Jesus Speaks to Us About Emptiness
November 17th, 1985 @ 10:50 AM
JESUS SPEAKS TO US ABOUT EMPTINESS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-17-85 10:50 a.m.
You are a part of the worshiping congregation of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message. In a vast and extensive survey, there were five problems that burden human hearts, and I have prepared five messages on those five problems. The first one was loneliness, the next one was hopelessness, the next one was purposelessness, and the first three messages have been delivered. The fifth one will be next Sunday – fear – and the one today on emptiness. The five have been prepared under a theme: "Jesus Speaks to Us Concerning," and today, Emptiness.
Just blue, God, just blue.
Ain’t prayin’ exactly just now,
Here blinded, I guess,
Can’t see my way through.
You know these things I asked for so many times.
Maybe I hadn’t, or to repeat it like it the Pharisees do.
But I ain’t stood in no marketplace,
It’s just between me and You.
And You said, "Ask somehow."
I ain’t askin’ now and I hardly know what to do;
Hope just sort of left, but faith’s still here,
Faith ain’t gone, too.
I know how ’tis a thousand years is a single day with You.
And I ain’t meaning to tempt You with "if You be."
and I ain’t doubtin’ You,
but I ain’t prayin’ today, God, just blue, just blue.
[Author and Work Unknown]
There’s no one of us but has felt that a thousand times:
Jesus answered and said, Whosoever drinketh of the water of this life shall thirst again:
But whosoever drinketh the water that I give him shall never, ever thirst, but the water that I give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.
The emptiness of this world, its possessions, its achievements and its rewards, emptiness, uselessness, nothingness; and there could be no more dramatic paragon of the emptiness of human possession and achievement than is found in the life of King Solomon. He was an Oriental monarch; there was unlimited power, openness, opportunity that always lay before him. And he took every experience in life and carried it to its ultimate extremity. He made pleasure do all that pleasure could do and then described what that ultimate was. He made money do all that money could do. He made material possessions do all that material possessions can do. He made achievement and great works and political fortune do all that they could do, and he described what that ultimate was. He drank every cup and labeled it. He sailed every sea and chartered it. And when he had done, he looked on the work of his hands and the experiences of his life, and he said it all is cheap and vain and useless emptiness.
What a remarkable judgment upon the things that we reach for, and seek for, and suppose will bring us infinite happiness! What a remarkable experience! King Solomon, always,every world he discovered and every achievement that he won ended in dust and ashes before his hands. He described it all as satiety, emptiness, uselessness, vanity. Whatever world that he entered into and whatever achievement he sought to win, emptied into nothingness. He outgrew it. It became a weariness; like a baby with a teething ring and a rattle finally outgrown, useless; like a boy with a toy or a girl with a doll finally outgrown; like a youth with his heroic and erotic fantasies. Every ninty minutes a teenager commits suicide, and hundreds others attempt it: the emptiness and uselessness of the achievements of life! And so with a man; give his life for all of these things and things and things, and if he’s able to win them, to look upon them as being meaningless, useless, emptiness.
Many years ago when I came to Dallas, there was a very wealthy man who joined our dear church. He headed a big corporation here in the city. He built a big building close by us. I was in his home one evening, and for some unknown reason, I’ve never understood why, he took out a book. And in that big book, he had listed all of his worldly possessions. They were amazing to me. I’d never been introduced to anything like that. He had thousands and thousands and thousands of shares of this great corporation; and this one, and this one, and then these, and then these, and then these. And after he had gone through that whole book and laid it before me, he closed it with a thump, pushed it from him across the table and said to me, "It is nothing but trash." Oh, I’ll never forget that: "It is nothing but trash!" However the far-flung achievements of humanity, we are still the same empty, desolate, sterile-hearted people.
