THE ATTRACTIVE CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-29-90 10:50 a.m.
We welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on television. You are now part of our wonderful First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor presenting the message. It is an exposition of the first chapter of the Book of Mark, the Second Gospel. The text, for the title The Attractive Christ, is in Mark 1:37: “They said unto Him,” pantes, then in italics you have, “men”—”All men seek for Thee”; pantes, all, everybody, men, women, and children, young people, “All seek for Thee.”
In this first chapter you have, over and over again, and then in the immediate chapters thereafter, a presentation, a depiction, of the attractiveness of our Lord. For example, in Mark 1:28, “His fame spread throughout all the region of Galilee.” In verse 33: “All the city was gathered together at the door” [Mark 1:33]. Then my text: “They said unto Him, pantes—All seek for Thee” [Mark 1:37]. In verse 45, “He went out into the desert, but they came to Him from every quarter” [Mark 1:45].
In chapter 2, verse 2, “Many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door” [Mark 2:2]. I turn the page, in verse 15, “It came to pass, that, as He sat at the meal, many publicans and sinners came, and they were many” [Mark 2:15]. In chapter 3, verse 7, “Jesus withdrew Himself with His disciples; and a great multitude followed Him” [Mark 3:7]. Then in verse 20 of that third chapter, “The multitude came together, so much that they could not even eat” [Mark 3:20]. And the beginning of the fourth chapter, “He began to teach by the seaside; and there gathered unto Him a great multitude” [Mark 4:1-2]. So He entered into a boat, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land. And He taught them the Word of God [Mark 4:2]. It just goes on and on. The picture you have of our Lord is one of extreme interest, attractiveness. The multitudes thronged around Him to listen to Him, and to look at Him, and to watch Him, and to hear Him.
There is a reason for that. In this same first chapter, verse 41, it tells a story in the pericope there, 40 through 45 [Mark 1:40-45]. It tells a story of the healing of a leper. And it begins with, “Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth His hand, and touched him” [Mark 1:41]. “Jesus, moved with compassion” is His ever enduring name. The scene there is dramatic, dynamic. And it’s so reflective of the attitude and spirit, the compassionate heart and response of our Lord. It would be natural to ask, thronged as He is on every side, how did that leper walk up to Him, just walk up to Him?
Well, when you remember, by law, a leper had to put his hand over his mouth and cry, “Unclean. Unclean” [Leviticus 13:45], wherever he walked—that’s the way that he walked, with his hand over his mouth, crying, “Unclean.” And, of course, all of the people fell away from him. He lived in that chilling circle, the falling away of the people from wherever he walked. Well, that’s why he just walked up to Christ; the people, the multitude, the throng fell away from him.
Well, why didn’t Jesus move back and away? Jesus, moved with compassion, stood there, accepted him, waited for him, welcomed him. And to the amazement of the throng, He reached forth His hand, and touched him [Mark 1:40-41]. I can hear the throng gasp as the Lord touched that forbidden and diseased leper. Instead of healing him as one would throw a bone to a dog, the Lord touched him. I would think that was half of the cure. He hadn’t felt the warm, loving touch of a human hand in the years and the years of his leprosy. That’s our Lord. Jesus, moved with compassion, received him, touched him, healed him [Mark 1:41-42].
His ministry was always there, there where people were, where need was. For example, in verse 32: “At even, when the sun did set, they brought unto Him all that were diseased, all that were possessed with demons, and He healed them” [Mark 1:32-34].
That is a magnificently moving picture of our Lord. When the sun went down, at the end of a long busy day, wouldn’t you think that He would go aside to rest? No, even at sundown, after the length of the day, He was there, available, healing, putting His hands upon them, blessing them. And it says that He not only sought to heal there but said, “I must go to other towns [Mark 1:38], to Galilee, to Judea, to Jerusalem, to Idumea, to Perea, beyond the Jordan, to Tyre, to Sidon.” His heart was wherever people were. And that drew to Him the love and interest and affection of the multitudes. He never got away, in His heart and sympathy and compassionate remembrance of these who so desperately needed God.
I had a friend who was on the foreign mission field. And because of a breakdown in the health one of the members of the family, he came back home to America and accepted the pastorate of one of our churches. And as I talked to him, he said to me, “I am here in America and pastoring the church, but my heart is still there on the foreign field, and how deeply I wish I could return!” The Lord was like that. Wherever people were, and wherever darkness made their lives miserable and unhappy, there the loving sympathy of our Savior was manifest.
How different our Lord from some that we have known who are supposed to be so gifted and great in America in our generation. I remember Sinclair Lewis. Do you remember when he stood in a pulpit in St. Louis and lifted up his fist and said, “I don’t believe in God. If there is a God, I defy Him to strike me dead?” Remember that? And all of the infidels in America—”bravo!”—clapped their hands. Remember that? Sinclair Lewis, who wrote those acidulous novels, desecrating the sacred pulpit and the profession. Remember that?
