The Living Presence
March 29th, 1970 @ 8:15 AM
THE LIVING PRESENCE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-29-70 8:15 a.m.
The title of the message is The Living Presence. And the reading of the passage is from the twentieth chapter of John. “And after eight days,” they counted Sunday to Sunday, eight days, that is, the next Sunday, “And after eight days again His disciples were within,” in that upper room, “and Thomas,” doubting Thomas, “with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut” [John 20:26]. His resurrection body is a real body, but it is also what the Scriptures call a spiritual body; He could go through a wall.
Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Shalom, Peace be unto 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—
a beatitude for us today—
blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
And that is we, today. The living presence: the Lord is alive.
On that first Sunday of the week, on the third day after His crucifixion and burial [Matthew 27:32-66], first there came an angel down from heaven and rolled back the great stone that covered the sepulcher, and in contempt sat upon it, as though a stone and as though the bonds of death could keep in the grave the Son of God [Matthew 28:1-2]. The women who came early to the sepulcher, just to see it, with no idea of a resurrection, when they arrived they saw the tomb opened. And when they looked inside, not only was it empty of the body of the Lord, but it was filled with the glory of an angelic presence [Matthew 28:3; Luke 24:4]. And one of the angels said, “He is risen, He is not here; go tell His disciples” [Matthew 28:5-7].
And they ran to tell the disciples word. When they heard it, Peter and John ran to the tomb. And the younger man John outran the older man Peter, and when John arrived he stood at the door of the tomb and looked inside. When Peter came he did not stop. He ran right into the tomb and saw the grave clothes so beautifully arranged and the head cloth folded up by itself; that is, it was not a robbery, but the Lord had carefully laid those garments aside. And John, who writes of it says seeing that napkin folded in a way that Jesus folded a napkin, he believed that He had been raised from the dead [John 20:1-9].
Then as the events followed after, Mary Magdalene came, and weeping, thinking that His body had been stolen away, the Lord spoke to her. She thought it was the gardener, but when He pronounced her name she recognized His voice, and turning beheld the living Lord [John 20:11-16]. Later in the day toward evening, the Lord appeared to two disciples so humble, one of them unnamed. He appeared to two disciples as they walked down a lonely road to Emmaus, about six miles from Jerusalem [Luke 24:13-32]. He later appeared to Simon Peter that same day [Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5], and to James, His own half brother [1 Corinthians 15:7]. Then that night He appeared to the disciples in the upper room, Thomas being absent, ten of them there [John 20:19-20].
The following Sunday evening, when those disciples were in that same upper room, the room of prayer and intercession and where the Lord’s Supper was given, while they were there, eleven of them now, the Lord suddenly appears [John 20:26-31]. Now Thomas had said all the days of that week, “I do not believe that dead men rise.” And when the disciples, the other ten, said, “But Thomas, we have seen Him with our own eyes. He is alive. He is risen.” Thomas said, “I do not believe it” [John 20:25].
For when the keystone is taken out of the arch the masonry collapses. When the hub is removed from the wheel the spokes fall apart. And when the breath leaves the body and the heart ceases to beat, the body falls into corruption and death. “I do not believe it.” “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]. That is death; so avowed Thomas, “I do not believe that He lives.” And when the disciples persisted in their avowal that they had seen Him with their own eyes [John 20:25], then Thomas put forth that rude, crude, harsh, materialistic test, “I would not believe it unless I could put my finger in the nail prints in His hands, and put my hand into His riven side. I do not believe that He lives” [John 20:25].
The following Sunday night when the eleven with Thomas now, are in that same upper room, suddenly Jesus Himself appeared in the midst. And the disciples were overjoyed to see the risen living Lord and Thomas with them [John 20:26]. Gladness, happiness, ecstasy, joy unspeakable, indescribable, full, deep, overflowing; the Lord has been raised from the dead!
Then the Lord turns and looks at Thomas, and shame takes the place of ecstasy. And a downward gaze takes the place of an uplifted and lighted face. And he hears his own Lord repeat the harsh, rude, crude, material test that he had put forth. Isn’t that amazing? The Lord heard it; Jesus sees and He hears. The Lord had heard it, and how Thomas must have felt crucified in his heart when he hears the Lord repeat that same materialistic test. “Now Thomas, you reach hither your finger and behold, thrust it into the nail prints in My hands. And reach hither your hand, and thrust it into My side, and be not faithless, but believing” [John 20:27]. And Thomas, crushed in humility because of his unbelief, and filled with the wonder and joy of an Easter resurrection morning, Thomas cried the greatest exclamation of faith to be found in the Word of God, “My Lord, my Lord, and my God!” [John 20:28].
