LOVE FOR A LOST WORLD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-1-87 8:15 a.m.
And welcome again, the great throngs of you who share this hour on radio. You are a part of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message from the greatest text in the Bible, the greatest sentence in human speech, John 3:16. And the context is this:
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.
The world as we see it, and as we live in it, and as we are introduced to it and are sensitive to it, the world is fallen; all of it sin-cursed: the universe, the stars, the planets, this earth. Not only that but the humanity that lives on the planet called Earth is forsaken, condemned to die, filled with depravity, burdened with transgressions and sins. The whole created universe is fallen and sin-cursed.
Why doesn’t God pass it by? Why should He seek its salvation, its restoration, its redemption? It’s the same kind of a question I asked a godly deacon in my first little country church whose wife was our pianist. They had one child, a prodigal boy. And in order to defend that lad in court and to make restitution in robberies, they mortgaged the big beautiful farm on which they lived. A constant grief and burden to their hearts, and I said to the father and mother, “Why don’t you let him go?” And they replied to me, “You don’t understand. Maybe if you have a child, you will.” Why does God seek us? Why doesn’t He let us go, pass us by? In the garden of Eden, His voice is heard seeking the man He had made, “Adam, where, where, where art thou?” [Genesis 3:9]; a seeking God, a loving Lord.
The whole covenant of the Old Testament is that way, personified in Hosea, whose wife left and into debauchery finally became a slave [Hosea 3:1-3]. And Hosea is at the slave market, redeeming, buying his own wife. The whole story of the New Testament; our Lord came to seek and to save that which was lost [Luke 19:10]. Why does God do that?
Or the story of the Christian faith in the centuries since; God sending out apostles and missionaries and martyrs, seeking to bring a wayward world back to the faith and the love and the worship of God—it is a remarkable unbelievable gospel that the Lord God should thus love us.
In the Ephesians chapter, we’re not able, the apostle writes, to comprehend the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the love of Christ which passeth knowledge [Ephesians 3:17-19]. It is incredible. It is immeasurable. It is shoreless; it is boundless. It is beyond knowing.
Have you ever read the story of Harry Moorehouse? One of the most unusual providences I’ve ever heard of; when Dwight L. Moody finished his revival meeting in this last century in Birmingham, England, to bid him goodbye among the throngs was a young man named Harry Moorehouse. And he said to Moody, “I hope to come to America. And when I do, I’ll preach for you.” Well, you don’t preach for somebody on your own invitation; you have to be invited. He wasn’t invited. “I’ll preach for you.” Moody was gracious and said, “Well, when you come to America, you be sure and speak to us. Let us know. We’ll welcome you.”
About six months later, D.L. Moody in Chicago received a telephone call from New York City. It was that young man, Harry Moorehouse. And he said to Moody, “I’m here in New York and I’ll be in Chicago Wednesday, and I’ll preach for you Wednesday night.”
When Wednesday came, Moody had to leave on another assignment, and he told his deacons, “This young fellow in New York, from Birmingham, England, says he’s going to preach for us tonight, Wednesday. Now you ask him to say a few words in kindness and courtesy.” So Moody left.
That night, Wednesday night, the deacons invited the young fellow to say a few words. He stood up there and he began pouring out his soul and heart on John 3:16. And when he gave an invitation, there were about ten people saved.
Well, the deacons were overwhelmed! So they said, “You preach for us tomorrow night, Thursday night. We’ll have services.”
The young fellow stood up there Thursday night, preached on the same text, John 3:16. And there were about fifteen people saved. They were overwhelmed! And they announced, “On Friday night, we’ll have services again. And this young man will preach.” And only Friday night, they had about twenty people saved. They announced services for Saturday night.
And on Saturday, Mr. Moody came back to Chicago. And his wife said to him, she said, “Husband, we’re in the midst of a great revival. And this young fellow, Harry Moorehouse, will be preaching again tonight.” And she said to Moody, “The people are being converted, and you’re going to be converted!” Moody was astonished at what his wife said. He replied, “I’ve been preaching over twenty years and you say I’m going to be converted!”
“Yes,” she says, “and you will see. You’ll understand.” When the service began on Saturday night, Moody sat on the front row, highly critical. The young fellow began preaching again on John 3:16. And there were about twenty-five or thirty people saved on Saturday night.
