Thus Close is God to Man
February 28th, 1965 @ 8:15 AM
THUS CLOSE IS GOD TO MAN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-28-65 8:15 a.m.
On the radio, if you will turn to the twenty-fourth chapter of Luke, verses 28-31, and verses 36-43, you can follow the beginning of the message this morning, which is entitled Thus Close is God to Man. You are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message on the fellowship of God’s people, both with one another and with our dear Lord. And these two passages out of the twenty-fourth chapter of Luke are pictures of Jesus resurrected, immortalized, as He is this present moment, eating with His disciples. Now, beginning at verse 28:
And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and He made as though He would have gone further.
But they constrained Him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And He went in to tarry with them.
And it came to pass, as He sat at meat with them, He took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them.
And their eyes were opened, and they knew Him; and He vanished out of their sight.
That’s our Lord breaking bread after His resurrection with the two disciples in Emmaus. Now verse 36 and following: This is the disciples, the eleven, gathered together:
And as they thus spake, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit.
And He said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?
Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself: handle Me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have.
And when He had thus spoken, He showed them His hands and His feet.
And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, He said unto them, Have ye here any meat, anything to eat?
And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And He took it, and did eat before them.
In the twenty-sixth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, our Lord, in the days of His flesh and at the institution of the Holy Supper, our Lord said, "I say unto you, I will not henceforth drink of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom" [Matthew 26:29].
In the nineteenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, our Lord is pictured as coming at the consummation of the age, and it is preceded by the marriage supper of the Lamb. "Blessed are they who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb, for the bride, His wife hath made herself ready" [Revelation 19:7-9].
All of those pictures are of the close-knit fellowship between our Lord and His people and between God’s people with one another. You could hardly express it any more vivid or preciously meaningful picture than our Savior breaking bread with His disciples and eating with those who trust in Him.
Not only in the days of His flesh – – mark this – – not only, not only in the house of Mary and Martha and Lazarus in Bethany, but raised from the dead and immortalized, glorified, and in heaven, eating, drinking, fellowshipping, rejoicing, praising, loving, singing with His people. I want to point out to you now, if I can; and God help me as I seek to do it. May I point out to you that that is the worship of God, and that is the response of God’s children all through the ages from the beginning until now and projected into the forever? A fellowshipping, a gladness, a glory, a happiness, a singing, a convening, everything sweet and good and precious; the Lord with His people and the people with their Lord and one another. Now let’s begin.
I speak first of the meaning of ancient sacrifice. Sacrifice in the ancient days was practically and actually the whole substance of religion and the worship of God. Universally it was that way, whether in ancient Chaldea, or Samaria, or Egypt, or Babylonia, or anywhere that you could name. On a thousand hilltops and in innumerable temples, the smoke of the sacrifices of the people worshiping their God arose toward heaven.
What was the meaning of a sacrifice? Where did it come from? Who started it, and what was its significance? You can find libraries of books concerning the meaning of sacrifice, if you are of a humor to study it, starting with Cain and Abel, who, in the story in the beginning of humanity, brought each a sacrifice to the Lord. Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock because he was a shepherd. And Abel brought before the Lord a lamb for a sacrifice. Cain was a tiller of the soil, and he brought of the fruit of the earth an offering to the Lord [Genesis 4:3-5]. What did that mean, and why did they do it? And of course, the story thereafter wherever mankind was to be found, the story was of those sacrifices. What do those sacrifices mean? Now I haven’t time this morning to go into it. As I said, there are libraries concerning it.
There are four great theories about the meaning of sacrifice. You can pretty well, wherever you study and whatever line of thought the man is presenting, pretty much there are four things that they will say about sacrifice and its meaning. One is that it was a gift to God. The man brought a gift to the Lord, and that was the way he offered it unto God. And certainly that is true, for the word sacrifice, like minchah and qorban, means gift. That’s what the word means – is gift. So that is one theory; that sacrifice was the offering of a gift unto God. A man brought a gift to the Lord. God had blessed his flocks. God had blessed the fruit of the soil; so he brought a gift to God because of the goodnesses of the Lord. Now that’s one.
