The Pleading Christ
December 12th, 1965 @ 7:30 PM
THE PLEADING CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-12-65 7:30 p.m.
On the radio you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor trying to be commensurate with this august and overwhelming occasion. You who are at home and listening on the radio have no idea of what this is like tonight. There are a thousand seats by number in that balcony, and I suppose altogether there are at least five hundred in this choir tonight. I just never heard anything like this; I never saw anything like this. And that Is why I say, “O Lord, that I might be equal to this occasion.” I am exactly like that colored boy who fell in a barrel of molasses, and he came up a’licking and a’saying, “O Lord, give me a tongue equal for the occasion.” Dear Lord, remember me tonight.
Now our people do not realize it because of the length of time, but for some, oh, I cannot remember when, several years, every Sunday night we are preaching through the life of Christ. It is something that pleases my heart so very much. However the prophecies of the Old Testament, and however the doctrines of Paul, and however the glorious apocalyptic visions of the Revelation, there is something about preaching from the life of Jesus that is food for our souls; it is manna from heaven. And in our preaching through the life of Christ, we have come to the sweetest and the most precious of all invitations. You will find it in the last part of the eleventh chapter of Matthew. So let us all turn together to the First Gospel, and we shall begin reading at verse 25 and read to the end of the chapter. Matthew chapter 11, beginning at verse 25, and let us all read it out loud together; and the beautiful appeal will be the last three verses. Now together at verse 25:
At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.
Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight.
All things are delivered unto Me of My Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him.
Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.
Did I not say it to be the most precious of all invitations? “Come, come unto Me, all ye that labor, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, enroll in My school, sit at My feet, be one of My disciples, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” [Matthew 11:28-30].
Truly, truly, is there not a divine penetration into our deepest selves expressed in these words, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden”? [Matthew 11:28]. For there is no year, there is no time, there is no age in life when we do not feel the sorrow and the burden of our living. You know, we have a tendency to look upon childish disappointments with condescension; but the tears of a child and the heartache of childhood are as real and as poignant as the tears of manhood and womanhood. And we look upon the passing regrets that come into the lives of adolescent teenagers as being adolescent things, childish things that soon pass. But the heartaches and the tears of the teenager are as real and as poignant as those they will come to know in adult manhood and womanhood. Then, of course, when we come to assume the burdens and the responsibilities of life, and finally reaching age and death, there is a burden of life that is known to every age; none escape. All of us feel it and know it.
Last week, I stopped by from my revival meeting in Alabama, I stopped by Shreveport to dedicate with the pastor and people the First Baptist Church of Bossier City, a city of about forty-five thousand people on the other side of the Red River; they have built a magnificent house of worship there. They have spent $1,500,000 upon it. It’s a glorious edifice that truly honors Christ. And to my amazement, to my amazement, in the midst of the rejoicing, and the singing, and the gladness, and the gratitude, and thanksgiving, the pastor stands up just before I speak, and he says, “It is my sad duty to announce to our friends and visitors, and to the throng of our own people, that the,” and then he named one of the members of the building committee and one of the deacons of the church, “he has just died.” And then when I left, he said to me, he said, “Preacher, the first service that we shall hold in our new and dedicated church house will be a funeral service for this godly deacon and member of our building committee.” There is no escape from it. The child, the teenager, the man, the woman, however we are, wherever we live, and however our lot may be cast, the burden of life is felt by us all.
That’s the reason the invitation has in it a message for every soul: the young, the old, the aged, the brilliant, the unlearned, the unlettered: “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden” [Matthew 11:28].
When I came to be pastor of the church, God left here for a year and a half to help me in beginning this ministry, God left here Brother Robert Coleman, Brother Bob Coleman, the marvelous assistant pastor whom God allowed to serve here for forty-two years, and for whom our Coleman Hall is named. He was one of the finest, sweetest, dearest men in this earth. And when I came here, I found that Brother Bob Coleman, though he was a layman, he was a songbook publisher, Brother Bob Coleman conducted practically all the funeral services. And in the beginning of my ministry, for the most part, I just went along and I helped Brother Bob as he conducted the service. One of the first that I shared with him, I could never ever forget. It was for a single woman, a maid, whose entire family had died. The whole family belonged to this wonderful church, and one by one they had passed away. And finally she alone was left. And as we sat there in the funeral chapel, I looked over to the side in the family room, and there sat alone on the front seat that maiden lady. The only child left in the family; all the others gone away. And she sat over there, and the tears just falling from her face. It was a funeral service of her mother, and she there alone. And it was at that service that I heard quoted for the first time since I had read the poem as a boy, it was there that I heard quoted that sweet and beautiful poem of James Whitcomb Riley. And Brother Bob said, as he quoted:
There! little girl, don’t cry!
