Baptism in Water
March 22nd, 1987 @ 10:50 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-22-87 10:50 a.m.
We welcome the throngs of you who share the hour with us on radio and on television. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Baptism in Water. In our preaching through the Gospel of John, we came to the fourth chapter, and I began preaching through the marvelous revelation of the Lord’s messianic ministry to this Samaritan woman [John 4:7-26]. But as I prayed and thought through the gospel message, my mind went back again and again; I could not keep it out of my mind, a reference in the previous chapter, in the third chapter of John; a little aside, a small addendum. So I just decided to go back to the third chapter and speak on that little half of a clause. And when I did, I found the message too long to present in one sermon. So the first half of it I presented last Sunday morning; and this Sunday morning is the second part. It is in John, 22 and 23 of the third chapter:
After these things came Jesus and His disciples into the land of Judea; and there He tarried with them, and baptized.
And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized.
And the little aside, the little addendum: “Because there was much water there” [John 3:23]. John could not carry through his God-appointed ministry with a teacup, or with a little one-inch baptismal font, or with a small glass. He had to obey God in a ministry that involved much water. “Much water!” And that little aside carries with it more truth of the meaning of God in a sacred ordinance than a whole exposition.
There are seventy‑four instances in the New Testament where the Greek word baptizō is used. And there are twenty‑two times in the sacred Scriptures where the noun baptisma is used.
The best classical Greek lexicon is by Liddell and Scott, and he says baptizō means “to dip in or under water.” The finest Greek lexicon is by Bauer, and Bauer says baptizō means “to dip,” “to immerse,” “to submerge.” The highest possible Roman Catholic authority is found in the Douay Version. If you are a Protestant, you’ll have a Bible like mine—King James Version, or something similar. If you are Catholic, you’ll use the Douay Version. Now the Douay Version, with its notes, was officially vindicated by the pope himself. And in that Douay Version, the comment on Matthew 3:6, the baptism of John:
Baptize—the word ‘baptism’ signifies an immersion, or a dipping, or plunging under water which was formerly the ordinary way of administering the sacrament.
They call it a sacrament. We call it an ordinance of baptism.
If you have ever been in Pisa in northern Italy, in the grounds there of their cathedral, first is the sanctuary. Then is the Leaning Tower, which is the bell tower, and right by the side is a spacious and beautiful baptistery, a separate building. If you have ever been in Florence, Italy, the Duomo, this great cathedral in which Savonarola preached, then, in front, is the bell tower, tall, spired bell tower. Then there’s a third building there, the Baptistery. Michelangelo looked at the bronze doors on that baptistery and said: “They are worthy [of] the doors of heaven itself.”
There are four basilicas in Rome: St. Peter’s, where the Vatican is located, St. Mary, St. John Lateran, and St. Paul’s on the Astian Way. In that basilica of St. Paul’s is the most beautiful baptistery I’ve ever seen in this world. It looks to me as though it would hold one hundred fifty people at the same time. The practice of the Roman Catholic Church, like the practice of the Greek Catholic church today—they have their Bible in Greek; and having it in Greek, the Greek Catholic church immerses. They immerse three times—in the name of the Father, one time; in the name of the Son, second time; in the name of the Holy Spirit, a third time.
But the Roman Catholic Church, during the first Christian centuries, administered the ordinance by baptism. I quote from the credentials of the Catholic religion, quote, “The common method during the first twelve centuries was to baptize by immersion.” And again, quoting from that authority:
Anciently those who were baptized were immersed and buried in water to represent their death to sin, and then did rise up out of the water to signify their entrance upon a new life. In baptism by a kind of analogy or resemblance, while our bodies are under the water, we may be said to be buried with Him.
John Wesley—and I wish I had time to recount some of these things on the pages of Christian history—John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church, in his explanatory notes on the New Testament, on Romans 6:4 that you just read, “We are buried with Him,” John Wesley writes:
This alludes to the ancient manner of baptizing by immersion. That is, Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also, by the same power, should rise again. As He lives a new life in heaven, so we should walk in newness of life. Thus, says the apostle, our very baptism represents that to us.
And then John Wesley writes in his comment on Colossians 2:12:
“Buried with Him in baptism . . .” The ancient manner of baptizing by immersion is manifestly alluded to here by which you are also risen with Him from the death of sin to the life of holiness.
