Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-30-88 10:50 a.m.
It is a joy for us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas to welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on cable television. This is the pastor bringing the message is entitled Progressive Revelation. And I pray today that you will listen with your mind as well as with your heart. The message is a textual sermon from John 16:12. In our preaching through the Fourth Gospel, we are in the very holy of holies. And in the heart of this passage, John 14 through 17 [John 14:1-17:26], our Lord says these words to His disciples. “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now” [John 16:12]. Many things, many revelations, many providences in the expansive work of the kingdom of God, many things that pertain to the saints of the Lord, “But I cannot speak of them now. You are not able to bear them.”
We could speak for a long time on the silences of our Savior. “I cannot tell you now,” the silences of our Lord. When Herod Antipas welcomed the Lord in his presence, he thought he was welcoming a “carnival Christ,” a buffoon, doing tricks before him, entertaining him and his court [Luke 23:8]. The Scriptures say Jesus said not a word, not a word [Luke 23:9]. [Ecclesiastes 3:7] says there is a time to speak, and a time to be silent. He refused to cast pearls before a swine [Matthew 7:6]. He was silent. Before His death, our Lord was silent [Luke 23:9]. As Isaiah 53 wrote:
He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet opened He not His mouth:
He is brought as a lamb before her shearers,
And as the sheep is dumb, so the Lord opened not His mouth.
One time I went through the most expansive, the largest, meat packing company in the world. It was Armour, in Chicago—long time ago. And I went through the place where the cattle were slaughtered. And the lowing and the moaning of those cows as they were forced up the chute to face slaughter was just awesome. I went into the place where the pigs and the hogs were slaughtered. And the squealing and the noise and the sound was deafening. The last place I entered was where the lambs were being slaughtered. There was not a sound. Just a clanking of the machinery in the packing plant, but not a sound from those lambs as their throats were cut, slashed, watching their own blood pour out.
That was the Lord. Even though Pilate said, “I find in Him no fault at all” [John 18:38], He never said a word in His defense; He was silent before His death [Matthew 27:14]. And this is another instance of the silence of our Savior, “I have yet many, many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now” [John 16:12].
Our Lord’s pilgrim ministry in this weary world ended not in triumph, not in royal recognition. But it ended in abject failure, in seeming despair. And His own life ended, crucified for a felon, for a criminal [Matthew 27:38-50]. “I cannot tell you,” says the Lord [John 16:12]. The disciples themselves deny Him, flee—not one standing by His side [Matthew 26:56]. “I cannot tell you.” Out of the tenderness and love of our Lord, He didn’t speak of these things. The Scriptures say, “A smoking flax He will not quench and a bruised reed He will not break” [Matthew 12:20]; the kindness and the tenderness and the love of Jesus for us.
Do you remember when the people of God—when Israel—were brought out of Egypt? God never said to them, “You will wander in the wilderness for forty years and you will die in the deserts. Only two of you, Joshua and Caleb, will enter the Promised Land.” God never told them.
You know, there is something about the revelations of God that are devastating. When Daniel saw the prophecies of his people, the Bible says by the river Hiddekel [Daniel 10:4], he lay in prostration for days and days [Daniel 10:2-3]. When the Lord, in the angel Gabriel, appeared to Zechariah in the temple, he was dumb, couldn’t speak for nine months [Luke 1:19-20, 64]. Paul says, “Because of the abundance of the revelations given unto me, there was a thorn in my flesh, lest I be exalted above measure” [2 Corinthians 12:7]. And do you remember in the first chapter of the Revelation when the Lord appeared to the apostle, he “fell at His feet as dead?” [Revelation 1:17] You can’t bear the revelations of God. “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now” [John 16:12].
Our Lord Savior was a master teacher. The seventh chapter of John says, “Never a man spake like that Man” [John 7:46]. And in three and a half years that He spoke, how many, many things did He reveal to us? Just teaching everywhere, constantly—in the marketplace, on the hillside, by the shore side—sometimes to an audience of one, in the temple cloister, just everywhere, teaching and speaking. And to all kinds of audiences, some of them so great, they pushed Him into the sea and He had to get into a boat [Luke 5:3]. Sometimes to a secret inquirer in the middle of the night [John 3:1-2], sometimes to a lone woman [John 4:6-26], but always, teaching and speaking the things of the kingdom of God and discoursing about everything in human life.
