Now, today I will turn to the 17th chapter of the book of Acts, beginning at verse 30. Beginning tomorrow evening I am going to ask how many have brought their Bibles. I want everybody to bring a Bible. Now, I'm not a Bibliographist [sic]. I am not asking you to worship with the Bible. I don't use the Bible as a fetish. But I believe that the Bible is God's inspired Word, and in this book we find God's message for us today. I want you to get in the habit of carrying your Bible, reading your Bible, searching the Scriptures with me.
I am not here night after night to put on a show. We are not here to put on an entertainment. We are here to tell you what the Bible has to say. What does the Bible have to say about your problems? What does the Bible have to say about the problems we're facing in the world in which we live today? Night after night, I'm going to ask you to bring your Bibles.
Now you may have just a little Testament; you might not have a Bible at all. Go downtown and get a Bible. If you don't have the money to get a Bible, Beverly Shea will lend you the money. But get a Bible. Bring your Bibles to the services every evening.
In New York, a lot of people brought great big family Bibles that they could hardly carry. Whatever kind of Bible you have, bring it. We're here to study the Bible and see what the Bible has to say. Everybody has a Bible, but very few people know what the Bible says. We don't know what the Bible says; we don't read its pages. The Bible is an uninteresting closed book. I want us to open the Bible together and see what the message of this book is for the day in which we live. The 17th chapter of the book of Acts:
"But now God commandeth all men every where to repent: because he hath appointed a day, in . . . which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead. And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter. So Paul departed from among them. Howbeit certain men clave unto him and believed" [verses 30-34].
Here we have a picture of the apostle Paul. He is going throughout the Mediterranean world proclaiming the good news to people in frustration, fear, and sin. And the apostle Paul is preaching Christ to the people, and now he comes to Athens.
Athens was the cultural and intellectual center of the ancient world. It was the city of Plato, Aristotle, and Epicurus. If you take all the universities of America and roll them into one, you have what Athens was to the intellectual world of that day. As in this day, in the midst of intellectual achievements and scientific advances, there existed both confusion and frustration. Greece at that time was under the iron heel of Rome, and the whole world was longing for freedom. They were searching for an answer.
And things haven't changed very much in two thousand years. The world is still searching for an answer. Much of the world is still in slavery. Today Charlotte is considered in the Carolinas one of our intellectual cities. It is considered a city of church-going people. It is considered a religious city. This city is considered an educational center.
The Scriptures say that Paul became spurred on by what he saw. I think the world of our day is also crying for help, as the people in that day were crying for help. The philosophical world is saying, "Come and help us" to the church.
Jean Sartre, who is one of the leaders in modern existentialism, has said, "If you don't believe in God, that's all right. I don't believe in God. But," he said, "believe in something, because man is so philosophically constituted that he needs something to believe in."
So the world of philosophy today for the first time in centuries is crying out to the church, "Help us, give us an answer, we are confused."
The economic world is crying out. Look at India. In India today there are nearly 400 million people, increasing at the rate of
5 million a year. Just the problem of population increase alone is bringing about economic pressures that could bring about revolution and trouble in the world to come. Japan has a population of 93 million living on a land area the size of the state of California, increasing at the rate of 1 million a year. China is increasing at the rate of 9 million a year. In twenty-five years, one out of every five babies born in the world will be a Chinese.
The scientific world is crying out, "Help us." Life magazine said not long ago there is a crisis in science. The faster the universe expands, the greater are the areas of ignorance it seems to open. Science has created Frankenstein monsters and doubts its moral ability to control them. We have hydrogen bombs that are ready to be unleashed upon the world.
We are seeing a hardening American attitude. We are seeing verbal blasts back and forth between Russia and America. How long it will only be in the talking phase we do not know, but we do know that our scientists and military leaders are warning that we could be in a nuclear war at any time that could wipe out 60 million Americans in the first few hours.
The political world is crying for help. Communism and democracy, the East and the West, are at each other's throats with two diametrically opposed political ideologies. And the whole political world is saying, "Help us."
A European leader said a few weeks ago, "If the devil could offer a panacea, I would follow the devil." The world is becoming desperate, the world wants an answer, and the world wants an answer quickly.
Thank God that Martin Luther King, who was stabbed last night in New York, was not stabbed by a white person. If he had been, we might have seen a racial war in New York with blood flowing down the street.
Our problems and our tensions are so complicated. No one has the answer. What is the answer? Many people are crying for answers to these problems. The moral problem, mental breakdowns, and other problems arise.
