The Most Tragic Word in the Bible
June 9th, 1968 @ 7:30 PM
THE MOST TRAGIC WORD IN THE BIBLE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-9-68 7:30 p.m.
Now on the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Most Tragic Word in the Bible. Turn with me to Luke 15. Luke chapter 15, and we shall read out loud the first ten verses. If your neighbor does not have his Bible, you share your Bible with him. And if you are listening on the radio, get your Bible and read the passage out loud with us; Luke, the Third Gospel, Luke chapter 15 and the first ten verses, now all of us reading out loud together:
Then drew near unto Him all the publicans and sinners for to hear Him.
And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This Man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.
And He spake this parable unto them, saying,
What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, who need no repentance.
Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, shall not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?
And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbors together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost.
Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.
Now the reason for the indescribable celestial heavenly joy is because of the marvelous redemption and salvation: to be saved, and that was supposed to be the sermon this morning that I didn’t preach. Maybe I will preach it next Sunday morning. That was the word: “saved,” the most glorious word in the Bible and in human speech; “saved.” This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found; saved” [Luke 15:24].
Now the most tragic word in the Bible and in human speech is this word “lost.” Out into the wilderness to seek that which was lost until he found it: “I have found my sheep which was lost” [Luke 15:6]. “I found the piece which I had lost” [Luke 15:9]. Lost: somebody said, apply that word to anything and it will spell tragedy. Apply it to health: there is a man strong and well, supporting his family, doing good in life; an illness cuts him down, and he is broken on the wheel of sickness. Apply that word to the eyes, to sight: he has lost his sight, and he gropes through the earth in darkness. Apply that word to the mind: he has lost his mind. I don’t think I ever heard a sadder story than one spoken by a guard in an asylum. He said upon a day there was a young woman who came to the asylum to visit a man. And the guard said, “I opened the door and ushered in the young woman, and after the time had passed for her visit,” he said, “I unlocked the door, and when I did,” he said, “I saw that young woman on her knees before her husband. And she cried as she looked up into his face. ‘Oh sweetheart, don’t you know me? I’m your wife. Don’t you know me?’” And the guard said There was no light of recognition in the face of the young man. He had lost his mind.
But there is no tragedy as when you apply that word lost to the human soul, a lost soul. A young and sinful man died in an automobile wreck. He had lived incorrigibly, wickedly, and had died drunk in that wreck. And the father and mother who belonged to another church, to another communion, called me and said, “Would you come and bury our boy? We will have his service here in the home,” a very large palatial home. And the parents said as they talked to me, “Don’t call his name. Don’t read an obituary. There will not be a song. Don’t read a Scripture. Just pray a prayer, and we will bury him away”: a lost soul!
A liberal theologian writes, and I quote, “If the doctrine of perdition,” of damnation, “if the doctrine of perdition were written on all the pages of all the Bibles of all the world, I would not believe it.” Fine for him, and fine for any speculative philosopher, but as I face reality, I do not know of a harsher or ruder or truer fact in human life than this, that men are lost without Christ! They are lost without God [Ephesians 2:12]. That old doctrine that you never hear preached anymore of total depravity: the doctrine is not that a man is as vile as he can be, but the doctrine is that sin has entered all of our faculties, and we are a fallen and a lost humanity.
The sinner is lost in this life. He is miserable and unhappy and restless and never finds peace and rest for his soul. Long time ago did I conclude that is why men drink so much, and that is why, in our families and in our homes in affluent America, you cannot carry on a conversation unless it be over some kind of a drink. We are shallow, we are empty, we have no life in us; and to drown the reality of existence, our people drink and drink and drink.
And finally, even when the affects of intoxication and inebriation wear off, then we turn to drugs; any way to drown our souls from the reality of life. The sinner is lost in this life [John 3:36]. He has no God to pray to. He has no Christ in his heart. He has to drink or he has to take drugs. He has to be entertained or amused. He can’t live with himself. Life is not all sunshine. Life is not all joy and gladness. There are sorrows and disappointments and despairs that come into every soul, and we need God, and without Him we are lost: the sinner is lost in this life [John 3:36; Ephesians 2:12].
The sinner is lost in death [1 John 5:12]. To him, death is a specter horrible, unimaginable. To him, death is a darkness, a judgment, a groping! The sinner is lost in death; to him, it is an impenetrable doom and darkness of night! The Christian falls asleep in Jesus [1 Thessalonians 4:13-14]. The Christian looks up, and there is God in Christ, and there is heaven, and there is home, and there is every sweet and precious inheritance. He just closes his eyes to this earth that he might open them in glory [2 Corinthians 5:8]. He leaves this shore to step on the shores of heaven.
