The Signs of the Times
October 30th, 1966 @ 7:30 PM
THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-30-66 7:30 p.m.
On the radio, as with us here in the First Baptist Church in Dallas, you are invited to turn in your Bible to the First Gospel, the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 16. And we shall read together the first three verse; Matthew chapter 16, the first three verses. These evening services are given over to a preaching in the life of Christ. For a long, long time we have been following the miraculous ministry of our Lord. Last Sunday night we left off with the close of the fifteenth chapter of Matthew and following the story, sometimes it will be in John, sometimes in Luke, sometimes in Mark, sometimes in Matthew. Following the life of our Lord in its chronological order, we have come to the sixteenth chapter of Matthew and the first three verses. The title of the sermon is in the text, The Signs of the Times. Now let us read the first three verses together. Matthew 16, everybody reading out loud:
The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired Him that He would show them a sign from heaven.
He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red.
And in the morning, It will be foul weather today: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?
The Signs of the Times. These Pharisees and Sadducees and scribes and doctors of canon law, learned, proficient, meticulous; they looked upon the earthly ministry of our Master with superlative contempt.
For all that the Lord had done, healing the sick [Matthew 8:16], opening the eyes of the blind [Matthew 9:27-30], preaching the gospel to the poor [Matthew 11:5], cleansing the lepers [Mark 1:40-42], in how many ways was He authenticated as God’s messianic Messenger from heaven? But with all that the Lord had done, presenting the credentials of His holy commission, they were increasingly hostile.
The more that He did of wonder and amazement, the more did they despise and hate Him [John 15:18-23]. And finally they come to the Lord and say “Now Master, we want to change the field of proof and authentication. Heretofore it has been in earth, now let us raise it to heaven. We seek from Thee a sign from the sky, from the stars, from glory itself” [Matthew 16:1].
Isn’t that an unusual thing? They say to Jesus “We have become space-minded now, and we seek our facts in the glory of the glories above us. No longer on this planet earth, but we are searching the sky now, and we seek proof and authentication and accreditation from heaven. Master, we would desire of Thee a sign from above” [Matthew 16:1].
And the Lord replies in kind, and He says “You are indeed weather-wise but are you God-wise? You search the sky, but you mistake the weather for a revelation, and the sky for heaven, and the facts that you see in space above us you misconstrue and do not understand. Now you say when it is evening and the sky is red it will be fine weather, but in the morning you say, ‘The sky is red, it will be dark and lowring today.’ Ahh, you space-minded, sky-watching hypocrites, you can discern the face of the heavens, but you cannot discern the signs of the times” [Matthew 16:2-3]. People can look at the sky and the clouds and the stars and deduce great facts that they call science and knowledge, but [they] cannot discern the great fact that lies beyond the clouds and the sky and the stars.
The most beautiful and the largest of all of the cathedrals in Eastern Europe is St. Isaac’s in Leningrad. Being the ancient capital of the czars, they built there an edifice, one of the most effective and beautiful in the world. When you enter it now, it is a presentation of communism, atheism, blasphemy, infidelity; all kinds of so called pseudoscientific experiments and presentations. And in that cathedral where once was the high altar and the glory and beauty of the gospel there depicted, there is now the pictures of the first two Russian astronauts. Here is a great picture of Titov. And here is a great picture of Gagarin, and underneath written in Russian and in German and in French and in English are these words “We have searched the sky, and there is no God.”
What an amazing mind, what an astonishing response! Knowledge without wisdom, facts with no meaning and no purpose. What of a man that can name all of the letters in the alphabet but cannot with them spell a word? What of a man who knows all the language and nomenclature and the words of the dictionary but cannot frame a sentence? And what of a people who can say and look upon the astonishing and miraculous and amazing facts of this universe and never be able to see the great, one, startling, marvelous fact of Almighty God, the Creator of this glorious earth and world and sky and heaven above us [Genesis 1:1-31]. It is an astonishment to me, sky-wise, fact-wise, data-wise, knowledge-wise, scientific-wise, experimentally-wise, but never God-wise; never see the great fact of the universe.
