THE WORK AWAITING US
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-27-87 10:50 a.m.
Once again welcome to the throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on television. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, delivering the message entitled The Work That Awaits Us. In our preaching through the Gospel of John, we have come to chapter 9, and verse 4 is our text [John 9:14]. The message is a textual sermon. It is an exposition of this fourth verse of the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John.
Your King James Version reads: “I must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day; the night cometh, when no man can work” [John 9:4]. What John actually wrote was: “We must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day.”
“We must work.” What happened was a scribe in an ancient day read that hēmas—”we must work”—and he thought it was not spiritually correct to place us in the same category with our Lord Jesus, so he changed the word from hēmas—”we”—to eimi—”I.”
The work of Christ is unique, no doubt of that. He is separate and apart [Hebrews 7:26]. He is in truth, the Son of God [Matthew 16:16], the manifestation of the Almighty in the flesh [John 1:14]. We ascribe to that. There is a uniqueness and a separateness in the person of our Lord that is far beyond the rest of us mortal beings. But in the good providences of the Lord, and in the elective choices and purposes of God, He has made us yokefellows and fellow workers with Him.
“We,” said our Lord, “We must work the works of Him while it is day” [John 9:4]. God did not commit His message of redemption and salvation to angels or to the beautiful spirits of heaven, not to an archangel or to a seraph or to a cherub. But God gave the wondrous preaching of the gospel and the proclamation of the faith to us who are made of dust of the ground. God has been that generous and kind toward the humanity He created from the beginning [Genesis 1:26-27, 2:7]. It is not a development in later generations, but the Lord has been that throughout the centuries of the history of humanity.
God sent Noah [2 Peter 2:5]. God raised up Elijah [1 Kings 17:1]. God commissioned Jeremiah [Jeremiah 1:5]. God called John the Baptist [Luke 1:15-17]. The Lord anointed Paul of Tarsus [Galatians 1:1]. And through all of the succeeding centuries, His great emissaries have been human beings: John Chrysostom, John the “Golden Mouth”; Girolamo Savanarola, the great reformer of Florence; Martin Luther; John Wesley; Roger Williams; to our present day. We are included in the purposes of God, in the proclamation of His faith. We must work the works for which God hath ordained us and sent us [John 9:4].
‘Tis a remarkable thing how God hath limited Himself to our ministries; it is our hands and our feet and our hearts and our witnesses that make known the gospel of Christ in the earth. As the poet said, even God Himself cannot make Stradivarius violins without Stradivarius. And God Himself does not choose to make the gospel known apart from us who preach it, witness to it, invite others to share in it.
“We must work the works of Him” [John 9:4]. We”—do you see the divine necessity? “We must”—there is a divine imperative, a heavenly obligation, a glorious commission; “We must.” It would be an interesting thing, had we had time to speak of the “musts” of our Lord. Even when He was 12 years of age, He said, “Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business” [Luke 2:49]. As He came toward the end of His ministry, He began to teach His disciples that the Son of Man must suffer and die [Mark 8:31]. When they sought to deliver Him from the arresting soldiers in Gethsemane, He said, “That the Scriptures might be fulfilled, thus it must be” [Matthew 26:54].
In this Gospel of John, in the third chapter: “Ye must be born again” [John 3:3, 7], a divine necessity, imperative. Again, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” [John 3:14-16]. There is a heavenly obligation and commission and imperative that is committed to us: “We must work the works of Him” [John 9:4].
I think of that in our ministries, in three categories; one, bringing to people the consolation and hope in the face of death; death, the one universal in mankind. That serpent that deceived our first parents [Genesis 3:1-6], and brought into this world death, the judgment of death [Genesis 2:17, 3:19], that same serpent brings into our lives that same judgment of death [Ezekiel 18:4; Revelation 12:9]. How do we face it? Is there any hope beyond it? This is our commission. We have a word from heaven, from Him who triumphed over the grave, who is victorious over death. And because He lives, we live also [John 14:19]. And the grave for the child of God is nothing other than the open door into heaven [2 Corinthians 5:8].
We have a divine imperative, a divine commission, a “must,” to bring to lost humanity: beyond death, and beyond the grave, there is salvation [John 11:25-26]. There is life for us in heaven with our Lord [John 14:3]. What a beautiful and everlasting comfort! When this life is done, and our task is finished, and our work and assignment are over, God hath some better thing prepared for us [1 Corinthians 2:9]; to be that kind of a witness in the world is a must, a commandment, an imperative for His children [Matthew 28:19-20].
I one time heard a story about a Senator Jonathan P. Dolliver from [Iowa]. His father was an old-time, old-fashioned Methodist preacher. And wherever that Methodist father and preacher was, he spoke to people about the Lord. His conversation always turned to the blessed Jesus. He lived at home in his old age with two maiden daughters. And upon a day, his son the senator said, “I am bringing to be a guest in our house, I am bringing the ambassador of Switzerland.” And the two girls in the home said to their father, “Now when that ambassador comes, we don’t want your talking to him about his soul. You are always doing that. But this time, with this illustrious guest in our home, don’t talk to him about his soul.”
