What Pentecost Did To the Church
May 1st, 1983 @ 8:15 AM
WHAT PENTECOST DID TO THE CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-1-83 8:15 a.m.
We welcome the uncounted multitudes of you who are sharing this hour with us on radio. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled What Pentecost Did to the Church. If you would like to turn in your Bible to the Book of Acts, chapter 2 [Acts 2], the Pentecostal chapter, we begin reading at verse 41 and then to the rest of the chapter [Acts 2:41-47]. Acts 2:41:
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread—
the eucharistia, the Lord’s Supper; “and in,” the Greek is “the prayers”—
And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.
And all that believed were together, and had all things common;
And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, as every one had need.
And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house,
Shows you how often they observed the Lord’s Supper; apparently they did it every day. Whenever you read in the New Testament “breaking of bread, the breaking of bread,” that refers to the Lord’s Supper.
And they did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,
Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
That’s what Luke wrote; not, “those as should be saved”: “The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” [Acts 2:47].
All of my life I have listened to those who believe—and it’s practically the entire world of Christendom—that the church began at Pentecost, in this chapter. They call it “the birthday of the church”; and the church was organized and launched and came into existence at Pentecost. I have never believed that; didn’t as a youth, and after the years and years of studying God’s Holy Scriptures, I still don’t believe it. Our Lord Jesus said, “I will build My church” [Matthew 16:18]. He did. And I have copied here, I have listed here twenty-seven identifications of the church before Pentecost. The church, I think, did not begin at Pentecost. Pentecost is not its birthday. John the Baptist gathered the material together, and Jesus organized it into a church. I say I have twenty-seven identifications of the church before Pentecost. I haven’t time to discuss them; don’t even have time to read them. But before Pentecost they had the ordinances [Matthew 26:26-28, 28:19]. Before Pentecost they had a discipline [Matthew 18:15-18]. Before Pentecost they had the Great Commission [Matthew 28:18-20]. Everything that the church has, it had before Pentecost, except one thing: it is the thing that was lacking when God created Adam. The Lord God formed the man out of the dust of the ground, and every part of his anatomical structure was there before God [Genesis 2:7]. Then it says, “God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living soul” [Genesis 2:7]. That’s what God did at Pentecost: He took His church and breathed into it the breath of life [Acts 2:1-4].
Same thing as we read in Ezekiel chapter 37. The prophet sees a vast valley full of bones that are very dry [Ezekiel 37:1-2]. And God says to him, “Prophesy to them; and bone joined to bone, and they were covered with sinews and with skin and with fairness” [Ezekiel 37:4-8]. Then God said to that dead valley of dead men, “Prophesy to the breath of God, O breath of God, fill these bodies; and they lived, they came alive with the presence and the power of God” [Ezekiel 37:9-10]. That’s what happened at Pentecost! The church was there, Jesus built it with its organizations, and its Great Commission, and its ordinances [Matthew 28:19-20]; and then Pentecost breathed into the church the breath of the living God [Acts 2:1-4]. And that’s the sermon this morning: what Pentecost, what the breath of God—as you read in the twentieth chapter of the Gospel of John just now [John 20:26]—what the breath of God, the Spirit of God did to the living church; four things.
Number one: a holy boldness. It’s remarkable to me that when our Lord was arrested, Matthew and Mark both say that all the disciples forsook Him, and fled [Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50]. All four of the Gospel writers speak of the chief of the apostles, Simon Peter, who asked, being asked if he knew the Lord, said, “I never heard of Him. I never saw Him. I do not know Him.” And a little maid accosted him, and said, “But you talk like Him. Your speech sounds like Him.” And Simon Peter said, “You think I talk like Him? Then listen to this,” and he cursed, and swore that he did not know the Lord! [Matthew 27:69-75; Mark 14:66-71; Luke 22:54-62; John 18:15-18]. Now that’s before Pentecost. But after Pentecost, after Pentecost, I turn the pages of God’s Word, and this is what I read: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned, and ignorant men,” they were not seminary men, they were not of the rabbinical schools, “they marveled,” and the King James Version says, “and they took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus” [Acts 4:13]. What they mean is this: “And then they remembered they had seen them with the Lord.” Bold after Pentecost!