Now why is it that in my King James Version and in the version of the Bible that you read, why is it that the word is not translated? Transliterated? Well, the answer is very plain. By 1611, when the King James Version was translated—by 1611, the Anglican church sprinkled. John Wesley belonged to the Anglican church, he never left it. So the translators of the King James Version, when they came to the word baptizō, baptisma, they went to the king and laid before the king their perplexity in what to do. What shall they do with that verb?
So the meaning was plain, and they could not obviate it and under the direction of the king, it was decided to transliterate the word, to make it an English word, b‑a‑p‑t‑i‑z‑o, in Greek, baptizō; transliterating it b‑a‑p‑t‑i‑z‑e, in English; didn’t translate it, just spelled it out in English. But the meaning of the word has never changed. Through all of the years and the years and the years that the Greek language has been spoken and in which the word of men has been written; that word has always remained the same.
Hippocrates, the father of medicine, in 460 born, describing the respiration of a patient afflicted with inflammation of the throat, he said, “She breathed as persons breathe after having been baptized and emitted a low sound from the chest, after having been immersed.”
Aristotle, the incomparable Greek philosopher—did you know I looked at a catalog of Oxford University, and there were four hundred courses taught at the same time on Aristotle? I couldn’t believe it! Aristotle, writing of what the Phoenician colonists had seen when they sailed beyond the Pillars of Hercules—that’s what he called it, the Strait of Gibraltar—I quote from him:
Sailing four days beyond the Pillars of Hercules, with an east wind, they came to a desert place full of rushes and seaweed which, at low tide, are not baptized—not immersed—but at flood tide are baptized, are immersed.
Polybius, the great Greek historian, in his book speaking of the passage of the Roman army under Consul Tiberius through the River Trebia, swollen by heavy rains—Polybius writes: “They pass through with difficulty, the foot soldiers baptized up to the waist.”
The same Polybius, Greek historian, describing the manner of taking swordfish with an iron-headed spear, uses a harpoon, throwing it into the sea, he writes:
And even if the spear falls into the sea, it is not lost. For it is compacted of both oak and pine so that when the oaken part is baptized—
sinks in the water, immersed by the weight—
the rest is buoyed up and is easily recovered.
Strabo, the great Greek geographer, speaking of the march of Alexander’s army along a narrow beach flooded in stormy weather between the mountain climax and the Pamphylian Sea, Strabo writes:
Alexander, happening to be there at the stormy season and accustomed to trust for the most part to fortune, set forward, before the swell subsided, and they marched the whole day in water baptized as far as to the waist.
Diodorus, Greek historian, in his history—he was a contemporary of the apostles—describing the effects of the rapid rise of the waters of the Nile during the annual inundation, he wrote:
Most of the wild land animals are surrounded by the waters and perish, being baptized. But some escaping to the high grounds are saved.
Diodorus, same historian—he was a Sicilian—in his account of Timoleon’s defeat of the Carthaginian army on the banks of the River Crimisus, says that many of the Carthaginians perished in the swollen stream. And this is the word that he uses: “The river, rushing down with the current, increased in violence and baptized many and destroyed them as they attempted to swim through the waters with their armor.” Weighted down, they were drowned, immersed, baptized.
Josephus, describing Jonah’s flight to Tarsus [Jonah 1], speaks: “The ship, being just about to be baptized,” to be overturned and submerged. And in Josephus’s book of The Jewish Wars, he’s describing the war between the Romans and the Jews, and the war began in Galilee; and Josephus, by the way, was the head of the Jewish army. And describing that war that you know ensued in the destruction of the Israelite nation, the Jewish nation, he says:
And when the Jews ventured to come near the Romans on the sea, they suffered harm before they could afflict any. And they were baptized along with their vessels—they were submerged—and those of the baptized who raised their heads, either a missile reached or a vessel overtook them.
The same Josephus, writing in The Jewish Wars, describes the death of a man named Simon, the son of Saul, who was a traitor. And in an anguish of confession and repentance, he slew his father, his mother, his wife, and all of his children. And then, Josephus says: “And stretching out his right hand so as to be seen by all, he baptized his whole sword into his bowels.”
Plutarch, the incomparable Greek biographer, speaking on the skill of water and land animals, he describes a bird called halcyon. And he speaks of her skill in constructing her nest, which is shaped like a fisher’s boat so as to float safely on the water. Then Plutarch says, “that which is molded by her is constructed with the shipwright’s art, and of many forms of nest, it is the only one not liable to be overturned, nor to be baptized.”
