That Better Thing That God Hath Prepared for Us
June 25th, 1967 @ 8:15 AM
THAT BETTER THING GOD HATH PREPARED
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-25-67 8:15 a.m.
Now the sermon this morning, I pray God will help me put in your heart what the Lord has placed in mine. Sometimes for me to think a thing, and what I, in my persuasion, that I see a thing; but for you to see it and for you to think it, is something else. But out of the years of meditation, and observation, and prayerful inquiry, and reading the Word of God, these things come to my heart, and especially the message of this morning hour.
The world in which we live is fraught with every fearful possibility. And sometimes we are unable to suppress the questions that well up in our souls. Why does God allow so much suffering and sorrow and death and all of the attendant troubles that are a part of national life, state life, personal life? The world is veritably the poetic "vale of tears." The earth is veritably a vast cemetery. And all of us are caught in that inextricable web of pain and suffering and ultimate death. Now where is God? And why does God allow such to be, to come to pass, in His presence? There are definite answers in God’s Book for every one of the exigencies and frustrations that we face in life, and that is the sermon this morning.
Now I have woven it around a text that is not a text in the sense that I’m going to expound it, but a text in the sense that it says exactly what God purposes for us. And the words are in the last verse of the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, "God having provided some better thing for us" [Hebrews 11:40]. That is the ending of an eloquent description of the suffering of God’s saints in the world. They had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, of bonds and imprisonments. They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, they were tempted; they were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goat skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented; of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and in mountains and in dens and caves of the earth. Then the last verse of the chapter, "God having provided some better thing for us" [Hebrews 11:36-38, 40].
Now I have chosen three things, three permissive providences of God in the beginning, and then I have chosen three in the consummation. Now the first one: why did God create Satan? And why did God allow Satan to destroy His glorious universe? If God is sovereign and omniscient,He would not be God if He is not sovereign. He would not be God if He did not know everything far in the future as future lies. Therefore, God knew Lucifer and what was in his heart. And when God created him God knew what he would do. Why did God create Lucifer, Satan, in the first place?
Now I believe, I believe very much, that the first chapter in Genesis, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" [Genesis 1:1]. I believe that God made that creation perfect. To me, it is inconceivable that what God did would not be perfect. If God did it, it had to be perfect because God could not be imperfect. Therefore, when the Book says that God created the heaven and the earth, there were no deserts, there were no burned-out stars, there were no barren and sterile planets. The whole creation was beautiful and glorious.
Now, I believe the second verse is the result of the entrance of sin, the result of the fall of Lucifer [Ezekiel 28:14-19]. "And the earth became without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters" [Genesis 1:2]. And then follows the recreation in the garden of Eden of which we will speak next [Genesis 2:8-15].
I think God created the world perfect. I think sin was found in Lucifer, in the great archangel, the cherub that covereth, that walked in the stones of fire, all which is described minutely in the prophets. I think Satan fell, and with him one-third of all of the angelic hosts that God created [Revelation 12:3-4]. And when sin entered this universe and when Satan fell [Ezekiel 28:14-19], God’s whole universe became darkened and formless and waste [Genesis 1:2].
Now, why should God have permitted such a catastrophe? And why did God create Lucifer in the first place? Now the words of my text, "God having provided some better thing for us" [Hebrews 11:40]. God did not create Lucifer, nor did God permit Lucifer to fall, nor did God look upon the destruction of His universe in order that we might lose; but in order that we might gain. And in the twenty-first chapter of the Apocalypse, the first verse of that chapter 21 that continues through chapter 22, the first verse begins like this:
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the old first heaven and the old first earth were passed away . . .
And I John saw the heavenly city, the Holy City, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride for her husband.
And He that sat upon the throne did I hear say, Look, behold, I make all things new.
[Revelation 21:1-2, 5]
God having prepared some better thing for us; the new heaven and the new earth will be beyond what God created in Genesis 1:1; a better thing for us. We must hasten.
Second: why did God create Adam subject to a fall? When I began reading this Book, after the creation of Adam and Eve [Genesis 1:26-28, 2:7, 21-28], the first verse in the third chapter, the next chapter, is a description of a sinister being at the gate of Eden, right there [Genesis 3:1]. God recreated this world, this planet, in six days [Genesis 1:1-25], and placed in His beautiful garden Adam and Eve [Genesis 2:8-23]. And when He placed Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden and blessed them, there at the gate of the garden was this sinister creature; standing there, waiting [Genesis 3:1]. The Revelation calls him "that old serpent, the Devil" [Revelation 20:2]. There he is.
