The Infallible Forty Days
March 26th, 1967 @ 8:15 AM
THE INFALLIBLE FORTY DAYS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-26-67 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled Jesus Raised From the Dead. In the first chapter of the Book of Acts, reading the first few verses, “The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus,” referring to his Gospel of Luke. “The former treatise,” the Gospel of Luke as we know it:
have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,
Until the day in which He was taken up
He wrote his Gospel through the day of the ascension:
after that He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments unto the apostles whom He had chosen:
To whom also He showed Himself alive after His passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God:
Another title of this message could be The Infallible Forty Days. “To whom also He showed Himself alive after His death by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days” [Acts 1:3].
You, who have been here a long time could remember, in preaching through the Book of Revelation I delivered two sermons on scriptural numerics, the symbolism of numbers in the Bible. These numbers that are found in the Word of God are not capriciously or not adventitiously chosen. Why did not the Lord show Himself by many infallible proofs thirty-nine days? Why did He not show Himself alive by many infallible proofs fifty-one days? There is a consistent symbolism in the use of numbers all through the Word of God.
Those two messages are printed in the first volume of the expository sermons that I have published on the Revelation. And in that study I came to see, written throughout the Word of God, woven throughout the books of the Bible, these scriptural numerics that God used when He made the universe. It has mathematical equations and formulae all through it, in God’s creation. I found the same thing in God’s other Book that He has written, in the Bible that I hold here in my hand. And I meet it again as I take this text this morning, “To whom He showed Himself alive after His death by many infallible proofs, forty days” [Acts 1:3].
Now forty in the Bible is the number of trial and testing. In the days of Noah when God judged the earth, it rained forty days and forty nights [Genesis 7:4, 12]. When the two tables of the law were given unto Moses he was on Mount Sinai and the people were down in the valley around a golden calf forty days [Exodus 24:18, 32:1-8]. When Jonah entered into the city of Nineveh he began to preach the word of the Lord saying, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed” [Jonah 3:4]. And when Satan took the Lord Jesus out into the wilderness, when the Spirit drove our Lord out into the wilderness, He was tried there forty days [Matthew 4:1-2]. Now this forty days refers to a period of trial and testing.
It is nothing but right and correct that we look at the proofs of the resurrection of our Lord. It is normal, it is rational, it is reasonable, it is correct that we feel that way about it. Now if I had time this morning, I would preach two sermons: one, “The Infallible Proofs.” But I cannot encompass, not the beginning of the vast, immeasurable treasures in the resurrection of our Lord. So we shall take those forty days [Acts 1:3], in which the Lord infallibly, by trying and testing, by looking and seeing, we shall behold for ourselves what these forty days did for us and for the world.
First: they gave back to us our Savior. The distance from Jerusalem to Bethlehem is only about five miles; from Christmas to Easter, from the manger to the tomb, is a less distance than from here to White Rock Lake, or from here to Love Field. But, oh! what a world is encompassed between those two termini in the life of our Lord.
There in the little village God gave to us, with infinite gladness and with heavenly benediction and with angelic singing, God gave to us our Savior [Luke 2:10-16], the finest, sweetest gift the Lord has ever bestowed upon the human race. That gift from the love of God did He bestow upon us in little Bethlehem [Luke 2:11; John 3:16]. And here in the proud city, a depraved humanity handed back that gift on the point of a Roman spear [John 19:34]: crucified, nailed to a tree [John 19:16-18, 30], and buried in a sealed tomb [Matthew 27:57-66].
Would you not have thought that God in heaven had said, “It is enough! It is enough! I shall destroy the human race from the face of the earth, it is enough!” It is unbelievable! It is unthinkable that mankind, our human race, would be so depraved as to take the Prince of Glory, God’s Son, and crucify Him, nail Him, slay Him, bury Him in the heart of the earth. But not so, these forty days, beginning on Easter morning, these forty days gave back to us our Savior; risen [Matthew 28:1-6], immortalized, glorified, transfigured, resurrected [Acts 1:3]. More alive, having been raised, than He was when He walked the earth in the days of His flesh. First, those infallible forty days gave back to us, raised from the dead, our living Lord.
Second: those infallible forty days turned despair and defeat and death into incomparable and heavenly and eternal victory. Because we know the story, it is difficult for us to enter into the despair that fell upon the disciples like the gloom of darkest night when they saw Jesus die on the cross [Mark 15:33-37]. The whole earth seemed to cry and say, “Look, He is dead!” Even those who loved Him most went to Pontius Pilate and said, “He is dead. May we have His body that we might bury it out of our sight?” [Mark 15:42-43].
And Pontius Pilate, being surprised that He should have died so soon, sent the Roman centurion, who was mandated to return an official report [Mark 15:44-45], and the centurion, having seen the blood of Christ poured out upon the ground through a broken and a ruptured heart [John 19:34], made official report to Pontius Pilate and said, “He is dead!” [Mark 15:44-45].
