I Have Trouble In My Marriage, What Shall I Do?
February 14th, 1982 @ 7:30 PM
I HAVE TROUBLE IN MY MARRIAGE – WHAT SHALL I DO?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-14-82 7:30 p.m.
We welcome the great multitudes of you who are sharing this hour with us on the two radio stations that bear it: on KCBI, the Sonshine station of our Center of Biblical Studies, and on KRLD, the "Voice of the Southwest." This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the evening message. It is a part of a trilogy. Tonight, next Sunday night, and the following Sunday night there will be three messages on the family, on the home. The two first are on marriage, and the third one concerns our children. The title of the sermon is, tonight, I Have Trouble in My Marriage: What Shall I Do? And the third one: I Have Trouble with My Children: What Shall I Do?
The messages concern all of us for all of us are in families. God says that. God says He places the solitary in families [Psalm 68:6]. There is nobody that comes into this world of himself. He is born in some kind of a family; and when we speak of families, we’re speaking of ourselves – all of us.
And now to listen to the intent of God, turn in your Bible to Matthew, chapter 19, and we’re going to read the first six verses – all of us – out loud together; and if on the radio you would like to take your Bible and read it out loud with us, welcome. Matthew, the first gospel: Matthew, chapter 19, verses 1 through 6, the first six verses. Now, having found the passage, let’s all of us read it out loud together:
And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these sayings, He departed from Galilee and came into the coasts of Judea beyond Jordan;
And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there.
The Pharisees also came unto Him, tempting Him, and saying unto Him, "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?"
And He answered and said unto them, "Have ye not read that He which made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’
And said, ‘For this cause shall a man leave father and mother and shall cleave to his wife, and they twain shall be one flesh’?
Wherefore, they are no more twain but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."
The Lord very plainly and simply, when He speaks of the human family, goes back to the purpose of God in the beginning when He created it: one man for one woman, and one woman for one man; and God put them together in wedlock and separated them into families, and an affirmation of the intent and purpose of God is seen through all of the genetic development of family life since. They are numerically balanced. There are as many boys as there are girls born to the world with this little exception: there are a few more boys because they are more adventuresome, and they are more likely not to attain manhood especially when a nation goes to war. So the Lord took account of all of that through all of the generations born and yet to be born. He numerically balanced it: a boy and a girl.
Not only that, but He did an unusual thing in the human heart – I think one of the most unusual that we could witness in the development of human life – namely this: there will be a girl bound to her mother with cords of love, a boy bound to his father with chains of steel; and there will be a stranger come from afar, never known before, and that boy will break those bonds of love that tie him and chain him to his family and forsake his father and mother and go off with that stranger girl. Or the girl, bound by cords of love to a family, will leave, will forsake father and mother and go off with that stranger from afar and cleave to him in marriage, in wedlock [Genesis 2:24].
One of the most moving stories in the Bible is Genesis, chapter 24, when Abraham calls Eliezer, the steward of his house, and makes him swear before God that he’ll not take of the daughters of the Canaanites a wife for Isaac; but he sends his servant Eliezer to Haran, far away at the head of the Mesopotamian Valley, to seek a bride for Isaac in the household of Nahor, Abraham’s brother [Genesis 24:1-10].
And there with Laban, the brother of Rebekah, Eliezer introduces himself, and they ask Rebekah, "Will you go with this stranger?" And she said, "I will." And she left her home, and her father, and her mother, and broke all of the bands that bound her to her father and mother, and left with that stranger never to come back to Haran, never to see her family there, never to see her father or mother, and to live as a pilgrim and a stranger in another country in another land [Genesis 24:11-61]. And she was brought to Isaac; and Isaac loved her, and they built their beautiful home together [Genesis 24:62-67].
That is an amazing development in human life: the love of a woman for a stranger. It’s a glorious thing that God has done in order to build homes and families. Now, that’s what our Lord said in the beginning: "There is one woman for one man, and one man for one woman, and they two shall be one flesh" [Genesis 2:24-25].
Now, the old-time preacher was like that. I have copied here out of a sermon preached a long, long time ago – far beyond a hundred years ago – and you listen to this old-time preacher as he develops the theme of how it is God intended with the husband and then with the wife. I quote from him:
The husband . . . is the natural protector of the gentle spirits that dwell in his house, the minister of peace that hover around him. He has bone, and sinew, and muscle to fit him for his duties, to labor for their support, to defend their home-rights, to build and to watch, and, if need be, to fight for them. Is his home a castle? He is the outstanding sentinel to eye the approach of danger, to challenge every visitant, to keep off every foe. Is his family a little empire? He is the king, the sovereign ruler. Is his home a garden? He is appointed to dress it and to keep it. Is his home a school? He is the presiding teacher, responsible for his charge at the great audit-day. Is his home a church? He is the great high priest and ante-chamber to the great judgment-hall of the universe, where he trains a company for the final decisions of the last day. The candidates for heaven shall go up in families.
