THE SEEKING CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-12-89 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Seeking Note. It is a message prepared in keeping with these days, when we are especially seeking to share Jesus with the lost in our great metroplex. It is a textual sermon. It is based upon Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
I speak first of the universality of His sympathies. In this fifteenth chapter of the same Book of Luke: “There drew near unto Him the publicans and the sinners for to hear Him. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying,” houtos, in contempt—houtos, “This fellow,” houtos, “receiveth sinners, and eateth with them” [Luke 15:1-2].
In the narrative, in the life of our Lord, it is amazing how the story presents our Savior as the center of a congregation of harlots, publicans, sinners. He just drew them. They gathered around Him. And when the scribes and the Pharisees saw it, they could not understand; finally concluded He must be one of them. Houtos, this fellow, He goes with them. He eats with them. He must be one of them.
When I turn to the beginning of this same Third Gospel, in the fourth chapter, there is presented our Savior’s first sermon; and the same thing appears. In His first sermon, our Lord speaks: “There were many, many poor widows,” He says, “in Israel in the days of Elijah. But he was sent only to a heathen” [Luke 4:25-26]. Then He added, “And there were many lepers in the days of Elisha. And he healed just one, a hated Assyrian named Naaman” [Luke 4:27]. And they took Him to the brow of the hill to cast Him down to death [Luke 4:28-29].
That’s the narrative in the Lord Jesus’ life. His sympathies were universal. And when you follow the response of His disciples, they could hardly believe what their eyes saw and their ears heard of this Lord Jesus. You have it translated in the Bible, in the fourth chapter of John, that the disciples were amazed and astonished that He spoke with the woman. That’s not right. If you translated it correctly, it would be, “They were amazed and overwhelmed that He spoke with a woman” [John 4:27]; He, the Rabbi and the exalted Teacher, deigned to speak with a woman.
Womanhood doesn’t know how much they owe to the Lord Jesus. She was a piece of chattel property when Jesus lived. Or take again: in my study, to the right, there is a picture, a beautiful painting that I brought back from Sweden. There’s a beautiful painting of the Lord Jesus blessing little children. And in front of my study desk is a very large painting that I brought back from England; our Lord there is blessing little children, and the mothers are kneeling at His feet, and in the background are all of those disciples trying to drive those mothers away. They were amazed that He blessed little children. And the Lord said: “Suffer them to come unto Me, forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of heaven” [Matthew 19:14].
Or take just again, His attitude toward the Samaritan: the Samaritan was publicly denounced and damned in the synagogue services, and you were not to have any relationship with them whatsoever. The Jew, when he came from Galilee to Judea, didn’t come straight down through Samaria, short distance; he went down to Jezreel, over the Jordan, into Perea, down through Perea, cross back over the Jordan, up through Jericho, up finally miles and miles and miles out of the way, lest he be contaminated with the dust from Samaria. The Bible says that when Jesus went from Judea to Galilee, “He must needs go through Samaria” [John 4:4]; Samaria! And it’s a remarkable thing. Wherever, in the life of our Lord, a Samaritan is mentioned, he is always in the love and purview of God. Why, you know that. Haven’t all of your life you’ve been taught the story, the parable of the good Samaritan, the good Samaritan, the good Samaritan? [Luke 10:25-37].
And again, when the Lord healed ten lepers, one of them, just one of them, came back to thank Him, and he was a Samaritan [Luke 17:11-19]. And not only that, but through all the years since, the same response has been made to the great sympathetic, universal compassion of our Savior.
Sometime when you really want to be sensitive to the Word of God, you read along through the seventh chapter of the Gospel of John [John 7:1-53]. Then you read those first eleven verses of the eighth chapter [John 8:1-11], then continue on; you’ll be startled by the thrusting of that story in the eighth chapter of John, right in the middle of a narrative, and it doesn’t belong there. Well, the reason it doesn’t belong there is, the ancient manuscripts cut it out. It was a pericope; eleven verses that they took out of the Bible; took it out. But it was so manifestly a part of the inspired Word of God that they had to put it back, and they just put it right there; doesn’t belong there at all.
Well, what’s the story? And what is the offense? You remember the story. The scribes and the Pharisees and the superiorities brought a woman taken in adultery, and put her at His feet, and said, “The law says, she is to be stoned to death. What do You say?” [John 8:3-5]. And the Lord replied, “Let him that is without sin cast the first stone” [John 8:6-7]. They would stone her to death. And the Lord bowed down, and they left one at a time. She is there by herself, and the Lord said, “Where are your accusers, these that were going to stone you to death?” [John 8:8-10]. “They have all—they have all withdrawn. They have all left. They have passed.”
