The Living Presence
April 14th, 1963 @ 7:30 PM
THE LIVING PRESENCE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-14-63 7:30 p.m.
Every Sunday evening from seven-thirty until eight-thirty and many times in the goodness of the broadcaster, for several minutes beyond, our services are broadcast over WRR. And this service is also broadcast over WRR. And on the radio, you are sharing the service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, the assembly in the great Dallas Memorial Auditorium. Our auditorium is about two-thirds or three-fourths filled. And this is our first Easter Sunday night service. Next year when we meet here, we will be praying that God will make our assembly even greater; and then maybe by the third Easter Sunday night we shall jam it to the praise and glory of our Lord, we shall fill it to overflowing.
Now the title of the sermon is The Living Presence. And the reading of the Word of God is in the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John, chapter 20, beginning at verse 19. I hear the rustle pages and the opening of Bibles. How many of you here tonight have your Bible? Hold it up high. Hold it up high. Ah, there is a throng of us! There is a throng of us. Beginning at verse 19 in the twentieth chapter of the Gospel of John:
Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled . . . came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you, shalom.
And when He had so said, He showed unto them His hands and His side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord . . .
And after eight days again His disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Shalom, Peace be unto you.
Then saith He to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold My hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into My side: and be not faithless, but believing.
And Thomas answered and said unto Him, My Lord and my God.
Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed: but blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
[John 20:19-20, 26-29]
What stupendous and amazing events came to pass on that first Easter Sunday! In the early morning, a great earthquake, and an angel from heaven rolling the stone away; the fright of the Roman soldiers, and their escape from the presence of the mighty God into the city [Matthew 28:11]; then the coming of the women to see the sepulcher, and the appearance of the angels to them with a message for His disciples [Matthew 28:1-7]; then the running of Simon Peter and the beloved apostle John to the tomb to see where the Lord had been laid [John 20:2-8]; then in the course of the day, possibly the morning, His appearance to Mary of Magdala [John 20:11-18], and the other women [Matthew 28:9-10]; then the evening of that first day, as the two walked on the way to Emmaus, and the Stranger who joined in their trek homeward, and behold, it was the Lord Jesus [Luke 24:13-16, 30-31, 35]; then that same evening, the appearance of our Lord to Simon Peter [Luke 24:34]; then a little later that same evening, the appearance of our Lord to the ten disciples [John 20:19-25]; then Sunday, a week later, the appearance of our Lord to the eleven disciples, Thomas being present [John 20:26-29].
And no less astonishing and amazing were the tokens of recognition by which they recognized our Lord. When Simon Peter and the apostle John entered into the empty tomb, John recognized the way Jesus folded a napkin. "And when he saw the napkin in a place folded by itself, John believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead" [John 20:4-8]. Mary of Magdala recognized Him by the way He pronounced her name [John 20:16]. The two on the road to Emmaus recognized our Lord Jesus by the way that He said the blessing [Luke 24:30-31, 35]. The ten disciples, when the Lord appeared unto them, recognized our Lord when He invited them to see that He was no apparition, no phantom, no spirit, but flesh and blood – but flesh and bone, "and He ate an broiled fish and an honeycomb before them" [Luke 24:36-43]. And the ten disciples recognized our Lord by the scars in His hands and in His side. That is, they all believed except Thomas [John 20:19-25].
Thomas was obdurate in his rejection of all of the proofs that Jesus was alive. For to Thomas, dead men don’t live again; to him, death is the final and ultimate end of all life. When the keystone falls from the arch, the masonry tumbles down. When the hub is taken out of the wheel, the spokes fall apart. When the breath departs from the body, the house of clay sinks back into the dust. When the silver cord is loosed and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain and the wheel broken at the cistern, then the dust returns to the earth as it was [Ecclesiastes 12:6-7]. And Thomas refused to believe that Jesus was alive. And disconsolate he stared into the hopeless dark, and finally said his rude and crude and materialistic test: "I will not believe except I put my finger in the print of the nails in His hands, and thrust my hand into His side" [John 20:25].
