THE GOD-SENT MAN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
John 1:6 and 3:22-36
7-27-86 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church delivering the message from the Gospel of John. And the message is entitled The God-Sent Man, the God-called man, the God-ordained man, the God-breathed man, the God-inspired man. Let us turn to the Gospel of John the first chapter; John chapter 1. The text is the sixth verse, John 1:6, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.” Now in a moment we are going to stand in the deference of our souls to the revealed Word of the Lord and read out loud together verses 19 through 27; 19 through 27. Now do you have it? The Gospel of John chapter 1, verses 19 to 27. Now in the presence of the Lord may we stand together and read aloud verses 19 through 27?
And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?
And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.
And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elijah? And he said, I am not. Art thou that Prophet? And he answered, No.
Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?
He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Isaiah.
And they which were sent were of the Pharisees.
And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not the Christ, nor Elijah, neither that Prophet?
John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth One among you, whom ye know not;
He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.
Thank you. You may be seated.
The God-Sent Man, “And there was a man sent from God, whose name was John” [John 1:6]. God’s answer to human problems or revelation is always a man. We face our problems with the appointment of committees and organizations and programs but not God. God answers with a God-called, God-ordained man. You remember, in Exodus, the Lord said to Moses on the backside of the desert of Horeb, “I have seen the affliction of My people… I have heard their cries… Now behold… I send thee to Pharaoh to deliver My people Israel” [Exodus 3:7-10]. God’s answer is a man.
One of the most unusual pairs of verses that I ever read in the Bible is found in 1 Kings 21:
Jezebel said to Ahab—her husband and king of Israel—
Now arise… Possess: for Naboth is stoned, and dead.
[2 Kings 21:15]
And the next verse,
And the Lord God said to Elijah the Tishbite…
Arise, arise, go . . . into the vineyard of Naboth…
And say unto Ahab . . .Where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall the dogs lick up thy blood.
[2 Kings 21:17-19]
A God-sent man, a God-ordained man! In the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts, the apostle Paul before King Agrippa says:
And the Lord God said unto me, Arise, for this purpose have I called thee, ordained thee to be an emissary, a preacher, an ambassador,
to the Gentiles,
turning them from the darkness to the light.
God’s answer is always a man, a God-called man, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John” [John 1:6], a man with fire in his heart. Matthew begins the gospel, in the third chapter, in the first verse: “In those days came John the Baptist, kērussō [Matthew 3:1]. That’s an eloquent and dynamic word, kērussō”: heralding, trumpeting, crying, proclaiming, preaching, “In those days came John the Baptist, kērussō . . .” You could hear him clear to Jerusalem: the fire and the burning in his soul! Jesus said of him, “He was a burning and a shining light” [John 5:35], a man with fire in his heart.
You remember the call of Isaiah, when in the sixth chapter he describes the vision of the glorified Lord, high and lifted up [Isaiah 6:1]. While Isaiah looks upon the glorious Savior, whose countenance is like the sun [Revelation 1:16], one of the seraphim takes a tong and goes to the altar and there places, from the burning fire, coals upon the lips of Isaiah; his call to be a prophet of God, a burning [Isaiah 6:6-10].
Haven’t you been reading about these explorations on the bottom of the [ocean] floor north of Newfoundland, of the Titanic? Have you been reading that? Tell me, isn’t this true: the only difference between the iceberg that sank that ocean liner—with a loss of one thousand five hundred lives—the only difference between that iceberg and the bosom of the water upon which it floated is a matter of temperature. Isn’t that right? Truth on ice, cold and frosted, will never warm or convert the human soul. There has to be fire in it. There has to be a hot-hearted messenger delivering it—the God-sent man with fire in his soul.
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John” [John 1:6], a man whose faith is in his message. In that same third chapter of Matthew, the first verse, “In those days came John the Baptist, heralding, preaching, proclaiming in the wilderness” [Matthew 3:1] Tell me, would you have begun there in the wilderness, in a desert vacuity, sterile and burned up and empty, in the wilderness? But his message was for all creation, like that of Isaiah who begins his prophecy: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth…” [Isaiah 1:2]. He began the new dispensation, the new era. He introduced the Christian faith. And he addressed, in that great moment of excitement and revelation, he addressed the whole creation. Faith in his message: all would hear and did.
