Facing the New Year With God
December 29th, 1985 @ 8:15 AM
FACING THE NEW YEAR WITH GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Exodus 32, 33
12-29-85 8:15 a.m.
Welcome the great throngs of you who share this hour on radio. You are a part now of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Facing the New Year with God. This is the middle Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s. Next Sunday, following forty-one years of heretofore delivering a message on The State of the Church, the sermon next Sunday morning will be a forty-second outline of what I pray God will do through us and for us in His kingdom’s work. This Sunday it is a plea for God to go with us into the new year.
The background of the message is in the thirty-second and thirty-third chapters of the Book of Exodus. In the thirty-second chapter of that second book of the Bible is the story of the golden calf and the people who dishonored God and themselves in taking off their clothes, and entering into a sexual orgy, and dancing around that calf made out of gold, while Moses was on the mountaintop receiving the tables of law from the hands of God Himself. And when Moses came down from the mountaintop and saw the idolatrous orgy of the people, he broke those tables of stone on the rocks on which he stood, and then listened to the Lord God as He said, “You stand aside, and let me destroy the people; and out of thy loins shall I raise up a nation to serve Me” [Exodus 32:7-10]. Then that chapter closes with the intercession of Moses: “Lord, Lord, if You will forgive the people”—and that long black dash—“but if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of the book which Thou hast written” [Exodus 32:32]. And God listened to the intercession of Moses and let the people live [Exodus 32:34]. But, in the thirty-third chapter, the next chapter, in the third verse, the Lord God says to Moses, “I will not go up in the midst of the people: lest I consume them by the way. I am going to remove Myself from them, an idolatrous and wicked nation. And lest I destroy them, I am going to remove Myself from them” [Exodus 33:3] And Moses then took his tabernacle, his tent, and cast it outside the camp, in order that he might have an intercessory confrontation with God. If God refused to come into the camp, Moses took his tent outside the camp; and there God came and spoke to him [Exodus 33:7-9]. The eleventh verse:
And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend . . .
And Moses cried, saying, I pray Thee, if I have found grace in Thy sight, show me now Thy way.
And if Thy presence go not with me, then carry us not up hence.
For wherein shall it be known that I and Thy people have found grace in Thy sight? is it not that Thou goest with us? If You do not go, we do not want to go. If Your presence is not with us, we do not want to face the pilgrimage to the Promised Land.
And the Lord said unto Moses, I will do this thing.
What an amazing presentation here in the Word of God, that a man could change the announced and stated purposes of the Lord.
Then it closes with, I think, one of the most marvelous, marvelous, marvelous revelations of God to a man: the chapter closes with the appeal from Moses to the Lord God, “Lord, let me see You. Let me look at You.” And the Lord says, “No man can see My face, and live. But I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and cover you there with My hand: and it will be, I will pass by in all My glory, and when I have passed by I will take away My hand, and you will see the afterglow of God’s ineffable greatness” [Exodus 33:18-23]. And God put him in the cleft of the rock, and He passed by and took away His hand, and Moses looked upon the sunset of God’s glory. Lord, Lord!
We sing a song like that:
He hideth my soul in the cleft of a rock
That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my life in the depths of His love,
And covers me there with His hand,
And covers me there with His hand.
[“He Hideth My Soul,” Fanny Crosby]
It is thus that I feel about our new year.
Lord, if You go not with us, how impoverished and feeble and unable do we become. If Thy presence be not with us, Lord, all that we pray for and hope for turns to dust and ashes in our hands. Please, Lord God, may we find grace in Thy sight, and forgiveness for our wrong. And may God’s presence be felt among us. And thus our prayer and our commitment: that the Lord God will be with us, His presence will be felt in our midst, and our assignment will be to magnify the name of the Lord, to lift Him up, to make it a year of glorious preaching and singing and soul-witnessing, bringing families and people to the knowledge of the saving grace of our Lord Jesus.
He is so worthy, infinitely so. You cannot speak of Him too highly. You cannot expose Him too greatly; more and more about Jesus. There is a chorus: “Oh say, didn’t He shine? Didn’t He shine?” I think of our Lord in His birth [Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-16]: what a beautiful, beautiful story, incomparably dear. Our Lord Jesus, God incarnate [John 1:1, 14], born in a stable, laid in a manger; anybody would be free to go to a stable, anybody would be welcome to bow before a manger [Luke 2:7, 12, 16]. Maybe some would be hesitant about going to the king’s palace, had He been born in Herod’s mansion; but anybody would be welcome and feel at home in a stable and to bow before a bed of hay.
