STANDING BEFORE GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Chronicles 20:13
3-15-64 8:15 a.m.
The pastor is speaking this morning on Standing Before God. It is a sermon concerning the open, public committal of our lives to the Lord. Just as a background and nowise as a text, much less an exegesis of the passage, but just as a background, in the twentieth chapter of the Book of 2 Chronicles, there is told the story of Jehoshaphat; Jehoshaphat, the good king of Judah. The country was invaded by a host from Moab and Ammon, and a confederacy so overwhelming as to bring certain disaster and destruction to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Then in verse 5 and verse 6, then verse 12 and verse 13:
And Jehoshaphat stood in the congregation of Judah . . .
And he said, O Lord God of our fathers, art not Thou God in heaven? and rulest not Thou over all the kingdoms of the nations?
[2 Chronicles 20:5-6]
O our God . . . we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon Thee.
And all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children.
[2 Chronicles 20:12-13]
And the rest of the story is one of God’s triumph. But can’t you see that in your mind’s eye? "And all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children" [2 Chronicles 20:13]. "O our God, we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon Thee" [2 Chronicles 20:12], Standing Before God.
Someday every Christian shall stand before God. 2 Corinthians 5:10:
For we must all, we, we, we who are Christians, members of the body of Christ, for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, all of us, to give an account for the deeds done in the body, whether they be good or bad.
[2 Corinthians 5:10]
All of us shall someday stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
Every soul shall someday stand before God and our Savior. Philippians 2:10-11:
Every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things in hell, in the nether world, under the earth.
And every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess.
In the sixth chapter of the Revelation, this awful scene:
And I saw the heaven departed as a scroll that is rolled together . . .
And the great men and the captains of the earth cried to the rocks and to the mountains saying, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb:
For the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
And in the twentieth chapter of the Revelation,
I saw a great white throne, and He that sat on it, from whose face the heaven and the earth fled away; and there was found no place for them.
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened . . . and the Book of Life . . .
And whosoever name was not found written in the Lamb’s Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
All shall stand someday before God, all of us, all of us. And in this Book I hold in my hand, there is that constant and reiterated appeal for a man to stand before God now, to give his life to God now, to bow before the great Lord now, to come out openly and publicly for the Lord God now!
Moses cried in the midst of the camp. Moses said, "Who is on the Lord’s side? let him come unto me" [Exodus 32:26]. Joshua cried at the great convocation of Israel, "Choose you this day whom you will serve . . . but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" [Joshua 24:15]. Elijah cried on Mt. Carmel, "How long halt ye between two opinions? if Jehovah be God, follow Him; if Baal be God, follow him" [1 Kings 18:21]. The Lord Christ said, "Whosoever would come unto Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" [Matthew 16:24]. The apostle Paul said, "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord" [2 Corinthians 6:17]. And the apostle John wrote, "Whosoever shall confess, whosoever shall confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God" [1 John 4:15].
The religion of the Bible is open and public and demonstrative. There is none other known in the Bible. If you could take a piece of cloth and look at it, its sizing, its color, its woof, its warp, its thread, its weaving, and examine it and look at it and see it; if you could take religion, the Bible religion and examine it and look at it and see it, that’s what it is. It is a religion of open demonstration of unashamed avowal, of unreserved and public commitment. That’s what it is.
It is that in the Old Covenant, in the Old Testament. The place of worship was called the tent of meeting, or the Tabernacle of the congregation [Exodus 33:7]. And upon the basis of blood, of redemption, all the people of the Lord gathered before God at the door, at the gate, at the entrance of the tabernacle. And there they stood before the great God of heaven, and the Lord met with His people in those holy assemblies [Exodus 33:7].
When they gathered upon the occasion of the high feast days, they called it an holy convocation [Exodus 12:16]. When they gathered at the last day of the feast they called it the solemn assembly [Nehemiah 8:18]. But there God’s people stood, appearing before the Lord.
In the Mosaic legislation: "Thou shalt keep the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, the Passover [Exodus 34:18]. Thou shalt keep the Feast of the Harvest, the First Fruits, that is, Pentecost, thou shalt keep the Feast of the Ingathering [Exodus 34:22], the Tabernacles." Then the next verse, "Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord God" [Exodus 23:17].
And Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests . . .
And Moses commanded them saying:
At the end of every seven years, in the solemnity of the year of release,
all Israel shall appear before the Lord thy God . . .
Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and the stranger within thy gates, that they may hear, and learn, and fear, and observe to do all the words of this law.
