The Strangest Parade
January 2nd, 1966 @ 10:50 AM
THE STRANGEST PARADE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-2-66 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 first sermon of the New Year, entitled The Strangest Parade. It is a message that I humbly pray God will bless to set the outline, and the feeling, and the atmosphere of the commitment of our church, its leadership, its staff and deacons, its educational ministries, its choirs, its training program, its congregation, as we set ourselves, dedicate and commit ourselves to a year of intensive witnessing and soulwinning. We have entitled it the “Tell Dallas” campaign, and it will rise from glory to glory, from intensity to intensity, and we ask of God that it rise in reward after reward. May the Lord bless it this morning and give us a harvest to lay at His precious feet.
The Strangest Parade; the reading of the passage of Scripture is in the Third Gospel; Luke chapter 19, beginning at verse 35:
And they brought the colt to Jesus: and they cast their garments upon the colt, and they set Jesus thereon.
And as He went, they spread their clothes in the way.
And when He was come nigh, even now at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen;
Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest.
And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto Him, Master, rebuke Thy disciples.
And He answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the very stones would [immediately] cry out.
And when He was come near, He beheld the city, and wept over it,
Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.
For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side.
And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.
The Strangest Parade: this one. We are accustomed to parades in America. If you watched your television yesterday, you saw some of the most gorgeously effective floats and beautiful parades that mind could think up. Maybe some of you looked upon or shared the Cotton Bowl parade yesterday. In America we have a way of receiving and welcoming a great hero in our largest city. We would call it a “ticker tape parade”: when a great somebody comes back, or a great personage visits our country, and he is taken down those deep walled canyons in New York City, and tons of ticker paper are thrown out the windows, and the hero rides in an open convertible, and he waves his hands, and he smiles at the acclaiming throng. We are accustomed to parades. And they’re always events of joy, and gladness, and ebulliency, and victory, and triumph, and acclamation, and acceptance. And everything is a part of glorious, glad joy in a parade. The bands play, and the drum majors march, and the people are all looking on in great, glad interest.
Well this was a parade. They didn’t have a horse, they didn’t have a chariot—I suppose in all Judea there was not a horse or a chariot owned by anyone except a Roman legionnaire—but they did seize upon what they were able. They got a colt, a beast of burden, and they placed their King and their hero on the colt [Luke 19:35]. And they made a royal triumphant entry into the city of the great King. They spread their garments in front of the beast of burden upon which the Lord sat, and they placed palm branches in the way [Luke 19:36], and they shouted and they sang, “Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the King, the Son of David” [Matthew 21:9], all of it a part, a pattern, with which we are most conversant: a parade.
But this one has something in it that is unlike any parade I ever heard of or that I ever saw. For the King, the hero, when He comes to the height of Olivet and sees before Him spread out the great city, instead of rejoicing and instead of acclaiming and instead of responding to the cries of victory, He bursts into tears, klaiō. “And when He was come near, He beheld the city, and klaiō” [Luke 19:41]: he burst into tears. What a strange way to march at the head of a great parade; to do it with tears falling from His eyes.
The strangeness is not that He cries. It is not that He weeps, for we have been introduced to a weeping Lord, a crying Savior. At the tomb of Lazarus, He burst into tears. “Jesus wept” [John 11:35]. He cried unashamedly; no attempt to hide His tears before all of that multitude in Bethany and the visitors from Jerusalem [Luke 19:41]. He burst into tears, moved in human compassion like a family is moved when they lay away their beloved dead. He cried as you cry. We are accustomed to the Lord with His tears. In Gethsemane with strong crying and many tears, He made supplications to God who was able to save Him from death [Hebrews 5:7]. He was so given to tears that when He asked His disciples at Caesarea Philippi, “Whom do men say that I am?” the disciples answered, “Some say that You are Jeremiah, the weeping prophet” [Matthew 16:13-14]. It was Jeremiah who in his lament said, “Behold, all you that pass by, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow” [Lamentations 1:12]. It was Jeremiah who said, “Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” [Jeremiah 9:1] Like Jeremiah, He cried. He wept. He would burst into tears. That isn’t strange. That’s the Lord. And so often did He cry that the people said, “He is Jeremiah, the weeping prophet” [Matthew 16:13-14].
