The Gospel Dramatized in Two Acts
July 6th, 1980 @ 7:30 PM
THE GOSPEL DRAMATIZED IN TWO ACTS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 11:23‑26
7‑6‑80 7:30 p.m.
We are always so wonderfully blessed by this orchestra and choir. And not only the great throng of us in the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, but the thousands of you who are listening to this hour on KCBI, the radio station, the stereo Sonshine Station of our Center for Biblical Studies—it covers the metroplex—and then on KRLD, the great clear channel station of the Southwest, that covers state after state.
It is a joy for us to welcome you as a fellow worshipper of this service in our dear church. This is the pastor, bringing the message entitled The Gospel Dramatized in Two Acts. It is a message that actually is an exegesis and an exposition of one word in the account of the apostle Paul of the Lord’s Supper.
There are four accounts of the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament. In the Book of Matthew [Matthew 26:26-28], in the Book of Mark [Mark 14:22-25], in the Book of Luke [Luke 22:14-20], and in the first Corinthian letter, Chapter 11, beginning at verse 23. And we’re going to read that out loud together: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. There are many people who would, in their scholarly pursuits, say that this is the first account of the Lord’s Supper. There are actually five “Gospels” in the New Testament: The first four—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—and, the fifth one, the apostle Paul.
Paul says that he received, by direct revelation, the gospel of Christ that he preaches. He says in the first chapter of Galatians he did not learn it from men, nor did he consult with flesh and blood [Galatians 1:15-16], when he began preaching the message of Christ. He says he received it directly from the Lord Himself [Galatians 1:11-12]. And, that’s what he means when he says—as you’re going to read now: “For I have received of the Lord” [1 Corinthians 11:23]—that is, directly from the Lord Himself, not through Simon Peter, not through John, not through James, the Lord’s brother and pastor of the church at Jerusalem, but from the Lord Himself, by direct revelation [1 Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 1:12]. So when we read this, we’re reading a fifth “Gospel,” a different and miraculously marvelous record of the ministry of our Lord.
Now let’s read it out loud together; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26:
For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed took bread;
And when He had given thanks, He brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is My body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of Me.
After the same manner also He took the cup, when He had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in My blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me.
For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till He come.
[1 Corinthians 11:23-26]
Now the word that we’re going to expound tonight is the one word translated here “ye do show” [1 Corinthians 11:26]. It is a translation of one Greek word: kataggellō. And kataggellō means to publicly portray, to publicly display, publicly to proclaim, publicly to dramatize.
The Lord says that as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you publicly dramatize, present the Lord’s death, and you are to do it in the conviction and persuasion that someday, maybe soon, He will come [1 Corinthians 11:26]. That gives rise to the title of the message: The Gospel Dramatized in Two Acts. And it concerns, of course, the truth of the message of Christ as it is held in these two ordinances. And as a dipper holds and shapes the water, so these two ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper hold and shape the truth of the gospel of Christ.
Now let’s begin. Any discussion of the Lord’s Supper, any discussion of baptism, any discussion of the ordinances, always begins in a discussion of salvation. What is it to be saved? Always in the Bible we are led into a saving commitment to Christ, that’s discussed first, and then the ordinances are presented. There’s no exception to that. First will be a discussion of salvation, then will be a presentation of the ordinances.
Let me show you that just for a moment. In the Great Commission, the last verses in the Gospel of Matthew, “Go ye therefore, and first, ye make disciples of all the people; then you baptize them in the name of the triune God; then you teach them the things I have commanded you to observe” [Matthew 28:19-20], one of which would be the Lord’s Supper. But always that first one: first, we are to be saved then we are to be baptized and to take the Lord’s Supper.
The Book of Acts, the acts of the Holy Spirit, the Acts of the Apostles, begins in that same format. On the day of Pentecost, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, preached the gospel of Christ [Acts 2:14-39]. Then he closed “with many words and he did testify and exhort: Save yourselves from this judgment‑bound generation” [Acts 2:40].
All right, having preached the gospel and having explained how to be saved, now look at the ordinances: “Then they that gladly received His word were baptized: that same day there were added to the church three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine . . . and in the breaking of bread” [Acts 2:41, 42]. And in the New Testament, that is always a word that refers to the Lord’s Supper: “in the breaking of bread.” Always that format: first, there is the earnest presentation of the gospel message of salvation [Acts 2:40], then, it is followed by the ordinances [Acts 2:41-42].
