The Baptism God Commands
August 26th, 1979 @ 8:15 AM
THE BAPTISM THAT GOD COMMANDS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-26-79 8:15 a.m.
It is a joy for us to welcome you who are listening on radio, thousands and thousands of you. So many of you listen to this service as you are on the way to church, or Sunday school, or as you are dressing for the worship hours of the day. And there is nothing that our church does in the budget that we support that means more to us personally, the gladness with which we do it, than to pay for this radio and at 10:50 the television time, that we might share God’s good news with you. I hope you will listen very carefully to the sermon today. It arises out of many, many questions that have been asked concerning the doctrine of baptism.
Just as a great background text from whence the title of the sermon comes, The Baptism That God Commands; the Great Commission that closes the First Gospel reads like this, “Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All authority, all power, is given unto Me in heaven and in earth” [Matthew 28:18]. Isn’t that a remarkable statement? Doesn’t lie in the U.N., doesn’t lie with the communists; it’s in the hands of Jesus. “All authority, power, is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye,” on the basis of it, “and make disciples of all nations,” converting them, winning them to Christ, soulwinning, “baptizing them in the name of the triune God: Teaching them to observe the things I have commanded you. And if you will do it, I will work with you, march by your side, pilgrim with you on the glory road, even unto the end of the age” [Matthew 28:18-20].
A new dispensation began with a Baptist preacher. And because of the unusual message that he brought and the unusual rite that he instituted [Matthew 3:1-6], in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, they sent a committee down from Jerusalem to talk to him on the banks of the Jordan River [John 1:19]. And they asked him, “Who are you and where did you come from? And what is the authority that lies back of your message?” And he replied, “I am a voice crying in the wilderness, Make ready the way of the Lord” [John 1:19-23]. The characterization, the self-characterization, the self-description of that first Baptist preacher ought to be the self characterization and the self description of every preacher that follows after.
I am a voice, I am an echo, I do not originate the message; it’s not something from me, born in my heart or born in my head. It is a message that I read from the holy, infallible, inerrant Word of God [2 Peter 1:20]. I don’t invent it. I’m just a voice. I’m just an echo. Every minister ought to be like that. He’s not delivering what he thinks, or his message, or his persuasion, but he stands in the sacred pulpit to deliver what God says. He is an ambassador and a messenger from the courts of heaven.
You have a traumatic incidence like that in the United Nations in the last week. Andrew Young, appointed because he’s black, hoping to ameliorate some of the relations that we have with the third emerging world, Andrew Young was sent by the president and the government of the United States to the United Nations in order to be an ambassador for our people, our country. He’s not to deliver what he thinks. He’s not to say a persuasion that comes to his heart. He is to deliver the message of his government. And the trauma developed because instead of delivering the message of the government that he represents, from whence he is an ambassador, instead of delivering the message of the government that he represents, he delivered his own message. And, of course, that creates chaos in governmental circles.
A minister is exactly like that. He is not to stand in the pulpit to deliver his message, what he thinks, his persuasions. What he needs to do is to remember he is an ambassador. He is a messenger from heaven, and he is to deliver what God says. He’s a voice, he’s an echo, crying in the wilderness of this world.
So delivering God’s message, what God says, we turn to this unusual beginning of a new dispensation, a new testament, a new covenant, a new approach that God is making with the lost of humanity. Now how does that new dispensation, that new covenant, that new testament, that new day, how does it begin? It begins with a man; “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John” [John 1:6]. That’s the way God does everything. God’s answers to any situation will always be a man. It will be an Abraham, or a Samuel, or a David, or an Isaiah. It will be a John.
Now his name is given of God; the Lord gave this man his name. An angel came from heaven, Gabriel, and announced to aged Zacharias that he and his aged wife Elizabeth should have a son, and they would name him John [Luke 1:11-13]. So because Zacharias doubted the word of the Lord—he’s an old man and his wife is an old woman [Luke 1:18]—the angel Gabriel said, “Your tongue will be shut up without speech until what I say comes to pass” [Luke 1:19-20].
And in the providence of life and in the passing of time, the little child was born [Luke 1:57]—a miracle. And when all of the people gathered round for that ordinance and ceremony of naming the child of circumcision, why, they said, “We will name him Zacharias, Junior; a beautiful name, Zacharias, Junior.” And Elizabeth said, “No, his name is John. That is his name.” And they said, “Nobody in your family and its generations ever called by that name.” So they indicated to the dumb, unable-to-speak priest Zacharias, “What is his name?” And Zacharias wrote, “His name is John” [Luke 1:59-63]. And immediately his tongue was loosed, and he praised God [Luke 1:64]. That’s the way the dispensation of the Christian faith began. It began in a child, in a man named John.
