Facing Life, Death and Judgment
April 21st, 1985 @ 8:15 AM
FACING LIFE, DEATH, AND JUDGMENT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-21-85 8:15 a.m.
And welcome the great throngs of you who share this hour on radio. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message from Ezekiel entitled Facing Life, Death, and Judgment. It is an exposition of the first part of the ninth chapter of the Book of Ezekiel and an exposition of the latter part of the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Ezekiel. Beginning at verse 1 in chapter 9:
The Lord cried in mine ears with a loud voice, saying, Cause them that have charge over the city to draw near, every man with his destroying weapon in his hand.
And six men came from the higher gate, and every man had a slaughter weapon in his hand; and one of the men was clothed with linen, with a writer’s inkhorn by his side: and they went in, and stood beside the brazen altar . . .
And the Lord called to the man clothed with linen, which had the writer’s inkhorn by his side;
And said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.
And to others He said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity:
Slay utterly old and young, maids, children, women: but come not near anyone upon whom is the mark;
begin at My sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which were before the Lord.
And He said unto them, Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain: go ye forth. And they went forth, and slew in the city.
And it came to pass, while they were slaying them, that I alone was left.
“That I alone was left.” Standing in the midst of that vast carnage, the judgment of God upon the whole inhabitant, and “I alone was left” [Ezekiel 9:8].
Do you ever think about us? Walking in the midst of a cemetery, these that are fallen on every side, and I alone am left, the multitudes who are cut down by death, the ravages of disease and age that slay on every hand, and I am left. Standing on the rock of life and the waves of death dashing from every side, and I am left. With all of the possibilities of death that daily confront us, I am left and I alone was left. Why should, in God’s grace and providence, leave me and take these uncounted multitudes of others? Why should I be walking and standing and living among the innumerable throngs of the dead? Could it be that some of us are left in the grace of God that we might be saved? When so many are ripening for damnation and so many are like dried wood, ready for the burning, could it be that some of us are spared and left in order that we might be saved?
An old Puritan, as you know, preaching outside in a town, saw a sheriff passing by carrying an unhappy, unfortunate, condemned man to the hanging, stopped, pointed to him and said, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Is it the mercy of God that we are left in the goodness and grace of the great Sovereign of life and eternity? Is His mercy extended toward me in order that I might be saved? “And I alone was left” [Ezekiel 9:8]. Could it be that the grace of God reaches down, that I might be assigned a place and a work in God’s kingdom? And the reason I have breath and strength and life that I am not among the slain or in the grave, could it be that God has a task and an assignment for me, and my life is untouchable, immortal, until that task is done?
Why should I be alive and every classmate I have ever had is either dead, or years and years ago is in retirement? Why should I be standing here, preaching the gospel of the grace of the Son of God, and every man with whom I have gone to school, in the years and the years of these past days, all of them are gone, all of them?” “And I alone was left” [Ezekiel 9:8].
In a pastor’s conference this last week I listened to one of them recounting a conservative Baptist missionary who died last year. He was in the Belgian Congo, and, when the civil war thrust so many refugees into Rwanda, he took his jeep and on the rise of a hill looked into a vast valley in Rwanda. In that valley were thousands and thousands of Congolese, refugees. And as he sat in his jeep, crying in his heart, “O God, that they might be saved,” an audible voice said to him, “Why don’t you ask Me for them?” He turned and his jeep was empty. Just he was there. Nonplussed, he drove to the next ridge and looked into that vast valley and cried in his heart, “O God, that they might be saved!” And again an audible voice said to him, “Why don’t you ask Me for them.”
He knelt, he asked God, “Lord,” he said, “give me a sign; give me a sign, and let it be, when I drive my jeep into the valley and I stop it and I preach the gospel, that in that first message I be given a harvest.” God gave him the sign. He stopped his jeep in the valley, gathered round by those Congolese. There were eleven adults who accepted Christ. He then bowed, saying, “Lord, let me build in this valley, among these Congolese and Rwanda, eighty churches,” asked for eighty churches. When he had done his seventieth church, he became desperately ill and was sent back to the United States to die. But before he died last year, he received a letter from his Congolese Rwanda Christians, saying, “We want you to know we have organized our eightieth church, and we want you to know that we’re carrying on faithfully in the name of the Lord.”
Our lives are immortal until our work is done. No accident, no disease, no providence, no lengthening of years and age will take us away until our task is finished. “And I alone was left” [Ezekiel 9:8]. In this certainty of the judgment of God, all of us stand. It isn’t just this city and the slaughter and carnage and gore that filled it, but all of us, every city, every nation, every people, every tribe and family, all of us stand in the presence of the coming judgment of Almighty God.
