Only God Can Save
May 19th, 1991 @ 10:50 AM
ONLY GOD CAN SAVE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-19-91 10:50 a.m.
Only God Can Save. It is an exposition of the ninth chapter of the Book of Mark. After having been turned aside by special occasion from this Second Gospel, we return to it now. Having left off at chapter 8, we begin with chapter 9. Chapter 9 presents to us a vivid and universal contrast between the height of a mountain experience and the despair of the hurt in the valley.
First: the height of the mountain experience. This chapter presents in detail the transfiguration of our Lord Jesus on the height of the mountain, taking with Him Peter, James, and John. He was transfigured before them, His face bright like the sun, and His raiment shining in the glory of God. And there appeared unto Him two of the saints of the Old Testament, Elijah and Moses [Mark 9:2-4].
May I turn aside for just a moment? Ten thousand times have I been asked, "Will we know each other in heaven?" The answer is a decided and emphatic affirmative. Peter, James, and John had never seen Moses and Elijah. They had been dead for centuries, but they immediately knew them. How? By intuitive knowledge. God will give us the knowledge. We will know each other in heaven, and all of the saints that have preceded us.
There appeared Elijah and Moses. It was an incomparable experience, there standing and kneeling in the presence of the glorified and transfigured Lord Jesus. At the same time, at the exact portrayal, down in the valley is an infinite tragedy and sorrow. There is a boy down there – epileptic, full of the tragedy and grip of writhing and withering pain. He is seized by an emissary from hell itself and is thrown into the fire and into the water, foaming and gnashing; a tragedy.
And by the side of the boy is the lad’s father, so helpless before that attack from the evil one. Also standing there are the other disciples, nine of them in number, and they are helpless. They are dispirited, and defeated, and dejected, and derided. They sought to heal the lad, to cast out that evil spirit, and ignominiously failed. And then one other: by their side there were the scribes and the Pharisees, scoffing and making fun and ridiculing the ineptitude and failure of those disciples who purported to be emissaries of the Lord Himself. And there they are, side by side [Mark 9:14-18].
Up on the mountain, in the transfigured glory of the Lord, three of those disciples looking on Jesus, and Moses, and Elijah [Mark 9:2-4]; and down there in the valley, the tragedy of that boy in a helpless and stricken condition. I have just said that contrast is universal. You will see it everywhere, through all time and through all of history.
It is like this county out in California. In that one place, in that one county, is the highest continental, contiguous height of a mountain in the United States, Mt. Whitney. And in the same place, right by the side, is the lowest elevation on this North American continent, Death Valley. So oft times do you see those heights of glory and those depths of despair side by side.
For example, Moses is on the top of Mt. Sinai. He is in the presence of the Lord God Jehovah Himself, and the Lord has written with His own hand, the Ten Commandments [Exodus 31:18]. And He places them in the hands of the great lawgiver, Moses. What a day! What a height! What a glory! And at the same time, down there in the valley, Aaron – his brother, Moses’ brother – is leading those children of Israel in an orgy around a golden calf [Exodus 32:1-6] – an affront to God Himself. And the two are right there, side by side.
You find it again, typically, in the life of our Lord Jesus. He is up there in the upper room and He is instituting the sacred Lord’s Supper [Matthew 26:26-28; Luke 22:12-20]; and not only that, but speaking the fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth chapters of John, and finally the high priestly prayer in John 17, at the same time that our Lord is in the upper room, in that height of the spiritual meaning of His message and ministry – at the same time Judas Iscariot is down there in the Kidron Valley guiding those soldiers [John 18:2-5] against the moment when Jesus appears and they crucify Him on Calvary; same time, side by side.
Or take again the apostle Paul, in the Mamertine dungeon, writing 2 Timothy [2 Timothy 4:6] – what a glory, the dedication of that incomparable apostle – and at the same time, the executioner just beyond the door, sharpening his axe for the beheading of that glorious emissary of the Lord. So often do you find it that way, side by side – the height and the depths of human experience.
So Simon Peter, on top of the mount with our Lord, looking at the transfigured Christ, and at Moses, and at Elijah – and he says, "Master, what a wonderful day, what a glorious place – let us stay here. Let us build tabernacles – one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah" [Mark 9:5]. If you will reread the thirty-third chapter of the Book of Exodus, you will find the background of the request of this marvelous response to what Peter was looking upon. O Lord! Great God! Think of it. The Lord Himself, from heaven, came down at the door of the tabernacle and spoke with the people, the children of God [Exodus 33:8-11]. And think what Peter had in mind, having read that thirty-third chapter of Exodus – a tabernacle for the Lord Jesus. And we can talk to Him face-to-face. And then a tabernacle for Moses – wouldn’t you love to visit with Moses and talk to that great lawgiver? And as that were not enough, the chief representative of the whole prophetic ministry, Elijah. Think of being able to commune with Elijah. What a glorious prospect!
