The Unsearchable Riches of Christ
April 12th, 1970 @ 10:50 AM
THE UNSEARCHABLE RICHES OF CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-12-70 10:50 a.m.
Now, the title of the message is The Unspeakable Riches of Christ. And it is an exposition of a passage in the third chapter of Ephesians. Three times, Paul speaks of the grace of God which is given to him to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ:
For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus for you Gentiles,
If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward,
Then skipping to verse 7:
Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of His power.
Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.
It is a remarkable thing, the personal attitude of the apostle Paul to his ministry. He felt, and expresses it repeatedly, that it was a grace of God that he was permitted to preach, a grace of God, an unmerited remembrance and favor of heaven." I, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, this unmerited, undeserved favor that I am permitted to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ" [Ephesians 3:8]. And yet, by man’s measurements, his ministry was anything but attractive. His gains were his losses [Philippians 3:8]. His honors were his dishonors, and his glories were only in his sufferings. His privations, his stonings, his imprisonments, yet he gloried in the offering of a life that was beat and bludgeoned and finally destroyed. He gloried in the offering of a suffering life unto God. He did not look upon the sacrificial cost of his ministry as something that he was driven to, like a galley slave to his seat. It was not a servitude of grievous and burdensome character, but it was something that he gloried in and looked upon as a special gift from God.
One time, the angels preached the gospel. On a midnight hour, they pointed to the little Babe in Bethlehem as the Savior of the world [Luke 2:9-16]. In a midnight hour, beaten and bloody, in stocks and chains and in a dungeon, Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises to God [Acts 16:25]. His whole ministry was received as a gift of grace from heaven’s hands. And not only that, but he looked upon his ministry as one for which he was not worthy to embrace, to share. "I, who am less than the least of all the saints, is this grace given, that I should preach the unsearchable riches of Christ" [Ephesians 3:8]. That’s not very grammatical is it? "Less than the least." And yet, there is a grammar of the heart and of the soul that all of us understand; "I, who am the less than the least of all the saints."
Here in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Romans saluting all of the saints in Rome, he calls them by name. And he says, "Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsman" – they were Jews – "the apostles of note who were in Christ before me" [Romans 16:7]. When Andronicus was preaching the gospel, and when Junia was preaching the gospel, Paul was persecuting the church and wasting the household of faith [1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13]. And it was a burden to his heart and a bitter memory as long as he lived. So he says, "I am less than Andronicus" – whoever Andronicus was. "I am less than Junia" – whoever Junia was. "I am the least of the saints, and yet, to me is this grace given, that I should preach the unsearchable riches of Christ [Ephesians 3:7-8].
You know, that’s been my judgment of the true men of God. The deeper the vessel, the more laden it is, the further down in the water does it sink. Empty cans clatter and jostle on the surface of the sea. So these who are empty and self-conceited, they’re very loud and also very cheap and very empty. But the true man of God, wherever I have seen him, is like Paul – less than the least.
In the nineteenth century, this last century, there were two tremendous preachers in London: Joseph Parker and Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Upon a day, a man came to Joseph Parker and asked him, "Why did the Lord choose Judas – one of the twelve – who betrayed Him [Matthew 26:14-16, 47-50]. Why did the Lord choose Judas?" And the great preacher replied, "I’m not able to answer. But the great mystery to me is not why He chose Judas, but the great mystery to me is, why should the Lord have chosen me?" And then Charles Haddon Spurgeon one time exclaimed in a sermon, "Oh, the wonder of the elective love and grace of God, my heart cries out ‘Why me, O Lord, why me? ‘"
This is the apostle, "Unto me, who am less than the least of all the saints, is this grace given, that I should preach the unsearchable, untraceable, unfathomable, indescribable riches of Christ" [Ephesians 3:8]. It is a remarkable thing, not only his personal attitude toward his ministry, but it is a remarkable thing how the splendor and the wonder of the glory of God’s goodness in Christ was ever fresh in his writings and in his life and in his ministry. I haven’t time to follow it through the book. I’ll take just one instance. Paul will be writing along in these thirteen letters. He’ll be writing along. He’ll be following some deep theological argument, and then, just suddenly, without any argumentative, apologetic reason at all – then, just suddenly, he will burst into some great, glorious, exclamation of the wonder and glory of God’s love in Christ Jesus.
