The Light of the Lord
June 13th, 1976 @ 8:15 AM
THE LIGHT OF THE LORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Isaiah 60:1-3, 20-22
6-13-76 8:15 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Light of the Lord, and it is an expounding of one of the most glorious prophetic passages in all Holy Scripture. We turn to the sixtieth chapter of Isaiah. In our preaching through this wonderful prophecy we have come to a no less wonderful section, a message concerning the millennial reign of our Lord. Listen:
Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
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.
And not because any of the other verses are any less beautiful and glorious, but let’s go now to the twentieth verse and read to the end of the chapter:
Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: neither shall the moon 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 his time.
Literally, "in its time"; when God says the time has come, all of these wonderful, incomparably marvelous things will come to pass.
Now I am going to take that passage and speak of it first as it applies to millennial Israel, which is the basic exposition of the passage. But I think it also applies to the mystic millennial church, who will share in the glory that is yet to come with Israel. Then I wish to apply it in God’s grace and goodness to the marvelous congregation, to us. First: to millennial Israel; "Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee [Isaiah 60:1]. Thy sun shall go no more down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself; but God shall be thy everlasting light" [Isaiah 60:20].
There was a time, you remember, when Israel had light and the Egyptians dwelt in darkness [Exodus 10:21-23]. There was a time when the light of the spiritual presence of God shone brilliantly and brightly upon Israel and the whole vast world beyond lay in darkness, gross darkness. The Lord multiplied the nation [Genesis 47:27; Exodus 1:7, 12, 20]. The Lord blessed them aboundingly and abundantly.
Then in the midst of the remembrances of God, they turned aside and fell in love with the worldly things of the nations that were around them, and they fell from the light of the presence of God into bitter darkness. They were visited by a swift and destructive sword. They fell from the glory of Solomon to the captivity of Zedekiah. They exchanged their beautiful and golden temple for ashes and rubble into which their city by judgment was turned. And the people grieved and mourned in slavery and captivity [Psalm 137].
Can you imagine, therefore, the celestial vision and its meaning to Israel when the prophet arose to announce, "You arise, shine; for thy light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee [Isaiah 60:1]. The sun shall no more go down; and the moon shall no more wane, and the Lord shall be thy everlasting light . . . and thou shalt inherit the land, and everyone in it shall be righteous . . . you will be a great people; a little one will be like a thousand, and a small one like a nation: the Lord will do it in its time" [Isaiah 60:20-22].
Well, I either believe that or I don’t believe it. I believe it; therefore, I am a premillenialist. I believe God will perform every promise that He has made to Israel. I think He will gather them back in the land [Ezekiel 36:24-28]. I think they will be judged in righteous judgment. I think a nation will be born in a day [Isaiah 66:8]. I believe exactly as the Scriptures say; "They shall look upon Him whom they pierced" [Zechariah 12:10]. There shall be a great mourning as the mourning in Hadad-rimmon" [Zechariah 12:11], when the people wept over the slaughter of good King Josiah and the army of the Lord [2 Chronicles 35:24]. And in that mourning God will open a fountain for cleansing [Zechariah 13:1], and Israel will be saved, according to the word of the Lord in Romans chapter 11 [Romans 11:26], written by the hand of God’s servant Paul. I believe every syllable of it. It will come to pass, as Isaiah said, in its time [Isaiah 60:21-22].
Now I wish to also apply the prophecy to the mystic church. Here I am somewhat spiritualizing but I do not think I do violence to the text. For God has another dispensation. Some people don’t like that word but it’s a good Bible word. It’s in the Book. A dispensation. God had another dispensation. It’s the one in which we live, in which our lives are cast. There is a dispensation of God that belongs to Israel. There is a dispensation of God that belongs to us.
For you see, when the Lord was born, Simeon the prophet said He came into the world to be a light, "to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people, Israel" [Luke 2:32]. It is exactly the feeling and the sense of my text, "Arise, shine; for thy light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee . . . and the Gentile shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy shining" [Isaiah 60:1-3].
