Religion in the Letdown
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-26-54 10:50 a.m.
You’re listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in downtown Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled ‘Twas the Day after Christmas, or Religion in the Letdown. In the second chapter of the third gospel, the second chapter of Luke, is recorded the glorious, glorious story, incomparably beautiful – of the first Christmas.
"In those days," then the birth of the Lord Jesus, and the angels sang, and the wonderful refrain, "Glory to God and on earth, peace" [Luke 2:1-20]; then the story of the presentation of the Lord Jesus in the temple [Luke 2:21-24]; then the revelation to old Simeon that this was the Christ that should be born into the world [Luke 2:25-35]; then the revelation to ancient Anna, a prophetess of the tribe of Asher, that this was the fulfillment of all of the promises of God through the ages [Luke 2:36-38]. Then the verse, "When they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned then to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth" [Luke 2:39]. Then twelve years of silence.
Then we pick it up once again in the forty-first verse: "Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast" [Luke 2:41-42]. Then you have the story of the wonder Boy, twelve years of age, sitting in the midst of the doctors both hearing them and asking them questions; and all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers [Luke 2:46-47]. Then the fifty-first verse: "And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them,Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in the favor with God and man" [Luke 2:51-52]. And the chapter ends.
I think it is symbolic, it is meaningful, the fifty-first verse: "And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them." The day after Christmas: Religion in the Letdown. All of the marvelous things that happened in Bethlehem – the Magi, the star, the angel chorus, the shepherds, the gold, the frankincense, the myrrh, the heavenly host, and the glorious refrain [Matthew 1:18-2:12; Luke 2:1-39]. What a wonderful, wonderful first Christmas; and then, twelve years of silence. Then the journey to the temple and the marvelous thing of that twelve-year-old Boy in the midst of the doctors of the law asking them questions and their asking questions to Him; then going down to Nazareth and eighteen years of unbroken silence [Luke 2:41-52]. What an aftermath! What a letdown!
And all religion is like that. There’s nobody who has ever experienced genuine, real, honest-to-goodness religion that hasn’t known the mountaintop – the angel singing, the transfiguration, the glory of the presence of the Lord; and then, and then, days and weeks and months and years of letdown, just living in the ordinary plodding sort of way. Well, you can’t have Christmas every day, and you can’t have the angels sing all the time. That is, I never heard of anybody that has. Once in a while, there’ll be a mountain peak. Once in a while, there’ll be a Christmas day. Once in a while, there’ll be an incomparably glorious religious experience; but you can’t stay up there. You’ll always come down. "And He went down with them and came to Nazareth" [Luke 2:51], despised, little Nazareth [John 1:46].
Now I say that is a pattern of all religious life. It’s a pattern of your life. It’s a pattern of Elijah’s life [1 Kings 18:1-19:4]. It is a pattern of every man’s life: great experiences then days of plodding toil and ordinary, perfunctory, insignificant weariness – just one thing after another. Well what about that? What about that? Well, people respond to it in different ways. There are some people that in the letdown, in the day after Christmas, think they’ve lost their religion: they haven’t got it anymore; they don’t hear the angels sing anymore; the wise men are gone; the chorus angelic is gone back up beyond the curtains of heaven, and they think they’ve lost their religion. They’re in the letdown. They never were saved.
Why one of the most blessed women that I ever knew in my life, a member of my church one time came to me and said to me that she lost her religion. She didn’t think she was saved. "Well," I said, "What is the matter?" "Well," she said, "I don’t have a feeling anymore. I don’t have a feeling anymore, and I was so gloriously happy; and now, now it’s all gone, and it’s all left me, and I don’t think I’ve ever been saved." And she was so concerned, so concerned.
Why, bless your heart, she was just experiencing normal Christian life. You just don’t stay on the mountaintop all the time. You just don’t. You just don’t hear the angels sing all the time. It just isn’t Christmas every day. There’s always a day after Christmas in the letdown. "And He went down with them and came to Nazareth," [Luke 2:51] and followed eighteen silent, unbroken years. Well, I say there are people who think that in the letdown they’ve lost their religion, they weren’t saved, they really weren’t converted, they don’t know the Lord.
Now, there are other people that, I am sorry to say, that I have seen. There are other people that that’s the only kind of religion they have. The only kind of religion they have is a system of spurts. Yes, they just got it at times, and then the other times they ain’t got it at all. They just live like that. That’s the only kind of religion they have.
