The reputation that was gained by the early church in Thessalonica may or may not have been fully deserved; but suffice it to say that the enemies and critics of those who embraced the faith of that way accused them of having turned the world upside down.
I can think of no greater need today than for the church to be accused of turning the world upside down. I thrill to realize that the same conditions that prevail today prevailed back then. Frankly, I am grieved by those in the ranks of fundamentalism who tell us that it is too late for revival, who sit on their hands and say that we must simply try to tolerate the status quo, and none of us should be involved in trying to effect any serious spiritual change. I don’t believe that for a moment.
When Simon Peter stood on the day of Pentecost and, filled with the Holy Spirit, acknowledged and identified the demonstration of the Spirit of God as that which was spoken of by the Prophet Joel, I believe he introduced us to a time segment that will continue until Jesus comes.
The Apostle Paul alludes to that same time reference when writing to young Timothy, reminding him that "in the last days perilous times shall come" (II Tim. 3:1). Beloved, those times commenced with Pentecost; and those "perilous times," those dark days of spiritual distress, are still with us.
If I understand the Scriptures correctly from the standpoint of eschatology, I believe we have basically the same opportunity, the same resources, the same circumstances prevailing today that Simon Peter and the members of the early church faced; yet they experienced a manifestation of God’s Holy Spirit daily in the work of the Lord.
God help us to seek to emulate the pattern of these dear people, a simple folk, but people who were spiritual giants in the faith, people who were willing to allow the Holy Spirit to live the life of Jesus Christ through them, people who were more concerned about spiritual priorities than carnal manipulations.
Thank God that Jesus could live His life through these people. Multitudes were reached with the Gospel, and the critics proclaimed, "These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also," in order that we might find the inspiration and impetus that we need spiritually to do in our generation what these people did in theirs.
I call your attention to a very close examination of the church at Thessalonica. Notice the people were not extraordinary people. Sometimes when we read the Word of God, Satan is able to intimidate us into thinking that somehow the people whom God used in the first century were not at all like us.
That is not true. Rest assured that they were converted sinners saved by the grace of God.
Notice verse 4: "And some of them believed." That is the spiritual biography that takes place in our churches and in the communities where we serve. Those who comprise our New Testament churches are sinners saved by the grace of God.
There is no difference in the people or the instrumentality that God has ordained. God can take every one of us who is willing to be an instrument of power and a channel of blessing and use us if He can find in us the surrender and the consecration and the availability that He requires.
The people in the early church were simply sinners saved by the grace of God. Thank God for the promise of a perennial harvest!
Oftentimes I read the writings of those who say revival is an impossibility in the last days. Oftentimes I hear preachers disparage soul-winning ministries and bus promotions—any kind of methodical outreach that would help us reach the multitudes with the Gospel.
I challenge you, in Jesus’ name, don’t get your ideas and perspective on spiritual service from the critics. Get them from the Word of God. You come to a people who were accused by the critics and had received the approbation of the Holy Spirit, when the Bible says, "These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also."
A spiritual biography of any great New Testament church is simply sinners saved by the grace of God—just plain, ordinary folks saved by the blood of Jesus Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God, wholly yielded and consecrated to the service of Jesus Christ. They became a dynamic force for which there was no logical and plausible explanation. The only explanation was that God was reaching these people through those who had yielded their lives to Him. They were converted people.
Sometimes we can’t do the job for God because we have in our churches people in leadership positions who are not saved. It is becoming rather commonplace these days for preachers to get saved and for deacons’ wives to get saved.
I had been pastor in Jacksonville for about a year and a half. One Sunday night my wife, Charlene, came down the aisle weeping. I thought she had some spiritual problem, and she did. I reached out my hand, took hers and said, "Honey, what is your problem?"
She blurted out this confession: "I’m not going to Hell for you or anybody!"
We sat down, and I said, "What in the world are you talking about?"
She said something like this:
"I went forward on a dare when I was fourteen, with two other girls in a revival meeting. I grew up in the church. I became familiar with the jargon of the people. I learned all the terminology of organized Baptist work.
"Then when I graduated from high school, I became a church secretary. I knew all along that something was missing, but I tried to convince myself that I must really be saved or I could not function with all these people in the things they were doing for God.
"But since we have been married, I have known and God has shown me that I am lost and need to get saved.
"I have wanted to do this for over a year, but the Devil has persuaded me on previous occasions that if I did, it would destroy your ministry. Over and over the Devil said, ‘What would people think if the preacher’s wife got saved?’ I have allowed that to keep me from getting this settled. But tonight I don’t care if we have to leave tomorrow, I am not going to Hell for you or anybody!"
