Christ and the Common People
August 4th, 1991 @ 8:15 AM
CHRIST AND THE COMMON PEOPLE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-4-91 8:15 a.m.
You are now a part of our wonderful First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the senior pastor delivering the message entitled Christ and the Common People.
In our preaching through the Book of Mark, we are in chapter 12. And the message is a textual sermon this morning, one half of the thirty-seventh verse in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Mark: “And the common people heard Him gladly” [Mark 12:37]. The Greek says the great throngs, the great multitudes, heard Him gladly. And in this King James Version translated: “And the common people heard Him gladly.”
It is an aside remark, as though a passer-by, a stranger, an onlooker, was just observing how the rulers and ecclesiastical leaders and political saints of the nation of Israel responded to the Lord, in comparison with the attitude and response of the common people. A casual observation: “And the common people heard Him gladly” [Mark 12:37].
One of the things that is surprising when you read the Gospels is the anger and hatred and contempt of the political and ecclesiastical leadership of the people of Judah concerning our Lord. For example, a typical passage, in the seventh chapter of the Gospel of John:
Then came the officers to the chief priests and Pharisees—the attendants in the Sanhedrin, the servants there of these chief priests and Pharisees—and the chief priests and Pharisees said unto these attendants, Why have ye not arrested Him? Why have you not brought Him?
And those attendants—those emissaries—answered—we never heard a man speak like that Man—Never a man spake like this Man—we just couldn’t find it in our hearts to put our hands on Him and arrest Him and drag Him here.
Then answered the Pharisees, Are ye also deceived?
“Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed on Him?” [John 7:48]. Does Caiaphas the high priest believe on Him? Does Annas the high priest believe on Him? Do any of the leaders of the Sanhedrin believe on Him?” What did Herod Antipas do when Jesus was brought in his presence? He looked upon Him with contempt and despised Him and made fun of Him [Luke 23:11]. “Have any of the rulers believed on Him? [John 7:48]. But this people”—these common people—“who knoweth not the law are cursed” [John 7:49]. You couldn’t find a more dramatic presentation of the response of the nation to Jesus than that. I repeat, the rulers and the ecclesiastical hierarchy looked upon Him with contempt and with hatred [Luke 23:11]. “But the common people heard Him gladly” [Mark 12:37].
You have a good description of these common people in Acts 4:13: “They took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus,” and the description: “they were agrammatoi kai idiotai.” When those rulers and the leaders of the hierarchy looked at these disciples and the people who were following them, they noticed that they were agrammatoi kai idiotai [Acts 4:13]. When I say that, even in the Greek it spells out a contempt toward these people who were believing in the Lord Jesus. Agrammatoi—“a” in Greek is a negative. It is alpha privative. Agrammatoi, they were without grammar; they were unlearned, they were ignorant, kai, and, idiotai [Acts 4:13]. You’ve got the word idiot in that, kai idiotai. They were laypeople, they were uneducated people. That was the people that loved the Lord Jesus and followed the Lord Jesus. Isn’t that a strange thing? It’s almost unbelievable. But we are going to look at it today.
There are two developments in organized religion. It goes two ways. One, it has a tendency to go intellectual, academic, to sit in a philosopher’s chair behind an academic door and to be separated from the common people. That’s one tendency of organized religion. A second tendency of organized religion is to become elite. It dresses itself in lavish robes and gives itself to lavish ritual. Now we’re going to look at both of those tendencies.
First, the intellectual tendency; the tendency for organized religion to go academic. You know, everybody knows, that these great universities in America and in Western Europe, all of them were organized by common Christians in order to reach the multitudes for Jesus. And all of you know that they have become separated from Christ, separated from the Bible, and separated from the great purpose for which they were organized. Everyone of them. There’s no exception to it. Whether it is Harvard, whether it is Yale, whether it is Princeton, whether it is Chicago University, whether it is that great university in Hamilton, Ontario, no matter where, it all has a tendency to go that way.
And we see it here in our own midst, here in our state of Texas. I have a tear sheet out of a national magazine, and in it is an article by a professor in Baylor University. I don’t have time but to read two sentences from it. “The Genesis story is on a level with other creation myths”—myth, legend. “And the story of the creation of the world and of us is one with all of the other mythological and legendary stories.” All right, a second sentence; “The Darwinian theory must be taught in public schools since it is based upon the evidence which is convincing to all serious observers around the world.”
