The Christian Triumph
September 11th, 1988 @ 10:50 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-11-88 10:50 a.m.
Once again we welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on cable television. You are now part of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Christian Triumph – out of tragedy, triumph.
In our preaching through the Gospel of John, we have come to the Holy of Holies. There is no section, there is no passage, there is no presentation in all of Holy Scripture that has the profound meaning and message as the central passages in the Fourth Gospel – chapters 14, 15, 16, and closing with the high priestly prayer in chapter 17 [John 17:1-26].
In the sixteenth chapter, and verse 6, our Lord describes those who are facing the inevitable and inexorable exigencies of this world: "Because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart" [John 16:6]. That is a vivid expression of the despair of the world, facing the providences of life and death apart from God. There is nothing for any heart to experience in this life except that of despair when we turn aside from God.
I remember reading in history that Benjamin Disraeli, the gifted prime minister of England and of the British Empire, under Queen Victoria – Benjamin Disraeli said, "Youth is a mistake. Manhood is a struggle. And old age is a regret" – a life of despair. But, in the midst of the providences of the experiences of this pilgrimage, our Lord began this marvelous passage of assurance in these words in John 14:
Let not your heart be troubled: you believe in God, believe [also] in Me.
In My Father’s house are many mansions: were it not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.
And this wonderful passage closes in the incomparable Word of our Lord in John 16:33: "These things have I spoken unto you, that in Me you might have peace," and assurance and victory. In the world ye shall have tears and trial and trouble and tribulation: but be of good cheer, lift up your heart, lift up your face; I have overcome the world" [John 16:33]. And the whole great passage is like that, in the midst of it.
And in John 14:27, our Lord says, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." These are the words that our Lord avowed as He faced that night His arrest, and at nine o’clock the following morning His crucifixion, after a bitter and castigating trial. In the face of disaster and despair and death, a glorious triumph.
It is a marvelous thing that, in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, after describing the sorrows and trials of the saints of God, he closes it in a glorious word. He says these, the children of the Lord, the people of God: "They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:)" [Hebrews 11:37-38]; then the triumphant word: "God having provided some better thing for us" [Hebrews 11: 40]. Out of tragedy and trial and tribulation, the Christian triumph and victory; thus it is through all of the Word of the Lord: from the beginning, in the middle, and to the end, to the consummation of the age; out of the despair and sorrow and death, "God having purposed some marvelous thing for us."
The Bible begins, Genesis 1:1: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." And I am persuaded, if God did it, it was done perfectly and beautifully. But the second verse continues: "And the earth became dark and void and waste; and darkness covered the face of the deep" [Genesis 1:2]. Something happened to God’s beautiful creation. In the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Isaiah [Isaiah 14:12-15], and the twenty-eighth chapter of the Book of Ezekiel [Ezekiel 28:12-15], we are told Lucifer rebelled. Sin was found among the angelic hosts, and the whole creation of God fell under that awesome judgment. Then, the next verse in the first chapter of Genesis begins with a recreation. God recreated this planet and made Adam and Eve the inheritors of God’s largess and grace and goodness [Genesis 1:3-28].
And once again that tragedy, that story of sorrow and despair; outside the gate of the beautiful garden is that same sinister being: Lucifer, Satan, now in the form of a serpent. And once again, we have the story of the fall of God’s created work and the death of all things living [Genesis 3:1-24]. And the Lord God took the tree of life [Genesis 2:17] from the midst of the garden of Eden and placed it far away in heaven, lest the man eat of the fruit and be confirmed forever in this house of death and despair [Genesis 3:22].
Then out of such sorrow, and out of such judgment of death, God purposes some better thing for us. There will be a glorious resurrection of God’s anointed saints [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. And in Hebrews 1:14, it avows that we should be raised above the status of the angels, and they will be our ministering spirits unto us who are the heirs of salvation. Out of that awesome tragedy of death, and destruction, and despair, and the grave, God shall raise us up. In the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans he says that we shall be "joint-heirs with Christ" [Romans 8:17]. Our Lord God; we shall be with Him and sit on thrones, judging the people of the Lord [1 Corinthians 6:2]. That better thing God hath prepared for us [Hebrews 11:40]: the Christian victory in tragedy.