Now, I take just one instance. The ninth and the tenth and the eleventh chapters of Romans is a deep theological discussion concerning the problem of Israel’s unbelief. And right in the midst of the march of doctrinal argument, look at this interjection, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!, For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen" [Romans 11:33, 36]. It has nothing to do with the argument at all. It is not argumentative in itself. But as he writes of those deep theological discussions in the Book of Romans, he just suddenly bursts into an exclamation as though he were standing in the presence of a dazzling revelation!
The whole writing and the whole life of the apostle Paul were like that – as if a man were standing with his arms raised beholding the splendors of the revelation of God. And wherever he turned, there were other views of the glory as majestic, as iridescent, as unspeakable, unsearchable. It is as though a man had gone through the gates into the New Jerusalem [Revelation 21:9-23], and he bursts into wonder and awe and amazement at the glory of the sight that he sees here and there and there and around him. It is as though a man were going down a highway of supernal glory and beauty and every bypath that he took was no less wondrous. It’s as though a man were in a house of treasures, and around him and in every room were jewels heaped up, pearls and diamonds, sapphires and rubies. It’s as though a man were tracing out a lake, and as he was seeking to measure its boundaries, he found it was nothing but an arm of the immeasurable, illimitable sea. So the exclamation of the apostle Paul in his ministry and in his life, all the years of his days, the glory of God in Christ Jesus kept advancing and expanding until finally it covered all heaven and earth. "Unto me, who am the least of the saints, is this grace given, that I should preach the unsearchable riches of Christ" [Ephesians 3:8]. If we had the years, we might name some of those riches. In just a few moments, I’m given liberty to say a few: the unsearchable riches of God in Christ Jesus.
One: in His person, the riches of Christ in His person, in the Man Himself. As I said, Paul preached the doctrine, the truth, the teaching, but he never preached it apart from the person of the Lord Himself. When the apostle Paul preached the doctrine, it was always as the garments and the robes and the raiment of the Lord Himself [1 Corinthians 2:2].
If Paul is preaching the doctrine of justification by faith [Romans 3:28; Galatians 2:16], it is always as a part of the great atoning, suffering Christ. If Paul is preaching our sanctification by the Spirit [Romans 15:16; 1 Corinthians 6:11], it is always that we might be conformed to the image of God’s Son [Romans 8:29]. Paul never delivers the doctrine as though it were a cold stone rolled upon the sepulcher door and the Savior was hidden within. But always, when he preached the doctrine, it was as a herald of the Lord Himself, and His abounding, worshipful – all of the presence of the Son of God is worshipful in itself to behold. He’d speak of the Lord as the express image of the invisible God [Hebrews 1:3]. He’d speak of the Lord as the One in whom all the Godhead dwelt bodily [Colossians 2:9]. Deity, clothed in human flesh, and even in the story of His life in the earth, that deity shone through [Colossians 2:9].
O Lord Jesus! The winds knew Thee and were stilled at Thy voice; the waves knew Thee and kissed Thy feet [Luke 8:22-24]. The angels knew Thee and ministered unto Thee [Matthew 4:11]. And the demons knew Thee and fled from Thy holy presence [Matthew 8:16; Mark 1:34]. And disease turned to health and strength at Thy voice [Matthew 9:29; John 5:8], and the dead were raised when Thou didst but speak [Luke 7:11-15; John 11:43-44]. The unsearchable riches of God in Christ Jesus, in His person; the riches of God in Christ Jesus, in His atoning grace and power to save [Hebrews 7:25].
Did you ever think of this? Before the Lord came and before He died on the cross, all of the myriads and the myriads before that day of the cross were saved by His promise and by His pledge to die for their sins [Hebrews 4:1-10]. And if the power of Christ in bonded promise availed to save the myriads before the day of cross, think of the power of the day itself. Think of the abounding, overflowing righteousness of that atoning hour when Jesus died for our sins [2 Corinthians 5:21]. That was the gospel that Paul preached that brought such wonder and awe to his soul [Romans 1:16, 1 Corinthians 2:2].