I turn the page. “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto Thy servants, that with boldness they may speak Thy word…And when they prayed, the place was shaken where they were gathered together; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and spake the Word of God with boldness” [Acts 4:29-31]. That’s the first thing that happens to the church when it is filled with the Spirit of God: there is boldness, courage in our witnessing!
It’s normal to speak a good word about Jesus, just normal. I had one of the funniest things Friday on the airplane. When I walked into the airplane, there was a stewardess there, and she smiled and spoke to me, and said, “How are you today?” I said, “I’m happy in the Lord! I’m happy in the Lord.” And when I walked into the cabin, there was a woman seated there who’d heard me, and she said, “So you’re happy in the Lord? That’s great, I am too.” It’s natural, just saying something good about the Lord Jesus. That’s the first sign, that’s the first marvelous blessing of Pentecost: saying a word of witness and testimony to anybody that you see, any group in which you’re involved, any business concession, any group anywhere. It’s just natural to you to say a good word about Jesus; what Pentecost did to the church.
Number two: what Pentecost did to the church, they were wonderfully powerful in their witnessing for Christ, God blessed it. In that same twentieth chapter of the Book of John that we read out of just now, it says that ten of the apostles went to Thomas, who himself was an apostle, and said to Thomas, “Thomas, He is alive, we have seen Him!” And all ten of them witnessing to Thomas were unable to convince him that Jesus was alive [John 20:25]. What did Pentecost do to the church? I read, “And with great power they gave witness to the resurrection of our Lord [Acts 4:33]; and three thousand were added to the church [Acts 2:41] . . . and then five thousand andrōn” [Acts 4:4], men in distinction to women; there must have been twenty thousand then belonged to the church. And then it says, “great multitudes” beyond what Luke could count [Acts 5:14]. And then finally, the great throng of the priests were obedient to the faith [Acts 6:7]. That’s Pentecost. When the church is filled with the Spirit of God, there is power in their converting testimony and their saving witness.
At an evangelistic conference, I mentioned one time John Chrysostom. Chrysostom is the Greek word for “golden mouth”; John Golden Mouth. In 385 AD, he was pastor of the church at Antioch. And I said at an evangelistic conference, “John Chrysostom had fifty thousand members of the church there in Antioch.” One of the men, after it was over, said, “I just don’t believe that. Where did you find that?” Well, I said, “I read it in studying church history.” Well, he said, “I just don’t believe that.” So when I came back to my study, I looked all through my books to find, and this is what I learned: John Chrysostom said—not fifty thousand—he said, “I have one hundred thousand members of the church here in Antioch!” That’s the church after Pentecost: there is power in witnessing!
Number three, what happened to the church at Pentecost: there was a recognition and a dedication of a trusteeship, a stewardship, of everything God has placed in our hands, in our lives. It’s a remarkable thing, what happened at Pentecost. Now the church before Pentecost, what was it like? In the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Matthew, our Lord is speaking about that rich young ruler who went away because the Lord asked him to dedicate everything he had to Jesus [Matthew 19:16-22]. And, of course, that amazed the apostles [Matthew 19:25]. That is the brightest, finest prospect they had ever seen, and the Lord lets him go away. Then Simon Peter begins to think about that, and speaking for the apostles, he said, “Well, the Lord is right. The young fellow wouldn’t give up anything for Jesus; therefore he doesn’t deserve anything for the Lord.” Then answered Peter and said unto Jesus, “Look, Lord, we have forsaken all, and followed Thee. What shall we get out of it?” translation here in the King James Version is, “What shall we have therefore?” [Matthew 19:27]. And of course the Lord said, “There is not anybody that has given up anything for Me, but that will have a double amount in this world” [Matthew 19:28-30]. But I don’t want you like that—and I haven’t time to expound His answer in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Matthew, but that was the church before Pentecost: “What do I get out of it? What does it mean for me?” [Matthew 19:27].
But after Pentecost—let me read—after Pentecost, what was the church like? It says here that, “Neither, neither anyone said that all of the things which he possessed were his own. And those that had houses and lands brought the prices of the things, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet” [Acts 4:34-35]. Then it tells the story of Joses who was surnamed Barnabas, the son of consolation; who, having a property, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet [Acts 4:36-37]. Look at the difference. Before Pentecost, “What am I going to get out of this? What does it mean to me?” [Matthew 19:27]. And after Pentecost, “Neither any one said what he possessed was his own [Acts 4:32]; but it belonged to God” [Acts 4:34-35]. That’s a turn around, isn’t it? That’s a change, isn’t it? Change your heart.
