BEGINNING AT JERUSALEM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-5-58 10:50 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock message entitled, Beginning at Jerusalem. It is the fourteenth anniversary of the pastor, and this is his fourteenth anniversary address. In the last chapter of the Third Gospel, the Gospel of Luke:
Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures,
And He said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:
And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
And ye are witnesses of these things.
Our Lord, in these great commissions, one of which we read together, imposed upon those eleven humble men a superhuman and supernatural task: the subversion to Christ of the entire world, all the nations and all the families of the earth; a superhuman assignment. And He said they are to begin at Jerusalem [Luke 24:47].
They stood on the top of the Mount of Olives, and that city lay before them, "Begin there." But there our Lord had been murdered [Acts 2:22-23], and those murderers were still in the city; the executioners of our Lord still controlled its political life, its religious and spiritual life, its economic life. Yet the Lord says, "Into all the world, beginning there in Jerusalem" [Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8]. And if these disciples were lucky enough to escape with their lives from Jerusalem, what kind of a gospel had they to preach to that entire world beyond? a gospel of a Crucified Messiah, which was foolishness to the Greeks, as well as a stumbling block to the Jews [1 Corinthians 1:23]. Then as they stood on the top of Olivet underneath the impact of that tremendous assignment, and lifted up their eyes beyond Jerusalem, and beyond Judea, and away and away and to the westward, there was imperial Rome, the seat of empire and the seat of power and the seat of culture. How would these humble men overthrow and subvert so tremendous a system as was represented by pagan imperial Rome? It seemed almost irony to send out these unlettered Galileans, eleven of them in number, and to match their unlettered minds and their humble souls, and their working hands against the entire world, but our Master did it, and they did it.
We have no less a staggering assignment today. Our foes are as implacable and as bitter. There is pan-Arabic Islamic nationalism, a fanaticism that is almost indescribable, bitterly anti-Hebrew and anti-Christian. There is the rise of Hindu nationalism, which is no less set adamantine against the Christian faith and the Christian message. There is everywhere the spirit of materialism, denying every spiritual reality. And then, of course, there has arisen within this last century the bitterest foe that the Christian message has ever known: that of world international communism. "Listen Christ," says an American poet:
You did all right in Your day, I reckon –
But that day’s gone now.
They ghosted You up a swell story, too,
Called it Bible –
But it’s dead now.
The popes and the preachers
Made too much money from it.
Kings, general, robbers and killers –
Even to the Czar and the Cossacks,
Even to Rockefeller’s church,
Even to THE SATURDAY EVENING POST.
You ain’t no good no more.
They’ve pawned You
Till You’re done wore out.
Christ Jesus Lord God Jehovah,
Beat it on away from here now.
Make way for a new guy with no religion at all –
A real guy named
Marx Communist Lenin Peasant Stalin Worker ME –
I said, ME!
Go ahead now,
You’re getting in the way of things, Lord.
And please take Saint Gandhi with You when You go,
And Saint Pope Pius,
And Saint Aimee McPherson,
And big black Saint Becton
Of the Consecrated Dime.
And step on the gas, Christ!
Don’t be so slow about movin’!
The world is mine from now on –
And nobody’s going to sell ME
To a king, or a general,
Or a millionaire.
["Goodbye Christ"; Langston Hughes]
That’s the spirit of the new day and the new age and the drive that is overwhelming this world. So whether here or yonder or abroad or upon an isle of the sea, we have no less our same implacable foes as they knew two thousand years ago.
But these things have not caught our Lord unawares. He has seen them from the beginning. There is no new opposition, nor is there a new strategy into which our Lord has already probed, into which He has already seen; all of these things are known to Him. He saw them from the beginning. And when He assigned those first disciples that tremendous, immeasurable task, and when He gave it to our hands, as we took the torch from those who have fallen before us, our Lord knew that they and we could not do it in our own strength. But He opened avenues of great conquering triumphant power to us, and He gave us two things by which we are to face a world to conquer. One: He gave us the messianic gift: the Holy Spirit, the Promise of the Father [Luke 24:]. All of the resources of heaven are available unto us. The very stars in their courses fight on our side. And He gave us the means, the channel, by which we could open our hearts, and our hands, and our lives, and our churches, and our work, to those vast, tremendous, illimitable, immeasurable resources of heaven: He gave us the right to pray [Philippians 4:6], the transmission line that goes from here to the great power plant yonder, the great mighty main that brings life-giving water down from the vast reservoir, and reaching out and up of our hands and our hearts to touch the very throne of God.
