Our Priceless Possession
November 16th, 1969 @ 8:15 AM
THE PRICELESS POSSESSION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-16-69 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled, Our Most Precious Possession. It is a message about what Jesus means to us, and it is an expounding of the last part of the first chapter in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. I have been preaching through this first chapter and have now come to the end of it.
And I read the end of the first chapter of Ephesians. This is his prayer. He begins up here in the fifteenth verse, “Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith… Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers that God” [Ephesians 1:15-17]—then follows the prayer. Now I will start reading at the twentieth verse, “Which He wrought in Christ [Ephesians 1:20], that exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe [Ephesians 1:19] which God wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenlies far above all” [Ephesians 1:20-21]—now he’s going to name an order of celestial creatures.
Whether Paul was outlining for our knowledge, our introduction to the gradations of the spirits, I don’t know. Fundamentally, of course, what he’s saying is that God has raised Christ, exalted the Lord, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under His feet, a[Ephesians 1:15-17] and God gave Him, Christ Jesus, to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all” [Ephesians 1:20-23].
In the passage, there are two things: one is the exaltation of Christ. God hath raised Him and exalted Him far above all, and then he names every possible creature in the spirit world, the angelic hosts and gradations and orders [Ephesians 1:21]. Then he names everything that is in this world, and then everything that is in the world to come [Ephesians 1:20-21]. And God hath put all things under His feet[Ephesians 1:22] .
Well, that’s what the Scriptures say of our Lord. Paul wrote of that in another passage in the second chapter of Philippians, verses 9-11, “Wherefore God hath also highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every creature should bow, in heaven, in earth, in the netherworld; and every tongue confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” [Philippians 2:9-11].
It is the purpose of God so to exalt Jesus that there will be no rebellion, no infidel, no unbelieving person left in the whole creation. All, all someday shall bow before Jesus, the Lord [Philippians 2:10-11]. Well, that’s the first part of this text, but I haven’t time but just to refer to it, for I am going to preach on the second part of this text.
Not only did God exalt Him above all things in heaven and earth [Ephesians 1:15-21], but God also gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all [Ephesians 1:22-23].
And I’m going to preach on our most precious possession, God’s gift to the church, to us. God gave Him to the church, which is His body [Ephesians 1:22-23] . Now I’m going to speak of the church. Then I’m going to speak of His body. Then I’m going to speak of what He means to us in the church, the body of Christ.
In my dictionary on my desk, I looked up church, and the first definition of the church—you know, usually, a dictionary will have one meaning, and then a second meaning, and a third, and sometimes five or six.
Well, the first meaning is, in the dictionary, the building where a Christian congregation meets, a church. That’s the first meaning. And that’s the first meaning that comes to our hearts and minds. When we say, “church,” we think of the building, with a spire, stain-glass windows; a house. But not one time in the Bible does the word church ever refer to a building, if for no other reason than they didn’t have any buildings. There were no buildings; there were no church houses for almost three hundred years. Church, in the Bible, never refers to a house or a building. Never. God gave Christ Jesus to the church [Ephesians 1:22]. And there’s no thought of it, that He is stuck inside of four walls somewhere, like a graven image. There’s no conception or imagery like that in the Word of God.
Now, the word is ekklēsia, and it refers exactly to a called out people. After the conversion of Constantine, they changed the word. And they changed it to kuriakos, a lordly house, kuriakos, kurkos, kurk, and in our English language, it comes out church. The Greek word they used was kuriakos, a lordly house, a sumptuous house, a great edifice. And after the Roman Empire was supposedly converted, why, they changed it from ekklēsia, referring to the people; they changed the name to the house, a kuriakos, kurkos, kurk, church. But that’s not in the Word of God. The word church is ekklēsia, referring to a separated, called out people of the Lord.
Now in the New Testament, the word almost always refers to a local assembly, God’s people. For example, Paul will use the phrase, the churches of Judea [Galatians 1:22]. He will use the phrase, the churches of Galatia [1 Corinthians 16:1]. These are Roman provinces. He’ll use the word, the churches of Macedonia [2 Corinthians 8:1], or, the churches of Achaia [1 Corinthians 16:15], or the churches of Asia [1 Corinthians 16:19]. Almost always, the word refers to a local congregation.
