April 1st, 1979 @ 8:15 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-1-79 8:15 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Jesus Lives. As a background for the message, these verses are out of the twentieth chapter of the Gospel of John, 24 through 29:
Thomas, one of the twelve, called the twin, Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
The other ten disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said, Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe.
A fine, noble, modern rationalist: "Not I; you dupes and you gullible ones, you believe, but not I."
Next Sunday, His disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Shalom, peace unto you.
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 us all –
Blessed are they, makarios, happy are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
The events on that first Easter Sunday were astonishing, and stupendous, and phenomenal. It began when God shook the earth; the very structure of this planet quivered under the mighty impact of the hand of Almighty God. An angel descended from heaven and rolled back that heavy stone before the sepulcher, and in contempt sat upon it, as though a stone could encase and enshrine the Lord of life [Matthew 28:2]. Then the guards, sent by the Roman procurator [Matthew 27:62-66], in terror fled away [Matthew 28:4, 11]. And the women who loved the Savior came to view the sepulcher and if possible to bring spices to cover the decaying frame. It was then that they saw an angel who announced to them, "Why are you here seeking the living among the dead? He is not here [Luke 24:5-6]. He is alive, and He goes before you into Galilee. So tell His disciples" [Matthew 28:6-7]. And they went away, and Mary Magdalene immediately rushed to John and Peter, and told them of the empty tomb, and what the angel had said [Luke 24:10-11]. And Peter and John ran to the sepulcher. And John outran Simon Peter. And when he came to the open door of the tomb, he just looked in. But when impetuous Simon Cephas came, he ran right into the open door. And then John followed him, and saw the grave clothes very carefully laid apart [John 20:2-8]. Not a robbery; very carefully folded and laid apart.
Peter and John go away wondering, astonished, amazed, overwhelmed, but Mary stays in the garden, weeping over the death of the Lord. And standing there weeping, there is a voice speaking to her. She thinks it is the gardener, and says, "If you will tell me where you have laid His body, I will take it away." Then the Lord pronounces her name, and she looks up and recognizes the Savior [John 20:11-16]. What an unusual providence: the first one to see the living Lord raised from the dead was a woman, Mary Magdalene [John 20:14-16], out of whom the Lord has cast evil, an adulterer and vile spirit, a trophy of God’s grace.
Then, that evening the Lord appears to two who are walking along a lonely road to Emmaus; and is known to them in the breaking of bread [Luke 24:13-16, 30-31, 35]. He appears to Simon Peter the same evening [Luke 24:34]. And the same evening, that first Easter Sunday, He appears to the ten disciples, Thomas being absent [John 20:19-25]. And the following Sunday night, He appears to the eleven, Thomas being present [John 20:26-28]. No less remarkable are the tokens of His recognition; how they knew it was the Lord. John recognized His rising from the dead by the way that He folded a napkin. When John went into the tomb, there were the grave clothes, all carefully as they were, and here was the napkin that they placed over His head, His face, carefully folded up, lying in a place by itself. Jesus had a certain way that He folded up a napkin, a little personality trait, a little idiosyncrasy. And John, seeing that, recognized that it was the Lord who had done it; and for Him to do it, He had to be alive. He is alive. And John believed that He had been raised from the dead by the way that He folded up that napkin [John 20:4-8]. Mary recognized Him by the way He called her name. There was a certain nuance, a certain color, a certain intonation, a certain way that the Lord said "Mary" that was unlike any other. And she recognized Him by the way that He pronounced her name, "Mary" [John 20:14-16]. The two disciples in Emmaus recognized the Lord by the way that He said the blessing. They knew Him in saying the blessing. He had a certain manner, a certain way, a certain nomenclature, a certain vocabulary, certain sentences, that when He said the blessing, when He said grace at the table, it was peculiar to Him; and the two disciples recognized Him in the way that He said the blessing at the table [Luke 24:30-31].
The ten disciples recognized Him when the Lord invited them, saying, "A spirit has not flesh and bones such as I have; handle Me, and see that it is I Myself, and not a spirit, not an apparition" [Luke 24:39]. And they recognized Him by the touch of the hand. And then all eleven recognized Him by the scars in His hands, His feet, and in His side [John 20:26-28]. What an astonishing thing, that in our resurrection we shall so be ourselves, that even the scars that we have known in this life will be seen in that resurrection body. What an astonishing thing! It will be you that is raised from the dead, not somebody else, nor something else. It will be you. You will be you, and I shall be I, and we shall be we, when God raises us from the dead.
