GOD DID VISIT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-24-80 8:15 a.m.
It is a delight for all of us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas to welcome the uncounted thousands of you who have joined this hour on radio, the two radio stations that bear its message. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church delivering the message; it will be the last one regarding the pragmatic, empirical facets of our Christian life. Beginning the first Sunday in September, I shall begin that doctrinal series in the morning and The Problems of Human Life in the evening. This is the last message on our practical Christian ministries before the Lord. Next Sunday, as you know, the Sunday before Labor Day, Huber Drumwright, now executive secretary of the Baptist Convention in Arkansas, will be our preacher. Every Sunday before Labor Day, he is our preacher. He is a child of the church and one of the most gifted doctrinal and denominational leaders in our Baptist Zion.
The title of the message is God Did Visit. That is a phrase that is taken out of the address of James, the pastor of the church at Jerusalem, when he was speaking of the spreading of the gospel to the Gentile world. I would also like to add to that the first half, the first piece of a verse in James chapter 1, verse 27; James 1:27, "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit," That’s the first half of that verse. James 1:27, "Pure religion, real religion, and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit."
All of us have been aware, even our young people reading it in history and in school, all of us are aware of the sometimes violent and revolutionary social movements that have characterized our twentieth century. And, as you look at those social movements, do you see how they are identified with the people, the great masses of the people, and how their insignia, how the aegis under which they march and seek to control the lives of the nations, do you notice how they are commonplace? For example, I remember when the fascist appeared under Benito Mussolini; and the sign of the fascist was a black shirt, black shirt. I remember when Hitler appeared with his Nazi party; and the sign of the Nazis was a brown shirt. One had a fascist bundle, one had a swastika, but it was on a shirt. And of course, none of us can go back beyond the time when the communists began to overrun the world. And the communist sign is a hammer and a sickle; a common laborer tool is the sign of the movement of the great party.
Now, that thing is true even in America: in any kind of a political effort, there is always a concomitant to identify the party and the movement and the effort with the people. I remember reading in history one of the slogans of one of the parties in America that won the presidency. The slogan was "A full dinner pail," a working man’s lunch. Now, when we turn from the world of politics or economics or national life to religion, almost immediately our minds unconsciously come out of the practical world into some kind of ephemeralities. Somehow so much of religion is identified with a charade; it’s something really not identified with reality, it’s there, it’s over there, it’s up there, but it’s not down here, it’s not real, it’s not actual, it’s something that the preacher preaches about or the fantasies that we have of a life that we have never been introduced to, we don’t know it, it’s something beyond us. So ofttimes is that true; when actually, really, there’s not anything more pertinent to human life than the faith. It touches in every intimate detail of our existence: our children, our homes, our thinking, our minds, our hearts, our emotions, our wills, our decisions, our destinies, in life, in death, in the eternity to come. It is an oversowing of Satan that persuades us that religion is something else; it’s removed out of our real lives. When it’s the realest thing in all the world, and a good illustration of that is in the message today.
Did you ever think of any definition of religion like that? James the pastor of the church at Jerusalem, the Lord’s half brother, writes, "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit" [James 1:27]. Did you ever think of such a thing as that, and as commonplace and ordinary as that?
Thirty years ago we were building our chapel building just across the street there, and a steward in the Methodist church gave me the money for Embree Hall. And as we planned the beautiful prayer meeting hall and chapel, why, he also gave me the money for six beautiful windows; and he wanted each one of the six dedicated to a missionary. And when you go over there and look at those beautiful, beautiful windows, you’ll see each one is dedicated to a Southern Baptist missionary. Well, to find somebody in the world today that has the genius of working in stained glass, it’s a difficult assignment. It’s almost a lost art. But we discovered a man in St. Louis, Missouri, who could do that work as they did it in the medieval ages. So he came down, many times, and I worked with him as we outlined those six windows over there. Now, he had his own ideas about it, and they’re marvelous. All you have to do is go over there and look at the genius of that man’s hands. On this side, is a depiction in the three windows of the Old Covenant, the Old Testament; and it’s beautifully done. They’re instruments of music, and they’re worship, and the law. That’s the Old Testament on that side. On this side presented the New Testament: our Lord is the Lamb of God, our Lord is the King of the world.
