THE SEEKING CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-12-89 8:15 a.m.
And this is the pastor bringing the message. It is a textual sermon on Luke 19:10 entitled The Seeking Christ. The text, “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” [Luke 19:10].
I speak first of the universal sympathies of our wonderful Lord. As I turn back just a few pages through this Gospel of Luke, in chapter 15, it begins: “Then drew near unto Him all the publicans and sinners for to hear Him. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying,” houtos, houtos—contemptuously—houtos, this guy, this fellow, “He receives sinners, and eats with them” [Luke 15:1-2].
In this scriptural narrative of our Savior, it is remarkable how He is presented. Wherever He was, there gathered round Him the publicans, and the sinners, and the harlots, and those steeped in infamy and shame. He attracted them. They gathered close to Him to hear Him. And when the superior and self-chosen and self-righteous scribes and Pharisees saw it, they could not understand it and concluded that He is one of them; He is like them; houtos, this fellow. He receives sinners, and He breaks bread with them. He goes with them; He eats with them. ‘Tis a remarkable thing, an almost unbelievable characterization of our Lord.
As I turn through this Luke at the beginning, in His first sermon that He delivered at Nazareth where He grew up, in that sermon, He spoke of the many widows that were in the days of Elijah the prophet. And to none of them was He sent except to a heathen, a heathen woman in Sidon [Luke 4:25-26]. Then He said, again, “There were many lepers in the land of Israel, but to none of them was Elisha the prophet sent to cleanse and to heal, except to a hated and despised Syrian named Naaman” [Luke 4:27]. And here again when His countrymen heard, they took Him to the brow of their hill on which their city was built to cast Him down to death [Luke 4:28-29]. The vast universal sympathies, the compassionate love of our Lord for all of fallen humanity.
And the disciples were no less amazed and astonished at the broad compassionate, caring of our Lord. Do you remember in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John? You have it translated in the King James Version of the Bible, “And the disciples were astonished that He talked with the woman” [John 4:27]. That’s the way you have it translated, “with the woman.” That’s not it. The disciples were astonished that He talked with a woman, a woman; the Rabbi, set apart and exalted, would condescend to speak to a woman. Womanhood does not realize how much she owes to our Lord and to our Master; talk to a woman, a woman [John 4:27].
Or look again in the life of our Lord. In my study, right here—I spend every morning and many times late at night in my study, preparing—in my study right there is a beautiful picture we brought back from Sweden. It’s our Lord blessing little children. And right in front of me on the wall beyond is a beautiful picture we brought back, a painting from England, our Lord holding little children in His arms and the mother is bowing at His feet and the disciples, seeking to drive them away, and our Lord saying, “Suffer the little children to come unto Me, forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God” [Matthew 19:14], the broad universality of His sympathies.
Or take again, in that day there was no member of a Jewish communion that wasn’t taught to damn and to despise the Samaritan. He was publically damned in the synagogues. He was despised and looked upon with contempt. Galilee’s right here and Judea’s right there, and no Jew would walk straight from Galilee to Judea. He went down to Jezreel, crossed the Jordan into Perea, and go down Perea and then come back over the Jordan through Jericho, and up miles and miles out of the way, just lest the dust of Samaria might touch his feet. Do you remember this in that chapter in John, chapter 4? Jesus, “He must needs go through Samaria” [John 4:4]. Wherever, this is an astonishing thing to me, wherever in the Bible, in the Gospels, a Samaritan is named or mentioned, it is always in the light of the love and goodness of God.
Let me give you an illustration. Have you ever heard of the parable of the good Samaritan? You cannot imagine how that must have affected those who listened to Him. That man that fell among robbers and left for dead, on one side passed by the priest, on the other side passed by the Levite and [there] came a Samaritan who ministered to him and took care of him. And we’ve named that the Good Samaritan [Luke 10:30-37]. There’s no exception to that in the Word of God.
When the Lord healed the ten lepers, one of them came back to thank Him. And he, the Bible is careful to point out, and he was a Samaritan [Luke 17:11-19]. And one of the most astonishing things about that continuing attitude toward the love and compassion of our Savior is found when you read through the Gospel of John and come to the end of the seventh chapter [John 7:50-53]. The next eleven verses in chapter 8 are an astonishment! [John 8:1-11]. They don’t belong there. The narrative is interrupted by that story of our Lord.
John 8:1-11. Well, what’s the matter? The matter is these that read that of our Savior felt it to be an insult to the faith, and they took it out on the Bible. But it was so manifestly a part of the inspired Word of God that they were forced to put it back. And when they put it back, not knowing where it belonged, they just stuck it there between the seventh and the eighth chapters of the Gospel of John.
Well, what’s the matter? Well, it is obvious what’s the matter. The story is they brought to the Lord a woman, taken in adultery. Sat her down before the Lord and said, “The law says she is to be stoned,” and asked, “What do You say?” [John 8:5]. And the Lord replied, “Let him that is without sin among you cast the first stone” [John 8:7]. You go ahead; you go ahead. But let him do it, who is sinless in himself.” And the Lord bowed His head, and when He raised His face, they had all gone away [John 8:9]. And the Lord said to the woman, “Where are your accusers?” [John 8:10].
