The God of the Living
May 18th, 1969 @ 7:30 PM
THE GOD OF THE LIVING
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-18-69 7:30 p.m.
Now on the radio, as in this great congregation tonight, turn to Luke. Turn to Luke, chapter 20. Luke chapter 20, and we begin at verse 27 and read through verse 38. Luke chapter 20, the Third Gospel and sharing our Bibles, we’re going to read it out loud together. And on the radio, open your Bible to Luke chapter 20, and beginning at verse 27 we shall read through verse 38. Luke 20:27-38, now all of us reading out loud together:
Then came to Him certain of the Sadducees, which deny that there is any resurrection; and they asked Him,
Saying, Master, Moses wrote unto us, If any man’s brother die, having a wife, and he die without children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.
There were therefore seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and died without children.
And the second took her to wife, and he died childless.
And the third took her; and in like manner the seven also: and they left no children, and died.
Last of all the woman died also.
Therefore in the resurrection whose wife of them is she? for seven had her to wife.
And Jesus answering said unto them, The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage:
But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage:
Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.
Now that the dead are raised, even Moses showed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.
For He is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto Him.
Now that chapter begins with these words.
And it came to pass, that on one of those days, as He taught the people in the temple, and preached the gospel; the chief priests and the scribes came upon Him with the elders,
And spake unto Him, saying, Tell us, by what authority doest Thou these things? and who is it that gave Thee that authority?
We are grateful for the enemies of Christ because had it not been for them, some of the great pronouncements of our Lord would never had been said, and certainly some of the great parables of our Lord would never have been told. They were in answer to hostility. For example, the parable of the lost sheep, and the lost coin, and the lost boy, the story of the prodigal son [Luke 15:3-32]; all of that was in answer to words of vindictive hostility on the part of the enemies of our Lord.
Now this whole chapter and this story that we’ve just read is also in answer to the enemies of Christ. So they begin like this, "’You tell us, by what authority doest Thou these things, and who gave Thee that authority? [Luke 20:2]. Where is Thy name written? We’ve never seen it or read it. Where are Thy credentials, and where are Thy certificates of certification, and where are Thy diplomas and degrees? We never heard of You, a graduate of the school of Hillel or of Shammai or of Gamaliel. ‘By what authority doest Thou these things?’" [Luke 20:2].
Now let me tell you something. If you can explain anything, you can explain it away. If you can explain God, you can explain God away. And if you can explain the gospel, you can explain the gospel away. And if you can explain Christ, you can explain Christ away. And if you can explain the secret of the fountain of the inspiration of the Christian life, it would be a delight for every psychologist in any university to explain it away. But there is a secret in God; there is an inexplicable rest in God. There is an unfathomableness in the depths of the life of Christ in us that no psychologists or no academician could explain in ten thousand years!
Now you can get out in front and see the works of Almighty God and wonder at them, but you can’t get behind those secrets and explain them. You can stand out in front and see the wonder of the deportment, and beauty, and chastity, and virtue, and love, and goodness, and life of the Christian life, but you can’t explain the fountains of the deep out of which it arises.
You know, some people are like vivisectionists; they like to probe and to tear apart, but in doing it, they kill the thing that they are probing. And that’s what these critics, and these cynicists, and these scribes, and these enemies, and these hostile Pharisees and Sadducees were trying to do with Jesus. "You explain Yourself to us; by what authority, and where did You get it?" Well, somebody can say to us who are proclaiming the Christian faith, "By what authority do you stand up there and say these things and proclaim these things and preach these things?" Why, my brother, my authority is patent, it is lucid, it is public, it is seen!
We may not be able to explain those marvelous strengths and the workings of God that lead us to this present moment, and make us what now we are, and by God’s grace we hope to be, but the fruit of it, the exhibition of it can be openly, gloriously seen, and it’s everywhere. In one of those Fiji Islands, a French atheist, a French infidel was making fun of one of those Fiji Islanders who was reading the Bible, the Word of God. And that past cannibal looked at that French infidel and said, "It may be well for you now to laugh at the Word of God, but had it not been for this Book," and pointing to a pot boiling on the fire, he said, "You wouldn’t be standing there laughing at the Bible; you’d be in that pot boiling." That’s what the Bible did to the Fiji islanders.
You know I remember reading in World War II, the United States was island- hopping westward, and they were taking those little unsinkable aircraft carriers, and they’d go westward and then westward. Well, in the line of the advance of the United States was an island that was peopled. There were Polynesians on it. So in order to preserve their lives out of the bitter line of power and advance, the United States gathered all of those islanders, all of those Polynesians, and removed them to another island where they would be safe.
And here’s what I read in the papers. They gathered all of those islanders, in their little ships, little boats, little canoes; whatever they could gather them up in, gathered all those islanders and had them come out to the big battleship on which the admiral of the United States Navy had his flagship. And this article described all of those islanders as they came out in their canoes, and their boats, and their little ships, and came out and were taken out, escorted up onto the big American warship. Then the king of the island and his cabinet and all of his people were presented to the admiral on the flagship.