But the sinner, when he dies, he faces an impenetrable and indescribable gloom and darkness! The grave to him is a horror, and he cringes and is afraid. I sometimes think of the darkness of the night that lies in prospect for the sinner who dies. I sometimes think of it like this. Going through one of the caves in this earth, way down deep, we came across a mummified little girl. She looked to be twelve or thirteen years of age, had lost her way sometime, somewhere, someday in that cavern and had wandered in the darkness of that labyrinth and finally lay down and died. And the little thing, the little mummy in that dry cavern, her body had mummified, dried. And when she died, she died with her face buried in her hands. And as I looked at that little thing, I thought of the horror, unspeakable, that must have crushed her very soul as the child wandered through the darkness of that cave and found no light and no hope and finally death. And I thought of the sinner who dies without God. To him the grave is nothing but a gloom and a darkness and a night, a searching into nothing, just fear and agony and dread.
The sinner is lost in death [1 John 5:12]. The sinner is lost at the judgment bar of Almighty God [1 Peter 4:5]. Someday we shall all appear before the Lord God who made us [Romans 14:12]. And when that great assize comes, and we stand in the presence of the Almighty, and the angel who records in God’s Book of Life the names of those who loved Jesus and trusted Him, and the lost sinner stands in the presence of the God who made him [Revelation 20:12], and the Lord God says, “Look through the Book of Life and see if you can find his name,” and the recording angel turns through the Book of Life and then turns to the Lord and says, “I can’t find his name; his name is not here.” And that lost sinner shall say, “Oh, but, God, You don’t understand. Let me explain, God. You don’t understand.” And the Lord shall say, “You have all eternity in which to make out your case. Speak.” And the lost sinner says, “O God, You don’t understand. I was down there in that earth, and I was too busy having a good time, and I was too busy being entertained, and I was too busy seeking pleasure. Lord, You don’t understand. I was too busy for Thee.” And the Lord God shall say, “But in My Word, didn’t I write, ‘It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment’?” [Hebrews 9:27].
But the lost sinner shall say, “Oh, but, God, You don’t understand. Let me speak again. Let me explain. O Lord God, O dear God, you see, I wasn’t all bad. I wasn’t all evil inside. Look at these good deeds in my life. I did some good.” And the Lord God shall say, “But did I not write in My Book, ‘All of your righteousness are but as filthy rags in My sight’?” [Isaiah 64:6].
“Oh, but God,” the lost sinner shall say at the judgment day, “Lord, You don’t understand. Let me explain. O God, it was like this: I was so confused in the earth. There were so many churches, and there were so many denominations, and there were so many hypocrites in them that, Lord, I couldn’t find the way.” And the Lord God shall say, “Did I say anything about hypocrites? and did I say anything about churches? and did I say anything about denominations? Didn’t I say, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved’?” [Acts 16:31].
“But, O God, You don’t understand. Let me explain. You don’t understand. Lord, I was waiting for some great experience and some mighty feeling just to pick me up and set me in the kingdom of God, and that feeling and that great experience didn’t come.” And the Lord God shall say, “Did I say anything in My Book about a great experience or about a great feeling? Did I not write in My Book, ‘If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in thine heart that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved’?” [Romans 10:9].
And the lost sinner shall say, “Lord, hear me just once again. Let me explain just once again. O God, O God, You don’t understand. I didn’t intend to be lost. I never intended to die and fall into the pit of perdition. Lord, I meant to be saved! I intended to make it right with Thee before I died.” And the Lord God shall say, “But did I not write in My Book, ‘Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation’?” [2 Corinthians 6:2]. And the recording angel shall open the book of damnation and write his name, and after it the word “lost!” Lost, lost; the sinner is lost at the judgment bar of Almighty God [Revelation 20:15], and the sinner is lost for all eternity forever, and ever, and ever, and ever [Jude 1:7].
Once in a while do you ever try to stretch your finite, small, little imagination and mind, which is so terrestrially bound? Do you ever try to stretch it and think how long is eternity? How long is forever and ever and ever? Oh, how could we sit forever and ever and ever and ever, always and always, eternally and everlastingly? Somebody said that if this earth were a solid granite, the whole planet a solid stone, and once every million years a little bird came and sharpened his beak on this solid stone, that by the time he had worn this earth away, eternity would have not yet begun.
