A PRESENT SALVATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3‑20‑88 10:50 a.m.
This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and I am the pastor delivering the message entitled A Present Salvation. The message has to do with what God does for us now; not a deliverance, not a resurrection, not a salvation in the far off future, but a present reality in the lives of those who have found refuge in Christ Jesus our Lord. The message also is an exposition of the entire eleventh chapter of the Book of John. For several Sundays now, we have been preaching in this eleventh chapter of the Fourth Gospel; this will be the last delivered. Beginning next Sunday, we will start in the twelfth chapter, but this Sunday, just once more, looking at the entire story, the glorious miracle of the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
The repercussion, the reaction, to this unbelievable demonstration of the omnipotence and heavenly power of Jesus was received in two distinct different ways. For some, it was an affirmation of His messianic ministry, His Sonship. And they believed on Him and received Him as an emissary from heaven. I can well understand that. Lazarus had been dead four days [John 11:39], and in that hot country and being unembalmed, even Martha his sister drew back in terror from the thought of rolling that stone away and presenting that decayed and decomposing body [John 11:39]. It was a marvelous miracle [John 11:43-44], and the forty-fifth verse of the eleventh chapter avows it, “Many who came, and had seen this thing that Jesus had done, believed on Him” [John 11:45].
I copied from a great philosopher, Spinoza—he was born in 1632. He was a Dutch Jew—but he was also a materialist, a pantheist, a rationalist. But here’s what that great, world-famed Spinoza said; I quote, “If it were possible for me to persuade myself of the resurrection of Lazarus, I would dash my whole system to pieces and embrace the faith of ordinary Christians without reluctance.”
There’s no doubt but that the miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead [John 11:43-44], was a stupendous and overwhelming manifestation of the omnipotence of God. But, at the same time that incomparable resurrection brought faith and belief to many [John 11:45], it had the opposite, bitter and antagonistic effect on many others. I begin at verse 46:
But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done.
Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees—the Sanhedrin—
And they said, What do we? For this Man doeth great miracles.
If we let Him alone, all men will believe on Him; and the Romans shall come and take away our place…
Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put Him to death.
[John 11:46-48, 53]
The chief priest consulted—
this is in the next chapter, verse 10—
That they might also put Lazarus to death;
Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus.
What an astonishing, antagonistic result! John presents this miracle of the raising of Lazarus as the ultimate reason for the execution of Christ. They were antagonistic to Him before the Sanhedrin, the leaders and the chief priests of the people, but their antagonism now turned to implacable bitterness, not because the miracle was false, but because it was true. Those chief priests and members of the high counsel could easily sense and see that the teaching of Jesus—if it were received—made their place superfluous, extraneous. It even avows it in the text that I’ve read. They said in the Sanhedrin, “If we leave Him alone, all men will believe on Him; and the Romans will come and take away our place” [John 11:48].
They could see, in the teaching of Jesus, the abolishment of the whole order of priestcraft. And in its place was the priesthood of every believer; no intermediary between a man’s soul and God. Every man stood before God for himself. They could see in the teaching of Jesus the outline, the discipline of a spiritual faith, a spiritual religion. A relationship to God is one of the heart and of the soul and not priestcraft; sacerdotal regimentation and all of those things that belong to ritual. They had no meaning in the spiritual teaching of our Lord. They could see in the message of Jesus that religion was a thing of the heart, not of sacerdotal, ecclesiastical exclusiveness, and as such if I could speak of it harshly, they came to see that their whole profession was a lie. It had an empty extraneousness about it that was not acceptable to God and not a blessing to man. So they encompassed His execution; they planned His death [John 11:53].
I want to pause to say something about that, which is one of the most amazing phenomena I know in human life. And that is: a demonstration of the miraculous power of God is received altogether according to the condition of a man’s heart, whether he’s godly or whether he’s wicked. That’s an amazing thing!
Let me illustrate it; let’s say that a member of the Mafia came down this aisle at invitation time and bowed at that altar and gave himself to God. He is a born-again Christian, he has been saved. Now, I want you to look at the reaction. On the part of God’s people here in this sanctuary, there would be rejoicing. What a marvelous intervention from heaven! God has reached down and touched the life of that man and has regenerated him and saved him. “Glory to His name!” That’s the way you would react. The moment that knowledge became current with the Mafia, there would be a council. And they would plan his death because he knows their names, and he knows all about them, and this man may reveal the whole system of the Mafia, and our assignment now is to destroy him. What an amazing contradiction in the reaction of the heart and the bent of life to a demonstration of the miraculous power of God!
