Facing the Future with God
December 29th, 1985 @ 10:50 AM
FACING THE FUTURE WITH GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-29-85 10:50 a.m.
We’re always your debtors, choir and orchestra. That’s a good illustration of how the choir can’t do good without us who play in the orchestra. I want you to notice that.
We welcome the uncounted multitudes of you who share this hour on radio and on television. We are all here in heart and truth and you, there in spirit and love in the First Baptist Church of Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Facing The Future With God.
Our background text is in the Book of Exodus, the second book of the Bible, chapters 32 and 33 [Exodus 32-33]. And because of the length of the passage, I shall summarize it. The thirty-second chapter of Exodus recounts the gross, idolatrous, unbelievably carnal apostasy of God’s people. In the thirty-second chapter of the Book of Exodus, led by Aaron himself, the people are naked [Exodus 32:25], and in an orgy are dancing around a golden calf and worshipping that idol [Exodus 32:4-8]. Moses has been on the mountaintop, receiving the two tables of stone of the Ten Commandments from the hands of God Himself [Exodus 31:18].
When he comes down from the top of the mountain [Exodus 32:7-8], and he sees that orgiastic, unbelievably desecrating scene, in anger he dashes those tables of stone to the rocks [Exodus 32:19]. They are broken in pieces. And the Lord God says to Moses: “You stand aside and let the fury of My wrath burn against this people. And out of thy loins will I raise up a nation that will magnify the Lord” [Exodus 32:9-10].
Then is recounted one of those great intercessory moments in human story, when Moses standing before God says: “O Lord, if Thou will forgive their sin”—then a long black dash, he never finishes the sentence. He just adds: “But if not, blot my name, I pray Thee, out of the book which Thou hast written” [Exodus 32:32]. “If these cannot live, I do not want to live. If these cannot be saved, nor do I want to be saved.”
The Lord hearkened to the voice of Moses and did not destroy the people. But in the thirty-third chapter of the Book of Exodus in the third verse, God says: “I will not go up in the midst of this people lest I consume them in the way. I am not going to be counted in their number and I will not be in their midst. A vile, and villainous, and vituperative, and idolatrous people; I will not be in them” [Exodus 33:3].
Now Moses then took his tabernacle, his tent, and put it outside the camp; and there God communed with Moses, outside the camp [Exodus 33:15-16]. In the eleventh verse: “And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend” [Exodus 33:11]. And as they communed outside the camp, Moses made appeal to the Lord, that He would come in His presence back among His people [Exodus 33:12].
Verse 13: “I pray Thee, if I have found grace in Thy sight, show me now Thy way” [Exodus 33:13].
Verse 14: “And God said: My presence shall go with thee” [Exodus 33:14].
Verse 15: “And Moses said: If Thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence. For wherein shall it be known here that I and Thy people have found grace in Thy sight? Is it not that Thou goest with us?” [Exodus 33:15-16]. And the Lord was importuned, and He came back into the camp, and His presence went with them through the journey, the pilgrimage to the Promised Land [Exodus 33:17].
I cannot but comment on the end of that chapter. There is not anything in Scripture that is more beautiful or moving than the end of this chapter 33. God, in all of His glory, was never seen. And Moses said to Him: “Lord, that I could see Thee; that I could look upon Thee” [Exodus 33:18].
And God says: “No man has seen My face, and lives. But I will hide thee in a clift of the rock and all of My glory will pass by. And after I have passed by, I will take My hand from the clift of the rock and thou shalt see My afterglow, the sundown of My passing by” [Exodus 33:20-23].
So God hid Moses in a clift of the rock, and covered him there with His hand. And after He passed by, in all of His glory, and wonder, and beauty, and grace, and goodness, He took His hand away, and Moses saw the sunset, the afterglow of the grace and glory of God.
That’s why we sing a song and the chorus is:
Thou hidest my soul in the cleft of the rock
That shadows a dry, thirsty land.
Thou hidest my life in the depths of Thy love
And covers me there with Your hand.
[from “He Hideth My Soul,” Fanny Crosby]
Could anything be more beautiful than that experience?
So Moses magnifies the Lord and importunes the presence of God to go with them through the pilgrimage, through the wilderness, and into the Promised Land. That is our message for this day, as we face our pilgrimage with God, importuning His presence with us and magnifying His name in our midst.