There is a dispensation for us, no less glorious and wonderful. It is the dispensation that God kept as a mustērion. The Greek word spelled out in English, a "mystery." But we have changed its meaning in our language from theirs. For in the Holy Scriptures, the mustērion is not an enigma wrapped up in a darkness of unrecoverable knowledge, but a mustērion is always in the Holy Scriptures a secret that God kept in His heart. And in this instance, it is a mustērion; it is a secret that God kept in His heart until He revealed it to us through His holy apostles [Ephesians 3:2-5]. And what is that marvelous and wonderful secret? It is a new dispensation. It is a new body. It is the church in which Jew and Gentile, and all who would look in faith to Jesus, should be united unto God [Ephesians 3:6-11].
And in that new dispensation, the sun shined on this earth and the moon beautifully shed its light on this earth as never before, and the glory of the Lord was in Jesus, and in the marvelous preaching of the gospel to the lost of the earth. "Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. And Gentiles, the nations, shall come to the glory of thy light, and the princes of the world to the marvel of thy brightness" [Isaiah 60:1, 3].
Now, when I look at the church, I am troubled by what I see; for in the pages of these open books I read of it for almost two thousand years, and with my eyes I look at it in the world today, and I am troubled by what I see. How is the church like this – this glorious prophecy? For it is not like this. There are times when the church rises in glory and in power, in Pentecostal visitation from heaven it shines. The brightness, the presence of God is in it. I can see that. I have felt it and witnessed it at times in my own life. But there are other times when the church descends to chilly, damp that enters into the very bones. Its power is gone. Its witness and testimony are hidden, and the church is compromised in the world, and as the Scriptures say, growing to be a great tree, has in its branches every filthy and dirty and unclean bird [Revelation 18:2]. Some of the record in history of the church is as dark as any you will ever read in any other institution in the earth. And I am troubled.
Then I came to see two things. Number one, I came to see that according to the Word of God, and according to what I could see and understand, I came to see that there is an invisible church in the visible church. They are not all the Lord’s who call His name. They are not all Christ’s who belong to the body of the Lord, the visible church. They are not all saved who are in Christendom. I came to see that in the church there is another church. There is an invisible church in the church. There are those in the church who are elect, who are justified, who are born again, who really belong to the actual body of our Lord. And that church is the mystical church, the invisible church, the universal church; some of us in this visible church here, some of us in the church triumphant in heaven, but they are always an election, a planting of the Lord.
I look at my own congregation over which God hath made me an undershepherd, and I am asked sometimes, "Are all of your people saved?" I am not to judge but according to the judgment of fruitbearing, I reply honestly and frankly, "No, they are not all saved." Some of my people are as worldly as any worlding you will find in the world. Some of them are as compromised in their devotion to God as any man who has never evidenced and professed faith in the Lord. That discouraged me and filled me with un-understanding, until I came to see that there is a church in the church. There is an invisible congregation in the congregation. There is a mystic church in Christendom, and it is found in every section of God’s assembly.
There are some of those mystical members of the body of Christ in the Nazarene church, who will be here. You want to get a seat next Sunday, you’d better come early. They will be here by the thousands. I preached to the Nazarene. I am invited to share in their services. When they open their great quadrennial convention here in Dallas, they have asked me to bring the first address. I love those people. They are born again people in that Nazarene congregation.
Dr. Wade Freeman was saved at a mourner’s bench in a Nazarene church. The first secretary I ever had as a young fellow out of the seminary was a young student in the Oklahoma College for Women whose mother was a devout Nazarene.
In that Nazarene church you will find members of the mystical body of Christ. And in all of the congregations and denominations of the world, even in the Catholic communion, you will find devout, born-again, elect believers in Christ. And of course I love to think that in our own Baptist communion we have many, many, many who are truly born again and who love Jesus.
Now I repeat, I had a lot of trouble about this church, and the light of God in it, until I came to see that in the visible church there is an invisible church. In Christendom there is a mystic body, and you will find those elect, those justified, those saved and born again, you will find them in every section of Christianity.
Then I understood another thing from the Bible. It is this mystic church, this true body of Christ, that is going to be caught away in the rapture. They are the ones that are going to be caught up with our Lord in the air [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. This is the blessed hope [Titus 2:13] by which Paul encourages us to be true to the faith.
Savonarola, the great, mighty preacher of Florence; I suppose there has never been a more powerful pulpiteer in all the two thousand years of Christian history than Savonarola. In the great cathedral, the Duomo in Florence, did he stand there like a flaming fire from heaven, like a prophet of God, mediating the mind of the Lord.
