March 26th, 1978 @ 8:15 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-26-78 8:15 a.m.
We welcome a throng of you who are listening on the radio of the city of Dallas and on the radio of our Bible Institute, KCBI. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church bringing the message entitled Jesus Lives. And the reading of our text, which is mostly a background, is in the twentieth chapter of the Gospel of John—John 20:
But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus—
a twin, called “the Twin”—
was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said, Except I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and except I thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe.
And the next Sunday night:
His disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Shalom, Peace . . . Then saith He to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold My hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into My side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto Him, My Lord and my God.
Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed:
And now a beatitude for all of us:
Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
There could hardly be a more astonishing phenomenon than that first Easter resurrection morning [Matthew 28:1]. It began with an earthquake, when God shook this earth and an angel descended and rolled away the tremendous stone from the sepulcher, and in contempt sat upon it [Matthew 28:2], as though a stone could keep in prison the Lord of Life. The Roman guard sent there by Pontius Pilate, the procurator, fled in stark terror [Matthew 28:4].
A group of women who had come to view the sepulcher early in the morning—some of them preparing to anoint His decaying body [Luke 23:55-56]—saw the stone rolled away, and an angel saying to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? [Luke 24:5]. He is not here. Tell His disciples that He meets them in Galilee” [Matthew 28:6-7; Mark 16:7].
One of those who was in that company of women was named Mary of Magdala. She ran and told Peter and John. And Peter and John, in turn, ran to the sepulcher; found it empty [John 20:1-10]. Then as they walked away in wonder, Mary Magdalene stayed behind, mourning, weeping, and as she did so, someone spoke to her. She thought it was the gardener, “If someone has taken His body away, tell me and I will take care of it.” And then the Lord pronounced her name and she looked; and it was He, raised from the dead [John 20:11-16]. Unusual, the first one who saw the Lord immortalized, glorified, raised; there had been many resuscitations but the first body immortalized, that of the Lord Jesus.
Then He appeared to the women who were returning back to the empty sepulcher [Matthew 28:9-10]; then that evening He walked along with two disciples on the way to Emmaus and was known to them at the breaking of bread [Luke 24:13-32]. Then He appeared to Simon Peter [Luke 24:34]; then to the ten disciples—Thomas, being absent that first Easter Sunday night [John 20:19-20, 24-25]—all of that on the first day. The following Sunday night, He appeared, Thomas being present, in the passage that we have read [John 20:26-29].
It is very unusual, very unusual, the tokens of His recognitions; how they knew Him. John knew Him by the way that He folded a napkin. When Simon Peter and John ran to the tomb, John, being the more timid of the two, just peered in; but Simon Peter ran right into the sepulcher itself. Then John followed after, and when John saw the grave clothes lying and the napkin folded up in a place by itself, the book says, “John believed” [John 20:3-8]. That is the way Jesus folded a napkin, a little idiosyncrasy, a little personality trait—the way the Lord folded up a napkin, and John recognized it.
Again, Mary recognized the way He pronounced her name. There was a certain tone, a certain way that Jesus said, “Mary,” that was peculiar to the Lord. And when He pronounced her name, she knew Him by the way He said, “Mary” [John 20:16].
The two disciples on the way to Emmaus recognized Him by the way that He said a blessing. The Lord had a certain way, a certain nomenclature, a certain vocabulary in which He blessed a meal. And in the saying of the blessing, they recognized Him. It was the Lord. It was the Lord [Luke 24:13-16, 30-31, 35].
The ten disciples recognized Him when He asked them, “Handle Me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, such as ye see Me have.” And He ate fish and an honeycomb before them; and the way He ate, they recognized Him [Luke 24:36-43]. And the eleven recognized Him by His scars. How unusual that in the glorified body of Jesus, He should have in His hands and His feet, the print of the nails and the great jagged scar in His side [John 20:26-28].
