THE LIVING CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-10-54 7:30 p.m.
In the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Acts and the twenty-third verse, you will find an incident in the life of the apostle Paul that parallels the text from which we have been preaching these last two Sundays. In the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Acts is the story of the terrible storm and shipwreck of Paul as he was sent a prisoner bound to Rome from Caesarea. In the twenty-third verse of the twenty-seventh chapter, “For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, Saying, Fear not, Paul” [Acts 27:23-24]. Now, the text from which we have been speaking the last two Sundays, in the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, the ninth and the tenth verses: “Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision . . .” [Acts 18:9]. Do you believe that? “There stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying . . .” [Acts 27:23-24]. And then, the text, in the eighteenth chapter: “Then spake the Lord to Paul the night in a vision” [Acts 18:9]. Evidently, the Lord is somebody: a personality, an entity, a character. Evidently, He speaks, and He lives, and He directs, and He guides, and He is interested, and He is full of the intensest life. Do you believe that?
To so many, the Lord Jesus is dead. He is a historical character. They are readily willing to admit His historicity. Like Washington lived, or Lincoln lived, or Buddha lived, or Alexander the Great lived, or Napoleon lived, there must have lived somewhere, sometime, a man by the name of Jesus. But He is dead, and He died two thousand years ago.
Then there are those to whom the Lord Jesus, possibly, is at the heart and center of a great religious faith of which we are nominally a part, but He is far, far away. There is no conception, there is no sense, there is no feeling, there is no persuasion, there is no consciousness of His being present, of His being active, and alive, and vitally intermingled with our lives and our destiny.
Then there are many who look upon the Lord as an influence, and they identify Him and His life like they identify our immortality. We live in the good influences that we set in motion in the earth, but when we die, we die. Our influence will live like the influence of the Lord may be alive, but He is dead! And the tendency of all of those things and a multitude of others I could mention like them—the tendency of it all is to depersonalize the Lord Jesus. He no longer is active and vibrant. He is no longer somebody. He is no longer a personality. He no longer lives, as such, like you live now, but He has become identified with historical processes, with influences, and with memory, and with history. But He is not pertinent, and not active and vibrant and living with any of the issues today with which we actually have anything to do. He is not somebody who looks, and cares, and loves, and watches, and works, and helps, and guides, and keeps. He is just something out there; indefinable, intangible, ethereal, evanescent, but not real and actual.
I have a friend—still my friend, though he is on the opposite side of the theological world from me—I have a friend who is a pastor in Virginia, and he’s very liberal. He is a decidedly modern. We were talking about George Buttrick’s book Prayer—a great book, very fine book, pleasantly written—entitled Prayer. And the great divine’s theory of prayer is this: he says prayer is the same sort of a thing for good in this world as though a man has something wrong with his foot, or he has something wrong somewhere else in his body, and so the physician gives him a shot in the arm. And the circulation of the blood takes that shot in the arm, and it goes all around and finally gets down there to his foot. And his foot is healed and made well because of the thing the doctor did over here.
Now he says prayer is that way. When a man prays, he sets good influences in the world, and they circulate around and around and around, and by and by, they will bless and will be answered in the amelioration of the thing for which the man prayed; it may be over there, it may be in China, it may be in Hong Kong, and it may be in India, it may be some other place. But his idea of prayer is that there is not any personal God to whom we actually talk. There is not any actual God up there who listens to you and turns things in order that your prayer might be answered, but we just set forth good influences in the earth.
Now, my liberal friend in Virginia says, “That’s just great, that’s just right. That’s what prayer is.” I said to him, “If that’s all prayer is, then there is not any God.” There is not anybody who listens to us. There is not anybody who answers. There is not anybody who directs this thing or has it in His hands. It is just an influence for good that we set forth in the earth and that’s all. That’s all.
I could not tell you the number of men, Christian men, pulpiteers, leaders of the denominational great drive in so many areas, not so much ours as in other faiths and communions, to identify the whole Christian faith and the whole Christian message with social work. “We worship the Lord Jesus and serve Him by being good to those who need us. We feed the poor. We heal the sick. We minister to those who are in poor housing conditions.” And the whole kingdom of Christ is identified with tremendous social movement, and “That’s the way we serve Him. That’s the way we know Him. That’s the way we love Him. We do it through the people, and Christ is identified with the people.”
