The Case for Christianity
February 13th, 1983 @ 7:30 PM
THE CASE FOR CHRISTIANITY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Peter 3: 12-15
2-13-83 7:30 p.m.
And welcome to the great throngs of you who are sharing this hour on radio. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering again an expository message from the epistles of Simon Peter. And this one is taken from the third chapter. And if you will, read with me these verses as I point them out. First, the last two verses of chapter 2; 1 Peter chapter 2, the last two verses, and let us read them out loud together. Are you ready? First Peter chapter 2, verses 24 and 25, together:
Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.
For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.
[1 Peter 2:24-25]
Now in the next chapter, chapter 3, verse 12; let us read it out loud together:
For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.
[1 Peter 3:12]
Now verse 15 of 1 Peter chapter 3, verse 15 together:
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and, be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.
[1 Peter 3:15]
And the title of the exposition is The Case for Christianity. Verse 15, “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts” [1 Peter 3:15]. In the previous message we learned that hagiazō—qadosh, “to sanctify”—means “to set apart for God.” And we learned from God’s Holy Scriptures that our hearts are the temples of the Holy Spirit [1 Corinthians 6:19-20]; we are the house of God, and the Lord lives in His people. So when He says, “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts” [1 Peter 3:15]: set aside—set apart your hearts—your inmost soul and being for God, “and, be ready always to give an answer to any man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” [1 Peter 3:15]; the word “answer” is apologia.
We take that word and spell it out in English, “apology”; but “apology” in our latter use of English language has come to mean an altogether different thing than it is meant through the centuries. To us an “apology” is an asking forgiveness for a mistake, the confession of an error—he makes an apology to someone that he has inadvertently wronged—an apology. But the word “apology” actually means nothing of the sort. An “apology” is a defense; it is a stated reason why you are convinced of the truth of some position, an apology.
You have it in literature in many instances. There is an Apologia Socrates—The Apology of Socrates. You have Apologia Pro Vita Sua, the apology— the defense—that John Henry Newman wrote concerning his Christian commitment and life. You have the great apologists of the first beginning Christian centuries; such as in the first-century Justin Martyr; such as in the second-century Athena Agoras; and such as in the third-century Tertullian. These are great apologists for the Christian faith; that is, they were men of tremendous and dynamic character and intellectual proportions and stature who defended the Christian faith. So that is used here, “Be always ready to give an apologia—an apology, a defense—to any man that asketh you a reason of the hope,” elpis; not pistis, faith, but “hope” [1 Peter 3:15]. Somehow when people are persecuted, their faith in Christ has overtones of a future hope, a future deliverance, a future justification, vindication. So he speaks here of the defense of our hope that is in Christ.
You know, it is a strange thing how fallen humanity sometimes turns. There are men, world without end, who will publicly avow that to them the Christian faith is a crutch, it’s for the weak, and they refuse it because they are strong and don’t need it! That’s very well for a man who has no confrontation with destiny; he can be strong in a beautiful, sunshiny day—he can be strong in strength and in health—but in the inevitable day and hour of judgment, he is weak like all the rest of humanity.
I remember reading in the sinking of the Titanic. It sank at night, you remember, and there was a dance orchestra playing; and they were in revelry and in all of the things that go with the social, good-time life. But when that tremendous, unsinkable ship began to go down to the bottom of the ocean, the orchestra changed its tune from the dance to “Nearer My God to Thee,” and went down into the depths of the sea. Same kind of a thing I read in the sinking of the Lusitania that thrust us into the First World War; there was a Welsh male choir singing on that ship when it was hit by a German torpedo. And as they went down, the choir began to sing “Abide With Me, Fast Falls the Eventide.”
Christianity, the faith of our Lord and the looking up in hope in heaven is anything else but a crutch or a sign of weakness. In my humble persuasion, the finest thing that a man can do—anywhere, anytime, upon any occasion—is to stand in an apologia, in an “apology,” in a defense of the faith in Jesus Christ [1 Peter 3:15]. I think a man is at his best, he’s at his highest, he’s at his finest, when he confesses his faith in our living Lord.