And Aesop’s fables: Plutarch, commenting on one of the stories, says:
A salt-bearing mule crossing a river accidentally slipped down. And when he did, he learned that the salt dissolved and the load was lightened. And the mule remembered it, and always, when passing through a river, he purposely fell down and baptized his load.
Smart mule! And commenting on the fable of the ape and the dolphin, the dolphin is bearing a shipwrecked ape to the shore, and there was an altercation between them. “And then,” Plutarch writes, “the dolphin, angry at the ape, baptized him and drowned him.” You’d have a hard time sprinkling him and drowning him wouldn’t you?
Dion Cassius in his Roman history, speaking of the Battle of Actium between Mark Antony on one side, and Octavia or Caesar—Augustus Caesar—on the other side, in that sea battle off the northwest coast of Greece: why, Mark Antony, in his address to his soldiers before the sea fight, boasting of his superior strength, said that the enemy would not venture near because: and quote, “Even if anyone came near, how could he escape being baptized by the multitude of the oars?” Seeking to describe the efforts of the soldiers of Mark Antony to escape from the flames of the burning vessels—as you know, Mark Antony was overwhelmed, and he and Cleopatra, remember, escaped to Egypt where she took her life, and all the rest. Now Mark Antony, being defeated in that Battle of Actium, Cassius says, “And other soldiers, leaping into the sea, are struck down by the enemy—were baptized, they were drowned in the sea.
Porphyry, the great Alexandrian philosopher, writing concerning the River Styx—he’s describing the lake of probation in India and the use made of it by the Brahmans for testing the guilt or innocence of those accused of crime—Porphyry writes:
“When the accused come to the water, he is guiltless if he goes through without fear. But if he is guilty, after proceeding a little way, he is baptized clear to the head.
Here’s one of the cutest little things that I ever read in my life. The Greek poet Julian, in his ode on Cupid—the little god of love, you know, and romance—Julian says:
As I was once intertwining a garland, I found Cupid in the roses. And holding him by his wings, I baptized him into wine and took and drank him. And now within my members he tickles with his wings.
That’s about as cute a way of describing falling in love as I ever heard of in my life—Cupid tickling with his wings on the inside.
The Septuagint translation—and I wish I had time to go into a bunch of those things—in speaking of Naaman:
Then went Naaman down and baptized himself seven times in the Jordan according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.
[2 Kings 5:14]
Athanasius, the great, incomparable champion of the faith: “Oh, all newly enlightened, in these benefits thou was baptized, thou hast the baptism as a surety of heaven.” And Gregory of Nazianzus: “Let us therefore be buried with Christ by baptism, that we may rise with Him.” There’s no exception—in all of the centuries and the millennia of the use of the Greek language—there is no exception. It is a word that describes our burial in water and our resurrection out of the grave to a new and a wonderful life in Christ [Romans 6:3-5].
Now, I want to close in this remaining moment with an avowal, a sharing of that sublime and spiritual truth that we are buried with the Lord, and we are raised to walk in a new and a triumphant and a God-blessed discipleship with Him [Romans 6:4].
For the first ten years of my pastoral ministry, I was out in the country, pastoring rural churches, open rural churches—plow up to the front of the church house, and where they left off, start at the back door and sow to the end of the field. Preaching in open country churches or in little village churches; four years through the university I did that, and six years through the seminary—starting when I was seventeen years of age.
Not having baptisteries in those little country and rural churches, I baptized in creeks, and in ponds, and in rivers. I would go out into the middle of the river and standing there waist deep in water, I would take my Bible, and I would preach to the throngs on the bank on either side, and then walk up to the shore, to the bank of the river, and press an appeal, extend an appeal for our Lord. I used to do that in the Leon River in Coryell County where Gatesville is the county seat; used to do it in the Grand River in Milam County where Cameron is the county seat; used to do it in Barron River in Warren County where Bowling Green is the county seat.
