THE GREAT GODLY EXPECTATIONS OF OUR LORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-24-76 8:15 a.m.
On the radio of the city of Dallas, and on the radio of our Biblical Center of studies, KCBI, you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Great Godly Expectations of our Lord. For about a year and six or seven months, I preached through the Book of Isaiah, and having finished that long series in the greatest of all the prophets, I had it in my heart and in my mind to preach through a book of the New Testament.
So the Zondervan Publishing House that will print these sermons in three volumes, or what, that I preached through Isaiah, the same publishing firm suggested to me that it would be most pleasing to them, if it could be pleasing to the Spirit of the Lord that I preach through the Book of Acts. Well, I had had that in my own mind. Therefore, we begin today this long series through the Book of Acts.
And the title and the message today are taken from the first verse of the first chapter of the Book of Acts. It reads, “The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach” [Acts 1:1]. Whoever wrote the book, then, is someone who has written another book, because he says, “The former book, the previous discourse I have made for thee, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began to do and to teach” [Acts 1:1].
It is very easy and simple to identify that book, that treatise, for in the first chapter of Luke, verse 3, he addresses his gospel to “the most excellent Theophilus” [Luke 1:3]. That is an unusual title, and quickly identifies the man. The word kratistos, “most excellent” or “most noble,” is the word that is used to define, to describe, a man of great noble and social standing.
In the Roman Empire there were plebs, the ordinary people; there were knights, men of dignity and honor and social standing, usually men of great wealth; and then finally there were the senators. Now the word kratistos is an appelation, an epithet, an address of dignity to one in the class of a knight. For example, later on in the Book of Acts, Turtullus, the Roman lawyer, addresses Felix, the Roman procurator of Judea, as a kratistos [Acts 24:3]. This man Theophilus is of that high social dignity and honor; “most excellent” or “most noble Theophilus.” Whoever he is, he is almost certainly a Gentile convert.
Theophilus is a holy and a beautiful name. Theos, “God,” and philos, “friend;” so Theophilus is a friend of God. Evidently, in his conversion to the Christian faith he gave himself a new and a beautiful Christian name. So whoever is the author of the Book of Acts is also the author of the Third Gospel, the Gospel we call Luke.
Now, how do you know that it was Luke who wrote it, both the Third Gospel and the Book of Acts? There are many, many identifications and I had to make a decision in my mind because these things so largely, and greatly, and deeply appeal to me. I wanted to take a sermon and preach it on how we know that Luke wrote the Third Gospel and the Book of Acts, and who he was, and the viewpoint from which he wrote these two books. But there is so much to say and so much to preach that I turned aside from it, though I would much like to do it.
For example, there are about fifty or more peculiar words and phrases in Luke and in Acts that are unique to the author. They belong just to him. All of us have little turns of sayings, ways we do things. You could call them idiosyncrasies or eccentricities. They’re little personality traits. And it’s easy to see all of these little personality traits when a man writes.
So you see them in the Book of Luke and you see them in the Book of Acts. And whoever used those words was evidently a physician, he was a doctor, for so many of those words are peculiarly used and attributed to the medical world. We have, therefore, a very easy assignment in identifying the doctor. For example, in the Book of Colossians, in the fourteenth verse, Paul calls Luke “the beloved physician,” and what a beautiful descriptive term; “Luke, the beloved physician” [Colossians 4:14]. In Philemon he calls Luke his “fellow laborer” [Philemon 24]. And I think one of the most moving of all of the passages in the Word of God, Second Timothy, last chapter, Paul in the Mamertine dungeon facing execution, says, “Only Luke is with me” [2 Timothy 4:11]. The rest have scattered, or as Demas, they’d forsaken him [2 Timothy 4:10]. But Luke, God’s beloved physician [Colossians 4:14], stands by his side [2 Timothy 4:11]. I often wonder if it cost him his life.
Luke was associated with Paul beginning at Troas, in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, and the tenth verse, begins those “we” sections [Acts 16:10], when Luke accompanied the apostle to the end, to the day of martyrdom [2 Timothy 4:11]. And evidently, for the three years or so that Paul was in Caesarea, Luke the doctor visited Mary and wrote those stories of the intimacies of the birth of little John the Baptist and Jesus the Christ, as only a physician could ever do it [Luke 1:5 – 2:16].
We have therefore this godly doctor who is writing to––and now here is tradition––tradition says that Luke was a Greek physician in the household. That is a slave of a great, wealthy Roman, whom we know in his conversion as Theophilus. And that Theophilus manumitted, he gave the doctor his freedom out of love for the Lord, and then, in turn, out of gratitude, the slave wrote for his master the story of Jesus [Luke 1-24], and then added to it the continuing works of the Lord that we know in the second treatise [Acts1-28].
