Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-27-66 8:15 a.m.
On the radio, if you would like to turn to the passage that the pastor uses for the text this morning, share it with us, all of us in the First Baptist Church here in Dallas, and you who listen on the radio, turn to Luke chapter 22, Luke chapter 22. And the reading of the passage begins at verse 31, at verse 31. The title of the sermon is I Have Prayed for Thee. Luke 22:31:
And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:
But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, when you turn, strengthen thy brethren.
But Simon said unto Him, Lord, I am ready to go with Thee, both into prison, and to death.
But Jesus said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest Me.
And the text: "But I have prayed for thee" [Luke 22:32].
Once in a while, possibly it should be oftener, but once in a while I prepare a sermon just for our consolation, our comfort, our encouragement; and this is just such a sermon; I Have Prayed for Thee.
This last Wednesday night, a holiday period, an evening before Thanksgiving, we have no program here at the church in that evening, there is no supper prepared, there’s no officers or teachers meeting, we cannot have a convocation in Coleman Hall because of our Thanksgiving breakfast the next morning; and all of these things conspire to make our attendance Wednesday evening so very, very small. But if you have journeyed any distance with the Lord in the pilgrimage of this life, you’ve learned a long time ago that sometimes the sweetest hours and the sweetest services are with a small group of God’s sainted people. Well anyway, last Wednesday night, I thought in my heart, "As soon as we have our licensing of a young minister who’s on our staff and has given his life to be a preacher, as soon as we have licensed the young man, we’re going to have an old time, old fashioned prayer meeting." So after the licensing was done, I told the group what I wanted to do; and we all came down here to the front. And we had a dear, sweet time of communion with the Lord. Then we stood up and had a benediction; and I asked, "Now all of you who would like to stay, we’ll have another prayer meeting." So we had our benediction, and all of those that wanted to stay were invited to remain. And we had another prayer meeting.
Unknown to me, we had several ministers last Wednesday night visiting the church; they were from all over everywhere. One of them was the dean of one of our Baptist colleges. After the prayer service was over, one of those preachers came to me, introduced himself, warmly shook my hand, and said, "Did you know, I do believe this is the sweetest midweek hour I’ve ever been in in my life." Another one of those ministers shook my hand, introduced himself, and said, "I cannot remember when I ever attended a midweek service like this." And the dean of the college introduced himself, and shook my hand, and said, "I don’t think I have ever been more blessed than I have been this evening." And every one of those visiting ministers expressed words of such blessedness after our season of prayer. This is like an invitation to the courts of glory; come boldly, come boldly:
We have not an High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tried as we are, though He without sin.
Wherefore, come boldly, come boldly to the throne of grace, that ye may find grace to help in time of need.
[Hebrews 4:15, 16]
Well, this is a sermon like that; "I have prayed for thee, Simon, Simon" [Luke 22:32].
First of all, may I point out to us by way of remembrance – there will be nothing in this sermon you do not already know, there’s no profound theological erudition in this message, these are just some things that we know, and that bless our souls, and enrich our lives – may I point out by way of remembrance, that this is typical of our Lord: "I have prayed." In His beginning ministry, as He was baptized He prayed [Luke 3:21]. In His first public ministry in Capernaum, the new center and seat of His new preaching, they were looking for Him and couldn’t find Him; the crowds, the throngs, seeking, asking healing and blessing, and couldn’t find Him. What had happened, Mark says, "Early in the morning a great while before day, He had gone out into a solitary place to pray" [Mark 1:35-37].
And not only in His beginning ministry, but in His continuing ministry He was a man of prayer. Before feeding the five thousand, He prayed over the loaves and the fishes [Luke 9:16]. Before opening the ears of the deaf, He prayed [Mark 7:34]. Before calling Lazarus from the dead, He prayed [John 11:41-42]. And He met every crisis in His life in prayer. When they came to take Him by force and to make Him a king, He sent the disciples away who were egging on and agitating the messianic arrival in the day of some political triumph, He sent His disciples away and dismissed the multitudes, then Himself went apart into a mountain to pray [Matthew 14:22-23]. At the last Passover that He ate with His disciples He prayed and broke bread [Matthew 26:26]. He prayed again, and they all shared the cup [Matthew 26:27]. As He was nailed to the cross and was dying, He prayed [Luke 23:34]. Raised from the dead and ascending into heaven, He reached forth, stretched forth His hands and prayed God’s blessing upon the tarrying disciples [Luke 24:50]. And in heaven, and in heaven He is our great, mediating Intercessor and High Priest [Hebrews 4:14-15]. "Wherefore," said the author of the Hebrews, in 7:25, "Wherefore He is able to save to thee uttermost them who come unto God by Him; seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them" [Hebrews 7:25]. Think of that. In the life of our Lord, thirty years of living, three years of ministering, one mighty act of dying [Matthew 27:32-50], and now almost two thousand years of praying. "I have prayed for thee" [Luke 22:32].