I think of the wonder of an airplane, that big monster creation weighing tons, thousands and thousands of pounds, flying through the sky with all of the attendants, and accruements, and embellishments of beautiful living, eat dinner up there, to listen to music up there. It’s a wonder! But all that it does ultimately is to get us to New York, or to Hong Kong, or to Rio a few hours earlier. And if it’s thirty minutes late, we think it’s slow. And whether we’re here or whether we’re there, we’re the same empty people.
I think of the amazing achievements of humanity, unbelievable and almost indescribable. This week,this last week I sat by the side of Colonel Erwin, James Erwin. He showed us the films of his walking on the moon. And he had by the podium that famous white rock that the astronauts brought back from the moon. I picked it up, held it in my hand, looked at it. Then I looked at him, this man walked on the moon! But whether he was up there or seated there by me, or standing behind the podium, just the same, just the same. With all of the marvelous advancement and achievement, he’s just the same.
I think of the miracle of television and of radio. There was a couple earlier this morning who said to me, "We listen to you preach every Sunday in South Carolina." I see people from the West Coast, from the Canadian border, from the Rio Grande, listening to me preach every Lord’s Day. What a miracle! And yet, outside of the opportunity to proclaim the gospel, I do not know of anything in my opinion that is more unceasingly boring and wearisome than listening to what you see and hear on television and on radio, an endless nothingness, emptiness, and seemingly worthless. Thus King Solomon, entering into every area of human life, and following it to its utmost extremity, and saying what it is like. He lists them here in the Book of Ecclesiastes. He says:
I gave my heart to seek and search out wisdom concerning all things under heaven:,
I commune with mine own heart saying: I’ve come to greatest state and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been in Jerusalem before me.
My heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge,
But in much wisdom is much grief; and he that increaseth knowledge, increaseth sorrow.
[Ecclesiastes 1:13, 16-18]
When you go to the end of this horizon, it is but the beginning of another one. And when you climb this hill, there’s the mountain. And when you ascend the height of the mountain, the stars are still beyond you. All I can find and learn in wisdom, in knowledge, is this: how abysmally ignorant we are, how unknowing and un-understanding we are. In wisdom, I found nothing but grief, folly.
Then he says again, "I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, and pleasure, and laughter, and wine." And he indulged himself to the utmost. Anything that offered pleasure, he enjoyed it. And when he had come to the end of a lifetime of indulgence, it was cheap, and empty, and fruitless, and useless.
I often think about Solomon, as sometimes we all do – 700 wives and 300 concubines – that would pulverize any one man. Think of you and one wife; now you think of you and 700 of them! And then 300 concubines beside!
There was a little Sunday School class, and the teacher was looking at those little boys, and said to the little fellows, "Name me animals that are in the Bible."
One little boy said, "A lamb."
"That’s right," said the teacher.
Another said, "A goat."
"That’s right," said the teacher.
"That’s right," said the teacher.
And, the teacher looked at the little boy and said, "Porcupine? There’s no porcupine in the Bible."
"Oh, yes," said the little boy, "Solomon had 700 wives and 300 porcupines."
You know when I heard that, I thought, what would a concubine mean to a little five-year-old boy? Indulgence to the extreme; carried it as far as pleasure would go, and found it empty and useless: "I made me great works. I built me houses," his own palace thirteen years in construction. He thought to build a heaven and to shut out the devil with brick and stone and marble. I suppose there never was a king who had the more glorious palace and capital than did Solomon. Then, he says, "I got me servants and maidens and had servants born in my house." He had 1,400 chariots, and he had 14,000 runners, just to serve him. Not only that but he says:
I gathered me silver and gold, and the treasure of kings and of provinces.
He made silver and gold in Jerusalem as common as trash. And when he had done all this, he adds,
And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy, my heart rejoiced in all my labor: and this was my portion of all my effort.
