THE CHURCH TRIUMPHANT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-13-81 10:50 a.m.
And welcome the uncounted multitudes of you who are listening to this hour on radio and watching it on television. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Church Triumphant.
In your Bible, turn to two books, one of them the Book of Ephesians, chapter 5, and the other the Book of Isaiah, chapter 60. The Book of Ephesians, chapter 5, verse 14, Ephesians 5:14:
Wherefore God saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ, epiphausei—translated in the King James Version, “Christ shall give thee light.” Epi means upon; phos is the word for “light” in Greek, and this is a verbal form of it. Epiphausei, literally, “Christ shall shine upon you.”
Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall shine upon you.
Now, Isaiah, chapter 60, verse 1. Isaiah 60:1: “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.” God always moves and God always speaks in the context of victory and triumph. In no other context does He ever live, does He ever move, does He ever speak. That is a remarkable thing!
“Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee” [Isaiah 60:1]. Spoken to slaves in the captivity of Babylon! And when they returned to Judah, there were something like forty-two thousand stragglers, out of hundreds of thousands that were taken away [Ezra 2:1:64; Nehemiah7:66]. Yet the Lord addresses them in triumph: “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee”—to slaves in Babylon [Isaiah 60:1].
Or look again how the Lord will speak in terms of victory and triumph. In the Book of Judges the Angel of the Lord appeared unto Gideon and said, “The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor” [Judges 6:12]. The Midianites had covered the earth like locusts, and Gideon, like a craven coward, was in a crevice of the rocks. There with a few wisps of wheat, beating out some grains to keep away starvation [Judges 6:11]. Yet, the Lord addresses him as “Gideon, thou mighty man of valor” [Judges 6:12]. That’s how God sees us, triumphant, mighty.
Or take again that tremendous and meaningful Great Commission that concludes the life of our Lord. The evangelization and the discipling of all the nations of the earth was delivered to eleven humble peasant men [Matthew 28:16-20].
Or once again, in the nineteenth, the twentieth, the twenty-first, and the twenty-second chapters of the Apocalypse, the church is presented as triumphant, victorious! [Revelation 19:1-22:21]. Yet when that Revelation was given to the sainted apostle John [Revelation 1:1-2], the church saw its members fed to the lions and burned at the stake!
But God always moves, speaks in a context of victory and triumph. How does He do that? Without exception, here in the revealed Word of God, He is presented in His plan and in His program of victory as a duality; always. Like a coin, it has to have two sides, never one. So the plan and the program and the purpose of God always reaching toward that victory; there is a duality in it. There are two parts to it. God has a part and we have a part. And there’s never any deviation from that duality—what God does and what He enables to do.
Now let’s look at this text in Ephesians 5:14: “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall shine upon thee.” Even Paul says that it is God alone who can raise a corpse. How can a dead man raise himself? In the second chapter of this Book of Ephesians, the apostle writes: “You hath God quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins” [Ephesians 2:1]. Verse 4: “But God, who is rich in mercy, for the great love wherewith He loved us, when we were dead, God hath quickened us . . . and hath raised us up” [Ephesians 2:4-6].
Now that’s what he writes in Ephesians chapter 2. When I read my text in Ephesians 5:14, God saith, “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall shine upon thee.” There the dead is to raise himself. Isn’t that remarkable? In the second chapter of this encyclical, it is God who raises the dead [Ephesians 2:4-6], and in my text in the fifth chapter, it is the dead man who is called to raise himself [Ephesians 5:14].
That duality in the Christian faith is ever present. You see it in Christ Himself, a duality, a two-ness. He is God as if He were only God [John 1:1]. He is also man as if He is only man [John 1:14]. You see it in our salvation. Atoning grace washes our sins away [Ephesians 1:7], but I must receive and accept the favor of God [Romans 10:9-13]. And you see it in our work. God must bless, but I must strive. I must strive. In all the revealed Scriptures, there is never any exception or deviation from that duality. It is God and it is we, working together.
For example, the pastor of the church in Jerusalem, James the Lord’s brother, the leader of the whole Christian world in the first Christian century, James wrote in the fifth chapter of his epistle, “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the pastors of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil” [James 5:14].
