Harbinger of Hope
October 30th, 1977 @ 10:50 AM
HARBINGER OF HOPE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-30-77 10:50 a.m.
We welcome you in the First Baptist Church in Dallas, the thousands of you who are listening on radio, watching on television, this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Power to Raise the Dead. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we have come to the last part of the ninth chapter [Acts 9:32-43]. We begin reading at verse 32, and we read to the end of the chapter. If you have opportunity to get a Bible, could I encourage you to open it to the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts and follow as I read this holy passage, Acts 9:32:
Now it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all quarters, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda.
And there he found a certain man named Aeneas, this man kept his bed eight years, and was sick of the palsy.
And Peter said unto him, Aeneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed. And he arose immediately.
And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord.
Now there was at Joppa—
That is just a little west of Lydda on the seacoast; when you go to Israel today you land at Lydda, and then the seaport is just over the way at Joppa:
there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas—
Which in English is “gazelle,” Tabitha is Aramaic, Dorcas is Greek; gazelle would be our English word for her:
this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did.
And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died: whom when they had washed, they laid her in an upper chamber.
Then because Lydda was close to Joppa, the disciples having heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring him that he would not delay to come.
Then Peter arose and went with them. And when he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all of the widows stood by him weeping, and showing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them.
And when Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; he turned to the body and said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and seeing Peter, she sat up.
And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive.
And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord.
And Simon Peter tarried there in Joppa several days . . .
So we begin an exposition of the passage. It starts off, “It came to pass, as Peter went through all of the areas, he came also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda” [Acts 9:32]. Now I have not heard anything about that before, have you? In reading the annals of the apostles, I never came across any saints at Lydda. I didn’t know there were any saints there. And yet, it says here in the Holy Word, as Peter went through all areas he came to Lydda, and there he met with the saints in Lydda [Acts 9:32]. Isn’t that a strange but marvelous thing? There are saints in the most unexpected places; wouldn’t look for them, never heard of them, didn’t know they were there; saints in unexpected places.
When I was a younger man there was an airplane that fell on the tundra on the top side of Alaska, and the world was shocked by the news. In that plane Wiley Post, the most famous American aviator, was killed, and Will Rogers, his famous companion, was killed. And the whole world was overwhelmed by the death of those two distinguished and gifted Americans. But you know who advertised it to the world? A Presbyterian mission up there in Point Barrow, over there on the other side of the Arctic tundra of Alaska; saints in Lydda. Never heard of them; in the annals of the Christian faith, didn’t even know they were there. And yet, when that plane came down bearing to death Wiley Post and Will Rogers, the saints were already there, saints in unexpected places.
I was with a physician, a Christian doctor missionary, on the inside of the West Africa continent. And we were driving in his little English car way back in the bush. I have no idea where it was. And there, through those mud huts and those villages way back in the interior of dark Africa, suddenly there appeared on the side of the road a little cottage with a little white picket fence around it and the front yard so beautifully trimmed and groomed. And he stopped the car. And outside through the door there came an English missionary, and he greeted us and invited us into his house for tea and crumpets; saints in Lydda, never dreamed in the world that they were there. And they are all over the world just like that, in the most unexpected places.
Now, it says here that as Peter passed through all of those quarters, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda [Acts 9:32]. Isn’t that a marvelous thing? This apostle Peter, when he comes into the town of Lydda, there we find him with the saints. They are drawn together by some kind of heavenly magnetism. Simon Peter, God’s chief apostle, and the saints at Lydda. But did you know that all mankind is like that? We are all that way. No matter where you go or into whatever city you enter, you will meet yourself. You are already there. If you are a drunkard and go into a strange city, you will find your fellow drunks. They will meet you at the bar where you are. And you will be drinking together your life away. You will meet yourself wherever you go. If you are a whoremonger and go into a strange city, you will find yourself. You will be holed up with a prostitute in a hotel room, or you will be in a bawdy house. You will meet yourself. If you are a gambler, when you go into a city, there you will find yourself and your fellow gamblers. You will be at the table with dice or with cards or at the roulette wheel. If you are a member of the underworld and you go into a strange city, there you will meet yourself. Out of the sewer they will come to welcome you, and on the dark seamy sides of the city, there you will be plotting some of the dark travesties on human nature. Wherever you are, there you will see yourself anywhere in the world. And how precious and beautiful if you are a Christian, and if you love God. Wherever in the world you go, there you will meet yourself. There will be fellow Christians with arms outstretched to welcome you.
One of the most unusual things I ever experienced was many years ago, coming for the first time into Istanbul. And it was in the days when they pulled up ramps to the plane. And there at the bottom of the ramp holding an umbrella above his head because it was raining, there was a tall, young Greek in Istanbul. And to everybody who stepped off that plane, he asked them, “Are you the two missionaries from America?” And as he kept asking everybody at the foot of that ramp, I turned to my companion Dr. Duke McCall, and I said, “I wonder if he knows about us?” So when we finally got to the bottom of the ramp, with that umbrella over his head, he asked us, “Are you the two missionaries from America?”
