DYING FOR A LOST WORLD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-11-83 8:15 a.m.
And it is great to have the great throngs of you that are listening to this hour on radio. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Dying for a Lost World. It is a message concerning the purpose of the incarnation, the reason that lies back of the coming of our Lord into the world; the rationale of Christmas. Far more than is exhibited in what we think of as Christmas – trees, decorations, gifts, tinsel, tinfoil, color, all the things that we think of as identifying Christmas – beyond that is God’s reason for the coming of His Son into the world. And the message this morning concerns that reason.
We have two texts. One of them is in Matthew 20:28 and the other is Luke 19:10. Matthew 20:28, "The Son of Man came to give His life a ransom for many." And Luke 19:10, "For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." The word "lost" is the New Testament word that describes our world, our planet, our generations, our lives, our families, "lost." God looks down from heaven upon this world, and He sees a vast cemetery; sin and death and corruption are universal. The world is lost to God. It is lost to heaven. It is lost to godliness. It is lost to goodness. It is lost to righteousness. The world is lost in the universal judgment of sin and death and the grave.
God looks down from heaven upon this earth, and it cries to God for redemption, and salvation, and justification, and righteousness, and resurrection, and life. It began that way, the story of humanity. When Cain slew his brother Abel, the Bible says, "God looked down from heaven and said to Cain, What hast thou done? Thy brother’s blood cries unto Me from the ground" [Genesis 4:10]. The story continues in the days of the antediluvians, the pre-diluvians. God looked down from heaven, and the earth was filled with violence, and blood, and even the imaginations of the hearts of men was evil and vile. The story continues in the same vein: God came down from heaven and said, "I am visiting Sodom and Gomorrah to see if the evil is as it is come up to Me in heaven" [Genesis 18:20-21]. The cries of the children that were burned before the idol Molech came up to God in heaven. And in 2 Kings and in Jeremiah, because of the cries of the children that were offered in sacrifice to Molech and because of the idolatry of the people, the nation of Israel [was] carried into Assyria and the nation Judah [was] carried into Babylonia, and the story has been no different through all of the years and the centuries of history since. It is a lost world.
My remembrances are vivid of World War I; the bloodshed. My remembrances are even more vivid of World War II. My remembrances are no less vivid of the war in Korea and the war in Vietnam. And my remembrances are no less vivid of the preparations for the final atomic war that we inexorably and inevitably face. It is a lost world. God looks down from heaven, and the world is filled with violence, and blood, and death, and the grave, and corruption; a lost world.
There is no more dramatic or traumatic instance of the lostness of mankind than the story of Christ. In the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, the author there presents a scene in heaven. Our Lord says, "A body hast Thou prepared for Me. And, lo, I come to do Thy will, O God" [Hebrews 10:5, 7]. Our Lord in heaven, in some eternity past, volunteered in redemption and grace and love to come down into this world of darkness, and corruption, and sin, and violence, and war, and blood, and death. And in that scene in heaven, there’s no limit to our imagination. Did the angels gather round Him and bid Him goodbye? Not understanding – and the Bible says the angels did not understand – not understanding the great purpose of His coming into the world, did they rejoice in the love and affection and devotion of our Savior that brought Him down from heaven to earth? It must have been a dramatic scene beyond description or thought when our Lord left glory to come down here into the world.
We know this much about it: that when He did come, when He was incarnate, when the body that was prepared for Him was filled by His deity, that the angels rejoiced [Luke 1:13-14]. That’s our Christmas. The angels sang; the Lord had come. And what a marvelously, indescribably beautiful moment when the Lord God of glory was incarnate, and came down here into this earth. But the darkness, and the lostness, and the blood, and the evil of this world immediately follows: the story of the sword of Herod. The holy family came to Bethlehem. The star came to Bethlehem, shined over the place where He lay [Matthew 2:9]. The shepherds came to Bethlehem. The wise men came to Bethlehem. But the tramp, tramp, tramp of the soldiers also came to Bethlehem. And the beautiful song of the angels at Christmas was turned into the cry of Rachel, "Behold, a cry of great mourning and lamentation in Ramah, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted because they are not" [Matthew 2:17-18], the cry that comes up unto God in heaven.
