THE LORD STANDING BY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-29-79 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the message entitled The Lord Standing By Us. In our preaching through the Book of Acts this will be the last sermon on chapter 27. Tonight at the evening service, at seven o’clock, we begin in chapter 28, which is the last chapter of the book. If you turn your Bible to chapter 27 in the Book of Acts, we read from verse 20 through verse 25. Acts 27, beginning at verse 20:
When neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was taken away.
But after long abstinence, prayer and fasting, Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Sirs . . . I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, only of the ship.
For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, whom I serve,
Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar –
that is they are to be in Rome –
And, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.
Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.
And the particular and especial passage, "For there stood by me this night the angel of God" [Acts 27:23], and the subject of the message, The Lord Standing By.
There is a sense, and there is a way, in which that can be a terror. When Cain slew his brother Abel, the Lord was standing by. And the Lord said to Cain, "Where is thy brother Abel?" And Cain said, "Why should I know? Am I my brother’s keeper?" And the Lord said to Cain, "The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground. What hast thou done?" [Genesis 4:8-10] – the Lord standing by. In the story of the orgy of Belshazzar in Babylon, in the midst of their drunken revelry, there appeared the fingers of a man’s hand, writing on the wall, Mene, Mene, Tekel Upharsin [Daniel 5:24-25], the Lord was standing by [Daniel 5:26-28]. It is a terror. In the story of the age of the churches, in the second and third chapters of the Revelation [Revelation 2:1-3:22], the Lord is walking in the midst of the seven-branched lampstand [Revelation 1:13]. And each lampstand represents an era in the story of Christendom. And the Lord says, "I know thy works. Thou art neither cold nor hot; because thou art lukewarm I will spew thee out of My mouth" [Revelation 3:15-16], or again, "I know thy works . . . repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and remove thy lampstand out of its place" [Revelation 2:2-5]; the Lord standing by.
He sees, He knows, He judges, and the great, climactic, final revelation of judgment is in the twentieth chapter of the Apocalypse. On a great white throne He sits, from whose face the heavens and the earth flee away. And the books are opened, and every man is judged according to the works, in the days of flesh, that are written in those books [Revelation 20:11-15]. "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, saith the Lord" [Hebrews 10:30], and that next verse, "For it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" [Hebrews 10:31]. The Lord standing by, there is a sense in which that can be a terror.
But when the Lord is our friend and our Savior, there is also a sense in which it can be the most comforting, and encouraging, and meaningful of all of the revelations that God gives to us in this life; the Lord standing by [Acts 27:23], watching, observing, seeing, knowing, understanding. And how beautiful and precious a picture of the Lord watching His people in their work, and His people loving Him, and doing what they do as unto Him – His approval, His blessing, His joy in our ministries in His name – how beautiful the thought; the Lord standing by, seeing us, watching us, and our work unto Him in His loving approval.
When I went to the British Museum one time, I asked that they might direct me to the place where I could see the Elgin marbles. There was a special reason for the request. When Lord Elgin conquered Greece, he took those beautiful, beautiful statues, wrought, carved, sculptured by Phidias, the greatest sculptor who has ever lived. He took them from up there in that triangular area of the Parthenon, where the roof comes down on each side and the line above the Ionic columns go across in that triangle – Phidias carved those beautiful marble statues, and put them up there – and Lord Elgin took them down and took them to London and placed them in the British Museum, and I wanted to see them. The reason was this: Phidias, in carving those beautiful and incomparable pieces of statue, was working on the back side of one of them, and with meticulous and scrupulous care he was working on the folds in the flowing robes, and the tresses of the hair, and every infinite, infinitesimal little detail. And a man observing Phidias, working so carefully on the back side of those statues, said to Phidias, "Why do you so meticulously and carefully work on the back side? They are going to be way high, raised up, placed up there at the top of the temple, and no man will ever see those carvings on the back side. Why do you do that so carefully, when no man will ever see it?" And Phidias replied, "But God will see it." So when I found the marbles, the Elgin marbles, what I did was, I looked on the back side of every one of them. And it was just that, it was just so, as marvelously and perfection-ly as they were carved on the front side, where men through the ages could look at them, Phidias had no less done it marvelously, and completely, and beautifully, on the back side, where God could see it. What a great encouragement that is to us, to work and to minister unto the approving eye and presence of the Lord; God standing by.