The following Sunday evening, when the eleven disciples were present and Thomas with them, suddenly the Lord appeared in the midst. And in the amazement and gladness and indescribable insuperable joy of the apostles, He turned to Thomas; and his gaze of amazement turned to shame, and his looks and his eyes and his countenance were cast down. And the Lord repeated that same rude, crude, materialistic test that Thomas had said [John 20:25, 27].
I wonder how it sounded to the disciple when he heard his very words repeated by the lips of our Lord. For Christ had heard his rejection and his unbelief; and He repeated his words of obdurate obstinacy: "Thomas, reach hither thy finger, and behold the print of the nails in My hand; and reach hither thy hand and thrust it into My side" [John 20:27]. And in celestial wonder and amazement and rapture and ecstasy, Thomas fell before our Lord with the greatest confession in the Word of God: "My Lord, my Lord, and my God" [John 20:28]. And then the beatitude for us all: "Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed" [John 20:29]. And that includes all of us in divine presence tonight.
They did not know where or when the Lord might appear. Without warning, without representation, without advertisement, suddenly He was there. In the garden, there He was [John 20:14-15]. Down the lonely road, there He was [Luke 24:13-15]. At the breaking of bread, there He was [Luke 24:30-31]. At the supper table, there He was [Luke 24:42]. In the upper room, there He was [John 20:19-23]. At the prayer meeting, there He was [Matthew 18:20]. On the shore of the lake, there He stood [John 21:4-14]. On the mountaintop, there He was [Matthew 28:16-20]. And on the road up to the top of Olivet, there He walked by their sides [Acts 1:9-12]. And for forty days the Lord appeared to His disciples; most anytime, most anywhere [Acts 1:3]. And finally, there came a time when their eyes did not need to see Him; they knew Him by His presence working with them. And in keeping with the incomparable promise of our Lord, "Lo, I am with you all the days, even unto the end of the world" [Matthew 28:20], they turned their faces to the great task of world evangelization, knowing that the living presence of the living Lord was by their sides [Matthew 28:19-20].
When Stephen was stoned, he lifted up his eyes, and there stood the Lord [Acts 7:55-60]. On the road to Damascus, standing in the way, there stood the Lord [Acts 9:1-6]. In the terrible tempest that swept them to shipwreck in the icy and cold and bitter and waters of death of the sea, there stood the Lord [Acts 27:23]. And when he was adjudged for martyrdom by the Roman Caesar, and when the day came for him to lay down his life, there stood, says Paul, his Lord [2 Timothy 4:17]. And on the isle of Patmos, exiled to die of starvation and exposure [Revelation1 :9-10], the apostle "John turned to see the voice that spake unto him, and being turned he saw the Lord" [Revelation 1:10-13]. And that living presence of our living Lord has been with His people and His disciples through all of the years and the centuries since. He is with us in our obedient service.
When the incomparable missionary David Livingstone, with his face turned toward the heart of East Africa, where no white man had ever been, no missionary had ever visited, when he turned his face toward the mouth of the Zambezi River, the friends in the center of Africa who had come to love that great good man, gathered round and said, "But there are cannibals, but there are ferocious tribes, and it means the loss of your life if you go down that river to the east." Livingstone opened his Book, and he read that promise: "I am with you alway, even to the end of the world" [Matthew 28:20]. He closed the Bible and said, "God will keep His promise." And Livingstone, in the presence and by the help of the living Lord, turned his face eastward, and opened up the vast heart of that Dark Continent to the coming of the missionary of the Son of God.
I heard one of our missionaries say that in that continent, after he tried to preach the gospel to a vicious and a ferocious and a hostile tribe, they seized him and bound him, preparing for his execution. "Somehow," he said, "I was able to undo the bands. And in the nighttime I slipped through the wall of that thatched hut, and I ran away. And I climbed high up into a tree in the jungle." He said, "When my escape was discovered, those dark savages with torches in their hands searched through all of the trees around to find me." He said, "Up there in the top of that great tree I did not know but that any moment the casting of a light might discover me. But," he said, "never in my life, never in my life have I ever felt the presence and the nearness of Christ as I did up there in the top of that tree." Then he added, "I’d go back into that same jeopardy, I’d go back into that same terrible danger and back up into the top of that tree if just once again I could feel the nearness of the presence of my Lord as I felt that night." He is with us in our obedient service. When God gives us an assignment and a task, whatever, however, if we attempt it, we have the promise of His power and His Spirit and His presence by our sides. Don’t you be afraid. Don’t you tremble. Don’t you hesitate. Don’t you draw back. Whatever Christ says and whatever He bids us do, let’s try, and let’s leave the result to Him.