I remember reading a book by James Street called The Gauntlet. And everybody read that thing when it was published a few years ago—and the whole thesis of that book is that Christ is identified with humanity, and when you serve humanity, you serve Christ. Oh, I could go on for hours with stuff like that!
Now, this message tonight concerns the reality, and the personality, the “somebodiness,” like you, of the Lord Jesus Christ, “For the Lord spake to Paul in the night by a vision” [Acts 18:9], in the nighttime He appeared before Paul and said to him, and He could speak, and He knew Paul, and He knew what Paul was doing, and He was guiding Paul in a tremendous work. Do you believe that, that He is somebody?
Now the thesis of this message is that Jesus is an entity in Himself, and that He has flesh, and that He has bones, and that He has a personality—that He is somebody. The Spirit of God is also called the Spirit of Jesus. And the Spirit of God is in my heart, and He is in your heart [1 Corinthians 6:19-20]. And the Spirit of God is in this world. And the Spirit of God is in this church. But the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Jesus is not the Lord Jesus Himself.
I cannot enter into the mystery of the Trinity, and I don’t try. I cannot understand it. I don’t attempt to. Nobody does. But I know this, that according to the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures, the Lord Jesus is like you are. He has flesh, and He has bones, and He is in a place, and He looks down on us, and He can appear to us, and He can talk to us [Acts 26:13-19; Revelation 1:12-13]. And someday we shall see Him as a man, as an individual, as a character, as a somebody [Acts 1:11].
And another thing about the Lord Jesus: He always was [John 8:58]. He always was the Lord Jesus. He always was that Somebody. He always was the Lord God omnipotent. But He was somebody, He was not ethereal and intangible. He was like you are. He was a reality, He was a being. I think—and I’ll give you the Scripture for it—the Jehovah, the “I AM” [Exodus 3:14], the Yahweh of the Old Testament is the Lord Jesus incarnate of the New Testament [Matthew 1:23]. They are the same character. They are the same individual.
In the eighth chapter of the Book of John, Jesus said unto them, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I AM” [John 8:58]. I’ve heard that before, haven’t you? “I AM.”
When Moses was shepherding the sheep of Jethro, his father-in-law, he was on the back side of the desert at Sinai. And as he was shepherding the flock, there was a bush that burned without being consumed [Exodus 3:1-2]. And Moses stopped and said, “I shall look at this great sight” [Exodus 3:3]. And he stood there and watched the flames in the bush, unconsumed. And out of the fire and out of the flame, the Lord God spoke to Moses. The Lord God spoke to Moses, and He commanded Moses to go down into Egypt and deliver His people [Exodus 3:4-10]. And when Moses said, “And what is the name of the God that speaks to me?” the voice came from heaven saying, “I Am. You go down to Egypt and tell them the great God, whose name is Yahweh, I AM THAT I AM, hath sent thee” [Exodus 3:13-14]. And Jesus said, “Verily, I say unto you, before Abraham was, I AM.” “I AM” [John 8:58]. The voice that speaks unto Moses out of the burning bush [Exodus 3:1-4, 14], was the voice whom we know in the New Testament as the Lord Jesus Christ [John 8:58]. He is the same Person, the same God.
I have another persuasion in that. In the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of John, in the forty-first verse, after John quotes from Isaiah [John 12:39-40], he says this, “These things said Isaiah, when he saw His glory, and spake of Him” [John 12:41]. Now, from the quotation, I turn to Isaiah. And the quotation is from the sixth chapter of the Book of Isaiah. And John says, “Isaiah said this when he saw the glory of Jesus” [John 12:41]. So you turn to the sixth chapter of the Book of Isaiah, and what does it say? You listen to it:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple.
Above it stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.
And one cried unto another, saying, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory.
Who was that? Who was that? Isaiah saw Him on a throne, high and lifted up [Isaiah 6:1].
John says in the twelfth chapter of his Gospel that Isaiah saw the Lord Jesus Christ. It was the Lord Jesus that he saw [John 12:41]. The Jehovah of the Old Testament, the great “I AM” of the Old Bible [Exodus 3:14], in the New Testament is incarnate in the form of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, born of a virgin [Matthew 1:20-25]. They are the One and the same.
The Lord Jesus is somebody pre-existent, in the ages before the worlds were made [John 1:1-2]. And the Lord Jesus is a man. He is somebody. He is a character. He is an entity. He is a personality. He is like you. And the Lord God said, “Let Us make man in Our image” [Genesis 1:26]. You were made in the likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ [Genesis 1:27]. And in time, He is a man. He is a person, incarnate [John 1:14]; the Lord Jesus is somebody like you.
