A Renewal from Heaven
April 24th, 1988 @ 7:30 PM
A RENEWAL FROM HEAVEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-24-88 7:30 p.m.
Welcome the uncounted multitudes of you who share this hour on radio; you are a part now of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing a message entitled A Renewal from Heaven. It is a subject sermon. It concerns something for which we ask of God in behalf of all of our congregation. As a background text, in nowise as an exposition, but as a background text, I read the third [chapter] of the Book of Habakkuk, the two first verses, a prayer of Habakkuk the prophet: “O Lord, I have heard Thy speech, and was afraid: O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years.” And that is the phrase that appealed to my heart as a background for the message, “O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make it known [Habakkuk 3:1-2].
A certain church, and to my sorrow it is typical of maybe thousands of churches, but a certain church was declining, the attendance was going down. Its financial support was subsiding. They had not had any baptisms in months and months. Nobody had joined by letter, and visitors were extremely rare. The whole congregation was down; so they had a secret meeting of the deacons. Now by a “secret meeting of the deacons,” we mean the pastor was not present, they called it without his knowledge and without his approbation. So the subject was, “How do we get rid of the preacher? How do we fire the pastor?” And an outsider could have asked the fellowship, “Why do you want to get rid of the preacher? And why do you want to fire the pastor?” The answer was swift and very obvious, “All you have to do is to look at our church; it’s going down, the financial support’s going down, nobody’s joining, nobody’s visiting, nobody’s coming. The whole congregation is subsiding. That’s why we want to fire the preacher. We want to get another one who can build it up and who can attract the multitudes. We want another preacher.”
“Now, I ain’t a-sayin’ that there aren’t a lot of preachers that ought to be fired; they are not doing good, but there is something that I’d like to ask before we get rid of the pastor. Namely: you say that the congregation is going down, that the lost are not being won, that the sick are not being visited, that the needy are not being helped, that the unreached are not being reached. But is it not also a possibility that we need to change the congregation as well as the attempt to change the pastor? Is it not also a possibility that there is a responsibility for the lost, and for the unreached, and for the visitation of the people in the community on the part of the congregation as well as on the part of the paid staff and the paid pastor? Is it not?”
So the deacons reply immediately, “I’ve got to work. I have to make a living. I have to support my family, I’ve got a job. And that’s why I pay the pastor; I pay the preacher in order to pray for the lost, visit the unreached, care for the sick, do the work of the ministry. That’s why I pay him.”
The trouble with that is, how is it that a layman can persuade himself that he can pay somebody else to do his praying, to do his witnessing, to do his soulwinning? Someday he will die for himself; he can’t pay somebody else to die for him. And someday he’ll stand before God in the great judgment, and he can’t pay somebody to stay and stand in his place when he gives account of what he’s done here in this earth before the Lord.
You know, in the twentieth chapter of the Book of 1 Kings is one of the most unusual stories you’ll ever read. God said to Ahab the king of Israel, “I am sending the army of Ben-Hadad to you, and I am giving you victory; and you take Ben-Hadad and keep him and be responsible for him” [1 Kings 20:13]. But when the Lord gave Ahab the victory, he let Ben-Hadad go [1 Kings 20:34]. And a prophet of the Lord disguised himself and stood in the way; and as Ahab was returning to Jerusalem, he said to the king, “A man came by and said, ‘Keep this man, and if by any means you let him go, your life shall go for his life.’ But while I was busy here and there, the man was gone” [1 Kings 20:38-39]. And the king said to him, “You yourself have pronounced your judgment” [1 Kings 21:40]. And the prophet took off his disguise, and Ahab recognized him as one of the men of God [1 Kings 21:41]. And the prophet said to Ahab, “You are the man. You are the man, and you have pronounced the judgment: your life shall go for his life” [1 Kings 20:42]. God has made us responsible, and we cannot escape that responsibility.
Now what do the Scriptures say? We are going to look at them. What does God say to each one of us? First of all, in the Old Testament: God made the entire nation a kingdom of priests. A priest is someone who stands before God representing man to the Lord, and the Lord to man. Before God gave the Ten Commandments to Israel, in Exodus chapter 20 [Exodus 20:1-17], He said to the people, in Exodus chapter 19, “Ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation, qadosh, holy” [Exodus 19:6]. “Holy” refers to something that belongs to God. The vessels were holy, the altar was holy, the sanctuary was holy because it belonged to God; these people in the wilderness, this is Moses speaking to them, “These people are holy, qadosh, and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests. You are to take the message of God to the whole world, all of you. All of you are priests” [Exodus 19:6]. That is repeated in Isaiah 61:6, “But ye shall be named the priests of the Lord; men, shall call you the ministers of our God.”
