Faithful Unto Death
January 16th, 1983 @ 10:50 AM
FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-16-83 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Faithful Unto Death. It is a sermon in the series on the “Great Doctrines of the Bible.” And in this section, composed of about five sermons, the messages are addressed to us who are Christians. Each sermon has to do with our Christian life down here in the earth. The text is taken out of our Lord’s message to the church in Smyrna [Revelation 2:8-11]. It is a great vast city, today called Izmir. It is on the Aegean Sea; it is in Turkey on the western shore of Asia Minor. It was a great city in the day of the flesh of our Lord. And it is one of the seven churches of Asia [Revelation 2:1-3:22]: Ephesus, and then right north, Smyrna. It is called a martyr church. All seven of the churches of Asia have some castigation from our Lord except this church. There is nothing but praise from our Lord for the church in Smyrna [Revelation 2:8-11].
And in the second chapter of the Book of the Revelation, in the tenth verse, in the address of our Lord to the church, He says, “be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” [Revelation 2:10]. There are some men who are incorrect, who use that verse to say like this: “Be faithful to your deathbed, and if you are, you will be saved.” There is no thought—there is not an approach of a thought like that. Our Lord is saying, “you be faithful and true even if it costs your life, and I will give you a crown” [Revelation 2:10], stephanos, crown; the word “Stephen,” and you read about him and his martyrdom just now [Acts 7:54-60]. The word staphanos, Stephen, means “crown.” And when the Lord says, “be thou faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life,” it could be a diadem, a royal crown. Or it could refer to a garland, a victor’s crown. But whether it is a diadem or a garland, whether it is a royal crown or a victor’s crown, God says if we are faithful and true, at the end of the way He will reward us with a crown of life [Revelation 2:10]. And that leads me to the exact title of the sermon today, the seven characteristics of a disciple of our Lord, the seven marks of a true Christian.
The first one is this: and I take these out of the Bible, out of the New Testament. They are clear and unequivocal; the first one is this: supreme love for Jesus our Lord. Luke 14:25 and 26:
And there went great multitudes with Him: and He turned, and said unto them, If any man come to Me, and hate not his father, and mother, his wife, and children, his brothers, and sisters, and yea, his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.
That is an extreme and harsh word taken in itself. But what our Lord refers to is, compared to our love for Him—our supreme devotion to Him—all other love for wife, child, home, brother, sisters, all other love, compared to our love for Christ is as hate; our supreme love for Christ.
Nathan Hale entered Yale University as a ministerial student studying to be a preacher. But in 1776, he joined the Revolutionary Army. General Washington needed information concerning the British troops. And Nathan Hale volunteered as a spy to bring back the needed information. He dressed like a Tory schoolmaster. He gained the information, but on his way back to report to General Washington he was recognized and seized and hanged in what is today New York City, on Market Street and East Broadway. And whenever you see a monument to Nathan Hale, you will find inscribed the last word that he said, “I regret I have but one life to lose for my country.” That is a little comparable patriotic devotion, like us in our supreme love for Christ. Would to God we had ten thousand lives to offer to Jesus.
Charles Wesley was an Anglican minister. And after he began his preaching—after he was a preacher, he was wonderfully converted. Isn’t that unusual, that you would have a minister really converted? And on the first anniversary of that wonderful experience, he wrote that marvelous hymn:
O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace.
[‘O for a Thousand Tongues,” Charles Wesley]
There is a marvelous thing that happens when a man places Jesus first in his life—loves our Lord supremely above all other love—He hands back to you your home, your family, your wife, your business, your children, every dream and vision of your soul. He hands it back to you doubly blessed; sanctified, hallowed when I place Jesus first in my life.
The second characteristic and mark of a faithful Christian: the denial of self. Matthew 16:24-25:
If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for My sake shall find it.
Self, by nature, is on the throne of my heart. But as long as I listen and bow before self, my life is shriveled and small. But if I abdicate the throne, and no longer is itself, but if I enthrone my Lord, life becomes infinitely blessed, infinitely precious, infinitely meaningful. And the second characteristic and mark of a true child of Christ is to dethrone self in my heart and to enthrone the Lord Jesus: He is the King of my life.
