The Ascension Gifts of Christ
February 7th, 1971 @ 10:50 AM
THE ASCENSION GIFTS OF CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-7-71 10:50 a.m.
The title of the sermon is The Ascension Gifts of Christ, the grace gifts of our Lord. We are preaching through the Book of Ephesians, and we are in chapter 4. And this is the text, beginning at verse 7:
But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.
Wherefore He saith, When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive.
And that was the sermon last Sunday morning, when the Lord ascended back up to glory in triumph, in victory; “When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive,” and now the sermon this morning:
And gave gifts unto men,
And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, a mature man, a grown up man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
[Ephesians 4:8, 11-13]
The grace gifts of our Lord, when He went back up to heaven, He poured out upon His church, He enriched His church with His grace gifts. In the twelfth chapter of the first Corinthian letter, the first verse, Paul calls them “ta pneumatika,” spiritual gifts; literally, “the spirituals.” In the fourth verse of that same twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians, he calls them “ta charismata,” grace gifts, charismatic gifts, charisma, grace gift [1 Corinthians 12:4]. But here in this passage, he calls them “a present, a dora”: “When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts, dora, unto men, presents” [Ephesians 4:8]. The idea that lies back of the passage is that of a victorious general, and after the battle is done and the war is won, the general distributes the spoils to his army, and each man is given a victor’s gift, a part of the spoils.
So the imagery here, remember last Sunday? “When the Lord ascended into heaven, leading captivity captive” [Ephesians 4:8], the Scriptures present the Master in the same language and imagery of a Roman general, who’s accorded triumph through the streets of the Eternal City, and the people shouted, “The triumphus“; the Roman shout of victory, “The triumphus.” And that’s what the Lord did when He went back to glory: He entered with all of the spoils of victory, and the people shouted, “The triumphus, the threombus,” as the Greek would say, “the threombus,” in the Greek, “the triumphus” in the Latin. And the Lord in heaven bestowed gifts to His people; the grace gifts upon His church [Ephesians 4:11-13].
Now usually when the Bible, when the New Testament speaks of those gifts, it will do it in a way as though the Holy Spirit were bestowing them: the spiritual gifts, the charismatic gifts; but here it is the Lord doing it. He just changed the saying of it from the gifts of the Holy Spirit here, to the gift of the Lord Himself; the Lord poured out these gifts. And another thing: usually in the Scriptures, when it speaks of these charismatic gifts, it speaks of them in terms of an endowment. A man has a charismatic, a grace gift, a spiritual gift: the spirit of wisdom, or the spirit of discerning, or the spirit of understanding, the spirit of wisdom, an endowment [1 Corinthians 12:8-10]. But here he speaks of it, the gifts are the men themselves, the ministers themselves that the Lord gives His church. And He names them. “When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men: some, apostles; some, prophets; some evangelists; some, pastors and some teachers” [Ephesians 4:8-11]. Now here the apostle presents the grace gifts as being the men themselves who have enriched the churches through the centuries.
Some of them, he says, are apostles [Ephesians 4:11], apostolos, apostello, just an ordinary Greek word which means “to send forth,” apostello, an apostolos, “one who is sent forth,” an apostle. It is used in two ways here in the New Testament. Technically, the word “apostolos, apostle,” will refer to an office; and there are only twelve apostles, just twelve. The Lord will say, in the nineteenth chapter of Matthew, that the twelve apostles will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel [Matthew 19:28]. In the twenty-first chapter of the Book of the Revelation, the Lord says that the great city, the beautiful city, the New Jerusalem, is on twelve foundations, and the twelve foundations are the twelve apostles [Revelation 21:14]. In that sense, there are just twelve. In the first chapter of Acts, when the apostles elected Matathias to take the place of Judas [Acts 1:24-26] – I think in the ninth chapter of Acts the Lord chose Paul to take that place [Acts 9:15-18] – in any event, in the technical use of the word “apostolos,” there are just twelve. But there is a general sense in which that same word “apostolos” is used in the New Testament; and that refers to a missionary who is out on the frontier, preaching the gospel, and founding churches where no Christians and no churches are. So, in the New Testament you will find Barnabas called an apostolos; you’ll find Andronicus and Junius called apostoloi, apostles; you will find Epaphroditus called an apostle. So the word is used technically for the Twelve, but generally for the missionary.
