The Crowd at the Cross
July 20th, 1969 @ 7:30 PM
THE CROWD AT THE CROSS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-20-69 7:30 p.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. It is an infinitely high and blessed privilege, more than any other time I can remember in my ministry, to stand here in this pulpit tonight. There were several people, when I came to church, earlier in the evening, asking me, “Shall we dismiss our services tonight?” and “Are you going to preach tonight?” and “Will we have church tonight?” Oh dear, beyond anything in the earth, this is what we need to do right now.
I have two observations to make about it. First, I am asked many times, “What do you think about the exploration of space? Does it interfere with the sovereign will of God for us? Does the Lord intend for us to go beyond this atmospheric heaven that is above us? Are we not tampering, and fooling with, and interfering with, the great purposes of God when we seek to reach beyond the sphere of this planet?”
Well, to begin with, what we shall ever be able to do, whatever we shall be able to do, will be confined to a very, very infinitesimally small speck of God’s universe. If you were to go to the nearest star, you would have to live something like a billion, billion years, even to the nearest star. Whatever we do, we are confined to an infinitesimally small corner of God’s universe; so small as to be almost, by comparison, nonexistent. But God placed us here, in this area of the infinitude of the firmament above us. Some of those stars; the light that we see left those stars trillions, billions, and trillions of years ago. Our outreach is so very limited, so very limited. God made it that way.
God placed us here in that infinitesimally small corner of His great creation. He had a purpose in that. God says that this earth now, and our work now, are great introductions to the work that is yet to come. Someday, we shall fulfill, truly fulfill, the promise of God in Genesis; that we shall have dominion over all of God’s work [Genesis 1:26, 28]. This is a small part of it; this is an introduction to it. And for a man to learn what God has done, if there are ether waves, or whatever the scientists would be able to discover, on which a radio beam would ride––some deny there is such a thing as an ether wave––but whatever that is that a radio beam rides, God made that in the beginning and we’re just now discovering it.
The penicillin that heals our bodies, that was in this earth from the beginning. We are just now discovering it. And our ability to reach the moon, we’re just now achieving it. God made this whole creation for the dominion of the man that He made [Genesis 1:26-28]. But our ultimate dominion will never be in this life; our final and glorious dominion will be when Jesus comes again [John 14:3]. Then with new and created bodies [1 Corinthians 15:42-44] we shall have the whole recreated heaven above us as the circle, and the circumference, and the outreach of our new and glorious life. This is but a harbinger of what yet shall come, in the power and glory of God. So to answer that question, “Is it right? Is it heavenly? Is it correct for a man to try to reach the moon?” Yes, this is just one of the many, many infinitudes of God over which God intended the man to have dominion, power, rule, sovereignty.
Now in this effort, this is why especially I say out of all the other times in the earth we ought to have a service it ought to be now, it ought to be tonight. The other observation I have to say is this: whatever man does, usually back of it is the dark hand and presence of a depraved and fallen nature. What lies back of the vast effort in the exploration of space is that simple but horrible word to be said: whoever controls space controls the destiny of the nations of the earth. For it is on those spaceships that the communists, and the Americans, are trying to gain that power to pinpoint bombs, instruments of destruction on the cities and the industrial complexes of our enemies.
And think what would happen to us, America, if we were unable to protect ourselves from these who could control the skies, send space platforms above us, and by computerized identification, pinpoint hydrogen bombs on all of the cities and the complexes industrial of America. There’d be nothing for us to do but to cringe and to bow like craven slaves before our enemies who controlled the skies above us. And this is why we need God.
Oh, that the forces of men should be used for the destruction of fellow men! Where is peace but in the Prince of Peace? [Isaiah 9:6]. And where do we have hope for the future but in God? And these terrific races that we see in lunar orbits, in earthly orbits, in all the technological advances that take in the vast reaches of the space around us, back of it are those terrible possibilities of destruction, annihilation, war, murder. O God, how we need the presence of the Lord. And what is happening just now is but one more exclamation point after what God says, “Without Me there is no life. Look unto Me, and be ye saved all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else” [Isaiah 45:22]. So this is the best time in the world to come to church. It’s the best time in the world to look to Jesus. It’s the best time in the world to open your heart to the appeal of the Lord; best time in life to love God, to depend, to find hope and assurance in our Savior.
