A Famine for the Bread of Life
September 20th, 1970 @ 10:50 AM
A FAMINE FOR THE BREAD OF LIFE
Dr. W.A. Criswell
9-20-70 10:50 a.m.
And if you are listening on radio or you are watching on television, you are sharing with us, the First Baptist Church in Dallas, our 11:00 o’clock morning worship hour. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled A Famine for the Bread of Life. The message is prepared especially and particularly as our church faces a new departure and a new emphasis in our pedagogical program. We are going to look upon the basic philosophy lying back of what we do. We are going to look upon our teaching ministries as being one fundamentally committed to mediating the Word of God.
If you went to a technological school, you would expect to be taught in that school the sciences and these learning processes that pertain to each one of those subjects. If I were going to a computer science school, I would expect to be taught about computers. If I were taking a PhD in chemistry, I would expect to be taught about chemistry. If I went to an engineering school or an agricultural school, I would expect to learn about engineering or agriculture. If I went to a medical college, I would expect to learn about medicine. In my humble persuasion, the Bible school is to teach the Bible. That’s our assignment from heaven. We are to make known the Word of God. And we are turning the teaching ministries of the church in that direction.
For example, Friday, Francis Lord, our Beginner divisional leader, came to me and said, "What if we took the stories of the Bible and taught them? That will be our textbook, the Bible stories written in simple language that a child can understand. Could we do that?"
I said, "You have my encouragement, my approbation beyond anything you could know, teaching children the Word of God." For I think a child can learn the stories of little Moses, of little Samuel, of the Baby Jesus just as well as the child can learn stories about a shopping spree with her mother at Christmastime. To me, the child can be taught the Word of God just as the Lord commanded Israel to teach that child what these, and then God named them, these feasts, the Day of Atonement, the stones, the whole law of Moses. That’s why Judaism has lived. It was taught the child from the beginning of its cognoscente. We shall institute a program here, God giving us wisdom, in the curricular progression of our teaching ministries, starting with our children and going right on through.
We do that in the school system. We take a child and introduce him to these basic understandings, and then year by year the child is introduced to deeper things and further things, and so finally he is graduated. Why do not we do the same thing in the curriculum of our Sunday school? Let’s take the child, and this year he’s taught this, and this year this, and this year this. And it’s a graded program. And it has continuity all the way through. We’re doing that in the High School division now. The first year they’re taught a survey of the Old Testament. The second year they’re taught a survey of the New Testament. The third year they’re taught the doctrinal meaning of what they’ve learned. This is a format for the teaching of God’s Word through all of the grades of the school.
Then there is a further emphasis that is developed among our adults. As it was announced, and as you’ve seen it publicized, beginning the first Sunday in October we shall have a Bible teaching and training ministry at six o’clock each evening. And that marvelous substance, the text, the curriculum that is used in those high school Bible courses will be taught here to adults every Sunday evening at six o’clock. Then, of course, beginning the new year we shall have a Bible Institute in our church. It’ll be located in the Riley Building right across the street. We’re going to begin. It will not be large at first, but I am deeply persuaded it will have God’s blessing as it grows through the expanding, unfolding years.
Now against that background, the message is prepared today entitled, A Famine for the Bread of Life. Now the text is in the prophet Amos 8:11. Chapter 8, verse 11:
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord:
And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.
This is the climax of the judgments that the prophet Amos delivered at Bethel, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel. There were four judgments that Amos delivered as he appeared at the king’s court and at the king’s chapel in Bethel. "The lion hath roared, who will not fear? the Lord God hath spoken, who can but prophesy?" [Amos 3:8]. This was the thundering ringing announcement of the presence of the prophet of the Lord. Then He delivered his judgments.
First: the judgment of death; "Thus saith the Lord God." "And the Lord God showed unto me: and behold a basket of summer fruit." The Hebrew word actually is of overripe fruit, a decaying fruit, a basket of overripe fruit. And He said, "Amos, what do you see?" And Amos said, "I see a basket of overripe fruit." "Thus," said the Lord unto me, "the end is come upon My people Israel. I will not pass by them anymore. I will not listen to their praying anymore. I will not come nigh anymore. And the songs of the temple shall be howlings in that day, and there shall be many dead bodies in [every] place; they shall cast them forth in silence" [Amos 8:1-3]. The first judgment was one of death – an overripe basket of fruit, a decaying disintegrating basket of fruit, a picture of the corpses, the dead bodies, silently cast out into the street.