He is so worthy! As a child, as a youth, the grace of the Lord God was upon Him, a wonderful Child: even at twelve years of age, able to speak with the doctors of the law in the temple about the Word of God [Luke 2:42-47]. Why shouldn’t a child and a youth know the word of Holy Scripture? In His ministry, those who saw and heard exclaimed, “Never was it so seen in Israel!” [Matthew 9:33]. These were the people who had seen Moses and Elijah, but when they saw Jesus—nothing comparable to the Lord Jesus. In His crucifixion [Mark 15:20-38], even the hardened Roman centurion said, “Surely, truly, this Man was the Son of God” [Mark 15:39]; never had seen a man die like that Man. Think of His resurrection [Mark 16:1-7]: O Lord! Could it be that in Him we shall live again, rise from the dead? [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. The third day, raised from the grave [Luke 24:7, 46; 1 Corinthians 15:4]; for forty days appearing to His people [Acts 1:3]; then no longer did they need to see Him, they knew Him by His presence working with them [Matthew 28:20].
That, I am persuaded, that, I think, is our wonderful assignment for the new year: to magnify the Lord Jesus, to lift Him up, to preach His gospel, to sing His praises, to witness by life and deed and word of mouth, to make Jesus known, to invite others into the same grace and love and faith. And Lord, that we know Thy presence in power, in moving unction, in every part of our service to Thee: grant it, Lord, make it that for the new year.
I have another thing that I pray for and ask God for in the new year: I ask God to give us that ableness and that sensitivity and that tuition to know how to magnify Thy name and to glorify Thy glorious goodness in ways that maybe we’ve never thought for before, that we’ve never done before; to sing a new song to the Lord, or to take the old songs and to make them new, to find avenues and approaches to the human heart maybe that we’ve never known before and never used before; a new departure, new ways. So many times in the Word of the Lord, in the Psalms, do you find words like this. Psalm 33:
Rejoice in the Lord. . . . for praise is comely for the upright.
Praise the Lord with harp: sing unto Him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings.
Sing unto Him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise.
I like that: “loud noise.” When I come to church and the choir sings, I like for them to sing! And when the orchestra plays, I like for the orchestra to play! “Sing unto Him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise” [Psalm 33:3]. I like for the whole thing to shake around here when we praise God. I don’t like these little old pipsqueak stuff; I like for it to be loud, and heard.
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” [Psalms 69: 30-31]. God’s more pleased with that than He is with all of those sacrifices. “The humble shall see this, and be glad: and your heart shall live that seek God” [Psalm69: 32]. Psalm 96:
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.
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 144:9: “I will sing a new song unto Thee, O God: upon a psaltery and an instrument of ten strings”—they love those ten strings—“will I praise unto Thee.”
Psalm 149: “Praise ye the Lord”—the Hebrew is “Hallelujah, hallelujah,” translated is “Praise the Lord”—“Praise ye the Lord, hallelujah. Sing unto the Lord a new song, and His praise in the congregation of the saints” [Psalm 149:1]. And the last one: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord,” Hebrew, “Hallelujah” [Psalm 150:6]. That’s what I like. That’s what I’d love: a new song, one that we sing.
- Abraham was called, praise God; but we’ve been called also!
- Moses wandered through the wilderness to the Promised Land; we also are in a pilgrimage with our faces toward heaven.
- David knew the trials and the hurts of life; we also know the trials and hurts of life.
- Daniel knew the fierceness of trial; we also know the fierceness of trial.
Jonah was depressed before the Lord; we also have known what it is to be depressed before the Lord.
We have a song to sing also! Praise God for the song of Moses! Praise God for the songs of David! Praise God also for the songs of Fanny Crosby, and John Fawcett, and Martin Luther, and B. B. McKinney, and Ira Sankey! The story doesn’t stop back there: it goes on, and it goes on, and will go on till Jesus comes. And we are a part of that ongoing melody, singing new songs to the Lord, expressing our experiences before God, praising the Lord for His wonderful goodnesses to us.
I don’t want us to hesitate before a new way to magnify the Lord, before a new song to sing to His praise and glory, before new ways of magnifying His name and lifting Him up before the world. And I have time, in this little brief moment, to mention just one, just one; a new thing, a new song, a new way to magnify the blessed Jesus.
For the years and the years and the years, I have dreamed in my heart and have worked and have tried and thus far have failed in having a Christian performing arts center in our church. When we built the Christian Education Building, I had them build in the building what we have called Ralph Baker Hall. It is a little theater; it is a performing arts center. It is made that way and was made for that purpose. And I have tried, and have not succeeded, in building into that place there a wonderful Christian dramatic presentation of the great goodness and saviorhood of our worthy Lord.
You see, drama was in the church. The performing arts was in the church. That’s where it was; and the secular world took it out of us. They took it away from us. And there in their operas, and in their dramas, and now in their movies, and on their television screens, they have the most abominable and atrocious of things. But it didn’t start like that: it started in the church.