Upon a day in the hot summertime in July, after the summer revival is over—a revival under a tabernacle or under a brush arbor—taking all my converts, I went down to the Leon River in Coryell County. And there, as I had always done, standing in the middle of the river about waist deep in water and opening the Bible, preached to the throngs that came to witness this scene about the Lord Jesus; and then up to the bank, making an appeal for those to give their hearts and lives to the blessed Christ. Upon that July summer afternoon, Sunday day, standing there preaching, then going up to the bank and making my appeal, there came down in response to the invitation, Will Burt and his wife and all of his children and the whole tribe. Up there in a certain part of that county was what they call “Burt Hollow,” and he lived up there, and all of those members of the family up there with him, the whole tribe of them.
When I gave the invitation on the bank of the river, he came forward, with his wife, with his many children, and with all the rest of the Burt family. And he said to me, “Today, this day, we are accepting the Lord as our Savior. We’re giving our hearts and lives to Him. And we want to be baptized.”
I said to Will Burt: “But you’re not prepared. You don’t have any change of clothing.”
He said: “No matter, no matter, we’ll go home wet. We’ll go home in the clothes in which we’re baptized.”
Wonderful! So when I got through baptizing the converts of the revival, I baptized Will Burt, and his wife, and his children, and all of that flock up there in Burt Hollow. He was an incomparable strength and encouragement to me. The little church met in a two-room schoolhouse, and had no house of its own, no worship sanctuary.
So meeting Will Burt on the road as he was taking a pair of mules from the field to the barn, I said to him: “You know if I had just one man to stand back of me, we’d build that church house.”
He said: “Why, young pastor, I’ll be that man!”
We went into Gatesville to a lumberyard. I had already in my mind drawn the house I wanted to build in the form of a cross: the pulpit here, a wing there, a wing there, and the nave in front of me—pull a folding door that way, that will be a Sunday school room—pull a folding door that way, that will be a Sunday school room; here another Sunday school room. I had it all in my mind; drew it out, and we went through with the lumberman: how much the nails would cost; how much the windows would cost; how much the 2 x 4’s would cost; how much the roof would cost; added it up. Then, when we did, Will Burt said to me: “Pastor, you call all the men of the church to the schoolhouse for a special meeting on Sunday afternoon, and we’ll start building God’s house.”
So we announced to the people on Sunday afternoon all the men of the community were to meet in a special conference. They were gathered there, every one of them. And I stood up and started out with a picture of that little country church house, and how much it would cost, and how it would glorify God, and how desperately we needed it. It was in the days of the beginning of the deep Depression. They were selling cotton for five cents a pound. They never made enough money to feed their families. And for them to give at all meant to go to the bank and mortgage the farm.
As I pressed the appeal for our little church, the stubborn, hard, unresponsive reaction was manifest on the faces of the men, in the spirit of the meeting, and about halfway through, in despair, I sat down on the front desk and began to weep—one of the things I have years ago ceased to try to control. My response is always weeping. When I’m happy, or when I feel God’s presence, or when I’m crushed—just crying—I sat down and just buried my face in my hands and began to weep.
Will Burt stood up, and pointing to me, said, “Young pastor, get on your feet. Get on your feet! Take that piece of paper in your hand and your pencil and begin to write.” And he walked over to Pete, Pete Martin, and said: “Pete, tell him how much you’re going to give. Tell him!” It meant to go to the bank and mortgage his farm to make the gift. “You tell him Pete how much you’re going to give!”
And he walked over to his brother J. R. Martin and said: “J. R., tell him how much you’re going to give.” And he walked over to Alec, Alec David, and said, “Alec, tell him how much you’re going to give.” And he walked over to Claude, Claude Shepherd: “How much you’re going to give? You tell him!”
And he went through all of those men: “You tell him how much you’re going to give.” And when the meeting was done, we had enough to build the house. They did it with their hands. We bought the material. It’s there today, after sixty years, still there, still used of God. And when I left the church to go away to the seminary, I left it in his godly and dedicated hands [Romans 6:4]. And he carried it through faithfully until he died.
We are buried with Him, and dead to the world. We are raised with Him to walk in newness of life [Romans 6:4]. It’s a new day. It’s a new hope. It’s a new vision. It’s a new prayer. It’s a new dedication. It’s a new consecration. It’s a new commitment—following the Lord in baptism, following His own precious example [Matthew 3:13-17], following the administration of the apostles, and humbly following today in the same beautiful and loving commitment of our Lord.
My brother, it’s a privilege; it’s an open door; it’s a happiness; it’s a glory. I have been a pastor, as you know, for sixty years. I have never yet seen anyone follow the Lord in baptism but that after it was over he had a feeling of glory and exaltation and blessing, having done what God commanded us to do [Matthew 28:19-20].