Well, they all believed except Thomas [John 20:25]. Thomas, you see, is a modern philosopher. He is a pseudoscientist; he is a skeptic, “I don’t believe anything except it is in a test-tube and I can place it in an equation. It has to be formalized for me; it has to be mathematically demonstrable. You see, I’m a scientist, and I don’t believe anything.” And this is one certain avowal of science: dead men do not rise, they stay dead. And Thomas says “I do not believe it” [John 20:25].
Well, when the keystone falls out of the arch, the whole masonry tumbles down. When the hub is taken out of the wheel, the spokes are in disarray. And when the breath fails from the body, the body perishes; it dies. That’s right. When the silver cord is loosed, and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel at the cistern, then the dust returns to the earth as it was [Ecclesiastes 12:6-7]. That’s correct. And that’s what Thomas said, “Dead men don’t live. Men in the grave don’t rise. When the breath fails, the body decays. I don’t believe!” [John 20:25].
When the other disciples pressed him that they had seen the Lord raised from among the dead, then he said his rude, and crude, and brutal, and materialistic observation, “Except I put my finger in the print of the nails, and except I thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe” [John 20:25]. And the next Sunday night, the disciples together, and Thomas with them—suddenly, suddenly without announcement, the Lord stood in the midst [John 20:26]. And as the other disciples again were filled with wonder and amazement, the Lord turned and looked at Thomas. His enraptured and astonished face turned to shame. And to his broken heart, he heard those words of obstinate ultimatum and sullen unbelief repeated from the very lips of our Lord. How unusual; the Lord had heard him say it. He was there when he avowed it! And the Lord repeats it to him, “So Thomas, reach hither your finger, and thrust it into the nail prints in My hands; and reach hither your hand, and thrust it into My side; and be not faithless, but believing” [John 20:27].
And then Thomas exclaimed: “O God! O Lord, my Lord and my God!” [John 20:28]. And then the wondrous beatitude that includes us all: “Because you have seen, Thomas, you believe: blessed are they”—makarios, happy are they—“who though not having seen, yet and still believe” [John 20:29].
So the Lord, for forty days [Acts 1:3], remained in an astonishing way with His disciples; just suddenly He would be there without announcement. Maybe in the garden, there He stood [John 20:14-16]; maybe on a lonely road, there He was [Luke 24:13-15]. Maybe in an evening meal, there He sat [Luke 24:30-31]; maybe by the lake of the Galilee, there He stood [John 21:1-25]; or on a mountaintop [Matthew 28:16-20; 1 Corinthians 15:6], walking with Him up to the brow of Olivet [Acts 1:12], just without announcement, suddenly, there He was [Acts 1:3-12].
Then after the passing of the days, their physical human eyes no longer needed to see Him. They knew Him by His presence working with them [Matthew 28:20]. And they listened to the glorious promise, “And I will be with you to the end of the age” [Matthew 28:20].
Never away, never withdrawn, never separated, but with us to the end of the age: always present; Jesus lives! [Matthew 28:20].
Stephen saw Him when, as God’s first martyr in the faith, the stones beat him to the ground; there stood the Lord Jesus to receive His first martyred witness [Acts 7:55-56, 59-60]. The arch persecutor, Saul of Tarsus, saw Him, met Him on the road to Damascus, shining above the brightness of a midday Syrian sun, suddenly there He stood [Acts 9:1-6].
The apostle John, exiled to Patmos, there to die of exposure and starvation; suddenly hearing a great and thunderous voice, turned to see who spake; and being turned he saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven golden lampstands, the Son of God [Revelation 1:9-13]. And seeing Him, he fell at His feet as one dead. And as the Lord had done many times in the days of His flesh, He put His right hand upon His beloved disciple, and said, “Fear not; I am He that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore; and I, I have the keys of Death and of Hell” [Revelation 1:17-18]. And so through the ages—and now twice the millennia since—is the Lord with His people; seen many times, felt, world without end.
I stood looking up at the tremendously effective statue, bronze statue of David Livingstone. He stands there facing Victoria Falls, one of the wonders of the world—and that vast Zambezi River flowing cascading into that vast abyss—and this tremendous statue of David Livingstone, facing the Zambezi and those vast Victorian Falls. As I stood there and looked up at David Livingstone in bronze, facing the great African river, I thought of the day when coming down the river, some of the friendly African tribes said to him, “Go no further. Down the river there are cannibals, and you will find your life their prey. Proceed no further, it means certain death.”