Now look again; we shall behold here the very heart of our Savior, "And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, when you come back, when you turn, strengthen thy brethren" [Luke 22:31-32]. And Simon said, "Lord, You do not know what You are talking about. You have got me down wrong; You do not know anything about me. Why, Lord, as for turning back to Thee, I am never going to leave Thee. As for denying Thee, why, these other disciples," as the other evangelists tell the story [Matthew 26:33], Simon Peter said, "these other disciples may deny Thee, but not I. Why, Lord I will go with Thee both into prison and to death" [Luke 22:33]. And Jesus said, "Simon, I tell you truly, before sunrise," His way of saying it was, "before the cock crow in the morning, before daybreak, thou shalt three times deny that you even know Me" [Luke 22:34]. I suppose the Master knows us better than we know ourselves.
Do you remember in the story of the life of Elisha, Ben-Hadad, king of Syria, sent to Elisha Hazael, who was the minister in the court? Ben-Hadad was ill, and he wanted to know from the prophet if he would recover. So Hazael, the minister of the court, came to Elisha the man of God with many gifts, forty camels’ burden of gifts, and said to Elisha, "Thy servant, Ben-Hadad, king of Syria, is ill; and asks of thee, shall he recover?" And Elisha said to Hazael, "You go back and tell your king that he will recover, but God hath revealed to me that he will surely die" [2 Kings 8:7-10]. And the next verse, in 2 Kings, says that Elisha fixed his countenance upon Hazael until Hazael was ashamed [2 Kings 8:11]. And the Book says that Elisha burst into tears; and Hazael said, "Why look upon me like this, my lord? And why break into tears?" And Elisha said, "Because of what you are going to do." And he outlined for Hazael the life that awaited him: one of murder and plunder and war and death [2 Kings 8:11-12].
Elisha looking upon Hazael and seeing those years that lay beyond [2 Kings 8:11-13], brought to my mind the contrast of our Lord Jesus looking upon Simon Peter and seeing those days and hours that lay beyond [Luke 22:31-32]. And what a difference, what a difference in our Lord; what an amazing come to pass as our Master looked. Somehow as Jesus saw His disciple beyond the weaknesses of the man, beyond this denial, beyond this cursing [Matthew 26:67-74], the Lord could see the preacher at Pentecost [Acts 2:14-40], the great and chief apostle of the church [Matthew 10:2, 16:18-19]; the ministry in Judea, in Joppa, in Lydda, in Jerusalem, and all of those Roman provinces of Asia Minor that are named in the first epistle of Simon Peter [1 Peter 1:1]; and finally, his martyrdom and his death [John 21:18-19]. Think of that. And as the Lord looked upon His disciple, did He see his cursing and his denial? Incidentally, yes, "Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not; and when thou art converted" [Luke 22:31-32], not "if," but "when you turn." And is not that the most blessed and precious of all of the things that we could think of in our Lord?
When Elisha looked upon Hazael, all that he saw was the murder, and the plunder, and the violence of the man [2 Kings 8:11-12]. But when Jesus looked upon Simon Peter, incidentally He saw the cursing and the denial [Matthew 26:69-27], and prayed for him [Luke 22:32]; but beyond He saw the strengthening ministry of the great apostle and preacher. And aren’t you glad that when the Lord looks upon you He sees not all of the weaknesses and sins and failures and mistakes and shortcomings of our lives for which He prays for us in glory [1 John 2:1], but He sees us in our finest, in our best, in our supremest dedications? Isn’t that glorious?
