The Infallible Forty Days
April 11th, 1982 @ 10:50 AM
THE INFALLIBLE FORTY DAYS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-11-82 10:50 a.m.
With prayerful appreciation we welcome the great throngs of you who share this hour with us on radio and on television. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and the message this morning is entitled The Infallible Forty Days. It is found in the first chapter of the Book of Acts, the fifth book in the New Testament – the first chapter of the Book of Acts. It is taken out of the classical address of Dr. Luke to Theophilus, who is a nobleman. If he were living in England, you would address him as Sir Theophilus. He is addressed in the Book of Luke as the "most excellent Theophilus." And this is the Word, Acts 1, beginning at verse 1: "The former treatise have I made" –
referring to the Gospel of Luke; Luke is writing. "The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach" [Acts 1:1].
What He did in His earthly life was but the prelude to the years and the centuries of His ministry in the world, then and today. And The Book of the Acts, which is an unfinished volume, it closes here in the New Testament with chapter 28. There is also chapter 29. There is chapter 39. There is chapter 109. There is chapter 1009. It continues on.
The ministry of our Lord, beginning in the days of His flesh, continues through the Book of Acts and until the consummation of the age. So Dr. Luke writes, "I am writing to you, Theophilus, of all that Jesus began to do and to teach, until the day in which He was taken up" – the day of His ascension – "after that through the Holy Spirit He had given commandment unto the apostles whom He had chosen" [Acts 1:1-2]. That is the Great Commission to evangelize the world [Matthew 28:19-20; Luke 24:46-47]. Then my text: "To whom He showed Himself alive after His passion" – after His suffering, crucifixion – "by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking to them of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God" [Acts 1:3].
Those two words, "infallible proofs," "by which He showed Himself risen, resurrected, alive, by many infallible proofs" [Acts 1:3] – those two words are the translation of one beautiful Greek word tekmērion. Tekmērion is a classical word used only by Luke, used only here. You will find it in Greek classical literature through all of the centuries – Aeschylus, Herodotus, down through the years to Galen, who was a famous ancient Greek medical doctor. Galen wrote at length, and one of the words he uses is this one, tekmērion. He uses it to refer to indisputable medical evidence. It is the same use of the word here Tekmēro, the verbal form from which it comes, means "to present proof," evidence that cannot be gainsaid or denied. So in this introduction, writing to Theophilus, Dr. Luke speaks of the infallible proofs, the tekmēriois, by which Jesus showed Himself resurrected from the dead. And He did it over a period of forty days [Acts 1:3].
That time period of forty days is so often seen in the Bible presenting cataclysmic, strategic, marvelous, wonderful results. It was forty days that God judged the world in the days of Noah, when He poured out water from heaven and broke up the fountains of the deep, forty days [Genesis 7:4, 12, 17]. It was forty days that Moses was in Sinai receiving from God’s hands the law of the old covenant [Exodus 40:28]. It was Jonah’s preaching, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed" [Jonah 3:4]. It was forty days that Jesus was in the wilderness, tried and tempted of Satan [Matthew 4:1-2]. But the most significant and meaningful of all of the time periods in human history, as well as in the Word of God, are these forty days in which our Lord showed Himself, tekmēriois, by infallible proofs, as being raised, risen from among the dead [Acts 1:1-3].