As you know, he was interdicted and excommunicated. He was hanged and then burned in the public square in Florence. When I was in Florence the first thing I wanted to do was to go to the little monastic cell in St. Mark’s where he lived and studied the Word of God. Then I wanted to go to the great Duomo and stand in the pulpit where Savonarola preached. Then I wanted to go to the square where he was first hanged, and then while he was hanging they burned his body.
Savonarola was in prison awaiting that execution, and the papal legate came from Rome and read to him as he stood there behind the bars; read to Savonarola the excommunication and the pronounced execution, and then closed it with these words: "I hereby separate you from the church militant and from the church triumphant. I hereby separate you," said the papal legate, "from the church visible and from the church invisible, from the church in the earth and from the church in heaven." Or, as he said it, "I hereby separate you from the church militant and from the church triumphant."
And Savonarola replied, "Sir, from the church militant? Yes. From the church visible? Yes. From the church in this earth? Yes. But to separate me from the church triumphant, from the church invisible, from the church in heaven? Never, for it is not in your power so to do."
I believe every syllable of that. To those who are joined to the body of Christ, to God’s elected, to God’s justified, there is never, ever any separation [Romans 5:9-11]. We are joined to Him forever. "Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee [Isaiah 60:1]. "The sun, for us, will never go down, and the moon, for us, shall never wane. But the light of the Lord shall everlastingly rest upon us [Isaiah 60:20].
Now in the time that remains, I have spoken of the text in its first and basic meaning to millennial Israel. I have spoken of the text in its other and secondary meaning to the mystic church, the life of God that shall forever shine upon the millennial mystic church of the Lord. Now I want to apply it to the marvelous congregation, to us. For in the Bible, outside of a few times, a very few, the word ekklēsia, the word church always referred to a local congregation. As Paul in the Bible will say, the churches, plural, of Macedonia [2 Corinthians 8:1]; the churches, plural, of Achaia [2 Corinthians 9:2]; the churches, plural, of Judea [1 Thessalonians 2:14]; the churches of Asia [1 Corinthians 16:19], one of whom, Smyrna, we read about in our Scripture passage this morning. The local church: "Arise, shine, for thy light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee [Isaiah 60:1]. To our church, to the marvelous congregation – and I don’t think I do violence to the text when I apply it to us. "Arise, shine; for thy light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee" [Isaiah 60:1]. A light in the heart of a great city; "Shine, shine for the day of thy brightness is come" [Isaiah 60:2].
A deacon in another state, in another church, said to me, "I think you ought to know of a deacon’s meeting in our congregation." They also were in a great city and they also are downtown. And he said to me, "We had a deacon’s meeting, and the purpose of the meeting was to vote that we were going to sell our property and cease our downtown witness and ministry. We were going to move out where things were easier and softer and greener and more luxurious. For," he said, "we had our deacon’s meeting with the express purpose of voting to sell our property and to close down our ministry in the heart of the city." And he said, "You know what?" He said, "One of those deacons stood up, and he said, ‘My brethren, my brethren, I have just visited the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. They are downtown as we are, under the shadow of these tall skyscrapers as we are. And they are vibrant and alive, and the power and the presence of God is in their presence, in their midst, in their services." He said, "My brethren, I make a motion if the First Baptist Church in Dallas can do it, we can do it too. They are not quitting. We ought not to quit. God is blessing them. God will bless us. I make a motion" said that deacon, "that we stay." It was seconded and they voted to stay. That’s what that deacon said to me. And he said, "And God is blessing us." That’s great. "Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee" [Isaiah 60:1].
Now again, the light shining not only in the heart of this great city, but the light of love and friendship shining in our people.
A week ago I was on the other side of the Mississippi in one of our great southern, southeastern states. And being present at a very illustrious occasion, there were some of the finest men in the state there. And one of them was a physician, a doctor. And he said to me, he had his wife with him, both of them had been here; he said, "I’ve just never saw such a church." He said, "So big and so large to us, just unbelievable its size. But," he said, "as friendly as any country church I have ever known." Why, he said, "When my wife and I were there, we were spoken to half a dozen times before we could get out the door." Just so welcome.