In order to do it, you had to forget those people down in the valley. "Lord, let’s stay up here" – what a heavenly prospect – "and forget those down there. Forget that family. Forget that lost boy. Forget that grieving father. Forget those helpless disciples. Forget them. Shut Your eyes. Close Your heart and mind. Forget them. Let’s stay up here on top of the mountain, communing with God" [Mark 9:5].
Preacher, I think of you in that. Why don’t we shut these windows and close these doors and forget about the eighty thousand singles that are right around our church? Forget them. Forget them. Don’t bring them to mind – eighty thousand of them in these tall skyscrapers around this church. Forget about them. I listened to him in some of these conferences. He says God has sent us here, in the heart of this city, to minister to those eighty thousand singles all around us. And he is preparing for a marvelous outreach ministry. God bless him.
Close these doors; shut these windows. These single parent families – for the first time in the history of creation, we have more children in our Sunday school from single parent homes than from two parent homes. Think of the heartache and tears that lie back of the dissolution of those families. You can’t enter into it. The scars are there forever. And the hurt and the disappointment and the defeat and the despair never leave – never.
Think. Walking up and down these streets around us, there are multitudes that are hungry-hearted. And think of the poor and the homeless. Shut those doors and close those windows. Let’s forget them – these that are down there in the valley. Let’s stay on the mountain top. Why bother your soul? And why burden your heart and life with that kind of a remembrance? Close your eyes. Forget them.
I took this poem that came to my mind when I thought about doing nothing at all, just letting them go by:
He made no mistakes; he took no wrong road.
He never fumbled the ball.
He never went down ‘neath the weight of a load.
He simply did nothing at all.
So death came nigh, for life passed by.
And he feared the judgment hall.
When they asked him why, he said with a sigh,
"I simply did nothing at all."
"Oh, God will pardon your blunder, my friend.
Or regard, with pity, your fall.
But the one big sell that surely means hell,
Is simply do nothing at all."
Just forget them and pass them by. It also brought to my mind a crazy thing that I read a long time ago. A man called the editor of the newspaper – the woman had died and no regard, no recognition of her death at all. And so the editor called around. They had all gone home except the sports editor. And he said to the sports editor, "You have got to write something about the widow Jones. You have got to do it." So it came out in the paper:
Here lies the bones of widow Jones.
For her, life had no terrors.
She died an old maid; she lived an old maid.
No hits, no runs, and no errors.
Oh dear! Anything, but to forget to pass them by; may I make an avowal here that I think reflects the mind and heart of God, and certainly the revelation of our Lord in Holy Scripture? The essence of religion – pure, undefiled religion – is the incarnation and the implementation of the marvelous saving revelation we have in this Holy Book. That’s what it is. And if it isn’t that, it is nothing, just an insult!
Even Jesus said the two great commandments are to love God with all your heart and soul, and to minister to your fellow man in deepest love – with one hand, clinging to God; and with the other hand, ministering to the needs of humanity [Matthew 22:36-39]. As long as our religion remains sealed in this book, it is ineffective; it is nothing; it is worse than nothing. We must take the message – the salvation of our Lord, the glorious redemptive purpose of His coming into the world – and implement it, and make it regnant and dynamic and meaningful in the lives of the people to whom God hath sent us.
I sometimes think of the implementation of an idea. I stood one time in a laboratory. The scientist there had before him, on his table, all kinds of scientific experiments. And they concerned the cracking and the refining of petroleum products. I stood by that scientist and looked at all of those experiments that he had on his table. Then I lifted up my eyes, and I looked out the window. And there beyond the window, I saw the great cracking plant and the great refinery. They had spent millions and millions and millions of dollars taking the idea from that scientist’s table and implementing them out there in those products that we use in our automobiles. Isn’t that a wonderful thing? To take a great idea and to give it life and meaning – to incarnate, to make it live, to bring it to life, to make it a blessing.
One of the strangest things that I ever looked at in my life up there Oklahoma: the American Indian, the South American Indian and the North American Indian, the entire continental expanse of the life of the American Indian, they never used the idea of a wheel, never. Their kids had toys made out of wheels, but they themselves never implemented it; never, not in the history of creation. I, one time – or several times – would go to Anadarko, to the feast of the Kiowa Indians. And they would bring all of their things there strapped on poles, dragged on those poles, never used a wheel.
