LIFE’S GREATEST TRAGEDY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-19-89 10:50 a.m.
This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and I am the pastor, bringing the message entitled Life’s Greatest Tragedy. It is a textual message from Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which is lost.” This word “lost” is God’s characterization of all humanity. We are a lost people. We are lost to God. We are lost to holiness and righteousness. We are lost to heaven. Lost!
We are lost by nature. As David said, “We are born and conceived in sin” [Psalm 51:5]. You do not have to teach your children to be bad. They are born in sin. You do not have to teach them to be angry, or to be selfish, and finally, to lie and to cheat. They are born that way. We are born fallen, sinful. By nature, we are lost. We are lost volitionally. There is an inclination in our hearts toward disobedience and evil, and we choose not to be holy and righteous. We are lost by weakness. We are incapable of recreating ourselves or reforming ourselves. We are lost helplessly and hopelessly.
By sin, we face the inevitable consequences of death [Ezekiel 18:4, 20; Romans 6:23]. And there’s no one of us that escapes that terrible judgment and that horrible penalty. We are born to die. But not only do we find that in our personal experience we are lost, we are fallen, but we see it most dramatically in the life of our Lord, who came from heaven, down here into this darkened and fallen world [1 Timothy 1:15; Hebrews 10:5-14].
I sometimes think of our Savior in heaven, the Prince of glory. And when the announcement was made that He was leaving the ramparts of blessedness and Paradise to come down here, that the angels gathered round Him to bid Him goodbye and Godspeed. I can even think of some of the seraphim or cherubim kissing their Prince goodbye as He left heaven to come down to earth. And when He came, they filled the skies with songs—the adoration and the glory of the angelic voices, raised to God in heaven and to earth beneath [Luke 2:10-11].
And how was He received? He was received on the point and at the sharpened edge of Herod’s sword [Matthew 2:16]. The holy family came to Bethlehem [Luke 2:4-5]. The star came to Bethlehem [Matthew 2:2, 9-11]. The shepherds came to Bethlehem [Luke 2:8-16]. The wise men came to Bethlehem [Matthew 2:1]. And tramp, tramp, tramp, the soldiers came to Bethlehem, to slay the little children [Matthew 2:16]. As the Bible says, “Then was fulfilled the prophecy, In Ramah was there a voice heard . . . Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not” [Matthew 2:18]. That is the reception of the lost world to the coming of the King of heaven: lost.
When He speaks, when He preaches to His home church in Nazareth, they seize Him and take Him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, to cast Him down headlong [Luke 4:29]. Lost, this world, lost. When He spoke in the synagogue in Galilee, they gathered together, how they might put Him to death [Matthew 12:14]. When He raised Lazarus from the dead [John 11:43-44], instead of rejoicing that He had come to bring us life, they met and counseled how they might put Him to death [John 11:53]. When He came to the temple they sought to entrap Him in His speech [Luke 11:53-54]. And when He was tried—lost! When He was tried, they blindfolded Him and smote Him on the face, saying, “You prophesy, tell me, what is my name? [Luke 22:64]. Who smote You on Your face?” And when they nailed Him to a tree, they said, “He saved others. Let us see Him save Himself” [Matthew 27:42]. Lost! This world and its humanity is lost.
Now I turn to one of the most amazing of all of the providences of God; it is our sin, it is our lostness that provides a common ground between us and our Lord. That’s what we have in common, that we’re sinners and fallen [Romans 3:23]. If we were whole and well and able, we’d have nothing of need of our Lord. But it’s because we are fallen, and sinful, and face the judgment of death [Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 6:23], that we are brought nigh to Him [Ephesians 2:13]. It’s the common ground between us and our Lord.
It’s the same thing as you have between you and your physician. If you’re well and strong, there’s no need for him. But if you’re sick and maybe dying, that’s the common ground between you and that doctor. So with us and our Savior: it’s our lostness, it’s our need, it’s the judgment of death upon us that brings us nigh to the Lord, close to Jesus [Romans 6:23].
Tell me, when the Lord said two men went up in the temple to pray—one was a Pharisee and the other one was a despised outcast publican [Luke 18:10], and the Pharisee lifted up his face and his voice and after naming his virtues, said, “I thank You, Lord, I am not like other men. Not even like that despised publican there” [from Luke 18:11], in his pride. But the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift his face toward heaven, but beat upon his breast saying, “O God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” [Luke 18:13]. Now you tell me which one went down to his house justified? [Luke 18:14]. Which one did God bow down His ear to hear? Which one did God answer his prayer? The common ground between us and our Lord is that we are lost, and undone, and dying.
