Loving the Unseen Christ
September 23rd, 1973 @ 10:50 AM
LOVING THE UNSEEN CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Peter 1: 6-9
9-23-73 10:50 a.m.
If you are watching this service on television or listening on radio, we welcome you, along with the great throng who fill this First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Loving the Unseen Christ. It is an exposition of a part of the first chapter of 1 Peter, and the heart of the text is verse 8: “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].
Do you notice the pronoun that Simon Peter employs? “Ye,” whom having not seen, “ye” love [1 Peter 1:8]; he could not use “we” because he had seen the Lord. From the days of John the Baptist [Matthew 3:1-2], at which time Simon was baptized [John 1:37-42], until the days of our Lord’s ascension into heaven [Acts 1:9-10], all through the years of His public ministry, Christ had by His side this chief apostle [John 1:37-42]. So he could not say, “Whom having not seen, we love, but whom having not seen, ye love” [1 Peter 1:8]. For we have not seen the Lord in the flesh. What a wonderful privilege that Simon Peter had seen Him and had been with Him. In the thirteenth chapter of Matthew, our Lord said to His disciples:
There are many prophets and righteous men who would love to see the things you see and have not seen them, and to hear those things you hear, and have not heard them. But ye hear them; blessed are your eyes and blessed are your ears.
Oh, how ineffably true: the privilege of having seen the Lord. An old divine said, “There are three things I wish I could have seen: Rome in her glory, Paul preaching at Athens, and Jesus in the flesh.” One of the incomparable prophecies of the new heaven and the new earth and the New Jerusalem is this:
In the midst of the city, flowing the river of life, growing the tree of life, and in the middle of it the throne of God and of the Lamb: and they shall see His face
Think of it! Looking upon the face of Jesus Christ in rapture, adoration, and worship: it is because of that desire on the inside of the soul to see the Lord that for almost two millennia now, artists have employed every ingenuity at their command and every conception—exalted and lofty of soul—in order to paint a picture of the Lord, “This is how He looked!” And yet after all of their vain attempts through the centuries, there is never one of those depictions, but when you look at it you go away thinking, “Somehow they have not yet achieved a portrayal of the glorious personality of the Son of God.” It is impossible to capture it. That is why, when I read about scoffers and hear infidels mock at the miracles that were done by our Lord, I say in my heart, “There is no man who lives who could say what might or might not happen in the presence of Jesus Christ the Son of God!” And it is that incapacity and inability to capture Him that is impossible in a portrayal of His face.
What did He look like? To me, it is an astonishing and amazing thing that in all of the Word of God there is no hint of how the Savior actually looked—His hands, the color of His eyes and of His hair, the height of His stature, the form of His face, and the fashion of His body. There is no hint of anything regarding the physical appearance of our Lord.
Evidently the Lord God had a reason for that, it was not best that we know. In our weakness God chose not to reveal for us how Jesus looked in the flesh. Our Lord said to His disciples, “It is expedient for you that I go away” [John 16:7]. And the apostle Paul wrote a strange sentence in the [fifth] chapter of the second Corinthian letter: “Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more” [2 Corinthians 5:16]. Whether Paul meant by that, that he had seen the Lord in the flesh, but he was not preaching a physical Christ, I do not know. I have always supposed the first time Paul ever looked upon Jesus was when the Lord appeared to him on the Damascus road [Acts 9:1-6]. But whatever that sentence refers to, it certainly is the preaching of the apostle that we are not physically bowing before a flesh and blood Christ, but it is a spiritual revelation that mediates to us the heart and mind of God. In any event, it is God’s purpose that there not be revealed to us how Jesus looked in the flesh. If I were to speculate on that, I might think that one reason God hid the actual appearance of Christ from our eyes is because of our sensuality. It is so easy for us to drift into that.
Do you remember the [eleventh] chapter of the Book of Luke? There was a woman in the crowd around Jesus. And seeing the marvelous power in this Man of God, she lifted up her voice and said, “Blessed is the womb that bare Thee, and the paps that gave Thee suck” [Luke 11:27]. Isn’t that something unusual to exclaim out into an audience? Shows you how easily sensual we become in our response.
