Our Distinguished Visitor: Barnabas
January 2nd, 1972 @ 10:50 AM
OUR DISTINGUISHED VISITOR: BARNABAS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Acts 11: 19-26
1-2-72 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor, leading the first service and delivering the first message of the new year. These last two Sundays we had a great number of visitors, and I shake hands with you and get acquainted with you and love having you here. And I talked to a couple at the first service, at 8:15 a.m. And they live way up there in the cold north where youwould might as well put your house in a refrigerator as to stay up there. Did you ever hear of anyone retiring and going north? So I wanted to point out to you in the Holy Scriptures in the passage that you just read, “We give thanks to God always for you all” [1 Thessalonians 1:2].
So I know that Paul was a Southern Baptist because he says, “you all.” But as I read on in his writings, it is too bad that he was not a Texan, for he also said, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” [Philippians 4:11]. It is a happy day and a great day, and the beginning of a glorious year. And in keeping with that prospect of the unfolding vista that the Lord has laid before us, I am preaching a sermon entitled Our Distinguished Visitor: Barnabas. In the eleventh chapter of the story of the first church, in the Book of Acts:
Now they who were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.
That had been the program thus far. Even the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles, up to this time, had been still in the framework of the Jewish faith. The Ethiopian treasurer was a proselyte of the temple. He was a full-fledged Jew, and he had gone up to Jerusalem for to worship [Acts 8:26-39].
When the gospel was preached in Caesarea to the centurion, to Cornelius, it was preached to a proselyte of the gate [Acts 10:1-48]. That is, he had forsaken all of his heathen idols, and pagan worship, and had become a devotee of the Jewish religion. He was following the law of Moses, and he prayed to the true God of heaven [Acts 10:1-2]. But this is an unusual and a new departure for some of them who were men of Cyprus and Cyrene—Helenistic Jews, born in the Diaspora—Greek speaking, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the heathen, pagan, idolatrous Greeks, preaching the Lord Jesus, that’s the first time that was ever done [Acts 11:19-20]. “And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord” [Acts 11:21]. Out of their heathenism, and paganism, and idolatry, they became full-fledged Christians and members of the church. Heretofore as I said, always, the convert had come through the Jewish faith—either as a full-fledged proselyte, one of the temple, or having embraced the Mosaic law, a proselyte of the gate—but these people who turned here to the Lord in Antioch were heathen, idolatrous, pagan Greeks. “Then tidings of these things,” and naturally it would—
. . . 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.
[Acts 11:22, 23]
Now Barnabas himself was a Jew of the Diaspora, he was a Helenistic Jew. He was a Greek-speaking Jew, “And when he saw what God had done, he was glad, and with purpose of heart exhorted them to cleave unto the Lord” [Acts 11:23]. Apparently, he was dead when Luke wrote this story, because he uses here, in a little verse—just one sentence describing Barnabas—he uses 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 [Acts 1:24]. Then departed Barnabas” [Acts 11: 25]. He picks up the story, after that one little comment:
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 christianoi first in Antioch.
[Acts 11:25, 26]
The unusual thing of seeing this polyglot, conglomerate, convocation of people: some of them were Jews, some of them were Hellenists, some of them were pagan, some of them were heathen—and Antioch was a melting pot of all kinds of nationalities. And they were all together, in one faith, in one church, worshipping one Lord, having submitted to one baptism. And so tremendous was the effect upon that great ancient city, that they gave them a new name, christianoi, “they were called Christians first in Antioch” [Acts 11:26].
Now we’re going to take the thought of that story, when the church at Jerusalem—the mother church, the first church—heard what God had done in Antioch, they sent Barnabas to visit the people, to see what had been done [Acts 11:22]. And in imagination, we’re going to do the same thing today. We’re going to receive our illustrious visitor, Barnabas, who has come to see us to see how we fare—to see what we’re doing—and maybe to give a report on some of the visions and aims that we hold in our hearts.
