Loving the Unseen Christ
September 23rd, 1973 @ 8:15 AM
1 Peter 1:6-9
LOVING THE UNSEEN CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Peter 1:6-9
9-23-73 8:15 a.m.
On the radio we are worshipping God together, you there and we here, in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Loving the Unseen Christ. It is an exposition of a passage in the first chapter of 1 Peter, and the heart of the text is, "That we might be found unto the praise and glory and honor of Jesus Christ: whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now we see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory" [1 Peter 1:7-8]. The apostle uses the pronoun "ye" and not "we," "whom having not seen, ye love" [1 Peter 1:8]; and the reason is obvious: he had seen the Lord, he was chief apostle. From the days of the baptism of John [Matthew 3:1-6, 13-17], until the time of our Lord’s ascension into heaven [Acts 1:9-10], Simon Peter had daily been with our Christ. So when he writes, "having not seen," he speaks of "ye," not of himself.
Think of the incomparable privilege of having seen the Lord. It is not without cause that in the Revelation, in describing the glories of the celestial city, in the last chapter and verse 4, the apokalupsis write, "And there is the river of life, and the tree of life, and the throne of God and of the Lamb; and they shall see His face" [Revelation 22:1-4]. An old divine one time said, "Three things would I love to have seen: the glory of Rome, Paul preaching at Athens, and the face of Jesus Christ." So intent has that desire, that wanting, been in days passed that artists from the beginning have tried to depict the face of our Lord. And yet through all of the millennia, every time you see a picture of Jesus, the artist’s finest genius and his noblest conception, when you look upon it, do you go away feeling somehow it is not quite yet, it has not achieved its real purpose? The finest artist somehow cannot capture the personality of Jesus the Christ.
That is how I feel when I read these scoffers and infidels and rejecters who mock at the miracles of our Lord. How I feel in my heart when I hear a man speak like that or read of a man who writes like that, how I feel this: my brother, no one in this earth could know the possibilities of what could happen in the presence of the personality of Jesus the Son of God. And to say that these miracles are fantasies and fables, you don’t know what could be in the presence of someone like Jesus from heaven. Well, the same thing about capturing His face; you know, it is almost strange that in the whole revelation of God there is no word how the Lord looked, none, not even a hint. Somehow it was not the purpose of God to reveal to us how the Lord was in the days of His flesh. His hands, how they looked, or the color of His hair, or His stature, or His bearing, or the form of His head, or of His body; there is no hint, not even an approach to a description of the Lord Himself. Somehow in the providence of God it was not His sovereign will that we know. And as I think of that, it must be because of the weakness of our flesh that the Lord has hidden that from our eyes. It is better for us now not to know. The Lord said, "It is expedient for you, it is best for you, that I go away" [John 16:7]. And Paul has a strange verse here in 2 Corinthians chapter 5. He says, "Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more" [2 Corinthians 5:16]. Does that mean Paul had seen the Lord in the flesh? I don’t know. But every other feeling I get from reading the apostle is that he did not see the Lord in His Galilean and Judean ministries; he met Him on the road to Damascus and did not recognize Him [Acts 9:1-5]. But however, he plainly says, "Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more like that" [1 Corinthians 5:16]. Somehow, in the providences and sovereign purposes of God, it is best that we not have seen Him in the flesh, and that there is no depiction of Him in the Bible.
As I turn that over in my mind, I wonder, is it because of our sensuality that God hides away from our eyes the actual physical appearance of our Lord? Do you remember in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Luke, the Book says that there was a woman in the audience, and she lifted up her voice, and looking at Christ said, "Blessed is the womb that bare Thee, and the paps that gave Thee suck" [Luke 11:27]. Isn’t that an unusual thing for somebody to say in a big public meeting? And the Lord immediately replied, saying, "Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and do it" [Luke 11:28]. It is so easy to become earth bound in our attitudes. Even the disciples, the apostles of the Lord, until the day before Pentecost could not get away from an earthly Judean kingdom. Just before the Lord ascended into heaven, they said, "Wilt Thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" [Acts 1:6], and they had in mind an earthly messianic kingdom. Before the chains of the body, and before the chains of the world; one of them going to be His prime minister and sit on His right hand, one going to be the chancellor of the exchequer, and sit on His left hand [Mark 10:35-37]; it is difficult for us in this earthly house to get away from the sensuous and the earthly. So I suppose it is hidden from our eyes what the Lord actually looked like, what He actually appeared to be if you saw Him.
