Christ, the Gift of God
April 3rd, 1985 @ 12:00 PM
CHRIST: THE GIFT OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-3-85 12:00 p.m.
Welcome to the series of messages on the deity of our Lord. The Gospel of John was written to present, to delineate, to define, to describe, to defend the Godhead, the deity of Jesus Christ. And the theme of the sermons this week is “John’s Witness to Jesus, the Christ”: on Monday, Christ, The Word of God; yesterday, Christ, The Power of God; tomorrow, Thursday, Christ, The Way to God; and Friday, Christ, The Sacrifice, the Atonement of God; and today, Christ, The Love of God, the Gift of God.
In all literature there is not a sentence, and in all the Scriptures there is not a verse, that is so quoted and well known as John 3:16: “God so loved the world, that He gave His monogenes, His only begotten.” The great unique and separate and apart; the indescribable, the inevitable: His only begotten Son.” He gave Himself [John 3:16]. The greatest gifts in life are never material or monetary. They are always of the heart, of the soul. You see that in your attitude toward things placed in your hands that may be of relatively small value, but they’re precious because someone touched them. And a loved one gave them to you—a locket, a ring, a bracelet, a necklace. Someone dear made it doubly dear to you.
I heard a woman one time whose house burned down. She said, “I can replace all of the furnishings and all of the silverware and all of the paintings, all of the rugs, all of the carpets. I can replace them. But I can never replace the pictures of our baby, and the lock of hair, and the wedding dress, and the things of my mother.” All out of proportion to their monetary or materialistic value, it’s the love that made them precious and endearing. Like a man who lost his boy in the war—he said, “If I had five million stars and ten thousand planets and seven continents and ranges of mountains and oceans and seas, I’d give them all if I had my boy back again.”
It is the gift of love, of endearment, of self, of soul and heart that make an endowment precious. And that is the gift of God. His beautiful and marvelous remembrances of us are not merely to be defined in terms of stars and universes and sidereal spheres as is to be defined in terms of love, the giving of Himself. And that is the meaning of this beautiful text. “God so loved the world that He gave Himself, His Son” [John 3:16].
I have three things to describe that unusual gift of our Lord. The first is this: it forever hallowed our planet, this terrestrial earth on which we live, because He came here. He was born here [Matthew 1:20-25]. He was incarnate here [John 1:1, 14]. Christ ministered here [Matthew 11:4-5, 20:28]. He died here [Matthew 27:32-50]. He was buried here [Matthew 27:57-61]. He was raised from among the dead here [Matthew 28:1-7]. His presence and His life have forever sanctified and hallowed this planet. There is no other in this great cosmos like this earth. Jesus made it so.
Now an infidel can say, “That is ridiculous inanity. In the billions and billions of light years that describe this vast, vast creation, do you think that this tiny inconsequential speck of dust called the Earth would be dear to the heart of a creator—if there is such a thing as a God creator?” My answer would be obvious. “Yes, for a thing is dear and precious not because of its size, but because of the love that is poured into it.”
When I was a student in Kentucky, and drive down to my little church, I often would go by Hodgenville. There is a beautiful monument there over the tiny cabin in which Abraham Lincoln was born. And right back of that little log house engraved in the wall is the inscription, a word, a sentence from him: “All that I am or ever hope to be I owe to my angel mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln.” That little cabin is much smaller than that Neely Bryan cabin down here in the heart of Dallas. It is the tiniest little thing that I have ever seen in the way of a home. But when you describe it, you don’t say how small a home that is.
Let’s put the emphasis on the home, how small a home that is. This is where his angel mother lived. This is where the lad was born. It is a great and noble place, however tiny it may be, small it may be. It is the love, it is the heart, it is the soul that makes it a home.
Let me ask you something. You tell me: suppose you possessed and lived in a beautiful mansion on Fifth Avenue in New York City. And in that gorgeous, expensive domicile, you had every affluent gift that money could buy—your paintings, your tapestries, your furniture, your silverware, all the things that attend an affluent life. And in that house, in that mansion, a tiny baby—yours, weighing seven pounds, a tiny little thing. And while you were in the office, in one of those great skyscrapers in Manhattan, the telephone rings. And an excited voice on the other end of the line said, “Your mansion is on fire. It’s burning up and down.”