It is the same kind of a thing as Dr. J. H. Rushbrook did. Dr. Truett was president of the Baptist World Alliance, and with him, Dr. Rushbrook was executive secretary. And when Dr. Truett left the presidency, they elected Dr. Rushbrook. And in the years of Dr. Rushbrook’s presidency, Dr. Truett died. And Dr. Rushbrook came here to Dallas, and to this church. He crossed the continent to be here. He had no other reason for coming at all. So as I visited with him, I asked him, “Dr. Rushbrook, why have you come here, such a long, long way from London? Why are you here?” And he replied, “I have no reason to come at all except I just wanted to see how you were faring, how you were doing.”
Ah! I never had such a happy moment in my life as to hear that great, good, and distinguished Britisher say that he came all the way here just to visit us, and just to see how we were doing.
Well, in imagination, we are going to welcome a distinguished visitor, Barnabas, who has come to see how we fare and how we’re doing. So, one of the most impressive of all the far-famed achievements of this dear church lies in its tremendous giving program. There is not a church I know of in the world that gives one half and mostly one third as much to God’s work as this church does. It is a phenomenal thing. Our church is giving now in a stride that apparently can keep up forever. We are giving more then three million four hundred thousand dollars a year to the work of the Lord through this treasury.
Well, it is an astonishing achievement. So Barnabas, when he comes, he asks about that. And he says, “I suppose that your pastor is used practically, and almost solely, just to raise money. When he stands up to preach, that is what he preaches about. He preaches about money, and he ding-dongs for money, and he tries to squeeze blood out of a turnip. I suppose that is what the pastor does, when he stands in the pulpit?”
And the answer is, “No!” Did you know, relatively—I rarely mention it? Upon rare occasions, do I ever speak of it. So much so that I remember one year the finance committee came to me and said, “Pastor would you preach a sermon on the financial program of the church?” What the pastor does is, almost always, he’s in some kind of a study, and in some kind of a series from the Word of God, from a book in the Bible.
We’ve just completed a long, long series on Ephesians, and this coming Sunday I’m beginning a series on the last six chapters of the Book of Daniel. I don’t preach on money. For one reason, there is an interdiction from God; there is a prohibition from the Book concerning it. I am not to do it. Look at this:
Now concerning the offering—
as I gave order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye.
Upon the first day of the week that every one of you lay by him in store, as God had prospered him, that there be no logia, that there be no collections for money, when I stand up to preach.
[1 Corinthians 16:1, 2]
For the pastor to stand in the pulpit with the burden upon him of raising money for the support of God’s work in the earth is a travesty on the name of Christ, and upon the purposes of our commitment to Him. When the pastor stands up to preach, as Paul says here, there is to be no thought in his heart, nor any burden upon his soul, regarding the financial program that supports the work in the earth. He is to be free of it.
How and how concerning that offering, “As I gave order, so to you, Upon the first day of the week, let every one of you—the family: father, mother, son, daughter, each one of us—bringing to God’s house, for all of them have a part in the family” [1 Corinthians 16:1, 2]. The child is not an adjunct or an appendage. The child belongs to the very heart of the circle. “And when we come to God’s house,” the child—every one of you: the teenager, father, mother, all of them, “upon the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by him in store, pick a proportion, as God hath prospered him,” that there be no ding-dongings for money, no burden for the financial program of the church when I stand up to preach [1 Corinthians 16:2]. Now that’s the way to do it. “And Barnabas, that’s the way we do it here in this church.”
It is right for a man, it is good for a man to take God into partnership. It is right for a man to pray God to bless his work, just as it is right for a man to pray for his soul, for the services, for the worship. It is right for a man to pray that the lost be saved; it is no less right for a man to pray that God will bless him in his work and to make God a partner.
This last week there was a young fellow that had not belonged to our church very long. He came to see me, here at the church, and he laid in my hand a two thousand dollar check. He said, “Pastor, I have made a covenant with God. I am going to be His partner, and I’ve asked God to be mine. And I made a covenant with the Lord that if God would bless me, one tenth at least of everything that God gives me, I will return to Him.”
And he said, “You know, this week, I consummated an investment program down here”—and his office is in the First National Bank. “I consummated a program, and here is a tithe.” He said, “This comes from the covenant that I made with God. And this is the first thing that has happened.”