This is our commitment and our dedication as a people facing the future with our Lord Jesus: that our Lord God Savior be with us in our midst, in a felt presence; and that He lead us, and that we magnify His glorious name; that we lift Him up, make Him known; publicize abroad the wondrous goodness and grace of our matchless Savior.
May I speak for a moment of the worthiness of the glory of our Savior? He is much to be praised. There is a song, a chorus: “Oh, say, did He shine? Did He shine?” [author unknown]
He is so worthy we cannot speak of Him too much or expose Him too greatly. In the story of His birth, could there be anything more moving or more beautiful than that? Born in a stable and laid in a manger [Luke 2:7, 11-16]; with the invitation to come and see and worship, anybody would feel at home. Nobody would be intimidated by a stable or by the hay in a manger. Had He been born in Herod’s palace, some might have been hesitant to come. But anybody would be free to worship, to come, to bow down in a stable; a beautiful, beautiful story of God’s condescending love; how worthy to be praised.
When He was a child, twelve years of age, learned in the Scriptures [Luke 2:46-49], a beautiful and worthy example for our young people that they be taught and be conversant with the Word of God. In His ministry, when Israel looked upon Him, they said it was never so seen among our people, and they marveled at Him [Matthew 9:33]. Israel had seen Moses; had seen the marvelous things of Elijah and Elisha, but they had never seen anything comparable to our glorious Lord.
Just think of Him; could speak and the dead would rise [Luke 7:14-15; John 11:43-44]; could touch the eyes of the blind and they see [Matthew 12:22; Mark 10:51-52] the ears of the deaf and they hear [Matthew 11:5; Mark 7:32-35]; could feed five thousand with a little boy’s lunch [John 6:9-13]; the marvelous works of our Savior. And His crucifixion: did ever a man die like that Man died? [Mark 15:20-38] The Roman centurion, inured against the harsh providences of crucifixion, death, execution, seeing Jesus die, lifted up his voice and cried, saying: “Surely, truly this Man was the Son of God” [Mark 15:39].
In His resurrection, O Lord! [Matthew 28:1-7] What a victory and triumph over the grave [1 Corinthians 15:55-57], rising in strength and glory and immortality and transfiguration, how worthy to be praised, to be lifted up, to be made known, to be proclaimed. And our Lord’s ascension into heaven [Acts 1:9-10], and His session now at the right hand of God to insure our ultimate salvation [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25]. Shall we fall by the way? Shall we yet be lost and damned? No! We shall make it. When they call the roll, we’ll answer to our names. We’ll be there because He is there. And He is able and worthy to be praised [Revelation 5:12].
Our exposure of the Lord Jesus, our lifting Him up is but a reflection of the purpose of God Himself. God intended for Jesus to be exposed before the whole world, to be raised up to be seen. When He was crucified, He was crucified in the days of the Passover feast, when there were present in Jerusalem hundreds and hundreds of thousands of sojourners. From the ends of the civilized world did they come. It was then that God chose His Son to be crucified before the world. When He was lifted up, God saw to it that the whole hundreds and thousands of the sojourners looked upon Him. He was crucified just beyond the Damascus gate [John 19:20; Hebrews 13:12]; just beyond on the Damascus road, the most traveled highway in the nation. And there did the thousands and the thousands pass by, see Him. God intended to expose the Lord Jesus. When He died, there was a superscription above His cross in three languages; in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin [John 19:20], that the whole world might know. God intended for His Son to be exposed.
And when He died, He possessed four pieces of raiment: a turban, a sash, His sandals, and outer garment, and an inner garment woven without seam [John 19:23]. And the soldiers gambled for that fifth garment [John 19:24]. The artists are kind when they draw pictures, when they draw pictures of Jesus dying on the cross; for they cover Him with some kind of a cloth. He didn’t die that way. God exposed the Lord Jesus to the whole world. He died naked, unclothed, the whole world to see the Son of God. The Lord purposed and intended for the Lord Jesus to be lifted up and exposed to the whole world.
And when He was buried, He was buried under the aegis of the Roman government, under a seal; a guard there to watch [Matthew 27:66]. And when He was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7], He remained forty days in this earth [Acts 1:3], confirming the glory of His victory over death [1 Corinthians 15:55-57].
