THREE MINUTES BEFORE DEATH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-17-87 7:30 p.m.
Against the background of the passage that you have just read, I read one other, in the tenth chapter of Romans, verses 9 through 13; what can happen Three Minutes Before Death. Romans 10:9-13, the Scripture says:
If thou shall confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and shall believe in thine heart that He lives—that God raised Him from the dead—thou shall be saved.
For with the heart one believeth unto righteousness—a God-kind of righteousness, not a man kind of righteousness, a God-kind of righteousness, a righteousness that is accepted in the presence of the Lord—with the heart one believeth unto a God kind of righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
For the Scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.
For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek—between all humankind—for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him.
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Now the purpose of this study is to pinpoint that human response to God that issues in what we call conversion or salvation. The purpose of the study is to single out that one thing that is essential to going to heaven.
For example, two men are in a deep dark dungeon chained to the floor. One of them is saved and one is lost. Now, two things: one, is there anything essential to salvation that the saved man cannot tell the lost man? Chained to a floor in a dungeon, is there anything about salvation that the saved man cannot tell the lost man? All right, the second thing, is there anything essential to salvation that the lost man cannot do? And he’s chained to the floor. He can’t move. He can’t walk. He can’t get up. He can’t go out the door. He can’t obey commands. Is there anything essential to salvation that that lost man cannot do chained there to the floor?
Now the text is Romans 10:13, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” And the illustration is the passage you just read in Luke 23:39-43. This man called a malefactor, he was a murderer and an insurrectionist [Luke 23:32]. He was nailed to the cross with his fellow malefactor and was reviling Christ [Matthew 27:44]. Then he changed in his heart. And he acted upon what little faith that he had and what little knowledge that he possessed. And in that reviling of Christ, in the change of his heart, he accepted the Lord for all that he could understand that He was. And Christ accepted him, and they entered heaven together [Luke 23:42-43].
Now the obverse of that: had he never turned his head, had he never changed in his heart, had he never confessed or responded to the appeal of love and grace, he had never been saved. He would have died in sins like the other malefactor.
So there are three observations that we make about this essential, this one essential to our going to heaven, to our being converted, to our being saved. The first observation is this: the way to be lost is to do nothing. We can drift into hell. We can drift into damnation.
I have stood above Niagara Falls and watched the Niagara River. All that it would take to go over the falls is just to drift with the tide, just to drift with the stream, just to drift with the current. And as that Niagara River approaches those awesome falls, it moves faster and faster and finally you’re in a torrent. And finally you’re over the falls.
I’ve stood on the banks of the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe and have looked at the Victoria Falls—the most awesome sight I’ve ever looked upon in my life, that great African river, pouring over that awesome, awesome, awesome chasm. And watching the river, looking at it above, it flows along quietly, beautifully, then faster, then faster; then it’s caught up into the maelstrom and finally plunges into the great deep. Do nothing at all and you will drift into damnation and to hell.
There are three ways by which you can do nothing at all and be damned. One: pass by the atoning love and grace of our Lord with a vast, vast indifference, like the unrepentant thief; meant nothing to him that the Lord was dying next to him [Luke 23:39-43]; and like the leaders who encompassed His death, walking up and down in front of the cross, mocking and jeering; reviling [Matthew 27:39-43]. That is one way to be lost, to do so with a contempt and an indifference that is expressed sometimes by language, most of the times by deed.
All right, a second way to drift into hell doing nothing is procrastinating, just putting it off, some other day, some other time, like Felix, when Paul appeared before him pleading the cause of Christ, the Book of Acts says that Felix trembled, moved, then answered, “Go thy way for this time; when I have a more convenient season, I will call for thee” [Acts 24:25]. Not now, but some other day. The response of the human heart is a strange instrument to describe. You can be stirred and you can be moved, but the next time, you will be stirred and moved less, and the next time less, and the next time less. And finally the day will come when you can listen to an earnest appeal of the cross and crimson of the atoning death of our Lord, and it move you not at all.
The same thing is true with a child, a child such as these in our mini-camp. A child can be moved by the message of the love of Jesus, then as he gets older, he’ll be harder in heart. Then as he gets older, he will be still more difficult to reach. And finally, in age, he will never be moved at all. Rarely do you see an older person come to Christ.
My father, I used to listen to him and wonder at the things that he believed; and he had some deep, deep persuasions. And I, to this day, I don’t know what to think about them, and I’m going to tell you one of them. My father believed in the unpardonable sin [Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:28-30; Luke 12:10]. He believed that a man could say no to Jesus for the last time, and he’d never be saved. He’d never come to Christ. He’d never repent. He’d never change. He had his last opportunity. And he illustrated that with our town marshal, whose name was Charlie Stepp.