God gave him another name; he was called “the Baptist”: by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and by the Holy Word that I hold in my hand, he is presented to us as in Mark, as in Matthew, as in Luke as “the Baptist” [Matthew 3:1]. And that’s a remarkable name. I want to show you how remarkable it is. In the whole Bible, the word “Christian” is used three times, three times! But the word, “Baptist” is used fourteen times.
The new dispensation, the new era, the New Testament, the new covenant begins with a Baptist preacher whose name is John, and he is a part of that dispensation [Matthew 3:1-3]. Luke 16:16, our Lord says that “the law and the prophets were until John.” He belongs in our era, in our covenant, in our testament.
When John came and was exhibited to the people, God hid him away until the hour when the new dispensation, the new testament should begin. When John came, he came with a new rite. The world had never seen it before. He came with a new ordinance. He came with the ordinance of baptizing [Matthew 3:1-6]. And I repeat, the world had never seen it before. There is no such a thing as “a baptizing,” a New Testament baptizing in the Old Testament. They never saw it. It is not in the Apocrypha, the four hundred years between Malachi and Matthew. It is not in Philo, the great Jewish philosopher who was a contemporary with Jesus. And it is not in Josephus, the marvelous Jewish historian who was a contemporary of the apostle Paul.
The world never saw it before. The Jews had many washings. They washed their pots and they washed their pans, ceremonially. And sometimes they’d wash themselves all over, but always the Jew did it himself. He washed his head, or he washed his hands, or he washed himself all over. But the first time the world ever saw a man take another man and wash him was when John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and on the banks of the Jordan River called the people to a preparation for a new testament, a new covenant, a new dispensation [Matthew 3:1,5-6,11].
And he had a sign and a rite that accompanied it. He baptized his converts in the Jordan River, and that’s why the committee that came from Jerusalem asked him, saying, “Are you the Christ?”
And John said, “No.”
“Are you the Messiah?”
“No.” [John 1:19-20].
“Well, are you Elijah?”
And he said, “No.” [John 1:21].
“Well, are you that Prophet?” referring to the promise of Moses that God would raise up somebody like him when Moses was taken way [Deuteronomy 18:15]. “Are you that great Prophet we are looking for?”
And he replied, “No.” [John 1:21].
Then they asked him, “Where did you get this new ordinance then? Why do you baptize with this new, new ceremony that we have never seen before? If you are not the Christ, and if you are not Elijah, and if you are not the Prophet, where did you get this ordinance?” [John 1:22, 25].
And John says God sent him to do it. It originated in heaven. The Lord thought it out, and the Lord God sent His great announcer of the new dispensation, the new testament with this new rite of baptism [John 1:31-33].
Now our second avowal; the first one is John the Baptist introduces the new dispensation, the new covenant, the new day, then new testament. He does it with a man named John [Matthew 3:1-3]. Now the second: the sign and the symbol of the new covenant, the new dispensation, the new day, the new gospel, the good news, the sign of that covenant is a rite, a ceremony, a baptism.
Mark speaks of it like this:
John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
And there went out unto him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.
Did you catch that unusual verse? “John did baptize in the wilderness, in the Jordan River,” and he, “preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” It’s a sign. It’s a symbol. It’s a new thing that God has done, and its rite and its ceremony represents the thing itself. It is not the thing itself. He preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins [Mark 1:4]. It’s not the thing itself. It is a symbol and a sign of the thing itself.
It’s like a wedding band; a wedding band is not the marriage, it is the symbol of it. It’s like a flag; the flag is not the nation, it is a symbol of it. It’s like the sacramentum—the sacramentum was not the Roman soldier, the sacramentum was the oath of allegiance that the soldier made to his emperor. And that’s where you get the word “sacrament,” twisted now, to where we can’t use it. But a sacramentum was the oath of allegiance to the Roman emperor. Baptism is a sacramentum; it is an avowal of our loyalty, faith in, love for, service in behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ, our great King and Emperor in heaven.
The sign and the symbol of a new day, the new covenant, the new dispensation; it carried with it a sign and a symbol—it is the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. It is a sign of a change, of a new birth [John 3:3, 7], of a new life, of a new commitment, a new love, a new loyalty, a new dedication. That’s the sign of it. Now when anyone experiences the new birth, he experiences this new love and loyalty to Christ. The first thing, the first thing that he wants to do is, “I want to be baptized.” That’s the sign of it. That’s the symbol of it [Acts 2:38].
“I want to be baptized. My loyalty now is to Christ, and He commands me to be baptized” [Matthew 28:19]. That’s the first thing. That’s the first happy response, a union of obedience of someone who has found the Lord as his Savior, “I want to be baptized.”
