November 8th, 1987 @ 10:50 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-8-87 10:50 a.m.
We welcome you as a part of our First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Life Abounding, life abundant, life overflowing. In our preaching through the Gospel of John, we are in the tenth chapter. And the message today is a textual sermon, not an expository sermon. Last Sunday we took the first eighteen verses of the chapter and expounded it, an expository message [John 10:1-18]. The message today is a textual message. It is on the tenth verse of John chapter 10. Our Lord says, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: but I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” [John 10:10].
So His first avowal: these who are our clandestine or overt enemies, they come but for to steal and to kill and to destroy [John 10:10]. Nothing could be simpler than destruction. In our church, when I came to be its undershepherd, there was a godly deacon here, Deacon Scott. He headed the YMCA in the city of Dallas, and under his tutelage and direction, they built that beautiful YMCA building right in front of our church door. It was fourteen stories high, about as fine a facility as to be found in America.
In order to build that tremendous Lincoln Plaza, the YMCA building was imploded. I watched it. I am glad that dear and wonderful Deacon Scott, who looked upon that with such pride, was with our Lord. He had died and he didn’t see it. What was the dream of his heart and the achievement of his life, down in rubble in a few seconds.
It’s a simple thing, destruction. In the British Museum I looked at the famous Portland Vase, created, made by hands that worked in beauty a half a millennium before Christ. We have a copy of it in our parsonage, a beautiful creation. A crazed man, visiting in the museum, seized it and dashed it to pieces. And what you look at now, it is a fine gluing back of that beautiful vase. What he did in a moment of time, destroying what had been created for the enjoyment and admiration of a generation after generation through two thousand five hundred years.
I was never more overwhelmed by anything I ever read of in my life than reading of that crazed Australian who took a hammer, and entering St. Peter’s Church in Rome, defaced Michelangelo’s Pieta, one of the most beautiful pieces of statuary in this earth; and that insane, unbelievable flotsam of humanity destroying its beauty with a hammer. To destroy is simple. A beast can crush a flower to the ground. But who can recreate it? Or, a man can take his life, but who can create it? It is a simple thing to destroy.
Then, why do we listen to men whose words are annihilistic and destructive? Why listen to an infidel standing a few inches high with a big loud voice, decrying the faith? That is not life. That is death. Why listen to a secular humanist with his pseudo-intellectual words taking from the human heart the hope of heaven? That is not life. That is death. Why listen to a legal materialist who, by law, denies to little kindergarten children the right to say grace at the table, or through our Supreme Court, interdict reading of God’s Word in our public schools? These are destructive. And the simplest thing that human hands can do or human mind can conceive is like the thief who comes to steal and to kill and to destroy.
But our Lord moves in a different world, “I am come that they might have life, and have it more aboundingly, overflowingly, abundantly” [John 10:10].
If I could summarize the ministry of our Savior in one word, it would be in that word “life.” So often was it upon the lips of our dear Savior. Preaching, as I am, through the Gospel of John, I haven’t time even to begin to quote all the verses in which He speaks of the life He brings to us from heaven.
- John 3:14-15: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so the Son of Man should be lifted up: that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
- And then John 3:16: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal, everlasting life.”
- John 5:24: “Verily, verily, truly, truly, I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believeth in Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed out of death into life.”
- John 6:48: “I am the bread of life.”
- John 6:63: “The words I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”
- John 11:25: “I am the resurrection, and the life.”
- And John 11:25-26: “He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever believeth in Me shall never, ever die.”
- John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
John, in his old age, writing this Fourth Gospel, John sums it up in the beautiful and incomparable prologue in John 1:4: “In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.” If I could carry it through the Word, Paul’s confession in his old age, as he writes to his son Timothy, out of the Mamertine dungeon in Rome, awaiting his execution, said in 2 Timothy 1:10: “By the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, He hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light….” This is our Savior: “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly” [John 10:10].
