The Little Child
September 7th, 1975 @ 10:50 AM
THE LITTLE CHILD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-7-75 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church, and this is the pastor, in Dallas, bringing the message entitled The Little Child. In our preaching through the Book of Isaiah, we have spoken of the first part of the eleventh chapter, which is a description of the coming King. "He shall come forth," said the prophet, "as a Rod, as a shoot out of the stem, the stump, the stock of Jesse; and He will be as a Branch that shall grow out of his roots." That prophecy was uttered seven hundred fifty years BC, before Christ. And in God’s time when the house of David had been cut down and nothing left but a stump, just a stock, out of it grew this marvelous Branch; in my Bible capital "B," "a marvelous Branch"; and this is the King of Glory. Now, our passage this morning will describe the millennial kingdom, the golden age that is yet to come when He establishes His reign, when He comes back to rule over the earth. Then, and the prophecy follows:
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp – an Egyptian cobra –
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice den.
We don’t know exactly what a cockatrice is except that it refers to some deadly and dreaded reptile.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
A description of the golden age that is yet to come.
These are natural enemies: a wolf devouring a lamb, a leopard stalking a kid, a calf and a young lioness. This is the change that shall come when God shall descend and the heavenly millennial reign shall cover the earth. What a remarkable change God shall bring to pass in this harsh, and cruel, and bloodthirsty, fallen creation. God never made animals to eat each other. God never created the tooth, and the fang, and the claw for harm. These, a carnivore – a ravenous, carnivorous, meat-eating beast – is a result of the fall; it is a result of sin. But in that new age God shall take all of the bloodthirstiness and all of the ravenous carnivorousness out of the creation itself. And in its stead there shall be light, and glory, and beauty, and peace, and tranquility, and even the voracious, ravenous lion will eat straw like an ox. And in the midst of this beautiful and dramatic portrayal of the coming kingdom, the prophet, by inspiration of God, writes a picture of it. "And a little child shall lead them" – three times in the passage is that little child referred to: and a little child shall lead them. You can just see the whole portrayal, the panorama, the procession, all of God’s creation; the lion, the leopard, the whole animal world, God’s redeemed, the whole procession – like God standing in a great grandstand and His creation marching, passing in review before Him. And who leads it? Who’s at the front? The prophet says a little child, "And a little child shall lead them" [Isaiah 11:6].
Had the prophet by inspiration written there, "and the king shall lead them," I would not have been surprised. Had he written there even that the high priest shall lead them in all of his robes of beauty and glory; I would not have been surprised. Had he written there, "And the prophet shall lead them," or, "An apostle shall lead them," I would not have been surprised. But what an amazing revelation: and the head of that great procession passing in the presence of God, a little child leading the way. And now follows a corollary, an addendum, a deduction. If this is God and if this is the way God has arranged for His millennial golden age, then the deduction – it is true in all time, in all eternity, in all history, and in all Scripture – for you see, the principles are as eternal as God Himself. For example, morality and righteousness are a reflection of the character of God. Morality is never what a man says it is, or a court says it is, or a legislature says it is. Righteousness, morality, right and wrong is grounded in the character of Almighty God. It never changes. God does not change [Hebrews 13:8], nor do the great principles that reflect the being of God change. What was right yesterday is right today and is right forever; there is no such thing as "situation ethics" or "a changing morality." These things are eternal; right and wrong, the principles that reflect the character and being of God. So if I read this in the millennium, in the golden age, this is the way God does it in the kingdom; then I have a persuasion, a deduction, a corollary that follows after. If this is God and the heart of God, then I find it in all time, everywhere, "And a little child shall lead them."
Now is that true? Let us see. First in history: there is no one that studies but is aware of the vast length, and breadth, and force of the Roman Empire. It was the greatest, and the most extended and the most absolute the world has ever known. Even the Germans call their leader a Kaiser, that’s their word for Caesar. Even the Russians call their leader a czar, that’s the Russian word for Caesar. So indelible an impression was made upon civilization but was shaped by the power of the Roman Empire. What kind of an empire was it? First, it was as though Hitler had won the war and dominated the world. The Roman Caesar held the entire civilized world in a mailed fist. And the Roman legionnaire was universal and almost invincible. The whole world had been conquered by Rome – paid obeisance, subservience, tribute to Rome – it was a world of slavery. Had you walked down the streets of Ephesus when Paul was there, six men out of ten that you met were slaves. Had you walked down the streets of Antioch, or Thessalonica, or Corinth, or Rome, or anywhere; out of all the population, six out of every ten were slaves. The Roman Empire had a population of about a hundred million – sixty million of them were slaves. Nor is it possible for us in our enlightened age to enter into what that meant in human life: the slave had no standing; he had no rights, and was treated like an animal.