I cannot describe the excitement of the appearance of John the Baptist, the man sent from God [John 1:6]. For four hundred years—you think how long that is! The United States is barely beyond two hundred years of age—for four hundred years, there had been no prophet and no open vision. At the close of Malachi in the Old Testament, heaven seems to have closed its doors: the heavens were brass and the earth was iron [Deuteronomy 28:23]. Yet there was a longing and a praying and a sighing for the messianic kingdom and the coming King. And in that day of intensest longing, there appeared this burning, shining prophet of God [John 1:6]. Seven hundred-fifty years before, his coming had been prophesied by Isaiah [Isaiah 40:3]. Malachi closed his prophecy in the Old Testament with the description of the day of his appearing [Malachi 4:5-6]; and now that day had come. God’s prophet is raised and is speaking in their midst [John 1:19-27].
And what a sight he was! Rugged above the blandishments, and effeminacies, and enticements, and rewards of high society or political preferment, out in the desert, out in the wilderness, his meal–his meat–locust and wild honey. His raiment of black camel’s hair and girded about with a leathern girdle [Matthew 3:4]. And his voice like thunder; and his presence like the whirlwind; and his eyes flashing like flames of fire. I can just see that great prophet standing on the banks of the Jordan River; his locks are uncut—he’s a Nazarite like Samson [Judges 13:6-7], and Samuel [1 Samuel 1:11; Numbers 6:1-5] and Elijah [2 Kings 1:8]. His visage is stern and aesthetic, and his bearing is rugged, and his voice is like the judgment day of Almighty God.
They come to hear him: the Bible says all Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the regions round about Jordan [Matthew 3:5]. They are there by the uncounted multitudinous thousands. Everyone, seemingly, is in the hearing of John the Baptist, the man sent from God [John 1:6]. And I talk to them—we talk to them:
“Sir, have you gone to hear the great prophet?”
He says: “Yes! Yes!”
Well, I say: “What is he like?”
“Oh,” he says, “He’s like thunder. I never trembled so in my life as I heard him speak.”
“Well, what did he say?”
“I heard him say: ‘The axe is laid at the root of the tree: and the tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be hewn down, and cast into the fire’ [Matthew 3:10]. And I seemingly felt the burning and scorching of the flame.”
“Sir, you, have you heard John the Baptist?”
“Well, what is he like?”
“I felt in his presence that I was at the judgment day of Almighty God.”
“Well, what did he say?”
“I heard him say: ‘His fan is in His hand, and He shall thoroughly purge His threshing floor, gathering the wheat into the garner; and the chaff shall He burn with unquenchable fire’” [Matthew 3:12].
“You sir—did you hear him?”
“Yes, I went to hear him.”
“Well, what did he say?”
“He shook the very heavens. I heard him say to the Pharisees and to the Sadducees: ‘You generation of vipers! You hypocrites! Bring forth fruit meet for repentance: and begin not to say in your heart, ‘We are the children of Abraham:’ for God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham’” [Matthew 3:7-9; Luke 3:7-8].
“Sir, did he say that to their faces?”
“Yes, to their faces!”
What a prophet! What a man of God! Ah, standing before the whole world, introducing the new kingdom of holiness, and righteousness, and godliness, and salvation in the coming King, “The man sent from God, whose name is John” [John 1:6]. Beneath that rough, rugged exterior, the spirit and the heart of the man moved in another world. He is, of all men, in the presence of His glories. He is humble and self-effacing. Think of the glories of this John.
There was an angel from heaven by the name of Gabriel. He introduces himself to Zacharias the priest as the one who stands in the presence of God [Luke 1:19], a messenger of the Lord. And Gabriel says to Zacharias: “God will give you a son” [Luke 1:11-13].
“How could it be,” says the old priest, “for my wife is aged?” [Luke 1:18].
Gabriel says: “Nothing is too hard for God” [Luke 1:37].
Think of the miraculous, marvelous, heaven-announced birth of this prophet of God named John [Luke 1:57-80]. Look at him again. Ah, the hand of the Lord is upon him! The throngs and multitudes are there by the thousands and the thousands [Matthew 3:5; Luke 3:2-7]. And the Spirit of God is in his message. Think of a man in the wilderness, able to draw those great visitations from the ends of that Middle East world: John the Baptist.
Jesus said of him, “Of the men that are born of women, none is greater than John the Baptist” [Matthew 11:11]. The glories of that preacher! Not only that, but in that day of intensest longing for the messianic kingdom, the whole people, all of them, were ready to accept John as the coming Messiah. So they come before him and they barrage him with a barrage of questions: “You? You? Are you a prophet, escaped out of the rocky tomb? Are you a prophet?”
