Originally preached by W.A Criswell on April 1, 1979.
It is no less relevant today in 2015.
And once again welcome, the uncounted thousands of you who are sharing this hour with us over radio and over television. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Our Witness to the World. Preaching through the Book of Acts, we are in chapter 26 and the reading of text is beginning at verse 15-Paul meeting the Lord on the way to Damascus; overwhelmed by the glory of that light, he says,
Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord replied, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.
But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a servant—a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of the things at which I will yet appear unto thee.
Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee,
To open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power from Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith in Me.
Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:
But showed first unto them of Damascus, and then at Jerusalem, and then throughout all of the regions of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works worthy of repentance.
Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come,
That Christ should suffer, and that He should be the first that should be raised from among the dead, and should show light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.
Three times in the Book of Acts is the story told of the conversion of the apostle Paul. And in all three instances, his conversion is accompanied by his call as a witness to the world. The two go together; our conversion is also our call as a witness to the world. Acts begins with the meeting of the Lord with His apostles in the great commission in [chapter1]verse 8 , “and ye shall be My witnesses.” To be saved is to be called to be a witness to the grace of our Lord. As I read the text, there are three groups to which the Lord has called the apostle. You have it translated “Gentiles,” which is fine. The word refers to the “nations” of the world. Paul is called—we are called to be witnesses to the nations of the world. When it says in the text “the people,” he is called to be a witness to the people. That refers to his nation—his own people. We are called to be a witness to our nation—our own people—these who speak our language, who live in our land, who breathe our air, who share our destiny. We are called as witnesses to the nation. And then third, he was called as a witness to the lost everywhere—Damascus, Jerusalem, the regions of Judea, to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God. So we are called to be witnesses, to all of the lost everywhere. We shall follow that God-ordained and God-inspired outline for Paul and for us.
We are to be witnesses to the whole world. That was an awesome thing for Paul; it is an awesome thing for us. After all, he is just one man; yet God called him to confront and to face the whole pagan world. We are one by one, saved and one by one called to witnesses to the whole world. And it is no less awesome for us, and today, terrifying. There is no part of the whole world that does not daily affect us. What happens in the remotest corners—across the seas, in the tiniest lands, affect us today; deeply so, increasingly so.
I say the assignment is awesome and frightening. The awe of catastrophe seems to permeate everything we read; every headline in every newspaper and every article in every magazine. We live as though we were under a hanging Damocles sword. We live as though there were a gun loaded, the trigger cocked, pointed at our heads.
These historians who write of our present modern world history will include chapters like this-“The Eclipse of Western Civilization, or “The Post Christian Era.” It is a time of terror and frightening possibilities that daily confront our national and international life. I sometimes think of our modern world in terms of the first three times I visited Germany. The first time was within several months after the conclusion of the World War II, and the vast, illimitable destruction of those cities in Germany was appalling to me. I would stand, for example, in Hamburg—a city the size of Chicago, and as far as my eye could see, from horizon to horizon, there was nothing but rubble. Not a building standing. And all that had been done at that time was to dig out the roads through the rubble in order that the buses might drive through. That was my first time to visit Germany. The second time, I went to see Orson Welles in a modern version of Faust, and over and over, repeated again and again was a line that went through that dramatic presentation. The line was, “Damnation is contagious.” The third time that I visited Germany I went to see Richard Wagner’s opera Götterdämmerung, the third and the last of the famous trilogy. And it ends like this—the chief of the gods, Woden, Woden’s spear is broken; Siegfried is slain; Brunhilde falls upon the funeral pyre—casts herself upon it; and the home of the gods, Valhalla is burning; and the whole heaven and earth are on fire. That is the way the opera ended.
As I review those first three journeys to Germany, they are a sort of outline of the present world. And the awesome, frightening, terrible prospects that daily confront us. We are to be witnesses to that kind of a world; a world that seemingly faces the inevitable judgment of Almighty God. Paul was just one; but he was one. We, each one is just one; but we are one. And “it is better to light a small candle than to curse the darkness.” As we have opportunity, anywhere in the earth we ought to witness for our Lord; and there should be in our hearts a daily prayer that God will have mercy and pity upon the nations that struggle in this modern earth. And, as we have opportunity, we ought to share in our world mission enterprise. When Paul was converted, he was called—one man, against the whole world—“a witness to the Gentiles”—to the nations.
Second, in his conversion he was called as a witness to his own people—to his nation. And we also in our conversion, we also are called to be witnesses to our people, to our country, our nation. America cannot live in drunkenness and debauchery and desecration and disobedience. God has written large on this sacred page: “The wicked shall be turned into hell and all the nations that forget God”[Psalm 9:17]. If God does not judge America, He must tear up His Bible. He must renounce the words that He has spoken and He must apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah and Assyria and Babylonia, and the rest of the empires and kingdoms and nations of the world that He has judged and destroyed.
It is vanity and presumption for us to say to ourselves that God will judge and has judged other nations because of their wickedness and iniquity, but God will not judge us. That was the thought and the persuasion of Judah in the days of Jeremiah the prophet. The people said to themselves: We are the chosen family of God. The holy temple is located in our beautiful city. And God would not destroy His chosen people. He would not let enemies ravage His holy city, nor would God allow the destruction of His holy temple. The people said that in the days of Jeremiah. But they had forsaken God. And Jeremiah lifted up his voice and cried saying, “Repent, repent, get right with God”; and the Chaldeans came in 605 BC, and carried away captive Daniel and other of the seed royal. Jeremiah lifted up his voice and cried again: “Repent, get right with God”; and the Chaldeans came in 598 BC, and carried away Ezekiel and the flower of the priesthood. Jeremiah lifted up his voice and cried saying, “Repent, get right with God. And the Chaldeans came the third time in 587 BC, and they had no need to return again. They destroyed the city. They burned the temple with fire. And they carried away the nation captive. And Jeremiah cried, “Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” [Jeremiah 9:1]. And in captivity, the Jewish prisoners, slaves, cried,
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, we wept when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps on the willow trees in the midst thereof.