There’s no "if"-ing in that verse; there’s no timidity or hesitation in that verse. He didn’t just try, he didn’t just wish, he just didn’t make an effort – he did it! Anything his heart desired, he got. And anything he wanted to do, he did. Now I’m going to read the following verses. And I don’t think in human speech or in literature, there is anything sadder or more tragic than what he says:
Then I looked on all the work that my hands had wrought, and on all the labor I had labored to do: and, behold, it was vanity and vexation of spirit, and no profit under the sun.
Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
Yea, I hated my labor which I had taken: because I should leave it unto the man that should follow after me.
And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labor, and wherein I have showed myself wise,. This is vanity.
Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labor which I took under the sun.
[Ecclesiastes 2:11, 17-20]
Could you imagine anything more sad or tragic than that? This man has all that the world could offer, all of it, and comes to the end of the way, hating what he’d done and what he possesses, just looking at death.
"The world rolls around forever, like a mill;
It grinds out life and death and good and ill;
It has no purpose, heart, or mind, or will.
"Nay, it doth use man harshly as he saith?
It grinds him slow years of bitter breath,
Then grinds him back into eternal death."
["The City of Dreadful Night," lines from section VIII, by, James Thompson]
The emptinesses of life! I think of Benjamin Disraeli, the incomparable prime minister of England under Queen Victoria. He said, "Youth is a mistake, manhood is a struggle, and old age is a regret." How sad! The fallacy of a man in his thinking that "if I just had more, I’d be happy," as though things could feed the soul. They but emphasize how empty-hearted and sterile living to which we give the energy of our lives.
I often think – though I’m not introduced to it personally – I often think of those Hollywood people who have achieved the ultimate in success. There, you can see them on film. There, you can see them on television. There, you can see them in the newspapers. There, you can see them in the magazines. There, you can see them in all the glittering social life of the earth. And yet those are the people who are the most likely to seek surcease and escape in drugs or in suicide. All of us could never forget the star, Marilyn Monroe, who, seeing herself growing older, unable to face the inevitable, commit suicide. The emptiness, the uselessness of things!
In that first paragraph, almost the first sentence of Augustine’s Confessions, he writes one of the greatest sentences ever written, "O God, Thou hast made us for Thyself; and we are restless until we rest in Thee."
And that brings me to the second part of this message. My brother, my sister, my friend, my listener, nothing is more beautiful or meaningful than to invite the Lord God, Christ Jesus into your heart, and into your life, into your plans, into your prayers, into your visions, into your hopes. Let Him come in.
This world is not geocentric. It is not even heliocentric. This world is Christocentric. It’s Christocentric, "He is before all things, and in Him all things consist" [Colossians 1:17]. And when we are in tune with the Lord and our lives flow in friendship, and love, and devotion with Him, it becomes meaningful, and full, and rich, and heavenly, and blessed. Nothing a man could do more meaningful than to change citizenship from the kingdom of this world to the kingdom of God: a new citizen! Paul calls it a political, a politeuma, can’t even pronounce it, "citizenship," a politeuma, a citizenship, a beautiful new relationship with God, with life, with the whole creation.
I read this week one of the most unusual things. There were two Frenchmen in England, and one of them decided to become a British citizen, and the other inveighed against it. But the first said, "No, I’m going to be an Englishman. I’m going to be a naturalized citizen of Great Britain."
So he did, and after he became a citizen and the papers were finished, why, his French friend said to him, "Well, you look just the same to me. I don’t see any difference in you now that you are a Britisher than when you were a Frenchman. You haven’t changed at all."
And, the new English citizen said to his French friend, "That may be true on the outside. But, I’ve changed. Yesterday, Waterloo was a defeat. Today, Waterloo is a victory!"
That’s the politeuma, the politeuma, the "citizenship," once in the world, now in the family, and love, and grace of God.
Now for just a moment, may I seek to describe some of the differences that come to our hearts when we change, when we open our souls heavenward and God-ward? Number one: all of the sorrows and the hurts and the afflictions of life, when you change into the kingdom, the politeuma of Jesus Christ, all of them become blessings, not defeats or empty discouragements. They become blessings, providences from the hands of God. It changes the whole creation.
