Our Priceless Possession
November 16th, 1969 @ 10:50 AM
OUR MOST PRECIOUS POSSESSION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-16-69 10:30 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Our Most Precious Possession. At these Sunday morning services, as you know, I am preaching through the Book of Ephesians, expository messages from Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus. At the evening hour, at seven-thirty o’clock every evening on Sunday I preach from the life of our Lord. Now the message today is from an exposition of the last part of the first chapter of the Book of Ephesians. It is a part of a prayer of the apostle Paul. He begins with the word in verse 16, that he ceased not to give thanks for the church, making mention of them in his prayers, "That," then follows the beautiful prayer:
That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in knowledge,
And that He might make known to you what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe,
Which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenlies,
Far above –
Then he names an angelic order:
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, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church,
Which is His body, the plērōma, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.
There are two tremendous things the apostle, by inspiration, presents in the passage. One is the exaltation of Christ: "God hath raised Him, exalted Him, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenlies," far above all angelic orders, the archangels, the seraphim, the cherubim, and above all of the created in His own world, and in the world that is to come. He hath put all things under the feet of our Lord. He is exalted above all creatures and above all creation. This is a theme that Paul will delight to dwell on as he so beautifully spoke of it in the second chapter of his letter to the church at Philippi:
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name:
That at the name of Jesus every creature, every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things in the netherworld, in the spirit world,
And that every tongue should confess that He is Lord, Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
All creation someday, even that part of God’s creation that is in rebellion and in sin, even they someday shall acknowledge the lordship of Christ.
Now we haven’t time this morning to speak of that glorious exaltation of our Lord, but rather the sermon is in the second part of this passage; something else that God has done. God has not only purposed and ordered and ordained that Christ shall be exalted above all of the creation, but God also has done something else, a precious and infinitely meaningful and significant something for us: God has given Him, this living exalted Lord, "God has given Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all." God has given to us the priceless possession; and that gift He has made to the church, the body of our Lord.
I speak first of that church. When you do as I do sometimes, take an ordinary word and look at it in the dictionary – on my desk is the dictionary – and I looked up the word "church." It has several meanings, and they are listed as a dictionary would, ad infinitum, one, two, three, four, five, the meanings for the word "church." Do you know what the first meaning is in that dictionary? The first meaning: church, a building where a Christian congregation gathers; a church, a building. There is no hint or even approach to such a meaning as that in the Word of God. It was almost three hundred years before there was such a thing as a building, a church building; church, kuriakos, kurkas, kirk, "church".
Why, it’s almost a heresy as you follow the development of it, and certainly a vast, vicious, pernicious, perversion of the Christian faith. In the Bible, in the New Testament, the church is an ekklesia: it’s a called out people of God. And for three hundred years it was known by no other word, no other nomenclature, no other delineation or denomination or description than an ekklesia, the church, the people of the Lord. But when Constantine was converted, they changed the word from ekklesia, referring to the people, and they changed it to the kuriakos, the impressive, massive buildings that the Roman emperors erected, and they called it the kuriakos, "the lordly house, the stately mass of masonry, and glass, and tower, and dome." So much so that even in our imagery, when we think of the church, we think of the building, a spire, a colonnade, glass windows so beautifully stained, the house of worship. But there’s no such thing that approaches that in the Bible. The church is the ekklesia: the called-out, separated, dedicated people of God.
Now the word is used in the New Testament, sometimes in a generic sense; but almost always in a local, individual, objective, substantive sense, such as the local church. Almost always it is used to refer to a local congregation of Christ’s believers. Paul will refer to the churches of Judea, the churches of Macedonia, the churches of Achaia, the churches of Galatia, the churches of Asia; and he will address his letters to the church at Philippi, or the church at Colosse. And in the last apocalyptic revelation, the Lord addressed His letters to the church at Ephesus, or at Smyrna, or at Pergamos, or at Thyatira, or at Sardis, or at Philadelphia, or at Laodicea. The word refers, almost always, to a local congregation of believers.
