STANDING BEFORE GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Chronicles 20:13
3-15-64 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 11:00 o’clock morning message entitled Standing Before God. It is a sermon concerning God’s commandment, God’s appeal that in this present world we commit our lives openly and publicly to Jesus; as certainly we shall stand in the presence of God at the great judgment bar in the world that is to come [2 Corinthians 5:10].
Not as a text, nor in any since as a passage to be exegeted, but as just a background I turn to the twentieth chapter of 2 Chronicles, taking a story out of the life of one of the kings of Judah whose name was Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat was king over God’s people in a time of great crisis. The country was invaded and the very life of the nation seemed to weigh in the balance. And in that time of desperate need Jehoshaphat stood in the congregation of Judah, in the house of the Lord and said,
O Lord God of our fathers, art not Thou God in heaven? and rulest not Thou over all the kingdoms of the nations? . . .
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, and their wives, and their children.
[2 Chronicles 20:6, 12, 13]
It would be easy for us to imagine that solemn and prayerful scene. "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]. Standing Before God.
The Holy Scriptures avow that some day all of us who are Christians shall stand before our Savior, 2 Corinthians 5:10: "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; to give an account for the deeds done in the flesh . . . whether they be good or whether they be bad." All of us shall stand someday at the judgment seat of Christ, all of us; all the unsaved, every soul that has ever lived, ever shall live, that lives today shall stand before the Lord Christ. Philippians 2:10-11: "Before Him every knee shall bow, every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, in the nether world; And every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." There shall be no soul that has ever lived that shall not bow before Christ, that shall not confess that He is Lord and God.
We are given a vision of how that scene shall be for those who refuse to bow before Jesus now. In the sixth chapter of the Book of Revelation, John the seer saw the heaven rolled back like a scroll rolled together, and he saw the great men of the earth, and the chief captains, and even the slaves, the bondmen. And they cried for the rocks and the mountains to fall on them and to hide them "from the face of Him that sitteth on 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?" [Revelation 6:14-17].
In the twentieth chapter of the Revelation:
I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the heaven and the earth fled away . . .
And I saw the . . . great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and the Book of Life . . .
And whosoever was not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
[Revelation 20:11, 12, 15]
There is no exception. Every soul that has ever lived, that now lives, that has lived shall one day stand before God. That is the reason for the appeal of this Holy Book, that we make that commitment of our lives to God now, that we make it now [2 Corinthians 6:2].
Moses stood in the midst of the camp and said, "Let him that is on the Lord’s side come and stand by me" [Exodus 32:26]. Joshua said, "Choose you this day whom you will serve, choose this day . . . as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" [Joshua 24:15]. On Mount Carmel Elijah cried, "How long halt ye between two opinions? If Jehovah be God, follow Him: if Baal be God follow him. But choose ye also this day whom ye follow" [1 Kings 18:21]. The Lord Jesus said, "He that cometh unto Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me" [Matthew 16:24]. The apostle Paul said, "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, distinct," set apart [2 Corinthians 6:17]. The apostle John wrote, "He that confesseth, he that confesseth 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 a religion of open and public and unashamed and unreserved demonstration. It knows no other kind of worship. It knows no other kind of faith. It knows no other kind of religion. If it is a religion of the Bible, of the Book, of the Lord God, it is a religion that is openly and publicly demonstrated. If you were to take a piece of cloth and look at it and examine it, look at the warp and the woof, what it is. If you were to take a piece of religion and look at it, what is it like? How is it made? How does it work? If you were to look at it and examine it and feel it, that’s what it is; the religion of the Lord God is a religion of open demonstration, of public and unashamed commitment.
That is the religion of the Old Covenant, of the Old Testament. Their place of worship in the old Bible was called the tent of meeting, or the tabernacle of the congregation [Exodus 33:7]. There the Lord, on the basis of His people, on the basis of atonement, met His people at the door, at the gate, at the entrance of the tabernacle [Exodus 33:7]. Those holy seasons were called holy convocations [Exodus 12:16] and the last day was called the solemn assembly [Nehemiah 8:18]. And the people of the Lord were required to present themselves openly and publicly at the gate of the tabernacle, and there God met them and spake to them. Exodus 23:17, "Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord God." Then He named them: at the Feast of the Passover, at the Feast of the Harvest of First Fruits at Pentecost; at the Feast of final Ingathering; of Tabernacles [Exodus 23:15-16]. "Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord thy God."