Isn’t that true? That’s universally true. When Philip was seated by the side of the treasurer of Ethiopia, and out of the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah won that man to the Lord [Acts 8:26-35], as they went on their way they came to a certain water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me to be baptized? I want to be baptized” [Acts 8:36]. It’s the first thing that comes to the heart of a child of God, “The Lord has commanded it, and I’m one of His soldiers. I’m one of His followers. I’m one of His disciples, and I want to be baptized.” Always, that’s the first thing of a happily converted people, “I want to be baptized.” And Philip, to be sure, said to him, “If you believe, if you have trusted in the Lord with all your heart, you may.” And the eunuch answered, “I believe. I have accepted the Lord as my Savior” [Acts 8:37].
And they went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water: the Spirit of God took away Philip, and the eunuch went on his way rejoicing [Acts 8:38-39]. The first thing, the first thing, “I want to be baptized.” It’s a sign and a symbol of the change in the man’s heart, that he’s been converted, born again [John 3:3, 7]. He’s a follower of the Lamb [Matthew 3:15].
Now sweet people, that’s where my confusion comes in. When a man comes down the aisle or out there in a filling station, in a house, or in a home, and he says, “I accept the Lord as my Savior; I believe in Him. I’ve trusted Him as my Lord, and I’ve been born again. I’m a new man. I’m a new creation. I’m a Christian now, but I don’t want to be baptized.” I don’t understand. I cannot understand. There is no thing like that in the Bible. That’s why I cannot understand. There is no unbaptized believer in the Bible. It is unknown in the Word of God. There is no such thing and that’s why I can’t understand.
This man says, “I’ve been saved. I’ve been born again. I’ve trusted the Lord as my Savior, but I’m not going to be baptized. I don’t want to be baptized.” I don’t understand it. Look, when a man is hungry, you don’t have to persuade him to eat. He’s starving to death; he wants to eat. When a man is dying of thirst, you don’t have to argue with him about drinking water; he wants to drink water, “I’m dying of thirst.” If a man were freezing to death, you wouldn’t have to argue with him, “Come to the fire and warm your soul.” He wants to be warm, he’s freezing to death. When a man is converted, when he’s saved, immediately there’s a wanting on the inside of him, “I want to be baptized just like God said in His Book” [Matthew 28:19]. And when there is not that wanting, I can’t understand how the man has accepted the Lord and refuses the first great commandment of the blessed Jesus [Matthew 28:19]. I don’t understand it. Seems to me when a man is changed, that’s the way he’s changed. He’s changed toward the Lord.
Have you been reading in these last several months? Have you been reading about that man who was the publisher of a pornographic magazine? Name of the magazine is Hustler. Well, he said he was changed, he was converted, he was born again. He had an “experience” of conversion, that’s what he said. Well, immediately, I would have thought, he would have quit publishing his pornographic magazine; I would have thought that. You know what he did? What the fellow said in effect was this, “Heretofore, I’ve been publishing porno for the glory of carnal flesh. But now I’m going to publish porno for the glory of God.”
Does that make sense to you? Why, it is ridiculous! It is unthinkable! It is unbelievable! This man, stand here before the whole world and say, “I’ve found the Lord, I’ve been converted, I’m a Christian now and Hustler magazine is going to be dedicated to Jesus.” It is unthinkable! I just don’t understand it. And I can’t get my head to understand the other either. “I have been saved. I’ve been marvelously converted, I’ve been changed, I’ve found the Lord as my Savior, but I’m not going to be baptized,” which is the first great commandment to a Christian, believing, being a disciple, then being baptized in the name of the triune God [Matthew 28:19]. I don’t understand it. It seems to me the sign of it according to the Word of God, the symbol of it according to the Word of God is, “I want to be baptized” [Acts 8:35-38]. That’s the way it is in the Bible. I never invented that. That doesn’t come from me. I’m just a voice and an echo.
Now may I point out briefly one other thing about this ordinance, holy and from heaven? Isn’t it a strange thing, inherently in it is evangelism and soulwinning? Did you know there is one word that the Bible uses to sum up the whole ministry of John, and that one word is baptizing? [Mark 1:4]. Baptizing; it sums up the whole ministry of John. Baptizing; I haven’t time to go through the passages.
Did you know there is a like word that sums up the whole ministry of Christ? Baptizing; He baptized [John 3:22,26]. He and His disciples baptized their converts [John 4:1,2].
Did you know there is a link between evangelism and baptism in the Great Commission? That is my text this morning, “Go ye therefore, and make disciples,” make converts, make Christians of all the people, “baptizing them” [Matthew 28:19]. The two go together, the convert and the baptizing.