Once in a while, it is used generically; the idea "church" referring to all of the believers in Christ; the idea "church", like we use the idea generically when we say the "state" or the "home" or the "school" or the "law." So sometimes it is used in the Scriptures, the generic idea of the church, including all of the believers in Christ of all ages. The Lord said in Matthew 16:18, "On this rock I will build My church;" the great fellowship that shall endure forever, the church, the believers of all ages and all times. And it is in that sense, which is unusual for the apostle, that he uses the word "church" here in the Book of Ephesus. He will say in the third chapter and the tenth verse, that, "Christ, exalted above all principalities and powers in the heavenlies, that it might be known by the church the manifest wisdom of God in Him." He closes his most beautiful prayer, "Unto Him be glory in the church throughout all ages, world without end. Amen" [Ephesians 3:21]. And Paul will say, that, "Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it. And man ought to love his wife as Christ loved the church. For this cause shall man leave his father and mother, and be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great musterion, it’s a great secret hid in the heart of God, but revealed to us now, because I speak concerning Christ and His church" [Ephesians 5:25-32].
Christ loved the church. And in His administration, in His government of the universe – and we spoke of that Sunday a week ago – that in the dispensation, the oikonomia, in the management, in Christ’s stewardship of the whole universe, in Christ’s management and stewardship, in the dispensation of the whole universe, in the ordering of all time and event, He always consults the best interests of His people, of His church. It is sometimes difficult for us to see that or persuade ourselves of it; but it is true. According to the revelation of the Word of God, all things move, however they turn, all things move toward that great consummation when Christ shall be married at the marriage supper of the Lamb, when Christ shall be married to His bride, to the church. And even when troubles and rebellions and turbulences rise among us, it is ordered of God for our good.
In the eleventh chapter of the Book of 1 Corinthians, Paul says, "It is needful that heresies be among you." What an astonishing thing to say! "That heresies be among you, in order that they which are approved may be manifest." It is only in the confrontation of evil, and denial, and unbelief that the man stands up like a light, like a giant, like a champion, like a soldier, like a warrior! And Paul avows that even the troubles that we have, and the confrontations that are thrust upon us, these are for our good: it makes the true man of God stand up and stand out.
Also, in furthering the best, highest interests of His church, our defeats and our troubles and our sorrows, and sometimes our overwhelming disappointments also have a part. They move us toward an ultimate and a final glory. Living through that day, who would ever have thought that the envy of the priests, and the treachery of Judas, and the cowardice of the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate, and the mad fury of the mob that led to the crucifixion of the Lord, who would ever have thought that out of it God purposed the resurrection, and the exaltation, and the glory of Christ? Born in sobs and tears and in blood and in sacrifice is the church of God: taken out of His side, born in His tears and blood. And our sorrows and trials in this world are but a preview, an introduction to the glory that God hath purposed for us.
"The church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all; the church which is the body of our Lord" [Ephesians 1:23]. He has a body that He took from the virgin Mary. It is a body prepared for sacrifice, atonement. A spirit could not be offered in sacrifice; there must needs be a body. And in the secret parts of the virgin Jewess Mary, God formed the body, the humanity of our Lord. And that mantle, that robe of humanity, He bears forever: with the wound prints in His hands and His feet and His side. The Lord of all the universe, who sits upon the throne of majesty and glory, is a man. He is a man, like us. And He has a body, like ours. Changed, glorified, immortalized, but the great God of all the universe is incarnate in a human body.
That is why I had you read the incomparably precious passage from the Book of Hebrews: "He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; for He was tried in all points such as we are" [Hebrews 4:15]. He was a man among men. And that humanity that He assumed in the incarnation, He bears forever: the God of the universe is Christ, the Man Christ Jesus.
