THE AWAKENED CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-31-65 8:15 a.m.
You who listen on the radio are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message from God’s Word entitled The Quickened Church: The Awakened Church. You can easily follow the message, if you would so like, by turning to the second chapter of the Book of Acts. The text is verse 42. I shall read the few verses that precede it. After Simon Peter had delivered his message at Pentecost, the story continues:
Now when they heard this. . .they said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, turn, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ because of the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying,
Save yourselves from this untoward generation.
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and
the same day there were added unto the church about three thousand souls.
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and in fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in the prayers.
And that forty-second verse is our passage, "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching, and in the fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers" [Acts 2:42].
There was a brilliant professor in one of our seminaries, and I copied out of his book twenty-seven things that characterized the church before Pentecost; the church before Acts chapter 2. Christian believers before Pentecost had the gospel, they were converted; they were baptized after conversion. They had Christ as their head, they were instructed in church truths, they were called to obey Christ. They were ordained, they were commissioned; they were organized for their needs. They had a missionary program. They had a teaching program. They had a healing program. They were promised a continuing church. They had church discipline, they had divine authority. They had the essentials of church life. They had a true democracy. They had qualified pastors. They had the Lord’s Supper. They had the Holy Spirit; they had divine power to do Christ’s work. They sang in the midst of the church. They had prayer meetings. They had business meetings. They had a membership roll; they were united and added unto, and Christ was their cornerstone; twenty-seven things that he has written here about the church before Pentecost.
Now to me, Pentecost was the quickening, the empowering, the infilling of the church that the Lord organized while He was here in the earth. It is the same thing as you find in the creation of Adam and Eve. God made Adam out of the dust of the ground; and there he was, as God had created him out of the earth. "Then the Lord breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and Adam became a quickened, living soul" [Genesis 2:7].
The second Adam – Jesus our Lord – was like that: dead and inert, killed, murdered, crucified [Matthew 27:32-50]. He lay in the tomb [Matthew 27:57-60], and the Holy Spirit of God raised Him up, quickened Him, raised Him from the sepulcher and from the dead [Matthew 28:2-7, Romans 1:4; 8:11].
Eve was taken out of the side of Adam. Why they wanted to put a rib there, I’ll never understand [Genesis 2:21-2]. The Book says Eve was taken out of the riven side of Adam. And the Lord made her bone of his bones, and flesh of His flesh, and she also was quickened and became a living soul [Genesis 2:23]. So the church, Paul says, is taken out of the side of our Lord [Ephesians 5:29-30]. And she – beloved of the Savior, gave His life for her [Ephesians 5:25] – she also became quickened and living, bone of His bones, and flesh of his flesh, heart of His heart, soul of His soul.
Now that happened at Pentecost. As the Holy Spirit raised the Lord Jesus, the second Adam, from the dead and quickened Him into life, so the Holy Spirit at Pentecost took the church, the bride of Christ, and breathed into her the breath of life. And she became a living soul, a resurrected body like our Lord: bone of His bones, and flesh of His flesh [Acts 2:1-4, 16-42].
Now you have a picture of that resurrected, and in-filled, and divinely-inspired, quickened church. You have a description of that primeval church here in the second chapter of the Book of Acts, and especially in this forty-second verse. Luke describes it as in mind’s eye he saw it, the church in its splendid prime, when the memory of Jesus was vivid and when the Holy Spirit was new.
And he says four things about it, first: "They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ didache." Didache, your word, "didactic," comes from that: didasko, teaching, "in the apostles’ teaching" [Acts 2:42]. This is the carrying out of the Great Commission of our Lord in the twenty-eighth chapter and the last verses of Matthew, "Going into all the world, make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the triune God," didaskontes, didasko – the participial form of didasko, "teaching them" [Matthew 28:19-20]. That’s the word here, didache. "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching." The people never wearied of hearing, and the apostles never wearied of telling all the things about Jesus; and they knew more about Him than anybody in the world.
When you turn over here two pages, you will find it said of these apostles, they looked at them after they had interviewed them and found that they were unlearned and ignorant men. "But they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus" [Acts 4:13]. Unlearned, ignorant men, agrammatoi eisin kai idiotes, unlearned, not graduated from the academic schools – kai idiotes, private men, not professional seminarians – but they remembered they had been with Jesus. That’s where they saw them. That’s how come them to know them.