Do you remember that tremendous sportscaster who told this story? I never heard one that moved me any more; and since then I have heard it repeated many times. In the football game, one of the boys, who usually did not play, urged the coach to send him on the field that he might play that day. And the coach asked why the importunity and urgency and the lad replied, "My father was blind, and yesterday he died. And today is the first day that he can see me play." What a picture of our Lord in heaven, who watches us, and sees us. And we want to play the game for Him, for His approval. The Lord standing by; it can be such an incomparable encouragement to us in our work in His name.
Again, the Lord standing by: what a marvelous strength and comfort it is to know that He is close by. The Lord standing by, "For in the midst of the storm there stood by me the angel of God" [Acts 27:23]. In the lives of all of these saints, there are times when it seems that they are deserted by the Lord, all of them, all of them. Did you ever think through in the life of the apostle Paul? Most of his ministry was spent in prison. He was beat, scourged, he was hounded, persecuted, stoned [2 Corinthians 11:23-26], dragged out for dead [Acts 14:19], finally executed. That is not a peculiar or unique experience in the lives of God’s people. The prophets were slain, sawed asunder [Hebrews 11:32-37]. The Lord said to Simon Peter he should die by crucifixion; it was the death by which he would glorify God [John 21:18-19]. What an amazing language, that in suffering, and agony, and in crucifixion, he should glorify God. The apostles from church history, all of them were martyred. The possible exception is the sainted apostle John, who was exiled on Patmos to die of exposure and starvation [Revelation 1:9]. It seems that in the lives of all of God’s saints there are times when God deserts them. That is why this precious and beautiful verse shines like a lamp in a dark night. "For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve" [Acts 27:23], the Lord standing by.
When the three Hebrew children were thrown into the fiery furnace [Daniel 3:20-23], Nebuchadnezzar the king looked, and there was a fourth who walked by their sides. And Nebuchadnezzar said, "And the visage, the face, the countenance of the fourth is like unto the Son of God" [Daniel 3:24-25], the Lord standing by.
You could not help but notice that in the story of the stoning of Stephen, God’s first martyr, he looks up just before he commits his soul to Jesus [Acts 7:59], he looks up and he says, "I see the Lord standing at the right hand of the Majesty on high" [Acts 7:55-56, Hebrews 1:3]. Everywhere else in the Bible, the Lord is always pictured as seated. His work is done, and He sits as a King and a Sovereign over all history and all creation. But when Stephen is stoned, in his dying he sees the Lord standing up, on the right hand of Glory. That is, the Lord stood up to receive His sainted and first martyr, the deacon Stephen – the Lord standing by.
In the first chapter of the Apocalypse, when John says, "I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, exiled and alone," but when Sunday came he was worshipping in the name of our Lord, "I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a great voice, and I turned to see the voice that spake unto me. And being turned, I saw the Son of God" [Revelation 1:10-13]. Not alone; standing, the Lord close by. What an infinite comfort and strength! That’s the secret of the Christian life. That’s the secret of the Christian victory. That’s the secret of the Christian faith. Psalm 37, "I have been young, and now I am old; and yet have I never seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread" [Psalm 37:25]. Hebrews 13, "For He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" [Hebrews 13:5], the secret of the strength of the Christian life.
I read of a little mother, she was a devout Christian. Her big, strong husband was unsaved. They had a little girl who sickened and died. The big, strong man went to her pastor and said to him, "I am afraid that this sorrow will be too much for my little wife. Night after night has she been in vigil over the sickening life of our little girl. And now that the child has died, I’m afraid the sorrow will be too much for her. Would you come and pray, and strengthen, and comfort, and bless?"
So the two men, the big husband and the pastor, came to the house. And as they walked into and through the door, they heard a voice speaking. And they came to the door, and quietly looked in. And there in front of the casket, that little mother was on her knees talking to the God who was present. And she was saying, "Dear God, Thy loving hands gave, and Thy loving hands have taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord. We know that You will take care of our little girl, and she is safe with Thee, and we will see her again some day. But dear God, my husband isn’t a Christian, and he doesn’t know Thee, and he doesn’t know the strength and the comfort that comes from Thee. Dear God, have mercy upon my husband and speak to him that he might also know the blessedness of the assurance and hope that we have in Thee."
And that big, strong man turned toward the pastor and said, "Look at that. Look at that. She is the one who is strong. She is the one who has victory and assurance. Pastor, show me that way." And in no moment at all, the pastor had led him into the faith of the Lord. It is the secret of the Christian strength: the Lord standing by, and every need, and every trial, in ever weakness, in ever helplessness, God standing by, "For there stood by me this night the angel of God" [Acts 27:23].
