Love For A Lost World
March 1st, 1987 @ 10:50 AM
LOVE FOR A LOST WORLD
Dr. W.A. Criswell
3-1-87 10:50 a.m.
You are a glorious choir and orchestra. Oh, I just feel so uplifted, praising God with you. And we welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on television. You are a part this morning of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Love For A Lost World. It is a sermon from the greatest text in the Bible and the greatest sentence in human speech, John 3:16. The verse before and after, in the third chapter of John:
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—
would you like to say that with me? Let us just say it together—
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.
He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth upon Him.
The world, the universe, all of the creation above, around, and beneath us, all of it is fallen and sin-cursed. These dead stars and these darkened planets, and this scorched terrain upon which we live, with its deserts and its poles of cold and ice—all of it is fallen, all of it. And the humanity that inhabits this earth is depraved and lost in darkness. Why doesn’t God pass it by? Why should God care for so fallen a universe and so depraved a humanity? Why doesn’t God pass us by?
In my first church out in the country, I had a godly deacon. His wife played the piano. They had one child, a boy, prodigal beyond what you could think for. In order to defend him in court and to make restitution in the endless series of robberies, they lost everything they had. They mortgaged their beautiful and extensive farm.
And I asked him and her, father and mother, “Why don’t you let him go? Why spend the strength of your life and the substance of your support for so unworthy a child?”
And they said, “But he is our son, he’s our boy. And you’re very young; and if you ever have a child, you’ll understand.”
The loving and seeking God in the garden of Eden, “Adam, where, oh where, oh where art thou?” [Genesis 3:9] seeking the man fallen in transgression. The whole Old Covenant, Old Testament, is that—epitomized, incarnate in Hosea, whose wife left, entered a world of debauchery and depravity, finally enslaved. And Hosea represents God; makes his way to the auction block, there to buy back his enslaved wife [Hosea 3:1-2]. Or Jesus of the New Covenant, the New Testament, coming into this world to seek and to save all of us who are lost [Luke 19:10]. Or the story of the Christian faith through these passing centuries: sending out apostles and missionaries and martyrs to the ends of the earth—a seeking, loving God.
One of the beautiful passages in the apostle Paul, the third chapter of Ephesians: To know the love of Christ, how do we comprehend its length and breadth, and depth, and height which passeth knowledge—which passeth understanding [Ephesians 3:18-19]. It is incredible! The love of God in Christ is immeasurable. It is shoreless. It is boundless. How could you explain it or enter into it?
Did you ever hear the story of Harry Moorehouse? Dwight L. Moody closed his revival meeting in Birmingham, England. And they were gathered round to bid him goodbye as he came back to America. A young man in that group bidding Dwight L. Moody farewell was a young fellow—very young fellow—by the name of Harry Moorehouse. He said to D. L. Moody, “I am coming to America, and when I do, I’ll preach for you.” Well, you don’t invite yourself to a pulpit, somebody must invite you. But that’s what he said, and Moody graciously replied, “Well, when you come to America, you be sure to speak to us. We’ll welcome you.”
About six months later, D. L. Moody in Chicago received a telephone call from a Harry Moorehouse in New York City. And the young fellow said to Moody, “I have come to America. I’m in New York. I’ll be in Chicago Wednesday, and I’ll preach for you Wednesday night.”
When Wednesday came, Moody had to leave on a journey. So he said to his deacons, “There’s a young fellow coming here named Harry Moorehouse from Birmingham, England, and you call on him to say just a few words.”
What happened was when they called on the young fellow, he stood up there and he preached. He preached a whole sermon; he preached on John 3:16. And when the service was done and the invitation was given, there were about ten people saved. It was a remarkable hour. So the deacons said to the young man, “We’ll have services tomorrow night, Thursday night, and you preach for us.” Thursday night came, the young fellow preached on the same text. And there were about fifteen people saved; it was remarkable! They said, “We’ll have services Friday night, and you preach Friday night.”
The young fellow stood up, same text, “God so loved the world.” He gave the invitation. And there were about twenty people saved. It was remarkable! They said, “We’ll have services Saturday night, and you preach Saturday night.”
