The Greatest of the Promises
October 31st, 1976 @ 8:15 AM
THE GREATEST OF THE PROMISES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-31-76 8:15 a.m.
All of you who are listening to this service on the radio of the city of Dallas and on the radio of our Center of Biblical Studies, KCBI, are worshiping with the people of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And with all the handicaps that we have now, I am astonished when I stand here in the pulpit and see this audience that fills this great auditorium. I humbly pray, I strive to the end that God will always reward you for having come and that the Lord would be with me as I expound this Holy Word. I study, I try, I pray, and now it is in God’s hands to enable us to do well for Him and to give us a listening and a responsive heart.
Last Sunday morning we began our exposition of the Book of Acts, the fifth book in the New Testament. The message last Sunday morning concerned all that Jesus began to do and to teach. That is the first verse in the Book of Acts [Acts 1:1]. The message today is entitled The Greatest of the Promises, and this is an expounding of the fourth verse of the Book of Acts. It says that:
Jesus, being assembled together with the apostles, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the Promise of the Father, which, saith He, ye have heard of Me.
In all the Word of God there are two great promises. Number one: there is a Savior who is coming. It starts off like that. After the Fall [Genesis 3:1-6], in Genesis chapter 3:15, the Seed of the woman shall bruise Satan’s head; repeated in Genesis 49:10, “a lawgiver shall not depart from Judah, until Shiloh come; and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be.” And I haven’t time to speak of the incomparable prophecies in Isaiah, such as 7:14, “A virgin shall be with child, and they will call the name of that Son, Immanuel, With Us Is God” [Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23]; or Isaiah 9:6, “Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: And His name is Wonderful.” All through the Bible that continuing promise; the Savior is coming, and we have its repetition in the New Testament: “He which testifieth these things saith, Surely, surely I come quickly,” and the answering prayer, “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus” [Revelation 22:20].
Now there is a second great promise in the Word of God, and that concerns the outpouring of the Spirit of heaven, such as in Joel chapter 2: “In those days, saith the Lord, I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions” [Joel 2:28]. It is of this second promise that the Lord speaks in this fourth verse of the first chapter of Acts [Acts 1:4].
Out of all of the more than three thousand promises in the Bible, there is only one that is called the Promise of the Father: “Being assembled together with the apostles, told them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father” [Acts 1:4]. Now what is that? It is very easily identified. You read it in the last chapter of Luke, out loud: “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you: but wait in the city of Jerusalem” [Luke 24:49].
Now the identification of that Promise is also seen in John. First I read John 14:16, “I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth … But the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things” [John 14:16,17,26]. And again, “But when the Comforter,” the paraklētos, parakaleō, “the One called alongside,” you will find in some of the translations of the New Testament the word untranslated, it’s just spelled out, Paraclete:
But when the Paraclete, the Helper, the Encourager, the One who stands by, the great Helper and Advocate and Intercessor, when He comes, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of Me.
It is therefore easily identified what the Lord said when He spoke to the apostles, saying, “You tarry until you receive the Promise of the Father” [Acts 1:4]; that is the ascension gift of Christ. “It is expedient for you,” He said, “that I go away: for if I go not away, He will not come; but if I go away, I will send Him unto you” [John 16:7]. This is the promise that He had from the Father. So having ascended into heaven [Luke 24:51, Acts 1:9], making atonement for our sins [Romans 5:11], buried and raised from the dead [Matthew 27:57-28:7], having ascended into heaven [Acts 1:9], this is the ascension gift of Christ [Acts 1:4], this is the Promise of the Father, the pouring out of the fulsome Spirit of God [Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4].
Now the message is the purpose of that ascension gift, the pouring out of the Spirit. First, it is for comfort. In the fourteenth chapter of John, the Lord said, “I will not leave you orphanos, orphans, I will not leave you orphanos,” the King James translated “comfortless … I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” [John 14:18].
Well, how is He coming to us? In the sixteenth verse, “I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Paraclete, another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth … I will not leave you orphanos: I will come to you” [John 14:16-18].
In the pouring out therefore of the Holy Spirit upon us, we have the presence of Jesus with us. It is His Spirit, the presence of our Lord. He is in our hearts. He is in this assembly of God’s people. And it is His presence with us, the Paraclete who strengthens us, and comforts us, and encourages us, and helps us [John 14:16-18].
That’s in keeping with the Great Commission and promise of our Lord,
Go into all the world, preach the gospel to every creature, baptize them in the name of the triune God, teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age.
How is He with us? He is with us in the presence of the Spirit in our hearts and in this world [John 14:16-18].
You know I’ve come across that so many times. One, in my reading: I remember a missionary who had been seized by cannibals, was in a hut awaiting the boiling of the water in which he was to be cooked and then fed to those wild, heathen, pagan cannibals. It was nighttime, and the fire was burning under the big kettle. He escaped. Somehow he was able to undo his bonds and to crawl through the thatched hut, and he ran and climbed up into a high jungle tree.
