Jesus Speaks to US About Purposelessness
November 10th, 1985 @ 8:15 AM
JESUS SPEAKS TO US ABOUT PURPOSELESSNESS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-10-85 8:15 a.m.
It is a gladness for us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas to welcome the uncounted multitudes of you who share this hour with us on radio. We are in the midst of the delivery of five messages concerning the thing Jesus speaks to us. In an extensive survey, there were five tremendous problems that face human hearts and lives. One was loneliness, and I delivered the message Sunday a week ago, Jesus Speaks to Us about Loneliness. The second one was hopelessness and that was the message the last Sunday. Next Sunday it is emptiness, Jesus Speaks to Us about Emptiness. The fifth one was fear, Jesus Speaks to Us about Fear. And the one today, purposelessness, Jesus Speaks to Us about Purposelessness.
And the background text is in the passage that you just read. In Luke 12 verse 19, "I will say to my soul, Soul, take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry," And 1 Corinthians 15:32 adds, ",for tomorrow we die." Those are Epicurean. "Eat, drink, and be merry. For tomorrow we die." "There is no God to serve. There is no goal to reach. There is no meaning in life. Our existence is one of worthlessness and nothingness, purposelessness."
In the next chapter, the Lord spoke the parable of the barren fig tree, and asked, "Why cumbereth it the ground?" [Luke 13:7]. There’s no reason. There’s no purpose, just worthlessness and nothingness. Jesus speaks to us about purposelessness.
May I begin with the observation that purpose shapes life, and law, and destiny, and everlasting meaning. In the eleventh chapter of the Book of Acts, when the Spirit of the Lord was poured out upon the Gentiles in Antioch, the Jewish congregation at Jerusalem sent Barnabas. "And when he came, he was glad, and exhorted them, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord [Acts 11:23]. Purpose of heart; the dedication of life to the meaning and call of God for us – and I say it’s that purpose that shapes the meaning of all life and existence.
I was in Louisville, completing my work in the seminary in 1937, and the greatest flood in American history swept down the Ohio Valley in that day. And as I stood there and looked at the city inundated, all of those whiskey distilleries were buried under the tides of water. And as I looked at it, I thought, "That surely is a judgment of God," these whiskey distilleries under water, God burying them. But my little village church was also buried in that flood. And the difference in my reaction is found in the purpose for which the distillery operates and we gather together in my little church. Purpose.
I remember the vivid picture on the front pictures of the newspapers of the world when Mussolini and his mistress were executed, naked, upside down, their heads down. And as I looked at the picture, I thought, "In the same country, Paul was executed on the Ostian Road." The difference in my reaction? Purpose.
I think of the great preacher who presided over this congregation for forty-seven years, my predecessor George W. Truett. With a shotgun, he killed the chief of police of this city of Dallas. Yet last week I read of the execution of a criminal who had killed a policeman. The difference? Purpose.
And out of those situations, we have coined a phrase, "On purpose." "He did it on purpose." Or "He did not mean to." His purpose was not one of evil or hostility. I’m saying that it shapes all of life and destiny, purpose; then how ruinous and how tragic to give our lives to an empty and vain and worthless purpose.
The grocery man said, "When I die, carve this on my tombstone: Born, thus and thus day, a human being. Died, thus and thus day, a grocer."
And they said, "Why would you place that as an epitaph on your marble tombstone?"
And he said, "All of my life I’ve had no time for God, no time for church, no time for the family, no time for friends, just time to make money and sell groceries. And this is my whole, vain, worthless life." I suppose most of the world is like that, devoting their days to worthlessness and nothingness.
Let me speak, if I may, of the illusion of achievement, and success, and riches, and the rewards of worldly effort. We are caught up in it; the whole world is swayed by it. It’s a drive in almost every human heart; it is universal. But it’s a deception. It leads us into nothingness, into worthlessness, into vanity, into ruin, into loss. What shall you do when God says, "This night thy soul is required of thee" [Luke 12:20], and our lives have been given to the worldly increments of fame, or fortune, or wealth, or success, or achievement. I say it is an illusion.
Could I compare our day with Abraham? He lived two thousand years before Christ. When Abraham travelled from Ur of Chaldea around the Fertile Crescent to the Promised Land, he went on a donkey. And it took him months and months and months to make the one thousand five hundred mile journey. I so well remember flying from Canaan to Ur of Chaldea, straight across the Syrian desert. I did it in just a little over an hour. Oh, what a magnificent achievement!
Or communication: in the days of Abraham, when you sent a communication you wrote in cuneiform on a soft, moist tablet and baked it. And then a messenger carried it to the other side of the one to whom you were sending the letter. In Tel Aviv when I was there, I, by wireless communication, made reservations over there in the land of Ur of Chaldea, and I did it immediately.
