The Living Presence
April 3rd, 1988 @ 10:50 AM
THE LIVING PRESENCE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-03-88 10:50 a.m.
This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas and I am the pastor delivering an Easter message entitled The Living Presence. For these many months, we are preaching through the fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John. So as a background text I read out of the twentieth chapter of the Gospel of John, verse 19:
Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, Sunday, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled,
came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Shalom, peace be unto you.
And when He had so said, He showed unto them His hands and His side, the scars in His body. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.
The Living Presence.
It was a remarkable thing without announcement, suddenly there He would be. In the midst of the garden, there He stood [Matthew 28:9-10]. Before the open tomb, there He was [John 20:11-20]. On the lonely road to Emmaus, there He walked [Luke 24:13-15]. When they sat down for supper, there He broke bread [Luke 24:30-31]. By the side of the sea in Galilee, there He stood [John 21:1]. On the appointed mountain, He met with over five hundred brethren [Matthew 28:16-20, 1 Corinthians 15:6]. In the upper room with the door shut, suddenly there He stood [John 20:19-20]. Walking up the Mount of Olives, He walked with them [Luke 24:50-51]. Just there, and there; for forty days thus He appeared [Acts 1:40].
Then the disciples no longer needed to see Him with their naked eyes, they knew Him by His presence working with them. Thus true the remainder of the New Testament, our Lord would be here and there and yonder. When Stephen, God’s first martyr, was beat to the ground with those missiles of rock, he looked up, and there stood the Lord Jesus, to receive His first martyr into glory [Acts 7:55-56]. Saul of Tarsus, breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord was met in the way on the Damascus road by the Savior. Above the brilliance of the midday Syrian sun, there He stood – our Lord [Acts 9:1-5]. When the sainted apostle John was remanded from Ephesus to the lonely Isle of Patmos, there our Lord appeared in glory [Revelation 1:19-13]. John fell at His feet as one dead, and as our Lord had so many times done in the days of His flesh, He put His right hand upon the shoulder of John and said, "Be not afraid,it is I who was dead and now liveth. And I have the keys of Hell and of the Grave" [Revelation 1:17-18]; our living Lord.
Then beyond the pages of this New Testament, He continued to appear, to work with His people, the presence of Jesus, our resurrected Savior. No different today than yesterday, and no different yesterday than in the days of the New Testament; Christ our Savior lives.
He is present in the obedience of His disciples, of His people. I stood one time by the heroic statue of David Livingstone, standing there in bronze looking at the Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River. As I stood there looking at him and looking at that phenomenal sight, the greatest falls in the world, I thought of the day when he discovered them, the first white man ever to look upon them. What had happened was, as Livingstone was going down the Zambezi opening up the heart of Africa to the gospel of Christ, word came to him that he must not go further. There were savages, there were cannibals waiting and he dare not risk his life to continue in his missionary journey.
David Livingstone had a way that I read once in a while of other saints. I have never had the faith to pursue it. I’ve never had enough trust in God to try it. It is this: David Livingstone, when he sought the mind of the Lord, would pray for God to reveal His will. Then he’d take his Bible and just let it open wherever it would and put his finger upon a text and read it. And that would be God’s answer to his prayer. I’ve never had enough faith to do that; he did. And when the word came to him that these cannibals were down the Zambezi and he dare not proceed further, Livingstone took his Bible and prayed, and then let it open where it would, and took his finger and then read the text. It was Matthew 28:20, "You go and I will go with you to the end of the age." And Livingstone turned to the black men who were his servants and helpers and said, "This is the promise of God. He is with us and He will continue, let’s go." And they made their way down the river and that’s where he found the Victoria Falls. His presence with us, the living presence of Christ in obedience to His will.
His living presence is with us in trial and imprisonment. Some years ago the foreign mission board sent Dr. Theron Rankin, its secretary, and me to a mission trip to the Orient. Dr. Rankin had been for years a missionary to China. And when we were on the back side of the island of Hong Kong, that great man of God said to me: "This is the place where I was arrested and placed in prison during the days of the Second World War."
