The Responsive Heart
March 23rd, 1980 @ 10:50 AM
THE RESPONSIVE HEART
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-23-80 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, delivering the morning message at this hour entitled The Responsive Heart. As we turn to the Book of Matthew, the First Gospel, and beginning our reading at verse 10, we have come in this passage to a great watershed, a great continental divide in human history, especially biblical history, and most particularly in the ministry of our Lord. Beginning at verse 10, the whole course and destiny of the world takes another turn; it forms itself into another fashion. And the reading of the passage is this: Matthew 13, verse 10, “And the disciples came, and said unto Him, Why do You talk to them in parables? Jesus answered and said, Because you will understand the mustēria, the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but they will not understand” [Matthew 13:10-11]. Verse 13, “I speak therefore to them in parables: because seeing they see, and they see, and they see—but they do not see; and hearing they hear, and they hear, and they hear—but they do not hear, neither do they comprehend. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah” [Matthew 13:13-14], and our Lord quotes Isaiah 6:9-10:
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.
as the Greek is, and the Hebrew is, Amen, amen—
truly, verily I say unto you, Many prophets and glorious men of old desired to see those things which that you are now seeing, and they have not seen them; and to hear those things that you are now hearing, and they did not hear them.
But you see, and you hear, and your heart responds. Blessed—makarios, happy, wonderfully, felicitously situated—are you.
Now as I said, this is the great continental divide, the turning point in human history, especially in the dispensations of Christ. You see, it was a wonderful thing when our Lord came down from heaven made in the fashion of a man, and walked among us [John 1:14; Philippians 2:6-8]. What a glorious and incomparable visitation from heaven! Our minds can hardly enter into it, that God Himself should become a man, clothed, incarnate, with flesh. It’s too wonderful for us even to enter into; it’s a mystery of God. And that’s why the Lord said to these apostles, “Blessed are your eyes for what you are seeing, and your ears for what they are hearing” [Matthew 13:16]. These old prophets longed to see this day, and they didn’t see it. And many great righteous men of old longed to be a part of what you are a part of, but it was denied them. But you see, and you hear, and you understand.
No wonder in our singing we praise God for His coming down to us in this earth:
O how marvelous! O how wonderful!
And my song shall ever be:
O how marvelous! O how wonderful!
Is my Savior’s love for me!
[from “I Stand Amazed in the Presence,” Charles H. Gabriel, 1905]
That is the coming of our Lord into this world. But to the nation and to the people to whom He came, He received rejection and unbelief.
The apostle John wrote it in a pathetic sentence, John 1:11, “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” Because of their unbelief, and because of their rejection, the kingdom of heaven assumed another form. Instead of being a glorious millennial reign of our Lord, the kingdom of heaven assumed a mystery form: not outward, but inward; not visible, but invisible. And in this interval of time between the Lord’s first advent [Galatians 4:4], and His second advent [Hebrews 9:28], the kingdom of God is in mystery form. It’s not seen; it’s only found in the hearts of men, awaiting the great and mighty day when the Lord shall descend from heaven with a shout, with a voice of an archangel, with the trump of God [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], when He shall establish His kingdom in the earth, and all of the nations of the Lord shall bow before Him [Philippians 2:10]. Until that time, beginning at verse 10, in the rejection of our Lord the kingdom of heaven has assumed a mystery form—an inward reality in our hearts, but hidden to those who are beyond the grace and mercy of God [Matthew 13:10-12].
Now the Lord explains that turning, that great dividing time in history. He explains it, and He says it is:
…because seeing they do not see; and hearing they do not hear, neither do they understand.
It is fulfilled what the prophet said, Hearing ye shall hear and shall not understand, and seeing ye shall see and shall not perceive:
For the heart of the people is waxed gross, their ears are dull, their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their hearts, and should be converted, and I should save them, should heal them.
That’s one of the saddest, saddest of all of the pronouncements of God in the history of the world. It put off the millennial kingdom of our Lord, now already two thousand years. Why? The Lord said this is why: the eye was made for seeing God, seeing God everywhere in everything, and seeing God in Jesus Christ; but seeing and seeing and seeing, they never did see. Our ears were made for hearing the voice of God, speaking everywhere in everything, and especially hearing the voice of God in Jesus our Lord. But hearing, and listening, and hearing, they didn’t hear [Matthew 13:14-15]. Our hearts were made to respond to God, to love the Lord, to worship in His presence. Our hearts were made to be filled with the glory and praise of our blessed Savior. But feeling, they didn’t feel; and comprehending, they didn’t comprehend; and understanding, they didn’t understand; and feeling, they didn’t feel. “Lest,” the Lord said, “they be converted, and be changed, and I save them” [Matthew 13:15].
