A Present Salvation
March 20th, 1988 @ 8:15 AM
A PRESENT SALVATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-20-88 8:15 a.m.
And once again, welcome to the throngs of you who share this hour on radio. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. In these last several weeks, we have been preaching in the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John. And before we leave it, the message today is an exposition of the whole chapter. Next Sunday we will begin with chapter 12. It is entitled A Present Salvation: one now—not far off, not promised in another world, in another time, in another age, in another life—but a salvation now.
The eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John is the story of the resurrection, the raising of Lazarus from the dead. It had a twofold repercussion; both of them dynamic, most so. First, because of that incomparable miracle; this man had been dead four days [John 11:7], and unembalmed and in a hot country, his own sister shrank from the thought of that stone being removed [John 11:39]. He was decadent; he was decayed. But God, through Christ, raised him from the dead [John 11:43-44]. And the first response was one of belief. Verse 45, “Then many of the Jews came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus had done, and they believed on the Lord” [John 11:45]. I can understand that, can’t you? Can you imagine having one in your midst who could raise such a one from the dead?
Spinoza, if you’ve ever studied or read philosophy, [was] one of the great thinkers of all-time. He was born in 1632. He was a Dutch Jew, but he was a materialist. He was a rationalist. He was a pantheist. This is what Spinoza said, I quote: “If it were possible for me to persuade myself of the resurrection of Lazarus [John 11:43-44], I would dash my whole system to pieces and embrace the faith of ordinary Christians without reserve.”
I could understand that. This is one of the incomparable miracles. “And many believed on the Lord,” because of what they had seen Him do [John 11:45].
Now the other reaction was exactly the opposite. John presents this miracle as the immediate cause of the execution, the death, of our Lord. He continues in verse forty-[five] and following:
Some believed on Him then.
But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what Jesus had done.
Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said—a sunedrion—What do we? This Man doeth many miracles.
If we let Him alone, all men will believe on Him: and the Romans shall come and take away our place.
From that day forth they took counsel together for to put Him to death.
In verses 10 and 11 of the following chapter, that same thing is repeated:
But the chief priests consulted that they might also put Lazarus to death;
Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus.
Isn’t that unthinkable? The miracle that our Lord had done engendered bitterness, implacable hatred on the part of these who already were His antagonists. And John, in writing the story, has a very astute observation. He says, quoting them, the Sanhedrin and the leaders, “If we let Him alone, everybody is going to believe on Him: and the Romans shall come and take away our place” [John 11:48]. They were astute enough; they were sensitive enough, they were aware enough, to see that the teaching of Jesus meant the demise of their priesthood. As they listened to the Lord, the word of our Savior abolished forever priestly pretentions. The teaching of our Lord made every man his own priest [Revelation 5:9-10]. We have a saying in our Baptist communion, “the priesthood of the believer.” It abolished forever their place as an intermediary between us and God [Hebrews 4:14-16]. As they listened to the Lord, His teaching brought to view the great fundamental truth that our relationship to God is always spiritual. And it is not in ritualistic, regulatory approaches. As they listened to our Lord’s teaching, He said that faith and religion and relationship to God is a matter of the heart, of the soul; not of priestly exclusiveness.
Could I sum it up in a harsh way? When they listened to the Lord teach, He made priestcraft a lie. It was extraneous; it was empty. It had no relevance to a man’s access to God. And that’s why, as they listened to our Lord, their hearts were filled with implacable bitterness and hatred. I want to make a comment here that to me is an amazing truth. A miracle, a wonderful intervention of God, is received according to a man’s heart, whether he’s godly or whether he’s wicked.
May I illustrate it poignantly? Here is a man in the Mafia. And don’t persuade yourself that the Mafia refers to gutter rats. The Mafia is composed of men who head corporations and banks and are high in the political circles of the nation. Suppose one of those men came down this aisle and was gloriously converted right here, knelt there at that rail and was born again [John 3:3, 7]. There would be two reactions exactly like this, “All of the people of God would rejoice. Here’s this executive or here’s this political leader. He’s been saved. He’s been born again. What a marvelous intervention from heaven. What a miracle!” That’s the way you would be. But the reaction on the part of the Mafia would be directly the opposite. They would immediately call a council together, and they would say, “This man knows our names and all about us. We must plot his execution; destroy him, gunfire, riding in his car toward his own home,” just the opposite, according to how you are in your heart.