That’s an out-and-out lie. Well, what happens? This is what happens. You send your child to a Christian school, a so-called Christian school, and that child is taught in that Christian school that the Bible is full of myths and legends, and that true scientific observation repudiates all of the miracles and all of these things that the Bible said that God did and Jesus did. You teach your child that in a Christian school and it is devastating to the child.
You teach your child in a state university that the Bible is full of mythological and legendary matter, and it doesn’t matter to the child at all because he’s going to a state school, and the state school has infidels all through its faculty, and they expect it there. This is an infidel here teaching in a Texas state university and he’s teaching all of that stuff and it doesn’t matter to him at all. That’s just the way you expect it in a state school. But you send that child to a Christian school, and in this instance a Baptist university, and he is taught that, and it ruins his faith, it devastates his heart and his soul.
That is the tendency of religion, organized religion. It’s a miracle to me to look at it; these academicians sitting in their philosophical chairs, writing and teaching things, just out of their minds and out of their own conceptions and out of their own philosophical searchings and thinkings, repudiating the revelation of God.
I want to take two instances of that. Their attitude toward sin. Sin to an academician is a theological abstraction. It’s an environmental aberration. Sin to an academician is the drag of our bestial ancestors. Well, what is sin in the Bible? I’ll tell you what sin is in the Bible. You give me your name and your address and I will point out to the people a specimen of a sinner. All have sinned, and that includes that white-robed angel there. “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” [Romans 3:23] That’ll be the Bible. It’s an amazing attitude.
Let’s take the way of salvation. You have never heard or read such evolved theories as the theories of atonement, the theories of salvation, the theories of how God saves us. But the Bible, how plain and simple it is! Jesus on the way to die in Jerusalem, stops in a town where the sinner lives. He goes to the street on which the sinner’s house is domiciled. He stands in front of a tree that the sinner has climbed and He calls his name. And He eats dinner with him. And He brings him life eternal [Luke 19:1-9].
That’s true of our Lord Jesus across every page of the Gospels, across the story of the beginning church in the Book of Acts, and across the pages of history—our blessed, wonderful Lord seeking those who are lost and bringing them to the faith and salvation in the redemptive love of the Lord Jesus. He did not come into the world to blame. He did not only come to seek. It was to save that He came [Luke 19:10; 1 Timothy 1:15]. And when we call Him Iesous, Jesus, Savior, we call Him by His name [Matthew 1:21]. The simple precious message of the saving grace of the Lord Jesus [Ephesians 2:8], that’s the Biblical message.
I’m going to take the other one just for a minute; the tendency of religion to go elite, to be elitist, to be separate and to be gorgeously arrayed and robed and to be separated from the people. If you go to worship in the Eastern Church there is a solid wall at the front between those who are leading the service, the priest, and the people out there who are in attendance. One of the strangest things that you could ever read in history is the separation of the church, the tendency of the church to robe itself and to gorgeously array itself and to surround itself with all of the accouterments of affluence and riches, to separate itself from the common people.
For example, John Wesley, the saintly John Wesley, whose great movement saved England from the terrorists of the French Revolution, John Wesley; John Wesley never one time in his life had opportunity to preach in a Church of England pulpit, not one time. He was out there, forced out there, wonderfully, graciously—praise God for it!—he was forced out there in the highways and in the byways and in the squares and on the streets of the cities and countrysides of England.
A “shouting Methodist” when I grew up was one word. I have heard those dear people come out of their revival services and shout all over the little town in which I lived. The great, marvelous spiritual movement of Methodism, but I repeat, not one time in his life was John Wesley ever in a pulpit of the Church of England, not one time.
Our Baptist people, our Baptist people, they came out of the revival services among the common people. They were in camp revival meetings. I’ve held them without end. They’ve been under open tabernacles. They’ve been out there where the folks are. Just preaching the gospel and winning them to Jesus. Today, we have First Baptist Churches in our cities in which you freeze to death—just like an iceberg, just like a refrigerator, cold and removed. And a half-infidel preacher up there, decrying the inspiration of the Word of God and making fun of it and those who believe in it. These are great First Baptist Churches in our cities today, and they’re dying, they’re dying. Great God! O Lord!