Or take again the disciples—up until the time the Lord went to heaven and before Pentecost, they could not get out of their heads that there was to be a physical Judean kingdom. And when the Lord, on the top of the Mount of Olivet, was ready to go back to heaven, they asked Him, “Lord, at this time will You restore the kingdom to Israel?” [Acts 1:6]. “One of us is planning to be prime minister, and the other of us is planning to be Secretary of the Treasury, and You are getting ready to leave us! Where is that physical, earthly, Judean, Israelitish kingdom? “ It is so easy for us to drift into those things and to leave out the great, deep, spiritual relationships and entities that we know in God. So there is no revelation of the actual physical appearance of the Lord Jesus, nor is there any hint of it.
But does that mean we are estranged from Him? No! For the apostle says that though we have not seen Him—His face has never been beheld by us—yet we are joined to Him in a deep relationship of love and faith. And he mentions both of them: “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]. Those two things link us in an intimate relationship with our blessed Lord: faith which is light, and love which is heat, and where one is the other follows hard after. They are inextricably interwoven in every sunbeam from heaven: light and heat. And they are the twin celestial sisters of the soul: faith and love. And they join us to our Savior; we become Christians by believing by faith, “that Christ might dwell in your hearts by faith” [Ephesians 3:17]. The Lord said to the doubting apostle Thomas, “Because you have seen, you believe: blessed are they,” makaria, happy are they, blessed are they—a beatitude for all of us who look in faith to Jesus—”blessed are they who, though they have not seen, yet do believe” [John 20:29]. How precious. And the apostle Paul, speaking of the eternity, said:
While we look not at the things that are seen, but at the things that are not seen: for the things that are seen are temporal; but the things that are not seen are eternal.
[2 Corinthians 4:18]
The great author of Hebrews, in the eleventh chapter, says, “By faith Moses endured as seeing Him who is invisible” [Hebrews 11:27]. He comes to us most brilliantly, and fully, and iridescently, and gloriously, and sublimely by faith and not by sight [2 Corinthians 5:7].
Did you know, one of the most effective and significant and unusual of all the prefaces I ever read in my life is that written by Erasmus in the preface to the Textus Receptus—the first Greek New Testament printed in ? And in that preface Erasmus wrote these words, and I quote them. I read them, “These holy pages,” talking about the 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 very eyes.
Isn’t that an amazing thing? Here He is, revealed to us in the Word of God more fully, more gloriously, more completely, more intimately than if He stood in your presence and you looked at Him with your naked eyes—joined to Christ by faith and joined to Him by love [1 Peter 1:8-9].
You know, the Christian faith is Christ, and it is devotion to and love for the Lord that is our response that makes us Christians—it is Christ. May I illustrate that? You can have Confucianism without Confucius. Just gather together all of those maxims and moralisms of ancient Chinese culture; you don’t need Confucius. You can have Hinduism without their pundits and their sages and their mahatmas. You can have Christian Science without Mary Baker Glover Patterson Eddy. You don’t need any of them. But you can’t have Christianity without Christ; you cannot. The Christian faith is our Lord, and it is love for our Lord that makes us His. The apostle Paul wrote, “We preach not ourselves, but Christ; and we your servants for Jesus’ sake” [2 Corinthians 4:5].
Somebody, a preacher, was quoting 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 right in the middle of the preacher’s sermon, an old saint stood up and said, “Sir, don’t put a preposition between me and my Lord.” Not “I know in whom I have believed,” but “I know whom I have believed!” [2 Timothy 1:12]. That is the faith! And that is the love that joins us to God, and without that Christian love in our hearts for Jesus, there is no such thing as being a Christian [1 Peter 1:8-9]. In the sixteenth chapter of I Corinthians, the apostle by inspiration wrote, “He that loveth not the Lord Jesus, let him be anathema” [1 Corinthians 16:22]. It is the love for Christ that makes us Christian [John 13:35].
Sometimes that love can be expressed in adoring silence, just being quiet in His presence. Sometimes that love can be expressed by irrepressible tears, like showers of rain—tears falling from our face in His presence. Sometimes that love can be expressed by deeds of mercy done in His name. Sometimes that love is expressed by the confession of his faith at the peril of life. But however, it will always express itself if you love the Lord. It may be at a great cost, such as fetching the water from the well by the gate of Bethlehem [2 Samuel 23:15-17], or sometimes the adoring, worshipful, loving way of bringing an alabaster box of spikenard—very precious and costly— and breaking it over His head [Mark 14:3-6], or anointing His feet [Luke 7:36-38]. But always love will find its way to express itself if you love Jesus. In fact, that is the very heart of the Christian faith: our love for the Lord [John 13:35; 1 John 4:19].