The strangeness is that He weeps upon this occasion [Luke 19:41], for this is a day of victory and of triumph. This is the royal entrance into Jerusalem. This is the presentation of the King of glory. “Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in” [Psalm 24:7]. This is the day of the ninth chapter of Zechariah the prophet:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; rejoice, O Jerusalem; behold, thy King cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation; Lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass …
And He shall speak peace unto the nations: and His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River, even to the ends of the earth.
This is a glory day. The presentation of the promised Messiah, the foretold King of Israel, to the virgin daughter of Zion; “Rejoice, O daughter of Zion; rejoice O Jerusalem” [Zechariah 9:9]. And yet as the parade rises to the brow of the hill and is seen by the great city spread out before Him, instead of rejoicing, instead of gladness, instead of the notes of acclaim and triumph, the hero King bursts into tears [Luke 19:41].
Why does He weep? He weeps because of the throngs around Him; these people, “Hallelujah,” they say, “Hosanna in the highest,” they cry, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord” [Matthew 21:9], yet these are the people that come Friday will be saying, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him! Away with Him” [John 19:15], it’s not fit that He encumber the earth. One day, “Hallelujah,” and the next day, “Crucify Him.”
You know, the cross is a demonstration of the love of God [Romans 5:8]. That’s right. And the cross is God’s atonement for our sin [Romans 5:11]. That’s correct. “For God hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” [2 Corinthians 5:21]. That’s right. Calvary is of all things a demonstration of the love of God for a lost humanity, but Calvary is something else too. Calvary is an open, flagrant, unadorned demonstration of the depravity of humankind! [Acts 2:23]. The villainy, the rascality, the iniquity, the sin, and the evil of the human race is demonstrated when they raised up the Son of God beneath the sky [Matthew 27:32-50]. These people, these.
And the Lord looked upon it, and wept [Luke 19:41]. There before Him is the palace in which He will be condemned [Matthew 27:26]. There before Him is the Via Dolorosa down which He will bear His cross. And there is the Hill of a Skull, called Golgotha, Calvary, on which He will die [John 19:16-18]. And the Lord looked upon it, and wept. He wept because of the city spread out before Him; “And when He was come near, He beheld the city, and wept over it” [Luke 19:41].
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, He cried,
Thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that would come unto thee; how oft would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathered her brood under her wings, and ye would not!
Behold, behold, your house is left unto you desolate, desolate, desolate.
O if thou hadst known in thy day the things which belong to thy peace—
but you are blind and you do not see—
For the days are now coming when the enemy shall besiege thee and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee.
You see, the Lord was able to see what few men are able to see: that destiny is determined by our relationship to God, not by our wealth, not by our genius, not by our armies and navies and our armed forces, but destiny is determined by our relationship with Almighty God!
Jeremiah, of whom we spake a moment ago, Jeremiah appeared before Judah and cried, “Repent, turn ye, turn ye” [Jeremiah 3:12-14]. And the bitter and merciless and hasty Babylonians came in 605 BC and took away Daniel and some of the elect of God’s people [Daniel 1:1, 3-6]. And Jeremiah lifted up his voice and cried again to Judah, “Repent ye, turn, turn.” And the Babylonians came again in 598 BC and took away Ezekiel and other of the elect of God [2 Kings 24:11-14; Ezekiel 1:1]. And Jeremiah lifted up his voice and cried yet again, “Repent ye, turn. O turn!” And the Babylonians came the third time in 587 BC, and then they didn’t need to come anymore. They plowed up Jerusalem. They burned down Solomon’s temple [Jeremiah 52:13], and they took the people into Babylonian captivity [Jeremiah 39:1-10, 52:4-30; 2 Chronicles 36:17-21]. Whether a nation lives or dies lies in the imponderables of Almighty God! “And the Lord looked upon the city, and wept” [Luke 19:41].
