Our Distinguished Visitor: Barnabas
January 2nd, 1972 @ 8:15 AM
OUR DISTINGUISHED VISITOR: BARNABAS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-02-72 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the New Year’s message entitled Our Distinguished Visitor: Barnabas. “Now they that were scattered abroad,” in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Acts,
…upon the persecution that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to the Jews only.
And some of them—Hellenistic Jews—who were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, when they were come to Antioch, spoke unto the Greeks—the heathen idolatrous Greeks—preaching the Lord Jesus.
And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great multitude believed, and turned unto the Lord.
Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch.
Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.
For he was a good man . . .
Evidently when the beloved physician Luke wrote this, Barnabas had died, for he speaks of him in the past tense:
. . . for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord.
Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul:
And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
This is one of the most unusual incidents to be found in the Bible. As the gospel message began at Jerusalem [Acts 1:8, 2:1-47], then like waves of the sea it began to press outward, and outward, and outward, until in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Acts, there are Greek-speaking Jews, Hellenistic Jews, who for the first time preach the gospel to out-and-out idolaters [Acts 11:20]. And they were saved out of their idolatry into the blessedness of the gospel of Christ, without any intermediary change, directly out of heathen pagan idolatry into the fullness of the gospel of Christ [1 Corinthians 6:9-11]. It was an astonishing thing! And when the church at Jerusalem heard about it:—heretofore all of the converts to the Christian faith out of the Gentile world had been proselytes, Jewish proselytes, either of the gate or of the temple—all together proselytes, such as the Ethiopian treasurer [Acts 8:26-39], or such as the Gentile centurion, Cornelius [Acts 10:1-48]. He had not become a full-fledged Jew as the Ethiopian eunuch had, who had gone up to Jerusalem for to worship [Acts 8:27]. But he had become a moral follower of the law of Moses; he had forsaken his heathen gods and had embraced the outward religion of the Old Covenant, the Old Testament. But these were out-and-out idolaters; they hadn’t been introduced to Moses, they’d not been introduced to the Jewish faith, they had not forsaken their idols or their temples or their pagan practices. And out of sheer idolatry they became Christians, were called such because of the tremendous change in them, witnessed in this city of Antioch [Acts 11:20]. Such a thing astonishing was heard by the leaders of the church in Jerusalem [Acts 11:22].
So having heard what had happened at Antioch, they sent Barnabas to go look at it and to make a report to them about it [Acts 11:22]. And Barnabas did so. And what he saw brought gladness and victory to his own heart, and he encouraged the people. He was glad [Acts 11:23-24]. And seeing the work with such incomparable opportunity, he went to Tarsus—the capital of Cilicia, right around the head of the Mediterranean Sea—and brought Saul back [Acts 11:25-26], who became Paul [Acts 13:9]. And both of them together, Barnabas and Saul, worked together, taught much people, made such a tremendous impact upon the city that they called those new creatures Christianoi, “men who reflect the life of Christ” [Acts 11:25-26].
Now, I just thought for the new year that we could imagine ourselves a church that had been heard of. Its fame had been scattered abroad, and it had come to the ears of Barnabas, who being sent to see us comes to Dallas and to the First Baptist Church, and he looks at us to give a report to the mother church in Jerusalem.
It’s the same kind of a thing as happened with Dr. J. H. Rushbrook. Dr. Truett was president of the Baptist World Alliance, and Dr. Rushbrook of England was the executive secretary. When Dr. Truett relinquished the presidency, Dr. Rushbrook was elected president of the Alliance. And upon the death of Dr. Truett, and under the Baptist World presidency of Dr. Rushbrook, he came here to Dallas to visit us; Dr. Rushbrook, one of the most loveable, distinguished Britishers that you could ever have known. So as I talked with him, he had crossed the continent in order to be here at this church. He came for no other reason than just to visit us here in Dallas. So I asked him, “Why have you done that?” And he replied to me, “I just wanted to see how you were doing, that’s all. Have no other reason for coming at all, just wanted to see how you were faring.” Well, it blessed my heart to know of his tremendous interest in us. Now that’s what I’m speaking of, about our visit from the distinguished Barnabas. He has heard about us, and he has come here to see the church, so we are going to lay it before him.
Now he makes the comment, as so many do—and what I say this morning will be so much of what I hear about us—he makes the comment, “You know, with such a tremendous budget and such a vast giving program, you must use your pastor as a ding-donger and a bell ringer for money all the time. Surely you must use him solely and practically all together for that purpose, to raise money; for I have never heard of a church giving so much to its giving program in history. And that must be what your preacher does.” He must stand up there and raise money all the time.
