The Christ of the Common Road
November 16th, 1969 @ 7:30 PM
THE CHRIST OF THE COMMON ROAD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-16-69 7:30 p.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Christ of the Common Road. We haven’t opportunity to read all the story, but we shall read a part of it. Turn to Luke 24, Luke chapter 24; Luke chapter 24, and we shall begin reading at verse 25 and read through verse 32. Luke chapter 24, beginning at verse 25 reading through verse 32 [Luke 24:25-32]. And if on the radio of the city of Dallas you share the service with us, read out loud with the great congregation here tonight, Luke 24:25-32. Now together:
Then He said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken:
Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?
And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and He made as though He would have gone further.
But they constrained Him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And He went in to tarry with them.
And it came to pass, as He sat at meat with them, He took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them.
And their eyes were opened, and they knew Him; and He vanished out of their sight.
And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the Scriptures?
This is a part of what the French critic Renan said is the most beautiful story in the world. It begins in verse 13.
There are two disciples who are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus [Luke 24:13]. If you’ve been in Israel you have passed by Emmaus. It’s from Jerusalem, northwestward, about seven or eight miles. And these two disciples were going home on Sunday, late afternoon, from Jerusalem. It is the first day of the week, and as they walked together they are talking about the events of the Passion Week, when the Lord was crucified [Luke 24:14-15]. And when the Lord Himself drew near and the third Man began to walk with them, He said unto them, “What manner of communications are these that you have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?” [Luke 24:17]. For a while hope burned in their hearts like a brilliant and burning star [Luke 24:21].
The Prophet from Nazareth in Galilee was surely the promised Messiah of God; the miracles that He did even astonished those who belonged to the Sanhedrin. For Nicodemus one of their number, being afraid to be found in His presence in broad daylight came to see Him at night [John 3:1]; and introduced himself and his question with this word: “For no man can do the miracles that Thou doest except God be with Him” [John 3:1-2]. He was manifestly, openly, confirmed a prophet of God. And the words that He spake were words of heaven, words of infinite wisdom and worth.
And their hearts soared heavenward as they looked upon the promise of Israel, the hope of the world, Jesus, the Prophet of Galilee [Luke 24:32]. Then they saw Him die, die like a felon, die like a convict, die like a criminal, die like a malefactor. They saw Him executed; saw Him raised between two traitors, two robbers, two thieves, two malefactors [Luke 23:26-46]. Never was star so bright and so high plunged into an abyss of darkness and despair as these two disciples and those who loved the Lord experienced in that Passion week as they walked along and were sad [Luke 24:17].
There is a sadness of an exile. There is a sadness of old age. There is a sadness of an open grave. But there is no sadness comparable to the spiritual sadness when hope has died, and every dream and vision we’ve known in our lives is plunged into the abyss of disappointment and disillusionment and despair. It is a sadness like that, it seems to me, that has come over our world. There are two great Britishers, tremendous men, who were almost born in the same time, and who lived to an age, and who died not long ago. One of them is Alfred Noyes, who was a tremendous poet and man of letters. And referring to what has happened to us, the whole world in this past generation, he wrote a book entitled The Edge of the Abyss. And in that book he says, and I quote:
The forces of destruction have been at work over a long period. For more than half a century the sapping and mining has been carried on, confusing all the lines of right and wrong and all the loyalties of mankind. Not one of the essentials that belonged to our peace has been left to us in its integrity. The religious life is gone for a great number; the young have been robbed of their birthright in Christendom by the cynicism of elderly men of letters. I think that sometimes in the silence and emptiness of their hearts they must often hear a distant echo of that bitterest of all human cries, “They have taken away our Lord, and we know not where they have laid Him” [John 20:13].
This is the verdict of one of the great men of literature of all time. His sensitive poetic soul felt the emptiness and the sterility of modern scholarship; cynical, unbelieving, without the great commitment to build up the faith and to confirm the loyalties that the human heart ever feels inclined toward God; but rather to pride itself in the name of an empty scholasticism, to rob the youth of their hope of the reality and promise of God in Christ Jesus. There is a sadness in modern academic scholasticism that is felt; we call it a philosophy of modern despair.
A contemporary of Alfred Noyes was the great, far-famed, gifted statesman Winston Spencer Churchill. And in this day of cynicism, and scholarly unbelief, Winston Churchill wrote—and this is typical of that rugged individualist—and I quote at length, listen to him:
We reject with scorn all those learned and labored myths that Moses was but a legendary figure upon whom the priesthood and the people hung their essential social, moral, and religious ordinances. We believe that the most scientific view, the most up to date and rationalistic conception will find its fullest satisfaction in taking the Bible’s story literally.
