AT THE FEET OF JESUS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-28-75 7:30 p.m.
We thank our young people for their singing tonight, and we welcome you on KRLD, the thousands of you who are sharing with us the service of the First Baptist church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled At the Feet of Jesus.
In the passage that you read together just now, the last verses in the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, beginning at verse 28, is the most beautiful invitation to be found in the Word of God:
Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.
In that invitation is an old Talmudic rabbinical image, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me,” that is, “Enroll in my school, take my yoke upon you; and learn of me, sit at my feet.” This was an old and ancient Jewish way of inviting these to attend school, here at the invitation of Jesus: “Take My yoke upon you, enroll in My school; and learn of Me, sit at My feet.” And that is the message tonight: enrolling in the school of Jesus and being seated as a pupil at the feet of our Lord.
Life itself is so very much a matter of teaching, of training, and of learning. That is true in the academic world. I remember attending chapel at Baylor University and listening to our illustrious president Samuel Palmer Brooks say—discussing heredity and environment; heredity and teaching—he said, “I do not avow that teaching is everything, but I do say that whether a boy becomes a goose-stepping fascist, or a communist, or a cannibal, or a Catholic, or a Baptist, or a Protestant, or a Republican, or a Democrat is largely due to his training.” And that is so everlastingly true. What we come into this world with, heredity, is a gift of God. But what we make of it and what we become is a matter of teaching and training. And oh how much we have to learn!
I heard of a little boy, a ragamuffin of a boy, who loved sports and who hated girls. One day he came into his father with a proud and amazing announcement, saying, “Daddy, today I learned what girls are for.”
Well, immediately the father was intrigued. So he had the boy sit down by his side, and he said, “Son, what is it that you learned today? What girls are for?”
“Yes,” said the boy, “I’ve learned today what girls are for.” He said, “You know that Sally just pesters the life out of me; I hate girls. But,” he said, “today you know she came up to me, and she said, ‘Billy, would you teach me how to play baseball?’” And he said, “Daddy, you know she asked me, ‘How do you hold a bat?’ And I showed her how to hold a bat. And she said, ‘How do you hit the ball?’ And I showed her how to hit the ball. And she asked me, ‘How do you run a base?’ And I showed her how to run a base. And she said, ‘What do you do with this mitt?’ And I showed her how to use a mitt. And she said, ‘How do you catch a fly?’ And I taught her how to catch a fly. Daddy, it was the finest day of my life. I learned today what girls are for.” He said, “Daddy, girls are for to teach things to.” And the father as the little boy walked away, he sighed, “Oh, dear me! How much a little boy has yet to learn.”
All life is like that. It is a matter of learning and of teaching. That is so in the Word of the Lord. Jesus said in the great high priestly prayer, John 17:3, “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, that they might know Thee the only true and living God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.” The Great Commission is that, “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and, mathēteusate, make disciples, make learners of all the nations of the earth, teaching them all things whatsoever I have commanded you” [Matthew 28:18-20]. And this the great avow of the apostle Paul, writing to his son in the ministry, 2 Timothy 2:15, he said, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” And in the second verse of that same second chapter, he said, “The things that thou has heard of me, of many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” [2 Timothy 2:2]. That is the great law and the prophets.
In the [eighth] chapter of the Book of Isaiah, out of which I’m preaching in the morning hour, the prophet said, “To the law and to the prophets: for if they speak not according to this word, it is because there’s no light in them” [Isaiah 8:20], because line must be upon line, precept upon precept, line upon line, precept upon precept [Isaiah 28:10]. This is the revelation of God. We learn it, we are taught it in God’s school. And this is the tremendous commitment of the church. The universities, the colleges, the schools, even the public school system, all of education has been a fruit of the church. There is an affinity between the people of God and education that is undeniable and inseparable. Somehow ignorance has no place in the house of the Lord. It is a place of teaching, of learning, of understanding, of being taught in song and sermon and lesson, in every way that the church knows how, does it seek to mediate the mind of God in Christ Jesus. And somehow ignorance in the church always has a peculiar and ridiculous facet.
I one time heard of a church that had a so-called educated pastor. He had been to the Holy Land, and all he did was talk about the Holy Land. He had been to the seminary, and all he did was talk about the seminary. And he’d learned a little Greek and a little Hebrew, and all he did was talk about a little Greek and a little Hebrew. So he finally left—the church got rid of him—and the church put an ad in the county paper, advertising for: “A new pastor. But he had to have three qualifications: one, they wanted a preacher who had never been to the Holy Land. Two, they wanted a preacher who’d never been to seminary. And three, they wanted a preacher who didn’t know any Hebrew and didn’t know any Greek.”