And when He left, He left with us the Spirit of His presence [John 15:26; 16:7; Acts 2:1-4, 33]. Jesus is in heaven. He is a Man, God incarnate [Matthew 1:23]. He has flesh and bone; He eats [Luke 24:39-43]. He lives in a place called the New Jerusalem [Revelation 21:2-3], where the streets are paved with gold [Revelation 21:21] and the saints live in mansions [John 14:2-3]. But the Spirit of the Lord came upon us from His gracious hands, His gift at Pentecost [Acts 2:1-4], and the Spirit of Jesus is with us [Hebrews 13:5]. His presence is in our midst, and He looks down upon us from heaven. And this is our great, and glorious, and grand, and beautiful, and marvelous assignment: to make Him known [Matthew 28:19-20], to lift Him up, to praise His name. He is so worthy of worship, and love, and praise [Revelation 5:12].
Now may I speak of our lifting up our Lord, our publicizing our Savior, our making Him known abroad? I am praying that God will give us that marvelous willingness and spiritual dedication to lift up our Lord, and to make Him known, and to praise Him in every new way possible, as well as in every old way, re-interpreted, revitalized.
There is in the Psalms a reiterated praise. And I want to follow it for just a moment. Psalm 33:
Rejoice in the Lord… for praise is comely for the upright.
Praise the Lord with harp: sing unto Him with a psaltery and an instrument of ten strings.
Sing unto Him a new song; play skillfully with a loud voice—with a loud noise.
This “pip-squeak” singing is not according to what pleases God. And this “pip-squeak” playing in the orchestra doesn’t honor the Lord. When the choir sings, sing, man, make a noise! The Bible says: “A loud noise!” I don’t blame these kids for loving rock and roll. Man, when they go to the concert and they sing rock and roll, boy, can you hear them. I don’t blame them. Who wants to go to a dead show, or a dead concert, or a dead orchestra? Sing it! Play it! That pleases God. That’s what He says. I’m just like Him in that. I like that.
Psalm 40:3: “He hath put a new song in my mouth; even praise unto our God.”
Psalm 69: “I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify Him with thanksgiving. This also shall please the Lord better than an ox or bullock that hath horns and hoofs” [Psalm 69:30-31]. Better, he says, to magnify the Lord with music and a new song than it is all of those sacrifices. “The humble shall see this, and be glad; and your heart shall live” [Psalm 69:32].
O sing unto the Lord a new song: sing unto the Lord all the earth.
Sing unto the Lord, bless His name; show forth His salvation from day to day.
Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all people.
For the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised.
Magnifying the Lord.
Psalm 98: “O sing unto the Lord a new song; for He hath done marvelous things: His right hand, and His holy arm, hath gotten Him the victory” [Psalm 98:1].
Psalm 144: “I will sing a new song unto Thee, O God: upon a psaltery and an instrument of ten strings will I sing praises unto Thee” [Psalm 144:9].
Psalm 149: “Praise ye the Lord”—that’s the translation of the Hebrew hallelujah. “Hallelujah. Praise ye the Lord. Sing unto the Lord a new song, and His praise in the congregation of the saints” [Psalm 149:1].
Then he closes in the 150th Psalm: “Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord” [Psalm 150:6]. Or as it is in the Hebrew, “Hallelujah.”
That is what I would like to do; singing a new song unto the Lord, praising God, lifting Him up in new ways. We also have songs to sing. Out of our hearts and experiences, we also have astonishing things to tell and to share. God has moved in our souls, also.
God called Abraham [Genesis 12:1-4], He has called us also; spoken to us. Moses, through the wilderness, faced toward the Promised Land. We also are in a pilgrimage, facing the Promised Land. David had the experiences of hurt and sorrow. We also have experiences of hurt and sorrow, and God delivers us out of them all. Daniel knew what it was to be tried. We also face trials. Jonah knew what it was to be depressed. We also know what it is to be depressed.
God laid the spirit of victory in the hearts of those people, and they praised God. We also want to praise God, sing a new song unto the Lord; the song of Moses, how glorious; the songs of David, how marvelous! But we have new songs. Fanny Crosby, singing and writing, Ira Sankey, B. B. McKinney, John Fawcett, Frances Havergal; a new song unto the Lord.
