March 27th, 1988 @ 10:50 AM
THE EXTRAVAGANCES OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-27-88 10:50 a.m.
Once again, welcome to the throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on television. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas and I am the pastor delivering the message from the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of John. Last Sunday after several sermons from chapter 11, we are now entering chapter 12: the Gospel of John.
Could I reiterate and re-invite and encourage all of us, if you can, to be with us here in this sanctuary, in this very place, each day at high noon, every weekday of this week? Our pre-Easter services, this will be the seventy-second year that we have conducted those hours of praise and glory to God our Savior. The theme that I shall follow this year is "The Second Coming of Christ": tomorrow, Monday, on the Glory of the Premillennial Faith; on Tuesday, Why I Am a Premillennialist; on Wednesday, The Signs of His Coming; on Thursday, The Time on God’s Clock; and on Friday, The King of Forever. It will bless your heart if you can come and bring friends and neighbors with you.
Chapter 12 of the Gospel of John, the Fourth Gospel:
Then Jesus six days before the Passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus who had been dead, whom He raised.
There they made Him a supper; and Martha served.
Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment.
Then saith one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, the one that should betray Him,
Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred denarii, and given to the poor?
This said he not because he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and he took what was put in the bag.
Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of My burying hath she kept this.
For the poor always ye have with you; but Me ye have not always.
Three, in that scene. One: Mary, with her costly gift, three hundred denarii; the cost of that ointment was a whole year’s salary. The second figure: Judas Iscariot, who should betray Him: "Why this waste? What good did it do? What hungry mouth would it feed and what poor would it help? Why this waste?" And then the word of our Lord, how appreciative, how grateful, "Wherever in the earth this gospel shall be preached, there will this be told what she hath done for Me" [Matthew 26:13]. And I’m fulfilling a part of that prophecy today. Glad to do it. The Extravagances of God. What utilitarian purpose did it serve? What good did it do? What waste it was, but God was pleased with the extravagance. Life is more than a handout, so God says.
I attended a great convocation in which the president of the university was the speaker. And as so many of those fellows get off into an intellectual world, away from reality, and they think through all of these things that concerns social life and government, and the thesis of the president’s message was this, that what America ought to do is take all of its wealth and give it to the poor of the earth. Then we would solve every problem: political, social, domestic, otherwise. In one of those strange coincidences, I happened to be seated with him on the airplane after the convocation was over, seated by his side. I turned to him and I said, "Do you really believe that? That we can solve all the problems of this world if you take the wealth of America and give it to the poor?" I made the observation to him, if you did that, the poor would be just as poor as they were before. And I made the second observation that life is composed of something more than just a handout. Isn’t that a remarkable thing? God, and how God is; He loves extravagance, things that have no utilitarian purpose at all. Isn’t that an amazing thing?
Just what good is a sunset? Have you ever looked at some of those beautiful evening hours? Just what good does it do, painting the whole sky with livid color? Or what good is a rainbow? After the first rain, the deluge, and the days of Noah, God said, "I put my bow in the sky" [Genesis 9:13]. Just the sign of His extravagance, His abounding mercy and grace; but what utilitarian purpose is that bow of color? The sky so blue! Out my study window, I look at it. Just what good is it that God paints it blue? Why isn’t it gray? The extravagance of God. Think of the emerald of a beautiful meadow, or think of the color of the trees. Have you ever been in New England in the fall, that riot of autumnal color? Just what utilitarian purpose does any of it serve?
Like some of you, I have stood and looked at the Painted Desert in Arizona in the evening time. I just wondered if for thousands and thousands of years God Himself sat there and just looked at the beauty of that Painted Desert; God’s extravagances.
And not only in color, but in light: the moonlight and the starlight, God just loving it. And sound; how God must be pleased with beautiful sound that serves no ultimate utilitarian purpose at all. Just that God loves it; the sound of the breeze through a pine tree, or the sound of running water in a brook over the rocks and the stones, or the sound of a mockingbird singing. I go out some mornings and there in the top of those live oak trees in our yard will be a mockingbird, just praising God. I went out one morning and on top of the chimney, on the top of our house, was a mockingbird. And he’d just up, or flutter up, or fly up, or however he gets up about three feet high. And he’d jump from here to there and sing all the way up and sing all the way down, singing every song of every bird in the earth. Just what good is that? Just what utilitarian purpose does it serve? Why that waste? Just because God loves it; God made that bird to sing.
Did you ever hear of this poem?
