Merchant’s Report On Thessalonica
November 17th, 1957 @ 10:50 AM
1 Thessalonians 1:8-10
MERCHANT’S REPORT ON THESSALONICA
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Thessalonians 1:8-10
11-17-57 10:50 a.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the second morning message, the eleven o’clock message, from the first chapter of the first letter of Paul to the church of the Thessalonians. These days of preaching through this epistle is meaning more and more to me as I study and prepare the message looking at the Word.
If it is at all possible for you to come at the evening hour, I know you will. Some of you cannot, I know. But, if you can, it is blessed and wonderful. Where I leave off in the morning, I preach through at night, then begin the next Lord’s Day, then that night. The sermon tonight is another one from the first chapter of this first Thessalonian letter. We also will have our word tonight from Mr. Zachary how we did in our stewardship program.
If you have never been here at church at night, it will surprise you. There will just about as many people at church tonight as there are here at this morning’s hour.
We have a great time in the Lord. All we do is just read from the Bible. And the pastor, after prayer and study and much meditation, seeks to say, "This is what it means."
So we turn to the first chapter of the first Thessalonian letter, and I begin reading at the fifth verse and read to the end:
For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but in power, in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance . . .
And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the Word in much affliction –
with the confiscation of their property, with stripes and imprisonments. Cost something then to be a Christian –
Ye received the Word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit –
the more they suffered, the happier they were in the Lord –
So that ye were examples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.
For from you sounded out –
trumpeted out, heralded out –
the Word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia –
all of Hellas, Greece –
but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing. –
Everybody else is speaking it –
For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God;
And to wait for His Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, who delivered us from the wrath to come.
[1 Thessalonians 1:5-10]
I am to speak this morning on the conversion, the turning, of these Thessalonian Christians. I am to speak of it as being a remarkable and a phenomenal thing. Paul says here that they were examples to all that believe in all Macedonia and Achaia. And not only that, but from them sounded out – trumpeted out, heralded out, proclaimed out – the Word of the Lord, the Gospel of Christ, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place. Their constancy to Christ, their faith to the Lord, their devotion to God was spread abroad. Everybody spake of it.
I can easily see how that was possible. Macedonia was a great province in the Roman Empire, and the capital city in Macedonia was Thessalonica. It is a thriving city today. It was a trading town, a merchandising town. It was a political center, the capital of the province, and it was a great port city located at the head of the Aegean Sea. It is today.
And what Paul avows here is that every trading man that entered the city went away speaking of the remarkable conversion of these Thessalonians. Every ship that entered the port sailed away and spread abroad, all over the civilized Mediterranean world, the remarkable conversion of these Thessalonians. And every governor and every president and every political leader and every statesman who went to that "Washington" turned to his homeland and spread abroad himself the remarkable thing that had happened there among those Thessalonians. Everywhere, their faith was spread abroad.
Then, he continues. "For they themselves – and you have it translated here "show of us" apaggellō [1 Thessalonians 1:9]. Everywhere else in the Bible, that word apaggellō is reported "report." They related. For they themselves, these visitors that came to Thessalonica – these merchants, these political men, these steamship captains and their crews, all of the people that traveled over the Via Ignatia, the great Roman road from the Hellespont to the Adriatic or who sailed into the port or who came there for other reasons, a great city:
All of them, they themselves report, relate, what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God;
And await for His Son from heaven . . .
[from 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10]
So, these people, as they scattered out over the Roman Empire, they themselves, Paul said: "They relate this remarkable thing of how we were received by you" [from 1 Thessalonians 1:9]. And I would say that is, indeed, a remarkable thing.
These three despised preachers – he says the three of them were Paul and Silas and Timothy [1 Thessalonians 1:1] – these three missionaries, they were without friends; they were without honor; they were without prestige; they were without portfolio, without credentials. And the place they came from, they’d been driven out. They’d been beaten at Philippi, cast into a dungeon [Acts 16:22-24]. And when, finally, by the miraculous power of the work of God they were liberated, the whole town came and begged them to leave – importuned, implored – asked them to go [Acts 16:25-40].
Now, these three outcasts, when they came to Thessalonica, it was a remarkable thing how they were received. First thing he says: "For they themselves" – the report has gone out – "our manner of entering in unto you" – eisodon, enter in – "our manner of being received by you" [from 1 Thessalonians 1:9]. These men were received as messengers of heaven, as ambassadors of God Himself. And their reception was, Paul says, a remarkable thing.