And when you read the life of the apostles and their ministries, it was that. “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” they cried to Simon Peter on the day of Pentecost. “What shall we do? What shall we do?” [Acts 2:37]. And Simon replied, “Repent—turn—and be baptized every one of you…because of the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” [Acts 2:38]. The two went together, and always the two will be together. “See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? I have been saved” [Acts 8:36-37]. Or, “Look, the Spirit has fallen upon these heathen in the household of Cornelius. Who can prevent water, that these should be baptized, even as we were at Pentecost?” [Acts 10:44-47] The first time the gospel was preached in Europe, Lydia, a business woman from Thyatira, Lydia was baptized [Acts 16:14-15], and that same night the Philippian jailer was baptized [Acts 16:30- 33]. Always the two go together.
My brethren, may I say something that sounds harsh? But I can’t help but make the observation as I look at modern Christianity and the Bible Christianity that I read about. Do you ever hear that today—evangelism and baptism connected like that? Do you ever hear it? Today we have separated it. We’ll have a great crusade, not a word to say about baptizing. You’ll have a great revival and not a word said about baptism; not a word. Is that the way it is in the New Testament? My brother, in the New Testament it was both in the same breath. The soul-winning, baptizing preacher of God, that’s the way it was in the New Testament. Man, they’ll have thousands, and thousands, and thousands, and thousands of these people who respond in a great crusade and maybe two of them be baptized. It’s a different kind of evangelism.
Look at the oddity of this. Here’s a paper and it says about a minister, it says about a minister, “Reverend John Smith has been pastor of,” let’s say Centerville, “Reverend John Smith, pastor of Centerville, has been baptizing his converts for ten years.” Did you ever read that? Have you ever read, “Reverend John Doe has been pastor of Pumpkin Center, and he’s been baptizing his converts for eight years?” Did you ever read anything like that? You never will in the world, no. We have separated the two, but it’s not separated in God’s Book. Always the revival carried with it baptism. Always the conversion carried with it baptism. They were synonymous. They were in the same breath, making disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit [Matthew 28:19]. That’s the Bible, that’s the Book. And I say there is something inherently evangelistic in the ordinance of baptism.
As you know, I’d been preaching ten years before I ever was in a baptistery. I baptized my converts in stock ponds out in West Texas, then in creeks and rivers in Central Texas and in Kentucky and over there on the other side of the river. So when I read this story, I could just live through every syllable of it: a sweet wife was wonderfully converted, beautifully saved. And her husband, big and burly, was as cruel and as brutal and as unbelieving as he was gargantuan. So when he heard that his wife had been saved and was going to be baptized, he said, “She’ll never be baptized. I will whip with a blacksnake, with a rawhide bullwhip! I’ll beat him to death!” What he said, what he said: a blacksnake, that’s what we call if a man was driving a team and he had maybe two mules, or two horses, and maybe four, or maybe six of them. He sits there in the wagon seat, and he has a blacksnake. He has a long bullwhip, a rawhide whip. And he snaps it, and it makes a roar when you snap the thing, and it can tear up the flesh. It can tear up the hide. That’s what he’s talking about.
So the day came for the baptizing and the people were there from the ends of the earth, not only to see the baptizing on that Sunday afternoon, but also to see the whipper, to see the preacher as he’s lashed with the blacksnake. Well, they brought it to the preacher, “You better delay. You better wait.” No, he was a man of God. “No, I’ll be right there, and I’ll be baptizing my converts just according to the Book.”
So the Sunday afternoon came, and I have been to Sunday afternoon baptisms for years. The people on that side of the river or this side of the river, people on that side of the creek or that side of the creek, just throngs of them, on a Sunday afternoon, baptizing. And he did what I’ve done countless times; stand out in the middle of the river or stand out in the middle of the creek, open the Book and preach to all those people on both banks. And pray and make an invitation, and then we’d sing a song. Usually we’d sing “Happy Day.”
When Jesus washed
My sins away!
He taught me how
To watch and pray
And live rejoicing every day
When Jesus washed,
My sins away!
[“O Happy Day,” Phillip Doddridge]
Almost always we’d sing that song as the candidates would be led out into the middle of the river.
Well, this day, this day, there the throngs were, and there the candidates were, and there was that sweet wife dressed in white. And there he was with the bullwhip, the blacksnake in his hand. So the preacher went out into the water, and the candidates went out in the water, and among them, that precious wife, robed in white. And when time came for her to be baptized, all of the eyes were on that big, brutal man with a bullwhip in his hand! When she was baptized, he just stood there. And as she walked up to the bank, the bullwhip dropped out of his hand! He walked over there and kissed her, and put a robe around her, and carried her to the carriage, and came back to the preacher, and before all of that throng, he said, “Sir, I want to be baptized too!” And the preacher called the people in conference, I’ve done it on the banks of the river, called the church in conference, “Let the man make his confession of faith.”