There are several reasons for that. The first: those forty infallible days gave back to us our risen, resurrected Lord [Acts 1:3]. The distance between the little town in which He was born, Bethlehem, and the city of Jerusalem where He died is just about six miles. You can walk it in a little while. The distance between Christmas and Easter, between the manger and the tomb, between the village and the city, between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, is so small a span; yet how much in significance and meaning is packed into those brief miles and that brief time. In the village, the small town of Bethlehem [Matthew 1:23-2:1], God gave to the world His only begotten Son [Luke 2:11; John 3:16], a heavenly gift; one that caused the angels to rejoice in heavenly choirs, in singing, in hallelujahs [Luke 2:13-14]. It was the best that God could do for the fallen race of mankind, the gift of His Son in Bethlehem. In the proud city of Jerusalem, that same fallen humanity handed back the gift to God on the point of a Roman spear, nailed to a cross [John 19:30, 34]. Would you not have thought that God, looking down from heaven, would have declared, "It is enough," and have rained judgment and consuming fire on the whole earth? Wouldn’t you think so? When the most precious of all heaven’s gifts, spurned and hated, smitten and crucified and buried in the earth [Matthew 27:39-60], wouldn’t you have thought God in wrathful judgment would have visited this earth with a consuming fire? The patience and the longsuffering of God is unfathomable! He gave back to the world that only begotten Son, this time immortalized, glorified, resurrected, risen from the dead, that He might live with us and abide with us, then and now and forever; a gift of those forty infallible days [Acts 1:1-3].
Another thing of those infallible forty days: they turned an abysmal and abject and hopeless defeat into an incomparable, glorious victory [Revelation 1:18]. It would be hard for us to enter into the nadir of the despair of the disciples when they saw Jesus die. Every hope they had for the kingdom of God perished in Him. How could One so beautiful in life, so precious in ministry, so gentle in manner, so loving in heart, how could He be so cruelly rejected and crucified? And in Him they had hopes for the coming of the messianic kingdom of heaven; and there, nailed to a cross, He bows His head and dies [John 19:30]. The Pharisees and the Sadducees in self-congratulation said, "He is dead." And the passers-by, just looking said, "He is dead." And the mother of Jesus with many tears, and the women around her cried pitifully saying, "He is dead." And the soldier, just to make sure, thrust an iron spear into His heart [John 19:34], and the Roman centurion who presided over the execution made official report to the procurator Pontius Pilate, "He is dead" [Mark 15:44-45]. And the eleven apostles crawled into eleven shadows and cried pitifully before God and in heartbrokenness, "He is dead" [Luke 24:10-11].
To add to their fear, trepidation and foreboding, the leaders of the temple paid the Roman soldiers to say they broke that Roman seal and stole His body away. They were hunted animals. They had so entered into a dark crime against the government that they faced themselves execution. And there, huddled together in the fear of being arrested and themselves crucified, and in hopeless abysmal despair, they were together in an upper room, with the doors locked, the windows shut, facing a bleak and hopeless tomorrow [John 20:19].
It was then; it was then, in the blackness and nadir of their despair, that Mary of Magdala came running to the group saying, "I have seen Him! He has spoken to me! He is alive!" [John 20:16-18]. And Simon Peter and John ran to the tomb and saw it empty [John 20:1-10]. Then on the way to Emmaus, a Stranger locked step with two of the disciples; Cleopas, and one unnamed, and was known to them in the breaking of bread. He is alive! [Luke 24:13-18, 30-31]. They hastened back to Jerusalem, to that little group huddled in fear in the upper room, and announced to them: We have seen Him! "And while they were speaking, the Lord Himself stood in the midst; Jesus, raised from among the dead [John 20:19].
The next Sunday night, He appeared to that same fearful, despairing little group once again [John 20:26]. He appeared in Galilee, in the dim morning mist of the dawn, to a little group of them fishing on the sea [John 21:1-25]. He appeared unto five hundred brethren at once, gathered upon an appointed mountain in Galilee [Matthew 28:16-20; 1 Corinthians 15:6]. He appeared to Jerusalem. And finally, on the ascension mount as they watched a cloud – not mist, moisture, but the shekinah glory, the garment of God – receive Him out of their sight [Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:9-10]. And He continued to appear. He appeared to His brother James [1 Corinthians 15:7], and I am so glad for that. What a tragedy and a sorrow unspeakable, had our Lord returned to heaven and His own family lost in unbelief. He appeared to James, his half-brother, won him to the faith; and through James won the family to the Lord; and James became pastor of the church in Jerusalem. He appeared to Stephen, when his face shone as it had been the face of an angel looking at the risen Lord [Acts 6:14, 7:55-56]. He appeared to Saul of Tarsus on the way to Damascus [Acts 9:1-5]. He appeared to John on the Isle of Patmos [Revelation 1:9-13]. And through the centuries since, here and there and again, our Lord has appeared to His people.