And as we look upon these contemporaries of our Lord who are versed and learned in the Scriptures, who knew the Word of God by heart, who commented upon it in those endless exegesis found in the Talmud; they come to the Lord and desire of Him a sign, an authentication from heaven in their blasphemous rejection and unbelief [Matthew 16:1]. And the Lord replies to them “You are fact-wise and knowledge-wise, and you deduce certain things, and you are learned in certain areas. You can discern the face of the sky; but can you not discern the signs of the times?” [Matthew 16:3]. And when we look back upon their day, is it not an astonishment to us their blindness? The signs of the times; think of what it would have meant to the millions of us to have seen the face of Jesus Christ. Think of the incomparable, illimitably, indescribable glory preciousness of His ministry, and they’re there, and they’re looking upon it, but it just adds, and augments, and aggravates their blasphemous unbelief, and they lived in the day when the Lord spoke of a coming judgment which is a type and a symbol and a harbinger of the ultimate and final judgment. And when the Lord spake these words, He said, “In this very generation shall some of these things come to pass” [Matthew 24:34]. He was speaking in about 32 or 33 AD, and in 70 AD the Romans came and destroyed their nation, and destroyed their city, and destroyed their temple, and scattered them over the face of the earth [Luke 21:24]. The signs of the times: yet not one of them, not one of them, recognized and adored and received Him, these blaspheming, rejecting leaders [Matthew 16:1-3]. And they themselves, some of them, lived to see the day that the Roman legions destroyed their people, their nation, their city, their house of God.
As we look upon them and describe and delineate and lament their blindness, are we any wiser? The signs of the times: what do they speak of, and what do they say, and what do they harbinger in this dark and evil hour?
It has been an increasing amazement to me as I read and as I study and as I follow the empty, to me, the empty optimism of these men who are supposed to know God’s Book and to deliver God’s message; their half humanism, their half persuasion that, in the genius of human hand and human heart and human mind, we shall annihilate all of the enemies of the race, and we shall bring in the golden kingdom of God.
I have taken, just as typical, three men of God who spoke before three great wars that involved our American people, and listen to them. The first is from a pastor named Reverend A. Hartspence of the First Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee. In , he wrote, and I quote, “The night of earth’s moral darkness is passing away. The morning star is in the moral sky. What hath God wrought? Some of the most memorable events in the world’s history, in view of them the church can almost anticipate the song of final triumph!” And in two years the North and the South were bleeding each other to death in a grasp of murder and slaughter that amazed the whole earth.
Again, at the Baptist World Alliance in Philadelphia in 1911, Dr. John Clifford, the illustrious pastor of London and the outgoing president of the Alliance said, and I copy from his address “You have referred to my friend of twenty years, Lloyd George. God has raised him up a prophet-statesman. Is not our outlook bright? We are looking forward in the old country; you are looking forward in this land, so that the freedom we possess today shall be everybody’s possession, and the justice which rules in our land shall rule in all lands.” And in three years the world was in a maelstrom of blood and of murder in the First World War.
And now my professor at the Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, one of the great, noble, dedicated Greek scholars of all the ages, Dr. A T Robertson. And in the latter part of the 1920’s, he published a book, The New Citizenship, and I quote from Dr. Robertson: “Victory has crowned the armies of America and her allies. The new day has dawned. World peace has come. King alcohol has been dethroned, the reign of the pothouse politician with his graft and his greed are over!” And in a few years, the earth was engulfed in a fight, in a war, in a battle like the earth had never been convulsed before.
I just point out to you that when we look in the future, and when we see all of the achievements of the human race, we see what lies ahead and what characterizes this earth. And what is the great victory of mankind? It is this. It is achievement and advancement. It is progress inevitable and certain. The signs of the times: what do you see ahead? More achievement, more advancement, more progress until we reach the very stars themselves. That is an illusion and a cheap one, a poor one, a thin one at that. And I cannot understand this!
In the world of travel, until almost my lifetime, the world moved as it did in the days of Abraham. And in these last few years, we have jumped ten thousand times onward and upward. Oh! what an amazing achievement from walking, riding a burro, to an automobile, to a jet airplane, to a cosmonaut’s missile. We are overwhelmed! Look at the achievement, look at the advancement, look at progress. In communication, almost until my lifetime things were mediated, messages sent as they had been since the days of Abraham. And now in these last few years, oh! what an overwhelming miracle! Radio, plucking tunes, messages out of the air, television, seen before our very eyes things that are happening thousands of miles away, and we are astonished, we’re overwhelmed! The sign surely is the God of all creation.
And we are deluded into the illusion that nothing lies ahead but progress and achievement and advancement. But we never pause to think or to ask. We can hear, yes, but are we hearing better things? We can see, yes, but are we seeing better things? We can go, yes, but are we going better places? What an amazing illusion! A great city can pride itself on its architecture, and its engineering achievements, and its scientific advancements, and its sculptors, and its painters, and its great leaders. But no city yet has ever come up with a solution of what to do with the greater problem of the painter himself, or the sculptor himself, or the engineer himself, or the scientist himself, or the leader himself.