The second judgment was one of desolation. "Then He showed me: and, behold, the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumbline, with a plumbline in His hand. And the Lord said unto me, Amos, what do you see? And I said, a plumbline. And the Lord said, Behold, I will set a plumbline in the midst of My people Israel: I will not again pass by them anymore." I will not listen to them pray. I have delivered them to judgment and desolation. "The high places of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste" [Amos 7:7-9].
And the third judgment was one of slavery, and exile, and captivity. "Thus saith the Lord, as if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or he went into the house, leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him. Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith the Lord, whose name is The God of hosts" [Amos 5:19, 27]. And that referred to Assyria, the great world empire of the day of Amos.
Then the last and the climactic of those judgments of death, of desolation, of captivity – and the last: "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, a famine not of bread, or of thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord" [Amos 8:11], A Famine for the Bread of Life. "They shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north to the east, and to and fro seeking the word of the Lord, and shall not find it" [Amos 8:12]. Is that a climactic judgment? After death, and after desolation, and after captivity, a famine for the bread of life, for a wanting to know the word of the Lord.
Yes, for what is death if God is standing by? When Stephen was beat to the ground, he lifted up his eyes and saw heaven opened and Jesus standing at the right hand of God ready to receive the first Christian martyr [Acts 7:55-56]. What is death if we die in the Lord? What is death if we God is there? Or as Paul wrote in his last letter to his son Timothy in the ministry, pastor of the church at Ephesus: "For I am ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them that love His appearing. At my first answer no man stood by me, nevertheless the Lord stood by me, and delivered me" [2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-17]. What is death if we have God with us?
What is desolation, the judgment of desolation, if God is with us? When the messengers came and announced to Job, "The camels are gone, and the oxen are gone, and the sheep are gone, and the cattle are gone, the herds are gone, and fire has consumed the house; the property is desolate and waste," and Job said, "Naked came I from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave it, and the Lord has taken it away; blessed be the name of the Lord" [Job 1:14-21]; what is desolation if God is near? In Conia, the ancient city of Iconium where Paul preached in the church of Galatia; in these days, a man was in a hospital there and heard a Turkish woman singing this song:
Trample upon me, tread on my head,
Consume me with terror Thou Judge of the dead,
If only, O God, I Thee may behold,
And Thee, O God, know while I tarry below.
Throw me like Abraham into the fire,
Like Moses, withhold from the land I desire,
If only, O God, I thus Thee may know,
And Thee once behold while I tarry below.
Hang me, like Jesus, upon the rood tree,
Or a beggar, like Lazarus, thro’ life I would be.
If only, O God, I thus Thee may know,
And Thee once behold while I tarry below.
What is desolation if God is near?
What is captivity, and slavery, and exile if God is near? When the sainted apostle John was exiled to die of exposure and starvation on the lonely Isle of Patmos, thinking himself forsaken and forgotten, he heard a great voice behind him as of a trumpet. And he turned to see the voice that spake unto him, and being turned, he saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands, One walked whose face, and countenance, and demeanor, and presence was like the Son of God. And he fell down at His feet as dead. He reached forth His hand and placed it upon him and said, "Do not be afraid. I am He that liveth and was dead. I am alive for evermore; and I have the keys death and of hell" [Revelation 1:9-18]. What is exile, or slavery, incarceration, captivity, if God is near?
But it is twice to die, it is twice to be enslaved, it is twice to be desolate, to face the inexorable fortunes and vicissitudes of life and there’s no God, and there’s no word from the Lord. And this is the climactic judgment upon Israel, "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: and they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the east and the west, and shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it" [Amos 8:11-12], the tragedy of facing the fortunes of life without God, and without a word from the Lord.
It is as Saul who in his final abject, and desperate, and abysmal desperation went to the witch of Endor and said, "Bring me up Samuel" [1 Samuel 28:11]. And God honored that strange request and Samuel appeared before Saul. And Saul cried before the prophet and said, "I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and He answers me no more, neither by prophet, nor by dream, nor by Urim or Thummim" [1 Samuel 28:15]; the tragedy of facing life and death without God. There was never again a prophet in Israel, a famine for the bread of life, of hearing the words of the Lord. Never again was there a prophet in Israel. The seventy-forth Psalm laments, "We see not our signs: there is no more any prophet: there is none among us to say or to know how long" [Psalm 74:9]. And in 722 BC, the Assyrians came, destroyed the kingdom, carried it into captivity, and it never rose again; a famine for the bread of life.
