The Awakened Church
October 5th, 1986 @ 10:50 AM
THE AWAKENED CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-5-86 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the message out of the second chapter, the Pentecostal chapter of the Book of Acts. We are going to read together, beginning at verse 41; Acts 2:41, reading to the end of the chapter. We invite you on radio and television to read it out loud with us: Acts chapter 2, beginning at verse 41. Now together:
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, and in breaking of bread, and in 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 men, as every man had need.
And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, 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 such as should be saved.
This is the Pentecostal Spirit-immersed, Holy Ghost-baptized church of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord built the church [Matthew 16:18]. He formed it. He taught it. He gave it ordinances and laws [Matthew 28:19-20]. But it was still inert. You have an adumbration of what God did in the creation of Adam [Genesis 1:26-27]. He was formed by the omnipotent hands of God, out of the dust of the ground. But he lay there unliving, unbreathing. Then God did a marvelous thing. He placed in him the breath of life, and the man became a living soul [Genesis 2:7]. A quickening Spirit—that is exactly a picture of what God did with His church at Pentecost—it became an awakened and quickening organism, a living being [Acts 2:1-47].
You have another adumbration of that in the thirty-seventh chapter of the prophet Ezekiel [Ezekiel 37:10]. Ezekiel sees a great valley of bones, very many, very dry [Ezekiel 37:1-2]. And God says to Ezekiel: “Prophesy to the four winds and cry saying: Come ye four winds of the earth, and breathe upon these slain” [Ezekiel 37:9]. And the four winds came and breathed on that great valley of desolation and death, and they came into life and being and stood up, a vast army for the Lord [Ezekiel 37:10]. That’s exactly what happened at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit breathed upon that first band of disciples that Jesus had formed and created into His church [Acts 2:1-4]. And the church became a living soul, a quickening spirit.
In the Book of the Revelation, the apostle sees the beautiful and perfect city of God, saying, “And it lieth foursquare” [Revelation 21:16]. This is a foursquare gospel. And in the passage that we read, there are four beautiful characteristics of the awakened and quickened church.
“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” [Acts 2:42]. That is first: “in the didachē,” the Greek word for to teach is didaskō, and what is taught is the didachē, the doctrine. They continued steadfastly in it. In an unbroken succession, they gathered together around the great truth of God, revealed in the Lord Jesus. That’s what holds us together. That’s what brings us together, is the truth of the revelation of our Lord God in Christ Jesus our Savior. The apostles never tired of telling and the people never tired of hearing the wonderful things in the grace and love and mercy of our living Lord.
More and more about Jesus.
More of His saving fullness see.
More of His love
Who died for me.
More and more about Jesus.
[“More About Jesus Would I know,” Eliza E. Hewitt]
Nor was it a dull and uninteresting and wearying experience. It was full of life, and glory, and expectation, and thanksgiving, and excitement. This is the gospel that saves our souls from hell. This is the message that guides our families into the way of life and truth, that protects us from desolation and disaster and destruction. This is the glorious hope we have in keeping our children from drugs and alcoholism and promiscuity. This is the gospel that opens the door of heaven. This is the message that puts a song on our lips and praises in our hearts. It’s the didachē. It’s the doctrine. It’s the teaching. It’s the truth of God revealed to us in our Lord [Acts 2:42].
And they continued steadfastly in the didachē and in the fellowship, the koinōnia, the communion [Acts 2:42]. That’s a wonderful thing and almost too good to be true, that God has revealed to us in His congregation of the family of the Lord, a fellowship that is unbroken. The Lord said, “On this rock,” on the confession of faith in Him, “I build My church; and the gates of Hades, the gates of hell, shall not prevail against it” [Matthew 16:18]. All of the other relationships we make in life are dissolved in death, all of them. But there is one that we make that abides forever. And that is the communion and the relationship by which God adds us to the body of our Lord and places us in the communion of the fellowship of the saints [1 Corinthians 12:13].
That is unbroken forever, it is here, it is there. But whether it is here with us in this earth or it is there with the saints in glory, we are still one in Him. ‘Tis a remarkable thing that God hath purposed for us, that we be together forever, ever and ever. What an unimaginable thing—some of us here, some of us there—but whether here or whether there, we’re a part of the koinōnia, a part of the family of God [Romans 14:8; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10]. I see that so often in the Bible. Our Lord when He was transfigured on the mount, there He was in the days of His flesh, but there talked to Him Elijah and Moses; they are from heaven. And here were the apostles: Peter, James, and John, listening and watching [Luke 9:28-33]. Isn’t that a remarkable thing: they from heaven, we here in earth, talking about the wonderful good news of the grace of God in Christ Jesus.