Or take domestic life: Abraham lived in a tent. And we live in a house with running water and electricity and all the embellishments and accouterments of life. And we think, "What magnificent progress and what achievement," and we give ourselves to those worldly emoluments and rewards.
Are we actually better? And have we made progress? We can travel; that’s right. But are we traveling to better places? Abraham was on his way to the Promised Land.
We can see. It’s remarkable, the whole world spread before us in our living rooms, but are we seeing better things? God said to Abraham, "Come out here and look at these stars. And Abraham believed God; and his faith was counted for righteousness" [Genesis 15:1-6].
Hearing: think of what we can hear. Abraham listened to the call and voice of God. We hear the blasting music of rock-and-roll. Achievement? Advancement? Better?
Progress: we pride ourself in writing our history, the tremendous advancement in science, in technology, in medicine, in chemistry, in every area of human knowledge. But also there is progress in aerial bombing, and in nuclear fission, and in the development of hydrogen bombs, and in chemical and germ warfare. There’s also progress in the utilization of the media for the propagation of political lies.
There is no evidence at all that humanity progresses. We are as evil as we’ve ever been. We are as lost as were our ancestors. There is no evidence that we evolve or progress from evil to good, from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, from the power of Satan to the power of God. The whole earth cringes before the possibility of annihilation. I could not but be interested in Tom Wassel’s prayer for the United States and its representatives in this conference scheduled in Geneva, Switzerland, that somehow God would intervene to bring peace to our earth.
Vanity: the illusion of progress: not only that, but the possibility, the realization of life given to nothingness, to worthlessness, to purposelessness. In the Book of Jude, the brother of our Lord characterizes a great host of people:
Clouds, they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots;
Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.
The flotsam and the jetsam and the worthlessness of that mass of matter, that planets move and comets and streams around this earth, with no meaning and no purpose, worthless – he says, "So much of humanity is like that." And when I see that description of our people in the Bible, in the Word of God, I look around me to see how could such a thing be true? Worthless humanity, like the matter that moves throughout the universe with no purpose and no goal. How could it be?
Then I am asked, "Pastor," this is two days ago, "do you see," this is by a reporter who is writing an article about your pastor, going to be published under that "High Profile" the first week in December. "Do you ever see," the reporter asked me, "do you ever see that side of life? Or do you live in an ivory tower? Drug addiction, prostitution, drunkenness?" And I reply, "For the most part, my life is consumed truly with people of God, sweet dear saints of the Lord. But I see it on every hand, and I read it in every paper." Think of giving your life to drugs and to drunkenness and to worthlessness, and think of the prostitution of our gifts from God.
I read of a brilliant professional man, thirty-five years of age, whose IQ is 168. That’s an enormous gift, a genius, in fine physical condition. But he has been going to a psychiatrist for five years; in 692 sessions at the cost of thousands of dollars. Why? Instead of giving himself and the beautiful gifts of God bestowed upon him to prayer, or to the Lord, or to the work of the Savior, or to the blessedness of the church, he gives himself to anxieties and frustrations.
So many in the world are like that. What could be the noblest dedication that minds could think or heart could ever devote itself to, they give themselves to worthlessness and to nothingness. And the hurt and the harm that comes to others because of those tragic dedications to nothingness is almost unbelievable.
Do you read Ann Landers? I do every day. I read Ann Landers.
I was a latchkey kid from the age of seven. Both parents worked, stayed at the job, sometimes employed until after 9:00 o’clock at night. But I was straight and gave my life to the good. When our son was born, I was thrilled. I decided to stay home and be a full-time mother. I was always available to chaperon a class trip, bake a cake, have my son’s friends, or drive them to a ballgame.
My husband coached Little League summer after summer. He helped with the scouts. He went hiking and camping. He had splash parties, pajama parties, Halloween parties. You name it. Occasionally when my husband and I went to a movie or had dinner with friends, grandparents baby-sat. No strangers for our kid. Everything we did revolved around the welfare of our son.
But in the end all our efforts counted for nothing. The boy is a drug addict, a thief with no morals and no conscience. He has made our lives a nightmare. Eventually we had to banish him from our home because of the criminal friends he harbored. The troopers and the police were always at our door.
I become enraged when parents are blamed when children go wrong. Parental influence counts for nothing when society at large is sick. Our children are exposed to filthy lyrics, pornographic magazines, sexy ads, and trashy films. Freedom has become a license. What parents teach in the homes is undone on the outside. Now, thanks to television, they don’t even have to leave their homes.
And here’s another one, just like it:
What an unspeakable tragedy and it is everywhere, giving our lives to nothingness, worthlessness, and many times damning the homes and the hearts of others, mostly those who are the most loved.
When I think of these things, being a minister and being a pastor, I come back to the dedicated, consecrated life of our Lord. Poor: He was born in a stable, laid in a manger, where you feed the ox. In the prime of His ministry He said, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head" [Matthew 8:20]. He had nothing.
