The Price of Pentecost
January 23rd, 1977 @ 10:50 AM
THE PRICE OF PENTECOST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-23-77 10:50 a.m.
This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Price and Preparation for Pentecost. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we are at verse 14 in the first chapter [Acts 1:14], and verses 1 and following in the second chapter [Acts 2:1-4]. Verse 14 reads like this: “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and with Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren” [Acts 1:14]. And the next verse says that in all there were together about one hundred and twenty [Acts 1:15]. The second chapter opens:
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
And suddenly there came a sound … as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all of the house where they were sitting.
And there appeared unto them cloven tongues—parting tongues—like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…
And began that wonderful and miraculous era of witnessing to the grace and power of God that we call the dispensation of grace; the age of the Holy Spirit; the age of the calling out of the body of Christ, His church. There is a twofold purpose of God for His people. Number one: it is the will of God that we be filled with the Holy Spirit [Ephesians 5:18]. This is not a new or an adventitious development in the kingdom. Far, far back in the Old Covenant, Joel the prophet said:
And there shall come days when, saith the Lord, I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh; your young men… shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams . . .
And upon My servants and upon My handmaidens in those days will I pour out of My Spirit.
And just before the Lord returned to heaven, He said: “Wait for the Promise of the Father…” [Acts 1:4]. And this chapter of Acts, number 1: “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and ye shall be My witnesses” . . . [Acts 1:8].
It is in the purpose of God that we be filled, and endued, and endowed with the Holy Spirit of heaven. In fact, it is a mandate; it is a commandment of God that we be filled with the Spirit. Ephesians 5:18 says: “Be ye filled with the Spirit”—plerousthe—that’s in the imperative mode. It is a commandment. We are to be filled with the Spirit.
The obverse of that would be that it dishonors God. And it is a disgrace to the name of the Lord for us to be dull, and lethargic, and phlegmatic. There ought to be more aliveness and more deepening interest in the house of God, and in the worship and work of our Lord, than you would find on any field of athletics, or in any movie house watching a motion picture, or on a vaudeville stage, or anywhere else in this earth. A dull, dreary service is an affront to God, and indifferent and phlegmatic Christians are a disgrace to the name of our Lord.
We are commanded to be filled with the Spirit of God [Ephesians 5:18]. Not only is it the purpose of God that we be filled with His Spirit, but it is the purpose of the Lord that we be filled again, and again, and again. That is, it is not to be just one tremendous experience, as an aoristic tense, but it is to be a continuous experience as that word plerousthe—it is in the present, continuing tense. We’re to be filled with the Spirit, and filled with the Spirit, and filled with the Spirit. It is to be a continuous and continual experience.
There was a Jerusalem Pentecost; there was a Samaritan Pentecost; there was a Caesarean Pentecost; there was an Ephesian Pentecost; there was an Antiochian Pentecost, a Corinthian Pentecost, an Athenian Pentecost, a Roman Pentecost. All through the days and the ages, we are to experience this marvelous outpouring of the presence and power of the Lord. That is why there is no formal conclusion to the Book of Acts. We come to the twenty-eighth chapter, the last chapter of the Book of Acts, but it reaches no consummation, it has no formal ending. The reason is obvious: the Holy Spirit is not done. He writes a twenty-ninth chapter of the Book of Acts, and a thirtieth. He writes a three hundredth chapter of the Book of Acts, and a three thousandth one, and He is still writing! It is the purpose of God that we be filled with the Spirit of the Lord, and it is the purpose of God that we experience that divine infilling—that holy enduement and endowment [Ephesians 5:18]—again, and again, and again.
That leads to the subject of the message today: the price and the preparation for a Pentecost. How do we have that power? How do we seize upon and take, labete, as the Lord said, “And He breathed upon them, and said, “Take ye,” labete, translated in the King James Version, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit” [John 20:22]. Labete: another imperative, “Take it! Seize it!” Poured out upon the world, He is ours to possess.
