The Price of Pentecost
January 23rd, 1977 @ 8:15 AM
THE PRICE OF PENTECOST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-23-77 8:15 a.m.
The Price and Preparation for Pentecost. In the first chapter of Acts, verse 14, “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren” [Acts 1:14]. Then the second chapter of the Book of Acts:
And when the Day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
Suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
There appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each one of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.
God has a twofold purpose and a twofold will for us: one: that we be filled with the Holy Spirit. That has been the sovereign purpose of God from the beginning. One of the tremendous prophecies in Joel is the second chapter and the twenty-eighth verse,
It shall come to pass, there is coming a day, it shall come to pass, when I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh . . . and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams . . .
And upon My servants and upon My handmaidens will I pour out My Spirit, saith the Lord, in those days.
[Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17-18]
And those days have come to pass. They are fulfilled in our time, in our generation, in this dispensation and day of grace. The Lord said to these apostles, “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you” [Acts 1:8]. And in the epistles, the apostle Paul wrote by inspiration, in Ephesians 5:18, “Plērousthe.” Plēroō means “to be filled”; plērousthe is an imperative. It’s in the imperative mood, “plērousthe, be ye filled.” It is a commandment. It is a mandate from heaven. God has poured out the fullness of His Spirit, and it is His will for us, and it is mandate from heaven that we be filled with the Spirit of God [Ephesians 5:18].
That is, a dead, lethargic, phlegmatic preacher is a reproach to the name of Christ, and a dead, dull, dry, phlegmatic, lethargic church dishonors the name of the Almighty God. There ought to be life and quickening power in the congregation. And everything we do ought to be filled with an abundance of the Spirit and presence of God. When we have dull services, that dishonors the name of our Lord; when our people are without interest; when they drag; when we sing without victory; when we pray without compassion and conviction, and when we carry through our work indifferently, it is a reproach to the name of God. I don’t think there ought to be anything in this earth played on a court or in a field in the world of sports, or anything presented on a play or in a movie house, that ought to be, one, the beginning of the interest and the gripping power in it as ought to be found among the people of God. We just fall short of what God has enablement for us. It is the will of God. It is the sovereign purpose of God; in fact, according to Ephesians 5:18 it is the mandate of God that we be filled with the Spirit.
The secondfold purpose of the Lord for us is that this divine enablement and infilling is to be continuous. Plērousthe is continuous action. An aorist is one point, a present tense. Plērousthe is a continuous action. That is, it is to be in our life and experience an infilling from heaven today, and tonight, and the next day, and the following week, and forever [Ephesians 5:18].
There is a Jerusalem Pentecost in chapter 2 in the Book of Acts [Acts 2:1-4]. There is a Caesarean Pentecost in chapter 10 in the Book of Acts [Acts 10:44-48]. There is an Ephesian Pentecost in chapter 19 in the Book of Acts [Acts 19:6]. And it continues on, and on, and on. There is a divine infilling, and another one, and another one, and another one. And there is no formal conclusion to the Book of Acts. That is, there is to be a twenty-ninth chapter, and a thirtieth chapter, and a thirty-fifth chapter, and a sixtieth chapter, and a one hundred ninth chapter, and a thousandth chapter. And it is to continue until Jesus comes again. Those are the two things that God has purposed for His people; one, that we be filled with the Spirit; and second, that we be continually in-filled and endowed with the presence of God in our lives [Ephesians 5:18].
Now the message this morning is the price and the preparation for that divine enablement. The number one is, “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, with Mary the mother of the Lord, and with His brethren” [Acts 1:14]. The next verse says, “And the number of those who were praying together were about one hundred twenty” [Acts 1:15].
Don’t have to have ten thousand. You don’t have to have everybody in the city of Dallas, eight hundred fifty thousand, if you have just that sainted and consecrated band in prayer. There is no power from God, and there’s no infilling from above, and there’s no moving presence of the Lord without our praying.
I heard of a mission in Africa. And the doctor there in the compound was doctoring, and the nurse was nursing, and the preacher was preaching, and the people were going through all of their assignments in the mission compound in Africa. And nothing came of it. It was a dreary assignment.