In one of the beautiful, beautiful churches of America, one of the great churches of our national life in one of our cities, I was speaking in an evangelistic service at the Sunday morning hour. And among those who came forward at the invitation was a fine, well-to-do, affluent, businessman. And when the pastor introduced him, I was surprised at what happened. There was another man, an older man, a magnificent looking man, who stood up in the congregation and addressing the pastor said to him, “Pastor, this man you’ve just introduced has been my partner for something like thirty years. We’ve been together in decisions—tremendous decisions—and we’ve been together in many, many of the exigencies and providences of life. And pastor, to see him stand up there, confessing his faith in the Lord, it just seems to me that I ought to be up there by his side. We’ve been together through many, many fortunes in these many years of our partnership. And pastor, if you would not mind, could I come up there and stand by his side?”
Of course the pastor acquiesced. In our church, that would be second nature; we’re that kind of a church. But in that church it was unheard of. So at the invitation of the pastor, the partner came, and the two men stood there side by side. That’s man at his finest, at his greatest—confessing faith in the Lord Jesus Christ—an apologia, a defense, a confession of the faith [1 Peter 3:15].
Will you notice also, that he speaks of the severity of our Lord? “The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers; but the face—prosōpon—the countenance of the Lord is against them that do evil” [1 Peter 3:12]. You would think he would use the word “anti,” “against,” there. He uses the word, epi—that is, “God’s countenance and God’s face moves against evil” [1 Peter 3:12]. In some regards and in some ways, this Bible brings terror to your heart. As the apostle Paul says, “We, out of terror, persuade men” [2 Corinthians 5:11]. Or as the author of the Hebrews says, “It is a fearful thing, an awesome thing, to fall into the hands of the living God” [Hebrews 10:31]. The face of the Lord moves against them that do evil [1 Peter 3:12]; the severity of the face of God. And it is so constantly revealed here in Holy Scripture, the severity of God against evil.
When I read the Bible, you would think, “These are awful things, these are terrible judgments!” But it is the mercy of God—it is the grace of God, it’s the goodness of God that reveals to us the fires of damnation and judgment and hell. When I drive down a highway and come to a railroad crossing, when I see the red lights flashing, I don’t think, “This is a terrible thing on the part of the railroad company!” It is a mercy of the railroad company that they warn us of impending danger. Or if there is a bottle of strychnine and the Pure Food and Drug Administration writes on the label—places on the label—a picture of a skull and a crossbones and underneath, “poison”; that isn’t because the Pure Food and Drug Administration is against us. It’s because in grace and mercy they warn us of the terrible consequences of this awesome drug. So it is in the Holy Scriptures: God’s Book reveals to us the awfulness of God’s wrath and judgment, the severity of the face of the Lord.
Now I don’t deny, as some preach, that God is a God of love, and of mercy, and of tender forgiveness; He is presented that way through all the Bible, but the love, and grace, and tenderness, and forgiveness of God are always presented against the background of God’s judgment and God’s severity! It’s always been that way. It was the Lord God who said to our parents, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” [Genesis 2:17]. God did that! God drove them out of the garden of Eden [Genesis 3:22-24]. God announced that judgment upon our sinning parents [Genesis 3:14-19].
It was the judgment of the Lord God who said, “A hundred twenty years and this world shall be destroyed” [Genesis 6:3]; and it came in judgment by the flooding waters that annihilated the inhabitants and the civilization of the whole globe [Genesis 7:1-24]. That’s God’s judgment. And it was the judgment of God, the severity of God, that fell upon Sodom and Gomorrah [Genesis 19:24-28]. That’s God! It was the judgment of God—the severity of God—that destroyed the Canaanites. It was the judgment of God—threatening Israel again and again and again—that finally destroyed Samaria, Israel in 722 BC [2 Kings 17:18], and Judah in 586 BC [2 Kings 17:19-20].
And that same severity of the judgment of Almighty God is found in the face of our Lord [1 Peter 3:12]. The severity in the face of Christ: you read it again and again. For example, in anger He took a whip and He cleansed the temple, driving out the money changers [John 2:14-15]. When He healed the man with a withered hand, the Scriptures say in the [third] chapter of Mark, that He looked around in anger at those who felt that He was breaking the Sabbath day by healing this man with the injured hand [Mark 3:5].
Look at this; in chapters, Matthew 23, 24, and 25; long chapters, the severity of the face of our Lord. The twenty-third chapter of the Gospel of Matthew is the most withering, scathing, burning, scalding denunciation in human literature. I’ve never read anything like it in language—denouncing the Pharisees for their hypocrisy—the withering, stern, severity of the face of our Lord. Now in the next chapter, chapter 24, it is our Lord who is announcing the destruction of the nation of Judea and the scattering, the Diaspora of the Jewish people, and the destruction of the city and the temple. It is our Lord who is announcing that visitation from heaven [Matthew 24:1-22].
