Knocking at the Door
February 19th, 1978 @ 7:30 PM
KNOCKING AT THE DOOR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-19-78 7:30 p.m.
On the radio of the great Southwest, KRLD, and on the radio of our Bible Institute, KCBI, you are sharing with us the evening service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor, bringing the message entitled Knocking at the Door. For sixteen weeks the pastor is preaching the favorite sermons of his fifty years as being an undershepherd. And in God’s providence, at the time that we are seeking to enroll thousands and thousands in Bible study, Knocking at the Door; that is the subject of the message tonight. The text is found in Revelation 3:20: “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 sup with him, and he with Me”; Jesus knocking at the door.
In St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, many of you have seen one of the most famous pictures of Jesus ever placed on canvas. It is Holman Hunt’s picture entitled Jesus the Light of the World, and as you know, the figure of our Lord is standing there before a door, and He is knocking, seeking entrance. That is an everlasting and eternal picture of our living Lord knocking at the door, and it is a picture of the whole Christian revelation of God from the beginning to the end. It is a picture of our Lord Father, the great and mighty God Jehovah from the beginning, visiting His people.
In the third chapter of the Book of Genesis, there is told the story of Adam and Eve, who, even after they had fallen and had hid themselves in the trees of the garden [Genesis 3:1-8], they hear the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hear the voice of the Lord God, saying, “Adam, where art thou?” [Genesis 3:9]. He is a seeking and a searching God from the beginning, knocking at the door.
In the first chapter of the Book of Ruth, the story so sad and traumatic of Naomi, who, in the land of Moab, has lost by death her husband and her two sons [Ruth 1:3-5]—and after the sorrow of those days, she turns her face back to Bethlehem, Ephratah, in Judah, “for,” Naomi says, “I have heard that the Lord has visited His people in giving them bread” [Ruth 1:6].
In the eighth Psalm is this beautiful paean of praise to Almighty God. Do you remember it?
When I consider the heavens, the lacework of Thy hands, the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained;
What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that Thou visitest him?”
He is a visiting God, knocking at the door [Revelation 3:20]. And in all of the prophecies there is presented a picture, an outline, of the coming Messiah and Savior of the world. He is coming. In the ninth chapter of Zechariah, for example:
Rejoice, O Zion, and be glad, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee . . . He is lowly. . .
And He shall speak peace to the nations: and His dominion, His kingdom shall be from the River to the ends of the earth.
Coming, visiting, knocking at the door; His name, Isaiah said, will be called Immanuel: “God is with us” [Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23]. That is a picture also of the life and ministry of our Lord in the days of His flesh, visiting the people, knocking at the door. He is what you call a peripatetic teacher—He taught as He walked and visited among the people. Our Lord was in this village and then in that. He was in that community and then the other. From town to town and from house to house did the Lord carry the message of Christ, of salvation, knocking at the door.
He even went to one certain town where there was a certain tree, and in that certain tree there was a certain sinner, and he called that certain sinner by his name and said, “Today at a certain hour I will eat dinner in your house” [Luke 19:1-5]. That’s the Lord Jesus. And when they said, “He is gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner,” the Lord justified His ministry and what He had done with this wonderful sentence: “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” [Luke 19:7-10]; the ministry of our Lord, knocking at the door. And that’s the way that He taught His disciples, and that’s the way that He teaches us. Look at the difference between us and Him. This is what we say; we say, “Let us stand on the edge of the field, and let us lift up our voice, and let us call, ‘All of the acres out there in the field, come up here and get sown.’” That’s what we’d say, but the Lord said it like this: “A sower went forth to sow in the field” [Matthew 13:3]. This is the way we do. We stand on the shore and we say, “All you fishes out there, come up here and get caught.” That’s the way we say it. Jesus said, “Launch out into the deep, and let down the net for a draught” [Luke 5:4].
This is the way we say it: on the edge of a wilderness we build a great monument with a spire, maybe with stained-glass windows and with comfortable pews—even got cushions in them here—and we put a sign out on the outside of that big mausoleum, and we say, “All of you lost sheep, if you happen to wander by, come in and get saved.” That’s the way we do it, but the way the Lord taught us was, “The shepherd left his ninety and nine, and went out in the wilderness to search until he found the lost sheep” [Luke 15:4]. Oh, what a difference!
In the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, the lord sent him out into the streets and lanes of the city, “into the byways and the highways, to compel them to come in” [Luke 14:23]. That is the teaching of the Lord, and that is the training of the Lord. In the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, He called His twelve apostles, and He sent them out to knock at the door of the home [Matthew 10:5-15]. And in the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, “The Lord called other seventy also, and He sent them out” [Luke 10:1-16], to visit in the homes and the villages of the people. That’s the Lord.
