CHRIST LOVED THE CHURCH
Dr W. A. Criswell
11-15-92 10:50 a.m.
. . .dear First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the senior pastor, W. A. Criswell, delivering the message entitled Christ Loved the Church. It is a textual sermon from Ephesians 5:25, “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it.” If you read very much at all you have come across the expression that we are now living in a post-Christian era. For almost two thousand years western civilization has been characterized by its foundation, the faith of the Lord Jesus our Savior. But there is an indifference and a turning away from the Christian faith and the Christian church that is almost universal in our era and in our time.
If you go through modern Europe, hardly anyone attends church. In England hardly one out of a hundred will be in divine services. Sometime ago being in England there were seven thousand churches for sale. You can buy one of them for a song. And even in America, and even in the Bible belt of the South, and even in our Southern Baptist Convention there is an increasing indifference to the church.
There are four million—Dr. Lewis, you so well know this—there are four million of our reported membership nobody knows where they are. One fourth of our membership is some other place. They’ve not moved their letters. What would you think of a school, one fourth of its students were truant? What would you think of an army, one fourth of the army is AWOL? What would you think of a family, one fourth of them were unaccounted for.
One of the craziest stories I ever heard in my life was of a black, black family, many, many, many children living near a swamp in southern Louisiana. And a neighbor came in and said to the mother, “Did you know, just now I saw an alligator eat one of your little boys?” And she replied, “You know, I’ve been telling my Pa something’s been happening to our children.”
Our churches are like that. There is a vast indifference to the house of God and to the Lord’s Day. If I were picking out a day in which a tremendous athletic contest is to be held, such as this final Super Bowl, I’d say they’re going to play it on Sunday. If you were asking me about the Dallas Cowboys, when are they going to have their game with the Rams, I would say at three o’clock this afternoon. It is another world. It is another time than when I grew up as a boy.
“Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25]. The issue of His life is found in the church. After all of His ministries, this is the residuum, a church. In the passage that you just read, He said, “On this rock I will build My church” [Matthew 16:18]. Do you notice those pronouns? “I will build My church.” Our Lord never said, “My wife.” He never knew the intimacy of a married life. Our Lord never said, “My home.” He never had a place, He said, to lay His head [Matthew 8:20]. He never said, “My child.” He never knew what it was to look into the face of a little boy or a little girl and see Himself. But He did say, “My church” [Matthew 16:18]. “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25].
The Holy Spirit from heaven on Pentecost came down and empowered a church [Acts 2:1-4]. In the Book of Acts the apostles, set for the Christianization of the western civilized world, built churches; the church at Antioch, the church at Ephesus, the church at Philippi, at Corinth, at Rome. And when our Lord spake His last word in this Holy Bible, it was addressed to the seven churches of Asia [Revelation 1:4], our Lord speaking to the church at Ephesus, to the church at Smyrna, to the church at Thyatira, to the church at Pergamum, to the church at Sardis, to the church at Philadelphia, to the church of Laodicea [Revelation 2:1-3:22]. Christ loved the church [Ephesians 5:25].
And when He comes again, there will be a marriage supper of Christ and His bride, the church [Revelation 19:7-9]. And when the Bible closes the last invitation, “The Spirit and the bride of Christ say, Come. Come” [Revelation 22:17]. Christ loved the church [Ephesians 5:25].
And there’s not a more beautiful song in all the hymnbook than the one you just got through singing, Fred.
I love Thy kingdom, Lord,
The house of Thine abode,
The church our blessed Redeemer saved
With His own precious blood.
I love Thy church, O God,
Her walls before Thee stand,
Dear as the apple of Thine eye
And graven on Thy hand.
For her my tears shall fall,
For her my prayers ascend,
To her my toil and cares be given
Till toils and cares shall end.
[“I Love Thy Kingdom Lord,” by Timothy Dwight, 1800]
“Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25].
To the church the Lord entrusted and endowed His holy ordinances [Romans 6:3-5; Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26]. They belong to the church. The ordinances of God do not belong to a chamber of commerce. They don’t belong to the city council. They don’t belong to the legislature, not even a Congress, not even a judiciary. The ordinances of God belong to the church. God set them in the heart of the church. And those ordinances hold in shape the truth of God as a dipper will hold and shape the water.
They present to us in visible, in picture form the atoning grace of our Savior, His death [Matthew 27:32-50], His burial [Matthew 27:59-60], His resurrection, and His glorious coming again [Acts 1:9-10]. And those ordinances bring to my heart and yours the great truth of the love and compassion of Christ who came into this world to die for our sin [Hebrews 10:4-14; Matthew 1:21], to be buried and to be raised for our justification [Romans 4:25], to call them to our mind.
Do you remember that first stanza of the “Recessional”?
