OUR COVENANT-KEEPING GOD (Part 1)
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-3-61 10:50 a. m.
On the radio and on television, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the early morning message entitled, Our Covenant-Keeping God. In our preaching through the Bible, we have come after many years to the last and the climactic book of the Scriptures, the Apocalypse which God gave to Jesus Christ, written down through His holy servant John, and spread in an open book before our eyes that we might see and know with confidence and assurance God’s faithfulness in the future. In our preaching through the Revelation, we have come to chapter 4. And these are the beginning words of Revelation 4:
After this I looked, and behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me: which said, Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must come to pass after these things.”
After the things that John had written down, the story and the history of the church in chapters 2 and 3 [Revelation 2:1-3:22]—now after the things of the churches [Revelation 4:1]:
And immediately I was in the Spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.
[Revelation 4:2, 3]
As John is taken up into heaven, there for God in panorama to bring before his eyes all of these things that shall be a part of the ultimate, final consummation of the age—as John is taken up into glory, there first, he sees a throne set and on the throne, the ineffable, unapproachable, indescribable Lord God Almighty [Revelation 4:1-2].
At the center of the universe is the throne of God. At the heart of this creation is the sovereign room and authority of the Almighty; the throne set in heaven, in contrast to the mutability of the governments of the earth. And John saw the Lord God Almighty as He sat upon that throne of the universe [Revelation 4:2]. As he looked, he uses two words to describe the indescribable, which are not translated here. They are just transliterated. Your word “jasper” is just a spelling-out in English of the Greek word iaspis, “jasper,” and your English word “sardine” is not a translation; it is just a spelling out in English of the Greek word sardinos, and translated here “the One who sat on the throne . . . to look upon was like” [Revelation 4:2-3] Then in the second, “in sight like unto, homoios horasis,” like in appearance [Revelation 4:3]. He could not describe God, and as he looked, he just saw what he could write in the likeness, in the appearance [Revelation 4:2-3]. Now in the twenty-first chapter, in the eleventh verse, the word “jasper” is described as “clear as crystal” [Revelation 21:11]. I would think that in translating the two words by which he seeks to describe the appearance of the “One who sat upon the throne” [Revelation 4:2], I would say if you translated it, you would say the first was a diamond and the second was a ruby [Revelation 4:3]. One was brilliant in crystal clearness, and the other was blood red. So as you look, he saw there in appearance the diamond-like holiness and brilliance of the crystal, pure, holy, unapproachable, ineffable, iridescent God [Isaiah 6:3]. Then red, ruby, which of course would represent and portray the redemptive work of the Lord Almighty; His mercy and love and forgiveness.
Then as John looks upon the Almighty seated upon the throne forever, enduring the immutability of the sovereign God, as he looks, the first thing that he sees is: “and there was an iris,”the word in Greek, “an iris.” You have one in each one of your eyes, an iris. And he saw an iris—translated a rainbow—and there was an iris—a rainbow—round about the throne, homoios horasis, in appearance like an emerald, surrounding the throne of God: a complete circle, a rainbow, an iris, and the color, a light green, an emerald [Revelation 4:3].
Out of all of the majestic phenomenon of nature, none is more variedly beautiful than God’s bow in the sky with its prismatic colors, the sign says the Lord Almighty of His covenant with the earth, placed there after the storm and the fury of God’s judgment upon an unbelieving, a gainsaying, vile, blaspheming, and wicked world. “And that bow in the sky,” God said, “I placed as a sign of the covenant that I make with all living things” [Genesis 9:13-17]. It is a complete bow around the throne [Revelation 4:3]. As we look upon it, it’s mostly an arch, just half a circle. But as John looked upon the throne of God, it was complete. Wherever he looked, in any direction from the throne, there was the beauty of that emerald rainbow. And it was not prismatically colored with the spectrum of the seven that we see in the sky; but it was all green—the color of the earth, of life. The chlorophyll that makes our world green is the sustenance and the sustaining, the keeping of all life.
