The Highway of Heaven
November 9th, 1975 @ 10:50 AM
THE HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-9-75 10:50 a.m.
We welcome you on radio and on television sharing with us this service in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor expounding a passage that closes the thirty-fifth chapter of Isaiah and closes the first great section of the prophecy [Isaiah 35:1-10]. It is entitled The Highway to Heaven. I read the entire thirty-fifth chapter of Isaiah:
The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.
It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with the joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God.
Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees.
Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; He will come and save you.
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.
And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of jackals, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes.
And an highway shall be there, and the way, and it shall be called The Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring one, though simple men, shall not err therein.
No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there:
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
What an incomparable prophecy! This is the climactic chapter of the first part of the glorious prophecy of Isaiah. The background of it makes it all the more pertinent and meaningful and poignant. When Isaiah uttered the prophecy, the Northern Kingdom had already been destroyed and led into captivity by the bitter and hasty Assyrians [2 Kings 17:6, 19-20].
And in prospect, the prophet had already predicted the carrying away into captivity by the ruthless and merciless Babylonian [2 Kings 20:17-18]. And in sight, there lay before him the empty and sterile and barren and wasted land. The people carried into slavery in Babylon and in the Diaspora, scattered over the earth, hanging their harps upon the willow trees [Psalm 137:1-2] and weeping in repentance and in contrition before God.
Had the prophecy just been that, it would have been of all things sad, sorrowful; but God opened the eyes of the man of God, and lifting up his face to heaven, he saw another vision. This time it is a vision of the glory of the presence of the Lord as He remembers His repentant and contrite people. And in the vision he sees the land; a desert shall rejoice, and it shall blossom as the rose [Isaiah 35:1].
One time, I went through the Mandelbaum Gate when Jerusalem was so sadly divided. I went from the Arab side to the Jewish side. And when I went through the gate there was a lovely company to welcome us as tourists. And against the wall, this was the first time I had seen it, was a large, large medallion. On it, the emblem of the Israeli government, and these words were around it, “And the desert shall blossom as the rose” [Isaiah 35:1]; this is the prophecy of Isaiah. And not only that, but he sees a great, raised causeway, and on that marvelous high road, high and lifted up, there are the pilgrims and the exiles returning home. They are singing. Joy and gladness have overwhelmed them. And as they return to their home from exile, from slavery, sorrow and sighing all now flown away and nothing but the glory and the goodness of God before them [Isaiah 35:8-10].
The prophecy in its near term, in its partial fulfillment, of course, was when the chosen family of the Lord returns home. Wherever he has been astray, when he comes back to the land, this is a part of the fulfillment of this prophecy. Part of it has come to pass in our day and in our time, as the people of the Lord face homeward, and the desert blossoms like a rose. Those beautiful orchards, those orange groves, the irrigation projects, the land is green again, forests are flourishing again, crops are abundant again, and the land is fruitful before our Lord again. This is a near-term fulfillment of the glorious prophecy, but the ultimate and final fulfillment lies when the Lord’s redeemed and ransomed, blood bought and saved, are all facing heavenward and upward before God, when we turn to the day of our New Jerusalem and our final and eternal home [Revelation 21:2-3].
So the prophet describing that ultimate and final consummation, when the Lord’s children are pilgrimaging homeward, he describes it in these beautiful and marvelous words. And I expound them now; one, two, three, four, five, this highway to heaven, this road to glory.
First: the prophet says that it is a plain way, an unmistakable way, a simple way. He says, “Wayfaring men even though they are simple ones, untaught ones, untrained ones, shall not err therein” [Isaiah 35:8], even a stranger unacquainted with the way; not a theologian; not even introduced to the gospel of the Son of God. Maybe the first time he ever heard it out of paganism and out of heathenism, he can find it, and a little child, untaught, simple can walk in that way. Doesn’t the prophet say it in an unusual way? A stranger passing by; a wayfaring man shall not err therein [Isaiah 35:8].
Do you remember the last invitation of the Bible? Revelation 22:17, “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. Let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” Do you notice that invitation? The Spirit of God pleads with the man to come to Jesus. The bride of Christ pleads with a man to come to Jesus. “And let him that heareth say, Come” [Revelation 22:17]. That is just the passerby, just the stranger; let him repeat that glorious and glad refrain, that blessed of all invitations: come, this is it. “And a wayfaring man, though a simple one, untaught, shall not err therein” [Isaiah 35:8].