On Saturday, D. L. Moody came back to Chicago. And his wife said to him, “Dear, we are in the midst of a marvelous revival, a wonderful revival! People are being changed, being converted.” And she said, “When you attend the services, you’re going to be converted! You’re going to be changed.” Moody was offended and said, “I’ve been preaching over twenty years. And you say I’m going to be converted?” “Yes,” she said. “You’ll see!”
Well, when he came to the service Saturday night, sat on the front, he was highly critical—sat there kind of insulted. But when the young fellow got through preaching, they had about thirty people saved. It was remarkable! That young man continued preaching every night in that church on the same text for six solid weeks—six solid weeks in a great revival, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit of God.
When it was over, Moody said, “She was right. I got converted. I have been changed.” He said, “Heretofore, I have been preaching on the Sinai side of the cross: hell, and damnation, and fire, and fury, and thunder and lightning! But,” he said, “I have changed. I’ve been converted. I’m preaching now on the other side of the cross, the love of God, and the blood of Jesus, and the outpouring of the Spirit of love and intercession.” What a wonderful thing! “God so loved the world” [John 3:16].
There are three words for world. One is ge: g‑e, your word “geography,” graphē, “writing down the world.” Ge, ge is a Greek word that refers to the dust of the ground, to the substance of the earth. A second word is oikoumenē. Oikoumenē refers to the inhabited world. A third word is kosmos, kosmos, that refers to God’s ordered creation, His noblest and His finest work. Your word “cosmetic” comes from that. Beauty; the best that God could do. And that’s the word in this passage, “God so loved the kosmos, the world, His finest and His best, His noblest creative effort” [John 3:16].
But everything we see in this world denies His love and His presence. God seems so separated from His created universe. The laws of the creation are so implacable and impersonal—they are harsh and unrelenting. The storms that blow and the vicissitudes of nature are so often cruel, and God seems so far away; and the humanity; a story of war, and bloodshed, and murder, and terrorism, and universally one of disease and finally death.
How does God in love look upon that and separate Himself from it? How can God do it and say He loves the world? That is the presence of the Spirit of the Lord in our hearts, to see Him beyond our age and death and to see the presence of God beyond our fallen universe.
Do you know—did you ever hear the beautiful hymn, “The Love of God”? Did you know where that song, where that poem, that lyric comes from? A wretch, a wretch died in an insane asylum, and when they carried out his body to bury it in some dump somewhere, on the wall of his cell in the insane asylum was this poem:
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 that ocean 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,” Rabbi Mayer, 1096 reworked as hymn
by Frederick Martin Lehman, 1917]
“God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” [John 3:16]. You know, it’s a strange thing, in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible—copyrighted by the National Council of Churches—they left out that word “begotten.” Monogenes, “‘begotten,” “only begotten,” monogenes. And when they were asked, “Why do you leave it out?” they said, “It’s not necessary, it’s superfluous. It’s redundant.” So they leave out monogenes, but God put it there, “Only begotten.” And the reason God put it there was to emphasize the superlative preciousness of the gift He has made for our redemption and our salvation. You see Jesus is the Lord God incarnate [Matthew 1:23].
He—God who made us, created us [Genesis 1:27], He—God took upon Himself our figure and our form and our life [Philippians 2:5-7]. And He cried our tears [Luke 19:41; John 11:35; Hebrews 5:7-8]. And He suffered our hurts [Isaiah 53:4]. And He lived our life [Hebrews 4:15]. And He died the most cruel death man has ever devised [Matthew 27:32-50]. He died our death [Romans 4:25]. He did it. And He gave Himself for it—for our redemption, that we might be delivered [Ephesians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:18-19]. God never gave a planet, or a universe, or a star, or oceans, or mountains, or riches. He gave Himself [Hebrews 10:5-14].
Could I illustrate that? I was born on the plains in Western Oklahoma; grew up there in the days of my little childhood, boyhood. In those long ago days, there was a missionary sent to one of those Plains tribes of Indians in Western Oklahoma. He brought his tent and cast it and invited all of those Plains Indians to come to the revival. While he was preaching under that tent—preaching about the love of God in Christ Jesus—the old Indian chief stood up and walked out, got his pony, came and tied it to a stake of the tent, came and stood before the missionary and said, “Missionary, Indian chief give his pony to Jesus.” Missionary paid no attention to him, just kept on preaching about the love of God.
