March 12th, 1978 @ 8:15 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-12-78 8:15 a.m.
On the radio of the city of Dallas and on the radio of our Bible Institute, you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Apostolic Christianity. It is an exposition of the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Acts. In our preaching through this record of the Holy Spirit, we concluded last Sunday morning with chapter 13 [Acts 13:48-50]. And today we begin with chapter 14, and just as a background for the exposition of the whole chapter, I read verse 27, Acts 14:27: “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.”
Now as I begin to expound the Word of the Lord, we are to remember I am not talking about modern Christianity; I am not talking about European Christianity; we are not preaching about American Christianity. The sermon concerns apostolic Christianity, the kind of a faith that was delivered to the world under the hands of the apostles; apostolic Christianity. What was it, and what was it like? How did it do? How did it move? How did it sound? How did it seem? In what did it result? Apostolic Christianity: what is it?
My first observation is apostolic Christianity was a flame and a fire. It was a sword and a tumult. It was a challenge and a confrontation. Just look at the Word of the Lord. God calls these men, specifically—outlined, stated, delineated, God called them “for the work whereunto I have sent thee—assigned thee” [Acts 13:2]. This is God’s work. It is mandated from heaven. So these men, emissaries from heaven with the word of the living God in their souls, they go forth, sent by the Holy Spirit of the Lord, and the record of that missionary journey begins in Acts 13 [Acts 13:1-4].
Well, how does it end? It ends in a storm. It ends in a tumult. It ends in a persecution. It ends in an expelling out of the city and from the whole country. It says here, “The chief men of the city and the honorable women raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas and expelled them out of their coasts” [Acts 13:50]. That’s how it ended in Pisidia, Antioch.
So, they fled to Iconium and they preached the gospel of the Lord God in Iconium [Acts 14:1]. And how did it end there? Verse 4: “The multitude of the city was divided” [Acts 14:4]. Verse 5: “And they made an assault upon them, both Gentiles and Jews [Acts 14:5]. They used them despitefully, hubrizō, contemptuously. And they proposed to stone them [Acts 14:5]. That’s the way it ended in Iconium. Then they fled to Lystra [Acts 14:6]. And how did it end in Lystra? “And they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, dumped him in a ditch, supposing he had been dead” [Acts 14:19].
Now remember, we’re talking apostolic Christianity—not this modern stuff, bland and innocuous—apostolic Christianity; are you not surprised at this? Does that not shock you? Could such a thing be true, that the sweet Word of God and the precious preaching of the love of Jesus should ensue in division, and tumult, and stormy persecution, and stoning, and blood, and death? Are you not surprised? It seemed to me anyone would be. Surely, surely, the sweet message from heaven will bring sweet peace upon the earth. Surely, surely, the seal of its divinity will be found in the gathering together of the people in eternal quiet and rest.
And it’s just the opposite: there’s no peace, there’s no rest, there’s no quiet. There is division in the town and in the city [Acts 13:50, 14:5, 19, 22]. There is tumult; there is persecution. There is stoning, there is blood, there is death [Acts 14:5]; how could such a thing be? Remember, we’re talking apostolic Christianity—we’re talking about this Christianity of the Bible. How could such a thing be, that the gospel message of Christ could ensue, could result in such blood and tumult and persecution? Well, the answer to me is very obvious as I read this Book.
First of all, apostolic Christianity was a confrontation with and a challenge to evil, and wickedness, and paganism, and heathenism, and wrong, wherever it was found. It was fearless and courageous. That has always been the way of God from the beginning. And anywhere you’ll find the moving, calling, mandating Spirit of the Lord, that’s what you will find. It isn’t peculiar in the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Acts or the thirteenth chapter; that has been the way of God through the ages and through the centuries. For example, in the Old Testament, Ahab says to Naboth, “The little garden you have next to my palace, I’d love to have it on which to raise roses, petunias, all kinds of pretty plants” [1 Kings 21:2]. And Naboth replies, “According to the word of God, I cannot sell the inheritance of my fathers; God has allotted it and it is to be in the possession of the family forever. I cannot do it.” [1 Kings 21:3; Numbers 36:7].