["The Family The True Theory of Society," by Rev. Rufus W. Bailey, D.D., 1859]
Then this old-time preacher – preached so long ago we could hardly remember he existed – then he speaks of the woman:
The proper sphere of woman is home. Her great office in the social system is to make that home a happy one to her husband, that his affections may center there . . . and that he may always hasten to return to it. Let her train her children so that they may be the pride of their father, so that he may have love to own them, and be not ashamed to show them as the jewels of his country. Let her always stand ready to receive him with complacency after his conflicts with the world, when his brow is knit with care, when his heart has been rudely convulsed by contact with treachery, dishonesty or abuse, and his passions are striving for mastery; then, from her still and quiet retreat, from her communion with the innocent spirits of her nursery, from her closet of prayer which opens to heaven, let her meet him like a ministering angel; then, like a lion tamed, he will imbibe from her something of her own spirit, and his spirit will be chastened under such a ministry . . . The wife was appointed to make a home for a man, to form a center for his affections, and to bind him there; to act constantly as oil upon the troubled waters.
["The Family The True Theory of Society," by Rev. Rufus W. Bailey, D.D., 1859]
What do you think about that male chauvinistic attitude? What do you think? "Oh, dear, such rubbish," we say today. So the woman today puts on the male, masculine trousers, and she demands before government and before courts and before social custom and before domestic life her equal rights. That’s fine. That’s wonderful. She is the equal with man in God’s creation [Galatians 3:28; 1 Peter 3:7]; and when she assumes a dominant role, she has won for herself, truly, a place in the nation – in its political life, in its domestic life, in its business life. More and more you see the woman in the marketplace, in the corporate executive leadership, in every avenue and area of national, political, and social life. That’s fine. That’s fine.
But there is also a debit side to that as there is a credit side to it. In that big, juicy plum – at the heart of it – there is a worm; and the worm is being very manifestly seen in modern American life. You are witnessing in your lifetime the disintegration of the American family and the American home. There are more divorces, more breaking up of family life today, than there are marriages rebuilding the home.
In one of the eloquent addresses of Daniel Webster, that great statesman said, "I can well believe every word said about the extraordinary virtues of the ancient Roman people because they had laws for divorce, but for five hundred years, there has never been found an instance in ancient Roman history where any family or any couple ever availed themselves of it" [quoted in Daniel Webster, a Character Sketch, Elizabeth A. Reid, 1898, p. 89].
Five hundred years in the ancient Roman kingdom there was never a divorce. Finally, of course, the empire fell, and it fell because it decayed from within. Its moral life disintegrated. Its family life fell apart. I am witnessing, as you are, the same thing in America. We are beginning to decay, to dissolve from within.
When a couple marry, a simple "I do" places them together; but immediately thereafter, they meet perplexities and stresses and strains in their domestic life, and they increase and are compounded as the days pass and the years multiply. Little fine cracks begin to appear like a Satsuma vase – little fine cracks. Then they deepen, and finally it breaks into an open rupture; and the alarm wakens them up in the morning to another day of meaningless, empty indifference. What a tragedy has overtaken the modern American family.
Now, in preparation for this first message, I have chosen ten rules for a happy marriage. Number one: Take God into your marriage [Ecclesiastes 4:12]. In 1930, there were one in thirty divorced. Today, there are more than one in two. But if a family, if a couple, read the Bible together and pray together, there is not one in one thousand that divorce. Can you believe that? Today, in the marriage spectrum of America, one in two break up; but if they marry in the Lord and have a home where the Bible is read and where prayers are said, there are not one in one thousand that break up.
Ten rules for a happy marriage – number two: Place each other’s happiness, best interests, above your own [Philippians 2:3-4].
Number three: Don’t criticize each other but lavish praise upon one another [Ephesians 4:29]. Never ever criticize each other in public, make your companion feel little; but build him up, build her up. Even though he’s a worm, you can make him feel like he’s a giant ten feet tall. And there are more people, more girls, that marry worms than I can know out there in the garden, but you love him and build him up and stand by him just the same. A Lilliputian can be a conquering hero if you’ll think him – make him think that he is.
Number four: Be tender and affectionate. It was God’s purpose in creating the male and the female [Genesis 2:18, 21-23]. What attracted you to him in the first place and when you made yourself attractive to him so he would fall in love with you? Why do you want to change? Keep it up. Keep it up.
Number five: Plan little surprises. Little things, sometimes, are more earthshaking than tremendous, lavish gifts.
Number six: Plan things together, discuss things together – major decisions, little decisions – everything [Amos 3:3]. Talk about it together.
Number seven: Don’t discuss your problems outside the home. Those problems also are a part of you and your family. Keep them inside your heart and inside your house. Let me tell you something about people. They are not interested in what bothers you; and the only interest they’ll ever have in your problems is just, maybe, to gossip about them. Don’t tell them. Keep them to yourself.
Number eight: Watch that budget, that spending of money. Watch that debt.
