The Living Presence
June 25th, 1989 @ 8:15 AM
THE LIVING PRESENCE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
John 20:19, 24-29
6-25-89 8:15 a.m.
God bless the uncounted multitudes of you who are sharing this hour on radio, on KCBI, the greatest radio station on the North American continent. And the Lord bless the throngs of you that are in the sanctuary this holy hour. We are all now a part of our dear 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, we are in the last two chapters. And the message today is from chapter 20, beginning at verse 19:
Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, on Sunday, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, shalom , Peace be unto you. But Thomas—
But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.
And the other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into them, and thrust my hand into His side, I do not believe He is alive.
And after eight days—
the following Sunday, the way they counted—
the disciples were within, and Thomas this time with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, shalom.
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.
[John 20:19, 24-29]
A benediction and a beatitude for us today who’ve never seen the Lord with our naked eyes; but the sermon and the message this morning, He is with us and we feel His benevolent, loving, benedictory presence in our souls and in our midst.
Just suddenly He was there without announcement, without any preparation, just He was there. In the garden where Mary Magdalene was weeping because of the death of her Lord, just suddenly He was there [John 20:11-18]. The women who came to the empty tomb just to look at it, suddenly He was there; just standing there [Matthew 28:9-10]. The two on the way to Emmaus, just so sad, suddenly He was walking by their side. He was there [Luke 24:13-15]. Seated at the supper table, suddenly He was there [Luke 24:36-48]. The men who were fishing, seven of them on the Sea of Galilee, just suddenly He is there, standing on the seashore, guiding them how to make an unusual, effective catch. He was just suddenly there [John 21:1-25]. And in the mountains in Galilee where five hundred brethren were gathered together, suddenly He was there [Matthew 28:16-20; 1 Corinthians 15:6]. And in the city of Jerusalem, upstairs in that upper room, just suddenly He is there [Luke 24:36-43]. And as they walk to the Mount of Olivet, just suddenly there He is, walking by their sides [Acts 1:3-11].
That continued for forty days [Acts 1:3]. Then the hour came when their eyes no longer needed to see Him. They knew Him by His presence, working with them. Jesus is there. And in keeping with the marvelous promise that closes the First Gospel, the Gospel of Matthew:
All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth.
You go; you teach and preach; you baptize your converts.
And I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age. Amen.
He is here. He is by our sides. He walks with us and talks with us. “I am with you alway, even to the end of the age” [Matthew 28:20]. Our blessed Lord, in prosperity, in adversity, in trial or in prison, in health or in sickness, in life or in death He is there.
When Stephen was beat into the ground with stones [Acts 7:59-60], suddenly He is there; the only time in God’s Holy Word when the Lord is pictured as standing [Acts 7:55-56]. Everywhere, He is always seated. He is seated at the right hand of the throne of God [Hebrews 12:2]. The only place in the Bible where the Lord is pictured as standing is to receive His first martyr. Jesus is there.
And when Saul was breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the children of God, suddenly He is there, standing in the way [Acts 9:1-5]. And when John, the sainted apostle, was exiled to Patmos to die of starvation and exhaustion and deprivation, just suddenly Jesus is there [Revelation 1:9-18]. You read that a moment ago, just suddenly He is there. And so through the days and the years and the ages since, just suddenly He is there.
One of the most impressive of all the statues I’ve ever seen in my life is a gigantic, heroic statue of David Livingstone in Rhodesia, in what they call Zambezi today. And he is there looking at the Falls of Victoria on the Zambezi River. And as I stood by that statue and looked up in the tremendous, gigantic likeness of that great missionary, David Livingstone, and with him looked at those incomparable Victoria Falls, I thought of how it was he’d discovered them.
He had a way. I would, I could believe like that, but I just don’t have that much faith. I just simply don’t. But David Livingstone was one of those rare saints, that when he didn’t know what to do, he took his Bible and closed his eyes. He took his Bible and put it down on the edge of it like that. And then he just let it open where it would. Then look down with his eyes open and the passage that he read was God’s answer to his prayer.
Well, he did this. Going down the Zambezi River, he was told by the natives, “You must proceed no further. There are cannibals awaiting to eat you alive. And you dare not proceed any further.” And that’s when he took his Bible, “Lord, what shall I do?” And when he opened it, there it was, “You go, and I will be with you alway” [Matthew 28:20]. And he said to those natives who were his assistants and helpers, “God has promised. Let’s go.”
And that’s when he discovered on the Zambezi River those beautiful falls and of course ministered powerfully in the name of the Lord. “I am with you. I am with you to the end of the age. As long as this planet swings in its orbits around the sun, I am with you. I am by your side” [Matthew 28:20].
I was over there in the Orient in these days and years past with Theron Rankin, who at that time was the leader of our Foreign Mission Board. We were on a preaching mission through China and to Japan. We were in Hong Kong, and on the island of Hong Kong, Dr. Theron Rankin said to me, “On the back side of this island I was imprisoned in the Second World War.” He was a missionary to China, and when the Japanese came they arrested him, along with our other missionaries.
Then he described to me what happened on the back side of that island of Hong Kong. He said, “I was incarcerated there, imprisoned there. And after being arrested and taken to this place of imprisonment, I had a Japanese solder on this side of me and I had a Japanese solder on this side of me. And I was marched into the prison compound between those two Japanese soldiers.” Then he said to me, “Never in my life have I felt the presence of Jesus as I felt when I was marched into that compound with a Japanese soldier on either side of me. I never so felt the presence of Jesus as I did that day.”
“I will be with you. I will stand by you” [Matthew 28:20]. And sometimes that happens to us in the most tragic and darkening moments of our whole lives.
