HOW THE DEATH OF CHRIST SAVES US
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-16-86 8:15 a.m.
In our preaching through the Book of John we are in the third chapter, now let’s turn to it. And all of you who listen on radio, if you have a Bible read it out loud with us; verses 14 through 18. John chapter 3, verses 14 through 18. The title of the message is How the Death of Christ Saves Us. Find it? Fourteen through 18, chapter 3, now together:
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.
He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
And the marvelous and incomparably precious, meaningful text, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life."
"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness," a story recounted in the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Numbers, "so must the Son of Man be lifted up," high, conspicuous, between earth and heaven. But not lifted up as on a throne in Herod’s palace, or on a dais in the court of Caesar; but high and lifted up like a serpent, dead on a pole, slain for the healing of the people.
The exaltation and the ascension and the dignity and glory of our Lord is certain and assured. It is a part of the sovereign purpose of God that our Lord be high and lifted up. "God hath given Him a name which is above every name," [Philippians 2:9]. "That in all things He might have the preeminence," [Colossians 1:18]. "Above all principality and power, things present, things to come, in earth and in heaven," [Ephesians 1:21].
But this ascension and this glory and this dignity is not bestowed upon our Lord by popular plebiscite, by acclamation on the part of the people; it’s a glory and a dignity that is bestowed upon Christ because He died for the human race. It is a glory and a dignity and an ascension not won by military prowess or conquest, but by dying for a sinful people, "the just for the unjust" [1 Peter 3:18]. And this ascension of our Lord into the great place of glory and dignity, in the flaunting of banners and the blowing of trumpets, is not by the acclamation of the people, but it is by blood and suffering and death. It’s like a serpent raised high on a pole.
The story begins in a plague – death in sin: seemingly the whole world was filled with those tenuous, slender, poisonous vipers; the whole race subject to the strike of the asp and the scorpion and the adder. The bite was so slight it could hardly be seen upon the skin, but the inside was swollen and fever and convulsed and brought death. Sin has entered into every heart, every home, every house, every life; the young, the old, the rich, the poor, the learned, the unlearned, all alike. The one common denominator for all mankind is we are a fallen and sinful people. It’s like the old time doctrine of total depravity: not that we are as vile and sinful as we can be, but that sin has entered into all of our emotions, and into all of our faculties. And however we may extenuate or philosophize or justify or reason, the fact brutal and dark abides. Like the old man of the sea, on the back of mankind, choking the life to death. Sin is that in the human family. And our cemeteries, our jails, our penitentiaries, all of the things that bring to us tears and sorrow in life, these are a vast, great "amen" to the universal presence and fact of sin.
It begins in a plague: the story begins in the disobedience of the people [Numbers 21:4-9] and sin has that power to destroy. The strongest man who ever lived, Samson, they bound him and they put out his eyes and he did grind at the prison mill. Sin binds and it blinds and it grinds and it grinds. It destroyed the wisest man who ever lived: Solomon bequeathed to his son a divided and bitter kingdom. It destroyed the man after God’s own heart: Nathan the prophet said to David, "The sword will never leave your house" [2 Samuel 12:10]. And the story of David and the kingdom after him is written in blood, in sorrow, in tears, in incest, in rape, in violence, in war and in death. As the Scriptures say, "The soul that sins shall die" [Ezekiel 18:4, 20],and "The wages of sin is death" [Romans 6:23]. Physical death – I shall certainly die, spiritual death, emotional death, the second death – eternal death; and we are helpless before it.
This earth is thousands of years old, but we’re still the same as when Adam and Eve were driven out of the garden of Eden. Mankind has lifted itself out of ignorance and superstition; but we’re still on the same spiritual level of our first parents. With all of our vaunted achievement, we are a dying people: not if, but just when.
The remedy was like the disease itself. It’s a caduceus: seemingly for all the history of mankind, the sign of healing has been a serpent entwined and raised upon a pole. That’s one of the strangest things to me in human history. Always, through all of the centuries, if you see a hospital, or if you see a physician, or the doctor, that’s the sign of their healing, a serpent raised on a pole; an amazing sign.
A brazen serpent, not an actual snake – venomous, poisonous, should have been destroyed – just reminding us how many others there were still afflicting mankind; but a brazen serpent, representative of all of the poisonous vipers that destroy our lives, and raised there in the midst of the camp. So our Lord – pure, and sinless, and holy, and undefiled – not just a sinner dying for his own guilt, not just another crucified thief, but the pure and holy Lord Jesus, made in the likeness of sinful flesh, bearing in His body all of the poison and sin and hurt of the world, dying for us. Sin: limp, drooping, dead, its fangs extracted. And so certainly dead, it needs no second blow and no bones broken; like a brazen serpent raised on a pole, so certainly dead.
And this is the incomparable gospel of Jesus Christ: look and live! Our salvation from sin, look and live! The method is in a moral act to turn and to believe and to trust; just look. Less could not have been required and more on the part of some could not have been offered; just look and live. What an amazing gospel! In a simple moral act of turning and trusting, believing that God will keep His word; just look and live.