“I have changed. I’ve been saved! I have found the Lord, and I want to be baptized.” They received him. There before all of those eyes, he follows the Lord in beautiful baptism. It’s a sermon, it’s a sign, it’s a symbol. It’s an evangelism in itself, “I want to be baptized. I have found the Lord.” That’s God! That’s the way the Lord did it. And when we follow the Lord, that’s what we do; “I have been saved. I have found Jesus, and I want to be baptized.”
And that’s our message and invitation from heaven to you. I want my godly men to come up here with me and turn around and face you. Where are these deacons who love Jesus? I want you to come up here and face our people. I want you to come up here and face our people. That’s the way. Come down here and face our people. God bless you and give you every heavenly benedictory remembrance. We’re here praying for you, loving you, asking God to bless you, and it’s only the Holy Spirit of Christ that can put in your heart this wonderful response. God bless you. Now let’s all stand together. Not one of us leaving, not one of us moving except toward the Lord, down here, down here.
Wonderful Savior, You have given us such a beautiful way to walk, such a glory road in which to pilgrimage, and it begins in a confession of faith and a sign of that obedience, “I want to be baptized.” And our Lord today as we pray, as we stand in Thy presence, may God sanctify the word that has been preached with a harvest, “I want to be baptized. I want to accept Jesus as my Savior. I want to put my life in this dear church. Pastor, the whole family of us are coming.” May God bless and speed in the way as we wait, as we pray, and as we sing this hymn of appeal. Down out of that balcony, make it now, do it now while we make this appeal.
JESUS SPEAKS TO US ABOUT LONELINESS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-27-85 10:50 a.m.
You are a part of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message. It is the first in a series of five and is a new departure as far as your pastor is concerned in a preaching ministry. If you have been here to church any length of time, you know the way I preach is through expounding the Scriptures, book by book, preaching through a book; always, preaching through a book in the Bible.
Sometime ago, not too long ago, there was a vast, extensive survey made among the people of America. It concerned the problems they face in their lives, and out of that vast survey, there were five human problems that surfaced everywhere. One was loneliness, one was hopelessness, one was purposelessness, one was emptiness, and one was fear.
So I have prepared, am preparing, these five messages addressed to the problems of human life. I am doing it under a theme: “Jesus Speaks to Us.” Jesus Speaks to Us About Loneliness; Jesus Speaks to Us About Hopelessness; Jesus Speaks to Us About Purposelessness; Jesus Speaks to Us About Emptiness; and Jesus Speaks to Us About Fear, these five sermons in this series, and the message today, Jesus Speaks to Us About Loneliness.
Our background text is in Matthew 27, verse 46; Matthew 27, verse 46. It is a cry from the cross. “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” Aramaic for, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
In the forty-third verse, those who had Him crucified, mocking and jeering said, “He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He will have Him: for He said, â€˜I am God’s Son.'”
Then the cry of our Lord, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
It had been just a few hours earlier that the Lord had spoken to His disciples in John 16:32, saying, “Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that you shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave Me alone: and yet I am not alone, because My Father is with Me.” I am not alone. My Father is with Me. Then the cry from the cross, “My God, My God, lama, why has Thou forsaken Me; alone?” [Matthew 27:46].
This is the goal and the purpose of Satan from the beginning of the destruction of the world; to separate, to divide, to alienate, even God from His only begotten Son. A fox separated a little lamb from the flock. And the little thing, separated, full of fear, the fox ran around and around and around the little lamb. Then he attacked, and he bit off his nose. Then around and around, he attacked again, and bit off an ear. Then around and around, tormenting, he attacked again and tore off the other ear. And around and around, and attacked again, and broke the little lamb’s leg; and then finally destroyed its life. That is Satan: to divide, and to alienate, and to separate, and to torment; that is hell.
It is a strange answer from this fallen world that hell is a place where our convivial boon companions gather together in banqueting, and in rioting, and in revelry. Not so, hell is an isolation! Time and again does the Lord Jesus speak of these who are cast into outer darkness. In hell you will be alone; you will be isolated. You will be separated; you will be alienated. That is hell, and thus Satan has been dividing, and alienating, and separating from the beginning of this fallen world.
He separated himself from God; he separated his angels from God. He separated man from God. And he separates man from man, and man from woman, and nation from nation, and earth from heaven. It is Satan who coined the phrase, “irreconcilable differences.” It is Satan who invented the word “irreconcilable,” “incompatible.” It is Satan who plows up and divides families and homes and friendships. With sledgehammer blows he drives wedges between loving, enduring people. It is Satan who divides nations, places hatred in their hearts, an Iran against an Iraq, an Arab world against the Jew, these countries in Central America, Eastern Europe against Western Europe; Satan divides.