Not only that, it was a world of the exposure of children. In my assignment one time in Greek, I was given a papyrus dug up out of the hermetically sealed sands of Egypt. The papyrus read – it was from a husband writing to his wife – to expose their child that had just been born, which happened to be a girl, and he didn’t want it. That is by law throughout the Roman Empire, if a man didn’t want a child, and especially a baby girl, he took the baby and set it out on a highway somewhere or in a wilderness for the jackals to eat it, or the wolves to devour it. Or worse still, for somebody to pick it up, break its limbs, disfigure it, and set it on a city street to beg for alms. This is a small proportion of the cruelty and darkness of the Roman Empire.
How did God answer the cries of the agony of the people in those long ago centuries? Surely the Almighty will take the artillery of heaven and train it on so vile and merciless a civilization. Surely God will take His clenched fists and will pound into the dust of the ground these who are so cruel. How does God do? How does God answer? This is the way He did: He took one of His stars up there in His heaven – He took one of His stars – and He put it over a little place called Bethlehem, and there He made its light to fall upon the cheeks of a little newborn babe. And that was God’s answer to the cruelty and the darkness of the world; a child, a child lying soft on its mother’s breasts, "and a little child shall lead them."
Last Christmas Gary placed here a great tree, a Christmas tree, "A Living Christmas Tree" they called it. We came and heard them sing. And do you remember this song?
Said the night wind to the little lamb,
Do you see what I see?
Way up in the sky, little lamb,
Do you see what I see?
A star, a star, dancing the night,
With a tail as big as a kite
Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy,
Do you hear what I hear?
Ringing through the sky, shepherd boy,
Do you hear what I hear?
A song, a song, high above the tree,
With a voice as big as the sea
Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king,
Do you know what I know?
In your palace warm, mighty king,
Do you know what I know?
A Child, a Child, shivers in the cold,
Let us bring Him silver and gold
Let us bring Him silver and gold
Said the king to the people everywhere,
Listen to what I say
Pray for peace, people everywhere,
Listen to what I say
The Child, the Child, sleeping in the night,
He will bring us goodness and light!
He will bring us goodness and light.
[“Do You Hear What I Hear”; Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne, 1962]
"A little child will lead them," God said so.
It is true in history. Is it true in the Holy Scriptures? "And a little child shall lead them." God bowed down His ear to hear His people cry. As slaves they groaned under the task; they were forced to make brick without straw. And under the cruel whip of a taskmaster they cried to God, and the Lord raised up a deliverer. Who was he? He was the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; he was the heir-apparent to the throne, he was the Prince of Wales. He had been brought up in all of the knowledge, and the science, and the culture, and the arts of the Egyptians. He was prepared to be Pharaoh over the ancient kingdom of Egypt and upon a day, when he heard the misery and the agony of the people of God, he renounced his throne and left the luxury, and the pride, and the power of the Pharaoh’s kingdom that he might suffer with the people of God. How did he even know them, much less identify himself with them?
I tell you how and why. There is another cry, another cry: it is a baby on the bosom of the Nile. Pharaoh’s daughter, fetching the little ark, seeing the baby cry; Miriam the sister was standing close by, offered to find a nurse for the child, and brought the child’s own mother [Exodus 2:2-9]. And in the passing of the years as she nursed the child, and as she brought up the little lad, she told him about God, and about Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the people of the Lord. And when the time came and the great decision was made, that child – taught by its mother the true name of the true Lord – cast life and lot with the people of God [Exodus 2:11-15]; and a little child shall lead them.
What could I say of the days of the apostasy in Israel, when even the high priest’s two sons turned the tabernacle, the house of God at Shiloh, into a harlotry, into a bawdy house? [1 Samuel 2:22-23]. Isn’t that a strange thing, how things turn in the name of God? In the days of the French Revolution, they took a harlot, a prostitute, and set her on the altar in the great cathedral of Notre Dame and there drank to her, and praised her, and worshipped her. Isn’t that a strange turn in human life? That is what happened in Israel. In the holy tabernacle in Shiloh, the priests Hophni and Phinehas turned the house of God into a bawdy house, into a harlot’s house. And the Philistine came and conquered Israel, and overran the land, and captured the people, and finally the ark itself.
And in those days, in the stillness of the night, there came a voice to a little boy. "Samuel, Samuel," and he arose and ran to old Eli and said, "Here am I, you called me?" Old Eli said, "I called not, lie down again." Three times, and on the third one old Eli perceived God had called the child, and the next verse says, "And from Dan to Beersheba, it was established that Samuel would be a prophet of the Lord [1 Samuel 3:1-8, 20 – a child shall lead them; Samuel, Samuel.