And then turn to the next chapter, chapter 25. This is the story, the revelation of the great judgment day, when God shall divide the sheep from the goats [Matthew 25:31-46]. It is Jesus who speaks of that; “And these on the right go into life everlasting, but these into the flames of fire and damnation prepared for the devil and his angels” [Matthew 25:34, 41, 46]. It is Jesus who speaks of that. The apostle Paul is no different. In 2 Thessalonians, chapter 1, speaking of the Lord who shall be revealed from heaven “in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those who obey not the gospel” [2 Thessalonians 1:7-8]. And just before the revelation of the beautiful city coming down from God out of heaven [Revelation 21:2], John says, “These whose names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life were cast into the flaming fire of an eternal and burning hell” [Revelation 20:15]. These things bring terror to your soul. Lord God, do we face such an awesome judgment, as God reveals here on the sacred page?
But I not only see that in the Bible, I read it in any history. It is plain on the pages of the story of mankind. The Greeks had a goddess they called Nemesis, Nemesis; she was the goddess of judgment, and retribution, and vengeance. And Nemesis followed those who did wrong, Nemesis, the goddess of vengeance and judgment. And somehow at the very heart of the universe is that inexorable and inevitable confrontation with the judgments of God among any people that do wrong.
Listen to Arnold Toynbee, the greatest historian of this century: Time magazine said of his tremendous volumes, A Study of History, a monumental work, Time magazine said, and I quote, “He, Arnold Toynbee, shattered the frozen pattern of historical determinism and materialism by again asserting God as a moral divine force in history.” And that monumental work, A Study of History, speaks of the rise of twenty-one civilizations that the world has known. Sixteen of them have already perished. Twenty-one civilizations in the history of the world; sixteen of them have already perished, and Toynbee says, “In every case they failed because of moral evil!” It’s not just in the Bible; it’s in human history, it’s in human life; the face of the severity of our Lord.
There is a saying, “It is morally wrong for an artist to paint a picture of a forest without painting a way out, a road out.” It is also morally wrong, according to the Bible, to present the judgment and the wrath of Almighty God without pointing a way out. And one of the things that is always found in the Bible, wherever you find the judgments of God, and the threatenings of God, and the face of the severity of God, wherever you find it in the Bible—you’ll find in the next stanza, in the next verse, in the next revelation, in the next appeal—you will find, pointing to salvation, and hope, and redemption.
For example, in these passages speaking of the severity and judgment of God, he speaks of our Lord, “Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree,” that we, being dead in sins, should live, and that we who are ill and sick should be healed by His stripes [from 1 Peter 2:24]. And he speaks, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” [1 Peter 3:18]. Always in the Bible, wherever there is presented the judgments and the wrath and the damnation of Almighty God, there is also presented a way out, a hope, a salvation, a deliverance, a forgiveness, a coming back. And we find it in the Holy Scriptures without end.
When God said, “The day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die” [Genesis 2:17], and He drove out our first parents, facing death, the same Scriptures say that at the eastern gate of the garden of Eden, He placed cherubim guarding the way, keeping the way of eternal life [Genesis 3:24]. And wherever you find in the Bible, anywhere in the Bible, you find cherubim, they are emblems of God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s forgiveness. And there at the eastern gate of the garden of Eden God made it possible for our first parents and for the beginning of the generations of the race to find a way back to God.
In the days of the terrible Flood [Genesis 6-7]—for one hundred twenty years [Genesis 6:3]—Noah, the preacher of righteousness, pointed to the door of the ark [2 Peter 2:5]. Not only could a camel enter in, or an elephant enter in, not only could each one of the species of the animal kingdom enter in, but any man could enter in, anyone! Open the door! [Genesis 7:1-9]. It just happened to be that only eight out of the multitudes who lived in that day entered in [1 Peter 3:20]; but anyone could. The door was open; it was a door of hope.
In the days of the Passover of the dread—going over, passing over—of the angel of death in Egypt, anybody who would place the blood of atonement on the lintel and on the doorposts on either side would have been saved, anyone [Exodus 12:7, 13, 23]. There’s always a way out. In the days of the visitation of those fiery venomous serpents in the wilderness, Moses lifted up a serpent in the midst, and anyone who looked could live [Numbers 21:8-9]. “Look and live, my brother, live!” [John 3:14-17]. There’s always a way out.
