THE SIN-BEARER OF THE WORLD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-10-86 8:15 a.m.
Thank you, young people; and welcome the great multitudes of you who share this hour on radio. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Sin-Bearer of the World. We turn to the first chapter of John; John chapter 1. And in a moment we are going to stand together and read verses 29 through 34. Everybody open his Bible to the first chapter of John, and we shall read together verses 29 to 34. Now having found the passage, let us stand in the presence of the Lord and read together John 29 through 34 in this first chapter, together:
The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
This is He of whom I said, After me cometh a Man which is preferred before me: for He was before me.
And I knew Him not: but that He should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.
And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon Him.
And I knew Him not: but He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, the same is He which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.
And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.
Thank you, now we’ll be seated. And the text: “The next day John seeth Jesus coming, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” [John 1:29].
John was a man born to say one sentence. What would you have said? “Behold a man that can raise the dead” [John 11:43-44]. Think of what that would mean to the grieving families of the world. Or would you have said, “Behold a man who can heal the sick?” [Mark 1:32-34; Luke 4:40]. Think that, oh, what that would mean to the afflicted and the crippled and the hurt of the world. Or would you have said, “Behold a man that can feed five thousand with a few little pieces of bread and two little fish?” [Matthew 14:15-21]. Think of what that would mean to the starving of the world. Or would you have said, “Behold a man that can still the storms [Luke 8:23-25], and walk on the water [Matthew 14:24-25; Mark 6:47-51]. Here is a Man that can control the forces of nature?” Think what that would mean to this world. Or would you have said, “Behold a man who could command twelve legions of angels?” [Matthew 26:53]. Think of what that would mean to the armaments and to the defenses of the nations of the world: just one angel destroyed one hundred eighty-five thousands soldiers in one night in the days of the Old Testament [Isaiah 37:36]. “Here is a man that has seventy-two thousand angels at His command.” What would you have said? John the Baptist looked and saw the heart-cry and the heart-need of this world, and he said, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world” [John 1:29].
Seeing the desperate, destructive power of those nations who ravaged Africa in the days of slavery, just before he died David Livingstone said, “May heaven’s blessings rest upon that man, be he American, Englishman, or Turk, who will help to heal this open sore of the world.” I think of that in terms of the vast, illimitable, immeasurable heart-cry of humanity and of this whole creation: to take away the sin of the world. The whole universe is cursed, all of it. There are dead stars and fallen planets and black holes; and our own earth is scorched and scarred with the hurt of the curse of a fallen world. I think of all of this earth, the flora, the fauna, the fields: these flowers wither and shrivel and die. The beautiful animals run and fly, and then perish. The whole earth is cursed, all of it. And how much more is the curse extended to the human soul and heart and life by the sin of others.
What did Abel do, except to love God, when he was slain by the jealousy of Cain? [Genesis 4:8]. What did Uriah the Hittite do, except to love God and be faithful to His armies, when David sent him next to the wall of Ammon and then withdrew in order that Uriah might be slain? [2 Samuel 11:14-17]. What did Uriah do? What did John the Baptist do when the king cut off his head in deference to a girl who was dancing? [Matthew 14:3-11]. The curse of the world.
And the congenital birth that all of us experience: we feel it, we see it, we are an inevitable and inextricable part of it. I read this week in the United States News and World Report, William G. Long of Seattle, who is the superior court judge, in his handing down a verdict—I never read anything like this in my life—
What we called delinquent behavior is as old and universal as man. It is not something to which only an evil or moronic segment of humanity, different from the rest of us, is liable. It must be remembered that no infant is born a finished product. On the contrary, every baby starts life as a little savage. He is equipped, among other things, with organs and muscles over which he has no control, with an urge for self-preservation, with aggressive drives and emotions, like anger, fear, and love, over which likewise he has practically no control. He is completely selfish and self-centered. He wants what he wants when he wants it: his bottle, his mother’s attention, his playmate’s toy, his uncle’s watch. And deny him those wants and he seethes with rage and aggression, which would be murderous were he not so helpless. He is dirty: he has no morals, no knowledge, no skills. What this means, of course, is that all children, not just certain children, are born delinquent, and if permitted to continue in the self-centered world of his infancy, given free rein to his impulsive actions to satisfy his wants, every child would grow up a criminal, a thief, a killer, a rapist. And in the process of growing up, it is normal for every child to be dirty, to fight, to grab, to steal, to tear things apart, to talk back, to disobey, to evade. Every child has to grow out of delinquent behavior.
Did you ever hear anything like that? And could anything be more of the truth? We are born delinquent. “In sin did my mother conceive me, and I was shapen, I grew up, in iniquity” [Psalm 51:5].