The same thing is dramatically emphasized in the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, when the Lord tells a story of another man named Lazarus [Luke 16:19-31]. Dives is in torment, and he asked Father Abraham to send Lazarus back; “I have five brethren, let him testify unto them lest they too come to this place of torment” [Luke 16:28]. And Father Abraham says if he were to be raised from the dead and go back, the people of God would rejoice; imagine the throngs that would gather round him to hear him speak, hear him testify of what it was he’d seen and felt in that other world. But the opposite: those five brethren, they are wicked in their hearts; they’re confirmed in their evil. And Father Abraham says, “Neither would they listen though one rose from the dead” [Luke 16:31]. Isn’t that a remarkable thing? A miracle always is judged and received according to how you are in your heart, according to the bent of your life.
So this remarkable miracle of the raising of Lazarus from the dead [John 11:43-44], to those whose hearts were opened to heavenward, it was a cause of confirmation of the marvelous goodness and grace of our Savior [John 11:45]. But to those whose hearts were closed against the presence of God, the miracle engendered bitterness and hatred [John 11:46-48].
Now the Lord speaks concerning this marvelous work. And we have three voices from our Lord, and the first is directed to His disciples. The story begins in this eleventh chapter with a disciple saying unto Him, “Master, the Jews of late”—verse 8—“sought to stone Thee: and, and goest Thou thither to Judea again?” And Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world” [John 11:87-9].
The work of God is immortal in the hands of the one called to do it. And you say, “I’m in danger of being stoned if I go again into Judea. My work is in the hands of the Lord. And whether I live or whether I die, it’s in His hands. But whether I live or whether I die, I’m also with the Lord” [Romans 14:8].
Godly Richard Baxter, in the 1600s wrote:
Lord, it belongs not to my care.
Whether I die or live;
To love and serve Thee is my share,
And that Thy grace shall give.
If life be long, I will be glad,
That I may long obey;
If life be short, should I be sad
To soar to endless day?
[“Lord, It Belongs not to My Care” by Richard Baxter]
Our Lord says, “You say I will be stoned if I go back to Judea, doing God’s will, walking in the Lord’s light and calling” [John 11:7-8]. Our times are in His hands, if I live or if I die [Romans 14:8]. I think of the long years of my own life. One of the most remarkable things in the world as I look back and as I review these many, many years: last week, one of the men that I went to school with, know so well, died. Practically all of the men that I went to school with have died, or for years and years and years have been retired. And here I am, after all of these scores and decades, standing here preaching the gospel of the Son of God. Why? I do not know, just a goodness and grace of the Lord in heaven. If I live, Christ is with me. If I die, I am with Him. Whether I live or whether I die, it is with the Lord [Romans 14:8].
So our Lord says we walk in the light of God’s grace and will [John 11:9]. And it’s in His goodness and in His choice whether I live or whether I die. Isn’t that a wonderful way to be? No matter what, not disturbed, not in despair; it’s in God’s will. And we bow in acquiescence to the choice of the Lord for us, for you. God has a plan for your life, and to live in that plan is to find infinite joy and quietness of heart.
Then He has a word to Martha. Martha says to Him—when the Lord announces that this brother of hers shall rise again [John 11:23]—Martha says, verse 24:
I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.
Jesus saith unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never, ever die.
Can you believe that? May I expatiate upon it? To the one who has found eternal life in Christ, you’re a Christian. You’ve been born again [John 3:3, 7]. You’ve been accepted in the Beloved. You’re a child of the King. To the one who has been born again, death has no part in your life. You are indestructible. You are imperishable. Even the nomenclature avowals that. “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish” [John 10:27-28]. Death can’t touch it. The case may be destroyed, but the jewel is safe. A hurricane may blow down the house, but the home is safe. The cocoon may be broken, but the butterfly is safe. Death cannot touch you if you are a child of God, a Christian, someone born again [John 3:3, 7].
I often think of what it is to die. Lord, Lord, I am to be persuaded according to the promise of Christ, that it makes no difference whether I am here in this flesh or whether I am there with Him, whether I’m on this side of the grave or that side; just the same, just changing places [Romans 14:8]. But I am untouched. I’m just the same. Lord, could such a thing be?