Well, when he left I looked at that two thousand dollar check. You know what that could buy now? Do you know? Do you know? That fellow is making twenty thousand dollars a month. May I commend it to you? Why, it’s glorious. God is the finest, best partner any man could have in his work. And I believe those promises. “Prove Me now herewith, saith the Lord, if I will not pour you out a blessing that the heart, the home, the house, the life cannot receive it—opening the windows of heaven” [Malachi 3:10].
And that’s the way we do in this church. And I’m not up here all the time speaking about the financial program and the support of this effort. It comes from our dedicated people, who, Sunday by Sunday, bring to God’s house a proportion of what God has given to them.
Barnabas says, “When I come down here on Sunday, I notice thousands of people. They’re in classes, and they’re in unions, and they are in choirs, and they are in study groups. And even during the days of the week, I notice they are being taught in a great teaching program.” And my answer is, “Yes, Barnabas, that’s exactly what you did.” Look at the story: And he went to Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia, that Roman province right up there where the Mediterranean turns to the left:
He went to Tarsus to seek Saul—who was later named Paul [Acts 13:9].
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.
[Acts 11:25, 26]
“Barnabas, that’s correct.” No small dedication of the church lies in its teaching commitment. For that is a part of the great mandate from heaven to teach: matheteuō, “to teach,” Didaskō, “to teach.” Both of them are in the Great Commission [Matthew 28:19-20].
There was a time when all teaching was under the aegis of the church, all of it. Every great ancient university in Europe and every old university in America was founded by the church, without exception.
In 1780, Robert Raikes, who was the owner and publisher of The Gloucester Journal in England, saw ragged children in the street, and he gathered together those youngsters, paid for a teacher, and called it a Sunday school. And as the days develop, they divided it. In the weekday the Sunday school taught the three R’s, and on Sunday, it taught “the great R,” Religion. And the content of those first public schools was more than ninety percent religious, teaching the Bible, teaching Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, teaching Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.
Today our school system is immersed, and enmeshed, and drowned in secularism and materialism. Who teaches the faith? The responsibility almost altogether lies upon the church. “And that is why, Barnabas, you see this tremendous effort and dedication to the teaching program of our people.”
It is our purpose to enlarge it yet: our Sunday school, our Training Union—all of it—our missionary program, and of course, we have an in-depth commitment, our Bible Institute. We are praying that God will send us that man who is to be a full-time leader of that teaching program. And we are enlarging it, and inviting all of you to share in it. Our Bible Institute has been blessed of God, from its initiation, from its inception. And, please the Lord, when the fall comes we shall begin a church school here for our children. “Barnabas, that is correct. The church is committed to its New Testament pattern of teaching the Word, and message, and mind of God.”
And Barnabas says, “I see you have a vast investment here in these buildings.” There are more than eight million dollars worth of buildings here in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. “How do you justify such a vast outlay?” says our distinguished visitor.
The answer is emphatic, and significant: what the trowel is to the stonemason, what hammer and saw are to the carpenter, what a chisel is to the sculptor, what a brush is to the painter, what the piano is to the musician, what a plow is to the farmer, what arms are to the soldier, these vast buildings are to us. They are tools to work with, and without them, we are almost decimated.”
When you go to Baylor University Medical Center, there is almost fifty million dollars invested in that great healing institution. On the other side of town, is a vast complex: the Southwestern Medical College, and Parkland Hospital, and the Children’s Hospital. Think of the millions of dollars spent on those buildings. They are erected for the health of the body, the ministering to the anatomical processes of life—the physical.
Around the city everywhere are tremendous buildings that are dedicated to the training of the mind. Our public school properties: millions and millions and millions of dollars are invested in those buildings. And here at the church, we have an investment in buildings for the ministry to the soul, and to the heart, and to the life. And if it is vital that those buildings be structured and erected for the body and for the mind, it is no less so for the soul and the heart, and these great buildings are tools by which we seek to do God’s work in teaching God’s truth.
In the next few weeks, over here on Ervay street, you will see the beginning of the erection of a three million dollar unit to add to this complex of buildings. Right now we are paying more than fifty thousand dollars a year in other buildings around here, housing our teaching program. It frightens me to think what could happen. Any man, any day, could buy these other buildings, take it over, and set our Sunday school out in the street. It is as vital as life itself for us to erect this building, and it’s going up within the next few weeks. These buildings are the tools and the instruments by which we seek to serve God.