What did Israel do? God said, “You are My priests. You are My ministers. You are to represent Me before the whole world” [Exodus 19:6]. What did Israel do? She looked around her and called the nations of the world “Gentile dogs” [Matthew 15:26-27], they were unclean, and she separated herself from them when God intended they thrust themselves into the world [Exodus 19:6]. And the Lord God said, “It is enough.” And in the [twenty-first chapter] of the Gospel of Matthew, “Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a people who will bring forth the fruits thereof” [Matthew 21:43].
Israel was bypassed, set aside; and another people was called, and they were the priests of God. First Peter chapter 2, “You are a spiritual house, you are a holy priesthood, to offer sacrifices acceptable to God” [1 Peter 2:5]. That’s not written to the elders or to the pastors or to the bishops; that’s written to the Diaspora, to the people, you! And in the Book of the Revelation: it starts off, “God hath made us,” in chapter 1, “kings and priests unto God and the Father” [Revelation 1:6]. And he repeats that again in chapter 5: “God hath made us kings and priests” [Revelation 5:10], all of us, all of us, all of us; not just a paid staff, and not just a paid preacher, all of us are priests before God and ministers in His holy name.
The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians chapter 5, “God in Christ Jesus hath reconciled us to Himself, and given to us the ministry of reconciliation [2 Corinthians 5:18]. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ . . . God beseeching you by us: be ye reconciled to God” [2 Corinthians 5:20]. And the next chapter begins, “We then are workers together with Him” [2 Corinthians 6:1]. There is no such thing in all of God’s Word as a “paid ministry” to do our work to which God has called us. All of us are called as ministers, all of us. All of us are ambassadors; all of us stand before God as holy high priests. That’s why the great doctrine of our Baptist religion and Baptist faith through the centuries: the priesthood of the believer [1 Peter 2:5]. No man is a priest for me. I am a priest for myself; I stand before God. There’s no mediator except Christ, between me and the Lord God omnipotent in heaven [1 Timothy 2:5]. All of us are a kingdom of priests. The word “laity” comes from the Greek word laos, and laos in the Bible is word for “people,” and the word applies to the people of God. We all are the people of the Lord.
I was impressed this morning when our preacher spoke of the first part of the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts. When there was a severe persecution in Jerusalem, the saints of God were scattered abroad, all except the preachers, all except the apostles; they stayed in Jerusalem, and these members of the congregation were scattered abroad [Acts 8:1]. And then the next verse, “And they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the gospel” [Acts 8:4]. Now that’s where he stopped; may I continue it?
“And some of them came to Antioch” [Acts 11:20], the third great city in the Roman Empire, Rome, Alexandria, then Antioch; “some of them came to Antioch,” and for the first time, they delivered the message of God to out-and-out heathen Greeks. Heretofore they had been speaking to proselytes, they had been speaking to Jews [Acts 9:20, 13:46]; but when they came to Antioch, these laymen—these laymen, the preachers were in Jerusalem—these laymen preached to the heathen Greek, the pagan Greek. And by the multitudes they turned to the Lord [Acts 11:20-21]. And when news of that great outpouring of the Spirit of God came to the ears of those in Jerusalem, they sent a layman up there: they sent Barnabas up there, a layman, not an apostle [Acts 11:22]. They sent a layman up there to see the hand of the Lord upon the people. And he rejoiced [Acts 11:23]; and that was the beginning of the great missionary movement that has swept us, we here, into the kingdom of God.
We are ministers, all of us, in the marketplace; we’re out there in the world, where God wants us. All of us are witnesses, all of us are priests, all of us are sanctified and ambassadors for Christ; all of us are qadosh, we’re holy in His name.
There are four things that characterize a Christian: one, he’s a believer in Jesus. That’s how it begins. Two: he walks in the faith of the Lord. Number three: he’s loyal and faithful to the church. And fourth: he’s a witness for Christ wherever he is. And we are called to ministry, we are saved for service. That’s why the Lord, that’s why the Lord in His Holy Spirit witnessed to our souls and brought us in saving faith to our wonderful Savior [John 16:8]; and that witnessing, that ministry is not optional for us.
There’s a big bank right down there, one block from us, a big bank. What if an employee of the bank were to say, “I’ll come when I please, and I’ll go as I want”? There’s no option in his dedication to the work of the bank. That’s what it is to be an employee of the bank. What would you think of a team member playing football, “I’ll practice when I please, and I’ll play when I want”? No, when he joins the team he’s obligated therein to play the game. So it is with us: when we are called to be Christians, we are also called to ministry. God says so [Matthew 20:26-28; Ephesians 4:12]. And I think there’s wisdom in it; God knows how it is that we build up His kingdom in the earth:
Leave it to the minister, and soon the church will die;
Leave it to the clergy and the young will pass it by.