So this rainbow, round about the throne of God, is God’s promise. It is a sign and a symbol of God’s remembrance that in wrath, He remembers mercy. For you see, “immediately, out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices” [Revelation 4:5].
You will meet that again and again in the Apocalypse; those lightnings and thunderings, and voices are symbols of the judgment and the visitation of Almighty God. But before a single judgment falls, before God touches one of His creation, before these awful and awesome judgments fall, there is first the rainbow round about the throne. This is to say, it is a sign of, it is a picture of God’s remembrance of His promises, God’s covenants. He will faithfully fulfill every word that He has said, and though part of the earth may be destroyed, and though part of this universe burns up with fire, and though no small part of its population destroyed, yet God shall hold forever sacred His promise to sustain this universe and to bless His people in it. God’s covenants do not fall to the ground. He remembers them, and this is a sign and an assurance of the faithfulness of Almighty God.
Now at the beginning of this great tribulation, there is that rainbow, a sign of our covenant God. At the end of chapter 11 before he begins chapter 12—which is the last half of this terrible period of the visitation of the Almighty and has to do particularly and especially with God’s people Israel—there is that sign of the covenant of God again. It closes chapter 11 before the beginning of chapter 12, “And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in His temple the ark of His covenant: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and a great hail” [Revelation 11:19]. There, say again; you see the judgments of God, the visitation from heaven. But before they fall, there is seen this sign, this insignia, this symbol of the covenant-keeping God: “I saw the temple, and when it was opened in heaven, I saw in it, the ark of his covenant” [Revelation 11:19].
Now, this sermon is one of these that we have been preparing and delivering, which sermons are preparatory for an understanding, as I can understand it, of the message of the Revelation. And without these preparatory messages, the Apocalypse is a closed book. But with them, I pray God shall open to view these things that He has written large on the page of the Scriptures. This covenant-keeping God is the foundation of all of the assurance of those who trust in Jesus. If God made a covenant in an ancient day and did not keep it, and if God gave promises to His prophets and did not keep them, then by what assurance could I rest my soul that God will not also break the covenant that He made with Christ? “This is My blood of the new covenant” [Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24], and by what right could I believe and rest my soul in assurance that God will keep His promises to His apostles? If God does not hold sacred the covenant that He made in the Old Testament, and if God does not hold sacred the promises that He made to the apostles, then how could I be persuaded that He would keep inviolate the new covenant He made, and the blood of Christ and the promises that He made to these apostles? If God will not keep one, I have no assurance He will keep the other. And if the Lord breaks His covenant in the old time, I have no assurance but that He might change His mind and break His covenant in the new time.
So the message is Our Covenant-Keeping God: what He promised in the Old Testament, the covenant that He made in the ancient day, and the thesis of the sermon is that God will keep that promise forever, and that God will hold inviolate that covenant forever! And as I have developed the sermon, and found out at the 8:15 service that I cannot begin to commit to follow it through; this is just a little piece of it this morning. And then the next Sunday, and the next Sunday, we will follow it through. But, the covenant that God made in the Old Testament, and as He keeps it, all of the rest of the Bible is but an unfolding of those promises God made in the ancient day. So we are going to begin.
The great, first covenant of God with His people is found in Genesis chapter 12. Then we are going to see, as God reiterates and as He emphasis it, and as He enlarges it, and as He speaks upon it, and finally as by blood, He enters into a contract forever and forever and forever. Now, the covenant—Genesis, chapter 12:
Now the Lord had said to Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee:
And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:
And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
Now we begin reading at verse 6:
And Abram passed through the land…and the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land.
Now turn to the next chapter, chapter 13, verse 14:
And the Lord said unto Abram . . . Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever and ever and ever and ever and ever.
Walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee”
All right, turn to chapter 15 and verse 18:
In the same day—
15 and 18—
In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the River Euphrates.”