“None to accuse you?”
“None.” And the Lord said, “Neither do I condemn you. Neither do I accuse you. Go,” forgiven, saved, washed, pure, clean, and live a beautiful life for God,” said the Lord [John 8:10-11].
The universality of His sympathies; His basic attitude was that. We do not belong to Satan and Christ is trying to steal us away, but we belong to God and Satan has damned us! He has done it. By right, in creation [Genesis 1:27] and love [John 3:16] and redemption [1 Peter 1:18-19], we are God’s. We belong to Him. And He has stamped His image upon us, a fallen race.
Over there in the British museum is a brick, you know, a baked brick, from Babylonia. And on the brick, as their habit was, they stamped the image of the king and the seal of the king. But while the brick was soft and unbaked, a dog stepped on it. A dog stepped on it and defaced the image of the king and of his seal. That’s what’s happened to the human race. The image of God is in us [Genesis 1:26-27], and a dog has stepped on us and defaced us.
The attitude of our Savior was reflective of that love and compassion of God. In the downcast and the downtrodden and the outcast, He could see the image of God. And in the harlot He could see the purity of a Mary Magdalene. And in a despised, hated tax-gathering publican He could see the son of Abraham [Luke 19:2-9].
That’s Jesus our Lord: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” [Luke 19:10]. It’s a remarkable thing about our Lord. His responses to us were always personal, never philosophical or impersonal; always personal, always. Strange thing how humanity can be; it is easy for us, for example, to feign, to affect love for a great country and nation like England, but never befriend or never love a single Englishman. It is easy for us to entertain fine philanthropical responses toward the downtrodden and the poor, and never seek to help a single one of them. It is easy for us to feign a philosophical spirit of helpfulness and philanthropy toward the needy, and never minister to one of them. Our Lord was so opposite to that.
He never made great speeches about the downtrodden of humanity, and He never discussed the philosophy of progress in the human race, and He never presented Himself as a champion for the tax-gatherers and the outcasts and the publicans and the sinners. What He did was, He personally loved them and ministered to them. He never looked upon humanity by gobs and by masses, but He looked upon them by name [John 10:3, 27]. He knows your name, and your name, and your name. You’re not just one in a vast, impersonal throng to Him. You are somebody to the Lord Jesus.
Let me show you that. When He came into Jericho, He went to a certain tree. And up that tree was a little man, small of stature, and despised and hated. He was a publican. He was a Roman tax-gatherer. They had shut out his view of the Lord, and he couldn’t see. And hated and despised, he climbed up in that tree [Luke 19:1-4]. And the Lord came by and called him by name [Luke 19:5]. How did the Lord know his name was Zaccheus?
He knows your name. He calls me by my name. He knows me. He knows you, personally. He called him by his name. Our Lord sensed that in that despised tax-gatherer there was a hunger for God. He was famishing for a touch from the Lord. He wanted to see the Messiah. And the Lord called him and said, “Today, today, this day, I am spending at your house” [Luke 19:1-5]. Of course, they looked upon Him with contempt. He is gone to be the guest of a man that is a sinner [Luke 19:7]. That’s Jesus; that’s Jesus; somebody, Zaccheus [Luke 19:1-10].
Or take again, I think one of the most dramatic things in the Bible, if you’ll look at it closely—if you read it fast, you won’t see it at all—but if you look at it closely, the great Sermon on the Mount is in Matthew 5, 6, and 7 [Matthew 5:1-7:29]. When you come to chapter 8, it says: “That when Jesus had finished that message, He was thronged on every side by a vast multitude. And behold, a leper came up to Him” [Matthew 8:1-2].
Well, if you read rapidly, you don’t see it. But if you will look at that, after that great Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29], thronged on every side, by multitudes of people, and a leper came up to Him. Well, how did a leper get to come up to Him when on every side he was surrounded by a multitude of people? Well, the answer’s very plain, if you pause to think of it. Wherever the leper went, by law, he had to cover his mouth and to cry, “Unclean! Unclean! Unclean!” [Leviticus 13:45]. And wherever he went, people stepped aside; people stepped aside; stepped aside. Always he walked in that icy circle. And when he came into the presence of that vast multitude, crying, “Unclean! Unclean!” they all stepped aside; they all fell away. He just walked in that icy circle right up to the Lord Jesus [Matthew 8:1-3]. Well, why didn’t the Lord step away? Because He didn’t do it, that’s the Lord: wherever there’s somebody in need, somebody fallen, somebody afflicted, there you will find the love and compassionate heart of our Lord.
