The Light of the Lord
June 13th, 1976 @ 10:50 AM
THE LIGHT OF THE LORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-13-76 10:30 p.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Light of the Lord. In our preaching through the Book of Isaiah, we have come to one of the most glorious chapters, one of the most incomparable revelations and promises to be found in all the Holy Scriptures. I read the first two verses first:
Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee.
And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.
Then to the twentieth verse and the remainder of the chapter:
Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself, neither will it wane: for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.
Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land forever, the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, that I may be glorified.
A little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation: I the Lord will hasten it in its time.
[Isaiah 60:1-3, 20-22]
When the day comes, the consummation of the age, the denouement of history, the great and final millennial visitation of the Lord, when that time comes, then these marvelous things shall come to pass.
I have three ways in which I shall ask God in His wisdom to help me expound this incomparable prophecy this morning. One, we shall speak of it directly, as the prophet met it in his day and in his time to his people. First, it is addressed to millennial Israel:
Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. . .And Gentiles shall come to the brightness of thy shining [Isaiah 60:1-3]. And thy sun shall not go down, neither shall thy moon fade, withdraw itself; but the Lord shall be thy everlasting light. And thou shalt be planted in the land forever. I will bring it to pass in its time, in its day.
You can imagine what a prophecy like that meant to a people who were in Babylonian captivity, who were slaves in a foreign and an alien land.
"Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall the moon withdraw itself: but the Lord shall be thy everlasting light" [Isaiah 60:20]. There was a time when there was light in the homes of Israel, and there was darkness in all the land of Egypt [Exodus 10:21-23]. There was a time when the light of God’s spiritual blessing shown brightly among His chosen people, and the entire world beyond lay in gross darkness. Under the smile of heaven, Israel multiplied and prospered aboundingly. As the days multiplied into the years, the nation turned aside from the Lord and began to worship strange and foreign gods, began to pattern their life after the life of the world. And the judgment was swift and terrible: they were cast into slavery and captivity. They were visited by the iron hand of destruction. They fell from the glory of the kingdom that was Solomon’s to the servitude and slavery of King Zedekiah. They exchanged the golden beauty of their Solomonic temple for the ashes and ruin and rubble of a destroyed and abandoned city. And in slavery they languished and wept in Babylon.
It was to a people like that that the great prophet brought this incomparable revelation:
Arise, you who sit in the dust, who have hung your harps upon the willow trees, who lament in agony; arise, arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. And the Gentiles, the nations of the earth, shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy shining. And when I plant you in the land forever, the sun shall no more go down upon thee; and the moon shall never again fade from above thee. And in thy nation, a little one shall be as a thousand; and a small one as a strong people. I the Lord will do it in its time.
That is why I am a pre-millennialist: I believe in God’s day and in God’s time every promise that God has made to Israel He will faithfully fulfill. No word of the Lord shall ever fall to the ground [Isaiah 55:11]. But in God’s day and in God’s time His chosen people will be gathered back to their land. A nation will be born in a day [Isaiah 66:8]. For they shall look upon Him whom they pierced: and there shall be in Israel a great mourning, as the mourning at Hadad Rimmon, when the people wept, lamented, over the slaughter of good King Josiah and his army [Zechariah 12:10-11]. And there will be in that day a fountain of cleansing opened for Israel; and they will every one look into the face of their Messiah God [Zechariah 13:1]. And the whole kingdom shall be placed in their hands, the leader of the nations of the earth, to whom the Gentiles shall come, in the brightness and glory of their shining [Isaiah 60:3]. What an incomparable prophecy! And how, when it comes to pass, will the whole earth be marvelously, gloriously blessed!
Second: I dare to apply the prophecy to another dispensation: not only is it addressed to Israel, millennial Israel, but it also is addressed to the mystic body of Christ, His church – for there is another dispensation. There are some theologians who don’t like that word, but it’s a good Bible word: an oikonomia, a dispensation. As there was a dispensation for Israel, so there is another and a new dispensation for those who belong to a new and a mystical body of Christ called His church [Ephesians 3:2-10]. You see, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Simeon the old prophet lifted up his voice in heavenly vision and said, that, "The Child is born for a light to lighten the Gentiles, and for the glory of Thy people Israel" [Luke 2:29-32]. There is another dispensation; and upon that new age of grace does heaven shine, does God smile.