Now, turn once again to chapter 17. Let’s start at verse 5:
Thou shalt not be called Abram, but Abraham: for a father of many nations have I made thee.
And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.
And I will establish My covenant between Me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God
Now, just once again, turn to Genesis 22:15, Genesis 22:15, “And the Angel of the Lord called unto Abraham . . . By Myself have I sworn, saith the Lord” [Genesis 22:15-16]. Now when you read over there in the apostle Paul, he will be talking about that, “Because He could swear by no greater, God swore by Himself” [Hebrews 6:13].
By Myself have I sworn, saith the Lord . . . That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all of the nations of the earth be blessed.
And Paul, in Galatians 3:16 expostulates upon that. “And in thy Seed,” as of one [Galatians 3:16], “shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” [Genesis 12:3].
So God made a covenant with Abraham. First: that he himself would be personally blessed; temporal blessings, spiritual blessings, household blessings, heavenly blessings, earthly blessings, a great man, and nations come of him and kings out of his loins; personal blessings to Abraham [Genesis 12:2]. The second part of that covenant: national blessings. He should have a seed that would be like the stars of the heavens and the sand of the seashore, and they should have a national home in the land of Canaan, forever and ever and ever; an everlasting covenant [Genesis 12:7, 22:17]. And the third part: that in his Seed as of one, all of the nations of the earth would be blessed, a universal salvation and redemption to those who will turn in faith to accept the covenant promises of God [Genesis 12:3]. Now, the rest of the Bible—all of it—is nothing other than a working out through time, and history, and nations, and generations these great unconditional confirmations and affirmations of the Lord God Almighty. That is what we are going to do in these immediate sermons, is to follow it through to see that covenant-keeping, unchangeable God.
All right, now this covenant: turn to the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, and we are going to see in this moment how God confirmed it; how the Lord God established it. This is the great basis for everything that you will read thereafter in the Bible, this is it: God said to Abraham, “Out of thy loins,” out of thy body, from thy flesh and bones, “shall he come who shall be thy inheritor” [Genesis 15:4].
Well, the years passed. Abraham was old and Sarah was old, and Abram said to the Lord God, “I do not understand. I do not understand. The heir in mine house is this Eliezer, a Damascene, a Syrian from Damascus. And I have no heir; no one is born to me. Yet Thou sayest, ‘out of my loins and in my house shall he be born’ [Genesis 15:4]. And I do not understand and I cannot see, and I tremble before the promise of God.” Finally, you know, Abraham got to be one hundred years of age, and Sarah was ninety years of age, and there was no child born. And the Lord God said to Abraham, “Abraham, come here, come here. Come outside.” Abraham went outside, and God said, “Look up into the sky and what do you see?” Abram said, “I see the stars innumerable.” And the Lord God said, “So shall thy seed be” [Genesis 15:5]. Then the verse that follows, “And Abram believed God, and God counted it to him for righteousness” [Genesis 15:6], which is the great fundamental verse of the Romans and of the Galatians. “And Abraham believed God” [Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6]—a hundred years old; Sarah, ninety years old [Genesis 17:15-17]. And God put it on the side of righteousness [Genesis 15:6].
And the Lord said unto him, “I am the God that brought thee from Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit” [Genesis 15:7]. And then Abram asked one other thing: “Lord, I do not understand how one born out of my body and in my house will be mine heir [Genesis 15:4]. But I just trust Thee for it. I believe Thee for it” [Genesis 15:6]. Then when God said the second thing, “And I will give thee this land” [Genesis 15:7]. Abram said, verse 8, “Lord God, how shall I know that I shall inherit the land?” [Genesis 15:8]. How shall I know? How shall I know? He never owned a piece of it save the little spot called the cave of Machpelah in Hebron where Sarah was buried [Genesis 23:8-20]. “How shall I know?” How shall I know? And the Lord, in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, entered into a blood covenant with Abraham that is to last and to stand forever [Genesis 15:9-21]. Listen to it, listen to it.