I said, "Glory to God! We don’t want you to go to Hell!"
I had the joy of kneeling there at the front of the auditorium and leading my own wife to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thank God, He can save preachers; He can save deacons; He can save preachers’ wives; He can save Sunday school teachers; He can save bus captains.
In some cases, I believe there is no potential for revival and a moving of the Spirit of God, because those in places of spiritual leadership have never been converted. Oh, the people in these New Testament churches and those who comprised the membership in the church at Thessalonica were converted people.
They were not only converted; they were compassionate. They were led by a man used of God to enter a pagan culture and preach the Gospel in response to a spiritual vision from God. Paul was obedient. He saw a vision in the night; and he saw a man in Macedonia who said, "Come over into Macedonia, and help us."
Had Paul been plagued by some of the problems preachers have today, he would have said, "I will if I can sell my house for the price I want." I am sure he did not say, "I will have to discuss the fringe benefits with the pulpit committee before I make any final commitment. I have to think of others with whom I am closely associated." Paul was obedient to the heavenly vision, and he went to Macedonia and with compassion preached the Gospel.
I marvel at the spiritual and dynamic dedication of a man like the Apostle Paul. Acts 20:31 tears me up spiritually. Paul said in testimony to the Ephesian elders at the small oriental town of Miletus: "Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears."
Would to God I could say that for the space of three years my eyes were moistened and my cheeks dampened by tears of compassion over those who are lost. No doubt Paul traveled those white marble streets of ancient Ephesus knocking on every residential door, speaking publicly in the marketplace, drawing the crowds in the amphitheater, doing his best to proclaim the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This man of God had discovered experientially the truth of Psalm 126:5,6. Here the psalmist declares the spiritual secret of compassion:
Many years ago a dear little lady in my church demonstrated dedication and compassion to me.
She came on the Wednesday night between Christmas and New Year’s Day and said something like this:
"Preacher, I have never been one for New Year’s resolutions, but I am going to make one this year, and I want you to join in with me.
"You know I have three sons. Two are saved. The unsaved one lives in Macon, Georgia. Pray that he will grant me my request for Mother’s Day. I am going to write him next week, but I want to get ahead of him with prayer. The only thing I want for Mother’s Day is for him to come to Jacksonville with his family, go with me to Sunday school and church, and be saved.
"I don’t have much longer to live, and I can’t bear the thought of leaving this life and having one of my children not saved. And I am not sure how it is with all his family."
I told her I would pray with her.
Almost every Sunday she would stop at the door, her eyes would moisten, she would grip my hand firmly and say, "Are you praying, Preacher?" I would tell her, "Yes ma’am, I’m praying with you every day."
In the latter part of January she got a letter from him. She waved it to me as she went out the door and said, "I got it! He said he is coming! He doesn’t think that is very much to ask for Mother’s Day, and if that will make me happy, he is willing to come."
Almost every week, from January until May, she would stop at the door Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, shake my hand, then tears would trickle down her cheeks. "Preacher, are you burdened for my boy? Are you praying for my boy?" I assured her I was. She couldn’t talk about it without a burdened heart effusing tears down her cheeks.
Finally May 15 came. He and his family did come, true to their word. The mother was so proud.
After the Sunday school lesson, I preached. All the while I was preaching she would lean over and massage her brow. I knew what she was doing.
Finally it came time for the invitation. I said, "Heads bowed and eyes closed." Bless her heart, she sat there with her hand over her face, peeping through her fingers and watching. I said, "If you are here this morning and you have never been saved and you are concerned about your soul, would you lift your hand and let me pray for you?"
The third hand that went up was her son’s. She saw him out of the corner of her eye. Her shoulders began to shake. I thought, Thank God for a mother who weeps over her lost loved one and who wants him to come to know Jesus as his Saviour. She had sent him tracts. She had written him letters. She had witnessed to him in every way she knew how.
After several near the front had moved forward at the invitation, he indicated to his mother, who was sitting next to the aisle, that he wanted to come forward. She stepped out in the aisle and let him out. He came forward, and she trailed him by about five feet. He was weeping. I had one of my deacons talk with him, and the deacon was showing him on bended knee how to be saved. She stood over near him listening intently and wringing her hands. Big tears were falling down her cheeks.
I saw the deacon who was dealing with her lost son. After he had explained how to be saved, he asked the unsaved man if he wanted to be saved. The nod was affirmative. Then they both prayed. With the deacon’s arm around the sinner, the dear man asked Jesus to come into his heart.
