Confirming Sign from Heaven
March 2nd, 1980 @ 10:50 AM
THE CONFIRMING SIGN FROM HEAVEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-2-80 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the message entitled The Confirming Sign from Heaven. God’s signs are in the sky. They are ever there in the over-arching chalice above us. The Bible begins like that. Genesis 1:14, “God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven . . . and let them be for signs, and for seasons . . . And let them be for lights in the firmament . . . to give light upon the earth: and it was so” [Genesis 1:14-15].
What a remarkable passage that they should write, “God placed the sun and the moon in the sky—that first they might be for signs and mo’adim [Genesis 1:14], and then later that they be for lights, to give light upon the earth; the sun to rule by day and the moon to rule by night” [Genesis 1:15-16].
What is this, “And let them be for signs?” And the King James Version, “And for seasons” [Genesis 1:14]. What is that, seasons? It is an altogether different meaning than the word implies to us. For to us a season would be a spring, and a summer, and a fall, and a winter. But there’s nothing of it in the meaning of the word. Mo`ad is a word used in the Old Covenant, in the Old Testament, hundreds and hundreds of times. The plural of it is here, mo`adim. Mo`ad means a convocation of God’s people. It means a sacred gathering in the name of the Lord.
So, the Bible begins. God placed those two great lights in the firmament above us [Genesis 1:116-17], in order that we might know when to gather in sacred convocations; the great holy festival days wherein we magnify the name of our great God and Savior. Such as Psalm 104:19, “God appointed the moon for”—and there’s that same word—mo`adim. He put it there in the skies, first that we might know the appointed time in which to gather in our sacred festival seasons and then later that it might give light upon the earth.
You see, God set those lights in the sky for our sacred gathering in the name of the Lord. Easter, their Passover, Easter is the first full moon after . . . Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon, after the vernal equinox, when the days and the nights are in equal length. Then seven times seven, seven weeks, the fiftieth day is Pentecost, set according to the mo`adim, the times of the moon [Leviticus 23:16]. Rosh Hashana, the new year of the Jewish calendar, is the first full moon after the autumnal equinox.
Then ten days later is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement [Leviticus 16:1-34, 23:26-32; Numbers 29:7-11]. And five days later is the Feast of Tabernacles [Leviticus 23:33-43; Numbers 29:12-38; Deuteronomy 16:13-17]. And Hannukah is at the winter solstice, the Feast of Lights. And the first day after the Feast of Lights, the first day after the winter solstice, the first day that begins to lengthen in its light is our Christmas. God set those signs in the heaven for mo`adim, for the sacred gathering of God’s people [Genesis 1:14].
God’s signs are in the heavens. In the ninth chapter of the Book of Genesis, God said, “I put My bow in the clouds, that it might be a sign of My covenant that I will never destroy the earth again by flood” [Genesis 9:11-16]. The bow, the rainbow in the sky is a sign of God’s sacred promise.
I turn the pages. In the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, Abraham stands before the Lord and says, “Lord, what of the promise that one out of my loins should be mine heir? And age is coming. And I have no son, and mine heir is this Eliezer of Damascus.” And the Lord took Abraham under the chalice of the great expansive sky at night and said to His servant, “Count the stars if you can: so shall thy seed be that is born out of thy loins” [Genesis 15:2-5].
And then follows the text of the Book of Romans, “And Abraham believed God: and his faith was counted for righteousness” [Genesis 15:6]. They were no longer stars. They now are promises and covenants. They are tokens and signs of God’s everlasting faithfulness.
So it came to pass in the second chapter of Matthew, “There came Magi to Jerusalem saying, ‘We have seen His star in the East, and are come to worship Him’“ [Matthew 2:1-2]. And in the second chapter of the Book of Luke and the angel said, “This shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” [Luke 2:12]. God’s signs are in the heavens above us, promises of God’s everlasting faithfulness. God confirms His promises by signs, outward tokens.
When the Lord said to Gideon, “You go and deliver My people from the Midianites, and I will go with you” [Judges 6:14-16]. Gideon said, “Lord, would You give me a sign of Your presence, and the faithful keeping of that promise that You will go with me? [Judges 6:17]. Let me put a fleece of wool, and in the nighttime, let it be wet with dew and all the earth around dry.” And it was so.
And then Gideon said to the Lord again, “Be not unhappy with Thy servant. But this time let the dew fall on the earth around and let the wool be dry” [Judges 6:36-40]. And it was so.
And then God said to Gideon, “I will give you another sign. Take your servant and in the nighttime go down the hill of Gilboa and listen to the speech of the Midianites in the Vale of Jezreel” [Judges 7:9-12].