So in that first primitive church the disciples talked to the people about Jesus. And the people never tired of hearing the apostles tell about Jesus. We have a song in our book I wished you’d sing sometime:
More, more about Jesus,
More of His saving fullness see,
More of His love who died for me.
["More About Jesus"; Eliza E. Hewitt, 1887]
And in my own imagination, I can just see that primitive first church in Jerusalem gathering around the apostles and asking them, "Now Andrew, tell the story again. How was it, when you and John were on the banks of the Jordan River and the Messiah came by, and John said, ‘Behold, look, the Lamb of God’? [John 1:36] And you and John went to spend the day with Him. And it was 10:00 o’clock in the morning, you said? [John 1:38-39]. Now tell us again, Andrew, what did the Lord say? Tell us all about the first time you ever saw Jesus." And I can just see Andrew as he tells the story again of that first day that he ever looked upon the face of our blessed Lord [John 1:35-42].
And then I can just see them gathering around James; "James, you were one of the three, up there on the Mount of Transfiguration. James, what did He look like when His raiment became whiter than snow, and His face shined above the brilliance of the sun, and you heard the voice of God the Father? [Matthew 17:1-5] James, tell it to us again."
And I can just see the disciples as they gather around John, and they say, "John, you leaned on His breast at the Last Supper. John, how was it when He girded Himself with a towel and washed your feet? John, how’d you feel? How’d you feel when the Master came and bathed your feet, and dried your feet with the towel with which He was girded? [John 13:1-5] And how was it, John, when you broke bread together at that Last Supper, and the Lord talked to you in the upper room? [Matthew 26:17-30] Tell it to us again, John. How was it?"
I can see them gather around Thomas. "Thomas, you say you did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. And you said you would not believe until you put your finger in the scars in His hands, and thrust your hand into the great open, riven scar in His side. Thomas, how did you feel when you heard your words of denial and challenge repeated by the risen Lord Himself? [John 20:24-29] Thomas, how did you feel? How did you feel?"
And I can see them gather around Simon Peter, and as they talk to Simon Peter they say, "Simon, you say the Lord called you to be a shepherd of the flock up there in Galilee by the side of the seashore when He said, ‘Feed My lambs and take care of My sheep’ [John 21:15-17]. Tell us about that, Simon. Does the Lord love us? And does He care for us? And does He appoint pastors and shepherds to look after us?"
Well, can’t you see that? That as they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching they never tired of hearing, and the apostles never wearied of telling all about Jesus [Acts 2:42]. Can you imagine? Can you imagine? Can you imagine that first church coming up to the apostles and saying, "Now brethren, now you apostles, we think you ought to broaden your field of interest. We are tired of hearing about Jesus. Now let us have a few first-class book reviews. Now let us have a few lectures on the amelioration of the economic situation of our country. Don’t you know anything about Philo, your contemporary down there in Alexandria, and this latest theological fad that he is expounded, neo-paganism? Let’s hear about those things! We are tired of hearing about Jesus." Can you conceive of that? Yet, that is the modern pulpit, almost to the last one.
Or can you imagine people coming up to those apostles and saying, "Now listen, you hush your mouth! You hush your mouth, you be still! This is no time to hear about Jesus, or the delivery of a sermon, or a message from the Word of God. We have come to adore, and we have come to worship. And we don’t want any sermon. And we don’t want any message from you. And we don’t want any exposition of the Word of God, and we don’t want to hear anything from you about Jesus!" Can you imagine that?
My brethren, don’t forget, according to the Word of God, according to the Book, the highest worship in this earth is when we open our hearts and our souls; and in contrition, and in confession, and in repentance, and in self-dedication, we hear the story of the precious and blessed Lord Jesus.
Lee Roy, I went through the songbook last night; I went through the songbook last night. I wanted to find – I want you to notice something about that songbook: these hymns are all arranged according to subjects, and you see the subject always at the top, on the right and the left, all of these hymns are arranged according to those subjects. I want to read you a hymn, a lyric, under the subject of repentance and confession. You listen to it. This is one of the hymns in that wonderful hymnbook under the caption of repentance and confession, listen to it:
Tell me the story of Jesus,
Write on my heart every word.
Tell me the story most precious,
Sweetest that ever was heard.
Tell of the years of His labor,
Tell of the sorrow He bore.
How He was despised and afflicted,
Homeless, rejected and poor.
