. He is a hardened Roman soldier. He is an able and capable administrator. He is a man of this world. By his side is seated the scion of the Herodian family, King Herod Agrippa II, with his sister Bernice [Acts 125:13, 22-23]. He is the king of Lebanon and is living in an indulgent and compromised life. He is living in incest with his sister Bernice.
The response of these two rulers, the governor and the king, is most tragic and most sad. As the apostle delivers his message of testimony, Porcius Festus the procurator breaks in, saying, “You are mad. You are beside yourself. You are foolish. You are a fanatic” [Acts 26:24]. That’s always the response of the man whose life is in this world. The things of eternity are trifles. The things of time are only significant. The things of everlasting life are inconsequential. The only things that really matter are they that attend this present existence. “You are a fool. You are a fanatic. You are mad. You are beside yourself,” cried the Roman governor, Porcius Festus.
The reply of the king was no less sad and no less tragic. En oligō, in a little. “In summary, you want me to be a Christian” [Acts 26:28]. The reply is a reply of a man who is self-indulgent and who lives in pride and in pleasure. They see, but they don’t see. They hear, but they don’t hear. For if they saw, and if they heard, they would be compelled to pluck out the eye of sin and to cut off the hand of iniquity. He is always the best infidel who is the most unholy.
The reply of the apostle Paul is noble in the extreme. Taking the word of King Agrippa, en oligō, he replies in his final sentence before the court: “I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both en oligō kai en megalō, in little or in much altogether such as I am, except for these bonds [Acts 26:29]. That gives rise to the message of this moment. Remembering what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1: “Be ye followers of me, as I am a follower of Christ.”
“I would to God, that all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except for these chains” [Acts 26:29]. What if we were like the apostle Paul? What if we followed him? What would we do? What would we be like? It is most cogent, and apparent, and powerful what kind of a life we would live and what kind of a person we would be.
Number one: if we were like Paul, altogether like him, we would be a somebody who believed in the witness and the testimony of the Scriptures. As he had just said in his apology before the court, saying none of the things but what Moses and the prophets said 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 unto the people [Acts 26:22-23]. If we were like Paul, we would believe the testimony and the witness of the Word of God to the Lord Christ. “To Him,” said the apostle Peter, “give all of the prophets witness [Acts 10:43]. The whole Bible is the revelation of the love and grace of God in Christ Jesus.
And if I turn aside from the witness of the Scriptures, to what do I turn? Shall I bow down myself before Buddha, or before a Shinto shrine, or before Krishna or any other of the three hundred million gods of Hindu? Or shall I bow toward Mecca? If I turn aside from the witness of the Bible, to what do I turn?
It is a strange commentary on human life that when a man turns from God, he inevitably turns to the next most powerful thing that he knows. Consequently in our modern earth, so many turn toward the state. They turn toward collectivism, toward socialism, and they give their lives in slavery to a system.
If I turn aside from the Word of God to what do I turn? For the most part, America bows down and worships at the shrine of humanism; an existential philosophy of absolute and utter despair without meaning and without purpose. They are proud of pseudoscientific gadgetry, but they don’t know God—seeking for truth, searching for truth, hungry for truth, never achieving or finding it. God’s Book is the revelation, not of man’s search for truth, or life, or God, but the Holy Scripture is a revelation of God’s reaching down for man, revealing Himself for the lost race that He made. If I am like Paul, I believe and I accept the witness of the Holy Scriptures to the blessed Christ. “I would to God, that all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am” [Acts 26:29].
What would I be like if I were like Paul? I would immediately upon that confession of faith in the Lord, I would immediately arise and be baptized and join myself, associate myself with the people and the family of God. “Ananias said unto him: Why tarriest thou? arise, be baptized, and wash thy sins away, calling upon the name of the Lord” [Acts 22:16]. And Saul, named Paul [Acts 13:9], arose and was baptized, and Saul was with the disciples which were in Damascus [Acts 9:19-22]. Immediately, immediately, the first impulse of one who has given his life to Christ is “I want to be baptized, and I want to belong to the family of the people of God” [Acts 8:35-39]. “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25].
In the beginning of his conversion life, he associated himself with the church at Damascus [Acts 9:19-22]. When he came to Jerusalem, he went out with the brethren [Acts 9:23-29]. When he was in Troas, he broke bread in the holy Lord’s Supper with the disciples of Christ in ancient Troy [Acts 20:7]. When he went to Philippi, there he was with the women in the prayer meeting by the side of the river [Acts 16:12-13]. When he was in Ephesus, he called the elders to Miletus and there knelt down and prayed with them all [Acts 20:17, 36]. When he was in Tyre, the whole church came out to greet him [Acts 21:3-5]. And in the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Acts is a little note there that is so significant: “They came out and met Paul with their wives and their children” [Acts 21:5]; the circle of the family of God. And when finally he came to Rome, he was met and greeted by the brethren who called upon the name of the Lord [Acts 28:14-15]. Always, that is a concomitant, a corollary and a accompaniment, when one gives his life to Christ, immediately, “I want to be baptized, and I want to belong to the family of God”; baptized into the church and the body of Christ [Acts 8:35-39]. “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 that, if I were like Paul, what would I do? I would constantly in every place and upon every occasion, I would be sharing witness and testimony to the saving grace of our Lord. This whole chapter long is a recounting of the witness of the apostle Paul before the judges in the Roman court in Caesarea [Acts 26:1-32]. As I turn through the pages of the Book of Acts, all of the latter part of the Book of Acts is filled with the testimony of Paul to the grace of God that reached down to him; a new turn, a new life, a conversion. What he was, and now what he is [Acts 27:1-28:31]. And the apostle Paul is not alone in that. By the hundreds and by the thousands and the thousands, men and women, stand up by his side giving their witness to the love and grace of God that has changed their lives, and blessed and made holy and hallowed their every day.