In these years and centuries and millenniums, it has never yet been demonstrated that evil is ever overcome by good, but that same vicious war that is at the center of the universe is in our souls and in our hearts and in our nations today as it was in these generations past. The reason that we fall into that illusion is this. There is of course always development in the world from immaturity to maturity. You see it in all of animal life. You see it in vegetable life, and you see it in human life. There is always that development from immaturity to maturity; from the acorn to the great oak, from the bulb to the beautiful flower, from the infant to the small upstanding mature man. And you find it in every way; development, from the beginning of an automobile to the glorious limousine in which we can ride now, to the first airplane at Kitty Hawk to that jet that speeds through the air now, from ten thousand little beginnings to the maturity that we know now.
But there is not only development in things that are wonderfully blessed and fine, but there is also development in evil and in iniquity, and in sordidness, and in national greed. There is development also in aerial bombing. There is development also in the crime syndicate. There is development also in the use of the TV and the radio for political propaganda purposes in a China, in an India, and to some extent we are beginning to lose confidence in the very government of the United States; political propaganda, the warping of truth in order to mollify a people. Yes, there is development but there is development in evil as there is development in all of the other areas of life.
It’s like that pseudoscientific illusion of evolution which is one of the things into which I have never been able to enter as I read and as I study. Evolution. What I see and what is demonstrated on every hand is the opposite! You leave a fine blooded herded band of cattle alone, and they will degenerate. They will not evolve. You take your fine blooded race horses, and they will not evolve, they will degenerate. You take your finest roses and leave them alone, and they will degenerate. You take your finest fruit trees and leave them alone, and they will degenerate. The law of degeneration is the law I see everywhere in life, not evolution. There is a winding up of this universe, and it is running down. The only reason that in America we pride ourselves upon the strength of our manhood is because of the scientific achievements in the world of health; the vitamins, the pure food, a thousand other things, but not because we are inherently abler or nobler or stronger than our forefathers. If I can take the statistics of the American army in its rejection of their draftees, it is the opposite! There is a degeneracy in the human race that is inescapable. What do you see, progress, achievement, advancement? Oh, yes, the Neanderthal man stalked his enemy with a club and a stone ax. The only difference is today we stalk the enemy with radar and with jet propelled planes and with napalm bombs.
It is the same lost and degenerate earth. The signs of the times: what do you see? I see, I see, an unbelievably, accelerating crime rate. In all the Western nations of the world, the graph of crime is furiously rising and especially in our own nation of America. From a recent magazine, “Will City Streets Ever Be Safe Again?” No woman would walk the streets of our nation’s capital in the evening and now even in the day without several escorts. They are not safe. No woman would walk the streets of New York City today without an able escort—they are not safe. There are many of the women who say to me in Dallas “I dare not get outside at night. I am afraid.” And the title of the article is “Will City Streets Ever Be Safe Again?” Now the question. Question, “Isn’t crime on the rise now?” And the interview is with the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. And the question, the first question, “Sir, isn’t crime on the increase, on the rise now?” And he said “Yes, crime is a growing cancer.”
Second question. “How do you account for this explosion of crime?” Answer. “It is a sign of our times.” Wasn’t that my subject from the Book? What is your answer to the head of all the police chiefs in the United States. “What is your answer to the growing crime rate in America?” And his answer is, “It is a sign of the times.”
I’ll not take but a moment. Last year, last year, more than one million teenagers entered lives of crime. I took that statistic from a pamphlet entitled “Youth: Christian or Criminal.” One million boys and girls, our boys and girls, last year entered lives of crime: rape, murder, burglary, larceny, assault. All of the vicious things that we read of and hear about but never think of coming upon us in our fair land and in our queenly city.
The signs of the times: as you look ahead what do you see? Materialism and secularism. I want to illustrate that. I cannot tell you the number of times that I am beginning to read in editorials and in newspapers and in magazines, and I hear it on the radio and in our commentators, I cannot tell you the number of times that I am hearing that the United States and Russia are growing closer and closer and closer and closer together!
And the answer is, they say, we are becoming more materialistic and more secular until finally it seems there will be no difference from God rejecting and Christ blaspheming atheist, communist Russia and supposedly Christian America.
Why, you could lament, you could cry, you could wring your hands. Could such a thing ever be? Ever be? America like Russia, both secular, material, their god be god of what we can see with our physical eyes and hold in our physical hands; but the God of the spirit, of the soul, of the heart, of heaven, of aspiration, of vision, of love, a shred, a figment, a superstition.
It is taught in the school, it is taught in the university, it is accepted in the great mass of the media of America. What do I see ahead? Secularization, materialism. The signs of the times: what do I see ahead? I see the judgment of Almighty God. War! War! War! And we shall not escape it.
