The Signs of the Times
April 8th, 1963 @ 12:00 PM
THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES
Dr. W.A. Criswell
4-8-63 12:00 p.m.
The title of the series this year is “The Signs of God”: today, The Signs of The Times; tomorrow, The Sign of the Virgin Birth; Wednesday, The Sign of the Prophet Jonah; Thursday, The Sign of the Second Coming of Christ; and Friday, The Sign of the Cross.
The message this morning is a part of a message that will be delivered on Thursday. When I speak of the signs of the times, a text here in the sixteenth chapter of the First Gospel, the message is an attempt on the part of the preacher to see the hand of God in present history. The Newsweek magazine, the headlines of our daily papers, then the message Thursday, The Signs of the Second Coming of Christ, will be a message developed from what God says in His Book of the final denouement and consummation of human history, the intervention of God in the life of this earth.
Now as I speak today, any day, this is a busy lunch hour for our people in downtown Dallas, and you can come when you are able and leave when you must, and everybody understands. You will not bother me at all, not at all. If you leave in the midst of a sentence, or before the last word of the last paragraph, it is all right. Everybody understands. Don’t feel timid. If you have somebody that can come to the service and eat his lunch of pastrami, and dill pickles, and garlic while I am speaking, fine, fine. I should hope you enjoy it and that it doesn’t give you indigestion. Excellent! Come anytime. Leave when you have to, and welcome. If you are not here but just for a prayer, or the reading of the text, or to listen to one of these beautiful songs that Mr. Till will be bringing to us each day, welcome.
Now the message, The Signs of the Times; in the sixteenth chapter of the First Gospel:
The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired Him that He would show them a sign from heaven.
Jesus answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be beautiful weather: for the sky is red.
In the morning, ye say, It will be foul weather today: for the sky is red and lowering. Ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?
You see these men of the cloth, the representatives in that day of religion; they came to our Master in rejection, in repudiation, in unbelief. The miraculous ministry of our Lord made no impression upon them whatsoever. And every wondrous thing that He did but confirmed them in their hostility. So they come to our Lord and propose a change in the field of proof, “The earth is not enough, a sign from heaven we desire” [Matthew 16:1], they say. They present themselves as heavenly minded, space minded students. Jesus called them hypocrites [Matthew 16:3]. They say that, “We are sky-aspiring students in this segment of humanity, and we’re seeking after facts. We are desirous of all verification and proof.”
Now in the reply of our Lord, He speaks words concerning weather wisdom versus God’s wisdom. They were weather-wise, the Lord admitted. They’d studied the barometer. They mapped the movements of the clouds. But our Lord said, “You mistake the weather for a revelation, and you confuse the sky with heaven.”
I was listening on a television station one evening, and there appeared Titov, one of those Russian astronauts. And he said in an interview through an interpreter, he said, “I have gone around this world so many miles, and I never saw any angels, and I certainly didn’t see any God.”
Yesterday in our services was a young couple who had just returned from Russia. And after the meeting they said, “We were in the largest cathedral in Eastern Europe, St. Isaac’s Cathedral in Leningrad.” The couple said, “Every week there are fourteen thousand young communists that are gathered in that church for a briefing, for a lecture on communism.” And he said, “As you stand in that vast vault erected to the glory of God, where the altar used to be,” he said, “there is a picture on one side of Gagarin, and on the other side a picture of Titov, the Russian astronauts. And underneath in Russian, and in German, and in French, and in English are written these words: “We have searched the heavens, and there is no God!”
They mistake knowledge for wisdom. They have discovered many facts, but they are meaningless and purposeless. What do you think of a man that knows every letter in the alphabet, but he can’t put them together in words? What do you think of a man that knows every word in the language, and he can’t put them together in sentences? Data, and facts, and formulae, and discoveries, and scientific achievements, but without meaning, and without destiny, and without purpose—weather wise, but not God wise. “You can discern the things of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?” [Matthew 16:3].
We are amazed at these religious leaders in their day and in their time; how little they perceived and what less did they comprehend—the most glorious ministry the earth has ever seen, and they repudiated it. And within a few years the judgment of God that came upon them in the destruction of their temple, the destruction of their city, the destruction of their nation, they never saw it. They never sensed it.
Is this a parable of our day and of our time? Are we any wiser in our discernment? Facts are lamps by which we should see the revelation of God, and the development in human history is nothing other than the revelation of what God is, and what God thinks, and what God does. John Wesley used to say; “I read the daily newspapers in order to learn how God is now governing the earth.”
When we look upon our earth and read our papers and our magazines, what do we see? Ah, with one accord our people and around this earth would arise and say, “We see progress and advancement and achievement.” How easy, how easy to fall into the illusion of progress and advancement. How easy to be blinded by false optimism and a cheap humanism.