So Ahab sulks; he goes to bed, he won’t eat, he turns his face to the wall [1 Kings 21:4], and Jezebel says, “Why, why don’t you eat? Why are you lying in bed? Why is your face to the wall?” And he says, “I want that vineyard of Naboth next to our palace, and he won’t give it to me.” And she says, “I’ll get it for you.” So they suborn men; they hire witnesses. And they raise Naboth on high, and the witnesses declare that he blasphemed God and is a traitor to the king, and they take him out and stone him to death! [1 Kings 21:5-14]. And Jezebel comes and says to Ahab, “Arise, possess. Naboth is dead and not alive. Take the vineyard. It’s yours” [1 Kings 21:15]. And so in gladness, Ahab arises up and he goes into the vineyard of Naboth to possess it [1 Kings 21:4-16].
Now you look: “But God … .” And that’s always a concluding paragraph and sentence, “But God … .” The Lord said to Elijah, “Arise up and meet Ahab; he’s in the vineyard of Naboth. And when Ahab rises to possess and enters the vineyard of Naboth, there stands the prophet of God, Elijah! [1 Kings 21:17-18]. And when Ahab sees him, he says, “Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?” and Elijah says, “In the place, in the place that the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall the dogs lick up thy blood” [1 Kings 21:19]. That’s God!
It’s no different, it’s no different in the New Testament. And John the Baptist stands before Herod Antipas, who has stolen away and enticed away and wooed away his brother’s wife 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 6:17-18]. That’s God. It was the Lord Himself who said, “I have not come to send peace on the earth, but a sword” [Luke 12:49]. “I have come to send fire; and what if it already be kindled? [Matthew 10:34]. That’s the Lord. That’s apostolic Christianity. It confronts evil, and wrong, and heathenism, and paganism, and atheism, fearlessly and courageously all over the world.
I have a young fellow here in this church. He’s dedicated to the Lord. He’s a fine student. And there in a university, his professor palavering and mouthing words of blasphemy, the student stood up and challenged the professor: “What you say is not true.” The professor flunked him; that’s all right. That’s God. And wherever true apostolic Christianity is found, there will you find it courageously confronting paganism, and heathenism, and blasphemy, and wrong, and wickedness, and iniquity, atheism; that’s what apostolic Christianity is. How is it that it creates confrontation and tumult? It is, again, a non-compromising faith; it is all-inclusive and all-authoritarian. Apostolic Christianity never says, “Now I’ll give a little and I’ll take a little”; never. It is all-in-all and all-inclusive, and there’s no room for any other god or any other faith. It is truth itself.
I’m sure some of you have considered why it is that Rome persecuted the Christian faith. If you have studied carefully, the Roman Empire was the most lenient and sympathetic of all of the empires which ever was, who ever lived. There’s never been any empire, anytime, that was ever more gracious or considerate or sympathetic or thoughtful than the Roman Empire. For example, the Attalid kings gave the Pergamum Empire, the Pergamum Kingdom, to Rome; gave it to them. We have a wrong idea sometimes about parts of the Roman Empire. It was benevolent in the extreme. Now it was an empire; it was a conquering force. It was under the iron hand of the Caesars, and it was held by the Roman legionnaire. But when the Roman Empire conquered a province, took over a nation, they were most gracious in the administration of the government of the province. And whatever the people wanted to do, whatever gods they pleased to worship, the Roman Empire was very lenient, and sympathetic, and gracious, and kind, and understanding in all of the mores, and habits, and customs, and religions of the provinces that they conquered. That was the Roman Empire.
Then why under heaven did the Roman Empire persecute the Christian? Why? Well, the answer is very obvious. Agrippa, the friend of Julius Caesar, for example, had built in Rome—and you can go look at it now; it’s the best preserved, beautiful building of antiquity—he built the Pantheon. Pantheon, where all gods are worshiped, the Pantheon: one of the most beautiful buildings ever constructed, it’s there today perfectly preserved. You can go in there and look at it. The ceiling of that Pantheon has been copied all over the world. I’ve seen it all over the world; beautiful and effective, those squares, squares, squares, indented, indented, indented. That was a gracious gesture on the part of the Roman Empire. They would conquer Athens, and Athens worshiped Athena. So in the Pantheon, there is a beautiful niche for Athena the god of the Athenians.
