The Crimson Flow
June 2nd, 1974 @ 10:50 AM
THE CRIMSON FLOW
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-2-74 10:50 a.m.
For you who listen on radio and on television, the sermon today from our First Baptist Church in Dallas is a background message for the memorial of the Lord’s Supper. You can see on the communion table here the elements prepared, the unleavened bread and the crushed fruit of the vine.
The title of the sermon is The Crimson Flow, and it is from a passage in the nineteenth chapter of the Fourth Gospel beginning at verse 28, John 19:28:
After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scriptures might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.
Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a sponge with it, and put it upon hyssop, upon a reed, and raised it up to His mouth.
When Jesus therefore had tasted the vinegar, He said, It is finished: and He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit.
[The] Jews therefore, because it was the preparation before the Passover, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day, (for that Sabbath day was an high day,)
Saturday came at the same time that the Passover came, so it was doubly sacred, called a high day, and because of that double sacredness they:
besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.
Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with Him.
But when they came to Jesus, and saw that He was dead already, they brake not His legs:
But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.
He that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe.
Blood and water; in the fifth chapter of 1 John, the same beloved apostle writes of Jesus, “This is He that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Holy Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one [1 John 5:6, 8].
You could not read that without sensing something deeply spiritual in what John is describing. The crucifixion of our Lord, the crucifixion of anyone was a horrible thing. There has never been invented a death as agonizing and as tortuous as the Roman habit of crucifying traitors and criminals and enemies of the empire.
Usually, when a man was crucified, he writhed in agony on the cross for full two or three days. Crucifixion did not destroy in itself any vital organ. So the culprit, the malefactor, the criminal just hung there until finally he died of exhaustion, which usually took toward three days.
But our Lord did not die of exhaustion. He laid down His life. When He cried, “It is finished” [John 19:30], He dismissed His spirit. He gave up His spirit. So soon did He die—He died in six hours—so soon did He die that when Pilate heard it, the Scriptures say in Mark that Pilate marveled that He was so soon dead and inquired officially of the centurion who presided over the execution to see whether or not He had thus really expired in so short a time [Mark 15:44].
Now, these soldiers were brutal and cruel. Their execution by crucifixion of enemies of state was almost a daily occurrence with them. They executed slaves. They executed traitors, malefactors, enemies. And they were doing it everywhere and all the time. You don’t have so diverse a population as was forced under the rule of Rome without a great deal of restiveness, war, oppression. And Judea was the most restive and rebellious of all. So to crucify in Judea was a common thing, and to see it was a common sight.
Now these soldiers were adept in murder, in crucifixion, in execution. And when they came to look at Jesus, they saw, the Scriptures say, that He was already dead [John 19:33]. That certainly would disprove the swoon theory, that the resurrection of Christ was nothing other than a resuscitation from a swoon into which He fell on the cross. These hardened men knew when a man was dead, and looking at Jesus, they saw that He was dead already.
Then just to make doubly, triply, quadruply sure, one of the soldiers took a spear and thrust it into His heart, and when He pulled the spear out, it was followed by blood and water [John 19:34]. And so impressive was that sight and phenomenal, blood and water should have poured out of the wound created by the thrust of the spear, that John pauses to avow it. “He that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith the truth, that ye might believe” [John 19:35]: blood and water.
What is it that John saw in that that impressed him so deeply and made him write about it thus emphatically? Well, you must look at what John is doing and how he does it, thus to see what he means by his emphasis of blood and water pouring out of the open side of our Lord. You see, when John writes his Gospel, he never uses the word miracle. There are two words that are constantly used for miracle in the New Testament and especially to describe the marvelous works of our Lord. One is tera, that is miracle in the sense of a wonder, a great amazement, something that had never been seen before. “It was never so seen in Israel” [Matthew 9:33], cried the disciples and the people as they looked at the tera, the wonder of the works of the Lord. John never uses it. Another word for miracle is dunamis; that is miracle in the sense of a great manifestation of the power of God, that God is able to do such a thing, a miracle of power. John never uses it.
There is no word “miracle” that John ever uses. But he uses another word, and he does it all through the Gospel. It is sēmeion, sign. And what he means by that, sēmeion, sign, is this: that not only is there spiritual truth and revelation in what Jesus is saying as He taught the people, but there is no less truth, spiritual revelation in what Jesus did. What He did was a sēmeion, a sign that pointed to the truth of God.
