THE CALL OF CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-7-88 10:50 a.m.
Once again, welcome to the multitudes of you who share this hour on radio and on television. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, delivering the message from the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John. The sermon is entitled The Call of Christ. It is a textual message. It is based upon the verses in John 11:28 and 29.
The story in the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John is the death and the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and our Lord coming, sending through Martha a word to Mary. And now the text:
She called Mary, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee.
As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto Him.
The Master is come, and calleth for thee.
And… she arose quickly, and came to the Lord.
The eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John presents to us a beautiful home. Mary, her sister Martha, and their brother Lazarus are there in the home in Bethany. Jesus visited in that home many times. It seems to me, every time He was in Jerusalem or in Judea, He was a guest in this home in Bethany [John 11:1]. But a shadow overwhelmed it. Hopelessness and helplessness and sorrow have saddened the hearts of the two sisters. Their brother Lazarus is dead [John 11:14-17].
We live in that kind of a darkened and saddened world. I was told just a few minutes ago that the day of yesterday, three of our beloved and sainted members of our dear church have died. My secretary told me last week that in that one week, she had sent out twenty-six of those little brochures I have written on our home in heaven. When a death visits a family, I send them that little word about heaven. In this last week, twenty-six of those little books have been mailed out to the members of our church. It is pervading and pervasive. There’s no home or house or life untouched by it. We, all of us, live in a broken family circle. Mother is gone. Or father is gone. Like the tragedy of Dick Clements, our deacon, who gave his testimony a few moments ago—both father and mother gone in a tragic accident.
But in the midst of that sorrow, Jesus came [John 11:20]. Oh, oh, what a difference He makes! When He is near, the whole earth and world change; Jesus came.
And if you don’t believe that He makes that vital and viable and heavenly difference, try it and see. Invite Him into your house and into your home and into your heart. Invite Him with your children, with every problem or prospect in life. In your work, in every vision of the morrow, invite the Lord and see for yourself the heavenly difference that He makes. Jesus came, and when He was near, that home became the resting place of the hope and confidence we have in a resurrection from the dead [John 11:23-25].
Oft times I read and once in a while listen to an unbeliever who scoffs at the thought of a resurrection from the dead, such as that of Lazarus [John 11:43-44]. But this is everlastingly true, no man can say what could happen in the presence of the personality of Jesus Christ of Nazareth the Son of God. Jesus came and the world changed: life for death; happiness for sorrow; resurrection for the dead.
Jesus came, and Martha sent Mary, saying, “Come, He calls for you” [John 11:28]. And as soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto the Lord [John 11:29]. I could not imagine, I could not think of her not going. “The Master is come, and calls for thee” [John 11:28]. I could not think of her refusing to go. Everything to gain: hope, and life, and resurrection, and salvation; everything in His gracious and omnipotent hands.
Nor can I understand why anyone today refuses the invitation and the call of our living Lord. “Come,” He says, “unto Me” [Matthew 11:28]. And our response in so many lives is, “I refuse to go. I have something else to do.” Or, “I am not ready.” Or, “Some other day.” Or, “Some other time. I have other interests in life—in this world, and I haven’t time for the call of my Lord.”
O God, how preciously and gently and sweetly does He bid us come to Him:
Come ye weary and heavy laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry ’til you’re better,
You will never come at all.
I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
Oh, there are ten thousand charms.
[“Come Ye Sinners,” Joseph Hart, 1759]
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto Me and rest.
Lay down, thou weary one,
Lay down thy head upon My breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary and worn and sad.
I found in Him a resting place,
And He has made me glad.
[“I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say,” Horatius Bonar]
The Master is come, and calls for thee. He calls to our hearts, to our inner souls. I tell you truly, unless there is a harshly-taught interdiction, any heart, anywhere, anytime, at any age is moved by the appeal of the love and atoning grace of our Lord.
As is described in the twenty-sixth chapter of this Book of Acts, Paul is standing before King Herod Agrippa and the retinue of the court. And as he pleads the cause of Christ, King Herod Agrippa interrupts, saying, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” [Acts 26:28]—moved, however you want to translate that en oligō, en oligō. This King James Version translates it “almost.” You could translate it “the summation, the whole end and purpose,” en oligō. And Paul replies, “Whether it be en oligō or en megalō, whether in little or in much, I would to God, that all that hear me this day, were such as I am, except for these bonds, these chains” [Acts 26:29].
The moving of the message of Christ is felt in every heart, in every life, unless it is hardened by a harsh interdiction. Upon a day, a year, long ago, when such a thing was possible in a great university, I was invited to speak for a week at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The week was given to representatives of the great religions of the world, and I was invited to represent our Christian faith. We met in a vast gymnasium, and it was filled with thousands and thousands of those young university students. And each one of us, each day, presented the cause of his faith.