Almost certainly, I think without doubt, Luke was a Gentile. The reason for that is, in the Book of Colossians, the fourth and last chapter, Paul divides those of the circumcision, that is, the Jews, from those of the Gentile world. And in the Gentile list he names Luke, and Epaphras, whom he describes as a Colossian, and Demas [Colossians 4:12, 14]. If that is true––and I think it is––then Luke the doctor is the only Gentile writer in all the sixty-six books of the Bible.
Now a word about the outline of the Book of Acts. In the first chapter of the Book of the Apocalypse, by inspiration God writes the outline of the Book of the Revelation. The Lord commands the sainted apostle John to write first the things that he has seen, second the things which are, and third the things which shall be, meta tauta, “after these things” [Revelation 1:19]. And John faithfully followed the mandate of heaven.
First, he wrote down the things that he had seen; that is, the glorious vision of the risen, and immortalized, and transfigured, and glorified Jesus [Revelation 1:9-18]. Second, he wrote the things that are, in chapters 2 and 3; that is, the churches that are; the seven churches of Asia, symbolic of all the churches of all time [Revelation 2:1 – 3:22]. And then, beginning at chapter 4, he wrote the things meta tauta, “after these things”; that is the things that move toward the consummation of the age [Revelation 4:1–22:21].
Now you have an exact duplication of that in the Book of the Acts. In the Great Xommission that the Lord writes in the eighth verse, He says that these apostles and disciples are to be His emissaries and missionaries and evangelists first in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and in Samaria, and finally to the uttermost part of the earth [Acts 1:8]. So, Doctor Luke takes that outline of the Lord, and he follows the work of the propagation of the faith in that exact sequence.
First, in Jerusalem the gospel is preached after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, then in the country sides, and highways, and byways, and little towns, and cities of Judea [Acts 2:1-7:60]. Then the gospel is preached, in the eighth chapter, to the half-breed Jews called Samaritans [Acts 8:5-25]. Then the gospel is preached to a proselyte of the temple; that is, a full Jewish proselyte, but a Gentile, a proselyte, a convert to the Jewish faith, in this instance, the treasurer of the kingdom of Candace in Ethiopia [Acts 8:26-40].
Then the gospel is preached to a proselyte of the gate—that is, a Gentile who has forsaken his heathen idols and has accepted the moral law of the Ten Commandments, but is not a Jew; a Gentile—in Cornelius of Caesarea [Acts 10:1-48]. Then in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Acts [Acts 11:1-30], the gospel is preached by Hellenistic Jews, Greek-speaking Jews, who were scattered abroad upon the persecution that surrounded Stephen [Acts 11:19]. The gospel is preached to downright, out-and-out, Greek heathen idolaters, and for the first time in the world, those converts turn in faith to the Lord; out of their idolatry into the glorious fullness of the saving grace of the Son of God.
And it was such a spectacle that they were called Christians first in Antioch [Acts 11:26]; this amazing thing—not being Jews, not being converts of the Jews, not being circumcised, not having kept the moral law of Moses, not observing any ritual, but just out of heathenism and paganism into the glorious light of the Son of God.
Then the Holy Spirit calls Saul and Barnabas, as the Book would say, Barnabas and Saul, for the first great missionary journey, the outreaching of the gospel, the spreading of the message of Christ [Acts 13:2 – 14:28]. Then the fifteenth chapter of Acts, the conference at Jerusalem, whether or not one could become a Christian without first becoming a Jew, and when the Holy Spirit in the apostle settled that [Acts 15:1-35], then the second great missionary journey [Acts 15:39-18:22]; then Paul and Silas [Acts 15:36-18:22]; then Paul scattering the Word of the Lord around the Greco-Roman Empire [Acts 18:23 – 21:14], and finally to Rome itself [Acts 26:30-28:30]. So the outline of the gospel is as the Lord had presented it; beginning at Jerusalem, then out, then out, then out, and then out, and then out, and finally to the spreading of the message to the whole world [Acts 1:8].
Now the title of the book; in our Bibles, it will be called “The Acts of the Apostles.” Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, “The Acts of the Apostles,” but the oldest and the finest manuscript that we have, called Sinaiticus, written beautifully in the 300s AD, Sinaiticus calls it “The Acts.” And I think that is the best, “The Acts,” praxis, “The Acts,” because it is not only the acts, the deeds, the actions of the apostles, and the missionaries, and the evangelists, and the disciples, who flame in their hearts proclaiming the message of Christ, but it is also the acts, the deeds, of the Holy Spirit of God.
