That Better Thing That God Hath Prepared for Us
June 25th, 1967 @ 10:50 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-25-67 10:50 a.m.
You are sharing on radio and on television the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled That Better Thing God Hath Prepared for Us. In the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, which is the great faith chapter, the roll call of the heroes of faith; the last verse, the fortieth and concluding verse, ends with the words of my text, "God having provided some better thing for us" [Hebrews 11:40]. The message is not an exposition of that text. It is rather a presentation of the purpose and sovereign grace of God for us through the ages, and it is built around those words, "God having provided some better thing for us."
The recounting of the sufferings and trials of the saints of God has preceded His using those words. He says:
Some had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings,of bonds and imprisonments:
They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, they were tempted, and slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; 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 . . .
God having provided some better thing,
[Hebrews 11:36-38, 40]
There is a purpose, there is a sovereign grace and meaning in all of the frustrations and despairs and sufferings and heartaches that we know in this life. "God having prepared some better thing for us" [Hebrews 11:40].
Now, I have thought of this message for years and years. And I humbly pray that the Holy Spirit will help me place in your heart what He has so very distinctly and really placed in my understanding and in my heart. There is something that I have come to see plainly, lucidly, out of God’s Word and in the life of the Christian faith. And may the Spirit help me place that persuasion and revelation and understanding in your heart, in your mind.
All of us are aware of the tragic times in which we live. And all of us are not oblivious to the tremendous record of blood and war and death that has characterized the story of humanity. Do you ever think, why does God allow it? Why sin and death? Why the scourge of war, the suffering of helpless peoples? And why the darkness and frustration and consternation that is a part of every human life? Why does God allow it? Where is God? Do His eyes see it, and does His heart feel it? Now the message is an answer to that "why."
"God having prepared some better thing for us"; in His sovereign grace, in His mercy and love, God is bringing to pass for us, through all of the catastrophes and heartaches of national life, of personal life, of your life, God is bringing to pass a more glorious thing for us. In my thinking it through and in my preparing the message this morning, I have chosen three great events in the permissive will of God in the beginning, and I have chosen three great consummating events in the permissive will of God and in the sovereign grace of God in the ending.
First, the three in the beginning: why did God make Satan, Lucifer? Why did God create him with the ability to sin? And why did God permit Satan to fall? I am a firm believer that between the first and the second verses of the first chapter of Genesis there is a colossal, universal catastrophe. The Bible opens, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" [Genesis 1:1]. And whatever a perfect, Almighty God did, had to be perfect else He Himself is not perfect. Therefore, when God created this universe, it was perfect. There were no barren, blistering deserts; there were no burned-out stars. The whole universe was perfect in the beginning, when God created the heaven and the earth.
Then something happened to God’s beautiful creation, "And the earth became without form and void; and darkness covered the face of the deep" [Genesis 1:2]. I think what happened was this: that when Satan fell and sin entered God’s universe [Ezekiel 28:14-19], God’s universe was despoiled. Darkness and blight and desert and waste and void and emptiness covered all of God’s beautiful handiwork. Why did God create Satan? And why did God allow him to fall and to drag down to hell with him one-third of the heavenly host? [Revelation 12:4]. "God having prepared some better thing for us" [Hebrews 11:40].
In the twenty-first chapter of the Apocalypse and continuing through the twenty-second chapter of that same Revelation, God hath revealed to us His ultimate purpose for this world and this universe. The opening verse of the twenty-first chapter begins:
And I saw the vision of what is to be, and I saw a new heaven and a new earth:
for the old first heaven and the old first earth were passed away,
And He that sat upon the throne said, Look, behold, I make all things new.
[Revelation 21:1, 5]
In the purpose of God, it was His sovereign grace that allowed the old universe to fall in order that, out of its wreck and its ruin, He might create that better thing for us, a new heaven and a new earth.
Second: why did God allow Adam to fall? When the story of the creation of the man is told and concluded in the second chapter of the Book of Genesis [Genesis 1:26-2:25], then the third chapter begins with the first verse, with a sinister and evil creation there at the gate of the garden [Genesis 3:1]. And the third chapter records the fall of the man God had made [Genesis 3:1-6]. And with him, as the federal head of the human race, all of us fell. And death, and blight, and sin, and tears, and pain, and sorrow flooded God’s world.
As Milton begins his Paradise Lost:
of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste brought death into our world with all its woe.