Then the deacon turned to him and asked him, "Do you know now that Jesus has come into your heart?"
"Yes, I know I’m saved!"
Brother, when his mother heard him announce, "I know I’m saved!" she came unglued!
You don’t normally get that excited because you are not sowing in tears. But if you send gospel tracts, write Scripture verses in a letter, wet your pillow every night, and every time you go in the prayer closet you tug on the garment of the Lord Jesus until you weary Him by your coming, and you plead for the salvation of a lost loved one, and you weep a few tears over his lost condition, then something is going to happen!
You say, "I wouldn’t permit that kind of a demonstration." I wish I could have that every Sunday! I wouldn’t give you a New Deal nickel for something worked up, but praise God for the joy that comes from those who sow in tears! God says, "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy."
My Grandfather Johnson, the father of my mother, was a drunkard most of his life. As a child I was not permitted to associate with him because of this. He divorced my grandmother when I was small.
He was never invited to our home because we could never be sure he would come sober. Several holidays my father had to ask him to leave and use force to get him out of our house. I did not know him very well. He dissipated, squandered away, what little he had.
When he was seventy-nine years of age, I happened to be in my hometown for a meeting. My dear mother, who loved her dad and who prayed for him faithfully, said, "Son, Grandpa is bad sick. I know you have talked to him before, but would you go over there? Somehow maybe you could just say something that God might use."
I thought of all the ways I could present the Gospel or the new facets of spiritual truth that I might share with him that I had not shared with him before.
I went over to the rooming house, a flophouse, where he was staying. It stank. I went in, pulled up an old, worn-out chair and sat by a dirty cot. He raised up on his pillow and thanked me for coming.
Suddenly I didn’t worry anymore about what I ought to say or how I ought to say it. I just said, "Grandpa, I never have been close to you, because you wouldn’t let me. But I sure would like to spend eternity with you in Heaven. Grandpa, today if you would just ask Jesus to come into your heart, He will save you, and I would like so much to see you saved."
All of a sudden I couldn’t talk. My heart broke. I leaned over on the cover and put my arms around him. His old whiskered face dug into mine. I said, "Grandpa, I don’t know all your problems, but I love you, and Jesus died for you, and I sure would like to see you get saved this afternoon."
The old man began to weep. God touched his heart. He said, "Son, I reckon I might now better do that. If I don’t get well, I ain’t long for this world."
I helped my own feeble grandfather out of bed. He crawled down beside that dirty cot. With my arm around him, I heard him say, "Lord, if You will have an old drunk like me, hear my grandboy’s prayers and save my soul." Glory to God, he was wonderfully saved!
God spared his life. He lived to be eighty-six, then went to be with the Lord.
I thought of all the preachers who had talked with him, all the literature we had shared with him as a family, all the personal witnessing to him I had done. Yet none of these efforts had reached him.
But that day God broke my heart. It was no longer something academic, no longer something problematic. It became a matter of the heart and caring and compassion, and the Spirit of God demonstrated to me experientially the truth of those two great verses:
These people were not only converted and compassionate, but they were courageous. They were willing to stand up for Jesus Christ.
In I Thessalonians 2, Paul writes to these people at a later time and gives us an insight concerning their courage:
Oh, I fear we have become so mentally and emotionally brainwashed by a liberal media that we hesitate to stand without apology upon the fundamentals of the Faith and the verities of the Gospel. It is time for God’s people to prove ourselves courageous in these last days and, in spite of the critics, be willing to do as Paul said, "…having done all, to stand" (Eph. 6:13).
I wonder just how much our faith means to us.
One of our missionaries, Dr. Rudy Johnson, told of an unusual experience that happened while they were having a revolution down in El Salvador, in Central America.
He said as a group of believers in an independent Baptist church in El Salvador began the service one night, suddenly the back doors opened, and six soldiers with machine guns came in, slammed the doors and stopped the service.
The leader of the soldiers came to the front. They were in the typical uniform of the guerrillas. They identified themselves and said, "We are of the communist forces. We don’t believe in your God nor in your Jesus. We despise your Bible and hate your churches. But if you are willing to turn your back on God and renounce Jesus Christ and the Bible, you can get up and go home."
A somber silence came over that congregation. People looked at one another astonished. He reiterated the proposition: "Once more, let me remind you that if you will turn your back on God and Jesus Christ and the Bible and leave the church, your life will be spared; but anyone who doesn’t will be killed."
People whispered among themselves. All together eight adults who had professed faith in Jesus Christ got up, threw their Bibles on the floor, turned around and walked out the back door.
