The God Who Delivers by Prayer
November 16th, 1975 @ 10:50 AM
THE GOD WHO DELIVERS BY PRAYER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-16-75 10:50 a.m.
We welcome you, therefore, on radio and on television to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The God Who Delivers by Prayer. We are preaching through the Book of Isaiah, and last Sunday concluded in the thirty-fifth chapter; the beautiful, preciously encouraging prophecies of Isaiah as he comforted the people.
Now before we come to the second great prophetic section of the book, chapter 40, there are in between, three chapters of historical significance. And our message this morning will be a presentation of the story and the revelation of the character of God in the first two of those three, chapters 36 and 37:
Now it came to pass in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah, that Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the defensed cities of Judah, and took them.
And the king sent Rabshakeh – the head of his army; Rabshakeh, is an Assyrian name for ‘the chief of his staff,’ the head of his army, And he stood and said,to Hezekiah, Thus saith the great king, the king of Assyria, What confidence is this in which thou trustest?
You say, We trust in the Lord our God.
Now let not Hezekiah deceive you: for he shall not – that God shall not – be able to deliver you.
Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord, saying, The Lord shall surely deliver us . . .
Where are the gods of these other nations? Has any of the gods of those nations delivered out of the hand of the king of Assyria?
Then came Eliakim, and Shebna,and Joah,to Hezekiah with their clothes rent, and told him the words of Rabshakeh.
And it came to pass, when King Hezekiah heard it, that he rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the Lord.
And he sent Eliakim, and Shebna,covered with sackcloth, unto Isaiah, the prophet of God.
And they said unto him, Thus saith the king, Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and of blasphemy: for the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth.
And after Hezekiah had committed his case to God, Sennacherib sent him a letter. And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it: and Hezekiah went up into the house of the Lord, and spread it before God.
And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord, saying,
O Lord of hosts, God of Israel,
Incline Thine ear, O Lord, and hear; open Thine eyes, O Lord, and see,
Then Isaiah, the prophet, sent unto Hezekiah saying, Thus saith the Lord of Israel . . .
This is the word which God has spoken to Sennacherib . . .
Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed? and against whom hast thou exalted thy voice and lifted up thine eyes ? even against the Lord God Almighty, the Holy One of Israel . . .
Therefore thus saith the Lord concerning the king of Assyria, He shall not come near this city, nor shoot an arrow into it,
I will defend this city,
And the angel of the Lord went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.
So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt in Nineveh.
And it came to pass, as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his God, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Armenia: and Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead.
What a remarkable contrast here in the life of Hezekiah, a man of prayer, and his father Ahaz, who was a man of reproach and rejection! For in a time of like trouble, Ahaz sent to Tiglath-pileser and made confederate with the Assyrian. And the Assyrian came down and with Shalmaneser, the successor of Tiglath-pileser and Sargon. In the campaign against Samaria, Shalmaneser died, and Sargon completed the conquest and destroyed the Northern Kingdom forever, and carried away Samaria into captivity and slavery. And now, the successor of Sargon, Sennacherib, comes down and besieges Judah and holds Jerusalem like a man would hold a vise in his hand.
Should he turn to Egypt for help? The prophet Isaiah said to Hezekiah: "Thus saith the Lord God, "In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength" [Isaiah 30:15]. And Hezekiah, listening to the voice of the prophet of God, took his case to the Lord and waited upon the Jehovah who reigns in heaven [Isaiah 37:21]. And the Lord God looked down from heaven and saw Hezekiah, clothed in sackcloth, covered with ashes, bowing before His great and mighty name in the house of the Lord. And the Lord God said, "It is against Me that the king has blasphemed, this Sennacherib, as though I were unable to deliver out of his ruthless hand."
And that night, the Lord God sent just one angel – just one – over the camp of the Assyrians [Isaiah 37:36]. And the next morning, when the commander-in-chief blew the trumpet to storm the city, there was silence. One hundred eighty-five thousand dead soldiers didn’t rise, didn’t reply, didn’t respond. One of the famous poems of all English literature is this one written by Lord Byron entitled, "The Destruction of Sennacherib".
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold.
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold.
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue waves roll nightly on deep Galilee.
Like the leaves of the forest when summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when autumn hath blown,
That host of the morrow laid withered and strown.