In the thirty-first chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy:
And Moses commanded them, saying, At the end of every seven years, in the solemnity of the year of release . . .
all Israel shall come to appear before the Lord . . .
Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and the stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, that they may learn, that they may fear God, and observe to do all the works of this law.
When a bondman of the Hebrew people was sold, he could not serve but seven years; at the end of seven years he had to be released [Exodus 21:2]. That is called the solemn year of release. And beside the three times each year [Exodus 23:17], all the people had to appear before God in the seventh year, in the solemn year of release [Deuteronomy 31:10-13]. Those solemn convocations of the people are witnessed to, are delineated here in the Bible, upon meaningful occasions.
When Israel was defeated at Ai [Joshua 7:1-5], and Joshua fell on his face all day before the ark, and the elders of Israel fallen down with him [Joshua 7:6], the Lord said to Joshua, "Get up, get up [Joshua 7:10]. Stand up, and call all Israel before Me" [Joshua 7:13-14]. When Samuel, instructed of God, when Samuel went to Bethlehem, the elders of the city met him, and he said, "God has called for all of the people to sanctify themselves and to appear before the Lord." All Bethlehem gathered before Samuel for the sacrifice, and that included Jesse and his family [1 Samuel 16:1-6]. And in keeping with the mandate from heaven, Samuel had the first son of Jesse to pass before him, Eliab. And God said, "I have refused him" [1 Samuel 16:6-7]. And Samuel had the second son of Jesse to pass before him, Abinadab, and God said, "I have refused him" [1 Samuel 16:8]. And Samuel had the third son of Jesse to pass before him, Shammah, and God said, "I have refused him" [1 Samuel 16:9]. And Jesse had all seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and God refused them all [1 Samuel 16:10]. Then Samuel said, "I do not understand; I do not understand. God sent me here to call all of the Bethlehemites together, including the house of Jesse. And all of Jesse’s sons have passed before me, and God has refused them all. I do not understand. I do not understand."
Then Samuel turned to Jesse and said, "Is there another son? Is there another member of the family?" [1 Samuel 16:11]. And Jesse said, "Why, yes, why, yes. But I had not thought of him. I have a boy; I have a boy out in the field keeping the flocks." Samuel said, "We will not be seated, nor will we break bread, nor will we pray, nor will we sacrifice until that boy comes." And they sent for David, an unshaven lad, ruddy faced, a beautiful countenance. And when David appeared, God said to Samuel, "Anoint him. This is he!" [1 Samuel 16:11-12].
I am just telling the story to emphasize the fact that God asks all of us to come, all of us. "And Judah stood before God with their little ones, their wives, and their children" [2 Chronicles 20:13], all of us, all of us.
On those holy and solemn days in the life of the devout, Elkanah with his family once a year went up to appear before the Lord to renew his vows to God, to rededicate his life to Jehovah [1 Samuel 1:1-3]. The story, the only one we know in the life of our Savior as a lad, when He was twelve years of age, as their custom was, Joseph and Mary went up to Jerusalem at the Feast of the Passover to appear before the Lord, to renew their vows to God, to recommit their family and their children and their lives to the Lord [Luke 2:41-42].
That is the religion of the Old Covenant. It is one openly, publicly expressed, demonstrated; it is one of re-avowal and recommitment and rededication. That’s what it is.
When we turn now to the religion of the New Covenant, the religion of the New Testament, it also, it also begins and progresses and ends, all of it, with a public commitment to God.
"In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, And saying, Repent ye, turn 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, openly, publicly, in the Jordan River, confessing their sins" [Matthew 3:5-6]. And Jesus, when He came preaching, said, "Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him will I confess before My Father in heaven. Whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I deny before My Father which is in heaven" [Matthew 10:32-33]; a religion of faith that is openly and publicly avowed. And when the disciples preached, Paul said:
If thou shall confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, believe in thine heart God raised Him from the dead, that He lives, thou shall be saved.
For with the heart we believe unto a God-kind of righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
It is a religion that is publicly and openly expressed without which it is no longer of God or of Christ.