It was a musterion, a secret. When we take the Greek word musterion and spell it out in English, it spells out exactly "mystery" in our language; but "mystery" to us refers to a riddle in an enigma. But the word has no such connotation in the Bible: musterion always refers to a secret, a mystery that can be revealed. And this musterion was a secret God kept in His heart until He revealed it unto His holy apostles. And that secret was that there should be another oikonomia, another dispensation; and in this new dispensation there should be a mystical body of Christ composed of both Jew and Gentile, made up of all of the peoples and families and tribes of the world, who would look in repentance and in faith to Him [Ephesians 3:5-6]. And to that mystical body of our Lord is this glorious millennial promise and appeal addressed: "Arise, arise, shine; for thy light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee" [Isaiah 60:1].
I am frank to confess that I was troubled by the history of the church, and that I am troubled by what I see in the church. This is His body? And this is the new dispensation? And these are the people who are the elect of God? And I am troubled by what I see, and I am troubled by what I read; for this body of Christ, this new dispensation, when God smiled upon this world as He never smiled upon it before, when the Lord poured out of His Spirit upon the earth as He had never poured it out upon the earth before [Acts 2:1-4], but I am troubled at what I read, the two thousand years of history, and I am troubled by what I see. For the church is not always the church: it becomes something else.
There are times when the church rises in power, when the presence of God moves in saving grace in its midst, when it is glorious in its witness and testimony to the Lord. But there are no less other times – both what I read and what I see – there are no less other times when the church descends to the dismal damps, when it chills the bone, when it has a name to live but is dead, when it loses its power and its fellowship with God, when it becomes Ephesians to whom the Lord said, "Except you change, I will remove thy lampstand out of its place" [Revelation 2:5]. So I am troubled by what I see in the church. Some of the darkest pages of history are these that record the life of the church. And some of the poorest and sorriest of all of the evidences of grace in this world do I see in the present church. And I am troubled.
Then I came to see from God’s Holy Word two things. One, I came to realize that there is a church in the church. I came to understand there is an invisible church in the visible church. I came to understand that in the church there is an elect: there are those who are justified, there are some who are born again, the planting of the Lord, there are some who are regenerated, there are some who belong to the body of Christ, and that church is the mystical church of our Lord – the invisible church in the church.
Many times am I asked, "Are all the members of your church saved?" I am not to judge; that belong, a prerogative of God alone. I can just look at the fruit of these who profess a Christian devotion. And my answer is, "No. They’re not all saved." And when I look at the church – Matthew calls it "the kingdom of heaven" or "Christendom" – when I look at Christendom, when I look at the visible church, I am disturbed and troubled. No small part of it repudiates the faith en toto. Some parts of it I call rank, unadulterated infidel. Some of it I think is nothing but a preview of atheism: denial, repudiation. Oh, what I see in the visible church!
And I was troubled until I came to understand that in the visible church there is an invisible congregation: there is an elect in the membership of the mundane, terrestrial congregation called the church. And God knows them that are His [John 10:14]. They are not all Israel that are Israel [Romans 9:6]; and they are not all Christians who are in the church. But there is in the visible church an invisible church: a mystic body of Christ. And it is found in every section of Christendom.
This coming week there will be gathering in this city of Dallas a quadrennial convention of Nazarenes, the Church of the Nazarene. They are a people I greatly love and admire. I have preached to their convocations. And when they gather here in the city of Dallas, something like twenty thousands of them, I shall bring to their congregation their first address. Godly people, born-again people; our associate pastor, Dr. Wade Freeman, was converted at a mourner’s bench in a Nazarene church. In the Nazarene church, in the Church of the Nazarene, God has some of His mystical body: born-again believers. And in all of the communions of the world will you find that church mystical, that church universal. And, please God, many of them I pray are in our church visible and in our communion.