A Hebrew that was sold for a slave had to be released at the end of the seventh year [Exodus 21:2]. And in the solemnity of the year of release, all Israel shall appear before the Lord, their wives, their little ones, their children [Deuteronomy 31:10-13]. These great stated standings, appearings before God, three times in the year [Exodus 23:17] and at the end of every solemn, seventh year of release, and the great company of God’s people were gathered together before the Lord upon special and urgent and sometimes tragic occasions.
When Israel was defeated at Ai [Joshua 7:1-5], and Joshua fell on his face before the ark of the Lord, and around him were the elders of Israel fasting and praying unto God [Joshua 7:6], the Lord said, "Joshua, get up. Get up. Get off of thy face [Joshua 7:10]. Call all Israel together, all of them," and the people were called before God, and there God dealt with His people concerning the sin that destroyed the armies before Ai [Joshua 7:11-26].
Another such occasion: when Samuel came to Bethlehem, he called for the elders of the city and gathered all of the people of Bethlehem, and among them the house of Jesse [1 Samuel 16:1-5]. Everybody was to appear, everybody was to come, and then Jesse made Eliab pass before Samuel, and God refused him [1 Samuel 16:6-7]. Then Abinadab, and God refused him [1 Samuel 16:8]. Then Shammah, and God refused him [1 Samuel 16:9]. And the last and seventh son of Jesse passed before Samuel, and God refused him [1 Samuel 16:10]. And Samuel said, "I cannot understand, I cannot understand, we called all of Bethlehem to this solemn assembly and we called all of the house of Jesse to this solemn assembly, and God has refused these seven sons. I do not understand, I do not understand."
Finally Samuel said to Jesse, "Do you have another son? Did you not understand yourself that all of the family was to be here? Is there another somebody that has not come to this solemn assembly?" [1 Samuel 16:11]. And the father happened to think, "Why I have another boy out in the field, out with the sheep. But I never thought, I never thought God meant all of us to come and certainly not that lad out with the sheep."
And Samuel said, "We will not be seated, we will not sit down until that lad comes." When he came in from the field, ruddy, a beautiful countenance, God said to Samuel, "Anoint him! This is he" [1 Samuel 16:11-12].
Just illustrating the fact the solemn assembly called of God demanded all of us to appear, the man, his wife, the children, all of them [Deuteronomy 31:10-13 21:2]. And the habit of the devout followed those holy customs. At the Passover time, every year, Elkanah and his family made their way to Shiloh to appear before the Lord [1 Samuel 1:1-3]. In the second chapter of the Book of Luke; and every year at the time of the Passover Joseph and Mary went up to Jerusalem and the Child Jesus, being twelve years of age, accompanied the family, all of them appearing before the Lord [Luke 2:41-42].
This is the religion of the Old Covenant, and the religion of the New Covenant is no different. It is one of standing before God. It is one of open and public committal to Christ.
"In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, And saying, Repent ye, repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" [Matthew 3:1-2]. "Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins" [Matthew 3:5-6], an open, public demonstration.
And the Lord said, "Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him will I confess before My Father which is in heaven. And whosoever shall deny Me before men, him shall I deny before My Father which is in heaven" [Matthew 10:32-33], as plain and as simple as that. It was the same as Paul wrote of it:
If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and shalt believe in thine heart God raised Him from the dead, thou shall be saved.
For with the heart one believeth unto a God-kind of righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
An open public committal, an open public demonstration, an open unashamed avowal of the trust of your life and soul to the Lord Jesus; there is no such a thing in the Bible as a clandestine and a private religion. It is social. It is open. It is shared. The church is called a koinōnia, a communion of fellowship. It is called an ekklēsia, a called out company who have committed their lives to God separated unto the Lord, an ek kaleō, an ekklēsia.
And the Lord said, "You will take the blood, and put it on the lintels and on the doorposts, that the Lord may show to the world that He puts a difference between the Egyptians and the Israelites" [Exodus 12:7, 12-13, 22]. Open, public, where everybody could see, on the lintels and on the doorposts of the house [Exodus 12:7, 22].
This is the religion of the Bible, open, public, unashamed, an avowal and a commitment where all can see, the angels in heaven and the men in earth.
Now, there are some things in the Bible, why? One, this is the way of victory. This is the way God hath chosen for His saints to be triumphant in this earth. Revelation 12:11, "And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death." When Satan was cast out of heaven down into the earth [Revelation 12:10], "they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death" [Revelation 12:11]. Where would there be martyrs for God if there was not an unbending, open, public avowal of faith and commitment to the Lord? The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.
