Signs of the Times
March 20th, 1978 @ 12:00 PM
THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-20-78 12:00 p.m.
It has been a long, long time, has it not, since our First Baptist Church began these pre-Easter services? Something like sixty-seven or so years ago. They began downtown in a theater, the old Jefferson Theater, then moved to the Palace Theater. And as the years have disintegrated and wasted those buildings away, in the last several years, we have assembled here in this First Baptist Church auditorium.
And it is a time when we rejoice in taking a few moments out of a busy, busy day and just, seated in the house of the Lord, listen to an exposition of the Word of God. Wonder how many of you are not members of this First Baptist Church? Would you hold up your hands? You are not members of this church? Thank you; there is a great proportion of you. And you are doubly welcome.
The theme for this year is “The Signs of God: The Signs of Heaven”: tomorrow as Tom Galwin said, The Sign of the Virgin Birth; the next day, Wednesday, The Sign of the Prophet Jonah; on Thursday, The Signs of the Second Coming; and on Friday, the day our Lord was crucified, The Sign of the Cross; the title today, The Signs of the Times.
This is an expression of our Lord used in the third verse of the sixteenth chapter of the First Gospel, the Gospel of Matthew:
The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and desired Him that He would show them a sign from heaven.
Jesus answered and said unto them, When the sky is red in the evening, you say, It will be fair weather.
And in the morning, if the sky is red and lowering, It will be bad weather
Ye hypocrites, you know the signs of the skies; but can you not discern the signs of the times?
In that country, in the evening when the sky would be red, the dust blowing out of the dry Arabian Peninsula meant fair weather. In the morning on the other side, from the west, if the sky was red and lowering over the Mediterranean Sea, it was a sign of storm and rain.
So they were able, the Lord said, to read the signs in the skies, but “Why can you not discern the signs of the times?” [Matthew 16:3]. This is a most remarkable request of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, asking a sign from Jesus. The whole life and the whole ministry of our Lord was one miraculous sign after another. The apostle John never uses the word “miracle.” He uses the word “sign,” sēmeion, sign.
He chose seven signs, each one followed by a long discourse of our Lord. And his whole Gospel is that: a series of the signs of the deity of our Lord. There were so many of them that he concludes his Gospel saying that if they all were written down, the world itself would not be able to contain the books that should be written [John 21:25]. So many signs did our Lord—marvelous, wondrous works of our Lord—that the apostle avows you could not write them down in a world full of books.
Yet these men come to Him and say, “We desire of Thee a sign from heaven” [Matthew 16:1]. What a remarkable thing and what an unusual persuasion. You see, people are not won to God, nor are they convinced by miracles and signs. The Lord concluded the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke saying that if these five brethren of Dives, in hell, would not believe the Bible, Moses and the prophets, neither would they believe, though one rose from the dead [Luke 16:31]. A man’s conviction of the truth of God in Christ is not mechanical; it is always moral. It is not outward; it is always inward. So these rejecting, unbelieving Pharisees and Sadducees say to Him, “We desire another field. Not on earth but in heaven. Show us a sign ek, out of heaven. We are heavenly minded.” Jesus calls them hypocrites. But they say, “We are heavenly minded. We are space-minded. We are students of the universe, and we seek facts and proofs and authentications. Show us a sign out of heaven in another field, in another way of proof.” Well, the Lord speaks to them, and He says, “It is true that you are astute observers. You read the barometer and you map the course of the clouds and of the winds, but you do not understand what you see. And you do not translate facts into knowledge. You are weather-wise but not God-wise. You mistake the weather for revelation, and you mistake the sky for heaven.”
I saw a remarkable instance of that in Russia. To me, the most astonishing thing I ever saw was walking down the streets, say, of Leningrad, and here is a gorgeous church, and now it’s a granary. Here is an incomparable architectural tribute to the Love of God in Christ; and it’s a warehouse. Here is the Kazan Cathedral, and it is an exhibition of evolution and atheism. And finally come to St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the largest in Eastern Europe, a magnificent monument to the faith of a great Christian people. And there where the high altar once stood is a picture: on one side of Gagarin and the other side of Titov, the two first Russian cosmonauts. And underneath the caption, in Russian, and in German, and in French, and in English: “We have searched the heavens and there is no God.” As though two Russian cosmonauts, fly a few hundred feet around the earth and above, could discern the reality of God, yea or nay, by what few searching’s they could authenticate in some kind of a capsule, turning around this small planet, this speck of an earth. That is a remarkable thing; a mark of the depravity of the human mind, as well as the soul and the heart.
Facts and knowledge: all kinds of equations, all kinds of observations, but never able to put them together to see their ultimate purpose and reason. Same kind of a thing as if a man knew every letter in the alphabet but he couldn’t form out of it a word. Same kind of a thing as if a man knew all the words in the dictionary but he couldn’t form out of it a sentence. So these are data-wise and they are fact-wise and they are weather-wise, but they are not God-wise. They can’t see purpose and meaning in the great, abounding observable facts of human life, and human history, and the universe in which we live.
To me, one of the most astonishing of all the things I have ever read in human story is this: that the men who lived in the days of our Lord, and who saw Him, and spoke to Him, and watched Him, and knew Him were never able to see or to understand the signs of the times. This most remarkable of all men who ever lived, God manifest in the flesh [1 Timothy 3:16], whom they saw working, whom they heard teaching, whom they touched and handled, with whom they ate, Pharisees, Sadducees, elders, scribes, leaders of the nation, yet, never seeing beyond the revelation, and the presence, and the power, and the saving grace of God. I cannot understand it.