He said, "When I was arrested by the invading, conquering Japanese army, there came two Japanese soldiers, and one stood on one side of me, and one stood on the other side, and they accompanied me into the prison."
The great man of God said to me, "I never felt the presence of my Savior so dear and so near as when I was marched into that prison compound with a Japanese soldier, one on one side and one on the other."
"I’ll be with you," He said, "to the end of the age" [Matthew 28:20]; the living presence of our living Lord. And He is with us in the sorrows and tragedies and tears that overwhelm our lives. I was never more moved than by the testimony of a man who said, "There came to our door a boy, a neighbor boy, and he brought with him a bent bicycle covered in blood and said, `This is the bicycle of your son.’" and the father said, "My boy?" And the neighbor lad said, "Yes, struck by a car, and they took him away." The father called every hospital in the city, and it seemed that every one had a boy in the emergency section who’d been hurt. So he started out visiting one hospital after another; finally came to one, and a lad in the emergency room raised his hand and said, "Daddy, here I am. I’m over here." And the father rushed to the cot where the boy lay dying, so terribly hurt. And the lad said to his father, "Daddy, I learned a prayer in Sunday school. Would you pray it with me?" And the father said, "Son, I don’t believe in God, and I don’t believe in prayer. I’ve never prayed, and I’m not a believer." And the lad said, "But Dad, this time, please, won’t you kneel and pray?" He bent his stubborn knees and bowed his infidel head.
And the boy began, "Daddy, pray now. Our Father who art in heaven," And the father repeated it. "Hallowed be Thy name," and the father repeated it. "Thy kingdom come," and the father repeated it. "Thy will be done," and the father refused. And the lad said, "Daddy, pray it. Pray it. Thy will be done." And the father prayed it. And as he said it, the boy’s hand went limp in his. He had died. And in his testimony, the man said, "Miracle of miracles, the Jesus who went away with my boy stayed in my heart. And He has lived with me and been with me in these years that have passed by." The presence of the living Christ; in these great trials of life, there He is [Matthew 28:20].
I do not know of a more moving testimony on the part of any preacher who ever lived than the one of my predecessor, George W. Truett, who preached behind this sacred desk for forty-seven years. As you know, one of the members of the church was his dear friend, Captain J. C. Arnold, chief of the police of the city of Dallas. In a hunting trip, the pastor and his dear friend, Dr. Truett accidentally shot him and the man died. So deep was the sorrow of the pastor, having slain his dearest friend, that he made the announcement to his wife he’d never preach again.
But that week in the restlessness of night after night, on Saturday night, he fell asleep and there appeared to him the Lord Jesus Christ and said to him, "Be not afraid. From this moment on, you are My man." He awakened. He went back to sleep. And again, that same vision of the living Lord, "Be not afraid." He awakened and the third time returning to sleep, there appeared before him the resurrected, glorified Christ, calling him anew to this assignment as a preacher of the gospel of the living God.
Jesus lives, not only in the pages of this Holy Bible, but in the experiences of the servants of Christ who have bowed before our Lord, sought His face and will through all the generations since, and thus to us today; a living presence.
But some might say, "Now, pastor, He may speak to these, and He may appear to those, and He may be close and known to those yonder, but He doesn’t speak to me. He doesn’t knock at the door of my heart. He is not real and living to me." Listen for the moment. He speaks to you through this blessed Word. He talks to you through this Book, these Holy Scriptures. Christ and His word are identified:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by Him; without Him was not anything made that was made.
In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
[John 1:1-4, 14]
Christ is identified with His Word; they two are one. And the Holy Word of God speaks to your heart, He pleads with you. On every page does He call us to faith and fellowship in Him. Christ speaks today to us through His Holy Scripture. He speaks to us through His church, His body. Even the spire on the top of the house points to Him. And these glorious windows magnify His wonderful name. He says, "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst" [Matthew 18:20]. Jesus is here, and sometimes seated in this pulpit I so feel the presence of the living Christ until my heart overflows in tears and in gratitude to God.