When you turn through the pages of church history, for hundreds of years the church was involved—and the whole empire was involved, and all theology and philosophy were involved, and sometimes the East went to war with the West over it—they were involved in Christological controversies. They were trying to define, to delineate, to describe, to set in clear definition, who Jesus was; who He was, they called it “Christological controversy.” They were made by men like Arius, and Sabellius, and Eutyches, and Nestorius, and the Monophysites, and for centuries the conflict raged and raged: who Jesus was.
Now, those Christological conflicts and those Christological controversies were not only true in the development of church history, but they go clear back and back and back to the very days of Christ Himself. In the days of the Christian religion, when it was first promulgated, it had a tremendous antagonist in a philosophy, a Greek philosophy, called “Gnosticism,” from the Greek word gnō. Your English word comes from the Greek word, g-n-o, gnō, “to know.”
They were sophists. They were initiated into the mysteries of the theory of knowledge. They were Gnostics, they called themselves—and it had a tremendous hold upon the people. And Gnosticism was the greatest rival of Christianity. Now, Gnosticism was eclectic. It was not exclusive. It would accept anything, it would accept any philosophy. It would put its arms around anything. So when Christianity, under Paul and Timothy and John and those men, when Christianity came to be a regnant and a dynamic thing in the history of the world, Gnosticism put its arms around it. It amalgamated it. It began, in its eclecticism, to take the great principles of Christianity and make them a part of the system of Gnosticism.
Now there were two great systems of that that the apostles met. One was Docetic, from a Greek word meaning “seeming.” And the other one: Cerinthian Gnosticism, from the archenemy of the apostle John in Ephesus: a man by the name of Cerinthus. Now, Docetic Gnosticism said this, “Jesus just seemed to be a man. He was no actual man. He was no actual personality. He was no actual somebody. But He just walked around here in the days of His life in the earth, and He just looked like a man. He just seemed to be a man. But He wasn’t a real man.”
Now the first epistle of John was written against Docetic Gnosticism. You look how John starts off:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, the Word of life—
an honest-to-goodness, real genuine man—
(For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and which was manifested unto us:) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you.
[1 John 1:1-3]
That book, that epistle, 1 John, was written against Docetic Gnosticsm, these teachers and prophets who were going around all over the Roman Empire saying, “Jesus is not a real person. He is not a real man. He was not a real somebody. He just seemed to be.”
“No,” said John, “He was as real as you are! And our hands touched Him, and we felt of Him, and we held Him, and our eyes looked upon Him, and our ears heard Him: the Word of life, the Son of God” [John 1:1-3].
Now, Cerinthian Gnosticism; Cerinthian Gnosticism was the thing written in Ephesus when John was pastor of the church in Ephesus. And this was the doctrine of Cerinthus: Cerinthus said He was a man, all right. He was a man, all right—an actual man, He lived, and walked, and talked, and lived—He was a man, all right. But He wasn’t God, He wasn’t God, the Spirit of God “came upon” Him. They called it some of those angelic names, they called them in Greek: aiōns. The aiōn came upon the Lord Jesus at His baptism—in the story of the visitation of the heavenly Spirit in the form of a dove [Matthew 3:16]—the aiōn came upon Jesus in His baptism. And the aiōn left the Lord Jesus on the cross, when Jesus said, “Lord, into Thy hands I commend My spirit” [Luke 23:46]. And Cerinthus said that Jesus was just a man, like any other man, but He had a special enduement, endowment, by an angelic power from above. But He was nothing but a man.
Now against that, the apostle John wrote the Gospel of John, the Fourth Gospel. And he started off with an avowal of the deity of the Son of God. Don’t you remember it? “In the beginning—in the beginning was the Word. And the Word,” he’s using a Greek philosophical term there, translated “Word,” logos:
In the beginning was the Logos—
and the Logos was with God; and the Logos was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made.
John is saying there that this Man, the Son of God, is deity Himself. In the beginning He was, and He was God, the personality, the entity, the somebody of the Lord Jesus Christ [John 1:1]. And in heaven, resurrected and in glory, He is still the same Lord Jesus! “Handle Me, and see,” said the Lord, “that it is I Myself; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones such as ye see Me have” [Luke 24:39].