Now you tell me: would you in haste and anxiety and concern, would you say, “Tell me, how are my paintings? Tell me, how are my tapestries? Tell me, how are those vast beautiful furniture pieces?” Or would you say, “Tell me, is the baby safe?” If you had a heart, if you had a soul, if you loved, your anxious inquiry would first be, “Is the baby is safe?” The rest is adornment. It’s accouterment. It’s embellishment. But the heart is the child.
God has a heart. God is soul and spirit and love. And however the vastness of His universe or the omnipotent, creative power of His hands, His first concern is you. God so loved us, He gave His only begotten Son [John 3:16]. It is you.
Not only did the presence of Jesus hallow our planet, however small it may be in the vast stars of the universe, but His presence in our midst sanctified and hallowed human life. No matter who he is—and Lee Drain and I were talking about the flotsam and the jetsam that is overwhelming downtown Dallas as the city grows bigger and bigger and bigger; and that will continue, such as in New York City. The thousands and thousands of nameless waifs and drifters that are in New York, that will come to Dallas. It is here already. I pass by them sometimes. And I think, “What is the filth and dirt of this human life? Look. Look.” And then I remind myself, “But that is a man for whom Christ died [John 3:17], and as such, however poor or dirty or filthy, he is precious in the sight of God.” Christ sanctified human life in His coming to be one of us, to be incarnate like us, and to die for us [Hebrews 10:4-14].
A long time ago I read something that so poignantly emphasized that. There was a war correspondent from America in Shanghai, China—a Christian man. And while he was there, he made the friendship of a Chinese war correspondent, who was a Buddhist. And those two men, gifted, would talk about their religion—the Christian and his Christ, and the Buddhist and his idol. And the Buddhist would say to the Christian war correspondent, “I like my religion so much better than yours. Your religion is lugubrious. It is melancholy. It is dark. It is sad. It is a religion of a cross, of blood, of sorrow. “My religion,” he says, “is one of happiness and gladness. My god, Buddha, sits there and he smiles. And he’s fat. And he’s affluent. And he’s happy. But when I see your God on the cross, I feel depressed. But when I see my god smiling and happy, he makes me smile, and he makes me happy. I like my religion much better than yours.”
Now that war correspondent was a layman. He was not a theologian. And he didn’t know how to answer. He didn’t know what to say. What the war correspondent from China said was undeniably true. The Christian faith is centered around a cross, around an atoning death, around a suffering Savior [1 Corinthians 15:3-4]. And the Buddha, of course, is there in his affluence and his fatness and his smile.
One day he had his answer. He was in a rickshaw—just chosen at random on the streets of Shanghai. And while he was being pulled by a man, a Chinese coolie pulling that rickshaw, the man collapsed right there on the street in the city of Shanghai. The war correspondent from America got out of the little buggy-like thing and went around and looked at him. He was an old, old, old emaciated coolie. And he had dropped of exhaustion and poverty and hunger, and lay there dying.
Well, the war correspondent tried to get somebody’s attention. They passed him by. Why pay attention to an emaciated, starving coolie? And failing any help, the American war correspondent reached down and picked up that frail, feeble body and held him in his arms. And as he looked at him, the answer came to his heart. Where would you take him, poor and emaciated and hungry and dying? Would you take him and lay him before the idol of the little fat Buddha with his hands folded across his rotund belly, smiling? Would you? Or would you take him to the foot of the cross, to the Lord God who knew what it was to be hungry and to suffer and to hurt and to die? Forever, I say, the coming of Christ, the gift of Christ in this world, hallowed and sanctified all human life; all of it.
One other: the coming of Christ into the world, the gift of God in Christ Jesus, forever revealed the nearness of heaven to earth. Just there. Just there. Just there. If I had eyes of faith that were open, I could see it. Just there; heaven.
When He was born, there were angels singing [Luke 2:10-14]. When He was transfigured, the saints were there, Moses and Elijah. Just right there [Matthew 17:1-4]. When He was raised from the dead [John 20:1-10], the angels sat at the tomb [John 20:11-12]. And when He ascended up into heaven [Acts 1:9-10], they said, “He is coming again as you have seen Him go” [Acts 1:11]. Just so close. Just so near; heaven and earth together.