Jesus spoke of that, talking about another Lazarus in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, the third Gospel. Dives, this worldly, worldly man whose heart is in his riches, Dives awakens in torment [Luke 16:22-23]. And he pleads with Father Abraham that he take this born-again, glorious, God-glorifying Lazarus beggar and send him back—raise him from the dead and send him back to his father’s house [Luke 16:27-28]—for he has five brothers, and they are all just like him, and they are coming to this place of damnation and torment. And Father Abraham says if he were raised from the dead and sent back, there would be those who love God who would gather around him and listen to the word of his preaching, of his affirmation, of his experience. But, those five brethren would mock, refuse, reject; they would not be persuaded even though one rose from the dead [Luke 16:29-31]. Isn’t that a remarkable thing? The same evidence of the omnipotence and miraculous power and presence of God, to a heart that is heavenly, it’s rejoicing in gladness; but to a heart that’s evil and wicked and rejecting, it’s a cause of bitterness and antagonistic refusal. It’s a strange thing.
Coming now to the chapter, there are three words from our Lord regarding this wonderful story of resurrection [John 11:43-44]. The first is to His disciples. When our Lord makes the announcement in verse 7 that He is going again into Judea, His disciples say unto Him, “Master, the Jews have of late sought to stone Thee; and You are going thither there again?” [John 11:7-8].
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” [John 11:9]. What our Lord is saying is, when I walk in the light and will of God, whether I live or whether I die, whether I’m stoned or whether I’m accepted, it’s according to the choice of heaven. My part is not whether I be in danger or not be in danger, whether my life is preserved or whether it is taken away; my assignment is to walk in the light and the will of God.
That is such a wonderful way for a child of God to be. If I have an assignment, I am immortal until it is done. There is a plan for my life, a will of God, and in that perfect will, I am to find my perfect peace and rest. The great 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 will give.
If life be long, I will be glad,
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”; Richard Baxter]
If I live, Christ is with me; if I die, I am with Christ. Whether I live or whether I die, I am with Him and He is with me [Romans 14:8-9]. Oh! What a wonderful way to be! My life is in His hands, and we are walking in the light of His purpose for each one of us [John 11:9].
A second word of our Lord to Martha: when the Lord says to her, “Thy brother shall rise again” [John 11:23], Martha saith unto Him, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day,” some far-off time, some forever beyond, “I know” [John 11:24]. But Jesus said 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.
Resurrection, and deliverance, and salvation, and life for the child of God is not some far-off, faraway promise, but it is present; it is now, living now as we shall live then, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me shall never, ever die” [John 11:25-26]. To the Christian, the life of the Christian is indestructible. It is untouched by death. Whether our life—it be here or whether it be there—it is our life in Christ, and death cannot change it, cannot touch it, much less destroy it. The case, the casket, may be destroyed, but the jewel is safe. A hurricane may blow down the house, but the home is safe. The cocoon may break, but the butterfly is safe. Always in God’s purvey and in the revelation, always our life in Christ is unbroken, untouched by death. Whether it be here or whether it be there, whether it be this side of the grave or the other side of the grave, it’s just the same—our life in Christ [John 11:25-26].
Our Lord said to that dying thief who was crucified—our Lord said to Him, sēmeron—this day, “Today thou shalt be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43]. Together, nailed to the tree; that same day, together, walking arm in arm, down one of those golden streets, the life, unchanged. With Christ, whether here or whether there, that same day, together in Paradise.
In 2 Corinthians, chapter 5, verse 8, the King James Version translates it: “We are absent from the body, and present with the Lord” [2 Corinthians 5:8]. Absent from the body, present with the Lord. Ekdemeo, endemeo—ekdemeo means “away from home”—endemeo means “at home.” But whether we are ekdemeo, “away from home,” or endemeo, “at home,” doesn’t matter—we’re with the Lord, in the body or outside of the body. What a wonderful thing! Our deliverance, our resurrection to life, is now and forever. Death does not change it, does not interfere with it, does not destroy it. It’s the same now and here or yonder and there. Our Lord would avow that the riches of His grace are bestowed upon us now, not just there.
These communists have a mocking lie: they say of us Christians: “Pie in the sky by and by.” Nothing could be more a denial of the truth of God. The riches we have in Christ Jesus are “now” as well as “there.” Blessed here, blessed there; walking with our Savior here, walking with our Savior there. He said, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” [Hebrews 13:5]. Our Lord said, “I will be with you to the end of the age” [Matthew 28:20]. What a wonderful thing!
Paul, in the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Acts, in that awful sea wreck said, “For there stood by me this night the angel of the Lord, whose I am, and whom I serve” [Acts 27:23]; with us here, with us there, as much with us here as with us there.