What was true of the kingdom of heaven in that day, beginning at verse 10 in Matthew 13, is true of the great mass of humanity today. Seeing, they don’t see; hearing, they don’t hear; and feeling, they don’t feel; they don’t comprehend, they don’t understand. It is hidden from their eyes [Matthew 13:10-15].
And as I pore over that passage and think about our world today, there are three things that the Lord says here that is so true of these who are lost. The first, the Lord says, is: “Seeing they do not see; they see, and see, and see, but they do not see” [Matthew 13:14]. That is, familiarity in looking: it is such a common thing, seeing it, seeing it, seeing it, but never see it. The gospel is called—the Word is “good news,” the gospel. It’s an old Anglo-Saxon word, “God-spell”; “spell” is an old Anglo Saxon word for “news.” It’s the good news of God.
The gospel is good news. It means that in the Greek, euangelion, it means it in English, “gospel”; but it’s so familiar, it’s not good news any longer. It’s not blazoned in electric lights; it’s not in the headlines of our newspapers. It’s a common thing, and everything about it is familiar and worn and used. Why, that church down there, the First Baptist Church in Dallas, man, that church has been there one hundred seventeen years. I’ve passed it a thousand times. Drive by it, never even see it; walk in front of it, don’t even look at it. Familiarity, see but don’t see. That preacher down there in that 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 at all. What he started out preaching thirty-six years ago, he’s still preaching the same gospel today. Familiar, over and over again, see and see and see, but don’t see. Never comprehend, never actually look at it, never perceive it. Instead of receiving the gospel with awe, with awesome holiness, it’s a common thing, familiar, everyday circumstance.
I think of one of the most unusual and poignant stories in the Bible; it’s in the sixth chapter of 2 Samuel. Uzzah, in the household of his ancestral home of Abinadab, Uzzah all his life had seen there in the house the ark of the Lord. It was a common piece of furniture to him. When he was born it was there; and now as a young man it was still there, a common, familiar piece of furniture. To us who love God, oh! the holiness, the awesomeness of this ark of the Lord; the mercy seat, and the cherubim looking full down upon it, and their golden wings arched above it. And inside the ark, the two tables of stone writ by the finger of God, and in the ark the golden bowl of manna, and in the ark the rod of Aaron that budded [Hebrews 9:3-5]. To us, what a holy symbol of the presence of the great Jehovah God! And to God Himself, what an awesome, awesome instrument of worship to the Lord God. He said in the Levitical law no eyes are ever to look upon it, just once a year in Yom Kippur, on the high Day of Atonement, the priest is to enter with blood of expiation beyond the veil [Hebrews 9:7]. And when it is moved, it is to be covered by the priest that no eye see it; and staves are to be placed through its rings on either side, and it’s to be born on the shoulders of the Levites [Exodus 25:13-14; 1 Chronicles 15:15].
God says that in heaven the ark rests today. In Revelation, in the Apocalypse, chapter 11, verse 19, John sees the ark, that ark, in heaven [Revelation 11:19]. Where is it? It’s in heaven today. Yet to Uzzah, in the house of Abinadab, it was an ordinary familiar piece of common furniture. And when it was returned to Jerusalem, it was placed on a wagon as the uncircumcised blaspheming Philistines had done; it was placed on a wagon. And when it began to shake, without any sense of the holiness and awesomeness of God, Uzzah with unclean hands seized it, handled it. And the Lord struck him in that place [2 Samuel 6:6-7].
That’s exactly like so many outside of the gospel pale today. “Man, you talk about Jesus? Why, I cuss with His name. Whenever I use an oath”—and some men speak it in every other breath, talk about Jesus, talk about Christ, Jesus Christ—“Man, that’s a cuss word.” See His wounds, see His suffering, see His cross, see His blood [Matthew 2732-50], see His death [Philippians 2:8]: they don’t see! “You mean that’s an expiation of my sins? [1 John 2:2]. He died for me? [1 Corinthians 15:3]. I don’t see.” The glorious resurrection of our Lord [Matthew 28:1-7], the triumph over the grave [1 Corinthians 15:54-57], see the Lord raised from the dead—“No, I don’t see.” And the Lord coming again in triumph [Matthew 24:30], the victory is His, the kingdoms of the world are His [Revelation 11:15]—“I don’t see it!” Seeing, they don’t see [Matthew 13:13]; their eyes are blind, and they’re not converted, and they’re not healed, they’re not saved [Matthew 13:14-15].