And then the article described the American seamen as they lined up at attention on each side. And on each side, in between that long row of American sailors at attention, marched the king of those Polynesians and his islanders, all of the inhabitants and were presented to the admiral. And the article said this, that preceding the king – when he was presented to the admiral of the American Navy – preceding the king was his leading minister, his head of government and cabinet on his island. Preceding the king was a Polynesian carrying in his hand an open Bible.
And the article said that what the king of the island wanted the admiral and the United States Navy to know was that they were not heathen people, and they were not pagan people, but they were Christian people of the Book. When I read it I thought, that’s one of the greatest things that has happened in modern civilization; preceeded by a Christian man, carrying an open Bible, people of the Book. That is our authority; the authority of what God does in human life, in nations, in civilizations.
Well, as we go on through the chapter, why, there come to Him these Sadducees [Luke 20:27]. They are paid ecclesiastical infidels, and you’ve got them all over Christendom. Isn’t that an amazing thing? They receive their salaries from the churches. They receive their salaries from the denomination. They receive their salaries from the institutions, but they’re infidels. They don’t believe, just like these Sadducees. They are a party, a religious party, and they don’t believe. Well, where in the earth they concocted or got this novel case, I have no idea, but that’s the beatenest story you ever read in your life. You won’t find anything to equal that in Aesop’s fables, you just won’t.
Those ancient Jews had what they called the law of the levirate marriage [Deuteronomy 25:5-10]. As you know, the families and their inheritance were to be kept intact. And here’s a man who died, and he didn’t have any children. Well naturally, the family would die with that man, so according to the levirate law, his brother was to take the deceased’s wife and raise up a child so that the family wouldn’t die.
Well, in this instance, here’s a man and he had six brothers, all seven of them. And the first one died, and he didn’t have any child. So the brother took the wife to rear up children to be seed for his deceased brother, and he died, and they didn’t have any child. And then the third didn’t have any child, and the fourth, the fifth, the sixth, and the seventh. All seven of those brethren had married that woman, and all seven of them had died, and there wasn’t any child still, and last of all that woman died [Luke 20:29-32].
Now in the resurrection – and I can just see those Sadducees – ha, ha, ha, in the resurrection, ha, ha, ha, in the resurrection, whose wife is she because all seven of them had her? [Luke 20:33]. Ha, ha, ha! I tell you, the laughs of the infidels, the laughs of the infidels: if that thing happened when they put it all together, oh, how delighted they must have been to run across such an instance. Or if they concocted the story, they were very clever and ingenious. It is one of the most unusual, illustrative stories that you’ll ever read anywhere in any literature. And it certainly does emphasize their point.
Now what the Sadducees and infidels were doing, they were ripping the fabric of the Christian faith apart, because the Christian faith is tied to the world to come by cables of steel, and to cut them with swords of cynicism was the object of these Sadducees. "There’s not any life, and there’s not any immortality, and there’s not any resurrection, and there’s not any heaven, and there’s not any world to come." That’s what these Sadducees said.
And when Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God, and the coming glory of the Lord, and the resurrection of the dead, and the angelic hosts in heaven who glorify all of the marvels of the Almighty, when Jesus came preaching that, the Sadducees laughed and scoffed. Just like the infidel Epicureans of the Greek philosophers [Acts 17:18-19, 32], they were doing it here [Luke 20:29-33]. Now there is always a basic – and I mean a basic – there is always a basic flaw in what a man thinks and what a man says when he opposes the Lord Jesus. And that flaw is not found alone in the superstructure of his argument, but it is found also in the foundation, and that was true with these infidel intellectuals. Not only in the superstructure – and we haven’t the time even to speak of what a kind of an ecclesiastical hegemony they erected – but down there in the basic foundation they were violently wrong, violently so. And Jesus pointed it out [Luke 20:34-38].
It reminds me of Sampson; he told that boy in his blindness, "Son, put my hand on one of these great columns on which the building stands, and, son, put my other hand on the other column on which this great building rests." And the boy took the big blind man, and put one of hands on one pillar, and one of his hands on the other pillar. And Samson bowed his head and prayed, and then with all of the might of God he tore that building apart [Judges 16:26-30]. That’s what Jesus did with this foundation upon which this Sadduceean cynicism was blessed.
And the great foundation flaw was this: you say there’s not any life in the world to come, and you say there’s not any heaven, and there are not any saints, and there’s no immortality, and there’s no life beyond this world and this grave, that’s what you say. But God says that He is the God of Abraham, who had been dead for – at that time – for a thousand years, and He is the God of Isaac, who had been dead for nine hundred years, and He is the God of Jacob, who had been dead for eight hundred years [Luke 20:37]. "And God is not the God of the dead, but of the living; for all live unto Him" [Luke 20:38]. God isn’t presiding over a vast, illimitable cemetery where death and Satan have sown their fruit. God reigns over angels that live and over saints that glorify God; not the God of the dead but of the living, for where He is there is life [Luke 20:38]. Well, that’s a marvelous thing in itself. God is the God of the living, a present God, and all live unto Him. There are no dead around Him. They are alive who live around Him, the living God.