That continued every night for six solid weeks. And when it was over, Moody said, “I got converted, changed.” He said, “Heretofore, I have been preaching on the Sinai side of Calvary—been preaching hellfire and damnation and thunder and lightning! But,” he said, “after those six weeks, I began preaching the other side of Calvary: grace, and forgiveness, and love, and salvation in the outpouring of the loving heart and saving blood of our Lord.”
That’s a remarkable thing, “For God so loved the world” [John 3:16]. There are three words you will find in the Bible for “world.” Gē: geography comes from that; gē, that’s the dust of the ground. That’s the substance of this planet, gē. Oikoumenē, oikoumenē refers to the inhabited world. The third word is kosmos. That refers to God’s orderly universe, His finest and best, the utmost that God could do in His omnipotent and created power. Your word “cosmetic” comes from that, beauty, arrangement, design; all that God poured into this created world. And that’s the word used here, “God so loved the kosmos” [John 3:16]; His finest and His noblest and His best.
Everything we see contradicts that, denies that. God seems in this universe so removed and so far away. The laws of creation are relentless. They are implacable. The storms are cruel and tragic. Not only is there seemingly an impersonal government in this universe, but the humanity that is in it is tragically cursed.
How does God in love look upon it, the devastation of war, the terrorism that characterizes our modern society, beside the disease and the age and the death of all God’s created creatures? It is a beautiful and believing heart that can see God beyond the storm, and the furor, and the judgment, and the death.
Have you ever heard anybody sing that song, “The Love of God?” You know where it came from? A wretch in an insane asylum finally died. And when they carried the remains of that wretched life out to some kind of a dump in which it was buried, on the wall—on the wall!—of the asylum cell in which he lived and died was written that hymn, that song, that poem. Do you remember it?
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell.
It goes beyond the highest star
And reaches to the lowest hell.
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Where every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade
To write the love of God above
Would drain the oceans dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky.
Oh, love of God! How rich and pure,
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure,
The saints and angel’s song.
[“Hadamut” by Rabbi Mayer, 1096, reworked as hymn
by Frederick Martin Lehman, 1917]
God, loving this fallen world; not only “God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son” [John 3:16]—you know it’s a strange thing there, the Revised Standard Version, copyrighted by the National Council of Churches, leaves out that “begotten.” And when you ask them, “Why do you leave it out?” They reply, “You don’t need it. You don’t need it, that monogenes, “only begotten.”
Oh, my friend and my brother and sister! That monogenes is there, emphasizing what God did, the lengths to which God went to manifest and to pour out His love for us. You see, our Lord is that God incarnate [Matthew 1:23-25]. He took our form and figure [Philippians 2:5-8]. He took our life. He cried our tears, He suffered our hurts [Hebrews 4:14-15]. He finally died our death—He, the most excruciating that man has ever devised. Jesus did that [Matthew 27:26-50].
And in that loving gift of His Son, God gave Himself, Himself. He didn’t try to buy us off with planets, or stars, or mountains, or oceans, or riches, or jewels. He gave Himself. God did it! Jesus is God manifest in the flesh [1 Timothy 3:16]. And when He suffered and died, it was God giving Himself for us [Matthew 27:26-50; Titus 2:14].
I want to illustrate that if I can. As you know, I was born and grew up as a little boy on the western plains of Oklahoma. Back yonder in those long ago days, there was a missionary who cast a tent on those prairies in western Oklahoma and called together the Plains Indians in a revival. This preacher, this missionary was under that tent, preaching the gospel to those Plains Indians. And he was preaching on this text, “The Love of God.”
And in the midst of his sermon, the Indian chief stood up and came before him and said, “Indian chief give his pony to Jesus.” And he went outside and got his pony and tied the pony to a stake of the tent. Missionary paid no attention, just kept on preaching about the love of God. The old Indian chief stood up once again and came before the missionary and laid his tomahawk down at his feet, looked up at him and said, “Indian chief give his tomahawk to Jesus.” Missionary paid no attention, just kept on preaching the love of God in Christ Jesus. The old chief stood up once again. This time when he came forward, he knelt down there and looked up into the face of the missionary and said, “Indian chief give himself to Jesus.”