There is no facet of life that Jesus did not discuss. Wouldn’t you think that after three and one-half years of constant teaching and preaching that He would have said everything that ought to be said? “I have many things yet to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now” [John 16:12]. What an amazing, amazing characterization of us: our dumbness, our slowness, our inability to receive and to understand, our carnal natures that shut out the life of the kingdom of God! We can’t bear them now. They are not revealed to us because of our slowness in understanding.
How can you learn algebra or geometry or calculus when you don’t even know the alphabet and you don’t know the multiplication table? As Paul said to the church at Corinth, “I have fed you milk because you cannot eat meat” [1 Corinthians 3:2]. We have here a marvelous illustration of the progressiveness of God’s revelation, “I have many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now” [John 16:12]. Our introduction to the kingdom of God and the wisdom of the Lord is like our education. It’s in the kindergarten, then to the elementary school, then to the high school, then it is in the college and the university. So God leads His dear children along.
As the sphere of the Lord’s might and power is in the universe around us— in the starry heavens, in the sidereal spheres—so the sphere of God’s wisdom is revealed to us in time. The preceding dispensation prepares for the succeeding dispensation. God teaches us this first before He teaches us this next. According to our ableness to understand and to receive does God reveal the truth of the kingdom of heaven. Always it is there, moving yonder to the deeper and more glorious realities of God’s marvelous revelation.
In the Old Testament, the sacrifices and the symbols are looking forward to their fulfillment in the New Testament; always the progress, always reaching forward, onward, upward, outward. If Moses is a great prophet, he says “there will be another, greater, coming after me” [Deuteronomy 18:15, 18]. If David is a marvelous king, there will be a greater King coming after David [2 Samuel 7:12-16, Luke 1:31-33]. If there is a covenant written on tables of stone [2 Corinthians 3:3], there will be yet a new covenant written on the tables of our hearts [Hebrews 10:16]. And if there was the longing of a kingdom in the days of Israel, there will be a greater kingdom, a millennial kingdom yet to come [Revelation 20:1-6]; always that progress in the revelation of God. “I have yet many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now” [John 16:12].
You have a magnificent illustration of the advancement in the kingdom and teaching of our Lord in the epistles that explain the Word and message of Christ in the Gospels. There is a relationship between the faith we have in Jesus and our works of righteousness, explained in the Book of the Romans [Romans 4:1-4]. There is a relationship between the churches and the carnal world in which we live, explained in 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians. There is a relationship between the Mosaic law and the freedom we have in Christ, explained in the Book of Galatians [Galatians 3:1-4:31]. There is the unfolding of the mystery of all the ages, the Jew and the Gentile alike in the kingdom of God, explained in the Book of Ephesians [Ephesians 2:11-22]. What is the relationship between the resurrection of Christ and these who sleep in the Lord, explained in 1 and 2 Thessalonians? [1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17]. What are the churches in their ordering and all of the things that pertain to the household of faith explained in the pastoral epistles? What is the relationship between the Mosaic dispensation and all of the rituals of the temple and the Christian faith, explained in the Book of Hebrews? And what of the centuries yet to come, revealed to us in the Apocalypse, in the Revelation. “I have many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now” [John 16:12] Progress: the day when these things that are dark unto us are made plain.
May I take that and apply it to us in the age in which we live? The things that Jesus did not reveal, because they couldn’t bear the truth of the revelation [John 16:12], but standing where we do today, two thousand years later, things that are so obviously seen.
Here’s one. The long years separating the first advent of our Lord [1 Timothy 1:15], and His second coming, His second advent [Hebrews 9:28]. If you read these pages carefully and sensitively, you will come to the same conclusion that I have come to: those disciples expected the return of our Lord in their generation. They were looking for His coming soon. “He which testifieth of these things saith, Surely, surely, I come quickly” [Revelation 22:20], soon. And they were looking for our Lord quickly, in their lifetime and in their day. It has been now two thousand years, and He still delays His coming. They never dreamed of such a thing.