And the church is none other than a public association of God’s people. Call it koinōnia, a fellowship, a communion, call it an ekklēsia a called-out family of the Lord. The Lord said to the Israelites in bondage in Egypt, "Take the blood of the lamb, and put it on the posts and on the lintels above the door, outside, on the front of the porch" [Exodus 12:7, 13, 22], outside, outside the house; a public demonstration this house belongs to God, this family trusts in Jehovah, a public, open demonstration.
And the choice of God’s people, that the world might know God, put a difference between the Egyptians and the Israelites [Exodus 12:12-13, 22-23]; and that public avowal of God’s people carries through the whole Book. The New Testament church is an ekklēsia, a called-out assembly separated from the world, committed openly, unashamedly to God.
Now why does the Lord do this? What are the purposes that lie back of God’s appeal for an open and a public demonstration of our faith in Him? I have four reasons.
One: God hath purposed this way, these are the ways of the Lord, God hath purposed this way for His people to achieve victory in the earth. In the twelfth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, there is described for us the casting out of Satan from heaven [Revelation 12:7-9]. "Woe to the earth, for the accuser of the brethren has come down to you, woe to the inhabiters of the earth" [Revelation 12:12]. Then this incomparable verse, Revelation 12:11: "And they overcame him, 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."
Our victory in this world is in the ableness and the adequacy of Christ. "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 provision for victory for His saints in the earth. Martyrdom, martyrdom, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. They loved not their lives unto the death. "They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony"; unashamed, public, open, at the cost of life itself.
Master Ridley and Hugh Latimer were burned before Balliol College on Broad Street in Oxford, England. And when the flames began to rise, Ridley began to cringe. And Hugh Latimer said, "Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, we shall this day light such a candle in England as by God’s grace shall never go out." A few days after, Archbishop Cranmer was burned at the stake in the same and identical place. Cranmer had been spared a few days because he had signed articles of recantation. When all of the great assembly in St. Mary’s Church had gathered to hear from his lips his recantation, his denial of the faith, having come out of prison and having gained his strength and the equilibrium of his mind, and aware of what he had done under awful persecution and imprisonment, Thomas Cranmer stood before the throng and disavowed his recantation. And holding out his right hand said, "This hand, this hand that signed the articles of recantation shall burn first; this hand, this unworthy hand." And when they chained him to the stake and the flames leapt upward, he held out his right hand, and it burned into a cinder as he cried, "This unworthy hand, this unworthy hand."
"They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, by the word of their testimony, loving not their lives unto the death" [Revelation 12:11]. This is God’s arrangement for our victory, the victory of God’s people in the earth, an open, unashamed, and public commitment.
Why hasn’t God raised this? A second reason: for our strength, that we might be strong in our avowal, in our faith. Whenever you publicly declare, whenever you publicly commit, whenever you publicly say, whenever you publicly demonstrate, there comes a floodtide of victory and of strength in your soul! God bestows it. God honors it.
Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the king’s dainties, with his liquors and his wines and his meats [Daniel 1:8]; "Just give us pulse to eat, and water to drink" [Daniel 1:12]. And at the end of the days the countenance of Daniel and his three companions was fairer than all the rest [Daniel 1:15]. And the spirit of wisdom and of understanding dwelt in their hearts [Daniel 1:17-20]. There those four young men, separating themselves from the dainties, and the effeminacies, and the compromises of the world [Daniel 1:8], and God made them strong and able and mighty. God honored them [Daniel 1:17-20].
And when Darius, unknowing, sixty years later, and when Darius not realizing, signed that law, "Whoever should call upon the name of a god outside of the name of the king shall be cast into the den of lions" [Daniel 6:7-9], then it says, "Daniel went to his window, open toward Jerusalem, and knelt down three times a day as aforetime" [Daniel 6:10], where everybody could see him. Why didn’t he shut the window? Why didn’t he crawl in some hole somewhere? Why didn’t he live in some shadow? Why didn’t he hide his face and his praying? The Book says, "As aforetime" [Daniel 6:10], as he had always done; he bowed down before that open window three times a day, kneeling, calling upon God. Why, certainly they saw him. Why, certainly they heard him. They had been looking at him and hearing him for sixty years, praying with his window open toward Jerusalem. And they cast him in the den of lions [Daniel 6:16]. There is strength; there is strength in an open commitment to God. And Daniel walked, and Daniel walked among that leonine and ravenous group [Daniel 6:21-22], Daniel walked as though he were visiting old friends, and I suppose in the hours of the night that passed, lay down at peace in that carnivorous throng. There is strength, God-given strength; God honors an open, a public, and an unashamed demonstration of the faith of the Lord God.