In the 900s, in the 900s, those monasteries would have between Good Friday and Easter, they’d have dramatic presentations of the Passion, the death of our Lord. And by the time the 1100s came, they began to present dramatic presentations of the birth of our Lord, Christmas plays. And then between the 1200s and the 1400s, they added to them eschatological plays; plays of the end of the world and the judgment of God. You see, the services were in Latin, and the people couldn’t understand Latin. So these troupes, these dramatic players went everywhere, from city to city and village to village, and in the vernacular of the people, in the language that people could understand, they enacted dramatically before the people all of the things of the blessed Lord Jesus. In the medieval days they called them “miracle plays,” and sometimes they were called “morality plays,” and everywhere those troupes went, throughout the civilized Europe, depicting and portraying the marvelous things in the life of our Lord Jesus. And those great Reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin, they looked upon those plays, when they were worthy of God, with great commendation and favor.
One of them exists today. I went to see the Passion Play in Oberammergau. That’s one of them. In 1633, in the Black Death, they prayed God for deliverance: and out of gratitude for that deliverance, they promised every ten years to put on one of those miracle plays. If you’ve been there, you couldn’t describe the worthiness of what that little village of seventeen hundred people has done. Seven hundred characters in it, an orchestra of fifty, every one of them in that little village of seventeen hundred people. There will be each sitting between six and eight thousand people watching there, just as I did. And in the course of one of those seasons, there’ll be toward a half a million people see that dramatic presentation of the Lord Jesus. Oh, I just glory in it! It’s a way of lifting up our Lord, of making Him known, using the performing arts, song and drama. And we’re going to do that in our church.
We’ve asked Benny Barrett to lead it and to make it viable, and we have asked a group of dedicated people to be with him in making it beautiful and worthy. We have an Arts Center right there, right next door to us. Here in this place we’re going to have an art center too; only in this place we’re going to magnify the Lord. There’ll be drama and music and programs that make Jesus known, and we’re going to invite everybody to come and to enjoy it, and to listen to it, and be moved by it.
There are many, many things that people can do, if they just have an opportunity to do them. It isn’t because of the reluctance of people that things are not more gloriously done, it’s because they don’t have an opportunity. There’s no handle that they can grasp. Everyone, no matter who they are, everyone, everyone, no matter who he or she is, everyone has something to offer to God, everyone, everyone. God said to Moses, “What is in your hand?” And he said, “A rod, a staff, a stick” [Exodus 4:2].
“Take that,” God says, “and go down into Egypt” [Exodus 4:17]. And with that rod he brought the plagues [Exodus 7:14-12:30], and with that rod he divided the sea [Exodus 14:15-16, 21], and with that rod he struck the rock at Horeb, and the water gushed out [Exodus 17:5-6]. With that rod, he held it over the battle with Amalek [Exodus 17:8-13]. A rod, a plain rod—everyone has something to magnify the Lord, everyone does.
I think of our Christmas just past, and a little song that I heard all through the Christmas season. Do you remember it? The little boy, what would he bring to Jesus? All he had was a drum, and the little fellow comes before the Lord with his drum, and then the song, of course, is:
Rum pum pum pum,
Rum pum pum pum,
Me and my drum.
[“The Little Drummer Boy,” Katharine K. David]
And the Lord smiled, and was glad in the little boy’s playing for the Baby Jesus on his drum. All of us have something, all of us can help, and this is one of the ways, this is one of the new songs, this is one of the new ways we can magnify our Lord. And God will lead us in His presence, will bless us, as we find new ways, and new songs, and new experiences, and new testimonies to lift up the wonderful name of the blessed Jesus.
We’re going to sing us a song now, and while we sing the hymn, “Lord, Lord, I have it in my heart to serve Thee. I want to be a Christian in my heart, in my house, and in my home, and in my life, and this is God’s day for me, and I’m on the way, pastor. Here I stand. Here I am.” In this balcony round and on this lower floor, a family: “Pastor, we’re coming into the fellowship of this dear church today.” Or just one somebody you: “I want to take the Lord as my personal Savior [Romans 10:9-10], and here I stand,” or “I’m answering God’s call in my heart, and here I stand.”
Benny Barrett, and those who might be present today who give themselves to work with him, you come. We’ll have a special prayer of dedication for the new departure, for the new song.
As God shall press the appeal to your heart, answer with your life. Make it now, do it now. “Lord, this is God’s moment for me.” And when we sing this song, on the first note of the first stanza, answer: “Pastor, I give you my hand; I’ve dedicated my heart to God, given my life to Him” [Ephesians 2:8]. Bless you as you come, angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.