I bought ten thousand sunsets
And a friendly old oak tree,
And a hundred thousand violets
When my farm was deeded to me.
Ten thousand dewy mornings
With a mockingbird to sing
And a mossy glade with a willow shade
And the music of a spring.
The owner thought he sold me land
How poor a trader he
But it was all fair for it was all there
For all the world to see.
A meadow starred with daisies
And a wild rose rambling free
And a squirrel’s den and a nested wren
And it all belongs to me.
I paid the man his money
And he did not understand.
He had put a price on paradise,
When he thought he had sold me land.
["Attitude," by Charles Coker McWorther]
Dear God, what a wonderful thing, the extravagances of the Lord! Just because He loved them.
Now we are made in the image of God [Genesis 1:27]. The Book says so, and our hearts proclaim it so. We’re made like Him; we reflect Him. Now I’m not denying that there is a pro- side of life. Hungry, you have to eat. Thirsty, there must be water to drink. Weary, you must lie down to rest. I’m not denying there is a pro- side to life. I’m just saying what the Lord says, "Life is more than bread" [Matthew 4:4]. It is more than meat. There is something on the inside of us that longs and reaches out for things beyond utilitarian purpose.
A man said a long, long time ago, "If I had ten cents, with five cents I’d buy a loaf of bread to feed my body, and with five cents I’d buy a rose to feed my soul." There are some things about us that cannot be expressed except in poetry, and in music, and in art, and in literature, things that bring nothing utilitarian, but things that feed our souls.
Poetry: just what good is poetry? But there’s something on the inside that responds. William Wordsworth:
A Violet by a mossy stone
Half-hidden from the Eye!
Fair, as the star when only one
Is shining in the sky!
[from "Song (She dwelt among th’ untrodden ways)"]
Or our poet, James Russell Lowell:
And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays.
[from "What Is So Rare As a Day in June"]
Or Bobby Burns:
Pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flow’r, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white – then gone forever;
Or like the borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place;
Or like the rainbow’s lovely form
Evanishing amid the storm.
[from "Tam o’ Shanter" by Robert Burns]
Poetry, the song of the soul.
Or music: what utilitarian purpose is music? But O Lord, what it does to the inner man, to the deepest of our souls, in our praise to God, singing the songs of Zion, or the great music of the world.
About a night ago, I was going to bed early and just happened to turn on the television, just before I went to bed. And there was Leonard Bernstein, with the Third Symphony of Bach’s, leading the Symphony Orchestra of Vienna. And dear me, I was enraptured as I looked and listened. For what purpose? Just, God made us that way.
Or art! In the days when I would often go to New York City, in a Jewish-owned gallery there, an antique shop, above the entrance to his office was a beautiful painting by [Ciseri]. It was a painting of our Lord before Pilate. It’s an Ecce Homo: "Behold the Man." Look at the Man. Behold the Man. And I said to the Jewish owner of the painting, "That means nothing to you. But I’m a Baptist preacher. It would just mean everything to me." And every year that I’d go to New York, or twice, or however, I’d go see him. And I’d make that same speech to him, "You’re a Jew. That means nothing to you. But it’d mean everything to me." And upon a day he let me buy it. And it’s there in my study, and I look at it ten thousand times right there, to the left of my desk. The artist saw that in his soul, and he painted it there on that canvas. And I look at it and it blesses my heart, a picture of my Lord, how God made us.
I read one time the most amazing sentence. An architect was saying that it was immoral to draw a crooked column. God did these things; the extravagances of the Lord.
And what shall I say of our own intimate and personal life? The things that have no utilitarian purpose at all, but they’re a part of our inmost being?
I listened to a father one time as he was talking to his son, who was proposing to buy an engagement ring for his bride-to-be, his fiancÃ©e. And I was dumbfounded to hear that father say to his son, "Son, you ought to buy the most expensive ring that you can think for."
And the boy said, "But I don’t have that much money."
"You go ahead and buy it anyway. You borrow the money. You go in debt for it and you buy that ring."
Man, what good is an engagement ring? It’s because of the way God made us, the extravagances of life.
I had a wedding last night, and I tell you, that fellow had bought the most beautiful wedding ring I’d ever seen in my life. I felt like I was holding a handful of diamonds when I gave it to him to put on her finger. Isn’t that just unthinkable? Man, I thought it was great, just great.