Number nine: Be a part of a larger community. We belong to our city. We belong to our state. We belong to our nation; and the nation, and state, and city are strong only as our families are strong.
And last: Remember in love and appreciation your in-laws, your "in-loves." Remember you are an in-law yourself.
Ten rules for a happy marriage; and now in the little while that remains, I want to talk about them. And I hope nobody’s in a hurry because I don’t have but a few minutes left according to my watch up here. So let’s just all sit down and say, "We’re going to listen to the pastor as he talks about the most important thing in human life."
First of all, take God into your marriage. Many times I am asked, "What do you say to a young couple who come to you and tell you they’re going to get married? What do you say to them?" Well, I’m going to tell you what I say to them, and I meet with them all the time and love doing it. Any time a young couple is going to be married, I love to meet with them and to talk to them and to pray with them. "Well, what do you tell them when a young couple comes to you, and they’re going to get married?"
All right, first of all, what I don’t talk to them about: there are preachers, world without end, that love to delve into sexuality; and that’s a good time to do it, or, when there is problems in the home. They love pornography. That’s just a pious way of covering it over. They love X-rated movies. That’s just a way to be pious about it. There’s hardly any limit to which a preacher cannot finally delve if he’s interested in the sexuality of those to whom he is talking; and a lot of pastors revel in that, and they love that. They get a kick out of it – the same kind of a kick that you get out of an X-rated movie or looking at a pornographic magazine.
Now, what do I do in that? I say simply this: "All you need to know about sex and your marriage to one another, go to a doctor. Before you marry, visit a doctor – both of you – and let the doctor talk to you about your intimate life." And that’s enough. All of the rest that goes on in this world is absolute pornographic interest. I don’t care what they say about it, or how they advertise it, or with what piousity they describe it. "All you ever need to know about sex, you can learn in a few minutes from a beloved physician." And that’s that. I never go beyond that. I tell the young couple, "You go see your doctor, both of you, and you talk to him about your intimate life. And that’s enough preparation, period, and forever."
Then I say to a young couple, "When you marry, if you’ll do these five things, you will have a beautiful and precious home. You see, I have five fingers on my hand. There are five things that, if you’ll do, you’ll have a glorious and happy home. Number one: Say grace at the table. Before you eat, thank God for the food. Now I realize dogs don’t do that; hogs don’t do that; but you do it. Lift yourself above that kind of animality. Say grace at the table. When you sit down to eat, bow your head and thank God for the day, for the clothing, for the life, for the shelter, for the food. Say grace.
"Number two: Sometime during the day, read the Bible. Read a passage of Scripture and say grace. Do it at the breakfast table. Do it in the evening. Do it any time. Just sometime during the day, read the Bible and pray.
"Number three: Before you go to bed at night, both of you kneel down by the side of the bed and pray out loud where the other one can hear you. If you have been caustic or critical or little or mean or unsympathetic, un-understanding – if you’ve been anything during the day – when you pray out loud and that other one hears you pray, somehow it dissolves away. God takes it away like a mist in the morning sun. Pray. Get down there and pray where the other one can hear you.
"Number four: Dress up and go to church." When I was a little boy, I had clothes that I used on Sunday. I dressed up and went to church. Now that I am an old man, or a young man, or however kind of a man I am – I can’t quite decide – I have clothes that I dress up in on Sunday. I have shoes that I preach in on Sunday. I have suits that I preach in on Sunday. I grew up like that, and I’ll tell you why I like it. If I were to be presented before the king, I’d like to do – look my best. If I were looking for a job and was going to see the president of the great corporation, I’d dress up my best. My brother, my sister, we’re going to appear before the great King of all the universe, and when I come before the Lord, I want to look my best.
Let me tell you a fact. I have seen the dirtiest, filthiest creatures in all this earth born again. You know how I know they are saved? The first thing they do, they clean up. They wash their ears and the back of their neck, and they wash their clothes. They may not be rich and affluent, but what they have is clean. That’s a part of being a Christian. "Dress up and appear before the Lord."
"And the fifth and the last: Do something. [It] may not be but to – but to sweep the floor; may not be but to raise and lower the window; may not be but to stand at the door, but do something for God [1 Corinthians 12:12-14].
"And if you’ll do those five things, you’ll have a happy and beautiful home. Say grace; read the Bible and say grace or pray; kneel down where the other one can hear you pray at night before you go to bed; dress up in the best that you have and appear before the Lord; and five, take a part in the church life, in the family of God. If you will do that, you’ll have a happy home, an unbeatable relationship. Even Satan can’t tear it apart."
Let me make a comment about being tender and affectionate. Paul had a whole lot to say about that kind of a thing. He would say in Ephesians 4:26: "If you are angry, do not sin: let not the sun go down upon your wrath." And then he closed it: "Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you" [Ephesians 4:32].
Be ye kind and tenderhearted to one another. Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath. Before you go to bed at night, make things right. When she sulks and won’t talk, when he’s angry and bitter, you have a breaking up that is startlingly, abysmally tragic. When he comes home, does the wife say, "You home? You home?" She means by that, "You home already?" And she means by that, "Do you really belong here? You got the right door? You got the right address? You home already?" as though he’d done something wrong coming home.