I read the craziest story this week than I think I ever heard of in my life! A Chinese gentleman and a Jewish gentleman – friends – were eating lunch together. And a cloud came over the face, and a hostile spirit covered the countenance of the Jew, and he stood up and slapped his Chinese friend and knocked him out of the chair. And the Chinese brother looked at him and said, “What is the matter? What have you done?”
And the Jew said, “That’s for Pearl Harbor. What you did at Pearl Harbor!”
And the Chinese gentleman said, “We had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor, that was the Japanese!”
So they went back to eating lunch together, and suddenly there came over the face of the Chinese gentleman a hostile spirit. And he stood up and he slapped that Jew out of his chair.
And when the Jew arose and gathered himself, he said, “What is the matter with you? What’s that done?”
And the Chinese said, “That’s for sinking the Titanic!”
And the Jew said, “Titanic? The Jews had nothing to do with the Titanic!”
And the Chinese said, “What?” He said, “Goldberg, Steinberg, Feinberg, Insberg, iceberg, it’s all the same!”
That’s humanity! The dividing, and the separating, and the misunderstanding; finally the hatred, and the slaughter, and the war – that’s Satan! It is tragic beyond description to see that in the house of God among brethren. I grew up in little churches. The bitterness in some of those churches – hatred to one another – was like the opening of the abyss itself. I have sat in services as a youth, as a boy. I have listened to the most dastardly, condemnatory, incriminating accusations! I have seen brethren stand up, point to the pastor in the pulpit, accuse him of everything imaginable, and fire him on the spot. Division, separation, alienation!
That’s why I think one of the most beautiful verses in the Psalms is 133, verse 1: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to gather together in unity!” Loving each other, preferring each other, encouraging each other, that’s God. And as the goal and purpose of Satan is to divide, and to separate, and to alienate. God’s purpose in Christ is that we be reconciled, that we be one in Him.
As with many of you, I have looked on the dead face of Nikolai Lenin in his tomb in the Red Square in Moscow. Always, every day in the week, there will be a line, a queue there, a mile long. And under the surveillance and direction of those Russian soldiers at a certain temple, you’re guided into the tomb and then around that glass encasement, this side, that side, that side, and then out. As you look at Nikolai Lenin – he died in 1924, he was a little beyond fifty years of age, and he died suddenly – and as you look on his dead face, his right arm is extended and lies on his chest. And his fist is doubled up, and he lies there with his fist doubled up. There are statisticians who say there are more followers of Lenin’s communism in the world than there are of Jesus Christ. And wherever he touches, there is that fist doubled up, sowing the seeds of hatred, and suspicion, and war, and revolution, and death; Lenin with his fist doubled up.
And if you’re as I was, and you walk, and look, and see, you couldn’t help but think about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He died with His hands open, nailed to a cross. And He died with His arms outstretched, extended. As far as the east goes east and the west goes west, so the arms of our Lord embrace the entire world of lost humanity.
Reconciliation, loving forgiveness, back to God as God intended that earth be near to heaven, reconciling brothers, man to man, woman to woman, man to woman, children to parents: God’s people, one in Him.
I think of our Lord, out of all of the unusual and impressive incidents told in His life here in the Gospels, I think one of the most impressive is this. When He came into the city of Jericho, He walked to a certain tree and looked up into the top of it. There was a little diminutive Jew. He was a despised and hated and outcast publican, tax collector, a traitor in the sight of his brothers, a servant of the hated Roman government, a pawn in their hands to oppress his own people. Jesus went to that tree, looked up and called him by his name. He knows us, every one, and all about us. Called him by his name and said, “Today, this day, am I to spend these hours in your house.” The little fellow came down and stood ten feet tall. And the loving, compassionate encouragement and remembrance of our Lord brought him into a new faith and a new relationship with God [Luke 19:1-10]. That’s the Lord, reconciliation, kindness, encouragement, brotherly love.
And there is something on the inside of all of us that longs for, and hungers for encouragement, and affection, and remembrance, and helpfulness, and love. We are made that way, we cannot help it. When God created us, He created us for that. He said, “It is not good that the man live alone” [Genesis 2:18]. He placed us in homes, and He placed us in families. And it was His purpose that we love one another and be as one in Him. Now I say there is something deep on the inside of all of us that long for love and remembrance and affection.
I was asked the other day, “Do you remember the First World War?”
Every syllable of it! Lived through every moment of it; had a member of the family who fought through it.
Over the trenches and into no man’s land, the attack was made. And when the American soldiers came back, this fine American boy had left his friend out there in no man’s land somewhere. He didn’t come back. And the American soldier went to his captain and said, “May I go back and find him? He’s out there somewhere!”
And the captain said, “American soldier, o! No! You do that at the risk of your life.”