For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and forever grew still!
And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
And through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.
And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpets unblown.
And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!
One of the great poems of English literature.
And what of Sennacherib, that blaspheming king who shook his fist in the face of Almighty God, and who dared to reproach and to taunt the people of the Lord? Shall he escape unharmed, uncondemned, unjudged? And the eye of the Lord followed him and followed him as he made his way back to his capital city and to the palace in Nineveh. And the finger of the Lord pointed at him, every roll of the wheel, every mile of the way. And the Lord God said, "Not in a foreign land, but at home, in the house of his god, among his own sons, will I judge him." And upon a day when Sennacherib was in the house of his god, his own sons assassinated him, and Sennacherib lay dead in his own blood [Isaiah 37:38]; thus, the hand of Almighty God in Sennacherib, a hand of judgment and damnation over Hezekiah, hands of guardian shepherdly care, deliverance and protection.
Now for the exposition of the passage; up there in glory, in heaven, there sits a great and mighty Lord, the King of glory, the Creator of all heaven and earth, and He has a duality in all of His self-revelation. There is a two-sidedness to God in everything that we know about it and in everything by which He has disclosed Himself unto us. There is in God damnation and deliverance. There is in God blessing, and blighting, and battering, and blasting. And always, those two are in the character of the Almighty. Wherever there is any disclosure of Him, there is always those two things in God. You find it in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Exodus, when the Lord God giving the Ten Commandments said: number one:
Thou shalt have no other Gods before Me.
– Number Two –
Thou shall not make unto thee any graven image.
For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation.
But in mercy, blessing those who fear Me and keep My commandments
That duality in God. You see it in the prophets: "The soul that sins shall die" [Ezekiel 18:20], said the prophet. And then in the next breath:
As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked;
but that the wicked would turn from his evil way and live.
O turn ye, turn ye; for why will you die?
You see that same duality of God in the gospel of Christ. The last verse of the third chapter of John ends like this: "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth upon him." And that was the preaching of the apostles, "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" [Galatians 6:7]. It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God, [Hebrews 10:31],for our God is a consuming fire [Hebrews 12:29].
What you find in the passage, in the story of Sennacherib, who blasphemed the Almighty and who scorned the people of the Lord – what you find in God a God of judgment, you find in all of the history of the earth that lives in His presence. Now, down here in this world where we are, it is true that God is a God of judgment, a God of damnation. What a man sows, that does he reap [Galatians 6:7].
But He is also, as in Hezekiah and the extremity that brought him in sackcloth and ashes in the house of God to bow before the great and mighty One – you have a God of deliverance, a God who answers prayer, a God who bares His mighty arm to help and to work with and to stand by and to bless His people. Always it is that. Jehoshaphat said to the Lord:
O God, we have no might against this great host that cometh out against us; neither know we what to do, but our eyes are upon Thee
– and then the Scriptures say –
And Judah stood before the Lord with her priests, and with her soldiers, and with her fathers and mothers, and with her families and with her little ones.
[2 Chronicles 20:12-13]
Even the little ones were standing there looking up to heaven; and God delivered with a mighty arm.
On the second floor of the building across the street, our chapel building, is my study. And on that second floor there are two pictures on the wall of Daniel in the lion’s den, in quietness and in confidence, with his hands folded behind his back, looking up to the great Lord God who is able to answer prayer and to deliver. And I suppose he’s saying to the king, who calls, "Daniel is thy God able to deliver thee?" And the statesman replies, "O king, God hath sent His angel to close the mouth of the lions" [Daniel 6:20-22]. And he walks in perfect peace, and quiet, and confidence among those ravenous and carnivorous beasts.
Is it not the word of the prophet Isaiah? "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, who trusts in the Lord" [Isaiah 26:3]. And the one I read before, Isaiah, "Thus saith the Lord God, ‘In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength" [Isaiah 30:15]; just looking for an answer from God.
But someone would say, "That’s a long time ago; God doesn’t answer like that today. This passage, out of which you’re expounding the Word of the Lord, concerned a thing that happened seven hundred years before Christ. And those stories that you are citing out of the Bible, in Daniel, that was five hundred fifty years before Christ. These things happened long ago, but He is not that kind of a God today. He doesn’t answer His people. Not today. He did back there, to those who believed the Bible, but He doesn’t today."