Just like this pastor preaches it: word for word, syllable by syllable, miracle by miracle, revelation by revelation, just as God has written it, by inspiration on His sacred page [2 Timothy 3:16]. We remain unmoved, Winston Churchill continued,
. . . by the tomes of Professor Gradgrind and Dr. Dry-as-dust. We may be sure that all these things happen just as they are set out according to Holy Writ. We may believe that they happen to people not so very different from ourselves, and that the impressions those people received were faithfully recorded, and have been transmitted across the centuries with far more accuracy than many of the telegraphed accounts we read of in the goings-on of today. In the words of a forgotten work of Mr. Gladstone, “We rest with assurance upon the impregnable rock of Holy Scripture.” Let the men of science and learning expand their knowledge and probe with their researches every detail of the records which have been preserved to us from these dim ages. And all they will do is to fortify the grand simplicity and essential accuracy of the recorded truths which have lighted so far the pilgrimage of mankind.
No wonder his oratory thrilled us. And my own heart is as the poet has written:
Then through the midst of my confession
Then through the passion of my prayer
Leaps with a start the sense of my possession
Thrills me with wonder, for my Lord is there
and that is you and this is I—
Whoso hath felt the Spirit of the Highest,
Cannot confound nor doubt Him nor deny:
Yea with one voice, O world, tho’ thou deniest,
Stand thou on that side, for on this side am I.
[from Saint Paul, Frederick W. H. Myers]
There is a sadness when empty-hearted professors and pseudoscientists in the name of scholarship and learning, teach our young that the Scriptures are myths, and that Jesus is but a legend, and that God is an unknown superstition, a drag of our evolutionary rising from our brutal ancestors. Oh, no wonder the modern world gropes, as though they were lost in a fog and a mist! Our foundations have been cut out from under us, and our future is dark and uncertain. For they say there is no consummation to life but the death, and the darkness, and the cold of the clod and the grave. There is a sadness in that; there is a tragedy, there is a despair in that that is indescribable and unspeakable.
It was that kind of a gloom in which these two disciples were plunged when they saw every hope and star in their sky die in the crucifixion of Jesus [Luke 23:26-46]. But as they walked along and communed with one another, and thus were so sad, the Lord Himself, He is alive, He lives, He is [Luke 24:13-17]. The greatest fact in the universe is not the stars or the Milky Way or the moon or the earth; these things are but transitional expressions of the handiwork of God [Psalm 102:25]. Heaven and earth shall someday pass away; but the great fact of the universe is the eternal immortal Savior, the Christ, the God, the Lord. This is the eternity of eternities, and the fact of facts, and the reality of realities: He lives, He is! [Revelation 1:18].
And these things are but peripheral; they’re but the clothing, they’re but the garments, they’re but the robes. And they may wax old and pass away; but the great fact and reality of God is forever and forever [Hebrews 1:10-12]. He lives. He is. And as they walked along and were sad, the Lord Himself drew nigh [Luke 24:13-17]. What a compliment. Who are these who are so unusually and signally honored? I could understand it if the Lord had appeared thus to say, Simon Peter, or to the apostle John, or to James, or to Matthew. I could understand it had He appeared to the rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, who gave Him His tomb [Matthew 27:57-60], or with Nicodemus, a learned doctor of canon law [John 3:1, 10]. But who are these two so signally chosen, and so significantly honored? I have no idea, nor does anyone. One of them is unnamed, and the other is named but unknown, unmentioned elsewhere [Luke 24:13, 18], two humble unknown disciples of the Lord.
But isn’t that like Jesus? In the days of His flesh did you not find Him revealing Himself to those who were so humble, so unknown? The greatest sermon that ever was preached on spiritual worship was preached to an unnamed Samaritan outcast, a woman from Sychar [John 4:7-26]. Who was the blind man whose eyes Jesus opened in Jerusalem? [John 9:1-7]. We don’t even know him. All through His ministry the Lord ministered to, loved, and encouraged, and helped, and forgave, and healed, and blessed the common people [Matthew 11:5, 12:15].