To Him who loved us and gave Himself for us [Galatians 2:20], oh, what God – how God, the Lord, treasures every groan, and tear, and sob, and drop of blood that His Son poured out into this earth for our atonement [1 John 2:2], for the expiation of our sins [Romans 3:25], for forgiveness of our transgressions [Ephesians 1:7], for the washing out of the stain in our soul [Revelation 7:14]; the sufferings of our Lord. While He was in an agony of prayer they arrested Him [Luke 22:44-54]. Betrayed by one who’d just broken bread with Him [Matthew 26:14-16, 27-50]; beat with many stripes [Isaiah 53:5], He deserved no stripes; carried in ignominy through the streets of Jerusalem [Matthew 27:31-33], a city over which He had wept [Luke 19:41]; crucified outside its walls [John 19:20; Hebrews 13:12], as though He were not fit to be inside the city itself [Hebrews 13:13], and by those who should have worshiped Him and adored Him [John 1:11]. By Him who merited the adulation and reverence of kings, spit upon [Matthew 27:30] and nailed to a tree like a felonious criminal [Matthew 27:38].
To so many, His atoning death is nothing. It is nothing. It is nothing. But in God’s sight, the tears, and the sobs, and the cries, and the suffering, and the blood of Christ is infinitely precious [1 Peter 1:18-19]. So much so that God says, "To the one who will love My Son, who will reverence My Son, who will trust in My Son, for His sake I will write their names in the Book of Life. I will give them eternal glory. I will forgive their sins. I will save them forever." This is a part of the riches of God in Christ Jesus, His atoning grace.
Third, and again, the riches of God in Christ Jesus: His ascension into heaven [Acts 1:9-10], and His intercession for us there before the throne of grace [Hebrews 7:25]. There He is, my Brother. We’re joint-heirs, my Friend and Advocate [Romans 8:17]. There He is. And His presence there is a guarantee and a pledge that some day, I shall stand there also [Ephesians 1:6]. Look at Him. Look at Him. My Savior and my Friend, standing there at the right hand of the throne of glory [Acts 7:55-56]. The golden sun, and the silvery moon, and all the stars that shine were made by His omnipotent hands [John 1:3; Colossians 1:16], and He is a friend of mine. And when He shall come in glorious array at the head of the conquering line [Revelation 19:11-16], it will be my right to stand and say that He is a friend of mine.
Oh, it is unspeakable! It is unfathomable. It is unthinkable. It is unimaginable. No wonder Paul quoted from Isaiah, for "Eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, neither has entered into the heart of a man, what God hath in store for those who love Him" [1 Corinthians 2:9]. "Able to save to the uttermost them who come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for us" [Hebrews 7:25]. Bowing down His ear to hear our prayers, giving us the dreams and the hopes and the visions of our hearts, where all things are ours, and He puts in our hearts to want and to covet and to pray for the things that are right and good and best [Romans 8:26].
And not only there in heaven in His ascended grace and glory [Acts 1:9-10], but here, His presence with us in this earth [Matthew 28:20; John 14:23]. Like a veritable ocean of grace, and glory, and goodness, and mercy do the ocean waters of Christ’s love flow around the shores of our common life. Every little piece and part and parcel, everything you do, there the Lord is. His presence felt, loved, thanked for, appreciated; Jesus with us.
Why, the memory of all memories of my boyhood, something that was so unconscious, unplanned, unthought for – my mother singing as she worked in the house, singing, singing, always singing. As she washed the dishes, as she cooked at the stove, as she swept the house, she sang, sang, sang. And they were always the sweet songs of Zion. They were the hymns of the church. They were the songs about Jesus. The Lord’s presence in all of the common everyday chores of our life. And even our sorrows and our disappointments and our frustrations, they have God in them. Like the storm cloud and a light streaming through, or like the showers in April that mix with the sun, God’s presence with us, His rich grace, our everlasting possession and comfort and joy.