It is a plain way, a simple way, one that a child can walk on, that a child can receive and understand [Matthew 18:3]. And it is so plain and simple that a man who has lived all of his life, say in a Stone Age like those Auca Indians, can be saved out of their background of poverty and untaughtedness, out of sheer unknowing, they can walk in this pilgrim way to glory.
It is not only a simple way and a plain way that even the untaught can walk on, it is also a way of blood, of color, of scarlet, it is a crimson way. The redeemed shall walk there and the ransomed of the Lord [Isaiah 35:9-10]—that is, it goes by the cross, the way goes by Calvary [Luke 23:23]. It is a way of blood atonement, washed in the blood of the Lamb. First John 1:7: “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ . . . cleanses us from all sin” [1 John 1:7]. It is a way of blood. It is a way of atonement. It is a crimson way. It is red. It is scarlet.
Saved by the blood of the Crucified One.
All praise to the Father,
All praise to the Son,
All praise to the Spirit,
The great Three in One.
Saved by the blood of the Crucified One.
[“Saved By the Blood,” S.J. Henderson]
It is a scarlet way, a crimson way this highway to heaven.
As some of you know, all last week, Monday through Friday, I was preaching to the faculty and students, and then the people in the city who wanted to attend, of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. It was truly one of the highest weeks I have ever lived through in my life. It was one of the deepest spiritual experiences, it blessed my heart beyond anything that I could say or describe. There was a little group of students who asked me to come and what they call in dialogue, talk with them. So, in the group one of the young men said, “Tell us what the greatest preaching experience you ever had in your life?”
Well, I said, “Give me just a moment to think what is the greatest preaching experience I’ve ever had in my life.” I thought of a time some years ago when I brought the closing address at the Southern Baptist Convention in San Francisco and when I concluded the address, being the last and nothing else of business aside, I gave an invitation. And it was like glory. There were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people to respond. Even the man who had the PA system and directed the electronic work of the convention, left his post, made his way to the auditorium, to a microphone and announced to the people that seated there at the controls he had given his heart to the Lord, and he wanted the world to know that he was now a Christian. It was a marvelous time.
Then I thought of that day in Buena Park when I was preaching to the pastors, all of the preachers of California. Their ways had been paid, they were cared for the week and they were all there. On a Thursday night, while I was preaching, a preacher stood up and came down to the front—it was in a Nazarene assembly ground—and kneeling there at a mourner’s bench as the Nazarene churches have, he began to cry and sob before the Lord. Then another, and another one, right in the midst of my sermon and finally, there were more than three hundred of those men just crying their hearts out before God. The sound of these three hundred men, sobbing before the Lord was a thing I could never forget in its hearing. I thought of that; a tremendous hour.
I thought of a service at the Cain Road Baptist Church in Hong Kong years ago. While I was preaching, they began to come and stand in front in Chinese style with their hands clasped and their heads bowed. I finally turned to the interpreter and I said, “What are all these people doing here?” He replied, “Oh, preacher, praise God. Praise God. These are Chinese men and women who cannot wait until you’re done with their sermon, and they’re standing there in simple faith and sign that they are giving their hearts to the blessed Lord Jesus.”
I thought of the service here in this dear church. When I was called as pastor, I came to preach, first time as pastor of the church, the first Sunday in October. When the sermon was delivered, I kneeled here by the side of the sacred desk and prayed. And when I did, the whole congregation burst into tears. They had never seen that before. And it was just as though the whole vast throng was just annealed, amalgamated, made one in the Lord. When the service was over Bob Coleman walked with me to the study that used to be where Truett had it back of this auditorium. And putting his arm around me, he said, “Pastor, the first Sunday in October is forever to be your anniversary. We’ve never had a service like that in the church before.”
I thought of that, and I thought of an evangelistic conference in Fort Worth. When I got through preaching, there was a man standing in the congregation on the back at the top balcony. He started shouting to the top of his voice, one of our finest pastors. And all the way down the aisle from the balcony and then the aisle and then up to the stage where I was standing, that man shouted to the glory of God, and every minister there felt the same in his heart. I thought of that.
“What is the greatest preaching experience I ever had in my life?” I finally answered.