They’ve broken your doll, I know;
And your tea-set blue,
And your play-house, too,
Are things of the long ago;
But childish troubles will soon pass by,—
There! little girl, don’t cry!
There! little girl, don’t cry!
They’ve broken your slate, I know;
And the glad, wild ways
Of your school-girl days
Are things of the long ago;
But life and love will soon come by,—
There! little girl, don’t cry!
There! little girl, don’t cry!
They’ve broken your heart, I know;
And the rainbow gleams
Of your girlhood dreams
Are things of the long ago;
But heaven holds all for which you sigh,—
There! little girl, don’t cry!
[“A Life-Lesson”; James W. Riley]
And then he emphasized, “For heaven holds all for which we sigh—there, little girl, don’t cry” . . . “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” [Matthew 11:28]. And how sweet and how precious is the invitation, filled with infinite love and compassion, understanding, and sympathy, and mercy.
Reading some of the sermons of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, I came across his description of an English girl who was so sick. And underneath the window of the girl came a little band of young people to sing. And they sang this beautiful song, so Spurgeon says:
I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Come unto Me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down thy head upon My breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was, weary and worn and sad;
I found in Him a resting place, and He hath made me glad.
[“I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say”; Horatius Bonar]
And when the children, when the young people finished singing the song beneath her window, she said to her nurse, “Weary and worn and sad, oh, that is I, that is I.” Then she looked searchingly into the eyes of her nurse, and said, “Nurse, have you ever been to Jesus?” And the nurse said, “Yes.” And the sick girl said, “And did Jesus give you rest?” And the nurse said, “Yes.” And the poor girl replied, “Oh, that somebody would take me to Jesus!”
Where could I find Him? Where is the Lord? My brother, He is nearer than our hands and feet. He is nearer than the breath that we breathe. He is there with you, wherever you are.
In the garden, suddenly He appeared [John 20:11-16]. The two on the road to Emmaus, and suddenly there He was [Luke 24:13-17]. In an upper room with the door shut, locked and barred, suddenly Jesus is in the midst [John 20:19-20]. On the seashore in the gray mist of the early morning, there He stands [John 21:1-25]. On the appointed mountain, the rendezvous in Galilee, there He is [Matthew 28:16-20]. And walking by their sides to the crest of Mount Olivet [Acts 1:3-11], and finally they needed not to see Him anymore with their mortal eyes; for they knew Him by His presence and His Spirit working with them. So it is with our blessed Lord today. Where is He? wherever you are: kneeling by the bedside, lying awake in the middle of the night, rising in the morning, on the way to work, wherever you are, there is our Lord. And His gracious arms of love and appeal extended, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” [Matthew 11:28].
But how shall I come to Jesus? How shall I appear before Him? How shall I speak words by which He could listen and understand my soul and my heart and my life? How shall I come to the Lord? Well, I have a first observation to make, and that is this: I never have been convinced that we come to Jesus as you work out a logarithm on a slide rule, or by memorizing certain steps and procedures. Theologically we say it is this, then it is this, then it is this, and then it is this; and I suppose, theologically, those steps to our Lord are correct, I know they are correct; God’s Word says they are correct. But I do not know in my experience that anybody ever came to the Lord Jesus, “Step number one,” and then they step number one; “And step number two,” then you step number two; “Then step number three,” and step number three. I don’t think you go at it like learning a catechism. And I don’t think you come to the Lord like working out a mathematical formula.
Well then, how do you come to Jesus? In this I think every soul touches the life of Jesus at its own angle: there is something in your experience that is unique, and peculiar, and alone, and personal to you. There is some way that you found Him, and there is something about your experience that is yours alone. It’s like loving somebody. It’s like finding a marvelous friend, or advocate, or deliverer, or savior. It is of all things preeminently personal; never impersonal, never mechanical, never ritualistic or sacramental. But it is always, soul-wise, heart-wise, personal-wise. We come to Jesus as we would come to a marvelous and incomparable friend.