But oh, there are so many things more; and that is the exposition of this text today. If we do not see our Lord, how are we united to Him? How do we have any bond of closeness or fellowship or relationship to our Savior? In the text, the apostle says there are two things that knit us to our Savior: "Whom not having seen, ye love," that is one; "whom, though now you see Him not, yet believing," and that is the other: "And you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory" [1 Peter 1:8]. The two things that bind us to our unseen Lord are faith, which is light, and love, which is heat. And those two are always together; one follows the other inevitably. God wove them into the very texture of every heavenly sunbeam. Heat and light, and they are twin celestial sisters of the soul: faith and love.
It is by faith that we become Christians: "That Christ might dwell in our hearts by faith" [Ephesians 3:17]. It is the beatitude that the Lord said to Thomas: "Thomas, because you have seen Me, you believe; blessed are they, makarioi, happy are they, blessed are they who though they have not seen, yet have believed" [John 20:29]. And these are the eternities that become real to the Christian, to see the invisible. The apostle Paul wrote it, "For the things that are seen are temporal; but the things that are not seen are eternal" [2 Corinthians 4:18]. And the author of Hebrews wrote of the great lawgiver Moses, "who in Egypt endured, as seeing Him who is invisible" [Hebrews 11:27]. How? By faith. And that is the way that we look upon our Lord: in these holy pages of this Holy Bible we see Him by faith, gloriously, with joy unspeakable [1 Peter 1:8].
Erasmus wrote in the preface to his Textus Receptus, the first Greek New Testament that was ever published in 1515, he wrote in his preface these meaningful, significant words: "These holy pages," and referring to his Greek New Testament,
These holy pages will summon up the living image of His mind, they will give you Christ Himself, talking, healing, dying, rising, the whole Christ in a word. They will give Him to you in an intimacy so close that He would be less visible to you if He stood before your eyes.
Isn’t that a magnificent thing to say? Read this Book, the words of this revelation; and if you do you will see the Lord in an intimacy, in an understanding, so much so that He would be less visible were He standing there before your very eyes. Loving the unseen Christ, we are united to Him by faith [Ephesians 3:17].
We are united to Him by love, "Whom having not seen, ye love" [1 Peter 1:8]. For you see, the Christian religion is this: it is a personal devotion to and a personal love for the blessed Jesus. That’s what it is. It’s not a system, it’s not a series of maxims, it’s not a theology, it’s not an ethic, it is our Lord; that’s what it is. And to love Christ is to be introduced to the very heart of the Christian faith. You know, it is an odd thing about Christianity: you can have Confucianism without Confucius, just a series of moral axioms; you can have Hinduism without the sages and the pundits and the mahatmas; you can have Christian Science without Mary Baker Glover Patterson Eddy; but you cannot have Christianity without Christ. Just as you cannot have the flower without the root to support it, nor can you have the sunlight without the sun, so it is impossible to know the Christian faith in its fullness without knowing and loving the Christ. That’s what it is. The apostle Paul says, "For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake" [2 Corinthians 4:5]. And then the next verse, 2 Corinthians 4, and the next verse, verse 6, "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" [2 Corinthians 4:6]. Loving our Lord is the faith itself [Ephesians 3:17-19].
Somebody stood up and quoted 2 Timothy 1:12, "For I know in whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day." And when the minister quoted it like that, an old saint stood up in the service and said, "But sir, don’t put a preposition between me and my Lord. It doesn’t say that. What Paul wrote was, ‘For I know whom I have believed,’ not ‘in whom.’ ‘I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.’" That is the Christian faith. It is a love for, a devotion for the blessed Jesus. In fact, if one does not love the Lord he is not a Christian. The apostle Paul in those last verses in the sixteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians plainly wrote it like this: "If any man love not the Lord Jesus, let him be Anathema" [1 Corinthians 16:22]. It is the love of the Lord that makes one a Christian; that’s what it is. Not that I understand all of the theological implications, and not that I understand all of the maxims, and not even that I obey all the commandments; it is loving the Lord that makes you a Christian.
Sometimes that love may take the form of adoring silence, just being quiet in His presence. Sometimes it might take the form of irrepressible tears, just crying before Him. Sometimes it might take the form of deeds of mercy done in His name. Sometimes it might take the form of an open confession at a great cost, like bringing water from the well by the gate of Bethlehem at the peril of life [2 Samuel 23:15-17], or just standing up for Christ in the midst of ridicule and scorn, scoffing. But what it is to be a Christian is to love the Lord, and it is that love in our hearts that identifies us with Him, that binds us together in Him. As the Lord Himself said, "This is the first and the great commandment, that thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all your heart, and all your mind, and all you strength, and all your soul" [Matthew 22:36-38; Mark 12:30]. That’s what it is to be a Christian.