Last Friday in our pre-Easter services, right there, came a woman; introduced herself to me after the service saying that she was a member of the Arnold family. It was J. C. – Captain J. C. Arnold, her kinsman, that Dr. Truett accidentally shot, from which wound Captain Arnold died. He was the chief of police in the city of Dallas. And she described to me something of the family; that the years that passed since had always borne to them the tragedy of that sorrowful accident. And as she talked to me, I lived again that chapter in the life of this great, far-famed pastor. When the man died, when Captain Arnold died, Dr. Truett said, "I will never preach again." And in those dark days, in the middle of the night, the living Lord came to the great pastor and called him again to his assignment as a preacher of the gospel of the grace of God. Awakening, he went back to sleep, and once again, he saw the risen Lord calling him again to his assignment as a preacher of Christ. He awakened and the third time, returning to sleep, the same glorious risen Lord appeared to the pastor, calling him again to his gospel assignment. Jesus lives. He could never die; then, yesterday, today, tomorrow, and until we see Him face to face [Revelation 22:3-4], Jesus our Savior lives.
These infallible forty days [Acts 1:3], they do another thing: they bring to us, they open for us, a corridor into heaven, into the world that is yet to come [Hebrews 10:19-20]. How many of us have stood by an open grave, have seen one loved, belonging to us, lowered into the heart of the earth, and lifted up our eyes to the eternal sky and wonder what lies beyond? Is there life beyond the grave? Is there a resurrection of the dead? Does God live? We know so little, so finite, so circumscribed; like standing on the edge of the vast illimitable Pacific ocean, and we see so small a part of that expanding sea. Lord, Lord, what of the grave? And what of death? And what of the eternity beyond? And is there any answer?
It comes to us in these forty days. Our Lord opened for us a corridor into heaven. Like the vision, the dream of Jacob, when he saw a ladder from earth leaning against the balustrades and the battlements of glory, and angels ascending and descending on that ladder [Genesis 28:11-13], so Christ has opened a corridor between heaven and us and us and heaven. He is the same there as He was here, only now glorified; but just the same [Hebrews 13:8]. His recognitions are human still, though He has been raised from the dead. He said to His apostles, "Handle Me, and see that it is I Myself; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, such as ye see Me have" [Luke 24:39]. Then He said, "Have you here any meat?" [Luke 24:41]. "And He did eat before them" [Luke 24:43]. Turning to one of His doubting apostles, He said to Thomas, "Put your finger in the scar in My hand, and thrust your hand into My side [John 20:27]; that it is I Myself, raised from the dead." And He gave to us that assurance that as He was raised by the power of the Holy Spirit of God [Romans 1:4], so we also shall be raised together with Him to meet our Lord in the air, and it will be we who are raised [2 Corinthians 4:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17]. You will be you, and I shall be I; our recognitions will be human still. You will be you, only glorified. I will be I, only immortalized and sanctified. Ah Lord, could such a thing be? How could it be?
One day I went to a great theological school of another communion, another faith, another denomination, and I listened to a great preacher. And he closed his address that day to that group of theologians with an experience in his own life that just melted that great throng into one. It was this: he said he was born in a tar paper shack on the western plains of Kansas in the middle of a blinding snowstorm, blizzard. And he said his mother held him to her heart, praying for the life of the little baby boy. And his father in the awesome cold chopped up the last piece of furniture and placed the wood on the fire, lest they freeze in that awesome storm. And he said as his mother held the newborn baby to her heart, lest the little thing die, and as his father knelt by the side of his mother, the father prayed, "O God, if you will let us live, if you will give us life, we promise to rear this little boy to be a minister of the gospel. We give him to Thee." And that wonderful preacher said, "Someday soon, I shall see that father and mother in heaven, and I will lay before them the record of these fifty-five years as a preacher of the gospel of Christ. And I will say, ‘This is the fruit and the answer of your prayer.’"