That’s the greatest gift of life. Not what we have, but ourselves. Not what we possess, but what we are. That’s God in Christ Jesus. “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him” [John 3:16]. Can you think what that “whosoever” includes? I can easily see how you could love those who aboundingly pour affection upon you, or how you could love the charming or the gracious. But how do you love the vile and the filthy? “Whosoever,” that includes them too, the whole flotsam and jetsam of humanity.
I read one time that Dr. Ironsides of the Moody Church in Chicago was preaching in a lost, despicable, depraved area of San Francisco. And he had a Salvation Army group with him. And he was there on the street, preaching. While he was preaching, an infidel stood up who was there in the crowd; infidel stood up and made fun of what he was saying, and challenged him to a debate the next day at the same hour, same place.
And Harry Ironsides said, “My friend and my brother, I’d be glad to. At this hour, at this place, I’ll debate you tomorrow. I only have one thing that I want to suggest,” said Dr. Ironsides. “When I come tomorrow and stand here tomorrow, when I come I shall bring with me one hundred of the wretches of humanity that have been saved and lifted up by the love of Christ. And you bring one hundred who have been saved and redeemed by the gospel of infidelity. Then we’ll have our debate.”
The infidel cowered and slunk away. Where would you find one hundred in the whole world, saved and regenerated, lifted up and redeemed by the gospel of infidelity and unbelief? Where would you? My brother, if we were to gather together those who had been lifted up and saved by the gospel of the love of God in Christ Jesus, they would number the uncounted thousands and thousands and thousands.
One time in Nigeria, I followed Dr. Goldie, a medical doctor. In that Yoruba nation, if one was found with leprosy, they shoved him out into the byways and jungles to die. And Dr. Goldie had gathered them together in clan settlements, in a big arch through that nation and ministered to them. And I went with him.
I cannot describe to you how I felt as I saw that beloved Christian physician from this clan settlement with hundreds of those outcasts, and what leprosy does to the human form and figure. Their fingers fall off. Their toes fall off. Their nose and their ears fall off. They are indescribable.
And yet there they are gathered together in the love of Jesus and ministered to by this beloved physician, all in the name of Jesus, our Lord. “That whosoever,” that includes everybody, everybody. That includes me. “Whosoever believeth” [John 3:16], could anything be simpler than that? Isn’t that just what our Lord said before the beautiful passage? “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal, everlasting life” [John 3:14-15]. Could anything be simpler than that? Could the way be plainer than that? The way to God is by acceptance, by trust, by commitment, opening your heart [Romans 10:9-10].
I can easily think of a man in that awesome judgment, those fiery, venomous serpents were everywhere. And this man, bitten, swollen, convulsive, dying, and someone comes to him and says, “My brother, my brother, Moses has lifted up a serpent made of brass in the midst of the camp. And it is, anyone who looks will live” [Numbers 21:8-9]:
My brother, look…look and live!
Look to Jesus Christ and live;
‘Tis recorded in His Word, hallelujah!
It is only that you “look and live.”
[from “Look and Live,” William A. Ogden, 1887]
There is life for a look at the Crucified One.
There is life at this moment for thee.
Then look my brother, look unto Him and be saved
Unto Him who was nailed to the tree!
[“There is Life for a Look,” Amelia Hull, 1860]
It is that simple. My brother, less could not have been required. More by some could not have been bought. If it were a sale, some of us are too poor to buy it. If it were to be good, some of us are not good enough. Were it to be worthy, some of us are so unworthy. But it’s just to look, just to look, just to look and live, that we “not perish, but have everlasting life,” aionios. It’s a strange thing. John uses that, just with that word “life,” aionios, aionios, translated “eternal,” translated “everlasting” [John 3:16]. It refers to the life in the age to come, that we might live forever.
My friend and brother and sister, there is a place in heaven for you. There is a reservation, a seat at the marriage supper of the Lamb for you [Revelation 19:7-9]. There is a home in the city of God for you [John 14:1-3; Revelation 21:1-3]. And there is an assignment, and a place, and a calling, and a ministry in the church of our living Lord just for you [Ephesians 4:15-16]. “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will,” that includes me. “And whosoever will,” that includes us. “And whosoever will,” that’s you my brother. “And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely, and come” [Revelation 22:17]. Come. Come. While we stand and while we sing our song; “This is God’s day for me, God’s time for me, and I’m on the way, pastor, and here I stand,” while we sing our song, while we make our appeal.