Hungry: forty days and He was an hungered [Matthew 4:2]. Thirsty: He cried from the cross, "I thirst" [John 19:28]. Loneliness: "My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" [Matthew 27:46]. "Weary: He sat thus by the well" [John 4:6]. Our Lord had nothing.
When they gambled at the foot of the cross, He had four pieces of clothing: a headdress, a sash, an outer garment, and an inner garment. That was all. And yet, and yet our Lord is literally the Savior of the world.
In 300 AD – think how long ago – Gregory of Nazianzus over there in Cappadocia preached a sermon:
Christ hungered as a man,
but He fed the hungry as God.
He was hungry as a man,
Yet He is the bread of life.
He was athirst as a man,
Yet He says, "Let him who is athirst
come unto Me and drink."
He was weary,
And yet He is our rest.
[Written by St. Gregory of Nazianzus AD 388]
And on and on; the marvelous, wonderful things about our Lord who said nothing, had nothing, possessed nothing.
And the infinite blessings that come from our Savior, from heaven: He took upon Himself, not the form of angels, but the form of a child of humanity, was tried in all points as we are. "Wherefore come boldly" [Hebrews 4:16]. There’s not any problem you have that He cannot solve. There’s no need He cannot supply, our blessed Lord.
And in this life, He gives purpose to everything that we experience in our suffering. If the Lord is with us, there is purpose and meaning in our trials, in our sicknesses, in our illnesses, in our despair. He gives meaning and purpose to our lives. This is my life and lot in His gracious hands and whatever He chooses the best for me.
As a little lad, running to catch the street car, crippled, "Wait up, Mister Conductor, wait up," he called. The conductor stopped the car and let the little boy on. And he sat down and there was a dear man by his side, and he said to him, "Son, you’re so crippled, you’re so crippled," talked to the lad. And the little boy replied, "My mother says, ‘God gives us, always, the best gifts for us. And she says we are to be happy.’ God has given me His best gift."
Lord God to be that way. He gives us purpose in every trouble and every trial in our lives. There’s a reason for it. He is making us strong in Him.
Purpose: in the providences of life, waiting upon God, waiting upon Him; I hae here, I’ve written a copy of John Milton on his blindness.
When I consider how my light is spent
E’re half my days, in this dark world and wide,
– He was forty years old when he became blind –
And that one Talent which is death to hide,
He was caught up in that whirlwind of conflict under Oliver Cromwell, but he loved to write poetry. And the last verse,
They also serve who only stand and wait.
[from "On His Blindness" by John Milton]
Did you ever read this? This is John Ruskin’s essay on "The Music of a Rest":
There is no music in a rest, but there is the making of music in it. In our whole life melody, the music is broken off here and there by "rests,"
And we foolishly think we have come to the end of [time]. God sends a time of forced leisure – sickness, disappointed plans, frustrated efforts – and makes a sudden pause in the choral hymn of our lives, and we lament that our voices must be silent, and our part missing in the music which ever goes up to the ear of the Creator. How does the Musician read the rest? See Him beat the time with unvarying count and catch up the next note true and steady, as if no breaking place had come between.
Not without design does God write the music of our lives. [But] be it ours to learn the [time], and not to be dismayed at the "rests." They are not to be slurred over, nor to be omitted, nor to destroy in the melody, nor to change the key-note. If we look up, God Himself will beat the time for us. With our eyes upon Him, we shall strike the next note full and clear.
If we sadly say to ourselves, "There’s no music in a rest," let us not forget there is the making of music in it. The making of music is often a slow and painful work to teach. How long He waits for us to learn the lesson! These providences of life have purpose in them if we will seek the will and call of God for our lives.
Could I make one little aside there? Every time I hear the "Hallelujah Chorus," Handel’s "Hallelujah Chorus," you know it ends with four hallelujahs: hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah and then a long rest; just absolute silence and then that glorious last climatic Hal-le-lu-jah. And as I listen to that, I think, "That must be the most effective part of that marvelous paean of praise, the quiet, the rest." And God, many times, forces that upon us.
I’m saying it is wonderful, with purpose of heart, we cling unto the Lord. I’m meaning in every providence of our lives, purpose, God’s will for us.
We now are going to sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing the song, in the throng around, out of the balcony, you, in the press of people on this lower floor, you, "Pastor, God has spoken to my heart, and I’m giving my life and dedicating my days to Him, and here I stand. I want to accept the Lord Jesus as my personal Savior," welcome. "A whole family of us are coming into the fellowship of this dear church," a thousand times, welcome. "We’re answering God’s call in our hearts, and I’m on the way," welcome. While we sing this hymn, on the first note of the first stanza, that first step will be the most meaningful you’ve ever taken in our life. Take it now, welcome now, while we stand and while we sing.