Just as I cannot understand the Lord predicted in His day that that generation shall see the nation destroyed [Luke 13:35], and the temple destroyed [Matthew 24:1-2] , and the state destroyed, and the people carried away into captivity, but they could never see it; the signs of the times [Matthew 16:2-3]. And yet as I marvel at their blindness, I think of us and the signs of the times and the blindnesses that seize us. We could speak for hours of this. May I point out one? We are wrapped up and caught up with the illusion of progress. Ah, what the human race is capable of achieving! And how we’re up and up and up and up and always up! So much so that the great basic philosophy of all of our academic institutions is this: inevitable progress and evolution. Up and up and up and up—I can see why.
When I was a boy, transportation was the same way as it was in the days of Abraham. When I was a little fellow I had a little horse named Trixie. I had a little buggy, and I drove in that little buggy from the farm to the school. You think of transportation since then, with these jets hurtling through the sky, and we say, “Progress!” I can remember when the radio was invented. I can remember when the television was invented. “Ah,” we say, “what incomparable upwardness there is in human life. What progress?” Yes, but we can go faster, but are we going better places? We can see further, but are we seeing better things? And we can hear more astonishingly, but are we hearing nobler words? Are we? The illusion of progress.
There’s no doubt but that there is progress from immaturity to maturity in every endeavor and field of human life, but there is also progress in area bombing and in the use of radio and TV for the propagation of political lies. The Paleolithic man and the Neanderthal man stalked his prey with a club or with a stone ax. We do it today with hydrogen bombs and satellites and jets that plunge through the air. There is no scintilla of evidence that we have progressed from evil to good, that we’re any better today than we were in the generations past.
That’s an illusion. And all civilization is based upon it. Think again. In my lifetime, in my lifetime the signs of the times, in my lifetime I have seen governments established that are openly and stately and avowedly atheistic. No ancient Greek would make a decision without first consulting the Oracle of Delphi. No Roman general ever went to war without first propitiating the gods. But these call upon the name of no deity, and they bow before no altar. They are atheistic, they are materialistic, and they are communistic, and they are piece by piece breaking up the whole civilized world.
I read with sinking heart the inroads of atheistic communism in Africa; both sides of that great continent. I read with sinking spirit, the seizure of communist power in Italy. And I read with heart-sickness reality the gradual takeover of the provincial government of France by these far-out Red leftists.
I was talking to an art dealer by the Louvre, and he said, “I have a condominium in Florida.”
“Oh,” I said. “So you have visited America? You have been in Florida?”
“No,” he said. “I have never been in America. I have never been in Florida.”
“Why,” I replied, “what an astonishing thing! You’ve never been in America. You’ve never been in Florida. But you own a condominium in Florida. You’ve never been there. Why, it’s unthinkable!” I said. “Why?”
He said, “I have bought it against the day when the communist takeover Paris and our beloved nation of France. I shall then move to America,” taking it for granted.
Could such a thing be? Is this whole world seemingly helpless before the inroads of atheism, and materialism, and secularism, and communism? All the Orient under their power on the mainland, all of Indonesia under their power, all of Eurasia under their power except a part of the peninsula called Europe. And the rest of these nations—Middle East, Africa—everywhere, more and more turn into seizure, and turmoil, and rebellion, and terror, and war in the confrontation of that awesome denial of God.
My dear people, in all the two thousand years of Christian history, there has never been an implacable foe to the Christian faith like present day, modern, atheistic communists. It is their purpose to eradicate God and the church from the face of the earth. Lord, Lord, the signs of the time. Is it not a time to pray, and to seek the face of God Jehovah, and to be faithful to the Lord and to His witness in the earth? Is it not? Is it not? Our hope lies in the strong arms of heaven.
May I close? In the years and the years gone by, in the 1500s there was a band of Spanish explorers wandering in Central Texas. They had been told, because of their lack of water, they had been told that there was a river to the west. So as the days passed they were searching for that river of water. And those same days passed, and the sky was brass, and the earth was iron, and the prairies were dry, burned, wind-swept. And as those days continued to pass, the leader of the band said to his men, “Only the arms of God can save us.” And in a last effort, they struggled up—famishing and dying of thirst—they struggled up to a rise, an elevation in the ground. And when they came to the brow of the hill, there before them flowed the river. And when the leader of the band saw it flowing before them, he raised his arms to God and said, “Los Brazos de Dios,” “The Arms of God.” And they called it “The Rio of the Arms of God,” the “Brazos River.”
I think of that in our day and in our time and the signs in which we live. They are so disastrous, and I have chosen but one. They are so disastrous, and so overwhelming, and so universal and pervasive that I just bow my knees and cry, saying, “Only the arms of God can save us! Los Brazos de Dios!” And to that faith we commit ourselves and our lives and our every tomorrow, that God is sovereign, and God is able, and God can intervene, God can interdict, God can interfere, God can change human history and human destiny and human life, including us. And to that end we commit our souls, our homes, our church, our nation, and our world; that God is able to save [Hebrews 7:25].
And dear Lord in that confidence, that the Lord is with us and that victory ultimately belongs to Him, may we live and work and pray in hope, in faith, in quiet assurance, in the living name of our living Lord, amen.