The old chief stood up again. This time came forward and put his tomahawk down at the feet of the missionary, and said, “Missionary, Indian chief give his tomahawk to Jesus.” Missionary paid no attention to him, just kept on preaching about the love of God. The old chief stood up again and this time, coming forward, he fell on his knees and looked up into the face of the missionary and said, “Missionary, Indian chief give himself to Jesus.”
That’s God! That’s the Lord God. He owns the world and the universe and all that’s in it [Psalm 50:12]. But these were not sufficient. They don’t suffice to redeem the man that He loves, the world that He created. He gave Himself, His Son, God incarnate “that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” [John 3:16]. Whosoever!
O dear God, could it be? No wonder Paul says it’s incredulous. It’s beyond understanding, it’s beyond knowledge. I can understand how we could be gracious and kind to those who heap affection upon us, and I can understand how we could be kind and loving to those who are charming, and good, and responsive, and kind. I can understand that. But O Lord God, when You say “whosoever, whosoever” [John 3:16], that means the degraded, and the depraved, and the filthy, and the vile, the blasphemous. Lord God, how could You do that? Yet that is the power and the strength of the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God. Whosoever! [John 3:16].
In one of those vile, depraved sections of San Francisco, Dr. Ironside of the Moody Church in Chicago was preaching on the street; had with him a band like the Salvation Army. And while he was preaching, one of the men on the street stood up—interrupted, and said, “All you are saying is a lie! And I challenge you tomorrow in this same place, at this same hour, to debate me. I’ll be here. And you be here. And we’ll debate this thing that you’re preaching about the love of God.” And Dr. Ironside replied, “My brother, I will be delighted to meet you here. In this place, at this same hour, we’ll debate the reality of the Lord God and His love for us. I just have one condition, just one.” Ironside said: “I’ll be here tomorrow in this same place at this same hour. And I will bring with me one hundred wretches, who have been lifted up and saved and delivered by the grace of the love of God in Christ Jesus, saved by the power of the Crucified One. I’ll be here, and I’ll bring with me one hundred who have been lifted up out of the miry pit and feet set on a rock. I’ll be here with one hundred. Then you be here and bring with you one hundred who have been lifted up and saved by the power of the gospel of atheism and infidelity. And we’ll meet here at this hour, at this same place.
That infidel quietly, embarrassingly snuck away. Where are you going to find one hundred people in the world sunk in sin and depravity, saved by the gospel of infidelity and atheism? Where are you going to find that! But my brother, upon any hour and any place in this world, I could bring thousands and thousands who have been saved by the glory, and the power, and the presence, and the grace of God’s love in Christ Jesus. It’s a wonder. It’s incredulous as Paul, “It is beyond knowledge” [Ephesians 3:19].
I was in Africa and I was following one of our missionaries, a medical doctor, Dr. Goldie, around. Oh, dear! In that vast Yoruba section of the nation, if any of those Africans, Nigerians, is found with leprosy, they push them out. Any village, any town, any place—the leper is pushed out, sent out, pushed out, cast out. Cast out to die; exposure, starvation, pushed out—the lepers.
What Dr. Goldie did was, he gathered all of those cast-out wretches. He gathered them in what you call clan settlements. And in a great arc through Yoruba, tribe of Nigeria—through a great arc, he gathered them in clan settlements here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here. And I went with him, visiting those clan settlements in that great arc. Once a month, once a month, he ministered to those lepers. I can’t describe to you how I felt—just looking at it, just watching it. What leprosy does—your fingers fall off, and your toes fall off, and your nose falls off, and your ears fall off—and all of the sores and disintegration of the flesh; it’s unthinkable. And he gathered all of those wretches together, put them in those clan settlements, taking care of them, hundreds of them in each one, ministering to them; and I just stand there and look at it.