But I said to him, I said, I said, "Mr. Jacobi, I want to do one window. I want to do one window."
Well, he said, "Show me what you would like to do."
Well, I said, "When you have done the Old Testament on this side and the two windows of the New Testament on this side, I would like for you to do this window as I would try to draw it for you."
Well, he said, "I’d be happy to. Show it to me."
So this is what I did: in the center, in the center medallion, I drew a picture the best I could of a church with a steeple pointing up to heaven, just like that. And then I said, "On this side I want to [put] in the smaller medallion on the left side, praying hands that you’ve seen all over the world, praying hands. And then underneath write ‘prayer.’ And then on the medallion on the right side, I want you to make a hand knocking at the door, knocking at the door. And then underneath I want you to write ‘visitation.’"
Well, he was delighted, and he said, "I’d be glad to do it."
When you go into Embree Hall and look at that window, the one on the right side toward the pulpit, that’s what it is. In the large center medallion is a steeple pointing to God in heaven above. And on this side are praying hands, and on this side is a hand knocking at the door [James 1:27]. "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To knock at the door," with a wonderful message of good news and invitation from Jesus.
Now, the whole Bible confirms that avowal. God, in His way with us, seems to be that: He visits us. In the third chapter of the Book of Genesis, Adam hears His voice in the cool of the day, for God has come to visit the man and the woman that He made [Genesis 3:8-9]. In the first chapter of Ruth, sweet Naomi says that she is going back to Bethlehem, for she had heard how God had visited His people in giving them bread [Ruth 1:6-7, 19]. In the beautiful eighth Psalm, the singer sings, "When I behold the heavens, the work of Thy hands, and the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained; what is man, that Thou visitest him?" [Psalm 8:3-4]. Isn’t that a remarkable thing? "What is man, that Thou visitest him?" And the great prophecies of the Bible always have that ringing heraldic announcement: "He is coming to visit us." Such as Zechariah says, "Rejoice, O daughter of Zion; and shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, Thy King cometh unto thee; meek and lowly and having salvation. And He shall speak peace to the nations, and His dominions shall be from sea to sea, and His kingdom to the ends of the earth" [Zechariah 9:9-10]. He is coming. And the incomparable prophet Isaiah says, "And when He comes, He will have a name: they shall call His name Immanuel, with us is God" [Isaiah 7:14]. That’s the Lord from the beginning.
Now, when those great prophecies were fulfilled, that’s the way they were fulfilled: Jesus came visiting. From town to town, from village to village, from house to house, from home to home, that was Jesus, the most approachable. You read that Gospel and see if it isn’t true; the most approachable of all of the men who ever lived.
You know, sometimes being a preacher, I think a whole lot of things. I was seated by Ronald Reagan, oh, a long time while they were getting ready for him to appear last Friday night. And, and, the police that were everywhere, and the Secret Service that were . . . and the uniformed officers that were at every door and every hallway, and they checked carefully anyone who approached or anyone who wanted to speak or shake hands or whatever. It was, oh, it was an amazing complex to me. And of course, being a preacher, I just couldn’t help but think of the contrast: the police and the Secret Service they were innumerable, they swarmed that vast area down there; but the Lord Jesus, the Lord Jesus, just anybody could walk up to Him, and did. The only time I know in the Bible when the men around Jesus tried to keep people away from Him was when mothers brought their children to the Lord that He might touch them and bless them. And you remember what He said? "Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God . . . And He took them in His arms, and blessed them" [Mark 10:14-16]. That’s great! Nobody to shove anybody out or keep anybody away. The Bible says several times, "They thronged Him on every side." That’s why you have the story of that woman with an issue of blood. She came up behind Him, and touched the hem of His garment [Matthew 9:20-21]. He is great: Jesus.
