The Most Tragic Word: Lost
August 29th, 1976 @ 7:30 PM
THE MOST TRAGIC WORD IN THE BIBLE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-29-76 7:30 p.m.
For all of you thousands and thousands who are listening to this service on radio, and for the great throng in God’s sanctuary tonight, may the prayers of all of us be heard, as the message is brought. It is entitled The Most Tragic Word in the Bible. It would be also the most tragic word in human life, in eternity.
It is the word "lost," l-o-s-t; the most tragic word in human speech. Turn with me to the Third Gospel, Matthew, Mark, Luke; to Luke, chapter 15. And we shall read together the first six verses. Luke chapter 15, the first six verses. And on radio, if you have your Bible, and would read it out loud with us, it’d be a benediction to your heart. Turn to Luke chapter fifteen, the first six verses. Now reading it out loud together:
Then drew near unto Him all the publicans and sinners for to hear Him.
And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This Man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.
And He spake this parable unto them, saying,
What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
Then follows the story of the lost silver [Luke 15:8-10]; then follows the story of the lost boy [Luke 15:11-32]; then follows the story in the next chapter of the lost soul, Divies [Luke 16:19-31], in torment, crying for a drop of water to cool his tongue [Luke 16:24]. And then follows the story of the salvation of Zaccheus [Luke 19:1-9], and the defense and apology of our Lord, "For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" [Luke 19:10].
Through all of these chapters in the Gospel of Luke, there is the recurring theme and word, "lost." Someone has said, "Apply that word to anything and it spells tragedy." Apply it to a man’s health and strength. Here is a man strong, well, able to provide for himself and his family and he’s cut down, and becomes a burden to himself and to those dear to him. He has lost his health. Apply that word to a man’s eyesight. He has lost his eyesight and he gropes in this world in midnight and impenetrable darkness. Apply that word to a man’s mind. He has lost his mind.
I one time heard a guard in an insane asylum describe one of the most pathetic scenes that I could imagine. In a cell, in a padded cell was her husband. He undid the door with a lock at a visiting hour and then when she entered in, closed the door behind her. When the time was done for the visitation, he unlocked the door and when he opened it, he saw that young wife kneeling before her husband, crying piteously, "Oh sweetheart, don’t you know who I am? I’m your wife. Don’t you know me?" But the guard said, "There was no light of recognition in the eyes or face of the young man. He had lost his mind." But how infinitely more tragic when you apply that word to the soul, a lost soul.
A father and mother, distinguished, affluent, who lived in a beautiful and palatial home, asked me to bury their son. And they said to me, "Do not call his name. Do not read a Scripture. Do not sing a song. Say no word. Just lead a prayer and we will bury the boy away." He was incorrigible. He was lost and died in violence and in sin.
A cynic one time said, "But sir, if the doctrine of damnation and perdition were written on all the leaves of all the Bibles of all the world, I would not believe it." It is well for a philosopher to say that but there is a great undertone that sounds throughout all of the Bible, and throughout all history, and throughout all human life, and it is this: it is a frightful thing, as the Scriptures say, "It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God" [Hebrews 10:31]. For God judges in history, and God judges in human life, and God judges us. There is no escape, for all of us shall one day stand before the judgment seat of Almighty God [Romans 2:16]. Nor can we help ourselves for we are impelled and moved toward that great and final assize.
These scientists say to us that the whole universe is moving through space at a rapid rate. Moving where? To some great final rendezvous; judgment day with Almighty God. History moves. There is no staying the great forward thrust of events. And in that history we are inextricably caught up. Nor can we decide for ourselves that we will separate ourselves from it. As it moves, we move with it. And time carries us inexorably along. I may say in my heart, "But I will stop it. The hand on that clock will move no more. I command it to be still"; but however a man may speak, there is no ableness or power in us to stop the moving hand one second. It carries on and it carries us with it. Carries us where? To some great final day of the judgment of Almighty God.