The Lord Jesus is in a place. “I go to prepare a topos, place, for you. And if I go to prepare a topos, a place—like this is a place—if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself….” [John 14:2-3] The Lord Jesus is in a place. He is in heaven, and He lives there—a man. He has flesh and bone.
Thomas said, “I do not believe it. I do not believe it. Except I put my finger in the scars in His hands, and except I thrust my hand into His side, I would not believe it” [John 20:25]. And the next Sunday night, when they were gathered together, the Lord Himself appeared in the midst, a man, just like He was in the days of His flesh, only immortalized, glorified, resurrected. And He held out His hands and said, “Behold, reach hither thy finger” [John 20:26-27]. And He opened His side, and there was a scar in the side from the spear thrust of the Roman soldier [John 19:34]—the same Lord Jesus [John 20:27].
He lives. He is somebody, flesh and bone. He has a body, resurrected, glorified! But it is He. And He speaks, and He works, and He is with us, and He helps us, and He guides us. He blesses, and He keeps us, He sees us through; this Lord Jesus.
The Lord spake to Paul in the night, saying [Acts 18:9]—He knew him. He was with him. He helped him, and he walked greatly in His name. Now we have a glorious promise from that same Lord Jesus: “Wherever you are, there am I in the midst of you” [Matthew 18:20]. He is here. He looks upon. He sees us. He watches. He knows and He cares: “Lo, I am with you alway, even until the end of the age” [Matthew 28:20]. He works with us. He helps us. He empowers us. He does marvelous things for us, this Lord Jesus.
He is somebody. Just like you’re here, He can be here. Just like somebody can help you, He can help you. Just like somebody can walk by your side, He can walk by your side. This Lord Jesus: somebody, just like you—just like you. And He works marvelously and gloriously.
There is a very popular picture called The Robe. It is a Cinemascope, wide screen, and possibly will have the greatest run of any picture thus far that’s ever been made. In the screen display, the presentation of those who made that picture, you will find a man’s name, William Freed.
Last summer when we had our big Cotton Bowl campaign here in Dallas with Billy Graham, there was a man here in the city who owned three nightclubs here—owned two in Las Vegas, Nevada; an actor, and a movie magnate, he was here in Dallas. He had three children. It was Sunday. And the children wanted to go swimming. And all of the places were closed, except for Fair Park. So he took his three children on a hot summer afternoon and went out to the Fair Park. After he had delivered his children where they could swim out there somewhere—why, he walked up and down the midway until he got tired of the midway. Didn’t have anything to do, and he heard something was going on in the Cotton Bowl. So he went to the Cotton Bowl and sat down under the shade, 105 degrees. He sat down there and listened to that service.
And to my amazement, Billy Graham made an invitation. You remember it, if you were there. I didn’t think anybody would come—couldn’t imagine anybody responding. That was the most un-promising thing I ever saw in my life, that blazing sun. Gave an invitation and the first man who responded to that invitation was this man, William Freed; came down out of the Cotton Bowl, there at the front, stood in front of the stands. He sold his three nightclubs here in Dallas. He got rid of his nightclub in Las Vegas, Nevada. He’s in Jerusalem now.
The United Artists are preparing within a period of about two years—they are preparing to place on the screen for the first time in the history of the world the life story of Jesus Christ. The first thing that had to be settled in preparing of the film depicting the Lord Jesus was who was going to be the Christ? Who is going to play the part of Jesus? And it was finally decided that the man who did it would be anonymous. He would not be named in the picture, nor would he be named in the advertising, nor would he be named before the world. He was going to remain anonymous as far as any publicity is concerned: no famous actor, no anybody. We are going to have an anonymous man.
Who is the anonymous man? It is the actor, William Freed. He is doing it now. And about two years from now, United Artists will present, for the first time, the story of the Lord Jesus to the world. And where did it come from? Why, you stand amazed in the presence! The first man who walked out of that Cotton Bowl stand and stood down there in front of that little place where the man preached was this man, William Freed, who so largely shaped and gave The Robe to the world.
Why, it happens all of the time. It happens everywhere, everywhere. I talked to a man this morning, begging him to come back to the Lord and the church. He said, “So many difficulties lying in the way.”
I said, “Come over there at the congregation and look. If I could take time out for it and had the opportunity to do it, I could have men stand up all over this house, all over this house, and tell you stories of the miracles of regeneration that would almost be unbelievable! What you once were and you once were and what you once were and what you now are.”