Tell of the cross where they nailed Him,
Writhing in anguish and pain.
Tell of the grave where they laid Him,
Tell how He liveth again.
Love in that story so tender,
Clearer than ever I see.
Stay, let me weep while you whisper,
Love paid the ransom for me.
["Tell Me the Story of Jesus"; Fanny Crosby]
That is worship. We are so taught that this is worship – all kinds of genuflection, incense; all kinds of robes, and incantations, and genuflections – that’s worship. Not so, not according to the Word of God! This is worship at its highest, listening to the Word of God and the story of Jesus in contrition, and in confession, and in self-dedication, letting God speak to our souls through the holy revelation of His love and grace in Christ Jesus.
And oh, the marvelous steadfastness of the worshipers of the members of that primitive church! The marvelous steadfastness in that teaching, they gave their lives for it – Stephen, the first martyr [Acts 7:55-60]; James, the first apostle to die [Acts 12:1-2]; Paul – finally all of them, all of them.
Today, in this day, today there have been uncounted thousands of our brethren who have been beheaded and shot down and martyred by the Chinese communists. All it would have taken to have spared and saved their lives was to say, "Wait. I’ll renounce the faith! I’ll renounce the story. I renounce my commitment to Jesus." That is all it would have taken. "I refuse to believe any longer."
Wonder what we would have done? So many of our nominal Christians, when they were lead to the execution would have said, "Wait a minute! Wait a minute! I can clear up the matter, I don’t want to be narrow or final. I can make a statement broad enough to be satisfactory to all." How like modern, insipid, nominal Christianity!
They continued steadfastly in that faith, and in that love, and in that commitment, even unto martyrdom and unto death. "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, teaching the story of Jesus" [Acts 2:42].
"And in the koinonia," I love that word. "And in the koinonia," you read it this morning but you didn’t realize you were reading it – in the first chapter of 1 John, after John says:
That which we have seen from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which our hands have handled, even Jesus, the Word incarnate of God, That we have declared unto you, that ye may have koinonia with us: and truly, our koinonia,
There it is again, and he is going to speak of it later. And I will in this message as I follow it:
And truly our koinonia is with the Father and with His Son, the blessed, precious, holy Lord Jesus.
The koinonia: the fellowship of God’s people, His church, His church. The koinonia: the fellowship, the community, the koinonia, "And they continued steadfastly in the koinonia" [Acts 2:42]. And that’s the first reaction of a convert, a child of God. When you are moved, when the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus to you as a Savior, that is your first reaction, to be a member of the koinonia, of the fellowship. I read it in the context:
And when they heard Simon Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, they said to the men and brethren, What shall we do? What shall we do? God has touched my heart. What shall we do?
And Peter said, Turn, repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ
– and the King James Version translates it –
for the remission of sins.
You know, we have a double meaning of that word, "for" in English, as you could have a double meaning for it there in Greek. "For," and there are some people who translate it, "in order to," the remission of sins. Be baptized "in order to" for the washing away of your sins. Well now, "for" can be used, "because of," and we do it all the time like that.
There is an old Texas cowpoke walking by, out there in one of those towns, and he saw a big caption up there: "Man wanted for a robbery." And he went in and applied for the job. Do you see that "for"? "Man wanted for a robbery." He translated it, "in order to." "Man wanted in order to commit a robbery," so he asked for the job. No! "For," meant there, "Man wanted because of robbery." Same way here, and that is the way it is used here in this Greek:
Repent, turn, every one of you, and be baptized, because of’ the remission of your sins, and the blessed Lord Jesus. And ye shall receive the gift of God’s living, quickening presence.
And they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there was added to that koinonia, to the fellowship, about three thousand souls.
Why, you – that’s just normal, that’s just natural – you can’t help being that way. "Where are God’s people? Where is the house of the Lord? Where is the congregation of the faithful? I’ve been saved! The Lord has touched my soul; Jesus has forgiven my sins. Brethren, here I am! I want to be baptized, and I want to belong to the congregation, the koinonia, the fellowship." Oh! How sweet.
Like that Ethiopian eunuch driving down the highway and Philip the evangelist by his side: "And as he preached to him Jesus,." See that same thing again? It is the pattern of the whole Word and message of God:
And as he preached to him Jesus,
– told him about Jesus; that’s the heart of the faith, Jesus –
And as he preached to him Jesus they came to a certain water: and the eunuch said, Look, there is water; I want to be baptized – What doth hinder me to be baptized?