Now, he set some in the church, prophets [Ephesians 4:11], prophetess, propheteo; that’s just an ordinary word which means “to speak forth”; a “prophetes” is a man who speaks forth, he forth tells, he stands up and under the inspiration of the Spirit of God he delivers God’s message. It was, oh, comparatively recently that the word in the English language came to mean “prediction,” prophesy, to predict, to foretell; but that’s a late meaning of the word. It has no connotation like that as such in the Bible. The idea of prediction in the word, “prophet,” or “prophecy” is secondary and remote. The great meaning of the word propheteuo, to “prophesy,” in the Bible is “proclaiming,” to speak out, to speak forth. Here is a man who stands up and delivers God’s message. Now here again you have that word used both ways in the New Testament. It is used technically for an office, the office of a prophet. In the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Acts, for example, it speaks of a certain prophet named Agabus; he had the office of prophet [Acts 21:9], as Moses, as Jeremiah, as Isaiah, as Malachi, as John the Baptist; they were prophets. And in the New Testament church the office of prophet was to tell the church what to do. They didn’t have any written New Testament, and when the problems and decisions came up, the prophet told the church what to do. Now that we have the written New Testament, the office has ceased. Like the apostolic office has ceased, there are just twelve, so the office of prophet in the church has ceased. But the general use of the word “prophet” still abides with us; it is a grace gift from God. For example, in this same twenty-first chapter of the Book of Acts, in two verses side by side, Paul designates the two uses of the word. He will use the word “prophet” in the sense of an office for Agabus; then he speaks of the four daughters of Philip the evangelists, who prophesied, that is, they spoke under the inspiration of the divine, indwelling Spirit of Jesus [Acts 21:8-9]. And in that sense we have the inspired messengers of God who endow and enrich the Lord’s church today.
And some evangelists [Ephesians 4:11]; “evangelists,” that is someone who tells the “good news,” euaggelizo, euaggelizo. Euaggelistes, a man who tells something great; the good news, euaggelizo, he is bringing the glad tidings. And this is used in the Bible when we refer to men who do two things: one, they bring the glad tidings to the lost and seek to win them to Christ; and second, they are itinerant, like Philip the evangelist, he didn’t have any settled pastorate; he went from place to place and preached the gospel.
Then there are some who are pastors, poimen, “shepherds” [Ephesians 4:11]. There are three words used in the New Testament to describe the office of a pastor, and they’re used interchangeably. Sometimes he’s called an episkopos, translated “bishop” – he’s an episkopos, he’s an overseer – it refers to the work. Sometimes he’s called a “presbuteros,” that is “elder”; that refers to the dignity of his office. And sometimes he’s called a “poimen,” a pastor, a shepherd; and that refers to his relationship with his people.
And then God hath set in the church some teachers [Ephesians 4:11], “didaskalos,“ didactically gifted people. They can open God’s Word and they can teach in a way that the people understand, and they grasp what God has said in His revelation.
Now, the apostle says that when the Lord went back up into heaven He poured out these grace gifts upon His church: apostles, missionaries; prophets, men who speak under the unction and in the divine burning fervor of the Lord. Evangelists, men who seek the lost, who conduct these great revivals; pastors, the undershepherds of our Lord; and teachers, gifted souls who make known the Word of the Lord: now, these gifts, these ministers of Christ, have been the riches of the church through all of the centuries and are today. The enrichment of the church is by no means these great piles of brick and stone, however ornate or impressive they may be. But the real riches of the churches of Christ always is found in the grace gifts, the men – the ministers – the leaders that God hath given them. And through all of the centuries, the Lord has endowed His church with those grace gifts.