But the American soldier persisted, and gaining permission from the captain, he went out into no man’s land. When he returned, he fell into the trench, severely wounded, shattered. And the captain came to him and said, “Didn’t I tell you, ‘Don’t go?’ And didn’t I tell you at the risk of your life you would go? Didn’t I tell you that?”
And the American soldier replied, “Sir, when I found him, when I found him, he looked up to me and smiled and said, `I knew you would come,’ then died in my arms. And captain, I had rather have died myself than to have failed him.”
All of us are made like that. There is something on the inside of us that longs for love and remembrance, companionship and encouragement. My sweet mother had a cerebral hemorrhage and lingered for almost seven years. In those years, we placed her in a cottage. There was a dear, wonderful, Christian woman who had about four aged women in the cottage, and she took care of those four women, one of whom was my mother. Visiting her one time, just across the hallway and through an open door, I could see a mother there; an aged mother who wept and sobbed and cried. I went to the dear woman who took care of those precious mothers, and I said to her, “Why does she cry so? Why does she sob so?”
And the dear Christian woman said to me, “Her children have never been to see her, and your coming to see your mother has brought to her the brokenness of her heart. And she cries.”
And I said to the Christian woman, “Would it be all right if I visited her?”
She said, “Oh, do so!”
And I went into the room and sat down by her side, and visited with her long and I prayed preciously, and then prayed with her. It’s hard for me, as it is for you, to think how could children forget their mother, but sometimes they do. And when they do, it is the saddest heartbreak in human life, to be left alone. As I said, this is a new departure for me. I have not preached on things like this ever.
And as I read and read and read, I came across many things. Here’s one of them: a psychiatrist – the psychiatrist says, “The baby needs touching, and caressing, and loving, and holding. The baby needs that. And if the child is to grow up respecting itself, you must touch the child, and care for the child, and hold the child.”
Then I read another psychiatrist who said, “The reason God makes little toddlers so precious and so beautiful and so cute is so that people will touch them, and caress them, and love them, and show them affection. That’s why God did it,” this psychiatrist said. Well, this is what I say. I say we’re all babies, all of us. You just can’t help being that way. We’re all babies, we love to be caressed, to be touched, to be loved. Affection is something deep, needed in our souls.
Reading also about solitary confinement – now this is from physicians – I was surprised to read that in solitary confinement, let the isolation of the prisoner extend for a while, and the nervous system will disintegrate, and the very anatomical processes of the prisoner will deteriorate. God made us for one another. And when we’re separated and isolated and alone, we perish. What an amazing thing about human nature and human life!
But I can tell you this. Isolation and separation are not just for that prisoner in solitary confinement. We can feel isolated and separated anywhere in the world. If you want to feel lonely, you walk up and down the streets of New York City by yourself – don’t know a soul, don’t know a person – and there are thousands of people around you, but you never feel so alone in your life as you do in a great city by yourself.
And that’s why I had us read from the Psalms, “Reproach hath broken my heart; I am full of heaviness: I look for somebody to take pity, but there was none; and for comfort, but I found none [Psalm 69:20]. I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert. I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the housetop” [Psalm 102:6-7]. Loneliness, “Lord, Lord, why has Thou forsaken me?”
Now I must conclude. It is the heart of God and the purpose of God that He be closer to us than hands and feet and nearer than our very breath. That’s God’s heart and love extended toward us. Do you remember this verse from Isaiah ? “A mother may forget her sucking child, and a mother may forget compassion for the son of her womb, but I will never forget thee” [Isaiah :15].
Or from the thirteenth chapter of Hebrews: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” [Hebrews 13:5]. God is always with us. When Gehazi lamented that Elisha was in the hands of his captors and about to be taken, Elisha said, “They that are with us are more than they that are with them” [2 Kings 6:16]. And Elisha was alone. And the prophet prayed, saying, “Lord, open his eyes.” And God opened the eyes of Gehazi. “And behold, the mountains were filled with horses and chariots of fire, surrounding Elisha” [2 Kings 6:17].
God’s angels are always around us, always with us, always. God is there. When Ruth, leaving her beloved and native Moab – as a stranger entering the land of Israel, God went with her – and she is listed in the genealogy of our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus. God is with us!
When Nebuchadnezzar looked into the fiery furnace, he said, “Did we not cast three into the burning fury? But I see four walking free, and the sight and the countenance of the fourth is like unto the Son of God” [Daniel 3:24-25]. God is with us!
In that terrible storm in Acts 27, the apostle Paul said, “There stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve” [Acts 27:23].
The Apocalypse in the first chapter opens:
I John, your brother, was in the isle called Patmos, for the testimony of Jesus Christ, alone. And I heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, saying: I am Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last. And I turned to see the voice that spake unto me.
