Loving the Unseen Christ
July 3rd, 1960 @ 7:30 PM
1 Peter 1:1-9
LOVING THE UNSEEN CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Peter 1:1-9
7-3-60 7:30 p.m.
Now will all of us turn to the First Epistle of Simon Peter, and we read together the first nine verses. First Peter chapter 1, verses 1 through 9. And the title of the sermon is Loving the Unseen Christ. First Peter, almost to the end of your Bible, chapter 1, the first 9 verses, now all of us read it together:
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,
Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,
Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:
That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ;
Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:
Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.
[1 Peter 1; 1-9]
And the text: "Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory" [1 Peter 1:8].
Simon Peter writes, "Whom having not seen, ye love"; not "we love," for he had seen the Lord, but these strangers, these sojourners of the Diaspora, scattered through Pontus, and Galatia, and Cappadocia, and Asia, and Bithynia, and Mysia, and the other provinces of the Roman Empire, they had never seen our Lord in the flesh. One of the undeniable aspirations of the Christian soul is that we shall someday look into the face of Jesus Christ. In the twenty-second chapter of the Revelation, the last of the Book, it is the promise that we shall see His face, and His name shall be written in our foreheads [Revelation 22:3-4]. An old divine one time said, "There are three things I wish I could have seen: I wish I could have seen Rome in its glory, I wish I could have seen the apostle Paul preaching in Athens, and I wish I could have seen Jesus in the flesh."
That desire to see the face of our Lord has been the motive back of the endless centuries of artistic representations and conceptions of how our Lord did look. All through the art galleries of the world and on the fresco of churches and monasteries and in a thousand other places will you see the likenesses, an artist’s conception of the likeness of the Son of God. But whenever you look upon them, however magnificent the genius of the author, or however inspired the artistic ability of the artist, when you turn away, there is always an emptiness, there’s always a lacking, there is always a something missing from the artistic representation. No man can ever grasp either in mind or in pen or in brush all the personality of the living incarnate Son of God. It is an unusual thing that, in the New Testament that presents Him to us, there is no hint of the fashion of His body, of His countenance, of the color of His hair, of His stature, of His hands, of any other description about Him. It is strangely silent. One would think that the fact that we had never seen our Lord would bring to us a colossal and immeasurable disadvantage. But it is not so; for the present and for the now it is infinitely best. Jesus said, "It is expedient for you that I go away" [John 16:7]. For one thing, we do not see our Lord in the flesh, lest our religion descend down to the physical and the sensual. Do you remember the cry, the outspoken cry, of one of those women who was in the mob gathered around Jesus, looking up on the marvelous miracles of His mighty power, and listening to the words of grace that distilled from His lips? Do you remember what she said? She raised her voice in exclamation, as you could just imagine a woman could do, and said, "Blessed be the womb that bare Thee, and the breast that Thou hast sucked" [Luke 11:27]. Isn’t that a magnificent statement? Isn’t that a glorious contribution to spiritual religion? That’s why for one thing the body of our Lord in the flesh was taken away.
And another reason: had our Lord remained in the flesh, as we are now in our unredeemed, corruptible bodies, there would have been an impossible situation in the whole world with people striving madly to touch Him or to see Him. If you think that the entire Muslim world, turning its face to a pilgrimage to Mecca, is an unusual religious occurrence, what would you think if our Lord Jesus lived somewhere in the flesh? There would be pilgrimages, there would be strivings, there would be absolute fightings and strivings in order just to touch Him or to be near Him. It is infinitely better, even as our Lord says, "It is expedient for you that I go away [John 16:7],Whom having not seen" [1 Peter 1:8].
Yet there are two ties that bind us in indissoluble union with cables of iron to the loving heart and the person of our Lord, "Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory" [1 Peter 1:8]. There are two things that bind us to our unseen Lord. He says they are faith, and he says they are love. "Having not seen, ye love; whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, yet trusting." Those two things, our faith, which is light, and our love, which is heat and fervor; and wherever there is one there is always the other. When one enters, the other follows behind. Even as all of God’s sunbeams have interwoven in them light and heat, so those twin celestial sisters of the soul are ever present to bind the true Christian to God. Our faith: that’s what it is to be a Christian: to believe in the Lord Jesus, "That Christ might dwell richly in your hearts by faith" [Ephesians 3:17]. This is the beatitude that all of us claim today: Thomas, because thou hast seen, thou hast believed: blessed are they that though they have not seen, yet have believed [John 20:29],While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; the things which are not seen are eternal [2 Corinthians 4:18].