So there came out of the woods, there came out of the hills, there came a hillbilly and he stood before the pulpit committee, and he said, “I saw your ad in the paper, and you don’t want anybody who’d been to the Holy Land, and you don’t want anybody that’d gone to seminary, and you don’t want anybody who knows any Greek or Hebrew.” He says, “I’m your man. I’m your man. I qualify.” He says, “I ain’t been to no Holy Land, I ain’t even been out of the county.” He said, “Second, I ain’t been to the seminary.” He said, “I ain’t even been to the third grade.” But he says, “I will level with you. I do have to tell ya: I know a little Hebrew and I know a little Greek. The little Hebrew I know runs the tailor shop, and the little Greek I know runs a restaurant.”
Always in the church there is an affinity with teaching. And as I’ve said many times, one of the tremendous turns that I’ve seen in the life of this church has been its emphasis, its increasing emphasis upon teaching and upon training. I see that in the growth of our great Sunday school. I see that in the founding and the growth of our First Baptist Church elementary and high school. And I see it in the building and in the flourishing of our Bible Institute.
God bless the church that sits at the feet of Jesus to learn. “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; enroll in My school and sit at My feet” [Matthew 11:29]. And what an infinite and blessed privilege that is for us. For you see outside of the Lord there are no ultimate answers to any ultimate questions that we ask in human life; none whatsoever. The real meaningful answers that we seek for can only be found in Him.
We can go to the scientist and say, “Tell us the meaning of life.” And, “Tell us the meaning of immortality and of the world to come.” And the scientist replies, “All I do is observe. I just write down what I see; nothing more.” And that is science; nothing more; nothing more. Science has no judgments; it just writes down what it sees, what it observes.
We go to the philosopher, and we say to him, “Tell us the meaning of life, of immortality, answer the great questions that concern my soul.” And the philosopher replies, “I just speculate. I just surmise, that’s all. I have nothing but human wisdom and human limitations.”
And we go to the hedonist and we say, “Tell us the meaning and the values of life.” And he says, “Forget it! Eat, drink, for tomorrow we die” [1 Corinthians 15:32].
We go to the materialist, the secularist, the communist, the atheist, “What is the meaning of life?” And without exception they reply, “Nothing except what you have in a narrow vale of this circumscribed world.”
Let’s take our souls to Jesus. “Enroll in My school, and sit at My feet” [Matthew 11:28-30]. Lord Jesus, tell us the answer of some of the great questions that really matter to us in life. What shall I do with my sins? Bring them to Jesus. A church is not a gallery of saints. It is the school for sinners.
“Enroll in My school; sit at My feet.” What shall I do with my sins? Shall I blame somebody else for them? That’s modern psychology and sociology. No criminal is responsible for his crimes, it was the fault of society, it’s the fault of his environment, the fault of his father and mother, or fault of somebody else. That’s modern psychological approach, and there’s not a syllable of truth in it. Every man is responsible before God for what he does.
But that’s human nature; we are always blaming somebody else. Adam said Eve did it. And Eve said the serpent did it [Genesis 3:11-13]. Always blaming somebody else for our sin. What shall we do with our sins? “I have sinned, cried Job; what shall I do?” [Job 7:20].
“Well, we shall hide them, we shall hide them out of God’s sight.” But “be sure, your sins will find you out” [Numbers 32:23]. Someday, somewhere, sometime, God will openly judge every sin we’ve ever committed [Luke 12:3; Romans 14:10]. What shall I do with my sins? “Well, time will wash them away; we can forget them.” They are written with a pen of diamond in God’s book, and someday we personally shall face them [Romans 2:16].
What shall I do with my sins? “My tears, my penances will wipe them out.”
“The ordinances of the church will wash them away,” would to God they could.
What shall I do with my sins?
Could my tears forever flow?
Could my zeal no languor know?
These for sin could not atone.
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
In my hand no price I bring
Simply to Thy cross I cling.
[“Rock of Ages,” Augustus Toplady, 1776]
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath the flood
Lose all their guilty stains.
[from “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood,” William Cowper, 1772]
What shall I do with my sins? I have sinned, O God, what shall I do? I bring my guilt-laden soul to the blessed Jesus, and I find in Him cleansing and forgiveness, washing, purity, heavenly, abounding celestial acceptance [Ephesians 1:5-7]. In the Lord a man can kneel from the confession of his sins and know that every wrong he’s committed in his life has been washed away [Romans 10:9-10; 1 John 1:9]. God has forgiven us for Christ’s sake [Ephesians 4:32].