And of course the third chapter of the Book of Genesis describes the temptation and the Fall and the sentence of death [Genesis 3:1-6]. Why did God allow that sinister creature there at the gate of the garden? And why did God permit Adam and Eve to fall? Why? Do you remember how Milton’s Paradise Lost begins?
Of Man’s First Disobedience and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into our World, with all its woes. . .
"Death into our World with all its woes." The rivers of tears and the unending heartache; why did God allow in His permissive will such a disastrous catastrophe?
My text: "God having provided some better thing for us" [Hebrews 11:40]. When the Lord God made the man, he was a servant in the garden to till the soil, to dress the trees, and to keep it [Genesis 2:15]. "God, having provided some better thing for us"; look my brother, the fourteenth verse: the last verse of the first chapter of the Book of Hebrews says, "Are not the angels – are not the angels all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister unto us who are the heirs of salvation?" [Hebrews 1:14]. It was the purpose of God that we be raised higher than the angels. I can’t imagine that!
The eighth chapter of the Book of Romans says we are to be joint-heirs with Christ [Romans 8:17]. We are to sit with Him in His throne [Revelation 3:21], and Christ is the Lord God pantokratōr of the universe. And even the archangels – for that text, Hebrews 1:14, says all of the angels, all of them, and that includes Michael and it include Gabriel, all of the angels are ministering spirits sent forth to minister unto us who are the heirs of salvation. It is the purpose of God that we who are made out of the dust of the ground [Genesis 2:7], that we are to be raised higher than the angels [Hebrews 1:14]; that better thing God hath purposed for us [Hebrews 11:40].
Third – and this is the last of these permissive wills of God in the beginning – third: death. Even when the man fell [Genesis 3:1-6], God did not have to sentence him to death. Look how the third chapter ends:
And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of Us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever:
Therefore the Lord God drove him out; and put cherubim with a flaming sword . . . to keep the way of the tree of life.
[Genesis 3:22, 24]
And when next we see the tree of life, it’s in glory [Revelation 22:2]. It’s up there where the man can’t reach it and where he can’t touch it. And it’s guarded by the cherubim with a flaming sword [Genesis 3:24].
Now why did God allow the man to die? Even though he sinned, even though he transgressed; yet he could have eaten of the tree of life and lived forever. But God drove him out, "lest," He says, "he take hold of the tree of life and eat, and live forever" [Genesis 3:22-23]. All right, my text: "God having provided some better thing for us" [Hebrews 11:40].
It was a merciful provision of God that we die. To be confirmed forever in this body of age and senility and disease would be of all things an unspeakable and an unbearable curse. In this stadium meeting just last week that Lee Roy and I held in Fort Worth, every night there was a man brought there; he is arthritic; he cannot walk. And his arms are twisted and his hands are twisted; one of the godliest men I ever met. And somebody said, "Come over here and speak to this godly man." And I went over there, and he apologized because he could not grasp my hand, he’s so twisted by arthritis. And the first sentence he said to me after his apology was, he said, "But someday in heaven I won’t be crippled; I’ll be well again, and I can shake hands with you in glory." It was a merciful provision that God allowed us to die.
I will never in this earth forget, when I was a young man and beginning my ministry, a visitor in a pastor’s home. And he told me that they had one son, and the boy had died when he was about fourteen years old. And I remember saying to the minister, "That must have been the most colossal tragedy and sorrow that heart could imagine." And he replied to me, "Oh no, no, no!" He said, "My boy suffered in convulsions and in horrible seizures in that terrible illness of meningitis until," he said, "I knelt down by the side of the bed of my boy and asked God to take him. I said to God, ‘I cannot bear it any longer; I cannot look upon him suffering. O God, take him.’" "God having provided some better thing for us."
Do you remember in the ninth chapter of the Apocalypse, when I was preaching through the Revelation? "And men shall seek death and shall not find it: and they shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them" [Revelation 9:6]. Do you remember that? Death is a merciful provision of God, "God having provided some better thing for us" [Hebrews 11:40]. And that is why I had you read the passage of the morning, 1 Corinthians 15:50, "This I say brethren, flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." As long as we are in this house of death, this body of clay, we cannot see God.
Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God . . .