There has never been a generation without that outpouring of the graciousness of these charismatic gifts from God; there never will be until the Lord comes again. The pouring out of the grace gifts upon His church, the ministers of Christ [Ephesians 4:11] who enrich the household of the faith; in the apostolic days, the Twelve, and Timothy, and Titus, and Tychicus, and Epaphroditus, and the deacons, Stephen and Philip, who became known as “The Evangelist.” Then, the ante-Nicene, and Nicene, and post-Nicene fathers: Papias, the pastor of the church at Hierapolis, right across the Lycus River from Laodicea; Polycarp, the pastor of the church at Smyrna; Ignatius, the pastor of the church at Antioch; Justin Martyr, the defender of the faith in Samaria; Athanasius, and Augustine, and Chrysostom, “the golden mouth” pastor of the church at Antioch and then at Constantinople. How rich did Jesus endow the people of God through those centuries! Then, the grace gifts, the ministers of the pre-Reformation: Peter Waldo, Savonarola, John Huss, Cranmer, Ridley, Hugh Latimer, Samuel Rutherford, William Guthrie, all those flaming ministers of Christ. Then the days of the Reformation: Martin Luther, and John Calvin, and John Knox, and Melanchthon, and Balthazar HÃ¼bmaier, and Felix Manz, the whole constellation of God’s grace gifts. Then the seventeenth century: John Bunyan, and William Carey, and Adoniram Judson, and George Fox, and Roger Williams, and William Penn, on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond the seas, God’s shining stars. Then the eighteenth century, the days of the great Wesleyan revivals, and the Great Awakening: John Wesley, and Charles, whose hymn you sang a moment ago, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, David Brainerd, William Carey, Adoniram Judson, God’s grace gifts upon His church. Then the nineteenth century and it swells in volume and glory: Dwight L. Moody, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Charles G. Finney, Sam Jones, John A. Broadus, David Livingstone. Then the twentieth century: Billy Sunday, Billy Graham, Bill Glass, George W. Truett, Lee Scarborough. This, Paul says, is our Lord’s ascension gifts to His church [Ephesians 2:20, 4:4-8]: the building up of the faith, the enrichment of the people of God.
Nor shall that gift ever end until the Lord comes in glory. Every generation shall have its grace gifts, the men of God, the ministers of Christ who shine and burn for Him. I sometimes think of it in that Old Testament story when Elijah was carried up to heaven in a whirlwind [2 Kings 2:11]. And when he ascended up into glory, the mantle fell from his shoulders down to the ground. And Elisha, who poured water on the hands of Elijah, picked the mantle up and went to the swollen Jordan River and said, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah? And he struck the waters of the swollen stream with Elijah’s mantle, and the waters parted hither and thither, and Elisha went over on dry ground” [2 Kings 2:13-14]. And when the school of the prophets at Jericho saw what had happened, they looked upon the face of Elisha and said, “The spirit of Elijah doth rest upon Elisha” [2 Kings 2:15].
This is God’s great grace gifts to the centuries. When one man lays the mantle down, there is another man to pick it up and carry it on. I stood in Westminster Abbey looking at the monument – he’s not buried there, just a plaque to John Wesley – and on the plaque, some of those sayings of John Wesley, one of which there, “The world is my parish,” the Anglican church would not open their doors to him; “The world is my parish”; and then this one, “God buries the workman, but carries on the work.” One man finishes his task and lays the burden down, and a younger man picks up the torch and holds it high and carries it on; the grace gifts of Christ in every generation.
They are the gifts of the Lord, they are charismatic, they are pneumatika, they are spiritual gifts; they are not natural, they are endowments from heaven. The apostolos, the missionary on the frontier; as I have visited for these several years the mission fields of our world; I’m astonished at some abounding gift such as in Guatemala. We have a missionary there, an apostolos, in Guatemala. And wherever he goes, and he’s gone all over that nation, he establishes thriving churches. It is a grace gift. When I was in Rhodesia, I met another man like that, a grace gift; all the churches thriving and flourishing that he has established in Rhodesia in the heart of Southern Africa, a grace gift.
And the evangelist [Ephesians 4:11], it’s a grace gift; no man can be an evangelist saying, “I’m going to be an evangelist!” You just can’t. I was riding on a plane with one of my dearest, finest friends, a marvelous pastor and successful; he’d just hold a meeting in a stadium, and seated there by my side, he said, “Criswell, I’ve learned one thing from this stadium meeting, I am no Billy Graham. I’m going back to my church.”
It’s a grace gift. It’s something God does. So with all of these grace gifts of apostolos, and euaggelistes, and didaskos, and poimen, and prophetes, all of them are grace gifts; they have nothing to do with a man’s looks or his endowments or any natural riches that he might have inherited; they are grace gifts!
When I went to school, both in college and the seminary, I went to school with men that I thought, “Dear me, I do believe God makes mistakes?” Why, I never saw such unpromising, unprepossessing students for the ministry and the work of the Lord in my life! Some of them were stupid, I mean dumb, and couldn’t learn. And some of them were, they looked to me as though the cats had dragged them up, sorry looking. But as time has gone on and these years have passed, I review sometimes in memory those young fellows I went to school with in seminary and in college. Some of those men that I thought were the most unpromising are some of the greatest chaplains of the United States Army and its Air Corp and all the rest of the branches [that] America has ever produced. Some of them are magnificent professors and teachers. Some of them are the finest denominational leaders and missionary strategists and statesman that walk the face of the earth. You see, when you equate God’s gift with a natural endowment, you’ve missed it. It’s not how he looks, it’s not his stature, it’s not his physical, majestic mien, or form, or presence; it is God! And it is God that makes him shine, and flame, and burn! It is God that makes him resplendent and incandescent; it is a gift of the Lord, it’s a grace gift. It’s a charisma, it is a doran.