The living presence, just suddenly He was there [John 20:26].
In the garden, suddenly He is there [John 20:13-16]. Down a lonely road and suddenly He is there [Luke 24:13-15]. In the quiet of the night, in a room barred and closed, suddenly He is there [John 20:19-20]. In the breaking of bread, suddenly He is there [Luke 24:30-31]. By the side of the seashore, suddenly He is there [John 21:1-14]. On the top of a mountain, suddenly He is there [Matthew 28:16-20]. Walking up the slope of Olivet, suddenly He is there [Luke 24:50-52; Acts 1:12]. They knew not when He might appear, and their eyes see Him. For forty days that continued [Acts 1:3]. Then they no longer needed to see Him with their naked eyes, for they knew Him by His presence working with them.
And in keeping with the sublimest promise, “Lo, I am with you all the days, even unto the consummation of the age” [Matthew 28:20]; in trial, in prosperity, in prison, in adversity, in sickness and in health, in youth and in manhood, in life and in death, in time and eternity, “I am with you to the consummation of the age,” always, and He is there.
When Stephen was stoned, he lifted up his face toward heaven and saw Jesus standing to receive his spirit [Acts 7:55-56]. When Saul of Tarsus was breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, suddenly, as he neared Damascus, in a glory and a light above the Syrian sun, there He stood, Jesus of Nazareth [Acts 9:1-5]. He called his name Jesus of Nazareth, the same blessed Lord [Acts 22:8].
And when Paul was on trial before his execution in Rome, he writes in the last words of his last letter to his son, Timothy, in the ministry and the pastor at Ephesus, “The Lord stood by me” [2 Timothy 4:17]. And when the sainted apostle John was on the lonely, rocky island of Patmos to die of exposure and starvation, he hears a great voice like the sound of a trumpet, and turning around in the midst of seven golden lampstands, he sees the Son of God, raised, glorified, walking in the midst of His churches [Revelation 1:9-13]; the living presence.
And He is with us today, and He sees, and He hears, and He walks by our side. Jesus, the glorified Lord God is with us, Immanuel, and forever [Matthew 1:23]. How do you know Him? How do you recognize Him? In several ways; one, we know His presence in faithful obedience. We feel His heartbeat, His commendation, His strength working with us. We know the Lord, we feel His presence in faithful obedience, doing what God wills for us, answering God’s call, serving in our Master’s name. He is with us, and we feel His sublime and holy presence.
A few weeks ago, two or three weeks ago, I stood looking at one of the most impressive statues I have ever seen in the whole world. It is the statue of God’s missionary David Livingstone, looking on the Zambezi River and at the great Victoria Falls. And as I stood there and looked at that impressive statue of God’s great missionary, I remembered one of the most dramatic stories in his life. He was coming down that Zambezi, and when he came to that part of the great river, word came to him that down the stream there were savages and that there is no possibility for them to go further; their life, their boat would be ravaged and destroyed, spears thrown from the bank; no man could go through that country and territory.
And David Livingstone had a habit in his life––I have known men of God who have followed that same habit, they have to have great faith in the Lord to do it––but David Livingston had a habit in his life; when he came to a great crisis and a great decision, he got down on his knees and he took his Bible and laid it before the Lord. And he asked God for an answer from the Holy Book, and then he would let the Book fall open wherever it might—set it down and let the Book fall open and then look at it, and the verse that he read was God’s answer to his prayer.
And upon this occasion, God’s missionary knelt down and took his Holy Bible and laid it before the Lord and asked God what to do. Then, he let the Book open wherever it would, as God would pick out the page and as his eye would be directed to the verse. And when David Livingstone opened the Book and looked on the page, it fell upon the last verse of the last chapter of the Book of Matthew, “And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age” [Matthew 28:20].
And David Livingstone rose from his knees, closed his Bible, and turned to his compatriots and said, “It is God’s promise. We shall proceed.” And he went down in the care and presence of God, the Lord’s holy will in his life and God’s presence with him, doing it. We are unbeatable and unstoppable and undefeatable when we are in the will of God. His presence is with us in faithful obedience.
We know His presence with us in yielded surrender, which for most of us is the most traumatic and difficult of all. God’s will done in our lives, which sometimes is so grievous, so agonizingly difficult and hard—we know God’s presence, Jesus with us, in sometimes agonizing and yielded surrender.