The purpose of the preacher is to knock at the door of the heart and the conscience and the soul of the people, and he asks an entrance for the Word of God, for the Gospel of Christ, for Christ Himself. And they came, Paul says, and were received as the ambassadors of the true God. And their message was received, not like as though the word of men, but as the Word of God itself, in power, in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance [1 Thessalonians 1:5].
Then, he says, these reporters going all over the world, recounting what happened there at Thessalonica, he says: "They not only have spoken of how we were received by the Thessalonian people but how the Thessalonians turned to God from idols" [1 Thessalonians 1:9] which, I say, is a remarkable thing how [epestrepsate]. They had a revolution. They turned around, pros ton Theon, to God, apo tōn eidōlōn, from idols.
Those people there in Thessalonica were worshipers of Zeus, in Latin, Jupiter; worshipers of Athena, in Latin, Minerva; worshipers of Aphrodite and Astarte, in Latin, Venus; worshipers of Artemis, in Latin, Diana – gods many and lords many. Every temple had its shrines, and every street corner had its god and its statue and its idol. And these people in Thessalonica turned around and began to serve a god that could not be seen nor imagined and became followers of Jesus the Nazarene who was crucified [1 Thessalonians 1:9]. Why, it was an unbelievable, phenomenal, remarkable thing: these cultured and educated Greeks turning to a despised Jew, who was crucified as being God Himself, and worshiping Him.
It’s remarkable to me as I look back and read in that Greek culture their poetry, their art, their statuary, their architecture. Their everything was superb and superlative. And these three despised preachers coming along, Jews, in whose eyes there were no more contemptible people to a Greek or a Roman than the Jew. And yet, receiving from their hands the Gospel of the Son of God, and believing it, and turning in faith toward it. I say, it is a remarkable thing to me now as I consider it.
They didn’t have a reformation there in Thessalonica. They never turned from some bad gods to some good gods or elevated their moral thinking about religion. They had a revolution there. The old gods were dethroned and the old thrones were torn down, and a new king and a new Lord and a new faith took its place.
In the days of the Graeco-Roman Empire, to add another god to a pantheon was the usual and accepted and ordinary thing. In fact, they were looking for any new faith, any new religion, any new god. The word pantheon, everybody’s, all the gods, temples in which would be more gods than there were worshipers there to call upon their names.
When Paul came to Athens, they were very intrigued, those Athenians were, for they thought that Paul was preaching Iēsous and anastasis [Acts 17:18]. They’d been accustomed to Jove and Juno, to Apollos and Venus, to Aphrodite and Adonis. The gods all came in pairs. And when Paul came preaching Iēsous and anastasis, Jesus and the resurrection, the male and the female, they thought He had another pair of gods they’d never heard before: the male, Iēsous; the female, Anastasis. That’s the reason they carried up to their court, to the court of the Areopagites, to Mars Hill, there to hear him expound these new gods they’d never heard before [Acts 17:19-21]. And when they heard the Gospel of the Son of God, some of them scoffed and some of them laughed and some of them ridiculed [Acts 17:22-32].
That was Athens. But here in Thessalonica, there was a revolution in the lives of the people turning from those gods many and lords many [1 Thessalonians 1:9]. They accepted the religion of Jesus Christ, received Him as a personal Savior, and worshiped Him as God: a phenomenal thing. No wonder Paul says the entire world was speaking of it.
Then "how ye turned . . . to God from idols to serve . . . ." [1 Thessalonians 1:9]. Their lives and their witness to the new faith was also a remarkable and phenomenal thing. "In much affliction, with joy" [1 Thessalonians 1:6], they listened to this new faith and this new message, and they became examples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia, and from them trumpeted out the Word, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but all over the Roman Empire [1 Thessalonians 1:7-8]. Everywhere, their faith to God-ward was spread abroad – the glorious witness and life and testimony of those Christians in Thessalonica.
Did you ever think, on a hot summer day, nobody points up and says, "There’s the sun"? His radiance is shining around us. You don’t need to point and say, "There it is." So it is with the witness of a great and devoted people and a deeply consecrated church. Its fame, its devotion is spread abroad by everybody who’s a merchandiser and comes to town: by every banker that attends its convention, by every real estate operator who’s here for a convocation of their kind. Everybody in the country would know about it if you had a church that was devoted and consecrated like this.