It is a way of victory, an open commitment. It is a way of strength, an open commitment. It is a way that God hath chosen to teach and to instruct our children. "And it shall come to pass," said the Lord God in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Exodus, "And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say in time to come, ‘What mean you by this service?’" The slaying of the lamb, the sprinkling of the blood, the calling upon God, the setting apart of the family as belonging to Jehovah, "When it shall come to pass in days that are ahead that the children shall ask you, What mean this? You shall say, We were bondmen, we were slaves in the land of Egypt, and the Lord delivered us with a high and a holy and a mighty hand" [Exodus 12:26-27]. And the impression upon these children lasts forever. It becomes a part of the very texture of their brains.
People ask how is it that Judaism exists, that it lives; never been assimilated, never been digested, never been destroyed. Even though they have no synagogues, even though they may be persecuted beyond any thing the world has seen. Why does the Jew live? The reason is very simple. He lives under God because his religion is a religion of teaching children in the home. The impression made upon children by the dedicated examples of their parents is an impression that is indelible. God writes it with the point of a diamond at the end of a pen of steel.
A fourth reason why God chooses that His people openly, publicly give themselves to the Lord: one was victory; two was strength; three was the instruction of our children; four is the meaningful dedication of our lives to God in the presence of, and for the blessing of, and for the saving of a lost world.
At a service in Irving I was delighted that a young man and his wife, they had just been married – that a young man and his wife were to take me back home. I was delighted because I wanted to ask the young man something. The Sunday before a thing had happened in this holy place that greatly impressed me. There was a man about seventy-five or seventy years old who came down that center aisle and to the front, accompanied by that young man. And the two knelt there at the front, the young man with his arm around the older man. The older man had come asking that we pray for him, that he wanted to be saved, that he wanted to have God in his heart; he wanted God to forgive his sins. And I knelt with them and we prayed, that young man with his arm around that older man, and there in that holy place, as so many have done, that old man gave his heart to Jesus, and we received him for baptism, and I baptized him into the fellowship of this dear church. I wanted to ask the young man how it was he was there. Was he a kinsman? Was that his father or grandfather? Why was it? So coming home, as he brought me home in his car, I said, "I want you to tell me about that man. Have you known him? Is he a kinsman?"
And to my amazement the young fellow replied, "No, that is the first time I ever saw him."
"Well," I said, "tell me about it. What happened? What?"
"Well," he said, "I was seated back there and this man came and he sat down by my side. And when you had preached and had given the invitation, I asked him if he was a Christian, and he said no, no he had never trusted Jesus as his Savior. Well, I asked him, ‘Tonight, tonight will you give your heart to Jesus?’ And he said, ‘No, not tonight.’"
Then the young man said to him, "I will go with you. I will walk up there with you, and we will ask the preacher to pray for us."
"No," said the man, "No, no not tonight, not tonight."
Then the young man said to him, "I am going up there and rededicate and re-consecrate my life to the Lord. Will you come with me?"
The man said, "No, not tonight."
Then the young man said, "Then I am going by myself. I am going by myself." And he walked into the aisle and on his way down to the front, and when he turned around that older man was following him, following him. And they came down together, and there in that holy place he gave his heart and life to the Lord Jesus.
"Well, preacher you don’t understand. That’s hard for me to do that." What do you think about a lost man? What do you think about a lost man? Don’t you suppose it to be hard for him? These aisles are a thousand miles long to him. These situations here are strange to him. He is a lost man. And if you think it is hard for you, think how infinitely harder it is for him.
Then there is another thing that presses upon my soul about these appeals. There is easily developed in us a pharisaical superiority as we look upon others who come. "Well, now, he needs it but I don’t. Well, they need it, but I don’t. Those sinners over there, they need to get right with God, but I, well, I live on the drippings of the sanctuary, I am God’s favorite. If there is any sin in my life I am sure I don’t know it. I live above reproach. ‘Lord, I thank Thee that I am not like other men’ [Luke 18:11-13]. That couple there, that sinner there, those over yonder, Lord, I thank Thee that I am not like other men."
