The Responsive Heart
March 23rd, 1980 @ 8:15 AM
THE RESPONSIVE HEART
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-23-80 8:15 a.m.
It is a great gladness and joy on our part to proclaim the gospel in this dear church to the uncounted thousands of you also who listen on the two radio stations that bear it. The title of the message is The Responsive Heart; and it is an exposition of a passage in the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. Beginning at verse 10 in Matthew 13, there is a mighty turning in history, in the ministry of Christ, in the whole story of our world. It reads like this, Matthew chapter 13, beginning at verse 10:
And the disciples came, and said unto Him, Why speakest Thou unto them in parables?
He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.
Therefore speak I to them in parables: because seeing they do not see; and hearing they do not hear, neither do they understand.
In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah,
Then He quotes Isaiah 6:9 and 10:
By hearing ye shall hear, and ye shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:
For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them, save them.
But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.
For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.
The Lord came, the Prince of Glory, down into this world from the courts of heaven.
What a wonderful and marvelous thing. The Lord describes it:
Blessed are your eyes, for they see this. Blessed are your ears, for they hear this. Prophets, mighty men of God, have desired to see what you are seeing, and to hear what you are hearing. Blessed are you who now see and hear these marvelous things, the revelation of God come down from heaven.
We sing songs of praise like that:
Oh how marvelous, oh how wonderful,
And my song shall ever be
Oh how marvelous, oh how wonderful,
Is my Savior’s love for me.
["I Stand Amazed in the Presence," Charles H. Gabriel, 1905]
An incomparable thing God did in stepping down from heaven to this lowly earth, and becoming like us, one of us. But the nation to whom the Lord came received Him in rejection and unbelief. John wrote it pathetically and sadly in John 1:11 with these words: "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not." Thereupon, because of the rejection of our Lord by the people to whom He, God sent Him, thereupon the kingdom of God assumed a mystery form. Instead of being triumphant, millennial, the Lord King over all the earth and all the nations worshiping in His presence, because of the rejection of our Savior, the kingdom assumed a mystery form. No longer outward, the political nations are not godly, and this world does not see Jesus triumphant in it. There is an interval between now and the time of His second advent, the millennial return. There is a period of time called "the mystery form of the kingdom" [Matthew 13:11]. The kingdom is no longer outward; it is inward; it is in the hearts of men. It is no longer visible; it is invisible. Christ reigns not on the thrones of the earth but in the hearts of individual men. That’s why I said a moment ago this passage is one of the great turning points in biblical history and in the ministry of our Christ. Beginning at verse 10, the kingdom of heaven assumes a mystery form. This is the first time the word musterion, "mystery" is used in the New Testament; and it is used by the Lord Himself.
Now, the Lord explains why this turn. The kingdom is postponed, there is a great interval; and, in this interval, the kingdom of God has assumed this mystery form. And the Lord explains why, and He explained it like this:
Therefore speak I unto them in parables: because seeing they do not see; and hearing they do not hear, neither do they understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says, Hearing ye shall not hear, and seeing ye shall not see and shall not perceive: For the people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, lest they should see and hear and understand, and should be converted, and I should heal them, save them.
That was the Lord’s explanation of why the change in the format and appearance of the kingdom of heaven. You see, God made our eyes to look upon Him. The man that is created in the image of God has the ability to see God’s hand in everything. And especially the eyes were made to see God in Christ. But when they saw Him, they didn’t see Him; seeing they didn’t see. The ears are made to hear the voice of God speaking in everything and especially to hear the voice of God speaking in the words of Christ. But hearing they didn’t hear; they were dull of hearing. And the heart was made to respond to God. He made us for Himself that we might love the Lord and praise the Lord. One of the tremendous sentences in the Westminster Catechism of Faith is this: "What is the first duty, the purpose of the creation of man?" and the answer is, "The highest duty and purpose of the creation of man is to glorify God." He made our hearts to be responsive to Him. But they weren’t responsive; feeling they didn’t feel, and understanding they didn’t understand, and comprehending they didn’t comprehend. Thus the Lord says, "Therefore they’re not converted, and they’re not healed, and they’re not saved."
Now, that is so true of the kingdom of heaven in this dispensation, in this age. So many seeing don’t see, and hearing they don’t hear, and feeling they don’t feel; they don’t understand, they don’t comprehend. Why? I have three reasons why as I look at the world and look at people who refuse the overtures of the grace of our Lord.
Number one: familiarity in seeing. Seeing they don’t see; they have seen and seen and seen, and looked and looked and looked, but they don’t see. Familiarity has made it a common thing that they’re looking at, and they don’t see it. No longer is the gospel good news, it’s no longer a headline; it’s no longer in blazing lights! They have seen it and seen it and seen it, and it’s a common thing. Why this church, the First Baptist Church in Dallas, man, it’s been down there on that corner for one hundred seventeen years, and I’ve passed it, and passed it, and passed it, and passed it; it’s a common thing! Don’t see it; drive right by it, walk right by it, never even look at it. Familiarity, don’t see it. That preacher down there at the First Baptist Church, man, he’s been there thirty-six years, and he’s been preaching the same gospel for thirty-six years; he hasn’t changed it! It’s a common thing, repeated again and again and again. Familiarity, don’t see it.
