The Christian Triumph
December 26th, 1971 @ 7:30 PM
THE CHRISTIAN TRIUMPH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-26-71 7:30 p.m.
On the radio of the city of Dallas you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Christian Triumph. And could I say how triumphant I feel about your presence here tonight. I never saw such a flown coop in my life when I came down to this complex of First Baptist buildings. I could not find a single staff member anywhere, not one, not one. I drove into the parking garage and it was empty. There was not a car there. I looked at all the parking lots around, and they were empty. The Burt Building was dark like a sepulcher, and the building across the street looked like a mausoleum. The institute building was dark like a tomb. And the whole thing around here was lugubrious. I fully expected to come over here and preach to myself and maybe a janitor on the outside listening in, watching the temperature, and a little handful of choir members that were afraid of Lee Roy. You just ought to be here tonight, all of you all that are listening on this television, stuffed with football and turkey. You would just be surprised at how many people are here in this service tonight. And I thank the dear Lord for you.
I pray God will help me as I try to deliver this sermon tonight. I have worked on it. It is something that is so true. It is so everlastingly characteristic of the Christian faith and the Christian religion, and I may fail in the presentation of it, absolutely, signally, ignominiously, but I want God to help me. And if He will, it will be a wonderful thing for you, for us, in the vista of the time and the years that lie ahead; The Christian Triumph.
It is a thought that arises out of our approach to the Holy of Holies in the life of Jesus. As you know, on Sunday night I preach on the life of our Lord. And preaching through these Gospels we have come to the fourteenth, the fifteenth, the sixteenth, and the seventeenth chapters of the Gospel of John. And there is no place in the Word of God where the heart of Christ so fully, so completely, so richly is revealed as in what I have called here the Holy of Holies in the life of our Lord.
I would think that more tears have fallen upon the fourteenth chapter of John than any other piece of Scripture or literature in human speech. “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in Me” [John 14:1]; that is the passage and the introduction to these series of three chapters.
Now the occasion was the announcement to the disciples that the Lord should die [John 13:1, 33], that it was expedient for Him that He go away [John 16:7]. And in the sixteenth chapter and the sixth verse, the Lord says to them, “Because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart” [John 16:6]. Now what the Lord had said was most obvious: He had announced His death at that Passover season and a death by crucifixion, by inordinate, awesome suffering [Matthew 26:2]. He had instituted the Lord’s Supper at the Passover, which is the chapter preceding [John 13:1-28]. And as the disciples came to realize that the Lord was approaching the end of the way; He was to die which was unthinkable to them; He was to be crucified, which was as ignominious as if you were to say a man whom you loved was to die on the gallows or in the electric chair; it was the public execution of that day, He was to be crucified [Matthew 20:19].
And the whole service of Passover and the institution of the Lord’s Supper was one of impenetrable despair and darkness to the disciples. And that’s why the Lord said, “Because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart” [John 16:6]. Now there is no life, there is no experience that does not finally end in that confrontation. It isn’t peculiar to the disciples that death is announced, nor is it peculiar to a man—if Jesus is a man—that He should face that inevitable judgment; He is to die. The difference lies in how it is faced. I have chosen, for example, from a philosopher, and from a politician, a statesman, and from a literary genius, the despair and the skepticism by which the world without God faces that inevitable trial and end.
Now here I have copied from Paul, Jean Paul Richter. He lived about two or three hundred years ago in Germany, one of the most astute, and original, and gifted of all the literary geniuses of the German people. Now listen to him as he faces this inevitable hour. I quote from him: “I have traversed the worlds. I have risen to the suns. I have pressed apart the great waste spaces of the sky. I have descended to the very place where the very shadow cast by being dies out and ends. We are orphans, you and I, every soul in this vast corpse trench of the universe is utterly alone.” Even the godly Pascal said, “The eternal silence of the universe frightens me.” I suppose there was never a greater statesman or builder of empire than Benjamin Disraeli. As an old man, listen to this sentence: he said, “Youth is a blunder. Mankind is a mistake and old age a regret.”
And now, from one of the greatest literary geniuses of the human race, Tolstoy; Tolstoy, from My Confessions and My Religion, gave four various attitudes men take toward life. And I copied them down. He said, one: “The attitude of men toward life, life is all bad and some men get drunk to forget it.” A second attitude: “Life is all bad and some men struggle against it.” Third, the attitude: “Life is all bad and they remove themselves from it. They live as a hermit or they live like those who are preparing to commit suicide, withdrawn.” Or fourth: “Life is all bad, but they live on accepting it as it comes.” And Tolstoy said that he belonged to the fourth group. But what amazed me in his confessions of his faith and religion is that as he names the four attitudes toward life, in every one of them he begins, “Life is all bad,” whether you get drunk and forget it, whether you struggle against it, whether you withdraw and remove yourself from it, or whether you live on accepting it stoically as it comes. To Tolstoy, all four attitudes that he finds in life, “Life is all bad!”