But how do you do it? How do you have the Pentecostal presence and power of God in your life, in your home and family, in the church, in all of the many multi-faceted activities of the great congregation? How do you do it? Just as it is outlined for us here in the Word of the Lord—number one: “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and with Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren” [Acts 1:14]. There is no other way. I cannot stand here in this sacred pulpit and say we have two alternatives, or we have ten choices; we can have the presence and power of God either in this way or that way, and possibly in a third way. It is not.
There is one, and one, and one way only! The medium, the avenue by which God mediates to us the power of His presence and His Spirit—and that is through prayer. There is no other way! The Lord God made it that way. The same Lord God that made the universe [Genesis 1:1-25]—and it follows certain patterns and follows certain laws—the same Lord God said, and decided, and purposed that we should have the presence and power in our lives through intercession and through prayer [Acts 1:14]. It comes in no other way.
I was reading of a mission in Africa, and it had fallen into despair. Nobody was converted; nobody was saved; no one responded. The mission finally dragged itself down to sterility and vacuity. It was a darkening night already, but it finally plunged into despair when the tribal chief appeared before the mission and said, “I hereby renounce the Christian faith. I’m going back to my heathen gods. When I worshipped my tribal gods, I was happy. After I’ve become a Christian I am miserable; and I am denouncing the faith, and renouncing the Lord, and I am going back to my heathen ways.”
Plunged into abject despair, the mission quit its whole work, and they bowed before the Lord in prayer and intercession. And they stayed before God. And the result is what you would have known: a revival broke out. A great, sweeping Pentecostal presence of the saving grace of God swept through the tribe. And even the tribal chief began preaching the gospel of the Son of God. And I cannot pronounce the word that he was using. It is in a language I cannot fathom. But when you translate it into English, the word means, “joy is killing me.” That’s the word of the tribal chief, when the Spirit of God came down.
It is thus with us. We can finely hone all of this machinery of the church, and we can grease all of the wheels that turn in the organized life of the church. But the church will finally come to a dead halt, a living standstill, or a dead standstill, unless it is bathed in prayer and the whole foundation is laid upon intercession and appeal to God.
Let me read from a godly minister named Richard Newton, a preacher of great power, born in 1813. Listen to him:
The principal cause of my leanness and unfruitfulness is owing to an unaccountable backwardness to pray. 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 refrain from it. Prayer and patience and faith are never disappointed. When I can find my heart in frame and liberty for prayer, everything else is comparatively easy.
I do not decry the organized life of our church anymore than I would decry the minister’s preparation in study. But it is not in the brilliance of the pastor that God works, nor is it just in the finely tuned, organized life of the church that the Spirit moves. There has to be something over and beyond, if it is of God.
Now I think we’re about the only ones in the world that are shut up to that. There are many men and women here who have come to Dallas for the Homebuilders Association. I would think you could build a house without prayer. Just get you a hammer, and a saw, and a nail, and some kind of a plan and start. And you can build a house without prayer. I would think that a man could build a corporation without prayer. He can run a business without prayer. He can live out here in the carnal world and enjoy it without prayer. But you can’t do that in the house of the Lord. You can’t do God’s business without God. There has to be the presence of the convicting power of the Holy Spirit with us, or else what we do is the strength of human flesh.
I cannot convict of sin; God has to do that [John 16:8, 9]. I cannot regenerate a man’s soul; God has to do that [Titus 3:5]. And all of the organization brought to bear upon any family in this earth is just so much human carnality unless it has in it the moving, saving Spirit of God.
I copied this from the men who belonged to William Carey’s brotherhood in the mission in Serampore, just eighteen miles from Calcutta. Listen to those men, “Let us often look at David Brainerd in the woods of America . . .” here in America—they over there, looking at that godly missionary to the American Indians named David Brainerd:
Let us often look at David Brainerd 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.