We also have experiences, and we also have new ways and new things by which we lift up and praise our Lord God. There are many, many, many ways by which God’s people can honor His worthy name. I think of T. S. Eliot and C. S. Lewis; one writing poetry, and the other writing essays. The men so vastly different, but they magnified the Lord in a glorious way, so much so that generations to come shall read their poetry and their essays, and be convicted by the Holy Spirit. Glorious men who found the Lord in adulthood and whose talents were shaped and trained for other purposes; but they dedicated to God, in their newfound hope in Christ, the talents that they had. And God blessed them more than had they been pastors or evangelists.
It is the same way with us. All of us have gifts. All of us have talents. All of us can do something for Jesus. And if there is in our hearts the willingness to magnify the Lord in a new way, to bless His name with a new song, God will aboundingly work with us and be honored by our dedicated efforts before Him.
Now I pick out one: one that I am praying God will aboundingly bless; a new song before the Lord. For the years and the years and the years of my life, have I dreamed of magnifying our Lord in a performing arts center; magnify Him in the pulpit, yes; with our orchestra, yes; with our choir, yes; with our vast Sunday school teaching ministry, yes; with our mission outreach, yes; with all the multifaceted ministries of the church, yes; a new song, a new way to make Christ known. In my heart, I have for years, years, dreamed and worked toward a performing arts center. Heretofore, I have always failed in it; try and nothing ultimately come of it. We’re going to try valiantly now, once again, and I believe this time God will bless it.
Right there, right there—I could throw a rock on it—right there is our arts center in the City of Dallas, and all kinds of things will be offered over there. Every kind of a drama, every kind of a song, every kind of a symphony, every kind of a play, everything you can imagine will be offered over there. And we’re proud of our arts center.
We’re going to have one here, here in this church. Only here, we’re going to magnify the Lord. We’re going to have a religious performing arts center. And the songs we sing, and the plays we present, and the dramas we produce, all of them will magnify our Lord. That’s why years ago we built Ralph Baker Hall in the Christian Education building. It’s a little theater. It is built for the performing arts. We just never have been able to bring it to realization, to implement it. We are now. We are now.
We have chosen a young man gifted in that area of life; one of the sweet members of our staff. We’ve chosen him, Benny Barrett, and with him a group of dedicated men and woman to support him, and to help him build that witnessing ministry for our Lord; a new song to magnify His worthy name.
I can never forget, I can’t get away from the simple fact that drama and the performing arts and the music was in the church. It was in the church. They stole it from us. The secular world took it from us. But it was in the church.
In the 900s, those monks in the monasteries between Good Friday and Easter would dramatize the passion, the crucifixion, the suffering of our Lord. In the 1100s they added to it Christmas plays, dramatizing the birth, the incarnation of our Lord. And as the days passed, between 1200 and 1400, they proliferated those dramatic presentations of the Lord Jesus. In every town and village and city, those dramatic troupes went. And there, with people who could not understand the Latin of the services, in the vernacular, in the language of the people, they told the glorious message of the Lord Jesus.
And those great marvelous reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin and Philip Melanchthon commended those troupes that toured Europe, speaking and dramatizing, and singing, and presenting the glorious story of the coming of Christ into this world.
I’ll pick out one of them that you know. In the medieval days, they were called miracle plays. They were called morality plays. I’ll pick out one of them you know. And some of you have been there as I have. I went to Oberammergau, little town, little village of 1700 people. I went to Oberammergau, and I sat there and looked and listened at that miracle play, passion play. In 1633 they faced a decimation by the Black Death. They prayed God to deliver them from it; and they said: “Lord, if You will spare us and save us, every ten years, we’ll present this miracle play, this passion play, for Thee.”
God spared them and they’ve been true to that promise. It’s a beautiful thing. There are 700 characters in it. There are 50 members in the orchestra; all of them in that little town of about 1700 people; the devotion and the magnificent worthy praise of God that arises from it.
I just remember one of those little incidences. An American tourist said to her husband: “Now you lift up that cross there.” The play starts at eight o’clock in the morning and continues all day long. And at noontime, there’s an intermission where you can eat lunch.