Well, they all believed it but Thomas. "We have seen the Lord," all ten of those disciples avowed it; "We have seen the Lord!" [John 20:25]. But not these modern rationalists. On the front page of the paper this morning, that I haven’t had time to look at, just looked at the heading, on the front page on the left hand side of the paper this morning, there is headlined, those old and ancient and repeated rationalizations, "He is not alive; He was not raised from the dead!" That’s Thomas! You see, Thomas avows himself as a pseudoscientist; he is superior in intelligence, he knows more than God, he knows more than the prophecies, he knows more than the promises, he is a real student, Thomas is. "You see, I don’t believe anything that I can’t prove." When actually you can’t prove anything; all you do is just observe. You don’t explain anything either; all you do is just observe. That’s true of the whole world. You just look, that’s all you can do. You don’t explain anything, and you don’t understand anything; you just don’t. But these superior ones, Thomas, "Not I. Not I. If I cannot place it in mathematical formula, and if I cannot demonstrate it in a test-tube, and if I cannot formulize it, I will not believe, not I! Now you stupid dupes can, but not I." And he so avowed his rationalizations that he said, "I would not believe until I can put my finger in the prints of the nails and put my hand in the scar in His side. I will not believe" [John 20:25]. Fine, fine!
The next Sunday night, the Lord appears again [John 20:26]. You know, I often think, at the great resurrection day, how many of these rationalists are going to have their mouths stopped. Ah! So Thomas, with the ten, standing there in the presence of the raised, risen, and resurrected Lord, and the first thing Jesus does, He turns and looks at that unbelieving rationalist disciple Thomas. And I can easily imagine, as can you, the shamefacedness, when he bows his head. But what is the worst of all is, he hears his very words of sullen unbelief and stubborn ultimatum from the lips of the Lord Himself. I wonder how it sounded when the Lord repeated what Thomas had said? Isn’t it remarkable? He hears us, and He knows what we say. And He repeats the words, and then says, "Now Thomas, reach hither your finger, and put it in the prints of the nails; and reach hither your hand, and thrust it into My side; and be not faithless, but believing" [John 20:27]. And Thomas, in deepest contrition, "O God, O Lord, my Lord and my God" [John 20:28]. Then the benediction and the beatitude and the blessing for us all: "Blessed are they, happy are they, fortunate are they, who though they have not seen the print of the nails in My hands, and the rugged scar in My side, yet and still believe" [John 20: 29].
Well, as the days passed and multiplied into forty [Acts 1:3], the Lord was suddenly with them. They knew not when, they knew not where, knew not why; He was just suddenly there. In the garden, there He was, without announcement [John 20:14]. Along a lonely road, there He walked [Luke 24:13-15]. Breaking bread at the table, there He is [Luke 24:30]. On the shore of the Sea of Galilee, there He stands [John 21:1-25]. On the top of the mountain, in the rendezvous, with these five hundred, there He is [Matthew 28:16-20; 1 Corinthians 15:6]. Walking with them up to the brow of Olivet, there He stands [Luke 24:50]. And as the days passed, they no longer needed to see Him with their naked and physical eyes: they knew Him by His presence working with them. And so through the years that followed after, the Lord is here. And we sense His presence. And we feel the soft touch of His hand. And we hear His voice speaking to us in our hearts. He is alive. He lives. And He said, "I am with you to the end of the age" [Matthew 28:20]. He never leaves us now. He never goes away, but His presence is always with us.