On Broad Street before Balliol College in Oxford, Master Ridley and Hugh Latimer were burned at the stake. And when Ridley began to cringe before the mounting flames, Latimer said, "Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, we shall this day light a candle in England that by the grace of God shall never go out."
And a few days later Archbishop Cranmer was burned at the same stake. He had signed articles of recantation. And when the great throngs gathered to hear him recant, he spurned those years in prison when in weakness, when in weakness and not realizing he had signed with his right hand articles of recantation, and he stood there before the great throng, and he said, "This hand shall burn first that signed the articles of recantation." And when they chained him to the stake and the fires mounted up, he extended his right hand and held it in the fire until it burned to a crisp, crying, "This unworthy hand. This unworthy hand."
"And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony: and they loved not their lives unto the death" [Revelation 12:11]. This is God’s way of victory for His saints.
It is God’s way of strength, strength for His people. There is something about a public avowal, a public avowal when a youth makes it, when a man makes it, when a family makes it; there is something about a public avowal that gives strength to the one who is making it.
Daniel purposed in his heart not to be defiled with the king’s meat nor to drink of the wine from the king’s table [Daniel 1:8]. And when the king looked upon them, there were none so fair in their countenance [Daniel 1:15], or so wise in wisdom and so gifted in understanding as this Daniel [Daniel 1:17-20], who refused to defile himself with the tables and the delicacies and the wines and the liquors of the king [Daniel 1:8].
And when years later, sixty years later, Darius signed and unknowing the law that any who called on the name of any god other than the king should be cast in the lion’s den [Daniel 6:7-9], the Bible says "with his window open towards Jerusalem, as aforetime, Daniel knelt down three times every day, and prayed to the great Jehovah God" [Daniel 6:10]. Why didn’t he close his window? Why didn’t he hide in a closet to preserve his life as he had heretofore? Before an open window Daniel kneeled down and prayed, where anybody could look at him, anybody could see him, anybody could hear him [Daniel 6:10-11]. And according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, they took Daniel and cast him in the den of lions [Daniel 6:12-16]. And he walked, and he walked among the lions as a man would walk among friends. And when time came to go to sleep I presume he went to one of them and said, "Leo the lion, lie down and let me pillow my head on your great shaggy mane." And there God’s servant lay down in peace and in quiet and in sleep [Daniel 6:21-23].
What an amazing thing! Strong in the Lord and in the public open commitment of his life to his great God, strength comes in the open avowal, the commitment of our souls to Jesus.
This is the training and the teaching and the education of our children. "And it shall come to pass," said the Lord God, in the twelfth chapter of Exodus:
And it shall come to pass, when your children see you in days to come and they ask you, What meaneth this service?
Thou shalt say, We were bondmen, slaves in the land of Egypt, and the Lord God led us forth with a great and a mighty hand.
[from Exodus 12:26-27]
The child who never sees his family praying, never hears his family call on the name of the Lord, the child who never sees his father and mother commit their lives to Jesus, that child is untaught and hampered and hurt in his life. There is something about the child seeing father and mother bow before God, call on the name of the Lord, publicly give themselves to the great, mighty God, that makes an indelible impression upon their souls that lasts as long as breath shall last.
One of the memories of my childhood, a small child, a small child, one of the memories was seeing my father at the front of the church on the front pew with his head bowed, with his face buried in a white handkerchief crying unto God. And I asked my mother why was my father crying? It was an amazing thing to me. Why was he there on that front pew with his head bowed and his face buried in a handkerchief, crying unto God? Why? And my mother replied that day some of the members of our family had been saved, and my father was rejoicing before God and committing his own life anew to the Lord. For the encouragement and the instruction and the strengthening of our children, God demands and asks of us this public commitment of our lives to the Lord.
And a last, it is the encouragement, it is the encouragement of our lost and our backslidden and our forgotten and forsaken and our delinquent and our indifferent, it is a call to them to come, come, come to the Lord when God’s children themselves stand before the Lord.
