The Tears Of Paul
April 9th, 1998 @ 12:00 PM
THE TEARS OF PAUL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-9-98 12:00 p.m.
The title of the message today, "The Tears of Paul." Had I announced "The Tears of David" and his fifty-first Psalm, or "The Tears of Isaiah" in the fifty-third chapter of his prophecy, or "The Tears of Jeremiah" and his Book Lamentations it would be very apparently appropriate. But to announce The Tears of Paul seems so contradictory to what we know of that persecutor of the church. How vicious he was, how harsh he was, how unapproachable, how everything bad he was. Where he could find a Christian, he delivered him to death. And when they were tried before the court in Jerusalem, he gave his vote against them. And yet the remarkable thing about Saul, Paul, is, in the background, way where you do not see, he was full of sorrow and sympathy and tenderness. I can hardly believe such a thing.
He would condemn the humble follower of Jesus and then underneath be filled with sorrow and crying. He would vote to condemn them to death; but he was anything but a Stoic: underneath he would feel like crying. He was like his Master, the Lord Jesus: maybe condemn the city of Jerusalem, but cry over it; maybe stand at the tomb of Lazarus triumphant, but weep, cry; and in the fifth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, He faced the cross with strong crying and tears. Paul was like that.
In the prison in Philippi, he and Silas sang at midnight, and gave praise to God. But when the jailer the next morning washed his stripes, they were covered in blood. How he could be both is so amazing to me. In the Mamertine dungeon in Rome, facing execution, filled with commitment and dedication, and at the same time write in that closing letter to Timothy, "The cloak I left in Troas, bring with you. In this dungeon, I am cold and damp" – both of them [2 Timothy 4:13].
He would write, "Rejoice in the Lord: and again I say, Rejoice" [Philippians 4:4]; and at the same time his wrists would be surrounded with callouses and his ankles with the results of the imprisonments "without number," he says – and, of course, the tragedy of his execution.
How do you account for a man like that? He was a healer. He prayed to the Lord God for the sick, even would raise the dead; yet he appealed to God for himself, "I can hardly bear this illness and sickness in my physical frame." And God said, "You must bear it. You must bear it." He called it "the thorn in the flesh" [2 Corinthians 12:7-9]. It is hard for me to realize the character of a man like Saul, Paul, in the Bible.
Three times in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts does he speak of his tears. The first, his tears of dedication to his ministry in the work of the Lord: "Serving the Lord with all humility, and with many, many tears" [Acts 20:19]. O God, how he faced every day and every assignment with crying and with sorrow: his tears of commitment.
When he was saved, barely a Christian, they let him down over the wall of Damascus in a basket. Committed to the Lord, but look: when he went to Jerusalem, they took him to Jerusalem, they had to send him to Cilicia, lest he be slain – the sorrow of his life. And when he faced death, he did so with much crying. His ministry was characterized by sorrow and tears.
I was in West Africa, and there before me were the graves of two young women, Florence Jones and Lucille Reagan, from West Texas. And I stood there and looked upon the graves of those two missionaries, and by my side stood Elizabeth Truly, a missionary one [of] the three. And I said to her, "Why don’t you quit? Why don’t you return home? Look, look, look!" And she replied, "I cannot. The call of God is in my heart." Then she added, "Many, many nights I sleep on a pillow wet with my tears" – tears of dedication to the calling of God to the ministry of our Lord.
Tears of the undershepherd: he writes in verse 31, "You remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears"; seeking the lost, caring for their souls, and doing it, he says, with many, many tears. O God!
I one time heard a young fellow say, "Oh! I’d love to be like that preacher, with a marvelous presence, a stentorian voice, and a rich vocabulary." He didn’t know him. He was a man filled with care and loving seeking for the lost.
I can never forget being in a service of our Baptist leaders, and there sat L. R. Scarborough, the man who built the biggest seminary in the world over there in Fort Worth, president of our Baptist Convention, and one of the leaders in our World Baptist Fellowship, one of the finest, greatest men I ever could have looked upon in my life. And here in that one service that I so well remember, one of the leaders of our Baptist fellowship was describing his conversion; and he said he was converted by the tears of this man here, L. R. Scarborough – the tears of loving, seeking and caring.
You know, I can never forget way back yonder, I was speaking to a young man, trying to win him to Jesus, trying to get him to open his heart to the Lord and be saved. I might as well have been talking to a rock, to a stone wall: he was as hard as iron itself. And in almost despair; there came into the room his sister. And she sat on the other side from him. I sat here, and that young fellow so hard of heart was here, and that sister sat over there. When she came in and was seated, she bowed her face in her hands and began to cry. And that hard-hearted boy looked at me and looked at her, and looked at me and looked at her, and it was no time at all until I won him into the kingdom. Her tears broke his heart and opened the door for the blessed Lord Jesus to come in – the tears of a seeking heart.
And last, the tears of a beautiful and precious fellowship. That twentieth chapter closes, "And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And they all wept, and fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him"; the tears of an affectionate fellowship [Acts 20:36-37]. You never get beyond it; you just don’t.
Last Sunday night, they invited me to preside over the Lord’s Supper here in front of this pulpit. And in the service that they planned last Sunday night, the fellowship of that table was in the middle of the program. And I said to the men who have charge of our services, I said, "If I am to preside over the Lord’s Table, you must put it last. For one thing, the Book says, ‘They sang an hymn and went out’; that closed the service." And I said to them, "If I am to preside over it, I want to do it exactly as it is in this Book."
And another thing, another thing, one day years and years ago, I was on a mission trip around the world. And at that time the war had ended, and Germany was divided into three great sections: this one belonged to France, this one belonged to England, and the southern belonged to America. And the chief chaplain of the American army in Bavaria, in the south, was a dear friend of mine. And he said to me, "In your journey, please come by and be with us and the American army in Bavaria." So I stopped in my journey, and went to southern Germany, and was with that American chaplain. When Sunday night came, he took me with him to a service of our Baptist people in Munich. Oh, dear God, war! As I stood there in the heart of Munich, not a building was standing, and the whole city was one vast ruin. Dear me! And that night, Sunday night, he and I went to the service of our Baptist congregation in Munich. It was a little handful of people who had survived the war. Their church had been destroyed, and they had built, put together, a little thing under which they could meet and worship. And I sat there in that service and looked at them: poor and wretched, hurt, destroyed, and even the pastor was crippled from a hurt, a wound, in the war.
And as they went through their service, they closed it with the Lord’s Supper. And I can never forget it: as they broke the bread and drank the cup, they did it with many, many tears. And finally, they stood up and joined hands, and in their crying they sang that song:
Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
When we asunder part,
It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.
["Blest Be the Tie that Binds"; John Fawcett]
And then with their lanterns, they went out into the dark.
If I live a thousand years I could never forget it – serving God with many tears, in loving affection for Him and for one another. So from that day until this, through the many, many years, sixty of them or more, whenever I have had a part in the Lord’s Supper, always I ask, "Let it be last, and let it be concluded with our song of love and dedication; and then let us go out into the world that awaits us and our work."
O God, what a moving it is to love Jesus, and through Him to love one another, and together calling upon His name, walking in His way, living in His faith, and someday in His love and grace, meeting Him in glory, in heaven. What a marvelous thing to be a Christian, and to love Him, and to love each other, and to be together someday world without end!