The Living Presence
April 3rd, 1983 @ 8:15 AM
THE LIVING PRESENCE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-3-83 8:15 a.m.
And we are no less grateful to God for you and for the great multitudes who are sharing this hour with us on radio. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering the message on an Easter morning entitled The Living Presence. Reading as a background text the latter part of the twentieth chapter of the Gospel of John, beginning at verse 24:
But Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin"
– Didymus means "twin" –
was not with them when Jesus came.
Then the other disciples said unto Thomas, We have seen the Lord. 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 His side, I will not believe.
And after eight days, the following Sunday night, His disciples were within the upper room, 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 behold My hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into My side: and be not faithless, but believing.
And Thomas answered and said unto Him, my Lord and my God.
Then Jesus saith to him, Thomas, because you have seen Me, you believe,
– then a beatitude for all of us –
Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
The events of that first Easter Sunday morning were stupendous! They were amazing! They were destiny-determining. They were history-making. They were unparalleled and incomparable. It began at the end of the Sabbath with a great earthquake. And the stone over the sepulcher where the body of the Lord lay was rolled away, and an angel in contempt sat upon it as though a stone could imprison captive the Lord of life [Matthew 28:2]. And when the women came to the sepulcher, it was open. The stone had been rolled away, and the angel said to the women, "He is not here, He is alive."
What our young people just sang, "He is alive, He is not here. Why seek ye the living among the dead? [Luke 24:5-6]. Go tell His disciples that He meets you at the great appointed rendezvous in Galilee" [Matthew 28:6-7]. Mary Magdalene, apparently a younger woman, and apparently outrunning the rest, came to Simon Peter and to John the son of Zebedee, saying what the angel had avowed. And those two disciples ran to the sepulcher [John 20:1-18]. And the younger man, John, outran the older man, Simon Peter. When John came to the open tomb, he paused. But when Simon Peter caught up with him, he impetuously ran inside the sepulcher and saw the grave clothes undisturbed and the napkin folded in a place lying by itself. And they went on their way wondering, but Mary of Magdala remained. And as she sat in the garden weeping, the Lord spoke to her. And she, supposing Him to be the gardener and never realizing the possibility of an actual resurrection, asked where His body had been lain, where they had taken the body away. And then the Lord pronounced her name, and she recognized Him.
Then the other women, coming back to the sepulcher, the Lord spoke to them, shalom, "peace" [Matthew 28:9-10]. Then that day, that first Lord’s Day, the Savior appeared to Simon Peter in the afternoon [Luke 24:34]. That night, He appeared to the two disciples in Emmaus, outside Jerusalem a few miles [Luke 24:13-32]. Then that night, He appeared to the ten apostles gathered in the upper room [John 20:19-20]; then the following Sunday night, the appearance that we’ve just read out of the Scriptures [John 20:24-29].
As amazing and as startling as is the story of that first resurrection morning, no less amazing to me are the recognitions of our Savior, human, human recognitions, the same Lord Jesus, though raised from the dead, immortalized. By that I mean they recognized Him by little, shall we call them idiosyncrasies, little personal habits that they observed in the days of His flesh.
Peter and John, when they ran into the tomb, John says he recognized the Lord Jesus as having been raised from the dead by the way He folded a napkin. Jesus apparently had a special way at the end of a meal of folding up a napkin. And when John saw that napkin folded and lying here by itself, John says, "I believed it was Jesus who did it, raised from the dead" [John 20:6-8]. His recognitions are human. Mary recognized Him by the way He pronounced her name. Our Lord must have had a certain way of pronouncing "Mary" [John 20:16].
The two disciples who lived in Emmaus recognized Him by the way that He said a blessing, said grace at the table. Evidently our Lord had a certain way of saying grace at the table, unique to Him, and they recognized Him in that unique offering of gratitude to God before breaking bread [Luke 24:30-31]. And the ten recognized Him by the way He ate with them. "Children, He said, have ye here any meat? And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And He ate before them. Handle Me, He said, and see, for a Spirit hath not flesh and bone, such as ye see Me have" [Luke 24:38-43]. And of course, the saintly, sensitive apostle John recognized Him in the dim outline in the gray mist of the morning, by the marvelous miracle of the draft of fishes [John 21:6-7]. And then last of all, Thomas recognized Him by His scars [John 20:27]. Isn’t that amazing? Our Lord resurrected, immortalized, glorified, still bears in His body His human recognitions, the scars in His hands, in His feet, and in His side.