But I show you a mustērion, a mystery; We may not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead in Christ shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall all be changed.
[1 Corinthians 15:50-52]
That better thing God hath provided for us. That we might be resurrected [1 Thessalonians 4:14-17]; God lets us die; that we might be planted in the ground like a seed, that we might be raised in glory and in power [1 Corinthians 15:43].
Now, I have three things of the consummation. First: without exception, without exception, the providences of life are described in the Bible as being fearful and perilous, and especially as we come to the end time. There’s no exception to that; the whole Book describes it like that. And if there is an intelligent, and a knowledgeable, and a sensitive soul today, you cannot but tremble; it is a fearful time.
For one thing, we have discovered the secret of the sun: the hydrogen bomb. And it is now in the hands of men who live in blood. China has that bomb. Russia has that bomb. And the proliferation of these atomic weapons forebodes and is a harbinger of the ghastly maelstrom of indescribable blood and death, a holocaust of murder. And we live on the verge of that every day, every day, every day. There is no hour in which we do not live under that fearful sword. It is honestly asked by our wisest men, will it be possible for the generation of this twentieth century to escape annihilation?
Now my text, "God having provided some better thing for us" [Hebrews 11:40]. The fearful, and awesome, and so many times frustrating and sorrowful and heartbreaking providences of life are all in the surveillance of God. The Lord sits sovereign over all history and all time, and whatever happens, happens in God’s permissive will. And the reins of the universe are held by Him, and the destiny of the nations lies in His elective purpose and sovereign choice. To me it may look as if that things happen without direction, and without meaning and purpose, but if I am a child of God and read this Book and believe the Bible, nothing could be further from the truth. All things happen in God’s sovereign grace, and it is the purpose of God, as Jesus said, "My little children, cheer up, cheer up; it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom" [Luke 12:32]. And that is true through all of the providences of life: personal life, home life, national life, world life. There’s no place in it that the hand of God does not direct.
Let me take just a moment to say that. When Joseph was carried a slave into Egypt, and when Simeon was kept there and they found the cup in Benjamin’s sack, and every man’s money returned [Genesis 42:29-35], Jacob said – listen to him – Jacob said, "All of these things are against me. All of these things are against me" [Genesis 42:36]. But you look at God. When the terrible drought came and there was famine in the land and the family faced starvation [Genesis 41:54-45:6], and finally Joseph revealed himself, Joseph said, "God sent me here that there might be preserved a posterity, that we might live" [Genesis 45:7]. And in the fiftieth chapter of the Book of Genesis that closes the story, Joseph says to his brethren in comforting them, "You meant it for evil; but God meant it for good" [Genesis 50:20]. "You meant it for evil, God meant it for good." God turns the wrath of man to praise Him [Psalm 76:10].
Take again: "And there arose a pharaoh, a king, in Egypt, who knew not Joseph" [Exodus 1:8], and you have the terrible years of that oppression. But out of that oppression, the third chapter of the Book of Exodus begins with God’s call to Moses: "I have heard the cry of My people" [Exodus 3:7, 9].
Take again the Babylonian captivity. It would be unimaginable to us; the sorrow of God’s people when the Babylonians destroyed their city, and destroyed their temple, and destroyed their homeland [Psalm 137:8-9]. And from the times the Gentiles begin, not until now has there been a national home for the Jew. Can you imagine the indescribable sorrow when they say those heathen Babylonian armies dash their little children against the stone, sell their people for slaves, and carry them out of the land? But out of that Babylonian captivity came the three greatest things that religion has contributed to mankind. One: they were never idolaters again; the people were monotheistic then, now, and forever. Second, there came out of that Babylonian captivity the canon of God’s Holy Word, the Bible. Third: there came out of that Babylonian captivity the synagogue; this congregation that you see this morning which is patterned and run exactly as a synagogue service. "God having provided some better thing for us" [Hebrews 11:40].
Now in the New Testament, the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts, the first verse begins, "And there arose a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem" [Acts 8:1]. Now look at the fourth verse, "And they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word" [Acts 8:4]. "God having provided some better thing for us." How many of you could quote Romans 8:28? "All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose." The providences of life, in them God works together; God works together to bring some better thing for us. And when you live in a fearsome hour and a troubled nation, and the prospects, the future that lies ahead looks as dark as the blackness of midnight, just remember that God lives and God reigns, and it is God’s purpose to give us that better thing.