But it is one other thing too. It is the acts, the continuing deeds and actions of the Lord Himself. You see the text? “The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach” [Acts 1:1]. So the Book of Acts is a continuation of what Jesus had done in the days of His flesh, and you will find that presented in the book itself.
These things that are done are presented as being done by our Lord who is in heaven. For example, in the second chapter, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is presented as being from His fulsome and victorious hands [Acts 2:33]. “It is the Promise of the Father, which,” said our Lord in the twenty-fourth chapter of Luke, “which you will receive in the soon-coming day in Jerusalem. So don’t depart from the city; wait for it” [Luke 24:49]. And in the second chapter, the outpouring of the heavenly and ascension gift of the fullness of the Holy Spirit [Acts 2:1-4], resident in our hearts [1 Corinthians 6:19-20], and in His church [1 Corinthians 3:16]; all of that is the doing, the deeds, the action of our Lord in heaven [Acts 2:1-40].
Look again at the end of that second chapter. It will read, “And the Lord added unto His church daily those who were being saved” [Acts 2:47]. The Lord did it. It is the Lord doing it from heaven. Look again in the third chapter. This lame man who is healed at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, it is the name of Jesus our Lord in heaven who does the healing [Acts 3:16].
Look again in the seventh chapter: when Stephen, God’s first martyr, is slain, the Lord Jesus rises in heaven to receive the spirit of his faithful witness [Acts 7:55-56], the only place in the Bible where the Lord is pictured as standing. Everywhere else He’s always seated at the right hand of Majesty, but in the seventh chapter, upon the stoning of Stephen, the Lord rises. He stands to receive His great, first witness and martyr.
So it is throughout the book. It is the Lord in heaven who is guiding and encouraging and directing and speaking, and that is exactly the way that Doctor Luke writes it: “The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach” [Acts 1:1].
In the Gospel we have what the Lord did in the days of His flesh, down here in the earth, and in the Book of Acts we have a continuation of what the Lord is doing from heaven. But whether in the days of His flesh [John 1:14], or whether on His throne of Majesty in glory [Hebrews 8:1], it is still the same continuing doing, action, acts, of our glorious and risen Lord [Matthew 28:5-7].
Now, that is why this amazing book, called Praxis, The Acts, that is why it has no formal ending. God’s not done yet. Jesus is not through yet. His actions are not finished yet. So the Book of Acts has no formal ending, for the Lord continues on and on and on.
The Book of Acts itself covers a period of about thirty-four years, from, say, about 30 AD to 64 AD, and it closes apparently because there’s nothing further at that time to say. It carried the story up to that point, but it leaves Paul in prison. It’s like those old-fashioned serial picture shows, and they’d leave the hero dangling by a shoestring from a cliff five thousand feet tall. That’s the way the Book of Acts is. It just quits. It has no ending.
And the reason it has no ending is, as I said, the Lord’s not done. He is still working, and He is still guiding, and He is still encouraging. The twenty-eighth chapter of the Book of Acts, the last one here in the Bible; there’s a twenty-ninth chapter of the Book of Acts, there’s a thirty-ninth chapter of the Book of Acts, there’s a hundred and ninth chapter of the Book of Acts.
I have lived in my own ministry through some of the great chapters in the Book of Acts, the Praxis of the Lord Jesus. So it has no ending. It has no conclusion. It has no climax. It has no consummation, for the work is going on, and it’s going on, and it’s going on, so that means it includes us today. And that brought to my mind the title of the message: The Great Godly Expectations of Our Lord in Heaven.
In the fourteenth chapter of the Book of John and the twelfth verse, the Lord said, “Verily, verily, truly, truly, amen, amen, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to My Father” [John 14:12]. The greater works; just conceive of that. The greater works shall we do than our Lord did, for He has gone to the Father in heaven [John 14:12]. And then in the passage that we read together: “Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be My disciples” [John 15:8].
The only thing that the Lord Jesus finished in the days of His flesh was the plan of salvation; that was all. When He cried, bowing His head, “It is finished”; and He gave up His spirit [John 19:30], that is the only thing that the Lord finished. All of the other works of our Lord have not yet reached their consummation. They’re still going on, and He is still doing them, and He does them through His church. He does them through us. He directs us from heaven, and He says, “Greater things shall ye do; for I will not be here, I will be in heaven, and they will be done through you. And I will be glorified in the wonderful works that ye do” [John 14:12].