When we turn to the middle of this blessed story, we read the birth of our Savior, the God incarnate who came into this world, born in a manger, in a stable, in a cattle stall – surely, surely, one of the sweetest of all the stories mankind could ever imagine; the great God of the universe, thus so sweet and precious and humble and dear, a babe in a manger, in a cattle stall [Luke 2:11-16]. Anyone could be at home in a humble surrounding like that. The poorest and the most unlearned and the most outcast could kneel before a manger. A precious scene: the angels singing [Luke 2:13-14], and the star of God shining upon it [Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11].
Then in the midst of that beautiful story of the visitation of God’s grace and love from heaven, the bloody sword of Herod. Jeremiah 31:15: "A voice heard in Ramah, weeping, and lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children and would not be comforted, because they are not." The bloody sword of Herod, slaying the little babes in Bethlehem [Matthew 2:16]; the sorrow and the tragedy and the trial and the tribulation!
Then in the beautiful life of our blessed Lord, the same sorrow and trial and tragedy. Was any life more beautiful than that of Jesus; going about doing good [Acts 10:38], healing the sick, opening the eyes of the blind, cleansing the lepers, preaching the gospel of hope to the poor? [Matthew 11:4-5]. The gentle Jesus: so beautiful in life, so precious in ministry, and how did that beautiful ministry end? In tragedy, in bitterness and scorn, in hatred, they took Him, and they plaited a crown of thorns and pressed it upon His brow. And they found in the palace somewhere a cast-off, ragged robe and put it on Him, and put a reed for a scepter in His hand, and bowed down before Him in mockery, saying: "Hail, a King!" [Matthew 27: 28-30]. Then one of their number smote Him and said to Him, "So, You are a prophet. Tell me who hit You. What is my name?" [Matthew 26:67-68; Luke 22:63-65]. And others of them spit upon Him [Matthew 27:30; Mark 15:19]. And He stood there, covered in the filth of spittle. And some of them plucked out His beard [Isaiah 50:6]. And finally, they nailed Him to a cross, and He died there in the agony of crucifixion [Matthew 27:32-50].
Could anything imaginable be more sorrowful or more terrible than the story of the end of the life of our Savior? [Matthew 27:45-50]. Yet out of that tragedy, the Christian triumph: God raised Him from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7]. And His cross became, for us, under the teaching of the Lord God in heaven, the cross, for us, is the atoning love and grace of our Savior [Romans 5:5-11]. In His blood our sins are washed away [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5]; in His tears our transgressions are forever forgiven; and in His glorious resurrection we have the affirmation that God likewise will raise us from among the dead [1 Peter 1:3-4]. We shall live in His sight. And, that cross and that suffering of our Lord has itself become the very sign and signal and aegis of our victory over death and the grave [1 Corinthians 15:51-57].
Count Zinzendorf of Moravia, in the Dusseldorf gallery in West Germany, stood, his attention riveted on an Ecce Homo, a "Behold the Man," the suffering of the Lord Jesus. And, standing there, looking at that picture of our suffering, atoning Lord, went back to his estate, gave his whole life to the Savior and founded the great Moravian missionary movement that has touched the ends of the world. I think anyone is like that. Just to look at our Savior in His suffering and death is to be moved in our deepest souls. "This I have done for thee. What has thou done for Me?"
And, we come lastly to the consummation of the age. According to God’s Word, it ends in tribulation, the great tribulation. The inevitable consummation of history lies in blood, and in trial, and in tears, and in tribulation. It’s a remarkable thing that in this book the sixth, the seventh, the eighth, the ninth, the tenth, the eleventh, the twelfth, the thirteenth, the fourteenth, the fifteenth, the sixteenth, the seventeenth, the eighteenth, the nineteenth chapters – all of those chapters from 6 through 19 in the Revelation describe for us the awesome judgment of God that shall end human history. And we are moving toward that tragic moment.
When I was a boy, many, many, many years ago now – when I was a boy, every preacher I ever heard and every preacher I ever heard of was a postmillennialist; all of them, all of them. I never heard a preacher who was not. They were of the persuasion that they were going to preach in the kingdom of God. By their human ableness and endowments in the pulpit, they were going to preach sin out of history, the tooth and the claw out of the tiger; a postmillennialist. My predecessor in this pulpit was a postmillennialist. The great and learned founder of our seminary in Fort Worth was a very able protagonist or postmillennialism. They all were. By our efforts and by the preaching of the gospel, we were going to save the lost, and save the world, and bring in universal peace and prosperity.