I want you to look at this atheism, this Sadduceean atheism. They are not alone atheists who call themselves by that dreary, dreary name, but they are atheists also who are practical atheists. For example, there are those who say, "Why yes, I believe in God, but He is an immeasurable distance away, immeasurable miles away. He is not here and He doesn’t share with us in this life. He is out there somewhere, an immeasurable distance maybe on some far away unnamable star, beyond any telescopic lens there ever could see, God is out there somewhere."
That’s not so! This God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, our God is a God down every highway and every street, and every house, and every road. He is before us and behind us. He is on our right hand and on our left hand. He is here in this pulpit. He is out there by you. He is with you when you lie down at night, and He is with you when you rise up in the morning. He is here, and when a man says, "Wait, until I talk to God and ask God before giving you an answer," that man is demonstrating the living Lord! Right now, right now, right here, God.
There are those who believe in a God of forensics, of arguments. If you were to ask them, "How do you know there is a God?" He’d say, "Wait till I get home and read in those thick heavy tomes." And there he’ll read all of those arguments about how you know that there is a God, as though I needed a book to convince me of the reality of the living God! Ah! If God rests upon such a foundation as that, He stands on no foundation at all, a man’s arguments and a man’s defense.
There are those who say, "I believe in God," but they speak of a God of antiquity. They are referring to some dim, indiscernible, impalpable force back there in the beginning, and sometimes they’ll call it a first cause, or the great mover, or the great beginner and back yonder in antiquity like some mythological character, they believe in God. Oh no! No, a thousand times, no! The God we believe in and the true God is not just the great beginner and the great mover and the great first cause. I do believe He was that. He created the universe. He flung this earth in its orbit around the sun. He did all of the marvel glory, that He looked upon and said it was beautiful, and said it was good [Genesis 1:1-31]. I believe in that! But I believe that He lives today, and that He is here today! I believe you can have Him as a guest in your house, and when you sit down He can be there with you. I believe that when you make a decision, He is alive to give you wisdom to know how to do. I think when you lack strength, He can be called upon for help, giving you the ableness to do what otherwise you could not do. He lives today, and He speaks to us.
He says things to us. He whispers in our ears. He talks to us in our souls. And if you have the heart to hear, you can hear God’s voice inside your soul, talking to you. He will say things to you, and they’ll come into your life with deep and abiding conviction. And He will see you through, He will see you through. God lives; He will see you through.
You know, I have been trying to recreate something that I read, but I can’t do it. I just remember the middle part of what I had read. It was this. In some way that I have forgotten, in some way there was a ship that sank at sea, went down at sea. And on the ship was a mother and a little child. And the mother, as the ship was going down, the mother was able to find a piece of debris and she placed that little thing on that piece of debris and shoved it out into the wild and mountainous ocean. And she herself went down into a watery grave.
But what I remember about that tragic incident was this. When the mother placed that little child on that piece of debris, the little child turned to the mother and said, "Mommy, you have always taught me that God would take care of me. Mommy, will God take care of me now? Will He? Will God take care of me now?" And as the mother shoved that debris away from the sinking ship and on it that little child, she answered, "Yes, sweetheart, God will take care of you now." And on the bosom of the sea, the little child rode on that piece of debris. Nor can I remember the end of the story except the child was picked up, and in these years later spake of the wonderful goodness of the Lord that preserved and watched over from heaven and saved and kept.
Do you believe in a God like that, that God can watch over and He can save and He can keep? And if it isn’t His will, He has a reason, a meaningful reason, a better reason, but I can trust Him for it, whether to die or to live, to be in strength or in illness, to walk or be invalid. I can trust Him for the best for my life, and for His call, and for the blessed Jesus. That’s what it is to believe in a living God.
Our time is spent and we ought to sing our song of appeal. Somebody you here tonight, to give himself to Jesus, would you come and stand by me? A family you to put your life with us in the fellowship of the church, or a couple you to come; as the Spirit of Jesus shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now. Come now. Do it now. Make the decision now, and in a moment when you stand up, stand up coming. "Here I am; I make it tonight. Here I come." Into that aisle, down to the front, down one of these stairwells on either side, come to the Lord; come to us, as God shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now, do it now, come now, while we stand and while we sing.
THE GOD OF THE LIVING
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Many of the parables a reply to the hostility of Jesus’ enemies
B. Questioning Christ’s authority (Luke 20:2)
2. The fruit that can be seen
II. Confrontation of the Sadducees
A. Their story challenged the resurrection
1. Flaw of their argument in its foundation (Judges 16:26-30)
B. God of the living, not the dead (Luke 20:38)
III. Sadduceean atheism
A. Some believe in the God of distance
B. Some believe in the God of argument
C. Some believe in the God of antiquity (Genesis 1:1-31)
IV. God is alive and active now
A. Speaks to our hearts
B. Guides our present