In the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy is one of the most unusual parabolic instances of devotion that you could ever think for or find in all literature. Every sabbatical, every seventh year, the slave in a Hebrew household was to be free. But, if in a household there was a slave, and when time came, when that seventh year came and the slave was free—if he so loved his master or she so loved her mistress, that he did not want to leave, then they went through this kind of a simple ritual. The master of the house was to take an awl, a punch, and pierce the ear of the slave and drive it against the wall, against the door of the house; a sign and a symbol that this slave was driven to the loving service of his master forever [Deuteronomy 15:16-17]. And that beautiful, symbolic portrayal in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy is symbolic of all of us. We are given by choice, by volition, to our Lord and Master forever.
My Master lead me to Thy door;
Pierce this willing ear once more;
Thy bonds and freedom; let me stay
With Thee, to toil, endure, obey.
[”My Glorious Victor, Prince Divine,” Handley C.G. Moule]
We are His forever.
A third characteristic of the true child of Christ: we are one who has deliberately chosen the cross. Matthew 10:38: “He that taketh not his cross, and followeth after Me, is not worthy of Me.” And Matthew 16:24: “If any one will come after Me, let him . . . take up his cross, and follow Me.” The cross is an instrument of death. It is a place on which somebody is executed, a cross.
I have never heard an exception to this in my life, and it is always false, it is always untrue. To us, we use the word “cross” to refer to some handicap or some suffering or some disappointment, “I have an incorrigible child, an obstreperous child, and it is a cross for me to bear.” Or, “I have some physical ailment, I have a cross to bear.” Or, “I have a frustration or a disappointment in my life; it is my cross.” There is no such idea of that in the Bible; in the Scriptures a cross is something to die on. It is an instrument of execution, and when I am invited to take up my cross, I am invited to die to myself that I might live to the Lord.
Now may I give, point out a poignant illustration of that in the Word of God? When our Lord was on the way to Jerusalem to die, in Perea on the other side of Jordan, He was met, accosted in a town over there by a rich young ruler [Mark 10:17-22]. There was a price on the head of our Lord. He was soon to die—to be rejected [Mark 10:32-34]. You cannot help but admire this young man. In broad, open daylight where everyone could see, he knelt down before the Lord, the Prophet from Nazareth saying, “Agathai didaskai” [Mark 10:17]. And the Lord noticed it. No one is agathai but One, that is, God [Mark 10:18]. The young fellow knelt down before the Lord [Mark 10:17]. You could not help but love him. That is what the Bible said about Jesus: “Jesus, looking upon him, loved him” [Mark 10:21]. And when the young man asked, Master, all of these commandments have I kept from my youth,” but my heart is still hungry and empty, what lack I yet that I might obtain eternal life? [Matthew 19:20; Mark 10:20]. And the Lord, looking deep in the soul of the young fellow, said to him, Your heart is in the world. The love of your life is in money. It is in riches. Give it up. Give it up. Now, listen to His exact word: Give away what you have. Give it up “and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions” [Matthew 19:21-22; Mark 10:21, 22].
Why didn’t the Lord say that to Zaccheus? The Bible says that Zaccheus was a rich man [Luke 19:1-2]. The Lord never said that to him. Why didn’t the Lord say that to the family at Bethany—to Lazarus and Mary and Martha? They were most affluent and well-to-do. Why didn’t the Lord say that to Joseph of Arimathea, who is described in the Bible as a rich man? [Matthew 27:57]. Why didn’t the Lord say that to him? Because when the Lord looked into the heart of that rich, young ruler, he loved things more than he loved God [Matthew 19:21-22; Mark 10:21-22]. And you cannot enter heaven loving the wrong world. The gate is too strait, and the way is too narrow for a man to enter heaven holding the love of the world in his arms [Matthew 7:13-14].
Now you have it translated here, “And he was sad at that saying” [Mark 10:22]. You have no picture of what actually that word describes at all in “He was sad at that saying.” The word is stugnazō. It is used twice in the Bible. In Matthew 16:3 Jesus uses it describing the face of a sky before a violent storm. The clouds are boiling and the face of the heaven is angry. And He uses the word stugnazō, translated “lowering,” the sky is stugnazō, it is lowering. The other place it is used is to describe the face of that young man. The tragic and terrible civil war he was fighting in his heart registered in his countenance, stugnazō; and he lost the battle. He went away grieved, for he had great possessions: loving the wrong world [Mark 10:22].
The apostle John writes in 1 John 2:15-17: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life, is not of the Father, but of the world. And the world passeth away . . . but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.” When a man loves the world and the things that are in the world, the day finally comes when he finds his hands empty and his heart broken. But if a man loves God, every day is a sweeter day, a triumphant day, and some day, a victorious day. The third characteristic—choosing deliberately the cross, crucifying ourselves and every worldly desire that we have, that we might love God.