Well, His whole life was like that. One time when He was asked about that, I’m talking about that visiting of our Lord, one time when He was asked about it was this occasion. He came to the town where the sinner lived, He came to the street where the sinner had his address, He stood before the tree up which that sinner has climbed, and He called him by his name, "Zaccheus," and said, "I have come to stay at your house" [Luke 19:1-5]. Can you believe that? And when they said, "He has gone to be the guest of a sinner" [Luke 19:7], do you remember the marvelous word that Jesus replied? "For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" [Luke 19:10]. Doesn’t that bless your heart? That’s why He came: "Not to call the righteous," He said, "to repentance; not for those who are well and strong, but for the sick who need a physician, the great Physician, and for the unrighteous, that they might be saved" [Matthew 9:13; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:31-32]. That’s Jesus.
And the last picture we have of our Lord is still just that; and you read it a moment ago. "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock; if anyone hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in, and we will fellowship together"[Revelation 3:20]; standing at the door of your heart, standing at the door of your house, standing at the door of your home, standing at the door of life. Dear God, how blessed: Jesus came visiting.
Now will you notice how our Lord taught in His ministry. He was always that: a going forth, always; it was just that. To show you how different we are, this is the way we are. We say the sower stood dead still on the edge of the field. And he said, "All of you acres out there in this field, come up and get sowed." That’s the way we say it. But the Lord said, "A sower went forth to sow" [Matthew 13:3]. That’s the way He talked. All right, look again at the Lord Jesus. We say, "Standing on the side of the lake, all of you fishes out there, come up here and get caught." That’s the way we say it. The Lord says, "Launch out into the deep, and let your nets down" [Luke 5:4]. You know what we do? We build a sheepfold on the side of the wilderness, and we put a sign out there saying, "All of you lost sheep, if one of you happens to stray into the fold, we’ll try that you be saved." That’s the way we do. But what the Lord taught was, the shepherd leaves the ninety and nine, and goes out into the wilderness to seek the lost [Luke 15:4]. That’s the way He taught, always. And that’s the way He trained His apostles. When He chose the twelve He sent them out two by two [Mark 6:7]. When He chose the seventy, He sent them out two by two [Luke 10:1]. Always His training was to go. And the Great Commission is just that. The word "go" is always in it. That’s what the Great Commission is [Matthew 28:19-20].
Now I want you to see how the apostles faithfully carried out that mandate of our Lord. For example, as they began to witness, it says in the concluding verse of the fifth chapter of the Book of Acts, "And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and to preach Jesus as Lord" [Acts 5:42]. Marvelous! Then the apostle Paul, in describing his ministry to the elders, to the pastors of the church at Ephesus, in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, in verses 20 and 21 and verse 31; in Acts 20 and 21, he says, "You remember how I kept back nothing profitable unto you, but showed you, and taught you publicly, and from house to house, Testifying to the Jews, to the Greeks, to anybody who lived in the house, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" [Acts 20:20-21]. Now that thirty-first verse, "Therefore watch, and remember that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears" [Acts 20:31].
You know, all of my life, and still, I’ll hear a man referred to, or sometimes presented as "the greatest preacher since Paul." Well, I know exactly what they mean by that. "The greatest preacher since Paul," what they have is the imagery of a mighty, Demosthenian Ciceronian oratory, rising from one great peroration after another. That’s exactly what they have in their minds. You know, it would be a wonderful thing if we would read the Book. It would be very interesting for us. What kind of a man, what kind of a preacher was the apostle Paul? Well, he says, in 2 Corinthians chapter 10, verse 10, he repeats what people said about him. And do you remember what it was? This is what he says, in 2 Corinthians 10:10, Paul quotes those who are talking about how he was, what kind of a preacher he was, he says, quoting them, "His bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible." Does that sound Ciceronian to you? Does that sound Demosthenian to you? I’d say you would have your head examined, if you look at what the apostle Paul speaks of himself, and say, "greatest preacher since the apostle Paul," and refer to those Demosthenian rhetorical perorations.
Well, how did he do his work? He turned the whole province of Asia upside down, the Bible says. And the whole province of Asia heard the Word of God in that ministry of Ephesus. And how did he do it? "Day and night," he says, "with tears, from house to house, testifying repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" [Acts 20:20-21, 31], he had a marvelous, marvelous unction of heaven upon him; and that’s the way he did it.