And she said, “They have all gone away. They do not condemn me.”
And the Lord said to that woman, “Neither do I condemn you. Neither do I condemn you. Rise, go your way. Live a beautiful life, forgiven, cleansed, made white, and sin no more” [John 8:11].
That was an insult to them but not to God; the loving care of our Lord [John 8:1-11].
As when Simon Peter refused to enter into the house of Cornelius because he was a Gentile [Acts 10:25-29], God sent a vision to him and said, “You are to call no man common or unclean” [Acts 10:9-15]; the great, broad sympathies and compassionate love of our Lord for all of us fallen creatures. His basic attitude was always that. Not that we belong to Satan and Christ is trying to steal us away, but the opposite; we belong to God, we are God’s and Satan has damned us. He’s ruined us. He’s brought death and judgment upon God’s anointed.
Over there in the British museum is a brick from ancient Babylon. And the reason it’s there, as their habit was, when they made those soft bricks, they implanted in them a seal of the king and the image of the king stamped on the bricks. But this particular brick, when they impressed the seal and image of the king, a dog stepped on it. A dog defaced it—and there that brick, with the image and seal of the king and a dog’s track on it. That’s what is happened to humanity. God has made us in His likeness and His image [Genesis 1:26-27], and set His seal of love upon us. And a dog has stepped on us; Satan has destroyed us.
And one other thing about our Lord: in the outcast and the downtrodden, He could see the image of God. In a harlot, He could see the purity of a forgiven Mary Magdalene [Luke 7:36-50, 8:2]. And in the despised outcast and publican tax gatherer, He could see a son of Abraham [Luke 19:2-9]. That’s God.
Not only do I speak of His universal sympathies, but I now speak of His response to humanity in His love and compassion and mercy—how He thought of us, and how He treated us, and how He ministered to us. You know, it is easy to affect a love for a nation and a country, say, like England, but never love or befriend a single Englishman. It is easy for us to entertain, find an noble and liberal views of the downtrodden, and never help one of them. It is easy for us to assume a philosophic spirit of philanthropy, concerning these that are in want, and never minister to a single hungry heart or a hungry mouth.
Jesus is so different from that. He never made high sounding speeches concerning the downtrodden and the outcast. And He never evolved a philosophy concerning the progress of the species. And He never presented Himself as a champion of the tax gatherers and the despised publicans. What He did was, He treated us personally in loving, compassionate, caring respect and regard; called us by name. God in Christ doesn’t look upon us by gobs and by throngs and by multitudes. But He looks upon us, you, and knows your name [John 10:3]. And you, and all about you, and loves you [Galatians 2:20].
May I illustrate that? He came to a certain tree in Jericho, and lifting up His voice and His face, said, “Zaccheus” [Luke 19:5]—how did He know Zaccheus’ name? Just as He knows your name—“Zaccheus, come down.” The little man, small, had his vision shut out. He was a despised and outcast tax gatherer, but his heart was hungry for God. And Jesus called him by name. “Come down, Zaccheus. Today I am to spend at your house.” They said, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” Jesus said, “He is a child of God” [Luke 19:1-10].
Or take again, when you read through the Bible, when you read it, so many times in our fast reading, we don’t look at what’s there. Let me show you. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5, 6, 7—chapters 5, 6, and 7—at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, the eighth chapter begins. “Great throngs crowded around Him, and, behold, a leper came up to Him” [Matthew 8:1-2]. Well, when you just read that, you read fast. But if you look at it, how in the earth did our Lord, at the conclusion of that Sermon on the Mount, thronged by multitudes, the Bible says, and this leper just comes right up to Him? How could a leper walk up to our Lord, thronged by the multitudes?
Well, the answer is very simple. By the law of the leper, wherever he moved, had to place his hand over his lips and cry out, “Unclean! Unclean! Unclean!” [Leviticus 13:45]. And wherever he walked, there was an icy circle around him; the people fell away, fell away, fell away. And that’s what happened. Before the Lord, he just walked up to our Lord and the multitudes fell away from him [Matthew 8:1-2].
Why didn’t our Lord fall away? Because He doesn’t. Anytime you call on His name, He will be there. Anytime you need Him, you can touch Him. The leper walked right up to Him, and Jesus stood there [Matthew 8:2]. And the next verse says, “And Jesus reached forth His hand, and touched him” [Matthew 8:3]. My brother, it was half of the cure! He had forgotten what it was, the warm, soft touch of a human hand. That’s our Lord. And He speaks of us, and calls us, and treats us, and knows us as somebody you, not as a member of a gob or a throng or a multitude, dear and precious, beside—that’s you.
“For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” [Luke 19:10]. When I look through the whole Word of God, it is like that; the invitations of our Lord from the beginning to the end. In the third chapter of the Book of Genesis, in the falling of Adam and Eve [Genesis 3:1-6], the voice of God is heard in the cool of the day. “Adam, Adam. Where art thou? [Genesis 3:8-9]. Where art thou?”—the caring concern of the loving heart of God.