Recently, there was a book published entitled The Logistics of National Defense, written by Henry L. Eccles, a retired admiral in the United States Navy. And in that book are these figures. In 54 BC under Julius Caesar, it cost 75 cents to kill a man. In 1800 under Napoleon, it cost $3000 to kill a man. In 1914, in World War I, it cost $21,000 to kill a man. In 1939, in the Second World War, it cost $60,000 to kill a man. And as we face the Third World War, there is no man that can comprehend that final figure, for we are spending billions, and billions, and billions, and billions preparing for that conflict.
And when you read that Red China has an atomic laden missile, and the range increases and increases and increases, it doesn’t take a prophet to know the reaction in every capital of the free world. We had better get ready. War is a judgment of God!
We refuse to send the missionary, we refuse to bow in repentance, we refuse to ask God’s intervention; so the Lord leaves us before an indescribable holocaust, the judgment of war: the signs of the times [Matthew 16:13].
“Well, pastor, it is a dark picture, isn’t it?” Yes, yes, it is a dark picture. “But, pastor, is there not some light, some help, some encouragement, some glory, some salvation, some way of escape? Preacher, as you look ahead, the signs of the times, is there no word of comfort and assurance? Doesn’t God live, and is there not an intervention?”
In my humble opinion, it lies, our hope, and our trust, and our salvation, in a light that shines on this darkening world. It lies in the intervention of God.
In the years of the long ago there came to the plains of Texas some Spanish conquistadors, and in the hot summertime as they roamed over these vast prairies of Central Texas, they found no water, and their supplies had run out. And day after day those Spanish conquistadors marched westward, for Indians had said “There is a great river to the west, to the west, to the west.”
And in their last strength, they were moving westward in search of water and finding none, the burning sky and the parched earth, their leader said to his soldiers “My men, no one can save us but the arms of God. Only God can save us; the arms of God.”
And the next day with their last strength they journeyed still westward, and coming to the brow of a hill, the leader looked, and there before them ran the course of a great river through the heart of this burning land. And as he stood there and looked upon it, he lifted up his voice and cried, and cried, “Los brazos de Dios,” the arms of God. And they called it the Rio Los Brazos de Dios; the Arms of God River; the Brazos River.
I think only the arms of God can save us. As that deacon prayed on his knees at the eleven o’clock morning hour, pleading the intervention of heaven: “If My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” [2 Chronicles 7:14].
O God, los brazos de Dios; the arms of the Lord; Master, reach down. Reach down. O Lord, how we need revival. How we need to plead, to pray, to seek God’s face. How we need to give ourselves, dedicate ourselves, commit ourselves to the Lord as never in the history of the annals of the human race.
It is Christ or chaos, it is God or ultimate annihilation and destruction. God bless the church. God bless the association of churches. God bless the preachers. God bless the missionaries. God bless the people as they bear upon their hearts in intercession the whole world. Lord, reach down to save us.
Now as we sing our song of appeal, somebody you, give himself to Jesus. Down one of these stairwells at the front and the back, on either side, and there is time and to spare, make it now, make it tonight, on this lower floor this press of people, into the aisle and down to the front “Here I am, preacher, and here I come.” “Tonight I give my heart in trust to Jesus. God can start with me, and here I come.” “Pastor, tonight, the whole family of us are coming, my wife, these children of ours.” A couple you, one somebody you, as the Spirit of Jesus shall make appeal to your heart, come tonight, make it now, do it now. When we stand up in a moment, stand up coming. “I decide for Jesus, now! I shall begin this night and tomorrow morning in Him.” “God speak to my heart, and I’ll listen. The Lord direct me in the way, and I’ll follow, and here I come. Here I come.” “There is a decision that God would have me to make, and I shall make it. I am not the whole world, but I’m one, and God can start with me. Here I come, preacher, here I am. I give you my hand; I give my heart to the Lord.” However the Spirit shall lay, shall press the appeal to your soul, come, come. On the first note of this stanza, come, while we stand and while we sing.
THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. The desired sign asked for
A. Miraculous ministry of our Lord yet they rejected Him
B. Now they change the field of proof
II. Jesus replies
A. They were weather-wise, studied the barometer, mapped the clouds
B. They mistook the sky for heaven, mistook clouds for revelation
C. They possessed knowledge without wisdom
D. They had facts without purpose or meaning
III. Signs of the times
A. Of that time, we are amazed they saw so little
B. Of our time, are we any wiser?
C. Easy to fall into the illusion of progress
IV. Present signs
D. War, the judgment of God