“No!” says John: “No!”
“Well, are you Elijah?”
“No!” says the prophet John.
“Well, are you the Christ, the coming One?”
“Well, are you the Prophet we are expecting and looking for!
“Well, who are you?”
And John replied: “I am neither and none. I am no one! I am a voice crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready! Get ready for the coming of the Lord!’ [John 1:19-23]. I am a herald. I am a trumpet. I am an announcer. I am just someone pointing the way to the coming of the Lord Jesus.”
I can’t believe such a messenger.
And he steps aside saying, “He must increase, I must decrease” [John 3:30].
And he fades into forgetfulness in the shadows. And Jesus, to whom he gave himself as introducer, takes over the kingdom of God [Matthew 4:17]. “I am just a voice [John 1:23]. I am just someone pointing to the Lord. Behold, the coming King!” [John 1:29]. That’s the way we ought to be, all of us making way for the Savior, pointing to Him, looking to Jesus. And then stepping out of the way, our humble service done that He might be glorified and all in all, just pointing the way, just witnessing to, just speaking words of the Lord Jesus; “A man sent from God, whose name was John” [John 1:6]. And when I think of that rugged preacher, whose home is out in the barren deserts and rocks of the wilderness, who has separated himself from the emoluments, and the rewards, and the effeminacies, and the blandishments of society, just preparing the way for Jesus, when I think of him, I think of the pioneer preacher who paved the way for our Christian civilization, and Christian life, and Christian worship here in the glorious heartland of America where we live.
In the last century, and writing about a hundred years ago, there was a gifted Baptist historian by the name of Henry C. Vedder. And he wrote this incomparable tribute to that rough rugged, pioneer Baptist preacher:
These men of God went forth into the wilderness, not knowing where they should find a night’s lodging or their next meal, willing to suffer untold privations if they might only point someone to the Lamb of God. It is impossible to estimate too highly or to praise too warmly the services of these mighty men of faith. Their hardships were such as we in the present day can hardly imagine. They traveled from settlement to settlement on horseback, with no roads save an Indian trail or blazed trees, fording streams over which no bridges had been built. Exposed to storm, frequently sleeping where night found them, often frustrated by fevers or wasted by malaria, but indomitable still. If they did not wander in sheepskins and goatskins like ancient heroes of faith, they wore deerskins. And homespun took the place of sackcloth. Their dwelling was all out of doors, living in the plainest manner, sharing all the hardships of a wilderness people.
The pioneer preacher labored in a world that, as one of them said, took in one half of all creation, for it had no boundary on the west. One of them writes in 1805: “Every day I travel, I have to swim through creeks or swamps; and I’m wet from head to foot; and some days from morning till night dripping with water. I have rheumatism in all my joints. What I have suffered in body and mind, my pen is not able to communicate. But this I can say, while my body is wet with water and chilled with cold, my soul is filled with heavenly fire. And I can say with Saint Paul, “None of these things move me, neither count I or my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy” [Acts 20:24].
In general, the preacher was kindly received often with tears of joy. The people who were running neck and neck with death by starvation or freezing had not much to give the itinerant minister—even to offer him food and shelter, meant sacrifice. But in nearly every case he was welcomed to share of whatever comforts the pioneer family possessed. In the wilderness, like Paul, he passed through perils—perils by the way, perils from savage beasts, perils from the savage Indians—perils from godless and degrading men, hardly less savage than either beast or Indian. But God, who closed the mouths of the lions, was with His servant, the pioneer preacher. Many died prematurely of privation and disease in such a hard life.
The houses of worship in which these preachers held their services was generally God’s own temples; the woods, the prairies. Their libraries consisted of a Bible and a hymnbook carried in their saddlebags. They did not read polished essays from a manuscript as their degenerate successors so often do.
I love that sentence.
They did not read polished essays from a manuscript as their degenerate successors so often do. The raw backwoodsman had no use, as he phrased it, “for a preacher who couldn’t shoot without a rest.” The preaching was of a rough and ready sort—not always scrupulous of in the king’s English—strongly tinged with the good old doctrines of grace; imminently evangelistic and was richly blessed of God to the conversion of the hearers.
These men, uncouth as they would seem now, unwelcome as they would be to the pulpit of any fashionable Baptist church in our cities, led millions to the cross of Christ, founded churches in all the new communities of the west, laid the foundations of our denominational institutions on which the magnificent super structure has been built. Let us honor as he deserves, the pioneer preacher.