And in His weeping, what did He see? And as the Lord stands in glory today and looks upon us, what does He see? He saw then, standing on the brow of Olivet [Luke 19:41]; and He sees now, standing in the ramparts of glory, the Lord sees the ominous background of war, and of the visitation, and the judgment of Almighty God. The arm of the Lord is stretched out, and the hand of the Lord is bare, and it has in it thunderbolts, and judgments, and a day of reckoning! And we tremble before it.
All of us who live in the Southwest know how it is when we look to the north and the clouds are lowering, and the storm is beginning to rise and one of these blizzards or blue northern sweeps down through all of this great prairie country. And when we look to the north and see those dark clouds gathering, we know what immediately follows after. It is thus in the eyes of God as the Lord looks upon us today. There is an ominous foreboding that lies beyond every headline, and every conference table, and every government in the earth. Men can reject, and reject, and reject, and blaspheme, and forget but not forever for there comes a reckoning day in the sight of Almighty God! I do not think America can live in drunkenness, and in rioting, and in debauchery, and in wickedness, and in blasphemy, and in rejection.
Judah thought themselves secure: “We are the chosen people, and in our midst is the Holy City, and Solomon’s temple rising to the glory of God who said, ‘My name shall be there’” [2 Chronicles 7:16, 1 Kings 8:29]. And Judah looked upon themselves as being beyond the chastening, and the visitation, and the judgment of Almighty God. And the Lord God sent Isaiah to say to Judah, “I am raising up Assyria, and I am raising up Babylon, the rod of Mine anger and the staff of Mine indignation” [Isaiah 10:5]. And the Lord God raised up Habakkuk and said, “I have ordained them for judgment, and I have established them for correction” [Habakkuk 1:12]. And the bitter Assyrian and the merciless Babylonian came, and they took away the people of God into captivity and destroyed their nation and their land and their people! [2 Kings 17:18; 2 Chronicles 36:17-21; Jeremiah 39:1-10, 52:4-30].
There are no favorites before God when God’s people sin, and reject, and forget, and blaspheme the name of the Almighty. And America shall no more live than did Rome, than did Greece, than did Babylon, than did Assyria, than did Judah, if we forget our God.
And the Lord looked upon the city as He looks upon us today. And He sees the ominous clouds of judgment on the horizon. And this next violent conflict will not be on some foreign strand or beyond some wide ocean. This next judgment will be above our own cities, and lurid death shall fall from our own skies, and our sons and our daughters will be buried beneath that awful catastrophic visitation from God. Did you notice this little phrase that the Lord placed in this awesome prediction of the judgment upon Jerusalem? “The days will come when thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, shall compass thee on every side, shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee!” [Luke 19:43-44]
Why pick out those little children? Because you can’t forget it. All of us who are older, in a devastation, and a catastrophe, and a judgment, we’ve mostly lived our lives and are in the sunset side of the hill of life. But these little children, do you ever look into their innocent faces and wonder what kind of a world it will be in which their little feet walk? Do you ever think of those things? Do you ever think of those things? And do you ever cry to God? “O Lord, be merciful in their day and in their generation, that they might live!” What does the Lord see? He sees the ominous forebodings of an impending judgment, except ye repent.
What does the Lord see as He looks down from the brow of Olivet, and as He looks down from the balustrades of glory? What does He see? He sees a colossal, and unbreakable, and impenetrable indifference everywhere, everywhere. Walking through those great cities of Russia, the tragedy was not these churches are all closed. This church is a railroad station. That gorgeous, glorious house of worship is a granary, and this beautiful sanctuary of Christ is a warehouse. The tragedy is not as you walk through the city streets and see those glorious edifices of worship turned into museums, or warehouses, or granaries, or falling into ruin. The tragedy is that the people don’t miss it. They don’t care! If there is any registration of concern, and lack, and lamentation because these churches are outlawed in Russia, I couldn’t see it, and I couldn’t find it! Outside of a few old people, with their scarves over their heads, crying in the bitterness of their souls, outside of a little handful, the whole nation has forgot God. And it means nothing, and they are indifferent to the very name and cause of the Savior the Lord Jesus. We’re some different, just some, just some. But the great mass of America is bent in a pagan, heathen pursuit after everything else except the presence and glory of the Lord; indifferent. Why be bothered? Why concern yourself? Forget it.