Well, I’m thinking of a dear old soul right now. He was some character; and he belonged to our church, and I was his pastor. And we had one Training Union in that little church. I was the preacher, I was the singer, I was the janitor, I was the Sunday school teacher, and I was the Training Union director, and I did everything in that little church.
Now, he would come about twice a year. He’d come once or twice a year, and he would come to our Training Union. And he would get up, and I tell you for a solid hour you couldn’t stop him. You never heard such speaking, and such testifying, and such witnessing, and such talking, and such preaching, and such going on in your life. Oh, he had religion! About twice a year, he’d come down there, and he’d spoil our program. We couldn’t do anything. We just had to stop and listen to him or throw him out; and I was too courteous to throw him out, or too nice, or wasn’t thinking of it maybe. That’s the kind of religion he had. Once or twice a year he’d get it, and that’s all.
And then I remember in a church that I pastored, we had our annual revival meeting. We had our annual revival meeting to begin every year Friday before the third Sunday in July. And the only time, the only time – – and I was pastor of that church almost four years – – the only time anybody could be saved, or ever was saved, or ever could be saved, was beginning Friday before the third Sunday in July. That’s the only time you could be saved – only time anybody was saved; only time anybody had religion; the only time anybody got religion. That was the only time in the year that anybody had any thanks, or any ability to intercede, or to win lost, or to care about God was beginning Friday before the third Sunday in July.
And that’s the kind of religion they had in that church, and it nearly killed my soul. I preached Sunday morning, Sunday night, Sunday morning, Sunday night all through that, and it never did – I never did save them. Nobody was ever saved except beginning Friday before the third Sunday in July. And listen, brother, when Friday before the third Sunday in July came about, listen, you never saw such religion! Brother, they all got it! Shout, and sing, and pray all day and all night, and camp on the ground. It was just marvelous. Then after it was over, brother, it’s just like turning off a faucet. You never saw it again before the next July. Well, that’s the kind they had.
Now, I want to talk about the Jesus kind of religion; the God-kind of religion which is real religion in the letdown, which is real religion after Christmas. The choir that’s here after Christmas: brother, that’s your real choir. Where are the rest of those no accounts? Where are they? This is your real choir, and this is my real congregation. The rest of them, they’re in the letdown. They’re in the letdown, and they let out.
All right, I want to talk to you about the God-kind of religion, the real kind of religion. "And Jesus went down with them to Nazareth," eighteen solid years, "and was subject unto them" [Luke 2:51]. Now, look at this Lad. You look at this Boy, and then finally this Man. "He went down with them to Nazareth." The only boy that was ever smarter or wiser than His parents, He went down with them to Nazareth, humble and unspoiled absolutely; absolutely. There, that Lad: the angels had made music over Him [Luke 2:8-15], and the Magi from the East had come to worship Him [Matthew 2:1-12], and all heaven had adored Him. And that boy, humble and unspoiled, for years and years and years content to live in a humble home in that little despised town of Nazareth.
Another thing about Him: "And he went down and came to Nazareth and was subject unto them," [Luke 2:51]. "Subject unto them." How long? Until He was twenty-one? No, sir. "And He was subject unto them" for thirty full years [Luke 3:23]. Thirty years. Thirty years. Think of it, man! How many times when you review your life have you become restive, even as a youth, under the disciplinary hand of your father or your mother?
But this boy Jesus, God’s Son, went down with them after Christmas; and there, for twelve years and then for eighteen years, was subject unto His parents. If I had time, we’d just preach this morning about the will of Christ who pleased not Himself. For the first thirty years of His life, His will was the will of His father and His mother [Luke 2:51]; and then for the rest of His life, His will was the will of His Father in heaven [John 4:34; 5:24, 30; 6:38]. Never any will of His own: "He was subject unto them."
And now another thing about this boy: "And He went down with them and came to Nazareth," and what did He do? Day after day, He plodded. Doing what? They called Him "the carpenter" [Mark 6:3]; and in His youth, they called Him "the carpenter’s son" [Matthew 13:55]. Day after day, He plodded. He plodded. He waited. He abided His time. He looked to God. He was humble and unspoiled, staying steady in the mainstream of the heart and purpose of Almighty God. That’s the religion of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, may I apply it to us? This religion that you and I have professed: when the angels sing for us, when we have a great and high experience, when we feel the Lord is right at hand, how wonderful it is! But, say, what kind of fabric and substance and stuff is it when the services are closed, or we’re down in the valley, and the angels have gone back to heaven, and we’re just down here plodding away? How do we do, and how do we fare? Well, may I look at these whole Christians as they first started off?
