What God Can Do Through A Woman (Mary Crowley special)
April 16th, 1978
WHAT GOD CAN DO THROUGH A WOMAN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-16-78 5:00 p.m.
One of the most remarkable things I have ever found in preaching in this dear church, preaching through the Bible – for seventeen years and eight months I preached through the Bible starting at Genesis, concluding at the benedictory prayer in the Revelation. In those years I learned something that has blessed me and continuing through today, having finished the Bible, going through it, I now preach through books in the Bible that particularly bless my heart. Billy Graham just now said, "I am so grateful that you published the sermons that you preached through Isaiah." He said, "I have read it twice and it has meant so much to me, for which I am deeply grateful." So that is what I am doing now. Having preached through the Bible, I choose certain books, and I preach through those books.
I am preaching now through the Book of Acts. And to my astonishment, when time comes for a special and a particular subject or topic to be presented, I find it just before me. So in preaching through the Book of Acts, I am in chapter 16 and beginning at verse 6 through 15, the title of the sermon is What God Can Do Through a Woman.
Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia,
They were come to Mysia, assayed to go to Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not.
And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas.
– old Troy –
And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us.
And after he had seen the vision, immediately we
– there Dr. Luke joins the party –
immediately we endeavored to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.
Therefore loosing from Troas, we came with a straight course to Samothracia, and the next day to Neapolis;
And from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony: and we were in that city abiding certain days.
And on the Sabbath we went out of the city by a riverside, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither.
And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God, heard us – who was a proselyte, the Greek would say – whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.
And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.
And at the end of the chapter, the last thing Paul did, and the trio with him – Timothy, Dr. Luke, and Silas – they went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia and bid her and them goodbye. There are so many high watermarks in the Book of Acts until it seems almost trite to say that we stand at a great continental divide in this sixteenth chapter, but surely we do.
The whole turning point of history is found in what the Holy Spirit led Paul to do in the passage that I have just read. It was Paul’s intent of heart to turn eastward, Mysia, Asia, Bithynia toward the east, toward the rising of the sun. But the Holy Spirit forbade him and instead guided Paul to the west – always to the west – and finally to the edge of the sea, and there in a vision sent him into Macedonia.
Had the Holy Spirit not done that and Paul had turned east and east and east, today it would have been Asia and China and India who would have been sending missionaries to the savages of Europe and America. Quietly, unannouncedly, unobtrusively, these men come finally to Philippi, and it was an event greater than any of the conquests of Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. How unusual is the hand of God in human history!
So the gospel message is turned westward, and westward, and westward, and finally to us, here in America. The city to which they come is called a colony. That is, Augustus Caesar gave his soldiers a prize and a gift after their days of warfare and settled them on the Thracian frontier, both for the defense of the empire and as an emolument for their own bravery. And they lived together and built this beautiful little Roman city called Philippi. They had their own government; they were free from taxes. It was a little colony of Rome itself.
Now, in a city like that you would not expect a Jewish population. There was none here. Had there been a few Jews, you’d have had a synagogue. But there were none or practically none. The city was built on the side of a little river; the contour of the wall followed the bank of the river. And in the town, in the beautiful little Roman colony of Philippi, there was a group of women apparently won to a Judaic faith by a fellow businesswoman. And they would gather by the river there for lustrations and ablutions that go along with ancient Jewish ceremony.
So they are there on the Sabbath day worshiping God, praying on the Sabbath day. "But you don’t understand, pastor, I can worship God at home. I can read my Bible at home. I can pray at home. I don’t need to go to church." I know and I realize and I understand. But there is also public prayer, as well as private prayer. There’s also the public reading of the Word of God, as well as private reading of the Word of God. There’s also public worship, as well as private worship. The church is called, in the Bible, a koinonia, "a community"; translated in this King James Version "a fellowship; a communion." And these who love God have that longing in their hearts to be together, to pray together, to sing together, to read the Bible together, to worship together, to listen together to an exposition of the living Word of our living Lord. There’s not a more beautiful passage in the Bible than the third chapter of Malachi:
Then they that loved the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and caused the book of remembrance to be written before Him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name.
And they shall be Mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up My jewels; and I will spare them, as a father spareth his own children that love him.