He, our Lord has taken away our sackcloth of sadness and has given us the garments of joy and of glory. He has brushed away the ashes of disappointment and frustration from our head and has anointed us with the oil of holiness and joy everlasting. The witness of the old covenant is: “O taste and see that the Lord is good” [Psalm 34:8]. And the witness of the new covenant is: “Come and see; is not this the Christ, the promised Savior of the world?” [John 4:29, 42]. It is a beautiful and precious life into which one enters when he joins himself to the family and the people of God. Look at it. Feel of its fabric. Test its substance. See if there is not in Him a joy and a fullness of life unspeakable and indescribably sweet and dear: the blessing of the Lord upon a Christian home; the blessing of the Lord upon Christian children; the blessing of the Lord in the family of the fellowship of the dear church He loved [Ephesians 5:25]; and the feeling that I have found God’s purpose for my life, each one of us a piece in the beautiful mosaic of the plan of God. And when we don’t fit, when we are away from the Lord, everything is not right. Nothing fits. Nothing is good. Nothing satisfies. Nothing endures but when I find my life in the will and purpose of God, everything is beautiful; everything fits; everything is as it ought to be, even our tears, and our sorrows, and our frustrations, and our disappointments. In them, God works for good to us who love Him [Romans 8:28, James 1:3]. The witness and the testimony of the incomparable preciousness of the life of the child of God is shared by the thousands and the thousands of us who have come to know the Lord as personal Savior.
“I would to God, that not only thou, but all that hear me this day, were both altogether such as I am, except for these bonds; except for these chains” [Acts 26:29]. But those are golden chains. They are golden ornaments. They bind the apostle to the Lord Christ. It is Paul who is free. It is Agrippa and the court that are enslaved with chains of sin and darkness. He bears his chains with dignity as a true soldier of the cross, as a faithful follower of the Lamb.
You read this address. The twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts; there is not a syllable in it, not a word in it appealing for his liberation, that his chains be struck off, that his imprisonment be remitted. He stands there as an apostle of God, as a witness for Christ; chained, a prisoner [Acts 26:29], but he does it free. Every child of God is free! God has liberated him to soar in his spirit and in his heart and in his and life, into the very presence of the angels of God. “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” [John 8:32].
Bonds and imprisonments and bars do not incarcerate! The chains of sin and iniquity are bound upon us in slavery and in servitude. Paul is free. And those who have found that freedom in Christ however their estate, they’re free to follow holiness. They’re free to call upon the name of the Lord. They are free to fellowship with the great omnipotent Creator of this universe. They are free to live and walk and talk in the presence of the great King. They are free citizens of a new and free world.
These bonds; the ending of the trial; the last verses conclude this Roman court scene [Acts 26:30-32]. Paul the prisoner returns to his cell; soon, to his execution in Rome [Timothy 4:6], dying for his witness to the grace of God in Christ Jesus; they, Herod Agrippa to his palace of indulgence and pleasure and incest; and Porcius Festus, to his hardened life as a Roman soldier and administrator. Which of the two is right: Paul or the Roman court? Only the great judgment day will finally declare and hand down the final verdict [1 Peter 4:5].
But there is one thing that is everlastingly true. George W. Truett one time said it in this very pulpit. He said, “If I am right, and you who reject Christ are wrong, you have lost your soul in perdition. But if I am wrong and you are right, I have lost nothing, for I have been blessed in the days of my Christian life.” Who is right? The death angel spreads his wings and bears to us all the death warrant, the final summons, not just to Paul who is executed as a witness for Christ, but to Herod Agrippa II, and to Porcius Festus, and to the whole court.
It may be a day. It may be a month. It may be a year. It may be a score of years. It may be three score years and ten, but the inexorable presence of that angel of judgment ever comes and ever comes. And how full, and how triumphant, and how glorious in life and in death to face that final hour with the words of this apostle, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” [Philippians 1:21]. “I am ready to be offered up, and the time of my departure is at hand. Henceforth there awaits for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the final Judge shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing” [2 Timothy 4:6, 8]. “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 you, I would not wish these bonds and these chains” [Acts 26:29]. What a glorious, open door God hath given to us!
And that is our invitation. That you walk in faith and in commitment and in love to the blessed Lord Jesus, into the fullness of life He has prepared for those who give heart and life in trust to Him [1 Corinthians 2:9]. In this balcony round, a family, a couple, or just you; in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles: “Pastor, I have decided for Christ, and here I stand.” Bring the family with you. “Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children. All of us are coming today.” Or just you and a friend, or you and your wife, or you and a child, or just you, as the Spirit shall open the door and lead in the way, make that commitment today. “In these days of the last week of the Robison revival, I found the Lord. I gave my life anew to Him.” Or “I’m ready to come into the fellowship of the dear, dear church where I heard this gospel.” On the first note of the first stanza, respond with your life. Down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles: “Here I am, pastor, I’m on the way.” And when you stand up, stand up coming, walking: “Here I am, preacher, God bless me.” May angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.