The Living Presence
June 25th, 1989 @ 10:50 AM
THE LIVING PRESENCE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-25-89 10:30 a.m.
Once again welcome to the throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on television. You are now a part of our wonderful First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Living Presence.
In our preaching through the Gospel of John, the Fourth Gospel, we are in the last two chapters. And in chapter 20, beginning at verse 19, we have the story of our Lord’s appearance to the apostles. So let us read it:
Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, being Sunday, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith, shalom, Peace be unto you.
And when He had so said, He showed unto them His hands and His side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.
Then said Jesus to them again, shalom: as My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.
And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit:
Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.
Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.
The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But Thomas said unto them, Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe.
Isn’t that like the world? “I don’t believe unless I could see the Lord right here visibly, anatomically before my eyes. I will not believe.”
But after eight days, the following Sunday, His disciples were within, and Thomas this time with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, shalom, Peace be unto you.
Then saith He to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold My hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into My side: and be not faithless, but believing.
And Thomas answered and said unto Him, My Lord and my God.
Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
A beatitude and a benediction for us today: we have not seen our Lord in the flesh; but we believe and receive Him living in our hearts. And that’s the subject of the message today, the living presence.
Just suddenly He was there: without any announcement, without any preconceived conceptions, just He was suddenly there. When Mary Magdalene stood in the garden of the tomb weeping, just suddenly He was there [John 20:11-16]. When the women went to see the empty tomb, just suddenly He was there [Matthew 28:9-10]. When the two walked to Emmaus, so sad, just suddenly He was there, walking by their sides [Luke 24:13-16]. When they sat down for supper, just suddenly He was there [Luke 24:30-35]. When they were fishing on the Sea of Galilee, just suddenly He is there, guiding them into the fullness of the enormous catch of fish; just suddenly He is there [John 21:1-19].
When the five hundred brethren met in the mountains in Galilee, just suddenly He is there [Matthew 28:16-20; 1 Corinthians 15:6]. In the upper room, where the institution of the memorial supper was given to us, just suddenly He is there [John 20:26-29]. And on the way to the top of the mount from which He was ascended into heaven, as they walked along to the top of Olivet, just suddenly He was there [Acts 1:3-11]. For forty days that continued: the presence of our Savior, without announcement, just suddenly He is there [Acts 1:3]. Then no longer did their human eyes need to see Him; they knew His presence by His power and His love and His grace working with them.
And thus our Lord has continued through the years. The First Gospel closes just like that: “Jesus came and said, All power, all authority is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye and teach, and preach, and baptize…and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age” [Matthew 28:18-20]. He is with us. In adversity, in prosperity, in trial or in prison, in sickness or in health, in weakness or in strength, in life or in death, He is with us. “I will be with you to the end of the age” [Matthew 28:20]. Just suddenly He is there.
When His first martyr Stephen was beat into the ground with stones, he lifted up his face, and there was the Lord Jesus, standing to receive His first martyr [Acts 7:55-56]. Everywhere else in this Book Jesus is presented as seated, always He is seated; He is seated at the right hand of God [Hebrews 10:12], He is seated at the right hand of power [Mark 14:62], always He is seated, but this once. When Stephen was stoned to death [Acts 7:59-60], the Bible says that our Lord Jesus stood to receive His first martyred witness [Acts7:55-56]. Just there He is.
When Saul of Tarsus was breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of Christ [Acts 9:1], just suddenly there He is, standing in the way: “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me? Who art Thou, Lord?” [Acts 9:4-5]. No wonder he asked. What an amazing providence; suddenly He is there [Acts 9:3]. “Who art Thou, Lord? And the Lord replied, I am Jesus. I am Jesus whom thou persecutest” [Acts 9:5]. Just suddenly He is there.
When the sainted apostle John was remanded to the isle of Patmos to die of exposure and starvation, just suddenly He is there [Revelation 1:9-13]. You read of the appearance of our Savior to the apostle a few moments ago [John 20:19-29]. Just suddenly He is there. And through these ages since, He has been with us; He is here. He is here.