A new word has entered our vocabulary called "escapism." We Americans are trying to escape from reality. We are taking dope, drink, tranquilizing pills, entertainment, and intent upon soul-forgetfulness. People flee from themselves to become lost in the clouds.
And the heroes of modern pictures and films are spiritually homeless. Look at the television programs. How many deal with psychological cases? Every time you look at Gunsmoke [a televsion Western of the time] it sets a psychological problem dressed in western clothes. And I read the other day that the psychiatrists are now going to each other for help.
Edward [Edwin] Arlington Robinson says, "I cannot find my way. There is no star."
Winston Churchill threw up his hands some time ago and said, "Our problems are beyond us."
Paul looked at the confusion of his day in Athens. And the Bible says that Paul was disturbed by what he saw and felt. Ladies and gentlemen, on this warm September afternoon in 1958 I am disturbed by what I see and what I feel. We stand on the brink of catastrophe. Mr. Nehru, speaking to the Indian Parliament, recently said, "We stand on the brink of hell."
Our leaders are warning us, but we have become dead. Our minds are blinded, our wills are paralyzed, and our consciences dulled.
We are so taken up with our money-making, so taken up with the amusements and places and comforts of modern American life, that we don't realize that the forces of evil are closing in round about us. Unless we can turn to God and have His help, we are done for as a nation and as a people.
I do not think that the Charlotte crusade ought to be "another crusade." I do not think it ought to be a crusade kept in the history of the crusades of our team. I think it ought to be something different. I think it ought to be the beginning of a revival throughout the South that can sweep the nation. I think it ought to be something that will set an example to the world and say to the world, "We have an answer. We can solve our problems at the foot of the cross as a community, and we have found an answer to our individual needs in Jesus Christ."
While Paul was disturbed by all this, some of the philosophers came and said, "Paul, we've been listening to you talk. We'd like to hear more of it. How about going up to Mars Hill and giving a lecture?" [See Acts 17:18,19.] And so Paul did. He went up to Mars Hill, and there he preached his famous sermon on Mars Hill. Some people have said that this sermon was a great failure in Paul's life. Some people said that Paul, in preaching this sermon, did not get any results, never founded a great church in Athens, and he never had any persecution and never had any opposition in Athens.
One of the things that disturbs me here is the devil is too quiet. I hope he'll get stirred up somewhere. Because when he is quiet I know he is getting ready to kick us from behind somewhere, while we are not looking.
Every successful work of God must have opposition. If it doesn't have opposition, there is something wrong with it. Everywhere Paul went he stirred up opposition. Trouble came, and trouble always follows the preaching of the Gospel of Christ, because Satan doesn't like it.
The forces of evil do not like the searchlight pointed in their direction, because "men loved darkness . . . because their deeds [are] evil" [John 3:19].
That day Paul had a great audience out before him in Athens as we have here today. The Athenians had hundreds of different gods and religions. And Charlotte is a very religious city. I'm told that there is one church in this city to every four hundred people, and I do not believe that is equaled anywhere in the world. Not even Edinburgh, Scotland, has as many churches per capita. You are to be congratulated. Thank God.
And, yet, in this city you have one of the highest crime rates in America. What's wrong? Why doesn't it balance out? It may be that we need a revival within our churches. There are thousands of people today who have their name on a church roll that I do not believe have ever made a true commitment to Jesus Christ. Thousands of people who have been named in the church, who go to church once in awhile--if it's not too inconvenient. And they sit for an hour, and they give God one hour. And they say, "O God, how lucky you are to get me for one hour a week." And the rest of the week they live for the devil and live for themselves, and they claim to be Christians. I tell you, in God's sight those people are not Christians. A Christian is a person in whom Christ dwells, and a Christian is a person who lives Christ twenty-four hours a day.
Paul was preaching to a very religious people. Now the Epicureans were there. The Epicureans were a very strange lot of people, and yet they were not so strange--because there are Epicureans here today. The Epicureans are the people who believe that happiness is the goal of life. Eat, drink, be merry, have a good time. Enjoy yourself, be religious, but don't go too far in religion. Have a good time. They spent more time in front of their television sets than they did reading the Bible, if they had television sets in that day. They spent more time reading the newspapers than they did the Bible. They spent more time in the theater than they did in the church. They go to a double feature at a drive-in theater and sit for four hours and think it's too short. They go to church and listen to a twenty-minute sermon and think it's too long. And to some people, because Sunday is a different day and because you do go to church, you can't wait until Monday when business starts again.