Paul, in [Colossians 1:24], says, “In this labor and in this ministry, I fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.” That’s the most astonishing text you could find in the Bible. Were the sufferings of Christ not sufficient? Only in the sense that He paid the penalty for our sin; but the sufferings of our Lord, the sacrifices of our Lord must continue on in the lives and witness of His martyrs, and of His disciples, and of His people in the church for whom He gave His life [Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:25].
It continues on and on, and it is our assignment in His will and work today. It bows me to my knees. Lord, Lord, in that great train, in that heavenly succession of what the Lord did, we also are members of that same martyr group, that same faithful band. And the Lord works through us as He did in the days of His flesh, only now from heaven ministering in His church and through His people; the continuation of the acts of Jesus [John 14:11-12].
Now in just a moment that remains, could I speak of some of the ministries of our Lord through His church, through His people? The first one that I would mention is––for our Lord was so much this way––the first I would mention is the ministering of our Lord through His church, located in the house of sorrow and age and death; the church in the cemetery. Stokes Poges, did you ever see that beautiful little church? Stokes Poges is in a cemetery, and the graves of God’s saints are close by the door and the wall. That’s the beautiful little country English church in which Thomas Grey, in the 1700s, wrote his beautiful and incomparable poem “The Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.” The people wanted to be buried close to the church just as near the door as they could. That’s the Lord ministering today in the hour of grief and of sorrow and of death.
His gracious hands are no less outspread to touch us and to help us and to encourage us in the day and hour of our need and sorrow, no less so now than in the days of His flesh. When my father died, when my mother died, we had the service in a little church. Oh dear, that’s Jesus, with His people, ministering today, no less so than He ministered in the days of His flesh; the continuing acts of the Lord.
I mention another: the continuing ministry of our Lord through His church and through His people on the mission field, evangelizing, calling people to faith in Him. In that budget that you have in your program, there is an item in there, and a large one, for the missionary enterprise that God has laid upon our hearts in the city of Dallas.
This week, over in Ralph Baker Hall, I met with Dr. Step and Dr. Paige Patterson, with the young men in our Bible Institute who have surrendered themselves in the days of their training here to preach at thirty or forty mission stations in this city. Beside the seven or eight or nine chapels that have buildings and church ministries, beside them, we’re going out into storefronts, and maybe in a rented vacant house, or maybe on a street corner, and we’re going to have about thirty or forty mission stations, preaching stations in this city, proclaiming the message of our blessed Lord.
“Well, pastor, what puts that in your heart? What makes you want to do that?” Well, there are a multitude of reasons, but I’ll give you one. I’ll give you one. One of the most moving of all of the things that I ever stumbled into in my life––I’m answering the question, “Why are you going out there in those places and preach the gospel? Poor people, down and out, why?”––well, I was in Buenos Aires, preaching in the Ence Baptist Church, the downtown Southern Baptist church in the great capital city of the Argentines.
Not in my life have I ever seen a young pastor that impressed me as that young pastor did. His name is Dr. Tanajo. He has a doctor’s degree in medicine. He has a doctor’s degree in psychiatry. He has a doctor’s degree in theology. He is one of the finest-looking men that you ever saw—as the girl would say, “tall, dark, and handsome”—and has the gestures and the manner and the presiding of a beautiful, beautiful pastor. I was never more impressed in my life.
So I was staying at the seminary, our Southern Baptist Seminary in Buenos Aires, and I remarked to some of those faculty members how impressed I was with the young pastor, so distinguished, so trained and educated, and so humble and given to the message of God. I was so impressed by Dr. Tanajo. And the faculty members said, “This afternoon, you were the guest in the home of an older missionary. You had tea with her. Did you know that in the days gone by, that missionary was down at a marketplace in Buenos Aires, and in that marketplace there came a poor, disheveled, bedraggled woman with a baby in her arms, to buy, as poor people would buy, in a marketplace, and that missionary witnessed to that poor bedraggled woman and won her to the faith and to the Lord? And the little baby in her arms is now that distinguished doctor and pastor that you so greatly admired, and that you were with on the Lord’s Day.”
He is now the president of our Southern Baptist Seminary in Buenos Aires. Man, you don’t know what you’re doing when you witness to the lost. Oh, flotsam, jetsam, poor; but out of that poverty and out of that bedraggledness may come the finest preacher that the world ever saw. For God’s not done with Spurgeon, or Moody, or Truett, or Scarborough; His work continues, it goes on, and there’ll be other men, and other saints, and other witnesses, and other preachers. And some of them will come out of the ministry among those poor, preaching in storefronts, in empty houses, on the street. Why, to have a part in it just blesses my soul in prospect. It’s the work of the Lord; continuing the acts of Jesus, all that Jesus began both to do and to teach [Acts 1:1].
