The Living Presence
March 29th, 1970 @ 10:50 AM
THE LIVING PRESENCE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-29-70 10:50 a.m.
Now on radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Living Presence. In the twentieth chapter of the Fourth Gospel: “And eight days later,” after eight days—they counted Sunday to Sunday, so the eighth day, Sunday again—“After eight days again His disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut” [John 20:26]. His resurrected body is His own body with scars, the identical body, but it is a spiritual body—He can go through a wall, through doors that are shut—a glorified, immortalized body:
Then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Shalom, Peace be to you.
Then saith He to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold My hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into My side: and be not faithless, but believing.
And Thomas answered and said unto Him, My Lord and my God.
Jesus saith unto Him, Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
A beatitude for all of us today: “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet do believe” [John 20:29].
This is a part of the most triumphant day human history has ever recorded. It is the third day after the crucifixion of our Lord. As it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, there came from heaven an angel and he took the stone that was rolled over the front of that large open sepulcher. And he rolled it away and in contempt sat upon it as though rock or stone or even the bonds of death could hold the Prince of glory [Matthew 28:1-2]. And as he was seated there, the women came early to view the sepulcher. And instead of finding a corrupting body, they saw the angelic glory. And one of the angels said, “He is not here, He is risen. Go tell His disciples” [Matthew 28:5-6].
So the women turned to run to bring word to the disciples, that the angels had declared, “The Lord is raised from the dead” [Luke 24:4-9]. And when the disciples heard it, Peter and John ran to the sepulcher. And the young man John outran the older man Simon Peter. And when John came to the tomb he stopped and just looked inside. But when Peter came, impetuously he ran into the sepulcher. Then John entered, and both of them saw the grave clothes so carefully laid away; and the napkin, the shroud that covered the head of the Lord, in a place neatly folded by itself, in the way that Jesus had a habit of folding a napkin. And John wrote that when he saw not a robbery, not a violent scene in the grave, but carefully folded and laid aside, he believed that the Lord was raised from the dead [John 20:2-8].
Then as the day, the first day progressed, as it drew toward evening the Lord appeared to two humble disciples, one unnamed, as they walked toward the little village of Emmaus, about six miles from Jerusalem [Luke 24:13-17]. Then the Lord appeared to James his brother [1 Corinthians 15:7], and He appeared to Simon Peter [Luke 24:34]. Then that night, Sunday night, when the ten disciples, Thomas being absent, gathered in the upper room, the Lord appeared to the ten [John 20:19-25].
After the passing of a week, the disciples were together again, and Thomas was with them; eleven of them in that same upper room where the Lord had observed the Passover, and where He had instituted the Lord’s Supper [Mark 14:12-18]. He appeared suddenly, without announcement, to the disciples again. And Thomas is there [John 20:26-31]. For Thomas was the materialistic, agnostic, unbeliever who said, “I do not believe that dead men live again.” Well, he had every cause to say it. And I can understand the infidelity, and unbelief, and rejection of the world.
When we live by sensual knowledge alone, we have every right to think that dead men don’t rise. When the keystone is removed from the arch, the masonry collapses. When the hub is removed from the wheel, the spokes fall apart. When the breath is removed from the body, and when the heart ceases to beat, death and corruption set in. “When the silver cord is loosed, and the golden bowl is broken, when the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel is broken at the cistern, then the dust returns to the earth as it was” [Ecclesiastes 12:6-7]. Thomas had every right to say, “I do not believe He is risen from the dead.” But the disciples pressed him, “Thomas, we have seen Him with our very eyes. We have looked upon Him. He broke bread with us. He ate a piece of a broiled fish and of an honeycomb, and it is the Lord Himself. He is raised from the dead.” And Thomas finally said a rude, crude, harsh, materialistic test: “I will not believe it until I can put my finger in the nail prints in His hands, and thrust my hand into His side. I will not believe it” [John 20:25].
