March 12th, 1978 @ 10:50 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-12-78 10:50 a.m.
To the thousands and thousands who are watching this service on television – being on cable it is in several states, and in many countrysides and towns and villages and cities. To all of you, and to the great throng who listen on the two radio stations that are carrying it, we welcome you sharing, praying, worshipping, listening with us in this dear First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Apostolic Christianity.
In our preaching throughout the Book of Acts we concluded last Sunday with chapter 13. And the message this morning is an exposition of the next and following chapter, number 14. I read, just as a background text, the twenty-seventh verse of this fourteenth chapter of Acts. "And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how He had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles" [Acts 14:27]. Now, as I deliver this message, you must remember, you must keep in mind that I am speaking about apostolic Christianity. I am not talking about modern Christianity. I am not talking about European Christianity. I am not talking about American Christianity. Modern Christianity is too bland. It is too insipid. It is too compromised. It is too worldly. It is too anemic, and sterile, and barren, and I am not preaching about modern Christianity. I am speaking about apostolic Christianity. And we are looking at it here, revealed to us on the sacred page in these Acts of the Holy Spirit; apostolic Christianity, the kind of faith delivered to that Greco-Roman empire under the hands of the apostles.
First of all, apostolic Christianity was a flame. It was a fire. It was a sword. It was a tumult. It was a challenge. It was a confrontation. You look at it. These men of God, Paul and Barnabas, are answering the call of the Lord when the Holy Spirit said, "Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them" [Acts 13:2]. The thirteenth chapter therefore begins with these apostles sent on their way to do the work, the mandate of heaven [Acts 13:3].
And how did they fare? How did they do? The thirteenth chapter of the Book of Acts says that in Pisidian Antioch they stirred up the whole city, "And raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and threw them out, expelled them from their city and from their country" [Acts 13:50]. That is how it ended in Pisidian Antioch. It ended in a storm and in a fury and in a persecution. Well, in the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Acts they have fled to Iconium, and there they preached the gospel of the Son of God to these in Iconium [Acts 14:1]. And how did it end? "The multitude of the city was divided . . . and they made an assault" upon the apostles; both Jews and Gentiles, and they purposed "to use them despitefully," hubrizō, "contemptuously"; and they proposed "to stone them" [Acts 14:4-5]. That is how it ended in Iconium. Then the apostles fled to Lystra [Acts 14:6], and there they preached the wonderful news of heaven to those in Lystra [Acts 14:7]. And then how did it end? And they "stoned Paul, and drew him out of the city; supposing he had been dead" [Acts 14:19], and dumped him in a ditch.
Can you believe that? This is the way the gospel ends, in a storm, in a tumult, in a confrontation, in blood and stoning and persecution and death. You stagger at it. Could such a thing be true? Could this heavenly, sweet message from God, and could this precious preaching of the love of the Lord in Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us [Titus 2:14], could that gospel end in a tumult, in a fury, in a fire, in a confrontation, in a division? It is almost hard to realize. We would think, would we not, that the gospel of the peace of heaven would bring peace on earth; that a very sign of its divinity and inspiration would be found by the gathering of the people in quiet and eternal rest? But instead, there is not peace, there is not rest, there is not quiet. There is challenge, opposition, tumult, fury, stoning, persecution and death. As I read the sacred record, I can hardly realize it. So I asked why? You would ask why? What is this Christian faith, this apostolic Christianity, that so drew forth, elicited such violent confrontation, and opposition and death?
Well, there are several things to be said about it that are very apparent. Number one is this. Now, I am not talking about modern Christianity. I am talking about apostolic Christianity. There are several things about it that elicited such a response and number one is this: apostolic Christianity confronted and challenged the world of idolatry, and paganism, and heathenism, and atheism, and worldly secularism. And it did it in no uncertain terms. It did it courageously and vigorously and violently.