A second thing I learn from the Bible: when I was troubled by looking at the church, at Christendom, then I learned that in the church there is a church, there’s an invisible and mystical body in this visible church, in all of its parts and in all of its sections; then I learned a second thing from the Bible: it is this mystical church, it is this invisible body of our Lord that shall be caught away and caught up in the rapture to meet our Lord in the air [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. Oh! What a hope! And what a blessing! And what a comfort! [1 Thessalonians 4:18]. Out of the sorry denial, and out of the sorry living, and out of the poor witness of the visible church in this earth, out of its dark pages of blood and inquisition, and out of its downright, outright denial of the faith, there is a true and sainted assembly who will be caught up to meet our Lord in the air: the rapture of God’s people.
Savonarola was one of the great preachers, mighty, tremendous of all time. When I was in Florence, I said, "I want to see, I want to visit the little monastic cell in St. Mark’s where Savonarola lived and studied this Holy Bible." Then I said, "I want to stand in the pulpit in the great cathedral, the Duomo, in Florence, where like a flame of fire he preached the Word of the living God." And then I said, "I want you to take me to the square in Florence where he was hanged, and where his body was burned." And as I followed in those places, in the steps of God’s mighty preacher Savonarola, then I relived that day when the papal legate came from Rome and stood before the mighty preacher who was behind bars, and read to him the paper of excommunication and of execution. And the paper closed with this sentence: "I hereby separate thee from the church militant, the church visible, and from the church triumphant, the church invisible in heaven." And Savonarola replied, "Sir, you can separate me from the church visible, from the church militant, from the church in the earth"; but Savonarola said, "but you cannot separate me from the church triumphant, the church invisible, the church in heaven."
"For by one Spirit were we all baptized into the body of Christ" [1 Corinthians 12:13]. By one Spirit are we all added to the body of Christ; joined to our Lord forever: some of us here, some of us there, but whether here or whether there we are one body, and one congregation, and one faith, and one Lord, and one assembly in Him, the mystical, invisible church, the body of Christ.
Allow me now – and our time is already gone – allow me now to speak of a third way in which I think the text can be beautifully applied. Not only to millennial Israel, and not only to the mystical church, the body of Christ, but I think I do no wrong to the text when I read the glorious prophecy and apply it to us in this marvelous congregation. For you see, ekklesia, "church" in the Bible, is almost always, practically always, used to refer to a local congregation. Paul will say, "the churches," plural, "of Macedonia"; or, "the churches," plural, "of Achaia"; or, "the churches," plural, "of Judea"; or, "the churches," plural, "of Asia." To one of them, Smyrna, did you read out of the Revelation just now. So when I apply the glorious appeal to our church, I keep in the spirit of the text: "Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. Arise, arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee" [Isaiah 60:1] – the light of the Lord shining in this place in the heart of this great city.
A leading deacon of a downtown city church stopped me one time at a convention, and he said, "I’d like to tell you about our deacons meeting." He said, "We assembled together to go out of business. We were so discouraged. We came together to vote to sell the property. And if we had some other place in God’s providence to go to where it was salubrious, and where the grass was green and the life luxuriate, and the thing was convenient and easy, we gathered together to dissolve our downtown church and to go out to the suburbs somewhere, just anywhere, and see whatever we might carry on for the Lord there."
So he said, "All of our board of deacons assembled to take the vote and to dissolve the church." He said, "In the discussion that followed, one of our deacons stood up and said, ‘My brethren, I have attended the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. It is downtown, like ours; under the shadow of these great skyscrapers, like ours. It has all the problems of a downtown city church, like ours. But God has blessed them. I never was in a service where I felt the presence of the Lord more. And in the heart of that city of Dallas they have built a great and shining light for God.’ He said, ‘My brethren, I make a motion that we try one more time, and that we put our souls into this effort, and that we keep our church in the heart of this great city.’"
The deacon said to me, "It was seconded." The deacon said to me, "It was passed unanimously." And the deacon said to me, "We’re doing great, staying in the heart of our city, building a lighthouse for Jesus."
You don’t realize what you do. "Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee" [Isaiah 60:1].