"Nay, He is the same yesterday, and today, and forever" [Hebrews 13:8]. And He answers prayer today, and He delivers today, and He blesses today as fully and as richly and as miraculously and as gloriously, as triumphantly, as He did in the years gone by.
When I was seventeen years of age, my mother took me to Baylor. We had no money and no way for her son to find an education, so my mother did menial work, and I was enrolled in the school. I got down on my knees as a seventeen-year-old boy, and I said to the Lord God, "Dear God, all over this campus there are young men who have come to the university, and they are working their way through school. Some of them pick up paper on the campus; some of them wash windows; some of them are sweeping out the dormitories and the classrooms. Dear God," I said, "could it be, could it be, that I could make my way through school living by the gospel, as the pastor of a little country church? Could I support myself and make my way through school, preaching the gospel? O please, dear God, let it be, let it be." And as a seventeen year old lad, I was called to be pastor of little country churches. And I made my way – having no other support, I made my way through the school, preaching the gospel, shepherding those little country churches. And having been graduated from the university, not knowing a soul in Kentucky, I enrolled in Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I stayed there six years. I missed the first Sunday; I was in Kentucky, preaching. I missed that one Sunday; I did not preach that one Sunday. The rest of the years I was there, I was preaching, called as pastor of little village churches, and thus, made it possible for me to attend the school; a prayer-answering God.
And in the providence of time and of life, I was called to be undershepherd of this dear church in Dallas. Downtown churches die. Downtown churches have no future. All through these great cities of the earth, the churches downtown have atrophied, perished, vanished. Since I have been pastor in Dallas, there are nine downtown churches that have gone away. They’re not here anymore; nine of them. And Lord, here I am, called to be pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, downtown; and downtown churches die. I got on my knees before the Lord, and I said, "Dear God, if I am faithful to the Word, and if I preach the gospel earnestly and zealously, dear God, will You place it into the hearts of people that Thou hast chosen – will You place it in their hearts to come and to be with us and to help us build the lighthouse for Christ in the heart of this great and growing city?" There is nobody in this church that comes here for convenience. There’s no one in this church but that drives by a dozen or forty churches on the way to be here with us. There is nobody that comes to this church but who chooses to come. God has placed it in their hearts to come. And that is an answer to a prayer, prayed over thirty-one years ago.
Last Sunday, there was a sweet, dear couple. They’ll be coming with their little family forward this morning to join this church by baptism, and the sweet dear couple, a precious couple, said to me, "It is a strange thing, it is a strange thing that we should be talking to you, and about being baptized, and about belonging to this church downtown, for we live long away." And I said, "That’s not strange. That’s not strange. God did this. The Lord put it in your heart, for I knelt over thirty-one years ago before God and asked of the Lord, ‘Lord, if I’m faithful in the ministry of the Word, will You send us these You have chosen to be with us in Your church?’" Look around you. At the 8:15 service, the thing was so crowded, you could not find a seat. And here at this service, these who are attending, listening prayerfully to the Word of the living God, the exposition of the passage in Isaiah. He answers prayer today as He has in all of the centuries past; and He is the same Lord God that will answer our prayers tomorrow.
Over thirty-one years ago, I told something in this pulpit that publicly I have never mentioned again. Once in a while, a newspaper reporter or an author of a book or the subject matter gathered in a magazine article, I’ll be called about it. I have never mentioned it publicly since, just that one time. Thirty-one years ago, plus about four months, I dreamed that I entered this auditorium with a man in front of me and a man behind me. And I sat down right up there, right in that section of the balcony. I had not been in this church but one time, and that was forty years before. But I saw every detail of the church just as you see it now, with the exception of the ways that I have changed it since I have been here. It was exactly as it was when Dr. Truett died. The house was thronged. The front was covered from side to side with flowers, and the casket here, and the people here weeping, sobbing. I asked the man here, "Why are the people crying?" And they replied, "The great pastor, Dr. Truett, has died." As I sat looking at the floral arrangement and the casket and the people sobbing, listening to their cries, the man on this side of me, on this side, put his hand on my knee and said, "You must go down and preach to my people." I turned to see the man who spoke to me, and it was Dr. Truett. I said, "Oh, no, no, no." He put his hand again on my knee and said, "You must go down and preach to my people." A month or two after that – the church that had never heard of me, never knew I lived or existed in the earth – the church called me as undershepherd of this congregation.