For example, He looked upon a despised tax collector. And did He look at him as all of his fellows did, a hated and despised traitor to the Romans? Is that the way He looked at him? The Lord saw in him the author of the First Gospel; think of that. Matthew, Matthew, sitting at the receipt of customs, taking taxes from God’s chosen people for the hated Romans; but the Lord never saw that at all. He saw Matthew, Levi Matthew, and looking at him saw the author of the First Gospel, and called him to be an apostle of the Lord [Matthew 9:9]. Or the sinful woman who bathed His feet with her tears and anointed His feet with spikenard and perfume [John 12:3]; He was sitting in the house of Simon the Pharisee [Mark 14:3], as you remember in their habit of eating, they reclined on their left arm, ate with their right hand, and their feet were away from the table. They sat on little benches. And in walked this harlot, sold herself for money, a promiscuous street-walker; and when that dear woman, outcast, unspeakable and unnamable, began to anoint the feet of the Lord, Simon the Pharisee said, "This man is no prophet, this man is no prophet. If this man Jesus were a prophet, He would know what kind of a woman that was [Luke 7:39] and He would kick her out, He would boot her out, He would spit in her face." That’s what Simon the Pharisee said; but Jesus saw in that woman the purity and the virtue and the dedication and the consecration of a Mary Magdalene [John 20:1,16]. Aren’t you glad? Aren’t you glad?
Or, to show again the contrast between us and God, when Judas Iscariot hanged himself [Matthew 27:3-5] and there was a vacancy in the apostolic twelve; all of those disciples gathered together and they talked, and discussed, and they decided, and they drew lots, and they chose Matthias [Acts 1:26]. Fine, that’s good, they chose Matthias. But when the Lord God in heaven looked down among men, He saw a persecuting Pharisee by the name of Saul who was reared in the university city of Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia, a Hellenistic Jew, a Greek-speaking Jew, who had been brought to Jerusalem to be educated under Gamaliel [Acts 22:2-5]. And while the disciples looked for a fine, glorious, wonderful man, and chose Matthias, the Lord God from heaven looked down and beyond that raging and persecuting Pharisee named Saul, He saw – think of it! He saw the glorious apostle to the Gentiles and renamed him Paul [Acts 13:9], and sent him out to preach the message of Jesus to the nations [Acts 9:15, 13:2-4, 22:21]. What a preciousness, what a blessedness; seeing beyond, seeing beyond what sometimes we appear to be, seeing beyond the devoted, consecrated souls that we are capable of becoming.
Now, I have one other. "And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not; and when you turn, and when you turn strengthen thy brethren" [Luke 22:31-32]. My last word concerns the power of intercessory prayer. "I have prayed for thee"; the power of intercessory prayer. Having spoken of Saul of Tarsus, may I illustrate it in his life, how God turned him? "When you are converted, when you turn, strengthen the brethren." Saul of Tarsus was a zealot, no doubt about it. And he was committing these Christians to prison [Acts 8:3] and to death [Acts 22:4]; he was doing it with zeal and with vigor and with dedication, even into strange cities [Acts 26:11], ferreting them out, haling before the judges, and committing them in incarceration and to death. And when they were put to death, he says, "I cast my vote against them" [Acts 26:10], apparently he was a member of the Sanhedrin. So, they laid hands upon a deacon in the church at Jerusalem by the name of Stephen. And in their wrath and in their rage they dragged him outside of the city and there stoned him to death. And when those men wanted greater liberty to throw those stones bigger and harder, they took off their raiment, they took off their cloaks, and they laid them at the feet of a young man who was supervising that murderous execution [Acts 7:54-59]. And the young Saul from the university city of Tarsus stood there watching the stones as they beat that godly deacon into the ground. And he saw him die. Were there imprecations? No. Was there bitterness? No. Was there hatred? No. Was there reprisal? No. Was there recrimination? No. What was there? As Saul saw him die, he kneeled down and prayed for those, his murderers, and looking up to heaven, commended his spirit to the blessed Jesus, and fell asleep in the Lord. And the Book says that, "and he fell asleep in the Lord" [Acts 7:60].