And that pharisaical manner and attitude develop in us until we look with superior, supercilious, false pseudo-spirituality on other people who come. We are separate and apart. We don’t need it. "They are sinners, but I am not. They need to dedicate their lives, I don’t."
O God, O God, is that the faith? Is that what it is to be a follower of the Lamb? To walk in superiority and in spiritual pseudo, cheap dedication to God, having made a commitment back there, and then it is done forever? There are fine members in this church that have not dedicated their lives openly and publicly for forty years. When did you? When did you? When did you come down an aisle and kneel and renew your vows to the Lord? When did you ever say to the Lord God, "Lord, I’m coming back closer for a deeper walk with Thee. Lord, I want to re-avow my love for Thee. I want to give myself again to Thee. Lord, there is no moment of any day I do not need Thee. Sinner as I am, I am sinful. The only difference between me and a lost man who blasphemes is I am a sinner saved by grace [Ephesians 2:8]. He is a sinner that refuses the overtures of God’s mercy."
That is the religion of this Book. And we need to do it. There are periodic times in every family life that as a family they ought to rededicate and reconsecrate their lives to the Lord. And that is why we are entering this day of fasting and prayer, to see if God cannot break that supercilious, sophisticated superiority that we assume in this Christian pilgrimage.
Lord, let me see myself vile and sinful as I am. Lord, let me see the blood of Jesus and the grace and mercy of God. And let me plead in my confession for forgiveness and for help and for remembrance. And Lord, help me rise from this place stronger, more committed, more dedicated to Thee, and that it might be of the soul and in deepest sincerity.
We are having this day of fast and prayer, examining our souls and giving ourselves anew to the Lord. And then, then in one of the services, in one of the services, in one of the services I am praying that God will move upon our people to reconsecrate, to re-avow, to rededicate, to recommit themselves to the Lord God. Bow, bend, kneel in humble confession, in contrition, in searching of soul, and regiving of life, soul, destiny to the Lord.
Then especially, out of all of the services that I think of that lie ahead in which I hope our people will respond, I am thinking of the great Easter Sunday night service at the Memorial auditorium. There where we invite the city to come, and to look, and to hear, and to share, there I am praying that a host of us, by our family groups, will come down those aisles and openly, publicly stand before God, renewing their vows to the Lord. Then in the example of our commitment, a backslider come, a lost man come, an indifferent family come, that God shall use our dedication to win others to Him.
Then I pray that the pattern of this commitment to God shall grace our church and our services from now until the Lord shall call us home. Once in awhile, once in awhile, once a year, once every two years, once in awhile, that God’s people will find themselves down here to the front, kneeling together, re-avowing and recommitting their lives to God, then just see if God doesn’t give us victory and strength, and the teaching of our children, and the saving of the lost. May we pray?
Our Lord, the mechanics of religion leave us hungry in soul. We cannot grow a great life on the chaff, on the things of religion. Lord, it must be something of us. The Spirit must come into us. Jesus must dwell in us, and we must respond. Lord, Lord, as long as religion is a thing apart, it is a thing outside, we are left so weak. O God, that we might experience the flood of the power of God in our lives. And Master, take the example of our people who learn to demonstrate, to be unashamed of their faith, take, Lord, our example and our commitment, and through us may our children grow to be mighty in the Lord, and may the lost be encouraged to take Jesus as Savior. Lord, make this meaningful to us. And may we go from these hours of dedication and commitment with a song in our soul and the praises of Jesus on our lips, victorious in every trial, triumphant, triumphant, in every dark hour. God lives and He lives in us. Christ saves and He saved us. The Lord gives victory, and we share in the overcoming life. Master, make these days all God would have them mean. And we shall thank Thee; in Thy dear name amen.
And while we sing our song of appeal, as the Spirit of Jesus shall lay upon your heart any invitation, come; come for prayer, for dedication to accept Christ as your Savior, to put your life in the fellowship of the church, to answer God’s call. As the Spirit of our Lord shall woo, shall make appeal, shall invite, may we respond, "Here I come, pastor. Here I am"; while we stand and while we sing.