And Barnabas says, “I also see in the church a great ministry, philanthropic, altruistic, reaching people who are submarginal, peripheral, who are needy.” And I reply, “That is one of the sweetest, finest, ministries of our congregation.” We have seven chapels—seven of them. Two of them are here at the church, our Good Shepherd Chapel, and our Silent Friends Chapel. And beside them, we have a ministry for our oral-deaf, and for our retarded, our “Angels Unawares.” We call it special education; and we pour into those ministries more than a hundred thousand dollars a year. “And Barnabas, we are doing it by the mandate of God.” For the Lord said that we’re to be His servants “in Jerusalem, in Judea, and Samaria, and unto the ends of the earth” [Acts 1:8]. And our Jerusalem is our city, where we live.
And through the Cooperative Program, we seek to reach others for Christ beyond the borders of our city, and state, and nation, and on the other side of the sea. But here in this city, we also have a responsibility under God, and it is not one done adventitiously, spasmodically. But it is one that is plannedly, statedly, carried on through the phase of every year, every month, every week. They have pastors, these chapels. They have staff members, these chapels.
And through them, we take our dedicated gifts to God and we feed them when they are hungry, and we clothe them when they are naked, and we help them when they are sick. It is one of the sweetest ministries in the earth. You do not see it because it is here in the city, outside of the church for the most part, where we gather. But it goes on all day and all night, it never stops. And that’s the thing that pleases God. Not on the spur of the moment do we sense their need and seek to help, but it is a constant ministry, one that continues through the year and the years.
And beside that, we are adding another: as most of our people know, we invited Richard Peacock to join our staff as our minister to adults. That is one of the dearest, finest, noblest men I have ever known. I love to be around Richard Peacock, just to brush off from him something sweet and good on me. He is a dear servant of Jesus.
Now about a year ago, I preached on a dream that I had: a great tower here to which our adult people could come, and with whom we’d make a contract to take care of them the rest of their lives. And I said, “I’d like to see us erect here a forty story building in which these people could come and live in apartments. And as I said, ‘fall out of the window into the church.’” Isn’t that a great thing? Did you know, that’s coming to pass? That’s coming to pass. On that property right over there, we’re going to erect—please God—a forty-story building. And our adults can come and live in it, and we will make a contract with them to take care of them the rest of their lives, as long as they live.
Why I had a couple come to me at the end of the 8:15 service, and said, “Please, would you make that sixty stories high so we can come?” And they live in another state. I said, “That’s exactly what, actually, I’m thinking of. If I can get them started on fifty, to add the other twenty will be very easy.” We’re on the way. It’s coming. It’s coming. And I look for that thing to start within the next few months: going up, forty—then, if the pastor has any influence, sixty—and, maybe, if God has any influence, we may make it eighty—I don’t know. But it’s glorious, and one of the dearest ministries that you could think of. “Ah, Barnabas! These are visions and dreams that God is bringing to pass.”
Then he says, “I also notice another thing about your church and about its services. At every service, and after every sermon, you give an appeal—you give an invitation. Not for us who are Baptists, but if you were going through Christendom and looked at all the churches, that is unusual. Practically all of the churches in the world give no invitation, and no appeal, after the sermon is done. But we do; I do not know that I ever preached a sermon in my life that I didn’t give an appeal. That’s kind of, sort of, what it is about, isn’t that right?
We sing here, not for the glory of ourselves, but to magnify the Lord. Maybe somebody will see Him in song, high and lifted up. We teach here the mind of God. Maybe in the teaching of the Word, God will touch somebody’s heart and he’ll turn to Christ. And we have our services here, and ultimately, all of our praying, and all of our sharing, and all or our worshipping is toward the end that maybe somebody will come to Jesus, find Him as their personal Savior [Ephesians 2:8]. So after every service, when the pastor is done, always there is that appeal. Is there a family you; is there a couple you; is there one somebody you, who will come down today and openly, publicly, unashamedly, stand with us in the name of Christ, joining our dear church, or putting your life, and soul, and destiny in His gracious hands? [Romans 10:8-13].