Another: the destruction of the Jewish nation, the Jewish state and the dispersion of the Jewish people to the ends of the earth for thousands of years. They never thought, they never dreamed of such a thing. And may I make an aside here? The return of the Jew to Israel and the rebuilding and the reconstruction of the Jewish nation on the fourteenth day of May in 1948 is a providence in the mind of God. I don’t understand. For all of these centuries and centuries the Jewish state has been destroyed and God’s people scattered to the ends of the earth. They never thought of such a thing. And the Lord never revealed it, and what it means today. We’re just waiting on the mind and the revelation of God.
Again, “Many things to say, but you cannot bear them now” [John 8:26, John 16:12]. The superseding of the Mosaic dispensation, the superseding of the Mosaic legislation, to them it is unthinkable! To those disciples, to be saved you had to become a Jew [John 4:22]. Then you could add to the Jewish convert, to the Jewish faith, you could add all these other things, the things Jesus taught of Christian principle. But the thought that the Jewish law and legislation and dispensation was done away with, was laid aside, was unthinkable to them! [Romans 6:14].
Today as we look upon it, it never enters my mind: seeking out a Jewish priest. They themselves wouldn’t have any idea where a Jewish priest could be found. All of the ritual of the temple has been completely done away. Where the Jewish temple stood is a Muslim mosque; they never dreamed of such a thing. “Many things to say, but you cannot bear them now” [John 16:12].
After these two thousand years, looking back, the kingdom has been given to the Gentiles [Matthew 21:43]. What an amazing providence in the dispensation of God: given to the Gentiles, taken away from the Jew, given to the Gentiles. They thought, as I said, in order to be a Christian you had to be a Jew [John 4:22]. And to come directly into the kingdom with no thought of Mosaic law or priesthood, to them, it was unthinkable.
Again, the spirituality of the kingdom of Christ; you don’t realize, until you study intimately, you don’t realize how much religion was defined in the days of our Lord, defined with things that you did: washing your hands, clean and unclean meats, all kinds of fastings and rituals, temple worship. How much religion was defined in terms of obediences and observances. When you read the life our Lord, He rarely referred to the temple. When you read the life of our Lord He paid no attention to washings and clean and unclean. It was spiritual faith, one of the soul and of the heart that Jesus brought to His people.
And once again, the universality of the kingdom of God: anybody, the door is wide open—a Jew, a Gentile; a Greek, a barbarian; a black, a white; ignorant, educated; poor, affluent, everybody the whole wide world—the door is open in the kingdom of Christ. It is a universal kingdom.
I want to take a moment if I can to illustrate that. Simon Peter: though he was not a Judean; even though a Galilean, was looked upon as being half-heathen up there. Simon Peter from Galilee was commissioned by our Lord to preach the gospel to a Roman soldier, Cornelius, in Caesarea. And Simon Peter said to the Lord Jesus, “Not so! I do not enter the house of a Gentile; much less do I break bread with him, not I.” And that night, the Lord let down a sheet from heaven held by four corners and on the inside of it, all kinds of ritualistic unclean things to eat [Acts 10:11-12]. And God said, “Peter, rise. Kill, and eat.” And Peter replied, “Not so, Lord! I have never eaten things unclean” [Acts 10:13-14]. And the Lord said, “Simon, what I have cleansed, call not thou unclean [Acts 10:15]. You go down to Caesarea and you walk into that Gentile home, and you break bread with that Gentile family” [Acts 10:19-29]. That’s the new kingdom of God.
“Many things to say unto you, but I cannot say them now. You cannot bear it” [John 16:12]. I have to close. Let me in this moment speak of things that I don’t understand, as I speak to the Lord and open my heart heavenward and God-ward, some things that I don’t see, that I don’t understand. Standing before the mysteries of life: “Lord God, why?”
Here’s one: I don’t understand why God allows Satan and death, and Satan rampant in this world. I don’t understand it. Why doesn’t God do something? Why is Satan loosed? When he’s in the bottomless pit [Revelation 20:1-3], why doesn’t God keep him there? I live in a world of death and sorrow and hurt. Tomorrow, I have a funeral for one of the fine men in our congregation. I live in that kind of a world. And pain, and sickness, and disease, and hurt, and suffering, and death, why does God allow that? Why doesn’t God stop that? I don’t know. He will explain it to us by and by. There’s a reason, not revealed now. But we’ll understand it by and by.