And being turned, then he describes the glorified Lord Jesus. He is always with us. We are never alone. The great host of angelic angels hover around us. Always, God is with us. As I read this poem, written by a Stoic, a stoical attitude, I thought, that’s fine, noble:
Though I am beaten,
Nobody shall know –
I’ll wear defeat proudly.
I shall go
About my business
As I did before:
Only, when I have safely
Closed the door
Against friends and the rest,
Shall I be free
To bow my head –
Where there is none to see.
Tonight, I’ll shed my tears:
I talk with you,
I will be [gay] again.
Though, I am beaten,
Nobody shall guess:
For I will walk
As though I knew success.
[“With Banners,” Abigail Cresson]
I read that and I thought, that’s wonderful to be stoical. Nobody, anybody; I’ll just be strong in myself, and self-sufficient, and able, and equal. That’s just great! But I’m not that way; if you want to know how I am, this is how I am:
I must tell Jesus all of my trials,
I cannot bear these burdens alone;
In my distress He kindly will help me;
He ever loves and cares for His own.
I must tell Jesus all of my troubles;
He is a kind, compassionate Friend;
If I but ask Him, He will deliver,
Make of my troubles quickly an end.
I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
[“I Must Tell Jesus,” by Elisha A. Hoffman]
It’s a different life; it’s a different way; it’s a different quality; it’s a different world, looking to Jesus, asking His presence, and His help, and His grace, and His blessing. I must close.
As Iâ€˜d say practically all of you know, I grew up poor, poor, poor. And for years – not days, for years – I lived on a few dollars a month. I struggled as a youth. There’s hardly any trial that a young fellow would face that I haven’t lived through. Not only that, but I was also of a certain turn, a certain nature, in studying. One of the dearest friends, one of the closest friends I had in school said to me, “You’ll never be a preacher.” He and I were in those philosophy classes together. And a whole lot of the things of the mind of men contradict and controvert and interdict the things of God. Faith moves in another world than the rationalizing of a man’s mind. Well, in those days, I wrote a poem. They are just the words of a youth, but these are they:
I have been thrust in the valley, and could not understand why.
God seemed so far away, distance drowned my cry.
My heart turned to a promise that Satan cannot deny;
God says, “I will be with thee,” and He cannot lie.
I have wandered in a wilderness desperately seeking the trail,
The books of men and the men of books had bled my faith so pale.
My hand reached up toward a Helper to a God who could prevail.
My hand was clasped by Jesus and He cannot fail!
O my soul! Why dost thou ever falter before the Lord?
Behold, He leadeth forever those who trust in His Word.
Follow the call of the Spirit wherever the Spirit moves,
For the battle is with the Lord Jesus, and He cannot lose!
[“God Prevails”; Dr. W. A. Criswell]
And that faith to which I gave myself as a youth is the faith that increasingly, endearingly, preciously I embrace today, and shall until God says, “It is enough, come up higher, come up with Me,” walking with the Lord in the morning of life, walking with God in the noonday of life, walking with God in the evening of life, and walking with God into the night.
“I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” [Hebrews 13:5]. Oh blessed Jesus! Precious Lord, what You mean to me and to us! And that is our invitation to your heart, to open your life, to open your soul to the Lord Jesus. Lord these days are in Thy hands, and I am walking through them with Thee. And whatever the shadow, God is with me in the night as in the day; in the morning as in the evening forever. Lord Thou art my strength and my help and my comfort.
We are going to pray, and after the prayer we will sing us a song, and nobody leaving in this time of soul searching and decision. Then after our hymn of appeal, we will be free to leave, but now let’s pray together. Then when the song is sung, let’s pray together and ask God to move in the hearts of these that He hath given us this day, and in thanksgiving with the angels rejoicing, we will receive them. So let us pray.
Our Lord, You are the One who stood by Stephen. He looked up and saw You. And You stood up to receive the first martyr into heaven [Acts 7:55-56]. You are the One who stands by us today. There is no trial, there is no illness, there is no trouble, there is no sorrow that You do not share. Jesus wept [John 11:35]. Jesus burst into tears. Moved with a feeling of our infirmity, tried in all points such as we are, wherefore He is able to succor them, to strengthen and comfort them who in need of grace come by faith to Him [Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:14-16]. O Lord there is room in my heart for Thee. There is room in my home for Thee. There is room in my life for Thee. Lord Jesus be my Friend, and Counselor, and Comforter, and Mediator, and Savior, and Deliverer. Lord Jesus welcome into my heart.
And in this moment when we stand, to give your life to the blessed Savior, to put your life with us in this dear church, to answer God’s call in your heart whatever it may be, come now. Welcome now. And may the angels attend you in the way, and our Lord, thank Thee for the souls You give us, in Thy saving, keeping, and wonderful name, amen. While we stand and while we sing, a thousand times welcome.