And Philip said, If thou believe with all your heart, you may. And he said I believe that Jesus is the Lord,
the Christ who came into the world to die for my sins, raised for my justification, coming again, if I believe, "And he baptized him" [Acts 8:38]. Well, that’s so natural. And if God touched your heart, that is what you will want to do, and you cannot help it. "Where are God’s people? Where’s the fellowship of the saints? Where is the koinonia? God has spoken to my soul, and here I am. Here I am."
Old, rough General Grant – drunken, despised and outcast, rough – always thought that was the reason for this: after he was elected sixteenth president of the United States and after all the honors that American could bestow upon him, time came for him to face God. And on his dying bed he said this: he said, "Preacher," talking to a man of God, he said, "Preacher, I have always believed in God. I have always believed in Jesus, I have never been a doubter." He said, "Preacher, I would give all the honors that have ever come to me if I could have just one more year of life and make a public confession of that faith that I have had in my soul all the years of my life."
And I have always thought the reason he had not done it was because of those years when he was refused by the Army, and turned down by the military, and had lived such a rough and drunken life. But that’s the sign of a real believer and a genuine convert: "I want to identify myself with the koinonia, the people of God."
"For the Lord loved the church" – the koinonia, the fellowship – "for the Lord loved the church, and gave Himself for it" [Ephesians 5:25]. He said, "My church!" [Matthew 16:18]. In the Revelation, in the twenty-first chapter, "The angel said to John, ‘Come here – Come hither.’" And John was taken up unto a high mountain, and the angel said, "And I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife" [Revelation 21:9]. And then he saw the holy community, the koinonia, the fellowship – God’s people – he saw them, like a bride adorned for her husband [Revelation 21:2].
A preacher joined himself to a company who were talking together. And they were talking about the church. And when he had joined the group they said, "Preacher, do you think a fellow has to be a member of the church in order to go to heaven?"
And he quickly replied, "Why, certainly not!" And they patted him on the back and said, "You are a good fellow, that’s right. How broad-minded you are! Don’t have to be a member of church to go to heaven; that’s right."
Then the preacher said, "May I ask you a question, and you answer me as quickly? Why would you want to go to heaven that way? Just exactly why? Can you tell me why? Why would you want to go to heaven that way because that’s all that’s going to be up there; not going to be any fraternities up there; not going to be any lodges as such up there; not going to be any civic organizations as such up there; not going to be any societies you belong to up there; not going to be anything except the bride, the Lamb’s wife, the church. And can you tell me why you’d like to go to heaven like that? Why, I can’t conceive of it, nor can you; nor can you."
And the koinonia, the fellowship, has been entrusted with the heavenliest and most divine of all of the commissions in the earth: telling the world about Jesus, the evangelization of the world [Matthew 28:19-20]. Yesterday they had Churchill’s funeral. And General Eisenhower was there, who represented us as the head of the armed forces that stormed the bastions of Normandy. A chaplain was walking in the furor of that terrible war, when our men on D-day hit those beaches in Europe. And factitiously he said to an infantryman as he walked by, he said, "Infantryman, are you building a new world?"
And quickly the infantryman replied, he said, "Chaplain, no. I’m just tearing down the old. Building the new is your job." And it is, and it is: the heavenly assignment; a new creation in us, a new hope, a new life, a new faith – God in us [Colossians 1:27].
"And they continued steadfastly in the didache," in the teaching, in the story of Jesus, "and in the koinonia," and in the fellowship – in the brotherhood, in the precious and blessed church – and in the breaking of bread, "and in the breaking of bread" [Acts 2:42]. They gathered around the table of the Lord: the bread, His body; and this fruit of the vine, His blood [Matthew 26:26-28].
And they had one tremendous thing in common – all of them, one thing in common. They might not all be rich, they might not all be poor, they might not all be learned, they might not all be uneducated. They had one thing in common: no one reproached the one next to him as though he were any better. They were all confessed, repentant sinners alike, gathering around the table of the Lord. "This is the blood that washes our sins away" [1 John 1:7-9]. My brethren, all of us ought to come off of the false, high pinnacles upon which we sometimes live, and get down at the feet of Jesus, at the blood that pours over and cleanses our souls. And just remember, we’re all alike, sinners before the Lord [Romans 3:23].