Let me tell you something that is primeval. I mean, it is born in us. In the olden day, that man came home a conquering hero from the field of battle. It is the same thing today, only instead of a spear or a sword, today he comes home from those instruments of battle and conquest. It may be a draftsman’s board; it may be a bookkeeper’s ledger; it may be a surgeon’s scalpel; it may be a carpenter’s saw; it may be with a kit of tools; but you put it down – that same primeval turning homeward at night is in his heart and in his soul. And as he came home from battle, maybe not with a sword today, but with a draftsmen’s pen or with a surgeon’s knife, if you greet him and make him welcome, my sweet wife, you’ve turned the whole world in your direction.
May I make a comment about don’t discuss your problems outside the home? I wish I had time to speak of these things. In the fourth chapter of the [second] Book of Kings is one of the finest illustrations that you ever saw in your life. That Shunammite woman who made the chamber for Elisha the prophet [2 Kings 4:8-7] and in doing something for her Elisha said, "You’re barren. You’re sterile. You don’t have a child. You’re going to have a son" [2 Kings 4:11-16]. And God gave her a son [2 Kings 4:17], and the little fellow died – died in his mother’s arms [2 Kings 4:18-21]; and she went to Mount Carmel to see the man of God [2 Kings 4:22-24]. And Elisha saw her coming, and he sent Gehazi, his servant, to ask her [2 Kings 4:25]. And do you remember his question? "Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child?" And she replied, "Yes, it is well" [2 Kings 4:26]. Her heart was breaking. She was crushed. Yet she said to Gehazi, "Everything’s just fine; just fine." And when she came to the man of God, she fell and clasped his feet in her arms and broke into sobs and tears about that son – that boy that had died [2 Kings 4:27-28].
Now, how do you explain that? Very simply. When anybody asks you how you are, "I’m just fine." Your heart may be breaking. Don’t discuss your heartaches and your problems with indifferent people. Don’t do it. Take it to God. Take it to a man of God. Take it in prayer. Don’t discuss outside of the sacredness of your family the problems that you have in your heart.
Even Jesus, in the twenty-sixth chapter of Matthew, took Peter and his two cousins, James and John; and the Bible says He began to be very heavy in inner Gethsemane [Matthew 26:36-38]. Even Jesus didn’t discuss the problems that He had and the death that He faced with even His twelve apostles. He did it with His family and Simon Peter. You do that. If anybody asks you how you are, "Man, just great," and go on. Then before God, or the man of God, you can pour out your heart; and God will bless.
I don’t have time to talk about debt. You know, this Bible – and I meant to do it tonight – this Bible has about as much to say about debt as anything in your life [Proverbs 6:1-5, 11:15, 17:18, 20:16, 22:7, 26; Romans 13:8]. I was surprised at it in preparing this message. You watch that budget. You watch it.
"Where did the money go? Did you spend it?"
"Heavens no! I never spend anything." And, brother, the way the thing goes. Ah, you watch that. You watch that.
Remember, in love and appreciation, your in-laws. Did you ever hear a more beautiful story in your life than the story of Ruth and Naomi? [Ruth 1:1-4:22] My sweet friends, my brothers and sisters, that’s a story of in-laws. Ruth is an in-law. Naomi is an in-law; but not in all literature will you ever find a romance as beautiful as the story of Ruth and Naomi. In a funeral message here, one of the men referred to her who had died as "my mother-in-love." I noticed that, and I like that: "My mother-in-love." Oh, that’s a beautiful thing and a beautiful way.
Last of all, I’d like to comment on that second one. Place each other’s happiness and best interests above your own. Like a bride said, "I am not going into my marriage fifty-fifty. I’m going into my marriage to give everything I have – everything. I am going to pour everything I have into this marriage, and I’m not going to demand my rights – my fifty-fifty, my partnership. No, I am going to put him first, and I am going to live for him."
Isn’t that a wonderful thing? "Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife, and they twain shall be one flesh" [Genesis 2:24]. They are one, and anything that ministers to the other builds up the whole spectrum of the life in the house and in the home. "I am doing this for him," and that kind of a response elicits a like response: "I’m doing this for her." It will never fail.
I want to tell you something – how a man’s life was changed. He’d been given a beautiful new car for Christmas. And the day after Christmas, he drove in front of the drugstore to go in for a prescription; and as he left his beautiful new car parked there in front of the store, he noticed a ragged urchin there who was eyeing his new, shiny automobile. And he came back, and he thought, "I – I’d better lock this car, and I’d better hurry up because one of my hubcaps or two of them may be gone." So when he came back out of the drug store, that boy that he had noticed was eyeing him and the new car. And when he unlocked the car to get in, the ragged urchin walked over there to him and said, "Mister, that’s a beautiful car you have."
And he said, "Yes, yes it is."