In my studying, I found out that this kind of a covenant was used all over the ancient world. The ancient Babylonians used it. The ancient Romans used it. The ancient Greeks used it. The ancient Egyptians used it. The ancient Hebrews used it. All over the ancient world this blood covenant was used. Now the way they did was this—when a man made a covenant with a promise, when those two men made a covenant, in order to seal it forever and by blood, they took an animal and they slew it and poured out its blood on the ground. Then they divided it exactly half and half, and one-half was placed over here by itself, and another half of that sacrificial animal was placed over here by itself. And those men, arm in arm, passed between the blood sacrifice; and the meaning was that if either of the other broke the covenant, may he be torn limb from limb as the sacrifice was slain. And may his blood be poured out into the ground as the blood of the sacrificial creature was poured out on the earth.
So the Lord God, when Abram answers, “Lord, how shall I know that I shall inherit it?” [Genesis 15:8]. The Lord said, “Abram, take a heifer three years old, take a goat three years old, take a ram of three years old, take a turtledove, and a young pigeon [Genesis 15:9], and divide them, pour out their blood on the ground and divide them. Put half of it here and half of it here. And Abram, we are going to enter into an everlasting, unconditional blood covenant” [Genesis 15:9-10].
Then an astonishing thing happened. Whereas ordinarily, the two who make the covenant pass between the bloody sacrifice, it says here in the book, in verse 12, that God made a deep sleep to fall upon Abram, a deep sleep—like God made a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, when he took Eve from his side [Genesis 2:21-22]. A deep sleep fell upon Abram [Genesis 15:12], and there Abram is in that deep slumber, and then under the sign of a flaming fire—that is so typical of a symbol of God. The flaming fire in the bush that burned as Moses looked upon it, on the back side of the desert [Exodus 3:1-3]—as the pillar of fire that guided His Israel through the wilderness [Exodus 13:21]—in the shekinah glory of the Almighty that came down upon the sacrifice, under the symbol and the sign of a flaming, burning fire, God alone walked through that sacrifice! [Genesis 15:17].
A man does not walk on an equality with God. For a man may fail, and a man may not keep his promise, and a man may not be true to the covenant, and a man’s word may be something other as time may change, but God put Abram into a deep sleep and God alone, and God by Himself, walked through that great sacrifice [Genesis 15:17], by which He meant that the Almighty of heaven brought to it the unconditional promise of its fulfillment forever and forever and forever. Abram brought to it nothing. He is just a recipient of it, for the promise is unconditional on the part of God. The Lord God alone walked through that sacrifice [Genesis 15:17]. “And in that day,” the next verse, “the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “Unto thy seed have I given this land from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the River Euphrates” [Genesis 15:18], an unconditional promise and covenant on the part of the Lord God.
Now, that is the basis of all that shall ever follow after in the Bible. And in the little moment that remains, may I just show you just to start off with, may I show you God’s faithfulness to that covenant? Genesis ends—Genesis ends with the word from Joseph. The only time any word from Joseph is mentioned in the New Testament is this, “And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die, I die: but God will surely visit you” [Genesis 50:24; Hebrews 11:21-22]. God will surely visit you? Why? Because of an unconditional promise of Him who never fails! “God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land into the land that He sware,” and from here on, you will find it again and again, “which He sware unto Abraham, and to Isaac, and to Jacob” [Genesis 50:24], that covenant forever! “God will surely visit you.” Now, he says, “When God visits you, swear to me that you will take my bones up from hence and bury them in the land of Canaan. And he made the children of Israel swear.” “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from hence” [Genesis 50:24-25].