I stood one day on Calvary, in Jerusalem outside the Damascus Gate. And as I stood there I said to myself, “I must think great thoughts, great thoughts. This is the holiest ground in all the earth. This is the place where the cross of Christ was raised up [Luke 23:33]. This is the place where His blood was poured down, and this is the ground that drank it up [John 19:30-34]. This is the place of the atonement of God for our sins [Romans 5:11]. This is a holy ground! I must think great thoughts!”
I couldn’t think great thoughts. I tried and tried. I couldn’t think great thoughts. I stood in the midst of a Muslim cemetery, unkempt, and the stones broken and lying in disheveled places all around. I couldn’t think great thoughts. In front of me was a junkyard. I tried to think it. I couldn’t think it. There was the Damascus Gate and those people hawking their wares. I couldn’t think great thoughts. There was the road to Nablus to the north and to Damascus. And the people passing by, nobody stopped, nobody think, nobody care. And as far as I could see from the north, south, east, and west, the whole earth passing by in unspeakable indifference and forgetfulness; a picture of the whole world.
I cannot but think about Studdert-Kennedy’s great poem, “When Jesus Came to Birmingham,” and let me turn it, “When Jesus Came to Dallas-town.” It goes like this:
When Jesus came to Golgotha,
They hanged Him on a tree
They drove great nails through hands and feet,
And made a Calvary
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns,
Red were His wounds, and deep
For those were crude and cruel days,
And human flesh was cheap.
But when Jesus came to Dallas-town,
They simply passed Him by
They touched not a hair of His head,
They only let Him die
For men had grown more tender,
They would not cause Him pain
They simply passed on down the street
And left Him in the rain.
Still Jesus cried, ‘Forgive them,
They know not what they do.’
And still it rained that bitter rain
That drenched Him through and through.
The crowds went home and left the streets
Without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall,
And cried for Calvary.
[“Indifference,” G. A. Studdert-Kennedy]
Anything but to forget, anything but to pass by in absolute, unadulterated, unabated, unqualified indifference; “I don’t care.” And that increasingly is the feeling and the attitude of America and beyond, how much so, the dark world.
When the Lord stood on Mt. Olivet and looked over the city [Luke 19:41], and as the Lord stands in glory today and looks over His people, what does He see? Oh, my brother, it isn’t all darkness and gloom and impenetrable despair! Nay, what does He see? As He looked out over the city, He saw the commissioned few. There is the upper room in which He meets with His disciples [Mark 14:13-15]. And this is the very hill, the very mount on which He stands when He turns back to glory, leaving in the hands of those disciples a great commission and a great commitment [Acts 1:2, 8-9]. What an astonishing thing to match the souls of that little handful of men against the whole world! But that’s God! That’s God! Never discouraged, never defeated, doesn’t know failure, and gathers those eleven disciples together and commissions them for the evangelization of the whole earth [Acts 1:8].
I don’t think there’s a more effective picture ever painted than that famous one of the Lord Jesus with His hand extended, stretching out beyond and beyond, and by His side, looking in commitment and dedication, the young apostle John and Simon Peter; The Great Commission. What an astonishing thing to match the souls of eleven humble peasant men against the whole earth! But that’s God. That’s the Lord.
And He is still doing it; matching one soul like Livingstone against the whole continent of Africa, matching one soul like Matthew Yates against the whole vast nation of China. That’s God. That’s the Lord. And as He looks down from heaven today, He sees those commissioned few, those chosen few. And He still empowers them and blesses them with unspeakable glory from heaven. For as the Lord looked down, there also He saw the day of Pentecost and the empowerment and the enduement and the visitation from above [Acts 2:1-47]. For the Lord said to His disciples, “I will not leave you orphans, orphanoi.” Isn’t that an unusual word? Translated in the King James Version “comfortless”: “I will not leave you comfortless, I will not leave you orphanoi, I will not leave you orphans, I will not leave you by yourself: I will come unto you!” said the Lord God [John 14:18], and at Pentecost He came [Acts 2:1-4].