Time would fail me to follow, to speak of the little maid in Naaman’s household. The little thing was captured – torn from mother and father and home – and carried into a strange and foreign land [2 Kings 5:2]. Wouldn’t she hate her captors? Wouldn’t she despise her mistress? The little child said, "Oh, that Naaman could be healed of his leprosy! And were he in the land of Israel, there’s a prophet there that would heal him" [2 Kings 5:3]; and following the story of the healing – all because of a little maid – a little girl who turned, returned good for evil. "And a little child shall lead them," we must hasten.
Is it true doctrinally? Is it true in the great foundation of the teachings of the Christian faith, "And a little child shall lead them?" Let me read from the voice and the words of our Master Himself:
At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child
– a child, a little child –
unto Him, and set him in the midst. And He said, Verily, truly, amen, I say unto you: Except ye be converted
– strephÃ³, turn, strephÃ³, to change in mind and heart –
except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoso shall receive one such little child in My name, receiveth Me.
How pertinent that is against the background of the words that Jesus spoke. These disciples, full of envy and jealousy, pushing one another for first place, "It is on His right hand I ask to stand. It is on His left hand I ask to sit." In the midst of that envy and jealousy and contention, the Lord takes a little child and says, "The greatest in the kingdom is the one most like this little one," full of faith, full of love, full of trust without personal, self-seeking and ambition. He is greatest who is most like the little child, "and a little child shall lead them."
If it be true in God’s character, then it is true eternally. In the millennium kingdom, in history, in the Holy Scriptures, in doctrine; is it also true in human life and experience, "and a little child shall lead them?" Last Sunday as you know, Dr. Huber Drumwright stood in this pulpit; every Sunday before Labor Day he has stood here to preach from God’s Holy Word. He grew up in our church. He heads the theological division of our Southwestern Baptist Seminary. He has about a thousand five hundred preachers and professors under his tutelage and under his surveillance. He is a true man of God; I love to have him, shall continue to do so in the grace and goodness of our Lord. I love to listen to him. After the service last Sunday morning, we broke bread together. Seated here on my right, he turned to me and said, "Let me tell you something that you don’t know. There is a professor that loves you with all of his heart; he and his dear wife." Well, that kind of surprised me because in some theological circles because of my biblical literalism and because of my doctrinal fundamentalism, I am looked upon with great askance. So when he said, "There is a professor that greatly loves you," I was immediately all-attention. And he said, "It came to pass like this: they had a little boy in their home, apparently the little fellow was born sickly and weak. And as the years passed, he was very frail. And in these last months and days, was there – kept in the home – watched over by a loving mother. And as the little lad neared his eighth birthday, the mother and the little fellow, lying there in his bed – they were listening to me preach on television – and when the service was done, the little lad turned to his mother and said, ‘I want to be saved just like that; just as the pastor has preached. I want Jesus to come into my heart, I want to be saved.’ And the mother picked up the frail, little lad in her arms and there, in a chair, spoke to the little lad about how God had spoken to him and carefully went over the plan of salvation. And the little fellow gave his heart in repentance, in trust, in love to the blessed Jesus. And the little fellow died in his mother’s arms, and in the arms of Jesus."
Safe in the arms of Jesus,
Safe on His gentle breast
There by His love o’ershadowed,
Safely the little lad’s soul did rest
["Safe in the Arms of Jesus"; Fanny Crosby]
And Dr. Drumwright said, "You see now why the professor and his wife so deeply love you?"
"And a little child shall lead them"; when they go before us. "If you love the little child, you love me. If you minister to the little child, you minister to me. If you are kind to the little child, you are kind to me." Somehow our hearts are inextricably bound up in the life of that little child; that is God. And that is the inspiration of His Word; look at it, "and a little child shall lead them."
Ah, Lord, what a blessedness! How God has shaped His kingdom, how the Almighty will remake His world; and in it what love, and peace, and tranquility, and joy, and quietness! There will be nobody to hurt anymore; even the lion will eat straw like an ox; this is the coming kingdom. This is the millennial age that God shall bring to us.
In the quiet of this moment now, we press an appeal for our Savior. Do you love the Lord? Would you like to? Would you like to walk in the way of glory and grace? Come, and welcome, a family, a couple, or just one somebody you. From this balcony round, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these stairways, and there is time and to spare, down one of these aisles, angels will attend your way; make the decision now in your heart, and come now. Do it now, on the first note of the first stanza, "I have decided, pastor, and here I am. I give my heart to God this day." Or, "I’m putting my life in the fellowship of this dear church this day." As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, answer with your life. Do it now, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.