The only one that didn’t believe from the beginning is this man Thomas, called "the Twin," Didymus. And we can sympathize with the agnosticism and atheism of Thomas. We’re like that. When a man dies, he’s dead; that’s the end, that’s final, that’s ultimate. When the keystone falls out of the arch, the masonry tumbles down. When the hub is taken from the wheel, the spokes are scattered. And when a man dies, when the breath leaves his body, it is ultimate; there’s no life beyond." 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 to Simon Peter and John and the rest of the apostles, "I do not believe, nor will I believe until I can put my finger in the print of the nails and put my hand in the great riven scar in His side" [John 20:25-29].
And that Sunday night, "Thomas being with them, Jesus suddenly appeared in the midst." And the wonder and joy of Thomas was turned into shame-faced confusion, when the Lord turned to him and said, "Thomas," and Thomas heard the Lord Himself repeat that harsh, crude, rude, material test, "Except I put my finger in the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into the scar of His side," and it was then that he uttered that greatest of all confessions, "My Lord, and my God," which the Lord says is our beatitude today: we who have never seen the actual scars in the body of our Savior.
Then for forty days the Lord remained among them in His resurrected form. They did not know when or where He might suddenly appear. In the garden, there He is. Walking down a lonely road, there He is. Breaking bread at the supper table, there He is. On the seashore, there He is. In the upper room, there He is. On the mountain appointed in Galilee, there He is. Walking with them to Olivet, there He is. For forty days, He was with them, without announcement, without appointment, just suddenly there He was. Then after forty days, they didn’t need to see Him anymore with their physical eyes: they knew Him by His presence working with them. And the last great benedictory commission: "You go into all the world, and I will go with you; I will be with you to the end of the age" [Matthew 28:19-20]. The living presence: Jesus is with us.
The apostle Paul, down a bitter road, breathing out threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, suddenly met Him, there He was [Acts 9:1-5]. The first Christian martyr Stephen, beat down by the stones that took his life, suddenly there He was [Acts 7:55-56]. The apostle John in exile on the isle of Patmos, suddenly there He is [Revelation 1:12-13]; and through the years since, there have been those who have seen the Lord. There He is.
Surely, surely, there is not a more moving page in the biography of any man of God, more moving than the page that describes the agony of soul of Dr. Truett, the undershepherd of this flock for forty-seven years, preaching behind this very pulpit. In an unspeakable tragedy, in a hunting accident, he had killed the chief of police of the city of Dallas, Captain Arnold. And so heavy was the grief of the pastor that he thought never to stand here again, never to preach again. And in the days of his agony and grief, suddenly, in the nighttime, in a vision, thrice did the Lord appear to him, calling him back into the ministry. The living presence: Jesus is with us. He is here.
He comes to us in many, many ways. He comes to us in obedient service. I stood one time by an heroic statue, an enormous likeness in bronze of David Livingstone in Zimbabwe, in old Rhodesia; the statue is looking at the great Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River. First white man ever to see them was David Livingstone, God’s missionary explorer, and in typical attire he stands there looking at those mile-long falls. And as I stood looking up there at this statue of David Livingstone, I remembered how it was that he discovered them. There are some people, and David Livingstone is one of them, who, when they seek the will of God – and it takes faith to do this, and I don’t decry it; I don’t have that kind of faith, but some people do, and David Livingstone was one of them – not knowing the will of God, they will take the Bible, and they will set it on end like this, and then they will let it open, and the first verse their eyes fall upon is God’s answer. Well, David Livingstone, going down the Zambezi River, was cautioned by the black men who helped him, bore the accouterments of his exploration, "You can’t go any further, your life would be endangered. There are savages who live down this river." And David Livingstone, not knowing what to do, took his Bible, and prayed God to show him, and then let it fall open, and looked down. And the verse that his eyes fell upon was Matthew 28:20, "You go, and I will go with you." And David Livingstone said to the men around him, "Rise, we’re going, because He promised that He would go with us, and I believe His promise." Jesus is with us.
He is with us in our great and dire necessities. He is with us, Jesus is with us. In Hong Kong, the island of Hong Kong, I was by the side, standing by the side of Dr. Theron Rankin, at that time the executive secretary of our Foreign Mission Board. And he said, "Right there," and he pointed to a plain below, "right there the Japanese had an internment camp for those that they had captured on this island of Hong Kong, and I was one of them." And he said, "As they captured me and took me to this concentration camp, as I entered the gate, a Japanese soldier stood on one side of me, and a Japanese soldier stood on the other side of me, and they marched me through that gate into that concentration camp." And the godly man said to me, "I had no idea of what lay before me. Was it life? Was it death? Was it starvation? Was it persecution? Was it torture?" He said, "All I know is this: that when I walked through that gate, and a Japanese soldier on either side of me, never in my life have I felt the nearness and the dearness and the closeness of my Savior as I did that day." He is with us. Jesus is alive, and His presence is felt in our souls.