They would conquer Egypt, and Egypt worshiped Isis and Osiris: and there in the Pantheon, beautiful arrangement, beautiful niche for Isis and Osiris. And as they conquered every province, their god would be honored and worshiped in Rome, brought into the Pantheon; a niche for all of those gods. And when the gospel of Christ was preached, the Romans were very gracious. “Fine, you worship Jesus; you see, right here by Jupiter and right next to Venus, there we will have a niche for Jesus in the Pantheon of the imperial city of Rome”; very gracious, very nice. The only thing is, the Christian apostle said, “Not by the grace and name of God will you put Jesus by any Jupiter, or any Jove, or any Venus, or any Isis, or any Osiris! He is Lord alone!” And that is why the Roman Empire persecuted the Christians. You don’t stitch the Christian faith to some old dirty rag of paganism, or heathenism, or atheism. Christianity is a seamless robe. You don’t add to it, you don’t take away from it, and you don’t rend it; it is woven one throughout.
Christianity, the apostolic faith; Christianity is like a hammer in the hand of an almighty and omnipotent God. Did He not say so? Did the Lord not say, “My word is like a fire, and it is like a hammer that breaketh the stone in pieces”? [Jeremiah 23:29] Even Daniel said, “I saw it. A stone cut without hands and it struck the image on its feet, and scattered it to the earth. And it filled the whole world” [Daniel 2:34-35]. That’s Christianity from horizon to horizon, filling all space and all time, because the faith is all truth; no error in it.
Why this persecution? Why this storm? What is there about Christianity that leads to it apostolic Christianity? Because as a mandate of God, and as a revealed truth of the Lord, and as in opposition to the sin and evil of the world, it always results in one of two things, always. It results in salvation or damnation; it results in somebody saved or somebody slain; one or the other, always. Paul described it like this: “Our gospel message is a sweet savor. It is the savor of death unto death for those who reject. It is the savor of life unto life to those who believe” [2 Corinthians 2:15-16].
The Christian faith always is one of two things. It builds a heaven, high and glorious, and fills it with the life of the presence of God, or else it digs a hell and casts into it all wickedness, and all disobedience, and all rejection, and all unbelief. It’s one or the other—always will be, always has been—and it is that today, if it is apostolic.
What kind of a faith is this apostolic Christianity? Let us look at it: “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].
Not only is the apostolic faith a storm and a furor, not only is it a flame and a fire, and not only does it confront and challenge the heathenism and paganism of the world, but it also is a supreme commitment to the Lord. It is a costly and exhausting devotion. Will you look at it with me? “And they rehearsed all that God had done with them.” Now wait a minute, “And they rehearsed all that God had done with them” [Acts 14:27]. Why, my brother! I have just read here about persecution, “And the multitude of the city divided,” [Acts 14:4]. And I’ve just read here about assault [Acts 14:5]. And I’ve just read here about hubrizo: contempt and despicable treatment [Acts 14:5]. And I’ve just read here about stoning and dragging out for dead [Acts 14:5-6]. That’s what I read! But it says here in the Book, “When they were come and gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them…God had done with them” [Acts 14:27]. I have got to revise my ideas of the faith. “And they rehearsed all that God had done with them,” God! So these providences that overwhelm us, and these confrontations that we face, he says they’re from God!
What’s the matter with me? I need to repent and to change ninety-nine percent of my attitudes! So they gathered the church together and in the assembly, they put their hands on their heads and they wailed, saying, “All the things we have suffered, all the heartaches we have endured, all the troubles that have flooded us…” Why, they never referred to it. “They rehearsed to them all the things that God had done with them” [Acts 14:27]. And did you know? I’m not the only that needs to repent. How many times do we meet, and do we talk, and do we speak, and do we say, “Oh, the troubles that we have! Oh, the disadvantages under which we labor! Oh, the discouragements and the trials! Oh, the heaviness of this task! Oh, the power of the devil and of evil, oh! Oh!”
My brother, ultimately in apostolic Christianity, the whole thing is of God. And the Lord is teaching us and He is trying us and He is placing us in the oven, in the burning, that He might take out of us the dross of our souls and leave us pure in the sight and work of God. No complaining, no finding fault, no building up as though omnipotent these who oppose us; no! God is in it all. And we accept it from God’s hands: every handicap, every problem, every stoning, every storming, every confrontation, every disadvantage, every discouragement. It just makes us more devoted to the Lord God.