And lest you think that is strange or unusual, unique in the Christian faith, that has been the way of God from the ages, from the centuries, from the beginning. And it has never deviated from that same challenging confrontation. In the Old Testament, in the Old Covenant, Jezebel has slain Naboth [1 Kings 21:1-14]. He had a little vineyard next to the palace of Ahab. And Ahab coveted it [1 Kings 21:1-4]. And Naboth couldn’t sell it [1 Kings 21:3]. According to the Law, the allotment given to the families of Israel were to be in the possession of the family forever [Numbers 36:7]. "I cannot sell you; I cannot give you the inheritance of my fathers" [1 Kings 21:3]. Ahab pouted, would not eat, went to bed, turned his face to the wall. [1 Kings 21:4]
And Jezebel, "Why? Why don’t you eat? Why don’t you rise?" [1 Kings 21:5]
"Naboth will not sell me his vineyard [1 Kings 21:6]. And I want it for a garden of herbs, to raise roses, and pansies, petunias."
Jezebel says. "I will get you that vineyard" [1 Kings 21:7].
And she suborns, she hires false witnesses and they raise Naboth on high. And these false accusers say he blasphemed God and is a traitor to the king. And they stoned Naboth until he died [1 Kings 21:6-13.
And Jezebel enters the bedroom where the sulking, pouting Ahab is lying and says. "Arise and possess. Naboth is dead and not alive" [1 Kings 21:15].
And Ahab arises to enter into the vineyard to possess it [1 Kings 21:16]. Fine, fine but the next verse, "But God!" The next verse, "But God." There is always that next verse, "But God!" He spoke to Elijah the Tishbite and said, "Get thee up; and go down to the vineyard of Naboth, Ahab is rising to possess it" [1 Kings 21:17, 18].
And when [Ahab] enters the vineyard he sees Elijah the prophet of God. And looking at him in scorn and hatred and contempt, he says, "Hast thou found me, mine enemy?" [1 Kings 21:20] And Elijah replies, "In the place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall the dogs lick up thy blood, even thine" [1 Kings 21:19]. That is God!
It is no different in the New Testament. John the Baptist is standing before Herod Antipas. Herod Antipas has wooed away and taken away the wife of his own brother, Herodias. And John the Baptist stands in the presence of the king and says, "It is not right for you to have your brother’s wife" [Mark 6:18]. And it infuriated Herodias, and she led her husband to cut off the head of John the Baptist [Mark 6:19-28].
It has always been that way. Jesus Himself avowed, "I am not sent to bring peace upon the earth, but a sword" [Matthew 10:34]. "I am sent to the earth with fire; and what will I, if it be already kindled?" [Luke 12:]. That is apostolic Christianity. It is bold and courageous and faces a heathen and pagan and sinful world with the truth and the message of God.
I could not but admire one of the young men in our church. He was in a class in the university, and the professor was blaspheming the name of the Lord. And this young man in our church stood up and said to the professor "What you say is not truth." The professor flunked him, but that’s all right. God never called us to make good grades under infidels and blasphemers and evolutionists! But He did call us to witness to the faith and to the truth [Matthew 28:18-20]. That is apostolic Christianity.
Why this confrontation? There is another reason. Christianity is uncompromising. It is all-inclusive and all-authoritarian. Apostolic Christianity never says, "We will give a little here, and take a little there. And we will compromise this thing out and so live at peace"; never.
Did it ever occur to you why the Roman Empire persecuted the early Christians? There is not anything on the pages of history that is more unlike the Roman Empire than that. I grant you that the Roman Empire was built by conquests. It was put together by the Roman legions. It was done in war. I grant you that. But what you don’t realize, unless you have studied carefully the history of the creation of the Roman Empire, what you don’t realize is this, that there never has been before or since an empire that was more gracious, and lenient, and sympathetic, and understanding, and kind to the provinces that the army overran; never. The Roman Empire was gracious and lenient. When they conquered a province, a kingdom, and added it to the Roman Empire, the people went on their ways, even more prosperous, even more protected. The Roman Empire never entered into the life, the mores, the habits, the religion of the people. It never did. For example, the Attalid kings gave the kingdom of Pergamum to the Caesars, to Rome.