Now you will see it illustrated in the letters of the apostle Paul. In the Book of Romans, which is the great doctrinal letter of the New Testament, Paul will begin, in the first chapter of Romans:
For as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.
[Romans 1:15, 16]
That’s the way he will begin, with preaching how to be saved. Then, as I turn the page, he’ll speak in Romans about baptism: “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? [Romans 6:3]. We are buried with Him by baptism into death . . . and we are raised in the likeness of His resurrection to walk in a new life” [Romans 6:4-5]. First will be the presentation of the gospel, then will be the ordinance.
Now he’ll follow the same format in his letter to the church at Corinth.
First of all, he will speak about the power of God to save in the cross of our Lord:
For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. . .
That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
[1 Corinthians 2:2, 5]
That’s the way we’re saved: in the cross of Jesus Christ.
Now after he presents the gospel message, and we’re saved in the trusting of our Lord [Acts 2:14-39], then in Corinthians, he will present the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, the account of which we just read [1 Corinthians 11:23-26]. Now the New Testament will always follow that pattern. There will never be any deviation from it. Always first, there will be a proclamation of the gospel of how we’re saved [Acts 16:31]; then after the word of salvation comes the institution of the two ordinances, baptism [Matthew 28:19], and the Lord’s Supper [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26]; the gospel dramatized in two acts.
Now it is a wonderful thing to realize, when we gather as a church in a service like this, it is a wonderful thing to realize what it is that saves us. It is not the ordinance that saves us, nor anything of our perfection or merit. Our salvation lies completely in the grace [Ephesians 2:8], and mercy [Titus 3:5], and atoning sacrifice of our Lord [Romans 5:11]: in the blood of the cross [1 Peter 1:18-19], in Jesus’ mercy and pity toward us. We are not saved by our goodnesses or our worth or our righteousnesses or our good works, but we are saved in the mercy of the Lord.
It is not our perfection, but it is His perfection that brings righteousness to our souls in the sight of God. [Ephesians 2:8-9] avows: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” We are saved not because of our merit, but because of His merit, which is mediated to us through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
In Titus 3:5-6, the apostle writes:
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Spirit;
Which He has shed abundantly in our hearts through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.
It is as John wrote it in the first chapter of his Gospel, beginning at verse 11:
Our Lord came unto His own, and His own received Him not.
But to as many as received Him, to them gave He the right, the prerogative, the privilege, to become the children of God, even to them who find salvation in His name, by trusting in His name:
Who were born, not of blood, nor the will of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God.
Our salvation is always in Him. And we receive it not by some marvelous and unusual achievement, but we receive it from His gracious hands by the humble means of repentance and trust [Mark 1:14-15]. It isn’t because we are able, say, to buy it, or we’re smart enough to encompass it, or we’re educated to the place where finally we enter academically and brilliantly into the kingdom of God. Always the way of salvation is presented in the Bible in a way that the most untaught and the poorest and the humblest among us can, with assurance, receive all of the riches of the mercies of God in Christ Jesus.
I think of that proud general of the Syrian army who was a leper; his name was Naaman [2 Kings 5:1]. And when Elisha the prophet told him that if he would go down into the muddy Jordan and baptize himself—that’s the Septuagint—dip himself seven times, that his flesh would come again as the flesh of a little child and he’d be cleansed [2 Kings 5:10]. And when Elisha sent his servant to tell the proud Syrian general those words, it says that Naaman exclaimed: “I thought, at least, that he would come out and stand, and with dramatic pyrotechnics call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his place over the leper, and I would be miraculously clean. But to go down into the Jordan River—are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? May I not wash in them and be clean?” And he turned and went away in a rage, insulted [2 Kings 5:11-12].
He was a mighty man, even the Bible says so [2 Kings 5:1], and great in Israel and had never lost a campaign. He had never lost a battle. And while he was driving away, furious, but a leper, the attendant who stood by his side in the chariot, put his hand upon the great man, Naaman, and said, “My master, if the prophet had bid thee do some great and mighty thing, wouldst thou not have done it? If he would have said, ‘Conquer the Parthians,’ would you not have done it? If he would have said, ‘Bring an offering of 500,000,000 talents in gold,’ wouldn’t you have done it? If he would bid thee do some great and mighty thing, would you not have done it? How much rather, then, when he saith unto thee, Wash, and be clean?” [2 Kings 5:13].
And the Book says that Naaman pulled up his chariot, turned it around, and went down into the Jordan valley, and dipped himself seven times in its dirty, muddy waters. And when he came up the seventh time, he looked at himself and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean [2 Kings 5:14].