One of the poignant stories in the Bible is the story of Uzzah in the sixth chapter of 2 Samuel. You see, Uzzah lived in the ancestral house of Abinadab. And, when the Philistines had captured the ark, and then because of their desecration, in order to save their very lives, they got rid of it, and it came to rest in the house of Abinadab. Uzzah grew up in that house. He had seen that ark all the days of his life! There wasn’t any day he didn’t look at it! It was a household piece of furniture to Uzzah. To us who love God, how sacred that ark! Just think of it, the mercy seat, and those golden cherubim looking full upon it, and their wings above it meeting: think of that ark, and on the inside of it the two tables of stone writ by the finger of God, the Ten Commandments; think of that. And the golden bowl that held the manna by which God fed the people in the wilderness, and Aaron’s rod that budded, to us think of how holy, awesome that ark would be! Think of how precious it was to God. God said, "No man shall see it but once a year when the high priest enters beyond the veil to make expiation for the sins of the people, atonement for the nation" [Hebrews 9:4-7]. And when it’s moved, it’s to be covered by the priest, and then staves are to be placed in the rings on each side, and it is to be carefully borne by the Levites. And in the [eleventh] chapter of the Revelation, and verse , John sees the ark, that ark, he sees the ark in heaven. Where is the ark? It’s in heaven. But to Uzzah it was a common piece of furniture! It had been in the house for two generations. Therefore when it was attempted in its return to Jerusalem, they put it on a wagon, just as they had seen the uncircumcised blaspheming Philistines do. They took that holy ark of God that no man was to see but the eyes of the holy priest once a year; they put it on a wagon. And as the wagon jostled it along, as a common piece of furniture, Uzzah reached forth his hands to get a hold of it, and the Lord smote him that he died. He had lost the awesome holiness of the meaning of the presence of God. It was a common thing to him, a familiar object.
And thus it is with so many as they see our Lord. See the wounds of Jesus? See the suffering of our Savior? See His death on the cross? No, I don’t see it. See its meaning for you? This atoning sacrifice for your sins? It’s nothing to me; it’s a common thing. See Him raised from the dead! See our living Lord! See Him ascend up into glory! I don’t see it; it’s a common thing. See Him interceding at the right hand of God for us? No, I don’t see. See Him returning again in glory? My eyes are blinded; I don’t see it. The Christian faith, to so many, has become used and familiar and common, and seeing they don’t see; not only that, but hearing they don’t hear because of indifference. "I could care less." Hearing they don’t hear.
To me, one of the most remarkable reactions to be found in the Bible is the beginning of the gospel as it is told by Matthew, out of which I’m preaching this passage. In the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, magi, that is, Zoroastrian Parsee priests have come from Persia on camels. Think of the long, long, endless trek! These magi, these Parsee Zoroastrian priests have come from afar, and arriving in Jerusalem, they say, "Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East, and are come to worship Him" [Matthew 2:2]. Wouldn’t you think all Jerusalem would have said, "Did you hear that? Did you hear that? The King has come! The Lord God is in our midst! The great prophetic promises of the Old Covenant have been fulfilled!" Wouldn’t you say? Wouldn’t you think, "Did you hear that?" The only reaction in Jerusalem was they were afraid of Herod at the announcement, and the scribes said, "Where is He to be born? Right over there, right over there; He is to be born in Bethlehem. The prophet Micah said He is to be born in Bethlehem" [Matthew 2:4-6]. And not one of them went to see Him who had been born King of the Jews! King of the Gentiles! King of the earth! King of heaven! King of kings! Not one of them went! You know how far Bethlehem was away? From here to White Rock Lake. Not one of them. Hearing they don’t hear. And they greet what they hear with profound indifference. Hearing the call of God.
My brother, no matter what our walk in life or what our assignment in this earth, the greatest thing that can come to the human heart is the voice of God! I hear Him speak. The voice of God is heard in the human heart. When a girl marries, when a boy marries, God speaks, God speaks! The call of God is, this is a time of supreme consecration and commitment, the building of a Christian home. The voice of God is heard in the birth of a child. This child created by the fingers of the omnipotent Lord, framed, put together in the infinite omniscience and ableness of God; this child is a loan from heaven, and it’s to be brought up in the love and nurture of the blessed Jesus. The call of God; but they don’t hear it. Hearing they don’t hear. And their ears are dull of hearing. And they build a home on the sand, and the child is reared without purpose, and life is without meaning and without value. Hearing they don’t hear.