We who have entered into the labors of such men are noble indeed if we are worthy to unloose the latchet of their shoes . . . Their record is on high, their names are written in the book of God’s remembrance. “They shall be Mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up My jewels.”
[from “A Short History of the Baptists,” Henry C. Vedder]
The pioneer preacher, the rough backwoodsman sent from God.
was converted, I was saved, when I was ten years old in a little white cracker-box of a church house in the far northwestern part of this state, on the Texas-New Mexico line. I was converted in a revival meeting at a weekday morning hour and baptized the following Sunday afternoon. In those days and in that little church we had testimony services on Wednesday night. People stood up and praised God for the grace that had reached down to them. On that first Wednesday night after I was saved, and after I was baptized, in the testimony service, I stood up to thank God for His loving grace extended to me. And I thanked God for the morning hour when I was saved. And I thanked God for the Sunday afternoon when I was baptized. And then I begin to cry, always have been that way, full of tears, can’t help it, warred against it, still do, to no avail. I began to cry. I looked down at my mother, seeking strength and help from her, and she was crying. That undid me. I couldn’t go any further, and I sat down by her side. When I sat down, an old, aged, worn-out, pioneer preacher stood up, and beckoning toward me with his hands, he said: “My boy, that was a fine beginning. That was a fine beginning.”
I have thought of that ten thousand times: “My boy, that was a fine beginning.” And in my fancy, I love to think that, where that old pioneer preacher laid his burdens down, I have picked it up and tried to carry it forward, pointing to the Lamb of God, pointing to Jesus, opening the way for the Lord; and humbly praying that as I had that beginning as a boy, I might gloriously end as a man, one sent from God.
They climb the steep ascent of heaven,
Through peril, toil, and pain;
O God, to us may grace be given
To follow in their train!
[“The Son of God Goes Forth to War,” Reginald Heber]
Pointing men to Jesus, then stepping aside—maybe falling into oblivion before we fall into the tomb—but lay at the feet of our Lord precious souls we have won in His grace, in His love, in His mercy, and in His name. I could ask for no greater reward than in heaven, thus to meet [at] the throne of grace, someone I had pointed to Jesus. Lord, may that be our heavenly recognition and reward and recompense in the world that is to come: these are they we have introduced to the blessed Savior. And I humbly pray that God will thus sanctify, and hallow, confirm and affirm our testimony this morning, that He gives us somebody. Lord, as we have sought to be true to Thee and to the gospel message, please Lord, confirm it with a reward, a harvest.
These who come forward say, “Today, this day, I give my heart to the Lord Jesus.” “This is my family, all of us are coming today.” Or answering the call of the Holy Spirit in your heart, “Pastor, here I stand. God has spoken, and I’m answering with my life.” May we bow together in prayer?
Our Lord, confirm and sanctify the message we have preached out of God’s Book with a gracious response. May it please the Holy Spirit to bring to the feet of our Savior these whose hearts God has touched, who are answering the call of God with their lives. Master, make it a day of salvation, an hour of conversion, a moment of decision and gladness; and we will love Thee Lord for the answered prayer, in Thy saving name, amen.
In this moment that we stand, in the balcony round, down one of these stairways, in the throng of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, the Lord has spoken to me, and here I stand.” Make the decision now, do it now in your heart, and that first step will be the most meaningful step you will ever make in your life. May angels attend you and may the Spirit of God accompany you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
THE GOD-SENT MAN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-27-86I. God’s answer is always a man (Exodus 3:7, 10, I Kings 21:15-19, Acts 26:16-18)
A. With fire in his heart (Matthew 3:1, John 5:35, Isaiah 6:1-8)
B. With faith in his message (Matthew 3:1, Isaiah 1:2)II. The intense excitement occasioned by his appearance
A. Four hundred years of silence, longing for messianic kingdom
B. Tremendous character and personality
C. Rugged appearance, voice like thunder (Matthew 3:10, 12, 7:7-9, Luke 2:7-8)III. Under the rough exterior, the heart and soul of this man
A. The spirit of humility in glory, success
1. The glories of John (Luke 1:11-13, Matthew 11:11)
2. Untouched by personal ambition, a herald preparing the way (John 1:23, 3:30)IV. The work of every Christian
A. Stepping aside, pointing the way
1. Pioneer preachers of America
a. Tribute by Henry C. Vedder