He is with us in our agony of soul, in our searching of heart, in our praying, in our pouring out of our lives unto Him. He stands by us. "Ye shall seek Me, and find Me, when you search for Me with all of your heart" [Jeremiah 29:13]. He is with us in that agony of soul and that searching of life.
Dr. George W. Truett was the pastor of this First Baptist Church in Dallas for forty-seven years. In 1944 when he died, the church asked me to become undershepherd. In the days since then, I have tried to gather together everything that I could about the incomparable life and ministry of our greatest preacher and pastor. And in the biography of Dr. Truett, written by his son-in-law, is the story that is intimately familiar to you dear people who have been members of the First Baptist Church for these years. There was a captain of the Rangers named J. C. Arnold, who with his wife were members of our beloved church. And Mr. Arnold, Captain Arnold, was elected chief of police of the city of Dallas. Captain Arnold and Dr. Truett were dear friends. The chief of police loved to go bird hunting, and he persuaded Dr. Truett to go with him down to Johnson County, beyond Cleburne, bird hunting. And while they were out together, the chief of police walking just a few feet, a few paces in front of Dr. Truett, Dr. Truett shifted his hammerless shotgun from one arm to the other. And when he did so, the trigger went off, and the load of shot hit the chief of police in the calf of his leg. They brought him back to Dallas wounded. He thought nothing of it, but Dr. Truett had the premonition that the accident would be fatal. And Wednesday night the chief of police died, and the city of Dallas was shocked in the sudden and amazing death of their chief police officer. Dr. Truett shut himself up in his room. It was in his heart to give up the ministry, never to preach again. The blood of an innocent man, he felt, was on his hand, stained his soul, in the awkward and careless shifting of that gun. And Wednesday night, and Thursday and Thursday night, and all day Friday and Friday night, and all day Saturday, he agonized in soul before God, reading the Bible, crying unto the Lord.
Saturday night, for the first time, he fell asleep. And as he slept, in a vision, the Lord Jesus came to the great pastor and said, "Be not afraid. Be not afraid. From now on you are My man." He awakened, told his wife the dream, went back to sleep, and for the second time that same vision: the Lord, in reality, standing before him, saying the same words. And he awakened again, and told the dream. And then the third time, falling asleep, the vision came again. And the Lord appeared to the great preacher, saying the same words.
The next morning was Sunday, and the people anxiously waiting to see if their pastor would return to his pulpit. He walked behind the sacred desk. And the people heard in his voice and saw in his face that haunting, haunting pathos, and that heavenly mien and manner that the rest of us have known in the years that we’ve seen him at these great conventions, preaching the gospel of the Son of God. In our agony, in our searching, in our souls’ intercession, Jesus is with us. He stands by our sides. There is no dark hour, there is no critical decision that a child of God shall ever make, when he bows before the great God of heaven, there will he find Jesus answering prayer; in appearance, in speech, in gesture, in comfort, in hope, there He stands, our living Lord.
We not only have our Lord with us in obedient service, we not only have our Lord with us in searching of soul and agony of spirit, we have our Lord with us in the bended knee and in the yielded will. Whenever a man bows before God, and when a man yields the decision to Christ, there the Lord stands in blessing, in encouragement, in power, and in help. We know our Lord and His living presence in our yielded will.
In preparing this sermon, a tract fell into my hand, and I read it. And inside of that tract was a testimony of a man, and it was this. He had before been a blasphemer and an unbeliever. And upon a day, when he arrived home, he came in time to see his wife collapse in a chair, and a bent, battered, bloody bicycle deposited at the door of his house. And he looked at the boy that brought it, and said, "Son, son, where’s my boy? Where’s my boy?"