Prayer and means. Why the oil? As with that poor victim of a robber on the way to Jericho, when the good Samaritan found him, he poured over his wounds oil and wine [Luke 10:34]. The alcohol is an antiseptic. Prayer and means.
Why don’t you just pray? Why, my brother, it was God who invented penicillin! We just now discovered it. It is God who gives these pharmaceutical medicines to help us get well. It is God that guides the hands of the genius of a surgeon and heals the wound. Prayer and means. Prayer and the dedicated doctor—both of them.
When I was in the hospital, our beloved physician, Dr. Bagwell, who sits by me here on the platform—each time he would come to see me, he would take my hand and pray. It was half of the healing. Both! Dear God, bless us with strength and health, and then the means God has given us in the physician, in the pharmacist, in the hospital; the two always go together. In our work, and in our service before the Lord, always it is both our striving and God’s blessing.
Do you remember the two little children who were delaying, playing going to school? And they heard the bell ring. And the little sister said to her little brother, “Oh, little brother, we’re going to be late. Let’s kneel here and pray that God won’t make us late.” And the little brother said, “Little sister, take my hand and let’s run as fast as we can and pray as we run.” It’s two. Always that duality. God blesses and we strive and we move and we work—the two together.
A man prays, “O Lord, give me a house for my home.” And he says ‘amen’ with a hammer and a saw or a savings account. A man prays, “O Lord, give me a job.” And he says ‘amen,’ looking through all of the want ad columns and going to all of the employment agencies. A man prays, “O Lord, give me a wife.” And he comes down here to the First Baptist Church to find the sweetest girls in all of the world.
I couldn’t help but laugh yesterday morning. Cris, our boy, came in while I was seated there at the breakfast table, and he had a little clipping that he had cut out of the magazine that is in the Saturday morning Dallas Morning News called “Guide.” And in that magazine it had a whole bunch of the things that are the worst in Dallas and the things that are the best in Dallas.
Well, he had cut out a little part of that article on what is the best and what is worst. Well, the article he cut out to read to me was the worse place in Dallas and the best place in Dallas to court. So whoever wrote that article said, “The best place in Dallas to court is on White Rock Lake”—in one of those trails out there—“but the worst place in Dallas would be on the way to the Dallas-Fort Worth airport in the presence of Dr. Criswell.” Well, Cris thought that was funny. And when he read it to me I thought, I would like to tell the editor that wrote that and published it in the paper; I would like to tell him, “My brother, you got it wrong. The best place to court in this world is in the presence of Dr. Criswell in the First Baptist Church in Dallas.”
If there is a man that wants a sweet wonderful girl, don’t find her in the bar or in a parking lot. Find her here in the church. And if there is a girl that wants to marry a marvelous Christian boy, don’t find him out there with a bunch of drunkards or marijuana smokers, but find him down here in the First Baptist Church, and marry and have a Christian home. The two go together. “Lord, give me a wife,” and find her in the church.”
Or in all of our ministering before the Lord, “O God, bless this effort under Thy hands and ours.” When the Lord gave us His marvelous outpouring of His Spirit, He enabled us to do His work in the earth [Acts 2:1-4]. And the two are ever and always together.
“Lord, save the world,” and we send out missionaries. “O God, strengthen the church,” and we offer Him our hearts and our hands. “Lord, send a revival,” and we’re out inviting people to the faith. It’s always the two together—a duality in the faith.
The Christian religion is a great sermon; it is also a great service. It is great doctrine; it is also a great deed. It is a tremendous message; it is a glorious mission. It is a magnificent orthodoxy. It is no less a stupendous orthopraxy. The faith is always dual; God has a part and we have a part. And the two are inseparable, they go together.
So my text in Ephesians in 5:14. “God saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall shine upon thee.” That refers to the church in its service of worship, and in its assembly of reverence, appearing before the Lord. To me, a dead, sterile, barren worship hour is an anomaly. It’s a reproach on the name of Christ. There ought to be in the church the moving, quickening Spirit of God. And all of us ought to be lifted up. We ought to feel it.