And the boy asked, he said, "Mister, oh that must cost a lot that kind of a beautiful car. How much did it cost?"
And the man replied, "Son, I don’t know how much it cost. I don’t know how much it cost. You see, my brother gave it to me yesterday for Christmas."
And the boy looked in wonder and amazement at the man and said, "Mister, I wish I could be a brother like that."
The next day the man went to see the pastor, and he sat down with the pastor and he said, "Pastor, I’m a changed man. Something has happened that has meant more to me than anything in the fifty years that I have lived." And he said, "Pastor, I parked my car in front of the drug store, and a dirty, ragged boy came out and asked me about the car; and when I told him that my brother had given it to me for a Christmas present, I expected the boy to say, ‘I wish I had a brother like that’ – that is, ‘to give me a beautiful car.’ But, Pastor, he didn’t say that. He said, ‘I wish I could be a brother like that.’ Pastor," the man said, "I noticed it, and I said to the boy, ‘Son, would you like to get in the car and ride with me? I’ll take you home.’"
The boy, delighted, got in the car, and the big man drove him to his house. It was a hovel – a cheap place in a ghetto of the city. "And when the boy got out, Pastor, I got out with him and went inside the house; and, Pastor, on the inside of the house was a crippled little brother. Pastor, you should have seen that boy so tender and so sympathetic and so loving with that little crippled, lame brother.
"Pastor, I said to the boy, ‘Would you like to take your little brother and both of you get in the car, and we ride in my new car?’ He somehow got his little crippled brother in the car, and I drove them around. Ah, Pastor, it has remade my life. ‘I wish I could be a brother like that.’"
If we would take our selfish lives and bury them and live for somebody else, live for others, live for God, we would find the key to happiness, to blessing, literally to glory and to heaven. Not I but Christ [Galatians 2:20]. Not I but somebody else [Philippians 2:3]. O wonderful Lord, that there might be less of us and none of us and more of Thee.
May we stand together?
Our Lord, these great, mighty, fundamental, dynamic principles of life and living are so plainly taught, so vividly seen, so poignantly felt as we read Thy blessed Word. O Savior, that we might be more like Thee, giving ourselves, and that our homes might reflect that spirit of quiet, patient understanding. God bless our families, our parents, our husbands and wives, our fathers and mothers, our children. And may we give ourselves to each other, and may God have cause marvelously and aboundingly to bless us. Make us happy, Lord, and strong in one another and in Thee.
And while we pray and while we wait and in this moment, you, a family, to come to the Lord and to us; you, a couple; you, a one somebody, "Pastor, tonight I have decided for God, and I’m coming." Make the decision now in your heart while we wait in prayer before our blessed Lord. And when we sing this appeal, down one of those stairways, down one of these aisles, "Here I come. I’m answering with my life." Do it now. It’ll be the greatest step, the greatest decision, you have ever made; and may angels attend in the way as you come.
And thank Thee, Lord, for the sweet harvest You give us, in Thy precious and saving and keeping and gloriously blessed Name, Amen.
While we sing our song, come and welcome, while we sing, while we make appeal.
THE LIVING PRESENCE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-3-83 10:50 a.m.
And a welcome inexpressible, meaningful, to the great throngs of you who share this hour with us on radio and on television, this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Living Presence. And as a background, reading the twentieth chapter of the Book of John, beginning at verse 24, John 20:24:
But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus – that means twin – was not with them when Jesus came.
The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord, raised from the dead. But he said, Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into the scar in His side, I will not believe.
And the following Sunday night, His disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Shalom, peace unto you.
Then saith He to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and thrust it into My hands; and reach hither thy hand, and put it into My side: and be not faithless, but believing.
And Thomas answered and said unto Him, My Lord and my God.
Then saith Jesus unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed – and now a beatitude for all of us – blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
The spectacular, stupendous meaning of this first Easter Sunday is beyond what music, or poet, or sermon could ever describe. At the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, God shook this whole earth. And in the earthquake the stone over the sepulcher of our Lord rolled away. And an angel came down from heaven and in contempt sat upon it [Matthew 28:2; Luke 24:5-6], as though a stone could incarcerate and hold captive the Lord of life [John 20:2].
Then, the women came early in the morning to see the sepulcher and were astonished that the door into the tomb was wide open. And an angel said to them, Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here: He is risen, as He said. Go tell His disciples that He meets with them" [Matthew 28:6-7]. And evidently, younger than the other women, Mary Magdalene came first to Peter and John and said, "The tomb is empty!"
And Peter and John raced to the sepulcher, and the younger man John outran Simon Peter. And when he came to the door of the tomb, he paused. But impetuous Simon, when he arrived, ran right into the tomb, and they saw the grave clothes carefully laid aside, and the napkin folded in a place by itself [John 20:3-10]. There had been no robbery of the grave. He had risen from the dead.
