The Living Presence
April 3rd, 1983 @ 10:50 AM
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], as though a stone could incarcerate and hold captive the Lord of life.
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!” [John 20:1-2].
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 20:3-9]. 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 [John 20:11-13]. 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 20:14-15]. 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 20:19-25], and then the next night, the next Sunday night, to the eleven, Thomas being present [John 20:26-29]; then to the fishermen 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 [Luke 24:50; Acts 1:12], and then blessing them as in ascension He returned to be our intercessor and mediator in heaven [1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 7:25].
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 1:9-18].
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 20:2-8]. 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:
…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,
…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 [Luke 24:42-43]. 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 [John 20:27]. Thomas said, 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,” Thomas said, “Not so. Not so. Dead people don’t live” [John 20:25].
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 was…” [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” [John 20:25]. And the following Sunday night, the Lord appeared, Thomas being present [John 20:26]. 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 had 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” [John 20:27]. And Thomas cried, saying, “My Lord and my God” [John 20:28]. Then the marvelous beatitude for us, We have not seen, but we believe [John 20:29, 31]. 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 [John 20:14-16]. Sometimes on a lonely road by their sides, there He walked [Luke 24:13-16]. Sometimes in the upper room, there He was [John 20:19-25]. Sometimes breaking bread at a supper table, there He was [Luke 24:30]. Sometimes on the shore of a lake, there He stood [John 21:1-25]. Sometimes on a mountain, there His hands extended in blessing [Luke 24:50], sometimes walking with them up to Olivet [Acts 1:12]. 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 [Matthew 18:19-20]. 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 I 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 [Matthew 28:19-20]. 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 [Matthew 28:20].
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. 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 ‘Our Father who art in heaven.’” And the father repeated it. “Hallowed be Thy name.” And the father repeated it. “Thy kingdom come.” And 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 [Genesis 18:1-2], or Manoah [Judges 13:12-20], or Zacharias [Luke 1:11-19], 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 [Revelation 3:20]. 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] 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 crost the bar.
[“Crossing the Bar,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1889]
He is with us. He never forsakes or leaves us [Hebrews 13:5]. 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 [Matthew 28:20]. 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 [1Timothy 1:1]. Beyond the providences and exigencies of this life, Jesus reigns [John 16:33]. Beyond the ravages of death and the grave, Jesus lives [Revelation 1:18]. And how full and how blessed the life that finds peace and strength and refuge in Thee [John 10:10].
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 [Ephesians 2:8-9], 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.
A. Early Sunday morning
(Matthew 28:2, 6-7, John 20:1-10, 15)
B. Sunday evening, and
C. Until today (Revelation 1:9-12)
II. They recognized “this same Jesus”
A. John, by the way He
folded up a napkin (John 20:4-8)
B. Mary Magdalene, by
the way He pronounced her name (John 20:11-18)
The two Emmaus disciples, by the way He said the blessing (Luke 24:30-31)
The ten, by the touch of the hand, by His eating fish and honeycomb (Luke 24:38-43)
III. Thomas the unbelieving skeptic
A. Death is the end –
final, complete (Ecclesiastes 12:6-7)
B. Thomas refusing to
believe (John 20:24-25)
C. Then Jesus appears,
repeating his ultimatum (John 20:26-29)
IV. His presence with them
A. Without announcement
suddenly He was there
B. After forty days
their eyes no longer need to see Him
C. His promise (Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 9:5, 2 Timothy 4:17,
V. His presence with us through the years
A. In obedient service
B. In agony of soul
C. In opening the door of
our hearts (Revelation 3:20)