The Infallible Forty Days
March 31st, 1991 @ 10:50 AM
THE INFALLIBLE FORTY DAYS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-31-91 10:50 a.m.
And welcome the uncounted multitudes of you who share this hour on radio and on television. You are now a part of our precious First Baptist congregation in Dallas. And this is the senior pastor bringing the message, an Easter sermon entitled The Infallible Forty Days. In the passage that you just read: “He showed Himself alive after His passion—after His death, after His suffering—by many infallible proofs, being seen of them—one of the infallible proofs—being seen of them forty days, [and] speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” [Acts 1:3]. The Infallible Forty Days.
In Holy Scripture, that period of time, forty days is often set apart and designated to describe one of the great dynamic interventions of God. In the days of Noah, it rained forty days and forty nights [Genesis 7:4, 12]. Moses was on top of Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments and the law of God forty days and forty nights [Exodus 34:28]. Jonah entered the wicked city of Nineveh, preaching and saying: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed” [Jonah 3:4]. Our Lord was tempted and tried by Satan in the wilderness forty tragic days [Luke 4:1-2]. But there is no period of time in the Bible more dynamically meaningful than this, when our Lord appeared to His disciples, being raised from among the dead, for forty days [Acts 1:3].
First: those forty days gave to us once again our precious Savior. The distance between the place of His birth and the place of His death is barely five miles; a distance such as between White Rock Lake and this First Baptist Church. From Bethlehem to Jerusalem, from the manger to the cross, the two great termini of the Lord Jesus and all of His life in between, just that small distance, and yet how meaningful. There on the cross, the suffering and the death of our Lord [Matthew 27:32-50] and there in the little town of Bethlehem, God’s greatest gift to mankind [Matthew 1:20-2:1]. In that little manger scene, the Lord in infinite love and everlasting praise and remembrance, gave to us our precious Savior, there in a manger in Bethlehem [Luke 2:10-16]. And here in the proud city, mankind gave back to God that precious gift on the point of a Roman spear, nailed to a cruel cross [John 19:34].
Would you not have thought that the Almighty God in wrath and in judgment would have visited this world with damnation and a hurricane of destruction? No. Instead, in those infallible forty days, He gave the gift of love back to us again [Acts 1:3]. And that beautiful second giving we call “Easter.” Again, those infallible forty days changed defeat into incomparable and heavenly and everlasting victory; the tragedy of the cross and the silence of the tomb, death; however everlastingly and invincible, how universal, death. The Pharisees and the Sadducees no longer walked before His cross, speaking in contempt of Him [Matthew 27:39-43] who said “He was the resurrection, and the life” [John 11:25]. Now they just whispered to one another, “He is dead,” and they dispersed. That Roman soldier with a spear, thrust it into His heart and blood and water flowed out, and they left saying, “He is dead” [John 19:34]. The Roman centurion who presided over His execution formed and wrote the formal representation and report to Pontius Pilate, the governor, “He is certainly dead” [Mark 15:43-44]. And John the beloved apostle went to his home where he had taken the mother of the Lord Jesus [John 19:27], and recounted to her, “He is dead.” And eleven disciples crawled into eleven shadows, eleven dens of despair [Matthew 26:56] crying, “He is dead.”
Then the electric and dynamic word; Mary Magdalene says the tomb is empty. He is gone [John 20:1-2]. And James and John running to the tomb, “He is gone. He is not here” [John 20:3-8]. And Mary Magdalene rushes to the apostles saying, “I have seen Him! He is alive! He is alive!” [John 20:11-18]. And the women who had come to the tomb, came following her saying, “We have seen Him. He is alive. He is alive” [Matthew 28:9-10]. And the two on the way to Emmaus, returned to Jerusalem saying, “We have seen Him. He is alive. He is alive. He is alive” [Luke 24:13-35]. And in the upper room, the ten apostles [John 20:19-24], and then next Sunday [John 20:19-21], the eleven of the apostles saw Him. He is alive. He is alive [John 20:25-29]. And the five hundred who gathered in Galilee; He is alive. He is alive. He is alive [Matthew 28:16-20; 1 Corinthians 15:6]. And thereafter, He appeared to James, His mother’s son [1 Corinthians 15:7]. What a tragedy. He returned to heaven and His own family in unbelief. He won James, the first pastor of the church in Jerusalem; won his half brother to the Lord [1 Corinthians 15:7]. He is alive. And He appeared to Stephen, God’s first martyr. He saw Jesus in heaven alive [Acts 7:55-56]. And He appeared to Saul of Tarsus, breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the people of God [Acts 9:1-6]. He is alive. He is alive. And when John was exiled to the isle of Patmos, there He appeared in a glorious apocalyptic Revelation [Revelation 1:9-13]. He is alive. He is alive.