Then as they left, Mary of Magdala tarried behind, weeping, thinking someone had stolen away the body. And the Lord spoke to her. And she, supposing Him to be the gardener, said, "Tell me where you have laid His body. I will come and take it away" [John 20:15]. And He pronounced her name, "Mary," and she recognized Him [John 20:16]. Then the Lord walked down the path from the tomb and met the women [Matthew 28:9-10]. And that marvelous first Easter day, He appeared to Simon Peter [Luke 24:34]. Then He appeared to the two disciples in Emmaus, away from Jerusalem, maybe a few miles [Luke 24:13-32]. Then that night He appeared to ten of the apostles [John 20:19-20], and then the next night, the next Sunday night, to the eleven, Thomas being present [John 20:26-31]; then to the fisherman by the sea [John 21:1-25]; then to the above five hundred on the appointed rendezvous in Galilee [Matthew 28:16-20]; then walking with them up to Olivet, and then blessing them as in ascension He returned to be our Intercessor and Mediator in heaven [Acts 1:3-11].
And from that Easter morn until this, once in a while, our Lord has appeared visibly. He did to the first Christian martyr, to Stephen. As Stephen was stoned to death, he saw Jesus, glorified [Acts 7:55-56], and his own face became as it were, the shining face of an angel [Acts 6:15].
And the apostle Paul met Him, breathing out threatening and slaughter against the children of God. Close to Damascus, Paul met Him [Acts 9:1-6]. On the lonely Isle of Patmos where he had been exiled to die of exposure and starvation, the sainted apostle [John] heard a great voice behind him, and being turned to see who spake unto him, he saw the glorified Lord Jesus [Revelation 1:9-16].
Once in a while, from time to time, He has visibly appeared to His servants since. There is no more poignant or moving page in the story of a minister than this one in the life of the far-famed Dr. George W. Truett, who preached behind this very pulpit desk for forty and seven years. In a tragic hunting accident, Dr. Truett had accidentally killed the chief of police of the city of Dallas, Captain Arnold, formerly of the Texas Rangers. The crushing blow was so great to the pastor that he thought never to preach again, never. But in the days of that awesome sorrow, in the nighttime, three times in a vision, Jesus appeared to him, to Dr. Truett, and sent him back to this pulpit, renewed in his devotion, and consecration, and dedication to the gospel of the risen Son of God.
As marvelous and as astonishing as is the fact of the resurrection of our Lord, it is hardly less amazing and astonishing how they recognized Him. His recognitions were human. It was the same Lord Jesus, raised and glorified, the same one as they knew in the days of His flesh.
The apostle John says he recognized Him by the way that He folded up that napkin. Evidently the Lord, in some idiosyncrasy, in some little personality trait, had a way of folding up a napkin. And when John saw that napkin folded up in just such a way, he knew it was Jesus raised from the dead [John 20:6-8]. Mary recognized Him by the way He pronounced her name. Evidently our Lord had a certain way and intonation of pronouncing her name, and she recognized Him when He pronounced her name [John 20:16]. The two disciples in Emmaus recognized Him by the way that He said the blessing [Luke 24:30-31]. Evidently our Lord had a way of saying grace before breaking bread that was peculiar and unique to Him, and they recognized Him in the way that He said a blessing. The ten apostles on that first Sunday night recognized Him as being raised from the dead, a living Lord, in breaking bread with them. He said to them:
â€¦a spirit hath not flesh and bones, such as ye see Me have. Handle Me, and see that it is I Myself.
And then He added, Have you here anything to eat?
And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb,
â€¦and He did eat before them.
[A summary from Luke 24:38-43]
A double miracle; it’s a miracle when we break bread, and the eating, the food turns into living life, mind and heart and soul. It was raised the second height. It was spiritualized when the Lord, resurrected, ate fish and honeycomb. We’re going to be that way at the marriage supper of the Lamb; a beautiful prospect, our fellowshipping together around the table of the Lord [Revelation 19:6-9].
Then Thomas, his recognitions are human. He is the same Lord, and even the print of the nails are still in His hands and His feet, and the ugly scar He still bears in His side. Thomas saidâ€¦When the other apostles witnessed to him, "He is alive; we have seen Him," Thomas is like us; "Dead people don’t rise; I’ve never seen anyone dead raised from the grave." There’s nothing so final, so ending as death. And when they said to Thomas, "He is alive."â€¦Thomas said, "Not so. Not so. Dead people don’t live."
When the keystone falls out of the arch, the masonry tumbles down; when the hub is taken out of the wheel, the spokes fall into disarray. "When the silver cord is loosed and the golden bowl is broken, when the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel at the cistern. Then the dust returns to the earth as it wasâ€¦" [Ecclesiastes 12:6-7]. And Thomas said, "I do not believe." Then he made a harsh, crude, rude, material test, "Except I put my finger in the print of the nails in His hands and thrust my hand into the riven scar in His side, I would not believe." And the following Sunday night, the Lord appeared, Thomas being present. And He turned to the disciple of unbelief, and the joy and amazement of Thomas turned to shame as he bowed his head.