Those men over there in the mission of William Carey saw the secret: if they had any ableness to convert those heathen Hindu in India, if they had any virtue, any strength, any power, it had to come from God. Used to be that we thought of the heathen “over there,” and of “God’s sainted people,” here. The frontier of the mission line runs now and today through every town, and every state, and every government, and every nation, and every language and tongue and tribe under the sun. There is no such thing as the heathen over there, and the Christian saved here. The heathen are everywhere and becoming increasingly so. The pagans are in every nation and city around this world. And the frontiers of our mission program are in Dallas as well as they are in Calcutta, or Hong Kong, or Timbuktu, or Bangalore, or any other place in the earth. And if we have any power to witness in this dark and heathen land, it lies in the presence of the Holy Spirit of God working with us. Prayer!
One other thing: in order to have Pentecost, there must not only be intercession—praying where you are, praying by yourself, praying with your Sunday school class, praying with your family, praying with a friend, praying with a business partner, praying as a board of deacons, praying as a congregation, and O Lord, I just ask God to give me wisdom to know how to bring our people to intercession, to the point of desperate asking. “My house,” said the Lord, “shall be called an house of prayer” [Isaiah 56:7]. I just hurt in my soul when I think of our services being such as you’d come and just look—like a vaudeville show—just look! Or like a movie house, just look! Or like a spectator at an athletic game, just look! But there is nothing in it for us; there is no part in it in which we share; and there is no moving of the Spirit of God; there is no changing in our lives. O God in heaven! Grant that when we have our services, they are services in which our people share. Not just spectators to look; but there is a moving in it, and a power in it, and a thrusting in it, and a marching in it, and a changing in it, and a lifting up in it that all of us feel, “My house, a house of prayer” [Isaiah 56:7, Mark 11:17], all of us praying together. There is private prayer and there is public prayer. Just as there is private reading of the Word, there is the public reading of the Word of God.
Master, just show us how we can encourage our people to share in this great, vast, inclusive intercession.
The second thing of the price and power of a Pentecost: not only to pray, but an open and stated and recognized avowal of our dependence upon God. However gifted, or learned, or trained, or smart, or able we might be in ourselves, it still is the strength of the flesh without God. We are shut up to God. We are dependent upon God. Therefore, let us boldly, and honestly, and avowedly, and statedly, and recognizably say that to God, and one another. “We cannot do this in ourselves. We cannot convert even the soul of the humblest little child. God has to help us. The Lord must work with us. And dear God, we confess to Thee our inability, our human error and weakness and unableness. Dear God, we look to Thee for the victory, and the answer, and the power, and the presence, and the infilling, and the enablement and the help—Lord, it must come from Thee.”
I don’t think in the Bible there is a more moving picture of a story than you find in the twentieth chapter of 2 Chronicles. Good King Jehoshaphat is on the throne of Judah. And he is surrounded by enemies that threaten to destroy his land and his people; and he prays before God. And he says, “O Lord God… we have no might against this great throng that cometh 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 there stood by the king the men of Judah with their wives, and their children, and their little ones” [2 Chronicles 20:13].
Can you see that? A king who in his inability to face the foes that surrounded him on every side stood before God with his hands upraised in humble supplication. And by his side stood the men of Judah, and their wives, and their children, and their little ones—with eyes facing upward, heavenward, God-ward. The rest of that story you would know also. God bared His great mighty arm to save and to deliver [2 Chronicles 20:22-25]. He never forsakes us [Deuteronomy 31:8, Joshua 1:5, Hebrews 13:5], or neglects us, or refuses us. He just waits for a yielded heart and a surrendered life in which, through which, by which to do His work in the earth.
Any great work for God that has ever been done has been done in the power and grace of the Holy Spirit. It is not enough that a man be just a Christian—just saved—he must also have an enablement from heaven for the work to which God has called him [John 15:5]. And each one of us has our assignment. As the apostle Paul would say, each one of us has a gift [1 Corinthians 7:7], a charismatic gift, something that God has given you, an enablement from heaven: it may be to pray with power; it may be to be wise in the government of the church; it may be in presenting the gospel of Christ, what the Bible calls prophecy, propheteuō, prophémi, speaking out for the Lord. But all of us have our gifts—each one of us has his gift. And we use it only in the ableness of power of God [Luke 24:49].