And he went down and listened. And one of those Midianites soldiers said to his fellow soldiers, “I had a dream. A barley loaf rolled down the hills of Gilboa and struck our tents and crushed them.” And the other Midianite soldier said, “That is nothing but the sword of the Lord and of Gideon” [Judges 7:13-14]. God confirms His promises to us by signs.
The Lord sent Isaiah to Hezekiah and said to him, “God has seen your tears, and He has heard your prayers. And thou shalt not die. God hath given fifteen years added to your life” [2 Kings 20:4-6]. And Hezekiah who was on his deathbed said to the prophet Isaiah, “What sign should the Lord give me that I would know I shall have fifteen more years?” And Isaiah replied, “See the sundial in the court of the king? Ask. You want the shadow to go forward ten degrees or back ten degrees?” And Hezekiah said, “Let the shadow turn back ten degrees” [2 Kings 20:8-10]. And it was so; God’s sign of His faithful promise to Hezekiah [2 Kings 20:11].
When Pekah of Samaria and Rezin of Damascus conspired to destroy King Ahaz of Judah [2 Kings 16:5], instead of turning to the Lord, Ahaz made a secret conspiracy with Tiglath-Pileser, the king of the Assyrian Empire, to come and to deliver him [2 Kings 16:7-9]; an awesome thing, for it spelled finally the destruction of Israel. And Isaiah stood before King Ahaz and said, “Look to God. God will be your refuge and your defense and your victory. Trust in the Lord” [Isaiah 7:3-9].
And then Isaiah says, “Ask for a sign, that God will be faithful in that promise. Ask for a sign. Ask it in heaven above or in earth beneath. Ask God for a sign” [Isaiah 7:10-11]. And weak, vacillating, hypocritical Ahaz said, “I will not tempt the Lord. I will not ask” [Isaiah 7:12]. The reason, he had already made a conspiracy with Tiglath-Pileser [2 Kings 16:7-9].
Then we come to Isaiah 7:14, the prophet lifting up his voice says, “Then God Himself shall give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel, “God is with us. And before the child is old enough to be weaned, these two kings that you fear, Pekah and Rezin, shall have been destroyed from the face of the earth” [Isaiah 7:16].
The sign of God, a young woman, a virgin about to be married; before her first child old enough to be weaned, those two kings would be utterly destroyed which came to pass. But over and beyond, the Isaian prophecy saw the sign of our ultimate and final victory in God, He was born to us triumphant over sin and death in the grave, and His name is Immanuel, God with us [Isaiah 7:14].
The presence of the Lord is revealed to us by outward signs. God Jehovah the Father in the Old Testament was seen in His shekinah glory. In the daytime, it was like a pillar of cloud, and in the nighttime, it was like a pillar of fire, a sign of the presence of the Lord Jehovah God [Exodus 13:21-22].
When the Son of glory came to redeem us from our sins, John closed the Gospel with these words, “Many other signs, sēmeia.” In the whole Gospel of John, the word miracle is never used. Always sēmeion. “Many other, plural sēmeia, signs did Jesus in the presence of His disciples, not written in this book: But these are written, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you might have life through His name” [John 20:30-31].
Out of all the signs that Jesus did and John says, “They were so many, that if I were to write them all, the world would not hold the books” [John 21:25]. Out of all of the signs that Jesus did, he chose seven, and the Gospel of John is the conservation and the addressing of our Lord gathered around those seven sēmeia, seven signs. They were to authenticate the deity of the Lord Jesus our Savior. He was manifested to us by outward signs.
And the third Person of the Trinity was manifested to us in no different a way; in the second chapter of the Book of Acts when the day of Pentecost came, then followed three outward signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit. First, there was the sound as of a rushing mighty wind [Acts 2:2]. And second, there was a great flame lowered from heaven that separated cloven and lambently flame rose over the head of each one of them [Acts 2:3]. And the third sign; each one of the apostles spoke in a language, and the strangers from the ends of the Roman Empire each heard in his own native tongue the marvelous works of God in Christ Jesus our Lord [Acts 2:4-8]. God manifests His presence to us by outward signs.
The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:12, “The signs of an apostle were wrought among you.” These are the great authentications of God. And these apostles wrote the Holy Scriptures, and they are authenticated to us by apostolic signs. There are no more apostles. There are no more apostolic signs. And there are no more Scriptures. God reveals His presence among us by outward signs.
Again, God’s judgment is always preceded by signs. God never judges a people, nor does He let the wrath of the Lord fall upon us, until first we are forewarned. The signs of the judgment of God ever precede the day of visitation.