“Well, how then, preacher, how?” However our experiences may differ—and all of them do—there are some things that are ever common. And the first one is this: we come to Jesus humbly, never in the pride of life; always humbly, humbly. “O Lord, forgive me my sins. O Lord, hide away the derelictions and the shortcomings of my life.” Or as that sinner, that publican who beat on his breast, saying, “Lord, be merciful to me the sinner” [Luke 18:13]. We come to Jesus humbly; never in pride and adequacy and self-sufficiency. “Lord, I am not self-sufficient, and I am not adequate, and I am not perfect. Lord, I am a lost sinner, and I am a dying man. Lord, remember me, and have mercy upon me, and be good to me, and bless me, and save me.” We come to Jesus humbly, always humbly.
I went, when I was in Copenhagen, I sought out that church in which is placed Thorvaldsen’s famous statue, The Pleading Christ. You may not recognize it by the name of the sculptor, Thorvaldsen, or by the name The Pleading Christ; but it is one of the famous statues of the earth, and one of the most magnificent, and one of the finest. And you’ve seen pictures of it, every one of you has. Well anyway, there came to that church a critic from afar, to see this masterpiece of the great Danish sculptor Thorvaldsen. And standing in the church, he looked at it from this angle, and from that angle, and from the other angle, and plainly written on his face was disappointment and disillusionment. And as he looked at the statue and was so evidently disappointed, there came a child up to the great critic—no one else doubtless would have had the temerity to speak, but the child came up to him—and watching him, and seeing the evident displeasure and dislike and disappointment on his face, the child said to the man, “Oh sir, but you must come near, and you must kneel down, and you must look up into His face.” And the critic thought, “I shall do it.” And he drew near, and he knelt down, and he looked up into the face; and he was rewarded with a vision of genius, and the portrayal of the pleading Lord as he had never seen and never known before. However we come to Jesus, that will always be common among us: we all come in confession, and in humility, and in contrition. “Lord, I bow in Thy presence. Remember me.”
How do we come to our Lord? Always we come in some act of obedience to the faith, to the commitment in our souls. I think it is impossible to disassociate that faith and that commitment from some act that expresses it. One of our staff members said to me about a week or so ago, “Is it possible for one to be saved without acknowledging it, without confessing it?” Well, theoretically we are washed by the blood of Jesus [Revelation 1:5], and we are saved, always, by the grace and atoning mercies of God, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy God saved us” [Titus 3:5]. It is not something that I can do, it is not something that I have, it’s not something I could buy, it’s not an obedience that I can lay before the Lord; I am saved by Jesus. “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe…By grace are you saved through faith; that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God; not of works, lest a man should boast, saying, I did it” [Ephesians 2:8-9]. No, when we get to heaven, our praise will be unto Him who loved us, and saved us, and washed us by His own blood [Revelation 1:5].
But at the same time, in the same breath, it is to me humanly impossible for one to commit his life to Jesus, and to accept the Lord as his Savior and not express it, not confess it. And it is that that I sense as the other side of the coin; and you can’t have a coin with just one side. There’s another side. And one side of that coin is God saves us, Jesus washes us clean from our sins [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5]; but the other side is, “And I commit my life to Him. I avow it. I confess it. I do openly, publicly, unashamedly commit my life to Him.” May I repeat the word? We come to Jesus in an act of faith, in an avowal of commitment:
If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in thine heart that He liveth, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart one beleiveth unto righteousness; and with the mouth, open, public, unashamed confession is made unto salvation.
And that act of faith is always attendant when we come to Jesus. An open confession, down an aisle, shaking the preacher’s hand, being baptized, being numbered with the people of God, confessing the Lord, it’s a concomitant, it’s a corollary, it’s substantial, it’s coexistent, it’s constituent!