What would it matter for a man’s bones to turn back to the dust in Egypt, or in Ethiopia, or in another part of the earth, if that ended the man’s life, and his story, and his destiny, and his people, and his vision? Joseph believed in the promises of God, and though through his skin worms destroy his body, yet in his flesh should he see God [Job 19:26], and the land would be theirs forever [Genesis 13:15]. And Joseph made them swear, “When I die, when I die, and my bones are deposited in some sarcophagus here in the hieroglyphic land of Egypt, swear to me that when God visits you, and He will, you’ll take my bones hence and lay them to rest in the land that God swore to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob and to his seed forever” [Genesis 50:24-25]. There’s another day, there’s another time, there’s another hour, there’s a great millennium coming, and Joseph prayed that in it he might have a part and a share in the promises and the covenant-keeping God.
Now, I have still another minute, and then let me add one other word and then I will quit. How faithfully the Lord keeps that word and how earnestly does He lay it upon the hearts of His people.
Now, let us turn to Deuteronomy, the last of Deuteronomy, and you just read it. The last of Deuteronomy. Now preparatory, I am going to read out of Deuteronomy 31:7-8:
And Moses called unto Joshua, and said unto him in the sight of all Israel, Be strong and of good courage: for thou must go with this people unto the land which the Lord has sworn.
There it is again. You never get away from it. This land which God hath sworn to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob:
And thou shalt cause them to inherit it. And the Lord…will go before you. Fear not, nor be discouraged.
Now, look: Moses went up and the Lord God showed him all of the land, and the Lord said unto him: “This is the land,” verse 4, “This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed” [Deuteronomy 34:4] and for ever!
Why, man, they had been gone from that land over four hundred years! There had not been a Jew, there had not been a Hebrew, there had not been a seed of Abraham in that land for four hundred fifty years! [Acts 13:17-20]. Other people possessed it—the Hivite, the Jebusite, the Girgashite, the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite. And when the children of God stood there facing the Promised Land, every step of the way and every foot that they set down was by war and by battle! That doesn’t make any difference, for God’s covenants do not change and God’s promises do not fail, and God shall fulfill every word that He speaks!
And God said to Moses as he looked over the land, the home of the Canaanite and the Amorite and all of the rest, God said, “This is it! This is the land. You have not been here for four hundred years [Exodus 12:40-41], or maybe you have not been there for two thousand years.” Or maybe there have been literally millenniums since the Hebrew possessed the land. But God does not change. And the promises He makes never fail. “This is the land, this is the land that I sware unto Abraham, and unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it to thy seed, and forever” [Deuteronomy 34:4]. And the book of Joshua starts off—the Book of Joshua starts off:
After the death of Moses . . . the Lord spake unto Joshua…saying, My servant Moses is dead; therefore, arise! Arise, thou and this people, and every place on which your foot does rest, that will I give unto thee and to thy children forever, forever.
This time is gone, and we will pick it up from there and carry the covenants of God clear through the whole Bible. But He does not change. He does not change. It is like all of God’s covenants. “This is My blood of the new covenant, shed for the remission of sins” [Matthew 26:28]: when God says, “If a man will give his heart in trust to Jesus, I will save him forever” [John 3:16], it does not matter what a theologian might say. It does not matter what a man might think. It does not matter what people may philosophize or theorize or discuss or speculate. God says, “I will save him forever” [John 3:16-18, 10:27-30], and He keeps His promises. And no covenant is ever broken when God makes it.
This is the assurance we have as we face an inevitable hour that lies ahead. Our God and His promises and His covenants, keeping them to the last hour of these last days that shall come upon this earth. That’s a marvelous thing for a man to rest in the Lord. However governments may totter, and however life may turn, and however history may develop, He has a throne in heaven at the heart of this universe and round it is the rainbow of the covenant-keeping God [Revelation 4:2-3]. Put your trust in Him; do it.
And that is our invitation to your heart and to your soul. In the balcony round, somebody you, on this lower floor, a family you, as the Spirit of Jesus shall say, and shall lead in the way, make it now, coming in trust, coming in faith, coming by letter. However the Spirit of God shall say the word, make it this morning, while we stand and while we sing.