You know, the Revelation begins, “The apokalupsis,” no article in Greek; just apokalupsis, uncovering, unveiling, revelation, apokalupsis of Iēsous , “Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him, to show unto His servants things which shortly would come to pass, and He said,” and I am going to spell the word, “signified.” If you pronounced it sign-i-fied, why, it would mean more to you. But we changed it to sig-ni-fied it. “He signified it by His angel unto His servant John” [Revelation 1:1]. If we would pronounce it as it actually is put together, it would mean more to us; He sign-i-fied it by His angel unto His servant John. Now that same thing, the sign-i-fying, was to John in the life of our Lord, what He did was as much an opening, a revelation of spiritual truth as what He said and what He taught.
For example, in the second chapter of the Gospel of John, you have the miracle of the Lord turning the water into wine [John 2:1-11]. And the story goes like this. At the wedding in Cana of Galilee, there were six large earthenware containers. And each one of them held about three firkins of water [John 2:6]. That is about thirty-two gallons of water. And John explains they were there for the purification of the guests, that is when they came they washed their feet in them and bathed their hands in them; six of them [John 2:6].
And the Lord, when He performed that miracle, He had the servants fill up all six of them, all six of them. And then He told the servant to draw out now and bear to the governor of the feast [John 2:7-8]. And when the governor of the feast tasted the water that had turned into wine, the container that they bore from the well to the emcee, why, he said, “I have never tasted wine like this in my life” [John 2:9-10]. That is, that’s the kind of wine we shall drink at the marriage supper of the Lamb [Revelation 19:7-9].
When the Lord instituted the Lord’s Supper [Matthew 26:17-30], He said, “I will drink no more henceforth of the fruit of the vine till I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” [Matthew 26:29]. That’s the kind of wine we shall drink in heaven at the marriage supper of the Lamb, the kind that the Lord told the servants, “Draw out now and bear to the governor of the feast” [John 2:8]. Now when John saw that, he says “This beginning of sēmeion, this beginning of signs did Jesus in Cana of Galilee” [John 2:11]. That is, what Jesus did was a spiritual revelation!
Those six earthenware containers, holding about thirty-two or three gallons apiece, they represented, and six always is the number in the Bible for incompleteness, as seven is the number for completeness; those six earthenware containers, holding that great amount of water for the washing of their feet and the bathing of their hands, according to the laws of purification [John 2:6]; first they’re filled up, they’re filled up. And John saw in that a sign, a spiritual truth, that in Christ the law is filled; no jot, no tittle shall fail or fall, it shall be all faithfully kept [Matthew 5:18]. So the law is fulfilled, all of it. And the ordinances and the rites and the judgments that were written against us, they are all done away with, all of them in Christ [Colossians 2:14]. They are filled up [John 2:7].
And now bear to the governor of the feast the new wine [John 2:8]. For this is the new hope, the new promise, the new covenant in the blood and life of our Lord [Matthew 26:28]. It’s not a wine placed in an old wineskin that breaks. It’s not a patch on an old garment that tears, but it’s new! [Matthew 9:16-17]. It’s new. It’s glorious. It’s heavenly. It’s from God! It’s a gospel! It’s the good news, and when John saw that, to him it was a sign.
Let’s take just one more. We haven’t time to go through the whole Gospel, for the whole Gospel is made like that; a sign.
John saw a spiritual sign, a revelation in it; the feeding of the five thousand. The rest of the Gospels tell that miracle and call it a miracle. Not John. He calls it a sēmeion, a sign; the feeding of the five thousand [John 6:5-14, 20:30]. And in the sixth chapter of his Gospel, John says, “And they came to Him and the Lord spoke to them the message of the bread of life [John 6:31-58]. And in it He said, ‘Except a man eat My flesh and drink My blood, you have no life in you’” [John 5:53].
What Jesus did was a sign, a great spiritual revelation! Now, it is that, and I’ve used those illustrations just to lead up to what John is saying when he remarks, “I saw out of His side,” following the spear, “I saw blood and water flow forth,” a fountain of blood and a fountain of water, “and I bare record, and I know that my record is true, that you might believe” [John 19:34-35].