And I replied to him. I said, “Young fellow, we are not missionaries, but we are Christians and we are from America.”
And he said then, “It must be you that I want to welcome.”
And with that young fellow that night we crossed the Hellespont, and for the first time I put my foot down on the continent of Asia. And guess where we went? To a home for a prayer meeting, a devotional, a testimony, and a praising of the blessed Jesus together. I can illustrate that all over this world. The first time I was in Calcutta, that night in that vast illimitable, poverty-stricken and heathen city, that night, that first night, I was in a home on my knees before God’s open Book, praying to Jesus, praising His blessed name. You see, you will find yourself wherever you go. And thus it was with Simon Peter: he is in Lydda, and he has found himself with the saints [Acts 9:32].
Do you notice also that he is an answer to a great human need? There in Lydda there is a man who is sick and he needs Jesus, the hand of the Great Physician [Acts 9:33-34]. And when he comes to Joppa there is a godly woman by the name of Dorcas who has sickened and died: human need [Acts 9:36-37]. This woman Dorcas must have been a very affluent woman. She gave what she had to the Lord, and she was filled with good works. And not only did she take what she had and give to the Lord, but she also worked with her needle and sewing. She made coats and garments and gave to the poor [Acts 9:39]. Now you would think a woman like that would live forever, wouldn’t you? But the Book says that she sickened, and died. And that is one of the most inexplicable things that I see in human life. Every time a good woman dies like Dorcas, there are a thousand prostitutes walking up and down the streets. Every time a good man dies, there are a thousand worthless bums begging on every corner. Why is that? That is one of the strangest things in the world. These sorry, good-for-nothing, flotsam and jetsam of humanity that are an reproach to the name of God, filled with cursing and violence and rejection and evil and darkness and sin, they seem to have some kind of an earthly immortality. I don’t understand it. The heaviest frosts do not freeze them and the overflowing rivers don’t drown them. They just continue to live.
Take a fellow like this butcher of Uganda named Idi Amin. If ever there was a reproach to the human race, that wretch is one. Uganda was our brightest mission field. One of our men, Jimmy Hooten and his family, worked in Uganda. When I was there preaching in that nation, I met a young black pastor who, from the September of the previous year to that spring of the year that I was there, in about nine months or less, he had baptized more than one thousand converts into his Baptist church. It was a jewel, Uganda. And now it has reigning over it a pig, a dog, a wretch! And they have tried to assassinate him time and again. And how many good men, able, have been assassinated, but they don’t kill him? Like Castro, how many attempts have been made on his life? But he still swaggers all over the Spanish world pouring out his revolutionary, despicable, communist faith and religion. I don’t understand those things. I don’t see them. But there they are.
And at the same time, these people of God, the Lord’s saints, they sicken and die. That’s true in your life. How many people have you known in your life and they are taken away, and all of the world seems sad and dreary? Sometimes the house is no longer a home because she is gone, or he is gone, or the child is gone. And sometimes in despair we only wait for the grave. These that we have loved and lost; how sad and dreary the world sometimes is.
But my brother, God is not done yet. The Book is not closed yet. The last chapter is not written yet. God purposes some better thing for us [Hebrews 11:40]. And that is why you have these marvelous narratives written on the page of the sacred Book. You see, these are adumbrations. These are harbingers. These are earnests and promises of what God is yet to do in the ultimate and final triumph of the Christian faith. One of the most remarkable things that I find in the Word of God is this, that whatever God intends to do at the consummation, He does it in miniature, on a smaller scale, before our very eyes. There are no surprises at the consummation of the age. God has laid it all out before us. The Lord has done it before, and when He comes to the end of the age and He does it, it is just something that He has already told us about, already done. Every great event at the denouement of time, God has already done. He has already demonstrated it. He has already laid it before us. We have already seen it.
For example, at the end of the age there is the great judgment day [Revelation 20:11-15]. But God has already seen to it that we understand what He means by that awesome and final visitation and interdiction from heaven. It was a judgment day when God destroyed this world by flood, and the antediluvians perished in the breaking up of the deep and the rising of the waters [Genesis 7:17-23]. It was a judgment of God upon Sodom and Gomorrah, when the cities of the plain were destroyed by fire and brimstone [Genesis 19:24-29]. It was a judgment of God upon Jerusalem when in 70 AD, Titus and his Roman legions destroyed the city and scattered the nation to the ends of the earth. God speaks of a great judgment, and these judgments that we read about in the Bible are but harbingers and adumbrations of what God is going to do. We read at the end time of the tribulation [Matthew 24:1-31]. We know what tribulation is. We have already seen it. In the days of the judges, when they departed from God, they were sold to their enemies and they went through agony, tribulation [Judges 10:6-8]. In the days of the four hundred thirty years that Israel was in Egypt, they groaned under the taskmasters, the tribulation, the fiery furnace [Exodus 3:7]. In the days of the Babylonian captivity when they hanged their harps upon the willow trees and wept because they were asked to sing by the rivers of Babylon, that is a tribulation [Psalm 137:1-4]. God has sent to us adumbrations and earnests and harbingers of what it is to come.