Do you remember Thomas Aquinas visiting in the Vatican in Rome? And the pope held up in his hand gold and silver and said to Thomas Aquinas, “No longer can the church say, ‘Silver and gold have I none’” [Acts 3:6], —in the Bible. And Thomas Aquinas replied to the pope, “And no longer can the church say, ‘Arise, take up thy bed, and walk’” [John 5:8]. God’s call today is that we minister to the common people, to the great masses of people. Our destiny lies in them whether we will or no.
In the twelfth century, in those dark ages, education was reserved for the aristocracy. And the princes kept the people in darkness, in uneducated blackness. Those are called the Dark Ages. And in our modern time there has been, in Germany, an aristocratic military group of people, leaders. And the great masses of the German people were in trade unions. They were in all of those things that you work with, with your hands. And they were taught to obey and to follow those military aristocrats to the damnation of the world. In one of their wars, eighteen million people killed.
Dear God, when Jesus came into the world—you follow me and see if what I’m saying isn’t true—when Jesus came into the world, tell me, was He born in a palace? I would have been like those magi: “We have seen His star in the East, and have come to worship Him” [Matthew 2:2]. And they came to the palace of the king, of Herod, and said, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews?” [Matthew 2:2-3]. I would have done that and you would have, too. If the Lord had sent word to you that Jesus is born, King of the Jews, you would have gone to the palace. Where did God send them? The Lord God sent them into a stable, to look into a manger. And there was the Lord God Jehovah incarnate, down there in a stable [Luke 2:11-16].
His work as He grew up—I would have thought that the King of all the heavens and the earth, the God of Glory, would have had servants around Him. How did He grow up? He grew up working with His hands. He was a carpenter [Mark 6:3]. His hands were calloused.
His ministry, what kind of a ministry did He have? John the Baptist sent to Him and said, “Are you really the Christ? You? Are you really the Christ?” [Matthew 11:2-3]. And [Jesus] told the servants of John the Baptist, “You go back and tell him that the blind see, and the lame and halt walk and the poor have the gospel preached unto them—and the poor have the gospel preached to them” [Matthew 11:4-5].
And when He died, how did He die? He died in the midst of malefactors, with an insurrectionist and a thief on either side of Him [Matthew 27:38-50]. That’s how He died. And when he was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7], to whom did He appear? He appeared not to the rulers and the theological hierarchy. He appeared to the humble of the earth [Mark 2:15-16].
Renan says the most beautiful passage in human literature is the last chapter of the Gospel of [Luke] [Luke 24:13-35]. Jesus, suddenly walking by the side of two humble disciples [Luke 24:13-16], one of them named [Luke 24:18], never mentioned again—don’t know who. The other, unnamed—don’t have any idea who they are; Jesus, walking by their side, and speaking to them; Jesus among the humble and the common people of the earth [Luke 24:17]. And that’s the way He is still.
I’ve mentioned to you a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful painting that I saw in a national art gallery. A poor family, poor, poor, everything about it poor, and they’re gathered around the table, and the father and mother and the children are with their heads bowed. And above, unseen by them, the Lord Jesus with His hands outstretched in blessing over the poor of the earth.
And my sweet people, He hasn’t changed. The glory that surrounds Him and crowns Him in heaven today [Hebrews 2:9], is the glory and the surrounding love of the same One who ministered to despised Samaritans [John 4:7-42; Luke 19:1-10], and outcast publicans [Luke 18:9-13]. The hand that holds the seven stars [Revelation 1:16-20], is the same hand that blessed little children [Mark 10:16]. The countenance that shines above the brightness of the sun [Acts 26:13-14] is the same glorious face that wept over Jerusalem [Luke 19:41], and wept over the sorrowing sisters of Lazarus [John 11:32-35], and wept in Gethsemane [Hebrews 5:7-8]. And the breast girded about with a golden girdle [Revelation 1:13], is the same breast upon which John the disciple leaned when the Lord instituted the Lord’s Supper [John 13:25]. He hasn’t changed. The glory that surrounds Him today [Hebrews 2:9] is the glory surrounding the same Lord Jesus we knew in the days of His flesh [Hebrews 13:8].
I have to close. Let me say of us, this is the great appeal of God to us today, to minister to the people, all of them, all of them [Mark 6:34; 1 Peter 5:2]. And the common people heard Him gladly [Mark 12:37]; the great masses of the people to minister to.