Now again, the light of God shining in the love and open-hearted friendship of our people; about a week ago, on the other side of the Mississippi, in a most cultured assembly, I was there to deliver a commencement address to a college group. There was a physician; he and his wife so kind to me, and he said, "You know, we’ve been to your church several times. And we always are amazed at the presence of God in the service; and more amazed at the friendship of the people. It’s so large, you would think they’d be indifferent and removed. It was like a country church," the doctor said to me, "and it blessed my heart." So in talking to me, he said, "I spoke to one of my young doctors, one of my young physician friends, and we were going to Dallas to a medical convention. And I said to my young doctor friend, I said, ‘Come with us, you and your wife come with me and my wife, and let’s go early, and let’s go to the First Baptist Church. I want you to see it. You will never be so surprised in your life as you will be at the vastness of that congregation, and at the friendliness of the people, and the presence of God in it. I want you to see it and to experience it.’"
So he said, "I took my young doctor friend with me to the church." And, oh, my heart began to sink, O Lord, here is this physician bringing his young doctor friend to our church to show him the power of God in the service, and the openhearted friendliness of the people; O Lord, what did the young doctor find? How did he, how was he received?
So the older doctor continued, "We sat in the service of the Lord." And he said, "God was there. And when it was over, there must have been a dozen spoke to us, shook our hands, introduced themselves, welcomed us back. When we walked away, the young doctor said to his older friend, ‘Sir, I have never been in a place like that before. I have never felt the presence of God like that before, nor have I ever found such friendly and gracious people.’"
Oh! I wanted to shout! I wanted to sing! I wanted to thank God! "Arise! Shine! For thy light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee" [Isaiah 60:1]. The Lord hath set before us the widest of all open doors. "And Gentiles shall come to the light of thy shining" [Isaiah 60:3].
I need an hour. Just one other word: here we see in public openly the secret life of our people. If I have the Holy Spirit in my heart, and He is in your heart, when we come together, the power of His presence is openly displayed. I have an inner secret hidden life; you have an inner secret hidden life, one of prayer and intercession. And when we come together it is openly seen.
I love the Lord in my heart; you love the Lord in your heart. We praise His name. And when we come together, oh, how we exalt in the songs and the words that lift up our blessed Jesus! I have a secret concern in my heart for the lost: O God, that they might be saved! You have that appeal to God in your heart. And when we come together, openly it is seen and it is felt. There is a tug in the service, there is a wooing in the appeal, and God always honors it.
One of the noblest things that I can say when I speak to the preachers of our great convention – I’ll be doing it tomorrow night, speaking to about fifteen thousand of them tomorrow night in Norfolk, Virginia – one of the things that I can proudly and gratefully say, in the thirty-two years I have been here, there has never been a morning, and there has never been an evening, but that God has given us a harvest. The appeal of our people, the tug at the heart, the wooing of the Spirit, that’s because openly is displayed the secret praying and intercession of our hearts: "Lord, that the lost might be saved; that families and children might come to God. And our Lord, honor that word once again. Do it now."
In a moment when we stand to sing our appeal, may God do it again; families, couples, you, coming to Jesus, coming to us. In the balcony round, down one of these stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, "Here I am, pastor, I make it now. I have decided in my heart, and here I come. I’m on the way." May angels attend you as you answer with your life, while we stand and while we sing.
OF THE LORD
I. Millennial Israel
A. Despair of the
nation in captivity
B. There was a time
when they had light
1. Turned aside
from the Lord
2. Judgment swift
C. The coming golden
day (Isaiah 66:8, Zechariah 12:10-11, 13:1)
II. Mystic Church
A. Another dispensation
1. A musterion
revealed (Ephesians 3:5-6, Isaiah 60:1)
B. Troubled by the
story of the church (Revelation 2:5)
C. Two realizations
1. An invisible
church in the church
2. Those will be
caught away to the Lord (1 Corinthians 12:13)
III. Our local church
A. A light in the heart
of a great city
B. A light of love and
friendship in our people
C. A light of care and
cleanliness in God’s house (Isaiah 52:1)
D. The light of our
tithing testimony (Hebrews 7:8)