In the Days of His Flesh
June 14th, 1959 @ 7:30 PM
IN THE DAYS OF HIS FLESH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-14-59 7:30 p.m.
You will turn with me now to the fifth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, Hebrews chapter 5. We shall read the first nine verses: Hebrews chapter 5, the first nine verses. The title of the sermon tonight is In the Days of His Flesh. Hebrews 5:1-9 – now, let all of us read it together:
For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.
Who can have compassion on the ignorant and on them that are out of the way, for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity.
And by reason hereof he ought as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins.
And no man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.
So also Christ glorified not Himself to be made an High Priest, but He that said unto Him:"Thou art My Son, today have I begotten Thee."
And He saith also in another place:"Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek";
Who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared,
Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered.
And being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him.
You would have to very closely read the Book to notice how many times this author, under the Spirit of God, will make a contrast in the life of our Lord. In one instance, speak of Jesus as He was before the world began: "The express image of the invisible God, the brightness of His person, seated on the right hand of majesty" [from Hebrews 1:3], the glory of heaven, honored by the celestial hosts [Hebrews 1:6]. Even as God said unto Him: "Thou art My Son, the firstborn of all creation, the express image of the invisible God in whom all things consist" [from Hebrews 1:3, 5]. The author will be speaking of our Lord so exalted, so glorified, so high and lifted up – God of very God.
Then in the next breath, in the next sentence, in the next syllable, he will speak of the days of our Lord in His flesh:
Offering up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears unto Him who was able to save Him from death . . .
And though He were a Son –
though He were God in the flesh, though He were God forever –
Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered.
Now, of course, the author is doing it for the purpose that we might know that in our Lord so great, so mighty, so enable, so all-adequate and all-sufficient – he’s writing it that we might know that in Him we have a high priest, a mediator, who is moved by our infirmities [Hebrews 4:15]. And he makes the appeal in the invitation that because of the nature, the humanity, the suffering of our Savior: "Come boldly to the throne of grace, that you may find mercy and obtain grace to help in time of need" [Hebrews 4:16]. Now, that’s why the author writes it: to bid us to come.
Tonight, I’m going to turn it in just a little different way. And for the moment, I want to take his comparison and follow it: our Lord as He was in glory and our Lord as He was in the days of his flesh.
As He was in glory: God of very God, in the form of God [Philippians 2:6] – whatever form God has – our Savior was the Jehovah of the Old Testament. "By Him were all things made that were made" [from John 1:3]. He spoke our stars into existence [Genesis 1:14-18; Psalm 33:6]. He created our world by fiat, the Jehovah of the Old Testament [Genesis 1:1-31; Colossians 1:16] – God of very God, worshiped and adorned by all of the angels [Hebrews 1:6].
Yet in the next breath, in the next syllable: "In the days of His flesh, offering up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death" [Hebrews 5:7]. And though He were a Son – "God manifest, " Emmanuel, Prince [Matthew 1:23; Isaiah 9:6] – yet "learned He obedience by the things which He suffered" [Hebrews 5:8]. The contrast is staggering. It is amazing. It is overwhelming. What heart is able to receive it or what mind is able to enter into it?
This God who made the world and rules over it [Genesis 1:1-31; Psalm 8:1-9], in the hollow of whose hands our very earth is as the dust in a balance [Isaiah 40:12], this great and living God – now look at Him – ecce homo, idou ho anthrōpos, ecce homo [from John 19:5 – "Behold, the Man!"] – look at Him, with a crown of thorns pressed on His brow [John 19:2], with a mock purple robe cast over His shoulders [John 19:2], with a reed in His hand for a scepter [Matthew 27:29]. And they spit upon Him, and they pull out His beard [Isaiah 50:6], and they beat Him over the head [Matthew 27:30], and mockingly, they bow down before Him [Mark 15:16-19].
What an amazing contrast! Even Pontius Pilate, passing by, looking on Him – the inside of the judgment hall – after our Lord had been scourged and the blood running down His back, even Pontius Pilate was moved with pity upon Him and brought Him out before that howling and furious mob thinking that the sight of the Savior bathed in blood, crowned with thorns – a pitiable, pitiful spectacle – even Pontius Pilate thought that taking Him before that furious mob, just the sight of Him so innocent, so unopposing, so unresponsive, so yielded, so submissive, just the sight of Him would quicken their hearts to pity [John 19:4]. And that’s why he brought Him forth and said, "Behold, the Man!" [John 19:5] "Behold, the Man!" Oh, the contrast staggers the soul! Something has happened. What caused it?