For it’s not by song or sermon that the church’s work is done.
It’s the laymen of the country who for God must carry on.
Now a layman has his business, and a layman has his joys,
But he also has the rearing of his little girls and boys;
And I wonder how he’d like it if there were no churches here
And he had to raise his children in a godless atmosphere.
When you see a church that’s empty, though its doors are open wide,
It’s not the church that’s died, it’s the laymen who have died;
For it’s not by song or sermon the church’s work is done,
It’s the laymen of the country who for God must carry on.
[excerpt from “Laypeople,” Edgar A. Guest]
When you became a Christian, you became a minister, you became qadosh. You became holy unto the Lord; you became a member of the priesthood before the great high and holy God [1 Peter 2:5, 9].
“Well then, pastor, if the ministers of the church are the Christians in the congregation, what is the assignment of the pastor, your paid pastor?” The church in the Bible spells that out with meticulous detail. He presides over the congregation: 1 Timothy 3:4-5, 1 Timothy 5:17, Hebrews 13:7, 17, and 24. Your pastor presides over the people. Number two, he preaches: 2 Timothy 4:1-5, “Doing the work of an evangelist, he makes appeal for the lost,” he preaches. Number three, he shepherds the flock. If there’s sorrow or death, he’s there holding your hand: 1 Peter 5:1-3. All of these ministries in the Bible are to help the laity in their calling to ministry; and he is there to help the people use their spiritual gifts. All are called to witness, and every one of those great commissions in Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8, it’s always plural: “Ye shall be My witnesses” [Acts 1:8], plural. And all are called to minister, but all of us receive differing spiritual gifts [1 Corinthians 12:4-5]. And the pastor is assigned the task of helping his people dedicate and use their spiritual gifts to the Lord.
I want to read to you Ephesians 4:11; but in your King James Version, because of a comma misplaced, you miss the point. Ephesians 4:11, “And God gave some, apostles”; there are no more apostles; “and some, prophets”; there are no more prophets, they were the men of God—because they didn’t have the Bible—who showed the people what God’s will was for the congregation; “and some, evangelist”: we have them, they are men who are called, they’re itinerant, and they go from place to place leading great crusades for Christ; and He calls some “pastors-teachers”; a good pastor is a good teacher.
Now the purpose of the pastor and the teacher: the King James Version says, “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” [Ephesians 4:12]; let’s start at the last one. The word “edifying,” oikodomeō, that means “building up”; the assignment of the pastor-teacher is to build up the body of Christ [Ephesians 4:12].
Now it’s that first clause that the King James Version has a mistake in its comma—there wasn’t any comma, of course, in the original when Paul wrote this—and what he says, the work of the pastor and teacher is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” [Ephesians 4:12]. You have it translated, “For the perfecting of the saints, [comma], for the work of ministry”; what the Greek is, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry [Ephesians 4:12].” That’s the assignment, the big assignment of the pastor: he’s to guide the people into use of their spiritual gifts. All of us called to witness, all of us called to ministry, all of us called; but the pastor is to guide the people in the use of their spiritual gifts, and each one of us has a spiritual gift.
Those spiritual gifts are listed four times in the Bible: one is in Romans 12:6-8, one is in 1 Corinthians chapter 12 and 14 [1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 14:26], one is in Ephesians 4:11-12, and one is in 1 Peter 4:10-11. And here in 1 Peter he says, “Every man is to receive his gift so he can minister to one another.” Each one of you has a gift, a spiritual gift [1 Peter 4:10]. And we were talking about that in a little group the other day; that does not mean a natural gift, that’s talking about a gift God has given to you specially; each one of you has a spiritual gift.
You know, in preparing this message, I read of a preacher who was leading a large group of people who didn’t know each other. They were convened from the ends of the earth there, a large group of them. And when he got through with his part in the service, they all made a big circle, a big, big, big, big, big, big, big circle—clear around the auditorium. And he did something I never heard of in my life: he said, “I want each one of you to introduce yourself. Tell us your name, tell us your address, the country you’re from, and I want you to tell us your spiritual gift, want you to tell us your spiritual gift. What is your spiritual gift?” And each one of them, “My name is, and this is my address, and this is my spiritual gift.” What would you have said? What would you have done? Each one of us has a spiritual gift, something that God has given us especially to use for the furtherance of His kingdom and for the blessing, ministering to His people. Each one of us, we all are ministers, and we have, each one, a special gift; a spiritual endowment from God [Ephesians 4:7].
