The Infallible Forty Days
April 17th, 1960 @ 10:50 AM
THE INFALLIBLE FORTY DAYS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-17-60 10:50 a.m.
You who listen on the radio are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning message entitled The Infallible Forty Days. In the first verses of the Book of Acts:
The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach,
Until the day in which He was taken up, after that He through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom He had chosen:
To whom also He showed Himself alive after His passion by man infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
That period of time, forty days, is used in the Bible as a reference, a unit, to express a cataclysmic and all important period. For example, in the Book of Genesis, in the days of the judgment of God in the Flood, it rained for the first time in the world, it rained forty days and forty nights [Genesis 7:4, 12, 17]. When Moses, the man of God, ascended to the top of the holy mount, there God spake to him forty days and forty nights [Exodus 24:18, 34:28]. When Nineveh became a reproach to heaven, God sent the prophet Jonah to preach to the Ninevites. And as he walked through the streets of the city, he lifted up his voice and said, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed" [Jonah 3:4]. After Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River, the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness; and there He was tempted of the devil for forty days [Matthew 4:1-10]. Always in the Scriptures, that number refers to a cataclysmic all meaningful time. But nowhere in the Bible are there forty days that have the significance for all time and for all eternity as these "forty infallible days" [Acts 1:3], which saw Jesus raised from the dead and presented to His wandering and amazing disciples.
Those forty days brought back to us our living Lord. Where Jesus was born, to where our Lord was crucified, was only about five or six miles. From Christmas to Easter, from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, from the manger to the grave, no further apart than from Love Field to the First Baptist Church in the heart of Dallas, and yet between those two termini, the world saw the most amazing revelation in time, in history, in this earth, or the world that is to come. There in the little village, God, in heavenly love and with angelic presentation, gave to humanity His finest, sweetest, dearest gift [Matthew 1:18-2:1; Luke 1:26-35, 2:1-16]. And there in the city, mankind gave the gift back to God, raised high and nailed to a Roman cross [Matthew 27:32-50; Luke 23:26-46]. You would have thought God had said, "It is enough." You would have thought that was the last time the world had ever seen of the Son of God. You would have thought that God had written off a depraved and debauched and sinful humanity forever and forever. But those forty days gave back to us our Lord, resurrected, living, immortalized, glorified, oh, the wonder of the longsuffering grace of God! [Acts 1:1-3].
Those forty days turned awful despair and defeat into incomparable victory. The silence of the tomb is beyond any finality in this earth. And the despair of these disciples was beyond what a man could say. Every hope, every dream, every vision of God, of the kingdom of God, of the purposes of God, they had seen die on the cross. Pharisees looked, and the elders looked, and the scribes looked, and the Sadducees looked, and they said, "He is dead," and they returned back to Jerusalem. And the soldiers looked, and they said, "He is so certainly dead, no need to break His bones." And to make doubly sure, one of the soldiers took a spear and ran it into His heart; and when he pulled out the iron blade, blood and water flowed out [John 19:33-34]. And the centurion made an official report to his procurator Pontius Pilate and official reported, "And He is dead." And the disciple whom Jesus loved found His mother and said, "He is dead." And the eleven disciples crawled into eleven shadows, and with tears burning hot on their faces said to one another, "And He is dead." To add to the gloom and the despair of that awful hour, the soldiers who’d been paid to guard His tomb were now paid to say, "And those disciples stole His body away" [Matthew 28:11-13].