“Young men, the greatest one preaching experience I ever had in my life was on a Sunday night some years ago in our dear church in Dallas. It happened to be that Sunday night fell on New Year’s Eve. And we always have a service here at the church on New Year’s Eve. So some of my deacons facetiously came up to me and said, “Now pastor, you’re everlastingly complaining that you don’t have time to finish your sermon. Now we notice that New Year’s Eve falls on Sunday night, so why don’t you just start at 7:30 and preach until past midnight and see if you can’t finish your sermon.”
Now they said that to me in fun, not derision, facetiously and in fun. That’s what they said to me. Well, you know, I went home and started thinking about that. And I thought well, you know, that may be a mandate from heaven. That may be a directive from God. That may be inspired. So that night it was announced that I was going to start at 7:30 and preach to past midnight. When I stood here in the pulpit, the place was jammed and people standing around the walls downstairs and upstairs. I thought after I’d preached several hours that most of the congregation would be gone.
Dear people, were you here? When I finished past midnight, they were still jammed in this auditorium and standing around the wall and upstairs around the walls. It was the greatest one single preaching experience I ever had in my life. Do you remember the subject? It was The Scarlet Thread Through the Bible. It was chosen as a theme of our institute, teaching the scarlet thread through the Bible. And the Sunday School Board took it and made it into a beautifully bound book that they said they are going to keep in stock for all the years that are to come, The Scarlet Thread Through the Bible.
The sermon was this, the crimson story of the cross, from the beginning in Genesis when the Lord slew an innocent animal to cover the nakedness and sin of our first parents [Genesis 3:21], the blood of Abel [Genesis 4:8-11], the blood of the Passover [Exodus 12:7, 12-13, 22-23], the blood of the Mosaic legislation, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh atonement for the souls” [Leviticus 17:11].
And through the Old Testament sacrificial system [Hebrews 9:6], and then the blood of John the Baptist [Mark 6:14-29], and the sobs and sufferings and blood of our Lord in Gethsemane [Luke 22:41-44], in the institution of the Lord’s Supper [Matthew 26:26-28]; down the Via Dolorosa, nailed to the cross; “See from His face and His hands and His feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down” [from “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” Isaac Watts, 1707], the blood of the cross that washes away our sins [Matthew 27:32-50; Revelation 1:5; 1 John 1:7], and the sacrifice of the apostles, Stephen the first martyr [Acts 7:54-60], and James, the son of Zebedee, beheaded by Herod the first [Acts 12:1-2], and all of the martyrs through the days and the years and the ages since, and finally, the passage that you read in the Revelation, “Who are these, who are these arrayed in white robes and whence came they?” [Revelation 7:13]. And the answer, “These are they . . . who have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” [Revelation 7:14].
Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
[“Are You Washed in the Blood?” by Elisha A. Hoffmann]
The highway to heaven is a crimson way; it is a scarlet way; it is a way of blood; it goes by the way of the cross [Ephesians 1:7].
Do you notice again, it is a penitential way. It is a way of contrition and confession. It is a way of humility and bowing. And sorrow and sighing shall flee away [Isaiah 35:10] and these who walk that pilgrim road to glory are those who have sorrowed and wept and cried [Revelation 21:4].
Any man who ever faces, really, the holy, heavenly exalted pure presence of our Lord will feel that way. Lord, unworthy, unworthy, unclean, unclean. No man follows that pilgrim way to glory in pride and in self-righteousness. These who are in this pilgrim journey to glory to God are these who bow in contrition, in humble confession before the presence of the great High God. This is the highway, the great road to glory down which David trod,
O Lord, I acknowledge to Thee my sin.
O Lord, purge me with discipline. I shall be clean. Wash me, wash me, and I shall be white as snow.
Restore unto me the joy of my salvation; Lord, if You desire a sacrifice, I would give it: but Thou delightest not in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou would not despise.
[Psalm 51:3, 7, 12, 16, 17]
It is a way of confession and contrition. Like Simon Peter, when the Lord looked upon him, he went out, and wept bitterly [Luke 22:61-62]. Like the publican who in the temple of the house of the Lord would not so much as lift up his face to heaven, but bowed his head and beat upon his breast, and said, “Lord, be merciful to me the sinner” [Luke 18:13]. That’s the Greek of it; the sinner, as though no one else in the world had ever sinned. “Lord, be mercy to me. It isn’t my brother and it’s not my sister, it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. May the Lord be pitiful and merciful to me [Luke 18:13]; Lord, forgive my sins for Jesus’ sake” [Ephesians 4:32].
