LIFE’S GREATEST TRAGEDY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-19-89 8:15 a.m.
Once again we welcome the multitudes of you who share this hour on our great radio station KCBI. You are now a part of our precious First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor delivering the message.
This week is the high, holy, heavenly week in all Christendom. And for the seventy-third year we shall be holding services at high noon each day beginning tomorrow at twelve o’clock, continuing until Good Friday, Monday through Friday at twelve o’clock. This will be the forty-fifth year that I have conducted those services.
The theme this year will be “The Revelations of God”; what it is to be lost, what it is to be saved, what it is to be in hell, the thing you read just now, what it is to be in heaven, and what it is to be washed in the blood of the Lamb. I believe this year will be our finest convocation here in this sanctuary.
The title of the sermon this hour, Life’s Greatest Tragedy; “For the Son of Man—in Luke 19:10—For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost”; the description of our Lord of all humanity is in that word “lost.” We are lost by nature. Conceived, David said, in sin [Psalm 51:5]. You don’t have to teach a child to be bad. The child without being taught will show anger and selfishness and finally at times will lie and will cheat. You don’t have to teach a child to be bad. The child will be bad by birth.
We’re lost by volition, by choice, by inclination. There’s no one of us that escapes that condemnation of wrong. We’re lost by weakness. We cannot recreate ourselves. We cannot reform ourselves. We are lost by helplessness and hopelessness. We face the inevitable encroachments of death.
All humanity is described in God’s Book by the word “lost.” No more dynamic or tragic illustration of the lostness of the race can be seen than in the life of our dear Lord. I can easily imagine that scene in heaven when it was announced to the angels in glory that the Prince was coming down into this darkened world [Hebrews 10:5-14]. And the angels bid Him goodbye. Could I think that many of them kissed Him as their Prince left the scenes of heaven to come down into this world? And when He came they sang a song of heavenly glory [Luke 2:13-14].
Then, having come, He met the sharp, piercing sword of Herod [Matthew 2:16]. The holy family came to Bethlehem [Luke 2:1-4]. And the star came to Bethlehem [Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11]. And the shepherds came to Bethlehem [Luke 2:8-16]. And the wise men came to Bethlehem [Matthew 2:1-2]. And the sword came to Bethlehem [Matthew 2:16]. Then was fulfilled the saying, “In Ramah was there the voice of Rachel, crying because of the death of her children” [Matthew 2:18]. The lostness of humanity that was the reception of the Lord Jesus from heaven [Luke 19:10].
And the course of His life followed the same tragic pattern. When He came to Nazareth and delivered His sermon [Luke 4:16-27], they took Him to the brow of the hill upon which their town was built to cast Him headlong to death [Luke 4:28-29]. When He entered the synagogue in Galilee, they took council how they might put Him to death [Matthew 12:14]. When He raised Lazarus from the dead [John 11:43-44], instead of rejoicing in the resurrection in His gracious hands and word, they thought to encompass His death [John 11:53].
When He was arrested and tried before the tribunal [Luke 22:47-63], can you imagine humanity? They blindfolded Him and then smote Him with their hands and said, “Prophesy! What is my name? Who struck you?” [Luke 22:64]. Then they nailed Him to a cross [Matthew 27:32-41] and said, “Himself, He cannot save. Saved others; cannot save Himself” [Matthew 27:42]. The lostness of humanity. Thus did we receive the Prince of heaven and the Son of God.
And now I speak of the most amazing turn that mind could imagine or heart could think of. That is the common bond and the common ground between us and our Lord; our sin and our lostness. If we are able in ourselves and sinless in ourselves, we don’t need Him. There’s no bond between us and the Lord, but if we’re lost and face an eternal judgment and damnation [1 John 5:12], O God, how we need our Savior.
It’s the same thing as a doctor and his patient. If the patient is well and strong, there’s no need for the doctor, but if the patient is sick and dying, oh, how the physician can be a friend in need.
Thus it is with our Lord. It is because of our sin and our judgment and our death that we are brought nigh to Him [Ephesians 2:13], that we need it, the common ground between us.
Do you remember the Lord’s story of those two men who went up in the temple to pray? One was a Pharisee and the other was a publican [Luke 18:9-14]. And the Pharisee, proudly, speaking to God said, “Lord, I thank You; I am not like other men. I am sufficient in myself, and I thank Thee that I am not like these sinners, like that publican,” and pointed him out [Luke 18:11].
And the Lord said the publican would not so much as lift his face to God. But beat upon his breast, crying, “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner” [Luke 18:13]. And the Lord then said, “Which one went down to his house justified?” [Luke 18:14].
The very fact of our lostness, of our sin, is what binds us to Christ. He came into the world to seek us and to save us [Luke 19:10]. That’s why the incarnation [Matthew 1:20-25; John 1:1, 14].
There was a lost woman in Samaria. And the fourth chapter of John begins, “He must needs go through Samaria” [John 4:4]. There’s a lost woman there. There was a lost man in Jericho, and our Lord must needs go to that very tree and call him down and be that day a guest in his house [Luke 19:1-5]. And can you think of this? There was a lost thief on the cross and he died by His side that He might open for him the gates of Paradise [Luke 23:42-43]. Oh God, what a Savior!