And in the judgment of God upon Israel—this week I just looked through, and I don’t have time even to speak of them—but time and time and time again, God sent His prophets and His servants; as Jeremiah 44:4 says, “The Lord God rising up early in the morning sent His prophets to warn Israel of the judgments of Almighty God.” And the wonderful verse in Ezekiel 33:11, “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked: but that the wicked would turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye; for why will ye die?” That’s God!
Always in the judgments upon this earth and upon us, always there is a way out—there’s a way to be saved, there’s a way to be delivered, there’s a way to God and to heaven—always! And the apostle Peter, in writing this passage of the severity of God, points to the Lord Jesus Christ [1 Peter 2:24-25], our sin bearer, who Himself carried our weaknesses, and our infirmities [Matthew 8:17], and died for them, and paid the penalty of judgment and death for us [1 John 2:2], that if anyone, anywhere, would accept His proffered grace, he might live and not die, he might be saved and not judged [John 3:16]. And that is the only hope that we have in the mercy and grace of our blessed Lord [John 14:6; Acts 4:12].
I face an inevitable rendezvous with death. I face an inevitable judgment day before Almighty God. Who can save me? Where shall I turn? I think first of my parents, my mother and father, they took care of me when I was helpless. They loved me truly and deeply and everlastingly. And as I face this inevitable rendezvous with death and judgment, I will turn to my father and mother, and they will save me—but my father and my mother are dead. I have stood above their tomb, their grave, and wept. They can’t save me.
Then maybe that great strong, big man who was pastor of our little village church and who baptized me; maybe he can save me! But he is dead. All of those teachers that I knew and revered and loved in the university and in the seminary, maybe they can save me in my hour of death and judgment—but without exception, all of those teachers, every one of them, all of them are dead.
Maybe the pulpit committee that brought me here to this dear church, maybe they can save me in my hour of need and judgment and death. All of that committee, all of them have been dead for years and years. Maybe that magnificent group of deacons who worked for the years and the years under the ministry of the great pastor, Dr. Truett, maybe they can save me! They so helped me when I came here to the church, and stood by me. Without exception, every one of them is dead. Maybe in my hour of need and death and judgment, my sweet and wonderful church can save me. But I preside over a dying congregation; they themselves are a dying people.
Who can save me but Jesus? I have no other recourse, no other hope, just the Lord [John 14:6; Acts 4:12]. And as I take myself in my need and necessity, and in that inevitable confrontation and rendezvous with that last great enemy [1 Corinthians 15:26]—when I take myself to the blessed, blessed Lord, He says, “Be not afraid. I have overcome death, and hell, and the grave. I am He that was dead, and behold I am alive forevermore; and I have the keys of Death, and of Hell, and of the grave” [Revelation 1:17-18]. In my life, may the strength of every day that I live be dedicated to Him. And in the hour of my dying, may I look in faith and hope to Jesus my Lord and beyond the grave find Him all sufficient; Jesus my Savior, and yours.
May we stand together?
Wonderful, blessed, victorious, living Lord Jesus, how helpless and hopeless would our lives be without Thee. But in Thee, precious Lord, there is life, and hope, and salvation, and forgiveness, and grace [Ephesians 1:7]. O Lord, dearer than ten thousand art Thou to me. And our Master, as we sing our hymn of appeal tonight, and as we give invitation, may there be a gracious response. Thank Thee for it before God bestows it upon us; these who find refuge and assurance in our wonderful Savior.
And while our people pray just for you, a family you, whose heart God has touched, welcome into the dear fellowship of this precious congregation, God’s church, the body of Christ. And welcome you, who this night are invited by the Holy Spirit of God to stand in apologia—in a confirmation, in a commitment—of the faith of our Lord. “I receive Him into my soul and life, and unashamed I stand before men and angels confessing that faith” [Romans 10:9-10]. Or, somebody you, coming to be baptized according to God’s Holy Word [Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 2:38]; or answering an appeal of the Holy Spirit in your heart, God bless you as you come.
And our Lord, thank Thee for the harvest You give us and make it precious in Thy sight, and a beautiful encouragement to us who have prayed for this moment and look forward to what God will now do, in our Savior’s wonderful name, amen.
While we sing our appeal, in the balcony round, down one of these stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, this is God’s night for me, and I’m on the way.” Welcome, while we sing.