I was just reading the life of Robert Murray McCheyne, that great menace to the church of Scotland a hundred years ago. Robert Murray McCheyne, in preaching on the Sabbath day said, "Scotland will be lost if she loses her belief in keeping the Lord's day totally unto God."
We've lost all concept of God's day. And I want to tell you people who are counting on getting to heaven: Heaven is going to be one long eternal Sabbath day. And in hell there will be no Sabbath days.
There are a lot of you who, if you got to heaven, heaven would be hell for you, because you don't like the Sabbath. And you don't like to keep the Lord's day in the Lord's way. I believe that we need to get old-fashioned in keeping the Lord's day.
And so the audience was there. The Epicureans said, "Have a good time." Everybody is saying that today. Why, in some of our dairy barns today, they even have the radio going so that the cows can dance a tune while they're giving the milk. Everybody has to be entertained. The radio has to blare, the television has to be on, a magazine has to be in one hand and chewing gum in the mouth with a few aspirins thrown in between. And we say we're having a good time. What a society of people we are. No wonder we are told about deterioration today.
I wish every one of you could have read about two weeks ago the front-page editorial in the morning newspaper in Philadelphia, about the need for return to discipline in our lives and keeping of the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount.
The Stoics were also there in Paul's audience that day. Now the Stoics were proud and self-righteous. They were the intellectual snobs. They didn't need God. They didn't need a personal experience with Christ. They were self-righteous. And I tell you that we are in danger of being like the Pharisees of old. The most scathing denunciation that Jesus had was against the Pharisees and their self-righteousness. The sins that God hates the most are the sins of pride and self-righteousness. The Bible concludes that we are all sinners.
Paul stood up to that crowd to preach his sermon. And the first thing that Paul said was this: "There is one God." He said, "I saw an inscription coming up this mountain that said, 'To the unknown God.' Oh, I perceive that you are religious people. You believe in some sort of God, but you don't know Him." [See Acts 17:22.]
And there are many of us today that believe in God, but we really don't know Him. When we wake up in the morning, His presence does not instill our room. When we go to bed at night, our last thought is not on Him. When we go to pray, we spend so little time, and we get no answers to our prayers. And God means so little to us. We go to church because it's the traditional thing and social thing. We don't go because we really love Christ. We've never had a true experience with Him until He fills our lives.
Paul said, "I want to tell you about this God" [verse 23]. Yet, we are becoming conscious of God today. The Bible tells us that God is creator and preserver of the universe [see Genesis 1:1]. But the Bible says, "God is a Spirit" [John 4:24]. The Bible says God is unchanging. The Bible says that God does not change one iota. He doesn't change the batting of an eyelash. [See Malachi 3:6.] God is the same yesterday, today, and forever [see Hebrews 13:8].
We have an idea in this country that God is changed to accommodate Himself for Americans. We have an idea that we Americans are God's chosen people, that God loves us more than any other people, and that we are God's blessed. I tell you that God doesn't love us any more than He does the Russians. He doesn't love us any more than He does the Chinese. He doesn't love us any more than He does the Africans. God doesn't love us any more than any other people. There is no changing with God, and there is no partiality with God.
The Bible says God is righteous [see Psalm 145:17]. And there are a lot of you who can't understand the Old Testament when you read it. You know why? Because the Old Testament is teaching one thing: The Old Testament is teaching the holiness and the righteousness of God. You'll never understand it until you understand that God was teaching that He is a holy God. And no sin can come into God's presence because He's holy [see Habakkuk 1:13]. God is a holy and righteous God. And the Bible says that God will judge the world [see Acts 17:31].
We have an idea today that God is like a Santa Claus, sitting on a cloud somewhere with a harp in His hand, forgiving everybody. God is not like that at all. God is a God of judgment. He is the God of righteousness and holiness, and the Bible says here that He will not wink at sin [see Acts 17:30,31]. You think that you can get away with your lying. I'll tell you, you cannot. You think you can get away with your cheating. I tell you, you cannot. You think you can get away with your adultery, your jealousy, your sins, and the lust in your heart, and the evil thoughts that you have, and the evil moments that you have. I tell you, God says we shall be judged. The Bible says, "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" [Romans 3:23]. I am a sinner and you are a sinner. Every one of us is a sinner in God's sight.
But the Bible also tells us that God is a God of love. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life" [John 3:16]. The Bible tells us God commended His love to us and that "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" [Romans 5:8].