[see Paradise Lost #3108, p3]
Why did God place the man that He made in the garden of Eden [Genesis 2:8] and then at the gate of the garden, He allows to stand there that evil and sinister creature? [Genesis 3:1]. As the Apocalypse calls him "that old serpent the devil" [Revelation 12:9], and in the third chapter of the Genesis is the trial, the temptation, the fall, and the curse [Genesis 3:1-6]. Why did God allow it?
Because He purposes, He prepares for us some better things [Hebrews 11:40]. When the man was created and placed in the garden of Eden, he was a servant. He was a slave. He was to till the ground and to dress the garden [Genesis 2:8, 15]. But it is the purpose of God that we, who are made of the dust of the ground [Genesis 2:7], should be raised higher than the angels themselves. Listen, the first chapter of the Book of the Hebrews, verse 14, the closing verse says that the angels, all of them – and it uses the word "all" – "they all are ministering spirits, sent forth to minister unto us who are the heirs of salvation" [Hebrews 1:14].
Think of it! Michael the archangel [Jude 9], Gabriel who stands in the presence of God [Luke 1:19] – the cherubim, the seraphim – the angelic host of heaven, they are to be our servants. We are to be elevated and raised above the angels in glory. They all are ministering spirits, sent forth to minister unto us who are the heirs of salvation [Hebrews 1:14].
In the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans, Paul says we are joint-heirs with Christ [Romans 8:17], and Christ is Jehovah God, and we are to sit down with the Lord God in His throne and rule this universe [Revelation 2:26, 3:21]. It was the purpose of God in the Fall to raise us higher than the angels themselves, that better thing God hath prepared for us who love Him [Hebrews 11:40].
Third: and the Lord God withdrew the tree of life in order that we should die. Why, Lord, why? The third chapter that recounts the Fall closes with these words,
And the Lord God said, Look, Behold, the man has 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 of the garden of Eden, and set there at the east side of the garden the cherubim with a flaming sword to keep the way of the tree of life.
[Genesis 3:22, 24]
And the next time we find that tree, it’s in the New Jerusalem [Revelation 22:2], that David sang about. It’s beyond our reach as mortal men; God took it from our grasp lest we eat and live forever [Genesis 3:22, 24].
God says we must die. Why, Lord? Why? Because death is the most merciful provision God could have made for us. Had our federal head, Adam, been able to reach and to eat of the Tree of Life, he and we would have been confirmed in this mortal body, this house of clay, forever and ever. And there could be no curse by which God could curse us than that forever we be confirmed in this house of ground and earth and dust.
In the ninth chapter of the Book of Apocalypse, one of the things that lies in one of those trumpet visitations of judgment is this, listen to it, "And men shall seek death, and shall not be able to find it; and they shall desire death, and death shall flee from them" [Revelation 9:6]. To die, the sentence of death was a merciful provision of God for us. I sometimes think of that, confirmed in this house of clay forever and forever.
As most of you know, Lee Roy and I were in a stadium in Fort Worth, preaching in a football field all last week. And every evening there was brought to that stadium a man and set down there in a chair. They asked me if I would go over and speak to him. I said, "I’d be so glad." And when I went over there to speak to him, the first thing he said was, "I apologize, sir, that I cannot shake hands with you." His body was so twisted and his arms and hands so drawn with arthritis he could not shake hands with me. Then he said his second sentence to me, "But," he said, "preacher, some day in heaven I will not be arthritic any more, and I will shake hands with you in glory." To be confirmed in this body of death would be, of all things, most cursed, miserable, without hope, helpless, pitiable. Think of the blind eyes, the crippled limbs, the aged and stooped bodies, and think if that were our prospect for ever and ever! Ah, Lord!
In this ministry, I so turn in my attitude toward death. When I was a young fellow, just beginning, I was the guest in a minister’s home and learned that he had a boy about fourteen years old, an only son, who had died. And I expressed to him my sympathy and sorrow, and I said, "That must have been the saddest day of life when that boy died." And the minister said to me, the pastor said to me, "Ah, no, no, no!" He said, "In the final illness of that boy I got down by the side of the bed, and I said, ‘Lord, I cannot bear to see him suffer any longer. Lord, I cannot bear to see him convulse anymore. O God, merciful God, take my boy that I not look upon his suffering any longer.’" I’ve never forgotten that. Death is a mercy from God, "God having provided some better thing for us" [Hebrews 11:40].
It is not God’s grace or love that forever we live in a house like this, subject to every disease and fever and age that flesh is heir to. That’s why I had you read that glorious passage, 1 Corinthians 15, starting at verse 50. "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." As long as I’m in this body I cannot see God’s face nor can I walk God’s golden streets in the New Jerusalem.
Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God . . .
but I show you a mustērion, a secret God kept to Himself until the day that He revealed it unto His apostles, I show you a mustērion; We shall 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, all of us.
There won’t be any age; we’ll never grow old in heaven. I’ve often wondered; my father’s favorite song was "Where We’ll Never Grow Old." I’ve often wondered why he loved that song so much. I guess he so reluctantly looked upon growing old. And they sang that song at his funeral, "Where We’ll Never Grow Old." And we’ll never be sick, and we’ll never be blind or crippled, and we’ll never be infirm or invalid, and we’ll never face death [Revelation 21:4-5]. Think of it, man: that better thing God hath provided for those who love Him [Hebrews 11:40].
I now speak of three things, at the ending. The first at the beginning: why did God allow Satan to destroy His universe? [Genesis 1:2]. That He might give us a greater and a better one [Hebrews 11:40]. Why did God allow Adam to fall? [Genesis 3:1-6]. That he might be elevated above the angels [Hebrews 1:14]. Why did God take away the tree of life? That we might not be confirmed in this body of death [Genesis 3:22, 24], "that better thing God hath provided for us who love Him [Hebrews 11:40].
I turn now to the great consummation as we turn our faces to what God shall do in the universe and in us. Oh, what things we read and what things in this present hour do we see! There is not a knowledgeable, there is not a politically sensitive man in this earth whose heart does not fail him and whose soul does not tremble at the harbingers of what could be.
We have discovered, for example, the secret of the sun. We have learned the secret of the energy of the universe, the hydrogen bomb. And that secret is not in the hands alone of responsible men. That secret is in the hands of bloody men, and revolutionary men, and men without principle, and men without God. It is China who, a week ago, announced that they had detonated a hydrogen bomb. And we live next door, every day of our lives, to a war of annihilation. And the decision of whether it shall be or not, is not ours; it is theirs. Any time they think they can destroy us, they will.
One of our great statesmen asked the question, "It is questionable," he said, "whether this generation will outlive the twentieth century, and whether mankind can exist beyond this present generation." All of these things are daily knowledgeable to any man who reads and understands.
What of us? Ah, there are some things for us to remember. One, foremost: all history lies in the hands of Almighty God. Above the chalice of this sky and above this universe, there presides the great and sovereign Jehovah, the Lord God Pantokratōr. And all time and all history lie in His hands. And the providences of life that seem so fearsome and so full of the harbingers of disaster and catastrophe and destruction, all of them are in God’s purposes of grace preparing for that better thing for us. If we had hours, we’d talk about it.
Look, when word came to Israel, to Jacob – Joseph is gone and Simeon is down there in Egypt a hostage and a cup has been found in Benjamin’s sack and every man’s money has been returned [Genesis 42:29-36] – Jacob lifted up his voice and cried, saying, "All of these things are against me. All of them are against me!" [Genesis 42:36]. But when Joseph revealed himself to his brethren, Joseph said, "God sent me before you that there might be a posterity left in the earth, otherwise you would have starved in the famine in Canaan" [Genesis 45:7]. And in the fiftieth chapter of the Book of Genesis that closes the story of Genesis, Joseph says to his brethren, "Do not be afraid. You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good" [Genesis 50:20]. The wrath of man, to praise him. When I turn to the Book of Exodus, it starts off, "And there arose a pharaoh, a king in Egypt who knew not Joseph" [Exodus 1:8]. And then the terrible years of the oppression [Exodus 1:9-22]. Then the third chapter, and God appeared to Moses out of a burning bush [Exodus 3:2], and said, "I have heard the cry of My people, and I am sending you down to deliver them" [Exodus 3:2]. The providences of God.
Or take the twenty-fourth chapter of the Second Book of Kings that records the Babylonian captivity [2 Kings 24:8-21]. Could there ever have been imaginable a more sorrowful sight of a spectacle of grief and despair as when God’s people looked upon their Solomonic temple destroyed and their city of Jerusalem, the Holy City – the only one the Bible ever called the Holy City – plowed up, and their little ones dashed against the stone, and their people sold into slavery? [Psalm 137:8-9]. Could you imagine a sorrow like that? But out of the Babylonian captivity came the three great things that have blessed the world. One, the people were never idolaters again; they were monotheistic. Look at them today. Second, there came out of that Babylonian captivity the canon of the Holy Book, this Bible. And third, out of that Babylonian captivity came the synagogue. And this is a form of the synagogue, our meeting today and the format of our services. The sovereign purpose of God in the dark providences of life, some better thing for us.