I was preaching in the Temple Baptist Church in Los Angeles. The church meets in a vast property that they own. But the auditorium is used during the days of the week for plays and programs, and it is called the Philharmonic Auditorium. It was difficult for me but I poured my best into that sermon and closed it with the most fervent appeal of which I was capable. Then I went beyond the orchestra pit, went way around and stood down to the front, pressing the appeal for Jesus. Not a soul came. Not a soul. The service was hard and difficult in that Philharmonic Auditorium. Not a soul came. And as I pressed the appeal and we sang the hymn of invitation, not a soul came. Then down the aisle came a little woman, an older woman. She came to the front and gave me her hand and said, "I am a Christian, a born-again Christian. I am a member of the Nazarene church. I came here to worship and to hear you preach this Lord’s Day morning." She said, "As I listened to the fervency of your message and to the earnestness of your appeal," she said, "it broke my heart that nobody has come." And she said, "I just decided to come myself. I have just come myself. I want you to know I prayed God bless you, and I would like to give myself again and anew to the Lord."
By the time she had got through talking to me and had turned to go back to her seat, I lifted up my face and there was somebody else who had come. And after that somebody, there was somebody else who had come, and after that there was somebody else who had come. And I think of that little Nazarene woman listening to me preach and moved by the earnestness of the invitation, and then nobody responded, "Then I shall respond"; and God blessed her coming. We had a great hour and a great response.
When I talk to people about doing that, they say to me, "Ah, but pastor, you don’t know how hard it is. You don’t know how hard it is for us to come down and to kneel at the front. You just don’t know how difficult it is." Wonder how difficult it is for a lost man to come, for a backslidden man to come, for an indifferent Christian to come? You say it is hard for you to come to church all the time, who are present in the congregation all the time. If it’s hard for you, think how hard it is for a man whose never been saved. Why, that aisle is a thousand miles long to him, and these the surroundings are so strange and unusual to him, hard for him.
And another thing about it, whence is it that we have become so pharisaical in our spirit before God that we look upon that critter there? "He needs to go, but I don’t need to go. He needs to call on the name of the Lord, but I don’t need to call on the name of the Lord. He needs to bow; I don’t need to bow. This thing of publicly giving your life to God is the thing for somebody else, but it’s not for me. I don’t need it."
O Lord in heaven, Lord in heaven, where is the man who stands in the presence of God today that doesn’t need, that doesn’t need God to cleanse his soul and forgive his sins and to bless his life? Who doesn’t need to do like it says they did in this old Book, appear before the Lord, renew our vows to God? Tell the Lord over and again, "Lord, I love Thee and do give my life unto Thee." I couldn’t imagine a man going through life, saying, "I never need to renew my vows to God; I never need to bow before the great Lord in heaven."
Yet there are fine members of our church that I would say in forty years they have never done it, forty years never done it. "That’s for somebody else. That’s for others. They need to do that. They need to bow. They need to cry to God. They need to renew their vows. They need to get right, but I don’t." We all need to bow. We all need to appear before God. We all need to come. We all need to renew those great, great words of commitment that we said to the Lord when we took Him as our Savior.
Now, in order that we might be earnest and true in these commitments, I have announced this day of fasting and prayer for this coming Wednesday. "Lord, Lord, remember me and bless me and help me. And Lord, when I make this avowal unto Thee, may it be with the soul’s depths. May it be with all the meaning I can pour into that commitment."
Then at one of these services, at one of these services, this season of the year, and I am making appeal especially for an open and a public demonstration of our personal commitment to God at that Sunday night, Easter Sunday night service at the Memorial Auditorium; when I give that appeal we, we, we – not they, not somebody else, not them, not there – but we, we, when that appeal is given, we start moving toward God. "Lord, again and anew I give my life to Thee openly, publicly." And let God bless the testimony we make in His sight.
You can do it any service. You can do it now. You can do it tonight. You can do it next Lord’s day. You can do it Easter Sunday, which is the following Sunday. But especially, especially we are praying toward a great open demonstration of the commitment of our lives to God when we go down to that Memorial Auditorium Easter Sunday night. And that it be sincere and meaningful, we are giving ourselves to a day of fasting and prayer, standing before God.
As we sing our song of appeal this holy hour and this blessed service, if the Lord puts it in your soul to come this day, come, trusting Jesus as Savior, putting your life in the fellowship of the church; however God shall lead in the way, to commit yourself anew to the Lord, while others are dismissed we will stay here and pray. As God shall say, as the Spirit shall lead, come; while we stand and while we sing.
STANDING BEFORE GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Chronicles 20:13
I. Religion of the Old Testament public and open
3. Special services were always open and public
II. Religion of the New Testament
1. Koinonia fellowship
2. Ekklesia called out, separated ones
III. Precepts of God; why an open assembly
1. God’s way to victory
2. God’s way of teaching
3. God’s way of salvation
IV. Someday every Christian will stand before God
V. The call of God for a public committal is now
VI. The religion of Christ is open, public and demonstrable