I think of the people who have gone before us in the fellowship of this church. How few, how very few stood up, saying, “We were here forty-two years ago when the pastor came to be our undershepherd.” Think of the great multitudes that are now with the Lord in heaven. All of the deacons that I knew when I first came, all of them now, for years and years are there with God. But whether they are there or whether they are here, some of us here, some of us there, we’re still one in Him—an unbroken and abiding koinōnia, a fellowship, a communion forever [Romans 14:8; Ephesians 4:4-6]. And what a privilege, a sainted privilege, to belong to it—to be a member of the family of God.
I am so glad to be
A member of the family of God.
Washed in the fountain,
And cleansed by the blood.
A joint heir with Jesus
As I travel this sod.
I’m so glad to be a member
Of the family of God.
[“Family of God”; William J. Gaither]
There are many, many institutions in this world: civic, social, political, clubs, fraternities, but above all, what a privilege to belong to God’s family, to be in the koinōnia, to be in the communion and fellowship of the Lord’s people [Galatians 3:28]. How could I ever thank Him enough that He opened the door for me and put it in my heart to enter in, to belong with you and with all who love Jesus in the fellowship, in the koinōnia, in the communion? [1 John 1:3].
Dear God, how good You are to us! And that beautiful fellowship is one of grace, and mercy, and goodness, and love. I think of a word that Paul uses in Philippians 3:20. He says that we are a part of the politeuma. Our politeuma, he says, is in heaven; our politeuma, our citizenship, our commonwealth is in heaven. Moffatt translates that we are a colony of heaven. And I think of us in this earth, a colony of heaven down here. So much in this earth is sordid and dark, hopeless, full of despair, ultimately and finally death, but in this fellowship there is grace, and love, and peace, and mercy, and goodness, and happiness—every vision and dream that only God could build into our hearts and homes and hopes.
Upon a night last week, I was invited to come to the Care Ministry here in our church being built by Gladys Maxwell. Well, when I came here I expected to meet with a group in Coleman Hall, in one corner of that spacious dining room. When I came to the church and walked in it was full. The dining hall was full, full of people, our people, who belong to a caring ministry. If someone is sick or hurt or needs help, they’ve offered themselves to be that someone who remembers, and prays, and comes, and visits, and loves. And that group is growing and growing and growing. I love the thought of it: a caring, loving people, a colony of heaven, a politeuma, a citizenship up there [Philippians 3:20], but all of us working and loving Jesus down here. And whether there or whether here, we’re all one in the Lord: what a precious koinōnia, a communion, a relationship, one that abides forever [Romans 14:8; Ephesians 4:4-6].
Not only does he say they continued, having been baptized by the Holy Spirit, in the didachē and in the communion, but He says, “and they continued steadfastly in the breaking of bread” [Acts 2:42]. Wherever that term “the breaking of bread” is used in the New Testament, it refers to the Lord’s Supper, the breaking of bread, the drinking of the cup [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26]. The people who belong to the family of God met together regularly [Hebrews 10:24-25]. And they celebrated, brought to memory in a vivid and beautifully impressive form, the sacrifice of our Savior [Matthew 27:32-50]. He came down from heaven, left His home in glory, in order to suffer, and to be crucified, and to die for us [Hebrews 10:5-14], that we might be washed clean and white in the crimson of His own life [Revelation 1:5]—and that memorial kept before the koinōnia, the fellowship of God’s people, always and always.
I have never been in any service in all of my life that ever made any more indelible impression upon me than one time after the Second World War, just briefly after that war, in the meeting of the shattered and ruined Baptist church in Munich, Bavaria, southern Germany. The whole city was in ruins. And the church was bombed out. It just lay in pieces and debris. And that night I went to the service of that Baptist church in Munich. They were a group of huddled wretches, poor, with everything lost. Having gone through the war, their pastor—who by the way, the pastors were conscripted into Hitler’s army, he was conscripted, and had been wounded again and again—and there standing before his congregation, greatly crippled. They had me preach a ten-minute sermon was forty minutes in delivery; speaking in English and then translated in German, and then translated into Russian, and then translated into Ukrainian. And all of them there—the Germans, and the refugees from Russia and from the Ukraine, before the Lord—and they closed the service with the breaking of bread.
Those light plants had been bombed out for I don’t know how long before; and the congregation, meeting in the debris of that bombed out and shattered church house, they had brought lamps and lanterns, and the service was held in those lights. And after the breaking of bread, they did something I had never seen before. They stood up, joined hands; some of them singing in German; some of them singing in Russian; some of them singing in Ukrainian; some of them singing in, the Lord only knows how many other languages of the refugees that had crowded into Western Europe; and of course, I singing in English. We were singing:
Blest be the tie
That binds our hearts
In Christian love.