For example, one of our great religious leaders in 1858 wrote, “The night of earth’s moral darkness is passing away. The morning star is in the morrow’s sky. What hath God wrought even the past year? Some of the most memorable events in the world’s history were recorded in 1858. In view of them, the church can almost anticipate the song of final triumph.” He wrote that at the end of 1858, and within a year, within a year, the most terrible, sanguine war that ever destroyed a nation broke out in these United States of America.
Or again, in 1911, the president of our Baptist World Alliance in Philadelphia, in 1911 said, “You have just referred to my friend of twenty years, David Lloyd George, prime minister of England and a great Baptist leader. God has raised him up a prophet-statesman. Is not our outlook bright? Bright? We are looking forward in the old country. You’re looking forward in the new country, so that the freedom we possess today shall be everybody’s possession, and the justice which rules in our land shall rule in all lands.” And within three years, within three years, the world was plunged into its bloodiest maelstrom and holocaust!
Then we entered the era of the twenties and the thirties, and my great Greek teacher, Dr. A.T. Robertson, one of the great scholars of the earth, wrote a book, The New Citizenship, and I quote from it: “Victory has crowned the armies of America and her allies. The new day has dawned. World peace has come; the war to end all wars. King alcohol has been dethroned. The reign of the pot-house politician with his graft and his greed are over.”
How easy to fall into a blind optimism and a cheap humanism! It is easy because of things like this. Up until the days of my childhood, men traveled as Abraham traveled: foot, cart, wagon, horseback; until the very days of my childhood. Now how we travel, zoom through the sky like a blazing meteor. Or communication; a man can stand anywhere and his voice be heard around the world, and we say, “What achievement. What progress. What advancement.” But when you go, do you go a better place? When you hear, do you hear any nobler words? And when you see, do you see any better thing?
Any civilization such as ours, and any city such as ours, proudly and rightly boasts of its technological advancements, and its scientific achievements, and its cultural patterns that glorify art, and learning, and sculpture, but you still have that same greater problem of what to do with the technician, and the scientist, and the builder, and the painter, and the sculptor. The development of the human endeavor in human history is always obvious and apparent. But it is a development always from immaturity to maturity. And there is the same kind of a development in aerial bombing, and in mass murder, and in the use of television and radio for the dissemination of political lies and for the development of criminal syndicates, the shrewdness and ingenuity of the underworld.
You listen to me. There is not one shred of evidence in all human history that good ever triumphs over evil. The Neanderthal man stalked his prey, and he killed with a stone axe and a wooden club, and today we watch one another on our radar scopes, and we fight with jet planes and atomic bombs. To be better off is never to be better.
The signs of the times; as we look at them, what do they say? What do they speak to us? I hold in my hand here the current front page of the United States News and World Report. I read the magazine, tore off the front page, hold it here in my hand. Let’s look at the signs of the times; what is happening to us today, now. First of all, a big black newspaper headline here, “Will City Streets Ever be Safe Again?” So I pick up the article; it is an interview with Stanley Schrotel of Cincinnati, president of the International Association of the Chiefs of Police.
So they start out in the interview, “What do you think about crime?”
He says in answer, “It’s a growing cancer!”
Second question, “How do you account for this explosion of crime?”
He replies, “It’s a sign of the times.”
I never put that in his mouth. I never even saw that man.
“How do you account for the explosion of crime?”
Answer, “It’s a sign of the times!”
[U.S. News & World Report, April 18, 1963, p. 80]
That’s the world in which we live. Did you know last year, last year almost a million, almost a million of our boys and girls entered careers of crime? Among them 10,751 were involved in murder; 31,509 were involved in burglary; 68,094 were involved in larceny; 74,213 were involved in automobile theft; 47,322 were involved in sex offenses, and so it goes on down. These are our children. They are our boys and girls.
The signs of the times; the curve of criminal statistics is rising rapidly in every major Western power and fearfully so in our own. Makes you tremble; when the Lord God sends His angels to see if the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah were such as it had been represented to Him in heaven [Genesis 18:20-21]; the signs of the times.
Again, another headline up here reflecting the restiveness and the disappointment of our American nation with materialism. Whenever you have a paternalistic government, by and by you have to pay for it. And a people that grows up expecting more and more and more for less and less and less until finally we expect everything for nothing, there’s a judgment day for a nation like that—a materialistically minded people in love and enamored with entertainment, more entrainment, more stuff, more gadgets.
There never was a time, and our churches are like that, there never was a time when our churches were so full of empty people. There they crowd in on Sunday morning, and then Sunday evening is a bacchanalia, a saturnalia, a Roman holiday! For the first time in the history of America, the pattern of the growth of the population of our American nation is now faster than the pattern of the growth of our churches. And that will continue unless there is a great turning in the life of our people.
All right, another headline on the front page. Russia, Russia; for the first time in the history of humanity, a national government and national governments are now avowedly and openly atheistic. Even the pagan Greek inquired at the Oracle of Delphi, and no Roman general would go to war until first he had propitiated the gods, but these nations bow at no altar and intercede at no throne of grace.
