The Greatest Text-the Greatest Gift
August 23rd, 1970 @ 7:30 PM
THE GREATEST TEXT IN THE BIBLE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-23-70 7:30 p.m.
In the announcement of the sermon tonight, The Greatest Text in the Bible, our glorious choir sang it. The greatest text in the Bible is John 3:16. The greatest sentence ever written is John 3:16. The whole gospel in a word is John 3:16. That is what the Bible is all about. On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and we invite you to turn to the third chapter of John and read our passage with us. We shall read verses 14 through 17; 14, 15, 16, 17, those verses. And share your Bible with your neighbor; and on the radio, get your Bible and read it out loud with us, John chapter 3, verses 14 through 17. Now let us read it together:
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up:
That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.
The greatest text in the Bible; oh, how many sermons ought a pastor to preach on a text like this. I take one small facet of it, compared to the great circumference of its revelation and meaning. I speak of the gift of God: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” [John 3:16].
So many times in the Word of the Lord do you read of the largess and the bounties of heaven. On that first missionary journey, the apostle Paul when he preached at Lystra spoke that, “The living God who made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things therein, left not Himself without witness, even to those heathen people who did not know His true name; in that He did good, and gave rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness” [Acts 14:15, 17]. All of the bounties of life come from His gracious hands. The vernal showers, the sunshine, the fertile fields, the fruit of the harvest, the mountains, the sea, the ocean, the world, all are from the gracious, merciful hands of God.
In the one hundred fourth Psalm, in the twenty-fourth verse, “O Lord, how manifold are Thy works! In wisdom hast Thou made them all: the earth is full of Thy riches” [Psalm 104:24]. I heard a mountain preacher in eastern Kentucky, a man as I listened to him carefully I am sure could not read. I heard him preach on that text. It was one of the most beautifully moving sermons I ever heard in my life. “O Lord, how manifold are Thy works! In wisdom hast Thou made them all: the earth is full of Thy riches” [Psalm 104:24]. And in that eloquent mountaineer’s way of preaching, he described the gifts of God. “The pine trees, they are for wood,” he said. “They are for the building of houses,” he said. “They are for the building of our wagons,” he said. “They are used to make the coffins in which we are laid away.” Then he spoke of the rocks: “The rocks, God made the rocks, and with them we build bridges and the foundations for our houses.” He spoke of the mountains: “They shelter from the storm and fury of the heavens.” And he spoke of the coal: “God put it there,” he said, “that they might warm themselves in the wintertime.” He took the life as he had lived it in the mountains and expressed it in the terms of the bounties and goodnesses of God. The food we eat, the shelter under which we abide, the clothing we wear, the health we enjoy, the life we live, the breath we breathe, the eyes we see with, the ears we hear with, the feet we walk with, all of the thousand other remembrances are eloquent of the gracious, bountiful mercies of God.
But the greatest gifts are never material, they’re never mundane, they’re never physical and tangible. Our greatest gifts are in another category: they are gifts of the heart, of the soul; they are gifts of love. You know, it’s a strange thing how we are. We bestow upon objects, that many times are almost worthless, a preciousness and a value far beyond what otherwise they would bring on any common market. And the reason is because somebody we love has touched them, has given them to us. A bracelet, or a ring, or a necklace, just something that comes from them, in itself sometimes may be worth nothing, but oh how dear and precious to us because it came from their hands.
A house burns down, and man will say, “I can buy more furniture, and I can replace the draperies; but what of those precious things that are gone forever? The picture of the baby, a lock of hair,” those things that on a common market are worth noting at all, but they’re dear to us, for they’re filled with loving remembrance.
You know I could imagine a man easily saying, if he possessed these things, I could imagine a man who had lost a boy in Vietnam, I could imagine a man easily saying, if he possessed these things, “I own ten thousand stars, and I own five thousand planets, and I own ten continents and five oceans; but I’d give them all if I had my boy back again.” These are things that are precious and priceless. And that’s what my text says. God gave us the sun to shine, and the clouds that bring the falling rain, and the fertile earth, and the breath we breathe, blessings of life; but the greatest gift of God is something of His heart, of His soul: He gave us His only Son [John 3:16].