“No, Barnabas! Actually, he rarely mentions it. He preaches in long series concerning books in the Bible. For example, the pastor has just finished a long series on Ephesians. And this coming Sunday he begins a series, the fourth volume, on the Book of Daniel. But Barnabas, more than that, the pastor is interdicted by the Word of God from doing that.” Listen to the Word of God:
Now concerning the collection, as I gave order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no logia when I come.
[1 Corinthians 16:1-2]
—that there be no ding-donging for money when I stand up to preach; that there be no gatherings, no collections for money, when I stand in the pulpit. We have an interdiction from God, by the Word of the Lord, that when the pastor stands up there before the congregation, he is not to stand there with the responsibility of raising money upon his heart.
“Well, how do you finance then, so tremendous a ministry as is represented by this church?” Well, the answer is also in the Word of God, and by a mandate from the Lord Himself. “Upon the first day of the week,” that’s on Sunday, “let every one of you take a proportion of what God has given him, and let him give it in loving devotion to the Lord” [1 Corinthians 16:2]. And then there’s no need for the pastor to stand up here and try to wring blood out of a turnip. Did you know there are many churches that seemingly sit there in the congregation and look at their pastor and say to him in effect, “We just dare you to get money out of us; we just dare you to fill that budget coffer. We just dare you to make this church financially successful. And here we sit in all of our penuriousness, and miserliness, and stinginess, and we just dare you to get us to give something to the Lord.”
Oh, no! The part, and the place, and the assignment of the pastor is a thousand miles different from that. When he stands up to preach, always it ought to be that the laymen and the laywomen of the church have taken care of all of its financial needs. And when the pastor stands to deliver the message of God, there are none of those burdens upon his soul. “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you” [1 Corinthians 16:2], each member of the family, whatever the income is, the child has a part, and the father has a part, and the mother has a part, for they all make a contribution, “Let every one of you, each one of you, lay by him in store, take up a proportion as God has prospered him, that there be no logia,” when I stand up to deliver the message of the Lord. How about that? Why, that is the wisdom of God!
One day this past week, a young man in our church—hasn’t belonged to our church but just a little while—a young man in our church came to me, and he said, “Did you know, the last few weeks I have decided to take God as my partner? And I made a covenant with the Lord that I’d give Him a part, and I would keep a part, and I’ve asked God to work with me and bless me.” And he said, “Here is a check for two thousand dollars, that’s my tithe of what I made today.”
My brother, two thousand dollars is a tithe of twenty thousand dollars! The guy is making twenty thousand dollars a day. How do you like that? That’s it, “Lord, You and I are partners, and You help me.” And I think it is as sincere a prayer and as acceptable to God for a man to ask God to bless him as he works, as it is to bless him as he prays, or as he worships, or as he goes to church.
Well, we must hasten, for Barnabas is here to look at us. So as our distinguished visitor walks around, he sees our people by the thousands in classes, and in unions, and in choirs, and in all kinds of teaching programs. And he asks about that. And we reply, “There is a dedication on the part of this church to its teaching ministries that are as deep, and as significant, and as planned, and prayed over, as any part of the church ministry itself. And after all Barnabas, isn’t that what you did? You and Saul by the space of a year assembled yourselves with the people, ‘and taught much people’” [Acts 11:26]. And that’s what we’re doing.
Why, Barnabas, there was a time when all teaching, all of it, was under the aegis of the church, all of it. Every great university in Europe and in England, every great university in America, all of them were founded in olden days by the church. They were ministries of the church. In 1780, Robert Raikes, the owner and publisher of the Gloucester Journal in England, saw these ragged children in the street, and he founded the Sunday school. It was later divided: on the weekday it taught the three “R’s,” and on Sunday it taught religion. But the Sunday school began as a ministry teaching the Word of God. And when the public school was separated from it, the weekday program, ninety-percent of the content of the public school was religious. They taught the Bible, they taught Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, they taught Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. It was a content that centered in God and in Christ. Today, the public school system is drowned in secularism and materialism. It has become a political football to the amazement of anybody who has any care for the education of our children.