In our hymnbook, I counted the songs written by blind Fanny Crosby. There are sixteen of them in that hymnbook, out of which we sing, sixteen! They are dear to God’s people. I so well, well, well remember when I was – I can’t remember how little – I was a small, small, small boy. My father left to attend the memorial service of his sainted mother, and when he came back, he sat down by my side, and he told me about the memorial service of his mother, and he said they sang at her service of memory, they sang:
Safe in the arms of Jesus, Safe on His gentle breast.
There by His love o’reshaded, Sweetly my soul shall rest.
["Safe in the Arms of Jesus," by Fanny Crosby]
And my father loved to sing. He just sang hymns just all the time. And he sang that song to me – just a little boy – he sang it to me, that they had sung at his mother’s funeral.
Blind Fanny Crosby: she had a wonderful friend across the sea in England, also a wonderful hymn writer, named Frances Havergal. And in our hymnbook, you’ll find one, two, three, four, you’ll find four beautiful hymns by Havergal. And, this is a greeting that Havergal sent to blind Fanny Crosby across the sea:
Sweet blind singer over the sea,
Tuneful and jubilant, how can it be
That the songs of gladness, which float so far
Are the notes of one who may never see
"Visible music" of flower and tree,
How can she sing in the dark like this?
What is her fountain of light and bliss?
Her heart can see, her heart can see!
Well may she sing so joyously!
For the King Himself, in His tender grace,
Hath shown her the brightness of His face;
Dear blind sister over the sea,
An English heart goes forth to thee.
We are linked by a cable of faith and song,
Flashing bright sympathies swift along;
One in the East and the other in the West,
Singing for Him whom our souls love best,
Sister! what will our meeting be,
When our hearts shall sing and our eyes shall see?
[selections from "A Seeing Heart," by Frances R. Havergal]
It’s another world when Jesus comes into our hearts. The afflictions of life become providential remembrances from heaven. Talking about Fanny Crosby, I read where she went to see Ira D. Sankey, who was the song leader of Dwight L. Moody. I didn’t know this, but the last years of Ira Sankey, he was blind. I didn’t know that. And blind Fanny Crosby came to see Ira Sankey when he was dying. And I read there together, they sang songs and they prayed prayers and they rejoiced in the reading of the Word of God in their hearing – blind, both of them. Great God in heaven! How the world changes from despair, and emptiness, and uselessness, afflicted suffering, hurt; how it changes when Jesus comes into our hearts! The whole earth changes around us. It’s a new creation.
There was a wonderful and gifted South Carolinian named Ellis Fuller, who was president of the Southern Seminary in Louisville. I loved to hear him preach. He talked like a South Carolinian. I wish I could imitate him, as he tells this:
Walking down a country lane, when he was a youth in South Carolina, he met a Negro mammy. And, she was just singing to the top of her voice.
And, he stopped her and he said, "Mammy, how can you be so happy when you’re so poor, own nothing?
And she said, "Lad – poor?" She said, "I own all creation. These fields are mine, and these rivers and streams are mine, and these trees are mine, and these meadows are mine, and the over-arching sky is mine. All creation is mine." And then, she added, "And the white man pays taxes on it."
Oh dear! It’s another world. It’s another creation! The whole world changes when Jesus is in our hearts: singing, praising, whether I’m poor, whether I’m hungry. God, it in His providences! Lord, Lord! The great John Chrysostom – chrusostom Is the Greek word for "golden mouth," – marvelous preacher in the 300’s; John Chrysostom was being assailed because of his preaching by the Roman Emperor, Theodosius.
And Theodosius said, "John Chrysostom, I will take away your house."
And John Chrysostom said, "Not so, for the whole world belongs to the house of God."
And the Emperor said, "John Chrysostom, I will take away your treasure."
And John Chrysostom, "Sir, my treasure is in heaven."