Now the title of the sermon tonight is The Crowd at the Cross. I have been preaching through the Book of Luke. And every Sunday night there will be a sermon on the life of our Lord. From now and as long as God will let me preach, every Sunday night a sermon on Jesus, bragging about Jesus, presenting the life, and death, and holy, heavenly resurrection of Jesus. So with me, and you who listen on the radio, turn to Luke chapter 23, Luke chapter 23; and we shall read out loud together verses 33 through 43; Luke 23:33-43.
If you have the place, share your Bible with your neighbor and all of us read it out loud together; Luke 23, beginning at verse 33 through 43. Now together:
And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.
Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted His raiment, and cast lots.
And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided Him, saying, He saved others; let Him save Himself, if He be Christ, the chosen of God.
And the soldiers also mocked Him, coming to Him, and offering Him vinegar,
And saying, If Thou be the King of the Jews, save Thyself.
And a superscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on Him, saying, If Thou be Christ, save Thyself and us.
But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?
And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this Man hath done nothing amiss.
And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.
And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.
This is a part of the message of the Bible on that day of the cross. And as I look at that hour of agony and crucifixion, I’m going to follow through the Word of the Lord some of the people, looking at some of the crowd that stood there that day Jesus died. One:
And they that passed by reviled Him, wagging their heads,
And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save Thyself. If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.
Likewise also the [chief] priests mocking Him, with the scribes and elders said,
He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He be the King of Israel, let Him come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God, let God deliver Him, if He will have Him: for He said, I am the Son of God.
[Matthew 27: 39-43]
Those who, passing by, wagged their heads and scorned, and mocked, and ridiculed [Matthew 27:39].
There were those who were strangers. And when they saw the superscription above His head, they laughed, and they scoffed, and they scorned. Then there were those who had encompassed His death. And they mocked and ridiculed Him and threw into His teeth words that He Himself had said. “He said He could build this temple in three days. Let’s see Him do it. He said He is the Son of God. Let Him come down from the cross” [Matthew 27:40]. The crowd, who passing by, wagged their heads in scorn and contempt [Matthew 27:39]. All of these stand around the cross today, and they do the inimical, and diabolical, and same blasphemous thing. Their scorning the sacrificial death of our Lord would grieve the angels themselves.
Second: “And there were there those who crucified Him; and they parted His garments, casting lots”; gambling for them, “that it might be fulfilled . . . They parted My garments among them, and upon My vesture did they cast lots” [Psalm 22:18, Matthew 27:35]. There was a quaternion of soldiers that crucified the Lord. And they divided His garments as they always did an executed criminal’s. And one took one piece, and one took another; and another took another, and a fourth took a fourth.
But the Lord had five garments. So far as I know, the only thing He possessed in the earth, the Lord had five pieces of raiment. He had a headdress. He had a girdle. He had shoes, sandals. He had an outer garment, those four. And one soldier took one, one took another, another and a fourth took a fourth. But the inner garment was woven without seam from top to bottom [John 19:23]. And they said, “Rather than that we divide it up, let’s cast lots for it [John 19:24]. Let’s take dice and throw them for it.” And there at the foot of the cross they engaged in their sordid merchandising; gambling while Jesus died.
How many people in this world will take God’s holy day, and the things of the Lord, and make them crass. For Sunday is no longer a holy day for the great mass increasingly of humanity; it is a holiday. And they use it for purposes of merchandising, and for pleasure, and for entertainment. Gambling at the foot of the cross, making game in the death of our Lord, using God’s holy day for purposes of personal aggrandizement, and affluence, and advancement; the crowd at the cross.
Third: “And sitting down, they watched Him there; And they set up over His head that accusation written; and the crowd, sitting down, just looking” [Matthew 27:36-37]. It meant no more to them than the rocks, than the road, than any other of the topographical features of that hill on which Jesus was raised up toward the sky. “And sitting down they watched Him there” [Matthew 27:36]. No more concern than just looking at a spectacle, no more moved than had they been spectators at a game. And how many are there like that, even in the church? When they come to church they are spectators. They are seated and they do not enter in to the agony of prayer or appeal. They have no burden of heart. They come to church just as they would to a vaudeville show, or to a picture show, and sitting down they watch it. They don’t enter in to it. They don’t agonize for it.
