THE WORK AWAITING US
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-27-87 8:15 a.m.
A glorious passage of Scripture beautifully sung by our choir, accompanied by our orchestra; and thank you dear, sweet and precious prayer partners. Once again, welcome to the throngs of you who share this hour on radio. You are now part of our congregation in the First Baptist Church of Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Work that Awaits Us.
In our preaching through the Gospel of John, we are turning to the ninth chapter and the fourth verse; and the message is a textual sermon. It is on this text in John chapter 9, verse 4. 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]. We begin with that first word: “I must work the works of Him that sent Me.” What Jesus said was, “We must work the works of Him that sent Me.” What happened is very apparent: an ancient scribe reading that text thought it unbecoming that we should be placed in the same category with our living and glorious Lord, so he changed the hēmas, “we,” to eme, “I.” But not so in the Word of the revelation of the will of God for us in our generations and in this world: God has chosen to share His ministries and His works and His marvelous goodnesses with us. We are yokefellows with Him; we are fellow ministers and fellow workers with Him. There has been no exception to that in the history of God’s dealings with humanity.
Noah was a partner with God in the days of the Flood. Elijah was a minister from heaven, called and sanctified by the Spirit of the Lord. Jeremiah was God’s voice to a disobedient nation. John the Baptist was the greatest born of women and was the Lord’s emissary in introducing the new Christian dispensation. Paul the apostle was God’s great preacher to the Roman Empire. Through all of the generations since, it has been just that: we must work the works of Him that sent Jesus into the earth. John Chrysostom, the golden mouth preacher; Girolamo Savonarola, the tremendous reformer in Florence, Italy; or Martin Luther, or John Wesley, or Roger Williams, or the men of God who represent our Lord to the ends of the earth; we must work the works of Him that sent Jesus into the earth. After all, He has no hands but ours, and no feet but ours, and no heart or tongue or witness but ours. We are vital in the providences of God in presenting His saving message to the earth: we must work the works of God.
As the poet said, “Even God Himself cannot make Stradivarius violins without Stradivarius.” And in the choice and wisdom of heaven, there is no gospel preached unless we preach it. There is no delivering of the wonderful grace and goodness of our Savior unless we describe Him. We must work the works of Him that sent our Lord into the earth [John 9:4]. It is our commission, and it is placed in our hands.
That word “must,” “We must work the works of God,” a divine imperative and a universal necessity and obligation. It would be interesting to prepare a sermon on the “musts” of the Lord Jesus. When He was a Lad twelve years of age in the temple, He said, “Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business” [Luke 2:49]. As He came to the conclusion of His ministry, He said to His disciples, He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer and be rejected and crucified; He must [Mark 8:31]. When they sought to deliver Him in Gethsemane from the hands of His enemies, our Lord replied, “How otherwise are the Scriptures to be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” [Matthew 26:54]. In teaching us in the third chapter of this glorious Gospel of John, “Ye must be born again” [John 3:3, 7]. And again, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” [John 3:14; Numbers 21:8-9]. We must work the works of God who sent our Lord into the earth—a divine imperative [John 9:4].
That carries with it the glorious gospel that the Lord has placed in our hearts and in our hands. It is one of hope: in the face of universal and inexorable death there is hope. I do not think in all of the great statuary of the earth there is one more effective than that Laocoön, the priest Laocoön and his two sons being choked and slain and killed in an awesome death by two serpents that Zeus sent from the sea, the agony expressed—how much a reflection of and a picture of the universal writhing of mankind in the presence of death. A man can scoff at God and look flippantly toward the religious faith; but when time comes to die, what hope? Is there a word? Is there a light? Is there a life beyond the grave? God hath given that to us; and our word of salvation, both in this life and in the life to come, and our hope of a regeneration and a re-salvation of our American nation and people, we have no hope except in the preaching of the gospel and the gracious goodness of the Lord in our national life.
One-third of all Americans are in drugs or alcohol; one-third of us. The profit of cocaine in America is twenty-five billion dollars annually. Suicide is the second largest killer of teenagers in America. Two million Americans now have AIDS. I cannot grasp the meaning of that. Right there, right there faithfully sat in front of me, both services Sunday, Sunday night and Wednesday night, right there sat for weeks and weeks and weeks one of the handsomest young men you ever saw: tall and blonde and good-looking. Came to me and said, “Pastor, I am a homosexual, and I have AIDS. Would you pray to God for me? I have repented. I’ve asked God to forgive me. I am living a new life. Would you pray to God for me?” Did you know when I went to England and returned, within a week after I had gone he was dead; within a week, and he was as strong and well as any young man who sits in divine presence today. Two million—and it is increasing furiously every day.
What answer do we have? What is our light or persuasion or hope? It lies in the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God. That’s the “must,” the imperative, the divine obligation and commission that has been placed in our hands, both for our nation and for our world. We must!