For they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.[Psalm 137:1-3]
But how do you sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? In slavery and in captivity?
This is the imponderable judgment that awaits America. God does not countenance iniquity and desecration and disobedience in any people; whether they are in His church, or in His synagogue or in His holy city or in His Solomonic temple, in New York, or Dallas, or Paris, or Peking, or Moscow. There is an inevitable judgment from Almighty God that faces the iniquitous and departing nations of the world. And to those people, we are sent as witnesses. We are to lift up our voices in our own nation, among our own people.
There ought to be built here in the city of Dallas, in the downtown heart of this city, a great lighthouse for Christ. Dallas is becoming increasingly a crossroad center of our America. The influence of our city is expanding and permeating and if that influence can be Christian; if people thinking of us, think of the Lord; if we can shine for Christ, God will bless us and work with us and give us power and might and glory and presence from above. In Romans chapter 13, in 1 Timothy, chapter 2, in 1 Peter chapter 2—at great length does the Lord by inspiration write to us saying that we are to be Christian citizens. We are to pray for the government. We are take part in the obedient citizenship of the land. We are to be Christian witnesses to our nation.
The third category that Paul quotes the Lord as saying to whom he is to be a witness. And as he speaks to King Agrippa II about his obedience to that heavenly mandate; the third category is to the lost everywhere. We are to be witnesses to the lost everywhere. The tragedy of human life is apparent everywhere. Any way you want to say it, choose any category or any nomenclature that you would like to use, whether you say it philosophically or sociologically or psychologically or domestically or martially or whether you say it scientifically or theologically or nationally or personally—any way you wish to say it, the everlasting truth of history is this – that men are lost without God.
In our Christian preaching, men are lost without Christ—Acts 4:12: “for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Men are lost in this life—now. They are lost in death. They lost at the great judgment bar of Almighty God and they are lost in eternity. Men are lost without Christ. What is needed above everything else—what is needed is a compassionate heart to witness to the lost all around us of the hope and the forgiveness and the life and the destiny and the preciousness and the blessing that we have in our dear Lord. The compassionate heart is the first of all of the overtures of God to men and women and families who are lost-a caring, sharing, loving, praying concerned people, witnessing to the lost.
I one time read in a book—there was a character named Marius the Epicurean. He was a philosopher. And in this Book written about the first century; written concerning the first century AD. This Marius the Epicurean philosopher is seated high up the Roman coliseum, and he is watching gladiatorial combats in the arena. As you know, the arena of the coliseum was covered with sand so that when the gladiators slew each other and the blood poured out, they could rake away the sand or rake over the sand and bring in fresh sand, and then the bloody combats could continue. As Marius the Epicurean philosopher sits there in the height of the Roman coliseum watching those bloody combats, he turns to his companion and he says, “What is needed is the heart that would make it impossible to look upon such blood-thirsty combat, and the future would belong to the power that could create such a heart.”
Following the course of history, as you so well know, it was the preaching of the gospel that closed for ever that coliseum. It was the preaching of the gospel that forever did away with those bloody gladiatorial confrontations. It was the preaching of the gospel that for ever did away with the execution by crucifixion of a malefactor. It was the preaching of the gospel that for ever did away with human slavery. It was the preaching of the gospel that for ever did away with the exposing of children. It was the preaching of the gospel that elevated and raised womanhood and family life. It was the preaching of the gospel that brought ministries to the poor, to the suffering. There was not a hospital in the entire Roman Empire. There was not an orphan’s home in all of the history of the Greco-Roman people. It was the compassionate love—it was the caring heart of the Christian witness that elevated the world into another sphere, another life, another devotion. It is that same compassionate concern on the part of God’s people that is so desperately needed today. And our conversion is our call into that compassionate concern. We are to be witnesses to the lost.
You see, when we work for God, and do God’s work, God prepares for our coming. The Lord works with us. We are not alone when we commit ourselves to this tremendous soul-saving commitment. There is a great Almightiness above us who is watching and who is working with us. And when God sees us with a compassionate heart, a caring loving spirit.; when God hears us pray and intercede, God does something. God works. It is almost a marvelous and miraculous thing how God prepares for our witnessing. You see, there are providences that we do not know about that work in a man’s life—getting ready for that appeal that we make to his soul. Things we never guessed for, but God is working. And He is opening wide the door. It is the providences of God that plows the fallow ground, readies for the sowing of the seed of the word. God works with us. You do not know ever the providences that lie back of a man’s life; God plowing up the fallow ground, preparing for the sowing of the seed.
I do not convert anybody. We do not regenerate any soul. God does that if I am but a concerned and compassionate and willing and yielded and prayerful witness. God somehow blesses and sanctifies and uses our efforts to the saving of the lost and to the blessing of the heart and the home. It is for us to answer our heavenly call. “I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: but showed myself first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to all of the people that they should repent and turn and find their hope and life in God” [Acts 26:19, 20]. That is our commitment and in wisdom and in blessing may the Lord work with us in saving grace. May our eyes behold it—saving our souls; saving our nation; saving our world.