And He comes today, wherever men are dedicated to the carrying out of the Great Commission of our Savior [Matthew 28:19-20], evangelizing and soulwinning. “Wherever two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of thee” [Matthew 18:20], and there is power, wondrous power, glorious working power from God that falls upon those who do His will in the earth [Philippians 4:13].
I feel it in our little groups when they gather to prayer. I feel it in our little leadership groups when they begin outlining a message and a program for evangelism. And I feel it among the congregation when the pastor turns to give an appeal for lost men to come to Christ. God is in it. The power of the Lord is upon us, illimitable, eternally, never withdrawn from us. “I will come unto you” [John 14:18]. And He sees triumph and victory.
Our Lord doesn’t stand on Olivet and envisage that God shall die as says this modern intellectual, theological sophistry, “God shall die.” He doesn’t stand on the brow of Olivet and envisage a people defeated, and destroyed, and without power, and without success. Why, bless your heart, you who have studied the Apocalypse know that in the Revelation, in the days of the man of sin, is the greatest revival the world shall ever see! [Revelation 7:1-17]. He doesn’t stand there to envisage defeat, and ignominy, and inglorious destruction. He stands there looking upon a vista of marvelous reward and success and power. And it has been that down through the ages. Those eleven men faced the entire pagan idolatrous Roman world [Matthew 10:18-20], and within a comparably short time, they swung the whole system of idolatry off of its foundations and hinges, and they made Christianity the religion of the civilized earth! And the great triumphs of the glorious gospel of Christ have been recorded in tones of glorious color and wonder in the centuries of the human story ever since.
And when we look down through the vistas of the future, however long, however short, I turn the page of the glorious prophecy of Zechariah, and I read, “And His feet shall stand in that triumphant, glorious and final day upon the Mount of Olives,” where the Lord stood then, “and His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, and the Lord God shall come, and the Lord shall be King over all the earth” [Zechariah 14:4,9].
There will be failure along the way, I know. There will be disappointment along the way, I know. There will be all kinds of discouragements along the way, I know. But we shall not fail. God is with His people. And through the day and the night, through January and February to the end of the year in December and until the Lord shall come and stand in visible, personal presence on that Mount of Olives, God shall work powerfully with His people. And we look to Him for those blessed rewards from His gracious and precious hands.
So bless us dear people, as we face our most glorious and our greatest year. Bless us staff. Bless us deacons. Bless us leadership and training and teaching. Bless us congregation and choir. Bless us people of God as we march in the favor and love and blessing of the Lord.
It will be worth it all when we see Jesus
Life’s trials will seem so small when we see Him
One glance from His dear face, all sorrow will erase
So bravely run the race, till we see Christ
Lee Roy, I asked you if your choir could sing a stanza of that song, and you said, “Yes.” Have the choir stand and sing it now.
Oft times the day seems long, our trials hard to bear,
We’re tempted to complain, to murmur and despair;
But Christ will soon appear to catch His bride away,
All tears forever over in God’s eternal day.
It will be worth it all when we see Jesus,
Life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ;
One glimpse of His dear face all sorrow will erase,
So bravely run the race till we see Christ. Till we see Christ!
[“When We See Christ,” Esther Kerr Rusthoi]
And, our Lord, may that hymn of divine and heavenly comfort—God is with us; that’s His very name, Immanuel, With Us Is God [Matthew 1:23]—and may that divine presence inspire and encourage and commend until we see Thee, Lord, face to face [Revelation 22:3-5]. Bless, Lord, this work under Thy hands and ours. And give us great victories for Thee, souls, trophies of grace, to lay at Thy blessed feet. And do it now, Lord, even this first service of the new year, in Thy precious name, amen.
And while we sing our song of appeal, somebody you, give himself to Jesus. This first Sunday of the new year: “I take the Lord as my Savior.” Come. A family you, come: “Pastor, my wife, my children, all of us are coming.” However God shall press the appeal to your heart, make it today. In this balcony round, there’s time and to spare, come. The throng on this lower floor, come. Make it now. Make it today. Make it this minute. When you stand up, stand up coming, while all of us stand and sing our song together.