In the New Testament, in the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts, it says, "And there arose a great persecution around the church at Jerusalem" [Acts 8:1]. But look at the fourth verse, "And they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the gospel" [Acts 8:4]. Do you know Romans 8:28? Do you ever quote it to yourself? "For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God." Or say it like this, "In all things, God works together for good to them that love the Lord" [Romans 8:28]. The providences of life that have such a frowning face are just the other side of God’s mercy and grace for us.
Second: the rapture. As I have listened to our people as they think of these consummating events, to most of them it scares them to death, frightens them to death. Paul wrote:
I would not have you without knowledge, brethren,
If we believe that Jesus died and rose again . . .
This we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede them which are asleep.
The Lord is going to come down with a shout . . . and the dead in Christ will arise first:
And 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 4:13-18]
But you know how we read that? "Wherefore, scare one another with these words." Oh, law me! Oh, oh! Just think, "Wherefore scare one another with these words."
Same kind of a thing out of the apocalyptic address of our Lord as Luke wrote it down:
Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled –
and we are coming to that consummation –
And then shall there be signs in the sun, and signs in the moon, and signs in the stars; and upon earth the stress of nations, and perplexity,.
Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things that shall come on the earth,
Then shall they see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
And when these things begin to come to pass, look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.
But what we say is, "Let’s hide under the bed. Let’s stick our heads under the pillow." O Lord, scared to death, scared to death! My brother, I can understand the fright, and the fear, and the feeling of colossal and eternal loss to a man outside of God, to a man who rejects Christ, for everything he has, he has sought in this pitiful and wasting and transient time. He lives in a world of tinsel and tinfoil, and he lives for the moment and what little bit of pleasure he can squeeze out of it. He does his best to achieve it because the end to him and the coming of the Lord to him is a disastrous visitation and judgment.
But to us – but to us, my brother – to us, the coming of the Savior is our ultimate and final triumph. Think of it! To live to see Jesus in His glory coming down out of heaven to this solid earth; think of it, think of it! And when He comes, that we are all changed, immortalized, transfigured, glorified, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, when the trumpet shall sound, think of it [1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. As that beautiful old song says:
O joy! O delight! should we go without dying,
No sickness, no sorrow, no dread and no crying.
Caught up through the clouds to our Lord in the air,
When Jesus comes for His own.
["Christ Returneth," H.L Turner]
Think of it, man! Think of it: if we could live to the rapture when Christ comes for His people. "Wherefore comfort one another with these words [1 Corinthians 4:18], lift up your eye, lift up your head, your redemption draweth nigh" [Luke 21:28]. This is God’s better thing for us [Hebrews 11:40].
And I have a third, and you will be astonished at it. Heaven: heaven – you would suppose that people would think of heaven as being the summum bonum of all life, the consummation of all goodness and perfection. Do they?
The Sadducees didn’t believe in heaven, didn’t believe in immortality, didn’t believe in any spiritual world, didn’t believe in a resurrection from the dead. And they had an old stock-story by which they put everybody to shame, and shushed and hushed every argument. And it was an old stock story that they had used for generations and they brought it to Jesus. And I can just see them laugh and laugh and laugh up their sleeve, and twitter as they think of the pride of our Savior. All the others, they had put to shame and humiliation by this old stock story.
Now they are getting ready to laugh, and scoff, and ridicule our blessed Lord, so they tell it to Him, "There was a woman and she had seven husbands, and they all died. Then she died. Then up there in the resurrection You are talking about, and in the heaven You are speaking of, whose is she? For all seven had her, ha, ha, ha, ha!" I can just see them.
Listen, don’t you ever forget, the infidel, and the cynic, and the atheist, and the unbeliever has the cheapest logic, and the sorriest reason and the least foundation of any man who philosophizes in this earth. I don’t care who he is; he stands leaning against the wind, and his feet are planted in shifting sand. So these atheists come to mock our Lord, and the Lord turned to them and said:
You do err. You do not know the Scriptures, and you do not know the power of God, this better thing God hath prepared for us.
For in heaven and in the resurrection they do not marry, and they do not give in marriage, they are as the angels of God in glory.
[Matthew 22:29, 30]
And our people look at that and say, "O Lord, there’s no marriage, then there’s no mother, and there’s no father, and there’s no husband, and there’s no wife, and there’s no child, and what will it be like?" And I’m full of consternation. And then that final question they ask me a thousand times, "Pastor, do you think we will know one another in heaven?" And they just despair. I just give it all up, all. Ah, God is not preparing a lesser thing for us, but a better thing for us! [Hebrews 11:40]. Not a cheaper, but a more costly and dear. Not a more empty, and sterile, and barren, but a richer, and a fuller, and a finer. You don’t know the power of God. There are ten thousand things about heaven that God has not revealed to us, but the power of God is infinitude itself, and He is preparing everything finer and better.