Jesus comes to Nazareth, and as He opens the scroll of Isaiah to chapter 61, the people of His hometown marvel at the words of grace that fall from His lips. Then how does the story end? "And they were filled with wrath, and took Him to the brow of the hill upon which their town was built to throw Him down headlong, that He might be slain" [Luke 4:16-20]. Jesus comes to the synagogue and there is a man with a withered hand [Mark 3:1-6], and the Lord speaks to that man and he stretches forth his withered arm, and it is whole. Wouldn’t you think the people would rejoice, "Look, Look! What marvelous, miraculous healing in this Prophet of Nazareth!"?
"They took counsel how they might destroy Him."
Jesus comes to Bethany, and there in the power of God He raises Lazarus from the dead [John 11]. Wouldn’t you think the people would rejoice? The story closes, "And they took counsel how they might put Him to death" [John 11:53].
Jesus comes to the temple, and they seek to entrap Him in His words. For example, "Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar?" [Mark 12:13-17]. If He says, "Yes," then the people would hate Him; they hated the Roman yoke. If He says, "No," then the Romans would execute Him for sedition and insurrection." I’m just quoting there, "They sought to entrap Him in His speech," when Jesus came to the temple.
And finally, when He came to trial, they blindfolded Him, "This is the Man who is able to prophesy, to tell the future; and the future is known but to God." And they blindfold Him, and they smite Him with their hands, saying, "Tell me my name, who struck You?" [Luke 22:64]. And they slapped Him, and said, "Who hit You?" And then He finally came to Calvary.
When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds, and deep
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.
["When Jesus Came to Our Town"; G. A. Studdert-Kennedy]
And they wagged their heads, saying, "He saved others, Himself He cannot save." [Mark 15:31] And they placed over His cross a superscription which said, "THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS" [Matthew 27:37]. And they could have written below it another, "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not" [John 1:11]. I’m just avowing to you that you will find no more dramatic or traumatic illustration of the lostness of the world, its violence, its evil, than you find in the life of our Lord.
There was a great reason that lies back of the coming of our Christ into the world. He came to die, He came to suffer for our sins. He came to seek and to save [Luke 19:10], and to give His life a ransom for us who are lost [Matthew 20:28]. In 1 Peter chapter 1, verses 10 and 11, it says that the prophets couldn’t understand that. The Holy Spirit, that passage says, spoke through the prophets and described the sufferings of the Lord; but the prophets couldn’t understand it. And then it goes on to say that the angels tried to look into it, and they couldn’t understand it [1 Peter 1:12].
The sufferings of our Lord for our redemption, the prophet couldn’t understand it. Psalm 22 describes the crucifixion of our Lord, as though the psalmist David were standing there at the cross. Isaiah 53, the passage that we just read together, describes the agony and the suffering of our Savior just as clearly as if Isaiah had stood and watched Jesus die, though he was speaking seven hundred fifty years before. Daniel said, "I heard, but I could not understand" [Daniel 12:8]. The sufferings of our Lord, the God of glory, were ununderstandable and inexplicable to the prophets who spoke of His coming and of His dramatic, tragic hurt for us. But, that is God’s fallen universe: without suffering there is no redemption.
The eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews describes the great heroes of the faith; and it is a record of infinite suffering. "Moses choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season" [Hebrews 11:25]. Or the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts, God says of Saul of Tarsus, "I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake" [Acts 9:16]. There is no achievement; there is no redemption without a cost and a price in all of human life. Our universe and our world is made like that.
It is in the travail of a woman that a child is born. And without that labor and that travail, there is no life, there is no birth, there is no child. It is in sacrifice that a young couple will build a home, buy a house, educate the children, start a business; it’s in labor, it’s in toil, it’s in sacrifice, it’s in work. I think of a minister: I can tell the depths and the heights and the lengths of the consecration and devotion and the commitment of a young minister by the willingness he pours into his making a good ready – studying, praying, laboring, toiling, working, visiting, winning, preparing – all life is like that. I do not know an exception to it. If there is a fine artist, he pays for his artistry with his life. If he’s a pianist he practices, and practices, and practices; hours and days and years and a lifetime. If he’s a great maestro, if he’s a great violinist, if he’s a great artist, a great painter, it costs him his life; it’s sacrifice, it’s labor, it’s toil, it’s work.