The sainted apostle John wrote down the Apocalypse, and he sent it, a message of the Lord to the church at Ephesus, at Smyrna, at Pergamos, at Sardis, at Thyatira, at Philadelphia, at Laodicea [Revelation 2:1-3:22]. Almost always, the word refers to a local congregation, the First Baptist Church in Dallas, a church, the people, you.
Once in a while in the New Testament, the word will refer generically to the idea of the church, the church as such, which would include all of the believers of all time, a generic use of the term, like you say, “The state,” or you say, “the whole,” or you say, “the school,” or, “the law.” Well, generically, you can use that word for the church, the church, meaning all of the believers of all time.
Now this is an instance of one of the few uses of the church in that generic sense. And Paul uses it in that sense, in this epistle to the church at Ephesus. In the third chapter, he will say that in the heavenly places and above all principalities and powers, that there might be known by the church this manifest wisdom of God [Ephesians 3:10]. He will say, “Unto Him,” in that same third chapter, “be glory in the church by Jesus Christ” [Ephesians 3:21]. Then in the fifth chapter, he will say, “As Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it [Ephesians 5:25]… so I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32]; the people of the Lord who have believed in Him through all ages and all time, a marvelous and glorious conception.
Now he speaks of that church as the body of Christ [Ephesians 1:23]. The word ekklēsia originally referred to a town assembly, the people called out to pass laws and to do justice, the town assembly. In the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, it says the town clerk dismissed the ekklēsia, the town assembly [Acts 19:35-41]. We have that same idea when we refer to the “body politic”.
The word church also is in the imagery of a body. Christ, the head, and we the members of His body, the body of Christ. “And God gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body” [Ephesians 1:22-23]. Christ has a body that He took from the virgin Mary [Matthew 1:20-25]. It is the body created by the Holy Ghost [Matthew 1:20-21] that He might sacrifice it on the cross for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3]. You couldn’t sacrifice a spirit. If atonement was made for our sins, it had to be done in a body by a sacrifice [Hebrews 10:5-14; John 12:27]. And God put His spirit in the body that was made in the womb of the virgin Mary to be offered as a sacrifice for our sins [1 Peter 2:24]. And that body, that robe of human flesh with the wound prints in it, Christ wears forever [Luke 24:39-40; John 20:26-28].
The Lord has a body [Hebrews 10:5], and He took that glorified resurrected body to heaven with Him [Acts 1:9-10]. And He who sits on the throne of a universe has our human nature [Philippians 2:5-8]. That’s why in the passage in Hebrews that you read, He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities [Hebrews 4:14-16]. For He is a man as we are: changed, glorified, immortalized, but still a man. He has a human body[Luke 24:39-40]. You are going to have a body like Christ when you’re raised from the dead [1 Corinthians 15:51-57; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].
But Christ has a spiritual body, the church, which is down here in this earth [Ephesians 1:22-23]. Christ is incarnate in this earth, in His spiritual body; you, the aggregate, the assembly of God’s people, the church. A body, human, glorified in heaven that He wears forever [Luke 22:69]. A body found here in this earth in which He now does His work [Matthew 28:19-20]. And He is the head of that body [Colossians 1:18]. We are of the members of the body of Christ [Ephesians 5:30]. And all of our strength comes from Him. All of our life is in Him. And He moves and He works and He talks through us in this earth today.
Greater works than these shall you do, He said [John 14:12]. And He does those works through us. It is the head. It is the presence, the reality of Christ who actuates, and activates, and articulates the body, His church. It is Christ who thinks with our mind, who sees with our eyes, who hears with our ears, who talks with our tongue, who moves with our limbs. It is Christ who gives to our understanding comprehension, who gives to our wills the force to activate, to obey, to do, who gives to our affections their powers of healing. He is the head of the church, the body of Christ [Ephesians 5:23].
