November 2nd, 1969 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-2-69 7:30 p.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the evening message from the last chapter of the Book of Luke. It is entitled joy overflowing; Joy Abounding. Now, in your Bible turn with me to Luke 24, Luke 24. And we are going to read together and out loud verses 36 through 43. And on the radio, on WRR, the radio of the city of Dallas, if you are sharing the service, open your Bible and read it out loud with us. Luke the last chapter, chapter 24, reading together verses 36 through 43. Now all of us reading together:
And as they thus spake, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit.
And He said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?
Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself: handle Me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have.
And when He had thus spoken, He showed them His hands and His feet.
And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, He said unto them, Have ye here any meat?
And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb.
And He took it, and did eat before them.
This is one of the most astonishing things to be found in all of the Word of God. This is the resurrected, glorified, immortalized Lord Jesus. He is the same Lord Jesus that the apostle John saw in the first chapter of the Book of the Revelation. And the description there is incomparably, celestially glorious [Revelation 1:9-18]. This is our risen Lord. Yet we find Him with the disciples after His resurrection from the dead and asking them for something to eat [Luke 24:41]. And they could hardly believe for the joy that overflowed their souls, and they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and of an honeycomb. And He did eat before them [Luke 24:41-43].
In this life I believe in miracles. In this life it is a miracle to take food, inert, lifeless food, and we eat it and it becomes you. It becomes heart, and soul, and mind, and love, or hate, or anger, or peace, or response. Food, it is raised. It is elevated. It is assimilated. It is humanized. It becomes you. And in this thing that happened in the verse that we read tonight, that food is elevated once more. It is raised a step higher and it becomes spiritual. It becomes a part of a spiritual body. And the Lord ate before them. The gladness and the joy that is shared in what Jesus did, and in a common meal, is the most ancient of all of the approaches to God.
What was the ancient sacrifice? All of the religions of the ancient world approached god by a sacrifice. The temples were innumerable. And the smoke rose from the altars on a thousand, thousand hills. Everywhere and in every ancient religion the approach to God was by means of a sacrifice.
What is the meaning of that sacrifice? What was it? Ah, there are many theories and many attempted explanations. When Abel, and when Cain, brought a sacrifice to God it is called a minchah, that is an offering; and there are those who suppose that the basic meaning of sacrifice was a gift for God, a minchah for God. There are those who say the great basic meaning of sacrifice was atonement, expiation, propitiation, to make God favorable.
But whatever the theory, the sacrifice was actually a shared meal. Once in a while it was a whole burnt offering, but that was the exception and the unusual exception, not the rule. The great majority of the sacrifices that were brought to God were a shared meal. God had His part. The etherealized food caught up into the fire was God’s part. And the man’s part, with his family and with his friends, he ate it in the presence of the priest who also shared the bounties and the blessings of the Lord.
Now, in the sacrificial system of the ancient Hebrew people recorded here in the Bible, you will find those sacrifices, outside of the exceptional whole burnt offering, you will find them shared meals. They were eating together with God.
When Moses went down into the land of Egypt and said, "Thus saith Jehovah God, Let My people go." Go where? Go what? Go why? "Let My people go, because our great Jehovah has commanded that we worship Him, and praise Him with a feast out in the wilderness" [Exodus 5:1].
And when Pharaoh finally relented somewhat and he said, "The people may go but your flocks and your herds must remain here" [Exodus 11:24]. And Moses said, "Not so. Not so. For God hath commanded us a feast unto the Lord, and we must have whereof to offer God our flocks and our herds" [Exodus 11:25-26]. And they never left the land of Egypt until they walked out without leaving a hoof of a cow behind [Exodus 12:31-32]. For God had commanded them to offer a feast unto the Lord, sacrifices, a shared meal.
The night of the deliverance out of the land of Egypt was a night of a shared meal. They were to take the Passover lamb, having identified it with a family four days, and they were to slay it and sprinkle the blood on the lintel and the lower posts [Exodus 12:3-7]. But with the carcass of the animal they were to roast it and they were to eat it, all of the family together. The Passover was a shared meal [Exodus 12:8-10]. It is called the Feast of the Passover [Exodus 12:11].
And in the story of the history of Israel, the sacrificial system was a shared meal. In the eighth chapter of 1 Kings, when the temple was dedicated Solomon offered unto God twenty-two thousand oxen and one hundred twenty thousand sheep [1 Kings 8:63]. How was that offered? It was roasted before the Lord, and the people and the priests ate it with God; His part etherealized in the fire, and their part shared in a common meal [Exodus 12:8-9].
All of the great celebrations of Israel were feasts except one. It is the Feast of the Passover in the springtime [Exodus 12:1-28; Leviticus 23:5; Numbers 28:16; Deuteronomy 16:1-8]. It is the Feast of Pentecost at the beginning of summertime [Leviticus 23:15-22; Deuteronomy 16:9-12; Numbers 28:26-31]. It is the Feast of Tabernacles, of harvest in the fall time [Leviticus 23:33-43; Numbers 29:12-38; Deuteronomy 16:13-17]. It is the Feast of the New Year [Leviticus 23: 24-25]. It is the Feast of the Dedication in the wintertime [John 10:22]. It is the Feast of Purim in March, in the early spring. Only one time is there a fast and that is Yom Kippur. They call it today the Day of Atonement, in the fall [Leviticus 23:27]. All of the rest of the parts and the pieces and the worship and the approaches of Israel were shared meals. They were feasts. They were glorious and happy occasions.
