The Unchanging Christ
March 22nd, 1981 @ 10:50 AM
THE UNCHANGING CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-22-81 10:50 a.m.
It is a gladness for us to welcome the multitudes of you who are sharing this hour with us on radio and on television. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. In the long series of sermons on the Great Doctrines of the Bible, we are in the section of the series on Christology: the doctrine of Christ. And the title of the message today is The Unchanging Christ.
In your Bible, if you will turn to the Book of Hebrews, the last chapter, and the background text for the message is verses 7 and 8; the Book of Hebrews, chapter 13, verses 7 and 8. The author writes to this little congregation, somewhere in the Roman world, made up of Hebrew Christians: "Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation – the end of their life. Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever." Reading those two, you might wonder what connection they have. They seem so diversely opposite.
No, the tremendous text: "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever" arises out of a sorrow in the heart of the little congregation to whom this author is addressing this epistle of comfort and exhortation. Evidently, their pastors whom they first knew have died. The tenses of the verb are in the past. And he is encouraging them, despite their sorrow of heart, to look at the beautiful life of faith exhibited before them, lived before them, by their shepherds and remembering them with gratitude and with thanksgiving to God, and exhorting the little congregation to follow the beautiful example of their pastors. He then points them away from the dying and fading ministry to the ministry in Christ Jesus that shall abide forever.
The pastor may die. His work may be finished. His last sermon is on the study desk. The final benediction is finally ready to be pronounced. But Jesus Christ, our Lord, abides forever; the unchanging Christ, "the same yesterday, and today, and forever." Our Lord is the same now as He was, and as He is now He ever shall be. What He was, He is. And what He is, He will be forever.
He is presented to us in the Holy Scriptures as the great omnipotent Creator. And in the untold ages of the past, John 1:3 says: "All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made." And in Colossians 1:16, we are told that "by Him and for Him were all things made." The great Creator of the universe, and all that we see is Jesus our Lord, the Christ of yesterday.
But the Christ of today is no different. He is still that same omnipotent Creator. We live and we stand in the midst of omnipotent miracle. Every harvest is a gift of His creative hands, and is a banquet of manna spread before us in the wilderness. On a thousand hills, He is still performing the miracle of turning water into the fruit of the vine. And even these marvelously beautiful flowers are made by Him, out of the muck and the mire of the ground – a miracle of beauty. The unchanging Christ: as He was yesterday, so He is today and ever shall be. At the consummation of the age, in the glorious tomorrow, He says: "Behold, I make all things new" [Revelation 21:5]. And John says: "I beheld a new heaven and a new earth" [Revelation 21:1], the work of His omnipotent hands.
The same yesterday, the same today, and the same forever: He is, thus, no different in atoning grace. Before the foundation of the world was laid, He is in the Lamb of sacrifice [Revelation 13:8]. And somewhere, in the dim ages of the past, according to the tenth chapter of this Book of Hebrews, He volunteered to be a propitiation, a vicarious sacrifice for our sins [Hebrews 10:4-14]. And all of the sacrifices of the Old Covenant pointed in type to Him who is the Savior of the world. That is our Christ of yesterday. He is no less abounding in atoning grace today, the same Lord Jesus.
Every grain of wheat that falls in the ground and dies that others might live is a picture of our Lord’s atoning mercy in our hearts today. He speaks to us in forgiveness, and He delivers us from the bondage and the judgment of sin. He is also our personal atoning sacrifice. And what He was before the foundation of the world, and what He is in our human experience today, He also is forever and forever. The song of songs, the song of the ages, is the song of the redeemed family of God in the beautiful heaven to come. Remember it:
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive honor, and glory, and power. For He hath redeemed us to God by His blood out of every nation and tribe under the sun;
And hath made us kings and priests to reign upon the earth.
[Revelation 5:9-10, 12]
He is the same Lord in atoning grace yesterday and today and forever. He is the unchanging Christ in His shepherdly care.
The story of our Lord in the Old Covenant is the story of a seeking, loving heart: in the fall, in the garden, seeking our first parents; calling Moses to deliver His people out of the slavery and bondage of Egypt; the beautiful picture of an Isaiah – "He will feed His flock like a shepherd: He will carry the lambs in His bosom and tenderly lead those who are with young" [Isaiah 40:11] – the picture of our Christ in the ages past in shepherdly and loving care. He is no less, and no different, our loving Lord today. He speaks to us words of help and encouragement and comfort. He stands by our sides in time of need. He hath promised saying: "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" [Hebrews 13:5].