So oft times are healings and savings like that. The woman with an issue of blood: "If I but just touch the hem of His garment, I will be saved," [Matthew 9:21] just touch. Or the crucified thief: "If I just turn my head and ask, I’ll be remembered" [Luke 23:42]. Or like the publican: "Lord, have mercy upon me" [Luke 18:13]. Just to turn, just to ask, just to look.
There is life for a look at the Crucified One,
There is life at this moment for thee;
Then look, sinner, look unto Him and be saved,
Unto Him who was nailed to the tree.
["There is Life for a Look"; Amelia M. Hull]
As many of you know, I read Spurgeon all the time; the greatest preacher of the gospel who ever lived. Even as a youth they could find no place large enough to accommodate the people. They took him to the Crystal Palace in London seating twenty thousand people, and they couldn’t get in. He was the most famous preacher in the world at twenty-two years of age, the incomparable Spurgeon. How was he saved? He was so burdened and so distressed and so lost, how was he saved? Let him tell us in his own words:
I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair until now had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm one Sunday morning while I was going to a certain place of worship. I turned down a side street, and came to a little primitive Methodist church. In that chapel there may have been a dozen people.
I made that journey, sought out that little side street, and went into that chapel. And there on the side under the gallery, a large bronze plaque where Spurgeon was saved.
The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed up. At last, a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker or tailor or something of that sort went up into the pulpit to preach. He was obliged to stick to his text. And the text was, "Look unto Me, look unto Me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth" [Isaiah 45:22]. He did not even pronounce the words rightly; but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimmer of hope for me in that text.
The preacher began thus, "This is a very simple text indeed. It says, ‘Look.’ Now looking don’t take a deal of pain, it ain’t lifting up your finger or your foot; it is just, ‘Look.’ Well, a man needn’t go to college to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth a thousand a year to look. Anyone can look. Even a child can look. But then the text says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Ay," he said in broad Essex, "many of ye are looking to yourselves; but it’s no use looking there. You’ll never find any comfort in yourselves. Jesus says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Some of ye say, ‘We must wait for the Spirit’s working.’ You have no business with that. Just now look to Christ, the text says, ‘Look unto Me.’"
Then the good man followed up his text in this way, "’Look unto Me, I am sweating great drops of blood. Look unto Me, I am hanging on the cross. Look unto Me, I am dead and buried. Look unto Me, I am risen again. Look unto Me, I ascend to heaven. Look unto Me, I am sitting at the Father’s right hand. Oh poor sinner, look unto Me, look unto Me.’"
When he had managed to spin out about ten minutes or so, he was at the end of his tether. Then he looked at me, under the gallery. Just fixing his eyes on me as if he knew all my heart, he said, "Young man, you look so miserable." Well I did. He continued, "And you will always be miserable, miserable in life, and miserable in death, if you don’t obey my text. But if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved." Then lifting up his hands, he shouted as only a primitive Methodist could do, "Young man, look to Jesus! Look! Look! Look! You have nothing to do but to look and live!"
I saw at once the way of salvation. I have been waiting to do fifty different things, but when I heard that word "look," what a glorious word, it seemed to me, oh! I looked until I could have looked my eyes away.
Then he quotes from the wonderful hymn of William Cowper; and the stanza is inscribed on the side of the sarcophagus in which Spurgeon’s body is laid. "Now I can say," he continues:
E’er since, by faith, I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
and shall be till I die.
["There is a Fountain Filled with Blood"]
I thought I could have sprung from the seat in which I sat and have called out with the wildest of those Methodist brethren, "I am forgiven! I am forgiven; a monument of grace, a sinner saved by blood." My spirit saw its chains broken, an heir of heaven, a forgiven one, accepted in Christ Jesus, plucked out of the miry clay and out of the horrible pit with my feet set upon a rock.
How many times do we seek to explain God; the inexplicable, the unapproachable, the unsearchable, the inscrutable? It can never be done by mortal, finite human mind. It is by faith. It’s by trust; it’s by commitment, and it is in no other way.
I’ve a message from the Lord, Hallelujah!
It is only that you look and live.
Look and live, my brother, live,
Look to Jesus Christ and live;
‘Tis recorded in His Word, Hallelujah!
It is only that you look and live.
["I’ve a Message from the Lord"; William A. Ogden]
What a marvelous gospel! Even the humblest among us can look. A child can look. God made it so any one of us could find the way to heaven and love our Lord forever.
And that is our appeal to your heart this blessed, beautiful Sabbath day morning. Looking to Jesus; just trusting Him, loving Him, following Him, believing in Him, living in Him, dying in Him. That’s the way God hath opened for us the doors of heaven. And we invite you to share that pilgrimage with us. Come, come, "This day I accept the Lord as my Savior, and here I stand." Or, "I’m bringing my family into the circle of the fellowship of this wonderful church and here we come." Or to answer the call of the Spirit of God in your heart, as the Lord shall speak and make appeal, answer with your life. Do it now, and welcome. While we stand and while we sing.