By the way, that’s why I have contempt for, and a deep distaste and dislike for a Picasso, Pablo Picasso. In fifteen minutes, in ten minutes, in five minutes he’d draw a masterpiece. You hang them on the walls of these museums. I say they are an affront to God, the way they look, and the life of the man who painted them, and the way the things were drawn. Great artists like Rafael spend years painting the glorious Transfiguration and died a young man, unfinished. And when he lay in state, they placed his casket beneath that unfinished Transfiguration. That’s great artistry. Even Schubert, who could write sometimes beautiful music so rapidly, Schubert worked for years on a symphony and died before it was finished, named the Unfinished Symphony; the sacrifice the artist pours into his work.
Talking about Picasso, I was in the art museum of Chicago, and a teacher in the public school system had a little class of kids that she was taking through that art museum. And she’d sit them down on the floor and talk about that picture and sit them down on the floor and talk about that picture. She went through the museum with her little class. Well, I happened to be meandering through the museum at the same time. So at the end of it, she had the class seated in a little semicircle; about, oh, fifteen of those little kids before a Picasso. And there was that hideous looking thing up there, and she was saying to the children, "Now this, and then that, and then that," it was one of those pictures of a woman who had one eye here, and a leg way down here, and another part of her limbs up there, and she was describing the glory and the beauty of that Picasso. So, when she got through, she said, "Now class, what do you think she looks like?" Well she was expecting, "She looks like a queen," or, "She looks like a glory, she looks like an angel," or whatever. And the class was absolutely silent. Little old kids, well I just stood there waiting for somebody to say something. So finally one of the little boys waved his hand. And she said, "Now, what do you think she looks like?" He stood up and he said, he said, he said, "Teacher, I think she looks like a witch." Well, I thought that was the smartest boy in the public school system in Chicago.
Toil and sacrifice, these make for the great achievements of the world; and it’s that kind of a world into which our Lord came. He came to suffer and to die for our sins. That’s the reason that lies back of the Incarnation. "You are to call His name Jesus, Joshua, Savior, because He will save His people from their sins" [Matthew 1:21].
"Yea," said Simeon to His mother, "and a sword shall pierce thine own soul also" [Luke 2:35]. And our Lord never got away any moment of His life from the cross that awaited Him. When He began His ministry, He said, in the temple, "You destroy this temple, this house, and in three days I will raise it up" [John 2:19]. At the height, at the zenith of His ministry, there appeared to Him in transfiguration Moses and Elijah, who spake to Him about His death in Jerusalem [Luke 9:31]. And at the end of His life, He instituted the Lord’s Supper: "This is My body, given for you; and this is My blood, shed for the remission of sins" [Matthew 26:26-28]. And that is the gospel of redemption and salvation.
Paul defines it, in 1 Corinthians 15:1 to 4, "My brethren, I make known unto you the gospel." What is it? "How that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; He was buried, and the third day He was raised for our justification." When a man preaches the gospel, when you go to church and you say, "That preacher delivered a message of the gospel, he preached the gospel," what do you mean? That means he preached Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures; He was buried, and the third day He rose again for our justification. When we send out a missionary to preach the gospel, what does He preach? That’s what He preaches: Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures; He was buried the third day, He was raised for our justification.
In these years past, about thirty of them, when every summer I used to go and preach on a mission field, I’d come back here to the pulpit, and they’d ask me, people would ask me, "Pastor, how do you preach to a Stone Age Indian in the Amazon jungle? Or how do you preach to that Hottentot, so benighted and darkened in mind, in the heart of Africa? How do you preach to them?" I’ve always replied, "Very simple, easy: I preach to them, we’re all lost, we’re sinners, there’s a black drop in all of our hearts. And when I say that, I’m on common ground with the whole world, whether it be a Stone Age Indian in the Amazon jungle, or a black Hottentot in the heart of Africa. We’re all sinners, all sinners. And we face the penalty of death, all of us." Then the good news of the gospel: "Christ is our hope, and our life, and our light, and our heaven; and He came to save us from the judgment of sin and death and the grave." That’s the gospel. That’s the gospel.