Every dawning of a new day and the rising of every sun is the shining of His dear face, promising blessings for the need of the day. What He was yesterday, He is today: our great physician, and deliverer, and healer, and helper, and comforter. And, what He is today, He is forever and ever. He is only gone in order that He might prepare a way and a day and a place for us, and someday, He will come for His own. Every sunset is a reminder that Jesus is opening a door for us into heaven. Christ, the unchanging Lord, the same yesterday, and today, and forever [Hebrews 13:8].
The beautiful avowal in the text has in it first a denial, and second an affirmation. The denial that in Christ there is ever change, either by circumstance, or by time, or by history, or by mood, or by provocation. The denial: our Lord never changes. We change. Men change. One day we are strong, and the next day we are weak. One day we are filled with firm resolve, and the next day we are led astray. One day we seem to be in a moment of holiness and dedication, and the next day we are as unstable as water. We change, but He never changes. "In Him is no variableness or shadow cast by turning [James 1:17] – the same yesterday, and today, and forever."
Time changes us. Like an autumnal leaf on which the frost has fallen, we age and finally are buried in the ground. Time changes us. Our days are so few and so fleeting. And each one of us can see the end of the way. But for Him there is nothing but a present forever and forever; the same, His pre-incarnate life, His incarnation, and His glorious resurrected, immortalized life. He is ever the same, whether then, or now, or tomorrow.
Moods change us. One day we are one way. And another day we are another way. One day we’re like a rock and the next day we are like a reed. Mood changes us. But His heart never changes. He is ever the same; our great, loving, glorious compassionate Savior. Circumstances change us. The butler who is liberated from prison and exalted in Pharaoh’s household forgets the lad Joseph, who languishes in the dungeon [Genesis 40:23]. So often times, the circumstances change us. If we are exalted, or made famous or affluent or successful, it is so easy for us to forget those who are poor, or degraded, or lost, or submerged. But our Lord never changes. His heart toward the poor, and toward the downtrodden, and toward the lost, and toward the unkempt and the dirty and the outcast is the same, loving compassionate Lord as to those who are kingly in life and successful in experience. Circumstances change us, but He never changes.
Not only is there a denial in the text – the unchanging Christ, but there is also a tremendous affirmation. The affirmation concerns the immutability of our Lord, the unchangingness of our Christ. He is immutable. He is unchanging in His person. He is the same throughout all the ages of the ages: the eternal Christ. His name in the Old Covenant is Jehovah. His name in the New Covenant is "Jehovah our salvation" [Matthew 1:21], the root meaning of Jesus. And whether He is known as Jehovah in the Old Covenant or Jehovah our salvation – Jesus – in the New Covenant, He is always the same.
Before He was born, the angel announced: "His name will be called JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins" [Matthew 1:21]. When He was born, He was given the name Jesus – Jehovah, our salvation. As a child, He was holy. In the fourth chapter of the Book of Acts, the apostles are praying in the name of "thy holy Child Jesus" [Acts 4:27]. In His ministry, He was Jesus – Jehovah, our salvation. As one cried: "Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy upon me" [Mark 10:47]. When He was crucified, He was crucified with that name. The superscription of the inscription up above His cross: "THIS IS JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS" [John 1:19]. And when He was raised from the dead, He was that same Lord Jesus – Jehovah, our salvation. Jesus Himself stood in the midst and glorified, immortalized, He was that same Lord Jesus.
When Saul, persecuting on the way to Damascus, fell at His feet, He cried, saying: "Who art Thou, Lord?" And the Lord replied: "I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest" [Acts 9:4-5; 22:7-8]. In His glorified, immortalized life, He is still the same Lord Jesus. And in the final and concluding apocalyptic book of the Bible, in the last chapter: "I Jesus have sent Mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the Root and Offspring of David, the Bright and the Morning Star" [Revelation 22:16]. Jesus – Jehovah, our salvation – is His everlasting and enduring name.
He is the same through all of the ages of the ages, and He, when the final consummation of the world is brought to pass, who is it that will be descending in clouds of glory from heaven? "This same Jesus, who is taken from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven" [Acts 1:11]. It is Jesus we are looking for: the same face, the same tender voice, the same loving heart. He never changes: the unchanging Christ [Hebrews 13:8].
As the benediction in the apocalyptic book closes, thus: "He which testified these things saith: Surely, surely I come quickly." And the closing prayer, the closing benediction: "Even so, come, blessed Jesus, Lord Jesus" [Revelation 22:20]. If we know our hearts, we are ready: "Come, come, Lord Jesus." He is the same, unchanging in His person, yesterday, and today, and forever. He is the same unchanging Christ in His offices. His name, by title, is "Messiah" – Hebrew; Christos, "Christ" – Greek. The Jew with his Messiah; the Greek with his Christ: all the Gentile world of every nation finds themselves one in Him.