Now when we face this task, our Lord gave us a strategy. He outlined a way to do it, "Beginning at Jerusalem," here [Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8]. I frankly am overwhelmed by the vast, illimitable, tremendous assignment of our Lord. I sought in our Reminder to break down our giving program: two-thirds of those two pages are taken up with just a little summary, a small summary, of the vast mission fields we pray for, we support around this earth. They are on all the continents; they go beyond the seven seas. And when I look at it and then try to think of it, I am frank to confess that I am drowned in it, simply swept before it. How can one seize upon, lay hold upon, so vast and immeasurable a task, how? Our Lord told us how. We are to begin here, begin right where I am, begin with the folks at home, begin with our people here. And the vast yonder is just an overflow of here. By winning here, and building here, lighting a fire here, strengthening the stakes here, we are able to reach out and out and out, and to touch beyond the sea the borders of all the continents of the earth, "Beginning at Jerusalem," where I stand, where I am, where we are. That’s how we seize upon and lay hold upon this tremendous, worldwide program of our conquering Captain, our King and Savior.
So we stand face to face with our Lord and His pointing hand, and we start where He said: in His will, we start at Jerusalem; our Dallas [Luke 24:47]. We begin here in this sacred place, in this congregation, within these walls. We are proposing by God’s help and in the leadership of the Holy Spirit to do a better work than we have ever thought even to attempt to try, to expand it, expand it, expand it. We are just now beginning to learn how to do it. And however much we may have accomplished yesterday and the year before, it is to be as nothing, please God, comparable to the work we propose to do for Him in days yet to come. I am only disappointed about one thing; and that is this: it’s going to take longer to get that tremendously enlarged program under way than I thought for. But we are planning, we are working, we are praying, we are dedicated to that consummation. And in the will of the Lord, by His help, it shall come to pass. We are under heaven going greatly to expand every ministry of this church: our teaching, our training, our soulwinning, our visitation, our appeal, asking God to bless it as we seek to lift up unto Him this great growing city of Dallas, our Jerusalem.
It is our proposal in the will of God to continue to ask His favor upon and God’s support of our wonderful ministry of missions here in our Jerusalem. I have never seen a work so flower and flourish as the favor and blessing of God upon our mission program in this city. When you think of people that can’t read and write, when you think of illiterates, when you think of the lost and the poor and the downtrodden and the sub-marginal, you think of the Hottentots in Africa, and you think of the headhunters and the aborigines in Australia, and you think of the poor benighted souls who live up the Ganges toward Tibet or on the inside of Mongolia. It surprises us, surprises me, how the poor, the lost, the sub-marginal, the illiterate are right here, here. I saw a big headline in one of our newspapers, and the lower part of the whole paper was devoted to it; and then I saw it again in a magazine. One of our great institutions says they are launching a drive to teach illiterates; then it had a Dallas mark there. And I thought, "Well, whoever wrote the article was from Dallas"; never entered my mind that the thing was being done in this city, and the first sentence says that there is a major drive by one of our great Christian institutions to teach thirty thousand illiterates in Dallas, adults, how to read. Thirty thousand illiterate Dallas adults how to read; that’s the first sentence. You don’t need to go to Africa, you don’t need to go to Australia, you don’t need to go into India, or walk up and down the Ganges to find poor people, to find illiterate people, to find sub-marginal homes; you have them all around you. And Jesus says we are to begin where we are, revival here, soulwinning here, reaching these people for God here. However much we pray for and long for a great revival, the outpouring of the Spirit of God upon the darkened minds and lost souls of the heathen across the seas, Jesus says, "Here. Start here. Begin here" [Luke 24:47]. And if there’s light here and fire here and revival here, love and interest here, Jesus says it will reach out like the ripple on a little lake to the farthest shore and the humblest home. There is no finer, sweeter ministry in our church, and one for the most part, that our congregation is unacquainted with, than the ministry we have to the city of Dallas, six missions, all six of them wonderfully blessed of God, and the greatest of the six, here in our own church, in our Good Shepherd department.
Edwin Markham wrote a poem of an old shoemaker, an old shoe cobbler named Conrad, who was expecting the Lord to appear to him in his shop. It was the basis of our beautiful White Christmas play about two years ago. And this is the conclusion of that beautiful poem from Edwin Markham:
While the cobbler mused, there passed his pane
A beggar drenched by the driving rain.
He called him in from the stony street,
And gave him shoes for his bruised feet.
The beggar went; there came a crone,
Her face with wrinkles of sorrow sown.
A bundle of fagots bowed her back,
And she was spent with the wrench and rack.
He gave her his loaf, and steadied her load
As she took her way on the weary road.
Then to his door came a little child,
Lost and afraid in the world so wild,
In the big, dark world. Catching him up,
He gave him the milk in the waiting cup,
And led him home to his mother’s arms,
Out of the reach of the world’s alarms.
The day went down in the crimson west
And with it the hope of the blessed Guest,
And the cobbler sighed, as the world turned gray:
"Why is it, Lord, that Your feet delay?
Did you forget that this is the day?"
Then soft in the silence, a Voice he heard:
"Lift up your heart, for I kept My word.
Three times I came to your friendly door;
Three times My shadow was on your floor.
I was the beggar with bruised feet;
I was the woman you gave to eat;
I was the child on the homeless street!"
["How the Great Guest Came"; Edward Markham]
Beginning at Jerusalem; and in the love and purpose and choice and will of God, we are seeking faithfully to carry through and out that Great Commission, "beginning at Jerusalem," to the whole city [Luke 24:47].