Now this is not unique or peculiar. This is the philosophy of your finest genius, men of intelligence, men of letters, men of political and statesmanship experience. This is your attitude when men leave God out of their lives.
Now, let’s look at this. As the Lord announces His crucifixion and His death [John 13:1, 33], though He says, “Because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart” [John 16:6], but look at the tenor, and at the tone, and at the spirit, and at the very wording of the Lord as He speaks of that coming suffering and decease. Now the passage begins, “Let not your heart be troubled: you believe in God”—we do—“believe also in Me” [John 14:1]. We shall!
Now look at the ending of the passage: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” [John 16:33]. And now look in the middle of the passage. The Lord said, “I will not leave you comfortless,” literally, the Greek word is orphans. “I will not leave you orphans: I will come to you” [John 14:18].
Look at Jean Paul Richter: “We are orphans you and I, every soul in this vast corpse trench of the universe is utterly alone.” In the middle of the passage, “I will not leave you orphans: I will come to you” [John 14:18]; and again, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” [John 14:27]. There is always a basic, Christian optimism, a Christian victory and triumph in any inevitable circumstance, or experience, or exigency, or contingency in life. If a man is a Christian, there is a lift in him; there is a buoyancy, there is an optimism, there’s a light, there’s a better tomorrow, and always it is there! When I turn to the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, we have delineated here the sufferings of the children of God:
They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, they were slain with the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented;
Of whom the world was not worthy . . .
God having provided some better thing for us.
Always that note of uplift, of optimism, of triumph; it is coming, there is a better day!
That is the Christian faith and the Christian persuasion. The sun shines somewhere however dark the cloud or the night. There’s a rising, there’s a glorious tomorrow! Now I want to show that in three things in the beginning, and three things in the life of our Lord, and three things at the consummation of the age—always, whatever the turn, whatever the province, if it is Christian, if it is of God, always, whatever the exigency—there is always that rising, that uplift, that some better thing that God is preparing for us.
Now first we shall choose three things under God in the beginning of the creation. One: the creation and fall of Lucifer. Why, under God’s name and in God’s heaven, did God create the devil? And why did God let him fall? Ten thousand times does any thinking religionist face that question; the creation and the fall of Lucifer. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth became without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep” [Genesis 1:1-2]. When Satan fell, the whole universe fell with him. God’s beautiful creation—all of it, the stars, the Milky Ways, the galaxies, the earth, the suns, the planets—the whole creation fell when Satan fell. But out of it God purposes some better thing [Romans 8:19-22].
There is always that uplift, for the next verse says, “And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the deep. And God said” [Genesis 1:2-3]; and God recreated the world in beauty and in sublimity [Genesis 1:3-31], which is a portent and a harbinger of a new heaven and the new earth that God will yet bring to pass [Revelation 21:1]. There is optimism in it. Satan falls, the universe is destroyed [Romans 8:19-22], but is the purpose of God to create another heaven and another earth more glorious than the first [Revelation2 1:1].
All right, the second thing that God permitted in the beginning; the creation and the fall of Adam. When the Lord made the man and placed him in the garden of Eden [Genesis 2:7-8], “at the gate is the serpent, more subtle than any beast of the field” [Genesis 3:1]. Now why? The fall of Adam [Genesis 3:1-6], the creation and fall of Adam, “And placed in the garden of Eden, just outside the gate there is that subtle creature” [Genesis 3:1]. Why?
The Scriptures say that it is the purpose of God in creating that better thing for us [Hebrews 11:40], that though we were created less than the angels [Psalm 8:5], down here made out of the dust of the ground [Genesis 2:7], in the Fall [Genesis 3:1-6], and in the recreation of the man [2 Corinthians 5:17], he is to be above the cherubim, the seraphim [Ephesians 1:21, 2:6], the angels of heaven. In the fourteenth verse of the [first] chapter of Hebrews, the apostle says that these angels are to be our ministering spirits [Hebrews 1:14].