I stood one time at the foot of the large, enormous, heroic statue of David Livingstone, facing the vast Victorian Falls on the Zambezi River in what was then called Rhodesia, today called Zimbabwe. And as I stood there and looked up at that tremendous statue of David Livingstone, God’s missionary, and then at that vast Victoria Falls, my mind went back to the day when he discovered them. David Livingstone was going down the Zambezi River, and when he came to a certain place, the natives said, “You must continue no further. There are cannibals down there, and you risk your very life if you continue. You musn’t.” Now David Livingstone had a way that I would to God I could believe; I don’t have the faith, I just don’t. Here is what he did: when any decision was to be made, David Livingstone would take his Bible and place it on the back edge like this, close his eyes, and then as he dropped the Bible on its back edge he would open his eyes and look. And the verse that he saw would be God’s answer. That was the habit of his life. I don’t have that faith. Would to God I did. He did it then. When he came to that place in the Zambezi River, when his life was threatened if he continued, he laid it before God and asked God to direct him. And he put his Bible down, and let it fall open wherever it would. And when he did, he read that verse: “I will go with you to the end of the age” [Matthew 28:20]. And he raised his face and said to his helpers, “That’s the promise of God. Let’s go. Let’s move.” And the Lord was with him.
I was in these years gone by assigned by the Foreign Mission Board on a preaching mission in the Orient, and I was with the executive secretary of the Foreign Mission Board, Dr. Theron Rankin. And when we came to the city of Hong Kong, he described to me a moving incident in his life, when in the Second World War, the Japanese arrested our missionaries and imprisoned them in compounds. And he said, “On the back side of this island of Hong Kong, I was escorted by two Japanese soldiers.” He was a missionary in China, and brought there to that prison. And Dr. Theron Rankin said to me, “On this side stood a Japanese soldier and on this side stood a Japanese soldier, and they escorted me into the prison camp.” And Dr. Rankin said to me, “Never in my life have I felt the closeness and the dearness and the nearness of God, of Jesus, as I did when those soldiers marched me into the prison camp.”
“I will be with you,” He said, “to the end of the age” [Matthew 28:20]. And that presence sometimes is felt in the most amazing and sometimes tragic providences of life.
This is the testimony of what I would call an infidel. He didn’t believe in God, didn’t believe in the Bible, didn’t believe in Christ, didn’t believe anything in religion. Well, upon a day, there were those who brought to the house where he lived a bicycle, all crushed and covered in blood—belonged to his little boy. The father asked, “Where is my boy?” And a little fellow replied, “Mister, we don’t know. He was run over by a car that sped away, and another car took him away. And we don’t know where he is.” The father frantically ran to the telephone, called every hospital in the city, and every hospital seemingly had a boy that was hurt. So he started visiting one hospital after another, finding his boy. And eventually, as he walked into the ward of one of those hospitals, a little fellow down the aisle said, “Daddy, here am I. Daddy, come here.” And he rushed to the side of his little boy, and the lad said to him, “Daddy, the doctors have told me I have just a brief while to live.” Then the lad made a request, “Daddy, would you kneel? Would you get on your knees and pray?” And the father said, “Son, I’ve never gotten on my knees in my life!”
“Please, Daddy, this time, kneel, kneel.” And the father fell on his knees. And the little boy said, “Now Daddy, I want you to pray. I want you to pray.” And this is the testimony of that unbeliever. “Son,” he replied, “I’ve never prayed in my life. I don’t know how to pray.” And the lad said, “Daddy, I learned this prayer in Sunday school. Daddy, pray this prayer.” So the little boy began, “Our Father who art in heaven,” and then the dad to repeat it. “Hallowed by Thy name”; and the dad to repeat it. “Thy kingdom come;” and the dad to repeat it. “Thy will be done”; and the father refused to say it. “Thy will be done”; and the lad said, “Daddy, pray it. Pray it.” And before he could say any other word, the little fellow’s hand turned limp in his daddy’s hand; and he raised his face to look, and the boy was gone.