And finally, the ultimate note of despair was sounded when the tribal chief came and said, “I hereby renounce my Christian faith. I’m going back to my heathen gods. When I worshiped them I was happy, but now I am miserable.” It was such an agonizing experience that the doctor quit his doctoring, and the nurse quit her nursing, and the technician quit his technizing, and all of the preacher quit his preaching.
And all the people quit what they were doing, and they began to pray, and to agonize before God, and to take it to the Lord. And when they did, the result was what you already could know. A revival broke out, and that tribal chief turned to preaching and he said in his language that I can’t pronounce, he said, “Joy is killing me.” Without that praying and without that looking to God, there inevitably turns into our religion a dull, and a dry, and a dreary practice.
Richard Newton, one of the great preachers of great power, born in 1813, said:
The principle cause of my leanness and unfruitfulness is owing to an unaccountable backwardness to praying. I can write, or read, or converse, or hear with a ready heart; but prayer is more spiritual and inward than any of these. And the more spiritual any duty is, the more my carnal heart is apt to start from it. Prayer and patience and faith are never disappointed. When I can find my heart and frame and liberty for prayer, everything else is comparatively easy.
I copied this from a men’s meeting in William Carey’s mission in Serampore,
down there eighteen miles from Calcutta. Listen to it. Those men wrote:
Let us often look at David Brainerd, an American missionary, in the woods of America, pouring out his very soul before God for the perishing heathen. Prayer, secret, fervent, believing prayer lies at the root of all personal godliness. A heart given up to God in closet religion, this, more than all knowledge and all other gifts, will fit us to become the instruments of God in the great work of human redemption.
There is a truth in that that is everlastingly, inevitably the same. We can grind up the machinery of the church, and we can oil it and grease it, and we can sit down and polish it, and think through it, and hone it, and make it fine, but it delivers nothing more than just what machinery is able to do.
What we want is God in it. We want the power and the presence of the Lord with us. We want what God can do. How could machinery, and organization, and all of the fine honed trimmings by which we try to make the work more effective, how can those things convict a man of sin? How can it regenerate a soul? Born somebody into the kingdom of God? These things come of the Lord. They are from His gracious hands. They are gifts from heaven, and they are meted to us. They are mediated to us by prayer.
God could have chosen some other way. He could have done the whole creation some other way. But He chose to do it the way that He did. And God has chosen that His Spirit, and His power, and His glory are mediated to us through prayer. There is no other way; closet prayer, as one of those men referred to, personal prayer; prayer when nobody is listening and nobody is around, just you and God, praying.
And then praying by twos, “If two of you shall agree on anything they shall ask, it will be done for them of My Father which is in heaven” [Matthew 18:19]. Public praying; there is private praying, there is public praying. I don’t know how I will succeed in it, but I’m trying, with God’s help, to lead our congregation into meaningful public praying, that we don’t come here and just sit. And we don’t come here and just go away as though we had attended an entertainment or a vaudeville or a movie picture or looking at a sport, but that we come here to share in the deep, moving experience of a personal confrontation with God. Lord, help us to achieve that in this dear church.
The price and the preparation for Pentecost: not only praying but an avowed, and open, and recognized, and stated avowal that we are dependent upon God. A man may be able to do work out here in some other area and do it without prayer and without the help of God. For example, he may be able to build a house and do it without God. Get him a hammer, and a saw, and a nail, and build a house. He may be able to do that without God. He may be able to drill an oil well without God. He may be able to do a thousand things out there in the world, and do it with no recognized dependence upon God at all. But we can’t do our work without the Lord; not our assignment, not our task. Ours is fully dependent upon God. And there has to be an avowed recognition of that in our souls. “Lord, Lord, this is a task, and this is an assignment that we cannot do without Thee.”