He said with torches those cannibals were searching the forest for him, and he was up there in that high tree, having escaped with his life. Then he described the presence of God with him, and then added, “I wish I could go back to that night,” when, at any moment, he could have been found and could have been boiled and eaten. But he said, “I wish I could go back to that night, when they were searching for my life. For,” he said, “I have never felt the ecstatic presence of Jesus with me as I did up there in the top of that high tree.”
Again, I was with Dr. M. Theron Rankin, who, now in heaven, at that time was the executive secretary of our Foreign Mission Board. We were in Hong Kong, and driving along that island, on the back side of the island, we came to a certain place, and he pointed it out, and he said, “That is the place where I was incarcerated in an encampment all during the years of World War II.” He said, “It was a concentration camp, built there by the Japanese when they conquered Hong Kong.”
And he said, “I entered that concentration camp with a Japanese soldier on either side of me, supposing,” he said, “that I would be there until I starve to death or died of disease; but whether I lived or died was known but to God. I knew that the days that lay ahead were hard and difficult.” Then he said to me, “But I never had the sense of the presence of God with me as I had when I walked into that concentration camp with a Japanese soldier on either side of me.”
I remember reading in the life of David Livingstone, as he was exploring the Zambezi River. Friendly tribes said to him, “You must go no further, for there are cannibals down the river. And you cannot go further, save at the risk of your life.” Now David Livingstone had a habit that some people do, and I think a sweet one if you have the faith to do it. He knelt down and he closed his Bible, then kneeling before God he let it open wherever it would, then looked down, and the verse that he read was God’s answer, what he should do. So when David Livingstone came to that tragic possibility, if he proceeded it was at the risk of his life, he knelt, closed the Bible, let it open where it would, and looked down, and he read Matthew 28:19-20; “And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age.” And David Livingstone stood up and said, “It is the promise of God. Let us go.” That is the purpose of the Promise of the Father, for comfort and for strength, for help. It is Jesus with us to the end of the way [Matthew 28:20].
All right, number two, the purpose of the outpouring of the Spirit: it is for power in our work. In the third chapter of the [second] Corinthian letter, Paul has a long discussion contrasting the ministration of the Spirit, which he says is life, and then the contrast, the ministration of the letter, of the law, which he says is death. He has a remarkable discussion there in the glory of both of them [2 Corinthians 3:2-18]; but the greater glory of the ministration of the Spirit, for he says, “The letter of the law killeth; but the quickening of the Holy Spirit makes us alive” [2 Corinthians 3:6]. What he’s saying is that the Holy Scriptures, the letter, without the quickening Spirit, is dead [2 Corinthians 3:3, 6]. It’s like a man, when his spirit is separated from him, he’s a corpse. It is so with the letter of the law and of the Word. Without the quickening power of the Spirit of God, the Scripture is dead [2 Corinthians 3:3, 6]. It has no life. It’s just words. It’s just pages.
It is the Spirit of God who ministers to us the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ [Zechariah 12:10; Hebrews 10:29]. It is the Spirit of God that gives power to the exposition of the Holy Scriptures [1 Corinthians 2:13-14]. It is the Spirit of God that quickens us [John 6:63]. It is the Spirit of God that convicts us [John 16:8], that regenerates us, that sanctifies us [1 Peter 1:2], that cleanses us [Titus 3:5], that enables us to do good works [John 3:6; Titus 3:5]. It is the Spirit of God that glorifies us [Romans 8:30; 1 Corinthians 6:11]. It is the Spirit of God that shall raise us from the dead, as it was the Spirit of God that raised Jesus from among the dead [Romans 1:4, 8:11]. And without the power and presence of the Spirit of God, nothing remains but a dead letter.
It is a vain hope and attempt to pray without the enabling and intercession and the help of the Spirit of God, “who maketh intercession for us, with groanings which cannot be uttered” [Romans 8:26]. It is vain for us to preach without the Spirit of God, to sing without the Spirit of God. That’s why the choir, like the pastor, ought to pray and ought to ask God’s presence when you sing the praises of the Lord. That’s why the deacons and the congregation must pray for God’s blessing in the work. That’s why the teacher must not only learn the lesson, but ask God’s power to quicken it when it is mediated through the voice and personality of the teacher.
It is a vain attempt to do God’s work without God. We are dependent upon Him, cast upon Him. There’s not anything more humbling than that. In ourselves we have no ableness at all. But our power lies in the presence of the Spirit of God upon us [Zechariah 4:6].