Another theory is that it referred to propitiation, that is the man was seeking to placate God and to win the favor of the God, and to make Him propitious and kindly toward him; propitiation. Now the third theory is expiation. The man was seeking to make a sacrifice to cover over his sins – expiate his sins; to carry away, to blot out, to cover over his sins – to find forgiveness of his sins.
And the fourth theory is that sacrifice was a communal meal. God and the man; the man ate, and God ate. The man ate, hereby consuming a part of the flesh or of the vegetable offering like bread. And God’s part was the smoke; the part that rose; and God consumed it by fire.
Now what I want to point out to you and it is this; that whichever one of those four theories of the meaning of sacrifice that you would like to accept, or all four of them being true, there was in sacrifice, all four of those elements. What I want to point out to you is this; the one common denominator in sacrifice wherever it was found is this; sacrifice, and I just pointed out to you awhile ago that in the ancient day it was practically the whole substance of religion, all of it – the whole thing of religion was summed up in sacrifice. The one common denominator, whatever sacrifice might mean, is this, it was a shared meal. That’s it. Sacrifice was a shared meal. Those who sacrificed ate it, and God’s part was consumed by fire.
Now I want to follow the life of Israel for just a moment looking at that. So Moses goes into Pharaoh, and he says to Pharaoh, "Our God, the God of the Hebrews, has called us to a sacrifice." And then later on Moses would call it a feast. "Our Lord God has called us to a sacrifice, to a feast, three days journey out into the wilderness" [Exodus 5:3]. You know the rest of the story.
And finally Pharaoh said, "Well, you can go out there, three days’ journey and worship your God, but leave your flocks and your herds behind." And Moses replied, "Not so, for God has called us to a sacrifice. The Lord has called us to a feast, and we must have our flocks and our herds for the sacrifices and for the offerings for the feast" [Exodus 10:24-25]. It was a shared meal.
All right, again, Passover – the sacrifice of the Passover; what was the sacrifice of the Passover? On the tenth day of the month, Nisan, you’d choose out a lamb, the firstling of the flock, one year old, and let the little lamb stay with you until it becomes identified with the family four days, until the fourteenth of Nisan. And on the evening of the fourteenth of Nisan, you are to slay the lamb, sprinkle the blood on the lentils and the doorpost, and then roast the lamb and eat it. By your families, eat it, eat it! And there is nothing to be left until the morning, "and if aught be left until morning, you are to burn it by fire" [Exodus 12:1-11]. It was a meal.
Now the Mosaic ritual as it was in the tabernacle and finally in the temple – in the eighth chapter of the first Book of Kings is the story of Solomon’s dedication of the temple. "And upon that day he offered twenty-two thousand oxen and one hundred twenty thousand sheep besides many other sacrifices" [1 Kings 8:63]. What did they do with those sacrifices? Why, they ate them. Twenty-two thousand oxen – it was the most elaborate barbeque the world ever had seen; twenty-two thousand oxen and one hundred twenty thousand sheep, and they barbequed it.
That’s what they did, and the sacrifices of the Mosaic ritual were communal meals. They were shared by the families and shared before God. There was only one exception to that, and that was the whole burnt offering, which was very exceptional. Practically all the other offerings were otherwise, they ate them; the priests, the families, and God’s part consumed by fire.
Now a last observation about the worship of God in Israel: did you ever notice all the convocations of God’s people were feast days, all of them? They were feast days. Passover was a feast. The Feast of Unleavened Bread, seven days, was a feast. Pentecost, which came fifty days later in the early summer, was a feast. Tabernacles was a feast – the harvest festival. New Years was a feast. Dedication was a feast in December. Purim was a feast in March. Every one of God’s convocations were feasts; all of them.
Then again, there is just one little exception. The Day of Atonement was a day of fasting and confession before God, just one day out of the whole year. But outside of that one exception, like outside of the whole burnt offering, which was that one exception, everything else was a feast day.
You’d get the idea in Israel that religion was a happy thing, a glorious thing, a singing thing, a hallelujah thing; a marvelous convocation and gathering together of God’s people to be happy with their Lord and with one another. They had so many thousands of singers. They had so many hundreds of musicians. They all gathered together, and they just had the most marvelous time in the Lord that you could imagine. That was the worship of ancient Israel.