In those early days of the establishment of the Christian church, they were persuaded that the Lord was at hand. He was coming right immediately – the "imminency," we call it, of the return of our Lord Jesus Christ – and the Lord Jesus knew that. He knew that fierce expectation at first. And then when He delayed His coming, the people who followed the Lord would gradually quiesce in their life; and so He said this. He said this. He told them a parable about a servant, and one of those servants was evil and said in his heart:
My Lord delayeth his coming; and he began to smite his fellow servants, And to eat and to drink with the drunken; And the Lord of that servant shall come in a day when he doesn’t look for him, and in an hour when he’s not aware of, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint his portion with,those that weep and gnash their teeth.
And the same thing happened over here in this day when Simon Peter was writing to the churches. They were looking for the coming of the Lord; and it was imminent, and it was expected. And then the days passed, and the years passed, and centuries finally have passed.
And in those days when Simon Peter was still living, he said to them, "There are coming times, when after walking in their own lusts they’re going to say, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? [2 Peter 3:3-4] Why, since the fathers fell asleep, everything continues just as it did from the beginning. And all of this is falderal; and all of it is tommyrot; and all of this is hallucination and illusion.’"
And did you know that most of the intellectuals and the scholars and the theologians of the Christian church have absolutely repudiated any hope of any promise of the imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ? Why? Because they live in the letdown, and they’ve given it up. They’ve given it up. We don’t look for Him anymore. We’re not expecting Him anymore. We did. The Christian people used to. There was a time when they lived as though the Lord would immediately come, but all of that was an illusion; all of that was a dream. It was a fantasy. It’s a hope that has fallen. It’s turned to dust and to ashes. Now where’s the promise of His coming? It’s gone.
"Ah," says Simon Peter, this is the thing they don’t know: by God’s clock "a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as a day" [2 Peter 3:8]. We are to look and to expect "for the Lord is not slack concerning His promise as some men count slackness," but He’s waiting [2 Peter 3:9]. He’s waiting, hoping that one somebody else, that one somebody you, will repent and turn to God and be saved. But suddenly, he says, some of these days, the coming of the Lord be as the thief in the night; and the heavens will pass away, and the earth will melt in fire [2 Peter 3:10], and the Lord shall establish a new heaven and a new earth "wherein dwelleth righteousness" [2 Peter 3:13]. We’re not to give up that hope because of the letdown. We’re not to forget because of the multiplied years of waiting, but we’re to be expectant. We’re to be on tiptoe. We’re to be watching. We’re to be looking for the Lord.
All right, may I apply it to the lives by which we try to serve God these days of the letdown, these days of plodding, these days of just going along, these days of just carrying on? As it says here, "And He went down with them and came to Nazareth" [Luke 2:51], and for twelve years and then for eighteen years He plodded. He made ox yokes, they say, which were the easiest of all to bear. He worked as a carpenter day after day, plodding, plodding, plodding.
Anything that is worthwhile in this life is won by the genius of just staying with it – just plodding, just keeping at it. Can you play the piano? "Oh, we just sit down and play the piano!" You just think you can sit down and play the piano. You might have me sit down and try to play the piano, and you would scream, "Oh, those terrible sounds!" Why? Because I have not, through days and years of wearisome, wearisome, tiresome, tedious, endless, slavery at that thing, I haven’t spent it.
I don’t know what else I was doing, but I wasn’t doing that. I wasn’t doing that. If you were going to do that you must plod, and plod, and plod, and plod. You must be a slave to it; and day and day and hour and year after year, stay with that thing. Or to sing, you must practice, and practice, and practice, and practice. Or to be an athlete, you must plod, and plod, and plod, and plod.
One day, not because I believe in those things, but one day over there in Kentucky, I made a special trip to Lexington just to see Man O’War. I wanted to see Man O’War. And I looked at that. He’s the most magnificent animal I had ever seen or I guess ever will see. He looked like something that an artist would draw and not an actual living. Man O’War – – greatest horse that was ever in anybody’s possession. Did you know Man O’War, in all of his life, never spent as much as thirty minutes in the actual conflict, in the actual race? But he practiced and trained, and practiced and trained, and practiced and trained. He plodded, and he plodded.