And that’s our appeal to you this sacred and holy moment. Come. “Pastor, I’ve accepted the Lord as my Savior, and I want to be baptized just as He was in the Jordan River” [Matthew 3:13-17]. Or, “Pastor, we’re all coming today; the whole family.” Or, “God has spoken to my heart, and I’m answering with my life.” As the Spirit shall make appeal, answer now. “Here I am, Lord, I’m coming.”
In the little moment that we sing our song of appeal, don’t leave! Don’t leave! After the hymn you can leave if you want to; it will be all right. But while we sing our hymn of appeal and while we pray that God’s will be done in every life, stay here and pray and wait and sing with us. Now may we ask God’s mercies upon the appeal?
Our Lord in heaven, it’s a beautiful thing God has done. It’s a wonderful thing! It’s a life changing thing! It’s a sweet and dear and precious thing. God speaks to our hearts, He points us to Jesus. And not only did He die on the cross for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3] but He also was buried in the Jordan River [Romans 6:4], and raised for our justification [Romans 4:25]. And for us to follow in that beautiful example is such a heavenly privilege; such a sweet open door through which to walk. And our Lord, as we make appeal this holy and sacred hour, may there be many this day, “Pastor, God has spoken to me and here I come.” Down one of those stairways from the balcony, down one of these aisles; in the press of people on this lower floor and welcome. And thank You, Lord, for the sweet harvest, in Thy saving and keeping and victorious name, amen.
While we stand and while we sing.
WHAT ANGELS LEARN AT CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-19-70 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled What The Angels Learn At Church.
And it is an astonishing passage! Paul has written in the third chapter of Ephesians that there was a great secret in the heart of God. He kept it hidden from the world, from the angels, from the patriarchs and the prophets until the time came for Him to reveal it to His holy apostles. That secret was that there was to be a new creation, a body, a temple, and the Jew and Gentile alike were to belong to that new creation. Then he, Paul, exclaims upon the marvelous grace of God that he should be chosen to reveal that and to preach that, and that was the sermon last Sunday morning.
Then after his exclamation, “That there was given unto me, I who am less than the least of all the saints, that I should preach among the Gentiles this unsearchable truth in Christ Jesus” [Ephesians 3:8], then the tenth verse, after he says that he is to “make known to all men the dispensation of this mystery, to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in the heavenlies might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God” – the polupoikilos of God; polu, polus, “many”; poikilos, “varied, multihued, multicolored, multifaceted.” That there should be revealed by the church, made known by the church, the polupoikilos, the many-varied, many-faceted, many-colored, many-hued wisdom of God.
Now to whom is that knowledge to be made known? Unto the archai and the exousiai – translated here, “Unto the principalities and powers in the heavenlies.” Now, what Paul is describing by his word archai and exousiai, he is describing the families, the clans, the orders of the angels in heaven – seraphim, cherubim, archangels, archai, exousiai – and Paul is saying in the text that by the church is made known to these angels, these orders of celestial beings in heaven, by the church is made known the manifold wisdom of God. Just the idea of it is astonishing, overwhelming, almost unbelievable that the angels in heaven, the orders of those heavenly beings, are taught, are shown the manifold wisdom of God by the church! They learn it here through us.
These firstborn, these elder of all God’s created beings, in no other place in the Bible is it suggested that they learn the manifold wisdom of God except by the church. Ah, what an amazing thing for Paul to write! Think of their exalted position. They look with undimmed eye upon the vision beatific. In awe and in reverence before the throne of the Eternal and Him who sits upon it, they veil their faces crying, “Holy, Holy, Holy” [Isaiah 6:2-3]. And yet, though as it were, they stand in the sun, yet the Bible does not say that in their exalted position, they learn the manifold wisdom of God. And think of their presence in the beginning of the creation. They were amazed and astonished at what God was doing when He made the firmament and the arches of the sky. As Job says, “When the morning stars sang together” [Job 38:7], and the sons of God rejoiced when God made the world, and as they looked upon each new creation, the great Milky Way and the stars that were turned into flames by the light of deity, and the whole stellar creation of the Almighty – yet the book does not say that in this, as they beheld the creative genius of God, not even in this did they learn the manifold wisdom of the Almighty.