Moses, when he renounced the heirship to the throne of Egypt, it is said that he "endured, as seeing Him who is invisible" [Hebrews 11:27]. The eye of faith can find the delineation of our Lord and look upon His features, His presence, His countenance, His face. For example, Erasmus wrote in the preface to his Greek New Testament, the first ever published in 1516, which is called the Textus Receptus, and which is the basis for the translation of the King James Version of the Bible, in the preface of that New Testament published by Erasmus, I have copied in the front of my Greek New Testament these words from that preface:
These holy pages will summon up the living image of His mind. They will give you Christ Himself, talking, healing, dying, rising; the whole Christ in a word. They will give Him to you in an intimacy so close that He would be less visible to you if He stood before your very eyes.
Had I seen the Lord in the flesh, I might have seen Him in a moment of His speaking, I might have seen Him in a moment of His miraculous power; but I could never see my Lord, did I look upon His face, as I see Him in the whole revelation of the New Testament: before the foundation of the world [1 Peter 1:19-20], born of a virgin [Matthew 1:23-25], growing up as a child, in all of His great and His mighty ministry, buried in the heart of the earth, raised and living from the dead, and ascending to the right hand of the Majesty on high [Matthew 12:40; Hebrews 1:3]. I can see the Lord in all of the revelation of the Bible in a fullness and in a perfection and in a mysterious understanding above what I could ever know had I looked upon His face in the flesh. We are bound to Christ by that iron cable of faith, "Whom having not seen . . . yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable" [1 Peter 1:8].
And the other binding to our Lord is the cord of love, "Whom having not seen, ye love" [1 Peter 1:8]. The genius of our Christian faith lies in our devotion to a person. You can have Confucianism without Confucius. It is a system of morality and maxim and ethic. You can have Hinduism without the sages and the pundits and the Mahatmas that gave it birth. You can have Christian Science without Mary Baker Glover Patterson Eddy. You can have a spider web and the spider be dead. You can have a great architectural monument and the architect be dead. But you can’t have Christianity without Christ. And you can’t have the faith of the gospel of the Son of God without the Son of God Himself. As you cannot have a flower without the root, as you cannot have the light without the sun, so you cannot have Christianity without Christ. The Christian faith is the Lord; that’s what it is.
As Paul one time said, "We preach Christ and not ourselves; just ourselves, your servants for Jesus’ sake" [2 Corinthians 4:5]. And as Paul wrote again in his final letter to Timothy, "I know whom I have believed" [2 Timothy 1:12]. One time a novice, a neophyte, a beginning young fellow, quoting that to an old saint, said, "I know in whom I have believed"; and the old saint broke in and said, "Wait a minute, son, wait a minute, son. I’ll not even have a preposition between my soul and my Savior . . . I know whom, not ‘in whom,’ I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that great and final day." So as this is what it is to be a Christian, to believe in Jesus, this is also what it is to be a Christian: to love our Lord. "If any man love not the Lord Jesus," said the apostle Paul in the last verses of the first Corinthian letter, "let him be Anathema" [1 Corinthians 16:22]. This is the Christian faith: that a man trust in the Lord and that a man love the Lord Jesus.
That love will shape itself, will find its expression in many, many different ways. Sometimes it is expressed in long periods of silent, thoughtful meditation. Sometimes it finds its expression in irrepressible tears. Sometimes it finds its expression in acts of mercy. Sometimes you will see it in the steadfastness of a man to God, to Christ, even unto death. It will always manifest itself, sometimes in the love to our Lord, like those brave soldiers of David who hearing him say, "Oh, for a drink from the well at the gate of Bethlehem," risk and peril and jeopardize life itself; to bring him that pitcher of water [2 Samuel 23:15-16]. Sometimes it’ll be like the gift of the alabaster box broken to anoint His body [Mark 14:3-9]. But however it is, and in a thousand different manifestations and ways, the love true of Christ will betray itself. For true religion is the love of the Lord Jesus our Christ with all of the fervor and all of the devotion of the soul: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy mind, and all thy heart, and all thy strength, and all thy soul" [Matthew 22:37]. And the Lord looks with contempt upon lukewarmness. As He said to the church at Laodicea, "You are neither cold and you are neither hot, I could spew thee out of My mouth" [Revelation 3:16]. Fervency and devotion is the mark of the true Christian religion. And fervency in religion is a mark of the true religion itself, for it is based upon the true commitment of the emotions and reaches down to the great moving springs of the soul. The psychologist will list for us the moving springs of human action. And when he does, he will list all of the human emotions: love, hate, fear, zeal, devotion, aspiration, all of these things. And without them, the world would be dull indeed, cold and lifeless and removed, indifferent and impersonal. It’s the love in life, it’s the zeal in live, it’s the devotion of life, it’s the aspirations of life, it’s the dreams and longings of life, it’s the zeal of life that make life itself. And these things sanctified make for a true religious dedication.