The Lord Himself said, “This is the great and first commandment: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and all thy soul, and all thy mind” [Matthew 22:37-38]. And when somebody comes along, and flippantly, and lightsomely, and sarcastically speaks of the cheapness of emotion in religion, I cannot understand; for the very fountain springs of life are in our emotions.
I read a book of psychology, and the theme and thesis of the author, the psychologist, was this: that the fountain springs of life are our emotions! And he discussed them: love, and hate, and jealousy, and fear, and ambition, and on and on. It is so in religion. Take feeling out of it, emotion out of it, and it turns to dust and ashes in our hands, like all of the rest of life. Patriotism, love of country—the noblest response a man can have to where he was born—is an emotion, it is a feeling. So it is with our Lord; we are bound to Him by emotion, by love.
So the apostle writes, “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]. Why, that is evident—”joy unspeakable.” Why, my brother, if you lived in the days when they put you in prison for debt, and you were incarcerated because you could not pay your debts, and a man came along and said, “I’ll pay it in full. Open the door, he is free.” Wouldn’t you rejoice? Wouldn’t you be glad?
Or you are facing inevitable death and after that the judgment and you’re lost! You are not prepared to die, least of all to face God at the judgment. Someone comes and justifies you—speaks words of righteousness, and healing, and forgiveness—and you are saved! Wouldn’t you be glad? That’s this gladness, “Rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” [1 Peter 1:8].
I would suppose that is the same kind of glory, though less in bulk and weight, but the same kind of glory that we shall experience on the other side of the river in the Promised Land. We have just a little bit of heaven here: we have prelibations of the river of life, we hear stray notes from the angel chorus, we somehow taste the Eshcol grapes gathered from the vineyards of the Promised Land, and we have flowers—a few—from the pastures of Paradise, full of glory. Just a little intimation of the immortality and the glory that is yet to be, “Wherein ye now rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” [1 Peter 1:8].
Now, I want to look at the context in which that is written. That is a surprising thing, because he has mentioned it here before—written here to the diaspora, the strangers, the scattered Christians of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, Bithynia [1 Peter 1:1], and they were in a great trial of affliction. When Nero fiddled while the city of Rome burned, the populace accused him and pointed a finger at him, and in order to divert suspicion from himself, Nero said, “These despised Christians did it.” So there in the golden city of Rome, they persecuted the Christians. And the provinces, taking its cue from the capital city, persecuted the Christians even more. And these Christians in Asia Minor, as we know the country today—in these Roman provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, Bithynia—they were undergoing a great trial. But the apostle writes to them and says, “Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season… you are in great heaviness because of the trials: because the trial of your faith is much more precious than gold” [1 Peter 1:6-7]. Isn’t that an astonishing thing? And there he writes it, “wherein ye greatly rejoice” [1 Peter 1:6]. And here again, “ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” [1 Peter 1:8], in the midst of great trial and suffering. Well, how could such a thing be? Well, that is the Christian faith.
He writes of it here, look: “wherein ye greatly rejoice” [1 Peter 1:6]. ”Elect,” you are elect, “according to the foreknowledge of God” [1 Peter 1:2]. ”Wherein ye greatly rejoice,” elect, we are elect according to the foreknowledge of God. Before the Lord laid the foundations of the world [Ephesians 1:4], before God set the pillars of the firmament in their golden sockets, before anything was, God saw us and knew us! [Ephesians 1:4]. And He wrote our names on the breastplate of our great High Priest in heaven [Exodus 28:21]. And He wrote our names with a pen of a diamond in the Book of Life, and it stands there forever—“elect” [Revelation 20:12, 15; Luke 10:20].