And the angels were present when God’s crowning creation was given life and breath, when Adam was made and his fair consort walking by his side, fearfully and wonderfully made in body and mind and soul, the last creative, highest genius of the Almighty, making the man in His own image and in His own likeness [Genesis 1:26-27]. And the angels were there and looked upon it. Yet even in that, the most wondrous of all God’s creations — yet even in that, the Bible does not say that the angels learned the manifold wisdom of God.
And throughout the centuries and the millennia of God’s providences apart from the church, the geological story of the ages, the billions and billions of years that the firmament has shined in the glory of its Maker and all of the providences of life, those mystic revolutions of that wondrous wheel that is filled with eyes, yet in all of this, through the providences of God, through the centuries and the millenniums, yet in none of that do the Scriptures say that the angels learned the manifold wisdom of God. What an exalted conception and idea of the church!
When the apostle writes that to these angels, to the archai, to the exousiai, to the orders of those angelic beings in the heavenlies, what an exalted conception — that they learn of the manifold wisdom of God in the church what they could not learn and did not learn in the creation, what they do not learn in the very presence of deity. And what they have not learned in all of the providences of God through the centuries and the centuries, they learn in how God saves men and how God’s redemptive grace is building this new creation, the church, the body of the Lord. That’s what Peter referred to in 1 Peter 1:12 when he said, “And of these things the angels desire to look into,” the marvelous redemptive purpose of God as He works it out among fallen human beings in their regeneration and in their addition to the church.
All right, let’s do that this morning. Let’s look at what the angels learn as they look upon the church and see the grace of God add to the building up of the body of Christ.
First: what an astonishing thing, and what the angels learn as they see how God saves fallen men; God’s plan of salvation. Had there been a called parliament of all the celestial spirits of God’s universe and there had been proposed to them, “How can God be just and justify the ungodly?” they might have discussed it and debated it for the unending ages, and yet could they have not come forward from that assembly of debate and forensics with an answer?
How can God be just and justify the ungodly? How can God be righteous and holy and uphold the laws of His universe, and at the same time abrogate that justice and those laws for a sinful, fallen man, how can He do it?” And yet, in this divine plan of redemption, every virtue and every attribute of God shines forth in undiminished luster. Like the crown of an Oriental monarch with clusters of jewels all around, so the corona of God! None of the attributes of God are sullied or diminished in the way that God saves men! God is just, oh, how He is! God is righteous, how He is! And God upholds His righteousness, how He does!
When there was sin found in Lucifer, God flung him headlong, flaming from the ethereal sky down to the abyss. And when Samson, the strongest man of the world, sinned away his hour of grace, he bowed his head and said, “God, let me die with the Philistines” [Judges 16:30]. God is just. And when David, the man after God’s own heart sinned, the Lord said to him, “The sword shall never leave thy house” [2 Samuel 12:10]. The story of David is written in blood. God is just, but at the same time, in His holiness, and in His righteousness, and in His upholding the law of God which is grounded in His character and in His very being, at the same time, the Lord is merciful, and gracious, and forgiving, and abounding in love.
Both of them. And God has done it in that amazing and astonishing way of the God-Man Christ Jesus, who pays the penalty for our sin, who upholds the righteousness of God and the laws of God, not one jot or tittle failing from it, and at the same time, in paying the penalty for our sin and upholding the righteous judgments of God, dying in love and mercy for our fallen souls.
How the angels looking upon that must have been astonished! What we lost in Eden, in the sin of the first man Adam, we have gained, and more beside, in the second Adam, Christ. The fellowship with God that was disrupted by the transgression in Eden is restored to us in the loving, merciful, suffering of our great intercessor and brother and heir to the throne, Christ Jesus, and all of the tragedy of our lost paradise in our first sin is more than restored to us in the fellowship of the New Jerusalem [Hebrews 12:22-23]. How the angels looking upon it must have been astonished, for in the wisdom of God, these who encompass our destruction are destroying themselves. Satan is stung by his own venom! Goliath is slain by his own sword! And death is destroyed by its own captive! “As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive” [1 Corinthians 15:22]. As by man, sin came into this world and death by sin, so by Man, the God-Man, Christ Jesus, is sin destroyed and life and immortality brought to life [Romans 5:12-21]. What an astonishing thing, and what the angels learned in the redemptive purpose and program and plan of God. And when the angels look upon it, God’s Book says that they rejoice in heaven when a lost sinner comes back to the Lord! [Luke 15:10]. Did you ever think about that? Up there in glory, watching over us, looking at us, attending the service of the church; when somebody comes down that aisle and gives his heart to Jesus, there is rejoicing in heaven. And not only of those in heaven but those in the presence of the angels of heaven, learning in the church, rejoicing in the church.