That’s why when we come to church we sing. The object of our singing is to lift up the spirit of our devotion to Jesus, to create in us a rapture and this joy unspeakable and full of glory [1 Peter 1:8]. That’s the reason our hymns are in verse, they’re in stanza, they are in poetry. That’s the reason we come to church as a congregation: to build up in one another the fury of the flame and the fire of our devotion to our Lord. And the converse of that is this: the hardness of a man’s heart is the very essence of sin itself.
In the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Matthew, Jesus says, "Your rejection of the Lord Christ lies in the hardness of your heart" [Matthew 13:15]. And in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of the Acts when Paul forever turns aside from his Jewish people to deliver the message of Christ to the Gentiles [Acts 13:46, 28:24-27], he quotes that same passage from the sixth chapter of the Book of Isaiah [Isaiah 6:9-10], "Because of the hardness of your hearts, God takes the message from you and gives it an open door before the Gentiles" [Acts 13:47, 28:28]. And in the incomparable prophecy of Ezekiel, in the thirty-sixth chapter, and in the eleventh chapter – which I haven’t time to read tonight – Ezekiel prophesies of the great and new day for the chosen of God; and in both of those immeasurably effective and glorious prophecies he says, "God avows, I will give them a new heart. I will take away the stony heart, and I will give you an heart of flesh" [Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26]. It’s in the heart, it’s in the soul, it’s in the affections that religion lives or it dies. And the essence of sin and the root of all rejection lies in the hardness of a man’s heart, the callousness of his spirit before God [Matthew 13:15].
"Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory" [1 Peter 1:8]. That’s a beautiful phrase, "with joy unspeakable and full of glory." Here is a man burdened with debt, and somebody pays it and he’s free; how full of joy unspeakable and full of glory. Here’s a man who’s condemned to die and somebody offers forgiveness and reprieve; with joy unspeakable and full of glory. Isn’t this an unusual thing? He had just said, "Your faith is tried by fire" [1 Peter 1:7]; then in the next verse he says, "With joy unspeakable and full of glory" [1 Peter 1:8]. Faith being tried by fire: their property confiscated; their lives ruined; many of them martyred, burned, fed to the lions and the wild beasts, looked upon from gladiatorial arena seats by the tier and the tier as they died, these Christians under the iron fist of the Roman Caesar; tried by fire, yet with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
These old mariners say that sometimes in some places in the seas there’ll be a great moving current of the ocean this way, then in the depths of the sea a great moving current in the opposite direction. Many, many, many times, flying through the air in this earth, I have seen the clouds in one layer, in one stratum, moving in one direction, and then maybe below the clouds in another stratum moving in another direction. So it is with the Christian: his faith may be tried by fire [1 Peter 1:7], and upon the surface, the things visible and temporal and tangible there is sorrow and trial and heartache; but down underneath, in the unfathomable depths of the Christian soul, there is joy unspeakable and full of glory, full of glory [2 Corinthians 4:18, 1 Peter 1:8]. Just the same here as it is there, only differing in bulk and in weight: a little of heaven on earth, a prelibation in the water of the river of life, stray notes from the angelic chorus, eschal grapes from the vineyards of the land of promise, portieres of flowers from Paradise, full of glory, the earnest of what God has in store for those who love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9].
"Wherein," he says, "ye greatly rejoice" [1 Peter 1:6]. How does he mean? "Wherein ye greatly rejoice." Why, you read the passage. This is Simon Peter speaking to the sojourners of the Diaspora of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, Bithynia, "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God [1 Peter 1:1],wherein ye greatly rejoice" [1 Peter 1:6]. Before the foundations of the earth were laid [Ephesians 1:4], before God placed the pillars of the firmament in their golden sockets, He wrote our names on the breastplate of our great High Priest, and He placed our name in the eternal book, and there it stands forever. "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God [1 Peter 1:2],wherein we greatly rejoice, sanctified by the Spirit, in the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ,wherein we greatly rejoice" [1 Peter 1:6], covered over with the righteousness, pure and holy, of the Son of God, "sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ" [1 Peter 1:1-2]. I may hang my heart for a while upon the willow tree, but I will never break it; underneath the joy unspeakable and full of glory [1 Peter 1:8], covered with the righteousness of Christ, and sprinkled with the blood of my Savior, "wherein we greatly rejoice,given an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,wherein we greatly rejoice" [1 Peter 1:2-6]. If we had time we’d just pause here and sing:
On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,
And cast a wistful eye
To Canaan’s fair and happy land,
Where my possessions lie.