And out of the sin, and out of the fall, and out of the judgment of Adam [1 Corinthians 15:22], it is God’s purpose to raise the man to heights above glory, above angels, above all of the created orders in the universe. Paul says, “We shall sit upon the throne judging angels” [1 Corinthians 6:3]; the whole world. “We shall be joint-heirs with Christ” [Romans 8:17], and Christ is the Lord God Prince of glory [Revelation 19:6]. Out of that is the great uplift, the status, the enthronement of the human life; out of that tragedy! [John 1:4; 2 Corinthians 5:15].
All right, the third permissive incident under God: death, death; why did God permit death?
And the Lord God said, The man knows good and evil, lest therefore he put forth his hand, and take also the tree of life, and eat, and live forever:
Therefore God drove him out; and He placed at the east of the garden a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.
Why death? God having purposed some better thing for us [Hebrews 11:40], for had it not been that we die, had the man taken of the tree of life, he would have been confirmed forever in this body of death [Genesis 3:22]. Nor could I conceive of a judgment more horrible than that, that you couldn’t die. Am I cruel, or without sensitivity, or without filial love, if I were to tell you that I knelt down on my knees and asked God to take my mother? No mother ever loved a boy more than she loved me. Nor did any mother ever sacrifice for a son more than my mother sacrificed for me. My mother was good to me. And there was no day in my life but that in prayer and devotion she poured out her heart for me. Yet the day came when I knelt by my bed and asked God that my mother might die. For seven long, interminable years she lived, and her mind was destroyed, and her body was broken, and she lay there—an invalid— just waiting, just waiting until that ultimate and final summons from glory. What if you couldn’t die? It is God’s purpose out of the experience of death to raise us up in a new body, immortalized, glorified [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]; “that better thing God hath provided for us” [Hebrews 11:40].
One of the great theologians of all time and one of the great preachers of the ages was Richard Baxter. How much he suffered, how much he was persecuted, but what a flaming servant and pulpiteer was Richard Baxter. He suffered long in his last illness. And a friend came by to see him, and found Richard Baxter dying. He had suffered excruciatingly; it was a terrible thing how he lay in such pain, in agony of death. And when the friend came by to see him, he saw Richard Baxter dying and said to him, “Richard, how are you?” And the great preacher replied, “Friend, I am almost well”; and died.
Death is not a curse when our task is done and the work is finished. It is that better thing that God hath purposed for us, for we change this old house for a new house, this old body for a new body; this house of pain, and age, and senility, and corruption, and death for an immortal house—a tabernacle, a home—not made with hands, eternal in the heavens [2 Corinthians 5:1]. Always there is that turn in the Christian faith: whatever the exigency there’s an uplift in it, there’s a triumph and a victory in it, in God and it never fails.
I’ve taken three things in the beginning: one, the creation and fall of Lucifer, that out of it God might create a new heaven and a new earth [Genesis 1:1-2]; second, the creation and fall of Adam [Genesis 2:7-8, 3:1-7], that the man might be lifted above the angels, even the angels are ministering spirits to serve at the beckon and call of man [Hebrews 1:14]; third, the judgment of death, that we might exchange this old body of corruption for an immortalized, glorified body in heaven [2 Corinthians 5:1].
Now, I’m going to take three things out of the life of our Lord, and they all have that same turn. Number one; look how He was born; in a king’s palace? No. He was born in a stable, He was laid in a manger [Luke 2:11-16], and His companions were an ox, and a sheep, and a goat, and an ass. How in the providences of God could a child be born in deeper poverty and yet out of it has come the most beautiful sentiments of Christmas, of adoration and worship? It has caught the imagination of artists, and poets, and hymn writers through these two thousand years. Why? For out of that has come a feeling of kindredship, of closeness to the Christ Child that otherwise we had never known. Why listen, anybody can feel welcome to come and to kneel at a manger; anybody, however poor, however untaught, however humble is welcome in a stable. Maybe not so in Herod’s palace or by Caesar’s throne; but anybody in a manger scene, there looking at a Baby born while the angels sing and the stars shine and heaven rejoices [Luke 2:13-14].
Second; in the life of our Lord, how steadfastly did our Lord refuse the blandishments of the world? Now I take one incident out of His ministry.
When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take Him by force, and make Him a king, He departed again into a mountain Himself alone, in prayer.
Look at that: He had just fed the five thousand [John 6:1-14], and when the people saw the miracle, they came by force to make Him a king [John 6:15]. Why, here is a Man who can feed an army with a little lunch. All of your logistics of battle are solved. He can feed an army with a little piece of bread and a fish [John 6:9-13]. Not only that, but they had seen Him raise the dead [Luke 7:11-15, 8:49-55]. If in conflict and battle the soldiers are killed, He can raise them up! He is [undefeatable]. He is invincible! And they came by force to make Him a king [John 6:15].