Don’t you wish you could have been there? Oh, oh, oh, I just, I just can’t imagine anything as glorious, as marvelous, as wonderful, as the worship of Jehovah God in that ancient day! It just popped in my mind just now, looking at you. You listen to this – – that shows you how small you do it here at the church.
There were thirty-eight thousand Levites. There were four thousand musicians. There were three thousand seven hundred singers. There were two hundred eighty-eight instrumentalists in the temple worshiping God. Now can you imagine that? Ah! Four thousand musicians, three thousand seven hundred singers, two hundred eighty-eight instrumentalists, and thirty-eight thousand Levites; all of them there praising God?
And of course their songbook is the Psalter, the Book of Psalms. Oh, I wish I could have been there! And wouldn’t you have loved to have eaten with them; twenty-two thousand oxen, a hundred twenty thousand sheep? It was marvelous. It was wonderful! It was glorious! It just was.
Now I want to point out to you that the New Testament community of the church was no different. The New Testament church, the koinonia, as Paul called it, the fellowship – it was a holy and marvelous and glorious association, convening of God’s people born again, washed in the blood of the Lamb.
Now in the twelfth verse of Jude you have the agape referred to by name; love feast – love feast. The Greek word for love, holy love, godly love, spiritual word, is agape. And they took that word, agape and applied it to their feast of love. They all gathered together, and they broke bread together, for the Lord had done that with them in the days of His flesh and after He was raised from the dead. And they ate together; God’s people did, in the agape, the love feast. You have that so beautifully described from the beginning. The chapter on Pentecost closes. Listen to it:
And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,
Praising God, and having favor with all the people.
Isn’t that the finest picture you could imagine of a people who love Jesus?
And they continued with one accord, breaking bread from house to house, and they did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,
Praising God and having favor with all the people.
Now I want to exegete just a little bit. We’ve got lots of time this morning. I want to exegete just a little bit. If you want to follow it, you can turn to the eleventh chapter of the first Corinthian letter. I wish you would, if you have opportunity – the eleventh chapter of the first Corinthian letter.
Now it was this love feast. It was the agape. It was this breaking bread that gave rise to an excess here in the Corinthian church. Now you look at it. Now I am going to read beginning at verse 20. I am going to read 20 through 22 and then the last two verses of the chapter. This is the eleventh chapter of the first Corinthian letter. Now you look at Paul as he talks to the church there:
When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s Supper.
For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.
What? Have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? Or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.
[1 Corinthians 11:20-22]
Now skip to the last two verses in that chapter:
Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another.
And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation.
[1 Corinthians 11:33-34]
Now let me exegete a little while; just reading that you can see the background of the life of the church there in Corinth. They all ate together, that’s what the Christian church did; they ate together. They ate together all the time. All the time they ate together. When they came together, they ate. At one of those dinners, they closed it with the Lord’s Supper, the breaking of bread and the drinking of the cup, the Memorial Supper. At one of those meals, they gathered together and closed it with the Lord’s Supper – what we call the Lord’s Supper.
Now what they were doing at Corinth was this – and he speaks of it here. "When ye come together this is the supper that I am talking to you about – kuriakon deipnon, the one dedicated to the Lord – kuriakon deipnon, the one dedicated to the Lord – the one at the close of which you are going to this memorial of the breaking of the bread and of the drinking of the cup. Now what they were doing over there in Corinth was this. Everyone brought his own meal. Didn’t you ever do that at a camp meeting or something? There was preaching all day long and dinner on the ground. Now are you all old enough to remember those days? Preaching all day long and dinner on the ground; now whenever you have dinner on the ground, everybody brings something.
I had an old maid in my church one time that no matter what she always brought deviled eggs and ate everything else. Always those deviled eggs, which is all right. Everybody brings something, and you’d think unless you assigned it out like we do here in the First Baptist Church in Dallas, everybody would bring the same thing. Well, just that’s not so either.