So it is with a doctor, a physician. Maybe the operation takes twenty minutes, an hour, maybe just a little while, but all the years, and years, and years, and years that that physician must study, and study, and study.
And the same way with any true preacher. These boys that stand up and say, "Brother, I got to come out here and put the fire out! I’ve got to do it now! I haven’t got time to study. I haven’t got time to go to the seminary. I haven’t got time to go to the university. I haven’t got time to do all that. I must go out now!" Listen, you don’t know what you’re talking about. You don’t know [that] any true minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ can be judged how earnestly he takes the seriousness of his task by how many years, and years, and years he is willing to put into it preparing for the message he’s trying to deliver. For every minute a true minister of Christ would stand in the pulpit to preach, there will be hours and hours of silent preparation when nobody’s around and he’s alone with his Book and with God.
And so in the church, it’s the plodder. It’s the staying with it. It’s the year after year, just being true and faithful, that make it possible. It’s the submission of your life to a self-discipline.
"I’m tired. That’s right, but I got to go. Time to go, got a bunch of young kids down there, got a bunch of young people. I’ve got a class, and they’re depending upon me. My teacher looks for me. I’m tired, but I’ll be there. I’ll be right there. It’s raining outside. That doesn’t matter. It’s dry outside, and that doesn’t matter. It’s cold outside and it’s hot outside, but that doesn’t matter." Religion in the letdown: just going along, faithful day after day and year after year – the self-discipline of a life devoted to God.
Say, I want to make a comment here and then go on. There is unfolding before our eyes today, one of the most remarkable international scenes that you’ll ever read about in history. That Premiere of France, named Mendes France, is trying to do something around which the destiny of France shall be cast, I think forever. Mendes France is trying to bring back France – – rotten, alcoholic, diseased, anemic. Mendes France is trying to bring his country back to health and to strength, and the first place he is starting is with alcohol.
He is trying by the example of his life, and by law, and by legislation, and by government, and by public opinion, and by personal appeal, he is trying to get France to drink milk; and they are making fun of him all over the world, even here in Texas. I saw a cartoon in one of our Texas newspapers, and there was Mendes France dressed up as a cowboy, and around him were little old milk bottles kind of made into cattle. And they were making fun of Mendes France driving the heard of milk bottles, corralling them, belittling him. They make fun of him.
If Mendes France fails, I think France is forever done for. It’ll not be a third-rate power or a fourth-rate power. It’ll be a fifth or a sixth-rate power. It will disintegrate as it is already has and will continue to be as a nation. It refuses the disciplinary life just like America is fast beginning to refuse it.
One of my deacons, and another deacon sitting by his side, said to me, "Pastor, you live in a sheltered life, and you’re over there in the church, and you’re with your own people. But if you were in New York and in Washington at these meetings and these places where we go," he said, "there are not any places, and there are not any meetings anymore where, no matter what kind of a club or what kind of a governmental group or what kind of a convocation or just anything anymore, but that liquor is a universal concomitant of every kind of a meeting." And he says it gets more, and more, and more all the time.
And that is the road of the defeat of France; and that’s what Mendes France is trying do – is to lead his countrymen to live a disciplined life. I refuse – refuse. I drink grape juice, or I drink milk, or I drink lemonade, or I drink a Dr. Pepper, or I drink a 7-Up, or I drink a Coca-Cola. But I don’t drink alcohol! Oh, my soul! The disciplined life: the man who is willing to achieve a purpose plodding, just being faithful. Now, may I go back to my sermon?
Being faithful after Christmas, this religion in the letdown: I came down here to our church for the [Baptist] Brotherhood meeting. Once a year at Christmas time, once a year, we have all the mission children here. It’s wonderful to have them. Ah! It’s one of the sweetest things that you ever saw in your life.
These children brought here – – and by the way, next year we’re going to do that two or three times as big. A host of our children couldn’t come because we didn’t have enough men to sponsor them. Next year we’re going to do it better.
Little ol’ kid right in front of me; little ol’ boy right there in front of me; Santa Claus, who was Bob Meyer, Santa Claus – by the way, I shouldn’t have told that. Those children think he really is Santa Claus. The little ol’ children there, and Bob Meyer – Santa Claus – up there reading their names out, and he read this little boy’s name. His name was Ricky, and then he had a long name. I can’t remember his long name, but I remember Ricky. Called his name out, and the little girl, I think it was his sister older, she said to him, "Ricky, Ricky! They called your name! Ricky, hold up your hand! Hold up your hand, Ricky! They called your name!"