Now, Barnabas, what our church is seeking to do is to place back into the heart and life of the people those spiritual and religious teaching ministries that have characterized it from the beginning. And we are valiantly trying, we are dedicated to it. On the Lord’s Day, you’ll find all of these many groups studying. And during the days of the weeks you’ll find our mission programs and choir programs studying. And not only that, Barnabas, but we have founded in our church a Bible Institute for an in-depth study of the Word of God and its many faceted ministries of singing and teaching. And not only that, Barnabas, but please heaven, when the fall comes, we shall have a church school here to which our children can come every day in the week as well as on Sunday.
Now, Barnabas—as he looks at our church and visits us—he sees these great buildings. There are about eight million dollars invested in the outward structural buildings of the First Baptist Church here in Dallas. So as Barnabas walks from one side of the church to the other, and he sees these great buildings, he asks, “This is an unusual thing, how do you in anywise defend so large an investment?” And the reply, “Barnabas, these are tools we work with. What the chisel is to the sculpture, what the trowel is to the stonemason, what the hammer and the saw are to the carpenter, what the piano is to the musician, what the brush is to the painter, what the plow is to the farmer, what arms are to the soldier, these buildings are to us. They are instruments and tools by which we do God’s work in the earth.”
Look at that great hospital and medical complex. Millions of dollars invested in it; there is about 50 million dollars represented by the Baylor University Medical Center. It ministers to the body, the physical life of our people; and it’s a marvelous investment. Or these great school buildings in the city of Dallas: high schools, elementary schools, junior highs, millions and millions, and hundreds of millions of dollars represented in that investment; training the mind—it is a fine investment. Now Barnabas—that is what this represents. Here we are seeking to reach the soul, and the heart, and the inward life of the family; our little children, our teenagers, our fathers and mothers, our people. And these great buildings are investments. They are tools by which we are seeking to reach the soul as the public school reaches the mind, and as the hospital and the medical complex reach the body.
“I notice,” says Barnabas, “the spiritual ministries of the church, and especially those that are altruistic and philanthropic, I notice you have seven missions. I see two of them here in the downtown church, the Good Shepherd Chapel and the Silent Friends Chapel. And beside that I see you have an Oral-Deaf department, and I see you have a teaching ministry to the retarded, to the Special Education group. I see you have a great missionary outreach here in the city of Dallas.”
And our reply is, “Yes, Barnabas, yes,” for in the Great Commission it said, “Jerusalem, and Judea, and Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth” [Acts 1:8]. And through our cooperative mission program, we try to minister and help, reaching the whole earth for Christ; but we also have our Jerusalem: our city of Dallas.
And in these seven chapels, Sunday by Sunday, in worship, and Sunday school, and Training Union, and every day during the week we are ministering to these people who need God and who need us. It is not a spasmodic or adventitious effort; it is something that goes on every day during the year. We are feeding the poor, and clothing the naked, and bringing help, and succor, and healing to thousands of families. Our people hardly realize it’s going on; but we have pastors for those people, and educational song leaders for those people. It is a marvelous work! We place in it something more than a hundred thousand dollars every year; and it is a glorious, incomparably precious ministry.
“And Barnabas, not only that, but we’re adding to it.” Did you know, one of the dreams of the pastor, I believe, is coming true? We asked to come to our church Richard Peacock, who is our minister to adults. That is one of the most loveable men I have ever met in my life! I love to be around Richard Peacock. I just love to rub off things sweet and good from him. Oh, he’s a dear man of God! We brought him here to see to it that all of our adults were brought in to a marvelous way, that they could continue serving in the name of Christ. And one of the dreams that I had: and I was asked, “Are you going to mention that Sunday?” I said, “I have already preached about it, so for me to mention it again will be nothing at all.”
We are going with God’s help, and I believe the dream is coming true, we are going to build a forty-story building right there. And it might be fifty stories. And if I have my way completely about it, it will be sixty stories. We are going to build it right there, and we are going to invite our adults who would like to come and live with us, to come and be here, where as I say, “You just fall out of the window into the church.” And we’ll make a contract with them to take care of them the rest of the days of their lives. We’ll take care of them through all of the years that lie ahead, and sign it by contract.
“Barnabas, did you ever hear anything like that?”
“I never did,” says Barnabas, “but I believe it’s coming to pass.”
And Barnabas continues, “I also notice that when you preach, you give an appeal. That’s a rare thing considering all the churches of Christendom. But you always give an appeal. You give an invitation, always.”