The following Sunday night is the passage that I read out of the Holy Word. They are together, with Thomas, in that same upper room, and suddenly and without announcement, no harbinger, no herald, suddenly He is there, standing before them [John 20:26]. And the disciples are filled with ecstasy and joy. But as they stand in amazed wonder at the living presence of the living Lord, the Lord turns to Thomas. And his wondrous gaze turns to shame, and his eyes are cast down. And he hears from the Lord Himself that crude, crass, rude, materialistic test, “Except I put my finger in the nail prints of the hands, and except I thrust my hand into the riven side, I will not believe.” So the Lord had heard him say it as He sees us, and as He hears us. The Lord had heard him. And when the Lord turns to him, He says, “Now Thomas, reach hither thy finger, and thrust it into the nail prints in My hands; and reach hither your fist and put your hand in My side; and be not faithless, but believing” [John 20:27]. And it was then that the convicted and humble servant of Christ said, “O, my Lord and my God” [John 20:28]; possibly the greatest affirmation of faith to be found in the Holy Bible.
The living presence: there He is, without announcement. Suddenly He is there. In the garden, there He is [John 20:11-18]. On a lonely road, there He is [Luke 24:13-17]. In the breaking of bread, there He is [Luke 24:30-31]. In an upper room, there He is [John 20:26-31]. On the seashore, there He is [John 21:1-25]. On the mountaintop, there He is [Matthew 28:16-20]. In the city, there He is [Luke 24:50-52]. Walking up the slope of Olivet, there He is. Without announcement, just suddenly, there He is. And this continued by the space of forty days [Acts 1:3]. Finally, their eyes did not need to see Him to know that He was there. They felt His presence and they knew His grace and mercy working with them, even as the Lord said in the great promise, the Great Commission, “And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age” [Matthew 28:20]. Never away from us, always with us: in prosperity or in adversity, in sickness or in health, imprisoned or at liberty, at home or abroad, here or on a foreign field, in life or in death, in time and eternity, in earth and in heaven; the living presence always with us—God Immanuel [Matthew 1:23].
Stephen, stoned, beat down into the dust of the ground, lifting up his face, saw Jesus standing to receive his spirit; the living presence [Acts 7:55-56]. And Saul of Tarsus, breathing out threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, on the road to Damascus, suddenly, without announcement, unheralded, above the brightness of the Syrian sun, there He stands. And the amazed persecutor and waster and destroyer of the church [Galatians 1:13], falling at His feet, says, “Who art Thou, Lord?” And He replies, “I am Jesus of Nazareth” [Acts 9:1-5; 22:8]; the same Lord as in the days of His flesh, only glorified, and now with us forever [Matthew 28:20]. In Paul’s last trial in Rome before his execution on the Ostian Way, in his last letter to his son Timothy in the ministry, pastor at Ephesus, he speaks of his trial and says, “But the Lord stood by me, God was with me” [2 Timothy 4:17]; Christ was there; Jesus was present. And on the lonely isle of Patmos, where the sainted apostle John had been exiled to die of privation, and exposure, and starvation, without announcement, suddenly he hears a great voice as of many waters behind him. And turning to see the voice that spake unto him he sees seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven golden lampstands One standing, the Son of God walking in the midst of His churches [Revelation 1:9-13]; the living presence, here and there, with me and you, yesterday, and today, and forever [Matthew 28:20].
Oh, that God in human flesh, in resurrected glory, should be with us and walk with us! How do we know the presence of the Lord? How do we sense His nearness? And where do we find Him? Jesus. First: He is with us, and we feel His presence in faithful obedience. When I answer God’s call, and when I do God’s work, when I give myself to the Lord’s assignment, He is with me. His presence works with me. And the genius and the power and the benedictory blessing of heaven is mine. I know Him, and I sense Him, and I feel His presence in obedience, in doing His will.
