The Pleading of God
June 16th, 1985 @ 10:50 AM
THE PLEADING OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-16-85 10:50 a.m.
This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor of bringing the message. In our preaching through the Book of Ezekiel, we have come to chapter 33, and the sermon is an exposition of this thirty-third chapter of Ezekiel. It is entitled The Pleading of God.
I wish I had time to read the whole chapter, but we instead will just take those verses that pertain to the development of the message. We begin with verse 17, Ezekiel 33:17. It comprises a bitter complaint of the children of the Babylonian captivity against their God. Verse 17, “The children of thy people say, The way of the Lord is not takan,” translated here “equal,” “the way of the Lord is not takan [Ezekiel 33:17]. It is not fair. It is not just. God acts without principle.” That is the meaning of that Hebrew word takan. “God’s attitude, and His relevancy, and His judgments, and His visitations about and against our people are without justice, without principle, without fairness, without equality.” “The way of the Lord is not takan” [Ezekiel 33:17].
Now they give a reason for that bitter response to the judgment of God. In verse 10, “O son of man, speak unto the house of Israel” [Ezekiel 33:10]. This is what they say; “If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we maqaq,” translated here “pine away in them, how shall we then live?” [Ezekiel 33:10]. Maqaq, translated here “pine away,” the word means to waste away, to be consumed, to wither away. “If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, we wither away in them. We are consumed by the judgments upon them. How then shall we live?” [Ezekiel 33:10].
In verse 4 and in verse 9 of this chapter 33 in Ezekiel, the people admit, “We are sinners.” That’s right. “And we have not taken warning from our watchman” [Ezekiel 33:4, 9]. That’s right. “But having sinned, and we have, and having refused the warning of the watchman, and we have, what is there left for us but to die, but to be damned, but to be lost?”; maqaq, to wither away, to be consumed away in them [Ezekiel 33:10]. The attitude of the people is, “There is no hope. God is against us. And we enter into His judgments, damned, lost, no way out, or to be saved, or to be delivered” [Ezekiel 33:10].
If you’ve ever read The Divine Comedy by Dante—that is one of the greatest poems in all human literature, all of it—he divided it into three sections. The first is “The Inferno,” the second is “The Purgatorio,” the third is “The Paradiso.” He begins that first one, “The Inferno,” as he enters into the depths of the depravity and damnation of mankind. As he enters the door, he reads a caption over it, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” That is exactly and precisely what the children of the captivity wrote over their lives, and their homes, and their destinies. “There is no hope. God has judged us and is against us. And His dealings with us are not fair, takan. They are not equal. They are not just. They are without principle” [Ezekiel 33:17].
That is the philosophy of those Greek Epicureans, “Let’s eat, and drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we are going to be damned, we are going to die, and there is no other way out” [1 Corinthians 15:32]. Thus the attitude of these people of the captivity: “We have sinned. The judgment of God is upon us, and nothing awaits us but damnation, judgment, lostness” [Ezekiel 33:10].
That gave rise to the answer of the Lord which is the subject of this message. “Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will you die?” [Ezekiel 33:11]. The Lord God comes out of His holy and heavenly sanctuary and He speaks, He addresses His people personally. And He lifts up His hand to heaven, and because He can swear by none greater, He swears by Himself [Hebrews 6:13], not by His throne, not by His temple, not by His angels. But He raises His hand to heaven and He says, “As I live, by My life, says the Lord God.”
And what does He avow? What is the substance of His oath? It is this, “I have no pleasure in the death, the damnation, the judgment of the wicked” [Ezekiel 33:11]. God looks over this whole earth and sees the misery and the sorrow of man, self-imposed. And God opens the gates of hell, and He looks into hell, and He hears the cries and the groans of those who are in the awful pit of damnation. And the Lord, seeing the cries and the tears and the sorrows and the miseries of man, He says, “As I live, swearing by Myself, I have no pleasure, I do not rejoice, in the damnation of these who class themselves into the miseries of human life, and ultimately into the damnations of the deepest hell” [Ezekiel 33:11].