Oh, I can see the fury in that heart, and Saul, breathing out threatenings and slaughter [Acts 9:1]; but when the Lord met him, when the Lord met him on the way to Damascus, you remember what the Lord said to him? "Saul, Saul, it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." What an amazing thing. And what does He mean? "Saul, Saul, it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks" [Acts 9:1-5]. That word translated "prick" is the word for a goad, as they punched cattle, the sharp stick to punch cattle, to move them along. And the Lord said, "Saul, it is hard for you to fight against the goad" [Acts 9:5]. What kind of a goad? Well, it is very plain: when Saul went to bed at night and lay down and closed his eyes, he saw that godly deacon, beat to the ground with stones, praying for those who slew him. And when he made his journeys, always there was the sight of that face, covered in blood, beat to the earth with stones, but a face filled with the glory of God, praying for those who slew him [Acts 8:60]. "Saul, Saul, it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks" [Acts 9:5]. That memory, that sight, burned in his soul . You know, you might try that sometime. There is not anything more powerful in this earth, than the power of love with those who hate you, kindness with those who despitefully use you [Matthew 5:44], a sweet smile and a precious word before those who misuse you. "I have prayed for thee" [Luke 22:32].
I have time to take a little leaf out of my pastorate. When I began my ministry, I had two churches side by side, two half-time churches; and there was a very large family, very large family, and some of those boys were deacons in this church, some of those boys were deacons in this church, all of them wonderful men of God with great, glorious, Christian families. And I asked the eldest one, one day, "How is it that all of you boys are such glorious Christians, just pillars in the church, devoted servants of Jesus, how is it?"
"Well," he said, "it wasn’t always like that." This was in central West Texas; when they were growing up it was a wild, open wilderness. And he said, "Every Saturday night we’d put our guns on, and a flask of whiskey in our back pocket, and away we went to the dance. And one of our number was killed in one of those brawls at the dance." And he said, "Just between the house and the corral was a little crop of saplings. And," he said, "our godly mother said to us, ‘Sons, don’t go to those dances. And don’t take that liquor, and don’t belt these guns around you. But give your hearts to God, and be Christian boys.’" Oh, they just smiled at the sweet, dear old mother, "Mother, you don’t understand, we’re young, we’re big, we take care of ourselves, we’re having a great time." But it broke her heart. And finally she said, "Boys, every time you leave, when you get on those horses to drive away, I’m going to my place of prayer and stay on my knees until you boys come back home."
"Oh, Mother," he said, "you don’t need to do that. Why, we take care of ourselves." But he said, "every time we saddled those horses and rode away, we could see Mother make her way to her place of prayer in that group of saplings. And when we came back in the wee hours of morning after the dance, there she would be, on her knees in that group of saplings."
He said, "That went on for some time." He said, "Young pastor, I want you to know, the day came when it was like an agony to saddle that horse and ride away, and leave that godly old mother on her knees in those saplings. And," he said, "one evening, one night, having ridden away and watching her make her place in those saplings," he said, "when I came back that night, I walked over where she was kneeling, I picked her up, I set her on her feet. I said, ‘Mother, I can stand this no longer, no longer. Now, Mother, you teach us how to be saved, we’re going to give our lives to God, and we’re going to be Christian boys, and we’re going to follow the Lord.’"
And he said, "That night, that night, in a prayer service around that godly mother, all of us boys, all of us boys gave our lives to Jesus. And from that day until this we have been trying to walk in the pilgrim way of the Lord." I tell you truly, truly, if we had mothers like that, I don’t think there’d be any more delinquency, I don’t think there’d be any more troubles, I don’t think there’d be any more of these violent and desperate sons. "I have prayed for thee" [Luke 22:32].
Oh, bless God for those who remember us! Bless God for those who call your name. Bless God for Jesus who intercedes for us day and night in heaven [Romans 8:34]. "I have prayed for thee" [Luke 22:32].
Now we’re going to sing an old-time song, an old-time hymn; one that your mother sang, one that the little congregation sang when you were growing up: "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." And while we sing that song, somebody you, give himself to the Lord, put his life in the fellowship of the church. You come and stand here by me, "Pastor, today I give my heart to Jesus. Pastor, today I put my life in the fellowship of this dear church." A couple you, a family you, one somebody you, while we sing the hymn, on the first stanza, on the first note, you come. When you stand up in a minute, stand up coming, and God receive you and bless you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.