Now I am to speak of the infinite preciousness of that gift, the gift of God to His church. It is a gift that is a treasure to us, to us who believe, that no other faith, no other religion possesses.
I have so many Jewish friends, and I talk to them. I listen to them, the Jewish faith, the Jewish religion. They cannot see it. It is not revealed to them. There is a veil over their hearts [2 Corinthians 3:13-16], but to me as I read it and look at it, the Jewish faith is so broken and so incomplete.
Did you ever read how the Book of Genesis ends? It ends with these words, “in a coffin in Egypt” [Genesis 50:26]. Do you remember how the Pentateuch ends? It ends with the weeping and mourning for Moses [Deuteronomy 34:8]. Do you remember how the Hexateuch ends, how Joshua ends? It ends with a lament over the death and burial of Eleazar, the high priest, the son of Aaron [Joshua 24:33]. Do you remember how the Book of the Kings ends? It ends with the imprisonment and death of Jehoiachin, their king, in the Babylonian captivity [2 Kings 25:27-30]. Do you remember how the Prophets end, how Malachi ends? It ends, “Lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” [Malachi 4:6].
The revelation is incomplete. It is broken off, and it finds no completion until you find it in the most treasured of all the gifts of God, the blessed Messiah, the Lord Jesus, the Christ. And how does that Revelation end? “He which testifieth of these things saith, Surely, surely I come quickly. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” [Revelation 20:20, 21]. What a preciousness, the gift of God to us.
Last year, as you remember, Lee Roy and I were in Israel about this time. We were in Israel, and we were staying in Jerusalem in the Intercontinental Hotel which is on top of the Mount of Olives. In one of the beautiful corridors of the hotel is a Jewish woman, a Jewess who has a beautiful display of paintings, original paintings, oil paintings. They are paintings by Jewish artists who live there in Israel.
Then one of the things I love to do, if I have the money for it, is wherever I go, to buy a painting and to bring it home. It’s a memento that is, oh, so dramatically effective, to me, to bring a painting back from a country. So I was talking to her. And she had a painting there of the jubilation of the Jewish people after the Six Day War. It is a painting. There is the wall. It used to be called the Wailing Wall, now called the Western Wall, the wall of Solomon’s temple. And before it, as I had seen so many pictures, and as I’ve seen so many soldiers and Orthodox rabbis standing at the wall, to pray and to look up to God, now there is a picture of those Orthodox rabbis in their black hats and tassels, and those Israeli soldiers with their guns and their fatigues. There they are, joining hands, shouting, and dancing in a circle, before that wall at the end of the Six Day War. So I bought that painting and brought it home.
In the course of the days we were there, I visited with that Jewish lady who sells the paintings. And to my astonishment, she is a Christian. She was born in Moscow, she was reared at Bucharest, and as a refugee came to Israel. Eight months of the year—she seemed to be affluent—she lives in Israel. Four months of the year, she lives in Boston. She’s a very cultured and educated woman.
And I expressed amazement that she was a Christian. And when she’d found that I was a Baptist minister, we had much to talk about, much in common. Every Sunday, she goes to Tel Aviv to teach a Sunday school class. And upon an evening when I was visiting with her, she described the Christmas before when she was making ready to go to Bethlehem to share in the Christmas festivities.
As she was eating dinner with her dear friend, Moshe Dayan who had been the leader of the Six Day War, victorious general in Israel, and who is now as you know the minister of defense. She was eating dinner with Moshe Dayan, her dear friend. And while they were eating dinner, Moshe Dayan asked her what she was doing, and she said she was getting ready to go to Bethlehem, there to share in the festivities of the Christmas season, praising God for the gift of His Savior whom He introduced into this world with a star from the East shining over Bethlehem [Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11].
And she said to me, her name is Maria Mura Zomis, she said to me, when she told the general what she was getting ready to do, to go to Bethlehem to celebrate the nativity of her Lord, that the general bowed his head and put his face in his hands. And after a long reflective pause, looked up to her and said, “My dear, you do not know how much I envy you.”