When that Carl Steel painted his canvas here; made this picture here of the serpent raised in the wilderness, all those people, bitten, gathered around. They had one thing in common: they were all dying and they were all looking to God for salvation, and healing, and life [John 3:14-15]. That is the koinonia: all of us bitten alike, all of us sinners alike, all of us dying alike, looking to the blessed Lord Jesus.
The church is not a gallery for exhibiting the portraits of perfect sinless people, but the koinonia is a gathering of God’s people, how they can love Jesus more, and believe in Him more, and grow more like Him, educated in the things of the Lord; "No merit in us, our righteousness is as filthy rags" [Isaiah 64:6]. But oh, the ableness of God to save, and to forgive, and to heal, and to help! That’s it.
The only basis of communion that I have with God is my sins. I cannot stand before Him in my own merit, or strength, or righteousness. I cannot talk to God face-to-face as an equal. The only basis of communion I have with God is this, "Lord, I am a lost sinner, and I plead Your grace and Your mercy," then I touch the very heart of heaven.
As it says in the fourth chapter of the Book of Romans, the second verse: "If Abraham were justified by works, he had whereof to glory; but not before God" [Romans 4:2]. He might boast before his fellow men about how good he was. And he might brag of his righteousness to his brethren, about how fine and noble he was; but he couldn’t do it before God, because God knew him. He couldn’t boast before God about his works, or his righteousness, or his holiness, or his purity, or his sanctity, or his sinlessness. He could not do it before God.
So the next verse says, "Therefore, the Scriptures say, Abraham believed in God, and God counted it for righteousness" [Romans 4:3]. He could not boast of his goodness before the Lord. And he could not justify himself before God; but he trusted in the Lord, in the love, and grace, and promise of God and God counted his faith for righteousness [Genesis 15:6]. That is the communion we have with the Lord.
I have so much more to say in that; we hasten to the last. "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ didache, in the koinonia, and in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers [Acts 2:42], tais proseuchais, tais proseuchais; the prayers. You see, there is private prayer, private intercession before God – but there is also public prayer, and stated prayers when the koinonia, when the fellowship is together and we all pour out our souls in common intercession and appeal before God.
The breaking of bread is His death; the sharing of the cup is His death [Matthew 26:26-28]. The praying is His living presence, His resurrection from the dead, His mediation in heaven, His intercession for us in glory [Hebrews 7:25]. And in the prayers, in the prayers – why, it is natural on the part of a saint of God to talk to Jesus as it is to eat when you are hungry, or to drink when you are thirsty, or to breathe! They talked to Jesus in the days of His ministry. They talked to Jesus in the forty days after He was raised from the dead [Acts 1:3]. And they kept on talking to Jesus, after He had ascended up into heaven.
It is as natural for a child of God – talking to the Lord, and that is our strength. We rise by falling, kneeling; we advance by that retreat before the Lord. We are strengthened by yielding and submitting. "When I am weak," said Paul, "then am I strong" [2 Corinthians 12:10]. Our victory lies in the praying, in the beseeching, in the looking to heaven, in the talking to Jesus. That is our strength.
I read this week of the president of one of our colleges of the days gone by, not today – of the days gone by. And he overheard the doctor, and he asked, "Doctor, what did you say?" And, the doctor replied, "I said, ‘You have about half an hour to live.’" Then the president of one of our schools said, "Will you take me off of this bed and put me down on my knees? Like David Livingstone; died on his knees, praying; will you take me off of this bed and put me down on my knees?"
They lifted him from the bed and put him down on his knees. And he prayed for his students by word until his voice failed. Then he whispered the prayer, until he could form the words no longer. Then he thought them in his soul. And then, when they picked him up, he was gone. But every student found Christ, and every attendant in that school was saved.
That’s what we need, that’s our strength. That’s our power to pull down principalities, and thrones, and high places of darkness and evil [2 Corinthians 10:4]. It is in God, and God’s power is mediated to us down on our knees, on our faces in supplication, in prayer. Oh! What a marvelous picture of the awakened and the quickened church, in its splendid prime, when the memory of Jesus was vivid, and when the power of the Spirit was new.
And while we sing this hymn of appeal, our time is beyond, somebody you, on the first note of that first stanza, come. "Pastor, today I give my heart in trust to Jesus. Today, I put my life in the fellowship, in the koinonia, of God’s church." A family you, a couple you, one somebody you, while we sing this hymn of appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, come. Make it now. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.