THE LORD HATH NEED
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-29-90 10:50 a.m.
The message this morning is taken out of the second chapter of Acts, and out of the twenty-first chapter of Matthew, and the eleventh chapter of the Book of Mark. It arises out of an amazing development in the life of the kingdom of our Savior.
The second chapter of the Book of Acts presents to us the beginning of a new dispensation, the Christian era. It started with an outpouring of the Holy Spirit from heaven. And after that phenomenon is described:
They that gladly received the Word were baptized,
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine.
And all that believed were together,
And sold their ktēmata,
Plural for ktēma; ktēma is the word for material possessions, the things that we have in this world.
And the amazing thing to me, as I read the story of the beginning of this Christian dispensation, is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit from heaven [Acts 2:1-4] – marvelous and incomparable, a new day, a new era, a new beginning in humanity. And then the very next thing in the next breath, they who believed were together and sold their ktēmata, their possessions, and gave them to the church [Acts 2:44-45]; the two are side by side.
And thus it is when we read in the life of our Lord, the omnipotent, incarnated God from heaven. In the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Matthew, they say unto him, “The Lord hath need” [Matthew 21:3]. Omnipotence? And the same thing is repeated in Mark 11, “The Lord hath need” [Mark 11:3]. Isn’t that astonishing? God, in all of His prerogatives and omnipotence, God has need; and we’re talking about ktēma, material things.
The Lord hath need: He needed a stable and a manger in which to be born [Luke 2:11-12, 16]. The Lord hath need: He needed a grave and a tomb in which to be buried [Luke 21:52-53]. And between those two termini in His life, the Lord hath need. He asked for a drink of water from a Samaritan woman [John 4:7]. She was astonished, asked, “How is it that Thou, being a Jew, asks a drink of me, who am a woman of Samaria? For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans” [John 4:9]. But our Lord hath need; He asked a drink of water from a Samaritan woman. The Lord hath need; He needed a boat in which to stand to preach to the throngs and the multitudes on the seashore [Mark 4:1]. The Lord hath need; He needed the little lunch of a boy, a lad – five little biscuits and two little sardines – and with that small lunch, He fed five thousand men, beside the women and children [John 6:9-13]. The Lord hath need; He needed a house in which to stay. He said to Zaccheus, “Come down. For I must stay at thy house this day” [Luke 19:5], the Lord hath need. The Lord hath need; He asked for the loan and the use of a colt that He might ride into the city of Jerusalem on the day of His triumphal entry [Luke 19:29-35].
The Lord hath need; and when He carried His cross to Calvary, He stumbled and fell under the heavy load. He needed someone to help carry His cross, and the Roman soldiers impressed Simon of Cyrene to help carry that cross [Matthew 27:32; Luke 23:26]. Do you ever wonder where John was, and Peter was; and Andrew and James and Thomas? Why didn’t they help Him carry His cross? The Lord hath need. Then when I think of those apostles and disciples, I wonder: had I stood on the Via Dolorosa and watched my Lord stumble and fall under the weight of His heavy cross, I wonder if I would have volunteered. I just wonder. The Lord hath need; Omnipotence needs us, and what we are able to dedicate to Him.
Thus it is that there are two great lifelines in all of our ministries before our God. One is the prayer line to heaven, to talk to the Lord, to ask God to help us. Not sufficient in ourselves, we need the Lord, a prayer line to the throne of grace in glory. And the other vital lifeline is that of ministry and service to other people. Both of them, and both of them are vital in our pilgrimage and in our ministries and in our service before our dear Lord.
I speak especially now of that second of those lifelines, the one of ministering and service to God’s people and to the needy and the lost in this earth. It appeals for, demands, cries out for our support: what we’re able to do. And without that support, without that underwriting, it collapses and falls. It never succeeds. It never achieves its ultimate and victorious purpose.
If I can take a leaf out of the history of our nation that so poignantly illustrates that; in the War Between the States, in the Civil War, the South lost, was ignominiously defeated because it went broke. It went bankrupt; it was not able to sustain the great trial. My mother’s father, my grandfather, was a doctor; he was a physician in that Civil War all through the years. And my mother was an unreconstructed Rebel all the days of her life. She looked upon those people in the North as “the Yankees” all of her life, never reconciled. They lost.