Yet the Scriptures avow it so continuously. Our Lord said to that dying thief on the cross, “Sēmeron, this day, sēmeron; Today, this day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43]. Here, now, in this moment, in just a little while; the same dying thief with our Lord in heaven; he’s just the same.
In 2 Corinthians 5:8, Paul uses words that are not seen in the English translation: ekdēmeō, endēmeō. It is translated in the King James Version, “absent from the body, present with the Lord”: ekdēmeō, “away from home,” literally; endēmeō, “at home.” Paul says all death is, is the difference between ekdēmeō, away from home, and endeméō, being at home; just the same.
You, untouched by death, you, at this moment here—endēmeō.—in that next moment, ekdēmeō; just changing places, just where I am, whether I’m here or whether I’m there [2 Corinthians 5:8]. It’s a remarkable thing!
Our Lord says to Martha here when she avows, “I know that some far off day he will rise again; he will live again [John 11:24], there’ll be deliverance and salvation and resurrection, some far off day”—the Lord says, “No, I am the resurrection, and the life” [John 11:25], today, this day in Christ, in His grace and goodness, I live a delivered, resurrected and immortalized life; right now. And all the things that are on that side of death, I possess on this side of death; just the same. These communists, sometimes, scornfully ridicule Christians with their “pie in the sky, by and by.” There couldn’t be propagated a more vicious lie. All of the riches that we have in Christ Jesus are ours now [Ephesians 1:18].
He hath said, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” [Hebrews 13:5]. In the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Acts, in that awful storm that wrecked the ship, Paul says, “For there stood by me this night the angel of the Lord, whose I am, and whom I serve” [Acts 27:23]. Here or there, God is with us just the same.
A missionary moved my heart one time. I think it was in New Guinea. It was in some place like that. And he had been captured by the cannibals. He was in a hut, and it was night, and they were preparing a vast cauldron in which he was to be boiled. And they were dancing and singing around that boiling cauldron. And he was in the hut. He escaped in the darkness of the night and was up in a high tree. When the cannibals came to get him to put him in the boiling cauldron, he was gone. And with torches, those cannibals were searching the jungle, trying to find him. And the missionary said, “I have never felt the presence of the Lord so close in my life, as I sat up there in the top of that tall tree. And those cannibals with torches were trying to find me.” And then he added, “You know, I wish I could go back to that moment, even though it was filled with the possibility of death; I wish I could go back to that moment when I sat in the top of that tall tree, if I could be close to God once again as I was then.
It’s not far off, out yonder, that God is near and dear, it’s a present salvation, it’s a wonderful thing, now [2 Corinthians 5:8]. You’ve heard me speak of this. I have never in my life been more moved, deeply moved, than I was upon a Christmas time when Ira McCollister headed our mission ministry. He gathered all of those people over there in West Dallas, in our missions in West Dallas, and brought them down here to Coleman Hall, and they had their Christmas program. I sat there for three hours, weeping; couldn’t help it. It was the most marvelous thing I’d ever heard in my life.
The program was they. Those men stood up, one after another after another, and they said, “I was a thief and this godly pastor found me, and I was saved, and I’ve had a new life: no longer in jail, no longer convicted, but a new life in Christ.” And then another one, for three hours, then another one, “I was drunken every Saturday night. My family was starving and in rags, and I took what money I made and wasted it in liquor. Then this,” then he’d point to a man that had found him and won him to Christ, and he’d describe his new life.
Or here was a man stand up, and he’d say, “When I came home, my children would in fright hide themselves away from me. I’d beat my wife and I’d beat my children.” Then he’d say, “And I was won to the Lord by this godly man.” Then he’d describe how his home is now, and the children loved to see him come. And he’d go over there and pick up one of those children and kiss the child, and the child would put his arms around his neck. It was heaven. It was glory. It was God. It was a present salvation. Not some day, some time, some other hour, some other place; now! God with us, now; salvation, now; deliverance, now; happiness, now; glory, now; praising God, now; whether here or over there, just the same, just the same [2 Corinthians 5:8].