Pastor, I want to tell you something that happened to me when I came to the church forty-seven years ago. I have my library and my study, as you know, at the parsonage. And when I get up in the morning I go to my study. Often times, and especially now, when I don’t get up as early as I used to, I go to my study at night. Anyway, I had never come down to the church in the morning—only time I would come would be if we had a funeral here. I never come down in the morning. I stay in my study every morning.
For some reason that I cannot remember, I cannot recall it, I came down here to the church in a morning, at an early morning hour, I came down. And Patterson Street, right there, when I walked down Patterson Street, there was a crowd gathered around that front door, a pretty big crowd, a whole bunch of people gathered around that front door. I hastily went over there and wormed my way through the crowd to see what it was that had called their attention. And when I got into the heart of the crowd, up there toward the door there was a man lying prostrate on the steps. He was a poor man. He was dressed in overalls, and he was lying there with his hands reaching out toward that front door. And I stood over him and looked into his face. And as I did, he breathed his last, and he died there, right there.
In just a moment, almost, two police came in a car, picked him up and carried him away. And the crowd dispersed and forgot about it. But that has burned in my mind to this present day. Who was that man laying there by the hand of God on our doorstep, right there? And what was his name? And why was he on our doorsteps and his hands reaching toward our front door?
It was God’s message to me to remember the poor and the homeless and the outcast and the common people of our city. And that’s where our ministry to the poor began. Immediately, I began the outreach ministries of our church. God has blessed it. We have thirty-one of those chapels now.
A minister of great austerity.
Climbed up in his high church steeple
To be nearer God
That he might hand God’s Word
Down to His people.
In his day, God said,
“Come down and die.”
And he cried out from his steeple,
“Where art Thou, Lord?”
And the Lord replied,
“I’m down here among My people.”
[“The Preacher’s Mistake” by William Croswell Doane]
If you minister in the name of the Lord, that’s where you’ll be, wherever people are. Up and down these streets. Over there on the wrong side of town. This side of town. In the middle of the town.
Let me have my church on a city street,
Where the race of men go by.
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner’s seat,
Or hurl the cynic’s ban—
Let me have my church on a city street—
And be a friend to man.
[adapted from “The House by the Side of the Road” by Sam Walter Foss]
For the love of God is greater
Than the measure of man’s mind
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
[“Souls of Men, Why Will Ye Scatter?” by F. W. Faber]
Isn’t it wonderful that God remembers us no matter who we are? Publicans and sinners, out and in, up and down, near and beyond, the Lord loves us.
I want to close with a compliment I heard on our church the day before yesterday. Lanny Elmore, our minister to our missionary ministries here in Dallas, Lanny Elmore said to me, “Pastor, did you know they have asked me to conduct a seminar for our South-wide ministries? And the seminar is to be brought to the pastors and leaders of our denomination of our mission work here in the church. And the South-wide leader who has asked me to conduct the seminar said to me, ‘The most model of all of the outreach ministries in our Southern Baptist Zion is in the First Baptist Church of Dallas. And we want you to come and to teach our fellow ministers how you reach out to the city.’”
Oh, it made me so proud and so glad and so happy! God blesses our people in reaching out to be a blessing to those who so desperately need His saving grace.
Just loving you and praising God for you and believing that Jesus will always bless this great downtown church as long as we minister to the common people.
Now, let’s sing us a song Eddie. And while we sing the hymn, a family you, to come into the fellowship of our dear church. Or somebody you, to give your heart to the Lord Jesus [Romans 10:9-13], or to answer the call of the Holy Spirit in your heart. While we make appeal, on the first note of the first stanza come. And angels attend and God make you welcome, while we stand and while we sing.
AND THE COMMON PEOPLE
I. Jesus and the religious, political
leaders of the day
A. They held Him in
contempt (John 7:45-)
B. But the common
people heard Him gladly (Acts 4:13)
II. The tendency in organized religion
A. To go academic,
toward sin (Romans 3:23)
B. To go elite
III. God’s call today is that we minister
to the masses of the common people
A. Their neglect leads
to our ultimate destruction
B. Follow Jesus out to
the common people
1. His birth (Matthew 2:2)
2. His work as a
3. His ministry (Matthew 11:5)
4. His death
5. In His
resurrection, to whom did He appear? (Luke 24)
C. Same Christ in glory
is the same who ministered to despised and outcast
IV. God’s call to our church
A. Minister to the
people – all of them
1. The man on our
B. God remembers us no
matter who we are