Second: the rapture. Now I’ve noticed this as long as I can remember. It scares people to death. "I would not have you without ignorant, brethren – I would not have you without knowledge, brethren":
I would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that are asleep, that you you sorrow not, as others who have no hope.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.
For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord. . .
[1 Thessalonians 4:13-15]
You remember this great marvelous passage in the fourth chapter of the first Thessalonians letter:
Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
[1 Thessalonians 4:17-18]
What Paul should have said was, "Wherefore scare one another with these words!"
The actual and real and practical attitude of even the ordinary Christian is, "It scares me to death just to think about it." But Paul says, "Wherefore comfort one another with these words [1 Thessalonians 4:18]. The rapture, the taking away of God’s people out of the earth; "Wherefore comfort one another with these words," and it’s just the opposite. Of course to a lost man, I can understand how the judgment day of God would frighten him. But it is difficult for us to understand how it frightens the born-again Christian.
Or take again, in this apocalyptic address of our Savior, in the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Luke, "Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" [Luke 21:24]. And we’re living in this day; we’re living in this hour; the times of the Gentiles are being fulfilled.
"Then," says Jesus, "there will be signs of the sun, and signs in the moon and signs in the stars, and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity" [Luke 21:25]. Oh, these things are coming to pass!
Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken –
but to us, we –
shall see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
And when these things begin to come to pass –
lift up your heads, lift up your heads; look up, for your redemption draweth nigh.
But to us, man, it’s a looking down, scared to death! It’s a cowering. We don’t realize, we are not Christian enough to realize what has plagued us, and what has destroyed us, and what has ruined us is, we are so enmeshed in this cheap, tawdry, tinsel world, that the great coming of the kingdom of God pales into insignificance compared to those cheap little earthly things to which we give the issue, and the strength, and the hope of our lives.
My brother, the very house you live in is a decaying, dying tabernacle. My brother, the very home you live in, however gorgeous or however affluent, embellished, spacious; however it is, it’s a cheap and tumbling shack. Give it time and you’ll see; along come a bulldozer and push it out of the way, getting ready for some other program. And everything you own, everything is trash, all of it. You’re going to leave it behind. Where is our home? Where is our inheritance? Where is our life and our eternal reward? God says to us, "Occupy until I come" [Luke 19:13]. Use it; use it, knowing that it is for a moment in our hands. Use it, use it for God, Lord to help us. The house we live in and the possessions that we own, use them for God. But the great glory of the future to the Christian lies in the kingdom that is coming.
My brother, think of it! If we were to live to the rapture, think of it! Imagine seeing Jesus come down in glory [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]; imagine. Imagine the song that is sung:
O joy! O delight! Should we go without dying,
No sickness, no sadness, no dread and no crying,
Caught up with the saints to our Lord in glory,
When Jesus receives His own.
["Christ Returneth," H. L. Turner]
Dear people, for us to cringe or to look with fear or confusion or consternation upon the greatest promise, what Paul calls "the blessed hope" [Titus 2:13], is unthinkable to us who love His appearing. It’s a glorious time; it’s the Christians triumph.
My time is gone, but I have one other. There are three, I say, at the end time: the third one was heaven, heaven. It surprises me how people are filled with consternation about heaven. And by that I mean things like this: Jesus will say to the Sadducees or the materialists, the secularists of the day, He will say to them, "But in the resurrection, in which you do not believe," of course they had that stock story about that woman that had seven husbands, and so they just laughed. "Ha, ha! When she gets to heaven which one of those seven husbands is going to be hers?" [Matthew 22:24-28]. And they put everybody to flight from the beginning of "Sadduceeism," materialism itself, by that stock tale. Jesus cut them down with the truth of the Word of God, "Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures and not knowing the power of God" [Matthew 22:29].
There are ten thousand things we can’t put together in glory; do you think God is unable to put them together? There are ten thousand questions we ask about heaven; do you think God can’t answer them? Ah! our faith, our lack of faith; our faith is so small, our lack if it is so tremendous. Then He added, "For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven" [Matthew 22:30]. Then we’ll look at that and think, "Well, I just don’t know whether I’d be interested in it or not." And then we get to thinking about it further and then we get to raising all kinds of questions, "I just wonder if we know anybody, because this is my wife, and yet there’s no marriage or given in marriage; and this is my son, and this is my child, and there’s no marriage or giving in marriage?" And then we just dissolve in our lack of faith, but God is able.