You know, I have often said about us, just about us, there are more than 7,000 resident members in our church and Sunday school – people who come down here. I’ve often said when we have a revival meeting, or if we just had it on Sunday, if our people would come to church, just come, this auditorium would seat about 3,000 of them – 3,100; 3,200, let’s say, if they jammed it. Then, on the outside, there would be about, oh, 4,000 of us that couldn’t get in. Why, Life Magazine – let me wash my mouth – Life Magazine, Time Magazine, Holiday Magazine, every magazine I know of, would have reporters down here taking pictures that the whole world could see. This glorious church with 3,200 on the inside and 4,000 of them on the outside that couldn’t even get in. If we had just that much faith, just that much devotion, just that much religion just to come, if we didn’t do anything else – didn’t pray, didn’t love, didn’t give, didn’t do anything but just be here. Ah, our religion is like a veneer. It is so thin. It is so frail. God be with His people today!
"How ye turned to God from idols to serve the living God" [1 Thessalonians 1:9]. Their lives were a witness: in affliction, with joy of the Spirit, sounding out the Word of the Lord. They were like a rock in a raging sea: unmovable and dedicated to Christ. "How ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for His Son from heaven" [1 Thessalonians 1:9-10]. Our faith and our religion is not just the matter of a minute or of an experience back there in the days gone by, but our religion is a constant, holy perseverance waiting on the Lord in heaven.
We’re saved in a moment. We’re saved in a second. We are saved instantaneously. "There is life for a look at the crucified One" ["There is Life for a Look at the Crucified One," A.M. Hull, 1860]. I am not saved gradually. Conversion is a beginning, and a beginning is never gradual. I’m either saved, or I’m lost [1 John 5:11-12]. I have begun, or I haven’t begun. I have given my heart to Christ, or I haven’t. I’m saved immediately, instantly. The moment I turn and look to Him, I’m saved [John 3:14-16].
But this thing of the Christian life is a working out into all of the areas of our being that "salvation with fear and trembling" [Philippians 2:12] – waiting on the Lord, looking toward the Lord in holy, believing expectancy. We believe He was raised and ascended into heaven [Acts 1:1-9]. There He is with power to save to the uttermost [Hebrews 7:25]. And we believe that in that day known to Him, glorious and triumphant, that same Lord who ascended to heaven will also come back again to this earth [Matthew 24:30, 36]. And we live in that faith and in that hope. "And to wait for His Son from heaven" [1 Thessalonians 1:10]. We live in eternity, not in time. "Our citizenship is in heaven" [Philippians 3:20], not here. We are to set our affections upon things above, not upon the things of the earth [Colossians 3:2]. Our treasures are to be in glory, not down here "where moth and rust waste and corrupt" [Matthew 6:19-20]. Our lives are to be hid with Christ in God in heaven, and we are to live in the nearness of eternity and not in the presence of time [Colossians 3:1-4].
One of the men that I so greatly loved and admired, a devoted preacher of the Gospel who’s now in heaven, his father was killed when he was a lad. And his mother married again and, this time, to a cruel, cruel man. Upon a morning when the boy was about thirteen years old, at the breakfast table, his stepfather was displeased with his mother. He took the plate of biscuits that somehow did not please him and threw them into the face of his mother. Then, the big, strong man stood up and beat his mother there at the table and stalked away.
The thirteen-year-old child, comforting his mother, said, "Mother, let us leave. Let us leave. Somehow, I will make a living. Let us leave."
And the mother replied, "Son, there has never been a blot upon my family record. There has never been a separation in our homes. I am not well. I will not live long. And I want my name to remain unstained, unblotted, unmarred." Ah, that’s a far cry from today. That’s a far cry from what any of us feels today. She was a true prophetess. She soon died, and she was buried, and she kept her name unstained and unmarred. I think of that dear mother and how she was steadfast in her commitment to God because she believed that this life was but for the moment. And to endure affliction for just a while
worketh for us a far more eternal and exceeding weight of glory;
While we look not on the things that are seen, but on the things that are not seen: for the things that are seen are temporal; but the things that are not seen are eternal.
[2 Corinthians 4:17-18]
The tragedies and the sorrows of this life are to a Christian but a fleeting moment and pass away like the early dew, like the morning clouds. But the great commitment we have to God is forever and forever and forever "to wait for his Son from heaven" [1 Thessalonians 1:10]. Our reward is in His hands [Revelation 22:12]. Our pleasure and our joy, our happiness and our glory, our hope and our life are hid with Christ in God in heaven [Colossians 3:1-4] "to wait for His Son from heaven" [1 Thessalonians 1:10].
