The Tragedy of Almost
June 24th, 1979 @ 8:15 AM
THE TRAGEDY OF ALMOST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-24-79 8:15 a.m.
And once again welcome to the thousands of you who are sharing this hour with us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we are in chapter 26. And last Sunday the sermon was in verse 27, entitled Believing What the Scriptures Say, "King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest" [Acts 26:27], and the message last Sunday, Believing What the Scriptures Say. The message today is in the next verse; it is entitled The Tragedy of Almost. When the apostle Paul, having recounted his conversion experience [Acts 26:12-20], asked King Agrippa if he believed what the Lord said in His Holy Word, not waiting he said, "I know that thou believest" [Acts 26:27]. King Agrippa was a Jew; and as a Jew the Scriptures were sacred to him:
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 for this chain, except for these bonds.
"Then Agrippa said unto him," and it is sort of an enigmatic sentence, en oligō, translated "almost," en oligō, thou persuadest me to be a Christian" [Acts 26:28]. And Paul remarked, "I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both en oligō kai en megalō, such as I am, except for this bonds" [Acts 26:29]. En oligō: almost certainly it means, "Briefly, in summary, you are trying to persuade me to be a Christian." And Paul replied, "I would to God, that not only you, but that all that hear me this day, were not only en oligō but en megalō, not only in brief, but in greatness, in expansion, such as I am, except for these chains." Or, as the King James Version translates it: "Almost you persuade me," and Paul replies, "I would to God, that not only almost, but altogether you were such as I am, except for these bonds" [Acts 26:28-29]. But whether you translate en oligō, "In brief, in summary, you want me to be a Christian," or whether you translate it, "Almost you make me decide to be a follower of the Christ," whether one or the other, the tragedy remains the same: the man is introduced to the gospel of Christ and a wide open door is set before him, and he refuses to enter in; so near and yet so far.
In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Mark, the Lord speaks to a most intelligent scribe, and says to him, "Thou art not far from the kingdom of God" [Mark 12:32-34]. But so far as we know, the scribe never entered in. In the passage that we read about the rich young ruler, there is a word used in Mark, chapter 10, to describe the face of that young man. When the Lord invited him to give up the world and to enter life everlasting, Mark says, "The young fellow’s face stugnazō," stugnazō [Mark 10:21-22]. The word is only used twice in the Bible. In the sixteenth chapter of Matthew, the third verse, the Lord used the word stugnazō to describe the lowering of the skies when a storm is present [Matthew 16:3]. The other time it is used is by Mark in chapter 10, describing the face of that young man, stugnazō, the war that he fought in his heart at the invitation of Christ registered in his countenance. Almost, but he sadly turned away [Mark 10:21-22]. There is no tragedy that I know of that is deeper, or broader, or sadder, or more everlasting than to come so close to eternal life and then finally pass it by; almost, but lost.
I came to the pastorate here in Dallas, as you know, in the days of the Second World War. After the war was over, and after the victory was won, there was a mother in our church who had a boy who had fought through the entire years of that war; and now that the conflict was over, he called his mother from Europe and said, "I’m coming home. I’m coming home." He came to the United States, but tragedy of tragedies, in a United States air transport between the East Coast and Dallas, the plane crashed, and that young man was killed. I took with me one of the businessmen in the church to go see that sorrowful and crying mother. And as I talked to her, that businessman, who was never accustomed to crying, wept openly like a child, as that mother described the infinite sorrow of her boy for whom she’d prayed, who fought through the war, the years of the war, and now that victory was won was coming back home, and on the way home, almost home, the plane had crashed, and the boy was killed. It heightens the sorrow and the sadness to be almost but not quite; almost saved, almost in the kingdom, almost deciding for Christ, almost persuaded, and yet finally pass eternal life and heaven by.
Why is it when you talk to them, why is it that people are almost persuaded and yet not quite – don’t respond, don’t enter the kingdom? When you talk to them, there will be things like this that they will explain why. Sometimes it will be, "I am waiting for somebody else," maybe a husband, maybe a wife, maybe a daughter or a son – could be a father or a mother, but, "I’m not responding now, I am waiting for somebody else." That is understandable and almost pardonable. You can easily sympathize and empathize and understand someone who responds to the gospel appeal like that: "I want my husband to come with me," or, "my wife to come with me," or, "I’m waiting for my family," or, "a friend." It is almost pardonable.
And yet the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Romans says that each one of us must be judged for himself before God [Romans 14:10-12]. We are accountable unto God for ourselves. I am born for myself. I have to breathe and live for myself. When time comes to die, I shall die for myself. And some day when I stand in the presence of the judgment of Almighty God, I shall be judged for myself. You cannot be born for me. You cannot breathe for me. You cannot live for me. You cannot die for me; I must die for myself. You cannot be judged for me; I must be judged for myself. And when I stand naked and alone before God, this decision I must make for myself. However others, even the closest family, however they may choose, I am accountable to God for myself.