What is the impenetrable mystery of life? It is like the unfathomable presence, the indescribable glory of God Himself. Yet, it is as common as the sands on the seashore. We meet it down every common road in every common day. The scientists avow that there is life, life, on every invisible particle of dust, that it pervades every bit of the air that surrounds us that it is in every drop of water; it covers everything that we see. Life; but oh what an insoluble, unapproachable amazing creation.
As I will conduct a funeral service, a memorial hour, and look in the casket, the funeral director, the undertaker, has done all that his genius could inspire to do to make that corpse look alive. But his efforts but emphasize the terror and the horror and the awesomeness of death. What has happened? He is there, lying there, every one of his parts, his anatomical creation, is there. But he’s not there.
What is life? It is a divine flame. It is something in the ableness of God. And we cannot, unlike Prometheus, we cannot steal it. And we cannot create it. It is something of God Himself. We see it so universally, waving through the grass, dancing in a butterfly, looking at us from the depths of a child’s innocent eyes. But what is it? What is it? “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly” [John 10:10].
May I speak of that incomparably precious gift that our Lord brought to us from heaven? It is not existence that we share with all of the beasts and animals of the field, and all of the grass and vegetation of this verdant earth. It is not existence. It moves in another dimension. It is an elevation unto the likeness of the Lord God Himself.
I said to a corporate executive here in Dallas who had everything, but restless and unhappy–I said to him, “You will never be happy, never, until you find it in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
When we read Pilgrim’s Progress, the opening chapter is a description of the Pilgrim, dressed in rags, with a great burden on his back, with his face away from his own house and crying, “Life, eternal life.” Life away from God, separated from God, is like a storm that blows forever. It’s like a sea that is never calm, and is like the cry of the apostle Paul in Romans 7:24: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death?” An existence just waiting to die outside of God.
This life of Christ that He has brought to us is a re-creation. It is a gift, a breath, a visitation, a work from heaven, something that the hands of God and the Spirit of the Lord alone are able to do.
In this last week, I read of a famous violinist, a wonderful musician, coming to the king’s court to play in a chamber assembly, chamber music. Somehow, in a strange providence, coming through the streets of the city to the king’s palace, he saw a violin on an ash heap, covered in dust, strings broken. He picked it up. He brushed off the dust. He put strings where they belong. He tuned it, and he played it in the court. It was beautiful and heavenly music. When I read that this last week, that’s exactly what God does for us. Out of the ash heap of our humanity and our failure, He recreates us, and He makes us instruments of beauty and glory in His hands.
It’s a remarkable thing, this abounding life the Lord bestows upon us! [John 10:10]. It has nothing to do with, and is not connected with, circumstance or providence or things. It moves in a different world. One of the most amazing things that I read in the Christian story is the abounding joy and ecstasy of the martyrs who suffered the greatest for the Lord.
Our fathers, chained in prison dark,
Were still at heart and conscience free:
How sweet would be their children’s fate,
If we like them could die for Thee.
[“Faith of Our Fathers,” Frederick W. Faber, 1849.]
What an astonishing endowment, unconnected with things, with circumstances, with providences. As our Lord said, “A man’s life consisteth not in the things which he possesseth” [Luke 12:15].
I think of our Lord. The most alluring doors in the world were open for Him. He was offered a kingdom, refused it [John 6:15]. He was offered a crown, turned it down. Satan himself, the god of this world [2 Corinthians 4:4], offered to Him all of the kingdoms of this planet and their glory, and He turned aside [Matthew 4:8-10]. His own family said, “He is beside Himself” [Mark 3:21]. The Pharisees said, “He has a devil” [John 10:20]. The Sadducees said, “He deceived the people” [John 7:12]. The great throng said, “He blasphemes” [Luke 5:21]. And all of them said, “Crucify Him” [Luke 23:21].