A few days ago, two or three weeks ago, I stood on the Zambezi River and looked at the impressive statue of God’s missionary David Livingstone, standing there, looking over the great Zambezi and watching it fall into the Victoria Falls. And as I stood there and looked at that impressive statue of God’s missionary looking over the Zambezi, I lived again a dramatic incident in his life. Going down the river he came to a place where all of the natives said, “Thus far, but no further; for down the river are savages, cannibals, and no life could live beyond them. You must stop here.” But the missionary had felt God’s call to go down the Zambezi, where no white man had ever been, lands and people that had no white eyes had ever seen, opening up the heart of Africa for the coming missionary.
He had a habit, a thing that he did in his life that I know godly men today who do. But you have to have faith and be close to God if you do it. David Livingstone had a habit in his life when he came to a great decision. He got down on his knees, and he laid the question before the Lord and prayed; then he would take his Bible and let it open wherever it might fall open. And then the first verse that his eye fell upon was God’s answer to his question. He did that when he was warned against going down the Zambezi. David Livingstone went apart by himself, and took his Bible, and as he knelt before the Lord told God all about it; and then let his Bible open. And his eye looked down, and the Bible opened, and his eye fell upon the last verse of the last chapter of the First Gospel: “And, lo, I am with you all the days, even to the end of the world” [Matthew 28:20].
David Livingstone arose from his knees, closed his Bible, and said to the men journeying with him, “Make ready, we are going; for God has promised. He will not fail to keep His Word.” And David Livingstone went unhurt down the stretches and the reaches of the great Zambezi. We have God with us when we obey His will; and we feel His presence and the assuring grace of His strength and power when we obey God’s call.
How do we feel the presence of Jesus? How do we know He is with us? Not only in faithful obedience, but we know His presence also, and we feel God with us in yielded surrender; sometimes agonizing surrender, sometimes heartbreaking yieldedness, “God’s will be done” [Matthew 6:10].
I read of a man who stood up in a testimony meeting, and he said that he had been an unbeliever, a rejecter, an atheist. And upon a day, he said, a neighbor boy came dragging to the house a bicycle, all bent and covered with blood. And the father, seeing that bicycle and blood, said to the neighbor boy, “But where is my son?” And the lad replied, “I do not know. A car came and took him away.” The father went into the house, called every hospital, “Do you have there a boy hurt in an accident,” and it seemed he said, that every hospital had a boy that was hurt. Being in a great city, the city of Philadelphia, he went from hospital to hospital to hospital visiting every emergency ward.
And finally came to one, and there in a row of cots in the emergency room a little hand was raised, “Daddy, Daddy, here am I. Here Daddy, here I am.” The father went over there and stood by the boy. And the doctor said, “Just a little while to live.” And the boy said, “Daddy, kneel down and pray. Kneel down and pray.” What? To pray, to kneel? Why, that’s unthinkable! Why, I’m an atheist. I am all sufficient and all adequate. There may be others who need religious crutches to lean upon; weak, who must needs go to church, without strength, a prop, all faith. But I, I am an atheist and without need of God or heaven. “Me, bow in prayer and intercession?” But the little boy asked, “Daddy, would you kneel down here and pray?” The father said, “Son, I don’t know how to pray. I’ve never prayed in my life.”
“Daddy,” said the boy, “I learned a prayer in Sunday school. Would you kneel down and say that prayer, repeat it after me?” And his stubborn knees buckled; and his hard, adamantine spirit broke, and he knelt there by the side of the lad. The lad said, “Now Daddy, pray, Our Father who art in heaven.” He repeated it, “hallowed be Thy name,” and he said it, “Thy kingdom come,” and he repeated it, “Thy will be done,” and the father refused to say it. And the lad said, “Daddy, say it. Pray it Daddy, pray it. Thy will be done.” And the father prayed it, “Thy will be done”; and waited, but the boy never spoke again.
His hand turned limp in the hand of his father, and he was gone. And at the testimony meeting the father said, “But miracle of miracles, and wonder of wonders, the Jesus who took my boy away stayed with me in my heart. And I found Him in that prayer; and He has been with me ever since.” Oh, sometime, somewhere, some day that traumatic agonizing experience will be yours. We do not escape it. And in that surrendered and yielded will, Lord, Lord, we find Jesus; the presence, the living presence of the living Lord.