The fourth characteristic, the fourth mark of a true disciple of our Lord—one who continues unswervingly in the Word of God. John 8:31, 32: “If you continue in My word, then are you My disciples indeed; And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 14:23-24: “If any one love Me, he will keep My words . . . and the word which ye hear is not Mine, but the Father’s which sent Me.” Any true disciple of our Lord has a deep, haunting, never-sated thirst for the word of God. Romans 10:17: “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing the word of God.” If someone loved Jesus, he never tires of hearing about Him. And a man who preaches the word of the Lord is someone people love to listen to. He’s telling us from God’s Holy Scriptures about our Lord.
If I could digress here a minute and make a humble and humble observation: Next anniversary, I begin my fortieth year as pastor of this dear church—forty years, beginning. Suppose I were to stand in this pulpit–I majored in English in college, and I love English literature. I would love to be a professor of English literature. Suppose I were to stand in this pulpit and speak and discuss English literature three times once a week? Or suppose I were to stand here, and if I were trained to be a scientist; suppose I were to lecture on science three times every week? Or suppose I were to stand in this pulpit and lecture on the humanities, or any subject you would choose to name: philosophy, psychology, medicine, astronomy, anything. Can you imagine after forty years the people here by the thousands listening to me lecture on mathematics or science or literature or the humanities? Could you imagine it? It has never happened in the history of the world. But after thirty-nine years, standing here in this pulpit, there are thousands and thousands who come every Lord’s day listening to what? Listening to a man expound the unsearchable riches of the Word of God. That is the mark of a disciple of Christ. It is like water to a thirsting soul. It is like manna from heaven to a hungry heart. “Preacher, just stand up there and tell us what God says. We know what the commentator says, and we know what the politician says, and we know what the philosopher says, and we know what the academician says. But pastor, does God say anything? If God says anything, preacher, tell us what does God say? We’ll be here listening.” It is one of the truths of life. One of the marks, I say, of a true disciple of Christ, he never wearies, he’s never seen, he’s never sated listening to the Word of God.
More about Jesus; and His Word,
Holding communion with my Lord;
Hearing His voice in every line.
Making each faithful saying mine.
[“More About Jesus,” Eliza E. Harris]
A fifth characteristic of the true servant of Christ—he possesses a continuing and undying faith in our victorious Lord Christ. He never knows a turning back or an ultimate defeat. By a living faith, I mean one consumed with one desire—to please our Lord. The weakness of men, universally, is to please one another. John 12:42-43 writes: “Among the chief rulers, many believed on Him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the praise of men more than they loved the praise of God.”
Any psychologist, any psychologist, will tell you that one of the driving forces in human life is to be acceptable—especially to be acclaimed among our peers. But to be repudiated and to be censored and to be disliked is a terrible thing to bear. Especially and particularly is that true with our young people. The reason our adolescents, our young people, fall into, say, drugs, or into drinking, or into a thousand compromising positions, is because of peer pressure. They are all doing it. And a youngster wants to belong to the group. He wants to be associated with them. He wants to be acclaimed and accepted and praised by them. But to be left out like a lone, lost black sheep is to be hurt and the child is a thousand times sensitive to it. And that leads them into all kinds of things that break the hearts of their parents.
Well, we are all like that. We all love to be praised. We all love to be accepted. We all love to be acclaimed. All of us do. But when that acclamation and acceptance violates our commitment to Christ, it is to be repudiated by the disciple of our Lord. John 1:10-11: “Jesus was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” His townspeople where He grew up in Nazareth took Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built to cast Him along to His death [Luke 4:28-29]. In Mark 5, in Matthew 9, and Luke 8, they laughed Him to scorn at Capernaum [Mark 5:40; Matthew 9:24; Luke 8:53]. In the little city of Bethany, they plotted His death. And in Jerusalem, they nailed Him to a cross [Matthew 27:32-50]. Listen to the words of our Lord in Luke 6:26: “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you!” We are not in this world to be acclaimed, we are to be true to our Lord, no matter what repudiation or scoffing or scorning. That means we are never turning back. However fate or providence may assail us, our commitment to our Lord is, first, and supreme. [Luke 9:62]: “No one, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Keep me, keep me, from turning back
The handles of my plow where tears are wet,
The shears with rust are spoiled and yet,
And yet, my God, keep me from turning back.