God is so marvelously described in the one hundred third Psalm: merciful, and longsuffering, and pitiful, as a father would pity His children [Psalm 103:13]. What has happened to us, we have sinned against light, and still God does not cut us down. We have done despite unto the Spirit of grace, and yet God does not condemn us. We have trodden underfoot the Son of the great, loving heart of the Almighty, and yet God is patient with us [Hebrews 10:28-29]. But there comes a time when the judgment falls upon us [Hebrews 10:30-31]. We bring it upon ourselves. With all that God can do and has done to deliver us, we still persevere in our purveys, and ungodly, and rejecting ways, and the judgment comes [Romans 2:3-11; Hebrews 6:4-8].
This is no pleasure to the Lord God. For a man to fall into evil and to judgment and damnation and the sorrows and the tears and miseries of life, these things do not bring gladness and pleasure to the Lord. God says, “My pleasure is when the wicked turns from his way and live” [Ezekiel 33:11]. “It is the goodness of God that leadeth us to repentance” [Romans 2:4]. He “is longsuffering, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” [2 Peter 3:9], all of us saved.
When I think of the program of God through the eternities and the ages, He has done all that even God could do to deliver us from our just, and blatant, and stated, and choice sins. God has done all that He could to deliver us from the damnation of our wicked ways. From the foundation of the earth the Lamb has been slain [Revelation 13:8]. God has given the Lord Jesus Christ to save us and to wash us from our sins [Revelation 1:5], and in His blood and grace to forgive us [Ephesians 1:7]. God has sent us the Holy Spirit that He might take away our stony hearts and give us a heart of love and an acceptance [Ezekiel 36:26]. And God hath given us all of the treasures of heaven itself to sustain us, and to support us, and to encourage us. And the dear Lord God hath promised us all of the fullnesses and glories that He Himself possesses [Ephesians 1:22-23, 3:19, 4:13]. God has given all of it to us.
That is what He takes pleasure in, when we respond, when we are grateful, when we receive His salvation, when we rejoice in His grace and in His goodness. He likens Himself unto a father who is so happy he is beside himself when the prodigal boy comes back home [Luke 15:20-24, 32]. God is like that. He says that even when one somebody turns, there is joy in the presence of the angels of heaven [Luke 15:10]. God rises to meet us. Just as when any man, any woman, any child, any youth comes down one of these aisles, there are men here to rejoice in greeting them. God does that! He rises to meet any man who responds in faith, and in gratitude, and goodness and appreciation and reception and acceptance of what God has done for him.
The message of the Lord God is not one of damnation; it is one of salvation. The Lord does not bring to us death. He brings to us life. The Lord does not bring to us darkness but light, not misery but happiness. When He comes into our hearts and lives, and we open our souls to Him, there is rejoicing. That’s God!
I read this week in preparing this message, I read about a contingency of the American Army in the last World War II. They had driven the enemy out of a little French village. And this little group of American soldiers had entered the village to possess it after the enemy, the brutal enemy, had been driven out. And when the contingency of American men entered that French village, the few villagers who remained simply went wild with joy! They clapped their hands! They wept and sobbed and cried! They sang and danced and they kissed the soldiers! And the captain of the company said to the little band of villagers, “I can understand why you’d be glad to see us, but I cannot understand the ecstasy!” And one of the older women in the village said, “Oh monsieur, monsieur, you don’t know, you don’t realize from what you have saved us!”
That’s what God means to us. We who have been saved, we who have found refuge in Him, we could never ever realize from what God has delivered us. But the Lord rejoices in it. That is His pleasure. That’s what makes the heart of God glad. When somebody responds, when somebody receives, when somebody opens His heart to the Lord Jesus, when somebody comes down that aisle to confess his faith in the Savior, that makes God glad. That is the rejoicing and the pleasure of the Almighty.
Then he closes the beautiful word with an appeal, the pleading of God. “Turn ye, turn ye, from your wicked ways, your ways of rejection and unbelief; for why will ye die?” [Ezekiel 33:11]. Who pleads? Who begs? A creature to his creator, or a subject to his sovereign, or a slave to his master, the lesser to the greater, always. Here it is turned oppositely around. It is the great Almighty who is pleading with the creature that He made; the pleading of God [Ephesians 33:11].