Look again at the urgency: “For the night cometh, when no man can work” [John 9:4]. One of the tremendously effective preachers of all time was Robert Murray M’Cheyne of Scotland. He burned himself out when he was twenty-nine years of age; died when he was twenty-nine. He had a watch; and on the watch, of the dial of his watch, was painted a setting sun, and underneath the caption, “The night cometh.” The night cometh, inexorable: we may stop the hands of the clock, but we cannot stop the course and passage of time. Like the stars in their courses, so time thrusts us into the tomorrows. O God, and what shall it be? Not only inexorable, but irrevocable: all the tears of our eyes and all of the burdensome sorrows of our hearts cannot bring back any yesterday.
When I was a youth, I heard a great man of God. I don’t know why these little things would stay in my heart and mind so poignantly, but I can see him now, after these years and scores of years, as he stood and described a scene in his life, and said, “If I could unravel the years, with all of their tears and sorrows and heartaches, that would I do if I could go back to that moment and relive and redo what I failed to do those years and years ago.” Dear God, how we must redeem and retrieve the time!
There is a poem: “You can’t run the mill over water that is already past.”
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 past.
[adapted from “The Water-mill,” Donald C. McCallum]
We must work the works of Him that called us and sent us: for the day comes when we cannot work; the night presses upon us [John 9:4].
May I speak of our nation, our America, and our world? It is remarkable how discerning men feel toward the generation in which God hath cast our life and lot. One of your fellow members in our dear First Baptist Church here in Dallas is the famed evangelist Billy Graham. I quote, “If you look in any direction, whether it’s technological, psychological, the world as we know it is coming to an end. Scientists predict it, sociologists talk about it, everybody is talking about it. Whether you go to the Soviet Union or whether you go anywhere in the world, they’re talking about the end of the world. The world is living in a state of shock” [quoted in The Return, Mike Evans, 1986, p. 22]. And that great tremendously effective Soviet émigré Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: “We are approaching a major turning point in the history of civilization. A concentration of world evil, of hatred for humanity is taking place; and it is fully determined to destroy our society” [“Communism: A Legacy of Terror,” 1976]. The situation in the world is not just dangerous, it isn’t just threatening, it’s catastrophic. And may I turn to the president of our United States? I quote from him, “Turn back to your ancient prophets in the Old Testament, and the signs foretelling Armageddon are here [Ronald Reagan, quoted in Jerusalem Post, October 28, 1983]. I find myself wondering if we’re the generation that’s going to see that come to pass.” We live in an awesome hour. We live in possibly the very disintegration of our world. If World War I was awesome, and World War II was devastating, this next one, with its atomic weaponry, will be Armageddon itself; and it could be turned loose at any day, at any time, at any moment. It lies just in the purview of Almighty God. So this text of our Savior: “We must work the works of Him that sent Christ into the earth: for the night cometh, the night cometh, when no man can work” [John 9:4].
That lays before us this divine necessity and obligation placed in our hearts, and hands, and lives, and call, and commission from God Himself. Lord, Lord, how God needs the shining light in this wonderful church, in the heart of this glorious city.
May I speak just in this final moment of these things to which we have committed our lives, and under whose gracious hands from heaven we pray God’s blessing and remembrance. One of the things that we are seeking in the blessing of the message of Christ to our city is our evangel ministries. For three hundred years there were no church houses; and those first beginning three hundred years were the most dynamic and powerful of all of the Christian centuries. The people met in homes. As Paul said in Romans 16:3, “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, and the church that is in their house” [Romans 16:5]. For three hundred years the message of Christ was delivered powerfully, subverting a whole empire; and it was done in the homes of the people, gathering in little groups. We ought to do that—we can do that! And may God bless our people as they gather in homes for Bible study, for Christian witnessing and testimony.
How beautiful it is to come down to our church any day of the week. Almost every day of the week there will be at least two thousand people here in this complex. In music, in education, in a thousand differing ministries do our people come. It is an incomparably precious sight just to see it: the children, the teenagers, young men and women, fathers and mothers, given to the call of God in Christ Jesus.
And what could I say of the open and public services of our worshipping and praying people? God hath written in His sacred Book: “Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together” [Hebrews 10:25]. This is His divine prerogative and will for us: that we meet together, that we call upon His name together, that we praise Him in song and sermon together. And it is in the assembly of God’s people that we make open, public confession of faith [Romans 10:9-10], and are baptized in His will [Matthew 28:19-20], and wonderful example [Matthew 3:13-17].
And that is our invitation to your heart this day. In the assembly of God’s people, openly and publicly, in the presence of angels and men, “I take my stand by the side of Jesus my Lord, to love Him, and worship Him, and to follow in His train; to be a pupil and a disciple of the Spirit of Jesus our Lord; and to be numbered with the family of God.” In this moment when we sing our song, a family you coming into the fellowship of our wonderful church; a couple you; or a one somebody you, “Pastor, today, I have made that decision for Jesus [Ephesians 2:8], and here I stand; God helping me and blessing me, I’m on the way.” Do it, do it; it will be the most precious and beautiful and meaningful commitment you could ever make in your life. Come and welcome, while we stand and while we sing.