This is the tragedy of our modern and our present world. We have forsaken the Word of God. In the daily paper this last week, there appeared in the letters to the editor this letter:
Such and such man, calling his name, continued quoting from the Bible to substantiate his thesis. If you ever go to Hodgenville, Kentucky, the beautiful impressive monument that our nation has erected over the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, against one of the walls is his second inaugural address, and it sounds like a sermon from the Bible. Most of it are quotations from the Bible. That’s the way Abraham Lincoln and our men of state used to speak. But this man continued quoting from the Bible to substantiate his thesis. That, of course, is a grievous mistake. Research would have shown that the Bible was written at unknown times by unknown authors, and assembled in the fourth century at Nicaea, and the writings of the Bible can be given no historical credence today. To believe in Christ as actually having existed, one must believe that the later writings were quote, "divinely inspired," end quote. That is a gulf few can bridge. Surely we should forget the myths and legends of the Bible or merely accept them as such.
Were that man eccentric or peculiar, I would have thought nothing about it, but this man speaks for the academic circles of the modern world, and he is an exponent for the liberal, modern theological pulpit and seminary. And however study and research and archeology may confirm the Word of God, in these humanistic, supercilious, scornful, sardonic academic circles, the Word of God is still looked upon and increasingly so as myth and legend, a piece of antique literature like Jason’s golden fleece or the seven labors of Hercules. There has never been a spade of dirt turned by an archaeologist shovel but is confirmed the Word of God. If I had an hour I could follow it through. If I had a year I could substantiate it with discovery, after discovery, after discovery, after discovery!
For example, what he says about the writings that depict Christ. Until almost today, the theologians and the higher critics were saying the Gospel of John represents such an advanced theological position it could not possibly have been written before 250 AD. Then not long ago they discovered a papyrus in Egypt quoting the eighteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, and that papyrus is dated 95 AD, written in the lifetime of the apostle John. Yet to these higher critics, they blind their eyes to the truth, and they discount and belittle as legendary, as fable, the revealed Word of God; a famine in the land for the words of the Lord. We have turned aside from the revelation of God to humanism, and relativism, materialism, and secularism, and atheism, and militarism, and existentialism, the philosophy of despair. We have exchanged God for a system of adventitious evolutionary process. The great absolutes today are matter, and chance, and blind energy. And the great apostles of the new era are Charles Darwin and Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud.
A famine in the land for the bread of life, of hearing the words of the Lord; "They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east, and to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it" [Amos 8:11-12]. There is no word from God but in this Book. There is no revelation and self-disclosure of the Lord but in this Book. I see His fingerprints. I see His handiwork in the sky. I see His presence mighty and omnipotent, almightiness in every phase of His creation. But if I am to know Him, if I am to call upon His name, if I am to find forgiveness, and salvation, and promise, and hope, I can only find it in the revealed Word of God. And this is the Word that is increasingly denied by the modern academic world, the modern theological world, the modern pulpit; a famine for the bread of life.
And the inevitable judgment, it always comes. I quote first from a churchman. Then I shall quote from agnostic and atheistic thinkers. First, a churchman; the most famous who lives in the world today, evangelist Billy Graham, quote: "Man is on a collision course, probably heading into a third world holocaust, which might well destroy humanity between now and the year two thousand." But it isn’t just the churchman, the evangelist. Listen to these agnostics and these atheists. H. G. Wells, historian, social critic, quote, "The end of everything we call life is at hand and cannot be evaded." George Bernard Shaw, the dramatist who dipped his pen in vitriol, at the close of his life said, "The science to which I pen my hope is bankrupt. Its councils which should have established the millennium have led directly to the suicide of the human race." And recently Malcolm Muggeridge, British journalist and social critic, quote, "We live in a world of scientific achievement and gross materialism. We have sown the wind of egotistic humanism, and God help us, we are reaping the whirlwind."