And the lad replied, "Sir, I don’t know. He was terribly hurt, and a car took him away. I do not know."
The man went to the telephone, and called all of the hospitals in the vast city, and it seemed that every hospital had a hurt boy; nothing to do but to go from hospital to hospital seeking the lad. Finally, looking down a row of cots in an emergency ward, a little fellow raised his hand, and said, "Daddy, Daddy, here I am, here I am, Daddy, here I am." And the father rushed over there by the side of his boy.
And the little boy said, "Daddy, the doctor says I can’t live. Daddy, get down on your knees and pray, pray Daddy."
And the father said, "Son, I never prayed in my life. I don’t know how to pray."
And the little boy said, "Daddy, kneel down here by my side. In Sunday school, I learned a prayer. Let’s pray that prayer, let’s pray that prayer." And for the first time, that man bent his knees before God; and there by the side of his little boy, the little boy said, "Now let’s pray this, Daddy: Our Father," and the father said, "Our Father."
"Who art in heaven," and he repeated, "Who art in heaven."
"Hallowed be Thy name."
"Hallowed be Thy name," he said. "Thy kingdom come," and the father repeated, "Thy kingdom come."
"Thy will be done," and the father stopped.
And the little boy said, "Oh, Daddy! Pray it, pray it, Daddy, pray it."
And the father bowed his head again and prayed, "Thy, Thy will be done," and waited for the lad to continue. The lad never spoke again. He looked at the lad’s hand that he held in his, it had gone limp. He lifted up his face. The face of his boy was still and silent in death.
And the testimony of the man was, "The Christ that took my boy with Him stayed in my heart. And when I prayed that prayer, ‘Thy will be done,’ a miraculous change, transformation, came into my soul, and I stood up with the comfort and the assurance that God who took my boy would live in my heart forever."
In a bended knee we shall find the face of our living Lord. In pride, in self sufficiency, in our human adequacy there is no answer from God and the heavens are brass. But when a man bows, when he yields, "Not my will, Lord, but Thine be done," the living presence of the living God shall flood his soul like the rising of the sun in the morning.
We know our Lord. His presence is with us not only in our obedience, not only in our searching and agony of spirit, not only in our bended will, but we know our Lord in invitation and acceptance. "Behold," He says, risen and glorified from heaven, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any one hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me." "Behold, I stand at the door and knock" [Revelation 3:20]. What an amazing good news. Who stands at the door of our lives? Who stands at the door of our heart? Who does? Is it some great king or prime minister? Is it an angel from heaven like as appeared to Moses [Exodus 3:2], or to Manoah [Judges 13:13], or to Zacharias? [Luke 1:11]. No. It is the Lord Christ Himself.
He stands at the door of my heart, at the door of my life, and He knocks. Oh! But someone says, "He may knock at the door of your heart, and He may knock at the door of your heart, but He never has knocked at the door of my heart." Yes, yes He has. Yes He does. For you see, the presence of our living Lord at the door of the human heart is the common and natural experience of every soul, of all of us alike.
Our Lord knocks at the door of our hearts in His Word, as He appeals with us to believe in Him. The Lord knocks at the door of our hearts in the services of His church, in the very church itself, with its spire pointing up to God. The Lord knocks at the door of our hearts in our feeling of unworthiness and sin and the restlessness of our souls. The Lord knocks at the door of our hearts in the memory of these who have loved us and prayed for us: a godly father, a saintly mother, a Sunday school teacher who cared, or a friend who invited. The Lord sometimes knocks at the door of our hearts in trial and in trouble, in tears and in heartaches, in agony and in despair. The Lord knocks at the door of our hearts when we reach the age of accountability: a little boy, a little girl, growing up and sensing the sense of sin and being lost, and finding in Jesus a sweet and a blessed Savior. The Lord knocks at the door of our hearts when the two are joined together in one, and a family and a home is built. The Lord knocks at the door, the Lord knocks at the door when a little child is born into the home. The Lord knocks at the door when we stand at the grave in those last and parting words. And the Lord stands at the door in the merciful providences that enrich and bless our lives; all of them are invitations from God to open wide the door of heart and home and life and let Jesus come in. "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any one hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in . . . and will sup with him, and he with Me" [Revelation 3:20].