The people on the street brought to this father a crushed bicycle, which is covered in blood. He was not a believer. He was not a Christian. I’d call him an infidel. And this is his testimony. This is what he said. “When they brought me that bicycle so crushed, covered in blood, he asked, ‘Well, where’s my boy?’ And they said, ‘Run over by a car that sped away. And the boy’s been taken away in a car. And we don’t know where he is.’” So the father ran to the phone and called every hospital in the city, and it seemed that every one of them had a boy that was hurt. Wasn’t anything left for him to do but to go from hospital to hospital to hospital to see if he could find his boy.
And in one of them, when he walked into the ward, down in that line of cots was a little fellow who raised his voice and said, “Daddy, here I am. Here I am.” And he rushed to the side of his boy. And the boy’d been told that he couldn’t live. And the lad said to his father, “Daddy, they tell me that I’ll soon die. Daddy, would you kneel down here? Would you kneel down here and pray?” Now this is his testimony, the father’s testimony.
He said, “I answered the boy, ‘Son, I’ve never knelt in my life! I’ve never knelt down before God in my life.’”
And the boy said, “But, Daddy, this time kneel and let’s pray.”
The father said, “I knelt for the first time in my life. I knelt.”
And the boy said, “Now, Daddy, pray.”
And the father said, “Son, I don’t know how to pray. I’ve never prayed in my life!”
And the lad said, “Well, Daddy, at Sunday school I learned a prayer. And you pray what I pray.”
So down on his knees, led by the boy, he prayed.
“Our Father who art in heaven.”
And he repeated it, “Our Father who art in heaven.”
“Hallowed be Thy name.”
“Hallowed be Thy name.”
“Thy kingdom come.”
“Thy kingdom come.”
“Thy will be done.”
And he said, “I couldn’t say it.”
And the boy said, “Daddy, pray it. Thy will be done.”
And the father said, “I couldn’t pray it.”
And the boy’s hand turned limp in his, and he raised his face and the boy was gone. And that infidel said, “I cannot describe what happened to me. The Jesus who took my boy away came into my heart in that prayer, ‘Thy will be done.’ And I felt the glory and the comfort of His presence, and he has been with me ever since.”
O God, what a strength and what a comfort and what a help Thou art! The living presence; Jesus with us.
But you say to me, “Pastor, He may come to your house, and He may come to your heart, and He may speak to you, and He may knock at the door of your life, but He doesn’t come to my house, and He doesn’t knock at the door of my heart.” Ah, but He does. He does.
Our Lord comes to you in the Word, in the living Word. As Jeremiah says, “God saith My word is as a fire and as a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces” [Jeremiah 23:29]. Jesus is in His Word, and He comes to us in His Word.
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 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,). . .
[John 1:1-3, 14]
Jesus is in His Word, and He comes to us in these holy pages. And when I read these precious verses, that’s Jesus talking to my heart. That’s Jesus in my presence.
Where is the Lord? He is in His church. He is with the people that call upon His name, “Where two or three are gathered together…there am I in the midst”… [Matthew 18:20]. Why, sweet people, world without end do I sit here in the congregation and just weep at the presence of the Lord, just feeling His closeness. He is here. That spire points up to Him. These beautiful windows reflect His glory. And the songs that we sing lift our hearts heavenward and God-ward and Christ-ward. And the preaching of His Word and the fellowship of His people, Jesus is here. God is here.
He is here in the invitation. [Revelation 3:20] says, “Behold, I stand at the door of your heart and knock: if any one hears My voice, and opens the door, I will come in and sup with Him, and he with Me.” Sweet, dear people, if a king were at the door of my heart knocking, I’d be so honored to welcome him in. If a prime minister knocked at the door of my heart, I’d be so grateful for His presence. If an angel were to come, as he did to Abraham [Genesis 22:11, 15] or Manoah [Judges 13:13] or to Zacharias [Luke 1:11-13], and knock at the door of my heart, I’d be so honored. O God, how much more, how much more when Jesus the Son of God, my Savior, says, “I stand at the door of your heart and your life and I knock: but if you will open the door, I will come in and we will share all of the vicissitudes of life [Revelation 3:20]. We will share them together,” His presence, the living presence in us, and how much more in the vicissitudes and fortunes of life is our Lord close by?
In a wedding, standing right here last night, when the couple knelt I could feel their hot tears on my hand as they wept before the Lord. Jesus was present in that wedding, the building of a Christian home, Jesus was there, right here.
When we dedicate a newborn baby—you’ve seen me do it a thousand times—when we dedicate that newborn baby, Jesus is there. That’s what He did in the days of His flesh. He took little children and held them in His arms and blessed them [Mark 10:13-16]. He is here in that blessing.
And sweet, precious, saints of God, how much more, how much more do we feel His presence when we come to the end of the way and we are saying our last goodbyes? And beyond the grave, who opens for us the door into heaven? [John 14:1-3]. O God, how desperately we lean upon Thy kind arm. Our hope is in Thee when we come to the end of the way.
Sunset an 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 tide may bear me far,
I hope to see—
Could I change Tennyson’s words?
I know I shall see
My Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.
[“Crossing the Bar,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson]
“I will be with you till the end of the way” [Matthew 28:20], the living presence. And He is here today and will be with us till the end of the way.
We’re going to sing us a song of appeal. And while we sing the hymn, a family you, coming into the fellowship of this dear church, a couple you, giving your life in a new way to the Lord, a one somebody you, accepting Jesus as Savior [Romans 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:8], as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, answer with your life. Down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and here I stand.” Angels attend you in the way while you come, while we stand and while we sing our appeal. “This is God’s day for me.”