In this dear church was a couple. They had a little business and both of them worked in it, sweet, precious, dear couple. And on Christmas day, on Christmas day he fell dead. Sudden heart seizure and just died. Oh, the assignments of a pastor sometimes! So I make my way to the home so heavy hearted. This is Christmas. This is Christmas day. And I’m going to the house to see if I can be of any comfort and encouragement to that poor young wife, her husband lying there dead before her. "Ah, oh, oh," she said to me, "when I was saved, I experienced saving grace. For the years of my life, I have known living grace. And now that he is gone, God hath given me dying grace." Then she added, "It was God’s Christmas present to my husband. For today, Christmas day, God introduced him to the saints and to the angels in glory." When I left the house, I left exalted and lifted up. Christmas day, and death, and separation; but in Christ, a Christmas present. "Today, he was presented to the saints and the angels in glory." Oh, what God hath done for us!
And I haven’t time to speak of the riches of God in Christ Jesus, in His coming again. A little later on here in the Book of Ephesians I shall preach from that passage, "He hath ascended on high, He hath taken captivity captive, He hath given gifts unto men" [Ephesians 4:8]. Oh, when the Lord shall come and captivity is captive and death is no more, and He gives gifts unto men – oh, our gifts are so feeble and paltry! His gifts, why, He will give eyes to the blind and they can see, feet to the crippled and they can walk, life to the dead and they shall live – when the Lord comes in glory, in grace, and in majesty, in power [Acts 3:21].
Oh, the riches of God in Christ Jesus! [Ephesians 2:7]. Last week one of those Young Adults came to see me. And she said, "I’m so troubled, for I’m afraid at the coming of the Lord. I’m afraid. It speaks terror to my heart." I said, "Dear child, afraid? Afraid at the coming of Jesus? Tell me, tell me, had you lived in the days of His flesh and He is walking down some long road, and He knocked at your door, and you went to the door and opened it, and there stood the lowly Jesus, would you have been afraid? Would you? Had the Son of God, in mortal flesh, stood at the door, would you have been afraid? Would you not have been overcome with gladness and expectancy?" Why, when He would come to a house you could not get near it because the blind and the lame and the poor were brought that His hands might touch and bless them [Luke 6:19], and mothers brought little babies that He might pray over them [Matthew 19:13-14]. Afraid? I know. I understand. He has cast aside His garment of poverty [John 19:23], and He has taken away the towel wherewith He girded Himself when He washed the disciples’ feet [John 13:4-5]. And He is now robed in glory, I know [Psalm 93:1, 104:1]. But His heart is still the same [Hebrews 13:8]. God’s Book says so. "The same Jesus shall so come back in like manner" [Acts 1:10-11]. The Lord Himself, and He a friend of mine. And I’m not to dread, or to be full of fear at His coming, because it’ll be the same blessed face and the same gracious hands and the same loving heart.
Welcome and throw wide the door. And my appeal to you, the riches of God’s grace in Christ Jesus, so rich He keeps open house all the day, all the night, all the years. We never waste His abounding fullness; though millions have partaken, the table is laden like a banquet. And we need nothing to come. Nothing. Just as you are. Don’t even need a rag; He has robes of righteousness, pure and white. Don’t need to bring a crust of bread; He is the manna from heaven [John 6:51]. Don’t need to wash a single stain out of our souls; His blood cleanseth from us all sin [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5]. You might as well take a candle to the sun as to bring your own righteousness to Jesus. Just come as you are. Come, come, come, and there’s grace and forgiveness and mercy enough and to spare [Revelation 22:17]. Come, come, come.
"And here I come, pastor." "My wife and children, we are all coming." "The two of us, we’re coming." Or just, "I, I’m coming, pastor." In this balcony round, you; on this lower floor, you, into the aisle and down to the front, "Here I come." On the first note of the first stanza, come. Make the decision now, and in a moment when you stand up, stand up coming. Angels will attend you in the way. Do it now. Come and stand by me, as all of us stand and sing our hymn together.