My brothers and sisters, there’s not a postmillennialist that lives in the world today, not one. There is not one on the face of the globe. If any man anywhere were to stand up and say, by our human ingenuity, by our preaching, by our programming, we’re going to bring in the kingdom of God, you would think the man had lost his equilibrium. He was not aware of this world.
What has happened? In my lifetime, in my lifetime, first that First World War; and as vicious as was that war, then the Second World War in which 18,000,000 men lost their lives. And not only in these days past, those awesome world conflagrations, but what of the Middle East? There is no sign, there is no promise, there is no ray of hope, of peace between those nations in the Middle East. It is one constant story of hatred against one another and of unending war.
And all of us are aware that the nations are stockpiling these awesome means of annihilation and destruction: the atomic bomb, the hydrogen bomb. And we are exploring the heavens on order to be able to drop death and fire from the skies themselves. And, don’t you think otherwise. There has never been any time in human history that any instrument of death and destruction has been invented but that it has been used for the annihilation of human kind.
That’s why you have the Nobel Peace Prize, as you’ve heard me describe. Alfred Nobel – when he discovered TNT, dynamite, Nobel said to the world, "It is so awesome in its ableness to destroy, men will never use it against one another and we’ll have universal peace." So, he founded the Nobel Peace Prize. The first time TNT and dynamite were used was in war, to destroy one another. And, it will be that same way with these awful bombs.
The first time I ever heard of a bomb was when the story came from Hiroshima; Hiroshima, in Japan, dropped over that city. Not long after that, I stood there, in the heart of that city, where that bomb had been dropped, and the devastation as far as I could see. And I visited in the hospitals and looked at the burned victims of those who had survived that holocaust; and that is a firecracker compared to the instruments of weapons of destruction that can fall now out of these missiles.
God says the end of this age is in a great tribulation [Matthew 24:3-31]. And we see for the first time in human history, we see the spread of atheistic communism. In your lifetime is the first time there has ever been government that is statedly and openly anti-God. No Roman would go to war until first he propitiated the gods, and no Greek would go to war until first he had bowed before the Oracle at Delphi. But these know no God and call upon the name of no Lord; they are statedly and officially anti-God, anti-Christ, anti-Christian, anti- the Bible, anti- everything that we hold dear in the faith and in the Lord.
If there is to be a day of salvation, God has to intervene. God has to do it. We are helpless before the throngs that march against the faith and against our Lord. God has to intervene.
This last week I read a book called The Persecutor. It’s the story of the life of a young man named Sergei Kourdakov. He was the head of the Young Communist League in his province. He was a cadet in the Russian Naval Academy. He was the most vigorous, and dynamic, and able communist. And as such, the secret police in Russia sought him out, and asked him to choose another twelve young men like him. And they were given the task of seeking out and searching out those secret believers of Christ and to destroy them in Russia. And the young man responded; he became a part of the secret police. And with a chosen dozen others just like him who were brutalized; they would ferret out and find and discover where those believers, they call them – where those believers were secretly assembled who prayed and read God’s Book and sang the hymns of the faithful. They had truncheons, clubs, cudgels of heavy iron covered over with hard rubber. And when they burst into one of those humble homes where the believers were calling on the name of Jesus, they turned it into a cubicle of blood where nothing was heard but the cries and tears and sobs of the dying.
That young fellow led more than one hundred fifty raids like that in Russia, slaying, beating to death the believers who called on the name of the Lord. And in one of them – and in one of them, there was an old, sainted woman against the wall of this humble cottage kneeling down in prayer. And he raised his truncheon to split her skull in two. But out of curiosity, he just listened to see what she was praying. She wasn’t praying for herself. She was praying for him. He was stunned. Then he was furiously angry. Here he is, the head of the Communist Youth League in his province, and the leader of the cadets in the Russian Naval Academy, and it made him furious! And he raised his truncheon to thrust down death on that poor sainted woman. And when he did, when he did, a hand seized his wrist and held it in an iron vise. He thought that there was a believer back of him who had attacked him. And he turned to use the cudgel against him. But when he turned, there was no one there. No one was there, yet his wrist was held in a vise of iron – so much that it pained him and hurt him. He lowered his hand.