When Jeroboam separated the kingdom from Judah and built his capital at Bethel [1 Kings 12:25-33], he placed there a golden calf, and at Dan a golden calf, lest the people go to Jerusalem to worship the true God. And Jeroboam pointed to his golden calf and said, “This is the god that delivered you out of the bondage of Egypt” [1 Kings 12:28]. And from Judah came an unknown prophet, and he stood in the presence of Jeroboam and all the people as they bowed down before that idolatrous worship and as they offered sacrifice before the golden calf [1 Kings 13:1].
And that prophet lifted up his voice and said, “God shall destroy, and God shall judge, and God shall cease forever this worship in Samaria and in Bethel” [1 Kings 13:2]. And the sign thereof he said, “God shall rend this altar in twain” [1 Kings 13:3]. And upon that word, God divided the altar in two, and the ashes poured out on the ground [1 Kings 13:5].
When Jeremiah was sent with a message for the people of Judah, God put a yoke of wood around his neck [Jeremiah 27:2]. And Jeremiah walked up and down the streets of Jerusalem crying, “Repent, repent, the judgment of God is awaiting us.” And the sign of that judgment was the yoke around his neck that Nebuchadnezzar would put upon the people when he carried them off into slavery, and into captivity [Jeremiah 27:6-7].
And Hananiah, a false prophet, stood before King Zedekiah and in the presence of Jeremiah and said, God has spoken to me and said, in two years Nebuchadnezzar will be destroyed from the earth, and he will never touch this place and this city, and he will never carry our people into captivity. And Jeremiah said, Would God it were so! [Jeremiah 28:2-6]. And Hananiah took the wooden yoke and brake it off of the neck of Jeremiah. And the word to the Lord the next day came to Jeremiah, and he stood in the presence of Hananiah and Zedekiah the king and in the presence of the people, and he said, Hananiah has broken the yoke of wood but God is forging one of steel and of iron, and Nebuchadnezzar will take this people, unrepentant, and carry them away into slavery and into captivity. And as for you Hananiah, you shall die this year.
And in two months Hananiah was dead [Jeremiah 28:17]. God always precedes his judgment with warning signs.
In the twenty-fourth and in the twenty-fifth chapters of the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord is with His disciples and they are looking at the temple; one of the wonders of the world. Those stones are enormous. And as they point out to the Lord, the stones of the temple, Jesus said, “The day is coming when there will not be one stone left on the other” [Matthew 24:1-2]. And as they set on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to the Lord and said, “What shall be the sign of Thy coming, and the signs of the end of the world?” [Matthew 24:3]. Then follows Matthew 24 [Matthew 24:4-51], and 25 [Matthew 25:1-46], the signs of the coming judgment of Almighty God, which is a message that I shall preach about two Sundays from now, The Signs of God’s Judgment. This is one of the most pathetic laments in all of the Bible. Psalm 74:9, “We see not our signs: there is no more any prophet: neither is there among us any that knoweth how long.” Jesus said in the sixteenth chapter of Matthew, “You can discern the face of the sky; but you cannot discern the signs of the times” [Matthew 16:3]. Pathetic when there is a famine for the word of God, as Amos said [Amos 8:11-12], An unresponsive people do not heed, they do not listen, they do not see, and they progressively give themselves to the way of judgment and the wrath and visitation of God.
Last, not only are the signs of God seen in the sky above us [Genesis 1:14], not only are there confirming signs of the promises of the Lord [Isaiah 7:10-14], and not only does God make His presence known by visible and outward signs [John 20:30-31], and not only is the judgment of God preceded by outward signs [Matthew 24-25], last: God’s will is confirmed to us by outward signs, and blessed are the eyes that can see them, and blessed are the ears that listen to them. And blessed is the heart that repentantly and faithfully follows in obedience to them. God’s will is confirmed to us always by an outward sign.
Friday, I picked up the morning newspaper, and this is a UPI story from San Antonio this last Friday. Don and Pearl Langdon will destroy hundreds of bottles of liquor Sunday, that’s today, to signify the end of alcoholic drinks at their chain of restaurants. The Langdons decided not to renew their liquor license for the El Rancho Restaurant chain after state officials sent back their application. Mrs. Langdon had signed it in the wrong place. She said, “The Lord must have been guiding my hand.” She said she took the signing error as a sign from God to stop serving liquor at the chain of restaurants.
What do you think about that? Do you think these Langdons are idiots? Are they fanatics? Are they off-balance, that she would see in that a sign from God? That they no longer were to serve liquor in their restaurant chain? Is that according to the mind and the purpose and the revelation of God? Is God like that? He is.