One of the finest Christian men that belong to this church and one of the greatest consecrated men that I have ever known came out of the gutter; came out of the gutter. If you were to see him now, with a big, fine executive job and a lovely family, you would say, “Pastor, you mean he; you mean that man? You mean—you mean he was in the gutter?” I mean that man was in the gutter! He was in the gutter. That’s what the Lord has done for him. He lives. He lives. He is somebody. He can speak to us. He walks with us. He talks with us. He empowers us. He makes us able. He gives us wisdom and direction.
And the Lord Jesus spake to Paul in the night [Acts 18:9], He talked to him. He can talk to you, and He will and He does, just like I could. Just like somebody next to you, the Lord can. He is somebody, Jesus.
I cannot close without saying a word of the comfort of that—the indescribable blessedness and sweetness and preciousness of that. I cannot close without it.
The Bible, in telling the story of the three Hebrew children who were thrown in the fiery furnace [Daniel 3:20-21], when the king looked in there, don’t you remember? The king turned to those who cast in those three Hebrew children and said, “Did we not put three in the furnace? Were there not three in the furnace?” And the captors said, “Yes, we threw three men in the furnace” [Daniel 3:24]. And the king said, “But I see four men, walking free in the fiery flames; and the countenance of the fourth one and the form of the fourth one is like unto the Son of God” [Daniel 3:25].
Who was He? Who was He? That was the Lord Jesus, pre-incarnate, the fourth One walking with the three Hebrew children. Who was it that closed the mouths of the lions when Daniel was cast in the den of lions? [Daniel 6:16-17]. Who closed the mouths of those lions? Whose story is it all the way through? It’s the Lord Jesus. It’s the Lord Jesus [Daniel 6:22]. He is the One the psalmist was talking about when he said, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not be afraid: for Thou art with me” [Psalms 23:4]. Thou art with me—the preciousness of the presence, the comfort of the nearness of Jesus. He is with us.
Do you remember Ellis Fuller? Do you remember him? Ah, that man! Pastor of the First Church in Atlanta, Georgia, went to be president of the Southern Seminary, and we had him here for two weeks in a revival meeting. Do you remember that? Ah, there are some things and messages and sermons that Ellis Fuller preached here in the pulpit that will stay with me as long as I live. He blessed my life, Ellis Fuller; then president of the seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
This is one of the little things that he said that has stayed with me through these years. He had a little boy, and the little boy was taken to the hospital for an operation. The pastor said to the church, “Nobody is to call me, nobody is to get in touch with me, nobody is to know where I am.”
He went to the hospital, and though it was against the rules of the hospital, being a trustee of the institution, he got a bed. And he put it in the room with that boy and stayed with that son, stayed with the boy; went into the operating room with the boy, and stood there as the antiseptic was administered, and as the operation was done, and then went back into the room with the boy. And he stayed with the boy all day long as the lad came to consciousness. And at nighttime, he pushed his bed right over there next to the boy’s bed, and laid down to go to sleep with his hand on the hand of his boy.
And in the nighttime, while they were lying there close together, before the lad dropped off to sleep, he turned his head and said, “Daddy, this is the greatest day of my life.” And Ellis Fuller said, “Son, the greatest day of your life? Why, son, this has been the most terrible day I have ever lived through. I have been so anxious and full of care. Son, the greatest day of your life?” And the boy said, “Yes sir, Daddy. This has been the greatest day of my life. Daddy, you have been with me all day long.”
I am persuaded that the sorrows, and the tears, and the heartbreak, and maybe the despairs, and discouragements, and disappointments, and finally the death that comes into our life are just somehow that we might know the nearness of the presence of Jesus.
“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me” [Psalm 23:4]. And it is a great day; it is our greatest day if He is there. “And in the night, the Lord’s spake to Paul” [Acts 18:9]; He is somebody like you, like you, like you, the Lord Jesus.
Well, let’s sing. And while we sing the song, somebody you give your heart to the Lord, you come and stand by me. Put your life in the hands of God, you come and stand by me; somebody to put your life in this church, you come and stand by me.
“Pastor, here I am, here I come, taking the Lord as my Savior.” Or coming into the fellowship of the church, however the Lord shall say it, and open the door, and lead the way, while we make appeal, you come. You come. On the first note of the first stanza, anywhere, somebody you, “I want to be baptized.” “I want to come by letter, or promise of letter, or by statement, or by rededication of life.” However God shall say and lead the way, would you do it? Anywhere, somebody you, while we stand and while we sing.