It was in the midst of the midnight of that darkness and despair that a woman came in the early hours of the dawn, and found Peter and John and said, "Peter and John, I have been to the tomb. It’s an open sepulcher, and no man lies therein." And Peter and John hearing that ran to the sepulcher. And John being the younger outran Simon Peter. He just stopped at the door of the sepulcher and looked in. But when Peter came impetuously, ran on the inside, and then the other disciple followed Peter. And they looked where they’d laid Him. And John says, "And when he saw the napkin folded up, lying in a place so carefully by itself, he believed [John 20:1-8]. But Him they saw not," and they turned back. And then it was that Mary, standing there by the door of the open grave, weeping disconsolately, heard somebody speak. And thinking it was the gardener, asked where the body had been stolen away, that she might come and care for Him. Then Jesus pronounced her name, and she recognized Him; that was the grandest message this earth ever heard, born on the voice and in the testimony of a woman! She ran back to Simon and to John and to the disciples and said, "I have seen Him! He is alive! He is alive! He is alive! He is alive!" [John 20:11-18]. Then Simon somewhere in that story met the Lord face to face [Luke 24:34]. And that afternoon He was known in the breaking of bread on the way to Emmaus [Luke 24:13-16, 30-31]. And that night, the disciples huddled together in a locked room for the fear of their lives. The Lord Himself appeared in the midst [John 20:19-25], and then the next Sunday evening appeared again [John 20:26-29]; then to the seven on the shores of the Sea of Galilee [John 21:1-25]; then to above five hundred on an appointed mountain in Galilee [Matthew 28:16-20; 1 Corinthians 15:6]; then in Jerusalem [1 Corinthians 15:7]; then on the hill of ascension on Olivet, where the Great Commission was given [Acts 1:4-11]. He is alive! He is alive! He is alive! "To whom also He showed Himself alive after His passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days!" [Acts 1:3]. It was no fantasy, it was no psychological aberration; it was Jesus in the flesh, seen infallibly forty days.
Those forty days brought to us a corridor into the great vistas of the vast and unknown beyond. By how many graves has humanity bowed in tears and in sorrow, and looked upward to the eternal sky and wondered and wondered what lies in the darkness of the grave beyond? Like standing on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, and you see so small a part, the vast illimitable expanse in the distant beyond; so standing at the grave, wondering of that other life, of that other world, what and where and how: our answer is given in those infallible forty days. It was the same Lord Jesus, the same Master they’d known and loved as He walked up and down the roads of men. He was no different. Mary recognized Him by the way He pronounced her name [John 20:13-16]. John recognized Him by the way that He folded up a napkin [John 20:3-8]. The two in Emmaus recognized Him by the way He said the blessing at the breaking of bread [Luke 24:30-31, 35]. Thomas recognized Him by the scars in His hands and the wound in His side [John 20:26-28]. It is the same Lord Jesus. "Handle Me, and see, that it is I Myself; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see Me have." And He said, "Children have you here any meat? And they give Him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb, and He did eat before them" [Luke 24:41-43], the Son of God, the same Lord Jesus. A hundred years later almost, John the aged and sainted disciple of the Lord wrote his first epistle, "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, the Word of life" [1 John 1:1]. He never forgot it, he never forgot it, the same blessed Lord Jesus.
That’s our answer beyond. How is it for us? And how will it be? If He tarries and I die, and they plant my body into the heart of the earth, will He who says He knoweth our frame, will He also remember our dust? [Psalm 103:14]. Can the same able and mighty God that raised up Jesus from the dead raise us up [Romans 8:11], and we’re still ourselves? It is we, you are you, and I am I. Could it be? The answer lies in those infallible forty days: it was the same Lord Jesus [Acts 1:3]. "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me? Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord replied, I am Jesus of Nazareth" [Acts 22:7-8], glorified, Jesus of Nazareth: He didn’t change, the same Lord Jesus. And you will be the same you. And I will be the same I. And we shall be the same we, only without sin and stain, only without age and death, only immortalized and glorified. Oh, blessed, blessed hope, oh, precious, precious promise!