Now, when we turn the pages of the Book and we come to the institution of the new dispensation and the new covenant in the blood of Christ, the preaching of the grace of the gospel of the Lord, we find that same pattern of worship and of life and of praise. At Pentecost, that Pentecostal chapter closes with these words. "And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their food with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people" [Acts 2:46-47].
When you see that phrase, breaking bread, in the New Testament, it always refers to the Lord’s Supper that we observed this morning; breaking bread from house to house, the people, those first Christians in their abounding, supernal, indescribable joy ate together. And usually closed the meal with the Lord’s Supper, blessing the bread and breaking it in His name, and sharing the cup, drinking of it in His name [Matthew 26:26-28].
You will find the abuse of that restricted and interdicted in the eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians [1 Corinthians 11:21, 28-30]. For in that church they abused it, and some of them were gluttons and some of them were drunkards. But the agape, the love feast, of the church was a sign. It was an expression of the indescribable joy and gladness of the people as they broke bread together, as they praised God together, as they rejoiced in the love of God in Christ Jesus together.
The religion was a happy religion. It was an up religion. It was a God-ward, Christ-ward, and heavenward religion. It moved your soul upward, heavenward, God-ward. And they continuing daily, breaking bread, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart [Acts 2:46]. Always, even though Paul the apostle, who is writing the words, may be in prison, and he may have been beat, and he may face execution, but out of prison he will say, "Rejoice in the Lord always; and [again] I say rejoice in the Lord" [Philippians 4:4]. Or as at Philippi, and at midnight he and Silas prayed and sang praises to God and the whole earth shook [Acts 16:25-26]. No wonder. No wonder.
That is the Christian faith. That is the Christian life, one of glory, and of victory, and of triumph, and of inexpressible joy.
Now, we have removed our church for the most part, as such, we have removed our churches from that glorious overflowing Bible, Old Testament, New Testament pattern. So much of church today is defined in terms of getting down to a nitty-gritty; getting down to an iron endurance, sticking it out. There is a part of respectability, and I’ve got to go. There is a part of obligation, and I’ve got to go. But looking upon the benediction like an amnesty, just enduring the thing until we can get to a final amen. And there is no gladness in it. There is no overflowing happiness in it. There is no feeling of inexpressible joy in it. So much of modern religion is like that.
Ah, how different the plan and the program of God for His people. This is to be the happiest day of the year, God’s day. This is to be the most glorious moment of the Lord’s Day. We are together in the house that belongs to Jesus, and every day is a glorious day, a happy day, a wonderful day for the Christian, gathering together, loving one another and loving the Lord.
So much of our work and so much of the interest in the life of our people is outside of the church. We look upon the entertainment world as the world of happiness, and we look upon the amusement world as the world that glitters and signs, and we look upon worldly people who are out there in the clubs, and out there in a thousand cabarets, and out there in Las Vegas, and out there in a thousand other ways. We look upon them as having the good time. But the Christian people are lugubrious and melancholy, and they don’t have joy and gladness and happiness.
My brother, it is the opposite! We have the glorious time, the good time and there is no brown hangover from it. We are the ones who really rejoice. We are the ones who are indescribably blessed. And when God’s people come together, it ought to be in the rejoicing and thanksgiving and glorifying that God has brought us to this present holy moment. Ah, that is the religion of the Book.
Could I speak of our coming, for example, to the house of the Lord? Could I speak of it in the terms of the Old Testament Hebrew, God’s chosen people, as they went up to the house of the Lord?
I’ve turned in my Bible here in the Book of Psalms to those fifteen Songs of Degrees, from 120 to 134; the Songs of Degrees, fifteen of them. There are some people that say that they are called songs of degrees because as the people went up to Jerusalem – and you always go up to the house of the Lord, you go up to Jerusalem, and always down from Jerusalem to Samaria or down to Hebron, or down to Antioch, or down to Joppa. But you go up to Jerusalem.
And as the pilgrims went up to Jerusalem they sang these fifteen songs. Or there are others who say they are called "songs of steps," literally steps; songs of degrees because of the fifteen steps from the court of the Gentiles to the court of Israel. And as the pilgrims went up into the house of the Lord, first they stood on this step and sang, then they went to this step and sang, then to the next step and sang, and the fifteen songs as they went up into the house of the Lord.
Now whatever is correct? Look at these Songs of Degrees. I’m going to read the first verse of just some of them:
· One hundred twenty-one, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, who made heaven and earth" [Psalm 121:1-2].
· The next one, 122: "I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go up into the house of the Lord" [Psalm 122:1]; not looked at as a duty to perform, or a gesture of respectability, or something to endure like iron. No, I was glad. My heart overflowed when they said unto me, "Let us go up into the house of the Lord."