But he has another body: He has a spiritual body, and He is incarnate in the body of His church. He is the head, and we are the members. And as all of the members are articulated, activated, actuated by the head, so we move in the fullness of the life and the strength and the glory of Christ. It is Christ who thinks with our minds, who sees with our eyes, who hears with our ears, who talks with our tongue. He articulates our joints, and He moves in our limbs; for we are His body. Our life is directed by Him. If we have understanding, it is He that gives us comprehension. If we have will and volition, it is He that gives us strength in its use and activity. And if we have affections and feelings, it is He that makes them sweet and precious and beautiful. He is the head, and we are the members that make up His body.e can HeH
And the most precious and incomparably meaningful thing that God has done for us who belong to His church and are members of His body, the most precious of all gifts to us is Christ our Lord Himself: God gave Him to the church. And this is our peculiar and our unique and our prize and our infinitely glorious possession: He belongs to us. And this is the colossal difference between the Christian faith and all other living religions in the world.
I think of our Jewish religion, our Jewish faith, and our Jewish brethren. I have so many close Jewish friends whom I love in the faith and in the truth and in the Lord. But it seems to me, though they cannot see it – Paul says there is a veil over their hearts – it seems to me that their faith and their religion is broken; it has no consummation and no completion, but it is apart.
Reading in the Old Testament Scriptures, the Book of Genesis begins, Genesis, the beginning, so gloriously, so marvelously: "In the beginning God," and the glorious handiwork of God. But how does it end? The Book of Genesis ends with these words: "in a coffin, in Egypt." How does the Pentateuch end? It ends with the weeping and the mourning over the death of Moses. How does the hexateuch end? How does Joshua end? It ends with the lamentation over the death of Eleazar the high priest, the son of Aaron. How does the Book of the Kings end? It ends with the tragic imprisonment and death of Jehoiachin in the Babylonian captivity. And how do the Prophets end? And how does the Old Covenant end? And how does the Old Testament end? It ends with these words: "Lest I come and smite the earth with a curse" [Malachi 4:6]. The Jewish faith, the Jewish religion has no Christ; they have no Messiah, they have no fulfillment of those glorious promises in the Old Testament. And it seems to me to be a broken faith and a broken religion. It stops: it doesn’t go on God-ward and heavenward and victoriously Christ-ward.
As you know, this time last year Lee Roy Till and I were in Israel. We were the guests of the Israeli government. We stayed in Jerusalem in the Intercontinental Hotel, which is built on the top of the Mount of Olives. And in the hotel, in a beautiful corridor, there was a Jewish woman, a Jewess, who had a gallery of paintings. They are a gifted people, the Israeli. And many of their people are painters; and she had on display there, day after day, in her gallery the beautiful paintings of the Israelis. When I visit a country, if I can find a beautiful painting, and it’s in keeping with the budget of a poverty-stricken preacher – but I’m not poverty-stricken; to me, I’m a rich man. Isn’t it good? I think so. I try to buy a painting and bring it back. There’s no more dramatic memento of a country than a painting of it by one of its own people. So as I walked around, I saw one that especially appealed to me. It is a painting of what was the Wailing Wall, now the Western Wall. And after the Six-Day lightning war, won in the gift of God for His people by the Israelis – if you go there and see, you will see soldiers with their guns and their fatigue uniforms and their belts of bullets, cartridges by the side of those old Orthodox rabbis, with their hats and the little bells around their hats, the little fur bells, you’ll see them there worshipping and praying together. Well, after the Six Day War there was such incomparable jubilation on the part of God’s people that they joined hands, and the Orthodox rabbis and those soldiers were dancing in circles in the presence of God at the Western Wall. And there was a painting of that picture, with those Orthodox rabbis and those Israeli soldiers with their arms, joining hands, dancing before the Lord for the gift of God’s victory to His people. Well, I bought the picture, and brought it home.
I visited with the Jewish lady. Her name is Maria Murazonas. She was born in Moscow, she was reared in Bucharest; one of the most gifted and intellectually perceptive and discerning women I ever talked with. Eight months she spends in Israel; four months she spends in Boston, just for the cultural life of our American city. And to my astonishment – and I cannot describe to you how surprised – to my astonishment, I learned that she was a Christian. And when she learned that I was a Baptist minister, we had much in common. Every Sunday she drives down to Tel Aviv, and there teaches a Sunday school class; a Jewess who has found the Lord.