Every day of our lives, when we come to the end of the day, we ought to ask the Lord to wash our feet. “He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet” [John 13:10]. That is, he that is saved does not need to be saved over again; the Lord does not need to die for him again. But as you walk through the day, your feet become soiled, so the Lord washes our feet at the end of each day. That’s the way we ought to be in our lives. “Lord, this day, I don’t do right sometimes. And there are weaknesses, and flagrant, that spoil the divine image of God in me. And Lord, there are just weaknesses that assail me, and I cannot overcome them. Lord, be merciful to me and pitiful to me. Lord, forgive me.” That is the attitude and the way of the Christian, walking on the King’s highway in confession, in contrition, in deepest humility [Isaiah 35:10, 1 John 1:7-9].
Will you notice that he says here in the same breath, and it also thus is a way of glory and of joy and of gladness and of singing? “The redeemed and the ransomed shall return, and come to Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness” [Isaiah 35:10].
Isn’t that an unusual thing that both should be in the same heart? A contrition and a weakness, and a sobbing, and a confession before God, and at the same time a rejoicing in the Lord our Savior [Isaiah 35:10]. You know, that’s what it is to be a child of God. You’ll have both of those in your heart at the same time. It’s like a martyr who is being burned at the stake, and while the flames consume him he will sing praises to God. His heart will overflow in glorious gladness and everlasting joy at the same time that he’s being burned to death.
Isn’t that a strange thing, the life of a Christian, weeping and rejoicing, confessing and praising God at the same time? Thus it is with our faith. Our religion is not to make us despairing, as though God had forsaken us and life was sterile and dark and meaningless. No, the faith is not to make us miserable, but to wipe the tears from our eyes. Our vision and our dream is not of devils descending a dreary staircase to hell. But our dream and our vision is of a ladder and the angel ascending. And at the top, that ladder is leaning against the bright throne of God Himself [Genesis 28:12-13].
On Monday I am happy, and on Tuesday full of joy.
On Wednesday I have peace within that nothing can alloy.
On Thursday and on Friday I’m walking in the light
Oh, Saturday is a heavenly day, and Sunday is always bright.
O glory, glory, glory, O glory to the Lamb!
Hallelujah, I’m saved, and I’m so glad I am!
O glory, glory, glory, O glory to the Lamb!
Hallelujah, I’m saved, and I’m bound for the Promised Land.
[“Saved Every Day,” anonymous, 1903]
“And a highway shall be there, and they shall return to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads” [Isaiah 35:8, 10].
And one other, it is not only a simple way that a child can follow it. It is not only a crimson way, it goes by the cross. It is not only a humble way of contrition and confession, it is not only a way of rejoicing and gladness, it is also a way of open and public avowal.
If we had time to exegete that Hebrew word for “highway” and then “a highway shall be there and it shall be called the Holy Way” [Isaiah 35:8]. And these who follow it, who walk on it are the redeemed and the ransomed of God. And as they gather to the Holy City, it is with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away [Isaiah 35:9-10]. Now if we had time, that word for highway, if means a raised road. It means a great causeway. You can see it, plainly, distinctly as it winds its way through the land, through the days, through the years, through the centuries and finally enters the pearly gates of heaven itself [Revelation 21:21]. It is an open public way [Romans 10:8-13].
Isn’t that a remarkable thing? Openly, publicly; God has always been like that. Moses stands in the camp and he says, “All of you who are on the Lord’s side let him come and stand by me” [Exodus 32:26]. The apostle Paul even defines our salvation in those terms of open and public committal. Romans 10:9-10, “If thou shall confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in thine heart that He lives, that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart one believeth unto a God kind of righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made openly and publicly unto salvation.”
Did not the Lord avow the same great spiritual truth in Matthew 10:32-33? “Whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I deny before My Father in heaven. But whosoever shall confess Me before men, him will I confess before My Father which is heaven.”