And for the first time, tears like a flood poured down his face. He had prided himself – he never cried, that was weakness. And he found himself in a flood of tears. He left on a ship, swam to victory on the coast of Canada and up and down Canada and America, began to speak in behalf of the believers in Russia. I would to God I had known it. I would have invited him to this pulpit, to this place. I wish to the Lord I had known it.
An assassin’s bullet from the secret police of Russia slew him on one of the city streets in America – twenty-one years of age. But that intervention of God in heaven is a sign and a figure of promise and a symbol of what God will do at the end of the age. In the midst of that terrible trial that the earth shall face, God shall intervene. His people will be caught up in the air to meet Jesus, coming again [1 Thessalonians 4:17]. Out of tragedy, triumph; and out of our despair and death, deliverance.
Jesus will come. We shall be raptured up to meet our Lord in the air [1 Thessalonians 4:17]. We shall sit down with our Savior at the marriage supper of the Lamb [Matthew 26:29; Revelation 19:6-9]. And, finally, we shall see the Holy City, our home, descending from God out of heaven [Revelation 21:2-3], where Jesus now is preparing a place for us [John 14:2-3].
In that bright city, pearly white city,
Now I am waiting, longing, and watching,
For that bright city that’s soon coming down.
["The Pearly White City," Aurthur F. Ingler, 1902]
When we see Jesus,
The trials of life will seem so small when we see Christ;
One look of His dear face
All sorrows will erase,
Let us then run the race
Till we see Christ.
["When We See Christ," Esther Kerr Rusthoi]
Out of tragedy, our triumph; and out of death and despair, the vision of our living Lord. Oh, what a faith, and what a gospel, and what a message! Now, may we pray together?
Our Lord, with what joy and gladness do we read of the promise of Christ in the Holy Scripture. Precious Lord, may we never be discouraged if disaster strikes, if destruction and disease attack, if we are brought low by the exigencies and providences of life; Lord, may we lift up our faces. God reigns, the Savior rules; He is King of the earth in life and in death, and He prepares some better thing for us [Hebrews 11:40]. O Lord, that we could give ourselves completely to that saving faith in our blessed Savior, in whose precious name we pray, amen.
You who have listened on television, may this be a moment and a time of committal in your heart for the Lord Jesus. Look up into His face. Kneel in His presence and tell Him today, "Lord, I accept Thee for all You promised to be, a Savior now, and my Redeemer and resurrection in the world to come." And in the throngs that are here in God’s sanctuary; in the balcony round, down a stairway, on the lower floor, down one of these aisles, "Pastor, this is God’s day for me. The Lord has spoken to my heart and I am on the way." To accept Him as your Savior, to bring your family into the sweet fellowship of our wonderful church, or to answer the call of God in your heart, make that decision now. And on the first note of the first stanza come, and may angels attend you in the way. Welcome, while we stand and while we sing.
John 14 –
A. John chapters 14-17 present
the victory of the Christian faith
by announcement to disciples that the Lord should die (John 16:6)
Despair of the world before sin, death
Victorious hope of Christ (John 14:1-3, 16:33,
14:27, Hebrews 11:36-40)
a. Out of tragedy and
tribulation, the Christian triumph and victory
II. In the beginning – three permissive
events under God
A. Creation and fall of
Lucifer (Genesis 1:1-2, Isaiah 14, Ezekiel 28)
B. The re-creation and
the fall of Adam (Genesis 3:1, 22-24)
C. That better thing
for us (Hebrews 1:14, Romans 8:17, 1 Corinthians
III. In the life of Christ – three
permissive events under God
A. His birth; then
bloody Herod (Jeremiah 31:15, Mark 2:17-18)
B. His ministry; then
C. The better thing for
us – His atoning resurrection
IV. In the consummation – three final events
A. The great
Tribulation (Revelation 6-19)
1. No more postmillenialists
B. The rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:1, 1 Corinthians 13:12, 2:9)
C. The city of God
descending from heaven (Revelation 21:2)