One other: He has a word for us. He says, “Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldst believe, thou should see the glory of God?” [John 11:40]. When you look at that in the Greek text, the emphatic word is horaō, “see.” You will see the glory of God, “Said I not unto thee, if thou wouldst believe, thou should see the glory of God?” That word “see” is used in a beautiful way in the Bible. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” [Matthew 5:8]. Or speaking of Moses in the land of Egypt, “He endured as seeing Him who is invisible” [Hebrews 11:27]. The Greek of that is a beautiful way, there’s an alpha privative, a negative, horaō, “see,” aoratos, “He endured, as seeing Him who is not to be seen.” “Said I not unto thee, if you would believe, you would be ushered into the immediate marvelous presence of God” [John 11:40]. Oh, what a glorious comfort and assurance to us who have found refuge in the blessed Jesus!
What I see all around me is a world presided over by Satan. But by faith, I see the day when he is crushed [Genesis 3:15; Revelation 20:10]. The victory doesn’t belong to him; it pertains to our Christ. I see that, the glory of God [John 11:40].
I see in my own heart and in my own life, sin and weakness. But I see also the loving grace of our Lord Jesus. In Romans 8:1, “There is therefore no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus,” forgiven, saved, washed. I see all the providences of life that hurt and hinder and destroy, see them every day. But I also see by faith; “In all things God works together for good to them that love the Lord” [Romans 8:28].
I see age and death, sickness and disease. This whole world is one vast cemetery. There is no one in divine presence this morning but that lives in a dissolving circle. Mother’s gone or father is gone or brother and sister are gone, a broken family, all of us live in a dissolving family circle.
But I also see beyond the grave and the cemetery. I also see that glorious resurrection morn, when Christ shall come and these who have fallen asleep in Jesus shall rise first, and rise to meet the Lord in the air [1 Thessalonians 4:15-17]. And the Book says if I am alive I will be transformed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump [1 Corinthians 15:51-52]. Or if I fall asleep and am buried, I shall be the first to rise to greet my Lord from heaven [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. Whether I live or whether I die, ‘tis the same. I am waiting for my Lord. O God, what a comfort!
Precious Lord, hold my hand
Lead me on, help me stand
I am weak, I am tired, I am worn
Through the storm, and through the night
Lead me on to the light.
Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me home.
When my way grows drear
Precious Lord, linger near
When my life is almost gone.
Hear my cry, hear my call
Hold my hand lest I fall.
Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me home.
[“Precious Lord, Take My Hand” Thomas A. Dorsey]
I am a stranger here,
Heaven is my home;
Earth is a desert drear,
Heaven is my home;
Sorrows and dangers stand
Round me on every hand;
Heaven is my fatherland,
Heaven is my home.
[from “I’m But A Stranger Here” Thomas R. Taylor]
Whether here or whether there, ‘tis the same, we are with the Lord: a present salvation [Romans 14:8].
While we sing our hymn of appeal, a family you, coming into the fellowship and faith of our dear church, a couple you, a one somebody you [Romans 10:9-10], while we sing this song, on the first note of the first stanza, come, and welcome. What a beautiful thing it is to walk close to our Lord. Come, on the first note of the first stanza, and welcome, while we stand and while we sing.
I. John presents the miracle of the
raising of Lazarus
some it was an affirmation of His messianic ministry and Sonship (John 11:45)
others it had a bitter and antagonistic effect
II. The engendered bitterness (John 11:46-53, 12:10-11)
presents this miracle as the immediate cause for execution of Christ
saw in teaching of Jesus the abolishment of priesthood
Demonstration of God’s miraculous power received according to condition of
heart (Luke 16:19-31)
III. The words of Jesus regarding the whole
A. His words to the
disciples (John 11:7-10)
1. Walking in
God’s light, will, every moment is in His hands
2. If I live,
Christ is with me; if I die, I am with Christ
B. His words to Martha (John 11:23-25)
a. Life of the
Christian indestructible (Luke 23:43, 1
of His grace bestowed now (Hebrews 13:5, Matthew
28:20, Acts 27:23)
C. His words to us (John 11:40)
1. If we have
faith, we will see glory of God (Matthew 5:8,
2. See with naked
eye Satan triumphant, weakness, sorrow