I’ve often wondered. The great eleventh chapter of Hebrews, the roll call of the heroes of the faith—there weren’t any chapter headings when the book was written. And the next verse after the eleventh chapter, after the roll call of those great saints of God [Hebrews 11:1-40], the next verse says, “Wherefore seeing we are encompassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us. . .run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” [Hebrews 12:1-2]. Who are these clouds of witnesses? Who are they? They surround us. They’re here.
Or I think of our Lord in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Luke. He says, “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth” [Luke 15:10], over one somebody who comes in faith to the Lord Jesus. Who are these who are rejoicing over somebody who comes down this aisle, opening his heart heaven-ward and God-ward? Who are they? I do not know. The Bible does not say. All I know is that they are close by. That great cloud of witnesses that surround us, and these who rejoice in the presence of the angels of God over some wonderful confession of faith down here in this earth, they are close; they to us, and we to them.
An old man was testifying at a prayer meeting. When I was a boy growing up, our Wednesday services were testimony services. And this old man was testifying. He said, “When I was a boy, I used to think about heaven. And I thought about heaven, it was a place where the high wall was made out of jasper.” I want to say a word to you about that jasper. A man mentioned it here in the pulpit last Sunday and spoke of it as being green. Iasper, iasper is a Greek word that nobody knows what it means; iasper. And so they just didn’t translate it. They just put it into the English as j-a-s-p-e-r. But the Bible says it’s clear as crystal [Revelation 21:11]. Listen, jasper is diamond; diamond. We would call it diamond. And the wall, high wall made out of solid diamond. Think of it.
And he said, “Thinking of heaven as a little boy, that great high wall out of solid jasper. And the gates out of solid pearl, and those streets out of solid gold [Revelation 21:21], and filled with uncounted throngs of white, tenuous angels, and a great throng [Revelation 19:1], none of whom I knew.” Then he said, “As the days passed, my little brother died. And I thought of heaven as the jasper wall and the gates of pearl and the golden streets and the white, tenuous angels and the great throng, and one wee little face that I knew—my little brother.”
Well, the old man continued. And he said, “As the years passed, my mother died and my father died. And all of my brothers and sisters died. And as the years passed, my wife died, and all of my children died, and my friends died. And I am left alone.” Then he said, “When I think of heaven now, I never think of a jasper wall, or a gate of pearl, or a golden street, or a white, tenuous angel, or that great throng that I don’t know.” “But when I think of heaven now,” he said, “I think of my little brother, and then of my father and mother, then of all of my family, and then of my wife and my children, and I think of all of my friends. And above all, I think of Jesus. I have more there,” he added, “than I have here.” That is heaven!
At 2:30 this afternoon, I shall bury the wife of one of our deacons. At one o’clock tomorrow here in our chapel, we shall bury the mother of the wife of one of our deacons. You cannot begin to know the strength and the comfort that fills my heart when I stand at a memorial service and speak of the home over there [John 14:1-3; Revelation 21:1-3], just over there.
I will sing you a song of that beautiful land,
The far away home of the soul,
Where no storms ever beat on the glittering strand,
While the years of eternity roll.
Oh, how sweet it will be
In that beautiful land,
So free from all sorrow and pain.
With songs on our lips, and with harps in our hands,
To greet one another again.
[“I Will Sing You a Song of that Beautiful Land,” Mrs. Ellen H. Gates, 1865]
Heaven so close to earth! And our Lord, in that humble comfort, offered to us by the nail-pierced hands of our atoning Savior [Romans 5:11], O God, what a strength and what a hope as we face the by and by! In His love [John 3:16], and grace [Ephesians 2:8], and in His dear name, amen.
THE GIFT OF GOD
I. Forever hallowed this planet
A. Infidel questions
why tiny speck be so precious to a creator
B. A thing is precious
not because of size, but because of love poured into it
1. Hodgenville, Kentucky
2. Mansion on
II. Forever consecrated human life
A. A man for whom
1. Shanghai war
III. Forever revealed the nearness of
A. Just so close
1. Angels at His
2. Saints at His
3. Angels at the
tomb and at ascension (Acts 1:11)
cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1)
of angels over one repentant sinner (Luke 15:10)