Well, what sign did he see in blood and water? Well, it is this. The Lord died of a broken heart, a ruptured heart. In my reading of men who comment on this passage, there are some of them who will say it was a miracle, an inexplicable that blood and water should have flown forth, poured out. Yesterday, again, I took time to visit with an illustrious physician, a noble doctor. And I said, “My dear friend, just once more I want to talk through with you this.” Around the heart there is a pericardium, a cardiac sac. And the heart beats in that sac. It lubricates the heart, and it keeps it from brushing and throbbing against the lungs. It’s a protective sac, the pericardium. And if the heart is ruptured, it will collapse, and the blood pours out into that pericardium, and the sac can so extend until it covers the entire thoracic cavity. And blood is about fifty-five percent serum, white watery fluid, and about forty-five percent red coagulum. And it can separate, for you separate it all the time in your diagnostic laboratory, separating the serum from the coagulum, the red blood clotting.
And what happened with our Lord was on the cross His heart broke. It ruptured. He literally died of a broken heart. And when He died, the heart collapsed, and the blood gushed out into that pericardium, and it separated the serum from the red coagulum. And when that soldier came and with his spear he thrust it through the side into the heart of our Lord, he pierced that pericardiac sac, and when he drew out the sword, drew out the spear, it was followed by a fountain of blood and of water: the crimson and the life of our Lord poured out into the earth [John 19:34].
And when John saw that, he said, “It is a sign.” And in his first epistle he writes of it. “This is He that came by water and blood” [1 John 5:6]; blood and water historically in the Gospel, water and blood in the epistle, writing of our experience, how we experience it. So the sign; the water is a sign of the cleansing, saving gospel grace of the Son of God. It is a sign of the Word that cleanses us and saves us.
He started his Gospel off with that. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the begotten Son of God,) full of grace and truth” [John 1:1-2, 14]. The water is a sign of the cleansing, saving Word, God manifest in the flesh.
Why, the Bible so speaks of it. In John 15:3 He will say through His apostles, “Now ye are clean, ye are washed with the word, by the word that I have spoken unto you.” In Ephesians 5:26 the apostle will say, the apostle Paul, “Now you are sanctified, you are cleansed with the washing of water by the word.”
The word of God, the spoken word, the written Word, the incarnate Word, the word of God—spoken, preached, delivered—always has a salubrious, a cleansing, a helpful effect upon the people. There is no man that can hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and not feel somehow that he needs to be washed. I need to be cleansed. I need to be better. I need to be saved. That is the water that came forth out of our Lord, the saving cleansing of the blessed gospel message of Jesus [John 19:34; Romans 1:16].
The other is very manifest: blood, blood [John 19:34]. In the passage that we read in 1 John 1:7, “And it is the blood of Christ that cleanseth us from all sin.” Blood of atonement [Romans 5:11], blood of expiation [Hebrews 10:5-14], blood of forgiveness [1 Corinthians 15:3], the blood that covers over, and from God’s sight and judgment, all of the sin of our lives and washes us clean and white: fresh like linen, pure and white [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5]—atoning blood, the crimson flow. So many of our beautiful hymns are like that.
What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Oh, precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
[“Nothing but the Blood” by Robert Lowry]
And there poured out blood and water [John 19:34]. And, in keeping with the fifth chapter of the Book of Ephesians where Paul speaks of it, out of that side of our Lord was born the church [Ephesians 5:28-31]. And he gives an illustration, as Eve was taken out of the side of Adam, the Lord opened his side and took out of his side, where they say rib, I have no idea, nor can I find; the Scriptures just say that the Lord took out of the side of Adam and made Eve his helpmate and bride [Genesis 2:21-23].
So the apostle Paul says in the fifth chapter of Ephesians that out of the side of our Lord, God took His bride, the church [Ephesians 5:30]. That is, we are born in His sobs, and in His cries, and in His tears, and in His death, and in His cross, and in His sufferings, and in His blood [John 19:16-34]. That’s what John saw when he looked at Jesus that day and saw, following the withdrawal of the Roman spear, blood and water [John 19:34-35]. O Lord, how is it that we could be so loved of God as that Jesus should die for us? “ This do in remembrance of Me,” bread, His body so torn; blood, the crimson of His life so poured out that we might live [1 Corinthians 11:24-26].
If God has spoken to your heart in this word, in a moment when we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, thus to receive Jesus as Savior, or thus to put with us your life in the church, while we sing the song of invitation, would you come and stand by me? In the balcony round, down one of these stairways, on the lower floor down one of these aisles, “ Pastor, today I give my heart in trust to Jesus.” Or, “Pastor, all of us are coming this morning. This is my wife, these are our children. We are all coming today.” As God shall say the word, would you respond and answer with your life? On the first note of the first stanza, come. Make it now. Make the decision in your heart now, and when we stand up, stand up coming down that aisle. God bless you in the way and welcome, while we stand and while we sing.