However our paths may diverge in this life, they all converge at one great ultimate final point; the judgment day of Almighty God. We all are moving toward it. The baby in the cradle, reaching up its tiny, chubby hands, is reaching up to the great final day of Almighty God. That youth, striding by with elastic tread, is moving to the great judgment day of Almighty God. That old man, tottering with his cane, is walking toward the judgment day of Almighty God. That rich man, with his splendid equipage, is facing the great day of Almighty God. That poor man in rags, barefoot, is pilgrimmaging toward the great judgment day of Almighty God.
The Christian, with songs on his lips and praises in his heart, is moving to the great day of Almighty God. And the lost man, the lost man, whether he chooses it or not, the lost man shall someday stand in the presence of the great Judge of all the earth, and give an account for why he chose some other way, some other day, some other time, than the day of salvation and deliverance [2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2, Revelation 20:12].
Of that tragic truth, Jesus had more to say and more solemnly said it than of any other subject in his life. He would discuss it. He would illustrate it in many ways. Sometimes the Lord would speak of that great judgment day in a parable such as the wheat and the tares. The wheat is gathered into the garner; and the tares burned with unquenchable fire [Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43]. Sometimes He would speak of it in terms of the separation of the sheep from the goats [Matthew 25:31-46], these called of the Father into everlasting life [Matthew 25:32, 41-46], and these sent away into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels [Matthew 25:32-41].
Sometimes He would illustrate it like the fish caught in a net; the good kept and the bad cast away [Matthew 13:47-50]. Sometimes He would speak of it in terms of the wise and the foolish virgins: these that were wise and prepared entered into the kingdom; and these who were foolish, before them the door was shut [Matthew 25:1-13]. Sometimes He would speak of it as though two were working in a field; one is taken, and the other left [Luke 17:36]. Sometimes, two sleeping in a bed; one taken, and the other left [Luke 17:34]. Sometimes, two grinding at a mill; one is taken, and the other left [Luke 17:35].
And in the sixteenth chapter of this Gospel of Luke, describing the great separation between them as a gulf that is fixed [Luke 16:19-26]. One could say that is just theology. That is just homiletics. That is just the sermon, "the great gulf fixed." I have been a pastor for eight and forty years, and I do not know of a truth more sad and more tragic than the truth that between the lost and the saved there is a great gulf fixed.
One time across town, on the other side of the tracks, I went to a service held by a young friend, the pastor of the church over there. It was at ten o’clock in the morning. And I thought I might encourage him in the faith. He did something that morning I had never seen done in a service at the church.
He started at the back, and asked each one present if he had a burden on his heart. And when that one replied, "Yes, I have a burden on my heart," he would ask the one to share it. Then he would have us bow our heads and ask the one to pray for the burden on his heart.
In the pew in front of me sat a young mother, with a little boy. He was just old enough to begin to talk. And when he came to her, he said to her, he said, "Young mother, do you have a burden on your heart?" And she said, "Yes." And he said, "What is the burden on your heart?" And she replied, "Oh, that my husband were saved, that my husband were a Christian!" So the minister said, "We’ll bow our heads, and young mother, you pray for the burden on your heart that your husband be a Christian, that he be saved."
So we all bowed our heads. I bowed mine and waited for the little mother to pray for the burden on her heart. She didn’t pray. She began to cry. And we waited with our heads bowed for her to dry her tears and to pray. But instead of ceasing to cry, she began to weep the more sadly, profusely.
I finally stood up and I said, "My brother, could I pray in her stead?" He said, "Why yes, Brother Criswell." So I prayed in her stead for her husband, that wherever he was God would convict him and save him. When I finished the prayer I sat down, but by that time, that little baby boy, who had been moving on the pew by her side, had worked himself in her lap, and had put his little arms around her neck.
And looking innocently into the face of his mother, astonished at the tears that were falling from her eyes, the little lad asked, "Mama, what you crying for?" And mother didn’t answer. And the little boy pressed his question, "Mama, what you crying for? What you crying for?" The mother never replied. She never answered.