· Look at the next one: "Unto Thee lift I up my eyes, O Thou that dwellest in the heavens" [Psalm 123:1].
· Look at 126: "When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the nations, The Lord hath done great things for them. The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad" [Psalm 126:1-3].
· I turn the page, look at 128: "Blessed is every one that fearest the Lord; that walketh in His ways" [Psalm 128:1].
· Look at 133: "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that ran down to the skirts of his garments" [Psalm 133:1-2].
Don’t you feel, as I just read the first verses of those fifteen songs, don’t you feel the gladness and the overflowing joy in the hearts of the people as they turn their faces God-ward and heavenward, church-ward, praising the name of the Lord? Now that is the kind of religion Jesus gave to us, and that is the kind of religion, if you’ve got it, if it’s the real thing, that’s the kind of religion that God delights in and that Jesus blesses. Praising God, loving the Lord, happy in Him, victorious, triumphant in His blessed name. That’s the faith. That’s the faith.
We have a professor here from the seminary. Long time before his day, back in the day when I was in the seminary, there was a missionary. Oh, I’ll never forget that man and how he looked and the tone of his voice and how he spake. Ah, that man. One of the most glorious Christian emissaries and ambassadors I ever heard in my life.
He had spent his life in India and just capsulating it, the story: there was a tribe, a large, large tribe in the northern part of India, in the mountainous part of India. Many thousands in that tribe, they were fierce and they were wild. And no white man, no foreigner had ever been able to live through it who visited that tribe, much less a missionary. One after another had lost their lives.
He announced one day that he was on his way, he and his wife, to enter that tribe and to tell them the good news of God in Christ Jesus. All of them predicted their massacre. They would die. They wouldn’t escape with their lives. But God had called him. And then he told the story of the miracle of God’s grace upon him. Ah, it was wonderful. It was wonderful.
And then he closed with this. He said, "Upon a day I was seated on a hill that sloped down to the great river. And as I sat there on the top of that hill, looking down the slope toward the river, I saw three thousand of those fierce tribesmen coming up the hill toward me." Oh, I could just feel the danger of the situation and the awesomeness of the threat. Three thousand of those fierce tribesmen coming up that hill toward him.
But he said, "As I sat there on the top of that hill and looked down, back of me was the church. And in front of me, coming from the river were those three thousand tribesmen." He said, "They were all dressed in white robes and they were coming from a baptismal service. And as they came up the hill to where I sat in front of the church, they were singing," and I thought, how unusual. I said nothing to Lee Roy about it. And they were singing,
Happy day, happy day,
When Jesus washed my sins away!
He taught me how to watch and pray
And live rejoicing every day.
Happy day, happy day,
When Jesus washed my sins away!
["O Happy Day, That Fixed My Choice," Philip Doddridge]
How do you like that? No wonder I didn’t forget it. Oh, glory, glory, glory! That’s the faith. That’s the religion. It’s one of triumph, and victory, and joy, and gladness in the Lord. And they wondered and believed not for joy, as they with the risen, glorified, blessed Jesus broke bread together [Luke 24:41].
Ah, it’s a way to go. It’s a way to live. It’s a way to come. It’s a way to be. In the faith, in the love and mercy of God, in the circle of His precious church, in the heart of the fellowship with God’s people.
That’s our prayerful and earnest invitation to you tonight: you, to give your heart to the Lord: you, to come into the fellowship of His church; you, coming down that aisle, down that stairway on either side, at the front and the back, and down here to the pastor. I’ll be standing right here.
A family you: "Pastor, my wife, my children, we are all coming tonight." A family you, a couple you, or one somebody you, while we sing the appeal, while we wait, make that decision now and come now. There is time and to spare. If you are on the last row on the top of that balcony, come. Come. Make the decision now. On this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, "Here I am, pastor. I have decided." And when you stand up in a minute, stand up coming, "Here I am. I give you my hand. I’ve given my heart to God." As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, respond now. Answer with your life. Come now. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Ancient worship of God
A. Sacrifice the essence and substance of ancient religion
B. The meaning of sacrifice
1. A shared meal
C. Old Testament sacrificial system in Israel
1. Moses and Pharaoh (Exodus 5:1-3, 10:9, 24-25)
2. Passover (Exodus 12:3-11)
3. Mosaic sacrificial system followed after that pattern (1 Kings 8)
a. All great convocations of Israel were feast days
b. Exception was a fast day – Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement
II. The fellowship of the early Christian community
A. Agape feasts (Jude 12, Acts 2:46, 1 Corinthians 11:20-22, 33-34)
B. Happy religion (Philippians 4:4)
A. Services, gatherings devoid of joy, anticipation
1. Church a matter of duty
B. The will of God for us, patterned by the Scriptures
1. Our true joy, fellowship
a. Songs of degrees (Psalm 121:1-2, 122:1, 123:1, 126:1-3, 128:1, 133:1-2)
2. Missionary to Indian tribe