God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle line,
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
[“Recessional,” by Rudyard Kipling]
In the busy presses and stresses of human life it is so weakness on our part to turn aside, to neglect, to forget, to be indifferent to the great gospel message that saves our souls from death and to heaven, a remembrance, a calling back, these ordinances that God hath given us. O God, how we need to remember to bring to heart, to mind!
When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days and human flesh was cheap.
But when Jesus came to my hometown they simply passed Him by.
They never hurt a hair of His head they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, they would not cause Him pain,
They simply passed on down the street, and left Him in the rain.
Still Jesus cried, ‘Forgive them, they know not what they do,’
And still it rained that bitter rain that drenched Him through and through;
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against the wall, and cried for Calvary.
[“When Jesus Came to Birmingham,” by G. A. Studdert-Kennedy]
Anything but to forget, to pass Him by, to be indifferent. And these holy ordinances bring to our hearts the remembrance of what Jesus has done for us. Baptism. Anyone who is saved in his heart, first of all, he will want to be baptized.
See, said that Ethiopian eunuch, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? I want to be baptized. And Philip answered, and said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more. And he went on his way rejoicing, praising God.”
First thing, when you’ve been saved, you want to be baptized. How are you baptized?
In 1611, when that committee—appointed scholars, about seventy-two of them— came to that verse in the Bible, “They went down into the water . . . and he baptized him” [Acts 8:38], the committee didn’t know what to do. So they took it to King James himself, for the Greek says, “They went down into the water . . . and he baptizō him.” Baptizō, baptizō [Acts 8:38]. That’s just a plain Greek word for immerse.
For example, one of the great Greek historians following Alexander the Great’s army as he pursued the Persians, there at the head of the Mediterranean Sea, where it bends around, the land comes down in the cliff to the edge of the sea. And Alexander’s army was marching through that. And while they were in the march, a storm came up and the water was blown up against the cliff. And the Greek word says, And Alexander the Great’s army was baptizō up to the waist. Baptizō. Just a plain ordinary Greek word, baptizō, meaning immersed. Baptizō.
Well, they didn’t know what to do, because everybody over there in England sprinkled. They sprinkled water on their heads, sprinkled, and called that baptizō. And they didn’t know what to do with the translation. So, they took it to King James and they decided not to translate it. They just spelled out the Greek word, b-a-p-t-i-z, and put an e instead of an o and made it “baptize.”
Lord, what must I do? I must be baptizō, baptized! Oh, what a happy privilege. What does the Book say, “We are buried with our Lord in the likeness of His death [Romans 6:4]. And we are raised with our Lord in the likeness of His resurrection” [Romans 6:5]—a great gospel message pictured before our very eyes.
Did you all know that when President Bush sat right there about a month ago, by his side sat Barbara, his wife. We had a baptismal service in the preaching hour, and that was the first time in her life that Barbara Bush had ever seen anybody baptized. They belong to the Episcopal Church. They belong to the Church of England, and they sprinkle.
What a wonderful privilege our dear church has. Christ loved the church [Ephesians 5:25]; in baptism portrayed before the people that glorious gospel that “Jesus died for our sins according to Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:3]. He was buried, and the third day He was raised according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:4]; the ordinances God hath given us in the church.
And the recurring church ordinance; the breaking of bread and the drinking of the cup. And here again, that same tragic misinterpretation. Jesus said, “This is My body . . . eat, in remembrance of Me [1 Corinthians 11:24]. This is My blood. . . drink, in remembrance of Me” [1 Corinthians 11:25].
So, there is the greatest most numerical of all denominations. The priest will take the bread and the wine, and taking his hands like this, say, “Hoc est corpus meum. Hoc est corpus meum.” And he transforms miraculously that bread and that fruit of the vine into the actual body and blood of Jesus. That’s where these kids get that hocus-pocus, hocus-pocus, you know, hocus-pocus, hocus-pocus. Hoc est corpus meum. This is my body. This is my blood. Well, why isn’t it? I’ll tell you exactly why. He is in heaven now, but one of the most distinguished attorneys in this city of Dallas, a member of our precious church, beautiful mansion in Highland Park, inside of that mansion he took me into his library. And there on the wall in that library was a picture of an old fashioned girl. It was a large oval picture like that. And as we stood in the library, that distinguished attorney said to me, “Pastor, you see that picture? That is my mother. That is my mother.” He said, “She died when I was born. My mother.” Then he added, “Pastor, someday in heaven I’ll see my sainted mother. That is my mother.”
I could have replied to him, “You foolish man. Don’t you know that’s not your mother. That’s cardboard and ink and printer’s genius.” I knew exactly what he meant, “That is my mother. That represents my mother. That brings to my heart and memory my sainted mother.”
That’s exactly the Lord’s Supper, to bring back to our hearts His sacrifice on the cross, and the pouring out of His blood, crimson tide, that we might be saved [1 Corinthians 11:23-26]. The ordinances given to His church; “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25].