It is the same thing as Satan; offered the Lord the glory of the world, all that is in it [Matthew 4:8-10]. And our Savior was so unmoved by the blandishments of the world; it is almost unthinkable how the Lord expressed His attitude toward the things in this world. Money, glory, material possessions, things, they were nothing to the Lord, absolutely nothing!
How many of us are consumed with things, think of them, covet them, give our lives to them? The Lord was absolutely beyond it, unimpressed by it, never touched with it. Fame, glory, honor, exaltation, applause, public acceptance; name the gamut, it never touched Him! And His methods were never by coercion, or by martial expression, or by sword. Always His methods were those of humility, and prayer, and peace, and love, and good will. Tell me, is that some better thing?
In the life of our Lord, third in His life, His crucifixion [Matthew 27:32-50]: did ever such a life come to such a tragic end as the life of our Lord? Hated, despised, spit upon [Matthew 27:30]; as though abuse were not vile enough, they pulled out His beard [Isaiah 50:6]. And as though pulling out His beard were not brutal enough, they crowned Him with thorns [Matthew 27:29]. And as though the thorns were not sharp enough, they drove in nails [Matthew 27:35]. And as though the nails did not pierce deep enough, they opened His side with a Roman spear [John 19:34]. Did ever a man die like that Man died? “God having purposed some better thing for us” [Hebrews 11:40]; for out of the crucifixion and death of our Lord is first the forgiveness of our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3; Hebrews 9:22], the atoning blood [Romans 5:11], of which we sing in our best theology, and the promise of a resurrection [John 14:19]. Having grappled with death in the very lair of death itself, He has promised to us, who believe in Him, also a resurrection! [John 6:40, 54]. However it turns, there is always in the Christian faith an uplift, an optimism, “God having purposed some better thing for us” [Hebrews 11:40].
Now the end: I choose three things at the consummation of the age, and out of them that same Christian hope and optimism. One; Paul says in the third chapter of 2 Timothy, the last letter that he wrote, Paul says, “In the last days perilous times shall come” [2 Timothy 3:1]. That refrain is repeated through the Bible through every book, from the beginning to the end; that the consummation of this age will be in blood, and in fury, and in battle, and in fire! From the fourth chapter of the Revelation to the nineteenth chapter of the Revelation, the great mass of the book; it is given to a delineation of that great tribulation [Revelation 4:1-19:21]. Yet out of that tribulation, is it despair?
One of the great scientists of our age said, and I quote him verbatim, he said, “It is doubtful whether man can live through the twentieth century, our century, without annihilation!” Some of your most sensitive thinkers believe that there is coming an inevitable, atomic confrontation between the great powers of this world, and they expect the world to listen to them. You’d think they were evangelists of a hundred years ago. They expect the world to be plunged into flaming death; atomic-hydrogen warfare. They expect that. The whole tenor of Scriptures leads in that direction. It ends in a fury, in fire; it ends at Armageddon! [Revelation 16:13-16, 19:17-21].
But the Christian message, out of that confrontation and that conflict, out of it comes the new heavenly order, wherein dwelleth righteousness [2 Peter 3:13]. As the third chapter of 2 Peter says, “For when the elements shall melt, and the very heavens and the earth shall pass away,” there shall arise out of the ashes, phoenix like, “a new heaven and a new earth” and a new social order [2 Peter 3:10-13]. Out of the blood and confrontation of the ultimate end, the battle of Armageddon, there shall arise a new order under Christ, the millennial King of heaven and earth [Revelation 20:6]; always that optimism, victory, triumph.
All right, second; the rapture: in the fourth chapter of the [first] Thessalonian letter, Paul writes of the snatching away of the people—God’s people—gathering them up, taking them up to heaven [1 Thessalonians 4:14-17]. “Wherefore,” he says as he closes the passage, “Wherefore comfort one another with these words” [1 Thessalonians 4:18]. Now what he could have written there was, “Wherefore scare one another with these words.” Why, there’s hardly anybody that reads it that doesn’t fall into that same dread. Oh, oh! The end of the age, the taking away of God’s people, it frightens me to death!
Let me tell you, a college student—one of these college students of ours—a college student came to me, one of our finest girls, and she had been studying in a little group about prophecy, and about the end of the age, and about the rapture. And she said in all earnestness, deeply moved, she said, “Oh! I pray, and I ask you to pray that the rapture will not come soon. For,” she said, “I am just beginning to live. I want to marry. I want to have a home, and I want to have children. And if the rapture comes and takes us away, I’ll have no home, I’ll have no children, I’ll have no husband, and that would be a tragic loss to me!”