The eleven disciples crawled into eleven shadows [Matthew 26:56]. And to add to their misery, there were watchmen, Roman guards, who were paid to say that when the tomb was found empty, the disciples had come and stolen His body away [Matthew 28:11-15]—they had dared to break the Roman seal, which in itself carried a penalty of death. And frightened and afraid, they gathered behind locked and barred doors, plunged into indescribable grief and sorrow [John 20:19].
And it was while they were thus affrighted, and thus afraid, and thus despairing, and thus sorrowing and sad, to them the end of the world had come, it was then that Mary Magdalene came, and finding Peter and John said, “He is alive. He is not dead. He is risen. He is not in the grave” [Luke 24:10-11]. And Peter and John ran to the tomb. And John, being the younger, outran Simon Peter and came to the tomb and looked in. And when Peter caught up, impetuously, he ran straight into the sepulcher and then that other disciple entered in. He was gone; He was raised [John 20:1-8].
Ah, then two walking on the way to Emmaus, a Stranger walking by their side, suddenly appearing [Luke 24:13-17]; then to Simon Peter [Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5], then that first Sunday night to the disciples, Thomas being absent [John 20:19-25]; and on the following Sunday night, Thomas, being present [John 20:26-29]. Then by the seashore, while they were fishing in Galilee [John 21:1-25]; then on a mountain, in the convocation of something like five hundred at once [1 Corinthians 15:6; Matthew 28:16-20]. Then in Jerusalem [Acts 1:3-4], then on the Mount of Olives and the ascension into heaven [Acts 1:9-11]. Ah! with what indescribable joy and glory and excitement was every moment of those forty days filled. “To whom also He showed Himself alive after His death by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days” [Acts 1:3]. Think of it, forty days with the risen Lord.
Third: those forty days not only gave back to us our Savior raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-6], they not only turned defeat and death and despair into victory, but they opened for us a corridor into the glory of the glories beyond this life and beyond this grave: a corridor into heaven itself.
All of us stand on the shore of eternity, all of us. Wherever you are, wherever you live, you stand on the shore of eternity. And from you, upward and outward to the sky, to the eternity of the eternities beyond; and how little, how little are we able to see of those vast and infinite vistas, like standing on the shore of the Pacific Ocean. What little small piece, segment, of that ocean are we able to behold, standing there looking at so small a part of that interminable sea? So it is, when we stand on the shore of eternity and lift up our eyes to look into the sky and into the vistas beyond, what lies ahead? When we die what is it like? When we leave this earth and are transported into the world to come, how is it with us?
The resurrection of our Lord [Matthew 28:1-7] opened for us a vast corridor, a door was opened in heaven and we can see into the world beyond. And what is it like? Are we, we? Are we still ourselves? When we are raised from the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], and when we join the heavenly throng and are numbered among the redeemed of God [1 Peter 1:18-19], how is it? What are we like? Are we still ourselves? Do we live beyond the grave? Is it I that shall live? Shall I know? Shall I remember? Shall I see? What is it like?
These answers are found in the resurrection of our Lord from the days, in these infallible forty days [Acts 1:3]. For example is He not the same Lord Jesus—is He not? Look, Mary Magdalene recognized Him by the way that He pronounced her name [John 20:11-16]. Jesus had an intonation, evidently—had a voice, evidently; had a pronunciation, evidently; had a way of saying, evidently—that was peculiarly and distinctly His own. And when she thought He was the gardener, He called her by her name and immediately she knew Him. She recognized Him by the way He pronounced her name.
The two on the way to Emmaus, walking and so sad; suddenly, a Stranger appeared out of nowhere, walking by their side. He was so versed in the Word of God; He understood so deeply the things of the Book. And when they came to the place where they lived in Emmaus, the Stranger made as though He would continue on. They invited Him to abide for the evening, for the day was far spent [Luke 24:13-27]. And He turned in to break bread, and as they sat down at the supper table, they invited the Stranger—who seemed to know so much about the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures—they invited Him to say the blessing. And they recognized Him in the way that He said grace at the table [Luke 24:28-31, 35].
It must have been that the Lord Jesus, in giving thanks—and how many times is it repeated that He gave thanks—it must have been in the way that He gave thanks, that they recognized Him. “It is the Lord. It is the Lord.”
Or again, when Peter and John ran into the tomb, John looked and there was the linen winding sheet wrapped carefully, and here the napkin, folded by itself. And the record says that when John saw that napkin folded and lying in a place by itself, that John believed that He was raised, Jesus was raised from the dead [John 20:2-8]. Evidently Jesus had a way of folding up a napkin, and when John saw that napkin folded as He had seen Jesus fold it for years and years—it was not a robber of the grave—it was Jesus whose hands had folded that napkin, the same Jesus [John 20:6-8].
Or just once again, and Thomas said, “Except I see the scars in His hands and except I see the scar in His side, I will not believe” [John 20:24-25]. And the following Sunday night, Jesus appeared to the disciples in a room with the door shut and the windows locked. And turning to Thomas He said, “Thomas, come hither and behold the scars in My hands and thrust Your hand into the gaping wound in My side, and be not faithless, but believing it” [John 20:26-27], the same Lord Jesus. Isn’t that astonishing, overwhelming? Think of it. And when the Lord appeared to the disciples [Luke 24:36]: they were affrighted, and thought they had seen a spirit:
And He said, Come handle Me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bone as you see Me have . . .