I sometimes try to think of how those services were in the temple in the Old Testament, with five thousand Levites singing [1 Chronicles 23:5], and three hundred ninety-four instrumentalists playing [2 Chronicles 5:12]. Think of what that sounded like; five thousand singers and three hundred ninety-four instrumentalists playing. No wonder in Babylon, one of the heart-broken Jewish slaves said, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. . .Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chiefest joy” [Psalm 137:5-6].
How could you ever forget such a service as that? Sometimes I imagine what it must have been had we attended one of the services of Simon Peter. The Spirit of God upon him, preaching the saving grace of our Lord [Acts 2:14-40]; or how it must have been in attending one of the services of the apostle Paul. In the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, it says, “and he preached until midnight” [Acts 20:7]. And a young fellow fell out of the window and broke his neck. Paul went down, raised him up from the dead, sat him back in the window, and preached until the sun rose the next morning [Acts 20:8-11]. That’s my favorite passage in the Book of Acts. Just think of that—all night long preaching the gospel.
I one time read of a fellow. He was a traveling man. He’s not a preacher, just had this in his memoirs. He was going through upper New York; came to Rochester. There was a man, Charles G. Finney, holding a revival meeting in Rochester. At that time the city had a population of fifty thousand. There were more than one hundred thousand converts in that one revival, baptized into the church. All northern New York turned to the Lord. Augustus H. Strong, who wrote the greatest systematic theology that’s ever been penned, his father was converted in that revival meeting.
Well, this traveling man said he heard of the revival, and attended, and sat on the back bench of the tabernacle, and he said, “As I sat there, and listened, it seemed to me that the hair on my head stood straight up.” Our services ought to have in them the quickening Spirit of God. They ought to move. They ought to glorify the living Lord. “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light” [Ephesians 5:14].
Not only does it refer to our reverential worship, but it also refers to our humble and prayerful work, our service before the Lord. There ought to be in it the energizing presence of the Spirit of God matched by the dedication of our souls. “Arise, arise, awake, and the light of Christ shall fall upon you” [Ephesians 5:14].
You know, sometimes in my imagination, I think of those people, the slaves out of Egypt that were led out by Moses into the desert and to the edge of the Red Sea. On the right of them were the mountains. On the left of them were the deserts. And back of them was the approaching army of Pharaoh [Exodus 14:5-9]. And in front of them, was the depths of the Red Sea. And God said to Moses, “Moses, move, march, go!” [Exodus 14:15].
Now it was a large camp, hundreds of thousands of people in the camp. So I can see runners going throughout the camp, running everywhere. God has spoken to Moses, and God says, “Move!” God says, “March!” God says, “Go!” So those runners go throughout the camp announcing the program and plan of God to move, to go, to march.
Well, one of those fellows is duck hunting and he says to the runner, “What? Move? Not me, man, I have never seen so many ducks in my life. In the marsh reeds of this Red Sea there is a duck behind every bulrush and one behind every reed. Not me, I am not moving.” I can see the runner coming up to a fellow who is fishing and he says, “Not me, I am not moving! Man, every time I bait a hook and throw it into the sea, I catch a fish. This is a great place. I’m staying.” And the runner comes to a fellow and he says, “I can’t move. I can’t march or go. My wife is sick.”
Those two deacons were out fishing on Sunday morning and the church bell rang, and one deacon said to the other one, “Doesn’t that make you feel guilty? We, out here fishing, and the church bell is ringing.” And the other deacon said, “Oh no, not me because if I were home, I couldn’t go to church. My wife is sick.”
And I can see the runners as they go throughout the camp. They come across a guy who has a hot dog stand and he says to the hot dog man, “Man get up. March, God says let’s go.”
And the hot dog man says to the announcer, “Go? Man, I’m not going. The Egyptian army is coming and it will be hungry and thirsty. And look at all these cases of Coke and Dr. Pepper and Orange Crush that I have, and look at these hot dogs that I’m ready to sell. I’m not going. I’m neutral.”
