Standing By the Lord
February 4th, 1979 @ 7:30 PM
STANDING BY THE LORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-4-79 7:30 p.m.
The title of the sermon tonight is Standing by the Lord, and it is from a text in the twenty-third chapter of the Book of Acts. In our preaching through this marvelous story of the founding and first growth of the Christian church, we have come to chapter 23. The message this morning was an exposition of the whole chapter [Acts 23:1-35], and tonight it is a message on a text, verse 11 [Acts 23:11]. In your Bible, turn to Acts 23, and we are going to read out loud together verses 10 and 11; Acts 23, verses 10 and 11. And on the radio, if you have your Bible, open it and read it out loud with us. The twenty-third chapter of Acts, verses 10 and 11, now all of us reading it out loud together:
And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, and to bring him into the castle.
And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of Me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome
There is another occasion almost identical like this that I turn to in the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Acts. In this twenty-seventh chapter, Paul, as a prisoner, is being taken to the city of Rome to be tried for his life before the Roman Caesar. And as the ship finds its way across the Mediterranean Sea, it is caught in a terrible storm. And after fourteen days of that illimitable hurricane, when they saw neither the sun nor the stars by day or by night [Acts 27:14-21], then we come to the twenty-second and twenty-third and twenty-fourth verses in this twenty-seventh chapter. Paul says:
Now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among us, only of the ship.
For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve,
Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.
These two instances are almost alike in the life of the apostle. In the twenty-third chapter of Acts, the Lord stood by him and said, “Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of Me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome” [Acts 23:11]. And then in the twenty-seventh chapter of Acts, “For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar” [Acts 27:23-24]. ”For there stood by him the Lord saying” [Acts 23:11], and then again, “And there stood by me the angel of the Lord” [Acts 27:23]. How many times do you find in the Word of God that intervention from heaven in an hour of great crisis and deepening trial?
I suppose there could have been no hurt that could ever come to a father who loved a son as the hurt came to Abraham, when, on Mt. Moriah, he raised the dagger to plunge it into the life of his son Isaac. And as he raised that awesome dagger, there was a voice from heaven intervening, interdicting. And an angel pointed out to Abraham, caught in a thicket, a ram of sacrifice to take the place of his son Isaac [Genesis 22:10-13]: God intervening in a great crisis in human life.
Following that story in the life of Abraham in Genesis [Genesis 22:1-13], when Hagar is thrust out into the desert with Ishmael her son [Genesis 21:9-14], she hides him away that she might not look upon his dying face [Genesis 21:15-16]. And an angel appears to her and points out a fountain of water that brings life to her and her son [Genesis 21:17-19]; the intervention of God in a great crisis in life.
You have the same kind of a caring manifestation of the love of God in the story of the prophet Elijah. When the waters dry up and there is none on the face of the earth—three and one-half years the sky is brass and the earth is iron [1 Kings 17:1; James 5:17]—God sends to Elijah ravens to feed him and to care for him [1 Kings 17:3-6]: the intervention of God in the crisis of human life.
You find it again in the story of the three Hebrew children cast into the fiery furnace heated seven times above what it is wont to be heated, and these three young men, bound and thrown into the furious flames—the king, who in rage had condemned them to such a fiery death, sees them loose, walking in the midst of the fiery furnace, and a fourth walking by their side. And the form and visage of the fourth looked like the Son of God [Daniel 3:19-25]; God intervening in the crisis in human life.
You have a like story in the passion and suffering of our Lord. In Gethsemane, when in an agony of prayer His sweat became as it were like drops of blood falling to the ground, an angel came from heaven and strengthened Him [Luke 22:41-44]; the loving, caring heart of God with us, standing by us, strengthening us in the crisis in our life.
And now, you have the same story twice told in the life of the apostle Paul. Here almost torn apart by the dissension and the bitter prejudice of the Sanhedrin of the Jews, he says, “There stood by me this night the Lord who said, Be of good cheer, be of God courage” [Acts 23:11]. And then again in the twenty-seventh chapter: in the awesome days of the darkening storm, “There stood by me this night the angel of God, saying, Be of good cheer, Paul” [Acts 27:22-23]; God is caring and loving and directing from heaven. Our lives are in His hand, and He will see us through.
So the whole story of the Holy Scriptures is turned to that comforting end for us. As the thirty-seventh Psalm avows, “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread” [Psalm 37:25]; God caring for His own. And as the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews so beautifully avows to us, “The Lord hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” [Hebrews 13:5].