The great issues and answers of life: what are the values of life? And how can I know them? The values of the world are so empty. They are so sterile. They are so barren. They leave us in poverty and in distress and in want. Every great value of the world leaves us like that when we reach for them.
For example, the whole world, the whole world looks upon success, and fame, and fortune, and achievement as being the great rewards in human life. What about that? If a man gives himself to the worldly values of success and fame and fortune, and affluence, and achievement, what about it? Does it answer the soul’s crying need of life? Does it?
One day I saw a program, a story on television. It was in three acts. The first act was this: in a beautiful, luxurious, affluent apartment in New York City, in a mansion in New York City there sat a man at this end of the table, in the dining hall, a beautiful, spacious, sumptuous dining hall. And there was a man who that sat at this end. And at the end of a long, long table, there sat his wife—just, oh, I don’t know how far apart—waited upon by servants. And there was bitterness and anger as they talk, he to her and [she] to him. You could just feel the bitterness in the home. And while they were eating there, in came the father-in-law, the father of the girl. And he looked like a capitalist. And he came to the head of the table where that man sat, and he gave him a rip-roaring bawling out such as you never heard, over some kind of a financial deal. And the whole atmosphere of that luxurious, beautiful home was one of bitterness. Now that’s the first act.
The second act: the man receives a call, that man that sat there at the table, from a little English village in Maine. And it’s from a childhood sweetheart whom he loved with all of his heart. And she said to him, “You told me that if I ever needed you, that you would come. I need you now, will you come?” And so the second scene, he’s up there in that little English village in Maine, and his childhood sweetheart is seated by his side. And she turns to him and says, “My boy”—having married a boy in the village, the boy that she’d loved had gone to the big city and become great and successful and affluent—she said to him, “My son is now reaching young manhood, and he’s fallen in love with a girl here in this English village in Maine. And I have always held you up as a great ideal for my boy, and I’ve said to my boy, ‘I want you to go to the city, and I want you to be a rich man and a great man and a famous man, like you.’” And she said, “I want you to talk to my boy, and I want you to tell him, ‘Don’t stay here, and don’t love that girl, and don’t marry that childhood sweetheart.’ But I want you to tell that boy to go to the big city and to be famous and great and successful like you.” And so he says to his old childhood sweetheart, “I’ll talk to your boy tomorrow.”
Scene three: he talks to that boy the next day, and as he talks to the lad, he says to the boy, “Son, do you love that girl?” And he says, “With all my heart.” And the man says, “Son, would you like to stay here in this village and live your life and build your home and family with that girl?” He said, “I would with all my heart.” And the man says, “Son, do it!” He gets up and goes back to his palatial dinner, home in the city.
If God calls you to be a professional man, fine. Be the best doctor or lawyer or minister that you can. If God calls you to a work, do it with all of your might! But don’t you ever persuade yourself that you’re finding the riches of the rewards of life by being rich or being successful. It may be the finest man that lives in this town is a plumber or a steam fitter or maybe a ditch digger.
The true values of life are on the inside. They’re in the heart. They’re in the soul. They are spiritual. They are God’s! They are never material and never of this world. And we learn it from the lowly and humble Lord Jesus who had nothing in this life [Matthew 8:20, 11:29].
My time is gone. Briefly, may I say just one other: seated at the feet of Jesus, enrolling in His school, we learn true joy. In the fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth chapters of the Gospel of John, Jesus talks to His disciples about His joy, His joy [John 14-16]. Brother, sister, He was to be crucified the next day, and yet Jesus is talking about His joy that He gives to His disciples [John 15:11, 16:24]. Ah! That is the joy of the martyr—burned at the stake, singing songs, praising the name of the Lord. Isn’t that the strangest come-to-pass in human life? That real joy, real joy is when a man gives himself to God. Whatever the price, whatever the cost, martyrdom, burning at the stake, send us to prison, loss of all things, real joy, serving God [1 John 1:4]. I have the peace that passeth understanding down in my heart [Philippians 4:7]. I have the joy, joy, joy of Jesus down in my heart—because serving, obeying, following the blessed will of God [Romans 15:13].
And that’s our appeal to you tonight and to you who listen on KRLD. Wherever in the earth you are, in an automobile, in a bedroom, in a living room, wherever, give yourself to Jesus. The whole meaning of life is bound up in Him. And in the great throng of people, the press of people in this great auditorium tonight, in the balcony round, on this lower floor, coming down a stairway, walking down one of these aisles, “Today, I decide for Christ. I feel God speaking to me, and I’m answering with my life.” Do it now, make it now, come now, while we stand and while we sing.