This last week I was reading the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts, when the story is told of the apostle Paul breathing out threatenings and slaughters against the church and struck down by the brightness of that glory of the presence of Christ as he approached Damascus, led by the hand now; this proud and threatening Pharisee led by the hand and blinded by the glory of God. The Lord appears to Ananias and says, “Go into the street that is called Straight, and there inquire for one Saul of Tarsus, for” – and then the words, “behold, he prayeth” [Acts 9:11].
This proud, blaspheming man now down on his knees praying, confessing, asking God to forgive the chief of sinners: it’s a miracle! It’s a wonder! It’s an astonishment! It’s a glory, and it happens every day! Every day.
Last Sunday, down that aisle at the 8:15 service came a woman, giving her heart to the Lord. And this morning at the 8:15 service, down the aisle came her husband, and both of them are to be baptized tonight. It’s a glory! It’s something that the angels were introduced to in the church.
“To the intent that unto the archai, and the exousiai, and the seraphim, and the cherubim, and the archangels in the heavenlies might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God” [Ephesians 3:10], the amazing revelation, self-disclosure of God; and the angels have watched that development and that progress in type and in story through all of the years, preparing for the coming of the great Redeemer.It was Abraham who entertained those angels unawares. It was an angel who stopped the hand of Abraham when he raised it to plunge the knife into his son Isaac. It was the angels who, when Jacob lay down at Bethel, ascended and descended the ladder that leaned against the throne of heaven. It was the angels at Mahanaim, the two bands, who welcomed Jacob back from Padan-Aram, back to the Promised Land. And it was angels who all through the dispensation of the law looked full upon the mercy seat. One here, one there, and their wings touched and their faces looked down ono the propitiatory, on the mercy seat where the blood of expiation was poured. It was the angels who announced the coming of the Savior at Bethlehem, it was the angels who followed and ministered to Him, and it was the angels that strengthened Him in Gethsemane, and it was the angels who comforted Him in His suffering, and it was the angels who rolled away the stone and announced that “He is not here, but He is risen!” And it was the angels who watched Him ascend into heaven and said to those apostles who followed Him upward that He would come again as He has left. And it is the angels, the holy angels, who will accompany the Son of glory when He comes back at the consummation of the age, to the intent that unto the heavenly, celestial beings might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God.
And the angels watch and see the building up of the body of Christ here in the earth, the temple made without hands, and the great cornerstone; not Michael, not Gabriel, not a patriarch or a prophet or an apostle, but the God-Man Christ Jesus! And as the living stones are added to the building, they all lean on that great cornerstone, the God-Man our Savior [2 Peter 2:5]. And what kind of a temple? Romanesque? No. Gothic? No. Grecian? No. But it is a temple rising after the pattern that God showed to Moses on the mount, like the sanctuary that is in heaven; and it is here and it is there [Acts 8:1-5]. Some of the living stones are there in the pinnacle of paradise above the clouds and the stars, and some of the living stones are here, we who are yet in the earth. But whether some of them there in the glory of heaven, or whether some of us here in the pilgrimage yet in this earth, we’re all together in the body of our Lord: they there, and we here. And in that glorious temple called the church, the house of God, the Lord Himself dwells and He teaches us and the angels. We learn together. As the Lord discloses His heart to us and teaches us the manifold wisdom of God, the angels are present, and they hear, and they feel, and they sense, and they come to know what God is teaching us [Ephesians 3:10].
One of the passages that’s so astonishing to me is in the eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians, when Paul says to the women they ought to dress so-and-so “because of the angels” [1 Corinthians 11:10]. Isn’t that an astonishing passage? I’ve read every possible commentary on that that I can find, and I still don’t know exactly what it all means, how a woman ought to dress because of the angels. Well, I’m not about to get into how a woman ought to dress, angels or no angels, but I’m not talking about that. What I’m talking about is – what Paul says is that our conduct, and our deportment, and our presence, and our presentation of ourselves before the Lord ought to be so-and-so because of the angels!