He is the Anointed One [Matthew 16:16]: the Christ, the Messiah. He is anointed for His prophetic office. As 1 Kings [19:16] describes the anointing of Elisha for the office of a prophet, so Christ Jesus was anointed for the office of prophet. Thus does Simon Peter speak in the tenth chapter of the Book of Acts: "God hath anointed Jesus of Nazareth" to preach the gospel, the good tidings, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord [Acts 10:38; Luke 4:18-19]. He is the anointed Prophet. His message is authoritative forever. He is our tremendous representative from God to teach us the way of everlasting life. He is our great anointed Prophet, Teacher. He is our anointed Priest.
All the priests of the Old Covenant were anointed. But they face a terminal day of their ministries before God and men. Aaron, anointed of God to be a high priest, died on Mount Hor. And all of the Aaronic priesthood, his successors, died. The ashes of the shepherd were mingled with the ashes of the flock. "But He, our great High Priest, is anointed forever after the order of Melchizedek" [Psalm 110:4]. He has an enduring priesthood that never, ever dies. Forever and forever, He is our Intercessor and our Mediator before the throne of grace in heaven, anointed of God to be our representative, our High Priest unchanging.
He is anointed of God to be King over heaven, and over earth, and over the things beneath the earth [Philippians 2:10]. As the forty-fifth chapter of Psalms does say, and as the passage a moment ago you read doth say: "He was anointed with the oil of gladness above His fellows to be King over all the earth" [Psalm 45:7; Hebrews 1:8-9].
He is the head of the church [Ephesians 5:23]. He is the King of the hosts of heaven. And, He is the Lord of all creation. "To Him give all the prophets witness" [Acts 10:43]. And "God hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every other name: That at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that He is Lord" and King [Philippians 2:9-11] – the great affirmation "the same yesterday, and today, and forever" in His enduring offices [Hebrews 13:8].
The great affirmation applies to His presence. As He was yesterday and as He shall be tomorrow, so is our Lord Jesus to us now. He is our friend and our companion. He walks by our sides. And He ministers to our daily needs. He breaks for us the bread of life, as He did for the five thousand in the days of His flesh [Matthew 14:13-21]. He rides with us in the boat on the storm-tossed seas of life. He shows us the right side of the boat on which to cast our nets. He walks with us to Emmaus, as He did in the days long ago. And He opens to us the Scriptures as He did to the two disciples [Luke 24:15, 27-32].
The unchanging Christ – He rebukes us when selfishly we seek our own personal advancement. He washes our feet at the close of the day when we are soiled with the pilgrim journey. He comes to us over the stormy waves when we begin to sink, and when we are weary, He calls to us to rest in Him. The unchanging Christ who lives today – above every lake is His abiding presence. Above every storm is His mighty and omnipotent voice. Every meal finds Him with His face uplifted in blessing and thanksgiving.
Our Lord, the great unchanging One – by the side of every open grave, He stands and weeps, touched with the feeling of our infirmities. And when the burden is too heavy for us to bear, His shoulders share with us its heavy burden. The great unchanging Christ; as He was yesterday, as He will be tomorrow, so is He thus to us now.
The great affirmation: the immutable Christ. He is the Lord of an expanding kingdom, given to Him in promise by the Father. Because He condescended to death, God also highly exalted Him, and God hath given Him a people. I don’t know a finer definition of election than that because Christ bowed His heart in sorrow for our sins and poured out His life in vicarious suffering, that we might be forgiven [John 19:30], God hath promised Him a people and an expanding and enduring kingdom. And it grows and it grows and it grows until it covers all heaven and earth. When our Lord ascended on the top of the Mount of Olives [Acts 1:8-9], He looked down at His feet, at that little band who worshiped Him. And then, He rose higher and the vision expands and before Him is spread out the city of Jerusalem. He rises higher and the vision expands and before Him is all of the Holy Land, Samaria, and Galilee. He rises higher and the vision expands and before Him is spread the whole expanse of the earth; thus, the kingdom of our Lord.
He walked by the shores of the little Sea of Galilee. And He called a Peter, and a James, and a John, and other followers, who forsake all and followed Him. History passes, the vision expands; time multiplies and an unseen Presence is walking by the shores of the greater sea, the Mediterranean. And He calls and there are those who forsake all and follow Him. And the days pass and time passes and history passes and the Lord is walking by a still greater sea, by the vast Atlantic. And He calls men and women to forsake all and follow Him.