He never faltered and He never wavered, reaching out for that resurrection life in which He comes to us with gifts from heaven. “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly” [John 10:10]. It is not immortality, that life we have when we’re born. Death does not bring its cessation. It continues forever. It’s a life from God. It is a resurrection life in heaven. And one of the strangest things that I could ever think for: that is the only kind of a life that we could refuse; the life of heaven, the life Christ brings to us from the resurrection of the dead [John 10:24-30].
The malefactors who were crucified with our Lord on either side, one of them refused and died, separated from God. The other is with our Lord in Paradise today [Luke 23:39-43]. That kind of a life, a glory life that never dies and is bestowed upon us now: “I am come that they may have life now, and have it aboundingly” [John 10:10].
It is not unusual that a youth will answer the pastor, saying, “When I get old, I’ll accept the Lord. Before I die, I’ll be a Christian. But I don’t want to accept the Lord now. I want to have a good time now. I want to taste all of the emoluments and all the fascinations of the world, and then I’ll be a Christian. I don’t want to deny myself all the good things and the happy things in this life.” How strange a thinking. What an unusual judgmental appraisal. It is the Christian life that is wonderful. It is the Christian life that is marvelous. It is the Christian life that is triumphant. It is God’s life in us that is glorious.
As Psalm 34:5 says: “They looked unto Him, and were radiant.” It gives meaning and purpose and reason. The French have a phrase for it, raison d’etre, a reason to be. How sterile and empty life without a great calling, and a great meaning, and a great purpose. But how full and rich is a life dedicated to God, every day a wonderful day, praising God day, serving the Lord day, walking with Jesus day, loving the Lord day. Every day, a wonderful day in Him!
Could I say one other thing? The life that our Lord brings to us, this abounding life [John 10:10], it is one that fills us with an awareness of the presence of God, just everywhere. Wordsworth, the Christian English poet, this is a little line from him,
A primrose by the river’s brim,
A yellow primrose was to him,
And nothing else, nothing else.
[“Peter Bell,” William Wordsworth, 1819]
Alfred, Lord Tennyson in one of his little poems:
Flower in the granite wall,
I pluck thee out of the crannies,
I hold thee here in my hand
Little flower, if I could but understand
What you are, root and all, and all and all,
I would understand what God and man is.
[“Flower in the Crannied Wall,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1869]
In the humblest manifestations of the infinite, creative work of Almighty God, to see Him; to see Him in a flower, God’s presence; in this newborn baby, God’s presence; in the whole gamut and spectrum of human life, the presence of God; God is here, sensitive, awakened to the presence of the Lord.
I sometimes think of these blind people. How sensitive they become in their fingertips, just feeling. They can even read a book made of Braille, reading just with their fingertips, so sensitive. I think of those jungle children, their eyes so keen and their ears so sensitive.
In these days gone by, you remember, I was in a little plane, a little one-seated plane, with that pilot, Floyd Lyon, and we were on the crossover from the Ucayali to the Maranon, where those two rivers come together, you call it the Amazon. That jungle, three hundred feet deep, you fall into it and you fall out of sight. They never find you. In that crossover, flying at sixty-four hundred feet, it seemed to me that the plane just exploded, the engine just exploded, and down we fell. In the providences of God, right below us was the only village, a jungle village, in a hundred thousand square miles, and the thatched huts down there, ringing an open area. I thought he was going to pilot that falling plane with its long pontoons, I thought he was going to pilot it down into the center of that village. Those planes are equipped with those enormously long pontoons, so that if anything happens, you just come down on those rivers like a mosquito.
Practically all of the life of that vast jungle, which is larger than the continental United States, practically all of their ministries are up and down the river. It’s only in a crossover they call it, when you go over the jungle and no river beneath you, that there is possibility of hurt and disaster.
Well, right in the middle of that crossover, this engine exploded and down we fell. Instead of piloting the plane into the middle of that village, why, he was able to maneuver it into a creek with water about three or four inches deep that ran alongside the little settlement. We missed the man who was pulling a canoe across the creek. And in an amazing providence of God, all those rocks and boulders and logs he missed and skimmed across the water with those pontoons and hit a sandbank. And I said to him, “Let’s thank God,” and with many, many tears I praised the Lord and thanked God; any one of those details different, we would have lost our lives.