I want to continue with that preacher friend of mine. In speaking to me about that, he said after his mother died he went to the big city as a teenage youth to make a living, to take care of himself. Had a man there, a friend, with whom he roomed. And down there in the warehouse district where they worked, there was somebody who was holding a revival meeting. He said he and his roommate went down and sat on the back seat in the warehouse, attending the revival.
And he said in the service, there at the front, stood a little woman singing a song. And he said she looked like his mother, and she sang like his mother. And when the preacher had done his message, and the appeal was being made, he said that little woman came back there where he and his friend were standing.
And he said, "She talked to my friend about Jesus and won him to the Lord, and they walked up to the front together." But, he said, "She never said a word to me, nor did she come back where I was, nor did anyone say anything to me about the Lord." He said, "Oh, that if the troubling of the water there had been somebody to place me in" [from John 5:4-7].
He wasn’t converted till he was thirty-two years old, and I think of that so many times as I think of that wonderful preacher. I wonder and I wonder in these services if there are people who come and the Spirit of the Lord moves their hearts, but it’s a big auditorium and that’s the longest aisle down which a fellow ever walked when he makes a decision for Christ. It’s just interminable. And all of these people looking, most of them strange. Somehow, there’s nobody to help at the troubling of the water.
Oh, I don’t know what. I don’t know how. I just know that many, many, many people are so nigh the kingdom of God at times that just the pressure of a warm, friendly hand on the arm would make the difference – just a quiet invitation, just a word. But somehow, it passes us by. Ah, this life of devotion and commitment to Christ and to wait and to serve our Lord in heaven. "Whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, who delivered us from the wrath to come" [1 Thessalonians 1:10].
May I speak, finally, of this report they made of the great assurance that they had, these Christians in Thessalonica who received the Word in power, in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance [1 Thessalonians 1:5], and Paul defines it as, "Who delivered us from the wrath to come" [1 Thessalonians 1:10]. One of the tremendously effective testimonies of a true Christian is his assurance. The world may call it dogmatism, fanaticism. The Holy Scriptures call it assurance – a deep and abiding persuasion.
You ask a philosopher where the world began, and he equivocates. He doesn’t have any answer. You ask him the great destiny and purpose of life and humanity and our world. He equivocates. He doesn’t have any answer. There’s only one answer. There’s only one Somebody who has an answer, and that answer is in the Word of the Lord. "By faith we understand that God made the heavens and the earth out of things that do not appear" [from Hebrews 11:3] – that you can’t see. God said it, and, by faith, we understand that the great consummation of this age lies in the hands of Almighty God. There’s a rendezvous. There’s an assize. There’s a great meeting out there, somewhere, with the great Almighty God of heaven [Hebrews 9:27].
And the Scriptures reveal that that hour comes with trembling and wrath and judgment for those outside of God [Revelation 20:12-15]. Outside of Christ, nothing but the fierce flame and furor and burning of the wrath of heaven when the heavens are aflame and the earth is on fire [2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; 1 Peter 3:10-12]. But to the Christian, but to the Christian, with what peace and assurance and persuasion does he lift up his heart and see the vistas that lie ahead in the ages and in the eternities of God.
Receiving the Word with much assurance, even waiting for Jesus, who delivered us from the wrath to come [from 1 Thessalonians 1:6, 10]. No longer fearful or trembling – not before death, not before the long eternity, not before the judgment, not before God – but at peace and at rest and in assurance. I am saved, and I know it [1 John 5:13]. And if God should call for me now, I’m ready any day, any hour. I’ve settled that thing with the Lord.
A man on a boat, walking the deck, looked up at the sky dark and furious with clouds. Listening to the wind as it blew and the great mountainous, tempestuous rolling seas, he said to the captain, "Captain, there’s a great storm brewing!"
And the captain replied, "No, my friend. No. No." He said, "The storm has already passed, and this is the aftermath. This is the wake."
That’s the way it is with the Christian. To him, the storm and the fire and the furor and the flame and the wrath and the judgment are already passed! Christ bore it [1 Peter 2:24]. Christ weathered it [2 Corinthians 5:21]. On the cross on Calvary, the judgment of our sin, the damnation of our iniquity, the judgment and wrath of God on our souls – all of it for the Christian was borne in the death of Christ in the cross. Our judgment is past [Colossians 2:13-14].