"I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go up to the house of the Lord" [Psalm 122:1]. On the Sabbath day Lydia and these faithful women are there praying and worshiping God [Acts 16:15].
"But you don’t understand, pastor. The Sabbath day, the Christian Sabbath day, the Lord’s Day, our Sunday’s day, that’s the day for my recreation. That’s the day I take off and go to the lake; I go to the show; I entertain; it’s a day of outing for me and my family." Well, I understand again, but at the same time I have a soul on the inside of this physical frame, a heart. And my heart needs regenerating and reviving as well as my physical frame. An old philosopher said, "If I had ten cents – if I could use today’s language in his – if I had ten cents, with five cents I would buy a loaf of bread to feed my body, and with five cents I would buy a rose to feed my soul."
Life is more than just the materiality’s that we see in this world. Life also is something beautiful, maybe something to put on the wall, maybe something to put on your hand, maybe something with which to adorn your heart. And this Godly woman is there with her friends in worship by the riverside on the Sabbath day. And thus it was that the apostle came to meet Lydia, a seller of purple, a seller of piece goods.
Her name is Lydia and Thyatira, the city from which she comes, is a part of the ancient kingdom of Croesus, Lydia. Even in Homer’s time, it was famous for its fabrics. And we find Lydia a thousand years later still selling – a businesswoman – still selling dyed piece goods. She is a proselyte; she is a convert to the true faith. That is she has given up pagan gods, and pagan morality, and pagan idolatry, and has embraced the moral law of a Mosaic legislation. And she is there on the riverside on the Sabbath day worshiping that one true Jehovah God [Acts 16:13-14]. She is placing the unseen above the seen, the temporal now is in the past. Her heart is facing the eternities of God. And her bowing, humble worship with those fellow businesswomen is on the Sabbath day – gathered together in a little circle, apparently – and a visitor comes. The great and mighty apostle Paul is standing in their midst.
What do you think of that? There appeared to Paul in the night a vision, a man of Macedonia praying him, saying, "Come over into Macedonia and help us" [Acts 16:19]. What do you think of that? Could you imagine? I suppose it is imaginable; the apostle Paul, having seen that vision of a man in Macedonia calling him to come over for to preach the gospel unto them, and in obedience to that vision, he turns aside from the eastern part of this world, and turning westward, goes to Macedonia in order to deliver the message of God to a man. And when he arrives, it’s not a man; it’s a woman, and he preaches the gospel message to a woman and her friends. Maybe we could imagine the disappointment of the apostle. "God sent me over here to preach to a man. And it’s a man’s gospel, they say. And it’s a man’s message, they say."
I have been this last week lecturing in a great seminary in another denomination, in a far off place. And half a dozen times – nay, a dozen times – did the professors and the students say to me, "Do you have women on your staff, women on your staff?"
I say, "Yes. Two-thirds of my staff is made up of dedicated, consecrated women."
"Don’t you think that is a violation of the injunction of the Holy Scriptures?"
"No! No! I could not say in syllable or in sentence the assignment of the woman in the house of God and what she has meant to the faith of the Lord."
Could I begin with a Miriam, with a Deborah, with a Ruth, with an Abigail who guided King David into such wisdom, to Elizabeth, to Anna, to Mary, to Phoebe, to Priscilla, a thousand times would Christianity gone under had it not been for the woman.
He sees in a vision a man of Macedonia calling him, and when he arrives it’s a woman; it’s a woman. You have a same beautiful story in the life of our Lord, speaking to a woman by the well, and when the disciples came they were amazed that He was talking to a woman [John 4:7-27]. That laid the foundation for the great Samaritan revival in the eighth chapter of this book [Acts 8:5-25]. And Paul, answering God’s call, brings the message to a woman and Western culture, and Western civilization, and Western evangelization, and Western Christianization began in a woman – Lydia – and those faithful women who had gathered by her side [Acts 16:13-15,40].
I can imagine some of the people strolling by and looking over there. That little circle of women around Lydia, but Paul was there, God the Father was there, God the Son was there, God the Holy Spirit was there, the delivered message of the Lord was there. And the Lord began the greatest work the world has ever known in that little company of Lydia and those faithful women.