And last and inevitably, the cry of the prophet Jeremiah, “O my soul, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, and the alarm of war” [Jeremiah 4:19]. War is a judgment of God upon a nation and a people.
And the last headline, printed in red with the flames of fire upward, “Russia’s Plans for the Next War.” And every one of those plans center in the United States of America. Every missile is pointed to the United States of America. Every submarine is becoming acquainted with the contours and topography of shores of the United States of America, and every bomber is being made to over span the United States of America. And the next war will be fought in our skies. We shall see livid death hurtling into our homes, and our streets, and our cities. War: the judgment of God, the signs of the times.
Remarkable the development, the progress, the scientific achievement that you find in civilization and in war, in destruction, and in preparation for mass slaughter. Recently there was published a book by Henry L. Echols, rear admiral of the United States Navy, entitled, Logistics of National Defense, and in it he made a rundown. In 57 BC in the days of Julius Caesar, it cost seventy-five cents to kill a man. In 1800, in the days of Napoleon, the cost to kill a man had risen to three thousand dollars. In 1914, World War I, the cost had risen to kill a man, twenty one thousand dollars. In the Second World War in 1939, the cost to kill a man had arisen to two hundred thousand dollars. And now after my own lifetime has seen those two last and furious wars, we are no less furiously preparing for the third. And the cost in millions, and billions, and billions is not computable. It is astronomical!
The war beyond this next one will be fought with bows and arrows. Our successors will greet the dawn of a new Stone Age; not Paleolithic, not Neolithic, but post-Neolithic. Somebody facetiously remarked, “You better be kind to the ants, and the centipedes, and the cockroaches because they are going to be the only survivors.”
Ah, as we stand in the presence of so catastrophic a holocaust, Lord, Lord, is there no way out? The earth is thousands of years old, and generations have come and gone, but we’re still spiritually the same. Mankind has lifted itself out of ignorance, and superstition, and darkness. We’re still lost and undone. With all of our boasted achievement in technological science and civilized development, we’re on the same spiritual level with Adam and Eve when they were driven out of the garden of Eden [Genesis 3:22-24]. O Lord, is there not some better way?
There is. There is. That’s why Easter. That’s why Dallas noonday services. That’s why the church. That’s why the minister of the gospel of the Son of God. That’s why the preaching of the pastor. That’s why the bowing in prayer. O God, in our helplessness, O God, we cast ourselves upon Thee. O Lord, intervene. O Lord, bow down Thine ear to hear. O God, extend Thy great mighty arms to save. O God, remember us.
I close. When the Spanish conquistadors came to America, a party of them were lost on these vast, hot, burned, serried plains in central Texas. Dying of thirst, they asked Indian guides, “Water? Water? Water?” And the Indians said, “To the west. To the west a great river, a great river.” In the last and summoned strength, those Spanish explorers dragged their weary feet day after day; no river, no river, no river, no water, no water. Finally, their leader said, “Only the arms of God can save us.”
The next day as they dragged themselves one weary mile further, they came to an eminence, and there snaking through the burned dry heartland of Texas they looked upon a winding stream. And the leader called to his band, “Look! Look! Look! Look! Los brazos de Dios! The arms of God!” And they called it the Arms of God River, Los Brazos de Dios Rio. And we’ve shortened it to the Brazos River.
Every time I see it I think of the cry of that Spanish leader, “The arms of God!” Our destiny and our salvation, if we have any hope, it lies in the arms of God.
God of our fathers, known of old
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful hands we hold
Dominion over palm and pine –
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!
[from “Recessional,” Rudyard Kipling, 1897]
Discerning the signs of the times. Our Lord, hear the prayers of Thy people as we cry unto Thee. Looking into the faces of our little children, O Lord, grant salvation, and peace, and heavenly remembrance. God’s mercy for their sakes, for the sakes of the peoples of this world, for the nations, for our enemies; even, Lord, for all. God, remember us, make us wise in our day in prayer, in supplication, our statesmen, our leaders, our national governors, Lord, remember us in our hour of trial and need. In the Spirit of Jesus and His precious name, amen.
OF THE TIMES
I. Religious leaders ask Jesus for a sign
A. Miraculous ministry
of our Lord made no impression upon them
B. Propose a change in the
field of proof – earth not enough
II. Jesus replies
A. They were
weather-wise, studied the barometer, mapped the clouds
the sky for heaven, theweather for a revelation
a. Russian astronaut
b. St. Isaacs Cathedral,
B. They possessed
knowledge without wisdom
C. They had facts
without purpose or meaning
III. Signs of the times
A. Of that time, we are
amazed they saw so little
B. Of our time, are we
C. Easy to fall into
the illusion of progress, blind optimism, cheap humanism
IV. Present signs
A. Crime(Genesis 18:20-21)