And the reply is, “Barnabas that is imminently correct.” There is never a time in the church when we have our services but that we drive for a verdict. Today, will you give your heart to Christ? Today, will you put your life in the fellowship of God’s church? And when we have our services, the choir sings, and our people read together God’s Book, and the pastor stands up and takes a passage out of the Bible and expounds it the best that he knows how. And all of it is for a verdict. Is there somebody you, who today will decide for God? And everything we do in the church is toward that end. When we teach, we’re trying to reach people for Christ. And when we visit, we’re inviting them to the Lord.
And the consummation and the ultimate goal of all of our efforts lies and can be defined by that appeal. We are all in it. When we bow our heads we pray for the lost. When we gather together in public prayer, we ask God to give us a harvest. And at the end of every message, the pastor stands down there at the front with hands extended, “Somebody, come today, give his life to Jesus.” That’s why we’ve been saved ourselves.
In Oklahoma, where I came from, there was a famous Creek poet—a Creek Indian poet—by the name of Alex Posey. He wrote a poem, and it went like this, “Why do trees along the river lean so far out o’er the tide?” When I was in eastern Kentucky, up there at Kingdom Come Creek, I heard an old mountaineer say about the logs that he had cut, “We’re waiting for the tide in the springtime.” And I asked him, “What do you mean, ‘tide’?” And he said, “We use the word ‘tide’ to refer to the swollen rivers and streams in the springtime when we can float the logs down to the Kentucky River.” And if any of you have ever gone fishing, when you go down in a boat those trees will lean over the water all the way down the course of the river. And that Indian poet saw it:
Why do trees along the river
Lean so far out o’er the tide?
Very wise men tell me why,
But I am never satisfied.
And so I keep my fancy still
That trees lean out to save
The drowning from the clutches
Of the cold, remorseless wave.
[“My Fancy,” Alexander Lawrence Posey]
But I love to think of all of our people like that: with a hand extended, “Come and welcome.” This is God’s day, and God’s hour, and God’s time. “Yes, Barnabas, every service we’re asking the dear Spirit of Jesus to bless the appeal we make, that God might save the lost and add to His church.”
And then Barnabas says, “You know, I don’t believe I have ever seen in any congregation I’ve ever visited so many faithful people.” People who are here every time the door is open, people who have been in this dedicated work of the Lord for the years of their lives, and they are everywhere! They’re in every area of the church. They are in our mission work, they are in our teaching ministries, they are in our choir ministries, they are in our worship services; they are ushering, they are visiting. In every area of the church life there are devoted, consecrated, dedicated people. And my reply? “Barnabas, I don’t think in the earth there are so many people who have given themselves, truly, really, deeply, forever lastingly to the work and service of Christ as I see here in this dear church.”
It’s like this: I went to school with an English boy who had become a naturalized American citizen—his name was Vernon Taylor—in the Southern Seminary in Louisville. His father had been the company commander in the British army, and for practically all of his life had been stationed with the British Army in India. Vernon was born in India. When his father died, his mother had brought him to the United States, and he became a naturalized citizen. While he was there in the seminary, he went back to England to visit his father’s people. After the visit was over and he returned to the seminary, he brought with him an old yellow-leaf book that had belonged to his soldier father. In that book—and he put it in my hands and said, “I want you to look at it”—in that book, his father had written the story of his campaigns in India, just little brief resumes. And at the end of that old yellow-leaf book there was the roll call of the men in his company. As I went down the names of the men, there was a little word about each one of them, the name and just a word, where he came from and something about it. And then, in the last column here, the commander had written about how the man had fared in battle. And as I went through the names of the soldiers in that company—look what he would write—at the end of the column he would write, “Killed in action,” “died on the march,” “fell in battle.” Time, after time, after time, and as I think of that roll call, what better thing could God have to write by our names in the Book of Life? [Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27]. “Faithful unto death,” “Died on the march,” “Fell in the midst of the work.”
“Oh, Barnabas, yes! That has made the church great, its devoted, sacrificial, consecrated commitment to Christ. And Barnabas, as we enter the new year, our finest year, these things that you have seen are just harbingers, and earnests, and pledges of the greater service and the greater devotion we offer to God in the months that lie ahead.”
Now we are going to stand in a moment and sing our song of invitation, our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you, to put your life with us in this dear church; a couple you, to come and work with us; a one somebody you, to give your heart to Jesus, on this first Sunday of the new year, while we sing this song, you come and stand by me. Out of the balcony round, you; on this lower floor, you; into the aisle and down to the front: “Here I come, pastor, and here I am.” Make the decision now in you heart, and on the first note of the first stanza, come. The dear Lord bless you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.