First: in youth we are so often prone to think that the faith of Christ is for a man in his maturity; it is for a woman in the prime of her life. But children and teenagers and young people are just addenda, they are just so much freight added, they are just so many digits in the numerical population of the land and in the numbering, the census of the household—not so, not so! A youth, a child, has cares, and trials, and sorrows, and difficulties, and frustrations just as much as an adult, and the tears of a child and the heart cry and heartbreak of a teenager is just as real, as poignant, as heartbroken as are the tears and the sorrows and the disappointments of an adult. And when God says, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” [Hebrews 13:5], that is addressed to a youth, to a teenager, just as much as it is to any adult.
You have that beautifully and powerfully illustrated in the life of the stripling David. He was unshaven, he was ruddy of complexion, he was a youth keeping his father’s flocks [1 Samuel 16:11-12]. And the young boy was astonished when Goliath came out of the army of the uncircumcised Philistine and blasphemed the name of God [1 Samuel 17:4-10, 23]. And no man in Israel dared to accept the challenge of that towering giant. And when the boy, when the lad said, “I will face him!” [1 Samuel 17:32], they brought him to the king, and [Saul] said, “You, a stripling, an unshaven youth, you?” And David the boy replied, “Keeping my father’s flock, there came a lion; keeping my father’s flock, there came a bear, and I rescued my flock out of the bear and out of the mouth of the lion. And the same Lord God that stood by me as I faced the lion and the bear is the same Lord God that shall stand by me as I face this giant Goliath” [1 Samuel 17:32-37].
And when the stripling of a boy ran up from the little dry wadi of Elah up to face Goliath, Goliath looked at him and said, “I am insulted! Here I am a man of war, and you come out to face me?” [1 Samuel 17:42-44]. And the lad replied, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a shield, but I come to you in the name of the Lord God whom thou hast defied!” [1 Samuel 17:45-47]. And the rest of story is history. That lad, who had been practicing all of the years of his life on the back side of the Judean wilderness, placed one of those five smooth stones in that sling, and as he whirled it around and around and around, he let it fly. And that stone sank into the forehead of the giant Goliath, and he lay prostrate, defeated, and dead on the ground before the armies of Philistia and Israel [1 Samuel 17:48-49]. God is with a teenager in the same strength and glory and power as He is at any other day in later life: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” [Hebrews 13:5]; standing by the Lord.
That same heavenly and beautiful promise is given to us in our womanhood and our manhood, in our adulthood. We who face the fury of the day and the trials and the tribulations and the troubles of life, God is with us. He never forsakes us, He never leaves us. There are so many times when we think, “God doesn’t hear my prayers. The Lord doesn’t know I exist. These providences that overwhelm me, are they the manifestations of a loving God? How could God hide His face and allow such floods and such tides and such waters of trouble overflow me? How could God, who says that He cares for me, how could He hide His face in such abysmal sorrows as I now know?”
But He is watching, caring, overruling, guiding, remembering, loving; that’s the Lord who never forsakes His children [Hebrews 13:5].
You know, sometimes some of the little things that happen to you in life, that you look in life, stay indelibly impressed upon your heart, and you never ever forget them. Here is one: right across the street from us, just right there, lived the marshal of our little town. He and his wife and two little children belonged to our little Baptist church, and, of course, since our family, my family was at church all of the time—I saw them every time the door was open, and being neighbors, right across the street, [we] came to cherish them and to love them.
Well, in a dark night, a robber that the town marshal accosted shot him, and the next morning, when our little town awakened out of its sleep, we found our town marshal lying in his own blood, murdered by that robber. Well, of course, to us in that little village, it was an indescribable sorrow; and the family living right there, and knowing them so well, I just thought, “Oh dear, oh dear!”
In those days we had testimony at prayer meeting on Wednesday night. And when Wednesday night came—after the memorial service for our town marshal, who had thus been slain—when Wednesday night came, I can remember that little wife and mother standing up as though it had happened five minutes ago. She was very large with child; she was going to be a mother again, and soon. And she stood up in that prayer meeting and said, “This has been a great trial for me, left alone as I am with these two little children and with this one that’s soon will be born.” Then she added, “But God has been with me, and the Lord has strengthened me, and I bless and praise His name for the loving care by which He has remembered me.” Can you imagine the effect a testimony like that would have upon a small, small boy? And I still am encouraged by it.