All of the things that God is going to do at the consummation He has already demonstrated to us. The translation, the rapture [1 Thessalonians 4:14-17]. In the days of Enoch, he walked with God and suddenly he was taken away [Genesis 5:24]. In the days of Elijah, a whirlwind carried him up to heaven in a chariot of fire [2 Kings 2:11], the rapture, the translation. Whatever God is going to do, He has already done that we might know and see. The resurrection, the resurrection, these resuscitations that we read in the Bible are harbingers, they are announcements beforehand of the power of God to raise us from among the dead. In the days of Elijah, he raised, he brought back to life the son of the widow of Zarephath [1 Kings 17:17-23]. In the days of Elisha, he brought back to life; he raised from the dead, the son of the Shunammite woman [2 Kings 4:32-37]. In the days of Jesus, He spoke to Lazarus, and he was raised from the dead [John 11:43-44]. These are earnests and announcements. They are promises. They are harbingers. They are adumbrations of what God is going to do at the end of the age.
The glorious return of our Lord, what adumbration could that be? Is there anything in the Word of God that beforehand would present when the clouds bear down the glorious coming of the Lord, the shekinah the glory of God, when the heavens are rolled back like a scroll and Jesus personally appears? [Matthew 24:30]. Did He do something like that in adumbration that we would know what it would be like when finally He comes? Oh, yes He did! The sixteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew closes, the Lord says, “Verily, truly, amen, I say unto you, There be some standing here, who shall not taste of death, until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” [Matthew 16:28]. And then, immediately follows the incomparable story of the transfiguration of our Lord upon the mount [Matthew 17:1-8].
Now you look: Simon Peter writes of that glorious experience in the first chapter of his second letter. And he says, “We made known unto you the . . . parousia.” What is the parousia? The parousia is the personal coming of our Lord in glory and power. “We made known unto you, we have made known unto you, the parousia of our Lord Jesus” [2 Peter 1:16-17]. And then he describes it, “We were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” And we heard that voice from glory that said, “This is My beloved Son, hear Him” [2 Peter 1:17; Matthew 17:5]. He is describing the Mount of Transfiguration [Matthew 17:1-5]. What they saw and what they experienced on the Mount of Transfiguration was an adumbration. It is a harbinger of the glorious day of the Lord when Christ comes down, “and His face shines like the brightness of the sun, and His garments are white, as no fuller could make them, white as snow” [Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:3]. And the Lord Jesus, deity shining through, appears personally, visibly, bodily [Revelation 1:7]. Whatever God is going to do, He has given us a preview before the day it comes to pass [Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:3].
So it is also in the day of the recreation of the heavens and the earth. The apostle John writes in Revelation 21, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the old first heaven and the old first earth were passed away” [Revelation 21:1]. God has given an adumbration and a harbinger of that. The Bible begins like that, as it ends. One of the most marvelous things in the world; from the beginning, God is setting before our eyes what He is going to do at the ending. The first verse of Genesis begins, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” [Genesis 1:1]. And if God made it, it was perfect. It would be unthinkable and inconceivable that God would make anything imperfect, chaotic, dark, for God is light [1 John 1:5]. He made this creation beautiful and perfect: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” [Genesis 1:1]. And then, the second verse, “And the earth was void, and dark, and chaotic” [Genesis 1:2]. The whole thing is destroyed. Why? Because of sin. Satan, Lucifer, introduced sin into God’s world [Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:12-17], and wherever sin is, sin hurts and sin destroys, sin tears apart, and God’s whole perfect universe fell into chaos and into darkness [Genesis 1:2].
Then follows in the first chapter of Genesis, the recreation. God makes it anew. And the first day and the second day and the third day and the fourth day, you have it so cleared out, so remade, that you have the phenomenon of sunset and sunrise. God remade it [Genesis 1:3-19]. That is exactly what God is going to do at the end. He is going to rejuvenate. He is going to remake this world [Revelation 21:1-3]; I do not think destroy it, and create another one. When it says, “Behold, I make all things new” [Revelation 21:5], that word “new” is exactly as you use it in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation.” God is going to take this world and make it new [Revelation 21:1-5]. And God is going to take this old burned-out universe, with its stars turned to cinders, and so much of it where life could not exist, God is going to remake it all, rejuvenate it all, regenerate it all. And the harbinger of it is what God did in the beginning [Genesis 1:3-19], that we may know what He is going to do at the ending [Revelation 21:1-5].