I heard of a man who stood up in a testimony meeting at church. He said he had been recalcitrant and hard. He had been an atheist and an unbeliever and least of all did he ever pray. Upon a day, there came a neighbor boy to his house, and brought, he was dragging a bent-up bicycle covered with blood. And the father said, “Son, where is my boy?” And the lad answered, “I don’t know, there was a car that took him away.” And he was left with a bicycle, all bent up, covered with blood. He called––this is in a great city, it was in the city of Philadelphia––he called one hospital after another asking for the emergency ward. And it seemed there was a hurt boy in every one of them; nothing to do but to go from hospital to hospital to hospital.
Finally in a row of cots in an emergency ward, a little fellow raised his hand and said, “Daddy, here I am, here I am.” And he went and looked into the face of that little boy; just a little while to live, the doctor said, just a moment to live. And the little fellow said, “Daddy, let’s pray.” Pray? Why, he didn’t believe in prayer! Why should a man in his right mind pray? We are sufficient. We are able. We are atheists or infidels or agnostics. We are rejecters and unbelievers, and we are proud of it. But the little boy said, “Daddy, let’s pray.”
And the father confessed, “Son, I don’t pray. I don’t even know how to pray.”
And the little boy said, “Daddy, I learned a prayer in Sunday school. Would you kneel by my side, and let’s pray that prayer?” His stubborn knees buckled and down by the side of that cot he knelt.
And the little boy said, “Daddy, say it after me. Our Father who art in heaven,” and he repeated it, “hallowed be Thy name,” and he repeated it, “Thy kingdom come,” and he repeated it, “Thy will be done,” and the father wouldn’t say it. And the little boy said, “Daddy, say it. Say it. Say it, Daddy, Thy will be done.” And the father repeated it, “Thy will be done.” And the little boy didn’t speak any more, and his little hand turned limp in the hand of his father.
And the man said, “Miracle of miracles, I cannot explain it! Miracle of miracles, wonder of wonders, the Jesus who took my little boy away stayed in my heart, and I found Him, and knew Him, and recognized Him, and gave my soul and heart and life to Him, Thy will be done!” [Matthew 6:10]. We know Him in a surrendered and yielded will.
The living presence: we know Him in acceptance of His invitation. Ah, how complimented we are! If a king were to come and knock at my door, if a prime minister, if the president of a great nation, if an angel from heaven were to knock at my door—not a president, or a prime minister, or an angel, but the Lord Prince of glory, “Behold,” He said, “I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with Me” [Revelation 3:20]. The presence of the Lord; and those invitations, I see them everywhere, I feel them everywhere.
“O pastor, you may feel them, but I never do. He may knock at your door, but He never knocks at mine. You may be invited, but I am not invited.” Oh, my friend, before God, His invitations and the knockings at your door are everywhere. They are in the Word. Every syllable of God’s Book is an invitation to let Jesus come into your heart. The presence of every church in the land with a spire pointing toward God is an invitation to let Jesus come into your heart. Your own feelings of heart, the loneliness, the searching, the emptiness, the longing, sometimes the feel and the sense of shortcoming and guilt, all are invitations to the need we have for Jesus.
The providences of life, the frustrations and the disappointments we feel, all are invitations to let Jesus come into your heart. The precious memories, a mother who prayed or a godly saint that we knew, all are invitations to let Jesus come into your heart. They are the knockings at the door. The day you were wed, to put your home together in Christ; the day a little baby was born and placed in your arms, the little baby, that’s an invitation to let Jesus come into your heart. Or the last parting sob at an open grave, that is an invitation to let Jesus come into your heart.
And all of the mercies of God’s daily providences, the sun that shines, the vernal showers that fall, the food we eat, the clothing we wear, the shelter under which we abide, the length of days and strength and health, as Paul wrote, “It is the goodness of God that leadeth thee to repentance” [Romans 2:4]. All and more are the knockings of Jesus at your heart. They are God’s invitation to let Him come in and break bread with you.
The living presence; open the door of your heart and let the Lord come in. Bless your soul and life. Bless your house and home. Bless the work under your hands. Bless you in your rising in the morning, in your lying down in the evening, watching over you in the shades of the night, seeing you through. Oh, answer the invitation of the Lord, and you will know His living, celestial, heavenly, guardian presence! Do it now. Do it this morning.
In a moment we shall sing our hymn of appeal. And in the balcony round, a family you, or a one somebody you, on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, a family, a couple, a one somebody you on this Easter morning, down that aisle; “Pastor, I give you my hand. I give my heart to the Lord, and here I am. Here I come.” Do it now. Make the decision now. And on the first note of that first stanza, come. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.