Or take our Lord as He was born. Was there ever such a night as the first Christmas night? The angel announcement and the angelic choirs [Luke 2:8-15], and the Babe born to the virgin [Matthew 1:18-25], and the wise men coming from afar [Matthew 2:1-2, 9-12], and the shepherds worshiping [Luke 2:15-18] – was there ever such a night? A night of nights: every star lowered by invisible hands like a golden lamp and the whole creation resonant with the infinite harmonies of God the night He was born. No wonder they sang. No wonder they rejoiced. No wonder the stars shown. No wonder the angels came down. It was the heavenliest night of all God’s long story of humanity.
And now, look at Him: crowned with thorns [John 19:2], crying unto Him that was able to save Him from death [Hebrews 5:7], making entreaties and supplications to God [Matthew 26:39], the blood flowing off of His body where He had been beat by the Roman scourge [Isaiah 52:14; John 19:1]. What has happened? Who caused it? Who did it?
Or take again our Lord in His ministry: was there ever one who ever wrought so tenderly, so purposely, so preciously, so benevolently, so unselfishly as our Lord? Was there ever, ever, ever one? All His words were gracious words [Luke 4:22]. Like mercy distilled from His lips did they fall [Luke 23:34]. And He went about, as the Scriptures say, doing good [Acts 10:38]. Here was a blind man, and He made him to see [Mark 8:22-25]; a deaf man, made him to hear [Luke 7:31-35]; a crippled man, made him to walk [Luke 9:2-7]; a leprous man, made him clean again [Matthew 8:1-3]; a dead man, and he lives in His sight [Luke 7:11-17]. And what words of grace did He speak? [Matthew 11:28-30] Just to touch the hem of His garment was to be healed [Luke 8:43-48]. That was the ministry of Jesus.
And then this: in blood [Matthew 27:26], crowned with thorns [Mark 15:17], nailed to a cross [Luke 15:22-39]. I’ve often wondered. Do you ever think of these things? I have often wondered: in the day that Jesus died, nailed like a felon [Luke 23:32-33] – like a criminal, like a malefactor, nailed to the cross – I’ve often wondered, was a blind man there whom Jesus had healed? [Mark 8:22-25] I wonder what he thought when he looked upon Jesus as He died. Was there a leprous man there whom Jesus had cleansed? [Luke 17:11-21] Was there a lost man there whom Jesus had saved? [Luke 19:2-10] Was there a crippled man there whom Jesus had made to walk? [Mark 2:1-12] Was Lazarus there whom He’d raised from the dead? [John 11:39-44] Were the hungry there whom He had fed? [John 6:1-14]I wonder what they thought? What do you think?
Oh the contrast between the beautiful, gracious ministering life of our Lord and its consummation and its close – the tragedy of His death. The Son of God – "Thou art My Son, today have I begotten Thee" [Hebrews 5:5] – and then, "In supplications, with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death . . . Though a Son, He learned obedience by the things which He suffered" [Hebrews 5:7-8].
Well, who caused it? Who did it? Who is at fault that One so exalted should be so debased, that One so pure should be so maligned, that One so precious should be so mocked and scorned and rejected, that One so beautiful in His life should die so terribly and so wretchedly?
Who did it? Who did it? Ah, it is so easy to find somebody at fault. We know who did it. God did it. God did it. "Curse God and die" [Job 2:9], said the wife of Job. And there are lots of people who blame God for the wretchedness of life and for the darkness in the world and the sin in the world. "God did it. It’s God’s fault. God did that!"
Then there are others who say it’s His own fault. He ought to have been a better manager. He didn’t bring the thing out right. He fell into His own devices. Had He been a shrewder man, had He been an abler man, He could have come out far more victoriously than that.
This wonderful doctor they have in Africa, Albert Schweitzer [1875-1965], he’s a great humanitarian; but if I ever heard of a heretic in my life, he is that one. He has the idea that Jesus thought that He was going to bring in the kingdom of God apocalyptically and when He failed and when it didn’t happen and when the kingdom didn’t come that Jesus died in disillusionment and heartbroken. He died in despair. It was His own fault. If He’d a been a shrewder man, He would not have fallen into such tragedy and into such hurt.
Oh, there are a lot people we could point the finger to who brought that about. "Why, that’s the Jew’s fault. The Jews did that. The Jews crucified Him. They are the ones who delivered Him unto death. The Jews did it."
I listened to an illustrious, fine Jew this week, and he said to me, "I cannot tell you the hurt that comes to our people and our race through the story by which the death of Christ is laid at our door."