Why would one almost be persuaded and refuse to enter in? Sometimes the answer will be, "I just am timid. I don’t have the courage to go forward. I’m hesitant. I’m afraid. I’m reluctant." And they tarry in the balcony round, on this lower floor, because of timidity to step into the aisle and down to the front. Almost, but not quite; why is it that we make the appeal publicly to confess your faith in the Lord Jesus? Because God asks it of us, it is not something we invented. It’s not something that I thought up. It is something that God says. In Matthew 10:32 the Lord Jesus says, "If thou shalt confess Me before men, I will confess you before My Father in heaven. But if thou shalt deny Me before men, I will deny you before My Father which is in heaven" [Matthew 10:33]. In the tenth chapter of the Book of Romans, the apostle Paul wrote in verses 9 and 10:
If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in thine heart that He lives, that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart one believeth unto a God kind of righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
God says that, and we have no alternative. It is a mandate from heaven. When I accept the Lord as my Savior, I am publicly and openly to avow that faith unashamedly and unafraid.
If it is of God, God will give you courage to respond. He will strengthen you. You take that first step, and God will give you encouragement and leadership for all of the rest of the way. And remember that when you come to the Lord, the angels in heaven rejoice [Luke 15:10]; Jesus says so. And when you come to the Lord, the people all around you are glad beyond any way we could say it. Sometimes people used to shout in gladness; I’ve heard them. I have seen people in unutterable and indescribable ecstasy rejoicing over somebody who came forward to accept Jesus as Lord. You will never have sweeter or finer friends than these who love Jesus before you. Come and welcome.
Almost persuaded, why is it that some hesitate? Almost, but decide to pass eternal life by. Sometimes they will answer, "I’m just as good as anybody in the church. Look at all those hypocrites. Why should I identify with them?" That is of all things the saddest reply to the invitation of our Lord: "Look at these people on the road to heaven, and they’re broken down. Look at these people: they are seeking eternal life, the healing of their souls, and look at them fallen by the way. And because they are broken down, and because they are fallen by the way, therefore I am not going." Oh dear! What a tragic reply to the invitation of our Lord. We are an afflicted people. We are a dying people. We are a condemned and judged people. Death awaits us, and somebody must heal us and save us and deliver us. And that one somebody is Jesus [John 14:6; Acts 4:12].
One of the most poignant stories I ever read in my life happened in the life of Louis Pasteur, the great professor of chemistry at the Sorbonne in Paris, France. He discovered immunization, vaccination. In his micro-ology, he found that by inserting into the bloodstream the virus itself, the antibodies in the body built up resistance against it until finally he was immune to the disease. And the thing that brought it to my mind is the newspaper this morning. On the front page there’s a headline about rabies, and their desperate searching for those who might have been bitten by mad dogs. Rabies is a horrible disease; I suppose the most horrible there is. Rabies is madness, it is convulsion; it is the most horrible way to die imaginable, rabies. Louis Pasteur discovered a way of immunization and deliverance and healing from rabies.
Well anyway, in the life of Pasteur I read there was a strange motley group that had made the journey from Russia to Paris, France. They looked strange, they dressed strange, their speech was strange; but as they journeyed to Paris, and finally into the city, they had one word, "Pasteur, Pasteur, Pasteur." They had been bitten by an animal that was mad, that had rabies; and someone had told the group in Russia that, "There is a man in Paris named Pasteur who can save you, who can heal you." And that motley group had come all the way from the steps of Russia with one word on their lips, "Pasteur, Pasteur, Pasteur."
What a tragedy: if there is a man who can save them and heal them, and because others fall by the way, they refuse to find him, come to him, see him, ask his healing grace. That’s exactly as it is for us who might be discouraged by what you call hypocrites in the church, or somebody that doesn’t live the beautiful and Christian life. My brother, we’re not looking to them to save us; they don’t have the cure for our souls. It is Jesus [Romans 10:13]. Keep our minds, and our thoughts, and our hearts, and our eyes upon Jesus. There’s nothing wrong with Him. "I find in Him no fault at all" [John 18:38]. And however others may be, or others may do, it is Jesus who heals us, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Savior of my soul, healer of my hurts, forgiver of my sins, stand by me and save me to Thyself in life, in death, and in glory.