David Livingstone had a habit. It was this: when he didn’t know what to do, he took his Bible and he put his Bible on end like that—and then let it open wherever it would open, and look down, and the verse that his eyes fell upon was God’s answer to what he ought to do. So David Livingstone, upon that knowledge that down the Zambezi the African tribes were cannibal and he ventured there at the risk of his life, he took his Bible and opened it and looked down, and the verse that he read was “And, lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world” [Matthew 28:20]. And David Livingstone turned and said to his African friends, “It is God’s promise. Let us go. We are on the way.” That is the presence of Jesus with His people, not only known to us in obedience to His will, carrying the message of Christ to the world, and the Spirit and presence of Jesus felt, directing our ways; but He is also known and seen in the great exigencies and necessities of our lives.
I suppose there’s hardly one of us that is not aware that when Dr. George W. Truett, pastor of this beloved church for forty-seven years, when accidentally, on a hunting trip, he killed the Dallas chief of police, he shut himself away in such tragic sorrow, agony of soul; thinking never to preach again, having taken a man’s life. And one night, three times, three times in that night did the Lord Jesus appear to the great and far-famed pastor, and sent him back to this church and to this very pulpit.
Reading in the life of the great British Antarctic explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton; he was lost with his two companions in that vast illimitable land of snow and white, hopelessly lost. And as Sir Ernest Shackleton and his two companions wandered helplessly and hopelessly, he says in his book that suddenly there walked by their side a form. He says “All three of us recognized the form and figure of the Son of God, and He led us back to safety.”
We know Him and feel His presence in the obedience, in the submissiveness to the will of the Lord, when sometimes it is difficult to follow after. “Lord, Lord, not this for me. Lord, this is so hard for me. Dear Jesus, how can I do this?” But in bowing, and in submission, and in yieldedness, there He is; close by, speaking to our hearts.
And we know Him in the incomparable and beautiful visitation that He makes to the door of our hearts, knocking at the door of our souls: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any one hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will break bread with him, and he with Me” [Revelation 3:20].
We know Him by His knocking at the door of our hearts. I can hardly realize such an illustrious visitor. If a king were to come to the door and knock, ah! If the prime minister of a great nation were to come to the door and knock; if an angel from heaven were to come to visit me, as the angel visited Abraham [Genesis 22:1-15], or Manoah [Judges 13:13], or Zacharias [Luke 1:11], and spoke to me, oh! dear God, what a wondrous event! What the height and glory of the hour, if I should have an illustrious visitor like that! But One far greater than an angel, and far mightier and more illustrious than a king or a prime minister, the exalted Lord Jesus, comes, and He knocks at the door of my heart [Revelation 3:20].
But some would say “Now, pastor, He may knock at the door of your heart, and He may knock at the door of the hearts of your people, but He doesn’t knock at the door of my heart. I have never sensed His presence, and I have never felt His presence, and I have never heard His knocking; He doesn’t knock at the door of my heart.” But He does. It is a human experience shared by all of us. Jesus knocks at the door of our hearts. He lives, and He is present. You see, He knocks at the door of our hearts through His Word. When I hear the Word of God, His voice speaks and He is knocking at the door of my heart. He knocks at the door of my heart in the services of the church: in the songs that are sung, in the holy pages that are read, in the message of the servant of Christ, His minister, in the church itself, even the spire there points us up to Him. He knocks at the door of our hearts in the services of the church.
He knocks at the door of our hearts in the loneliness that we know in life, in the consciousness that we have of weakness—of mistake, of guilt of sin. That is Jesus knocking at the door of our hearts. He knocks at the doors of our hearts in every precious memory: mother, dad, and these who are waiting in heaven; that is Jesus knocking at the door of my heart.