If you have read the biography of the illustrious predecessor in this pulpit, George W. Truett, in Johnson County on a bird hunt with J. C. Arnold, captain of the Texas Rangers and then chief of police in the city of Dallas, the great Pastor Truett unthinkingly shifted his gun from this arm to this arm. Accidentally the hammerless shotgun went off. The chief of police walking in front of him, tragically wounded, and died. The chief of police died on a Wednesday. And the great pastor said, “I’ll never preach again. I cannot with the blood of that innocent man on my hands. I’ll never preach again.” Wednesday night, he never slept. Thursday night, he never slept. Friday night, he never slept. Saturday night he fell into a deep slumber. And in the midst of the slumber, Jesus appeared to him. In all of His glory, the pastor described, Jesus appeared to him, and said to him: “Be not afraid. From now on you are My man.” He awakened his wife and told her of the vision. He went back to sleep. And the second time, the Lord appeared to the great pastor with the same words: “Be not afraid. From now on, you are My man.” He awakened his wife. Went back to sleep. And the third time, the Lord appeared to the great preacher: “Be not afraid. From now on, you are My man.”
Dr. Truett announced he would preach here in this sacred place, behind this holy pulpit. He announced, “I will be preaching Sunday night.” The other churches in the city of Dallas dismissed their hours of worship. And the people crowded and thronged into this great auditorium. And Dr. Truett stood in this very place. And the people present described it as though it were an angel from heaven; a voice from God. And they said in his message there was that pathos and that heart, so characteristic of the great pastor through the years of his ministry that followed after; turning defeat and disaster and despair and death into glorious and living victory.
He is alive. Those infallible forty days define for us our life that is yet to come [Acts 1:3]. As the sacred apostle writes in 2 Timothy 1:10: “In His death, Christ brought life and immortality to light.”
How many times in the sixty-four years I have been a pastor have I stood by an open grave and looked up to heaven and wondered: “O God, what shall it be in these unfolding centuries and millennia yet to come? What of death?” The answer is found in these infallible forty days. As the Book says: “This same Jesus shall so come as ye have seen Him go” [Acts 1:11]. This same Jesus, the same Lord.
Each one of us—and that includes Him, is known by little infinitesimal minutia of personal characteristics. What makes you, you. Jesus was thus known. Mary Magdalene recognized Him by the way He pronounced her name. There was a certain way Jesus said it, unlike any other. And she recognized Him by the way He pronounced her name [John 20:15-16]. When John ran into that empty tomb, he saw the clothes lying here undisturbed and the napkin folded over in a place by itself. And John says he recognized that it was the Lord Jesus by the way that He folded a napkin. Jesus had a certain way of putting aside that napkin. And John recognized Him by the way that He folded a napkin [John 20:4-8]. The two on the way to Emmaus recognized Him when they sat down to break bread by the way that He said a blessing. Jesus had a certain way of saying thanks at the table, and they recognized Him in the way that He said thanks [Luke 24:30-31, 35]. The disciples on the Sea of Galilee recognized who that was in the shadowy dawn of the morning, standing on the seashore by the miraculous draft of fishes [John 21:1-14]. The doubting apostle Thomas recognized Him by the scars in His hands and in His side [John 20:26-28]. And our Lord said: “Handle Me and see: for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, such as ye see Me have” [Luke 24:39]. And He said: “Have you here ought to eat?” And He ate a piece of fish, and of a honeycomb [Luke 24:41-43]. It was the same Lord Jesus; this same Jesus. And when the great resurrection day comes, you will be you, and we shall be we, only glorified, and sanctified, and purified. Those infallible days that brought to us our same living Lord [Acts 1:3], is the promise of a great victory that God shall bestow upon each one of us.