He is alive, and His presence is felt in our midst; sometimes in agony of spirit, in bending to the Lord’s will. There was a little group of boys on a street that brought to the house a bicycle, all crushed and covered with blood. A heavy truck going down the street had run over the little boy and his bicycle, and the little group of boys playing with him had picked up the crushed bicycle covered in blood and gone to the little boy’s house, and knocked at the door. And the father came to the door, and they said, "Oh sir, oh sir! A truck ran over your little boy and crushed him and the bicycle, and this is his bicycle covered in blood."
And the father said, "Where, where is – where’s my boy?"
And they said, "We don’t know, for a car came and took him away. And we don’t know where they took him."
He called every hospital in the city; every one of them, it seemingly had a little boy. So he went from hospital to hospital, finally in one in a ward, his little boy raised his hand, and called his name, and said, "Daddy, I’m over here, I’m over here." And as the little boy, so crushed, so crushed said to his Daddy, "Daddy, kneel down here and pray," and the father said, "Son, I’ve never prayed in my life. I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in prayer, and I don’t know how to pray."
And the little boy said, "Daddy, at the boy’s camp last summer, I learned a prayer. Daddy, kneel down, and pray, and you pray the prayer I was taught." So for the first time, this businessman who didn’t believe in God knelt, and the little boy began, "Our Father who art in heaven," and then the little boy said, "Daddy, pray, please Daddy, pray."
The first time, he repeated, "Our Father who art in heaven."
"Hallowed be Thy name."
"Hallowed be Thy name."
"Thy kingdom come."
"Thy kingdom come."
"Thy will be done."
And the father stopped. "Thy will be done," and the little boy says, "Daddy, say it, pray it, Thy will be done."
And the father couldn’t pray it. And as he paused, he felt the little boy’s hand grow limp, and he raised his face and looked at his boy, and his boy was gone. Then the man testified, "A miracle happened to me that I cannot explain. For the Savior who came and took my little boy away came into my heart to abide with me, and I found Jesus precious to my soul." He is alive. Jesus lives, and He meets us in our agony of spirit, in our extremities.
Is there a more beautiful verse in the Scriptures than this? "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" [Revelation 3:20]. But some might say, "Well, He may knock at your door, but He doesn’t knock at my door." Our Lord knocks at the door of your heart in a thousand different ways. He knocks at the door of your heart through His Word; Jesus speaks to us from the Holy Scriptures. He knocks at the door of your heart through the services of the church, the spire of which points up there to God in heaven. He knocks at the door of your heart through every precious and tender memory of childhood: a mother’s love, a father’s devotion.
The day when you found the Lord as your Savior, Jesus was knocking at the door of your heart. He knocks at the door of your heart when you fall in love and build a home; He knocks at the door, asking to be a partner in the building of a precious and beautiful Christian home. He knocks at the door of your heart when the first baby is born, beseeching that you rear the child in the love and nurture of the Lord. He knocks at the door of your heart in a thousand precious ways: in music, in a love expressed, in a sweet relationship dear and wonderful. And He knocks at the door of your heart when you stand at an open grave bidding someone you love a last farewell. Jesus is with us. He lives, and His presence is the benedictory hope of our souls.
Sunset an 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 as 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!
And 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
– I know I shall see –
my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.
["Crossing the Bar"; Alfred Lord Tennyson]
Jesus is with us in life, in death, and in the eternity that is yet to come. Jesus lives. Jesus is with us.
May we stand in prayer?
Nor is it possible, wonderful Lord, to say in human speech the depths of our gratitude to God for the preciousness of the hope we have in our Lord Jesus, the conqueror of death, of the grave, of hell; the victor who stands mighty to save. O Lord, our lives, our hearts, our souls flow to Thee. May God give us strength and length of days to praise Thee; then in the eternity to come, to share in the angels’ song and the saints’ paean of love and gratitude, oh what God hath done for us!
And in this moment that we wait, pray, just for you, a family you, down that aisle; a couple you, a one somebody you, a single somebody you, a child, a youth: "Pastor, God has spoken to me today, this Easter Sunday; and we’re coming. I’m coming." Make that decision in your heart. On the first note of the first stanza, take that first step, and may God’s angels attend you in the way as you come. In the balcony round, down one of those stairways; in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles. And thank You, Lord, for the sweet harvest You give us this hour. In Thy preciously saving name, amen. While we sing, welcome, welcome, welcome.