Then the Book says, as Paul spoke to the woman, the Lord opened Lydia’s heart, and she attended unto those things which were spoken of Paul. Sweet people, that is the dearest thing that ever happens in anyone’s life. And it’s the most precious thing that I’ve ever seen in my own ministry: somebody’s heart, who is opened God-ward and heavenward and Christ-ward.
I live in that kind of a world. Constantly, do I have opportunity to speak to women, to their husbands, to their children. And they look at me with such eager faces. And their hearts are so open, and their spirits and souls are so willingly hungry as I explain to them the way of salvation, as I open God’s Word and they respond with their lives. The Lord opened her heart and she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. "Faith cometh by hearing, and to hearing the word of God" [Romans 10:17]. "Hear," cried Isaiah, "and your soul will live" [Isaiah 55:3].
And to open ones heart toward heaven, "Lord, Lord, speak to me as You spoke to Lydia. Speak to my heart, Lord. May Thy holy will be plainly vouchsafe to me. May God open doors into which I am to enter. And may the Lord guide me with unerring and heavenly wisdom." God will answer a prayer like that. And when Lydia opened her heart, she became a Christian, and when she opened her home, it became a church [Acts 16:14-15,20]. And when she opened her life, it became a shrine of worship and love and adoration. And this is God’s call to me.
Calvin, John Calvin, had a coat of arms, and on it was this: a hand lifting up a burning heart to God. And that’s my prayer for us. My heart, Lord, open, dedicated, given unto Thee. Speak, Lord; I’m listening. Guide me, Lord; I am following. Bless me, Lord; I have dedicated to Thee my heart and my life.
May we bow our heads? Precious Savior, if in the conversion of one woman, the whole evangelization and Christianization of the Western world began, if God did that through one woman, heavenly Father, what could God do with the throng of dedicated Christian women who are here in divine presence this solemn evening hour? If it was pagan then and needed the gospel message of Christ to save it, Lord, what is this Western world today needing? The same saving message to deliver it.
Please God, as they gather in these great groups, giving themselves to a marvelous assignment of making homes and making houses pretty and beautiful in which the family can live and rejoice together, may they also, Lord, have that something "other," speaking about a beautiful ornament, a beautiful embellishment. Give them also opportunity to say a beautiful word about Jesus.
And for Mary, and for the family, and for these days of convocation, and for their great outpourings of blessing with Billy Graham and all that they do, Lord, in these days, may there ever be that undertone that our first assignment is to bring Christ, to bring God into the family. And for that dedication and love and grace, we shall love Thee and thank Thee for what they mean to God’s kingdom and to the saving of America through Christ our Lord. Amen.
In a moment we shall have our benediction. In our church service we always press an appeal for Jesus, to give your heart to the Lord, to answer God’s call with your life. I hardly know how to close this beautiful and precious moment with you this solemn evening hour. Could I do it like this? At seven o’clock, at the hour at seven o’clock, when the message is delivered, we shall be praying in the extending of that appeal, to take Jesus as Savior, to give your life to the Lord. And if God has spoken to you and you feel that in your soul, "God has called me," if you could be present at the hour this evening at seven and answer with your life, "I feel God has called me, and here I am. Lord, bless the dedication that I make to Thee" – and God be good to you. You have a thousand opportunities that some of the rest of us will never have, open doors that the Lord has given you, and He will bless you aboundingly, if you will say that word in love, in truth, and in the grace of God.
CAN DO THROUGH A WOMAN
I. A turning point in all history
A. Paul seeking to turn
eastward, the Holy Spirit guides him westward
B. Philippi a Roman
colony, built along small stream
enough Jews there to have a synagogue
II. These faithful women meet on the
A. Some say "I don’t
need to go to church"
1. There is
private prayer and worship
2. There is also
public prayer and worship
is a communion, fellowship – koinonia(Malachi
3:16-17, Psalm 122:1)
A. A Lydian – Thyatira
a part of the Lydian kingdom
B. A seller of purple
C. A proselyte of the
IV. Paul and the man of Macedonia(Acts 16:9)
A. Looking for a man,
finds a woman – is he disappointed?
1. No, this is
God’s appointed work
B. Jesus and the
Samaritan woman by the well
Christianization began in a woman, Lydia
Lord opened her heart, and she attended unto the things spoken by Paul (Acts 16:14, Romans 10:17, Isaiah 55:3)