In those days we had revival meetings that were moving. I don’t see them anymore, but when I was a boy, growing up, ah, those revival meetings! I have heard people shout all over the little town in which I grew up, going up and down the streets, praising God, shouting the praises of Jesus. And the meetings were moving. People wept. They wept aloud. They cried. They bowed before the Lord. It was another day. The children who grow up in our day and time have no idea of the deep, deep moving of the Spirit of God in a great revival meeting. I don’t know how to illustrate it in a good way. The only sorry way I know to illustrate it is the enthusiasm you have at a football game or at an athletic contest. And the people are caught up and they shout and they stand and they applaud. You feel the throb of it in a great, great athletic confrontation. That’s a sorry illustration because the meeting, the feeling you had in the revival meeting was—was of a fountain in your own soul bursting forth.
Well anyway, in one of those revival meetings, I sat right behind him and Charlie Stepp, our town marshal, was there. And the people in that day and time, they would go and witness to them. In a modern congregation, if we had a godly Christian to go to a lost man and invite him to Jesus, chances are he’d be embarrassed to death. That’s today; but when I was in those revival meetings as a boy, they’d do personal work in the congregation, invite a lost sinner to Jesus.
Well, they went to Charlie Stepp and they pled with him. And they invited him. And they prayed with him. And I was a little boy, a little bitty kid, watching it right there before my eyes. And he was greatly moved. He wept. He cried. He held onto the pew in front of him. But he returned no answer affirmative. No. No. No. And after that service was over, my father said, “That’s his last time. He’s going to die a lost man. He has committed the unpardonable sin. He’ll never be moved again. He’ll never be saved. He will die lost.” That was my father.
So I watched it through the years as I grew up, and what my father said came to pass, precisely and exactly. He was never moved again. You could talk to him; it was like talking to a stone image. You could pray with him; absolutely unmoved and indifferent. And he died a lost man. Well, that was my father’s theology. He believed in the unpardonable sin [Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:28-30], that there was a time when a man is called to God to be saved and, if he turns God down, he is lost. He’s lost.
Well, that’s the way so many people drift into hell. They just do nothing at all. Like the one talent man, he buried the one talent that he had [Matthew 25:18], and time passed, and the opportunity was gone. And the day of judgment came, and he was unprepared [Matthew 25:24-30]. That’s the first observation about salvation. The way to be lost is to do nothing at all. And you will drift over the Niagara. You’ll drift over the Victorian chasm. You will drift into damnation and hell.
All right, the second observation: the way to be saved is to act upon whatever faith you have, whether it’s little or whether it’s big. For we never understand the whole circumference of the grace and love of our Lord. It is higher than we can reach, and it is lower than we can fathom. And it is broader than the east is from the west. God invites—now remember I’m talking about acting upon the faith that you have, whatever little it maybe; I’m talking about the way to be saved; the way to be saved is to act upon whatever little faith that you possess. Trial; God invites it. He is honored by it and God honors it.
And Malachi 3:10, all of us know that passage, “Prove Me now herewith, saith the Lord. You try Me and see.” And in the Scripture that is avowed and illustrated again and again. In Matthew 14:22-31, after feeding the five thousand [Matthew 14:15-21]—something that I preached about in the sixth chapter of John last Sunday—after the feeding of the five thousand, why, the disciples were forced into a boat [Matthew 14:22]. John says they were trying to make Jesus king, by force [John 6:15]. And the Lord—and the disciples of course were egging them on; please them for Jesus to be made Caesar of the Roman Empire.
So after the feeding of the five thousand, when they were trying to make Him a king [John 6:15], why, He forced the disciples into a boat [Matthew 14:22], and He Himself stayed up there in the hills, praying [Matthew 14:23]. And the disciples were out on the Sea of Galilee [Matthew 14:24]. And in the middle of the night there came a violent storm. And the disciples despaired of their life. And while they were frightened and in the midst of the storm, Jesus came walking to them on the water [Matthew 14:25].
And being more afraid, they said, “Lord, is this You?” [Matthew 14:26].
And Peter said, “If it is, if You are the Lord and our friend, bid me come to Thee on the water” [Matthew 14:28].
Did the Lord say, “That’s foolishness, that’s idiocy, no need for any such thing as that”?
What the Lord said to Simon Peter was: “Simon, if you have the faith to step out of that boat and on to these tumultuous waves, come, come” [Matthew 14:29].