I listened to a missionary. I think he was from New Guinea. They had captured him, and in a hut, he was there confined waiting for a boiling caldron in which he was to be cooked and eaten. They were cannibals, and in the nighttime the flame was rising, the caldron was beginning to boil, and the cannibals, the natives, were dancing around and shouting and singing. And he was able to escape out of his hut, and he ran and climbed up in the tall tree in the jungle. And when the natives sought for him, to put him in the boiling caldron, he had escaped. And with torches, they were all through the jungle, and he was up there in the tree watching them. They were all through the jungle with those torches, trying to find him, and he’s up there in the top of that tree. And you know what that man said? He said, “I was never in my life so close to God as I was in the top of that tree. And they were seeking for me with their torches in the black of the night, in the jungle.” And then he added, he said, “I would love to go back to that moment when I was in the top of that tree, if I could be as near to God as I was that awful night despite the danger and the death. Oh! If I could just be close to God like that.” Here or there, He is with us, He never leaves us [Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5]. We do not have a “future” salvation; we have a glorious salvation “now.” Now! It is our present possession [Romans 14:8-9; 2 Corinthians 5:8].
You’ve heard me try to describe what is indescribable, one of the highest experiences I’ve ever known in my life. In the days when Ira McCollister—godly deacon—headed our mission ministry; he took his missions in West Dallas and for Christmastime brought them here to Coleman Hall. And their Christmas program was those men who had been saved in those missions in West Dallas, telling about how they’d found the Lord. I sat there for three hours, weeping in infinite ecstasy and gladness and rejoicing. One of those men would get up and say, “I was a thief and remanded to jail time and again, and this brother found me and won me to the Lord.” Then he described his new life.
Another one would stand up and say, “I was a drunkard and spent all I made at the liquor store, and my family was hungry, and my children were ragged. And this brother found me and won me to Christ.” And then he’d describe what God had done for him.
Another one would stand up and say, “When I came home, I would beat my wife and my children. And when I came home, my children in fright would run away and hide from me. And this man sought me and found me and won me to Christ. And now…” and then he described his Christian home. And he would go over and pick up one of those little children, and the little thing would put her arms around his neck, and the man would kiss the child. And he’d say, “It’s like heaven; now, when I come home, my children run to meet me, and my family is glad to welcome me.”
My brother that is the salvation of God: not some far off, far away day or place, but now, walking with the Lord in the light of His goodness and grace.
And last, there’s a word for us. The Lord said, “Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldst see the glory of God?” [John 11:40] The emphatic word there in the Greek text is horaō, “see,” see, see. It’s the same kind of a meaning as in the Sermon on the Mount when the Lord said, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” [Matthew 5:8]. Or, in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, describing Moses in Egypt, “He endured, as seeing Him who is invisible” [Hebrews 11:27]. The word there—horaō, as aoratos—“a” is a negative, an alpha privitive. It’s a beautiful thing. “He endured, as seeing Him who is invisible,” who it is not possible to see. But we see with the eyes of faith, with our hearts we see; our souls see. And that’s what our Lord is saying here. “If you have faith, you can see the glory of God” [John 11:40].
I see with my naked eyes. I see Satan triumphant all around me—in the nations, the history of the peoples of the world, all of the darkness of crime and despair—I see it. And I also see the triumph of Christ. The great protevangelium in Genesis 3:15, “The Seed of the woman shall crush Satan’s head,” I see that. Or again, all around I see the weakness of human flesh and human life, and I see it in me, mortal, sinful. But I also see the efficacy, the grace, the forgiveness in the blood of Christ that washes our sins away [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5]. And in Romans 8:1, “There is now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus.” We stand in the presence of God as though we had never wronged, never sinned.
I see with my naked eye trouble, and sorrow, and despair, and hurt, disappointment; I see it in every life. But I also see by faith Romans 8:28, “In all things God works together for good to them who love the Lord.” Every sorrow and hurt and disappointment has a meaning in God; if I can just see His face.
And I see age and death all around me; this earth is one vast cemetery, that’s all it is. It’s a place in which to bury our dead. This last week, one of the men with whom I went to school died. Out of all of the hundreds and hundreds of men that I went to school with in the ministry, four years in the university, six years in the seminary, I’m the only one that is still living or has not retired. All of those men, all of them, all of them, have been dead or have been retired for years and years and years.
I don’t know, I don’t understand. But however God may give me length of days and open for me a door of ministry, that inevitable hour is coming. And I’ll be either with you, raptured up into the sky to meet the Lord at His coming [1 Thessalonians 4:17], or called from the heart of the earth, from the deepest grave to meet my Lord in the air [1 Thessalonians 4:16]. And whether it be to be raptured or whether it be to be raised, it’s both to meet my Lord in the air, to be forever with the Lord [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].
So I’m not to be afraid, and I’m not to tremble. Whether here or whether there, it’s to be with my blessed Savior [Romans 14:8-9].
Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, help me stand
I am weak, I’m tired, and I’m 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]
That is our present salvation; not far off but now, God with us and we with Him [Romans 14:8-9]. May we pray?