I’m just saying what’s in the Book; I don’t invent this. “They rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how He had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles” [Acts 14:27]. Dear me! Look at that: “and how He had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles” [Acts 14:27]. Dear me! He didn’t stand before the church, giving the report of his first missionary journey, and he says, “The way is very difficult. It’s hard!” He didn’t say that. He stands before the church, giving his first missionary report, and he says, “The way is open. It’s open.” Open? That’s what he says. He says, “The way is open. God hath opened a door to the Gentiles” [Acts 14:27]. He didn’t stand up there and report, “You go to the Gentiles, and you know what? You go to the Gentiles, and they’ll stone you. They’ll persecute you. They will treat you contemptuously. They would expel you and throw you out!” He didn’t say that. He makes his report and says, “For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries” [1 Corinthians 16:9]
Oh, unbeatable! And it was that kind of a shocking, sacred enthusiasm that turned the world upside-down or right-side-up. And Christianity, without it—without the persuasion that God is in it, and that the Lord is going to work with us, and He is going to give us victory, and the door is opened by His own mighty, omnipotent hand—Christianity without that is like a Vesuvius without fire; it’s like a Niagara without water; it’s like a firmament without the sun. And the faith becomes a speculation and not the truth. God is in every part of what we’re doing, and the opposition itself is but an open door to confront the world with the gospel of the Son of God.
I must hasten. May I point out one other thing? Apostolic Christianity is indomitable, it is unbeatable, it is undefeatable. Beat down, and stoned, and dragged out for dead, it rises and goes back into the city. Isn’t that what it says? “And they took Paul and stoned him and drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead” [Acts 14:19]. And when he finally came to, he escaped for his life, and ran away, and fled away—is that what it says? No. It says, “He got up. He stood up and came up. He rose up and went back into the city” [Acts 14:20], saying—look down here in verse 22—he went back into the city, saying to the brethren, “My brethren, we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” [Acts 14:22]. What are you going to do with a man like that, and what are you going to do with a faith like that? Beat, stoned, dragged out of the city and dumped for dead [Acts 14:19], and the fellow gets up, rises up and just announces, “It’s through much heartache, and persecution, and trouble, and trial, and tribulation, that we enter the kingdom of God” [Acts 14:22]. And there he is again. There he is again.
That is the Christian faith. You kill it: “I’ve got rid of it. I’ve killed it.” You bury it; it’s got rocks and stones and dirt on it; buried the faith. You have slain it; it’s all over now; it’s done: “We’ve slain it, killed it, buried it.” And out of the dust of the ground, and out of the depths of the grave, and out of the heart of the earth like a little plant in the springtime, there it is bursting from the very grave in which it has been buried. And it rises again, and it rises again, and it rises again, and what do you do? How do you kill it? How do you bury it when it rises again?
May I close? This is a Romanian—I’m going to Romania this summer, this is why I noticed it so much:
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 us a little time to recognize him in the darkness of the cell. When we did recognize him, we were amazed 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 told us that one day a soldier on duty 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 has always been my habit to buy her a bouquet of flowers on her birthday. But now because of you, I have no mother to make happy. My mother was a Christian, and she taught me that we must love our enemies and reward evil with good. As I no longer have a mother, I thought these flowers might make the mother of your children happy. Could you please give them to your wife?”
Now, he says, the communist torturer is also a human being, he’s a man of flesh and blood, and there was a chord in his heart that still vibrated at the Word of truth and burning love.
The captain took the boy’s flowers, and he embraced him with many tears, and in the process of remorse and conversion, he could no longer bear to arrest those 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.
[from If Prison Walls Could Speak, Richard Wurmbrand]
How do you bury that? How do you kill that?
“I’ve got it dead. I’ve slain it. It’s in the grave. It’s in the ground.” But it rises again, maybe even in the form of a little twelve-year old boy whose father and mother they have slain. That is the faith! That is apostolic Christianity; and would God that it was the faith that we have embraced, given our souls and lives to, today.
We must sing our hymn of appeal. And if God has spoken to your heart; “By the side of that crucified Lord, I also take my stand, walking in the train of these martyrs who loved Jesus unto death, I also want to be enrolled. Today, I take Jesus as my Savior, and before men and angels, unashamed, I am confessing my faith in Him” [Romans 10:9-10]. “I want to come into the church, and pastor, I’m bringing my whole family. This is my wife and these are our children, and we are all coming today. This is God’s call for us, and we’re answering with our lives.”
In the balcony round, you; on this lower floor, you; on the first note of the first stanza, come. Make the decision now in your heart, and when you stand up, stand up walking down that stairway or walking down this aisle: “Here I am, pastor, I give you my hand. I have given my soul to God” [Ephesians 2:8]. Do it. Make that decision. Come now, while we stand and while we sing.