If you don’t believe it, try it. If you will just make an announcement that everybody is to bring something, we are going to have a dinner down here at the church, it will surprise you what a balanced meal you will have. Some of them will just naturally bring deviled eggs. Some of them will bring cake. Some will bring pies. Some will bring chicken. Some will bring roast. Some will bring pickles; some will bring everything you can imagine. You will have a wonderful dinner.
Well, that is what they were doing there in the church; everybody was bringing something. Everybody was bringing something. But this is what they did in the church at Corinth. Instead of waiting for one another, you know, put it all on a big table and the table just groan under all that weight of marvelous food the children of the Lord have brought; instead of waiting on one another, spreading it out so everybody could enjoy what everybody had, the rich people bringing of their abundance and the poor bringing of his poverty and necessity; instead of waiting on one another, what they were doing in Corinth was at the signal, whatever the signal was, at the signal, everybody would eat his own meal.
He just dived into it, and he wasn’t gracious, and he wasn’t Christian, and he wasn’t kind. So some of the people who came to the supper went away hungry, and some of them were satiated like gluttons, and some of them got drunk on the wine that they brought which was the only way they could keep grape juice.
And Paul is saying to them, "Now what if you come to this dinner dedicated to the Lord and you are so starved, and so famished, and so hungry that you can’t wait for one another, well, you eat at home first so that when you come to the house of the Lord and with God’s people, you can be courteous, and nice, and genteel, and acceptable. If that’s the way you are, well, you eat at home first. Then when you come, why, you wait on all these others so you can all eat the meal together. But don’t be like hogs, and don’t be like dogs, and don’t be like ravenous beasts.
We are Christians, and we are honoring the Lord. This is the supper we have dedicated to Jesus, at the close of which you are going to have this breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup. So when you come together, wait on one another. And those that have brought an abundance, who are the more affluent, let them share what they have with those who are able to bring practically nothing. I’m just exegeting this passage. I am just expounding this passage to show you what the church was like. The church was a marvelous fellowship, and they ate together all the time.
That is continued through the years pretty much so. Why, when I was a boy preaching out in the country, you just can’t imagine with what anticipation – – I could eat then and not get fat – you can’t imagine the anticipation I had at all of the convocations of God’s people. I’ve preached through many camp meetings when the people came, camped on the ground, stayed there all day and all night, and you could have services twenty-four hours a day, just preach as long as you wanted to because the people had nowhere to go except from the tabernacle right over there to where they were sleeping and cooking. It was just glorious. It was just marvelous. And the whole fellowship, the whole idea, the whole thought of it was one of praise, and glory, and shouting, and singings, and gladness, and it was just simply like a little piece of heaven from above.
Now I’ve tried to follow through all of the worship of God through the Old Testament, through the New Testament, and a part of the days past. Now I come to this present day. What is the idea of the worship of God today? There is no small part, no small part of the Christian segment of Christendom today whose idea of the worship of God is one of coercive Scriptures.
Oh, you mean I’ve got to go down to that church! Ah, how dry and dull. I might as well be placed in an iron cast. And the benediction sounds to those people like an amnesty. Anything to get it done with and out and go do something we want to do.
Well, you see our love, and our interest, and our joy, and our gladness is found in some other place. We are out there in the amusement world, and that is what we look forward to. Or we are out there in some kind of a recreational world, and that is what we look forward to. Or we are out there in some kind of a leisure world, and that is what we look forward to.
And there are no end of people that think far more in terms of joy, and gladness, and exuberance, and anticipation of an old boat on some lake somewhere, or a car going down a highway, or some other kind of place or entertainment, than they think of God’s house. And they go to church for respectability’s sake for a while, and then they don’t go at all. Or they go to church for duty’s sake, or they don’t go at all.
But they have squeezed out of religion, and they have squeezed out of the fellowship all of the blood in it; and all the emotion in it; and all of the healing in it; and all of the gladness in it; and all of the triumph, and glory, and victory in it; and the church looks like a dead corpse or a dried-up potsherd. That’s modern-day religion. Ah, how different God intended it for His people, and how different the worship of God and the anticipation of the Lord God here in the Bible.