[“The Plough,” Eliza E. Harris]
We do not have a more beautiful or meaningful invitational hymn than this:
I have decided to follow Jesus,
No turning back.
Though no one go with me, I still will follow,
The cross before me, the world behind me,
No turning back.
[“I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,” attributed to S. Sundar Singh]
“I have decided to follow Jesus,” the characteristic of a true disciple of our Lord.
Now, before I speak of another, may I pause to avow; there is never, ever, a defeat, never in our commitment to our Lord. Faith, trust, commitment brings God into our lives and into our scene; and faith knows absolutely nothing about defeat. Doubt will say, How? And unbelief will ask, How can such a thing be? But faith has ten thousand answers for every how. Listen to this: Romans 4:17:
God, who quickeneth the dead, calleth those things which be not as though they were—
Abraham [Genesis 17:5], against hope, believed in hope—
And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was a hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb: he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith … being fully persuaded that, what God had promised, He was able to perform.
A reference to the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, where Abraham came before God and said, “Lord, You say that I am to have a child and then the seed that comes out of my body, my loins, the whole world is be blessed. But I do not have a child and I am old and my wife is old. A hundred years old and Sarah, ninety years of age and no child is born’ [Genesis 17:17]. And God said, “Abraham, come here. And He took him out under the chalice of the night sky and said, Abraham, count the stars.” And Abraham said, “Lord, I cannot count that many.” And God said, “So shall thy seed be” [Genesis 15:3-5]. Now the next verse: And God counted his faith for righteousness, because he believed in the Lord [Genesis 16:6]. You cannot fail in God—never, ever, ever. Never.
Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees,
And looks at God alone;
Laughs at impossibilities,
And cries, “It shall be done!”
[“Faith Mighty Faith,” Eliza E. Harris]
Doubt sees the obstacles.
Faith sees the way!
Doubt sees the darkest night,
Faith sees the day!
Doubt dreads to take a step.
But Faith soars on high!.
Doubt questions, “Who believes?”
And Faith answers: “I!”
[“Faith,” Catherine Marshall]
A sixth characteristic of the true disciple of Christ: a fervent love for the people of God. John 13:34, 35: I new commandment that I give unto you, That you love one another; as I have loved you…By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one to another.
John 15:12-13: “This is My commandment, That you love one another . . . Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
“These things I command you, that you love one another” [John 15:17]. May I turn to 1 John 3:14? “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” [First John] 4:7, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God.” “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought to love one another” [1 John 4:11]. “And this commandment that we have from Him, That he who loveth God love his brother also” [1 John 4:21]. It is one of the marks and the characteristics of a good disciple of Jesus; our love for one another.
A long time ago, in the 1700s in a little town in Yorkshire, a county in northern England, there was a very, very poor family. And they had a little boy born to the home and they named him John—John Fawcett. When the lad was thirteen years old, because of the poverty of the family, they sent him away to London; there apprenticed him to a tailor—just receiving something to eat and something to wear. When the boy was sixteen years old, he went to hear George Whitefield preach, and he was converted; wonderfully converted, listening to George Whitefield preach the gospel.
And he gave his life to be a Baptist preacher, John Fawcett. He was called to be pastor of a little church in a little town in Yorkshire called Wainsgate. His salary was less than two hundred dollars a year. And because of the necessity pressed upon him in his growing family, he accepted an affluent church in London. So to his sorrowing little congregation, he preached a farewell message and they placed everything on the wagon—his books, his furniture and everything—and he and his wife and the children climbed on the wagon, and they turned to leave. And when they turned to drive away, his wife burst into tears and said, “John, John, how can we do this? How can we leave these dear people?” And John her husband replied, “Wife, I don’t see how we can.” And he turned the team around and the wagon around and went back to the parsonage and put back in the house all of the things that he had stacked on that wagon. [He] went inside the house and sat down and wrote what I think is the most preciously beautiful hymn in the English language.
Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
We share our mutual woes,
Our mutual burdens bear,
And often for each other flows
These sympathizing tears.