And when I raised my face after the prayer, all of those Amazonians were there, surrounding the plane in that creek. The radio still was alive, it was not destroyed. So he called, the pilot called a Presbyterian mission on the Ucayali, who relayed the message to the jungle camp of Wycliffe at Yarinacocha. And they said, “We will send a little wheel plane for you that can land in the opening,” the aperture around which those little thatched huts were built.
Well, that interior, that little round opening there, was filled with holes the hogs had dug out; some of them were waist deep. So the villagers—all of them, every one of them, the little kids, the little bitty kids with a knife or a spoon or a stick—everybody worked furiously to fill up those holes so the wheel plane could land in the heart of the little village. This had happened in the morning and by, oh, two or three o’clock in the afternoon, they had it all filled, all ready for that plane to land; that wheel plane to come down and to take us away.
Well, standing there in that opening, looking up into the sky, waiting for that wheel plane; while I was standing there, why, those little bitty kids, those little bitty kids, those little boys and girls, came around me and began to jump up and down, so excited, and say, Viene, Viene, Viene, Viene! And I turned to Floyd Lyon, the pilot, and said, “What are these children doing, and what is the meaning of that word, Viene, Viene, Viene?”
He said, “The word is, “He is coming,” “He is coming.” Well, I said, “Floyd, I don’t see a thing in the sky, and I don’t hear the sound of a motor.” And the missionary said to me, “But, pastor, their eyes are far more keen than yours, and their ears are far more sensitive than yours, and they see him coming, and they hear his arrival.” And as I stood steadfastly looking, there was the speck and then finally, the plane, and then the landing in the open sand. Viene! Viene! “He is coming! He is coming!” and God makes us sensitive to His arrival.
I have stood by the dying bedside of some of the saints in this church. And they will say to me, “Pastor, I see the face of Jesus, and I hear the angels singing.” I could reply, “You have lost your mind. You have lost your reason.” No! God has made them sensitive, and they see His face, and they hear His voice, and God has opened for them the doors of glory. Viene! Viene! “He is coming! He is coming!” [Acts 1:11]. And the Holy Spirit makes us sensitive to the nearness and the dearness of the approach of our Lord. Some sweet precious day He is coming, and God’s people are ready and welcome; even so, come, blessed Jesus! [Revelation 22:20].
What a wonderful way to live! What a glorious way to die; or, if He delays His coming, to meet our Lord in the air [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. May we pray together?
Our Savior, money could not buy, all of the merit of life could not inherit, what Jesus has given to us. Lord, thank You for the touching of our spirits, making us aware of the nearness, the closeness, the presence of God [Acts 17:27]. And O Lord, how could we place in syllable or sentence the depths of our gratitude, touching our hearts, making us sensitive that Jesus is coming again? [Titus 2:3]. O Lord, that we be ready whether You come for us from the skies or we go to You from the grave [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], we are at home with our Lord [2 Corinthians 5:8]. Life, life abounding, life abundant [John 10:10], life everlasting [John 3:16], life now in the hour of our death and in the world that is yet to come; O Christ, we praise Thee and love Thee forever for the unspeakable gift of Thy grace and love [2 Corinthians 9:14-15]. Humbly, we thank Thee, in Thy precious name, amen.
In this moment when we sing our song of appeal, to give your heart in trust to the Lord, a new life in Him [Romans 10:8-13]; or a family you, coming into the fellowship of our dear church [Hebrews 10:24-25]; or just one somebody you, giving your heart in love to the Lord, welcome. In the balcony round, down one of these stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and here I stand.” Make the decision now in your heart, and in this moment that we sing, on the first note of the first stanza, come. May angels attend you in the way as you answer with your life, while we stand and while we sing.