The Infallible Forty Days
March 26th, 1989 @ 10:50 AM
THE INFALLIBLE FORTY DAYS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Acts 1: 3
3-26-89 10:50 a.m.
Once again we welcome the throngs and multitudes of you who are sharing this hour on radio and on television. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Infallible Forty Days. It is an Easter sermon from the first verses of the first chapter of the Book of Acts.
Dr. Luke is writing, God’s beloved physician. He says, “The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus,” he is referring to his Gospel, the Gospel of Luke, ”The former writing did I compact, O Theophilus,” his Roman sponsor, “of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach,” the Lord Jesus is still working, still moving. We have in the Gospels the beginning of His earthly ministry, and it continues on until the consummation of the age:
All that Jesus began both to do and to teach,
Until the day He was taken up, after that through the Holy Ghost,
He gave commandment unto the apostles . . .
To whom also He showed Himself alive after His passion, after His suffering and crucifixion, by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God.
And from the text the title of the message, The Infallible Forty Days.
Frequently through Scripture, there will be a period of time in which the majesty and the cataclysmic omnipotent power of God is displayed in a period of time, namely forty days. When the Lord God punctured the canopy that surrounded this earth [Genesis 7:11]—there was a time when it was as tropical at the antipodes, at the North Pole and the South Pole, as it is in the Congo jungle today; there was a time when the entire earth was a greenhouse. This is not just from the Bible; these archaeologists dig up tropical plants at the poles. And they dig up animals who are known but to live in tropical climates. They discover their bones and carcasses at the poles. There was a time when the entire earth was a tropical greenhouse. It was covered with a canopy. The earth had never seen rain. The earth was watered by dew. And when the earth became violent and wicked, God punctured that canopy in the days of Noah. And it rained, the first time the earth had ever seen rain, and it rained forty days and forty nights [Genesis 7:4, 12].
Again, when Moses stood in the presence of Jehovah God and received from the hands of the Almighty Himself the law, he stood there face to face with God for forty days and forty nights [Exodus 34:27-28].
Again, when Jonah came into the capital of Assyria, on the banks of the Tigris River, a great city named Nineveh; when he entered into Nineveh, he preached, saying, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed” [Jonah 3:4].
And when the Lord was baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan [Luke 3:21-22], He was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness. And there for forty days and forty nights, He was tried and tested and tempted by the arch-enemy, Satan [Luke 4:1-12].
But out of all those periods of time, forty days in Holy Scripture, there is none so meaningful as the forty days in which, by infallible proofs, the living Lord resurrected and alive, was seen by His holy apostles and declared to the earth [Acts 1:3]. First: those forty days gave back to us our Lord. In a little village, He was born [Matthew 1:18-2:1]; and in the proud city, He was crucified [Matthew 27:32-50]. And the distance between those two is hardly six miles. Within those six miles, the life of our omnipotent Savior was encompassed; from Christmas to Easter, from the manger [Luke 2:11-16], to the tomb [Luke 24:1-6], from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, just so small a distance. Yet in that is presented and encompassed, delineated, the entire programming of God for the redemption of the earth [John 3:16; 1 John 2:2].
In the little village, the great God of heaven gave to the world His greatest love. The angel sang and all the firmament of the heaven rejoiced. Jesus was born; a gift of God to mankind [Luke 2:1-16]. And there in the proud city close by, mankind handed back the gift of Jesus to God on the point of a Roman spear, crucified and nailed to the cross [John 19:16-34]. You would have thought that the anger and judgment and wrath of the Almighty would have consumed all humanity and made a furnace of this world. But not so. Instead, in His long suffering, God to the utmost remembering us in mercy, God gave us back His only begotten Son; raised from the dead, immortalized, glorified [Luke 24:1-7] and the day of that second giving we call Easter. The love of God, aboundingly expressed in the second time, He gives us our glorious Lord [Luke 24:1-7].