Well then, why did Rome, that was so lenient and understanding in its administration of the provinces; why did it persecute the Christians unto death? The answer is very apparent. If you have ever been in modern Rome, the most beautifully preserved ancient building is the Pantheon. It was built by Agrippa, the friend of Julius Caesar. The Pantheon is absolutely one of the most striking buildings in the world. The ceiling in that dome, I have seen it copied from one end of this earth to the other, impressive and beautiful, the Pantheon, the house of all of the gods. When Rome therefore conquered a kingdom or a province, they invited their gods to be fellow gods in the Imperial City itself, and the Pantheon was built for that.
When Rome conquered Athens, there in the Pantheon, a beautiful niche for Pallas Athena; when Rome conquered Egypt, there in the Pantheon was a beautiful place for their gods, Isis and Osiris. And when the Roman Empire conquered all of the rest of the provinces, their gods were welcome, and in the Pantheon, there were places for the gods of all of the provinces of the empire. And when the Lord Jesus Christ was preached, the Roman Empire said to the early Christians, "Fine, and welcome. Here is a beautiful niche for Jesus; right by Jupiter on this side and right by Venus Adonis on this side; happy to have Him, this new God from the Levant, Jesus." And the Christians said, "Jesus in a pantheon of gods between the niche for Jupiter and Venus? Never! Not in five hundred thousand worlds, or a million lifetimes, will we place Jesus in a pantheon of gods. He is Jesus alone. He is Jesus separate; Jesus unique; Jesus alone [John 14:6]; Jesus the only begotten Son of God [John 3:16]. He is Jesus the Lord" [Romans 10:9].
And that’s why the Roman Empire persecuted the Christians. They were looked upon as enemies of the state. They were looked upon as enemies of mankind. You see, that’s the Christian faith. Apostolic Christianity is not to be stitched upon some old dirty rag of paganism or heathenism or idolatry. But apostolic Christianity is a beautiful robe, woven without seam; never to be rent, never to be added to, never to be taken from. It is made by the hands of God Himself. Apostolic Christianity is a hammer in the hands of the omnipotent Lord God Almighty, and He Himself said, "Is not My word like a fire? and as a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?" [Jeremiah 23:29]
In the vision of Daniel, in the second chapter of his book, he sees a stone cut without hands, out of the mountain, and it smites the image on its feet and shatters it to the dust of the ground, and the stone fills the whole earth [Daniel 2:34-35, 44-45]. All space from horizon to horizon to God’s throne above to the deepest abyss below, that is the faith, the truth. That is apostolic Christianity.
Why was it so persecuted? How did it raise so much opposition and tumult? There is a third reason. As a mandate from heaven, and as a confrontation to the evil and darkness of the world, it always does one of two things. It brings salvation or condemnation. It either saves or it slays, one or the other, always. Paul said our gospel "is to those who believe the savor of life unto life; and to those who do not believe, it is the savor of death unto death" [2 Corinthians 2:16]. Always the gospel message is that. It either builds a heaven, high and holy, filled with the goodness and glory and blessing of God, or else, it digs a hell into which is cast all wickedness, and impurity, and immorality, and iniquity, and rejection, and all of the dark things that oppose the kingdom of God. Always it does one of two things.
Apostolic Christianity. What is it like? What was it like? What is it, its texture, its feel, its definition, its description? Apostolic Christianity. Not only, as I read it here in the Bible, do I find it a furor, a flame, a fire, a storm, a sword, a challenge, a confrontation; I also find it to be a supreme commitment, a costly and an exacting and exhausting devotion.
Look at this. "And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them" [Acts 14:27]. When I look at that, I shake my head. I can hardly believe my eyes. Have I actually read that? And when they were come and gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them [Acts 14:27]. "Why, my brother, I have just got through speaking to you what God," he says, "hath done with them in Pisidian Antioch. In a storm and a fury, they were persecuted and thrown out" [Acts 13:50]. I just got through reading to you what happened to them in Iconium, the multitude of the city was divided and there was an assault made by the Gentiles and the Jews to use them despitefully and to stone them to death [Acts 14:1-5]. I just got through reading to you out of the Book, "And having stoned Paul, they drew him out of the city and dumped him in a ditch, supposing he had been dead" [Acts 14:19]. Isn’t that right? Didn’t I just read that to you out of this Book? Now, can you believe, and when they come, gather the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them. God, God had done with them. That!