There is no trial overtaken us, ever, but that God gives us strength to bear it. And out of the sorrow, the tears, the disappointment—out of it will come some great and holy and heavenly blessing that the Lord has fitted just for us. Most of the times, I cannot explain it or understand it, but I don’t have to. He knows and that is enough. Our lives are in His gracious and able and loving hands, and He purposes some good thing for us.
So I go on not knowing;
I would not know if I might . . .
I had rather walk with Christ by faith
Than to walk alone by sight.
I had rather walk with Him in the dark
Than to walk by myself in the light.
[from “Not Knowing,” Mary Gardiner Brainard]
The caring, loving, remembering God who stands by us in all of the trials of manhood and womanhood: “For there stood by me the Lord, saying, Be of good courage, be of good cheer” [Acts 23:11]. And He will stand by us in the twilight and in the evening and in the dark of the night. ”I have been young, and now I am old; yet have I never seen the righteous forsaken” [Psalm 37:25]. He who walks with us in the morning of life and He who stands by us in the noontide of life is the same Lord God who will walk with us into the night, into the dark, and into the eternity that is beyond, “God having provided some better thing for us” [Hebrews 11:40].
You know, I knelt one time, as I have done ten thousands times—I knelt one time by the side of an aged man who lay in a last illness, and, you know, as usually a pastor would pray, I prayed for the Lord to lay hands of healing upon him and to raise him up and to make him well. It was an unusual thing, for it does not happen very often—In the middle of my prayer, he reached forth his old hand and he put it on my head, and he kind of shook my head, and he said, he said, “Young pastor, don’t pray that. Don’t pray that.” He said, he said, “Son, I don’t want to live.” He said, “My wife is gone, all of my children are gone, all of my friends are gone, and I am here by myself, old and sick.” And he said, “My Savior is on the other side, and I want to go and be with Him and with them.” He said to me, being so young, just beginning my ministry, he said, “Son, pray that God will release me and let me go.” So I started my prayer over again. And this time I said, “Lord Jesus, imprisoned in this body of death and longing to be set free and to be with Thee, Lord, let him go, open the door; receive him to Thyself.” And the Lord answered the prayer. In just a little while he slipped away to be with Jesus. That’s another thing I have never forgotten.
Could I take one of your black preachers? This is the man, Tindley, who wrote the song,
Nothing between my soul and my Savior,
So that His blessed face may be seen;
Nothing preventing the least of His favor,
Keep the way clear! Let nothing between.
[“Nothing Between,” Charles A. Tindley]
The old black preacher that wrote that song, the same old black preacher who wrote, “We Shall Understand It Better By and By,” the same old black preacher who wrote the song, “Take Your Burden to the Lord and Leave It There”—but out of all of the beautiful songs that old black preacher wrote, to me there is none comparable to this:
When the storms of life are raging,
Stand by me;
When the world is tossing me,
Like a ship upon the sea,
Thou who rulest wind and water,
Stand by me
In trials and tribulation,
Stand by me
When the hosts of hell assail,
And my strength begins to fail,
Thou who never lost a battle,
Stand by me.
In the midst of faults and failures,
Stand by me;
When I do the best I can,
And my friends misunderstand,
Thou Who knowest all about me,
Stand by me.
When I’m growing old and feeble,
Stand by me;
When my life becomes a burden,
And I’m nearing chilly Jordan,
O Thou “Lily of the Valley,”
Stand by me.
[from “Stand by Me,” Charles A. Tindley]
The night following, the Lord stood by him and said, “Be of good cheer, be of good courage, for thou must stand before Caesar” [Acts 27:24]. That is God, and He never fails us. He never forgets us; He never forsakes us [Hebrews 13:5]. In youth, in manhood, down to old age, He walks omnipotent, loving, by our side. And that is our appeal to you tonight: to give your heart to such an One.
What a Friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer
[“What a Friend We Have In Jesus,” Joseph Scriven]
To accept the Lord as your Savior, to give your heart and life to Him, make the decision now, and in a moment when we stand, take that first and glorious step. It will be the most meaningful step you ever made in your life. If you are in that topmost balcony, there is time and to spare; come. Down the stairway, down one of these aisles: “Pastor, I have decided for God, and here I stand.” On this lower floor, in the press of people from side to side, into the aisle and down to the front: “Pastor, I give you my hand. I have given my heart to the Lord. I am bringing my wife with me,” or “my friend.” “Pastor, we are all coming tonight. These are my children.” As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, answer with your life. Do it now. Make it now. May angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.