He delays His coming. Why has He not come? In the providence of His grace, giving us time to turn, to change, to repent, to accept, to believe [2 Peter 3:8-9], but the day will certainly come when the Lord returns in judgment. He came the first time as an infant [Matthew 1:20-2:1]. He will come the second time as the Infinite [Matthew 16:27]. He came the first time wrapped in swaddling clothes, laid in a manger [Luke 2:11-16]. When He comes the second time, in the first chapter of the Apocalypse, “He is dressed in the robes of a judge, girt around the breast with a golden girdle, His eyes as a flame of fire, and His countenance above the brightness of the sun” [Revelation 1:13-16]. He comes with His holy angels [Jude 1:14], comes in the grandeur of all heaven [Matthew 24:30], and before Him shall be gathered these who have lived through all of the ages [Matthew 25:32]. Every eye shall see Him [Revelation 1:7], look upon Him, and every ear shall hear His strident command saying, “Gather all of the tares in a bundle and burn them” [Matthew 13:30].
And, when that great command issues forth from the voice of the great Judge, will I be able to stand? Will I be left alone? Or will I be in that bundle, prepared for the burning of the fire? [Matthew 13:30]. When they cry for the rocks and the mountains to fall upon them and to hide them from the wrath of Him that sitteth upon the throne [Revelation 6:16-17], will I be able to stand? Will I be left? Lord, Lord, how is it that I might be saved in that awesome and dreadful and terrible day? God always provides a way out, always. He called one of those who were slaughtering the inhabitants of the city. This man was dressed like a priest, had a linen robe, had an inkhorn by his side [Ezekiel 9:3], and God said to that man, “You mark in the forehead each one who repents and sighs and asks God to forgive his sins. Mark him” [Ezekiel 9:4].
That’s a usual thing you will find in the Bible. God said, “When My death angel passes over, whoever has the mark of the cross on his house will be saved” [Exodus 12:22-23]. In that seventh chapter of the Revelation, in the ninth chapter of the Revelation [Revelation 9:4], God put a mark on these, saying to the four angels who held up winds and storms of the tempest of judgment upon the earth “Wait.” “Wait,” He said, “until I mark these in their foreheads” [Revelation 7:2-3]. God always has a way out, and these were marked in their foreheads [Revelation 9:4]
One of the most unusual things in the Bible you’ll read is this: that word “mark” in the Hebrew [Ezekiel 9:4], is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet tau. And in ancient Hebrew script the tau is made, written in the form of a cross. “Mark,” in the form of a cross with the blood of the Son of God, “these who are to be spared” [Ezekiel 9:4] And the angel went through the inhabitants of Jerusalem to find anyone who repented and sighed and mourned because of his sins, and marked them with the blood of the cross [Ezekiel 9:4].
Lord, Lord, am I under the blood? The terror of this judgment is beyond any ableness of mind to describe. Standing before God, all of us stand before His righteous and immutable and infinite laws of purity and goodness and holiness, there is never an abatement of the law; there is never a diminishing of its requirements; it is forever.
Moses, the prophet and the preacher, and against the background of Moses, Sinai burning with the fire and fury of God’s anger and condemnation of human sin [Exodus 19:17-18]; sometimes we are of the persuasion the gospel lessens God’s demands of holiness and righteousness. We somehow have the persuasion that the gospel shrivels up sins, and shrinks sin so that it is so small we could be saved. My brother, the opposite is true, the opposite is true! The gospel demands far more of sanctity and holiness of its believers and these that are saved by it than even the law of the Old Testament. Listen to the Word of the Lord; listen to the Word of the Lord. In the tenth chapter beginning at the twenty-sixth verse of the Book of Hebrews:
If we sin willfully, if we turn aside from the gospel of salvation, if we sin willfully after that we have received knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,
But a [certain] fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, that shall devour the adversaries.
He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses:
Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
For we know Him that saith: Vengeance belongeth unto Me, I will repay, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge His people.
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
For our God is a consuming fire!
Far more is demanded of the gospel than it does of the law. Look at it. I don’t mean to belabor the point. The law said, “Thou shalt not murder; thou shalt not kill” [Exodus 20:13]. The gospel says, “If you are angry in your heart with your brother, you are a murderer; you are a killer” [Matthew 5:21-22]. The law says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” [Exodus 20:14]. The gospel says, “You look upon a woman and lust, and you have committed adultery in your heart” [Matthew 5:27-28]. It’s a thousand times more demanding than the law, the gospel is.
O my Lord, if it be such, how can any one of us be saved? That is the grace and mercy of atoning love of our Lord Jesus. He came into the world to save sinners [Matthew 18:11; Luke 19:10]. And that’s me. He came into the world to provide a way of escape, and that is for us. The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin [1 John 1:7]. There are sins we’d be ashamed to confess, all of us. We find our refuge, and our atonement, and our life, and our hope, our heaven, our salvation; we find it in the blood of Jesus Christ [1 Corinthians 5:7]. “Mark those on their foreheads who turn in holiness and righteousness and confession and belief to Me, to Jesus our Lord” [Ezekiel 9:4].
One other: this appeal of the Lord for our turning is always individually addressed, addressed:
The word of the Lord came again to me again, saying,
Son of man, when the land sinneth . . .
Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver their own souls but by their righteousness, saith the Lord God. . .
Though these three men were in it, as I live, saith the Lord, they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters; they shall only be delivered by their own righteousness.