But seated right back of her, I could look directly into the wide open astonished and innocent eyes of that little lad. And I thought in my heart, "Sonny boy, you don’t understand why mama cries, but someday you will." The gulf fixed [Luke 16:26]: mama in church, loving Jesus, praising God, and father in the world; mama before an open Bible and on her knees, and the father indifferent; mama someday carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom, and the father left behind; the great gulf fixed [Luke 16:22-26].
Oh, what an appeal would God press upon our hearts this holy hour! Are you saved? Do you know God? Have you accepted the Lord into your heart? Are you ready any day, any time, to meet God? With no mortgage on any tomorrow, I may be called into His presence now, the next day, inevitably some day soon.
When I came to my study tonight, one of the young deacons came and stood at the door, and said, "Did you know that one of your old friends has just died?" Suddenly, without warning, of a heart attack, "No, I had no idea," and was astonished by the word. To any one of us there may come God’s call to stand in His presence and if I am called, and I’m not ready, what then? What then?
When the choir has sung its last anthem,
And the preacher has prayed his last prayer;
When the people have heard their last sermon,
And the sound is died out on the air;
When the Bible lies closed on the altar,
And the pews are all emptied of men,
And each one stands facing his record,
And the great book is opened – WHAT THEN?
When the actor has played his last drama.
and the mimic has made his last fun,
When the film has flashed its last picture,
and the billboard displayed its last run,
When the crowds seeking pleasure have vanished,
And gone out in the darkness again,
And the trumpet of ages is sounded,
And we stand before Him – WHAT THEN?
When the bugle’s-call sinks into silence,
And the long marching columns stand still;
When the captain repeats his last orders,
And they’ve captured the last fort and hill;
When the flag is hauled down from the mast-head,
And the wounded of field checked in,
And a world that rejected its Savior
Is asked for a reason – WHAT THEN?
[from "What Then?" J. Whitfield Green]
"The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved" [Jeremiah 8:20]. The most tragic word in human speech and the most tragic word in the Bible is the word "lost." And our blessed Savior says, "For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which is lost" [Luke 19:10]. He came from heaven for you [Hebrews 10:5-14]. He died for us [1 Corinthians 15:3]. He was raised for our justification [Romans 4:25]. He is coming again to claim His own [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. And O God, count me in that number.
May the Lord press to your heart the appeal to turn, to turn and look in saving faith to the blessed Jesus. Why not? I have everything to gain in this life and in the life to come by looking in faith to Him. A Friend in deepest need, a Guide in the labyrinth of the way, strength for every trial, encouragement through every trial, and someday heaven at last; make the decision now in your heart.
For the thousands and thousands who have listened over the radio, do you know God? Do you know Jesus as your Savior? This moment, this moment, would you turn your face toward Jesus? Open your heart heavenward and God-ward. And in the throng in this great auditorium, in the balcony round, you; in this lower floor, you; walking down a stairway; coming down an aisle, "Pastor, tonight I have decided for Christ, and here I am. I’m on the way." Do it now. Make it now. Bring the whole family with you, or a couple you, or just you; make the decision now. If you take that first step, God will give you strength for the rest of the way from now until He comes for His own [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. Come, come, come, while we stand and while we sing.
TRAGIC WORD IN THE BIBLE
I. L-O-S-T – apply the word to anything
and it spells tragedy
A. Health, sight, mind,
B. The cynic
C. We will all stand
before the judgment seat of God (Hebrews 10:31)
1. Everything is
moving toward the final consummation
diversified our path, all converge at a common point
II. Jesus had more to say about it than
any other subject
A. Wheat and tares (Matthew 13:29-30)
B. Sheep and goats (Matthew 25:34-46)
C. Fish caught in a net
E. Two in a field (Matthew 24:40-41, Luke 17:34)
F. A great gulf fixed (Luke 16:26)
1. "Momma, what you