One time when I was in Copenhagen, Denmark, I asked that I be taken to the church where Thorvaldsen’s The Pleading Christ is placed. I think that is the most beautiful piece of statuary in the world. It is a picture of our Lord standing with His hands outstretched, “Come unto Me” [Matthew 11:28], the pleading Christ. This is a picture of the Lord God as He stands pleading with the creatures that He has made. It is He that hath made us [Psalm 100:3]. He is our great Lord and Sovereign, and yet He pleads with us whom He has made out of the dust of His ground [Psalm 103:8-14]. He pleads with us. What does He plead? He pleads, “Turn ye, turn ye” [Ezekiel 33:11]. Twice does He voice it, “Turn ye,” shub. That is the best definition of repentance that you could find in all of the Bible. It is sometimes translated, “repentance.”
For example, when King Solomon dedicated the temple, he knelt on a great platform where the people could see him, and he spread out his hands before the Lord [1 Kings 8:22], and he prayed and said,
If my people sin against Thee, (for there is no one that sinneth not,)…and Thou deliver them to their enemies.
And in that land they bethink themselves . . . and shub, translated here “repent,” shub, and make supplication unto Thee in the land . . . saying, We have sinned.
And so shub—translated here return—unto Thee with all their heart. . .
Then forgive their sin and restore them to their land.
[1 Kings 8:46-50]
Ezekiel loved to use it. In the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Ezekiel he says when a man has idols, “sets up idols in his heart . . . and because they are estranged from Me because of the idols in their heart,” tell these people that, “Thus saith the Lord God; shub, translated here, Repent, and shub, translated here turn, and shub, turn away, from all your abominations” [Ezekiel 14:4-6]. Turn! Repent!
One other instance of that out of many is in the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, because of the transgressions of the people:
Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord. Shub, Repent, and shub, turn yourselves from all your transgressions . . .
Cast away all your transgressions . . . make you a new heart and a new spirit. . .
For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God; therefore, shub, shub, turn, and live.
[Ezekiel 18:30, 31]
The Greek of that word shub is exactly the same. Shub, turn, metanoeō going this way, change your way, change your attitude, change your choice, change your mind. Turn and go this way.
So many times we have the persuasion that if I don’t feel so and so, and I don’t have an emotional response so and so, therefore, this is not of God. There’s not an iota of biblical truth of that. This matter of shub or metanoeō or turning is a matter of a man’s choice. It’s a volitional commitment.
I one time heard of a hillbilly up there in the Ozarks and a fellow driving along in the road stopped and said, “I want to go to such and such town, how far is it?” And the hillbilly up there in the Ozarks said, “Well, mister, its 24,999 miles that way, but if you will turn around, it is just five miles that way.” Now, that is exactly what shub means. That is what metanoeō means. That is what repentance means. Repentance is: I’ve been going away from God, changed my mind, I’m going toward Him! I’ve not had time for the Lord; changed my mind, I’m taking time for Him! Heretofore, I’ve passed by the appeals and the love and the grace of the Lord Jesus, now I listen to His sweet voice in my soul. I haven’t had time for church, or Bible, or prayer, but I’ve changed my mind! I’ve changed my way of life and living! I am now turning my face toward God! That is repentance, without which a man cannot be saved. You have got to turn. You have got to change. You have to do it. Shub, metanoeō, turn! And that’s the appeal of the Lord God, “Turn ye, turn ye” [Ezekiel 33:11].
You know all living nature is like that. It turns toward the sun. It turns toward heaven. It turns toward God. If you have a plant on the inside of your house and you put it anywhere, it will turn toward the light. It will turn toward the window. These flowers that God made, they turn their faces to the light, to heaven. If you have ever watched the sunflower, in the morning its face will be toward the east. It will follow the sun all day long and in the evening, its face will be toward the west. We are to be that way, turning in our hearts and our souls toward the Lord God. That’s what it is to be saved. That’s what it is to repent. That is what it is to receive Jesus, is to turn toward Him. And that’s the appeal of the Lord God. “Turn ye, turn ye, turn ye.”