After these had left and the door was secure, the soldier who had served as spokesman got behind the pulpit, laid down his machine gun, grinned and said, "We are born-again Christians. We love the Lord. He is our personal Saviour. We wanted to go to church somewhere tonight, and we didn’t want to go to church where there were a bunch of hypocrites."
They found out what faith meant to those people—who would stand and who wouldn’t. They had a glorious service with these soldiers in attendance.
I have thought about that. If we were in the same circumstances—in my church or in your church—next Sunday night and the same proposition were made, I wonder how many would be willing to lay down their lives rather than renounce their faith in Christ.
These people were courageous.
The time has come for God’s people to stand. I thank God that this generation has some contemporaries who are dem-onstrating that courage is a part of our Christian heritage.
If this nation is to experience a spiritual awakening of any dimension, if the fires of revival are to be kindled, God’s people must be willing to stand and, having done all, to stand and possess spiritual courage for the cause of Jesus Christ.
Notice not only the people, but the power.
In Acts 1:8 the Lord Jesus spoke His last audible words before ascending bodily to the right hand of the Father: "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you."
I thank God for that power and for the promise of that power.
The charismatic counterfeit of our day has caused many to avoid any emphasis on the Holy Spirit. In most of our independent Baptist churches I fear that too many of our people would be like those ignorant professors at Ephesus. When Paul inquired, "Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?" they said, "We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost."
Let me plead with you not to miss the spiritual heritage of being filled with the Holy Spirit because of the charismatics. I am not at all impressed with the mass-celebrating Roman Cath-olic priest who embraces a baptismal-regenerationist Campbellite preacher, and they say, "Our experience in common is talking in tongues. We are brethren in Jesus Christ." Not until he stops celebrating a cannibalistic mass and not until the Campbellite stops baptizing for salvation will I have any credence in their profession.
I have examined it firsthand, and I am convinced that the charismatic movement is the Devil’s counterfeit for the fullness of the Holy Spirit sent to delude and to deceive God’s people before Jesus comes. But we have the promise of Jesus to be filled with the Holy Spirit if we will just claim it and believe it.
Men like D. L. Moody and R. A. Torrey gave testimony about an experience in which they were filled with the Holy Spirit of God. That thrills my heart!
In Acts 4 we read about Simon Peter: "Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost…" (vs. 8). I like that. I have difficulty sometimes identifying with the Apostle Paul, but not with Simon Peter. The Apostle Paul was such a spiritual giant that I find it difficult to keep pace, but Simon Peter’s humanity is so glaring that it touches every one of us.
Probably when we get to Heaven we will find that Peter had red hair and freckles! Simon Peter—on again—off again—up again—down again! Hoof-and-mouth disease was his biggest problem.
But after that backslider got through with that commercial fishing boat and turned it back over to the boys again and came out on that shore and had a fish fry with Jesus and got back into the ministry, the Bible says, "Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost…." I want to shout, "Glory!" for we see hope for us all!
Saved by the grace of God! Filled with the power of God! These people knew experientially the power of God because, first, they experienced it.
Thank God for Pentecost! The Bible says they were all filled with the Holy Ghost and three thousand people were saved! That is marvelous!
But the same people who were filled in Acts 2 prayed again in Acts 4 and got filled in Acts 4, and in Acts 4 they had five thousand people saved, whereas in Acts 2 they had three thousand people saved.
These saints in the New Testament church knew the power of God experientially because they experienced it.
It matters not how vigorously or how vocally we protest the charismatic confusion; if we are not filled with the Holy Spirit, we have nothing to complain about. God’s people have this promise of Jesus Christ: "After that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me."
I hear a lot of people making complaints about charismatic confusion and doctrinal error, and rightfully so. But a fundamentalist without the power of God is doing no more to turn the world upside down than the confused charismatics.
One of the purposes of these Sword conferences is to challenge God’s people to be filled with the Holy Spirit. We respond almost as if it were optional; yet Ephesians 5:18 tells us it is a mandate, not an option. God commands: "And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; BUT BE FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT."
These people possessed power because they experienced it. The greatest refutation to charismatic confusion is for God’s people to be filled with the Spirit and to be winning souls day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year.
They not only experienced the power; they expressed it. Notice in Acts 4:31: "And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost."
Notice something here that we might not have seen before: "…and they SPAKE the word of God with boldness."
Some members very piously say, "Well, now, I don’t come to visitation, and I am not much of a talker, but I let my light shine down where I work."