Could I illustrate it? Naaman said, “Are not the waters of Abana and Pharpar, rivers in Damascus, better, cleaner, than all of the waters of Israel? May I not wash in them, and be clean?” [2 Kings 5:12]. He turned from the door of the house of Elisha and went home in a rage! [2 Kings 5:10-11]. Elisha didn’t even honor him enough to come out to the door just to look at him; and there he was the captain of the host of the king of Syria, and by his hand God had delivered all of the enemies into the hands of Syria, and he was a great man [2 Kings 5:1], and Elisha didn’t even come out and look at him, just said, “You go down to the Jordan River and bathe seven times, and your leprosy will be clean, and your flesh will come again like unto the flesh of a little child” [2 Kings 5:9-10]. And he went home in a rage. The Bible says, “And he went home in a rage” [2 Kings 5:11]. And there he was in his chariot driving his steeds, and while he was turning back home still a leper, the servant of the great strategic commander in chief touched him, and said:
My father, my father, my lord, my lord, my master, my master, if the servant of God had bid thee do some great and mighty thing, wouldest thou not have done it? If in order to be healed of your leprosy the prophet had said, Go down and conquer Egypt, would not have you taken your armies and tried to conquer Egypt? Or if the master, if the great prophet had said, Bring me five thousand talents of gold and ten thousand talents of silver, wouldn’t you have turned the kingdom upside down to gather those talents of gold and silver to lay them at his feet to be cleansed of your leprosy? How much rather then—
said the servant to his lord—
how much rather then when the prophet says, Wash, and be clean, wash, and be clean?
[2 Kings 5:13]?
And I can see Naaman as he draws the reign on those fiery steeds, “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” And he turns them around and drives down to the river Jordan, and into that muddy stream, he dips one time and two, he dips five times and six, and when he dips himself the seventh time, the Book says, “And his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean; and he was clean” [2 Kings 5:14]; in some act of obedience.
Maybe all you could do if you were nailed to a cross like that thief, maybe all you could do would be to turn your head, and say, “Lord, we suffer justly for our iniquities; but Thou, Thou hast done nothing worthy of death. O Lord, sinless, spotless Son of God, when You come into Your kingdom remember me, remember me” [Luke 23:41-42]. Maybe all we could do is turn our heads, and say, “Lord, remember me”; but in that act of faith he was saved. Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Today, today thou shalt be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43].
That’s how we come to Jesus. “Come unto Me, come unto Me. Take My yoke upon you, sit at My feet, for My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” [Matthew 11:28-30]. This is the sweet way of God. This is the precious way of our Lord. This is the dear and holy way of Jesus. Come. Come humbly. Bow down before Him. Before the eyes of men and of angels stand to confess Him as your Savior. Ask Him to forgive your sins [1 John 1:9]. Ask Him to write your name in the Lamb’s Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27]. Ask Him to save and keep you forever, even in the hour of death and into the eternity that lies beyond. “O Jesus, Lord, remember me, save me, and bless me.” And He does it [Luke 23:43-44].
“Him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out” [John 6:37]. Come, come, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and you will find rest,” as we have, “for your soul” [Matthew 11:28-29].
Our time is gone. We must sing our invitation hymn. And while we sing that appeal, you, somebody you give himself to Jesus tonight; come down this aisle, down one of these stairwells. In the balcony, there’s a throng of you back there in that balcony; come down one of these stairwells. Sometimes when you’re in the balcony, it takes a double commitment to come. I don’t know why it’s not easy to come out of a balcony, but it was a long road that the Lord bore His cross for us [John 19:16-17]; nothing like coming out of a balcony. Do it. A couple of you, a family of you, one somebody you, in the throng, in the press on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, “Here I come, pastor, and here I am. I make it now; I make it tonight.” Do it. When you stand up in a moment, stand up coming. “Here I am preacher. I take the Lord as my Savior.” Or, “We’re putting our lives in the fellowship of this dear church.” Make it tonight, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
A. A divine
presentation into our inner most heart
B. We all experience
C. My first funeral
here, for father of young girl
Life-Lesson”, James Whitcomb Riley
D. Preciousness of our
Savior in any hour of heartache
1. “I Heard the
Voice of Jesus Say”, Horatius Bonar
II. Where is Jesus?
our side, closer than our hands and feet(John
20:11-16, 21:1-14, Luke 24:13-32, 36-43, Acts 1:3-11, 7:56, 9:1-6, Revelation
B. How shall I come?
1. Humbly(Luke 18:13)
a. Thorvaldsen’s “The
2. In obedience(Romans 10:9, Titus 3:5, Ephesians 2:8-9)
a. Naaman(2 Kings 5:1-14)
b. Thief on the cross (Luke 23:41-43)