In a meeting this week, I was asked, “Did you ever hear Dr. Truett, your predecessor there in Dallas?” I said, “When I was a boy, then a youth, then a young minister, I used to sit and listen to him. I can’t describe the effect it had upon me.”
“Well, how did he speak? And what was the effect?” I’m going to try to answer that this morning in this message, What Pentecost Did to the Church—bringing a realization to our souls of a trusteeship, a stewardship of all we have from God.
When I was a boy, a small boy, I went to Amarillo to be a guest in a godly home; I was just a little boy, reared way up there a hundred twenty-five miles northwest of Amarillo, on those high plains. As a little fellow, I sat there in a revival meeting that Dr. Truett was holding in the church in Amarillo. I sat there; it was the first time I ever saw him and listened to him. As I look back over that now, it never entered my mind that for forty years I’d be standing in his pulpit, preaching the gospel of the grace of the Son of God. I marvel at that, as I look back, and the effect, I say, that he had upon me then, as a little boy; then in Baylor University attending a meeting he held in the church in Waco, and speaking in chapel; then coming up here in a Baptist Student Union meeting, in this very auditorium; and then many times in little groups and in great convocations.
“Well, how was it that he so affected you?” It’s like this. I heard him say, “Every summer,” he said, “I go and hold a revival meeting, a camp meeting with the cowboys in West Texas. And upon this morning’s service, after it was over, one of the big cattlemen took me to dinner, noonday dinner. And after we’d broken bread,” the great preacher said, “the cattleman turned to me, and said, ‘Would you walk with me?’” So they walked, Dr. Truett said, a long way, and the man never said a word; but his great chest heaved with an anguish in his soul. After they’d walked a long distance, they came to a ledge of rock on the hill. And when they got beyond and behind the ledge, the cattleman stopped and turned to the pastor and said, “Dr. Truett, you see these thousands of broad acres? I used to think they were mine. But this morning I learned they belong to God, and I am but a trustee. I’m but a steward of what God has given me. Until this morning,” he said, “I thought these thousands of head of cattle were mine. But today I learned they belong to God, and I’m just a trustee, I’m just a steward. Now Dr. Truett, I want you to kneel down here, and I want you to tell God that I give Him back all of these vast thousands of acres and all of this great spread of thousands of head of cattle. And you tell Him for me that I’ll be a good steward and a good trustee of what God has given me. Then, Pastor Truett, when you get through, I have something I want to say to Him for myself.
So Dr. Truett said, “I knelt down there on the ground, and he by my side. And I told God what he’d asked me to tell Him: ‘All of these acres and these cattle belong to God, and I will be a faithful trustee and steward.’”
Then, when Dr. Truett finished, the man started, and this is what he said: “Dear Lord, I have given You all of my thousands of acres, and all of my thousands of cattle; now Lord, may I give You our bad boy. He has broken the heart of his mother, and he’s brought my spirit down into the dust of the ground. O God, may I give You our bad boy.”
Dr. Truett said that night, when he was preaching in the camp meeting to the cowmen, in the middle of his sermon, in the middle of his sermon, that boy stood up and came to the middle of the congregation, and walked over to his father and his mother and said, “Dad, Mother, I can’t wait until that man is done his sermon. Oh, Dad and Mother, I’ve found the Lord! I’ve been saved!” Dr. Truett said, “I couldn’t describe to you the scene. Heaven came down, our souls to greet, and glory filled the mercy seat.”
Can you imagine what effect that would make upon the mind and heart of a little boy? That’s Pentecost. That’s the glory and the presence of God. That’s what Pentecost did to the church: “Neither did any one say the things that he owned belonged to himself” [Acts 4:32]. Trusteeship, stewardship, using what we have for God [Acts 4:34-35]. That’s Pentecost. I haste.