When the ambassador came with his friend the senator, sure enough, the old preacher began talking to the ambassador about his soul. Not long after that, the old man died. And when he did, the ambassador said to his friend the senator, “When you leave Washington to attend the services of your father, I want to go with you.” And the senator said, “Why, I cannot think of that, the journey to Iowa.” And the ambassador said, “Sir, I want to attend his funeral.” He said, “I have been in America for these years, and he is the only man who has ever spoken to me about my eternal soul.”
Such a thing rebukes my own manner and way of living. How many people do I converse with, and never speak a word about Jesus? And how many circumstances and areas of life do we move in and work and never mention our Lord?
One of the saddest things I ever heard in all of my life: I was talking to a businessman here in the city, and the conservation finally came to center in a man in our church. And I said to him, “He is a deacon in our church.” And the businessman said, “He is a deacon in your church?” He said, “I have been doing intimate business with him for twenty-two years and I never even knew he belonged to the church, much less was a deacon in it.”
How could a man who is a child of God, looking to Jesus for that justification, redemption [Romans 4:25], that will open for him the doors of glory, and never say a word of love, or thanksgiving, or appreciation for what Jesus has done for him? A divine imperative: “We must” [John 9:4].
And may I say one other thing of that obligation and commission from heaven given to us? [Matthew 28:19-20]. If we have any hope for the regeneration of our beloved America, it lies in the gospel message that God hath commissioned to us. There is no other hope.
One-third of all Americans use drugs or alcohol. The profits of cocaine in America is twenty-five billion dollars annually, far more than the great corporations of our America. Suicide is the second largest killer of teenagers in America. And something like two million Americans now have AIDS. I cannot enter into that. I am so lost before that, two million Americans, and their number is increasing rapidly every day. I cannot understand.
There was a man who sat here in our church, right there, a tall, blond, good-looking young man about thirty years of age. He came to see me. And he said to me, “I am a homosexual, and I have AIDS. I want you to pray for me and with me.” He said, “I have repented. I’ve asked God to come into my heart, and He has forgiven me. But I just wanted you to pray with me,” just weep and cry and tell me those things in his life. Every service he was here, every Sunday morning, every Sunday night, every Wednesday night. And practically every service, would say a word to me after the benediction.
When I went to London about a week ago, about a month ago, within a week after we had left, he was dead. I cannot understand. I read what the physician says, what the scientist says. What is this that is coming upon our nation and coming upon our world? Is it a judgment of God? What is this? Is it a sign of these ultimate and final days, the night coming? [John 9:4]. I don’t know. I am so lost before it. I cannot believe that that young man, so strong and well—you would never in the earth know that he had such an affliction—and within a week he was dead.
Our hope lies not in the scientist and not in the laboratory. Our hope lies in the gospel message of Jesus Christ; our people speaking, loving, faithfully following the glorious hope we have in Christ Jesus. “We must”—a divine imperative. I must hasten. “We must do the work of our Lord in heaven; for the night cometh” [John 9:4], the urgency of our message!
Robert Murray M’Cheyne was one of the most effective preachers who ever lived. In Scotland, burned out at twenty-nine years of age, died when he was twenty-nine, giving himself to the ministries of our Lord. He had a watch, and on the watch—the face of it, the dial, was painted a setting sun. And underneath the painting of the setting sun, this word: “The night cometh.” We have so short a time [John 9:4].
Dear people, I do not exaggerate when I tell you: though I have been here, next Sunday, forty-three years—beginning my forty-fourth year as pastor of this dear congregation—there are many, many, many times when it seems to me that I came here yesterday. Where have these years flown away? How quickly youth passes! How quickly age multiplies! And how quickly we are forced to finish our task; the night cometh inexorably [John 9:4].
We can stop the hands of a clock, but we can’t stop the march of time. Like these stars in their orbits, so the inexorable movement of time in our lives, and with it an irrevocable remembrance; O God, that I could have done better, that I could have spoken more faithfully! But you can’t run the mill with the water that is already passed.
Listen to the water mill all the live long day,
Hear the squeaking of the wheels as they wear the hours away;
Languidly, the water glides ever on and still,
But never coming back again to the water mill.
Oh, the wasted hours of life that have floated by,
Oh, the good we might have done that is lost without a sigh;
Love we might have had, for only a word,
Thoughts conceived but never penned, perishing unheard;
Take this lesson to yourselves, it is all so true.
Golden years are passing by, and youth is passing too;
Wealth, power, intellect, may not, cannot last—
For the mill can never grind with the water that is passed.
[“The Water Mill,” Sarah Doudney]
What I do for Jesus, I must do now. If I lose this present moment, it never returns again. I must close.