I remember one time, Dr. L. R. Scarborough, who was president of our Southwestern Seminary, describing a little boy who came forward in a revival meeting that he was holding. The little fellow was giving his heart to the Lord and wanted to know how to be saved. So Dr. Scarborough said, “I sat on this side of the child, and his Sunday school teacher sat on the other side.” And the great preacher said, “I began to talk to the little lad, and I said to the lad, ‘Do you realize that you are a lost sinner, hell-bound, facing the judgment of Almighty God? Do you realize you are a lost sinner?’”
And the Sunday school teacher interrupted and said, “Dr. Scarborough, you are a stranger here, and you don’t know this boy. This is the best boy in my Sunday school class, and he comes out of one of the finest families in this church.”
And he started again, the preacher did, “Son, do you realize you are a lost sinner, hell-bound, facing the judgment of God?”
And the Sunday school teacher interrupted again and said to him, “Dr. Scarborough, as I said, you are a stranger here, and you don’t realize this is the best boy in this church.”
Dr. Scarborough said he stood up and said to the teacher, “Would you mind, on this side?” So she sat on the other side of the preacher, and the preacher sat then next to the boy. And then he started again, “Son, do you realize that you are lost, that you are a sinner, and that you need Jesus to be your personal Savior?” And the preacher said, “In no time I had the boy in the kingdom.” It starts there: in the confession and the admission of our fallen natures, all of us. “There is none righteous, no, not one” [Romans 3:10]. The great need of this world is the Sin-Bearer to take the judgment of our wrong away [Romans 5:6].
It’s a strange thing: add sin to anything and it spells misery and sorrow, hurt and tears. Add it to anything; just name it, then add sin to it. Sweetest thing in the world, love: add sin to it and it becomes lust, and jealousy, and promiscuity, pornography, prostitution; just add sin to it. A home: just add sin to it, and it’s filled with bickering, and hatred, and variance, and emulations. Money, it can be used for so much—heard Ralph Pulley pray, “Lord, bless these gifts, that they be worthily used”—add sin to it, and it can be greed, can even be murder for hire. Add it to anything, movies, add sin to it; TV, add sin to it; a gun, add sin to it; alcohol, the basic, finest medicine, so much of what heals us is dissolved in alcohol, add sin to it. Anything; a book, poetry, add sin to it. What a tragedy, the fallen world in which we live!
And who can deliver us from it? Who can heal us of it? As the hymn we sing, “What can wash away my sins?” Do you remember that poignant and traumatic and dramatic moment in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, when he has slain his guest, Duncan, king of Scotland, hoping to preserve for himself the crown of the kingdom? And he stands above his fallen monarch, and looks at the blood on his hand, and he cries, saying, “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, rather this my hand will the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red.” Who can wash the stain of sin out of our souls and take it away from our lives? This is the tragedy of the world. The world addresses the pimples on the skin, when the trouble and the tragedy is the blood stream in the heart. Take away the gun from the murderer, and in heart he’s a murderer still. Take away the bottle from the alcoholic, and in his heart he’s an alcoholic, he’s a drunkard still. Take away the needle from the addict, and in his heart he’s an addict still. Take away the paramour from the harlot, and in her heart she’s a harlot still. We need somebody, something, somehow, to take away the sin in our hearts, and in our homes, and in our lives. Who can do it?
What the world does is build bigger jails. And if you are a citizen of Texas, that is one of the biggest assignment of our legislature: how are we going to get more money to build bigger jails and to hire more policemen and more guards—as though a penitentiary or a reform school would change human life. It doesn’t. They’re just schools to educate and harden more criminals. How does the world face this traumatic tragedy? It does it and from the beginning with moralistic institutional teaching. There’s not a schoolboy here but is familiar with the Code of Hammurabi. Think of how long ago he wrote those moralistic instructions. And there’s not anyone in the earth, I suppose, not acquainted with the Ten Commandments of Moses [Exodus 20:1-17]. And think of all of the moralistic teaching since: Platonism and Neo-Platonism, Seneca, with his moral aphorisms in Rome, or Marcus Aurelius, and through all of the centuries still. And wouldn’t you think that our institutional instruction, our education, would make people pure and sinless and holy? Send them to school, teach them, and they will be graduated in holiness and in goodness—wouldn’t you think so? A bum breaking into a railway car to steal a can of tomatoes because he’s hungry, send him to Harvard, give him a marvelous education, and he’ll steal the entire railway system and get away with it.
There has never been in history or in the story of humanity a nation as educated, as instructed, as the Third Reich of the German empire; and there has never been on the pages of human history a nation as godless and as murderous and as bloodthirsty, slaying eighteen million men. What, whom, where shall we turn, that we might be delivered from the judgment of the sin of the world?