And when she told me that, it just seemed to me that that victorious general expressed what I think is a longing in every Jewish heart for the Messiah, the great General, the Prince of Peace. But they can’t see it. There is a veil over their hearts [2 Corinthians 3:13-16]. Some day they will [Romans 11:25-29]. Some day we all shall see Him with open and naked eye when He comes in glory and in power [Revelation 1:7]. He is God’s gift to the church; to us, our most treasured possession [Ephesians 1:22-23].
I haven’t time to continue. Just let me point out the Muslim faith. Their great prophet is Mohammed. The last half of Mohammed’s life was lecherous, traitorous, murderous. To us who are Christians, the gross carnal immorality of Mohammed in the last part of his life was beyond that of a thug, of a whore, of a prostitute. How I can thank God that my great Prophet is not a reprobate and a whoremonger. Mohammed was, and vicious and murderous, beside.
I think of Buddha, Gautama, the Buddha, the enlightened one. All that he sought was an escape from the dread realities of life. And there he sits. He found what he called nirvana; that is, nothingness. And there he sits in the midst of the most immeasurable ocean of misery in human history among those millions of Asiatics with his fat rotund belly and his hands clasped above his navel; oblivious, unconcerned, unmoved by the squalor, and poverty, and death, and disease, and starvation, all around him. I couldn’t worship at the shrine of an “enlightened one” like that.
I haven’t time to speak of Krishna, one of the great gods of the Hindus, a religion that is immoral beyond compare, and devoted to cows and animals that are sacred and worshipped at their shrines.
Oh, dear God! How could I place in tongue or in speech my gratitude for the incomparable gift of God, in Christ Jesus. God gave Him to the church [Ephesians 1:22]. He is our peculiar possession. Nor have I time but just to point out to you what He means to us. Dear Lord, we try to sing about it, and we try to write it in poetry, and we try to speak of it in sermon. We can never encompass it.
Wisdom in our prayers, Lord, the decisions that I must make. And the turn of the road, and the forking of the trail. How shall I do, Lord? How? I go to Him. Come boldly to the throne of grace [Hebrews 4:16]. I go to Him and ask, “Lord, what shall I do? Where shall I turn?” In weakness, asking Him for strength, and in sorrow, asking comfort from His gracious and nail-pierced hands.
I must tell Jesus all of my trials,
I cannot bear these burdens alone.
In my distress He kindly will help me,
For He ever loves and cares for His own.
I must tell Jesus.
[“I Must Tell Jesus,” Elisha Hoffman]
And in death, it is He who stands to receive us. I did not make that up. That is not wishful hope and imagination. In the [seventh] chapter of the Book of Acts when they martyred Stephen, God’s good deacon, he lifted up his face and saw heaven open [Acts 7:55-56]. Everywhere else in the Word of God, Jesus is seated at the right hand of power [Matthew 26:64], except there. And he saw Him standing on the right hand of Majesty [Acts 7:55-56]. He stood up to receive His martyred saint.
I do not imagine these things. They are revealed in the Word of God. And when time comes, as inevitably it will come, when time comes, that day and that hour when my spirit leaves this mortal frame, it is Jesus who will receive me to glory; our most precious possession [Hebrews 10:35]. O Lord, that we could really sing it; that we could really say it; that we could really preach it, what Jesus means to us.
I must close. Oh, I had so many other things this morning prepared! I don’t know what it is, We just start talking about the Lord. It’s like looking into the infinitude of God’s sky. It’s like trying to measure the immeasurable depths, the unfathomable seas. We just look, and love, and adore, and worship, and praise, and trust, and believe, and rejoice in the Lord.
We must sing our song now. And while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, to give your heart to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13], to ask Him to forgive your sins [1 John 1:9], to write your name in the Book of Life [Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:12-15, 21:27]; as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, come this morning. The whole family of you, come. If you have a little one, bring him with you and come. We’ll kneel and pray together and tell Jesus all about it, ask Him to bless the home, and to bless our children. Or just you, while we sing this appeal, on the first note of the first stanza come. We look for you. God bless you, open the door for you, as you make that first step. Decide to take it now. And in this moment when you stand up, stand up coming. Do it, while we all stand and sing.