And then He asks an unanswerable question, “For why will ye die?” [Ezekiel 33:11]. Why will you die? Why would a man choose to cast himself away from God into a place that Jesus described, where the worm dieth not, where the fire is not quenched [Mark 9;43-48], and where there is eternal loneliness and darkness? [Jude 1:13]. Why would a man do that? Why would a man choose in his soul and in his life to climb a mountain that has no top? Why would he cast himself into a dark pit that has no bottom? Why would a man choose to cross a sea that has no shore? What profit would it be to a man to desire shipwreck, to sit down at a table with poison food? What profit is it to a man to cast himself into the flame of fire? God asks, “Why will ye die? Why?” [Ezekiel 33:11].
I say it is an unanswerable question. It has no reasonable response. Why would a man unconverted, uncommitted, unresponsive, why would a man walk through the days of this life like a living sepulcher? All he is doing is waiting to be buried, waiting to die. Why would a man do that? Why would a man be a parking lot for all of the emptinesses and sterilities of life: accumulate stuff or accumulate junk or accumulate bonds and money and wealth or titles and deeds and lands and then leave it all behind? Why would a man do that? Why would a man make his life a garbage pail in which to collect all the garbage of life, the inanities, and the nothingnesses, and the emptinesses of life, and come to the end of the way and leave it all? Why would a man do that?
I was never introduced to great wealth until I came to Dallas. I was seated one evening in the home of one of the richest men in this city. There’s a big building here now that he built. One of the tremendous businessmen in the city, a founder of a great corporation, I was seated by him in his home. And for some reason, I do not know why, for just some reason, because I was his pastor and just loving me, or nice to me, or talking out loud in his soul to me, he had a book about that big. And on the inside of that book he had listed the possessions of his lifetime. I had never seen anything like that: page, after page, after page of millions of dollars of investments. And when he got through and had gone through that book with me, he took the book and he shoved it to the end of the table and he said, “It is nothing but trash, nothing but trash!”
And when I buried him, I finally came to know what he meant, what he meant. It is nothing but trash! The millions and the millions of the dollars that he had and all the investments, and lands, and stocks, and bonds, and corporate accumulation, all of it he said is nothing but trash. And when I buried him, I understood. Man, why would anyone fill his life full of the inanities, and the garbage, and the sterilities, and all of the nothingnesses and worthlessnesses of life, just to leave it, just to leave it? And he isn’t rich toward God, and he hasn’t taken time for the Lord [Luke 12:16-21]. Why would a man do that? That’s what God asked. And it is an unanswerable question. There is no answer to it. No reasonable answer to it.
Then why doesn’t a man turn? And in the brevity of the years of this life, why doesn’t he make room for God in his soul, and in his heart, and in his life? Why doesn’t he take what he has and devote it to the service of God and take the gifts that God has given to him and use them to exalt the Lord and extend the kingdom of Jesus? Why doesn’t a man do that? Why doesn’t he give his life to Jesus and his house, and his home, and his property, and everything that he has? Why doesn’t he look up to heaven and God to bless him? Why doesn’t he do that?
The answer lies in the deceptive subtlety of Satan. This road leads to hell and this road leads to heaven and the man stands, shub, and he makes his choice. And most of them choose: “this road leads to hell,” “this road leads to damnation,” “this road leads to loss,” “this road leads to darkness and separation.” Why doesn’t he turn and go this way? It is the deception of Satan, the god of this world [2 Corinthians 4:4]. Satan changes the signposts to the cities of refuge and the man is lost. And he goes the wrong way and he makes the wrong choice.
Satan is a subtle beast, I say. He whispers to the man, and he says, “What? Give your life to the Lord and lose all of the joys and the pleasures of life? Why, man, you got time to do that on your deathbed. You can repent then. You can change then. You can turn then. Wait. And right now in these days of prime strength and health, live it up. Live it up!” That’s Satan’s deception.