People sometimes have a tendency to belittle emotion and to read it out of the religious faith. My brother, when you do you have nothing left, nothing, nothing, nothing. I read a psychological treatise one time, and the psychologist was presenting the thesis that all of the great wellsprings of life are emotional, all of them: love, hate, envy, jealousy, patriotism, all of the moving dynamics of life well out of the heart. And without it there is nothing left. And I think the psychologist is correct: if there is no moving in the soul then there is no reality to the devotion, none, none.
Then he says, "Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory" [1 Peter 1:8]. Well, why that? "Joy unspeakable and full of glory." Well, the answer is obvious: my man, my brother, my sister, if you had a debt and lived in the days when they put you in prison for debt, if you owed debt and were in prison and couldn’t pay, wouldn’t it be a matter of rejoicing if somebody came and paid the debt and you were free? My brother, my sister, if you faced inevitable death and judgment, and somebody came and gave you life for death and justification in judgment and saved you, wouldn’t you rejoice? That’s what he says, "With joy unspeakable and full of glory."
Now I want you to look at the background against which he wrote that, "rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory" [1 Peter 1:8]. He is addressing these Diaspora, the strangers, the Christians who are scattered in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia [1 Peter 1:1], and he’s speaking of the trials, the persecutions they are sustaining after Nero burning Rome and the Christians pointed out as the felons who did it, the persecution vile and vicious in the capital city spread to the provinces, and the people were undergoing great trial. And the apostle Peter speaks of it here in this first chapter: "The trial of your faith, being more precious than that of gold" [1 Peter 1:7]. But he begins his word with, "Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness as through manifold trials, at the trial of your faith" [1 Peter 1:6]. Now how is that, "Wherein ye greatly rejoice," and here again, "Rejoicing with joy unspeakable and full of glory"? [1 Peter 1:8]. How could such a thing be? In trial, in persecution, "Wherein ye greatly rejoice" [1 Peter 1:6], well, that "wherein" refers to what he said above. So let’s see what the apostle said above: "Wherein ye greatly rejoice," he says, "We are elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father,Wherein ye greatly rejoice, we are elect according to the foreknowledge of God" [1 Peter 1:2]. That is, before the foundations of the world were laid, before the Almighty placed the pillars of the firmament into their golden sockets, before anything was God knew us, and He wrote our names on the breastplate of our great High Priest, and He wrote our names in the Book of Life, and they are there forever [Ephesians 1:4-7; Revelation 20:12, 15]. "Wherein ye greatly rejoice [1 Peter 1:6],We are elect according to the foreknowledge of God" [1 Peter 1:2].
"Wherein ye greatly rejoice,We are elect according to the sanctification of the Spirit, by the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus," girded with the righteousness of our Lord, and sprinkled with the blood of our precious Savior [1 Peter 1:2]. "Wherein we greatly rejoice, wherein ye greatly rejoice [1 Peter 1:6] . . . Elect to an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you [1 Peter 1:4],Wherein ye greatly rejoice" [1 Peter 1:6].
On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,
And cast a wistful eye
To Canaan’s fair and happy land,
Where my possessions lie.
[On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand"; Samuel Stennett]
"Wherein ye greatly rejoice who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed at the last time. Wherein ye greatly rejoice, kept by the power of God" [1 Peter 1:5-6]. Oh!
Shall I fail of it? What if we don’t inherit it? What if we miss it? We are not going to be in heaven, what if we failed of it? In John 10:28, the Savior said, "I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish." We are kept by the power of God. How do you know you won’t finally fail? How do you know but that you go along on this pilgrim road, but that the last day before you die you fail, you fall into hell, how do you know you won’t? Well, let’s just take it to God and ask Him about that. "Lord, how do I know that I will be saved in heaven, how do I know I won’t fall into hell, how do I know I will make it?" Well, let’s just take it to Him. "Dear God," listen, "dear God, suppose the pilgrim way becomes so fraught with trial and hurt and we begin to murmur and to find fault? Lord, then won’t we fail? Then won’t we perish?" He comes back and says, "They will never perish; not these who have trusted in Me, never" [John 10:28].