And when the disciples believe not for joy . . . the Lord said: Have you here any meat?
And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb.
And He did eat before them.
You say, “Oh, why, that’s an impossible miracle!” Why, no more so than the first quickening of eating. How is it that food—inert, inanimate food, eaten by us becomes we: love and joy and gladness and devotion. It becomes us, we; it is quickened into this life, one step above in Jesus. When He ate the broiled fish and the piece of an honeycomb, it took the second step. It was not only quickened into our living life, but it was also so quickened into immortality, the spiritual life God shall give us when we are raised from the dead; the same Lord Jesus [1 John 3:2]. And when he appeared to the apostle Paul on the way to Damascus, blinded by the glory of that light, Paul cried saying, “Who art Thou, Lord?” And He replied, “I am Jesus of Nazareth” [Acts 22:6-8]. He never discarded the name. It is the same blessed Savior, “I am Jesus of Nazareth.”
These infallible forty days [Acts 1:3], opened to us a corridor unto glory, and we shall be we, you will be you, when we are raised from the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], or when we are translated at His coming in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, when we all are changed [1 Corinthians 15:51-52]. We just lay down this mortal coil of death. We shake off this dust, and we put on immortality [1 Corinthians 15:53-54]. But it shall be we still, just glorified, immortalized, transfigured. Think of it. Think of it.
In a convocation of another communion, another denomination, I went to hear a world-famous preacher. He was an old man and I had heard of him so many years; I went to the convocation to hear him preach. And in that sermon that he delivered that day, he said, “I was born in a tar paper shack in a howling blizzard in the Midwest.” He said, “When I was born, my mother pressed me to her heart in order that the warmth of her own body might keep the newborn babe from freezing to death”. He said, “My father chopped up the last piece of furniture in the house to burn it for warmth,” lest they freeze to death. And he said:
While the wind blew and the snow fell in that terrible blizzard around that tar paper shack, my father knelt by the side of his wife, my mother, and the infant in her arms and prayed to God and said “Dear God, if You will spare us and let us live, we shall take this baby boy and train him and educate him to be a minister of the gospel of the Son of God.”
Then he said, “Many, many years ago my father and my mother died.” And he added, “It shall not be long until my time of crossing over shall come. And when I come to my father and mother in heaven,” he said, “I shall lay the record of these forty years of my ministry in their hands, and I will say ‘Father, Mother, this is the fruit of and the answer to your prayers.’”
Do you believe that? Do you believe such a thing is possible? Do you think? And I read in the years that followed, I read of his death. And I thought of the story he told in that convocation. Do you believe that he laid in the hands of his father and mother the record of the answer to their prayers these forty years as a minister of the gospel of Christ?
The answer is in the infallible proofs of these forty days [Acts 1:3]. We shall be we, on a mustērion into which we cannot enter, but one that is glorious and precious beyond what eye could see, or ear could hear, or human heart could imagine [1 Corinthians 2:9].
Now briefly I have one other: these infallible forty days [Acts 1:3], they reveal to us the continuing presence of our blessed Lord. They did not know when they might see Him: in a room with the doors locked and barred [John 20:19-23], walking down a lonely road [Luke 24:13-15], on the seashore as they fished [John 21:1-23], at an appointed time on a high mountain [1 Corinthians 15:6], in the city of Jerusalem [Acts 1:3-4], on the Mount Olives [Acts 1:9-11]. They did not know when He might suddenly appear, and there He walked by their side.
And for forty days, the Lord continued with His disciples [Acts 1:3] until finally, they did not need to see Him with their naked eyes. They knew Him by His presence, working with them. And when He ascended, it does not say that He left and went away. It says, “and a cloud received Him out of their sight” [Acts 1:9]. And through the years and the years and the years, the presence of our living Lord has been with us ever since. We don’t need to see Him by our naked eye; we know Him because we feel Him in our souls.
He lives! He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives! He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives: He lives down in my heart.
[from “He Lives,” Alfred H. Ackley]
O blessed God, who became flesh [John 1:14], who died for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], who was raised for our justification [Romans 4:25], and who promised to be with us until the end of the age [Matthew 28:20].
And while we sing our hymn of appeal this morning, somebody you, taking Jesus as Savior [Romans 10:8-13], would you come and stand by me? A family you, coming into the fellowship of the church, would you come and give the pastor your hand? A couple you, one somebody you, as God should say the word, as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, come this morning. There is a stairway at the front, at the back, on either side of this auditorium. These aisles all converge down here at the front. Down one of these stairways, if you are in the balcony around, into one of these aisles, if you are on one of the lower floor, come. And give me your hand: “Pastor, I give you my hand; I give my heart to God” [Romans 10:8-13]. Or, “We are putting our lives with you on this holy day in the fellowship of this precious church.”
Nobody leave for this moment of prayerful appeal, waiting on the Spirit of God. And as the Lord shall speak to your heart, come and stand by me. Do it now, on the first note of the first stanza. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.