I held a meeting one time in a country church, in the days that I was pastor of this church. A country preacher—I mean a country church; they plowed the furrow up to the front door, and where they left off, started at the back door; in the middle of a field, a little country church—he said, “Why, it just took all the boldness that I could command to ask you to come and hold a meeting in my little country church.” Well, I said, “I’m complimented. I’d love to come.” It was one of the sweetest experiences of my life. I wish I could do it every week.
Well, he described to me an experience he had. He said, “I was preaching, and no power, no presence, no working of God with me. I was just up there preaching. People were not saved. The people were not particularly edified. We just came because it was that hour on Sunday morning.”
And he said, “It so burdened me that I went to my study and closed the door, and I got down on my face before God, and I cried out to God concerning the powerlessness of my preaching and my ministry.” And that country preacher who was so uneducated, that country preacher said, “God’s Spirit came upon me.” And he said, “Then, when I stood up to preach, there was power in the message and people were saved. God added to His church.” I know exactly what he was talking about. It is just words, and sound, and syllable. It is a dead letter unless it is quickened by the presence of the Spirit of God [2 Corinthians 3:3-6]; the promise of the Father for power [Acts 1:8].
Number three: the promise of the Father for truth. He is called “the Spirit of truth” [John 15:26], and there is no coming into the knowledge of ultimate truth without Him [John 16:13]. The curse of the world is untruth. How desperately we need to know the truth. It was the cry of Pontius Pilate to the Lord in the eighteenth chapter of the Book of John, “What is truth?” [John 18:38]. Where do we find it and how do we recognize it? It is not easy, for you see, the curse of the whole revelation of God has always been those who imitate and those who speak either for other gods or deceitfully in the name of the true God. In the Old Testament, it is the plague of the whole story of the people of God; one, these who speak for false gods, such as the prophets of Baal, crying to Baal on Mt. Carmel in the days of the great apostasy [1 Kings 18:25-29], when Elijah brought them back to the true God [1 Kings 18:30-40]. Or, in the tenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter Paul identifies all of the gods of the Greco-Roman Empire with demons. “They worship,” he said, “demons” [1 Corinthians 10:20-21].
But a far more serious and curseful hurt is these who feign to speak in the name of the true God, but they’re not sent [Galatians 1:6-9]. Do you remember the story of Micaiah and Zedekiah? Zedekiah came to Micaiah and slapped him on the face and said, “From whence went the Spirit of God from me to you?” [1 Kings 22:24] Do you remember the story of Jeremiah and Hananiah? Jeremiah was wearing a yoke signifying God’s condemnation and judgment that the people should be sold into Babylon, and Hananiah broke the yoke from off Jeremiah’s neck and said, “Thus saith the Lord, Nebuchadnezzar will never come to this place, and the people will never be carried into Babylon”; the false prophet who feigns to speak in the name of the true God [Jeremiah 28:1-11]. Why, there’s not a more dramatic confrontation in history than Amos, the country, uneducated preacher, as he stood before Amaziah, the court prelate [Amos 7:10-17].
And in the story of the Christian church, its story is almost one of constant deceit and deception in the name of the Holy Spirit of God. Our blessed Lord said in Matthew 24:24, “Beware of false christs and false prophets.” The apostle Paul, in the fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, wrestles against those who bring confusion and disorder into the house of God [1 Corinthians 14:6-33].
In 2 Peter, second chapter, those first few verses, he warns about the deceitfulness of those who bring false doctrine and false practices into the house of the Lord [2 Peter 2:1-3]. And John, the apostle John, in 1 John chapter 4 and those first three verses, he says, “Test the spirits, try the spirits: for many false prophets are come into the world” [1 John 4:1-3].
Oh, dear! how do I know what is truth, and how do I know that one who expounds the truth of God and has in his heart the revelation of the blessed Jesus? “This is the way, walk ye in it” [Isaiah 30:21]. This is the truth of God. How do I know? The only way I can know is to be taught by the Spirit of Jesus [John 16:13]. Not what a man says, not what an expositor says, not what a man writes, but as I read the Holy Scriptures, that I am taught by the Spirit of Jesus. And I have a continuing promise in that: “He that willeth to do His will, shall know of the didaskalos, the teaching, the instruction, thereof” [John 7:17]. And when you meet the confusion in this world—false interpretations, false religions, false prophecies, false cults, false ideologies, false philosophies, false doctrines, false directions—when you meet them you have a sure refuge, for the Promise of the Father was poured out upon us in order that we might come to the knowledge of the truth [John 16:13].
There’s no reason for any one of us ever to be deceived, or to be misled, or misdirected. There is the Spirit of truth poured out into this world [1 John 2:20-21]. And if you will seek His presence, His face, His wisdom, His direction, you will know exactly what to do, what to believe; the Promise of the Father [Acts 1:4], the Spirit of truth [John 16:13].