And the story says that when that leper came up to Jesus, Jesus put forth His hands, and touched him [Matthew 8:3]. My brother, it was half of the cure! He had forgotten what it was to feel the touch of the warmth of a human hand. Jesus touched him, put His hands upon him—healed him. That’s our Lord, who has come to seek and to save that which was lost [Luke 19:10].
The whole Word of God is like that, all of it. When you think through those pages of God’s holy revelation, that’s what you’ll read. From the beginning to the end, the seeking compassionate, loving heart of God, for a lost humanity, for us. Starts off that way: when Adam fell, the voice of the Lord was heard in the cool of the evening crying, “Adam, where art thou?” [Genesis 3:8-9]––God: seeking the man that He made [Genesis 1:26-27].
In the great prophecy of Isaiah: “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people. Yea, speak ye comfortably unto Jerusalem, and say unto her––cry unto her, Thy warfare is finished; thy iniquity is pardoned” [Isaiah 40:1, 2]. And it continues. “As a shepherd leads his flock, so the Lord will lead His people. As He extends His arms and gathers His lambs in His bosom, so the Lord will gently lead those that are with young” [Isaiah 40:11].
Or again, in Ezekiel 33:11: “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 will you die?” Or continuing in the life of our Lord:
Come unto Me, all you 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 you shall find rest for your souls.
For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.
Or in the life of the apostle Paul, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for my people is that they might be saved” [Romans 10:1]. “For I wish that I personally were accursed from God for my people” [Romans 9:3].
The Book closes like that. Revelation 22:17: “The Spirit and the Bride say, Come . . . the Holy Spirit of God and His church say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, ho thelōn, whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” That’s God! That’s God! Not reading us out, but including us in. Come to seek and to save that which is lost [Luke 19:10]. And sweet people, that’s the difference in churches.
In the days of my youth, I went to New York City to attend one of the most famous churches in the world. The pastor of the church was the president of what they call the Federal Council of Churches. Sweet people, when I attended the service, there was a little handful of people there. He read his invocation; he read his sermon––if you’d call it that. Then he read his benediction. Then he dashed out.
I compared it with a church whose pastor I so loved, thronged and crowded with people, preaching a wonderful sermon of appeal and salvation and the people streaming down those aisles, accepting the Lord. That church is today one of the great churches still of America, and the pastor wasn’t converted until he was thirty years of age, and never went to school a day in his life.
Great God, what is our assignment? And our coming to church, do we do it for duty sake, like paying our taxes or accepting a rationing system? Or coming to church, is it out of respectability? Is it because of the culture into which we’ve been born? Is it because of social reasons, this is a place where we have our weddings and this is a place where we have our funerals? If that’s the reason we come, it will be seen in our services; our prayers will be routine; the sermon will be boring. And we’ll be indifferent and uncaring. But if the reason we come to church: “O God, I have lost friends. I have lost neighbors. I have lost members of my family. And O God, I’m beseeching Thee to send Thy Spirit of love and compassion and mercy.”
And when we come to the house of God, we come with intercessions and prayers and appeals: “O God, make this a great soul-saving hour.” When you do that, God does something. He does something for us and He does something for them. Blessed moment, blessed moment, when the lost see Jesus, who died for their sins according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:3], who was raised for their justification according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:4; Romans 4:25] and who someday will open for us the gates of heaven [John 14:1-3].
Oh people, I live in that world! I had a funeral yesterday: two o’clock yesterday afternoon. That day inevitably comes, and it may it be for us that Jesus stands by us in the hour of our death and opens for us the door into heaven. We need our loving compassionate Lord. And that is why He came into the earth, to seek and to save us who are lost [Luke 19:10].
And in this moment when we sing our hymn of appeal, to give your heart to the Lord [Romans 10:8-13], what a precious hour, what a blessed moment, what a high, holy, and heavenly privilege. “Pastor, here I come. God has spoken to me, and I am answering with my life.” Or a family you coming into the fellowship and communion of our dear church [Hebrews 10:24-25]; anybody you, as God presses the appeal to your heart, make this the day of decision and commitment, “Pastor, here I am.” God bless, while we stand and while we sing.