Beside our conversion and regeneration, there is also an infilling; there is an enduement, there is a visitation from above; there is an experiential part of a man’s religion. Not only that Christ died for our sins according to Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:3]—that happened two thousand years ago—and not only that the Lord writes our names in the Book of Life when we look and trust in Jesus [Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:12, 15]; but there is also an experiential part of the Christian faith. I feel it! God speaks, and He moves my soul when He speaks. And He enables me to do His work, whatever my assignment may be. And any work that is done for God is always done in the enablement, and enduement, and the power of that Holy Spirit [Luke 24:49].
Elisha was a child of God before Elijah met him. But Elisha was not prepared for the prophetic ministry until he had a double portion of the Spirit of prophecy to fall upon him. That’s why the exclamation of Elisha is so marvelously meaningful in the story. As Elijah and Elisha walked along, Elijah said to the young man, “Ask what I shall do for thee, before I am parted from thee.” And the young man said: “Oh, my father, that I might have a double portion of thy spirit to fall upon me!” [2 Kings 2:9]. I think Elijah was taken aback by the unusual request. He must have been expecting something else. And he replied, “I cannot do that. I cannot give it to thee. But this, if you see me when I am raptured away, your prayer is answered” [2 Kings 2:10]. And that’s why the exclamation of Elisha—as they walked along, the two on the other side of the Jordan, suddenly there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and Elijah was raptured up to glory in a whirlwind—and Elisha replied, he cried, he exclaimed, “Oh, my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof!” [2 Kings 2:11-12]
That is, he had his request. “If you see me when I am taken away, your prayer is answered” [2 Kings 2:10]—a double portion of the Spirit [2 Kings 2:9-10] of God upon him. And he picked up the mantle that had fallen from the hand of Elijah, and went to the edge of the waters of the Jordan and smote them and said: “Where is the Lord God of Elijah? And the waters parted on either side. And the sons of the prophets at Jericho, when they went out to meet him, looked upon him and said: “The spirit of Elijah doth rest upon Elisha” [2 Kings 2:13-15]. How did they know that? Why, when a man has the Spirit of God, it shines in his face. It is in the very timbre of his voice; it is in the gesture of his hand; it is in the way he walks. It is in the way he is! “A double portion of Thy Spirit, O God” [2 Kings 2:9].
Jesus was a child of God when He was born—a holy infancy, a spotless youth, a manhood without reproach—but before He was prepared for His messianic ministry, first He must be anointed from God. And it happened at His baptism. The Spirit of the Lord came down in the form of a dove and lighted upon Him, and God said, “This is My beloved Son . . .” [Matthew 3:16-17; Luke 3:21-22]. The disciples were Christians before Pentecost. But before they were ready for their witnessing to that pagan Greco-Roman world, first, they must be endued with power from on high [Luke 24:49].
The apostle Paul, Saul of Tarsus, was converted on the road to Damascus. In the light of the glory of the presence of Jesus, he fell down blind and said, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” [Acts 9:3-6]. And led by the hand in his blindness, he came into Damascus [Acts 9:8]. And then after he had prayed, and prayed, and prayed; fasting and praying for three days and three nights [Acts 9:9], Ananias was sent to him by the Lord [Acts 9:10-11] and said to him, “Brother Saul, the Lord, who met you in the way, hath sent me unto thee, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and that thou mightest be filled with the Holy Spirit” [Acts 9:12-17]. And that is the ministry of the apostle Paul.
You look at that man just for a second: he was learned, and educated, and brilliant, and equipped. He could speak Aramaic; he could speak Hebrew; he could speak Latin; he could speak Greek; he could speak Silician. Those five I know, proficient in them. He had sat at the feet of Gamaliel [Acts 22:3], one of the seven rabbans of the Talmud. He was learned in the casuistry of the theology of the Jews. He was perfectly at home with an Athenian group quoting their own poets to them [Acts 17:28]. He could converse with a Roman centurion face to face, an equal [Acts 10:24-48]. In whatever culture or society he moved, whether in Rome or in Corinth, in Ephesus or in Antioch; he was perfectly at home. He was an able and gifted man in himself, trained and educated.