He was pleased. He was honored. “Come.” And Simon Peter got out of the boat and was walking on the water. Wonderful! The only thing is, when he got out there in the midst of the waves he got to looking around him. He took his eyes off of the Lord, and he began to sink [Matthew 14:29-30]. But isn’t that an unusual thing? The Lord said, “Come. You come. You come.” God is delighted by any kind of faith that you will exhibit, any kind.
All right, look again at the story in the Second Book of Kings, chapter 5. Naaman has been told by the prophet to go down into the muddy Jordan and to dip himself—the Greek is “baptize”—to baptize himself seven times, and his flesh can come again like the flesh of a little child; that he would be clean [2 Kings 5:10]. And Naaman was insulted! Naaman said—this great triumphant victorious commander in chief of the armiess of Syria—Naaman said, “I thought the prophet would come out and with a gesture and a word and a marvelous dramatic showing, he would call on the name of the Lord his God, and he would strike his hand over the leper, and I’d be clean [2 Kings 5:11]. But as for going down to that Jordan River, are not Abana and Pharpar rivers of the Damascus better than all the waters of Israel? Could not I wash in them and be cleaned?” [2 Kings 5:12]. And he turned and drove away in a rage, is exactly what the Bible says. He turned and went away in a rage [2 Kings 5:12].
And while he was driving furiously his chariot back to Damascus, a servant, a humble servant, standing there by his side, put his hand on the arm of the great chieftain and said, “My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great and mighty thing,” such as conquering Egypt or conquering Lebanon or bringing to the prophet ten thousand talents of gold, “if he had bid thee do some great and mighty thing, would you not have done it? How much rather than, when he saith unto thee, Wash, and be clean?” [2 Kings 5:13].
And Naaman pulled up his steeds, “Whoa! Whoa!” and turned them around and went down into the muddy Jordan and dipped himself, baptized himself, one time and two, three times and four, five times and six. And when he did it the seventh time, his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean [2 Kings 5:14]. God invites it. The humblest faith, God invites it.
Or look again in the first chapter of John. Jesus says to Andrew and to John, “Come and see. Come and see” [John 1:39]. And John 1, at verse 46, Philip says to Nathanael, “Come and see [John 1:46]. Come and see.” In Luke 8:43-48, the woman with an issue of blood said, “If I just touch the hem of His garment, I will be saved” [Matthew 9:20-21]. What faith do you have? You exercise it in the presence of the Lord, and you’ll be saved. It may be very small. It may be very little. It may be just barely to reaching out, but you try it. You see, God invites it, and God honors it.
I one time heard of a professor in the university that they were praying for and seeking to win to the Lord. And he was very obstinate, very difficult. So this man, speaking to him about the Savior, said to him, “Tell me what you do believe about the Lord Jesus.” And the learned professor said, “I believe He was a good man. And I believe that He was a worthy, worthy representative of goodness and morality and righteousness.”
And the man who’s trying to win him to Jesus said, “When appeal is made by the preacher, when the appeal is made after his sermon, would you come down and stand before the congregation and say what you do believe about the Lord Jesus, that He was a good man and that He was a noble, moral teacher?”
“Why?” the professor said, “Why” and he said, “Would you do it?” And in deference to his friend, he said, “I will.”
So when the preacher had done his sermon and was pressing the invitation, he came down. He came down to the front. And the preacher said, “This professor is going to confess what he believes about the Lord Jesus.”
So the professor started. “I believe that Jesus was a good man. And I believe He was a great moral teacher.” Then he paused. And he said, “No, I believe He was the best man that ever lived. And I believe He was the greatest man that ever lived.” And he paused. And he said, “No, I believe He is what He said He was, the Son of God and the Savior of the world [1 John 4:14]. And I accept Him as my Lord and my Savior” [Romans 10:9-10].
It’s a remarkable thing what happens when we act upon whatever little faith that we have. The way to be saved is to do something; act upon the faith that you have. The decision to do something and the will to act is the way to God.
The prodigal said in Luke 15, and verse 18, “I will arise and go back to my father and home” [Luke 15:18]. Had he stayed in the pigpen, he would have starved and been lost. “I will arise and go.” And God honors that faith [Luke 15:18-24].
I so well remember in the university, there was a brilliant young fellow from the valley, named Merrill Jenkins—just as lost as he could be and just as hard and indifferent. And my friend and I prayed for him, and talked to him, and witnessed to him, all to no avail. Then I said to him, “Merrill, it would be better to start and fail in the quest for eternal life, than never to start at all. Just start. Just respond. And then let God lead in the rest of the way. “
He agreed to do that. And in a revival meeting, which we don’t have any more in these great universities, but in a revival meeting in the university, he did that on what little that he could believe, and upon what little that he could commit. He came forward, and the rest is one of the most beautiful stories you could ever follow in your life. He became one of the finest Christian leaders on that campus. And until the day that he died, he was a leading Christian in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas. God honors our faith, however little it may be. Action itself is an evidence of faith, just doing something.