If you have ever heard me baptize, I will change that baptismal formula in its nomenclature many, many, times, but there is a part of it that is always there, and it is this: “upon your public confession of faith in Christ; upon the unashamed commitment of your life to God.” That is the way the Lord has chosen for us to walk into His kingdom and into His Holy City: openly, publicly, where everyone can see us. Like the blood of the Passover, it was to be displayed openly and publicly in the form of a cross on the front side of the house; on the lintel up here and on the door post on each side [Exodus 12:7], where everyone passing by could see it. There is a family that belongs to God; this is a man who believes in Jehovah Jesus, the Almighty, openly and publicly displayed. So it is with us who are in the pilgrimage journey to heaven; openly, unashamedly we are to avow our faith in the Lord Jesus.
You know, there is something of last summer that I’d give anything if I could go back through the days and stand where I stood last summer. I have thought of it in my mind a thousand times. At the time when I stood there, I had a deep impulse to do it and then I interdicted it in my soul, and I didn’t. Oh, I wish I could go back and do that. You know what it was? It was this. We were in Hyde Park, and the thousands, you know, milling around, and those people talking, and all of those places all over. Most of them were communist, had red flags. And under that red flag they were delivering the gospel of atheism and infidelity and socialism and communism and welfare-statism, and talking and talking, and damning God and damning the church and damning the name of Christ.
You know, in Hyde Park anybody can say anything, and they do. Well, did you know, in the midst of that milling throng there was a man of God, a humble preacher of Jesus. He was standing there with all those people around him with an open Book in his hand, and he was preaching faithfully the gospel of Jesus our Lord. You should have heard that man as he was heckled and as he was derided and made fun of. There wasn’t anything that the crowd didn’t say bad about him and about what he was preaching.
In his preaching, he would say, “And what shall you do with Jesus who is called Christ?” [Matthew 27:22] And a fellow came out and shook his fist and said, “I’d kill Him if I could, if He were here today.” And another one came out and said, “We’d crucify Him again, just as…” and all kinds of things like that.
You know, as I looked at that humble preacher, standing there with that open Book in his hand, just preaching the name of Jesus in all love and in all graciousness, and all those people standing there just saying the vilest things to him, and about him, and about Jesus and the gospel—you know, I don’t know why I didn’t do it. I had in my heart to do it; I don’t know why I didn’t. What I had in my heart to do, I thought, you know, I’m just going up there and stand by his side. And in the hungry crowd of ravenous, carnivorous wolves, these beasts who hate Jesus, I’m just going to stand by his side, and I’m going to say earnestly and quietly, “My brother, I want you to know that I also am a Christian. I have been redeemed by the blood of the Crucified One [Ephesians 1:7]. And I just want you and these howling, rejecting, blasphemous people around you, I just want you to know that I want to be numbered among those who love God, and who love Jesus, and put my name down with you and your faithful and believing group.”
Why didn’t I do that? I don’t know. But I didn’t. I’d give anything if I could go back to last summer and stand in that same place. And when that humble preacher stood there with that open Book in his hand, I wish I had the opportunity to stand by his side. I too am numbered among those who believe and call upon the name of the Lord Jesus.
That is what it is to be a child of God. A great, raised highway, and those who walk on it are seen, they are known, they are committed, they are called, they are converted, they are God’s children, the highway to heaven [Isaiah 35:8-10].
Our time is gone. In a moment we stand and sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing that hymn, a family you, coming to work and to worship and to love God with us, come and welcome [Hebrews 10:24-25]. A couple you, take the hand of your wife and say, “Sweetheart, let’s go, this is God’s time for us.” If you have children, bring them with you: “Pastor, this is my wife, these are our children, all of us are coming today.” Or just one somebody you, “I have decided in my heart, and before men and angels, here I stand, I give my life to God [Romans 10:8-13], and I am coming to be numbered with the people of the Lord.”
If you are in that last topmost balcony there is time and to spare. Come down a stairway and down here to the front. And on this lower floor in the press of people, into an aisle and down here to the front. Make the decision now in your heart. And when we stand up to sing, stand up walking down that stairway, coming down that aisle, “Here I am pastor, I am on the way.” God love you, God bless you, angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
A. Background of text
B. Prophecy of glorious
times to come
II. A plain way
A. Easily found
III. A crimson way
A. A way of blood
atonement (1 John 1:7)
B. Scarlet thread
through the Bible
IV. A humble way
A. Confession and contrition
(Psalm 51, Luke 18:13)
V. A happy way
A. Both weeping and
rejoicing (Isaiah 35:10)
VI. An open and public way
A. The “highway”
B. Terms of salvation
(Romans 10:9-10, Matthew 10:32-33)