Stephen, the first martyr, when the stones beat him to the ground, lifted up his face, and what did he see? He saw the Lord standing to receive his spirit into glory; Jesus, alive [Acts 7:55-56]. Saul, breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples, coming to the city of Damascus, above the light and the brilliance of a noonday Syrian sun, saw the Lord; His countenance was like the fury of light. And in the blindness of that presence, he fell at the Lord’s feet. He is alive. He is alive [Acts 9:1-5]. The sainted and beloved apostle John, pastor now of the church at Ephesus, sentenced in exile to a rocky island called Patmos, to die of exposure and starvation, hears a voice behind him; turning to see who so spake to him, saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands the Son of God [Revelation 1:9-13]. And in the presence of the risen and glorified Lord, he fell at His feet as dead. And as the Lord must have countless times in days of His flesh, He put His right hand upon John, and said, "Fear not, do not be afraid; 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]. They are in His almighty hands. I shall not die until He wills it. And when He wills it, it will be His gracious nail-pierced hands that open for me the doors of glory. He is alive. He is alive. And through these now almost two millennia has He walked with His people. They have seen Him. They have felt His presence. He is with us in obedience to the Great Commission. "I will be with you to the end of the age" [Matthew 28:19-20].
I stood one time looking at that magnificent bronze statue of David Livingstone, facing the Zambezi River, and the wonder of the world, Victoria Falls. Just standing there looking at that magnificent statue of God’s missionary, facing the vast Zambezi, and that incomparable Victoria Falls, just looking at him, and I thought of the day, in the providence of God, when he opened up West Africa and discovered the falls and the Zambezi River. You see, they said to David Livingstone, "Proceed no further; down this Zambezi there are cannibals. And if you venture into their territory, it means certain death." David Livingstone had a little habit in his life, just as all of us do, just little things that characterize us, that make us, and different from somebody else. He had a little habit like this: if he didn’t know what to do, he’d take it to God in prayer, and then place his Bible down on the table like that, and let it fall open, and then look at the verse. And the verse upon which his eye fell was God’s answer to his prayer. And that’s what David Livingstone did when they said, "Down that Zambezi a wild and ferocious and cannibalistic tribe, you would venture into their waters at the peril of your life. You cannot proceed further." But God had called him, so he took his Bible, laid it before the Lord, and let it open where it would, and looked down, and that was the verse: "You go, and I will be with you to the end of the way." And David Livingstone closed his Bible and turned to those African tribal friends who accompanied and said, "It is the promise of God; He will be with us. Arise, let us go" [Matthew 28:19-20]. And he discovered Victoria Falls and the outreaches of the great Zambezi. That’s the Lord. He is alive. He is alive. He lives, Jesus.
We know Him and His presence in the exigencies and the agonies of our lives. I would suppose one of the most familiar things to the people who are aware of this dear church, when Dr. Truett was in the prime of his young manhood, in a hunting incident, in Johnson County, shifting a hammerless shotgun from one arm to the other he killed the chief of police of the city of Dallas. For days he shut himself up in agony before God. And after days and nights without sleep, he fell into a deepening slumber. And three times, three times did the Lord Jesus appear to him, sending him back to this church, and back to this very pulpit to preach the gospel of the grace of the living Lord. He is alive. Jesus lives.
In the life of Sir Ernest Shackleton, British Antarctic explorer, he says that he and his two companions were hopelessly and helplessly lost in the vast whiteness of the unending snow and ice of Antarctica. Hopelessly lost! And as they struggled on their way, he and two companions, he said, "All three of us became conscious of a fourth walking by our side. And I and my two companions recognized Him," Sir Shackleton says, "It was Jesus, the Son of God. And He guided us back to safety." Jesus is alive. He lives.
How many times have I heard in Christian testimony men and women who were struggling with great decisions, and in a yielded surrenderedness found the blessed, benedictory hands of the Lord Jesus laid upon them? He is alive. Jesus lives. Nor is there a more beautiful or more precious image, invitation, announcement, in the Holy Bible, than this one that closes the age of the church. The seven churches of Asia, the last one, the Laodicean, and the Lord says, "Behold – look, idou, look! – behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if anyone hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and break bread with him, and he with Me" [Revelation 3:20]. Standing at the door, knocking. How fortunate, how makarios, how blessed could I be that such an illustrious, exalted visitor should come to my house and knock at the door of my heart? Were it a king, how complimented I would be. Were it the prime minister of a great nation, how unusual would it be. Were it an angel from heaven, as visited Abraham [Genesis 18:2, 19:1] or Manoah [Judges 13:11-21] – oh, how astonishing would it be! But how infinitely more marvelous is it that standing at the door of my heart knocking is the Son of God Himself; the presence of the living Lord standing before me! [Revelation 3:20].