Do I believe that? By God’s grace, I do. Do I believe in election? [1 Peter 1:1]. I do. Do I believe in foreknowledge? [1 Peter 1:2]. I do. Do I believe in predestination? [Ephesians 1:5]. I do. I think God is not surprised or overwhelmed by anything that happens in this world. “Elect,” according to the sovereign grace of God before the foundations of the earth were laid [Ephesians 1:4], wherein ye greatly rejoice [1 Peter 1:5-6]. My brother, don’t be persuaded that these things are unfamiliar to Him. “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God” [1 Peter 1:2] wherein ye greatly rejoice [1 Peter 1:6]. Look, “elect . . . through the sanctification of the Spirit, and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus” [1 Peter 1:2]. Clothed with the righteousness of the Lord [Philippians 3:9]. My heart sprinkled with the blood of Jesus that cleanses all sin and all stain [1 John 1:7], “wherein ye greatly rejoice” [1 Peter 1:6], wherein ye greatly rejoice. Look, elect “to an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” [1 Peter 1:4], just on the other side of the river, as close to it as the day of your translation—your death—to an inheritance, there reserved in heaven for you [1 Peter 1:4].
On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,
And cast a wistful eye
To Canaan’s fair and happy land,
Where my possessions lie.
[from “Promised Land,” Samuel Stennett]
There, not here; if they were here, I would have to leave them. But there, they’re ours forever, wherein ye greatly rejoice, you “Who are kept by the power of God through faith and the salvation ready to be revealed at the last time” [1 Peter 1:5]. Kept by the power of God! The Lord Jesus said it in John 10:28, “They shall never perish—I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish. My Father, who gave them to Me, is greater than all.” “They shall never perish! “No one is able to pluck them out of My hand.” [John 10:28-29]. They shall never perish! I give them eternal life” [John 10:28].
O Lord, can I believe that? So we just take ourselves to the Lord and ask Him about it: Lord, You say that we are kept by the power of God unto salvation [1 Peter 1:5]. You say that You give unto us eternal life, and we will never perish [John 10:28]; but, O God, I may yet stumble into hell. I may fall into the abyss. I may go along in this Christian life until the last week, or the last day, or the last hour, and then—listen, Lord, Lord—Lord, let me ask You, Lord, let me ask You, Lord. Lord, if You were down here where we are, and if You knew our life of suffering and our hurt, O God, suppose down here where we are, suppose the way is hard and the trials are heavy, and suppose, Lord, our faith were to fail and we began to murmur. Lord, wouldn’t we perish then?” And He says, “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish” [John 10:28]. “But, O Lord, down here where we are, what if the hurt became unbearable? And what if we turned aside and doubted whether God heard or whether God answered prayer and we were miserable? O God, then would we perish?” And the Lord replies, “I give unto you eternal life; and you will never perish!” [John 10:28]. “But, O God, down here where we are, O God, what if the pain were so great and while the trial was so heavy—what, Lord, if I lost my senses? If I lost my mind, and in the losing of my mind, in the hurt—O God, what if something were to pervert my faith? In the perversion, if I lost my mind, wouldn’t I be lost?” And the Lord says, “I give unto you eternal life; and you will never perish, never!” [John 10:28]. You are kept by the power of God! [1 Peter 1:5]. “But, O God, down here in this world of woe and this wilderness of hurt in which I live, O God, suppose in a time of weakness, in a time of great distress, and a time of fast extremity—O God, what if the hosts of hell were to assail? And what if I were attacked by the archangel Satan and by his demons and devils, O God, and I wasn’t able to stand? What if I failed and what if I fell? Then God, wouldn’t I perish?” And He says, “I give unto you eternal life; and you will never perish” [John 10:28]. You are kept by the power of God! [1 Peter 1:5]. Isn’t that a wonderful way that our forefathers used to sing it?
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I’ll never, no never, no never desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.
[from “How Firm a Foundation,” R. Keene]
“Fear not, little children… it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” [Luke 12:32].
Sometimes o’er the mount where the sun shines so bright,
God leads His dear children along;
Sometimes through the valley, in darkest of night,
God leads His dear children along.
Some through the fire, some through the flood,
Some through the waters, but all through the blood;
Some through great sorrows, but God gives a song,
In the night season and all the day long.
[“God Leads His Dear Children Along,” George A. Young]
”Kept by the power of God, wherein ye greatly rejoice” [1 Peter 1:5-6]. Oh, bless His wonderful name.
In this moment that remains, if the Holy Spirit presses the appeal to your heart to respond today with your life, will you come? A family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, in the balcony round, down one of these stairways, “Here I am, pastor, here I come.” In the press of people on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, “I have made the decision, pastor, for God, and here I am.” Make it now, do it now, respond now, while we stand and while we sing.