Now I want to point out, I only have time to point out one thing left, and that is this. Once in awhile do you notice these songs of degrees, the fifteen psalms that are labeled in the Psaltery "Songs of Degrees"? The one hundred nineteenth Psalm is the longest one in the Psaltery; Psalm 119. The next fifteen songs after the one hundred nineteenth are songs of degrees. Now the Vulgate and the Septuagint will translate that songs of ascent or of steps. The literal Hebrew meaning is songs of goings up; songs of goings up. Well, what does that refer to?
Many scholars say that refers to the going up out of the lower court into the inner court; out of the outer court into the inner court. There were fifteen steps, and as they went up, they sang one of these fifteen psalms, songs of the steps, songs of going -up, from the outer court into the inner court. Then there are other scholars who say, and to me this is one of the most colorful and meaningful of all of the suggestions to be made in describing them, there are many scholars who say the songs of goings up were pilgrim songs, as the people sang them as they made their way up to Jerusalem and the temple, and the Holy City of God. And they sang these songs – they were pilgrim songs – as they journeyed up to the house of the Lord.
Now I want to read just the first verses of some of them. Psalm 121, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth." And they sang this Psalm as they went up to the house of the Lord.
All right, Psalm 122:
I was glad, I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord.
Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together:
Whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, unto the Testimony of Israel, to give thanks, to give thanks unto the name of the Lord.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee.
Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces.
For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee.
Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good.
Singing as they go up to Jerusalem.
Now the next one, Psalm 123:
Unto Thee lift I up mine eyes, O Thou that dwellest in the heavens.
Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until that He have mercy upon us.
Psalm 125: "They that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Zion." Do you all ever sing that? "They that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Zion, Which cannot be removed, but abideth for ever ["Like Zion’s Holy Mount"; Clarence M. Seamans]. "As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about His people from henceforth even for ever."
The next one, the song of goings-up, 126:
When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The Lord hath done great things for them.
The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad.
Psalm 127, the next one: "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain." The next one, 128: "Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord; that walketh in His ways." Turn over to the next-to-last one, Psalm 133, a song of going up:
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments.
Do you sense what I’m talking about? Look at those psalms! Is there in it a note, egregious, melancholy, coercive? Oh, I’ve got to go to God’s house! Oh, I’ve got to go up before the Lord! Oh, what a miserable and an evil day! I’ve got to associate with God’s people. Is that what it is? Or is it triumphant? "I heard my neighbor say, Let’s go up to the house of the Lord, and I rejoiced with him."
Isn’t that right? Isn’t that right? Isn’t that right? Isn’t that not only correct, but isn’t it right? Oh, my people, this is a happy way! This is a glorious way. This is a triumphant way; all this and heaven besides.
I have to close. I just can’t forget the feeling I had in India when one of those missionaries was describing a tribe, vicious and fierce, to which God had sent him. No man, no foreigner had ever lived to describe any visit to that tribe. And he dramatically, oh, I’ll never forget it – he dramatically described himself sitting on the top of a hill, and three thousand of those vicious, savage tribesmen were coming up that hill toward him.
But he said, "I was unafraid, unafraid. Back of me was our Baptist church. Before me was the course of the river, and three thousand of them, dressed in white baptismal robes, were coming from the bank of the river and up the hill, they were singing, "Happy Day:"
Happy day when Jesus washed my sins away.
He taught me how to watch and pray
And live rejoicing every day.
Happy day! Glorious day! Heavenly day!
When Jesus washed my sins away.
["O Happy Day"; Phillip Dodderidge, 1755]
That’s it. Religion, born-again religion; it is a glorious, triumphant, hallelujah, inheritance, bequest, benediction, gifts God hath bestowed upon us in His riches from heaven. Whenever you see me down, I need praying for. And whenever you see me discouraged, I need praying for. Whenever you see me blue, I need praying for. For when I am close to God, it’s just like glory. That’s religion.
Well, singer, let’s heist a tune, let’s heist a tune. Somebody today give himself to Jesus, somebody come into the fullness of the glory and gladness of the Lord our God. Somebody you put your life in the fellowship of the church; a couple, a family, one, on the first note of this stanza, come and stand by me. Make it now, while all of us stand and sing.