I cannot, though I don’t say anything about it, I cannot tell you the personal grief that I feel when, after I am done preaching and I give an appeal I see our people walk out this auditorium, walk out this auditorium, walk out this auditorium. O dear God, we have come here to reach the lost, to pray for the unsaved. And the great service that we have in this vast auditorium is just a sounding board against which we testify, and witness, and make appeal in behalf of the grace and goodness of God. And when we come to church and we leave, as we make that appeal, oh, it just emphasizes that we came in the first place just some of us for duty’s sake, some of us for habit’s sake, some of us because we don’t feel quite right by never going to church, and it’s the decent thing to do, and it’s the respectable thing to do. But as for really entering into it we just sit and watch. We just sit and look; the crowd at the cross.
Oh, dear! How could you love God, and watch Jesus die, and not somehow be moved? And how can we share in the witness and testimony of God in this earth today, and come to a service and not plead in it, and pray in it, and beg of God in it, and ask God to endow the pastor, and to bless the message that he preaches, and the invitation that is extended, and these that we’ve invited to come, that they might find the Lord and be saved? The crowd at the cross.
These are not all. Oh, oh! Look at some others at the cross. “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother” [John 19:25]. She stayed there until the Lord, knowing the agony through which He would inevitably go through, turned to John and said, “John, take her away, take her away” [John 19:26-27]. His own brethren did not believe in Him [John 7:5]. James, who later was converted [1 Corinthians 15:7], Jude, who later was converted [Acts1:14], Joseph and Simon, His own brothers, did not believe on Him [John 7:5]. So when Jesus died on the cross, His brothers were not there. And that’s why it is that when Jesus saw His mother He said to John, “John, you take her away, that she not behold the agony of this death, this crucifixion” [John 19:26-27].
The bravest battle that e’er was fought,
Shall I tell you where and when
On the maps of the world you will find it not,
‘Twas fought by the mothers of men.
[“Motherhood,” Joaquin Miller]
“And there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother” [John 19:25]. Oh dear. If you had a godly Christian mother, you could do no wrong. Even when you fell into error, it was just something to her that was incidental and passing; because she believed in you so fully and deeply. Ah, our mothers!
“Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God saying, ‘This is none other than the Son of God’” [Matthew 27:54, Mark 15:39], the centurion who supervised His crucifixion, under whose direction the quaternion of soldiers drove the nails and lifted up the cross. You know, there’s something unusual in the Bible, and that is this. Wherever—and there are many times mentioned—wherever a centurion is mentioned he is mentioned with commendation and in the finest light in which Scripture could place him. That’s always true. There’s no exception to it. And there are many centurions named in the Bible.
A centurion was the head, an officer, a captain in the Roman army. And they were not chosen for station, or for prestige, or because of their parents. But they were chosen because of their innate God-endowments and abilities. The centurion was the one who made the Roman legionnaire the finest fighting unit in the earth. And without exception, I say, whenever a centurion is mentioned in the Bible, it is always in a magnificent light. The centurion who came to the Lord Jesus and asked the Lord to come and heal his servant; and when the Lord said, “Why certainly, I will go with you”; the centurion replied, “But I am not worthy for You to come under my roof. Just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” And Jesus said, “I have not seen such faith, no not in Israel” [from Matthew 8:5-10]. That’s the centurion that would build a synagogue for the Jews and the people loved him.
Another centurion was Cornelius. There Simon Peter used the keys to open the doors of the kingdom to the Gentile world to us, in the household of Cornelius [Acts 10:1-11:47], a godly man, and a righteous man, and a just man as the Scriptures describe him, and one who prayed to God always and gave much alms to the people [Acts 10:1-2].
Take the centurion Julius. He was the one into whose keeping the governor, the procurator of Judea, placed Paul on his journey to Rome to appeal to Caesar [Acts 27:1]. And when the ship was about to be broken, the soldiers were under orders to kill all the prisoners, lest they escape. But this centurion Julius, in order to save Paul, said, “We will slay none of them, but every man shall have his life as a prey, it will be given to him as a gift. And if he escapes to the land, he can be saved” [Acts 27:42-44]. And all of those on board, without loss of one, in answer to the prayers of Paul, all of them escaped to land safely [Acts 27:22-25, 44]. And that was a gift of a Roman centurion, Julius [Acts 27:43-44].
And this centurion here, he’s not named, but standing by the cross and seeing Jesus die he was I hope, saved. But he was so moved that he said, “This Man could have been none other than the Son of God” [Matthew 27:54; Mark 15:39].