As I sat there and listened to that man – and I have to confess that by nature I am not credulous; I am full of ten thousand doubts – as I sat there and listened to that wonderful preacher, describing that soon coming scene, when in heaven he would see his father and mother, and lay before them that record of fifty-five years as a minister of Christ, I thought, "Do you really believe he will ever see his father and mother? Do you really believe that he will know them, and they will recognize him? Do you really believe that there is a life after death, there is a resurrection from the grave? And that we shall be gathered by families in heaven? And that we shall know each other there?" And I said to myself, "This is the Christian faith. That is what it is: it is the persuasion, the conviction that ‘God is able to do above all that we ask or think’" [Ephesians 3:20]. "And though through my body worms destroy this life; yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom mine eyes shall behold, and not another; whom I shall see for myself" [Job 19:26-27]. The Christian faith is that there is meaning and purpose in life. The grave is not the end of our days [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. These hours and weeks are but the antechamber of the more glorious life God hath prepared for us who love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9].
I had an illustrious predecessor in the church I pastored before I came here. He was asked one day, "Pastor, do you believe that we shall know each other in heaven? And he replied, "My brother, we will not really know each other until we get to heaven." Then he quoted that wonderful verse in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, "Now we see through a glass, darkly" – just shadowy; we can hardly make out the dim vista of the life beyond the grave – "see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face . . . then shall I know even as I am known" [1 Corinthians 13:12]. Then shall I know as God knows me. There is meaning in life. There is purpose in life. There is eternity bound up in life; "God having prepared some better thing for us over there" [Hebrews 11:40]; preparing for the day of our own coming, and the gathering of His saints by families in the presence of His great glory.
Ah, Lord, what Easter means to us. What the resurrection of Christ means to us [Matthew 28:1-7]. What these forty infallible days have brought to us; hope, and assurance, and comfort, and triumph beyond the grave [Acts 1:3]. No wonder Paul could write, "O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory. . . . thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" [1 Corinthians 15:55, 57]. He lives! He is alive! [Luke 23:42-43, 24:5-6]. And because He lives, we shall live also [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].
May we stand together? Our living Lord, with what infinite comfort do we read the Holy Scriptures. Christ, our Savior is risen from the grave, the firstfruits of them that sleep [1 Corinthians 15:23]. And, as God in the Holy Spirit raised Him from the dead [Romans 1:4], so we also shall be raised in our time [Romans 8:11]. O God, may life never become meaningless and purposeless; not for us. We are citizens of a kingdom that can never perish [Philippians 3:20]. We belong to a Lord who never lost a battle. And our Father, as we come to the last moment in our lives, may it be with songs on our lips, and someday with harps in our hands, when we greet one another again. And in this moment when we stand before God, a family you; a couple you; giving your life to the Lord in faith, putting your life with us in this dear church; "Pastor, we have decided for God, and here we stand." On the first note of that first stanza, come. That first step you make will be the finest step you ever made in your life. In the balcony round, down one of those stairways; in the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles; God bless you, angels attend you as you come, while we wait, and while we pray, believing this is God’s day for you. And our Lord, thank Thee for the sweet harvest You give us; in Thy precious and saving and living name, amen. While we sing our appeal, welcome. Welcome.
INFALLIBLE FORTY DAYS
I. Forty days
period oft seen in Bible presenting cataclysmic, marvelous results (Genesis
7:4, Exodus 24:18, 34:29, Jonah 3:4, Matthew 4:1-2)
Jesus showed Himself by infallible proofs as being raised
II. Gave back to us our risen Lord
A. From Bethlehem to
B. God’s gift to fallen
III. Turned defeat into victory
A. Despair and fear of
B. He is risen!
1. Appears to
individuals and to groups
2. Continues to
appear after His ascension
IV. Opened corridor into heaven
A. The same Jesus (Luke
24:39-43, John 20:27)