Now what has that done for our earth? First: the coming of Christ, the gift of Christ, has forever hallowed this planet. It has set it apart in God’s universe. I don’t know how many suns there are, and universes there are, and stars there are, and satellites there are, and planets there are, I don’t know. Even the astronomer says, “With our strongest, mightiest telescopes we can look into billions of light years away, and still we haven’t found the circumference of the universe.” There are thousands and millions of galaxies and universes. But however many there are, and however great they are, there are no planets like ours because He came down to this little earth [1 Timothy 1:15].
Sometimes an unbeliever will scoff at such a gospel as we preach, saying, “It is unimaginable and unthinkable, it is unreasonable that God, if there is a God, who made the microcosm, the infinitude above and around us, that that God should come down to this little speck hidden away in a corner of a galaxy, that He should come down to that infinitesimal little place.” Well, he has a point, I know. But the point’s not right: he’s emphasizing the wrong thing. For something like six years I drove by Hodgenville, Kentucky from the seminary down to my little church. And at Hodgenville there is a magnificent monument, a beautiful, spacious, impressive building; it’s over Lincoln’s birthplace. You go inside and look at it. Absolutely, I believe that’s the smallest log cabin I ever saw in my life. I don’t think I ever saw one smaller. It is a tiny, tiny thing, with a little door, and a tiny window, and just so big. On the wall there, from one of the addresses of Abraham Lincoln, there is inscribed these words: “All that I am or ever hope to be I owe to my angel mother.” As you know she died when Abraham Lincoln was a little boy. That was his home. That was his cabin. And when you look at it, it is so humble, it is so small that you will almost inevitably say, “What a small home.” But our emphasis is on the wrong word. “What a small home,” no, no! “What a small home.” Out of all of the events in that day, Napoleon was storming over Europe, and kingdoms were tottering, and thrones were decaying, and out of a thousand other things Madison was trying to rejuvenate the government in Washington, and I don’t know what all was happening then, but out of all the things that happened in that day and that year, the mightiest and the most meaningful was the birth of that little boy in Tom Lincoln’s cabin. You see, it’s a matter of emphasis. “What a small home,” or, “What a small home.”
That’s the way it is with this universe: we can emphasize the magnitude and the infinitude of the macrocosm, or we can emphasize God in it. And when we emphasize the Lord, this planet out of all of the planets that may be in the universe, this planet is forever hallowed and set apart because He walked on this earth.
Again, His coming, the gift of God in Christ Jesus, forever sanctified human life. He became one of us; He took upon Himself our frame, He lived our life, He walked in our way [Philippians 2:5-7]. He was made out flesh and bone, and He forever sanctified human life [Hebrews 10:9-10, 13:12]. No man, anymore, is ever common or unclean. This is a man for whom Christ died; no matter where he lives, no matter how degraded, no matter how filled with ignorance and darkness and superstition. It’s a man for whom Christ died [Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2]. When the Lord came to the earth, as you know, in the Greco-Roman Empire, they exposed unwanted children; and the father had the choice of letting the child live, or exposing the child, that is putting it where the wild animals would feed on it, or where the burning sun would slay it, or worse still, a beggar family might take it and break its bones, and disform it, and misshape it, and then set it on the road as it grew up or on the side of the street to beg alms. That was universal in that day. It was universal in that day for those gladiatorial combats, when men were fed to wild beasts for the entertainment of the populous, but when Christ came into the world, the cheapness and the commonness of human life forever passed away. And it is only in an atheistic country, like communist China or communist Russia, that human life is cheap, cannon fodder. But to the Christian world, all human life is forever sacred because it’s a soul for whom Christ died [John 3:16].
In Africa, I went with Dr. Goldie to visit his clan settlements. If a leper is found in a house, in a town, in a family, they push him out into the bush to die. The Christian doctor gathered them together, ministering to them. That’s the Lord. That’s the Lord. He forever hallowed and sanctified human life [Hebrews 10:9-10, 13:12].
Have you ever seen a copy of that song, “The Love of God”? Wherever you see it printed, there’ll always be a little note down there that the second stanza was written by an inmate in an insane asylum. And after the poor wretch had died, they found that second stanza written on the wall. Do you remember it?
If we could ink the ocean fill,
And were the sky of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.
[“The Love of God,” Frederick Lehman]
Think of that, written by a wretch who died in a cell in an insane asylum. Forever He hallowed and sanctified human life [Hebrews, 10:9-10, 13:12].