And it is thus in the signal honor that comes to these two unnamed disciples. Cleopas [Luke 24:13-18], I don’t know him, no one does; and the other, don’t know him, nor anyone does. But the Lord honored them. And He is just the same today in glory as He was then. He does not love us because we are rich, or because we are handsome or beautiful, or famous, or gifted. Had He chosen us in the categories that are so enamored on the part of the world, most of us would have been forgot. For there are not many of us that are rich, most of us are poor; and there are not many of us that are beautiful and handsome, most of us are quite ordinary; and there are not many of us that are gifted and famous; most of us live humble lives. But the Lord loves us; and we are precious in His sight. And the least saint who has placed his trust in Jesus is in God’s sight an honored fellow heir with Christ [Ephesians 3:5-6]. Oh, bless God for His wonderful and loving condescension to us!
And when He was made known to them they said one to another, “Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us by the way?” [Luke 24:32]. And then when they went to Jerusalem and there the Lord appeared to His apostles and those two disciples [Luke 24:33-47], they believed not for joy [Luke 24:41], the wonder, the glory of the presence of the living Christ. You know it’s a funny thing how the world does about joy and gladness and emotion.
Several times, I do not know why it should have happened this week, but several times I have visited with people, some of them coming into the fellowship of the church, some have already come today, and they have said to me, “Our hearts are hungry for the churches we visit, and sometimes the churches to which we belong are dry, and dull, and formal, and cold, and unfriendly.” And I can understand, for in the great expression of the Christian faith, when the congregations gather on the Lord’s Day so much of that expression is removed and impersonal and out there, but it isn’t warm, and it isn’t filled with gladness and glory and joy, the exuberance of a living faith. And I don’t understand why that in the name of culture, in the name of academic excellence we’re not to be that way in our expression of the faith. We might show intellectual weakness or emotional instability if we did. And that’s such a strange come to pass, such an unusual turn to life.
Yesterday afternoon I listened to the radio as I visited from hospital to hospital, driving over the city. And I have three buttons on that end of the radio in the car; I have three buttons on that end. And you push one button and that’s that station, and you push this button and that’s the next station, and you push this button and that’s the next station. All right, I push this button, and that’s the one down there on the end, I push that button and oh, they were in a glory, they were clapping their hands, and they were singing their songs, and they were shouting the praises of Jesus, and they were saying, “He healed me; oh, glory to God…and He forgave my sins; oh, bless His name…and He has set my feet upon a rock and given me a new life, and a new dream, and a new hope, and a new love and a new faith, oh bless His name.” And they were shouting and clapping their hands, and just happy in the Lord. Then I pushed the second button, and they were hollering to the top of their voices, and they were carrying on as Texas University humiliated Texas Christian University; and there was shouting and singing, and there was hollering, and they were throwing up their hands and carrying on, a great university! Then I pushed the third; and when I pushed the third and they were hooping it up and hollering as Arkansas University was humiliating Southern Methodist University. And they were shouting and carrying on to the top of their voices, and a-hollering and just like mad dervishes.
Then when I listen to those academic screwballs, when I pushed the first button they say, “Such fanaticism, such emotionalism, such cheap and tawdry religion”; but the same cheap, tawdry academicians go out to a Cotton Bowl, or go out to a stadium, and do the same things. Only when I push the first button they’re saying “Glory to God, I’ve been saved. Glory to God, I’ve found the Lord,” but in the second and third buttons, the intellectual community is whooping it up over some run that some big giant of a man is making, carrying a pigskin across a line. I’m happy for the university, and I’m happy for the conquest, and I’m happy for the winner, and I’m happy for the exuberance found in university life; but oh, my soul! If it makes them happy when a big burly youngster carries a pigskin across a certain goal line, why should I look down my intellectual nose when I see a child of God happy in the Lord? It doesn’t make sense to me.
There is joy in real religion. There is gladness in the true faith. There is an overwhelming wonder of the mystery of the presence of God. Like David said, “My cup fills and runs over” [Psalm 23:5]. I don’t say to tip it; but I do say, if it overflows, let it overflow; God’s great goodness and preciousness to us.
I must stop. There’s no end to loving Jesus, adoring Jesus, singing to Jesus, preaching about Jesus, there’s no end to it. That’s why when we get to glory forever and ever we’ll sing the praises of our incomparably dear and precious Lord. Like Corky Farris and his wife and our sweet choir sings tonight.
While we sing our appeal, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, to come into the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:24-25], to give your heart to Jesus [Romans 10:18-13], would you come and stand by me? In the balcony round, there’s time and to spare, coming down one of these stairwells. On the lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, “Here I am, pastor, I’m coming tonight.” Make the decision now, do it now; and in a moment, when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. God open the door before you, and angels walk with you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.