If there’s any one thing I have come to see in these last weeks of studying and praying over this Holy Bible, it is that: that God makes known His will for us by outward signs.
I don’t think in human literature there is a more beautiful love story than the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Genesis. Abraham calls in Eliezer, his old and faithful servant. And he says to Eliezer, “I want you to put your hand”—in the [Old] Testament it says, I want you to put your hand under my loins.” What he asked Eliezer to do was to put his hand under his procreative abilities. “And holding my procreative abilities in your hand, I want you to swear to me that you will not take a daughter of the Canaanites for my son Isaac, but you will go back to my brother Nahor’s house and there find a maiden girl who believes in God to be the bride of my son Isaac” [Genesis 24:1-4].
And Elezer put his hand under the procreative abilities of Abraham and sware that he would bring for Isaac a girl from the house of the believing home of Nahor [Genesis 24:9]. Eliezer ladens his camels. And he makes the long trip to the city of Nahor at the top of the Mesopotamia Valley [Genesis 24:10]. And when he comes to the city at eventide, at the well of water, the girls of the city come out to draw water from the well [Genesis 24:11].
And Eliezer bowed before the Lord, and he said, “Let it be that when the maidens of the city come out to draw water, the girl that says to me, ‘Here, drink of the water of my pitcher, and I will draw from the well and give drink for your thirsting camels also.’ Let it be,” said Eliezer, “that the girl that says that to me is the girl You have chosen to be the bride of Isaac” [Genesis 24:12-14]. And it came to pass that as he stood there with his thirsting camels, there came out a girl named Rebekah [Genesis 24:15].
And she said to the weary traveler, “Here, drink from my pitcher.” And she said, “I will draw from the well that your camels might drink also” [Genesis 24:17-19].
And he said to her, “Who are you? Who are you?” [Genesis 24:21-23].
And she said, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Nahor,” Abraham’s brother [Genesis 24:24]. And oh, Eliezer bowed down to the ground and worshipped God [Genesis 24:26], an outward sign of the will of the Father. God always confirms His will by an outward sign.
You’ve heard me speak in the thirty-first chapter of Genesis. God said to Jacob, “Arise and get thee back to Canaan to your father’s house” [Genesis 31:3], and the next verse, “And Jacob saw that Laban’s face was not toward him as heretofore” [Genesis 31:2-3], the outward confirming sign.
In the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, the Holy Spirit would not suffer Paul and his party to turn east. Then he assayed to go into Bithynia, north, and the Spirit suffered him not. Then he assayed to turn to the south into Mysia and to Asia, and the Spirit suffered him not [Acts 16:6-7]. And finally, he came down to the sea. Across was Europe where our forefathers lived. And in the nighttime, there appeared a man in a dream to Paul. He was from Macedonia, and he said, “Come over into Macedonia and help us” [Acts 16:9]
And the next morning, they took the sign from God as an indication of the Lord’s will for them that they bring the gospel to Europe [Acts 16:10]. Had it been the other way, it would have been China sending missionaries to us instead of our sending missionaries to the Orient. God confirms His will for us always by an outward sign. So, it came to pass.
In these last several months, a great and increasing burden lay upon my heart. Some thirty-six years ago when I came to be pastor of this dear church, I asked Dr. W. L. Howse from the seminary, one of their professors of education, to come and help me here in our educational program. And one day, he called me in, and he said, “I want you to look at this.”
And he had studied the records of the church minutely. And for eighteen years, under the closing ministry of Dr. Truett, every year, the Sunday school was less than the year before. For eighteen years, the church was ebbing and abating for eighteen consecutive years. And Dr. Truett was the greatest and most incomparable prince of preachers that we’ve ever produced and I think ever will. There is none like him. I don’t think there will ever be another.
And yet under the last eighteen years of his ministry, this church gradually subsided. The reason, simple: Dr. Truett was gone all the time. He was ambassador, plenipotentiary to the whole world. And the church suffered and gradually quiesced. And that burden grew heavy on my heart because, not from any seeking or planning on my part, but every week between Sundays, I was to be gone every week. Sunday after Sunday, month after month, between Sundays I was going to be gone. And almost in despair before the Lord, on the twelveth day of January, for the twenty-ninth year Pat Zondervan came on that Saturday.
Ever since the Sheraton Hotel was built he stays there. And every Saturday on the Sunday before he comes here to make appeal for the Gideons and their Bibles, we eat dinner together. We tarried much longer at that dinner, the twelfth of this last January, than we ever had before. He was making an appeal to me.