This is the announcement of John the Baptist: “Look, look, behold the Lamb of God, look, He takes away the sin of the world” [John 1:29]. As the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If any man, if any one be in Christ, he is a new creation”—God starts all over again with him—“he is a new creation: old things are passed away; look, all things are become new.”
I often wonder, do you sometimes think things like this? What John could have said: “Behold the Lion of the tribe of Judah that devours the sins of the world, and the sinners.” I would understand God had He sent Jesus into this world to be the Lion of the tribe of Judah. We are so profitless and so prone to mistake, and misjudgment, and misbehavior, and finally outright sin and rebellion, I could understand that. “This is the Lion of the tribe of Judah to devour the sinners of the world.” But God did just the opposite: remove sin, not the sinner; remove the offense, not the offender; pouring out His infinite love and grace for these, the children of old man Adam, who need, like prodigals [Luke 15:11-32], the change of heart, to come back home, to love God, to be in the Father’s house. This is the gospel: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath given to us this ministry of reconciliation. We then as ambassadors for God, plead with you, be ye reconciled to Him” [2 Corinthians 5:19-20]. He is reconciled to us. Our Lord poured out His life in love, in grace, in mercy, for us, that we might be saved. He paid the penalty of our sins; He died in our stead. He was our great atoning substitute [2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 5:8; Hebrews 10:5-14].
You know, I often think the man of all mankind who could have had the best idea of Jesus’ atoning grace and substitutionary death was Barabbas [Mark 15:6-15, 20], looking on that central cross, “This Man is dying in my stead” [Mark 15:27]. I’ve often wondered what became of Barabbas. Was he converted? Was he saved? Did he turn? Did he accept the Lord? Was he a Christian? He would have had the finest idea of anyone who ever lived of the atoning substitutionary grace of Jesus our Lord. But what He did for Barabbas He did for me, and He did for all of us: He died in our stead, He paid the penalty of our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], He opened for us the doors of grace and glory and forgiveness [John 10:7, 9], and in His mercy I have entree into all the rich gifts of God, laid up in store for those who love the Lord [1 Corinthians 2:9]. This, did our Savior, for us.
I do not know of a finer example than to think of our Lord when He entered into Paradise, He entered arm-in-arm with that dying thief [Luke 23:40-43]. Think of that. Not with a king or a queen, or one of the great of the earth; when He entered Paradise, having been slain for our sins and raised for our justification [Romans 4:25], when He went back up into glory, He walked before the angels and the saints with a dying thief by His side [Luke 23:43]. That’s the grace of God. I have to close.
I was holding a revival meeting a long, long way from here, and I received a telephone call. There was a man in Mississippi who was calling me on the phone. And he said, “I am calling for a young mother and wife in our church. She has asked me to call you.” And he said, “The reason for the call is this: her husband and she lived in Dallas. He, her husband, was an electrical engineer, and you won him to Christ in your study there in Dallas, and you baptized him in that church. He has just lost his life in an electrical installation here in Mississippi, and his wife wanted me to call you to tell you that now beyond any moment or thought in her life does she thank you for winning her husband to the Lord and baptizing him into the fellowship of the church. She just wanted me to thank you. Now that he is gone, this is her only hope; and she thanks you.” I thought, as you would, “Isn’t that the grandest, most glorious thing in this world, to stand and to point men to Christ?”
“Behold the Lamb of God” [John 1:29]. Look, the Savior of the world! Consider our hope of glory: this is our Lord and our Savior, the Lamb of God who died for me [Galatians 2:20]. And when that inevitable day comes and I also die, I die in His love, and His grace, and His mercy, and His atoning sacrifice, pleading the righteousness and the blood of Jesus as my right and inheritance to enter the gates of heaven [John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5].
Oh, my brother, how precious is this hope and how dear is this mercy! And that is our invitation to your heart this holy Lord’s Day morning. “Pastor, today, this day, this hour, I accept the Lord Jesus as my personal Savior. And if I were to die today before sundown, I would die in His grace and goodness; and here I stand.” Or, “I want to belong to this wonderful church; and this is my family, all of us are coming this morning.” Or to answer a call of the Holy Spirit in your heart, “The Lord has spoken to me, pastor, and I’m on the way.” Make that decision now in your heart, do it now, and when we stand, stand taking that first step down that stairway or down this aisle. And the angels will attend you, and the Spirit of God will strengthen you. It’ll be that new creation of which Paul spoke in 2 Corinthians [2 Corinthians 5:17]; it’s a new life, it’s a new day, it’s a new way, it’s a new hope, it’s a new glory, it’s everything precious now and in the world to come. Say “yes” to the Lord, and stand with us, be a fellow pilgrim with us on the way to heaven. God grant your coming, while we stand and while we sing.