You say, "Now pastor, maybe I could understand that He knocks at the door of your heart, and maybe I could understand that He knocks at the door of these godly men and women who are in the church, but He doesn’t knock at the door of my heart." But He does. Ah! But He does. That is an experience that as human beings we share with one another. Jesus knocks at the door of our hearts. He is alive. He is here, and He speaks, and He knocks at the door of our hearts. Jesus knocks at the door of our hearts in the Word. This blessed and Holy Word is addressed to me. It speaks to your soul, too. Jesus knocks at the door of our hearts through His Word. Jesus knocks at the door of our hearts in the services of the church. He is here. He is present. I hear His voice in the songs of praise. I hear His benedictory remembrance in the dear, sweet prayers that are said. I see it even in the architecture of the house; that spire out there, pointing to heaven, points to Jesus. He is alive. He knocks at the door of our hearts, even in the services of the church.
Jesus knocks at the door of our hearts in the sweet providences of life. Memories that we never could forget. Did you have a Christian mother? Jesus knocks at the door of your heart in the memory of that sweet Christian mother. Did you have a Christian father? Jesus knocks at the door of our hearts in the memory of that fine, godly father. All of the sweet mercies and providences of life, in them all Jesus knocks at the door of our hearts. When you married, and began a home, Jesus knocked at the door of your heart in that day when you began building your home. The birth of that child, oh, didn’t you feel the voice of the Son of God? Lord, receiving this little life from Your gracious hands, help me Lord to rear the child in the love and nurture of Jesus. That is He knocking at the door; in trials, in troubles, in sorrows, in frustrations, in disappointments, in all of them, Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart. And sometimes in loneliness, and in a feeling of unworthiness, and mistake, maybe guilt and sin, that is Jesus knocking at the door of your heart.
As with many of you, I have stood in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, looking at one of the most famous pictures in the world. Painted by Holman Hunt, it is entitled Jesus, the Light of the World. You have seen it. It’s been copied more than any painting, I suppose, ever created. The Lord Jesus is standing at a door. He has a lantern in His hand because it’s night. And there bramble bushes are all around; and He stands there knocking at the door. There’s so many things in that picture. Somebody said to Holman Hunt, "There’s no latch. There’s no doorknob. There’s no latch on the door."
"No," said the painter, "the latch is on the inside. We open the door. He just knocks." And there He stands, knocking at the door, a wonderful picture of the Lord Jesus. You know what happened? Recently, a Britisher was here visiting in America, and he was talking to me. I cannot remember how the conversation came around to St. Paul’s Cathedral and to that picture, but we began talking about it. And he said to me, he said, "Did you know, that after the picture has been hanging there for a hundred years," he said, "recently they took it down, and took it out of the frame 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 edge of the canvas, hidden by the frame, Holman Hunt had written in his own hand, ‘Forgive me, Lord Jesus, for keeping You waiting so long.’" I wonder if there’s not a multitude of us like that. "Forgive me Lord for keeping You out so long."
And feeling that, sensing that, we also have the feeling, "Lord, help me to redeem the time. Help me, Master, to do twice as much for Thee. In the days and the years that are left, God help me to be doubly true, doubly faithful, doubly useful."
Knocking at the door, "Lord Jesus, come in. Come into my heart. Come into my house. Come into my home. Come into my life. Come into my business. Come into every decision that I make. Listen to every prayer that I pray. Stand by me, Lord. And someday grant that I see Thee in all of the glory of Thy beauty, in the world fashioned by Thy nail-pierced hands."
Is that the way God speaks to you? If He does, would you come and walk by our sides? Would you pilgrimage with us on our journey from earth to heaven? Would you also be a fellow pilgrim?
In a moment we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, to give your heart in faith to the Lord Jesus, to be baptized in obedience to His invitation and heavenly mandate, to come into the fellowship of His church by letter, by statement, to bring your family with you, "Pastor, my wife, my children, all of us are coming today"; I cannot make the appeal; Jesus must do it. But if He speaks to you heart, would you answer with your life? "Here I am, pastor, I’m coming." Down a stairway at the front and the back and on either side, and there’s time and to spare; come. In the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles; come. "Pastor, today I am answering with my life God’s call to me. I’m coming. Here I am." May the Spirit bless you. May angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.