Dear, dear one, as though God purposes some evil thing for us, some bad thing for us. “Wherefore, terrorize one another with these words?” That the presence of the Lord, and the coming of the kingdom, and the taking away of His people out of the world of judgment and death, were some evil purpose in God. Now what the girl does not realize is this: we think God has revealed to us many intimate things of the life beyond the grave, beyond the resurrection, the life that is yet to come in heaven. Actually, we know practically nothing. It will surprise you, astonish you, if you ever really study the Scriptures to find out how little, how infinitesimally little the Lord has revealed to us about the life in heaven. And she takes it for granted––this sweet girl in our church, now in college––she takes it for granted that if the Lord were to come it would deny her some of the sweetest experiences that she looks forward to in life, as though she knew that in the life to come, God would deny her what is sweetest and what is best. That is not true! You don’t know.
Paul said, “We see through a glass, darkly” [1 Corinthians 13:12], in a dim shadowy outline. My sweet girl, you may have the sweetest, dearest opportunity of your life in the world that is to come. You may be able to choose the dearest relationship—far more intimately, preciously, endearingly sweet and tender than any you could contract in this world and in this life—you don’t know. You don’t know. It is always that God intends and God purposes a better thing for us [Hebrews 11:40]. And what that shall ultimately be, it will be infinitely better than anything we have ever thought or imagined. Doesn’t God say it? “Eye has never seen, ear has never heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man, those good things God hath prepared for those who trust Him, and love Him” [1 Corinthians 2:9]. Oh!
Third, and last: at the consummation of the age there is to be a new city coming down from God out of heaven [Revelation 21:1-2], and this is the end of the Book [Revelation 21:1 – 22:21]. What does that mean? I don’t know a better thing than trying to illustrate it in the life of Augustine. Augustine, as you know, lived at the end of the fourth century and at the beginning of the fifth century. Augustine lived to see the great imperial city of Rome disintegrate. Augustine lived to see the descent of the Hun and the Vandal, and they sacked the Imperial City. They wasted its people; they destroyed its treasures. There are ten thousand things of infinite worth and value that you could see in Rome today had it not been for the wanton destruction of the Hun and the Vandal.
Augustine saw that. He saw the dissolution of the great, imperial, eternal city on the banks of the Tiber. And out of that experience of infinite sorrow and loss and grief, he wrote one of the greatest theological treatises of all times. It is called The City of God. Lifting his eyes above the ashes and the destruction and the pillage of the great capital of the Roman Empire, he wrote The City of God.
That is the exact thing in the Apocalypse and in the Revelation. From chapter 4 to chapter 19 [Revelation 4:1-19:21], there is nothing but blood, and fire, and fury, and battle, and conflict! It is awesome to read! Out of the ashes of the world system, broken up and destroyed, he sees the city of God, New Jerusalem, “coming down out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” [Revelation 21:2]. Always, ever, without failing, in the Christian faith there is that spirit of optimism and victory and triumph; God having prepared some better thing for us [Hebrews 11:40].
And, my brother, if you ever see me down just remind me, “You are that much not a Christian; the Christian, in the faith, whatever, is to be up.” There’s a great day coming. There’s a greater day coming; there’s victory coming; there’s glory coming. Get ready, lift up your eyes! Sing! Rejoice! God lives and reigns, and little children, it is the Father’s purpose to give us the kingdom [Luke 12:32]. And that’s the way the Lord presented His last message to the disciples the night that He died. “Let not your heart be troubled” [John 14:1]. And the closing verse, “In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” [John 16:33].
Well, have I failed? Oh, dear! I’ve tried. May the dear God sanctify to us; always and ever the spirit of optimism. There’s a better day, get up! There’s a finer hour, lift up your heart! “God has purposed some better thing for us” [Hebrews 11:40].
Now we’re going to stand and sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family, a couple, or just you—in the balcony, you, on the lower floor, you—while we sing this hymn, to give your heart to the Lord, to put your life in the fellowship of the church, however God shall say the word, shall press the appeal, come and stand by me. “Pastor, I give you my hand. I give my heart to Christ.” Come. “Pastor, we’ve decided to put our lives in the circle of this dear church, and we’re coming.” As the Spirit of Jesus shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now, come now. On the first note of the first stanza, make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand up, stand up coming. Welcome! God in heaven knows what it means when you take that first step God-ward, heavenward, church-ward. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.