It doesn’t say one word here about their letting their light shine. It says when they were filled with the Holy Ghost, they talked. It doesn’t say they secretly and subtly let their light shine and their influence permeated the society where they worked. It says, "They SPAKE." Get filled with the Holy Spirit of God, and you will speak!
People who have experienced an enduement of power from on High were bold to speak for Christ in declaring His Word. They spoke the Word of God. They expressed it. Thank God for those bold witnesses of Jesus Christ who invade the ranks of the employed in the company where they work, who go to PTA meetings, who go in the neighborhood—go everywhere with a bold gospel witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. They expressed it.
They were enthusiastic about it. You can’t tell me they were "pink-tea-pouring," "WMU-holding," "lady-shower," "pat-on-the-back" Christians. I like the criticism: "These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also."
These people are not just religiously oriented, not just actively participating; they are causing a virtual upheaval in our society!
America needs now a spiritual revival that will give us a social upheaval. Beloved, we have not seen that in America nationally since the days of Billy Sunday. We talk about a great revival, but how many taverns are closed as a result? They closed in Billy Sunday’s day.
These people in the book of Acts were enthusiastic about what they were doing for Jesus. They were making a moral and spiritual impact upon the community.
Would to God we would get excited about the things of the Lord.
I was preaching a revival meeting in Balfour Baptist Church in Balfour, North Carolina. It was on Thursday night, as I recall, when the pastor said, "Brother Bob, I just feel impressed to have a few testimonies before you preach."
One young man who had just gotten home from the service stood up. He was still in his army uniform. He had received the Purple Heart for having been wounded in action; now he was praising God tearfully for saving his life.
Another lady, who had had cirrhosis of the liver twenty years before, thanked God for healing.
Then someone else thanked God for supplying a particular need.
There were tears and rejoicing and a spirit of gaiety and joy in Jesus, and people were happy, rejoicing over the reflection of God’s blessings.
When the testimony meeting had died down somewhat, a dear little old lady, with white hair balled up on the back of her head, got up and with a very quiet, refined voice said, "I don’t have any of these particular things that the other folks have praised God about, but I am so happy in the Lord tonight! If it is all right, I would just like to praise the Lord on general principles!"
We too need to learn how to praise God on general principles. We need to understand that the power of the Holy Spirit will give us the spiritual enthusiasm about serving Jesus that we need!
Finally, the Holy Spirit of God gave them the program in Acts 1:8: "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me."
Notice, it is personal in its ob-ligation—"ye." No need to point our finger at some particular movement or some particular church and say, "If that movement (or that church) would get right with God, we could experience revival!" Each of us must be willing to humble himself before God and plead, "O God, fill me with the power of Your Holy Spirit. O God, help me tonight to accept it personally."
Regardless of your chronological age, if you have passed from death unto life through faith in Jesus Christ, you have a personal obligation to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Not only was it personal in its obligation, but it was plain in its objective. Jesus said when you get the power of the Holy Spirit, you will be witnesses. You will not be tongues talkers, nor turn religious cartwheels, nor become aisle athletes; but you will be witnesses.
Now, I believe in joy, but the joy comes after you get the people saved. We have a responsibility to witness for the Lord Jesus.
Then Jesus said it was plentiful in its outreach: "…and unto the uttermost part of the earth."
Oh, I would tonight that our hearts might ache and our souls yearn for the power of God and the refreshing breath of God from Heaven; that we, before Jesus comes, might serve with such zeal and fervor in the power of the Holy Spirit that our critics would say, "These people have turned the world upside down, and here they come again!"
After General Booth (the founder and the one who laid the foundation for the Salvation Army many years ago) had ministered to multiplied thousands of the poor in London and sponsored a worldwide movement of soul winning and evangelism, he went Home to be with the Lord.
Thousands attended his funeral. It was said that long after the last person had filed by the bier and the multitudes had filtered away to go to the cemetery or back to their homes, and they came in to take the body and place it on the bier and put it on the cart to go to the cemetery, there was a wail heard inside the church. The astonished undertaker and the pastor of the church looked around in dismay; they could not find a single soul in either the balcony or on the lower floor.
Again they heard this terrible wail. They heard a man sobbing at the top of his voice. He was kneeling on the other side of the coffin, obscured from their vision by the props that sustained the coffin. But they heard him beat on the side of General Booth’s coffin. As the old man sobbed out his lamentation for power, he said, "O Lord, do it again!"
Tonight we need to prostrate ourselves before the Lord and plead that, before He comes, He will indeed do it again; that you and I might be those instruments of power that God will deign to use to turn the world upside down in our generation.
God help us to do it.