November 8th, 1987 @ 8:15 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-8-87 8:15 a.m.
We welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on radio. You are now a part of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message from the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John. It is a textual sermon. It is a presentation of the tenth verse of the tenth chapter of John. “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” [John 10:10], the abundant life bestowed upon us by our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus. “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.” Nothing is so simple as destruction.
Immediately in front of our church was the fourteen-story YMCA building. When I came here, there was a godly man in the church, Deacon Scott, who had built that structure. He presided over the YMCA in the city of Dallas and was so very inordinately proud of that beautiful, tall fourteen-story building that housed the Y. I was so grateful that, in the providences of life and in the length of days, he was dead when we imploded that building. And it was done in a second or two, so easily destroyed.
I looked at the famous Portland Vase in the British Museum. We have a copy of it in our parsonage, created half a millennium before Christ. A crazed person seized it in the museum and dashed it to the floor; took a genius to reglue it—in a moment, to destroy what only genius and inspiration could create. A beast can crush a flower. Who can put it together again? A man can take his life, but who can create it? A simple thing to destroy.
Then why do we listen to men who destroy the most precious bestowments and endowments in life? An infidel, standing a few inches tall, with a loud voice, decrying the faith: that’s not life. That’s death. A secular humanist, with pseudointellectual words, scoffing at the gospel of Christ: that’s not life. That’s death. A legal materialist, bringing suit against kindergarten children saying grace at the table, or prohibiting by law the reading of God’s Word in the school: that’s not life. That’s death. How different the ministry of our Lord, coming into this world to teach us the everlasting ways of God. If I could sum up the ministry of our Savior in one word, I would sum it up in the word “life.” In this Gospel of John through which I am preaching, how oft was it on His lips?
- In John 3:14-15: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of Man lifted up: That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
- And the great, memorized, oft-quoted passage of John 3:16: “That we might have everlasting life.”
- And John 3:36: “He that believeth on the Son of Man hath everlasting life.”
- Or John 5:24: “Verily, verily, truly, truly, I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me … shall not come into death, but is passed out of death into life.”
- [John 6:35]: “I am the bread of life.”
- [John 6:63]: “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.”
- [John 11:25]: “I am the resurrection, and the life.”
- John 14:6: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” And the apostle John, in his old age, summed up the whole ministry of Christ in the beautiful introduction to his Gospel: “In Him was life; and the life was the light of men” [John 1:4].
- And in his old age, writings from the Mamertine prison in Rome, the apostle Paul summed up the work of our Lord in 2 Timothy 1:10: “By the appearing of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, He hath abolished death, and hath brought life and everlasting life to light.”
What is life? It is like God. It is an unfathomable and impenetrable mystery. It is as common as the sands on the seashore, but is explicable as God Himself. We meet life on every common road in every common day, but what is it? The scientist says to us that life is universal. It is on every invisible particle of air. It is in every tiny piece of dust. It is in every drop of water.
What is it? Having been a pastor for these sixty years and endlessly conducting memorial services for those who have died, I look into the face of a corpse in a casket. The director of the funeral home has done everything possible to give life-likeness to the one who is being buried away, but he just emphasizes the tragedy of death.
What is life? Unlike Prometheus, we cannot steal the flame from God, nor can we create it. It is something in God Himself, and yet we see it wave in the grass, dance in the butterfly, and look at us from the depths of the innocent eyes of a child; life. “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly” [John 10:10]. The life that Jesus brings to us is not existence. We, born into this world, with all the other creatures that God hath created, share a common existence. It’s another dimension. It’s another definition. It moves in another world and another area. I said to a successful businessman, head of a corporation here in Dallas, I said to him, “You’ll never be happy, however you succeed, wherever you go, whatever you do, you’ll never be happy until you are saved in the Lord.”
Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress begins with the Pilgrim, dressed in rags, a burden on his back, his face turned away from his city, and crying, “Life, eternal life.” Life apart from God is a storm and the wind never ceases to blow. It’s like a sea that is never calm. It is like death and darkness. “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death?” [Romans 7:24]. Our life in Christ is a re-creation; it is a new dimension. “If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creation” [2 Corinthians 5:17]. Things change. And the life bestowed upon us by our Lord is separate from and not dependent upon things or circumstances.
I sometimes marvel in reading Christian history. At the height of the glory and joy of those who suffered the most for the Lord:
Our fathers chained in prisons dark
Were still in heart and conscience free;
How sweet would be their children’s fate,
If we, like them, could die for Thee!
[from “Faith of our Fathers,” Frederick William Faber, 1849]
A life absolutely separate, not dependent upon things and circumstances.
Our Lord was offered a crown and refused it [John 6:15]; offered a kingdom and turned aside from it [Matthew 4:8-9]; through the ableness and power of Satan who is the ruler of this world [John 12:31], offered all the kingdoms and the glory of them, and refused to bow down to accept it [Matthew 4:8-10]. His family said, “He is beside Himself” [Mark 3:21]. The scribes said, “He has a devil” [John 10:20]. The Pharisees said, “He blasphemes” [Luke 5:21]. And the throngs said, “He deceives the people” [John 7:12]. And finally, all of them said, “Crucify Him!” [Luke 23:21].