Ah, I read that so much in my studying. Thomas Chalmers had a sterile and barren ministry in a little place in Scotland called Kilmeney – I have no idea where it is – in a place called Kilmeney he had an experience with the Lord. And when the people went to church expecting those dull, dry, dreary, sterile, barren services, they had a flame of fire! And the people were amazed and overwhelmed by the miraculous transformation of Thomas Chalmers! It’s a grace gift!
John Wesley came to America, came over here to win people to Christ, especially the American Indian in Georgia. He got on the boat and went back to England discouraged, defeated, he had failed miserably! Then he describes in his journal his Aldersgate experience in London. And he writes, “I called and they didn’t come; I call now, and they come.”
It’s a gift from God, it’s a grace gift. Charles G. Finney was a lawyer; and a man – one of his clients – came to him bringing a retainer’s fee. And Charles Finney said, “I have a retainer from the Lord”; God made him shine and burn, a lawyer, had no theological training at all.
Dwight L. Moody was a businessman taking care of a church, had an ordinary ministry. And upon a day, walking down Wall Street in New York City, he had an experience. He rushed to the room of a friend and finally after hours said, “God, stay Thy hand or I will die.” And Moody says, “I preached the same sermons, I used the same words, I gave the same invitation; but before where there were ones and twos that came, now there are thousands and thousands that come.” It’s a grace gift. It’s something God does: it’s the enrichment of His church, something the Lord does.
Up here at Whitewright, Texas, and I’ve never been there, but up here at Whitewright, Texas, a town in north central Texas; and they had a young fellow there, barely twenty, who was studying to be a lawyer. And the congregation met and said, “God’s called you to preach, young man, George W. Truett; and we’re going to ordain you.”
He said, “Ordain me? Well, I’m studying to be a lawyer; I’m not going to be a preacher.”
Ah, but they said, “God has His hand upon you, and we’re going to ordain you.”
He went to his mother. Oh, he describes this so poignantly! Went to his mother, and his dear sainted mother said, “Son, these are God’s people, they’re the Lord’s people; and if they believe God has called you to the ministry, that’s the voice of the Lord!” And they set him aside, a grace gift; it’s something God does. And how wonderful to see God do it as He takes weakness and makes it into strength, as He takes nothing and makes it shine and glow for the Lord. It’s something God does; it’s a gift from heaven.
Moses said, “Lord, I cannot speak.” The Lord said, “Who made your mouth and your tongue?” [Exodus 4:10-11]. And God made him fire and flame like that bush that burned, unconsumed [Exodus 3:2]. Jeremiah said, “Lord, I am a child [Jeremiah 1:6], I’m afraid of their faces; they frighten me.” God said, “I will make your face like adamant” [Jeremiah 1:8, 9]; God did it! Simon Peter said, “Lord, I am a sinful man; I am unworthy, Lord.” But God said, “I will make you to be a fisher of men” [Luke 5:8-10], God did it! Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul the apostle, said, “Lord, this thorn in my flesh, take it away, please Lord!” Isn’t it blessed we don’t know what that is? Any man who has a burden, or a handicap, or an affliction, is a brother or a sister to the apostle Paul, “Lord, this thorn in my flesh, take it away.” And the Lord said, “Not so, My strength is made perfect in weakness” [2 Corinthians 12:7-9]. When I’m crushed, and when I’m down, and when I’m defeated, then is God magnified and glorified; it’s something God does. It’s not something we do, its God’s doing.
John Wesley – sometimes, if I find a Methodist that is in a good humor, I’ll say to him, “You know ya’ll are sure proud and egotistical.”
Well, he says, “What makes you think we over here in the Methodist church are proud?”
Well, I say, “It’s because you say John Wesley was five feet tall; that’s what you Methodists say, ‘He was five feet tall.'”
“Well, what is it about that?”
“Well, he was barely four feet ten or eleven inches tall; that’s how tall he was.”
If John Wesley had been here in this pulpit talking, you couldn’t see him over this pulpit. He had a wretched marriage; married in later life. All you who say these kids that marry, they don’t know what they’re talking about; boy, these that marry in old age, I know they don’t know what they’re talking about! John Wesley married in old age, and he married wretchedly. And upon a day a friend came to see him and didn’t knock at the door, he just walked into the house; and when he walked into the house, there was the wife of John Wesley dragging him all over the house by the hair of the head! Yet that man burned and flamed and shined for Jesus; it is something God does, it’s a grace gift.