That’s exactly the way of salvation. It is not by some great and mighty act that we walk into the kingdom of God, proud, with our heads uplifted, and say, “I did it.” But we come into the kingdom of our Lord humbly, doing those two things, asking God to forgive our sins [Luke 24:47], and believing that Jesus can live and keep us in our hearts and to Himself forever [Acts 16:31]. And any man, anywhere, can do that. That’s the gospel.
In Mark 1:15, it says: “Jesus came preaching the gospel. Believe, repent and believe the gospel” [Mark 1:14-15]. That’s the way the Lord began His ministry. That’s what the apostle Paul, said to that repentant jailer who fell on his knees before him in trembling confession: “Believe on the Lord, and thou shall be saved” [Acts 16:30-31]. And that’s the way Paul describes his message of salvation to the Jew, to the Greek, openly and from house to house, preaching repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ [Acts 20:20-21]. That’s the way that we’re saved.
Now let’s follow that with a plain corollary and concomitant. If that is the way I am saved, then I am not saved by purgatory, or by penance, or by ordinances, or by sacraments, or by rituals, or by ceremonies. It is a spiritual translation between me and God. That’s the way I’m saved. It is something of the heart. It is something heavenward.
It is not these elements that cleanse from sin. Jesus alone cleanses us from our sins [1 John 1:7-9]. The whole ninth chapter of the Book of Hebrews concerns the washing away of our sins in the sacrifice and in the blood of our Lord.
“Without the shedding of blood,” he says, “there is no remission of sins” [Hebrews 9:22]. But once at the end of the age did Christ appear to take away sin by the sacrifice of Himself [Hebrews 9:26]. And then he concludes triumphantly: “And to them that look for Him shall He appear the second time apart from sin unto salvation” [Hebrews 9:28].
So we’re not saved by any sacrifice that we could make or any atonement that we could offer, nor are we saved by any ritual that we can keep [Acts 16:31]. We are saved by trusting in the atoning love [Romans 5:11], and mercy and sacrifice of Jesus our Lord [Titus 3:5]. And always, that is first. First, I accept the Lord as my Savior. That’s first, then I keep the ordinances [Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 8:36-38].
And if I’m baptized before I am saved, I’m not baptized. I’ve been dipped in water, but I haven’t been baptized. That’s why, so frequently, you will see people come down this aisle and I call them “second milers.” A young man came this morning like that: “I was made a member of the church before I was saved, but I haven’t been rightly baptized. Since that day that I became a member of the church, I have found the Lord. I’ve given my life to Him in faith and repentance [Mark 1:14-15], and now really I want to be baptized” [Acts 16:30-31]. I call them my second milers. They’ve gone the second mile with our blessed Lord, and that’s what we ought to do. First we are saved; always in the Bible first we are saved, and then we observe the ordinances of baptism [Matthew 28:19], and the Lord’s Supper [Matthew 26:26-28].
Now this word kataggellō, a dramatization of the gospel message of Christ, and we see it in both instances. Both ordinances dramatize how it is that Christ saves us, and it presents that saving gospel message to the world.
There are two ways that the gospel is presented. One: it is addressed to the ear by a witnessing Christian in the pulpit, outside the pulpit—the preacher, the deacon, the communicant, all of us. We witness by the Word [Acts 8:35].
But there is a second way of presenting the gospel: the gospel is also presented to the eye in dramatic form. And it is done in two acts, in these two ordinances. We can witness by the Word. We can also witness by the water. We can witness by our public presentation of the gospel [Romans 6:3-5]. We could also witness by our public participation in the broken bread and the crushed fruit of the vine [1 Corinthians 11:23-26]. And that is the purpose of the ordinances. They are the gospel message presented to the eye, where you see it as well as listen to it from the voice of a witnessing Christian.
The ordinances do not procure; they proclaim. The ordinances are not magic; they rather present a majestic truth. The ordinances do not expiate sin; they exhibit the atoning sacrifice of our Lord. The ordinances dramatize the gospel. That’s what they’re for. That’s what they do. That’s the meaning of their observation.
Now whenever we change the meaning of the ordinance, you’ll always change the form of it, without exception. As the days passed in the story and the history of the Christian church, they came to believe that in the ordinance, you were saved. In the ordinance of baptism, your sins were washed away. And in the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, there was mediated to you the grace of our blessed Lord Jesus.