Dear Lord in heaven, help me! I repent, God, of ninety-nine percent of all of the things that I feel in my heart in the work of the Lord. They didn’t gather the church together and put their hands on their heads and begin to wail and to say, "Oh, the things we have suffered; the hurts and heartaches we have endured; the stonings and the persecution and the hatred. They never, they never mentioned it. "They gathered the church together" it says "and they rehearsed all that God had done with them" [Acts 14:27]. The work of the Lord, stoning, and persecutions, and storming, and castings out; dear Lord, could it be that when I think I am the victim of trouble and disappointment and frustration and difficulty, Lord, is that God’s hand in my life and in the life of the church and in the life of the world? I don’t invent this message. I am just an echo and a voice proclaiming what I read on the sacred page. "When they gathered the church together, they rehearsed to them all that God had done" [Acts 14:27]. These things have a purpose. Every problem, and every sorrow, and every heartache, and every opposition, and every discouragement, and every obstacle, and every hindrance, all of that has a purpose in the sovereign, elective goodness of God.
Maybe He is training us. Maybe He is putting steel and iron in our souls. There’s a reason, but it all is of God. It comes from His Almighty hand. "And they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how He had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles" [Acts 14:27]. There is no whine in that. There’s no wail in that. There’s no lament in that. "And they rehearsed all of the things that the Lord had done with them, and how He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles." They didn’t stand up before that church in giving their report on their first missionary journey saying, "The way is difficult and hard." They never said that. They stood up before that church and said, "The way is open, wide open" [Acts 14:27]. They didn’t come before that church and say, "You go to the Gentiles with this gospel and that means stoning, and that means persecution, and that means contemptible treatment, and that means casting out, that means blood and death." They never said that.
They went before the church and made their report. "For a great door and effectual is opened unto us" [1 Corinthians 16:9]. Can you imagine it? Can you believe it? And that holy, heavenly, and sacred, and divine enthusiasm shook that Greco-Roman world to its foundations! They changed the course of all civilization and all history, just that way. And any time Christianity is other than that, victory in it, no matter what blood; triumph in it, no matter what castigation or challenge or confrontation, anytime the Christian faith loses that, it is like a Vesuvius without fire. It’s like a Niagara without water. It’s like a firmament without the sun. The faith becomes a speculation without truth. The door is open. God’s hand is in it.
Do you notice one other thing, the indomitable spirit, the unquenchable commitment of these men of God who are delivering the mandate of heaven? Look at this. And they took Paul and "stoned him, and dragged him out of the city, supposing he had been dead" [Acts 14:19], and dumped him in the ditch. It’s not through. And Paul, stood up. And Paul stood up and returned into the city [Acts 14:20], saying to the brethren, "Through much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom of God" [Acts 14:22]. Indomitable, undefeatable, crushed, stoned, dragged out for dead, he rises up and goes back into the city [Acts 14:20]. What would you do with men like that? People like that? Kill them! Got rid of it. Buried them. Put dirt and rocks on the grave, killed and dead and buried. It’s all over. It’s all over. It’s done with, kill, bury, dead, over with! And out of the grave, out of the dust of the ground from the heart of the earth, like a little bud springing up, it lives again. It rises again. It flourishes again. It’s vibrant and viable again. What do you do to kill it? How do you keep it dead? How do you bury it deep enough that it never rises? That’s the Christian faith.
This summer I am going to Romania. And here is the witness of one of those fellow Christians in that communist nation.
With about thirty other Christians, I was in a prison cell in Romania. One day the door was opened and a new prisoner was pushed in. It took a little time to recognize him in the darkness of the cell. When we did recognize him, we were astonished to see not a fellow Christian, but a well-known captain of the secret police who had arrested us and tortured us. We asked him how and why he was now our fellow prisoner.