Number two—those infallible forty days [Acts 1:3], the most dynamic and meaningful of any period of time in human history—number two: they turned unspeakable tragedy [John 19:16-34] into glorious, indescribable triumph [John 20:1-9]; the sorrow of the cross and the silence of the tomb. The Pharisees and the scribes, marching up and down before His cross, casting insults into His face [Mathew 27:39-40], even they cried to one another, “He is dead. He is dead.” The soldiers to whom was accorded the responsibility of His crucifixion cried, “He is dead.” And one of them to make sure thrust an iron spear into His heart [John 19:34]. “He is dead.” And the Roman centurion who presided over the execution made his official report to the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate and said, “He is dead” [Mark 15:44-45].
His sorrowing mother, taken to the home of John [John 19:25-27], bowed her head, and in a broken heart, cried before God, “He is dead.” And the eleven disciples crawling into eleven shadows [Matthews 26:56], with every hope they ever entertained for the kingdom of God, bowed in despair saying, “He is dead. He is dead.”
Then in electric, unbelievable, glorious hope, Mary Magdalene came to Peter and John and said, “The tomb is empty. He is not here. He is gone” [John 20:1-2]. And Peter and John, running to the tomb, looked. It was empty. He was gone [John 20:3-8]. Then the women came to the disciples and said, “We have seen Him. He is alive. He is alive” [Matthew 28:9-10]. And Cleopas and his friend, walking on the way to Emmaus [Luke 24:13-18], came to the disciples in Jerusalem and said, “We have seen Him. He is alive” [Luke 24:33-35].
And then in the upper room, ten of the apostles gathered together, there He stands in the midst. He is alive [John 20:19-25]. And the following Sunday night, with the eleven apostles together, there He is. He is alive [John 20:26-29]. And by the seashore, with the fishermen, there He is. He is alive [John 21:1-25]. And on a mountain appointed in Galilee, there He stands. He is alive [Matthew 28:16-20; 1 Corinthians 15:6]. And in Bethany, ascending up into heaven, there He is. He is alive [Luke 24:50; Acts 1:9].
And that continued and continued through the years and the centuries and the ages that are following. He appears to His half-brother James who becomes pastor of the church in Jerusalem. He is alive [1 Corinthians 15:7]. And He appears to Stephen, God’s first Christian martyr. He is alive [Acts 7:55-56]. And He appears to Saul of Tarsus. He is alive [Acts 9:1-5]. And He appears to John, sainted apostle John, on the isle of Patmos. He is alive [Revelation 1:9-18]. And through the days and the centuries since, saints of God have seen Him and heard Him. He is alive.
I do not think there is a more dramatic moment in Christian history than the word of the pastor of this church, the great George W. Truett. As you know, in a hunting incident, he accidentally shot and killed the Chief of Police of the City of Dallas, J. C. Arnold. And after that awesome tragedy, the great preacher put his Book down, and his call to the gospel down, and thought never to stand in this pulpit again and never to preach again.
And three times, three times did the Lord Jesus Christ appear to him, calling him anew to the devoted ministry he possessed in Christ Jesus and said to him, “Be of good courage. For now on, you are My preacher. You are My man.” He is alive. He is alive. The greatest news that ever fell upon human heart: Jesus is alive.
Number three: those infallible forty days [Acts 1:3], they delineate for us—they describe for us the life we are to share in the world yet to come. As Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 1:10, “He destroyed death and brought life and immortality to life.” How many have stood by an open grave and looked up into the eternal sky and cried, “What is it like to die? And what is the world that is yet to come? Shall we live? What shall we be? Shall we know each other?”
The answer lies in those infallible forty days [Acts 1:3]. It was the same Lord Jesus who had been laid in the tomb [Matthew 27:57-66], who now, raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-10], appeared to His apostles [John 20:19-29]; the same Lord Jesus. His recognitions, His personality traits, His idiosyncrasies were just the same. What made Jesus, Jesus, what makes you, you; those were just the same, raised from the dead as in the days of His flesh.
For example, Mary knew Him. Mary recognized Him by the way He pronounced her name [John 20:16]. There was a certain inflection in the voice of our Lord. She recognized Him immediately by the way He pronounced her name. John knew He was alive, immediately, when entering into the tomb, he saw the napkin folded up in a place by itself. There was a way that Jesus folded up a napkin. And John recognized it when he saw that napkin in a place by itself. Jesus was alive [John 20:6-8].