And he listened to the Lord repeat the harsh, material test that he’d spoken, and He said to him, "Put your finger in the scars in My hand, and thrust your hand into My side: and be not faithless, but believing." And Thomas cried, saying, "My Lord and my God" [John 20:24-28]. Then the marvelous beatitude for us, We have not seen, but we believe [John 20:29]. Blessed, makarios, happy, God says for us.
For forty days, the Scriptures say, our Lord appeared to those of His believing disciples [Acts 1:3]. They didn’t know where, didn’t know when that He might suddenly be present; sometimes in the garden, there He stood. Sometimes on a lonely road by their sides, there He walked. Sometimes in the upper room, there He was. Sometimes breaking bread at a supper table, there He was. Sometimes on the shore of a lake, there He stood. Sometimes on a mountain, there His hands extended in blessing, sometimes walking with them up to Olivet. They didn’t know where or when He might appear. And after forty days, they did not any longer need to see Him with their physical eyes, they knew Him by His presence working with them. And thus it was that the story of the gospel closes:
Go and make disciples of all the people, baptizing them in the name of the triune God:
Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age.
Our Lord is here, His presence is with us. And He never withdraws from us His love and His grace and the touch of His precious hands, not until we see Him someday face to face [Revelation 22:4]. Our Lord is with us, His presence is with us in obedient service.
I stood one time looking in Zimbabwe, in old Rhodesia; I stood looking at one of the most spectacular phenomena in this earth, the Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River. They are a mile long, two or three times as high as Niagara, an astonishing spectacle! I stood by the side of a heroic statue of David Livingstone, the first white man ever to see this miracle of God. And as I stood, looking up at the bronze statue of David Livingstone, who is facing the falls watching them, I remembered how it was that he discovered them.
David Livingstone believed in the speaking of God to him concerning the will of the Lord, as some of you. He would take the Bible and place it on edge, on end, and then he’d ask God what it was the Lord willed for him. And then he would let the Bible open, lower his head, and the first verse that he read was God’s answer to his prayer and the Lord’s will for his life. I don’t have that faith. I wish I did. I just don’t have that much faith, but David Livingstone did. That’s how he ascertained the will of God.
Well, he was going down the Zambezi River, and finally, the natives who bore his luggage and helped him in the journey said to him, "You dare not proceed any further. There are vicious cannibals, savages, who live immediately down the river, and we can’t go any further." David Livingstone brought it before the Lord and took his Bible and asked God, should he go or should he stay? And he opened the Bible, and it fell at Matthew 28:18-20, "You go. You make disciples, and I will be with you to the end of the way." And the great missionary explorer turned toward his men who were helping him and said, "Pack up. We’re going. God promised. The Lord has promised He will be with us, and I believe the Word of the Lord." And he discovered the great Victoria Falls, and on down the Zambezi until he came to the Indian Ocean. He is with us. In obedient service, our living Lord is with us. Our Lord is with us; His living presence is ever by our side in times of great necessity.
I stood with Dr. Theron Rankin, at that time before his translation to heaven, executive secretary of our Foreign Mission Board. We were on the back side, the other side of the island of Hong Kong, and he pointed there, and he said, "Do you see that plain? A Japanese concentration camp was there when I was captured here in Hong Kong. And I was taken to the gate of the concentration camp, with a Japanese soldier on this side and a Japanese soldier on that side. And when I entered the camp, I knew not, was it death? Was it starvation? Was it torture? I knew not. All I knew," he said to me, "was this: that when I walked through that gate into that concentration camp with a Japanese soldier on one side and a Japanese soldier on the other side, all I knew," he said, "was I never had a sense of the closeness and dearness of the presence of Jesus in my life as I did entering that internment camp. He was there in a fullness and a preciousness as I have never experienced before."
He is alive. His presence is with us always. He is with us in agony of soul, in the bending of our wills.
A little group of neighbor boys picked up a crushed bicycle, covered in blood. Their little playmate had been crushed under a heavy truck, and they picked up what remained of the bicycle, covered in blood, and took it to the house and knocked at the door. And when the father came to the door, the little boy said, "Your son was crushed under a heavy truck, and this is his bicycle covered in blood."
And the father said, "Where is my boy?"
And the little playmate said, "We don’t know, for a car immediately came and took him away."
The father frantically called every hospital in the city. Seemingly, each one had a little boy there. So he went from hospital to hospital, and finally in one, in a ward, his little fellow raised his hand and said, "Daddy, here I am. Here I am."
So the father went to the lad, the life crushed out of him, and the little fellow said, "Daddy, would you kneel down here and pray? Pray?"
The father said, "Son, I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in Christ. I don’t believe in prayer. I’ve never prayed in my life! I don’t know how to pray."
And the little fellow said, "But, Daddy, this time, kneel. And at camp last summer, I was taught a prayer. Kneel, Daddy, please kneel and say the prayer."