"Oh, but Lord, You don’t understand, what if the pain should become unbearable, and we would lose our faith and our hope in Thee, then wouldn’t we perish?" The Lord says, "They will never perish [John 10:28]; they are kept by the power of God" [1 Peter 1:5].
"But Lord, You don’t understand us down here in this world. What if we were so hurt, and so crushed, and so sick, and ill, and so filled with pain unbearable that we lost our senses! We were out of our heads." And then somebody came, a devil or somebody, and perverted our minds. We were distraught. Lord, in that perversion, wouldn’t we fail?" The Lord replies, "They shall never fail; they are kept by the power of God" [1 Peter 1:5].
"But O God, You don’t understand us down here in this world. It is hard, vicious. Sometimes to believe against sorrow and suffering and frustration and defeat and disappointment is beyond human nature and human heart. Lord, what if the hosts of hell were up to assail, and what if our great archenemy attacked us? And what if all of the enemies in the underworld, in the netherworld, seized us and pounded us and pummeled us and beat us? Lord, what if in the onslaughts of the devil and his angels, what then if we were to tremble and to ask, ‘Where is God?’ and finally doubt Thy love and presence, then Lord wouldn’t we fail of it?" And the Lord answers, "They shall never fail, they shall never perish; they are kept by the power of God" [1 Peter 1:5]. That is why he writes here, "With joy unspeakable and full of glory" [1 Peter 1:8].
Our forefathers used to sing:
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I’ll never, no never desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.
["How Firm a Foundation"; John Rippon]
About two days ago, in our dear church, this sweet couple – and she is so grievously ill and has been for years and years and years, and her illness is not assuaged, not alleviated, not ameliorated; and it has struck her down and down and down – and her husband said, "Sometimes I think God doesn’t know us and God doesn’t hear us. Sometimes I think God has forgot us." That’s what the apostle was saying: the trial of our faith is sometimes grievous, but in Him we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory [1 Peter 1:8], for He has said, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee [Hebrews 13:5],I have written their names in the Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15], and they shall never perish" [John 10:28]. And though for a time the trial is heavy, lift up your heads and your hearts for the redemption of the Lord draweth nigh [Luke 21:28]. And until that final triumphant day, God shall keep us in His gracious and omnipotent hands. "Fear not, my little children; it is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom" [Luke 12:32].
In that faith and persuasion we sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, give your heart to Jesus, come into the fellowship of His church, to put your life with us in loving the Lord, believing in Him, trusting in Him, as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your soul, make it now. Come now. On the first note of that first stanza, come. "Here I am, pastor, here I am." Do it now, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
LOVING THE UNSEEN CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Peter 1:6-9
I. The unseen Christ
A. The holy privilege of it
1. Peter had seen Him (Matthew 13:16-17)
2. The glory someday of seeing His holy face (Revelation 22:1-4)
B. Artists have tried to paint a picture of the Lord – impossible to capture it
C. There is no hint of how He actually looked
1. Evidently the Lord had a reason (John 16:7, 2 Corinthians 5:16)
2. I speculate it is because of our bodies of flesh, weakness
a. Sensuality (Luke 11:28)
b. Earthly (Acts 1:6)
II. Faith and love unite us to our unseen Lord (1 Peter 1:8-9)
A. Faith is light, love is heat
B. Faith – what makes us Christians(Ephesians 3:17, John 20:29, 2 Corinthians 4:18, Hebrews 11:27)
1. Erasmus’ preface to the Greek New Testament
C. Love – our religion centered in love for, devotion to Christ Jesus
1. Can’t have Christianity with Christ (2 Corinthians 4:5, 2 Timothy 1:12, 1 Corinthians 16:22)
2. Love will find a way to express itself if you love Jesus (Matthew 22:37-38)
III. The joy unspeakable and full of glory(1 Peter 1:8)
A. If a debtor, and all was paid, forgiven, wouldn’t you rejoice?
B. If facing judgment, death, and were forgiven, and given life for death, wouldn’t you rejoice?
C. The glory we shall experience in the Promised Land
D. Rejoicing in the midst of great trial and suffering (1 Peter 1:6-8)
E. "Wherein ye greatly rejoice" – what the "wherein" refers to
1. We are elect according to the foreknowledge of God (1 Peter 1:2)
2. Clothed with righteousness of the Lord(1 Peter 1:2)
3. We have an inheritance incorruptible(1 Peter 1:4)
4. We are kept by the power of God(1 Peter 1:5, John 10:28-29, Luke 12:32)