And the days pass and time passes and history passes, and the Lord walks by the shores of all of the continents of the earth, and we hear His voice. And there are those by the thousands and by the millions who forsake all and follow Him. "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His unchanging Christ: and He shall reign forever and forever and forever" [Revelation 11:15].
All hail the power
Of Jesus name
Let angels prostrate fall
Bring forth the royal diadem
And crown Him Lord of all.
Ye chosen seed
Of Israel’s race,
Ye ransomed from the fall.
Hail Him who saves you
By His grace.
And crown Him
Lord of all.
[Edward Perronet, "All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name"]
Thus, His great promise in salvation is ever the same. It never changes. That glorious good news, first heard in the first century is the same glorious good news of the gospel that is repeated on a thousand tongues, on a thousand lips today, the same unchanging appeal. The gospel message that saves Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus is the same wonderful gospel message that saves us today. It never changes. The same Lord who seeks us and loves us; the same Christ, the Lamb of God who poured out His life for us; the same abounding mercy that reaches and touches our souls and our hearts; and the same omnipotent promise of eternal and everlasting life is the same today as it was in the first century. It never changes.
What a wonderful word and what a glorious promise of our Lord: that, if I will look to Him, if I will open my heart to Him, if I will receive Him in all of His grace and love and mercy, I will be saved forever and ever and ever.
How firm a foundation,
ye saints of the Lord
Is laid for your faith
in His excellent word
What more can He say
Than to you whom Jesus
For refuge have fled
The soul on Jesus
Hath leaned for repose.
I’ll never, no never desert
To its foes.
That soul though all hell
Should endeavor to shake.
I’ll never, no, never forsake.
[John Keene, "How Firm a Foundation"]
The unchanging Christ, with His unchanging gospel and the unchanging promise and hope of a salvation that endures forever – thus hath God wrought for us a mercy and a grace that touches the human heart, that lifts up the fallen soul, that comforts the discouraged spirit, that delivers us from the oppressive judgment of sin in that great final Day of the Lord, and will present us someday in His grace and in His blood, faultless and without spot or blemish in the presence of His great glory [Ephesians 5:27].
Oh, that I had a voice worthy of the Lamb, that I had a tongue that could expound the marvelous grace of God, that there were words that I could pronounce that would extol in commensurate with the marvelous goodness and love and grace of our Lord. "Look and live. Believe and be saved. Wash and be clean." Follow Him, and His path leads us down the glory road, down the highway of holiness to the beautiful eternal city of God. Bless and praise His name forever: yesterday and today, the unchanging Christ. May we stand?
Our Lord in heaven, could anything be more wonderful than what God hath done for us in Christ Jesus? "And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government there shall be no end upon the throne of His father David. In justice and in mercy and in righteousness administering the goodness of God, the zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform it" [Isaiah 9:6-7]. O bless the name of the Lord, that in Thy elective purpose Thou has included us. We belong to the family of God. It is for us that the Lord came into this world; marvelous gospel if God condescends to come down to men, then men can rise up to God. O Lord, may our hearts praise Thee, our lives serve Thee. May our soul know no other thing than everyday to be filled with gratitude and praise for what God hath done for us. The same marvelous, omnipotent, miraculous, working hand of God for us today as in the days past, as in the years that are yet to come, never leaving us, never forsaking us, always with us; Lord Jesus, to Thee be dominion and glory, the praise of our hearts forever and ever and ever.
While our people bow in prayer before our great God and Savior, praying for you; a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, may God answer that prayer in your life. Make that decision for God. And if you are in the balcony, down one of those stairways, here to the front; if you are on this lower floor into one of these aisles and down to the front, "Pastor, I have felt in my heart the knocking of the Holy Spirit, and I am answering with my life." Make that decision now. And in a moment when we sing our hymn of appeal, take that moment to step toward God. It will be the greatest and most meaningful and most significant step you have ever made in your life. "I am coming Lord. Here I am. Blessed Jesus, I open my heart to You. I give You my life, the issue of my days in this life, Lord, to serve Thee; in the hour of my death that You stand by me, and in the great eternity to come that You open heaven’s door that I might enter in."
And our Lord for these who come by family, by couples, by single ones, we thank Thee. God save us all and keep us in Thy service and in the heart of this dear and precious church. For the answered prayer and the gift from heaven, we shall thank Thee forever, through Christ our Lord, amen. While our people pray and while we wait and while our choir sings the song; down that stairway, down this aisle, "Here we come pastor. We are on the way." Do it now, and God bless you forever. While we wait, while we sing.