The fellowship (the koinōnia)
Of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
[“Blest Be the Tie that Binds,” John Fawcett, 1782]
In the midst of a war, in the midst of the loss of everything; still singing of the grace of Jesus that binds us together forever. What a beautiful fellowship and what a precious communion.
And that is the pattern of our lives for God. He poured into His church all of His life, and we must remember that sacrifice when we respond to the appeal of our Lord. David said when Araunah offered to give him animals for sacrifice, implements for wood, and his threshing floor for altar—give it to you [2 Samuel 24:21-23]—David said, “Nay; I will not offer unto God that which doth cost me nothing” [2 Samuel 24:24].
When I come into His presence and when I make my offering in His name, it ought to be at a cost, at a sacrifice. It means something that I thus share with God and His fellowship what I am able to give and to support. The Lord is pleased when I come before Him with—not with indifference and flippancy—but when I come before Him with blood, and with tears, and with prayers, and with commitment, and with the dedication of my whole life.
The last: and they continued steadfastly in the didachē and in the koinōnia, and in the breaking of bread. And you have it translated here in our King James Version: “and in prayers” [Acts 2:42]. Tais proseukais, the prayers—and that “the” is very much there. “And they continued steadfastly in the prayers.” The church came together in stated praying. It was not adventitious. It was planned. It was stated. And those prayers were a vital part of the house of God and the assembly of His people [Acts 2:42]. I think of Israel as they gathered before the door of the tabernacle in a great convocation of intercession [Numbers 25:6]. I think of Isaiah who is quoted in Matthew 21: “My house shall be called a house of prayer” [Isaiah 56:7; Matthew 21:13].
Where there is right praying, there is right doing, and we need in our church our stated times of prayer; not only public prayer, assembly prayer, but closet prayer and private prayer—talking to God, just He and we—just communing in the Lord. It is as instinctive to the Christian to pray as it is to breathe in living: to eat, being hungry; or to drink, being thirsty; or to rest, being weary. It is a part of the natural response of the Christian to God.
Why pray? Could I briefly answer in two ways? One is the one I have just spoken of: a fellowship, a communion [1 John 1:7]. He, God is our Father, and we are His children. And could you think of a loving father and a precious child never speaking to one another? Never talking together? Never visiting together? It is a part of the family that they speak together.
I mentioned a few Sundays ago about that Negro play, Green Pastures. And in that play, Green Pastures, God Almighty has created the universe. He has flung those stars into space, and He has created His suns and His planets and this beautiful and verdant earth with its mountains and oceans. And God sits down in this play, Green Pastures, God sits down, and He looks at His vast universe, and He looks at His beautiful earth with its mountains, and its streams, and its forests, and its oceans. And God says, “I am lonesome. I am lonesome.” How do you commune with a mountain, or an ocean, or a planet, or a star? It doesn’t cuddle back. It doesn’t respond. God said, “I am lonesome.“ And He made man to talk to, and to visit with, and to love, and somebody who would respond.
What a tragedy that we broke the beautiful communion with transgression. But God made us for that, God made us to respond to Him, to talk to Him. We call it, “to pray to Him,” to be in His house and to say all kinds of things to Him. And I’ve always felt that we ought to lay everything before God, just talk to God about everything as you would to the dearest, sweetest friend in the world. Just talk to Him.
That’s the first reason why to pray. It is to be in communion and fellowship with our great Lord who loves us. There’s a second reason. God can be changed. “Pastor, you don’t mean that! He is the great omnipotent. He is the mighty omniscient One. He sees the end from the beginning. He knows how everything is, and He has set it, pre-determined, predestined; and you say God can be changed?”
I’m just preaching what He says in the Book. I don’t make up the message myself. Didn’t He? Doesn’t He? When Jonah came preaching in the Assyrian capital of Nineveh, saying, “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be destroyed” [Jonah 3:4]. Doesn’t it say in God’s Holy Word, when the king heard that, he left his throne, he clothed himself in sackcloth and ashes? All of the city bowed in repentance before God, and the Lord changed. When Nineveh repented, God repented [Jonah 3:5-10]. When Nineveh changed, God changed. Isn’t that the truth? And He didn’t destroy the city when He saw the people bowed down before Him [Jonah 3:10]. You ask God about it. God changes things! He changes us. He changes everything around us. He changes the whole earth for the sake of those who find refuge in prayer. God changes; God changes us.