I was in Appomattox in Virginia, where General Robert E. Lee laid down his sword before General Ulysses S. Grant, the general of the Northern federal army. The soldiers of the South were broken; they were hungry, they were ragged, they were starved. They were without any means of support and they lost the war. I’m going to take now a leaf out of a history, written by a man in the North; it has a point of view of the North.
During the war between the North and the South, the federal government frequently became seriously crippled because of the lack of money. The president, that was Lincoln, and his cabinet had to give attention to military operations and was therefore unable to devote much time to the discovery of sources of revenue. At length, there came a time when something had to be done. The soldiers in the field were becoming destitute. As the outcome of this necessity, a financial agent was employed to sell government bonds. Fortunately, he was very successful. There was a revival of hope and courage and in due time, the Northern troops brought the war to a victorious close.
Without the money obtained by this agent the generalship of General Grant and the bravery of the men in the field would have amounted to absolutely nothing. It was imperative that the soldiers should be cared for, fed, clothed, and armed. Back of the fighters stood the financier, and of the two, the financier was the more important. This fact was fully recognized by General Grant. Near the close of the conflict he met by mere chance the man who had served as the financial agent. On learning of his identity, the general said to him, “It is to your labors more than those of any other man that the people in this country owe the continued life of the nation.”
Financing lies at the heart of all organized work. It is vital. It is primary. It is fundamental. This is as true in all operations as it is in war. There’s no such thing as a bank succeeding if it’s bankrupt. There’s no such thing as a corporation succeeding if it is not financially healthy. And there’s no such thing as a church doing the work of God who’s not able to pay its debts.
The Christian should regard possessions merely as an instrument to enlarge the kingdom of God. He should not seek to buy himself off by doling out a small penitence to Christian work. But he should think of himself as a steward of the manifold mercies of God and administer his income, whether small or great, as if it were a sacred trust from the Lord.
Some carefully distinguish and discriminate between religious and secular interests. In doing so, they frequently classify money and income and possessions as secular and worldly – not to be mentioned in the same breath with true spirituality.
That’s a manmade distinction, and I wrote down here my own observation: not so the Word of God. There’s no distinction in God’s Word between secular and religious. In the same breath that Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, “Death is swallowed up in victory” [1 Corinthians 15:54], he writes in the next sentence, “Now concerning the collection” [1 Corinthians 16:1].
This is the twofold ministry that God has ordained in this earth; both for Himself, He hath need, and both for us, praying to the Lord God and ministering with ktēmata, the things that we possess.
Now may I speak of that as concerning our downtown church? The dedication and the costs of building a lighthouse for Christ in the heart of this city; and I’m going to share with you something that I’ve never publicly mentioned before. In the days gone by, there was the president of that bank – the Republic Bank – who was one of the dearest friends I ever had. He was a Jew; he belonged to Temple Emmanuel. But there never was a man I’ve ever met who was any better to me than Fred Florence, the president of that bank.
Personally, he gave to me thousands and thousands of dollars. I’d be walking through the bank – I hardly walk through the bank without any exception to this: he would call me and give me a generous check. The vacation that Mrs. C and I enjoyed every summer, he paid for. Through the years and the years and the years, Fred Florence gave us the money for our vacation. We refused to use it to buy airline tickets and hotel bills. We took those many, many thousands of dollars that Fred Florence gave us and we would buy a beautiful thing – beautiful things, beautiful porcelains, for example – and bring them home and put them out there in the parsonage, those beautiful things that we have in our parsonage. So many of them are from the gifts of Mr. Fred Florence.
Upon a day, he called me to his office there in the bank and he said to me, “I want us to have the most beautiful church in the world, here in Dallas.” And then because he repeated it again and again, “And I want it to be yours.” He said, “I want us to go out here into lower Dallas.” At that time that would be just beyond Northwest Highway. And he said, “I want us to buy a beautiful, spacious acreage. And in the heart of that acreage, I want us to build the most beautiful church in the world here in Dallas. And I want it to be yours.”