And she grabbed that boy’s hand and raised it way high and said, "Here he is! Here he is! This is Ricky! This is Ricky!" And he got his present. And the little girl seated right next to me, she said to me, she said, "Will they call my name? Will they call my name, and will I get a present too?" I said, "Honey, if you don’t get a present, we’ll turn this whole church upside down to get you one. Don’t you worry. Don’t you worry." Ah, it was a sweet occasion.
But you let me tell you something. Let me tell you something. The difference between us and a club is this: that a club one time a year, at Christmastime, will do something to help those poor kids. But we don’t do it that way. Today, this day after Christmas, and the next day, and next Sunday, and this month, and next month, O.C. Robinson calls Teddy; here comes Sysco Lehman and Brother Bridges, and our mission committee will be out there taking care of those kids. That’s what I like. That’s what I like.
To me, that’s real religion because we’re not giving a hug to them one time a year and then forget them. That’s not it. Real religion is playing with those children 365 days out of the year and bringing them up in the law and the nurture of the Lord Jesus. That’s religion in the letdown – really religion.
Same way about our mission offerings. It’s wonderful to have these mission offerings. Forrest Feezor, bless your heart, and all of you leaders. We do our best. But, Dr. Feezor, the real support of the kingdom of God is not in these special offerings once a year, but it’s on the first day of every week coming down here, giving to God as the Lord has prospered us, staying with it, staying with it.
We had a glorious prayer meeting yesterday over there in that chapel on Christmas day. When we came down, we came at a split thirty minutes. I counted fourteen different people – fourteen different people in that little thirty minute period coming over there for prayer on Christmas day.
And this coming Saturday which is New Year’s Day, all of the preachers, all of us, we’re going to have that prayer meeting all day long. But, listen, this is just once a year. It’s praying every day of your life, every day of your life, every day of your life. That’s what does it – staying with it, plodding along. William Carey said, "I can plod" [quoted from "Preface," Life of William Carey: Shoemaker and Missionary by George Smith, 1887].
I’ll say this. You wouldn’t mind, it’s way beyond time and where does it go? Where does it go? I want to say this, and then I’ll quit. I had a wonderful friend in the seminary. He was an English boy. His dad was an officer in the British Army. His dad was killed in the British Army when the boy was two years old. The boy’s two years old, and his father has been killed. He was an officer in the British Army.
While we were in the seminary together, the summer before, he went to England; and when he came back to the seminary, he called me to his room. He said, "Criswell, I want to show you something." So he went into the room and closed the door; and in a place where he carefully kept prized possessions, that young preacher pulled out an old yellow-leaf book. It looked like a ledger, and he said, "I brought this back with me from England. It’s the only thing I have of my father’s. It was a record of his long years of service in the British Army in India."
And as I turned through the pages of that old book, well there was the story of all the campaigns in which his father had led the British Army; and at the end of the book was a roll call of his company. All the men, as they came – as new recruits came, all were listed there; and by every man’s name was a little record of his life: a date and what happened. And as I turned the pages of that roll call and looked at the men, so many times it’d be like this: "Such and such soldier," then way over here a certain date, and then right beyond it, "Died on the march." Another one down here, "Fell in battle." And another one down here, "Killed in action." So on through that roll call.
Know what I thought as I held it in my hand?
O God, in the roll call in Glory, when You write by the side of my name, O God, O God, don’t let it be: "He quit. He got tired. He fell by the wayside. He couldn’t take it. He was weary with the cost."
No, Lord. But in the roll call, when you get to my name, dear God, may it be like this: "He died on the march. He fell in the battle. He was killed in action."
That’s it. Staying with this thing; staying with it. I’ll see you next Sunday, and I’ll see you the next Sunday, and by His grace, I’ll see you the Sunday after that; and we’ll be marching together until we march clear through the gates of heaven into the Court of Glory. Staying with it. Staying with it.
Ah, bless your hearts. Bless your hearts. Now let’s sing a little. Let’s sing our song. And while we sing it, somebody put his life with us in this church, you come. You come confessing your faith in the Lord Jesus: "I take Him today as my Savior." You come. "I want to put my life with you in this ministry, Pastor. Here’s my whole family. We’re all coming today. We’re all here." You come. One somebody you, or a family you, while we sing this song and make appeal, you come and stand by me. While we stand and sing.