Up there in Oklahoma, where I came from, was a famous Greek Indian poet by the name of Alex Posey. He drowned in the North Canadian River, holding on to the top of a tree in a heavy flood. He had been helping some white people across the river, and himself got caught in the stream, and held on to that top of the tree until help came. But when they threw the rope to him, he had held on to the tree so long that his hands were paralyzed, and he couldn’t undo his hands to grab the rope. And he nodded his head and smiled in acquiescence in their effort to save him, and then went underneath the flood. Alex Posey, he wrote a poem, and this it, “Why do trees along the river lean so far out o’re the tide?”
In Eastern Kentucky, on Kingdom Come Creek, I heard one of those mountaineers who’d been chopping logs, I heard him say, “We wait for the tide in the spring to float the logs down. And I said, “What do you mean, tide?” And he said, “We use the word, ‘tide,’ to refer to the rising, swollen streams in the springtime, when we can float our logs down to the Kentucky River–tide. And if you’ve ever been fishing, as you look down the creek on both sides, the trees lean over the water. So this Creek Indian poet wrote it like this:
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]
Our hand extended, in the name of Christ, welcome: in life, in death, in hope, in vision, through every day, through every year, down through the vistas of life, welcome. And each one of us is that, each one offers that. Wherever we are, we pray, we visit, in our way, and as God gives us opportunity, we invite, we speak. Come, come, our hand is extended; always that invitation.
“And then one other, Barnabas. Do you notice the faithfulness of our people?” I have no right, of course, because I belong to the congregation, and I’m a member of its staff. I have no right to boast and to be falsely proud, and it’s easy to be that way. “But, Barnabas, to me there are more dedicated, faithful people in this church than any one congregation I’ve ever known or seen in my life.” For the years and the years they have been here, and for the years and the years they propose to be here. They are faithful in Sunday school, faithful in Training Union, faithful in missionary organizations, faithful in choir, faithful in every work among children, and teenagers, and young people, and men and women. And they are just everywhere, everywhere. They are here by the thousands; devoted, faithful people. “And Barnabas, that—beside and under God, His blessing and His presence—that is the reason for the pristine glory that shines in this congregation.”
In the seminary, I went to school with an English boy. His name was Vernon Taylor. His father was a commander in the British army, and practically all of his life had been stationed in India. Vernon was born in India. His father died there, in the army, and his mother brought the boy to the United States when he was a little fellow, and he became a naturalized citizen. While in the seminary, he went back to England to visit his father’s people. And when he returned to America and to Louisville, he had brought with him an old, yellow-leaved book. It was the book that his father kept, as commander of that regiment. And he placed it in my hands and said, “I just want you to see it.”
So I took the old yellow-leaved book and turned through it. The first part of it was somewhat of an abbreviated diary, just a resume of his campaigns in India. But the last of the book, was a roll call of his company. On the left-hand side was the name of the soldier. And in the center, was a column describing something about him. And on the left, the last column, described the ultimate and final end of the soldier—what happened to him.
And as I looked through that yellow-leaved page and read that roll call, there were some of them, of course, who were dismissed, some mustered out, and some returned to England, and some settled down in India. Ah! There were many, many things, but the one that impressed me most of all was—as I read the name of the men, and as I looked at that final concluding word—time, and yet, again, it read like this: the man’s name, the something of his life, then the last column, “killed in battle”; the man’s name, something of his life, “fell in the war”; the mans’ name, something of his life, and “died on the march.” What a tribute to a soldier: “fell in battle; died on the march; killed in the war.” And that’s what God, we pray, shall write after our names when the roll call is made in glory: “faithful unto death” [Revelation 2:10].
“And Barnabas, that you see in this church, thousands of our people just like that. In the snow and in the rain, in the heat and in the cold, in the day and in the night, through the months and through the years, there they are, marching to the beat of the Lord, soldiers of the cross, faithful unto death” [Revelation 2:10]. As we enter the new year may the Spirit of Jesus accompany us, His presence go before us, and may it be the finest year we have ever known.
Now we are going to stand and sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, to give yourself to the Lord [Romans 10:8-13], or to put your life in the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:24-25], as the Savior shall say the word, and as the Spirit shall press the appeal, in the balcony round, you, on the lower floor, you, make the decision now to come. And when you stand up, stand up singing. God bless you in the way as you come, and as we stand and sing.