I replied, “Mr. Florence that would take millions and millions of dollars. Where would we get that vast amount of money?” And he replied, “You sell your property downtown. You sell this property downtown, and I will add to it millions of my own and of my friends; I have opportunity to offer that millions of dollars for the building of the most beautiful church in the world here in Dallas.” And then emphasized it again and again, “And I want it to be yours.”
O God in heaven, I had committed my soul and my life to building a church – this church in the heart of this city, right in the midst where Satan has his throng, where the financial community has its great entrepreneurs, where the tides and the races of men go by. And to go out where it is salubrious and easy and nice and the people live next door to you; it’s hard down here! There’s nobody lives next door to us, anybody that comes to the church drives miles and miles and miles to get here. You do. Oh, what a temptation to go out where it’s easy! I struggled with that and agonized with that in my soul before God.
And finally came back to Mr. Florence and said, “Mr. Florence, I cannot do it. My heart and soul won’t let me. We are dedicated to a great lighthouse in the heart of this metroplex. And for us to turn aside from it is a denial of what God has called us to do; I can’t do it.”
The days passed; and in about two years later, he called me back into his office. And he repeated all that over again. “I want us,” he says, “to build the most beautiful church in the world here in Dallas.” And then emphasized that. “And I want it to be yours.” Oh, dear! I went through that same agony all over again. And finally returned to the office of Mr. Florence, and said, “God has called us, ordained us, appointed us downtown. And for us to forsake God’s assignment, my heart won’t let me and I can’t find rest in doing it. We can’t do it. We cannot do it.” So from that day until this, and I pray forever, our church is downtown.
Let me have my church on a downtown street.
Where the race of men go by.
The men who are good the men who are bad
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner’s seat,
Or hurl the cynic’s ban;
Let me have my church on a downtown street
And be a friend to man.
[adapted from “The House By the Side of the Road,” by Sam Walter Foss]
So it is in the providences of God, the Lord hath brought to us and laid before us such open doors as I have never thought or imagined. Our school, as I have said – more preacher boys, more ministerial students in the school than any other college or university in the earth already. And when we have our new campus, I don’t know the end of the ministry of that school. These graduating preachers are now all over this earth, proclaiming the infallible and inerrant Word of God, preaching the unsearchable riches of God in Christ Jesus.
O Lord, and it is ours. It is ours. It is ours; God gave it to us. And the ministries we have in this downtown complex, expanding our outreach to young people, to adults, to the Word of God in their hearts, and lives committed, o Lord, I don’t think there’s any end to the number of people that we can reach with the Word of the Lord if we are dedicated and consecrated. God will give us the souls of these people.
Nor could I describe the gladness of my heart that the Lord – it is He that is doing it, that the Lord is giving to us the largest ministry to the poor that I know of in this earth. There’s none like it; none so spacious, none so big, and none so effective. “Preacher, do you mean to say that you are happy and filled with thanksgiving to God that you have on your hands the burden and the task of ministering to the poor?” The answer is yes. Nor can I particularly explain it. If we were out, you’d never have the problem. There are no down and outs and flotsam and jetsam way out there in North Dallas; they are down here. They’re here by the thousands; they go by our church by day and by night.
“And pastor, you are saying to me you’re grateful to God for the privilege?” The answer is “Yes.” The answer is yes. I feel in my deepest soul, we are never more completely given to be like Jesus than when we minister to these down-and-out, and poor, and wretched, and homeless, and helpless. He himself said, “Insomuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these,ye have done it unto Me” [Matthew 25:40]. I don’t regret the great open door that God has given to us. I just thank Him that He matched our souls against the day and the occasion and the opportunity.
O God, that we might be faithful in serving Thee. And that the Lord might have opportunity to pour out such abounding, abundant blessings upon us as we have never known in our lives.
The deacons of our church and the leadership of our Sunday school are to lead the way in helping us in this ministry that God has given us here in our church in downtown Dallas – for our school, for our enlarged teaching program in the church, and for our ministries to the poor. And God bless you as you answer with the best of your life.