The Bible tells us that because God is love, He created man. Why did God create us in the first place? He put us here and He created us because He is love and He wanted to have an object to love; and so He created the human race. We were perfect, and we had fellowship with God. Adam and Eve walked with God in the cool of the day. They were friends. God and man were friends. They walked together, they talked together, they planned together. But then one day something happened, because when God created you, He gave you the ability to choose between right and wrong. He gave you the ability to choose whether you would follow God and serve God, or whether you would live your own life and build your own life apart from God. When man came to that great decisive moment in his life, he turned away from God and decided that he could build his own life without God. And he broke his covenant with God; he broke his relationship with God; he sinned against God. [See Genesis 2,3.]
And that's the reason we have war today. That's the reason we have racial tension today. That's the reason we have all these problems in the world today. It is because the hearts of men are sinful. We are away from God. And that's the reason you have the problems in your personal life that you can't solve. That's the reason there are things within your own heart that you don't understand.
God, looking down from heaven one day, saw this earth in its turmoil and strife and sinfulness, saw us in our lost condition, saw us in our sins. And the Bible says that God said, "I love you. I love you. I love you. I want to save you."
But how could God? He fills all of space. He is the mighty God of creation that flung those billions of stars out into space. So God did something that astounded the universe. God became a man. That's who Jesus Christ was. He was God. And when I see Jesus making the blind to see, I see God. When I see Jesus feeding the five thousand, I see God interested in the hunger and the desires of men. When I see Jesus dying on the cross, I see God in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. I see the nails in His hands. I see the spike in His feet. I see the crown of thorns on His brow. I hear Him say, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" [see Matthew 27:46]. In that terrible moment, Jesus was separated from God in a mysterious way that none of us understood. And now God said, "This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased. Believe in Him. Receive Him. And I will save you." [See Matthew 17:5.]
But Jesus didn't stay on the cross. They put Him in the tomb, and on the third day He rose again. And I do not offer you this afternoon a dead Christ. I offer you a risen Christ, a Christ that is at the right hand of God the Father, and who is some day going to come to judge the quick and the dead [see Acts 10:41,42]. I offer you a triumphant Christ who is going to win.
A lot of people say, "Do you think communism is going to win the world?" They might win it temporarily, but it will only be temporarily. Because the Bible says that Jesus Christ is going to establish His kingdom, and the church shall some day triumph. Some day those of us who know Christ shall reign with Him [see Revelation 5:10]. God within Christ is reconciling the world unto Himself [see
2 Corinthians 5:19]. But God said, "I gave my Son to die."
Now there are three things you have to do to get to heaven and have your sins forgiven; if you're to have Christ in your life, and if you're to have a new life and a transformed nature, if you're to have your sins forgiven. If you're to go to heaven, you're going to have to do three things. I've studied this Bible for twenty years, and I do not believe any man or woman will get to heaven who hasn't done these three things. I don't care who you are. You may be a Sunday school teacher, you may be a deacon, an elder, or a steward. I don't care who you are. If you haven't done these three things, I do not believe you can get to heaven.
First, you must repent of your sins. The Scripture says in this passage, "God. . .commandeth all men every where to repent" [Acts 17:30]. That's not a command from me. I didn't say it. I want to ask you tonight, or this afternoon, have you repented? Has there been a time in your life when you repented? You might have been confirmed, you might have been baptized; and you might be born again in your heart, but you're not sure of it. You're not certain of it. You're not sure that there has ever been a moment when you really repented of your sins and renounced them. You can do it today.
"What do you mean by repentance?" I mean that you ac-
knowledge to God that you have sinned, and that you are willing to turn from your sins. Notice I said willing. You may not have the strength to turn from your sins, but by faith you are willing to turn if God will give you the strength. You say, "Billy, there are things in my life that are wrong, but I cannot give them up. I've tried. I just can't do it." If you are willing, God will give you the strength to give them up and turn from them.
Secondly, you must receive Christ by faith; an act of receiving Christ to die for you. Now that is a definite act. It may be unconscious, or it may be conscious. It may be a quiet moment; it may be a decisive, climactic moment as it was in the life of Paul. But if you're not sure by faith you've received Christ, you'd better do it today.