How do you describe the love of the Lord that reaches down to such depravity and disease like that? But that’s that “whosoever” [John 3:16]. Whosoever! That’s all of God’s lost, depraved humanity, and that includes me. Whosoever. “Whosoever believeth in Him” [John 3:16], the way plain and simple. Jesus illustrated it in His own word: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so is the Son of Man to be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” [John 3:14-15; Numbers 21:8-9]. The way of salvation, reconciliation, redemption is in acceptance, in belief, in trust, the plain and simple way of opening your heart to the loving and the mercy of God.
And He illustrates it. I can easily imagine, easily so, in that wilderness camp, visited with little fiery venomous, poisonous snakes. They’re everywhere. It’s a judgment from God—death everywhere [Numbers 21:5-6]. I can easily imagine a man bitten by one of those venomous reptiles. And he’s swollen and convulsing and dying! And a man runs to him and says, “Oh, oh, oh! In the midst of the camp Moses has lifted up a brazen serpent. And, my brother, if you’ll look, you’ll live” [Numbers 21:8-9]. Less could not have been demanded; more by many could not have been offered, “Just look! Just look!”
There is life for a look at the Crucified One.
There is life at this moment for thee.
Then look sinner—look unto Him and be saved
Unto Him who was nailed to the tree!
[“There is Life for a Look,” Amelia Hull, 1860]
“Just look! Just look!” There is life for a look at the Crucified One, “Just look!” That whosoever would look, would trust, would believe might not perish, but have everlasting life [John 3:16]. What an awesome thing! That word “perish,” that means gehenna—where the “worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched” [Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:44 ], that means the darkness of separation, that means hell and judgment [Revelation 20:11-15]
O God, when I stand in Thy presence at this ultimate and final day, O God have mercy upon me! To spend an eternity in damnation, and darkness, and separation, and suffering, and burning, and hell [Revelation 20:15]: O God, have mercy upon me! [Titus 3:5].
“That we should not perish, but have eternal life” [John 3:16]. It’s a remarkable thing how John uses that word, aionios, aionios. Eternal, everlasting—he always uses it with the word “life,” never an exception to that. It’s always everlasting, eternal life, and he’s speaking of the life in the age to come, and he’s speaking of it as a present possession. “He that believeth hath everlasting life,” aionios, “life” [John 3:15-16]. Lord God, what a blessing You have prepared for us!
My brother, there’s a place for you in heaven. The door is opened wide. There’s a reservation for you at the marriage supper of the Lamb [Revelation 19:6-9]. Come and be welcome! There’s a home for you in the city of God [John 14:1-3; Revelation 21:2-3]. The Lord made it just for you. And there is a beautiful place of ministry and service for you in His dear church, in the family of God, in the body of Christ, come!
“The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will,” welcome! Welcome, whosoever—that’s me, that’s us, that’s you—”and whosoever, let him come!” [Revelation 22:17].
O God, without loss of one, may we all answer to our name in that final and ultimate day when God calls the roll in glory. Now may we pray?
Our Lord in heaven, in Thy mercy and love and grace, make this hour one of decision, and commitment, and salvation. Lord, when we sing our hymn of appeal, honor Jesus, Thy Son and our Savior, with souls, coming in faith, coming in baptism, coming in church membership, coming in the fellowship of God’s family. Make it Lord a day of glory and commitment. And we will love Thee Master for Thy Spirit working with us, in Thy saving name, amen.
To give your heart to the Lord; to bring your family into the fellowship of the church; to answer a call of the Holy Spirit in your heart, make that decision now. And when we stand to sing our song, on the first note of the first stanza; down that aisle, down that stairway, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me.” No one leaving this service, not this moment; we don’t strike the hand of the surgeon. Let God’s Holy Spirit move in our hearts. It is not twelve o’clock yet. Don’t leave. Pray. And then after the song, you will have opportunity to leave. You can leave if you want to after the song, but in this song, pray, stay. And if God speaks to your heart, “Pastor here I stand. God has spoken to me, and I am answering with my life.” Do it. Do it. It will be the greatest decision you have ever made. And someday when you stand at the great judgment bar, how happy you will be. Make that decision now and come. Welcome. May angels attend you in the way while we stand and while we sing our song. “This is God’s day. This is God’s time for me.”