In one of those years when I was preaching in Russia, I was in the city of Kharkov, that’s a city of about a million and a half people on the eastern side of the Ukraine. As you know, they remand all those Baptist churches, there’s only one allowed in each city, they remand them, they put them out on the edge of town. So I was walking in the night to the Baptist church in Kharkov on the edge of the city. And as I was walking in the night to the Baptist church in Kharkov, a man started walking by my side; he was tall and had a long black coat. Well, you just trust God that he’s your friend—that he’s kind, and that he’s in sympathy—just scare the living daylights out of you! So as I walked along, he spoke to me and knew all about me and was going to the house of the Lord where I was to preach that night. And as we walked along the journey, he took out of his coat pocket, he took out a Bible. I was amazed at him; they don’t have Bibles over there, and this layman had a Bible! I asked him, “Where in the earth did you find that Holy Book?” A foreigner, a tourist, had brought it and given it to him. Well, I said, “What do you do with it?” He said, “By law we can’t have a Sunday school, can’t have a Training Union, can’t have a school of any kind; all we can do under the Russian law is just assemble for the worship service. But,” he said, “what I do is, I take this Bible, and where there is a possibility in a home and a family that they will open their hearts to the Lord, I take this Bible, and I visit in that home, and I read to them out of the sacred Word about the Lord Jesus, and I invite them to the faith.” And he says, “I do that day, by day, by day”—one of the most precious things that I ever stumbled into in my life: that man. Well, he was so loved and revered by the congregation, so many of them had he personally brought to the Lord, taking his Bible, a gift, a spiritual gift, a gift of teaching you’d call it in the Bible, and talking to these people about Jesus.
Well anyway, sweet people, do you remember a few years ago when Zhidkov and Bichkov were here in our church? Those two Russians—Zhidkov, the pastor of the church in Moscow, and Bichkov, who is the head of the Baptist denomination in the Soviet Union—anyway, they were here. And do you remember just incidentally while they were here, there was a little group right, sitting right there, that in the middle of our congregation stood up and began to yell, and to holler, and to heckle, and to call those men traitors, and I don’t know what all, and the police came and took them out and put them in jail? I don’t know whether you all remember those things or not. Well anyway, anyway, as I was visiting with Zhidkov and Bichkov, I told them in my preaching through those cities in Russia, I told them about that man in Kharkov. And I said, “Do you know him?” And they said, “Yes, yes, we know him.” Well I said, “How is he? How is he? He made a great impression upon me, that layman. How is he?” And they said to me, “Pastor, we are sorry to say, that we regret to report the communists have taken him away. They have destroyed him, either by assassination or by execution or by perishing in the frozen tundra of Siberia, they have taken him away.”
He was a true servant of Christ, using a spiritual gift for the Lord. And when they told me that, I thought of Revelation 2:10, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” That’s God’s Word to all of us: the preacher is just one of you—the elder, the bishop—just one of you; he’s a fellow minister. He has a spiritual gift, you have a spiritual gift, and God is blessed when we use our spiritual gifts for His sacred and holy and saving name. What a calling! What a blessing! What a ministry! What a response! What a vocation! “I may be working,” you say, “here in the marketplace to make a living; but my job is serving Christ. My assignment from heaven is witnessing to Him. I am your fellow minister.”
Now may we pray? Our Lord in heaven, what a wonderful thing God has done for us. We also are priests, we also are qadosh, we are holy and set aside for the purposes and the calling of the Lord [1 Peter 2:9]. And what a blessing when we dedicate to Thee the strength of our lives and our spiritual gift from heaven. O Lord, may there come to our wonderful church that glorious presence of the Holy Spirit working with us; not just that the Holy Spirit fall upon the pastor and the staff, but the Holy Spirit in abounding measure, falling upon every member of the congregation. And we too praise the Lord, witness in His name, devote unto Thee our spiritual gifts and see the hand of God manifest in this place, in this city. O God, do it! Thank You, Lord, for the answered prayer, for the renewal from heaven; in Thy wonderful and glorious name, amen.
And now while we sing our hymn of appeal, a family you to come into the fellowship of our dear church, a couple you, a one somebody you; as the Spirit of God shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision, do it in your soul, do it now. And when we stand and sing our hymn of appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and here I stand.” Come, and welcome; while all of us stand, and all of us sing our hymn of appeal.
A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS
I. Secret deacon’s meeting in another church
1. “secret” meant without the preacher
2. Meeting was called to get rid of their preacher
3. This church was shrinking due to lack of witnessing/soulwinning/visiting and the congregation blamed it on the pastor
4. The congregation is equally responsible for those things
II. Scripture references
1. Exodus 19:6 – nation of priests
2. Isaiah 61:1
3. Revelation 5:10
III. Ministering in the marketplace – characteristics of a Christian
1. Believer in Jesus
2. Walks by faith
3. Loyal/faithful to the church
4. Witness for Christ wherever he is
IV. Calling of the pastor