And now, one other: one of the malefactors which were hanged on the cross with Jesus, one of the malefactors said to Him, “If Thou be the Christ, save Thyself and us” [Luke 23:39], repeating the theme by those who wagging their heads ridiculed and scorned Him [Matthew 27:39-40]. “But the other answering rebuked him, said, Dost not thou fear God? For we die justly for our criminal deeds, our traitorous acts, our wretched and sinful lives; but this Man” [Luke 23:40-41], and looking to Jesus, turning to Jesus he said, “Lord, remember me, when Thou comest into Thy kingdom” [Luke 23:42]. And the Lord Jesus said to him, “Verily I say unto thee, Today, this day, semēron, this day, today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43]. What God can do for a sinner man who bows, who repents, who turns, and who looks to God!
Upon a day, I got in an airplane and went east. And in a city toward the east caught another plane to the south where I was to preach through a state evangelistic conference. As I walked out to the plane, I fell in step with a man. I did not know him. I’d never seen him before, but I just happened to fall in step with him. And I spoke to him. And when I got on the plane, I sat down, and to my delight that same man sat down by my side. I asked him, “Where are you going?”
And he named the city.
Well, I said, “I’m going there too.”
He said, “I know that. That’s why I’m going there.”
I said, “You’re going down there because I’m going down there?”
“Yes,” he said. “You’re going down there to preach to this state evangelistic conference and I’m going down to hear you.”
He said, “Whenever you come in my part of the world, if I can get there, I always go to hear you preach.”
Why, I never was so encouraged in my life. Wherever I appear in that part of the world he goes to hear me preach. So he was on that plane going down to hear me preach. Well, I said, “That is an amazing thing. Why do you go to hear me preach?”
“Well,” he said, “you might be surprised why.”
Then, to sum up a long story, for he told me all the way down to the city to which I was going, he said, “I was a very prosperous man, and I had a very, very fine, fine wife. And I had some stores.” “But,” he said, “I fell into sin, and from sin to degradation, and from degradation to wretchedness; and finally I was an alcoholic in the gutter.” And he said, “My wife forced me out of our home. I was so miserably wretched, and undone, and unkempt, and unwashed, and a sinner in the gutter. And she pushed me out.” He said, “In my wretchedness and in my misery I had lost my home. I had lost my wife. I had lost my stores, and I had lost everything I had in the world.”
He said, “In those days I went to hear you preach, and I found the Lord. I was saved. I found the Lord.” And he said “The first thing I did”––oh this just plowed me up—he said, “The first thing I did, I went to my home and I knocked at the door. And my wife came to the door. And I said to her,” he told me, “I said to her, ‘Dear, I have been so miserable, and so sinful, and so wretched, and so filthy. But please, dear,’” he said, “‘I have been saved. I have found the Lord. Would you take me back in? Could I come back home?’”
He said, “She opened the door wide and invited me in. And I came back home. We reestablished our home.” And he said, “I have a whole chain of stores now. And God has blessed me, and I have become very affluent again.” Then he said, “Not only that, I’m an ordained deacon in my church. And not only that,” he says, “I’m the chief usher on Sunday morning.” And he said, “That’s why, whenever you come in my part of the world, I always go to hear you preach.”
Why, man, if I didn’t do anything in my whole ministry but that, I say, Lord, thank You, it is worth it all. It is worth it all. Every tear, every sob, every disappointment, every hard, hard problem, every one of the things that a pastor goes through shepherding a flock, worth it all, worth it all, that one glorious convert.
Well, that’s God’s business in it. He is in that kind of work. He saves us, and He keeps us, and He blesses us. And He is our hope; our all in all, now and forever. That’s our appeal to you tonight. In a moment when we stand up to sing, to give your heart to Jesus [Ephesians 2:8], would you come and stand by me? To take the Lord as your Savior [Romans 10:8-13], would you come and stand by me? To put your life in the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:24-25], a family, a couple, or just you, coming on a confession of faith, coming to be baptized [Matthew 28:19-20], coming to put your letter here, as God shall press the appeal to your heart, shall say the word, make it tonight. Come now. On the first note of the first stanza, come. Decide for God now. When you stand up, stand up coming, do it now. Make it now, while all of us stand and sing.
AT THE CROSS
I. Those against Him
A. Those who passed by
mocking and scorning (Matthew 27:39-43)
who parted His raiment by casting lots (Matthew
27:35, Psalm 22:18)
who just sat and watched (Matthew 27:36)
II. Those for Him
A. His mother (John 19:25-27)
B. The centurion (Luke 23:47, Matthew 27:54)
Centurions always mentioned in magnificent light (Matthew
8:5-13, Acts 27, 28)
The malefactor who said, “Remember me.” (Luke
Man I met on way to evangelistic conference