So he said to me, "I said to my young doctor friend, I said, ‘Now, we are going to Dallas for a medical meeting, and we are going early because I want to take you to the First Baptist Church in Dallas. I want you to see what a congregation that is. It is big. They go to church there by the thousands. But it is as friendly as a country church, and I want you to see it.’" So he said to me, "I took my young doctor friend and his wife and we came early and we attended the First Baptist Church in Dallas". Ooh, I cringed. Dear me, now what’s he going to say? He brought his young doctor friend here and the young doctor’s wife in order that he might see the power of God upon us and the friendliness of our people.
Ah! And then he said, "Before that young doctor and his wife got out of the church house" he said, there must have been a dozen inside that spoke to him, and introduced themselves to him, and shook his hand and the hand of his wife." And the young doctor said to this physician who is telling me the story last week, he said, "The young doctor said to me, ‘Sir, I never saw any place like that in my life – the presence of God in it, and I felt it, and the love and warmth of the people who greeted me and welcomed me.’"
I stood ten feet tall. "Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee" [Isaiah 60:1]. Keep it up. Keep it up. When anybody comes to church, welcome them, shake hands with them, love them in Jesus’ name. Keep it up. "Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee." I have half a dozen things yet to say.
The light of God shining in our church house. Now, we are going to descend into one of the commonest areas that you could think for. I think God’s house ought to be clean and pretty. I think the light of the presence of God ought to be seen in it, and I don’t think God likes filth and dirt. I think God likes His pretty sunset and His beautiful rainbow and His starry, studded sky. I’m not saying that the church ought to be ornate and ridiculously embellished, but I think God’s house, in which the light of the Lord shines, I think it ought to be as pretty as we can make it, and spotlessly clean.
I have noticed, because I’ve worked with missions ever since I started my ministry, and especially with mission children; I have noticed that the dirty and ragged and filthy children, when they are won to Jesus, I have noticed the first thing that happens is they will wash, they will clean up, they will comb their hair. That’s a sign that God has done something in their heart. I love to think of that with God’s house. I love this old place. You’ve heard me say I don’t want to be around when they tear it down. I want to be up there. I love this old place. It fits like an old shoe. It’s like a garment that we have worn and are accustomed to. I love this place. I love to see it kept clean and as pretty as we can make it, and every other area of this church. And I depend upon our deacons to make it possible for us to keep God’s house shining, the light of the Lord in this place.
I have to quit. Let me say just one other thing. "Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee" [Isaiah 60:1]. Shining in our heart, God’s presence with us. Like this: when the Holy Spirit is in your heart, and the Holy Spirit is in my heart, and all of us are assembled together, that’s why there is power in the presence of the Lord, in the holy congregation. You bring Him with you in your heart. I bring Him with me in my heart. And when we are together there is presence and power.
And you see that works in a dozen different ways. You have an inward and secret and hidden life of prayer and intercession. I have an inward and secret and hidden life of intercession. And when we come together there is power in our praying together, in our interceding together. You see, you love the Lord in your heart, and it’s in your soul to magnify the Lord; and it’s in my heart, loving Jesus and to praise His name. And when we come together, multiplied by the thousands, there is a wonder and a glory when we praise the name of our Lord together.
You’ve heard me say for the years, songs that sing about us are all right. I don’t object to them. Just like that song, "It pays to serve Jesus, it pays every day . . . it pays every step of the way." I don’t mind songs like that. But I love songs that praise the Lord, that lift up the Lord, that glorify the Lord. And when you love the Lord in your heart and praise His name, I love the Lord in my heart and praise His name, when we come together in the service it is like heaven praising the Lord.
And when you love the lost in your heart and pray for them, and when I love the lost and pray for them in my heart, when we come together it could not be but you feel the seeking note in the congregation. There is a pull in it. There is a wooing in it. And when we sing our invitation hymn together, God blesses us with His sweet and precious harvest. "Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee" [Isaiah 60:1].
And now, Master, if it will please Thee, what Thy servant has tried to do, honor it again with an increase. In a moment when we stand to sing our appeal, if that somebody is you, come; a family, a couple, or just you. In the balcony round, down one of these stairways, coming down one of these aisles, as God shall be good to you, as the Spirit shall knock at the door of your heart, as He shall reveal to you Jesus in all His glory, arise, come to the brightness of His shining. Do it now, on the first note of the first stanza, while we stand and while we sing.