“We must work the works of God while it is day: the night cometh when our work is done” [John 9:4]. Lord, we offer unto Thee, in our highest and most precious moments, we offer to Thee, the dedicated work of our hands, the love of our hearts, and the consecrated efforts of our lives.
May I speak of just three things in the area of our church that we offer to God in His name, in His faith, in His grace, the works of our Lord? One is our evangel ministries. O God, how I could hope that that movement will multiply in our congregation! For three hundred years there were no church houses, and those first three hundred years of the Christian faith were by far the most effective and dynamic in Christian history.
Paul writes in Romans 16:3: “Greet Priscilla”—isn’t that an amazing thing? He names her first: “Greet Priscilla and Aquila in the faith; and greet the church that is in their house” [Romans 16:3, 5]. All through the empire those little groups met, studying God’s Word, speaking God’s message, testifying to the grace of Jesus. We will never, ever build a church big enough to include this great metroplex. But there is no limit to the number of people that we can reach in our homes, gathering in groups, studying the Word of God, witnessing to His loving grace, opening for us fountains of blessing. O Lord, help us as we offer to Thee the evangel ministries in our dear church.
Number two: “We must work the works of Him that sent us” [John 9:4]. All of the multifaceted ministries of our church on any ordinary day, every day in the week, there will be at least two thousand people down here in this church. They’re in our schools. They’re in our congregational meetings. They’re in our planning sessions. They’re in our music programs. They are in every area of life.
And when I look upon it, these children, these teenagers, young people, young marriage, men and women—when I look upon it, O God in heaven, how I thank Thee for it! Pulling them out of the world and bringing them into a beautiful relationship, fellowship, comradeship in the name of our Lord; O God, bless it!
And last: dear Jesus, precious Savior, sanctify and hallow our convocations; the assembling of Thy people in these public services of praise and worship. O God, meet with us! When we walk in the door, Lord, walk with us. And when we’re seated here in the sanctuary, sit down by our sides. And Lord, when we name Thy name or sing Thy praises, may You be pleased with our dedicated efforts.
I can never forget that it is in the assembly of God’s people that we make our confession of faith. It is here that we give our lives to the Lord [Romans 10:8-13]. It is before God’s people that we witness to His saving grace in the waters of baptism [Acts 8:36]. It is in this convocation that we mostly are moved in the love and presence of our Lord Jesus, remembering what God says, “not forsaking the assembling of yourself together” [Hebrews 10:25]; we, working the works of God [John 9:4]. And this convocation of Thy people is the most meaningful and precious and beautiful part of it all. Lord, may I be faithful in that. Like my father and mother; never the door open, but they were there. In my own heart and life, every Lord’s Day in the Lord’s house, and you assembling with us, praising God, loving Him. O God, meet with us! And may these public services ever move our souls heavenward and Christ-ward. May we pray?
Our Lord, Thou hast given to us such a heavy but divine commission to represent Thee in the earth, to be Thy ambassadors [Matthew 28:19-20; John 9:4]. O Lord, give us strength, and wisdom, and help, and patience, and courage, and commitment, as we seek to do God’s task and assignment in our lives, in our church, in our city and in our lost world. And our Lord, bless this message this morning. Give us souls, Lord, please. In this moment when we sing our hymn of appeal, may the Holy Spirit guide, and woo, and win, and give to us that precious harvest for which we pray. Bless all of our people; every family, every child, every heart. God, we cannot do without Thee. We are so weak, facing inevitable death and judgment; Lord, stand by us, and may this be a moment of salvation. Do it, Lord; in Thy dear name, amen.
In this moment when we stand to sing our appeal, a family you to come, a couple, or just one somebody you, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and here I stand.” It is so simple to be saved. “Pastor, I admit that I face the judgment of death because I am a sinner. The wages of sin is death [Romans 6:23], and the soul that sins shall die [Ezekiel 18:20]. I confess that, pastor. I face the judgment of death. I believe Jesus is able to deliver me in that hour of judgment, and now I am coming, confessing Him, and receiving Him to be my Savior” [Romans 10:8-13].
To be a Christian is that simple. Do it, and you will have a yokefellow and a pilgrim by your side in this life; in the hour of death, and the eternity that is yet to come. He is our best friend. Receive Him [John 1:12]. Shake hands with Him. Get to know Him. Walk with Him. Every day will be a triumphant day no matter what its shadows, or tears, or sadnesses. Come, welcome, while we stand, and while we sing.
I. Altering the text – “we” to “I”
A. Scribe thought it
wrong to place us in same category with Christ
B. Always God’s work is
done in association with God’s people
II. Divine necessity
A. Divine imperative,
The “musts” of Jesus (Luke 2:, Mark 8:31,
Matthew 26:54, John 3:7, 14)
B. The work we must do
1. Bringing hope
in the face of death
message of salvation
3. Bring a
message of life and regeneration to disintegrating America
B. Time is irrevocable
IV. Our calling in Christ Jesus
A. Our evangel groups
B. Our multifaceted
C. Our church services