Thus it is with this story that I have just read in the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts. There is going to be a resurrection and there is going to be a healing at the great consummation of the Lord [Acts 9:32-43]. You see, the Lord Jesus said in John 5:25, “Truly, truly, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.”
There are two ways the Lord means this. One, He is speaking to us who are dead spiritually. We are dead in trespasses and in sins [Ephesians 2:1], and this body which ought to be a holy temple of God [1 Corinthians 6:19], is now nothing but a sepulcher with dead men’s bones. This whole world is a vast cemetery of dead people. But those who listen to the voice of God are spiritually raised. They are brought to life. They are regenerated and recreated [John 5:24]. They are Christians. They are saved. They that hear the voice of the Son of God shall be raised [John 5:25].
And then it also applies to our physical death. This world is also a vast cemetery in which we bury our dead. And the day is coming, says the Lord Jesus, when they shall hear the voice of the Son of God and hearing, shall live, shall be raised from among the dead [John 5:25]. Oh, triumph! Oh, glory! Oh, victory! We have an adumbration of that. He stopped the procession out of the little city of Nain, and that poor widow weeping for her own son, He stopped it. And putting His hand on the bier said, “Young man, I say unto thee, Arise” [Luke 7:14]. And he arose. And the Lord gave him back to his weeping mother [Luke 7:15]. He did the same thing in the passage that you read. “Stop your weeping.” And he spoke to the twelve-year-old daughter of Jairus, and she came to life at the voice of the Son of God, and He gave her back to her weeping father and mother [Luke 8:41-42, 49-56]. He did the same with Martha and Mary, weeping over Lazarus; stood there and spoke, and said, “Lazarus, come forth” [John 11:43-44].
I think one of the funniest things that I ever heard in my life, and one of the most apropos, was in the life of the infidel Bob Ingersoll, who was making fun of Jesus and scoffing at His miracles. And among the crude, contemptuous things he said was, “Why did He say, ‘Lazarus, come forth’?’ And a saint out there listening to that infidel rave, said, “I will tell you why the Lord said, ‘Lazarus, come forth.’ Had the Lord not said ‘Lazarus, come forth,’ the whole cemetery would have stood up and walked out to meet the Lord!” “The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live” [John 5:25].
I haven’t time to speak of Aeneas, who is healed [Acts 9:33-34]. What does the Book say? “And there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain” [Revelation 21:4]. We won’t be sick any more. We won’t hurt any more. For these things are all passed away. And the twenty-second chapter is just like it. “And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the people” [Revelation 22:2]. Did you ever see blind eyes? No blind eyes in heaven. Did you ever see crippled limbs? No crippled limbs in heaven. Ever see someone bent with age? No age in heaven. These things are all passed away [Revelation 21:4]. “What God hath prepared for those who love Him” [1 Corinthians 2:9].
And that is our invitation to you, to join with us in our pilgrimage to the Holy City God is preparing for his saints [John 14:2-3]; those in Lydda, those in Joppa, those in Africa, those in Calcutta, and those who are here in Dallas. Would you join us? Sweetest pilgrimage you will ever know, walking with the saints of God, going down the glory road that ends in the beautiful and heavenly city [Revelation 21:1-5]. A couple you, come, bring your family and come; or just one somebody you. Make the decision now in your heart, and on the first note of the first stanza, come. Answer with your life: “Here I am pastor, I make that decision now” [Romans 10:9-13]. In the balcony round, it’s you, on the lower floor, it’s you, down a stairway, down an aisle, “I’m on the way preacher, here I am.” May angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
I. The narrative
A. Saints at Lydda(Acts 9:32)
1. Saints in
a. Wiley Post, Will
b. Inside Africa
B. Peter came to the
saints (Acts 9:32)
1. Drawn together
by some kind of heavenly magnetism
2. All mankind is
like that – wherever you go, you will meet yourself
C. They sent to Peter (Acts 9:38)
1. He was an
answer to great human need
2. Dorcas a good
woman, yet she sickened and died
3. God has
purposed some better thing
II. These are harbingers of what God is
yet to do
A. No surprises at the
consummation of the age – God has laid it all out
1. Judgment day
2. The translation,
3. Return of our
Lord(Matthew 16:28, 17:1-5, 2 Peter 1:16-17)
re-creation of the heavens and the earth(Revelation
21:1, Genesis 1:1-2, 2 Corinthians 5:17)
it is with this story – a resurrection and a healing(John
Physical resurrection(Luke 7:14, 8:41-56, John