Well, upon a day, when I was visiting with her, she told me about a dinner at which she sat with Moshe Dayan, who was the general who led the Israelis to victory in the Six Day War and who is now, as you know, Minister of Defense for the Israeli government. She said Moshe Dayan, her close personal friend and she were eating dinner together, and he asked her what she was doing, getting ready. And she said, "It is Christmas time, and I am preparing to go to Bethlehem and share in the glorious glad festivities of the Nativity, the incarnation of our Lord." And she said to me that when she told Moshe Dayan what she was getting ready to do, her trek to Bethlehem and her rejoicing in the festivities, the gladnesses, the season’s holiday of all holidays – when Christ was born, when God pointed Him out with a star, the Messiah of God, the King of the Jews, the King of the Gentiles, the King of the nations, the King of all kings – she said that Moshe Dayan bowed his head and put his face in his hands. And lifting up his face after a long meditative period, said to her, "My dear, you do not know how much I envy you."
There has been, there shall never be, there could not be a gift from God that approached the incomparable preciousness of the gift of God to us in Christ Jesus. I wish I had time to belabor and expatiate upon that point. Could I just point it out, something for a moment?
Christ is God’s peculiar gift and our precious possession, ours. He belongs to us: God gave Him to us who look in faith and trust to Him. The Muslim, his prophet is named Mohammed. What kind of a prophet was he? The last part of his life he was a vile, and villainous, and treacherous, and lecherous man! There is not a thug, there is not a traitor, there is not a whoremonger that is viler or more steeped in sin than was Mohammed in the latter part of his life.
Christ, O Thou Son of God, so separate and pure and apart!
Gautama, the "Enlightened One," the Buddha, oh! I cannot but admire the rich nobleman who forsook all that he might find some kind of an answer to the suffering of human life; but his answer was, in his enlightenment, Buddha, his answer was to escape it by denial of it, to live oblivious to it in some limbo of a nirvana. So you see Buddha with his little fat, rotund belly, and his hands clasped over his naval, grinning in a sea, a veritable ocean of indescribable poverty and squalor and human misery.
Krishna of the Hindus: there is no filthy religion like the Hindu religion, worshipping cows and animals.
O Lord, God, Christ! What He means to us! Wisdom in prayer: when we want to know the way, take it to Jesus. Strength for our weakness, forgiveness for our sins, comfort in our sorrows.
I must tell Jesus all of my troubles;
I cannot bear these sorrows alone;
In my distress He kindly will help me;
He ever loves and cares for His own.
I must tell Jesus.
["I Must Tell Jesus"; Elisha A. Hoffman]
And in that final and ultimate hour of death, to receive us to Himself – everywhere in God’s Book, Christ is pictured as seated at the right hand of glory; except once. In the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts, when the first martyr was beat to the ground by stoning, he lifted up his face and saw heaven opened and there standing on the right hand of Glory, Christ the Son of God, standing to receive the spirit of His martyred saint [Acts 7:55-56]. It shall be thus with us in the day of our translation. He will be there to receive us to Himself and to Glory.
Christ our precious possession: God gave Him to His church, to us. No wonder we try to sing about it, preach about it, praise God for it; what Jesus means to us. I must close.
In a moment we shall stand to sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you to come, a couple you to come, a one somebody you to come, make it now. Do it now. In the balcony round, there’s a stairway to the front, to the back, and on either side; there’s time and to spare, come. On this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the pastor, "We have decided, pastor;" maybe just now, and come. Into the aisle, down to the front; God’s blessings and benedictions will attend each step of the way. Make the decision now, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. Do it now. Take the hand of your wife, "Wife, let’s go," or the hand of your children, "Children, let’s go," or just you, come. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.