Well, when he came to the end of his way, he died in a rest home, alone in Italy. Before he died, an interviewer was talking to him and speaking to him about the heartaches and the problems of humanity. And Sinclair Lewis replied, “I do not know anything about anybody. I am not a reformer and more than that, I don’t care.” Do you remember that? And when I read it, I thought how different from our Lord! If there was a burden, He sought to share it. If there was an illness, He sought to heal it. If there was a hurt, He sought to assuage it. If there was someone lost, He sought to find them. That’s our Lord.
And this beautiful text, “All men seek for Thee” [Mark 1:37] is a reflection of that same beautiful sentiment in the second chapter of the Book of Haggai in the Old Testament: “He is the Desire of All Nations” [Haggai 2:7]. Whether expressed or unexpressed, that is the deep longing of every human heart, to know God and to find in Him a precious Savior. They may not avow it. They may disavow it, actually. But it is still the heart hunger of the human soul.
Far and wide, though all unknowing
Pants for Thee each mortal breast;
Human tears for Thee are flowing,
Human hearts in Thee would rest.
[“Savior, Sprinkle Many Nations” by Arthur C. Coxe]
That is for all humanity. When I picked up, years ago, the Confessions of Augustine, in the first paragraph and the second sentence, “O God, Thou hast made our hearts for Thee…and we are restless until we rest in Thee” [The Confessions of St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, Book 1].
In the first part of this century, Rudyard Kipling, the great English poet, came to visit America. In San Francisco, he became desperately ill, desperately ill; so much that they thought he would die. And in his desperate illness, he began to whisper, his lips began to move, and an attendant put his ear by the side the great poet, and he was saying, “I want, I want, I want God.”
That is the cry of the human race, even of the worldly and of the unbegotten in the faith. They may live gorgeous and scintillating lives. If I were looking for someone to commit suicide, I would look in Hollywood. All of the accouterments and all of the rewards of this scintillating world in its pleasure and in its advancement, all of it is depicted there. There is no thing like it in the earth. And yet it is, beyond description, unhappy and miserable.
Do you remember this song?
After the ball is over,
After the break of dawn,
After the dance has ended,
After the stars are gone,
Many the hearts are aching,
If we but knew them all,
Many the hopes that are vanished,
After the ball.
[from “After the Ball,” Charles K. Harris, 1891]
Remember that song? Who wrote it? A preacher? An evangelist? No, one of them; one of them. There is not anything more empty, more destitute and despairing than to seek the meaning and the rewards of life in pleasure.
Do you remember what Bobby Burns wrote, who gave his life in [dissolution] away from the meaning and purpose of God’s call?
Pleasures are like poppies spread
You seize the flower, the bloom is shed;
Or as the snow falls on the river,
A moment white—then gone forever;
Or like the borealis rays
That flit ere you can point their place;
Or like the rainbow’s lovely form,
Evanishing amid the storm.
[from “Tam o’Shanter,” Robert Burns]
Do you remember Lord Byron’s famous poem?
My life is in the yellow leaf;
The flower and fruits of love are gone;
The worm, the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone!
[From “On This Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year,” Lord Byron, 1824]
Do you remember the title of that poem? “On My Thirty-Sixth Birthday.” And he died soon after. O God, how empty and barren does life become when we seek its definition in the pleasures of this world! A man asked a fellow in Hollywood who was drinking heavily, “Why do you drink?” And he replied, “It is the shortest way out of Hollywood.”
Deep in the human heart, unknowing and unexpressed many times, is that heart-hunger after God, after our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus. And how much more and infinitely is that true of these who have fallen, who are prodigal. I don’t think in human literature there is a more beautiful story than that of our Lord Jesus in the fifteenth chapter of [Luke], the story of the prodigal son, when the father receives him home again, and he says, “This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” [Luke 15:24]. That’s the gospel, the attractive Christ, the doctrine of the meaning of life in its beginning again.
You know, this week, I read a book, and I was amazed at the author, just come out. He says that if the church is to be living and is to be ministering, to be vibrant and alive, it must change, it must change. And he gave an illustration of it. A hundred years ago, the preacher would preach and extend an invitation. Now that’s passé, he says, and it dates the preacher. He hasn’t come to wrestle with and to face the current issues of his people when he preaches and gives an invitation. That is belonging to generations ago. You don’t do that, not today.
Well, of course, to me, O Lord, it is like a salesman in an automobile showroom. He is speaking of that beautiful car, and, “Look at it. It has all of the accouterments and all of the refinements.” Then he doesn’t ask him to buy it; he just speaks of all the prettinesses of the machine. That’s the way it is to me to preach the gospel, to describe its beauty and its glory and all it can mean. And then, not give an invitation to accept the Lord in all of His glory and wonder—it’s unthinkable to me!