And the Emperor said, "John Chrysostom, I will take away every friend you have."
"No," said the great preacher, "My great Friend is in glory."
And the Emperor said, "John Chrysostom, I will take away your life."
And the great preacher replied, "Sir, my life is hid with Christ in God, and you can’t touch it."
Dear me! It’s a life of triumph, and glory, and riches when Jesus is in our hearts.
May I mention just one other, just one other? When Jesus is in our hearts, when we belong to the kingdom of our Savior, there’s a preventing grace that is indescribably precious. Redeeming grace is wonderful, God forgives our sins. And He washes our souls in His precious blood: redeeming grace. But my brother, preventing grace is no less dear and precious. Remember the one hundred sixteenth Psalm and the eighth verse? "Thou has saved my soul from death, Thou has kept mine eyes from tears, And Thou hast prevented my feet from falling." Preveinting grace.
Like a group of evangelists, and one of them said, "The Lord Jesus lifted me up from a drunkard’s hell."
And another said, "And the Lord rescued me out of a life of slavery, out of a life of debauchery, out of a life of iniquity."
Another one: "God saved me from a gambler’s life. God saved me."
And they just went on and on, what God had saved them from. And one of the young evangelists said, "I have no testimony like that. I’ve never known what it is to live in a drunkard’s hell, and I’ve never been down into the abysmal depths of iniquity. But I no less thank God that He saved me from all of those things, for I’ve never known the hurt of a devastating sin. And I’ve never known the sorrow of the penalty of the judgment of God upon a gross, iniquitous life."
That’s so true: preventing grace; I think of the sorrows and the tears and the troubles in this world. One year, more than seventy percent of the marriages in Dallas ended in divorce, seventy percent! Down now to the national average, one-half; fifty percent of every marriage ends in divorce. And I see these children – the scar of that is never healed, the hurt and the sorrow – and I think of the tears: go to bed at night, bury your head in a pillow and just cry, nothing else to do, just weep. And all of the other hurts and sorrows that come in life, all of it, all of it, all of it could be obviated, never entered into, never known if we could let Jesus come into our hearts, come into our homes, come into our lives. "Lord, this is Your house. Welcome! Welcome! The door is ever open, Lord, welcome! These are Your children, dear Lord. These are Your children. We shall rear them in Thy love and grace and favor. You gave them to us, we will rear them, Lord, in Thy goodness. These are Your children. These are Your hands and these are Your feet. This work is assigned me from heaven, and every day is a pilgrim day with my Lord."
It’s another world, it’s another creation; it fills the empty heart with meaning from God Himself. And that is our invitation to you. A couple of you, "Pastor today, we have decided for God and here we stand." A father with his family and his wife, "Pastor, all of us are coming today." A one somebody you, "Pastor, this day I open my heart to the Lord and here I stand." As the Spirit shall press the appeal upon your heart, make the decision now, and in a moment when we sing, on that first stanza, that first step of response will be the most meaningful you have ever known in your life. While the orchestra gives us room for you to come in which you can stand, we are going to pray. Then at the end of the prayer, we are going to sing our hymn of appeal.
Our Lord, would to God we had angels to deliver this message, how true the words of the living God. The emoluments and the rewards of this life are so vain, so useless, so empty, by and by inevitably leave them all behind. Dear God, but how full and rich and beautiful life can be when Jesus comes into our home, into our hearts. Not only are the treasures that we have cherished in this world ours for possession here, but in Christ make them be a treasure forever, sending our treasures ahead of us into heaven, rich toward God. O Lord, let us today in this great congregation be open heartedness welcome to the blessed Jesus. Lord come into my soul, into my heart, into my life, into my house, into my home, into my work, and welcome. Our Lord as we sing our hymn, may God move in a beautiful way and give us a gracious response, souls for the Savior, in His dear name we pray. Amen.
Now may we stand, as we sing our song, welcome into the kingdom of our Lord, while we wait, while we pray.