In Hebrews 11:7 it says, “By faith Noah.” How do you know by faith Noah? Because he built that ark on the dry land [Genesis 6:12-22]. In Hebrews 11:8, “By faith Abraham.” How do you know by faith Abraham? He left his native country and “went out to a land he should afterward receive for an inheritance, not knowing whither he went.” In Hebrews 11:24, “By faith Moses.” How do you know by faith Moses? Because he renounced the crown of Egypt and “chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God” [Hebrews 11:24-25]. In Mark 9:24, after the transfiguration [Mark 9:2-8], at the foot of the mountain there were those other disciples, the other nine down there who were failing with a boy who was so grievously afflicted [Mark 9:18]. And when the Lord came, Peter, James, and John, the father came and pled with the Savior about his afflicted boy, epileptic boy. And the father finally said—when the Lord said, “You believe that your boy will be healed?“ that father said, “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief” [Mark 9:24]. What I can’t understand, Lord, I’ll trust You for it. Help me, if I stagger and stumble before the power and presence and ableness of God.
May I make a last observation on that point of doing something to be saved? Insistence and persistence and importunity are acceptable with God, and they are an evidence of faith. God honors it. God honors it. Blind Bartimeus called and called and called. And when they said to him, “Shut your mouth. Quit your calling,” he just called out all the more. And Jesus stopped and opened his eyes [Mark 10:46-52].
And the Syro-Phoenician woman, that dear mother, beyond anybody I could think for, when she wanted her daughter healed [Matthew 15:22, 25], the Lord said, “It is not meet to take the food from the children and feed it to the dogs” [Matthew 15:26]. And she replied, “But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the children’s table. And could I be such an one, being a Gentile and not of the chosen family of the Lord?” [Matthew 15:27]. Any kind of an instance, of a persistence, of a persistence, of an importunity, of just staying with it, God will aboundingly honor. It pleases Him for His people to call.
Now, a last and a closing observation, do you suppose the dying thief regretted what he did? [Luke 23:42]. Has any Christian that you ever heard of regretted giving his heart to the faith? Do you think? The infidel and the unbeliever and the unrepentant cry out in horror. But I have the exact words here of a Christian who died. “Is this death, this glory, this light, this coming of angels, this opening of heaven?” That’s what he said and he died.
I think of 1 Corinthians 15:55, “O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?” I could not think or imagine a man who had given his life to Jesus ever regretting it; rather, rejoicing in it and the more as we see that final day approaching. The way to live joyously, and to die happily, is to act upon the faith that you have. Every sin is paid for. God has done all God could do. All He appeals for is a response from you. And, chained to that floor, that man who is lost can find Jesus as his Savior, there, unable to move, just like that crucified malefactor, unable except just to turn his head [Luke 23:42-43].
The faith that saves us, the pinpoint, the actual instance and miracle of conversion itself, is that, “Lord, Lord, Lord.” And, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” [Romans 10:13]. It’s that change in heart. It’s that willingness to respond that God honors and saves us.
Now we are going to sing us a song, and while we sing it, someone you tonight, to give your heart to the Lord Jesus [Romans 10:9-13]; you come and stand by me. Or a family to come into the church, or to answer the call of God, the Spirit speaking in your heart, as the Lord shall press the appeal, you answer with your life. And God bless you and angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
MINUTES BEFORE DEATH
10:13, Luke 23:39-43
A. Purpose of the study
to single out the one thing essential to salvation
B. The text – Romans
C. The illustration –
the thief turning to Jesus on the cross (Luke
1. He acted on
what little faith he had
2. Had he never
turned his head, he would have died in sins
II. The way to be lost – do nothing
A. Pass by grace of God
indifferent and in contempt
B. Procrastinate (Acts 24:25)
calloused; lose opportunity
a. Charlie Stepp
2. The one who buried
his talent (Matthew 25:14-30)
III. The way to be saved – act upon the
faith that you have
A. Trial – God invites
it (Malachi 3:10, Matthew 14:22-31)
1. Naaman (2 Kings 5)
B. The will to act is
the way to God (John 1:43, 46, Luke 8:43-48)
comes forward to confess what he does believe
2. The prodigal
son (Luke 15:18)
3. Merill Jenkins
C. Action itself an evidence
1. By faith… (Hebrews 11:7, 18, 24, Mark 9:24)
persistence, importunity acceptable to God (Mark
10:46-52, Matthew 15:26-28)
IV. Those who act upon their faith will not
regret it (1 Corinthians 15:55)