He knocks at the door of our hearts in the providences of life: when you were married and you asked God to bless the home, when the baby was born, that’s Jesus knocking at the door of your heart. “Lord, help us to rear this child in the love and nurture of the Lord,” knocking at the door of your heart. Jesus knocks at the door of our hearts when sometimes we say a last goodbye at an open grave; Jesus knocking the door of your heart. Jesus knocks at the door of our hearts in the precious and sweet providences and mercies of life. The sun that shines, that is His blessed face. The bread we eat, that’s manna from heaven; the water we drink, that’s the river of life; and all of the tender mercies and remembrances, all are knockings at the door of our hearts.
With eyes of faith we can see Him everywhere; with hearts that are open we can hear His voice everywhere; and with souls that are sensitive we feel His presence. Whether we bow in prayer, whether we rise to the work of the day, whether we face the difficulties and the sorrows and the trials of life, Jesus is always there.
In St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, I stood one time looking at that famous picture painted by Holman Hunt entitled Jesus the Light of the World. I suppose one of the most repeated, printed, copied pictures ever drawn; it’s a picture of the Lord Jesus with a lantern in His hand. It is night and He is standing at a door that is kind of outlined in brambles, and He is knocking at the door. Oh! It is an effective picture and there are so many things about it. There is no latch on the outside, and when he was asked he said, “The latch is on the inside.” It has to be opened from the inside; Jesus standing there, knocking at the door [Revelation 3:20].
Well anyway, recently I was speaking with a Britisher who was visiting America, and somehow I happened to mention that in St. Paul’s I had looked at that famous picture, and that it had greatly moved my heart to look upon it. And he said “Did you know that after about a century they took the picture out of the frame in order to clean it and to restore it?” And he said “When they took the picture down and took it out of the frame, there on the side of the canvas and hidden by the frame, Holman Hunt had written this word in his own writing, ‘Forgive me, Lord Jesus, for keeping You waiting so long.’”
I wonder if many of us don’t feel that way. O Lord! How I need to redeem the time; I have wasted days, I have wasted years that could have been dedicated to the glorious work of my Lord in the earth. [He is] waiting, knocking at the door of our hearts; “Forgive me, Jesus, for keeping You waiting so long.”
Jesus lives. The greatest fact in human history is Jesus; the greatest phenomenon in human experience is Jesus; and the most precious of all of the assurances in life, in death, and in the world to come, is the loving, tender friendship of the Lord Jesus. That is why He came into this world. That is why He battled our enemies in death. That is why He was raised from the grave [Matthew 28:5-7]: to be our Guardian, and our Mediator, and our Intercessor, and our Advocate, and our Champion, and our Lord forever and ever. Jesus lives [Luke 24:5-6].
And that’s our invitation in His blessed and precious name this holy hour. Does He knock at the door of your heart? Maybe in a tragic experience, maybe in a happy one; maybe in the building of your home, maybe in the birth of a child, maybe in a decision that is difficult and hard, maybe in a providence of mercy and kindness, Jesus knocks at the door of your heart. And this Easter day, this Lord’s Day, this triumphant Sunday day, “I’m coming; I open my heart heavenward, Christ-ward, God-ward, and here I am. Today, I accept Him for all that He promised to be; this day, before men and angels, I confess my faith in the living Lord” [Romans 10:8-13]. “I want to be baptized as He was baptized [Matthew 3:13-17]; buried and raised from the grave” [Romans 6:3-5]. “I want to belong to the household of faith.” “I want to join this church” [Hebrews 10:24-25]. “I am coming by letter,” “I am coming by statement,” “I am coming by baptism,” “I am coming by confession of faith.”
I can’t say the word. The Holy Spirit must whisper it in your heart, and if Jesus calls, if the Lord knocks, will you open the door? [Revelation 3:2]. “Lord Jesus, come in to my heart.” Answer with your life. And may the Spirit of God bless you, and the angels of the resurrection morn attend you as you come down that stairway. There is one at the front, and the back, and on either side. As you walk down this aisle, “Here I am, pastor, I have decided for God, and I am on the way.” Bless you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.