There is a sense, of course, in which the Jew did it. He did it. And to point to the Jew as the one that delivered Jesus to the Cross is to follow the story of the Book [Matthew 27:1-2]. But there are also those who, with equal propriety, who with equal intelligence – equal equation and equilibrium – there are also those who could rationally and reasonably point and say, "The Roman soldiers did it. They nailed Him to the Cross." It was a Roman’s way of dying to crucify a man. The Roman soldiers did it [John 19:23]. They nailed Him to the tree.
Then others could say the Roman procurator did it. He delivered Him to death [Mark 15:7-15]. All it would have taken to deliver Jesus was for the Roman procurator to declare Him innocent and set Him free. "The Roman procurator did it; he did it. It’s his fault!"
Oh, I can hear each one as they stand at the judgment day of God [Revelation 20:11-15]. I can listen to each one as he disavows any fault therein. I can see Pilate as he washes his hands: "I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it. It was not my fault. I washed my hands of it [Matthew 27:24]. It is not mine."
I can hear the Roman soldiers at the judgment bar of God as they stand up and say, "I did not do it. I did not do it. I am a man under authority, and I was commanded to nail a felon to the cross [Matthew 27:26-27], and we nailed Him to the cross. It was not our fault. It was not our prerogative. It was not our choice. We did it by commandment. It is not our fault. We didn’t do it. We didn’t do it."
And I can hear the Jew, as he stands up and say, "It is not our fault." And that’s what I told that Jewish man who spoke to me this week. I said, "Any man who knows God and knows the Bible that would point to you and say, ‘It is your fault, ‘ does not know the spirit of the message of the New Testament. For, " I said to him, "we all had a part. Our sins nailed Him to the Cross. Our derelictions pressed on His brow the crown of thorns. We crucified the Son of God."
The Jew, he had a part. That’s right. The Gentile, he had a part. That’s right. Our forefathers had a part. We have a part. Our sins nailed Him to the tree. Our sins lifted Him up on the cross [1 Peter 2:24]. And when you stand there and look upon the Son of God in wretchedness and shame, in nakedness, in blood and in death, if you’re honest you’ll have to confess, "I also had a part. These are my sins [Colossians 2:13-14]. And like all of my fellow humanity, I, too, am lost and undone" [Romans 3:10, 23]. We have added to all of our iniquities yet this other – that we crucified the Son of God.
But there is a purpose in the Book. There is a purpose in the author setting before our eyes the suffering of the Son of God: that we might look upon it and that out of that vision might come the stirrings of a soul and the quickening of a conscience that would bring us back to heaven again. Had there been any other way, God would have provided it.
In the days of His flesh, offering up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared . . .
Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered.
Referring to the agonizing cry of our Lord in Gethsemane:"O Lord, if there is some other way, if there’s some other way, let this cup pass from Me – if there is some other way . . . " [from Matthew 26:39]
And had there been any other way for us to be saved, any other way for our sins to be washed away, God would have done it. "He was heard in that He feared" [Hebrews 5:7]. That is, when God said, "No. It’s the death and the agony and the cross, "God gave Him strength to bear it. And in the power of that presence, an angel ministering to Him [Luke 22:43], and the all-sufficient grace of God given Him, He arose from His knees, called to His disciples [Luke 22:44-46]. Betrayed into the hands of sinners [Luke 22:47-48, 54], condemned by the Sanhedrin [Luke 22:66-71], given over to the furious mob of the Roman procurator [Luke 23:1-25], and in obedience to the will of God for your sins and for mine, He died on the cross [Luke 23:33-46]. That was the purpose: the expiation of our sin, the atonement of our guilt, the washing away of the judgment of the Lord upon our lives, our guilty souls, our sinful hearts [Romans 3:23; 1John 2:2].
And God calls us back again and again to look. I ought to do it in my sermons. Often, I ought to call our people back to Calvary. "Come, let us look again at the cross," in the Lord’s Supper to remember it, and in these sermons to focus our eyes upon Him lifted up between the earth and the sky. Somehow, in that vision, it does something to the soul. "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me" [John 12:32]. It does something to the human heart and the human soul to look upon Jesus crucified.
When I began my ministry, I was the pastor of a little tiny church in central West Texas. It was the most unusual community you ever saw. The families had been there from the days that they had settled it when the Indians overran the country, and those families in their generations were still there. The leaders in our church were older men – all their lives had been there. And in their youth time, it was a wide open country like you see in these western movies when they wore guns and when the country was open and every man was a law unto himself.