Almost persuaded, almost persuaded, why don’t you accept the Lord? "I am afraid I couldn’t hold out." Did you know that was one of the first things that I ever met as I began preaching as a teenager? In a tabernacle revival meeting out in the country, on the front row to the left right there sat an old, old man. He was so interested, and he seemed so moved. And I talked to him. And I said, "Why don’t you come to the Lord?" And he said, "I am afraid I can’t hold out." He was an old, old man. "And I’m not accepting the Lord, I’m not coming to the Lord; I am afraid that I can’t hold out." Ah Lord, dear God. It is God that holds us; we don’t hold Him.
Place your hand in the hand of the Man who walks on the waters;
Place your hand in the hand of the Man who raises the dead;
Place your hand in the hand of the Man who some day shall split the heavens asunder.
[adapted from "Put Your Hand in the Hand"; Gene McClellan]
Not you hold Him; let Him hold you. Place your hand in His hand. It’s not a matter of my holding on to God; it’s a matter of God holding on to me, and He has promised. One of the most magnificent passages in the Bible is 2 Timothy 1:12, "I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed" into His care. Or look again, in Hebrews 7:25, "He is able to save to the uttermost them who come unto God by Him." Or listen to John 10:28-30:
I give unto them eternal life: and they shall never perish, neither shall anyone pluck them out of My hand.
My Father, who gave them Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand.
I and My Father are one.
It is not a matter of my holding on to God. When I give my life to Christ, God has promised to hold on to me. I may stumble, stagger, fall; but not ultimately fall away. He will hold me and keep me if I will commit my life and my destiny to Him [Hebrews 13:5-6].
Almost persuaded, and yet refuse to enter in. One other thing among many things that I hear in reply: "Almost persuaded but not now; some other day, some other time, not this hour, not this service, not yet, some day, but not now." Ah, the Lord has such words to say to us, such words. As in 2 Corinthians 6:2, "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." Never in all of the Word of God, never does the Holy Spirit say "tomorrow." Always it is "now." It is now. In the third chapter of the Book of Hebrews, "Today, today, if thou wilt hear His voice, harden not your heart" [Hebrews 3:15]. Or as in Proverbs 27:1, "Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth." Ah, I have this moment, I have this time, I have this hour, I have this day, I have no promise of any other hour or moment or day. I don’t know what the day may bring forth. That is so poignantly true in human life.
Right across the street there is the Y. So oft times in these years gone by, so oft times did I talk to a young Braniff pilot. We were there in the Y exercising together. And I would talk to him. His wife belonged to our church. And it would seem to me that I’d almost win that young man, almost. But, you know, "Some other day, some other time, some other hour, some other moment, some convenient season; not now." I remember on a Thursday I talked to him, on a Thursday. He went out to the airport, took his Braniff plane, flew it to Chicago; and coming down, coming down into the airport at Chicago, his plane tipped a sign. He killed himself and all of his passengers. Oh, what a sadness. What a tragedy!
Almost, but lost
Almost cannot prevail
Sad, sad, that bitter wail
Almost, but lost
[from "Almost Persuaded," Philip P. Bliss, 1871]
"I would to God, that not only almost, but altogether you were such as I am, except for these bonds" [Acts 26:29].
Sweet friend, youngster, couple, family, God has set before us an open door. This is the day of grace. This is the day of salvation [2 Corinthians 6:2]. "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" [Revelation 22:17]. Ours for the asking, ours for the responding, ours for the receiving, ours for the having, ours for the taking, "And pastor, I’m on the way. This day, this moment, this hour, I give my heart in faith and in trust to the Lord Jesus Christ. And here I am." Down one of those stairways, down one of these aisles, "Pastor, I’m on the way. I have decided for God, and here I am." On the first note of the first stanza, make that decision. Stand here by me, "Pastor, I give you my hand; I’ve given my heart to the blessed Jesus, and here I am." Do it now. To put your life with us in the church, to answer God’s call, on the first note of the first stanza make it now. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.
TRAGEDY OF ALMOST
A. En oligo –
"in brief, in summary; almost"
Agrippa meant the reply, the result is the same – to let the great opportunity
The Lord speaking to a very intelligent scribe (Mark
The rich young ruler (Mark 10:22, Matthew 16:3)
with it an infinite sorrow
Mother’s son killed on way home from war
A. Waiting on someone
1. Each one of us
will give an account of himself to God (Romans
B. Timidity, fear
1. It is God who
asks the response(Matthew 10:32-33, Romans
2. The angels
rejoice, and we rejoice(Luke 15:10, Revelation
C. Hypocrisy of others
to hold out, unworthy(2 Timothy 1:12, Hebrews
7:25, John 10:27-30)
Now is the time (2 Corinthians 6:2, Hebrews 3:15)
We are not guaranteed tomorrow(Proverbs 27:1)