And feeling they don’t feel. Their heart is waxed hard, and they don’t feel. In so many lives is there a tremendous conviction and moving of the Spirit of God. And then as the days pass, it lessens, and it lessens, and the feeling lessens, and it lessens, and finally it dies away, and there’s no feeling at all; can look upon Jesus and have no response at all, can hear the voice of God and don’t hear it at all, and can be present in the very throne room of the Holy Spirit of intercession and never feel His moving presence, the tug at the heart. "Lest they be converted and I should heal them, I should save them" [Matthew 13:15]. What is needed? Another sermon? No, been listening to sermons. Another service? No, the services have been going on ad infinitum. Another argument? No. Another explanation? No. What is needed? What is needed is a response! Lord, Lord, open my eyes, Lord; I’m ready to see! Open my ears, God, I’m ready to hear! Speak to my heart, Lord, I’m ready to respond! What is needed is a response, a moving out for God, a moving toward God, a response in the heart!
As some of you, many of you know, I went to the Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. I attended the school six long years. The school used to be located downtown at Fifth and Broadway, and right across the seminary campus was a tall apartment building, and one day the apartment building burst into flames. The firemen thought that they had evacuated the building, everybody was out. And as they were fighting the flames burning on the lower floors, to their horror and the horror of all who had gathered round watching that great structure burn, to the horror of all who stood below, there appeared a woman on the top floor. And she came to the window and cried piteously, "Save me! Help me!" And the firemen went to their engine wagon and pulled out a great life net, and all of them gathered around it and stretched it taut and tight, and then holding the life net on the street below, they called up, saying to the woman, "Jump! Jump! We’ll catch you, jump!" The woman would disappear into the building, and then come back and cry, "Help me!" And the firemen holding that life net taut would say, "Jump! Jump! We’ll save you, jump!" She never jumped. She burned to death in the building.
What is needed is not another argument, it’s not another explanation; what is needed is a response! "Lord, Lord, I cast myself upon Thy divine mercies and Thy loving grace, and here I am, Lord; I come."
You see, the Lord says without that response I can’t be saved. I have to respond.
If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in thine heart that He lives, that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart we believe unto that God kind of righteousness, and with the mouth, with the response, with the confession, I commit my life unto salvation.
And without that response I can’t be saved; I have to respond.
The thief crucified by our Lord on the cross, nailed there to the tree, all he could do was turn his head and say, "Lord, remember me." But he did it. And in the turning of his head, he’s the one man that I know is in heaven. Jesus said to him, "Today, thou shalt be with Me in Paradise" [Luke 23:42-43]. Without the response, I can’t be saved. I have to respond.
Did you know one of the most moving things I ever looked upon in my life happened right down here and right down that aisle there? There were two men seated underneath that balcony at the back. They were strangers to each other, and both of them were strangers in the church. They were visitors, seated back there. And upon a Sunday, when I got through preaching and gave the invitation, one of those men turned to the man seated next to him, and said, "Sir, I am mostly blind, and I can’t see well. Would you take my hand, and would you lead me down that aisle to the pastor? I want to tell him that today I accept the Lord Jesus as my Savior." And down the aisle came two men, strangers to me, one leading the other by the hand. And when the one leading by the hand came to me, he said, "I’m a stranger here at the church; I’m just a visitor, and I have no idea who this man is. But after you got through preaching, he turned to me and said, ‘Would you take me down to the pastor? I’m mostly blind and can’t see well. And I want to accept the Lord as my Savior.’"
Somehow, some way, we must express that commitment to our Lord. I must respond. It’s the only way, God says, "I can heal you and I can save you." The responsive heart: "Lord, Lord, may be worthless, but such as I am, I come. Poor and needy, here I am, Lord." Like that man praying in the temple, "Have mercy upon me, the sinner" [Luke 18:13]. And God does it. No man ever asked God and the Lord didn’t reply. That was the triumphant word of Paul: "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" [Romans 10:13], – the responsive heart.
May we stand together?
Our Lord, not only in that instance when those two strangers came down here, but there’s never been a time in the years and the years but that my heart is moved when I see people come to Christ. It’s a little bit of heaven. And if the angels rejoice in glory, we rejoice down here in this earth and in this church when somebody comes to Jesus. And our Lord, give to these to whom the Spirit hath made appeal today a responsive heart. "I have seen and seen and seen, but now I see. I have heard and heard and heard, but now I hear. I have felt the moving of the Spirit of God in my heart, and now I answer." Grant it, Lord, in Thy dear name.
In just a moment, as our people wait and pray, we’ll sing a hymn of appeal. And to give your heart to Jesus as Savior, to bring your family into the circle of this dear church, to come to be baptized in obedience to His great command, to answer God’s call with your life, make the decision now in your heart. And in a moment, when we sing, down one of those stairways, down one of these aisles; make it now. Do it now. And thank You, Lord, for the gracious harvest, in Thy saving and keeping name, Amen, while we wait, while we sing, while we pray.