One of those men in one of those families, every once in a while, would ask me – he’d say, "Pastor, can a man who killed his best friend ever be saved?" For as a young fellow, on one of those Saturday nights, with his gun on one side and a bottle of liquor on the other side, going to one of those Saturday night dances – somehow, in their drinking, in their revelry, he pulled his six-shooter and killed his best friend. And as an old man still asking, "Can a man who killed his best friend ever be saved?" That kind of a circle.
I asked one of those men. I said, "You men are so fine and so noble and so given to God, so godly. How is it you changed? How were you saved?" And one of them said, "Well, I’ll tell you how." He said, "It’s very plain and it’s very simple." He said, "We were all in the family – bunch of boys, few girls – big family." And he said, "On Saturday night, we’d get out our guns, our bottles of liquor, get on our horses, ride off to the dance." And he said, "That godly mother of ours, she prayed with us not to go and prayed with us and begged and pled with us. But, oh, we were young, " he said. "And we were having a big time. And with a gun on one side and a bottle of liquor on the other side, every Saturday night, away we’d ride to the dance."
And he said, "As time passed, " he said, "that dear old godly mother of ours had a little place of prayer not far from the kitchen door, out there in a little bunch of saplings." And he said, "Every Saturday night, when we got the gun and got the bottle of liquor and got on the horse and rode away, " he said, "that dear old godly mother of ours would get out there in that place of prayer in those saplings. And she stayed on her knees crying unto God for her children until we came back in the wee hours of the morning."
He said, "When she first started it, we’d go over there and lift her up and kid her and say, ‘Now listen, let’s go to bed. We all right. There’s nothing to pray about; there’s nothing to worry about. We take care of ourselves.’"
But he said, "You know, as that continued and as it continued," he said, "the night came when we got our guns and our bottles of liquor and got on our horses, and when we rode away," he said, "we rode away with a heavy heart. "He said, "Somehow, the dance lost its attraction, and the gun lost its appeal, and the bottle of liquor lost its flame and its fire." And he said, "When we got on those horses, it was with a heavy heart for we knew the minute that we left, that dear old godly mother would be out there in that little bunch of saplings praying for the boys. When we’d come back, there she was on her knees crying aloud to the Lord."
And he said to me, "Preacher, the day came when I couldn’t make it anymore. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t pick up that gun anymore. I couldn’t pick up that bottle of liquor anymore, and I couldn’t get on that horse to ride to the dance anymore. Finally, " he said, "I went to my mother, and I said, ‘Mother, I want you to pray for my soul that God will save me.’ We all did." And he said, "That’s how come us to be Christians."
I lived with those people for several years. I was not married. I stayed in their homes from house to house, place to place. I never saw men more godly, and I never saw families more godly. One of the star captains at Baylor was a son out of one of those families in that little church. I went down there at Waco one time just to see that boy play.
That is exactly what the vision of the Cross does to the human heart. Somehow, looking to Jesus, the world just isn’t attractive anymore. Things are changed; it’s different [Philippians 3:7-8]. To drink, to carouse, to give our lives to cheap, tawdry things – somehow, it just doesn’t fit [1 Corinthians 6:9-11]. We don’t like them anymore. We’ve seen Jesus. We’ve seen Him die. We’ve seen Him crucified. We’ve looked upon His cross, and it’s done something to the heart. We are never the same again: couldn’t go out here and enter that world if we had to – just couldn’t, just don’t, just won’t.
I do not know of a more meaningful expressive hymn than the one that our Berachah class so greatly loves:
Alas! and did my savior bleed?
And did my sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?
Was it for crimes that I have done
They nailed Him to the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!
But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe:
Here, Lord, I give myself away,
‘Tis all that I can do.
["At the Cross, " by Isaac Watts, 1707]
If we were to weep forever, we could never repay our Lord." Here, Lord, I give myself away, ‘Tis all that I can do!"
That’s what it is to come to Jesus. That’s what it is to be a Christian – for His sake, for His sake. And that’s the appeal we make tonight while we sing this invitation hymn.
While we sing this invitation hymn, place your hand in the nail-scarred Hand. While we sing it, in this balcony round, somebody you, would you make it tonight? "I’ll give my heart to Jesus. and here I come."
On this lower floor, somebody you, tonight, "I take Jesus as Savior, and here I am. Here I come." A family you, to put your life with us in the church; a child, a youth, as God shall say the word and open the way, would you make it now? On the first note of the first stanza, into the aisle, down to the front, down one of these stairwells and to the pastor, "I give you my hand. I give my heart to Jesus." Tonight, will you, while we stand and while we sing?