Sweet people, my time is gone. I want to say one other thing, though. I want to add one other thing; the continuing ministry of our Lord in our church and among our people. As you know, last week, with Mary and her sweet daughter and son-in-law—her son-in-law is the moderator of our Southern Baptist Association in the great metroplex of New York City—we were there all morning long, and all afternoon long, and all evening long. I said, when finally I stood up to deliver the last address, I said, “I have sat on that hard-boarded chair so long that I don’t know where I leave off and that chair begins.” Oh, it was a long day!
Well, at noontime I went out walking with one of the preachers. And where we were meeting was one block from Bowery Street, Bowery, where the refuse of humanity is dumped in New York City. And walking down Bowery Street, I had my face turned, and I was looking at him, I was talking to him, and he pulled my arm and jerked me over, and I looked down to see what it was that he was pulling me from.
And there on the sidewalk, part of his torso sticking out of a doorway, was a fallen and hopeless wretch, there on the sidewalk. Well, I began thinking about us on the plane, and in the days since. Dr. Ben Watts brought a report to the deacons of the education committee, and he said, “We must reemphasize the Sunday School in our church, and we must reemphasize the teaching ministry in our church. We must give ourselves anew in bringing together these young people and the congregation of our Lord, that they be taught the Word of God.”
And that is why I am in deepest sympathy with the Bowery Mission, trying to minister to that wretched, fallen man there on the sidewalk. But it is a thousand times better to keep our young people from falling.
‘Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,
Though to walk near its crest was so pleasant,
But over the terrible edge there had slipped
A duke, and full many a peasant.
So the people said something would have to be done,
But their projects did not at all tally.
Some said, “Put a fence around the edge of the cliff,”
And some, “Let’s put an ambulance down in the valley.”
Well, the cry for the ambulance carried the day,
For it spread through the neighboring city;
A fence may be useful or not, it is true,
But each heart moved with pity
For those who slipped over that dangerous cliff,
And the dwellers on highway and alley
Gave pounds and gave pence, not to put up a fence,
But an ambulance down in the valley.
Then an old sage remarked, It’s a marvel to me
That people give far more attention
To repairing the results, than to stopping the cause,
When they’d much better aim at prevention
“Let us stop at its source all this hurt,” cried he;
“Come, neighbors and friends, let us rally;
If the cliff we will fence, we might almost dispense
With the ambulance down in the valley.”
Better guide well the young than reclaim those who are old,
For the voice of true wisdom is calling,
“To rescue the fallen is good, but ‘tis best
To prevent, when young, them from falling.
Better build in their hearts the love of God
Than to deliver from dungeon or galley;
Better put a strong fence ‘round the top of the cliff
Than an ambulance down in the valley.
[“A Fence or an Ambulance,” Joseph Malins, 1895]
That’s what Jesus is pleased with, as He continues His ministry from heaven in the earth; the acts of the blessed Lord. Let’s pour our best into these ministries of teaching and training and guiding, that there be no reason for the pastor being pulled over lest he stumble over a hopeless, fallen man, on Bowery Street in Dallas, or Philadelphia, or New York City. It’s worth it. A thousand times over again, it’s worth it.
Now we sing our hymn of appeal, and on the first note of the first stanza, come. A family, a couple, or just you, make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand, stand walking down that stairway, coming down that aisle: “Here I am, pastor. I have decided. I’m on the way,’ while we stand and while we sing.
I. The author – writer of the third
gospel (Luke 1:3, Acts 1:1)
A. Mentioned several
times in Scripture
physician (Colossians 4:14, Philemon 24, 2 Timothy 4:11)
B. “We” section of Acts
C. Certainly a Gentile
II. The outline
A. As to John in
Revelation, God gave an outline to Luke for the book (Revelation 1:19, 2, 3)
Judea, Samaria, uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8)
III. The title
A. Oldest manuscript we
B. The acts of Jesus
from heaven (Acts 2:47, 3:14, 7:5)
C. No formal ending to
1. Only thing
finished on earth was the plan of salvation (John 19:30)
2. We are to
continue the witness and testimony (Colossians 1:24)
D. His great
expectation of us (John 14:12, 15:8)
E. The Lord is in His
1. The church in
the house of sorrow
2. The church on
the mission field
3. The church in