Our ministry to the church, our support of the church; as you heard Garry Kinder just say in the announcements from our pulpit, “We’re in the appeal for our tithes and our offerings to support the ministries of our precious church.”
Did you know the most poignant of all the temptations I have ever had in my life was when I was a little boy? And this happened almost eighty years ago. My father, every Lord’s Day gave me a nickel for Sunday school. And as I say, almost eighty years ago a nickel was a big sum of money. You could buy something with a nickel. Dear me. So, I was going to Sunday school with my nickel. And my friend, little boy in my Sunday school class, he said to me, he said, “You know what I do with my nickel? I buy me the biggest bar of candy or I buy me the biggest ice cream cone. That’s what I do with my nickel.” And he said to me, “Why don’t you do the same thing? Why don’t you take your nickel and buy you a big bar of candy or a big ice cream cone?”
Well, I said to him, “My father has given me this nickel for the Lord, to give to Sunday school, to the church.”
Why, he said, “Your daddy will never know. He’ll never know. You take your nickel, and instead of giving it to God, you buy you an ice cream cone or a big bar of candy.”
I repeat, that’s the biggest temptation I ever had in my life. I looked at that nickel. Dad didn’t have to know. Nobody . . . didn’t have to know. Just take it and use it for myself. Oh, I say, I never had such a temptation in my life. May I brag on myself? I have thanked God now for almost eighty years that I did what God intended and what my father intended. I gave the nickel to the Lord.
We’re that way today. All of us are. Everything that comes into your hands, it’s a temptation to you to use it for yourself, spend it on yourself. But God says this belongs to Him, and I’m not to take it and use it on my account. I’m to give it to God. And when I do, as Garry says, “God blesses us.” He will bless you. He will not forget.
Well, may I hastily say one other thing? Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it to support its ministry in the earth [Ephesians 5:25]. I choose just one other. There’s nothing that God could ever have provided and purposed as equal to the power of an open confession and a personal commitment in the house of the Lord. I’m talking about coming down that aisle and standing before the Lord in heaven and before His church here in earth, and confessing your faith in Christ. “If thou wilt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in thine heart that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart one believeth unto a God kind of righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” [Romans 19:9-10]. I repeat, there’s not anything as dynamic as the confession of the Lord Jesus Christ before the congregation of the church.
I’ll give you an illustration in closing. I was holding a revival meeting in one of the great churches of our Southern Baptist Zion, presided over by a famous pastor. And at that morning hour that closed the revival, when I pressed the invitation, down the aisle came one of the most distinguished looking men you ever saw. Just looked the part, the way he was dressed, the way he walked, the way he stood, and the way he spoke in his confession of faith, came down that aisle, gave the preacher his hand, and when they were introduced who had responded, he made a confession of faith. It was beautiful. That glorious man standing there confessing his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Sweet people, no sooner had he done, no sooner had he finished his confession than another man in that large congregation stood up, and he looked as distinguished as the man at the front who confessed his trust in the Lord. That man stood up in the congregation and addressing the pastor said, “Pastor, could I speak?” And standing there in the congregation, that second man, he said, he said, “Dear people, he,” talking about that man who had just spoken, “he and I have been partners for thirty years. We are in the same law firm and we have been partners,” he said, “for thirty years.” He added, “We have been together through trial after trial. And,” he said, “to see him stand up there by himself just doesn’t seem right to me. And I am coming down and stand by his side, and together we are going to confess our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and to give our lives to Him.” I never saw a congregation so bathed in tears as that great throng of people were, as those two lawyers stood side by side unashamedly dedicating their lives to Jesus and confessing the Lord as their Savior [Romans 10:9-13].
I repeat, there is nothing comparable to it. Openly unashamedly, gladly, triumphantly, gloriously to confess your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And that is our appeal to you.
CHRIST LOVED THE CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Ministry of Christ issued in a church (Matthew 16:18)
B. The coming of the Holy Spirit empowered a church(Acts 2:47)
C. Labors of the apostles resulted in churches
D. Last message of the Lord addressed to churches (Revelation 1:10-11, 2:3)
E. Her final triumph – the marriage supper of the Lamb(Revelation 19:6-9, 21:29)
F. Last invitation in the Bible (Revelation 22:17)
G. Our love for the church
1. Hymn, “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord”II. The church keeps the ordinances
A. They belong to the church
B. They hold the truth, as a dipper holds, shapes the water
C. They call to remembrance
1. Poem, “The Recessional”
2. Poem, “When Jesus Came to Birmingham”
D. Initial ordinance of baptism(Acts 8:34-40)
E. Recurring ordinance of the Lord’s SupperIII. The church supports its ministry
A. Our appeal for tithes, offerings (1 Corinthians 16:1-2)
B. As a child, my Sunday school nickelIV. The power of an open confession and commitment in the church
A. Coming down the aisle(Romans 10:9-10)
1. Coming forward of distinguished man in revival – his friend stood up to stand with him