Give you an example in my own life. In these years past, when I was pastor of a little village church, I held a revival meeting in a country church just beyond me. And on that day, I was the guest for dinner, country dinner, in a beautiful, palatial country home. And the family was very devout, and to my amazement, they asked the hired hand to come and eat dinner with us; to sit down at the table with us. So while we were breaking bread together, I turned to that uneducated hired hand and I said to him, “Are you saved? Are you a Christian?” And he replied to me, “No, sir, I ain’t no Christian. I ain’t never been saved. I’m a lost sinner.” I said to him, “Son, you’re nigh to the kingdom of God, and you’re going to be saved during these days.” I won him to the Lord easily, easily, and he was baptized into the fellowship and faith of the kingdom of God.
As long as you are able in yourself, and proud of your virtue, you don’t have anything in common with Jesus; none. But if you’re a lost sinner, you and He are that close together. Our Lord came into this world, He was incarnate, in order to seek and to save us who are lost [Luke 19:10]. That’s why He came.
There is a lost woman in Samaria. And the fourth chapter of John begins, “And He must needs go through Samaria” [John 4:4]. There’s a lost woman there [John 4:7-29]. There is a lost man in Jericho. And our Lord comes to that very tree, calls him by name and says, “Today I must spend at your house” [Luke 19:1-5]. And my brother, there was a lost thief nailed to the cross. And Jesus died on that cross for that lost thief, that He might open for him the gate into Paradise [Luke 23:42-43]. That’s the Lord. He came to save the lost [Matthew 18:11].
Midas sought after gold, and Socrates sought after philosophical truth. Alexander the Great sought to build a great empire. Louis XIV sought for pleasure. But Jesus came to this world to seek and to save us who are lost [Luke 19:10]. And His incarnation and His coming was that He might suffer and die for us [Matthew 1:21-23]. You see, there is a programming, there is a way this creation is put together, and there is no deliverance apart from sacrifice and suffering.
When God called Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul, He said, “I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake” [Acts 9:16]. In the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, it quotes Moses as saying, “I would rather suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” [Hebrews 11:24-25]. In the way God has created this universe, there is no deliverance, there is no achievement other than through sacrifice and suffering.
Are you a mother? Are you a mother? Could you ever forget the travail and the pain, giving birth to that child? And there is no birth of a child apart from it, without it. A couple, sacrificing, struggling to build a house, to have a home.
Could I use what I know myself so intimately? A young man giving his life to the ministry; he slaves and sacrifices, poring over those books, trying to ask God to make of him a worthy minister for the people. There’s no achievement apart from it.
Do you play a violin? Do you blow a trumpet? Do you play the organ? It carries with it untold hours of discipline and sacrifice. I don’t know whether I’m stupid and dumb, but if I can speak to you freely in my heart, I have the utmost contempt for an artist like the infidel Pablo Picasso. In five minutes, in fifteen minutes at the most, he could paint a masterpiece; do it in a few minutes; Pablo Picasso.
If I have opportunity, I like to wander around a beautiful museum, just gawking, just looking, reading all those things; you know, just looking. Well, I was in the Chicago Art Museum, and there’s a bunch of little kids—little bitty kids; oh they looked to be about six, seven years old—a bunch of them. And the teacher would sit them down in front of those beautiful art pieces, and lecture to the little kids about what they were looking at. Well I, crazy me, I began walking around too, just following them around, you know, and they’d sit down, and I’d listen to the teacher. She’d talk to those little kids in a semicircle around the beautiful painting.
Well, the teacher took the little kids and set the youngsters down before a masterpiece of Pablo Picasso. Oh, boy! Oh, boy! She had an eye where her navel ought to be. She had an eye up here on the top of her head. She had a leg down there where her arm ought to be; just typical, you know. And so the teacher lectured on the great artist Pablo Picasso, the infidel. She said to the students, “Now you see this woman, what does she look like to you?” And the little boy right there at my foot held up his hand. And she said, “Son, what does it?” He said, “She looks like a witch to me.” I said, “Amen! Amen!”