And that is the tragic judgment of God upon us today. We are so slow and so lethargic to deliver that message to the world. God has no other way of publishing His redemptive message but through us. I one time read of a conversation between Jesus and Gabriel, when the Lord returned to heaven. And Gabriel was talking to the Lord Jesus about what He had done down here in the earth; He had suffered for the sins of the people, and He had been buried, and now raised from the grave, in triumph He returned back to glory. And Gabriel says to the Lord Jesus, "Lord Jesus, how is the world to know that You did that?" And the Lord says to Gabriel, "I am just depending upon Peter, and James, and John, and the apostles, and the disciples, to make it known, to publish it abroad; and then the disciples that they make, to make it known, to publish it abroad." And Gabriel asked the Lord, "But Lord, what if they fail? What if they forget?" And the Lord Jesus replies to Gabriel, "I have no other plan." There is no other plan that God has for the publishing of the redemptive work of Christ in this earth but through our voices and our dedication and our commitment.
And I can’t understand my own lethargy and indifference in the publication of that good news of the gospel. I am so slow and so consumed with secondary commitments, I don’t understand my own heart. Why do I not do more, and give more of myself, of what I have for the publication of the redemptive message of Christ? Why don’t I?
A black man from a neighboring village was here listening to a missionary, and the missionary was preaching the gospel, and that’s what he preached: we were lost, and Christ, God, the Lord came down from heaven and suffered and died that we might be saved. And this man, with glory in his heart and triumph in his soul, in acceptance and belief, said, "I must go back to my village, and I must tell them this good news about Jesus." And as he went away, he suddenly turned back and walked up to the missionary and said, "But missionary, I forgot to ask, when was it that He died? Was it yesterday? Was it day before yesterday? Was it last week? When was it that He died for our sins?" And the missionary said, "My brother, it was over two thousand years ago." And the black man replied, "Why is it we’re just now hearing? Why didn’t you tell us sooner?" It’s rebuke to my own heart.
It’s the greatest, grandest, most glorious good news in this earth that Jesus came down from heaven, incarnate God, for the purpose of redeeming us from sin and death and the grave. And to those who look in faith to Him there is light, and life, and hope, and heaven. Lord, Lord, how I need at this season of the year, and this moment, to make a new commitment of my life and all that I am and have to the gospel ministries of our Lord. There’s a great reason, there’s a great purpose that lies back of Christmas.
We’re going to sing us a song. And while we sing it, a family, a couple, a one somebody you, in the balcony round, on the lower floor, down here to the front, "Pastor, today we are answering God’s call in our hearts; and we’re coming." Some, "I’m accepting Jesus as my Savior"; some, "I’m putting my life in the circle of this dear church"; some, "God has spoken to me, and in a special way, I’m answering His call in my heart"; as the Holy Spirit shall lead, make the decision now. And in the moment that we stand to sing, that first step will be the most meaningful you’ve ever made in your life. Come, and may the angels of God attend you in the way as you come; while we stand and while we sing. "This is God’s time for me. I’m on the way."
A LOST WORLD
20:28, Luke 19:10
I. The world so lost
in heaven looks down – the world a vast cemetery; sin and death universal (Genesis 4:10, 6:5-8, 18:21, 2 Kings 23:10, Jeremiah
B. Seen in the life of
Christ (Hebrews 10:5, 7, 1 Peter 1)
1. The nativity (Luke 2:14, Matthew 2:18, Jeremiah 31:15)
2. In Nazareth (Luke 4:22-29)
3. To the
synagogue in Galilee (Mark 3:1-6)
4. To Bethany (John 11:43-44, 53)
In his last days: at the temple, in His trial and to Calvary (Matthew 22:15, 16-22, Luke 22:64, Matthew 27:42, 37,
II. The sufferings of Christ that we might
A. Foretold (1 Peter 1:10-11, Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, Daniel 12:8)
B. The way of the
universe (Acts 9:16, Hebrews 11:25)
sacrifice, cost the price of any achievement
Purpose of Christ coming from heaven was to weep, suffer and die for us
Prophecy (Genesis 3:15)
At His birth (Matthew 1:21, Luke 2:35)
His life, his personal consciousness (John 2:19,
Matthew 16:21, 17:3, Luke 9:31, Matthew 26:26-29)
III. This is the gospel of salvation
A. Defined (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
B. How I preach to the
natives in Amazon, in Africa
C. Good news for the
1. We are to