But beyond the providences and circumstances of this life, He reached toward an immortality and a resurrection that blesses us who find faith and life in Him to this present day. And that leads me to my final avowal. This abounding life; “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly” [John 10:10], this abounding life is bestowed upon us now. We possess it now. That’s not immortality as such. When we come into this world, we are born with a life that never shall end. This abounding life bestowed upon us in Christ is a citizenship in heaven. And it is a glory bestowed upon us now [Philippians 3:20-21].
Oft times will I hear a youth reply, when he’s pressed to give his heart to the Lord, “I want to have a good time first. Then, after I have been in this world and have enjoyed all of its emoluments and happinesses and tasted all of its successes, then I’ll give my heart to the Lord and be a Christian.” How folly wide the mark? The gladnesses of life and the glories of life are found in the Christian faith and in the Christian pilgrimage. Psalm 34:5, “They looked unto Him, and were radiant.” The victorious life, the joyous life is the life of the Christian pilgrimage. It has meaning. I could not think of the sterility and emptiness of days as living without meaning, without God. How full and how rich the life that finds a purpose, and a meaning, and a commitment, and a service in our Lord Jesus Christ.
And the abounding life bestowed upon us in Christ [John 10:10], is an awakening, a sensitivity to the presence of God; see Him everywhere; sense His presence in everything.
The beautiful word of Wordsworth, the English poet:
Primrose by the river’s brim,
A purple primrose was to him,
And nothing else.
[“Peter Bell,” Wodsworth]
Can’t see God anywhere. Or Alfred, Lord Tennyson:
Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck thee out of the crannies;
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower—if I could but understand
What you are, root and all, all in all,
I should understand what God and man is.
[“Flower in the Crannied Wall,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1869]
See Him in the creation of the tiniest, humblest flower—the abounding life brought to us by Christ, awakened to the presence of the Lord and see Him everywhere [John 10:10].
It is a marvelous, wonderful thing to be sensitive to the presence of God; like a blind person: the ends of their fingers are so very sensitive, and they can take a page of Braille and run their fingers over it and read. What an amazing thing, what Jesus does for us, making us sensitive to the presence of the Lord.
Or like those jungle children: their eyes are so keen and their ears are so sensitive. In the Amazon jungle, when that little one-seated airplane fell with Floyd Lyon, the pilot, and me, he maneuvered it into a little creek, water about three or four inches high, deep. And in the providences of God, the only jungle village in a hundred thousand square miles was right there beneath us, below us. He called on the radio that still would work—from the little creek in which he had maneuvered the plane with those big pontoons—he called on a Presbyterian mission located on the Ucayali River, who transmitted the appeal to the jungle camp in Yarinacocha where we were, and asking for a little wheel-plane to come and—in the middle of those little thatched huts gathered round, built round in a circle—that they could land there and could pick us up.
When we walked into the middle of that jungle village, it was full of holes, some of them waist deep, dug up by hogs. And the villagers, there in that jungle, all of them, little children, men, women, everybody, furiously began to work to fill up those holes, so that the little wheel-plane could land. They worked—this was early in the morning that their plane came down, and by the first part of the afternoon, it was smooth.
And while we were standing there, waiting for the wheel-plane to come, those little jungle children in the Amazon came around me, just a whole circle of them, and they began to jump up and down and to shout, saying to me, “Viene, Viene, Viene, Viene!” I had no idea what they were doing or what they were saying.
And I turned to the pilot and I asked, “What are these children jumping up and down about? And what are they saying, ‘Viene, Viene’”?
And he said to me, “Viene: ‘He is coming, he is coming, he is coming!’”
Well, I said, “I don’t see a thing nor do I hear a thing; just a blue sky above and the infinity of the arch of the heaven. I don’t see anything. I don’t hear anything.”
And he said to me, “But these jungle children have eyes far keener than yours and ears that are far more sensitive than yours, and they see that little wheel-plane in the sky, and they hear the wheel-plane coming: ‘Viene, viene!”” And as I watched and looked up into the heavens, finally, there I looked and there I heard; sensitive to the coming of the Lord.
I have stood by the bedside of some of our sainted people, and they will say, “Pastor, I see the face of Jesus, and I hear the angels singing.” I could reply, “You are mad! You have lost your reason.” No. They have been made sensitive to the presence of the Lord, and they hear the voice of the Bridegroom, and they see the land afar off. God does that for us. He makes us sensitive to His presence, and we hear the voice of the promise of His coming. Viene! He is coming! He is coming! Beyond every providence in life and every hurt or sorrow ever experienced, He is coming, Jesus our Lord [Hebrews 9:28].
Now, Brother Doug, let’s sing us a song, and while we sing the hymn of appeal, to give your heart to the Lord: “Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and here I stand.” Or a family coming into the fellowship of our dear church, a couple you, or one somebody you, while we make this appeal, sing this song: “Pastor, I’m on the way.” In the balcony, down a stairway, in the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles: “This is God’s day for me, and here I come.” Do it. May angels attend you in the way and make your heart glad as you open heart and soul to the blessed, living Lord [Romans 10:9-10]. Come, and welcome, while we stand and while we sing.