The Lord said, “Hearing, they do not hear” [Matthew 13:13]. The indifference of hearing and hearing and hearing, and never hear; hear it on the radio, hear it from the lips of a friend, a neighbor, a witness, but they never hear. I think one of the most astonishing—and yet when I think of it and the present world, why should I think this astonishing?—one of the most astonishing of all of the scenes in the Bible is the beginning of the gospel of Jesus as told by Matthew. In the second chapter, after the genealogical tables [Matthew 1:1-17], in the second chapter, the story begins, “There came magi,” Parsee Zoroastrian priests from Persia. “There came magi from the East to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews?” [Matthew 2:1-2]. My brother, think of that: on camels, all the way from Persia, modern Iran, these Parsee Zoroastrian priests come, saying, “We have seen His star in the East, and we have come to worship Him, where is He?” [Matthew 2:2]. Wouldn’t you think all Jerusalem would have echoed with the cry, “Did you hear that? Did you hear that? Did you hear that? The King has been born. The Messiah of God is here! Did you hear that?” The story begins, the only observation: they were troubled because of what Herod might do. And the scribes said, “Micah the prophet said He would be born in Bethlehem” [Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:3-6]. You know how far Bethlehem was away? Five miles. You know how far away that is? From here to White Rock, to White Rock Lake. Did one of them go? Not one. Did one of them seek? Not one. “The King is born, here, the Word! Even the pagan priests from Persia have come to worship at His feet, did you hear that?” [Matthew 2:1-2]. The vast illimitable, immeasurable, inexplicable indifference of the people.
It is astonishing to me—hearing, never hear it at all, never comprehend at all [Matthew 13:13-14]—until I look at people today. Hear? Do they hear God speaking? No. Hearing, they don’t hear. God speaks to a man in his personal heart, in his personal life. There is a will of God for each one of us, an elective purpose for each one of us [Ephesians 2:10]. Do we listen to the voice of God for us? No! We pass by God’s great plan with immeasurable contumely and indifference; couldn’t care less.
When a man marries, the voice of God is in that marriage. God is speaking to that young man, God is speaking to that young woman: this is a holy and a heavenly and a precious hour. This is the beginning of the foundation of the whole fabric of human society and of the church itself, the Christian home. The voice of God: do they listen? Do they hear? Most do not. When a babe is born in the family, a little thing framed by the handiwork, the fingers of God, a marvelous and incomparable miracle, a mystery of heaven, a little life; the voice of God is heard in the cry of that baby. This is God’s voice. The child is lent to us from heaven and is to be brought up in the love and nurture [Ephesians 6:4], in the training and goodness of God. Do they hear? No, most of them don’t listen at all, and the child grows up without meaning and without purpose and without Christian value in his life. Hearing, hearing, hearing, and never hear [Matthew 13:13].
And the Lord says, “And their hearts feeling, feeling, feeling, and they do not feel” [Matthew 13:15]. Ah, how the heart is made, sometimes deeply moved. I feel that we ought to have a Christian home. I feel we ought to start over again. I feel that we ought to put God in our lives; I just feel that we ought to do better by the Lord. And these children, they ought to be carefully loved and trained in the mercy and goodness of Jesus. And then the next time, there’s a less feeling; and the next time, there’s a less feeling; and the next time, a less moved; and finally not moved at all, don’t feel at all. The home worldly, the life aimless, the child brought up without God, and no feeling about it at all. Ah, what Christ says as He describes us: “Seeing, do not see; hearing, do not hear; feeling, do not feel; lest we be converted and God heal us” [Matthew 13:13-15].
What is needed? Another sermon? Another service? Another explanation? Another argument? Another appeal? No. What is needed is a response: I have seen and seen, and now I’m going really to look; I have heard and heard, and now I’m really going to listen; I have felt and felt, and now I’m going to respond. That’s what is needed. And without it there’s no healing, and there’s no conversion, and there’s no saving.