[“Blest Be the Tie,” John Fawcett]
He stayed there in that tiny church over fifty years; their pastor over fifty years. Could I take time to turn aside? All England came to know him. You couldn’t help but know a man like that. And he was invited to preach before the king, King George III, in 1780. And when John Fawcett stood and preached before the king, the king was so moved he said to the preacher, “Ask anything and I will give it to thee.” And the wonderful preacher replied, “Sir, I have nothing for myself, but one of my families has a boy, a wayward boy who faces the sentence of death for forgery,” in the strict laws of that time. “Please, sir, your Majesty,” said the pastor, “could you grant pardon to the boy?” He did it. That’s a great man, a marvelous man; that’s God’s man. That’s loving Jesus.
Now, before I mention the last one may I recapitulate? The seven marks of a true disciple of Jesus:
- A supreme love for our Lord [Matthew 14:25-26].
- The denial of self [Matthew 16:24-25].
- Deliberately choosing the cross [Matthew 10:38, 16:24].
- And an unswerving continuance in the Word of God [John 8:31-32, 14:23-24; Romans 10:17].
- A continuing living faith in a victorious Christ [Luke 9:62].
- And the last one that I mentioned: a devout, fervent love for God’s people [John 13:34-35, 15:12-13, 15:7; 1 John 3:14, 4:7, 4:11, 4:21].
Now, the last one, the seventh one, the marks of a true disciple of Jesus: he is committed to a belief in another world—living, working, looking forward to another world. Colossians 3:2: “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” First Corinthians 15:19: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”
When I was a youth growing up, Clarence Darrow, the great agnostic and atheist, literally covered the horizon in the legal profession. And as a youth, I read The Story of My Life by Clarence Darrow. And on page four hundred he says, “If there is one scrap of proof that we are alive after we are dead, why is not that scrap given to the world? Certainly under all of the rules of logic the one who assumes that an apparently dead person is still alive should be able to produce substantial proof. Not only is there no evidence of immortality, but the facts show it is utterly impossible for us that there should be a life beyond this one on earth.” That’s what they say, the unbeliever and the infidel and the agnostic.
But listen to the heroes of the faith. I read in the Book of Hebrews beginning at the eleventh chapter beginning at verse 9:
By faith Abraham sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country…For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
[Hebrews 11:9, 10]
They believed the promises and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims in this earth [Hebrews 11:13]:
Now, they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly:
wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God:
for He hath prepared for them that city.
And I turn the pages of the Book, “And I John, saw that holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” [Revelation 21:2].
There’s a holy and beautiful city
Whose Builder and Ruler is God;
John saw it descending from heaven,
When Patmos, in exile, he trod;
Its high, massive wall is of jasper,
The city itself is pure gold;
And when my frail tent here is folded,
Mine eyes shall its beauty behold.
In that bright city, pearly white city,
I have a mansion, a harp, and a crown;
Now I am watching, waiting, and longing,
For the white city that’s soon coming down.
[“The Pearly White City,” Arthur F. Ingler]
That is the child of God. Our home is not here, it is there [John 14:1-3; Reveltion 21:1-5]. Our inheritance is not here, it is there [1 Peter 1:4-5]. Our reward is not here, it is there [Matthew 5:12]. And Jesus is waiting for the day of our coming.
That is our faith. We cannot be defeated. If I live, bless God, it is to love Him. If I die, praise His name, it is to be with Him. Or whether we die or whether we live, we are with Him [1 Thessalonians 4:15-17]. Oh, what a beautiful thing, a precious thing, a wonderful thing: to love our Lord and to follow humbly in the way of Jesus!
And that is our invitation to you: a family gathering the children coming to be with us in our pilgrimage to heaven, a couple you, or a one somebody you, “Pastor, today we have decided for God, and here we stand.” As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, that decision you make, if it is for God, will be the sweetest and most meaningful you will ever know in your life. Come. May angels attend you in the way as you come. While we stand and while we pray.
Our Lord, before it comes to pass, we praise Thy wonderful, keeping, saving, endearing name for all You have done for us; died to save us [1 Corinthians 15:3], poured out Thy blood to wash us clean and white [Revelation 1:5, 5:9], that we might stand in the presence of God forgiven [Jude 1:24]. And our Lord may the flow of our lives be in praise, and in adoration, and worship, and in love for Thee, O blessed God, that as grace and mercy reached down even to me. And our Lord, bless these to whom the Holy Spirit makes appeal this morning; some to put their lives with us in the church, some to follow our blessed Lord Jesus in baptism [Matthew 3:13-17], some to accept Thee as Savior; bless each one. And thank Thee, Lord, for each soul You give us, in Thy precious name, amen.
While we sing our appeal a thousand times welcome, come. Come.