The stubborn father knelt and holding the hand of his little boy. The boy said, "Daddy, now say â€˜Our Father who art in heaven.’" And the father repeated it. "Hallowed be Thy name." And the father repeated it. "Thy kingdom come." The father repeated it. "Thy will be done."
And the father refused, "Thy will be done? No!"
And the little fellow said, "Daddy, say it. Please, Daddy, pray it."
And while the stubborn father fought the war in his heart, he felt the hand of the little boy grow limp, and he raised his head, and the little boy was gone. He said the prayer, "Thy will be done."
And in a testimony, the now-Christian father said, "The Savior who took away the soul of my little boy came into my heart to abide, a miracle," he said, "of the presence of God."
He is with us. He lives. Our Lord is alive. I suppose one of the sweetest verses in all the Bible is Revelation 3:20, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any one hears My voice, and will open the door, I will come in and fellowship with him, and he with Me." He stands at the door of our hearts and knocks. Think of the compliment of God carried in that avowal.
If the prime minister of a great empire stood at my door, how complimented I would be. If an angel from heaven visited my door, as the angel visited Abraham or Manoah or Zacharias, oh, how happy I would be. But far above any angel or any king or any prime minister, the Lord Jesus Himself stands at the door of our house and of our heart, and He knocks, and if I open the door, He will come in. O Lord, could it be? Could it be?
Someone can say, "Pastor, He may knock at the door of your heart, but He doesn’t knock at the door of my heart."
Oh, my sweet friend, He does every day of your life. He knocks at the door of your heart. He knocks at the door of your heart through His words. He speaks through these Holy Scriptures. Jesus is alive. He is with us, and He speaks to us through the Holy Word. He speaks to us standing at the door of our hearts. He speaks through every providence of life. He speaks through the services of the church. He speaks through that spire that points up to God in heaven. He speaks to us in the deep longing of our souls for God and for eternity. He speaks to us in every precious memory of the past, the loving prayers of a mother or the godly example of a father. He speaks to us at the age of accountability.
When I come to know my need of the Lord, He knocks at the door of my heart. He speaks to us. He knocks at the door of your heart when you fall in love, and He seeks the blessing of heaven upon the home you build with somebody with whom you share your life. He speaks to us in the birth of a little baby laid in your arms. He says, "Rear this child in the guardian love and care of the Lord." He wants to be your best friend and helper in building the life of that precious child. He speaks to us in a thousand mercies and providences along the way. And last of all, He speaks to us, and His presence is with us when we say goodbye before an open grave. He is with us. Our Lord lives. And when we face that ultimate and final day, we’re not alone. Our Lord is with us:
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide is moving, seems asleep,
Too full for sound or foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns [again to] home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that, the dark!
But may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho’ from out this bourne of time and place
The tide may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.
["Crossing the Bar," by Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1889]
He is with us. He never forsakes or leaves us. And in life and in death, in affluence and prosperity, in poverty or in need, in sickness, in health, Jesus is always with us.
I want to close with something that I mentioned last Friday at our Easter service here; I don’t know why some things just live in my heart. This is one: in our Sunday school here in this church, a little girl, precious little girl, became sick unto death; and the mother, holding the child in her arms, the little thing said, "Mother, it is growing dark, and I can’t see!" The little child was dying, and her eyes were failing, "Mother, it’s growing dark, and I’m afraid. Mother, I am afraid!"
And the mother, close to her heart, pressed the little thing and said, "There, there, my child, don’t be afraid. Jesus is with us in the dark just as He is with us in the light. Don’t be afraid."
O Lord, what a strength, what a comfort. God lives! Our Savior lives! Jesus lives, and His presence is always with us. What a privilege to go to Him in prayer. What a privilege to walk down every pilgrim path with Him. And what an infinite hope, blessing to see Him some day face to face [Revelation 22:4], God bless us in the faith, in the comfort, in the strength, in the commitment, in the blessing. God bless us forever. May we stand together?
Our Lord, this Easter means more to us than song could ever say, than a sermon could ever preach, than a poem could ever rhyme. Oh, oh, oh, our hope lies in the preciousness of our Savior. Beyond the providences and exigencies of this life, Jesus reigns. Beyond the ravages of death and the grave, Jesus lives. And how full and how blessed the life that finds peace and strength and refuge in Thee.
And as our people pray and as we wait, a family you, a couple you; a single you, a one somebody you, "Pastor today, this Easter day, this glorious, beautiful, meaningful day, I have decided for God, and I’m on my way." "Pastor, this is my wife and my children, the family, we’re all coming." Or just two of you or just you committing your life in faith and trust to the Lord Jesus, or coming into the fellowship of His dear family, His church, or answering the call of the Holy Spirit into your heart, "Here I am, pastor, we’re coming." Make the decision now, and in a moment when we sing, that first step on that first note will be the most meaningful you’ve ever made in your life. May angels attend you as you come. And thank Thee Lord for the sweet harvest You give us to lay at our Lord’s precious feet. In His saving name, we pray. Amen.
While we sing, a thousand times, welcome. Welcome.