A fourth thing, what Pentecost did to the church: it created a precious and heavenly koinōnia, fellowship, communion, togetherness. How was the church before? In the [twenty-second] chapter of the Gospel of Luke and the twenty-fourth verse [Luke 22:24], the doctor uses a word there that I never had seen before, and it’s the only time in the New Testament that the word is used. The word is philoneikia, philoneikia, and the doctor in writing his Gospel is describing the apostles. And when they came in the upper room, Luke says, to observe the Passover, and the Lord was instituting this Lord’s Supper, Luke says, “And they got into a philoneikia about who was greatest in the kingdom of God” [Luke 22:24]. Well, you can easily see what happened: it arose over who was going to be seated where at the Lord’s table; who was going to be here and who was going to be there, who was going to sit at His right hand, who was going to sit on His left hand [Mark 10:37; Luke 22:24]. And philoneikia means literally “eagerness for strife” or “throwing yourself into provocation and debate.” It’s hard to translate that word, but the whole imagery of it is those apostles, for all of the time they’d been with Jesus, spent their time vying with one another: “Who is going to be the greatest in the kingdom of God?” [Luke 22:24-27] It happened again and again and again [Luke 9:46], and it happened there at the institution of the Lord’s Supper [Luke 22:7-20]. Now that’s the way they used to be.
But after Pentecost, what did Pentecost do to the church? It says that “with singleness of heart they were in a koinōnia, they were in a beautiful fellowship, a unity, a togetherness, loving God and praising Him every day of their lives” [Acts 2:46-47]. Oh, what Pentecost does to the church! “In honor preferring one another,” loving one another [Romans 12:10]. Says here, “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” [Acts 2:46-47]. The new assimilation of all of these thousands of converts didn’t break up the beauty of the fellowship. You see, they were sinners saved by grace [Ephesians 2:8], washed in the blood of the Lamb [Revelation 1:5]; and the church was not a gallery for the exhibition of perfect saints, but it was a school for the education of imperfect Christians. It says here of the church, “And they continued steadfastly in the didachē, and in the koinōnia, and in the eucharistia, and the proseuchē” [Acts 2:42]. They gave themselves to the didachē, studying the doctrine and the teaching in the Bible; and to the koinōnia, the beauty of the togetherness, the fellowship, the communion; and the eucharistia, the thanksgiving expressed in our breaking of bread; and in the proseuchē, the intercession before God. Isn’t that a beautiful thing? And that’s God’s Pentecostal church [Acts 2:46-47].
A preacher was walking down the street, and there’s a little group of men over there. And one of them hollered at him, “Hey preacher, come over here.” So the preacher joined the little group of men, and the man who called him said, “Say, preacher, tell me, can a man go to heaven and not join the church?”
And the preacher immediately answered, “Why, yes!”
And they all laughed and patted him on the back and congratulated him for being a broad-minded fellow. Then he said to them, “Let me ask you a question, and you answer me just as quickly. Tell me, why would you want to go to heaven like that?” That’s heaven, Jesus, and its people; that’s heaven here on earth, Jesus and His people. The koinōnia, the fellowship, the sweetness of communion, that’s heaven here; that’s what it is up there.
I’m so glad I belong to the family of God,
I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by the blood!
Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod,
I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God.
[“Family of God,” William Gaither]
And that’s our invitation to you this day, this holy day, this hour, this precious hour. “Pastor, today I open my heart heavenward and God-ward, and I receive Jesus as my Savior, now” [Romans 10:8-13]. Or, “Today, my family, all of us are joining in the fellowship and the communion, the koinōnia of this precious church” [Hebrews 10:24-25]. Or, “God has spoken to my heart, and I’m answering with my life today.” On the first note of this first stanza, come. In the balcony round, down a stairway; see, there’s one there; see, there’s one there, on either side. Down one of these stairways, and there’s time and to spare, come. And in the throng on this lower floor, into one of these aisles, and down to the front, “Pastor, I have decided for God, and here I stand” [Ephesians 2:8]. Do it now. Make the decision in your heart now. And this choir is going to stand now, you all stand now; and we’re going to remain seated in prayer and intercession. And while we sing this invitation hymn, wherever you are, in the balcony, on this lower floor, just get out of your seat, stand up and come down here with us. “Today I accept Jesus as my Savior” [Romans 10:8-13]. Or, “Today we’re putting our lives in this precious church” [Hebrews 10:24-25]. Or, “Today I’m answering God’s call with my life.” Make it now. Do it now. Come now as we sing our invitation appeal. “Here I am, here I am.”