I, when I read the book, I thought of a thing that happened. There was a glorious preacher in the South, an evangelistically hearted preacher, and he was invited to preach in one of those high liturgical churches in a great city in the Northeast. All his preaching, he had been delivering the message toward making an appeal. And he did so there, standing in that high pulpit, in that high church, with its liturgical service. When he got through telling about the Lord Jesus, he gave an invitation. And when he did, the paid quartet, seated back of him, stood up and walked out, stalked out. Oh, his heart sank! He had offended them, he thought.
Do you know what had happened? There was a member of that quartet, a woman, and in these days past, used to sing with them. She had fallen. She had become a street woman. She had become a prostitute. But that Sunday, somehow, in the longing of her heart, she came back to church, just to see, and sat on the back row. And when that preacher preached the love of God and the marvel of the giving, forgiving spirit and heart of the Savior, she came down the aisle. And that’s what happened. That quartet saw her coming down the aisle, and they left their place to kneel with her, and to weep with her, and to pray with her, and to welcome her back.
That is the gospel; the attractive Christ, the open-hearted Lord Jesus. O God, how preciously tender and understanding and forgiving Thou art! The attractive Jesus; how much is that seen in the lives and experience of the brokenhearted, of the burdened, of those bowed down in sorrow and tears? Life is like that eventually for every one of the members of the human family. If it isn’t today, it will be tomorrow. That’s what it is to live in this “vale of tears.”
When I was a boy, I saw my first president of the United States. It was Calvin Coolidge, “silent Cal.” He was a most unusual fellow. There was a beautiful parlor car at the back of the train. And when the trained stopped, the door opened, and all of us saw the president of the United States come out of that car and stand there. He stood there and never said a word, not a word, just stood there. And all of us looking at him in awe and wonder, just stood there. Then after a while, he turned around and went back in the parlor car. Never said anything. Never said anything. Made an impression on me. I am in favor of talking.
Do you remember his boy, Calvin Coolidge’s boy? He hurt his foot. He developed blood poisoning, and the boy died. When Calvin Coolidge went back to his home in Vermont, he had an interview with a reporter from the Saturday Evening Post. And I remember one of the things that he said. He said, “When my boy died, the glory of the presidency faded away.” That’s life. That’s life. Our hearts cry out for comfort and strength and help from God.
I remember reading about a wealthy man, his wife so devout, and he so indifferent. They had a little boy, and the little lad died. Thereafter, every evening, that man took his Bible and read and underscored, underlined as he read. Upon a day when he was at his office, his wife took his Bible and opened it to see what it was he was underscoring, underlining. And she found, wherever in the Word of God it spoke about heaven, he had underlined it, underscored it.
That’s the human heart. Somewhere, sometime, the day will come when all of us, in tears, in age, or in the providences that often overwhelm us, will seek after God. And that’s why the multitudes crowded around our Lord. He had a word of hope and salvation, and forgiveness, and life.
I have to close. Do you remember reading in the twelfth chapter of the Book of John? The Greeks came to see Jesus—Greeks, heathen, pagan Greeks came to see Jesus [John 12:20-21]. And in His reply, our Lord said this, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me” [John 12:32]; the attractive Christ. If there is thirst, He is the water of life. If there is hunger, He is the bread of heaven [John 6:35, 41, 48, 51]. If there is the danger of drowning, He is the lifeboat. If there is hurt, He is the great Physician [Matthew 9:12]. If there is death, He is the Savior of our souls [1 John 4:14]. No one so precious as our blessed Lord Jesus!
And to the great press of people in this sanctuary, in the balcony round, down one of these stairways; in the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me and I am coming.” Somebody you to give your heart to the Lord, to accept Him as your Savior [Romans 10:8-13]; a family you to come into the fellowship of our dear church [Hebrews 10:24-25]; a couple you to whom the Lord has spoken this precious morning hour; while we sing our song of appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, come. May angels attend you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.
A. The gospel picture (Mark 1:28, 33, 37, 45, 2:1-2, 15, 3:7-8, 11, 20, 4:1)
B. People drawn, moved,
by His compassionate heart
1. Healing of the
leper (Mark 1:40-45)
His ministry always where the people were, where the need was (Mark 1:32-38)
a. How different our
Lord from some in our generation – Sinclair Lewis
II. The response of the human heart (Mark 1:37, Haggai 2:7)
A. May be unknown by
them, but every heart has deep longing for God
1. Poem, “Savior,
Sprinkle Many Nations”
B. The worldly
Poems, “After the Ball is Over”, “Tam O’Shanter”, “On my Thirty-Sixth Birthday”
C. The backslidden,
fallen and prodigal (Luke 15:11-24)
1. Quartet at
walked off during invitation – to pray with fallen member
D. The burdened,
sorrowful and broken-hearted
Coolidge and he son
2. Wealthy man
who loses his son – finds hope in heaven
E. The pagan Greeks
coming to see Jesus (John 12:32)