In this morning’s Dallas News, you’ll find a beautiful presentation of a painting by Raphael. Raphael died as a young man. Raphael died while he was painting The Transfiguration. And oh, dear me! What a marvelous painting it is, if you ever see it.
Sacrifice, toil, a price to pay; and in keeping with that whole creation of God, Jesus came into this world. At the beginning of His life, “You are to name Him Iesous,” Jesus, Savior, He is going to put His life down for our sins [Matthew 1:21; Hebrews 10:5-14]. And at the end of His life, His blood is of a new covenant to save us from the penalty of our iniquities [Matthew 26:28]. That’s the Lord Jesus. And that’s the gospel. That’s the gospel.
If you say you know that man preaches the gospel, what do you mean? Or if you send out a missionary to a foreign country, like this boy, Sims, what does he preach when you say you’re sending him out to preach the gospel? First Corinthians 15, verse 1 and following, Paul says, “I define for you, I make known unto you, the gospel wherein you stand, wherein you are saved” [1 Corinthians 15:1-2]. What is it? “How that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; He was buried, and the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures” [1 Corinthians 15:3-4]. That’s the gospel. That’s the gospel. Jesus died for our sins, and was raised for our justification [Romans 4:25].
I never had a better friend than Cameron Townsend who founded the Wycliffe Movement. And he and I would go through Central America and South America, preaching the gospel. And twice, the foreign mission boards sent me to Africa. When I came back, preaching all over Africa, when I came back, the people here would gather around me and say, “Pastor, we can’t understand. How is it that you preached the gospel to a Stone Age Indian, to a Stone Age Indian in the Amazon jungle? And how do you preach the gospel to those naked black Hottentots in Africa? How do you preach the gospel? What do you have to say to them?” And I reply, “It is a simple matter. I speak first of the black drop in our hearts, all of us [Romans 3:23]. Then I speak second of the judgment of sin, death [Ezekiel 18:4]. And then I speak of Him who was raised from the dead that we might be saved [Romans 4:25; 6:23]; the gospel.”
O Lord! Not the decoration of a corpse, but a resurrection from the grave [Matthew 28:5-7]. Not someone to strive with us that we might be somewhat better, but Someone who can born us again, a new creation [2 Corinthians 5:17]. We’re either in the ark or we’re not. We’re either alive or we’re dead. We’re either saved or we’re lost.
Do you notice the tense of the verb; “For the Son of Man is come”—it’s present tense. “He is come”—not came—is come; always the present tense. “He is come, seeking to save those who are lost” [Luke 19:10]. Sweet mother, praying: that’s Jesus coming to save. A pastor delivering his soul in the sermon: that’s Jesus, coming to save. A Sunday school teacher breaking the bread of the life of God: that’s Jesus, coming to save. An illness, a death, a funeral: that’s Jesus, coming to save.
Tell me, why do you wait? And you reply, “I’m waiting for God to call.” He is calling now. Open your heart. Turn to our Savior and find eternal life in Him [John 3:16; 10:27-30; Romans 10:8-17].
And to the great throngs in this sanctuary, when we stand in a moment to sing our hymn of appeal: “Pastor, this is my family. We are all coming today” [Hebrews 10:24-25]. Or a couple you, or just one somebody you, while we make appeal, while we prayerfully sing our song, down one of these aisles, down one of these stairways, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me and here I stand” [Romans 10:8-13]. May angels attend and God bless as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
I. The world so lost
A. Description of all
1. By nature
2. By volition
3. By weakness
B. Seen in the tragic
life of Christ
1. The nativity (Matthew 2:18)
2. In Nazareth (Luke 4:29)
3. To the
synagogue in Galilee (Mark 3:1-6)
In his last days: at the temple, in His trial and to Calvary (Matthew 22:15, Luke 22:64, Matthew 27:62)
II. The common ground between us and
A. That we are sinful,
If we were whole, well and able, we’d have no need of Him (Luke 18:11)
B. Purpose of the
incarnation of Christ to seek and save the lost
C. Purpose of His
1. The way of
creation (Acts 9:16, Hebrews 11:27)
Purpose of Christ coming from heaven was to die for our sins (Matthew 1:21, 26:26-29, 1 Corinthians 15:1)
He is calling now