You see, God doesn’t violate our decision; He respects our choice. A man can pull down the shutter, and he can pull down the shade, and he can blot out the glory of God’s Son. But a man can also pull up the shade, a man can also open the shutter, and the room is flooded with the light of the beauty and the glory of God’s Son. So it is in our souls and in our lives. I can say no and shut Him out. I can say no and refuse His invitation. But I also can say, "Yes, yes, Lord, come in; my heart, my house, my home, my life, my destiny, my soul. Come in, Lord Jesus, come in."
"I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in . . . and will sup with him, and he with Me," our living Lord:
If you are tired of the load of your sin,
Let Jesus come into your heart;
If you desire a new life to begin,
Let Jesus come into your heart.
Just now, your doubtings give o’er;
Just now, throw open the door;
Just now, reject Him no more;
Let Jesus come into your heart.
["Let Jesus Come Into Your Heart," Mrs. C. H. Morris]
The living presence of our living Lord; let us bow while we pray.
This is our moment of intercession and appeal. First: somebody you tonight, who will open the door of his heart to the Lord Jesus, "I will accept the Lord as my Savior tonight, and here I come, here I am." Second: somebody you, "I want to be saved, I want the Lord Jesus, I want to know how," you come, you come. Three: somebody tonight, to give his heart and his life in a new dedication to the blessed Lord Jesus, you come, you come. And last: some of you here want to join the church, you come; some of you by baptism, some of you by letter, however God would lead in the way. We’re going to have a little service, just for a few minutes, after the benediction here. If you’re with somebody, they won’t mind tarrying for a few minutes waiting for you. And I want to talk to you, I want to pray with you. I have a little pamphlet, a little booklet about how to be saved and how to live the happy Christian life, I want to place in your hands.
Our Lord, we come now to this holy and precious moment of decision. Shall I come to Christ, or shall I say no? Shall I go down that aisle and open my heart to the Lord Jesus, or shall I reject His overtures of grace and mercy? O God, tonight, that we might say with our whole souls, "Lord, here I am and here I come."
While our people pray, and while our choir sings a song, down one of these stairways on either side and at the back, there’s a place for you. Come and stand down here at the front; then we’ll have our meeting together. God give us tonight, a great response as you come on a confession of faith; or, "I want to know how to be saved," or, "I want to give my life again to the Lord," or, "I want to put my life in the fellowship of His church"; and blessed Jesus, as we pray and as we sing, grant us that gift and that harvest of these who tonight open their hearts to Thee, in Thy precious name, amen.
While we sing, will you come? From that topmost balcony around, down one of these stairways on either side, and at the back, and here to the front, come, and we shall have our prayer, and our intercession, and our meeting together. Would you do it now? On the first note of the first stanza, when we stand up, will you step out in that aisle, down that stairway, and here to the front? Make it tonight. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing, while we stand and while we sing.
I. They recognized "this same Jesus"
A. An amazing first
B. John, by the way He
folded up a napkin (John 20:4-8)
by the way He pronounced her name (John 20:16)
Emmaus disciples, by the way He said the blessing (Luke
The ten, by the touch of the hand, by His eating fish and honeycomb (Luke 24:38-43)
F. The eleven, by His
scars (John 20:19-20)
II. Thomas the unbelieving skeptic
A. Death is the end –
final, complete (Ecclesiastes 12:6-7)
B. Thomas refusing to
believe (John 20:24-25)
C. Then Jesus appears,
repeating his ultimatum (John 20:26-29)
III. His presence with them
A. Without announcement
suddenly He was there
B. After forty days
their eyes no longer need to see Him
His promise (Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 7:56, 9:1-6,
27:23, 2 Timothy 4:17, Revelation 1:12-13)
IV. His presence with us through the years
A. In obedient service
B. In agony of soul (Jeremiah 29:13)
C. In bended knee and surrendered