My brother, there are no joys, and there are no pleasures, and there are no gladnesses, and there are no rewards in life comparable to loving and serving the Lord Jesus. There are none. These things out there in the world that are blandishments and enticements, these are as shallow as an infinitesimal veneer. The depths and the realities of the great joys, and gladnesses, and pleasures of life are found in the goodness, and grace, and riches of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But he persuades. He persuades. He says, he says, “Listen, listen to me.” He says, “All of these things in life you enjoy, and then you find time for God when the day comes to die, and you will ultimately be saved. You don’t have to worry about the blowing of the trumpet. You don’t have to worry about the warnings from the Bible. You don’t even have to listen to the exhortations of the preacher. You just wait until the end of life, and all will be well, and you will be saved, and you will go to heaven when you die.”
That is Satan, the subtle beast of the field [Genesis 3:1]. He deceives us. He deceives us. He says to us, “Listen, salvation is more complicated than this thing of just giving your heart to the Lord Jesus, just accepting Him as your Lord and Savior. Man, man, you wait for some kind,” but he never describes it, “some kind of a great feeling. Some kind of a tremendously moving emotion, you wait for that, and don’t you go down that aisle until you get that feeling.” That is one of the most subtle deceptions that the mind of Satan could think for. You are saved or lost according to a choice that you make. Whosoever wills, whosoever decides, whoever commits himself, let him come [Revelation 22:17].
However you feel! Man alive! This thing is a matter of choice. It’s a matter of shub. It’s a matter of metanoeō. It’s a matter of a commitment. “Lord, Lord, I have decided to follow Jesus” [Matthew 16:24]. That’s it. That’s it. That’s it.
He deceives us. “You’re not ready. You wait until some other time, maybe tomorrow, maybe the next day, maybe the next Sunday, maybe some other service but not now, not now, at a more convenient season, you just wait, you just wait. No matter what the preacher says, no matter what the appeal he makes, the songs we sing or the gospel message that we deliver. Don’t you listen to him,” says Satan. That’s the deception of Satan.
Why is it that the man chooses to die and not to live? It is because he thinks the call is for somebody else. The trumpet is blown. The watchman raises the instrument and he blasts the call of God! And the man hears it. They all hear it. But this man over here says, “Now that’s for him, that’s not for me. That’s for him or for them or for them. But it’s not for us; somebody else, but not me. Somebody else may be able, ready, or willing to come down this aisle today, but not I. Not I. The call is for them.”
Once in a while you’ll find somebody who doesn’t like the trumpet or doesn’t like him that blows the trumpet. What does it matter who’s blowing the trumpet or what trumpet he has in his hand? If a man sees a building on fire and he hollers, “Fire!” what does it matter about the voice of the man? Man, let’s escape for our lives. Let’s find refuge in God.
The man says, listening to the voice of Satan, “Listen, you’re too busy for something else. Man alive. Look at what you’ve got to do. There’s entertainment, all kinds of things and things and things.” And there’s no time for God. There’s no time for the church. There’s no time for the Bible. There’s no time for prayer. There’s no time for listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit in your heart. You are too busy. You just live all of that out of your life. And fill it with all of these. And the Lord only knows how empty these other things are. And finally, the man learns he just has time to die and that’s all, just has time to die and that’s all. “Turn ye, turn ye,” saith the Lord, “for why will ye die?” [Ezekiel 33:11].
I’ve been a pastor, as all of you know, for fifty-eight years. Fifty-eight years, I have watched people, worked with people, prayed with people, visited with the people, have seen them open their hearts to the Lord, and have seem them world without end close their hearts to God. In all the fifty-eight years that I have been a pastor, I have never yet seen a man, or a woman, or a youngster, or a anybody, I’ve never yet seen anyone who opened his heart to the Lord Jesus and accepted the Lord as his Savior, I’ve never seen anyone who did that but who was infinitely blessed and enriched by heaven and God Himself. It’s the way of life, and light, and glory, and happiness and ultimately heaven. Don’t lose anything in this life; man alive, when a man takes Christ as his Savior in his business, God will bless him and help him to be honest, to be fair, to be Christian, to be in a beautiful attitude toward the men he is working with. Men are sensitive to that. Men are sensitive to that.