A young pastor—and I can so enter into a thing like this; I can so sympathize with something like this—a young pastor said to his wife, “I’m quitting the ministry. I am getting a secular job. I won’t be pastor, I won’t.” I suppose all of us have discouraging moments, fall into despondency and despair, but it is so traumatic in the ministry; it just is. The discouragement of the ministry is felt a thousand times more poignantly, I presume, because it is related to God. A man can get discouraged selling gasoline in a station or selling real estate on the streets of the city, but to be discouraged in the work of God kind of is an insult to heaven—kind of an affront to the Lord. But it happens: there are more men who leave the ministry than any other profession, isn’t that an astonishing thing? They quit. Well, this young fellow said to his wife, “I quit. I am resigning the church, I am ceasing being a preacher, I am quitting, and I am going to get a secular job.”
The wife that he had married was wise beyond her years. And she replied, “Husband, just one thing, before you resign, before you quit, before you go out there and get that secular job; husband, would you do just one thing? Would you get up an hour earlier each morning, and would you spend it in prayer? Would you try it?” It will be difficult for a young minister to say no to a humble request like that.
He replied, “I will.” So he got up an hour earlier in the morning, prayed for five minutes. It was an eternity. What in the world do you pray beyond five minutes? You can say in five minutes about everything you can think of if you haven’t been praying. And that’s the way he was, about five minutes and he was done. So he stayed with it, and he prayed ten minutes. And then he prayed fifteen. And bless the name of the Lord, as the days passed and he kept that promise of rising an hour earlier to intercede, he began to pray for his deacons, one by one, calling their names before God. He began to pray for his Sunday school teachers one by one, calling their names before the Lord. He began to pray for his families.
There’s not any family that somewhere, sometime, does not fall into deepest sorrow and need. That’s the common denominator of all mankind. And if you do not know it, tomorrow, you will. He began to pray for his families. Then he began to pray for the lost—the people of his community who were not saved—to name them and intercede for them before God. You already know the end, as I have introduced the beginning: something happened—something always happens when we pray. A great revival broke out: people were saved, families were blessed, and the preacher grew in power and in stature announcing the good news of Jesus our Lord.
Is it any wonder then that the passage closes, “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved?” [Acts 2:47]. That kind of a people, that kind of a church—a quickened, awakened [church]—blessed by the presence of the Holy Spirit of God [Ephesians 4:3-6]. And that will be our invitation to you this glorious Lord’s Day, to give your heart to Jesus, to put your family in the fellowship of the church, to answer the call of the Holy Spirit of God in your heart, to begin a new and a deeper and a sweeter walk with Him. We are going to pray, and then in a moment, we will sing our song of appeal, and may the Lord send you to us, this glorious, soul-saving, God-blessed day.
Our Lord, what a happy privilege to know that God bows down His ear to hear His children when they pray [1 John 5:14]. He is our Father, and we are His children; and He loves our speaking to Him, our coming to Him, our talking to Him about all the things that engross our lives. Every dream, every vision, every hope, O God, that the Lord might be in it with us, and might bless us together. Our Savior, we pray for the invitation we extend this morning, that the Holy Spirit will bear it upon wings of the love of God to the hearts of these who listen. And in this moment when we sing our song of appeal and invitation, may they find it in their hearts to respond with their lives. Make it, Lord, a glorious day. In Thy precious name we pray, amen.
Then in the great throng round about, down a stairway, down one of these aisles, “Pastor this is God’s day for me. The Lord has spoken to my heart, and I’m answering with my life. Here’s my family, pastor, we’re all coming into the fellowship of this dear church.” Or, “I’m giving my heart in faith and love to the Lord Jesus.” Make the decision now in your heart; and when we stand, on that first note take that first step. The Holy Spirit and the angels themselves will guide you in the rest of the way. Do it now. Bless you now. Welcome now, while we stand and while we sing.
I. The Lord built the church
A. Creation of Adam
B. Ezekiel’s dry bones
C. Four-square city of
God (Revelation 21:16)
II. The doctrine
A. Truth of God
revealed in Christ Jesus holds us together
B. Full of light and
III. The fellowship
A. Eternal purpose of
God that we be together (Hebrews 10:25)
B. One relationship
abides forever (Matthew 16:18)
C. Privilege to belong
to God’s family (Philippians 3:20)
IV. Breaking bread
A. Refers to the Lord’s
Supper in the New Testament
B. A memorial of
sacrifice of our Savior
C. Sacrifice is what we
do (2 Samuel 24:24)
V. The prayers
A. Stated public prayer
(Isaiah 56:7, Matthew 21:13)
B. Private prayer