Though these three men were in it, as I live, saith the Lord God, they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters, but they only should deliver themselves.
Though Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, as I live, saith the Lord God, they shall neither deliver son nor daughter; they shall but deliver their own souls by their righteousness.
[Ezekiel 14:12-14, 20]
I can hardly believe that. Four times that is repeated and you heard me read it. Four times that is repeated in this passage in the Book of Ezekiel, four times. “Though Noah, and Daniel, and Job were in it, they would deliver no one else. They would but deliver themselves by their own righteousness.”
There have been times, times, times when cities and peoples and nations have been delivered by the righteous intercession of somebody else. You see that in the Bible, reading it all the way through. In the days of Abraham, God said, “Abraham, if I can find ten righteous in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, if I can find ten, I will deliver them for the sake of the ten. I will spare the multitudes for the sake of the ten, just for ten” [Genesis 18:32].
Potiphar’s house was blessed because of Joseph, for the sake of Joseph [Genesis 39:5]. When God said to Moses, “You stand aside and I will destroy this whole nation,” God listened to the intercession of Moses and spared the whole nation [Exodus 32:30-32]. In the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Acts, God said to Paul, “I will spare for your sake these two hundred seventy-six souls on this ship that is being bashed against the rocks” [Acts 27:22-24, 37].
All through the Bible you’ll find that. But you’ll never find it at the judgment bar of Almighty God. There is no such thing as proxy religion as we stand at the great judgment day of the Almighty, each one of us stands for himself [Romans 2:6]. If there were ever a possibility of one’s righteousness being extended to someone else, it would be a marvelous thing to stand under the shadow of Noah who found grace in the sight of God [Genesis 6:8], or Daniel who was greatly beloved [Daniel 10:11], or of Job, against whom even Satan could find no fault [Job 2:3].
But in the great judgment day of Almighty God, neither Noah, nor Daniel, nor Job can stand for me [Ezekiel 14:14-16]. I must stand for myself; I, alone, no one standing for me [Romans 2:6]. That’s an amazing revelation from God. They can’t save me; I have to find God’s grace, personally and for me [Ephesians 2:8]. The church can’t save me. I belong to the church; you belong to the church. The church doesn’t save me. “My wife is a godly woman. She can save me; she has the religion in this household.” And the most tragic of all, neither Noah, nor Daniel, nor Job can save either son or daughter. Even godly parents can’t save their children. Each one of us has to be saved for himself, for herself.
One of the most tragic things that I read in the Bible is the godly people who have children that deny the very being and presence of God. Aaron had his weaknesses but he was a holy man, the first great high priest of Jehovah. And his two sons, Nadab and Abihu, were slain before the Lord [Leviticus 10:1-2]. Eli was a godly man, but Hophni and Phinehas were slain before the Lord [1 Samuel 4:11].
I can just imagine David, when he named that wonderful boy Absalom, the “peace of God,” “the father of peace,” Ab shalom, Ab shalom. His mother was the daughter of a king and a queen. And David loved Absalom beyond what I suppose any father could have ever loved a son; Absalom, whom God slew through the judgment of the captain of the hosts, Joab [2 Samuel 18:9-15].
I don’t understand. I just see in God’s Word that each one of us is responsible for himself; I alone [Ezekiel 18:20; Romans 2:6]. And these godly parents or these godly family members, these wonderful members of the church, these can’t save me. I must be saved for myself [Acts 16:31]. I am born just for me. I die just for me. I am judged before God just for me [Job 34:11]. You can’t be born for me. You can’t die for me. You can’t be judged for me. I must be judged for myself [Jeremiah 17:10]. Whoever puts his hand in the fire, he is burned. Whoever tempts the flood, he is drowned. I must repent [Mark 1:15]. I must turn [Ezekiel 33:10-11]. I must accept. I must believe [Acts 16:30-31]. I must come to God. No one else can come for me. I, alone, standing before the great Judge of all the earth [Romans 14:12].
And that’s our appeal to you, you. “Pastor, it’s between me and God, between us alone. And I have made this great commitment and this great decision in my soul and in my heart [Romans 10:9-10]. And I’m standing before the Lord in His love and grace [Ephesians 2:8], in His righteousness [Genesis 18:25], the mark of the cross, upon me” [2 Timothy 2:19]. God bless us. God have mercy upon us and God save us [Acts 2:21]. In this moment when we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, “Pastor, this day is God’s day for me, and I’m answering with my life. Here I am.” The whole family, “Pastor, we’re all coming today, each one of us. We’re putting our lives with God’s people in the circle, circumference, and communion of this sweet and blessed church. We’re going to heaven with you, pastor. When the roll is called, we’ll be there to answer our name. We’re on the way.”
As God in His Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, answer with your life. Make the decision now. Do it now. And on the first note of that first stanza, “I’m on the way, pastor. God is with me.” Angels attend you and the Holy Spirit open your heart to the truth of His saving grace. Come and welcome, while we stand and while we sing; while we stand and while we sing.