In one of the great universities of America, in an infidel theological gathering, I heard an illustrious minister – not a Baptist, of another faith, of another communion, of another denomination – an aged man, I heard him speak to that liberal modernistic faculty and student group. And he closed with a reason why he believed in personal immortality and said a thing that has burned in my heart forever. This illustrious world famous minister of Christ said that he was born in a terrible blizzard in Kansas. In the tar paper shack on the frontier, in that awful and raging storm, his mother held him to her breast to keep him warm; and his father cut up the last piece of furniture for kindling wood, lest they freeze to death. And in the agony of that awful hour, the preacher said his father got down on his knees by the side of his mother, who held him, the newborn babe, next to her breast, and the father prayed, saying, "Dear God, if You will spare our lives and let us live, we shall give this little baby to You to be a minister of the gospel of the Son of God." The preacher said for the years and the years that father and that mother have been in glory. And he said, "And I shall see them soon. And when I see my father and my mother, I shall lay in their blessed hands the record of this ministry, these forty years, and I shall say,’ Dear Father, dear Mother, this is the fruit of your love and your prayers.’" As I listened to him, and looked at the throng to whom he was speaking, I thought in my soul the thing that I’ve thought a thousand times a thousand times: the Christian faith is not speculation, the Christian faith is not metaphysical philosophy, the Christian faith is not intellectualism. The Christian faith is a great hope! It’s a great promise! It’s a great destiny! It’s a great life: life now abundant and life more abundant in the world that is yet to come [John 10:10]. This is the answer of the infallible forty days [Acts 1:3].
Those forty days reveal to us the living nearness of our Lord. Did you ever think as you read the story: for a while, the disciples did not know where they might see Him, when to expect him. Walking along on the way to Emmaus, there He was, walking by their sides [Luke 24:13-16]. Sitting at meat, there He was breaking bread [Luke 24:41-43]. Fishing out on the lake, there He stood in the gray mist of the morning on the shore [John 21:4-7]. In a room locked and barred, there He stood [John 20:19-20]. Anywhere, they might see Him, He might catch step with them as they walked, sit down with them as they broke bread [Luke 24:30-31]. Then the day came when they didn’t need His visible presence any longer, for listen, listen: for the Scriptures say they knew Him by His presence, working with them [Matthew 18:20]. Didn’t need to see Him; didn’t need to touch His hands or His side. They knew that He was with them by His presence in their hearts, and in their souls. And as they walked, and as they toiled, and as they worked, and as they lived, and as they died, there was the blessed presence of the Lord Jesus [Matthew 28:20]. Don’t need to see; don’t need to touch; don’t need the visible presence any longer; we know Him by the throbbing of His life in our souls and in our hearts. And that’s why we sing that song:
He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and He talks with me along life’s weary way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.
["I Serve a Risen Savior"; Alfred Henry Ackley]
When I’ve prayed and when I’ve paid the price, I feel the presence of Jesus standing by my side in this sacred pulpit. I feel His presence when I kneel by the bedside of a dying saint. I see His face in the eyes and countenance of a man who’s been lost in sin and has found a new day and a new hope in the Lord Jesus. And I feel His living presence in any godly group that gathers for prayer, or for supplication, or for the reading of the Word, or in the great congregation to sing in His name and to worship because of His infinite grace. Oh, the blessedness of the holy precious presence of Jesus: the gift of those forty infallible days [Acts 1:3].
And now while we sing our song of appeal this morning, in the great throng that fill this balcony round, somebody you give your heart in trust to Jesus, would you come? Down that stairwell at the back on either side, down this stairway at the front, find your way out and down and to the front, "Pastor, today I give my heart in faith and in trust to Jesus, and here I am, here I come." On this lower floor, somebody you give his heart to Jesus, coming into the fellowship of the church, a family you, one somebody you, a child, a couple, a youth, as the Spirit of Jesus shall bring to your heart this invitation, knock at the door of your soul [Revelation 3:20], would you say yes and now? On this radio, driving down a highway, sitting in a living room, if you’ve never given your heart in trust to Jesus, would you pull to the side of the road, bow your head over the steering wheel, and say, "Master, today, the best I know how, I give my life and soul and trust in faith to You." Kneel by the chair, "Master, today the best my heart can, I open the gates of my soul to Thee." And in this great auditorium, in this moment that we tarry, and it is yet so early, nobody leaving, everybody praying, in this moment of heavenly appeal, in the divine presence of our living Lord, somebody you, down this aisle and to the front, "Pastor, today I take Jesus as my Savior." Or, "Today, we’re putting our lives in the fellowship of this precious church." Will you make it now? While the pastor stands at the front, and while our people stand to sing.