Another thing. What of the millions and the millions and the millions in this world who never heard the name of God, who have never been introduced to Jesus and they die without knowing the Lord? What of them? What of them? Those great masses who perish without a knowledge of the gospel, what of them, Lord? Will not the Judge of all the earth do right? [Genesis 18:25]. How is it that they stand at the great judgment day of God [Revelation 20:11-15], no one ever having preached the gospel to them? No one ever brought them the name of Jesus; Lord, what of them? What of them? I don’t know. You will have to make it plain by and by.
And Lord, what of these little children that are born into this world—helpless, innocent—and the homes in which they are brought up and the fathers and mothers who sired them? Lord God, what of those children, so innocent and so blameless and so cursed and damned by the awful house in which they’re in? What of them, Lord? I don’t understand. I don’t understand.
What do You mean, Lord, when You say the damned are in a place where the worm does not die and the fire is never quenched [Mark 9:44, 46, 48], in a spiritual body assigned to hell and damnation? What is that, Lord? It frightens me just to think of it, much less that the great mass of humanity is lost and consigned to it. Lord, I don’t understand.
And I don’t understand, Lord, very much about heaven. Heaven: what is heaven like? In a spiritual body, to eat; in a spiritual body, to mingle with the saints; a mansion in the sky for a spiritual body raised from the dead. What of the people you know? What of you? When I get heaven and you get to heaven, how are we going to be? We’re not male. We’re not female. We’re not in families. How is it, Lord? I can’t enter into it.
O Lord in heaven! Out of the things that are revealed, seems to me there are ten thousand times ten thousand things unrevealed. I don’t know. I just rest my heart that He knows. And that’s enough. I don’t have to know. If He knows, and all the future, the eternity is in His hands, then Lord, I just rest my heart in Thee. I don’t see, but You do. I don’t understand, but You do. And when You say, Lord, in the Holy Book, “Eye has not seen, and ear has not heard… the wonderful things God hath prepared for those who love Him” [1 Corinthians 2:9], Lord, I just leave it in Your hands and look forward to that glorious day when God will make it plain.
That’s our trust in Him. May not know the future, but He has revealed enough that we can love Him and trust Him and serve Him. He has shown us the way of life, the way of salvation. And to give our hearts to the Lord Jesus is the simplest, humblest, dearest, plainest thing anyone can ever do [Romans 10:9-13]. “Lord, I open my heart heavenward, God-ward, Christ-ward, and here I stand.” And that’s our invitation to you this blessed moment. May we pray?
Our Lord in heaven, to trust in Thy goodness and grace is the greatest comfort we could ever, ever know. And wonderful precious Savior, may there not be one in divine presence but who this day give his heart and life and trust to Thee, loving Christ, believing in His grace [Ephesians 2:8], letting the Lord open the doors for every future, and someday welcoming us into heaven. Bless the families, bless these who respond. Give them Thy loving presence as they come forward, in Jesus’ dear and saving name, amen, amen.
While we sing our hymn of appeal, in the balcony round, you; there is time and to spare, welcome. In the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me and here I stand.” A family, a couple, just one somebody you, on the first note of the first stanza come, while all of us stand and sing our hymn of appeal. “Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and here I am.”
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-30-88I. The silences of the Savior
A. Before Herod Antipas (Luke 23:6-11, Ecclesiastes 3:7)
B. Before death (Isaiah 53:7, John 18:38, Philippians 2:6-8)
C. Before the disciples
1. The terrible, tragic end of His life
2. Out of love and tenderness (Matthew 12:20)
3. The revelation of God can be devastating (2 Corinthians 12:7, Revelation 1:17)II. The method of the Master Teacher (John 7:46)
A. For three and a half years He spoke in different places, to different audiences, about different facets of life
B. So much not revealed because of our inability to understand (1 Corinthians 3:2)
C. The text a statement on the divine method of revelationIII. Things we can see now
A. The long years separating the first advent and His second coming (Revelation 22:20)
B. Destruction of the Jewish nation and dispersion of the people
C. The superseding of the Mosaic legislation
D. The spirituality of the Kingdom of Christ
E. The universality of the Kingdom of God (Acts 10)IV. Standing before the mysteries of life – “Lord God, why?”