And ten thousand times ten thousand times will I be asked, "Pastor, do you think we’ll know one another in heaven?" My sweet and precious friend, God hath prepared some better thing for us. As the 1 Corinthian thirteenth chapter says, "then shall I know even as God knows me" [1 Corinthians 13:12]. And as my old predecessor at Muskogee, Dr. A. N. Hall used to say, "My brother, we will not really know one another until we get to heaven." And are we going to lose? Does God have a lesser thing for us in glory? My text, "God having prepared some better thing for us" [Hebrews 11:40].
And they knew Moses; he had been dead for a thousand five hundred years. And they knew Elijah, he’d been dead for eleven hundred years. And they knew Jesus, transfigured, glorified [Matthew 17:1-4]. And when He was raised from the dead [John 20:1-9], He even had the scars of the nail prints in His hands, and the scar of the spear thrust in His side [John 20:24-27, John 19:34]. And He said, "Children, have ye here any meat? And He did eat a broiled fish, a piece of a broiled fish, and of a honeycomb before them" [Luke 24:41-43].
Dear people do you suppose that God, in His infinite almightiness, is going to make heaven less than what we might know of gladness with one another here? Why, we’ll be we, and you’ll be you; only we will be without sin and without imperfection, and without the tears and the sorrows that attend this weary life; a better thing, a better life, a better home, a better body, a better fellowship.
I can’t close without saying one other thing. In the fourteenth chapter of Revelation, the thirteenth verse: "and God shall give them rest" [Revelation 14:13]. God shall give them rest, so these caricatures – these cartoonists draw a cloud somewhere, and a guy with wings sitting there with a harp doing nothing. Oh! what a caricature of God and of glory and of heaven! And the Lord said to that man that had won ten pounds, "You be ruler over ten cities," and said to this man that had won five pounds, "You are going to be ruler over five cities" [Luke 19:16-19]. Why, dear people, God has the administration of the whole universe in our hands: cities, and governments, and nations, and planets, and stars, and kingdoms. Why, I can’t remember when I haven’t heard preachers say, "I hope God will give me a planet all to myself, and a congregation, and just let me preach just as long as I want to."
Not something less; were going to be busy for God, going to grow in grace even up there in glory, going to grow in capacity to love the Lord. It’s going to be marvelous; glorious, instead of with fear and cringing. We are to lift up our heads, lift up our eyes; our redemption draweth nigh [Luke 21:28]. That better thing God hath prepared for us who love Him [Hebrews 11:40], and everything conspires to that incomparable victory.
Now Lee Roy, you are going to have to sing fast. And if you come, you must come on the first note of this first stanza. We are going to sing one stanza and then I’m going to let all these people who ought to have been in Sunday school preparing for their class and departments a long time ago, I’m going to let them go. Don’t anybody leave until I let you go. On the first note of this first stanza, if you’re coming to give your heart to Jesus, if you’re coming to put your life in the church, do it now. Stand up coming, and God speed you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.
THAT BETTER THING GOD HATH PREPARED FOR US
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Hebrews 11:36-38, 40
I. Three permissive events of God in the beginning
A. The fall of Satan
1. The destruction of God’s universe (Genesis 1:1-2)
2. The new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21:1, 5)
B. The fall of Adam
1. Outside the gate of Eden, this sinister being (Genesis 3:1)
2. That we be raised above the angels, and join heirs with Christ(Hebrews 1:14, Romans 8:17)
1. Took away tree of life, lest we live forever(Genesis 3:22-24)
2. To die is a merciful provision (Revelation 9:6)
3. Lest we be confirmed in this body of death forever(1 Corinthians 15:50-52)
II. Three consummating events under God at the end
A. These perilous times
B. All history lies in the hands of Almighty God
1. Joseph in Egypt(Genesis 42:36, 45:5, 8, 50:20)
2. Israel’s oppression in Egypt – then Moses (Exodus 1:8, 3:10)
3. Babylonian captivity(2 Kings 24:14-15)
4. Persecution of the early church (Acts 8:1, 4)
5. All things work together for good to them that love God (Romans 8:28)
C. The rapture
1. Comfort one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
2. Look up, lift up your heads(Luke 21:24-28)
3. Coming of our Savior is our ultimate and final triumph
1. Some despair that we will not know one another (Matthew 22:23-30)
a. We will know as God knows us(1 Corinthians 13:12)
2. Some think we will sit on a cloud forever with nothing to do