Lost, lost for all eternity. There must have been some reason why the Prince of glory, the Lord Christ, came down into this earth. There must have been some reason why He died on the cross. There must have been some reason why God took our sins and our iniquities [Isaiah 53:5-6; 1 Peter 2:24]. There must have been some tremendous reason, and that is it: because of the infinite tragedy of our lost souls when we die in our sins, and no man shall ever see the face of God in unforgiven sin [John 3:36]. When we die in our sins, we are shut out from heaven and from God forever and ever and ever! [2 Thessalonians 1:9]. And that is why Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost [Matthew 18:11; Luke 19:10]. And that is why Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:3], that He might be raised for our justification, to declare us right and acceptable in the great judgment day of Almighty God [Romans 4:25]. And that is why, to me, a true preacher of Christ, standing in the pulpit of the Lord, ought to warn his people of the judgment to come and point to Him who can save us from our sins [John 1:29].
What would you think of a physician, of a doctor, and a man came to see him and he had cancer, but the physician, looking at it, said to the man, “Why, sir, it is nothing but a pimple on the skin,” and the man dies of cancer? What would you think of that physician? What would you think of the doctor if a man came with tuberculosis, and the doctor, looking at him, said, “Why, sir, you just have a bad cold,” and the man dies of tuberculosis? What would you think of that physician? Don’t you think that the physician ought to diagnose correctly and administer his drugs honestly and hopefully? When cancer is virulent and violent, where is the doctor that could help us and heal us? Or when the germs of tuberculosis waste our life, where is the doctor that could heal us?
How much more when I find myself a sinner, and I read in God’s Book the judgment of the Lord upon my sins, and I see it in my life—I am a dying man. Where is the Savior who can forgive me? Where is the Lord God who can take me to Himself, who can deliver me in that great and final day?
I visit with these little children, as you know, and a father and a mother brought a little boy to me this evening. And I say to the lad, “Son, Jesus came into the world to be a Savior. What does He save us from?” And the little fellow replied, “Our sins” [Matthew 26:28; Mark 2:1-11; 1 John 1:7].
“And who has sinned?”
“All of us have sinned” [Romans 3:10, 23].
“And what is the penalty for our sins?”
“Eternal death, moral death, spiritual death, physical death, the second death.” Then the inevitable question: “And son, who can save us from our sins?” And the lad replied, “Jesus. Jesus” [Acts 16:30-31].
Then I point out to the lad, “See your daddy there? He loves you, son; would give his life for you. And your mother there, she loves you, son; willingly would lay down her life for you. But, lad, if you die before your father and your mother, all they can do is just bury you out of their sight. They may love you unto death, but they cannot enter beyond.”
My mother, my father, these who would love us best are helpless in the presence of that great enemy, sin and death. Who can save us? Who is beyond that grave? Who can receive us to Himself? Who can raise us out of the dust of the earth and the heart of the ground? Who can do it? It’s no one but Jesus [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].
And that is why I am invited by the Spirit of God to come to Him [Revelation 22:17], come to Him with my sins, ask Him to forgive me [John 16:7-15]. Come to Him with my weaknesses, ask Him to strengthen me. Come to Him with all of my inabilities to understand and ask Him to teach me. Come to Him with every hope and dream that I have in my soul and life and ask Jesus to bless me, sanctify and hallow the commitment that I make to Him. Will you do that tonight? Will you? Will you?
Down to this aisle, down to the pastor, in the balcony round, on this lower floor: “Here I am, preacher. I will take Jesus as my Savior tonight, for all that He can mean to me. Now in this life, in the hour of my death, and in the eternity, the everlasting eternal that is yet to come, I will give my soul and my life in trust to the blessed Jesus.” Will you? Will you? In the throng in this balcony round, there is a stairway at the front and the back on either side; come. There is time and to spare. Come. The press of people on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front: “Here I am, pastor. I give you my hand. I give my heart to the Lord,” come. A couple you, a family you, or one somebody you, as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now. “I want to be saved. I want to be a Christian. I want God in my heart.” Come. We will find Him together. To be baptized, come. To put your letter in the church, come. To reconsecrate your life, come. To answer a call from heaven, come. As the Spirit shall lay upon your heart God’s appeal tonight, do it now. Do it now. In a moment when we stand to sing, you stand up coming. Make the decision now, and in a moment when we sing, stand up coming. God bless you in the way. Welcome. Come, come. Come, while we stand and while we sing.