And when we go to church, do you ever think that the angels are there also? And that they’re here? And that they’re listening? And that they’re learning? And what they couldn’t know by looking at deity and what they couldn’t know by looking at God’s creation, they do come to know as we preach the grace and love of God in Christ Jesus, and as we respond, and the Lord regenerates our hearts. What an astonishing thing!
And I think, in my humble opinion, that all of life is like that. The infidel scientist looks through a telescope, and he looks and he looks and he looks, but all that he sees is just more materialities. There’s dust up there, and there’s comets up there, and there are rocks up there, and there’s fire up there, and there’s all kinds of chemical reactions up there, and there’s helium up there, and there’s hydrogen up there, and that’s all they see is just the materialities of the universe. And the same pseudoscientist looks down, and he dissects an insect or he dissects a frog or maybe a human cadaver, and all he sees is protoplasm, and cells, and nuclei, and structure, and bone, and that’s all that he sees; just more materialities.
But it is only we who know God who see the great, divine wisdom of the shaping of life and of the universe. Because when we look through those telescopes up into the heavens, we see the glory of God and look upon the lacework of His hands, the handiwork of His hands, and when we look down into the minute, infinitesimal microcosm of God’s universe, we see the hand of the Lord painting the wing of a butterfly, or placing a song in a mockingbird’s heart, or in the innocence of a little child, or in our own heart’s response to the love and mercy of God.
And I may be crude and rude and harsh in what I say, but I don’t think any man comes to wisdom who does not know God. He may be learned in facts, and he may be studied in scientific development and achievement, but he doesn’t know the great truth of the universe until he comes to know it in the Lord. And that’s what the angels see, and that’s what the angels learn, and we’re doing it together, for God reveals Himself in the church, in the Book, in the message of a true godly preacher. In our heart’s response to the invitation of the Lord, the angels learn, “to the intent that unto celestial orders in heaven might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God” [Ephesians 3:10].
I must hasten. One other thing: what the angels learn in the church, the great plan of redemption, of salvation, God’s preparation for the coming of that atoning grace in Christ, and the gathering together of those living stones that make up the temple of the Lord and the providences of God’s love in our lives through the pilgrimage here in this earth; for the angels see us and they watch us and they know us. And in our fiery trials, the true Christian magnifies and glorifies and praises God in his trials, like the three who were thrown in the fiery furnace, and the king looked and said, “But I see a fourth, and His face, His countenance is like the Son of God” [Daniel 3:25]. So when we go through the fiery trials of this life, God is with us. And the angels look upon it, and they are astonished at the forbearance and at the patience and at the comfort that God gives us, as they watch over us and see us, because the Bible speaks of the angels that behold the face of God, who represent our little children [Matthew 18:10] – and I have never seen why, though it’s a human deduction, I’ve never seen why when we grow out of childhood, the angels should forsake us. I don’t see why. If there was an angel, a guardian angel that represented me before the face of God when I was a little boy, why should that guardian angel forsake me now that I’m a grown man and face all the storms and tempests and trials of life? So I keep my fancy still that there are guardian angels who know us, and watch over us, and precede us, and help us, and comfort us, and strengthen us.
And then finally, this is no deduction: the Book says that the angels come for us when we lay down this mortal life, and they bear our souls to glory [Luke 16:22].
Like that old, old-time song:
My latest sun is sinking fast
My race is nearly run,
My strongest trials now are past,
My triumph is begun.
Oh come, angel band,
Come and â€˜round me stand.
Oh bear me away
On your snowy wings
To my eternal home.
[“My Latest Sun is Sinking Fast,” Jefferson Hascall, 1860]
Do you believe that? God says so. He marks the place where we suffer, and angels look upon our suffering, and they learn as we trust God through it all. And when finally we lay the burden down, the angels are there to bear us up to heaven, to carry us into glory. O Lord, how much we learn, and how much the angels learn through us. May that knowledge be sweet and precious and honor God through the years of our pilgrimage.
Now we’re going to sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, to give your heart to the Lord, to place your life with us in the fellowship of this dear church, while we sing the song, come. Make the decision now to come, and in moment when you stand up, stand up coming. In the balcony round, down one of these stairwells and to the front; on this lower floor, into the aisle, and by me: “Here I am, pastor. I give you my hand. I’ve given my heart to God,” or “Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children, all of us coming today.” Or just you, as the Spirit of appeal shall press the invitation, answer with your life. Come now. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.