And all of the Gospels, all four of them climax in what we call the Great Commission, and the commission simply is one little word: “Go, go into all the world. Go and make disciples of all the people. Go” [Matthew 28:19-20]. And going, they taught and they preached the Lord Jesus [Acts 8:4]. Now I want us to see how the disciples faithfully followed through in that teaching and beautiful example of the Lord, visiting and knocking at the door. The fifth chapter of the Book of Acts closes like this: “And daily in the temple, and from house to house, they ceased not to teach and to preach the Lord Jesus” [Acts 5:42], knocking at the door. And the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts begins like this: “And they who were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word” [Acts 8:4].
And you have a magnificent illustration of the incarnation and implementation of that method of the Lord in the ministry of the apostle Paul. I would suppose that one of the greatest outpourings of the Spirit of the Lord and the effectiveness of the preaching of the gospel was in Paul’s missionary visit to the queenly city of Ephesus. He turned the whole province to the Lord Jesus. It was in that ministry that the seven churches of Asia were founded [Revelation 2:1-3:22]. It was a vast and startling conversion!
“So,” we ask, “how did Paul do that? How did Paul do that?” Well, I know what you’re going to say, because it’s what everyone says. “Paul did that because he was a powerful and mighty preacher of the gospel.” Now that’s what you’d say. You know, time without number and all my life have I heard men stand up in great conventions and vast convocations, and they will say of a preacher, “He is the greatest preacher since the apostle Paul.” Well, I know what they mean by that, and you do too. When he says, “This man is the greatest preacher since the apostle Paul,” why, this is what they mean: they mean that he has a majestic presence, and he stands with a sweeping personality, and he rises from one peroration to another in stentorian tones and in oratorical flights! That’s exactly what they mean when they say that. You know, it would do us good if we’d read the Bible once in a while—just once in a while to read the Bible. Just exactly what kind of a preacher was Paul? And just exactly what did he look like?
Well, in the second Corinthian letter, the tenth chapter and the tenth verse, Paul says what people said about him when they looked at him and when they heard him preach. Do you remember what he said? Paul said, “They say,” and here’s what they say, “his bodily presence is weak, and his speech is contemptible!” [2 Corinthians 10:10]. That’s what they said about him. When they went to hear Paul preach, that’s what they said. They’d go out that door and say, “Did you ever see such a shrimp in your life as that guy?” They went out that door and said, “Did you ever hear a fellow stutter and stammer when he’s trying to talk as that guy did?” That’s what they said about him.
Well, how then did he do such a vast and tremendous work as he did in this great Greek city of Ephesus? Here again, it will help us to read the Bible.
In the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, he called those Ephesian elders down to Miletus on the seaside [Acts 20:17], and he described to them his three-year ministry in the city of Ephesus. May I read it to you? He says to them:
Watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.
From house to house, testifying both to the Jews and to the Greeks—
that is to everybody in the row, everybody that lived on the street—
Testifying repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
[Acts 20:31, 20-21]
I submit to you, any preacher in the world and any church family in the world can do that. And the same blessing that fell upon Paul in Ephesus will fall upon the church and the preacher who will do that simple thing: “From house to house, testifying repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” [Acts 20:20-21].
Look, when I was in school I had a little quarter-time church; I preached there once a month. And while I was preaching at my little church, there came a committee of men from another community, and they said to me, “Our church is closed. The door is nailed fast and shut. But we have many, many young people in our community. Would you come over on a Sunday afternoon and preach for us?”
I said, “Yes.”
So we went over to that little country church in a community, sort of an enclave; we undid the nails and opened the door. We swept it out, we put in panes of glass that had been broken out, we cut down the weeds that had grown up to the eaves of the house, and do you know what I did? At the first road that started from that little church, I walked down that road and I knocked at every door of every house fronting that road, and when they came to the door, I said, “I am the pastor of the little church down the road. Are you Christian people?”
If they said, “Yes. We are Christians here,” I said, “May I come in and read to you out of God’s blessed Word, and may I kneel with you in prayer?” And I’d go in, if they said they were Christians, and I’d read to them out of the Bible, and I’d kneel with them in prayer.
Then if I came to a house and knocked at the door and told them who I was and I asked them, “Are you Christians here?” if they said, “No,” I asked, “Then may I come in and tell you about the blessed Savior and pray with you that you might know God?” And I’d go in the house, and I’d talk to them out of the Book about Jesus, and I’d pray for their souls, that they might be saved.
What happened? You already know. You couldn’t get in that house; they filled the house, they filled the churchyard, they looked in at the windows and the doors, and when I concluded the revival meeting that summer, we had the largest baptismal service that county had ever seen; thousands of people there on the river bank watching as I baptized those scores of converts.
Anybody can do that. That’s God. That’s God’s way. That’s the way God blesses; not our brilliant expositions, and not our stentorian voices and our magnificent gestures, but God blesses that seeking heart and that interceding spirit knocking at the door. I must hasten.