Then that infidel said in his testimony, “I cannot describe, words cannot contain it, but the Jesus that took my boy away, that same Jesus entered my heart when I prayed, ‘Thy will be done.’ And He has been with me ever since, and it’s been a glory of God against the day when I see my boy and our Lord in heaven.”
“I will be with you to the end of the age. In triumph, in defeat, in life, in death, in gladness, or in sorrow, I will be with you to the end of the age” [Matthew 28:20].
Now I can easily hear someone say, “Now, pastor, I can see how He might knock at the door of your house or your home, and I can maybe understand how He visits others and reveals Himself to others; but He never knocks at my door. And I never sense the presence of Jesus with me.” You listen with all of your souls: Jesus comes to see you, and He knocks at the door of your heart in His Word. Jeremiah said, “Is not the word of God like a fire and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” [Jeremiah 23:29] And John begins:
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 His omnipotent hands; and without Him was not any thing made that was made. 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 1:1-3, 14]
He speaks to us in this Word. He comes to us in this Word. He reveals Himself and all that God intends and purposes for us in His Word. He speaks to you in His Word.
Jesus is with us in the house of the Lord, in church. “Where two or three are gathered together, there am I in the midst” [Matthew 18:20]. Jesus is here. That spire points up to Him in glory. These beautiful stained-glass windows reflect His grace and His goodness. And when you sing these songs my heart overflows. I don’t exaggerate it when I say sometimes seated there, oft times seated there, I feel the presence of Jesus so that I burst into tears. He is here in the presence of His people. And when we gather in His name, His hands are outstretched in beautiful blessing. Jesus is here.
He is here in His invitation. [Revelation 3:20], “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any one hears My voice, and opens the door, I will come in and sup with him, and he with Me.” If a king stood at the door of my heart, oh how honored I would be! If a prime minister knocked at the door of my heart, how honored I would be. If an angel, like as appeared to Abraham and Manasseh or Zacharias, were to come and knock at the door of my heart, how glad I would be. O God! to think that Jesus, raised from the dead, the Savior of the world, knocks at the door of my heart! And He says, “If you will open the door, I will come in; and we will fellowship together. I will talk to you, and you can talk to Me” [Revelation 3:20]. O Lord, great God!
And He is with us in the providences of life. Last night, right here, the altar place, and the couple married, and I felt their tears fall on my hand as they put their home and life together in Christ. He is with us; Christ is with us, and He blesses that sweet couple kneeling there in His presence.
He is with us when they bring to me a precious baby. There’s not anything, I repeat, that so imitates the life of our Lord than to dedicate a little baby to Jesus. They brought to Him little children, and He blessed them [Mark 10:13-16]. He is with us.
And He is with us at that parting hour when we say, “Goodbye, I’ll see you in the morning.” Jesus is with us. He opens the door of heaven, and He welcomes His sainted believer and trusting friend. He welcomes us into heaven [John 14:1-3]. Jesus is with us.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson made the request, “Whenever, wherever my poems are published, always this one at the end.”
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound or foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
But may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho’ from out this bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see—
Could I change it Lord Tennyson?—
I know I shall see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.
[“Crossing the Bar,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1889]
God is with us. Christ is with us. “I will be with you alway,” He says, “to the end of the age” [Matthew 28:20].
And to you who have watched and listened to this service on television, could it be that today would be the day you welcome the Savior into your house, and into your heart, and into your home? No greater friend could you ever know than the Lord Jesus, standing by us in every trial, and someday opening for us the gates of heaven [John 14:1-3]. If you will give your heart to the Lord Jesus, I’ll see you and Him someday in that upper and better world. On your screen you will have a number. If you don’t know how to accept Christ as your Savior, call us. There’ll be a dedicated, consecrated counselor who will answer the phone and guide you into glory.
And to the great throng of people in the sanctuary this day, to give your heart and your life to the Lord, oh! [Romans 10:9-10]. What an open door Jesus hath set before us; a family you to put your life with us in our dear church, a couple you to consecrate yourselves to the Lord Jesus, or just one somebody you, “This day, pastor, God has spoken to me; and here I stand.” On the first note of the first stanza, come, and welcome, while we stand and while we sing.