He said, “Why don’t you stay at home? And why don’t you study? And why don’t you prepare your messages?” “And,” he said, “if you would do a great series of doctrinal studies, the great doctrines of the Bible, we would love to publish them. And if you would, God giving you length of days, preach through the books of the New Testament that you haven’t published expository sermons on, we would love to have them. And then after you’re in glory, the work that you’ve done will bless uncounted thousands in the books that you’ve written. Why don’t you stay home,” he said, “and study and preach and pastor that church?”
I said, “Pat, I’d love to more than anything in the world, but I don’t know what to do.” At one-thirty o’clock that morning, I awakened. And I had a hurting in my heart and a hurting in my left arm. And however I placed that left arm, I could not cease its hurting. And however position, sitting up, standing up, however position, I could not, I could not alleviate the hurting on the left side in my heart.
And at four-thirty o’clock that morning, Dr. Bagwell met me in the emergency at Baylor Hospital. And after Dr. Bagwell and those coronary doctors conferred and after their tests, the first thing they said to me was, “You must cancel all of your outside engagements,” the confirming sign from heaven. My heart is not out there. It never has been. I have never had anything in my soul but one thing. I have wanted to be a pastor. That’s all.
I have had no ambition beyond, ever. I love being a pastor. I loved pastoring my first little church of eighteen members. I loved pastoring my little church of forty members. I loved pastoring my little village church, then the county seat church, then a small city church, and now, soon thirty-six years, this wonderful church. I’d rather be here than anywhere in the world.
The confirming sign from heaven; “You cancel all those engagements, and you stay home, and you study, and you preach and pastor those dear people.” So a letter came after I got home from the Baptist World Alliance. They’re having a great interdenominational convocation of religious leaders in England. And the Baptist World Alliance said, “We want you to go and be our representative.”
I said, “No.”
And the Brazilian Baptists wrote and said, “We’re preparing to celebrate our one-hundredth anniversary. We want you to come and share in it.”
I said, “No.”
And the Brazilian Baptists said, “You led our first national Bible Conference in Sao Paulo this year. Next year we want you to come. And it will be held in Rio. And we want you to be our Bible teacher.”
I said, “No.”
And an official of the Korean government said, “We are preparing a convocation of over two-million Christian people in Seoul, Korea. And we want you to come and be one of our speakers.”
I said, “No.”
The confirming sign from heaven, the will of God for your life, and if you have eyes to see it and ears to hear His voice, and if you’re sensitive to the will of God for your life you will find that confirming sign every step of the way. Some of them will be warning signs of judgment if you don’t turn. Some of them will be confirming signs. This is the will of God for you. But for every life, God has a choice and a plan and an elective purpose. And He confirms it by outward signs.
Oh, blessed, blessed is that man, and that woman, and that family, and that youth that listens to the voice of the Lord and walks in the will and way of the Lord. And God speaks to you. He has no favorites. As He spoke to Moses, as He spoke to Jeremiah, and as He spoke to Paul, He speaks to us the confirming signs from heaven. Now may we stand together?
Our living Lord, not only the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, but the God manifest to us in the flesh [1 Timothy 3:16], Immanuel, God with us [Matthew 1:23-25]; the Lord God who died for our sins on the cross [Matthew 27:32-50; 1 Corinthians 15:3], raised the third day for our justification [Romans 4:25], lives to make intercession for us [Romans 8:25; Hebrews 7:25], and who speaks to us from heaven in signs and tokens. Ah Lord, that there might be in us that heart, and that spirit, and that disposition to listen to the voice of God, and as He speaks to us today, may each one answer with his life. “What God shall will for me, God helping me I shall do.”
The will of the Lord always is that we follow close to Him, that we believe in His dear Son, that we accept Him as our Savior, that we open the doors of our hearts and our homes that He might come and abide with us [Revelation 3:20]; that we follow Him through the waters of the Jordan; that we be baptized [Matthew 28:19-20]; that we belong to the communion and the fellowship of His people [1 Corinthians 12:13]. God speaks. O Lord, that we might have the heart to respond, and our Lord in this moment so sacred and holy, out of that balcony round, in the great press of people on this lower floor, “This day I have resolved to follow the will of my Lord, and here I come. Here I am. God be with me. I am on the way.” So bless them, Lord, as they answer. In Thy dear name, amen.
In a moment we shall sing our hymn of appeal, and down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, there will be a deacon, there will be a minister to welcome you, to pray with you, and in a moment, to present you to our people. Make the decision now in your heart, and on the first note of this first stanza, come. Make it now. Do it now, while we pray and while we sing.