In the fortieth chapter of the great prophet Isaiah:
Comfort ye, comfort ye My people. Yea, speak ye comfortably unto Jerusalem, and say unto her, her warfare is accomplished, her iniquity is pardoned: for she has received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
Then it continues,
He will gather His flock like a shepherd: He will put His arms around His lambs, and carry them in His bosom, and He will gently lead those that are with young.
[Isaiah 40:1-2, 11]
That’s our Lord.
Or Ezekiel 33:11, “And as I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his evil way and live: turn ye, turn ye. . .for why would you die?” Or our beautiful Lord, in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Matthew:
Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.
Or the cry of the apostle Paul in Romans , “I could wish myself were accursed. . . for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” [Romans 9:3].
And the Bible closes with that heart of God, “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And ha thelōn—whosoever will—anybody you, whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” [Revelation 22:17]. Come and welcome; our God, in His great, caring, compassionate love for us [John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 1:3].
When I was a youth, I went to New York City to attend one of the great famous churches in the world. The famous pastor was the president of what they then called the Federal Council of Churches. In his later days, he went to be a professor of divinity in Harvard University; one of the great, great theologians of the generation.
I sat there in that famous church in a little handful of people, a little handful of people. I looked at him. He read his invocation. I sat there and listened to him as he read some kind of a sermon or essay or whatever you’d want to call it. Then I saw him read his benediction and dash out the door. Being a youth and so impressive, so impressed by the services, as I sat there and watched that and a great city lost, New York, I thought of a church down here in our part of the world. The pastor, the first pastor, founded the church. He was thirty years of age when he was saved. Never went to school, uneducated. But as I sat there in the services and heard him plead for Jesus, the lost to come to the Lord, then stand with the congregation and sing a hymn of appeal, and from the balcony and down the aisles did they stream, accepting the Lord as their Savior. Great God, what kind of a service do we have and what kind of a congregation do we gather in the name of the Lord? Do we go to church because it’s duty, like paying taxes or accepting a rationing system? Do we go to church for respectability—it belongs to our culture?
Do we go to church because of social reasons: we marry there and have weddings there and funerals there? If we do, the services have no heart, and no spirit, and no power of God to convert. The prayers become routine, the sermon is a bore, and the people are indifferent, unconcerned. But O God, if, when time goes to church, there’s somebody for whom we prayed, there’s some family we’ve invited, there’s a burden on our hearts that our great city and metroplex might come to know God, then when we come to house of the Lord, there’s intercession, and there’s concern, and there’s compassion, and there’s pleading with God to bless the hour.
And that’s what you’re going to see in this service. God be praised for our loving, caring, praying, and soul-winning people. And to you who have heard this hour on television, oh, dear sweet people, that today you would open your heart to the overtures and the invitations of God’s love and grace. There’s no time better than now to give your heart and your house and your home to the Lord. Anytime, anywhere, anyhow is a wonderful place to accept Jesus as your Savior. And it is as simple as opening your heart to our Lord. He came into the world to die for our sins according to the Scriptures [Hebrews 10:4-14]. And He was raised to take us to heaven according to the Scriptures [2 Corinthians 4:14]. And if we will but receive Him [Romans 10:9-10], He will be to us the Friend to stand by us in the hour of our death and to open for us the gate of glory [John 14:3].
Make it now. Do it now. On this television screen, you will see a telephone number. Call us. And if you don’t know how to accept the Lord as your Savior, we’ll tell you how. Just call us. And God be good to you, and I’ll see you someday in heaven. And to the great throng and multitude in the sanctuary here in our dear church, as we sing our hymn, down an aisle, down a balcony step, coming today in answer to God’s call in your heart, make it now, do it now. Angels attend and God bless, while we stand and while we sing.
THE SEEKING NOTE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-12-89I. The universality of His sympathies
A. Depicted in Scriptural narrative
1. Harlots, publicans, sinners gathered around Him (Luke 15:1-2)
a. Pharisees, scribes could not understand (Luke 4:16-30)
2. Even the disciples amazed at Him
a. That He talked with a woman (John 4:27)
b. That He blessed little children (Matthew 19:14)
c. His attitude toward the Samaritan (Luke 10:33, 17:16)
B. His basic attitude
1. Reflective of love and compassion of God (Luke 19:10)II. The personal nature of His affection
1. Easy to feign, affect love for a country
2. Easy to feign philosophical spirit of helpfulness toward needy
B. Jesus the opposite
1. His treatment of people personal; called them by name
a. Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-11)
b. The leper (Matthew 8:14)III. The seeking note
A. In Scripture (Genesis 3:8-9, Isaiah 40:1-2, 10-11, Ezekiel 33:11, Matthew 11:28-30, Romans 10:1, 9:3, Revelation 22:17)
B. The difference in churches, church services
C. The mighty purpose for our services