Somebody went up, an English professor went up to Dwight L. Moody and said, “Mr. Moody, I listened to your sermon today; here are seventeen flagrant, grammatical errors that you’ve made, seventeen of them, I have them all written here.”
And Dwight L. Moody, who had no education – if you were to read one of his sermons that is not corrected you wouldn’t think a man talked like that – Dwight L. Moody replied, he said, “Sir, I do the best I can for Jesus, do you?”
It’s a grace gift; it’s something God does for you. When I was in college four years down there at Baylor, the man that made the greatest impression upon me in four years of going to chapel was a crippled, deformed man. And I so can see him. He stood there in that chapel pulpit, and his head was like that, and he couldn’t raise his head; he was deformed and he was crippled, but God makes his ministry to shine and to burn like fire! It’s a gift from heaven!
The most movingly, eloquent man who ever lived was George Whitefield. Remember? Ben Franklin said, “Well, I want to hear him, but I’m going to leave all my money at home, because he’d get it all, they tell me, if I come with anything in my pockets.”
So Ben Franklin went to hear George Whitefield and left all of his money at home. And while George Whitefield was preaching, Benjamin Franklin turned to a neighbor and said, “Sir, will you loan me some money that I can give to George Whitefield?”
It’s a gift from heaven. Another man that I read about said, “George Whitefield could pronounce the name ‘Mesopotamia’ and bring a vast throng to tears, just by pronouncing a word.”
George Whitefield, all of his life asthmatic; and when he preached he grasped for breath; God’s eloquent preacher. When he came to Newberry Port in Massachusetts, at night, up there in bed, the villagers came, pounded on the door and said to the host, “Would you ask Mr. Whitefield to come and preach to us?”
So he went up there and got George Whitefield out of bed; the preacher dressed and came down the stairway and stood on the bottom rung of the stairway; and he preached the message of Christ to the people in the hall, and on the porch, and out in the yard. Standing there preaching, George Whitefield had a candle in his hand, and a little candle holder. And when the candle burned down and went out, George Whitefield led a benedictory prayer, went back up to the room, lay down, and died. Asthmatic, couldn’t get his breath, and died.
It is God that does it! It’s not a man’s education, though I don’t deprecate it; nor is it a man’s polish, and I don’t deprecate it; nor is it a man’s chaste language, and I do not deprecate it; nor his human wisdom, I do not deprecate it, but by the Word of the Lord, I’m just avowing to you what I read in the Bible and what I read in human history, it’s a grace gift. It is something God does! And that, the apostle says, is the enrichment of the church – not our buildings, not our vast, mausoleum like cathedrals – but it’s the grace gifts: the missionary, the evangelist, the pastor, the teacher.
It’s you. Oh, I wish I had time, and I have to quit! To begin, “Unto every one of us is given charis, a grace, according to the measure of the gift of Christ” [Ephesians 4:7], each one of us, you have it! Some of you can make money for Jesus, some of you know how to guide an organization, some of you know how to be a superintendent, some of you a teacher, some of you a personal soulwinner, some of you can sing. Lee Roy wasn’t educated to be a singer; do I need to say that? He was educated to be an engineer! And he didn’t go to a Christian academy or a church related school at all; he went to a state university and was graduated to be an engineer, and the Lord put His hand upon him as an engineer, and gave him this incomparable grace gift. Look at that choir. At eight-fifteen o’clock service this morning, they were running clear up on either side, youngsters; that’s Lee Roy, that’s God, that’s the gift of the Lord upon him. It’s something God did, and each one of you has a gift, each one of you.
And when you dedicate your life to Jesus, when you give your life to the Lord – oh! how He sanctifies the soul, the home, the life, the church; we’re enriched and blessed through you!
In a moment we shall sing our song of appeal, to give your life to the Lord, to put your life in the circle and fellowship of this precious church, on the first note of the first stanza, would you come and stand by me here at the front? In the balcony round, a family you, a one somebody you, on this lower floor, a couple you, “Pastor, this is my wife, we’re both coming.” “Pastor, this is our children, the whole family, we’re all coming”; or just you. As God would press the appeal to your heart, make the decision now, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming, “Here I am, pastor, I give my heart and life to the Lord, and here I come.” Do it now, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.