At noonday, after the morning convocation, we met with the officials of the university. And upon one of those noondays, I was amazed and overwhelmed by one of the representatives of a religious faith so different from our Christian religion. In that meeting at noon, in the presence of all of those gathered there for lunch, he turned to me and said, “I want to know. When you speak, is it the unction of God upon you, or is it something you have learned how to do?” Though he belonged to another faith so different from ours, the presentation of the love and gospel of Christ moved his deepest soul.
I think of the most quoted of all the sentences in the English language, or in speech, or in any other word. Augustine, in the first paragraph of his Confessions, writes, “O God, Thou hast made us for Thyself, and we are restless until we rest in Thee.” The call of Christ to the human heart is moving, and unless it is interdicted by some harsh training or teaching, anyone in this earth is moved by the death and love and grace of our wonderful and blessed Lord. The call of Christ; it is a call to an open and unashamed and public confession of our faith in Him [Matthew 10:32].
As many of you know, I became a pastor sixty years ago. I was a teenager. And in my little village church, there attended once in a while a man for whom I so earnestly prayed. In the little community, we had one general store, and he owned it. He was not a Christian. Upon a day in a morning service like this, when I gave the invitation, down the aisle he came, and he took my hand, and he said, “Young pastor, I accept the Lord as my Savior. Now,” he says, “I’m going back to my seat.”
I said to him in my brash, untaughtness, neophytic response—I said to him, “You go back to your seat, and you’ll never be saved.”
He said to me, “Do you mean to tell me that I’ve got to sit down here in this seat in order to go to heaven, in order to be saved?”
I said, “That’s what I’m saying. If you don’t sit here in this seat, and if you don’t stay down here in this front, and if you don’t profess the Lord as your Savior, you’re not going to be saved. You’re not going to go to heaven when you die.”
Oh, thank the Lord, he stayed, and I baptized him! I’ve thought of that incident in the days from the days of my youth. I’ve thought of that incident ten thousand times. But what I had the boldness to do as a youth—that I, doubtless, have not the boldness today to say—what I said then is the everlasting revelation of God.
In Matthew 10:32-33:
Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him will I confess before My Father which is in heaven.
But whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I deny before My Father which is in heaven.
Or, [Mark 8:38]: “Whosoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this sinful generation; of him will the Son of Man be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of the Father with His holy angels.” Or again, in Romans 10: 9-10:
If thou shall confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in thine heart that He liveth—that God raised Him from the dead—thou shalt be saved.
For with the heart man believeth unto a God-kind of righteousness—an imputed righteousness; a righteousness given to us in the saving grace and love of our Lord—with the heart man believeth unto a God-kind of righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
A beautiful commitment of life to our Lord is in the will and command of God. I can say this passing by it. If you ever do that, it will be one of the sweetest experiences you’ve ever known in your life.
Holding a revival meeting in a large county seat town, I won a lumberman to the Lord Jesus, coming down the aisle in the revival, openly confessing his faith in the Savior. The next night he did the same thing; came down that aisle. The third night, he did the same thing. And I said to him, “Sir, you don’t need to come every service.” He says, “But I can’t help it. I’m just so glad, I’m just so happy in the Lord, I want the whole world to know what has happened to me.” That’s the faith. It’s the call of Christ. And when we obey, and when we listen, and when we respond there’s an overflowing gladness and fullness in our lives.
The call of Christ in our hearts; the call of Christ to an open confession of faith; the call of Christ for His church. He never said, “My wife.” Our Lord never knew or experienced that most intimate of all human relationships. He never said, “My child.” He never looked into the face of a baby, born “bone of My bones and flesh of My flesh.” Our Lord never said, “My home.” He said, “The foxes of the field have dens, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head” [Luke 9:58]. He never said, “My home.” But He did say, “My church, My church” [Matthew 16:18]. In [Ephesians 5:25]: “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it.” Christ loved the church.
I love Thy kingdom, Lord,
The house of Thine abode.
The church our bless’d Redeemer
Saved with His own precious blood.
I love Thy church, O God,
Her walls before Thee stand.
Dear as the apple of Thine eye
Engraven on Thy hand.
For her my tears shall fall,
For her my prayers ascend.
To her my toil and cares be given,
‘Til toils and cares shall end.
[“I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord,” Timothy Dwight]
Once in a while I’ll be asked the question, “Can’t I be saved and not join the church?” I cannot understand it. Why would you want to go to heaven like that? You’re going to live with us—the people of God, the family of Christ—you’re going to live with us forever and ever. Why would you spurn us now? Why would you want to be saved and not belong to the church that Jesus loved?