There are three little men who live inside us all--our intellect, our emotions, and our will. Intellectually, thousands of you believe in Christ. I doubt if there is anyone here who doesn't believe in Christ. You believe in Him with your minds. In fact, the Bible says the devil believes. And the devil does more than you do, because he trembles when he believes the Bible [see James 2:19]. But that's not enough. You may have some emotion in your religion. You may have had an emotional experience at some time, but you never have really received Christ. You must by faith receive Him, because it is an act of your will. You say, "I will trust Him, I will follow."
You know why I ask people to come forward in our meeting to receive Christ? Because all the way through the Scriptures, I learned that God wanted people to do something as a testimonial of their faith. When Jesus healed the man with the withered arm, He could have said, "Be healed," and he would have been healed. But He didn't do it. He said, "Stretch it forth," and the man stretched it forth. Now he had tried to stretch it forth many times, but he couldn't. But at the behest of Jesus, he did stretch it forth and it was healed. [See Matthew 12:10-13.] Jesus wanted him to do something. I am asking you to come today to give your life to Christ, to do something, to receive Christ who trusts you.
The third thing you must do: You must obey Christ. You must be willing to follow Him and serve Him from this moment on. Follow and serve Him. It means self-denial, it means cross-bearing, it means obedience. It means that you are going to burn all of your bridges behind you and follow Christ, no matter what it costs. It means you go back to your business and back to your home and live Christ, no matter what it costs. It means you are going to renew your vows to the church. It means you are going to be faithful and loyal to your church as never before. You are going to start tithing to the church.
It means you are going to start praying in your home. It means you are going to start living for Christ, no matter what the costs, from this moment on. That's what it means. And if you are not willing to do that, don't come to Jesus Christ. He will not accept you just part of the way. You must be willing to go all the way.
When Paul had finished his sermon he stopped. And when the invitation was given that day, three things took place that are going to take place here this afternoon. One, there was derision. Some of them laughed at him and mocked him [see Acts 17:32]. They didn't mock him out loud; just quietly and sighed, "Well, that's not for me."
Somebody said I had come to Charlotte to try to get everybody in the Baptist church. I heard about a fellow with a cat some time ago. He was trying to sell a little kitten. He was taking it up and down the street. And he said, "This is a Baptist kitten, a Baptist kitten for sale." And he couldn't sell it. The next day he came around, he said, "It's a Methodist kitten." The man said, "Why, these are the same kittens as yesterday. Why do you call them Methodist kittens?" "Well, today they've got their eyes open."
You may be a Baptist, a Presbyterian, or Methodist, or Episcopal, or Moravian, or a Lutheran, or a Catholic, or Jew. But if you have never really had a vital encounter with Jesus Christ, you make sure today.
Secondly, there were some who said, "We will hear again of this matter" [see verse 32]. They put it off. Governor Felix said to Paul, "Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee" [Acts 24:25]. I want to tell you, this is a dangerous action because you may never hear anyone present the Gospel again. Some of the philosophers were never able to climb Mars Hill again.
The Bible says, "He that hardeneth his heart, being often reproved, shall suddenly be cut off and not without remedy" [see Proverbs 29:1].
You never know. To some of you who go out on the slick highways this afternoon, this may be the last sermon you will ever hear. In every crusade we have ever conducted anywhere, there have been people who have come to the meeting in good health and never came back because they were dead in the next few hours through an accident, or a heart attack, or something else.
We never know when our moment is coming. Maybe God spoke to you this afternoon, and your heart is in danger of being hardened. Some of you are older people; some of you are younger people. The Bible says once you hear the Gospel and do nothing about it, you are in danger of being hardening your heart.
But, last of all, there were some that made a decision [see Acts 17:34]. They received Christ and went their way rejoicing. I am going to ask you today to receive Him. I am not asking you this afternoon to join some special church. I'm asking you today to give your life to Christ.
You may be a member of a choir. I don't know who you are or what you are, but you want to give your life to Christ on this opening Sunday afternoon. I'm going to ask you to do a hard thing, because coming to Christ is not easy. So many people have made it too easy. Jesus went to the cross and died in your place. Certainly, you can come a few steps from where you are sitting and stand here, quietly and reverently, and with bowed head. And say, "I need God; I need Christ. I want to be forgiven of my sins. I want a new life, and I want to start a new direction today."
You may be a rich man; you may be a poor man. You may be a man of great intellectual capacities, and you have to come by faith. Because you'll never understand it all intellectually. If you want to come to the cross and give your life to Christ, I'm going to ask you to come. If you are with friends and relatives, they'll wait on you. There's plenty of time and I'm going to ask not a person to leave the Coliseum.