The closer you get to any governmental official, the more poignantly evident is his not knowing where to turn, or what to do, or what lies ahead. We have lost our direction. We don’t know where to turn, and we don’t know what to do. As the cry of pitiful Saul, "I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and He answers not by prophets, nor by dreams, nor by Urim or Thummim" [1 Samuel 28:15]. The greatest tragedy that could overtake a people is not death, it is not desolation, it is not captivity. It is the forsakenness of God. And this is largely the overwhelming tragedy that has seized upon us, and upon our allies, and upon our Western world.
That is why, please God, and with the love and sympathy and encouragement of our people, we shall set ourselves to being teachers of the matchless Book, that men may know what God says, and that maybe we as a part might turn our people back to the Word of the Lord. Ah, what a day, what a prospect should that glorious event come to pass, that people would be interested in what God says, in what God is like, in the revelations of the Lord. In the days of Josiah, God put it in his heart to repair the temple. He put a chest and the people gave, and they took the money and refurbished God’s house. They rebuilt its walls and its roof. And upon a day, Hilkiah, the high priest, came to Shaphan the court scribe and said to Shaphan, "Look. I have found the Bible. I have found the Word of God. I have found it in the church, lost in the sanctuary of the Lord. I have found it in the church." And Shaphan the scribe took it to King Josiah, opened its pages, and read the scroll to the king. And the king rent his garments and sat in repentance, and sackcloth and ashes [2 Kings 22:8-11]. And the whole nation turned to God. It was the great revival under Josiah [2 Kings 23:1-25].
Lord, that such a day might happen again. That is why I think England in days past has been exalted. It has been in the providence of God. Long, long time ago, Wycliffe, an Englishman, had it in it his heart to make the Scriptures known in the language of the people. He translated it into the common vernacular English. And his Lollards taught it on the highways, in the squares, on the riverbanks, wherever people would listen they taught the Word of God. Before the inquisition could seize him and before the state church could burn him, Wycliffe died. They exhumed his body. They burned him. They threw his ashes on the River Swift, but the River Swift runs into the Avon, and the Avon runs into the Severn, and the Severn runs into the sea, and the sea laves the continents of the world. And God took the Word of Wycliffe and scattered it over the face of the earth, and our Pilgrim Fathers brought it to America. And in these years and days that are past, as our forefathers pressed beyond the Alleghenies and into the great prairies and to the west, they brought with them this Holy Book.
In Ponca City, Oklahoma, I stood there one day and looked at one of the most impressive pieces of statuary, I think, in the world today. Governor Marlin from Ponca City gave it to the state. It is a picture of the pioneer woman, an old fashioned woman with consecration and commitment in her face. In one hand she holds the hand of a little child, and in the other hand she holds the Word of God, the Bible, the Holy Scriptures. Ah, that there might be a turning back to that holy reverence for God’s Holy Word; a famine for the bread of life. Lord, feed us from heaven angel’s food.
Break thou the bread of life,
Dear Lord, to me, to me,
As Thou didst break the loaves
Beside the sea;
Beyond the sacred page
I seek Thee, Lord.
[from "Break Thou the Bread of Life," Mary A. Lathbury, 1877]
God’s presence, God’s revelation, God’s Word writ here before us, to love it, to reverence it, to learn it, to teach it, to incarnate it in flesh, in blood, in life; in home and family and children; in church and pulpit and ministry; this is our assignment from heaven. The Lord bless us now as we give ourselves to it. May His Holy Spirit give us wisdom, His presence go before us and lead us in the way through the wilderness of this world.
Now we’ll stand in a moment and sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you whom God will give to us, would you come and stand by me? A couple you, or just one somebody you, "Today, pastor, I’ve decided for God, and here I am. I have given my heart to Christ, and here I come." In the balcony round, somebody you, on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, you. "Here I am, pastor, and here I come." Make the decision now. On the first note of the first stanza, come, and God bless and angels attend in the way as you come. When you stand up in a moment, stand up coming. Do it now, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
A FAMINE FOR THE BREAD OF LIFE
Dr. W.A. Criswell
I. Violent contrast between what Amos was preaching and the state of the nation
II. God’s judgments delivered through Amos
A. Judgment of death
B. Judgment of desolation
C. Captivity, slavery
III. Our world’s present neglect
A. Lost the Word of God
B. The judgment we face
C. Oh, to find the Word of God again