["On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand"; Samuel Stennett]
To an inheritance incorruptible, reserved in heaven for you,wherein ye greatly rejoice [1 Peter 1:4-6]. We who are kept be the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed at the last time, wherein we greatly rejoice [1 Peter 1:8-9]. We who are kept by the power of God through faith unto that ultimate deliverance [1 Peter 1:5], that final glorious denouement and consummation at the end of the ages, when God shall give us our inheritance eternal, incorruptible, undefiled, reserved, kept in heaven for us, wherein we greatly rejoice [1 Peter 1:4-6, 9].
Jesus says, "And I give unto them," unto us, "eternal life; and they shall never, never perish" [John 10:28]. But O blessed Lord, blessed Lord, when the afflictions of the way become heavy and Thy children murmur, then Lord shall they not perish then? And He replies, "They shall never perish." But dear blessed Lord, if the affliction becomes unbearable, and their faith waivers, then, then shall they not perish? "And they shall never perish." But O blessed Lord, suppose their minds begin to wonder and suppose others seek to pervert them, shall they not be perverted, shall they not perish? "They shall never perish!" But O Lord God, O blessed Lord, suppose, suppose the devil and hell and our own fears were more than we could bear and we died under the onslaughts of the enemy, then Lord shall we not perish? "They shall never perish! [John 10:28]. They are kept by the power of God! And I give unto them eternal salvation,wherein we greatly rejoice" [1 Peter 1:5-6, 8-9].
That is an apostle who for us portrayed the spirit, and the love, and the ableness, and the might, and the glory of Christ, God’s Son and our Savior. And it is yours for the asking. It is yours for the taking. It is yours for the having, a joy unspeakable and full of glory, this Christ, this Savior [1 Peter 1:8-9], who stands, living in our presence tonight, upon whose face we look by faith, and upon whose face someday we shall look in the flesh [Revelation 22:3-5]; oh, precious promise, oh, incomparable hope!
And while we sing this hymn of appeal and invitation, somebody you give his heart to Jesus. Somebody you come into the fellowship of this church. If you’re in the balcony, come; down this stairwell, down that stairwell, come. If you’re on this lower floor, haste to the Lord, while the pastor stands here, to the front, into that aisle, down to the preacher, "Preacher, I give you my hand; I give my heart to God, here I am, here I come, gladly, finally, irrevocably, forever and ever, to live, to die in the faith of Jesus my Savior, here I am and here I come." Would you make it tonight? Would you make it now? On the first note of this first stanza, "I have decided, pastor, here I come; here I am," while we stand and while we sing.
THE UNSEEN CHRIST
I. The unseen Christ
holy privilege of it
Peter had seen Him (Matthew 13:16-17)
The glory someday of seeing His holy face (Revelation
have tried to paint a picture of the Lord – impossible to capture it
There is no hint of how He actually looked
1. Evidently the Lord
had a reason (John 16:7, 2 Corinthians 5:16)
2. I speculate it is
because of our bodies of flesh, weakness
Sensuality (Luke 11:27-28)
Earthly – there would be strivings, pilgrimages just to touch Him or be near Him
had He remained in the flesh
II. Faith and love unite us to our unseen
Lord (1 Peter 1:8-9)
is light, love is heat
Faith – what makes us Christians(Ephesians 3:17,
John 20:29, 2 Corinthians 4:18, Hebrews 11:27)
1. Erasmus’ preface to
the Greek New Testament
Love – our religion centered in love for, devotion to Christ Jesus
Can’t have Christianity with Christ (2
Corinthians 4:5, 2 Timothy 1:12, 1 Corinthians 16:22)
love will find its expression in many ways
True religion is the love of Jesus with all the fervor and devotion of the soul(Matthew 22:37-38, Revelation 3:16)
Hardness of heart the very essence of sin itself (Matthew
13:15, Acts 13:46, Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26)
III. The joy unspeakable and full of glory(1 Peter 1:8)
in the midst of great trial and suffering (1
We are elect according to the foreknowledge of God (1
with righteousness of the Lord(1 Peter 1:2)
We have an inheritance incorruptible(1 Peter
are kept by the power of God(1 Peter 1:5, John
10:28-29, Luke 12:32)