I think of one of the most moving stories in the Bible. It’s in the twentieth chapter of the Book of 2 Chronicles. And in that twentieth chapter is recounted the story of good King Jehoshaphat, who was being overwhelmed by his enemies. And we live in a dark world that is no friend to grace. And in that tragic day, Jehoshaphat prayed before the Lord, and he said, “O Lord God, we have no might against this great enemy, this mighty throng that come out against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon Thee” [2 Chronicles 20:12]. And the next verse says, “And Judah stood before the Lord, with their wives, and with their children, and with their little ones” [2 Chronicles 20:13]. The sight in my mind’s eye of that moves my heart. The king with his hands extended and his face lifted up, and by him and around him all the men of Judah, with their wives, and their children, and their little ones. The rest of the story would be known to you. God bared His arm to save and to deliver [2 Chronicles 20:22-25]. It is that that is always a victory in the name of our Lord, and for the goodness and blessing of His people.
There has never been a great work for God done apart from the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, never! There has to be a divine enablement, a divine infilling. And without that divine enablement there is no great work done for God. Somehow to be a child of God is not enough in itself. There must be a something over and beyond, a something further.
Look. Elisha was a child of God before Elijah met him; but before Elisha was prepared for the divine office of the prophetic ministry, he must have a double portion of the spirit of Elijah upon him. And as they walked along, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall give thee, before I am separated from thee.” And Elisha, the young man, replied, “Sir, my father, that I might receive a double portion of thy spirit” [2 Kings 2:9].
And Elijah was taken aback. How do you give a double portion of the Spirit of God upon a young man who is to assume your prophetic ministry? It’s not in the man’s hands to do it. Elijah must have been surprised. And he said, “It is beyond my ableness to give. But this you will know: if you see me taken from you, your prayer is answered. If not, your prayer is not answered” [2 Kings 2:10]. And that’s why when Elisha saw as Elijah was taken up into heaven in a whirlwind, that’s why Elisha cried, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof” [2 Kings 2:11-12].
He saw in the glory of the rapture of Elijah, he saw the vision of the chariot and the fire and the horsemen; that is, he had his request; a double portion of the Spirit of God should rest upon him [2 Kings 2:9]. And he went over where the mantle fell down from the hands of Elijah, and picked it up, and walked to the Jordan River and smote it and said, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” and the waters parted on either side [2 Kings 2:13-14].
And when he came to the school of the prophets at Jericho, the men in the school of the prophets looked upon the face of Elisha and said, “Behold, the power of Elijah doth rest upon Elisha” [2 Kings 2:15]. How did they know that? There is an intangible power in the presence of God in the life of a man that is felt, even though he doesn’t say a word.
The disciples were Christians before Pentecost. But before they could begin their vast evangelization of the world, first they must be endued with power from on high [Luke 24:49]. Jesus Himself was a perfect child. He lived a spotless manhood. He was holy and undefiled in His life [Hebrews 7:26]. Yet even Jesus, before He began His messianic ministry, must first be anointed with the Holy Spirit from God. And that happened at His baptism, when the Holy Ghost came down in the form of a dove, and abode, lighted, upon Him [Matthew 3:16].
The apostle Paul was converted on the road to Damascus [Acts 9:1-5]. In the light of the glory of the presence of Jesus he was stricken blind and fell down [Acts 9:3-4]. And they led him by the hand into Damascus [Acts 9:8]. And when he entered Damascus, blinded by that marvelous vision, he was a Christian.
How do I know that? Because, kneeling at the feet of the glorified Son of God, he said, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” [Acts 9:6]. “I no longer kick against the pricks [Acts 9:5]. I no longer reason, or find fault, or criticize, much less persecute and deliver unto death [Acts 9:1-2]. Lord, I’m Your servant. What wilt Thou have me to do?” [Acts 9:6]. He was a changed man when they led him by the hand into Damascus [Acts 9:8].
And after his days of praying, Ananias was sent of the Lord to him with this message: “I am sent to you, Saul, in order that you might receive your sight, and in order that you might be filled with the Holy Spirit” [Acts 9:17]. Then it was that the prophet, that the apostle was fitted for his ministry to the Gentile world; after he was filled with the Holy Spirit of God [Acts 9:17-18]. And this is our assignment today. “Lord, Lord, for our work we must pray; and for our work we must recognize our complete dependence upon Thee.”