May I point out that this visiting, this knocking at the door, this bringing the message of Christ face to face, heart to heart, home to home, house to house, is at the very soul and center of the Christian faith? I’m going to read now from the pastor of the church at Jerusalem. All through the years of this New Testament and until he died a martyr to the faith, James the brother of the Lord was the undershepherd, the pastor, of the church at Jerusalem. And as a pastor, this is what he writes: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit . . . ” James 1:27: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this,” to knock at the door, “To visit . . . ”
Now I know how we are, and we’re all alike. You and I go to a great convention, a tremendous convocation, and we stand there with those thousands and thousands of people mounted up tier upon tier upon tier, and when we look, we say, “This is the faith. This is it.” Strange, the Lord never mentioned it. He never referred to it.
I know how you and I are. We go to a marvelous mausoleum, a glorious edifice, a vast ecclesiastical structure, and there we look at a beautiful and pompous service, and when it is done, we go out the door and we say, “This is the faith. This is it.” Strange, the Lord never mentioned it. He never referred to it.
I know how you and I are. We go to a service, and there is an eloquent preacher, and he stands up and he delivers a message, and he rises from one oratorical peroration to the other, and when the sermon is done we say, “Man, that’s the faith. That’s it.” Jesus never referred to it. He never mentioned it.
You know what He did talk about? You know what He did mention? He did have something to say about a cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple [Matthew 10:42]. He did have something to say about seeking the one lost sheep until he found it [Luke 15:3-7]; searching for the one lost coin until it is recovered <<; praying for the one prodigal boy until he comes home [Luke 15:11-32]. That’s the Lord, knocking at the door; “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit . . .” [James 1:27]; to knock at the door.
There was a Sunday school teacher, and little Mary, one of her pupils, was absent. So she wrote a card, saying, “Dear sweet little Mary: we missed you at Sunday school. Be sure to be present next Sunday.” And two weeks passed and little Mary wasn’t present, so the Sunday school teacher wrote another card: “To sweet little Mary: we missed you last Sunday. Be sure to come to Sunday school next Sunday,” and went to the post office and mailed it. And another two weeks passed and little Mary wasn’t present, so she wrote again, saying, “Dear sweet little Mary: we have missed you at Sunday school. We want you to be sure to be present next Sunday,” and went to the post office and mailed it. And another two weeks passed. She wrote another card. And coming from the post office, she happened to meet the mother of that little girl Mary, and the Sunday school teacher, so proud of herself, said, “Oh, I’m so happy to see you. I have just been to the post office, and for the fourth time I have mailed a card to your little girl, telling her how much we missed her in Sunday school.” And the mother sadly replied, “You don’t need to write any more cards. After a long illness, yesterday we buried our little girl Mary.”
It may be good religion to write a card. It may be good religion to mail a letter. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: [knock, knock, knock], “I’ve come to see you in the name of Jesus. We’ve missed little Mary,” or “We’ve missed you,” or “Are you Christians? Do you know the Lord? Have you been saved?” As long as that picture of Jesus stands in the Bible, knocking at the door [Revelation 3:20], just so long will it be that real religion, pure and undefiled [John 1:27], will be found by our sharing the faith from house to house, from heart to heart, from soul to soul, people to people [Acts 20:31, 20-21]. That’s it. That’s the faith.
Then when we gather here in this sanctuary, and we have these services, and we listen to the expounding of the Word of God, and we stand and sing our hymns of appeal, then we are rejoicing. Down the aisle do these come whom we have invited to the Lord. We know them by name. We’ve seen them. We’ve talked to them. We’ve visited with them. We’ve told them about the Lord Jesus. And when they come, they’re not strangers; they’re friends for whom Jesus died [1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21] and for whom we have prayed [Ephesians 6:18; 1 Timothy 2:1]. Oh, grant it, Lord, that our church services are just sounding boards, where people come together to rejoice in the salvation of our mighty and marvelous Lord.
And that’s our invitation to you this precious and blessed evening: “Pastor, I have found the Lord. My mother prayed for me, and her prayers are answered. I’m coming.” “A friend and neighbor, a boss, a fellow employee told me about Jesus, and I’m coming.” “We’ve been invited by the Sunday school to place our life in this dear church and we’re coming.” “The Holy Spirit has spoken to our hearts, and we’re answering tonight with our lives.” Come. Come. Come. On the first note of the first stanza, come, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles: “Here I am, pastor, I’m on the way. God has spoken to me and I’m answering tonight.”
When you stand up in a moment, stand up coming down that stairway, walking down that aisle: “Pastor, I give you my hand. I’ve given my heart to God.” “I want to follow Him in baptism just as the Lord hath written in His Book” [Matthew 28:19; Romans 6:3-5]. “I want to put my life in the fellowship of God’s sainted redeemed.” “I want to be a fellow member in the household of faith,” or “I want to take Jesus as my Savior, and here I am” [Romans 10:9-10]. As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now. Come now. Do it now. Praise God as you come, while we stand and while we sing.