Now, we must conclude. After all, tell me, doesn’t the Bible sort of describe that as the very heart of the Christian faith? "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit" [James 1:27]. In the twenty-fifth chapter of the First Gospel, twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew, our Lord says:
When the King shall come in His glory, and all of the peoples of the world, the nations of the world, shall be gathered before Him, He shall divide them, as a shepherd divides sheep from goats. And He shall say to those on His right hand, to the sheep, Come thou blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the earth: For I was sick and ye visited me, I was lost or in prison and undone and you came unto me. And they shall say unto Him, Lord, when did we ever see Thee sick or needy or lost, and visited You, and ministered to You, when? And the Lord shall reply, Inasmuch as you did it unto one of the least of these, ye did it unto Me.
Didn’t know it, but you were ministering to the Lord Jesus when you visited that house, when you knocked at the door, when you prayed that prayer, when you offered hands of encouragement and help. I didn’t invent that; Jesus said that. You know how we are, and I lived this kind of a world all my life. You know how we are? This is the way we are. We go to a great, say, Southern Baptist Convention, and there’s a hall there that’ll seat, say, sixteen thousand people. And it is filled, and we look upon that great convocation, and we say, "Man, this is the faith!" Jesus never mentioned it; He never referred to it. Or, we listen to some brilliant and oratorical sermon, and as the preacher rises from one great emotional outburst to another, we say, "Man, this is the faith! This is it." The Lord never mentioned it; He never referred to it. Or we stand in some marvelous cathedral-like edifice and look upon some glorious ritual with its pomp and color, and we say, "Man, this is the faith!" The Lord never mentioned it; He never referred to it. Well, what did He talk about? This is what Jesus talks about: He talks about a cup of cold water given in the name of a prophet [Matthew 10:42]. This is what Jesus talked about: seeking out that one lost sheep [Luke 15:4-7], or that one lost coin [Luke 15:8-10], or that one lost boy [Luke 15:11-32]. That’s Jesus.
A certain pastor of great austerity climbed up in his high church steeple
To be nearer God, that he might hand God’s Word down to the people.
In his day God said, "Come down and die!" And he cried out from his steeple,
"Where art Thou, Lord?" And the Lord replied, "I’m down here, among My people."
["The Preacher’s Mistake," by William Croswell Doane]
That’s pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father, down here with His people [James 1:27].
A Sunday school teacher, proud of herself for having posted for the sixth time a card to a little girl named Mary in her Sunday school class who was absent, and it happened to be, as she walked from the post office back, she met the mother of the little child Mary. And the Sunday school teacher said to the mother, "I have just been to the post office, and I have just dropped into the mail the sixth card saying how we missed your little girl Mary from Sunday school." And the mother sorrowfully, and poignantly, and piteously, and pathetically replied, "Dear, you don’t need to send our little girl anymore cards. Yesterday, after a long illness, we buried our little girl Mary." I’m not saying that it isn’t good religion to write a note, to mail a card, to send a message; I’m just preaching the Book: "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To knock at the door" [James 1:27]. That’s what God says. And when our people reflect the spirit of our Father, and follow the teachings of our wonderful Savior, when we emulate the example of those mighty apostles, and when we do what Jesus says, that’s what it’ll be: "My neighbor, in the name of God, welcome; friend, glad to see you." To knock at the door, to encourage, to invite; and the Lord adds His blessing.
Now may we stand together?
Our Savior, we have visited and prayed and invited, now Master, add to the invitation the wooing of Thy Holy Spirit. And before it comes to pass before our very eyes, we thank Thee for the harvest with which God shall crown our sowing.
In just a minute, we’ll be singing our hymn of appeal and in the great throng in the balcony round, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, "Pastor, we have decided for God, and we’re on the way." A family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you; our ministers will be here, our deacons will be here, the angels of God are here to rejoice with us in your coming. And thank Thee, Lord, for the precious response. In Thy wonderful and saving and keeping name, amen.
Now while we wait, while we pray, while we look expectantly to heaven, into that aisle, down here with us at the front, "Pastor, I’m on the way," while we sing, while we make appeal, God bless you.