In these last few months I have been greatly troubled and greatly burdened. And in the midst of that burden, that anxiety, seeing so much of an over-sowing among our people; and seeing them concerned and burdened and sometime lost, not knowing quite where to turn or what to think or what to believe; in these days past, I have been greatly concerned, and greatly burdened; a heaviness on my heart. And several days ago, in the dead of the night, I began to dream. Was it that I had been turning over in my heart that beautiful passage in the second chapter of Titus, where the apostle in verse 10 says that in our beautiful life and in our ministries before God, we are to adorn the gospel, we are to adorn the doctrine of the gospel of the Son of God? Was it that? Or was it like a Puritan who goes to sleep reading his Bible and dreams of a Pilgrim’s Progress? I don’t know. But in the midst of the night, in the stillness of the night, I had a vivid, vivid dream. I dreamed that I watched the people of our church – and especially some of our fellow members who have been so greatly upset and concerned – I dreamed that I saw the people of our church embellishing, adorning this sanctuary. They were doing it, making incomparably beautiful porcelain flowers, like a Worcester flower, or a Boehm flower, or a Kloster-Veilsdorf flower, beautiful, beautiful flowers, some of them with their hands, working in clay, in porcelain. Some of them were making the calyx, some of them were making the petals, some of them were making the leaves, some of them were making the stamens with their filaments and their anthers; they were beautiful. And as I watched the people decorating this sanctuary with those beautiful porcelain flowers, there came into my heart an infinite quietness and stillness and restiveness. I awakened, and I awakened with that sense of the beauty and the presence of the Spirit of God in the congregation, adorning the doctrine of the grace of our Savior. And I had in my heart the quietness of a peace that passeth all understanding. And the feeling of rest and quietness in the Lord has remained with me ever since.
I have in the future and in the destiny of the ministries of our church an infinite, quiet and rest and assurance. And when I see so many things in the life of the church that I never dreamed for – wonderful things, precious things, things that are developing that I cannot even say because I have been sworn to confidence – things I never dreamed of that are happening even now. All that is for me to do is just to bow before the Lord God and say, "Lord, Thy name be praised forever and ever." Exalted be the glorious presence of our prayer-answering God who moves in grace, and mercy, and strength, and power among His people. And for me, what my assignment is is just to behold and to watch and to rejoice in the glory of the Lord as He leads our people from grace to grace, and from victory to victory. You shall see it in these days that lie ahead; marvelous things, wonderful things, glorious things in which we can rejoice together in the greatness, and goodness, and grace of God our Savior.
I’m like Billy Graham, who, when people complimented him upon an occasion, for the marvelous attractiveness by which people thronged to hear him by the hundreds of thousands and in one instance in Korea, by the millions, Billy Graham humbly replied, "Sir, I am just grateful that I could be around when God chose to do it." I feel the same way about our church. "O Lord, I am just grateful that I am around when God chooses to do it."
Thus to give yourself to the Lord who calls, who needs even you, will you come and stand by me? Here at the front where the angels in heaven above and the men in earth beneath can see you, "Today I give my heart in trust to the Lord God revealed to us in the grace of Jesus Christ, and here I come." A family you, to put life, and letter, prayer, vision, and destiny with us, in the hands of God, "Pastor, my wife, my children, we’re all coming today." As God shall say the word, shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision now, and on the first note of the first stanza, come, walking down one of these stairways, walking down one of these aisles. The Lord’s angels attend you as you answer with your life. Do it now. Come now, make it now. while we stand and while we sing.
DELIVERS BY PRAYER
like disaster as in the days of Ahaz, father of Hezekiah (Isaiah 36:1 – 37:38)
The difference in Hezekiah’s response (Isaiah 30:15)
upon Sennacherib (Isaiah 37:38)
II. Duality in God
A. Law (Exodus 20:3-6)
B. Prophets (Ezekiel
C. Gospel (John 3:36)
D. Apostles (Galatians
6:7, Hebrews 10:26-31, 12:29)
III. Deliverance in prayer
A. Jehoshaphat (2
B. Daniel (Daniel
IV. God answers our prayers
A. My beginning
B. My present ministry