And finally, dear people, that is our ultimate hope and our final assurance: it is in the presence of the Lord, standing by. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff," tokens of Thy close presence, "they comfort me" [Psalm 23:4].
Yesterday, in the early afternoon, we buried from this place, from our dear church, one of our men, just barely beyond fifty years of age, young to me. And as I stood in the midst of the pallbearers, after they had placed the casket in the funeral car, I said to the men, "You know, finally all that we have is Jesus, that’s all." Every possession, every coveted prize, joy, every dream, everything turns to dust and ashes. Finally, all that we have is the Lord, our comfort and our strength is in Him. He is all that we have.
And you know there was something that happened to me that I have mentioned to you several times. And I suppose the reason that it stays in my soul so poignantly is because of the many, many, many that I see in our dear church who finally come to an hour like this, like this. Yesterday, in visiting in the hospital – several of our people are like this – and I see them in the nursing home, and in rest homes, and I see them like this; the old man, so enfeebled and so weak. And I kneel down by his side, by the bed, and I begin to pray. And I say, "Lord, the great Physician, lay hands of healing upon him, and raise him up. And give him strength and length of days." He put his hand on me, and spoke; something that would never happen; that a man, when I’m praying would put his hand on me and speak. While I was praying that prayer, he put his hand upon me and spoke to me and said, "Pastor, don’t pray that. Don’t pray like that. Pastor, don’t pray like that." He said, "Pastor, my wife is gone, my children are all gone, my friends are all gone, and I am here alone, and aged, and sick. Pastor, pray that God will release me, and that I can go to be with Him and these whom I have loved so dearly." So I bowed my head again, and I said, "Lord, every treasure now, every dream is on the other side. And he is here so old, and invalid, and enfeebled, Lord release him, release him that he might be with Thee." And the Lord answered that prayer in just a little while, just so soon he went to be with our Lord and with those who wait for him in heaven.
And dear people, that is a great theological truth. All of our hope and assurance and salvation is in Him. It is not in us. We become so enfeebled and so old and so weak and so full of dying, all of our salvation is in His mercy and His pity and His grace [Ephesians 2:8]. It is nothing of us, we who are made out of dust and ashes; it is all of Him [John 14:6; Acts 4:12]. It is He who saves us. It is He who opens the doors into glory. It is all of Christ; it is none of us [Ephesians 2:8-9]. And my brother that’s what it is to be saved. That’s what it is to become a Christian.
Lord, I know my mortality, I know my frailty, I know my feebleness, I know, Lord, my unableness, my inability in those final moments and hours. Lord, I cast myself upon Thy strong arm. Forgiveness is in Thee; forgive me, Lord, my sins. Resurrection is in Thee [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]; Lord, raise me up to that upper, and beautiful, and better life. And assurance is in Thee [John 10:26-30]; Lord, speak to my heart, that I might be quiet in these hours that trial, that come upon the earth. I commit my life to Thee. That’s what it is to be saved: Jesus is our all in all.
May we stand together? Our Lord, whether we are young or old, we have already found those tragic sorrows in life that overwhelm us. We already know what it is to cry and to weep in disappointment and frustration. We already are acquainted with that pale messenger called Death. We have seen his entrance into homes. We have seen him tear up families. We have seen him plow up lives. We have made that sorrowful journey to the cemetery, and have seen these whom we have loved, laid away. And all of us, Lord, are conscious, deeply so, of that ultimate and final hour that inexorably awaits us, somewhere, some time. And dear God, we know we can’t save ourselves, salvation is all of Thee [Acts 4:12].
Oh, bless God! Jesus is standing by; it will be His ableness who delivers us [John 14:6]. It will be His love and care that forgives us [Ephesians 5:2]. It will be His nail-pierced hands who open for us the gates of grace, who now open for us the gates of glory. Dear God, without loss of one; as in this terrible storm, God gave to Paul all two hundred seventy-six [Acts 27:23-24, 37, 43-44], dear God, without loss of one, may all in divine presence today find harbor, and anchor, and rest, and salvation, comfort and assurance in Thee. Please, God, please.
In a moment, we shall sing our hymn of appeal, and as we wait before God quietly in prayer, and as we sing that hymn of appeal, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, "Here I am, pastor, I have decided for God and I’m on the way." May angels attend you and may the Holy Spirit bless you as you answer with your life. Do it now, make it now, while we pray and while we sing, and while you answer, "Pastor, here I am." God bless you as you come, while we sing.