Henceforth, there remains for the Christian the deliverance from the wrath to come [1 Thessalonians 1:10]. Nothing for him but the glad, grand hallelujah of looking for the great triumphal return of our Savior [1 Thessalonians 4:16-18], and in His blessed hands the reward that shall be ours, world without end [Revelation 22:12]. To the Christian, nothing but joy, nothing but gladness, nothing but light, nothing but life, nothing but glory, nothing but heaven, nothing but the reunion of our family circles, nothing but the gathering of the saints before the great throne of heaven, nothing but joy and hallelujah and happiness forever and forever [Revelation 21:4].
No need to be afraid [1 Corinthians 15:55-57; 1 John 4:18]. If I’m afraid, Lord, it’s because I lack faith. If I tremble in the presence of death or of eternity, it’s because of a lack of full commitment to Thee. Lord, Lord, fill my heart and my soul as I face these last and inevitable hours that they be full of light and glory and gladness and holy, believing expectancy: nothing but God, nothing but Christ, nothing but heaven, nothing but home, nothing but resurrection.
Ah, what God hath done for His children when He delivered us from the wrath to come! [1 Thessalonians 1:10] Maybe there was a time when I was afraid. Now, I ought to share with all creation that glad expectancy: in bondage now but waiting for the manifestation of the Sons of God [Romans 8:18-21].
And when He testifieth, "Behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give each one as his work shall be" [Revelation 22:12], then ought my soul always to answer, "Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus" [Revelation 22:20].
And that is the Thessalonian Christians – the report of them: how they turned to God, how they served the Lord, how they were waiting for the Son from heaven, and how, in much assurance, they were persuaded that Jesus had delivered them from the wrath to come.
That’s our invitation to you, my friend, my brother: in the faith of Christ, to trust your soul, Lord, now and forever, looking to Jesus, believing in Him. Down these stairwells, from side to side, somebody you, giving his heart to the Lord or coming into the church by letter. A family of you, or one somebody you, while we make appeal, would you come? Would you come? In the great throng of people this morning, some of you have almost decided for Christ. Right now, before we sing the first note of the first stanza, would you say, "Lord, I’ll make it now. I’ll make it now. Other refuge have I none. My soul hangs on Thee, clings to Thee, waits upon Thee"?
"In my hand, no price I bring" – couldn’t buy it, not for sale, never deserved it, couldn’t be good enough – "but simply to Thy cross I cling, trusting Jesus" [from "Rock of Ages," by Augustus Toplady, 1776].
Would you decide: "I’ll make it now, and here I come?" As the Lord shall lead, and the Holy Spirit speak the word, as God shall open the way, will you follow? Will you enter in? "There is Life for a Look at the Crucified One" [A. M. Hull, 1860], just trusting Jesus. While we sing, would you come while we stand and while we sing?
THE CONVERSION OF THE THESSALONIAN CHRISTIANS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Thessalonians 1:5-10
A. The far-flung report concerning them
B. They were examples to all that believe in Macedonia, Achaia, and in every place(1 Thessalonians 1:7-8)
C. Their unusual conversion, singular devotion to the faith of Jesus the theme of conversation all over Greece
II. What the whole world was saying(1 Thessalonians 1:9)
A. "What entrance in we had"
1. Three despised preachers came without prestige, friends, credentials
2. Remarkable – they were received as messengers of heaven
B. "How ye turned to God from idols" – their conversion(1 Thessalonians 1:9)
1. Remarkable – these devotees of Zeus, Athena, Artemis, and more, turned to a despised, crucified Jew as being God Himself
2. Not a reformation, but a revolution
a. Did not just add another god to pantheon
C. Their lives, witness, serving the living and true God(1 Thessalonians 1:6, 8)
1. Their deep conviction and devotion
D. "To wait for His Son from heaven"(1 Thessalonians 1:10)
1. Our salvation not a few minutes of faith, but a constant perseverance waiting on the Lord in heaven
2. Conversion the beginning – we live in eternity(Philippians 2:12, 3:20, Colossians 3:2, Matthew 6:19-20, 2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
3. True believer living in the future
E. Assured of their salvation
1. "Delivered from the wrath to come" (1 Thessalonians 1:10)
2. No longer fear of judgment, condemnation
3. Expectancy, waiting for Son of God (Revelation 22:12, 20)