Midas sought for gold, and Socrates for philosophical truth, and Alexander the Great for world empire, Louis XIV for pleasure; but Jesus came seeking lost souls, seeking us [Luke 19:10]. And that is the purpose of His sufferings and of His death [Matthew 27:32-50], that we might be saved [John 3:16-17]. Did you ever think, there’s no achievement and no deliverance in any area of life apart from sacrifice and suffering? It’s the way of the universe. It’s the way of creation.
When the Lord called 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, Moses chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season [Hebrews 11:24-25]. Your whole life is like that. Are you a mother? Then you know travail. There’s no birth without it. A young couple, striving for a house in which to build a home, sacrifice.
Could I speak of the minister? If he’s a worthy minister, he’s paid a price to study and to be a servant of God. If you play the violin, if you play an instrument, if you play the organ, there’s a price. There’s a cost. There’s a sacrifice. I don’t want to be contemptuous, but I can’t help but express contempt for an infidel like Pablo Picasso. In fifteen minutes or less he could paint a masterpiece. And I think of an infidel like Picasso, and the cheap art, to me, an insult. I think of an artist like Raphael. You’ll see a beautiful advertisement of one of Raphael’s creations in the Dallas Morning News. He died as a young man, painting the Transfiguration of Jesus.
Sacrifice: and that is the payment of Jesus for our sins, that we might be saved. The beginning of His life was that. “You call Him Iesous, Jesus, Savior: for He shall save us from our sins” [Matthew 1:21]. Now that’s the close of His life [Matthew 27:32-50]. And the Lord’s Supper, “This is My blood of the new covenant shed for the remission of sins” [Matthew 26:28]. And my sweet people, that is the gospel that we preach.
Do you ever think, when you say, “This man preaches the gospel,” what do you mean by that? “He preaches the gospel.” What does he preach? Or you send out a missionary and you send him out to “preach the gospel.” What does he preach? Paul defines it:
I declare unto you—I define for you the gospel wherein you stand,
wherein you are saved.
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 15:1-4]
That’s the gospel; the payment in the life and blood of our Lord for our sins, that we might be saved [1 John 2:2].
In these years past, as many of you know who’ve been here a long, long time, I used to preach all over this world, just constantly going, going. I had a dear, dear friend named Cameron Townsend who founded the Wycliffe ministry. And I’d go with Cameron Townsend down through Central America and down through South America, preaching the gospel.
And upon two occasions the Foreign Mission Board sent me to Africa to preach the gospel. And when I’d come back, I could not tell you the number of times people would come up to me and say, “Pastor, how do you preach to a Stone Age Indian in the Amazon jungle?” Or, “How do you preach to a black, naked Hottentot in Africa? What do you say?”
And my reply always was, “My friend, simplest thing in the world, simplest thing in mind, in experience. What do I preach? That there’s a black drop in all of our hearts; that all of us are sinners, all of us [Romans 3:23]. Number two: because of our sins, we face the judgment of death; all of us [Ezekiel 18:4, 20]. And then, who can save us? Jesus [Romans 6:23, 10:9-10, 13]. That’s the good news I bring to you. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus
We’re not preaching the decoration of a dead corpse. We’re preaching the resurrection from the grave [Matthew 28:1-7; Luke 24:1-7]. We’re not seeking His help in our self-reformation. We’re seeking a new creation, a new birth [John 3:3, 7]. And in Him, we’re either dead or alive. We’re either lost or saved. We’re in the ark of we’re out of it. Our hope is in Jesus [1 John 3:2-3].
And that’s the wonderful word of our Lord. “Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” [Luke 19:10]. Do you notice the word “The Son of Man is come?” Present tense; not past tense. Present tense. “The Son of Man is come”; always coming [Luke 19:10].
When mother prayed and when mother prays, that is Jesus coming, seeking to save that which is lost; mother’s prayers [Luke 19:10]. And when the preacher preaches a sermon, true to the Christ of the Book, that’s Jesus coming, seeking to save the lost [Luke 19:10]. And when a godly Sunday school teacher brings a lesson, that’s Jesus coming, seeking to save the lost [Luke 19:10]. And in the providences of life, a sickness, a funeral, that is Jesus coming, seeking to save the lost [Luke 19:10].
And my appeal to your heart: you say, “Pastor, if Jesus were to call me I’d come; I’d come.” He is come. He is here. And He calls for you. Answer with your heart and with your life; “Jesus, welcome into my heart, into my house, into my home, into my life. Jesus, who died for me [1 Corinthians 15:3; Galatians 2:20], who is raised to take me to heaven [John 14:3], and whom someday I’ll see face to face” [Revelation 22:3-5]. Make it now. As we sing this hymn of appeal, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, God has spoken to my heart, and this is God’s day and God’s time for me. And here I stand” [Romans 10:9-10]. On the first note of the first stanza, come. May angels attend in the way and God bless as you answer with your life, while we stand and while we sing.