So at the intermission, why, this dear wife said to her hubby, “Now you pick up that cross and I’m going to take your picture.” He went over there to pick up the cross and he couldn’t even lift it. It was too heavy. And Adam Lang, who was the Christ for 30 years, Adam Lang happened to be passing by. And the American tourist stopped him and said, “This is just a play. This is just a play. This isn’t real. This is just a play. Why is that cross so heavy?”
And Adam Lang humbly replied, “Sir, it’s heavy because if I don’t feel it, I can’t play my part.”
I believe that in every area of human life. If I don’t feel it, if it isn’t a burden to me; if it is not a sacrifice in it, then I can’t play my part. Praise God for those people who take their talents, whatever they are, and dedicate them to the Lord, singing a new song to Jesus. All of us have something to offer to Jesus, every one of us. Our talents are so varied, but all of them can be used and are needed to magnify the Lord.
I think of God’s word to Moses: “What is in your hand?”
“My staff, a rod” [Exodus 4:2].
God said: “Take that rod and down into Egypt carry it to deliver My people” [Exodus 4:17]. And with that rod, that staff, that stick, with that rod, he brought the [ten] plagues that delivered people [Exodus 7:14-12:30]. With that rod, he divided the waters at the Red Sea [Exodus 14:21]. With that rod, he smote the rock at Horeb and water gushed out [Exodus 17:6]. With that rod, he held it over the battle with Amalek, and as long as he held up his rod, as long as held up his hands, God gave the victory [Exodus 17:8-14]. Over there in my study, on the coffee table, in the middle of my study, is a picture, a beautiful bronze created by one of the great artists in Israel today, with Moses, and Aaron on one side, and Hur on the other side, holding up his hands.
All of us have a gift, all of us have something we can offer to Jesus, and God is magnified in it. We just got through with our Christmas season, singing a song with a little boy who wanted to bring something to Jesus. And what does a little boy have? He had his drum. So he went to the Lord Jesus and for the baby Savior, he played his drum. “Rumma pum pum, me and my drum.” And the Lord Jesus smiled in happiness at the playing of the little boy with his “rumma pum pum.” All of us can offer something to the Lord Jesus; all of us. And this is one of the facets; this is one of the new songs that we’ll sing to the Lord.
And when we get started, every day for all the weeks and the years, we’ll have a dramatic presentation of something worthy of our wonderful Lord. Invite the whole earth to come here to see it. They’ll be over there. The Lord be good to them there in their secular dramatic presentations. And the Lord be good to us here in our spiritual, religious dramatizations of the goodness of God, and the meaning of Jesus, and the worthiness of praise of our incomparable Savior. It’s an open door that God hath given to us.
Now, we may bow our heads? Our precious Lord, our incomparable Savior, our glorious, glorious and risen Intercessor, O blessed Jesus, that we had better words by which to magnify Thee; that we knew how to frame them, to say them in syllables and sentences. Dear God, how wonderful Thou art to us!
And our Lord, we add to that repertoire of songs that we sing; we add to it a new song, another song. We’re going to try to magnify Thy worthy name in music and drama and the performing arts. And our Lord, we humbly pray Thy infinite blessings upon our commitment. May it be one of the dearest, sweetest, open doors we have ever set before the people as we come and as we enjoy and rejoice and be glad in all the wonderful things that God hath done for us. And may the teaching influence and the appealing dramatic portrayal of those dramatic evenings be used of God to bring many to the dear Savior.
In this moment when our people wait before the Lord and we sing our song of appeal, what a beautiful day and what a precious hour to give your heart to the Lord, “Pastor, today, I open my soul heavenward and God-ward, and here I stand, avowing publicly, unreservedly, unashamedly my confession of faith in Jesus as Lord; and here I stand” [Romans 10:8-13].
A family you, coming into the fellowship of our dear church [Hebrews 10:24-25]: “Pastor, this congregation in the heart of this city, I and my family want to be a part,” or answering some call of God in your soul, “The Lord hath spoken to me, pastor, and here I stand answering with my life.” These will be coming, who will be guiding us and helping us in our new song of the performing arts. And as they come for prayer, you come. You come. As God shall open the door, and speak the word, answer with your life. May angels attend you as you come.
And thank You, Lord, for all that it means to Thee, to us, and to this city and world, in Thy saving, wonderful, and keeping name, amen. While we stand and sing, welcome, welcome, God bless you as you come.