Cleopas, on the way to Emmaus, a friend, a stranger in step with him [Luke 24:13-18]; and when they broke bread in evening time, Cleopas recognized Him by the way He said the blessing [Luke 24:30-31]. Jesus had a way of saying grace at the table. And when Cleopas raised his face to look at that stranger who was praying that prayer of grace and blessing, it was Jesus; recognized Him by the way that He said the blessing [Luke 24:31, 35].
When our Lord suddenly appeared to the apostles in the upper room, they were affrighted, thinking they were seeing a spirit [Luke 24:36-37]. And our Lord said:
Handle Me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, such as ye see Me have—
the same Lord Jesus—
And then He asked, Have ye here anything to eat?
And they gave Him a piece of a [broiled fish] and of an honeycomb.
And He did eat before them.
[Luke 24:39, 41-43]
Have you ever thought of that? And when you have a tendency to stumble, may I remind you, when you eat, dead inert matter is quickened into your life. It becomes flesh, and blood, and mind, and heart, and feeling, so it comes you! It’s a miracle!
Take it one step higher. It became a spiritual body. That is the most unusual phrase in the Bible, a spiritual body. Those two terms are antithetical they are anomalies; they are contradictory. A spiritual body, a spirit is one thing; body, matter is another thing. A spiritual body is unthinkable! And yet that’s the miracle in the resurrection of our Lord, and that’s the miracle that awaits us. We shall have a spiritual body [1 Corinthians 15:44]. And that’s why those infallible days; our Lord is affirming to us and confirming to us that death doesn’t change. We’re still the same. Jesus in the days of His flesh and Jesus in the days of His resurrection is still the same Lord Jesus [Acts 1:3].
And you who live today, in the hour of our resurrection [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], you, rising from the grave, will be you, and I shall be I. And the little idiosyncrasies and personality traits that characterize you, will characterize you in heaven. And I’ll recognize you by them.
Ten thousand times and especially after a death will I be asked, “Will we know each other in heaven?” My brother, we won’t really know each other till we get there. I’ll know you; I’ll recognize you. You’ll be you, and I’ll be I, and we’ll be together with our living Lord in heaven [John 14:1-3; Revelation 21:1-3].
That’s the gospel. That’s the infallible forty days—the same Lord Jesus [Acts 1:3]. And might I add, it’ll be that same Lord Jesus who invites us into glory. “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I am coming to receive you unto Myself” [John 14:2-3]. It will be the same loving, tender, compassionate Lord Jesus who opens the gate of heaven and invites us to come in [John 14:3]. What a glorious gospel and what an incomparably precious God.
I must close. Those infallible forty days give us the assurance of Jesus forever with us [Revelation 22:3-5]. Without announcement, suddenly He will be present; just there He is. Mary Magdalene weeping, suddenly, there He is by her side [John 20:11-16]. Cleopas on the way to Emmaus, just suddenly there He is walking by his side [Luke 24:13-15]. The ten in the upper room, suddenly He is there [John 20:19]. And the following Sunday night, suddenly with the eleven; there He is [John 20:26]. Fishing, suddenly there He is [John 21:1-14].
And the day came when they didn’t need to see Him with their naked eyes. They knew Him by His presence working with them. And that is the way Jesus is with us today. We know Him. We experience His presence and His blessing in the pilgrimage of our earthly life. He is with us [Matthew 28:20]. He is our friend. He’s our fellow pilgrim. And we are walking with Him into the courts of glory. My brother and sister, there is nothing in this earth comparable to the beauty and the preciousness and the glory of the hope we have in our living Lord [Titus 2:13].
And to the great throngs in the sanctuary of God’s house today, in a moment when we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, “Pastor, God has called me, and I’m answering with my life. Here’s my family and we’re all coming.” A couple you, to give your home and your house to Jesus, or one somebody you, “Pastor, this is the day of salvation for me, and I’m answering with my life.” Out of the balcony, there’s time and to spare, down a stairway, in a throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “The Lord is here, and I’m giving my heart and life to Him” [Romans 10:9-10]. On the first note of the first stanza, come. Welcome. Angels attend you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.