I’m so happy I belong
To the family of God.
Washed in the fountain,
Cleansed by the blood,
A joint heir with Jesus
As I travel this sod.
I’m so glad I belong
To the family of God.
[from “Family of God,” William Gaither]
With all of our foibles and faults and failures, still loved by the Lord: “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25]. The call of Christ in our hearts: the call of Christ to an open, unashamed, and public confession [Matthew 10:32]; the call of Christ for His church, for His people; the call of Christ to be faithful unto death. In Revelation 2:10, the word of our Lord to the first church of the seven in Asia, to the church at Ephesus, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”
An old, broken-down missionary, with his aged wife, was returning home to America. For over forty years they had spent their life as missionaries in the heart of Africa. In one of those strange providences of life, on the same ship in which they were returning home, the president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, was returning home from a safari in Africa. He was a big-game hunter, as you know, and from that safari, he also, on that same ship, was returning home to America.
As they neared the port city, home in America, the old, broken-down missionary turned to his wife and said, “Dear, I just wonder—having been gone for over forty years, I just wonder, when we arrive home, if anybody will be there to meet us, or if anybody will be there to greet us.” When they arrived and the president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, got off the ship, the Marine band was there playing and a parade through the city welcomed him. The president of the United States had come home. And surely enough, when the old, broken-own missionary and his wife walked down the gangplank, there wasn’t a soul to greet them, not one to welcome them.
That night in a dingy, cheap hotel room, sorrow of heart entered the soul of that old missionary. And, he turned to his wife and said, “Dear, I don’t understand. I don’t understand. The president goes to Africa on a wild-game hunt and, when he returns, the whole world welcomes him. We have given our lives as missionaries, and when we come home there’s not a soul to welcome us, not one to greet us.”
And his dear wife said to her husband, “Husband, I don’t have an answer. I don’t know how to reply. But I’m going to leave for a moment, and you take it to God and you ask God.” So she left him and quietly closed the door. And the old, broken-down missionary got on his knees before the Lord God and said, “Lord, I don’t understand. I don’t understand. He goes to Africa for a wild-game hunt, and when he returns home the whole world is there to greet him and to meet him. We’ve given our lives for You, and when we return home, there’s not a soul to meet us and not one to greet us.”
You know what happened? God Himself came down from heaven and put His arm around that old missionary and said to him, “Missionary, you’re not home yet. You’re not home yet.”
I am a stranger here.
Heaven is my home.
Earth is a desert drear.
Heaven is my home.
Sorrows and discouragement stand
Round me on every hand.
Heaven is my fatherland.
Heaven is my home.
[“I’m But a Stranger Here,” Thomas R. Taylor]
“Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” [Revelation 2:10]. Lord, may You find us that, if You were to come in the noonday or in the twilight or at midnight, if You were to come at the dawning of the new day, Lord, may I be faithful unto Thee. Or Lord, if You come in clouds of glory descending down through the sky, may God find us faithful unto the death of our lives here or unto the rapture of our bodies there [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]—whether here, there, or in the air, faithful unto death [Revelation 2:10]. Grant it, Lord. Amen. Now may we pray?
Our Savior, what a wonderful Lord Thou art. And now as we make appeal for Thee, may God in heaven bless and honor His Word with a gracious harvest. We have prayed for this moment, prepared for this hour, looked forward to this appeal, and our Lord, in this sacred and holy moment, may there be many, many who this day, moved in their hearts by the call of Christ, answer with their lives. We’ll love Thee, Lord, for every soul that You give us, in Thy dear and saving name, amen.
And now to the throng in the sanctuary, in the balcony round, there is a stairwell at the front and the back. If you would like this day to give your heart to the Lord [Romans 10:9-13], you are welcome. A family you to come into the fellowship of the church or to answer the call of the Holy Spirit in your heart, in a moment when we sing this hymn of appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, come. And the Lord lead you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.
THE CALL OF CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Hopelessness and sorrow in the home of Mary and Martha
1. Lazarus is dead
B. In the midst of the sorrow, Jesus came
C. He calls for Mary, who comes quickly
1. Some find excuses not to come
D. The blessedness of the callII. Calling to your heart
A. Moving of Christ felt in every heart and life unless it is hardened (Acts 26-24-29)
B. University of Alabama convocationIII. Calling to an open, public confession
A. “Go back to your seat and you can’t be saved.”
B. The covenant of God (Matthew 10:32-33, Mark 8:38, Romans 10:9-10)
C. A heartfelt commitmentIV. Calling for His church
A. Never said “My wife, my child, my home” (Luke 9:58)
1. He did say “My church” (Ephesians 5:25)
B. Do you have to join the church to be saved?V. Calling for faithfulness unto death (Revelation 2:10)