I sometimes think of the apostle Paul, how he was as a man walking in the youth of his life. He must have been just about thirty years of age, about the age of our Lord when He entered the ministry. He must have been about thirty years of age when he was converted. He was a wonderfully trained man; a graduate of the University of Tarsus, the capital of the Roman province of Cilicia [Acts 21:39, 22:3].
He was conversant in so many languages. He could speak Aramaic. He could speak Hebrew. He could speak Latin. He could speak Greek. He could speak Cilician; so conversant with the history of the literature of the world.
When he stood on Hierapolis in Athens, he quoted in that address to the Athenians their own poets [Acts 17:28]. He was at home with Roman centurions [Acts 27:1-3]. He had studied at the feet of Gamaliel, one of the seven Rabbans of the Talmud [Acts 22:3]. He was a brilliant young man. But how did he preach? And how did he further the work of the Lord? You listen to him as he writes to Corinth:
My brethren, when I came before you, I came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the oracles of God.
For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of the power of God:
That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
[1 Corinthians 2:1-5]
What a marvelous revelation of the life of this brilliant, young rabbi. Learned, able, gifted, in all of the languages, and literature, and casuistry, and dialectic of the world, but in the work of the Lord and in his conversion, he sought to further the kingdom of Christ in demonstration of the Spirit and the power of God [1 Corinthians 2:4]. Ah, Lord, that there might be just such among us!
I copied from the life of an old divine. He was born in 1748. His name is Richard Cecil, described as an English preacher of great ability. Listen to him as he writes:
There is a manifest want of spiritual influence on the ministry of the present day. I feel it in my own case, and I can see it in that of others. I am afraid there is too much of a low, managing, contriving, maneuvering temper of mind among us. We are laying ourselves out more than is expedient to meet one another’s taste and one another’s dislike. The ministry should find in us a simple habit of spirit, an holy but humble indifference to all of these extraneous and outside things.
Isn’t that right? To come to the house of the Lord and to find in it the same kind of contriving and moving as you would find in the political world, say; and to come to the house of the Lord and to find in it the same deference to the dislikes or likes of the people; just to read God out of it, and to leave the Lord out of it. Master, how we need a double portion of Thy Spirit [2 Kings 2:9].
I have to close. I come hastily to the end. As you know, I love to read from Spurgeon. And Spurgeon was talking about the preacher. Listen to this:
Let the preacher always confess before he preaches that he relies upon the Holy Spirit. Let him burn his manuscript and depend upon the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit does not come to help him, let him be still, and let the people go home and pray that the Spirit will help him next Sunday.
I have wondered what would happen if the pastor, sometime, were to stand up here and to say: “My brethren, the Spirit of prophecy has departed from me. I don’t have God’s enablement today. My spirit is dry, and my heart is sterile. We’re going to have the benediction, and everybody go home and pray that the Holy Spirit of God will fall upon the pastor next Sunday.” I’ve just wondered what would happen. If I knew our people would do that, I’d try it sometime when I felt that the Spirit of the Lord was not in power upon me. I can prophesy. If our people were to go home and pray, when they came back the next Lord’s Day, there’d be such an assembly of the saints, there’d be such an expectancy, there’d be such a fullness of the presence of God, that we could hardly stand it; our hearts would overflow.
“Thou anointest my head with oil.” Oil is a type and a picture of the Holy Spirit of God, “Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over” [Psalm 23:5]. Lord, Lord, for the fullness, for the overflowing, for the moving presence of God in our midst; for Pentecost [Acts 2] every service, God do it. Let our eyes behold it. And let our people rejoice in it.
We must sing our hymn of appeal now. We must not delay. And while we sing that song of invitation, a family you to come and to be with us in this dear church; to pray with us, to open your heart heavenward with us; for a couple you to come; or just you, make the decision now in your heart, and in this moment when we stand, having committed your life to God [Romans 10:9-13], tell God and us. That is His will. If I confess the Lord, He will confess me [Matthew 10:32]. I must come before men and angels, and avow my faith in Him, the commitment of my life to Him. I must do it. And that’s why at the end of the service, we press this appeal.
Down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, “Today, I make this decision for God, and here I am. Here I come. I’m on the way.” That first step is the first way by which God opens heaven for you, take it. Come, while we stand and while we sing.