"And when we are in heaven, how shall I be known, and how shall it be? Will I even be known at all? Will I have any personal life at all?" Why, my brother, on the Mount of Transfiguration, Moses had been dead a thousand four hundred years, but the disciples knew him and recognized him. How? Elijah had been dead a thousand one hundred years, but the disciples knew him and recognized him [Luke 9:28-33]. How? And the blessed Lord Jesus transfigured and glorified, when He was raised from the dead, He even had the nail prints, the scars in His hands, and He even had the scar of that Roman spear in His side [John 20:24-27, 19:34]. And when they yet believed not – for joy [Luke 24:41], "such a thing is beyond the power of God," they thought, the Lord said, "Why, have you here anything to eat?" And He did eat, a piece of a broiled fish and of an honeycomb before them, the same blessed Lord Jesus [Luke 24:41-43].
How shall it be in heaven, where people don’t marry and where there are no children born? Some things lie in the power of the almightiness of God, but my brother, we are given to believe that God is able, and He will not take away from us. He shall add immeasurably to us.
My old predecessor in Muskogee, Oklahoma, Dr. A. N. Hall – one of the princeliest preachers of all time pastored there twenty-eight years – died there. Before he was getting ready to preach his last sermon, he used to say, "People ask me, will we know each other in heaven?" And he would say, "My friend and my brother, we will not know one another really until we get to heaven."
In the thirteenth chapter of the 1 Corinthian letter, Paul writes, "For then shall I know even as I am known, for then shall I know even as God knows me" [1 Corinthians 13:12]. And however we may know one another here, and however close we are to each other here, it will be nothing compared to the preciousness and the dearness and the sweetness and the tenderness by which we shall know and love each other in glory, that better thing God hath prepared for those who trust Him [Hebrews 11:40].
Dear people, bear with me just one other moment. I want to speak of this because of the caricature of it you see all of your life. "I don’t know what we’re going to do when we get to heaven." Well, all of these cartoonists have an answer. We’re going to sit on a cloud, and I’m going to flap my wings. And I’m going to play a golden harp and sit on that cloud for ever and ever and ever. Wouldn’t that thrill you? Isn’t that a prospect for you?
That’s the tawdry cheapness of this unbelieving and gainsaying world. There is no intimation of that in God’s Book anywhere. What God says to us is like this – and He told a parable in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, and He told a parable of the kingdom – and He said it’s like a man who had gained ten pounds and the Lord commended the servant and said, "You be ruler over ten cities." And it’s like a man who had gained five pounds, and the Lord said to him, "And you will be ruler over five cities" [Luke 19:16-19]. My brother, in the kingdom that is to come, there is a universe to govern. There are nations and peoples; there are cities, there are governments, and we are going to live an intensive life.
The old time preachers I used to listen to would say, and once in a while when I get in a weaving way, I repeat it, "Oh, I wish God will give me a planet, just a planet to myself, and let me stand there and just preach and preach and preach and time is no consideration." And when 12:00 o’clock comes, he’s just got through idling his motor; he’s just getting started a way. Wouldn’t that be great? Wouldn’t that be great?
The conception of heaven as being dull, and monotonous, and dreary, where we are confirmed in a certain crystallized life forever and ever is alien to the mind of God and the revelation of the Holy Book. My brother, in heaven, get ready! We’re going to have assignments and we’re going to grow, I think. We’re going to expand in our souls and in our minds, thinking of God and learning of God and administering the whole universe.
It’ll all be recreated; there will be no burned out stars over there, and there will be no desert places over yonder. Everything will be of intensest perfection. And we who love God shall sit on His throne and administer this whole creation. Think of it, man; think of it. This better thing God hath prepared for us who love Him [Hebrews 11:40]. It’s victory; it’s triumph; it’s glory; it’s great; it’s good what the Lord hath purposed for us. So lift up your eyes, lift up your face, lift up your heart. God is moving in time, in history. God is moving today, preparing for that better thing He hath promised unto us.
Now on this first note of this first stanza, somebody you, a family you, a couple you, as God shall place the appeal on your heart and if the Spirit shall lead in the way, come and stand by me. "Here I am, preacher and here I come." Out of the balcony round, on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front. "Today, I pick the Lord Jesus as my Savior." Or, "Today, we’re putting our lives in the fellowship of the church." On the first note of this first stanza, come. Make it now; make it this morning, while we stand and while we sing.