Last: the Spirit of God, the Promise of the Father [Acts 1:4], is poured out upon us for salvation. He is the great witness to the Savior. “He shall not speak of Himself, but He shall testify of Me” [John 15:26]. Whenever you see a group of people who are overly there, way out there, saying all kinds of things about the Spirit, Jesus said, “He will not speak of Himself, but He will testify of Me” [John 16:13].
When one is under the power of the Spirit, what he does is he magnifies the Lord, he testifies of the Lord. He lifts up the Lord. For the great purpose of the Holy Spirit of God poured out into the world is that we might know Jesus, whom to know aright is life everlasting [1 John 5:6-12].
Now, there’s a corollary that follows that. If I turn aside from the witness of the Holy Spirit in my heart to Jesus, I turn aside to certain condemnation, and death, and finally the unforgiven sin. Let me read out of the Word of the Lord. They said of Jesus, when they looked at His marvelous and miraculous ministry, “By the spirit of demons casteth He out demons” [Mark 3:22]. Then the Lord replied:
Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and all the blasphemies wherewith they shall blaspheme:
But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation:
Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit.
“His testimony is from Satan. It’s inspired by demons. It’s not true. He is not what He said He was. He can’t do what He says He can do. He is not the Savior of the world, and He can’t cleanse us from sin and deliver us from death.”
The Spirit witnesses to us in our hearts that this is the Savior of the world. And the Spirit convicts us of sin and brings us in faith to the Lord Jesus, that we might be cleansed and washed [John 16:8-11]. But the spirit of untruth says, “That’s not so. He is not the Savior, He is a deceiver, and He can’t wash us from our sins. He misleads us.” And the denial of that Spirit, if we accept it, leads to an eternal condemnation upon us [Mark 3:29].
May I read one other passage? In the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews:
For if we sin willfully after that we receive the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,
But a fearful, terrible looking for of judgment and condemnation.
He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses:
Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God . . . and hath done despite to the Spirit of grace?
For we know Him who saith, Vengeance belongeth unto Me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge His people. For it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Why does the Book say that? It is so terribly emphatic that it brings horror to my soul. The reason is God has but one Son that He gave for our redemption [John 3:16], and God has but one Spirit to bring that message of grace to my heart [John 16:8-11]. And if I refuse the witness of the Holy Spirit and turn aside from the redeeming grace [Ephesians 2:8], and the atoning blood of Jesus Christ [Romans 5:11], I have no other hope for the remission of sins [John 16:7-15].
There’s just one way to be saved. I must come to the cross [John 14:6; 1 Corinthians 2:2]. And that is the great witness of the Spirit of Jesus. He woos. He invites. He entreats. He begs. He knocks. He opens the door. He speaks [John 16:8-11]. And when the man opens his heart heavenward and God-ward and Christ-ward, the Holy Spirit reveals to him in faith the saving love and grace of Jesus our Lord; it’s the work of the Holy Spirit of God [1 Corinthians 2:10].
Does the Lord speak to you? Does the Spirit of the Lord invite you? Does the Spirit of Jesus say words to you? To turn aside is eternal death. To listen to the voice of the Spirit leads to life everlasting, and that is our presentation of God’s message today from the Book. May the Lord grant to you the spirit of turning, of repentance, of acceptance, of faith, and in a moment when we stand and sing our invitation appeal: “Pastor, the Lord has spoken to me, and I’m answering today.” In this balcony round, a family, a couple, or just you, in the throng on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, you: “The Lord has spoken to me, pastor. I hear His voice. He calls and here I am.” Make that answer now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand to sing, stand walking down that stairway, coming down that aisle: “Here I am, pastor. I’m on the way.” On the first note of the first syllable, come, while we stand and while we sing.
GREATEST OF THE PROMISES
I. The Promise of the Father
A. Two continuing
tremendous prophecies in all the Bible
Savior is coming (Genesis 3:14, :10, Isaiah
7:14, 9:6, John 14:3, Jude 14, Revelation 22:20)
Holy Spirit is to be poured out (Joel 2:28-29, Luke
24:, John 14, 15)
II. For comfort
A. In the place of His
bodily presence (John 14:16-18, 16:6-7)
B. With us always (Matthew 28:19-20)
III. For power
A. Ministration of the
Spirit and of the letter (2 Corinthians 3:6-18)
Attempting work of God is futile without the power of the Spirit (Romans 8:26, Jeremiah 23:28)
IV. For truth
A. World is filled with
untruth and deception, false gods (1 Corinthians
B. True prophets
wrestle with false prophets (1 Kings 22,
Deception in the church (Matthew 24:24, 1
Corinthians 10, 14, 2 Peter 2, 1 John 4:1-3)
How to know the truth of God (John 18, 7:17)
V. For salvation
A. Spirit testifies of
Christ (John 16:13-14)