I don’t want to take time to elaborate on this forever. Let me just take one leaf out of my life. Just one leaf out of a thousand thousand along these fifty-eight years, let me just take one. In my first pastorate out of the seminary, my first full-time pastorate, there was a young fellow there in the city whose wife was a very devout Christian and a member of the church, but he was everything but. He was as worldly as he could be. He was a salesman for a national meat packing company. And he called on all those grocery stores in that part of the world. Well, God helped me, and we won that young fellow to the Lord Jesus, won him to the Lord Jesus. And I baptized him. He had a little family, and they were all so happy.
Well, after about three months he came to me and he said, “Pastor, I don’t know what to do and I don’t know where to turn. I have lost all of my business since I have become a Christian.” Now these are the days of the Depression, and he says, “I don’t know what to do. We are facing starvation in my little family and I don’t know where to turn.” Well, I said, “What do you mean, since you became a Christian?” Well, he said, “When I came down that aisle and gave my heart to the Lord and you baptized me and I became a Christian,” he said, “when I went out to call on my customers, I refused to drink with them any longer, and I refused to gamble with them any longer, and I refused to whoremonger with them any longer. And they’ve cut me out and they’ve cut me back. And I don’t have any business anymore. They don’t like me. And they don’t buy from me anymore. And I don’t know what to do or where to turn.”
I said, “Young fellow, if God doesn’t take care of you, there’s not any God and I ought not to be preaching Him. Having given your heart to the Lord, and having started out in a Christian life serving Jesus, if God doesn’t bless you, then I ought not to preach His name.” It’s not profitable, it’s not good. It’s not for your family, it’s not for your children, it’s not for your wife, it’s not for your home to be a Christian. And I said, “You get down here and let’s pray and let’s tell the Lord all about it.” So we got down on our knees and we prayed and recommitted our lives to the Lord Jesus. No matter what, we are going to serve Him.
Did you know about after six weeks he came back to me, and he said, “Preacher, I want to tell you, I can’t describe what has happened to me? I can’t describe it.” He said, “You know these men are beginning to say to one another, ‘You know that young fellow from such and such meat packing company, he’s a Christian. And you can count on what he says. When he describes the product, it will be exactly as he says. He’ll tell you the truth. And it’s good to do business with him.’” And he said, “Pastor, even in the Depression, I’ve got more business now than I can put my arms around–got more business now than I know what to do with.”
I think that’s God. For a man to accept the Lord as his Savior and to walk that pilgrim road to glory, to be honest, and to be fair, and to be good, and to be committed to God is the finest thing that a man can do. And that’s what God says. That’s life. That’s living. That’s the true riches. That’s everything that the Lord hath purposed for us in our lives.
Why, even in our Christian faith, when sorrows come and illnesses come and finally death comes, that’s not anything for us. Jesus bears it with us. He is our Friend. No tears ever come to us that He didn’t cry. No heartache ever comes to us that His heart didn’t break. No disappointments, and tragedies, and sorrows could ever sweep us that He didn’t know all about.
And finally to die, but oh, to do it in the faith, in the love, in the grace of the Lord Jesus is the most precious possession in this world [John 5:24]. And that is the gospel we preach to you this glad, precious, wonderful day. What a heavenly hour to answer with your life to the call of God in your soul, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me and I’m coming. This is my wife and these are our children, all of us are coming today, the whole family of us.” Or just two, or just one somebody you, “Pastor, today I have accepted Jesus in my heart, and here I stand [Romans 10:8-13; Ephesians 2:8]. In open unashamed confession of Him, I’m coming. The Lord has spoken to me in a special way, and I am answering God’s call and voice with my life.” As the Spirit of the Lord shall press the appeal upon your heart, say yes to God. “Yes, Lord.” And come and stand here with us. If you are in the balcony round there is a stairway at the front and the back and on each side, and there is time and to spare, come. In the press of people on this lower floor, down any one of these aisles, “Pastor, the Lord has called. God has spoken and I am on the way.” Make it now. Do it now. Stand with us now. Give your heart in answer to God’s call now, and it will be ten thousand wonderful blessings that attend your way now, and someday when we rejoice around His throne in heaven. Do it now. Make it now. On the first note of the first stanza, “Here I am, preacher.” God bless you, angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing. “Here I am, pastor.”