He told us that upon a day, a soldier on duty had reported to him that a twelve-year-old boy carrying a bouquet of flowers was asking to see him. The captain was curious and allowed the boy to enter. When the boy entered he was very shy. ‘Comrade Captain,’ he said, ‘you are the one who arrested my father and mother. Today is my mother’s birthday, it is always been my habit to buy her a bouquet of flowers on her birthday. But now because of you, I no longer have a mother to make her happy. My mother was a Christian, and she taught me that we must love our enemies and reward evil with good. So I no longer having a mother, I thought these flowers might make the mother of your children happy. Would you please, then, give them to your wife?’
[from If Prison Walls Could Speak, Richard Wurmbrand]
The communist torturer was also flesh and blood. He was a man, and there was a chord in his hard heart that vibrated to the word of truth and burning love. The captain took the boy’s flowers and embraced him with many tears. A process of remorse and conversion began. In his heart he could no longer bear to arrest innocent people. He could no longer inflict torture, and in the end he had arrived with us in prison because he had become a defender of the faith that he once destroyed.
How do you bury the gospel like that?! How do you kill it?! How do you bury it deep enough that it never arises? Mother is dead, father is killed, but a little twelve year old son stands at the door with a bouquet of flowers in his hand. Can’t give them to his mother; she is buried. But to the man who slew her, "These flowers are for the mother of your children." That is the faith that could never die. That’s the apostolic Christian.
It is like that in our lives and in the history of our world. We have many confrontations in this modern age. We face insuperable foes, tides, floods of secularism, the worldliness, the atheism, the heathenism, and now the most implacable foe the Christian religion has ever faced, communism. But I know who wins. I know who is Lord. And He has His own who are faithful unto Him unto death [Revelation 2:10]. And dear God, that we might be enrolled in that number. Lord, put my name down on the side of those who love and worship the Lord Jesus. And Master, if it had to be, if the time were thus to come, grant me grace that I can love Thee and serve Thee unto death. That is apostolic Christianity.
And that is our appeal to you today. If you want to be on the side that triumphs, come with Jesus. If you want to be with the one who is able to raise us from among the dead, come to Jesus. If you want the happiness and the peace and the blessing that defies all difficulty, come with us to the feet of Jesus. And if you would rear your family in the same love of the Lord that that little twelve year old boy learned from his slain mother, you come and be with us, and welcome. We will march to Zion together. We will rear our children together in the faith and nurture and love of the Lord. And if the Lord chooses we will just go to heaven together from this dear place. Come, and welcome.
In the balcony round on this lower floor, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, "Pastor, I have accepted the Lord as my Savior, and here I stand before men and angels. I am bringing my wife and these all are my children. We all are coming today." Or just one somebody you, when you stand up in a moment, stand up walking down that aisle, walking down that stairway. The first step will be the greatest, mightiest step you ever made in your life. God will see you through. Angels will attend you in the way. Come. Do it now. Make it now, on the first note of the first stanza, while we stand and while we sing.
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. A flame, a sword, a challenge
A. The work in the cities(Acts 13:2, 50, 14:4-5, 19)
B. Could this be true?
1. Sweet Word of God kindle violent reaction?
2. Would think it would bring peace
1. It confronted world of idolatry and paganism(1 Kings 21:1-20, Mark 6:18-28, Matthew 10:34-36, 14:4, Luke 12:)
2. It is uncompromising and all-authoritarian
a. Refused to put Jesus in the Pantheon, resulting in Roman persecution
b. A robe without seam; a hammer in the hands of God(Jeremiah 23:28)
3. It brings salvation or condemnation(2 Corinthians 2:16)
II. A supreme commitment and costly devotion
A. Rehearsed all that God had done with them(Acts 14:27)
1. No whining in their tone
2. God had opened the door to the Gentiles(1 Corinthians 16:9)
III. Indomitable spirit
A. Paul having been stoned, rises up and goes back into city(Acts 14:19-22)