The Lord is in this place. He speaks to us in the invitation, Revelation 3:20: "Behold, I stand at the door of your heart, and knock: if anyone hears My voice, and opens the door, I will come in and sup with him, and he with Me." He speaks at the door of your heart. Think of the marvelous compliment, were there standing at your heart’s door a great king, or a prime minister, or one of the noble of the earth, or an angel from heaven; above them all, our Lord stands. He knocks at the door of your heart, seeking an entrance into your life; the living presence.
He speaks to us in the need and the ministries that are so vital to human life in this world. "No man liveth unto himself" [Romans 14:7]; we are a part of a great throng and a vast company, and in that throng and in that company are those who need us. They need you.
One of the great poets of the world is our American Edwin Markham. In one of his beautiful poems he writes of a shoemaker who is looking for Christ to visit him. Word has come to him that the Lord is to be his guest that day in his shoe shop. So Edwin Markham writes:
While the cobbler mused there passed his pane
A beggar, drenched by the driving rain.
He called him in from the stoney street,
And gave him shoes for his bruised feet.
The beggar went, there came a crone,
Her face with wrinkles of sorrow sown.
A bundle of fagots bowed her back,
And she was spent with the wrench and rack.
He gave her his loaf and steadied her load,
As she took her way on the weary road.
Then to his door came a little child,
Lost and afraid in the world so wild.
In the big dark world. Catching him up,
He gave him the milk in the waiting cup,
And led him home to his mother’s arms,
Out of the reach of the world’s alarms.
The day went down in the crimson west
And with it, the hope of the blessed Guest.
And Conrad that shoemaker –
Conrad sighed as the world turned gray:
"Why is it, Lord, that Your feet delay?
Did You forget that this is the day?"
Then soft in the silence a voice he heard:
"Lift up your heart, for I have kept My word.
Three times I came to your friendly door.
Three times My shadow was on your floor.
I was the beggar with bruised feet;
I was the woman you gave to eat;
And I was the child on the homeless street."
[from "The Great Guest Comes," Edwin Markham]
Looking for Jesus? Seeking His face, you’ll find Him in the call of God. The need of the world He answers; He makes appeal to us in the restless hunger and longing of our hearts. However much money a man may make, however the vast wealth he could accumulate, whatever the fame or the success or the achievement, it’s like husks compared to the longing in a man’s soul to know God.
When Rudyard Kipling, the incomparable English poet, came to America, the whole nation opened wide its arms. In San Francisco he became desperately ill, and in that illness in the hospital, he was seen to move his lips. And a nurse bowed her ear to hear what the great poet was saying. And he was repeating over and over and yet over again, "I need Thee, O God. I need Thee, O God." What could San Francisco do with a man whose heart cries out for God? What could the world offer to any soul anywhere seeking the face of Jesus? Just His presence and just His soft word, just the touch of His dear hand will ever suffice.
And may I close? He calls to us, and we feel in our souls the coveted blessing and those providences of life that make us what we are. In a marriage, when two exchange a covenant vow that bind them together, "Lord, You bless; You be present. Please God, make it a beautiful relationship." When the baby is born, "O God, receiving from Thy omnipotent hands this beautiful child, O God, You be present, and You bless the youngster as he grows up unto Thee." And in the parting words at the grave, "Lord God, how we need Thee."
I have been a pastor over sixty years; it would be almost unbelievable the times that I have stood at the head of the casket. And I have seen and I have heard these who look down into the face of a loved one, and say words of endearment and hope. "Goodbye, sweet. I’ll see you in the morning. O God, bless and watch over until we meet one another again."
Great God, how we need Thee, and how life is empty and vain without Thee.
Other than the hope we have in Christ, life itself ends in abysmal darkness and despair. But there’s an Easter; there’s a resurrection. There’s a coming King, there’s the Lord of life; that’s the gospel of hope and salvation. Jesus is near, He walks by our sides. He talks with us, and He guides us through every unfolding day, and opens for us the doors of heaven [Hebrews 10:19-22].
O blessed Jesus, our living Lord! Now may we pray?