I can hear that runner as he goes throughout the camp announcing the program of God and the people say, “March into that sea? Man, we’ll drown! That water is wet, and the sea is deep, we’ll drown.”
But God said, “March.” God said, “Go.” And God never says, “Go!” that He doesn’t also add a concluding clause: “and I will go with you” [Joshua 1:9]. He never leaves us alone. We don’t fight this war by ourselves. And we never march in solitude. Always that blessed Somebody, the Commander of the host of heaven, He to whom all authority is given in earth and in heaven [Matthew 28:18], He who has in His hands the nations as a small dust in His balance [Isaiah 40:15], He the Almighty Chief of glory, He is our Companion and our Helper.
Why, my brother, the concluding verse of the Pentecostal chapter in Acts, chapter 2, is this: “And the Lord added to the church daily those that were being saved” [Acts 2:47].
God never intended Pentecost to be the big end of the horn. He intended Pentecost to be the little end of the horn. And we grow in power as we go in His service. There’s only one imperative in the Great Commission, all the rest of them are participles. The imperative is matheteusate. Matheteuō: make disciples [Matthew 28:19]. It is a present indicative imperative, a continuing action.
Our ministry never ceases. We’re never but one generation away from paganism, heathenism. These children must be taught. These families must be won. The gospel must be preached to every generation. And God says, “When you go, lo, I will go with you, even to the end of the age” [Matthew 28:20]. He blesses, and we work, and God gives the increase [1 Corinthians 3:6].
May I conclude? This marvelous passage, and it is unusual as it is wonderful, is addressed to the lost: “Arise, awake, and the light of Christ shall shine upon thee” [Ephesians 5:14].
When I was a little boy in Oklahoma in a little town named Gans; Gans, Oklahoma, at 5:58 in the morning, an engineer of a freight was driving his train through that little village. And he saw a terrible tornado bearing down upon it. And he pulled his whistle for all of his might to awaken the little town. At 6:04 in the morning, the terrible tornado had done its devastating work. The town was obliterated, swept away and every inhabitant in that small place was killed. “Awake, awake, awake thou that sleepest, and rise from the dead, and the light of Christ shall shine upon you” [Ephesians 5:14].
My brother, my sister, the sounds of eternity are rushing upon us. “Awake! Awake, and rise from the dead.” We have a moment. We have this moment, and tomorrow it’s in God’s hands. It’s in God’s providence, but I have now.
This is our appeal to you as a family. “Awake, arise, and Christ shall shine upon you” [Ephesians 5:14]. Addressed to a couple; give your life and vision and every hope of tomorrow, give it to God and Christ shall bless you. And to you, a somebody you, open your heart to the love [John 3:16], and mercy of our wonderful Savior [Titus 3:5], and you will have a Companion and a Friend and Somebody loving you who will bless every effort to which you devote heart and hand. Do it, and welcome into the kingdom of God, and welcome into the fellowship of this dear and precious church. May we stand?
Our living Lord, in whose hand are ultimately all of the issues of life; who sees the end from the beginning, and who is never discouraged, and who will never fail, victory is ours. Triumph is ours. God has willed it, and His Holy Spirit works with us in wondrous power and in saving grace. And our Lord, as we place our hands in Thine, and as we link our prayers with Thy will, may God bless us aboundingly and wonderfully. May the Lord give us souls. May the Lord add to His congregation. May our people work for Thee as they have never striven before. And may it be our joy to see our hearts grow in grace; our families blessed of God, and this church shining like the brightness of the glory in the face of Jesus Christ [2 Corinthians 4:6].
And while our people pray, and we stand in the presence of the Lord our God, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, “This day I have decided for God and here I am, pastor. Here we come” [Romans 10:9-13]. Down a stairway, down one of these aisles, make it now. Make the decision in your heart, and while we sing this hymn of appeal, take that first step. It could be the greatest step you will ever make in your life. And thank Thee, Lord, for the sweet harvest; the gracious gleanings of the Spirit of Jesus. Thank Thee, Lord, for those who are coming, in Thy wonderful name, amen. While we sing and welcome, welcome.