The school that I attended for six years in Louisville, Kentucky, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, it used to be located downtown; it was located at Fifth and Broadway. And right across from the old school there was a tall apartment building. Upon a day, it burst into flames. And the firemen and all the people that had gathered round thought the entire building had been evacuated. And as the firemen were trying to put out the roaring blaze, and as the people stood around watching that burning inferno, to the horror of everybody on the street below, there appeared a woman in the window up there at the top. And she cried, saying, “Help me! Save me!” And the firemen ran to their wagons, and they found, they drew out a great life net, and they pulled it on either side, taut. And they looked up to that woman on the top of that building, and they said to her, “Jump! Jump! We will save you. Jump! Jump! We will catch you. Jump!” The woman would go back inside, and in a moment she would reappear, crying piteously, “Help me! Save me!” And the men holding that life net would call, “Jump! Jump! We will catch you! We will save you!” She went back in for the last time. She never jumped; she died in that blazing inferno.
It is thus with us. What we need is not another argument, not another sermon, not another explanation; what we need is to respond. “Lord, Lord, seeing, I see; hearing, I hear; and feeling, Lord, here I come.” We need to respond.
I can’t be saved if I don’t respond. God made it that way: I have to respond. “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in thine heart that God raised Him from the dead, that He lives, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart one believeth unto a God kind of righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” [Romans 10:9-10]. I must respond; I cannot be saved any other way. I must respond.
That thief on the cross, what could he do? Nailed to a tree, dying by the side of the Lord, all he could do was turn his head. But he turned his head, and he said, “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.” He’s the one man that I know is in heaven: the Lord turned to him, and as He died, He said, “Today, this day, thou shalt be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:42-43]. I must respond; I cannot be saved without it.
Dear people, one of the most moving of all the things I have ever seen in my over fifty years as a pastor happened right here; down that aisle and right there. Unknown to me there were two visitors seated underneath that balcony toward the back—two men. Both of them were visitors, and both of them strangers, strangers to each other. And when I got through preaching and making an appeal, such as I am doing now, one of those men turned to the other, and he said to him, he said, “Sir, I am mostly blind, and I cannot see well. Would you take me by the hand and lead me down the aisle to that pastor? I want to tell him that today I give my heart to the Lord Jesus.” And down that aisle there came those two men, one guiding the other. And the man who was leading came to me with his stranger friend, and he said to me, he said, “Pastor, I am a visitor today. I am a stranger to you, and I do not know this man. I am a stranger to him, and he is unknown to me. But seated back there, as you made your appeal, he turned to me and said, “Would you take me down to the front, to the pastor? I want to confess Christ as my Savior.” That is what it is. That is what it takes. I cannot be saved without it. I must respond to God’s overtures of grace and mercy. I must receive the Lord Jesus in my heart. I must openly confess Him before men and angels. I must.
That is the way God made it—our entrance into the kingdom of heaven. And that is our prayerful and earnest appeal to you today; publicly, openly, unashamedly, to give your heart and life to the Lord Jesus. “Pastor, I have seen and seen and seen, and today I see; pastor, I have heard and heard, and today I hear; pastor, I have felt the Holy Spirit of God tugging in my heart, today I respond. Here I am.” Some of you, a whole family—father, mother, children—all of you coming; some of you, a couple; maybe you, just somebody one; but all of us answering God’s call with our life today. Lord, make it so. When this benediction is said, Lord, may there be not a one go out any of these doors lost or beyond the will of God. Do it, Lord. Do it.
Now, may we stand together? Our Father God, all of us know what that is. We have heard God speak, and we have closed our ears; we have seen God’s hand, and we have not obeyed; we have felt God’s will, and we have not followed it. All of us are convicted. And Lord, by the Holy Spirit, all of us this precious hour would reopen our ears and unclose our eyes and pray God to take away our stony hearts, that we might see the glory of our Lord; that we might hear the wonder of His words and will; and that we might feel His daily presence in our lives. And our Master, at this holy moment, may there be those decisions made: “God has spoken to me; I hear His voice; I know His will; and here I stand in humble surrendered, obedience.” Some putting their life and letter in our dear church; some following the Lord in obedient baptism; some coming in answer to God’s special call for them; some of them taking Jesus as a personal Savior. Bless Lord, as we pray, as we wait, and as they come. And in this holy hushed and quiet moment of intercession, if that family is you; if that couple is you; if that one somebody is you; down the stairway, down one of these aisles, answer with your life. Come now, while we pray and while we sing.