So immediately, the form of the ordinance was changed. As long as it was the New Testament, upon a confession of faith, we were baptized, buried, and raised with our Lord [Acts 8:36-38]. But when the day came that baptism was taught as being our means of salvation—our sins were washed away in water and we were baptized in order to be rid of the original sin—when that doctrine came to be proclaimed, immediately they changed the form of the ordinance. No longer was it a burial and a resurrection, but there were maybe sick people who could not be well or easily baptized. And then, certainly there were infants that were born into the home. So in order to get rid of the original sin and in order to be sure that we were saved, why, they changed the form of the ordinance into effusion, and pouring, and sprinkling, and it lost all of its purpose and meaning that God gave it.
Same way with the Lord’s Supper. When the Lord’s Supper came to be looked upon as something of magic, and these little old boys went to the church and they saw the officiating minister say, “Hoc est corpus meum”—“This is My body”—“Hoc est corpus meum, hoc est corpus meum,” they went out and did the same thing over mud pies. And whatever they said, “hocus pocus, hocus pocus, hocus pocus,” that’s what it sounded like to them. And they had a magic out there, in which they turn mud pies and whatever fanciful thing that a little boy, little girl would devise. And then they changed the form of it. Instead of it being a simple supper, where we broke bread and drank the cup together [1 Corinthians 11:23-26], it took the form of a wafer dipped in some kind of wine and given to the people and not shared in both elements.
Isn’t that a remarkable thing? What you believe, and the doctrine you teach, will finally find itself in the overt objective presentation of what you do. If we will keep the truth as God has given it, all the other things will follow in beautiful order, just as they were followed by those first Christians.
Now I speak of the infinite wisdom of our Lord in choosing these two ordinances to hold the truth of the gospel. Our Lord says in the twenty-fourth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew that this gospel message is going to be preached throughout the whole world [Matthew 24:14]. The whole world is going to hear it. Now if that is true—and the Lord said it, so it is true—the Lord says this gospel message is going to be preached throughout the whole world. Well, that meant that, from the Aramaic language in which He was speaking, it would be presented in Greek and to the Greek culture, and then in Latin and to the Roman culture, and in Teutonic and the Teutonic culture, and in all of the languages and cultures of the world.
Now how would you keep intact the truth of the gospel message after it had gone through that many translations and interpretations, especially when you don’t know whether the man who is translating it and interpreting it is competent? How is the Lord God going to keep pure and intact and perfect the gospel message of our hope and salvation, when it enters so many different cultures and is interpreted and translated into so many tongues and languages—how did He do it?
Well, the Lord did an infinitely wise thing. As He looked at men, He observed two universal practices. Number one: that all men eat and drink, that’s one. And the second: that all men die and are buried. So the Lord took the gospel message and He clothed them in those two universal acts. Number one: we eat and we drink. And He clothed the gospel message in eating and drinking [Matthew 26:26-28]. Number two: men die and are buried. And He clothed the gospel message in that act of death and burial [Romans 6:3-5].
Now you look at it. As He instituted the Lord’s Supper in the Gospel of Matthew, it says:
As they were eating—eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is My body.
And He took the cup—as they were drinking—and He gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of you, of it;
For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for the remission of sins.
And He built that gospel message of the remission of our sins, of our hope of salvation, in a universal act of eating and drinking [Matthew 26:26-28].
Now the Lord did the same thing in the universal experience of men that they die and are buried:
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death?
Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we should walk in that resurrection in newness of life.
For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection.
Jesus took that universal fact of death and burial and He clothed it with the gospel message: “that He died for our sins according to the Scriptures; He was buried, and the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures” [1 Corinthians 15:3-4]. And in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, Paul says that is the gospel.
So the gospel is in two acts, and Jesus chose these two universal practices and experiences of mankind to clothe the gospel message [Matthew 26:26-28; Romans 6:3-5]. And no matter where the gospel is preached or into whatever language it is translated—in Hottentot, or whatever language those aborigines speak in the heart of Australia, or to the most elite of those brilliant people who study in Oxford and Cambridge and Harvard—wherever in the world the gospel message is brought, there the gospel message is dramatized in two acts. We eat and we drink. “This is His body. This is His blood” [1 Corinthians 11:24-25].
And we are faced with death and burial, and we are buried with our Lord in the likeness of His death, and we are raised in the likeness of His resurrection [Romans 6:3-5]. And as long as those two ordinances are observed, just so long will people find in them the gospel message of Christ, no matter what the language or the culture or the customs of the people.