And going into these homes: as you know, in these years gone by, I went on a four-month preaching mission around the world, and half of it was in Japan. Every Japanese home in which I was a guest, in the corner would be a raised platform about eighteen inches high, every one of them, those eighteen-inch-high platforms, and on the little platform would be a vase of flowers and an incense burner and something pretty. It was just amazing, just astonishing!
I have been through Arizona many times, as you have. You’ll see there a shanty of a cowpoke, or a miner, or an old refugee, or whatever, out there at the ends of the earth. Well, I was going through Arizona, and there in that shanty was a window with little floozy curtains hanging on each side. And I thought, some dear precious woman, some young wife lived in that. Just what good is a floozy curtain? Just what good is it? I can understand a blind, but a little lacy curtain there at the window? That’s just how it is. God made us that way.
And going through Africa, one of the most interesting things I know of – I would stop and watch some of those black, half-naked African women working on the hairdo of their friend, just going through all of that stuff, with a ring in their nose and a shank bone through their hair. And you know, I thought, "Well, that’s not so very different. If I had enough nerve, I’d call up some of you women I can see out there and show those rings you’ve got in your ears on either side, dangling down, you know. And as for that shank bone through your hair, boy, you ought to see some of the hairdos I look at when I go out there and look at this congregation.
Why, God made us that way; the extravagances of the Lord. And when we come into the presence of our Savior, how beautiful this: "And Mary took a box of spikenard and broke it over the head of our Lord" [John 12:3]. Three hundred denarii, a whole year’s salary, the extravagance of her devotion. And the Lord loved it. He was pleased with it, commended her for it.
Well, I think of that, the extravagances of God, in His house, in His temple where we worship Him. In the seventh chapter of the first book of Kings, it says that the Lord inspired Hiram of Tyre, Lebanon; filled him with the Spirit of God, and he came down and made beautiful that temple of the house of the Lord. And that seventh chapter says that God inspired Hiram to make two tall columns. They were between thirty-five and fifty feet tall. And the chapiters up there, the chapiters up there were covered with pomegranates, and bells, and lilies, and lily leaves. And God said, "Put them in front of My temple." They were detached. They held up nothing. They were no part of the roof of the wall. They were detached. And they were put there, why? Just because God wanted to look at them; beautiful, beautiful, cast in solid bronze, serving no purpose except God loved to see them; just pretty.
When we built this building we call the chapel building, we call the Criswell Building, when we built that building I said to the architect, "I want you to make that the prettiest building in the city of Dallas. I want you to put gothic windows in it and stone recesses." And I went to Mrs. Veal, our philanthropist, and I said, "Mrs. Veal, I want you to give me the money to put a steeple on top of it."
What good is a steeple? Just to look at. This is God, the extravagances of the Lord God.
When we built Embree Hall, the largest chapel in the building, on that side is a street. But when we built it, there was no street there. And I said to the architect, "I want you to put six windows in there. Man, there’s no outside at all. I want you to put six beautiful stained glass windows." And there was a man in St. Louis, the last of his kind, and just before he died, he came down here, and he made those six windows. They are all made by hand, every piece of them. On this side are three windows of the Old Testament, on this side are three windows of the New Testament, just the extravagances of the Lord.
I have here a cutout from a daily newspaper. It is an interview with a man who is head of the Commerce Department and its Bureau of Domestic Commerce in our United States government. And I’m going to read what he said in that interview: "Religious structures once tended to be more ornate than those constructed today. Religious architecture has tended toward plainness." Then he adds, "This reflects the secularization of our society in which some of the most beautiful buildings put up today are not churches, but they’re offices and corporate headquarters and shopping centers. The church is not as important in the lives of people as it once was."
So they build the church today plain, without ornament and embellishment. But we place our beautiful ornaments and embellishments on the corporate headquarters of the great companies of America. What a tragedy! What a shame! Great God, when we build God’s house, it ought to exhibit the extravagance of the love and adoration and glory of God’s people. That’s why I love this old beat-up church.
Man, this thing was built in 1890. After two more years, we’re going to celebrate one hundred years on the inside of this old beat-up structure. But I love everything in it. I love the windows and I love the doors. And I love the outside and I love the inside. It was built in a day when a church meant something to the hearts of the people.
The extravagances of God; not only outside, our temples of worship, but the inside of our hearts. In Titus 2:10, Paul says, "Adorn the doctrine of God our Savior." Isn’t that a remarkable phrase? "Adorn the doctrine." Not only is it just cold doctrine – what it is to be a child of God, a disciple of Christ, a Christian, just: "We believe these tenets" – but also we are to make them beautiful, and viable, and living, and demonstrable, precious and dear: "Adorn the doctrine of God our Savior."