Now may I speak just a brief word, as the time will allow, of God’s helping us in this task? We are invited by heaven, by our Lord, to make Him a partner. In the great assignment the Lord has given us, He has also prescribed for us avenues, resources for the accomplishment, the achievement of our tremendous task. We are to pray for workers. "The harvest truly is plenteous, the laborers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth laborers into His harvest" [Matthew 9:37-38]. Pray for them. There is no limit to the ministry of our Good Shepherd department; there is no limit to it. We limit it ourselves. There are literally thousands and thousands that we can win and teach through that ministry. One of the leaders in our church tells me faithfully, "There is no limit to the number of young people we can have in our Training Unions in this church, if just we have leaders and sponsors to take interest in them." These great skyscrapers are filled with thousands of young people, pouring into this city from every town and hamlet and village in the great Southwest, coming to the big city, lost in it; and every dark underworld character making a bid for them. Who’s going to drink the liquor if the young people are not taught to do it? Who’s going to buy the dope if the young people are not taught to buy it? Who’s going to be for sale in the white market if there are not girls debauched to supply it? They live on the debauchery and prostitution of our youth. Pouring into this great city, there is no limit to the number of them we can win for Christ if just there are men and women to dedicate their lives to that appeal. "Pray that the Lord will send forth laborers into His harvest" [Matthew 9:38]; the channel that reaches up to God.
We are to pray for power in the work. "And He said unto them, Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto Me in Jerusalem" [Luke 24:; Acts 1:8]. Often times do I hear it said, "The church, all of the vast machinery of a modern church, is it necessary and is it good? These vast intricate modern churches, such as ours, is it not too much, the machinery?" I have a simple and humble reply: it all depends upon the amount of power to run it. When I was a little boy and I went to church, they had an organ there. And one of the dear sainted women in our church pedaled with her feet and pumped the organ as she played with her hands. Then they built a bigger organ, and they had a little boy that stood back of the organ, and he pumped a bellows, a bellows as they played, as the woman played the organ. I would just like to see a woman with her feet pedal and provide the power for that organ. Or I would just like to see the little boy that could take his hands and pump the bellows for that organ. "The organ’s too big; therefore we ought to take it out. The organ’s too big for a woman’s feet or a little boy’s hand; it’s too big." No, it’s not. It just depends upon how you hook it up. Hook that organ to those great turbines that generate those vast kilowatts of electricity, hook it up! You could have an organ fifty times that big!
Same way about the machinery of a church. If we hook our church to the pedaling of a woman’s feet, to the bellowing of a little boy’s hands, the machinery is too great. But hook it up to the infinite powerhouse of God in heaven, tie it on to heaven, you’ve got too little a Sunday school, and you’ve got too little a Training Union, and the Brotherhood is too small, and the WMU hasn’t begun to touch the hem of the garment, and the church piddles and plays at the great stupendous task God has given us. And you remember this word: nothing will take the place of that power; not ingenuity, not ingeniousness, not genius, not ability, not talent, not program, not outline. There’s a difference in doing a thing in the power of God and the power of man, in the energy of the Spirit and the energy of the flesh.
You two men who build automobiles, however beautiful you may make the lines, however polished the exterior, and however gorgeous the upholstery, if there’s not an engine in it to make it go, all of the peripheral, and the paraphernalia, and the embellishments, and the accouterments are nothing! The same way with the church and the people of God: it has to be tied on to heaven, the great powerhouse, the Spirit of God. I must quit. It hurts my heart to stop.
Power, Lord, power with men, and power with Thee. Power to gather families and children and young people, and lead them to a saving knowledge of our blessed Savior, Christ Jesus.
Now we have two complete services when we have the Lord’s Supper. And at the end of this service, there will be a marked dismissal, and you may leave, but don’t leave now. We’re making appeal now, as we sing this song of invitation. We’re making appeal now, for somebody to trust Jesus as Savior, somebody to put his life in the church, one somebody you, or a family you. We had four to come at the other service; it blesses our hearts. Somebody to come, into the aisle, down to the front, if you’re in the balcony, these stairwells front and back, come up to the pastor, and give him your hand, "Pastor, today, today, while the voice of the Lord calls in my soul, today I give my heart to Jesus, my life to Him." Or, "I’m putting my life with you, to pray, to work, in the fellowship of this wonderful church." Would you make it now? Would you come now? On the first note of the first stanza, while we stand and sing.
THE FIFTEENTH YEAR
commissions the disciples to begin at Jerusalem (Acts
1:8, 1 Corinthians 1:23)
assignment today no less difficult
equipped the disciples in two ways
Messianic gift of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:)
II. Our Jerusalem
A. The enlargement of
our work in this sacred place
B. The strengthening,
re-energizing of our city missions program
III. Depending on God to help us
A. For workers (Matthew 9:37-38)
B. For power (Acts 1:8, 14)
C. For souls (John 15:7-8)