How did he preach? May I quote from his own letter; the one to the church at Corinth, in the second chapter, beginning at verse 1:
And I, brethren, when I came to you, I came not with excellency of speech or 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 witness was not in man’s wisdom or in excellency of speech, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of the power:
That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
[1 Corinthians 2:1-5]
I admire any man who stands to witness for Christ and speaks gloriously, esthetically, oratorically, learnedly. But there is no power in the oratory as such, or in the learning as such, or in the peroration as such, or in the brilliance as such. The power lies in another area, in the man’s heart and in the man’s life. And some of the men who have had that power the most have been men who were grossly uneducated like John Jasper, or without formal training like Dwight L. Moody.
There is a secret in the church; there is a secret in the life of a Christian; there is a secret in its power in the earth. And it lies not in us, but in Him; not in human ingenuity, but in the presence of God. O Lord, how I could pray such for us!
From Richard Cecil, who was born in 1748, an English preacher of tremendous ability—listen to him:
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 expedient to meet one man’s taste and another man’s dislike. The ministry should find in us a simple habit of spirit and a holy but humble indifference to all consequences.
That what we do, we do to be men-pleasers—that what we do, we do in order to advance ourselves, or to find some kind of a worldly emolument or reward, and that all of our conniving, and arranging, and organizing is that we might be somehow full of ourselves—O Lord, Lord, Lord! That there might be in our work just less and less and less of ourselves, and more and more and more of God, until there be nothing of ourselves, and everything of the Lord. Singing not for the praises of men, but just singing to the glory of God; preaching not for the plaudits of men, but preaching as unto Him who listens from heaven. And our people gathering together, not for prestige or status, but that we gather in the name of the Lord, calling upon Him who alone is able to save us [John 14:6; Acts 4:12].
Master, God, please, may there be such a spirit in the pastor, in the deacons, in the choir, in our Sunday school leadership, in all of the multi-faceted ministries of the church. And when people come to this congregation, incidentally they may say, “Didn’t that orchestra and choir sound marvelous? And didn’t the pastor use fine language? And doesn’t he appear to be a trained and prepared man? And wasn’t the congregation nice?” Those things, yes; I would hate for the people to go away and to say, “That choir sounded raucous! And the orchestra hurt my ears! And the people are so indifferent and cold! And the pastor could not even correctly pronounce the words that he used—much less arrange them in grammatical construction.” I wouldn’t want the people to go away and say that. I love for the people who come to go away and say, “The choir was so fine, and the orchestra played so beautifully, and the people were so nice, and the pastor appeared to be so prepared and able,” yes.
But a thousand times more, Lord, grant that when the people go away, they say: “God was in that place. Did you feel Him? God was in that message. Did you hear His voice? God was praised and exalted and uplifted in that song. Did you feel it? I have been to the house of the Lord, and I have been blessed.” Lord, grant it. Without that, we might as well be in some kind of a show business—might as well be out there in the world, trying to learn to entertain an audience. The difference lies in the moving of the Spirit of God in us. And now, may God seal and sanctify and authenticate the message of appeal to His blessed presence today. May He do it with souls.
In a moment we shall stand and sing our song of invitation. And as we stand to sing it, in the great balcony round, a couple or a family you, and in the throng on this lower floor, a one somebody you, “Pastor, today I have made the decision for God in my heart, and here I am [Romans 10:8-13]. God has spoken to me. God called me and I am answering with my life.” Make that decision in your heart now and in a moment when we stand up to sing that song, stand up coming down that aisle, walking down that stairway. “Pastor, this is my wife and these are my children. All of us are coming today.” Or just you. May angels attend you as you come on the first note of the first stanza, while we stand and while we sing.