How do we know the presence of Jesus? In faithful obedience, in a surrendered and yielded will, and once again, in invitation, in acceptance, there He is. In the third chapter of the Revelation and the twentieth verse, “Behold,” and this is the risen resurrected Lord who speaks, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if anyone hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me” [Revelation 3:20]. Living, fellowshipping, breaking bread, working, moving, serving together. Oh, what a compliment! How honored.
If the president of a great nation, or the king of an empire, or an angel from heaven were to come to see me and knock at the door, how honored would I be. But this is not an angel, nor a president, nor a prime minister, nor a king. It is the Prince of glory Himself. He comes and knocks at the door of my heart. “O pastor, but,” you say, “He may knock at your heart’s door, but He doesn’t knock at my heart’s door. Maybe He knocks at the door of the hearts of other people; but He doesn’t knock at my heart’s door.” But He does. In a thousand providences of life does the Lord knock at the door of your heart.
In the Word; in any syllable of God’s Word, Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart. In every service of the church, and in the very frame and architecture of the church itself with its spire pointing up to God, it’s an invitation to let Jesus come into your heart. All of those unfulfilled longings, that yearning uneasiness that all of us sense, the shortcoming, the guilt, all of those emptinesses of life, never quite reaching or attaining, every one of those feelings is an invitation to God to come into your life.
The frustrations we feel, the disappointments we feel, sometimes the agony and turbulence of soul that we feel, all are invitations to God to come into our lives. The precious memories of yesterday, a sweet Christian mother, the prayer of a sainted friend, the testimony of a devout Christian, all are callings from the Lord Jesus. The providences of our life: when you were married, that was an invitation for God to come into your home. When the baby was born, an invitation to Jesus; or maybe the last parting word and the last tear that fell at an open grave, that is an invitation from God to come into your life. The daily mercies of heaven, as Paul wrote it, “It is the goodness of God that leadeth thee to repentance” [Romans 2:4]. The health that I have and the length of days, the clothing that I wear and the shelter under which I abide, the sun that shines and the vernal showers that fall, the friendships and the love that blesses my soul, all of them are invitations to let God come into your heart. That’s the way that I can sense His presence. And when I open my soul heavenward, God floods my whole life with heavenly, celestial presence.
Would you do that today? If you’re tired of the load of your sin, let Jesus come into your heart. If you would like a new life to begin, let Jesus come into your heart.
Just now you’re doubting, give o’er
Just now throw open the door
Just now reject Him no more
Let Jesus come into your heart
[from “Let Jesus Come Into Your Heart,” Mrs. C. H. Morris]
Do it. Make it now. In the balcony round, on this lower floor, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, make that decision now and come. And in a moment when you stand up singing, stand up coming. Down that aisle, “Here I am, pastor. I make the decision now.” Do it now. Take the hand of your wife, “Wife, let’s go, let’s go.” Gather the children, all of you come. Or just one somebody you, while we sing this appeal, while we wait before the Lord, do it now. Come now. On the first note of the first stanza, come, while we stand and while we sing.
I. They recognized “this same Jesus”
A. Early Sunday morning
at the tomb (Matthew 28:1-7, John 20:1-10, 15)
B. John, by the way He
folded up a napkin (John 20:4-8)
Emmaus disciples, by the way He said the blessing (Luke
The ten, by the touch of the hand, by His eating fish and honeycomb (Luke 24:38-43)
III. Thomas the unbelieving skeptic
A. Death is the end –
final, complete (Ecclesiastes 12:6-7)
B. Thomas refusing to
believe (John 20:24-25)
C. Then Jesus appears,
repeating his ultimatum (John 20:26-29)
IV. His presence with them
A. Without announcement
suddenly He was there
B. After forty days
their eyes no longer need to see Him
C. His promise (Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 9:5, 2 Timothy 4:17,
V. His presence with us through the years
A. In obedient service
B. In agony of soul and