One of the things, of course, in the Bible is this doctrine of the care of the poor. There’s no doubt about that, feeding the poor. Man, we put hundreds of thousands of dollars a year into those ministries. We have twenty eight chapels in which we try to reach out and help people who are helpless. Every time you make an offering here to this church, a large part of it goes for those ministries to help the poor.
But oh, there’s something more and beside than that. There was an appeal made, as we do here all the time, for our people to give for the poor. So this woman had a little boy who’d outgrown a pair of pants. And she was preparing to take those pants to the church for the charitable offering. And going through the pockets of the pants she found in one of the pockets some marbles. And she carefully took out the marbles and put them on a table. Then she began to think. And she took back the marbles and put them in the pocket of the pants and took the pants to the church, with a note on the inside. In a few weeks she got a letter from a dear mother saying, "I want to thank you for the pants. My poor little boy needed them so much." Then she added, "But especially do I thank you for the marbles. They made my boy so happy!" Adorning the doctrine of God our Savior.
And a last word: our lives before the Lord, an exuberance, an extravagance, just loving God. May I take an instance from the Old and one from the New? In the Old Testament, once a year Elkanah made his way up to the house of the Lord, to the temple, to the tabernacle, then once a year, and brought before God what was demanded of the Law. He brought a tithe of all the flock, and of all the herds, and of all the fields. But Hannah, Hannah made a little coat for little Samuel. He was dressed in a linen ephod; but she made for him, over and beside, a little coat. And every year, the Bible says, Hannah made her way with Elkanah to the house of the Lord and brought the little coat she made with her hands, something extra for God [1 Samuel 2:19].
And from the New Testament: in the Sermon on the Mount our Lord says, “If one demands that you walk with him a mile, you go with him twain.” The background of that is by Roman law; any Roman soldier could commandeer any man and make him carry his gear for a mile. So here would be a Roman soldier, and there would be a man working in the field: “You come.” And he’d pick up his gear, and he’d take it, following that Roman soldier for a mile. And as he followed that Roman soldier, he cursed him with every breath that he breathed, damned him and the Roman Empire, and the soldiers came to end of the mile, and throw it down.
Jesus said, “You do it like this: when you are commandeered and the Roman soldier compels you to go with him a mile, you pick up the gear, and you walk by his side. And when you come to the first mile and it’s set down, you turn to him and say, ‘Sir, could I carry the gear a second mile and walk by your side?'” [Matthew 5:41]. And he walks by the side of the Roman soldier the second mile. And he talks to him about Jesus, and what God had done for him. No wonder the Christian faith subverted the whole Roman Empire and changed the course of civilization! That second mile, gladly, graciously; the extravagance of God.
And that’s why the commendation of this wonderful woman, Mary. “She has done it for the love of Me.” And that’s cause enough for the most outlandish gifts we could ever make or the most far reaching service we could ever devote to His blessed name.
May we pray? Our Lord, how grateful we are for the love and grace that reaches down to us. And our Lord, may our response be overflowing, overwhelming, extravagant. We could never repay Thee for all the sweet grace that You have poured into our hearts and lives, forgiving our sin, saving our souls, writing our names in Thy blessed book. O precious Jesus, that we might love Thee more and serve Thee better. In Thy blessed and wonderful name, amen.
In this moment we’re going to sing us a song. And while we sing it, to give your heart to the Lord, to come into the fellowship of our wonderful church, to answer a call of the Holy Spirit in your heart, in the balcony round, down a stairway, in the throng of this lower floor, down one of these aisles: "Preacher, this is God’s day for me, and I’m coming." Welcome, and may angels attend as you answer with your life while we stand and while we sing. "This is God’s day for me, and I am on the way. I’m on the way."
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Mary’s extravagant gift
B. Judas’ caustic comment
C. Jesus’ commendation (Matthew 26:13)
II. God’s world of extravagant beauty
III. That world of beauty in the soul of a man
A. We are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27
B. There is a necessity side of living (Matthew 4:4)
C. More beyond the utilitarian necessity
1. Poetry, music, art, architecture
2. In personal life
a. Engagement ring, in the home, personal beauty
IV. Something extra for God
A. Church building (1 Kings 7:13-22)
B. The doctrine (Titus 2:10)
C. In our lives of devotion
1. Elkanah and Hannah (1 Samuel 2:19)