Again, He forever made heaven near to earth, just right there; not far away, but just there [John 1:3; Colossians 1:16]. When He was born [Luke 2:8-12], the angels sang; they were just right there [Luke 2:13-14]. When He was baptized, the Spirit in the form of a dove lighted upon Him, and a voice was heard, the Father’s from heaven [Matthew 3:16-17]. When He was transfigured, the saints, Moses and Elijah, were there [Mark 9:2-4]. When He was raised from the dead, the angels were there [John 20:11-16]. And when He ascended into heaven, a cloud received Him out of their sight [Acts 1:9]. Where is the Lord Jesus? A cloud received Him out of their sight. He is there. And His coming [Acts 1:10-11], forever has made heaven near to earth. His coming has changed the whole definition of the glory of another life, an upward life [John 10:10].
I heard a man one time say that when he was a little boy he used to think about heaven, as all little boys would and do, think about heaven, listening to the preacher, listening to the Sunday school teacher. He thought of heaven like this: a great golden city, filled with tenuous white angels, and a great multitude of people, not one of whom he knew. Then he said as the days passed, the years multiplied, his little brother died, his little brother died. Then he said, “I used to think of heaven as a great golden city full of white tenuous angels, and a great multitude of people, not one of whom I knew, except one little face, one little face, my little brother.” And he said, and he’s an old man now, the years have taken their toll, his mother’s gone, his father’s gone, his wife is gone, all of the children are gone, his brothers and sisters are gone, his friends are gone; and in old age he said, “No longer do I think of heaven as a golden city, nor do I think of the white tenuous angels, nor do I think of the great multitude that no man can number whom I don’t know; but heaven now,” he says, “is where mother is, and father is, and wife is, and my children are; and it’s just there.” That’s what Christ has done for us: forever He has made heaven so near and so close.
And once again, and last, the gift of God in Christ Jesus has forever made hope and salvation in the reach of every man; just there, just there. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in Him, looks to Him, should not perish, but have everlasting, eternal life” [John 3:14-15]. It’s just look and live. How a man can be saved? Look and live [John 3:14-15; Numbers 21:8-9]. Believe and be saved [Acts 16:30-31]. Wash and be clean [Revelation 7:14; 2 Kings 5:10].
To buy it, never rich enough. To be good enough to merit, never; our righteousnesses like filthy rags in His sight [Isaiah 64:6]. To sacrifice for it, to try to earn it by gift?
Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God? shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgressions, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
It’s just bowing, it’s just looking, it’s just trusting, it’s just believing, it’s just accepting, it’s just taking; that’s what God has done for us. Loving us, that He gave His only Son, that whosoever looks to Him, trusts in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life [John 3:16]. It’s recorded in His Word. Hallelujah! It is only that you look and live [John 3:14-15]. This hath God done for us.
In a moment we’re going to stand and sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, somebody you to give himself to Jesus, would you do it tonight? “Here I come, pastor, and here I am.” A couple you, to come to the Lord and to us; a family you, in the balcony round, on this lower floor, down a stairway or into the aisle, “Here I am, pastor, I make it tonight.” Do it. Make the decision in your heart now. And in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. May the angels attend your way, may God open the door as by faith you enter in [Ephesians 2:8]. Do it now. Come now. “Here I am, pastor, here I come,” while we stand and while we sing.
Dr. W. A. Criswell
John 1:1-4, Matthew 8:23-27
6-7-64I. Four Greek words that express the deity of Christ
A. Logos – “word” (John 1:1)
1. Greek philosophical word carrying double meaning
a. Used by Hellenistic Jews to describe manifestations of God
b. Used by Greek philosopher to describe relationship between infinite and finite
2. John speaks to both
a. The Word is a divine Person, incarnate Christ (John 1:3)
3. As language expresses thought, so Christ is expression of God
4. System of theology in the use or absence of definite article (John 1:1, 14:6)
B. Monogenes – “only begotten” (John 1:14, 18, 3:16)
1. His eternity
2. His incarnation
C. Morphe – “form” (Philippians 2:6, 8-9)
1. Refers to the summation of characteristics that make a thing what it is
2. Used by Romans to refer to glory and dignity of high office
D. Eikon – “image” (Colossians 1:15-17)
1. Presupposes a prototype, an originalII. Those around Christ came to unique conclusions
A. He is the Christ, one with the Father (Matthew 16:16, John 20:28, 10:30, 14:9)
B. Possible interpretations of these claims
1. Jesus was self-diluted and had visions of self-grandeur
2. Jesus purposively set Himself to deceive us, being evil