Now in just a moment that is left me, may I point out one other glorious thing in this dramatization: as the gospel message, the fundamentals of our faith, are dramatized in these two acts of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, so is it the foundation of our hope for the future. The Lord said in Matthew 26:29:
I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom. And when they had sung an hymn, they went out… .
The ordinance closes looking ahead: “I shall some day drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” [Matthew 26:29]. And, it is the same glorious note on which the institution of the Lord’s Supper is described to us by Paul. The Lord said: “For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do kataggellō—you are dramatizing, you are presenting in dramatic form—the Lord’s death till He come—till He come” [1 Corinthians 11:26].
Always, always when we preach the gospel, it always ends on an upbeat. It ends in a triumphant note; never in a dirge, never in darkness and death and the grave. Always the gospel message ends in a note of victory and glory.
There is a radiance in the gospel of Christ that covers every illness, and every sorrow, and every tragedy, and every age, and every death. There is a better day coming. God has provided some better thing for us [Hebrews 11:40].
Always, there is light in the grave. There is brightness beyond the death. There is hope no matter how the tragedy and the abysmal discouragement and frustration around us. Jesus lives [Revelation 1:18]. And because He lives, we have every hope and assurance of a life of victory here and a better and more glorious life of victory in an upper and better world [John 14:19].
So wherever the message is dramatized, such as in the Lord’s Supper [1 Corinthians 11:23-26], we’re to do it until that day when we sit down with Jesus at the marriage supper of the Lamb, and we eat and drink in the kingdom with our Lord [Revelation 19:7-9]. That’s the way Matthew [Matthew 26:29]—or as Luke [Luke 22:16, 18]—or as Paul wrote it: we are to do this until that glorious triumphant intervention of God from heaven [1 Corinthians 11:26]. Or, if we die, in the ordinance of the baptismal service, we are raised. We are resurrected in the likeness of His glorious life [Romans 6:3-5].
That is what it is to be a Christian. I may be crushed now, but I shall rise again. I may be hurt now, but the Lord has a better, more beautiful and more precious day for me [Hebrews 11:40]. I may grow old now, and may die, but there is victory and resurrection beyond the grave [1 Corinthians 15:55-57; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].
And these ordinances always present that. They close in a triumphant and victorious note. And that’s the way we ought to preach the gospel. When I stand here in the pulpit and preach the message of Christ, however life may be, or sinners we may be, or frustrated and lost we may be, there is light and life and hope in Jesus Christ.
So the gospel message always ends in a marvelous invitation:
Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters. Come, eat and drink without money and without price.
Why do you spend money for that which satisfieth not? . . . Come, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.
That’s the gospel message: always with an upbeat, always with a note of victory and always with a merciful and God blessed invitation: “Come. Come” [Revelation 22:17]. Now, may we stand together?
Our Lord in heaven, what a glory shines in the face of Jesus our Lord! “For God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in the face of Jesus Christ to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in Him” [2 Corinthians 4:6], and that glory we have experienced. In sin He is a great forgiver. In the tangled up mess of our life, He is the great unraveler. In the lost of the labyrinth of our days, He is a wonderful guide. In the darkness He is the light. In our poverty He is rich; oh, the grace of God that has been bestowed upon us in His mercy and goodness! And our Lord, we pray that tonight, before we share this beautiful ordinance of glory and hope and assurance and promise [1 Corinthians 11:23-26], that many will come in saving faith to Thee [Romans 10:8-13].
And in a moment prayerfully as we stand and as we wait, somebody you to give himself to Jesus, “Tonight, I take the Lord as my Savior” [Ephesians 2:8]. A family you, to come into the fellowship of our dear church; a couple you, deciding for Christ; or anybody you, to whom the Holy Spirit has made appeal, in a moment when we sing our hymn of invitation, down this stairway, down this aisle, “Pastor, the Lord has spoken to me tonight, and I am answering with my life. I will trust Him.” Would you? In obedience to the great invitation would you confess Him publicly and openly, maybe follow Him in baptism? [Matthew 3:13-17]. As God shall press the appeal to your heart, answer with your life. And our Lord, in that confidence and faith may we commit our souls and our days and our lives, in Thy loving care and in Thy saving name, amen [Romans 10:8-13].
Our ministers will be here, our deacons will be here, in the love and prayers of all of our people. We are here praying that God will send you to us tonight. So while we wait and while we sing, into that aisle and down to the front, “Here I am, pastor, and here I come.” Do it now, while we sing.