And last: those forty days, those infallible forty days, having inured for us and affirmed for us the presence of our Savior through the years of our lives and the centuries and the millennia of this dispensation. Jesus is with us, alive. They knew not when or where or how they might see Him. Any place, any time, anyhow, anywhere. In the garden, suddenly, there He was. By the tomb, suddenly, there He was [John 20:11-16]. Walking down a lonely road, suddenly, there He is [Luke 24:13-15]. On the seaside, there He stands [John 21:1-4]. On the mountaintop, there He is [Matthew 28:16-20; 1 Corinthians 15:6]. Walking through Bethany by their sides [Luke 24:50]; any time, any where He might appear. And finally, they did not need to see Him present. They knew Him by His Spirit working with them.
And thus, it is with us today. We don’t need to see Him with our physical eyes anymore. We know Him by His presence in our hearts, in our lives, in our dear church, in this service, in the providences that attend our separate ways. Those forty days assured to us and affirmed for us the presence of Jesus in our lives [Acts 1:3].
I stood one time looking at those incomparably impressive Victorian Falls on the Zambezi River in what we once called Rhodesia, now called Zimbabwe. Ah, Niagara Falls is one hundred sixty feet height and one-half a mile wide. The Victorian Falls are a full mile wide and four hundred feet high. And that vast Zambezi River pours over them. I stood there looking at that enormously impressive phenomenon of nature and I was standing by a heroic, enormous statue of David Livingstone. He is the first white man to ever see them. He discovered them. And there looking at those falls, is that enormous statue of David Livingstone. And as I stood there by that statue of Livingstone and looked at those enormous falls, I thought of how he discovered them. Coming down the River Zambezi, the natives who accompanied him said to him, “You dare not go further. The cannibalistic tribes down there on the Zambezi will destroy you. You dare not go further.”
David Livingstone did something that I wish to the Lord I had the faith to do. I’ve tried it. And I don’t have the faith. He closed his Bible like this. And he prayed God to answer the prayer. Then he put his Bible down and looked, and the verse that he read was God’s answer to his prayer and the will of the Lord for his life. And when those natives said, “You dare not go further, those evil tribes will destroy you,” David Livingstone looked up to God, and prayed, and put his Bible on the table, and let it open, and read Matthew 28:20, “You go and I will go with you to the end of the world. And David Livingstone lifted up his face and said to the natives that accompanied him, “Arise, we’re going. He has promised to go with us to the end of the world, and He will keep His word.” That’s how he discovered the falls on the Zambezi.
Jesus is with us. In every vicissitude and fortune of life, He is with us [Matthew 28:20]. In every providence that could ever await and every decision we ever make, Jesus is with us [Matthew 28:20]. O God, how much those infallible forty days have meant to us in our Christian pilgrimage! [Acts 1:3].
He lives, He lives,
Christ Jesus lives today!
He talks with me,
And walks with me
Along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, (Glory to God!)
Salvation to impart!
You ask me how
(do you)I know He lives?
He lives inside my heart.
[“He Lives,” Alfred H. Ackley]
Jesus is alive, is your dearest friend and will accompany you every step of your pilgrim way [Matthew 28:20].
And to the great throng in God’s sanctuary this precious moment, down one of these stairways from the balcony, down one of these aisles in the press of people on this lower floor, “Pastor, today I have decided for Christ [Romans 10:9-13]. I am accepting Him in His gracious atonement for my sins [Matthew 27:32-50]; in His glorious and triumphant resurrection [Matthew 28:5-7], and in the promise that we will see Him and one another again some glorious resurrection day [John 14:1-3]. On the first note of the first stanza, come. Angels attend you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.
INFALLIBLE FORTY DAYS
I. Forty days
period oft seen in Bible presenting cataclysmic, marvelous results (Genesis
7:4, Exodus 24:18, 34:29, Jonah 3:4, Matthew 4:1-2)
Jesus showed Himself by infallible proofs as being raised
II. Gave back to us our risen Lord
A. From Bethlehem to
B. God’s gift to fallen
III. Turned defeat into victory
A. Despair and fear of
B. He is risen!
1. Appears to
individuals and to groups
2. Continues to
appear after His ascension
IV. Opened corridor into heaven
A. The same Jesus (Luke
24:39-43, John 20:27)