And isn’t that amazing? It’s astonishing. And so much of the Christian faith is like that. It remains in a book. It remains sealed. It remains between covers. It is never dynamically incarnate in human life, in human experience, in human ministry, in human love, in human outreach. O God, how we need to be blessed in heaven with a dynamic that sends us outside the doors of the church and makes us ministers to the needs of the people!
So Jesus came down from the mountain and He came to those disciples, and to that father, and to that epileptic boy. "Why is it," they ask here, "why is it that we could not heal this boy? [Mark 9:28]. Why is it? Why is it?" They asked Jesus that. "Why couldn’t we heal him? Why couldn’t we?"
Well, the answer is in a different kind of place than you’d think for. You could have thought that Jesus would have answered, "Why, you could not heal him because of the power of the devil. We are not equal to him, and you are not able to confront him." Or the Lord could have said, "The reason you could not heal the boy is because of the terrific seizures of Satan’s emissary upon him. He didn’t have the seven spirits of God. He was filled, that little teenage boy was filled with the seven spirits of evil, of the devil that tore him apart." Or He could have answered, "The reason you could not heal the boy is because of the record of violence that characterized his life all of the days of his existence."
No. What was the problem? What was the trouble? In the last place that you would have thought; it was in the disciples themselves. It was in them. As you read this chapter, evidently precipitated by those three disciples that Jesus took upon the mount, they begin to quarrel among themselves of who would be greatest in the kingdom of God, thinking about themselves, and about their place, and about their fortune, and about their future, and about their reception, and on and on and on; filled with themselves [Mark 9:33-34].
And the other is that they left God out of it. Jesus said, "This kind come forth by nothing but by prayer" [Mark 9:29], by looking unto God. I can easily see how those men were thinking. The Lord had given them power to cast out devils. He had done it twice when He gave the power to the twelve [Matthew 10:1], and when He gave the power to the seventy [Luke 10:1, 17]. And they were there. And when that father brought to those disciples that epileptic lad, "Why certainly," they said, "God gave us the power to heal; just bring him to us and we can heal him." And in their pride, they were cast down. They left God out of it on account of their looking at their own prowess and power and progress and success [Mark 9:17-19, 29].
Now, may I speak to us in this closing part of this sermon? We have a confession to make in the presence of the lostness in humanity. First: O God, I confess to myself that I am not able; I am inadequate. I don’t have the power. I am just not able, Lord. I can’t even create a little seed, much less make it grow. I can’t heal the slightest wound. I can’t make a little babe grow.
Yesterday, at the Y, for the first time in the years I have been going over there, there was a great big, strong, athletic man that brought his little baby, just about two or three months old – brought his little baby and sat the little thing down there. And there, that great big, strong, athletically-minded fellow over there at that "Y" and that little bitty baby; he couldn’t begin to make the little thing grow.
You see, it’s good for me to confess, "Lord, You have to do it. You have to do it. There is no learnedness on my part; there is no scholasticism on my part; there is no dexterity of hand on my part; there is no loudness of voice on my part that can do this miracle of making people alive in God. I can’t do it. I confess that myself."
Second: confess it to them. Preacher, I have had this experience a thousand times. A mother and a father will bring to me a little boy or a little girl and will say to me, "Pastor, I have brought you my little boy and my little girl, and I want you to show them how to be saved. I want you to lead them into the kingdom of God, that little boy, that little girl." Dear me. Dear me. I am helpless before it! I can’t save anybody. I can’t reborn anybody, not even that humblest little boy or little girl. God has to do it. God has to do it. God alone can do it.
And a third: and I confess to the Lord God Himself – not only to me, not only to them, but I confess to the Lord God in heaven. "O God, O God, You must save." Only God can save. Bring these people to the personality of the preacher, and you will get what human personality is able to achieve. One of the most amazing things in all this world is to see great churches, presided over by marvelous preachers, and they are dead now. And the churches die. They were won by the charismatic person of the preacher.
Bring them into an organization, and you have what an organization can do. Bring them into scholasticism, to learnedness, and you have what scholasticism can do. Bring them into the ethical aspirations, the moralities of life, and you have what aspiration can do. We need to bring them to God, what God can do – what God can do.
May I take, in closing, a leaf out of my own life? When I was a teenager, I was called, in the providences of God, to one of the sweetest, dearest village country churches in this earth, the White Mound Baptist Church in Coryell County, here in Texas. The church is located in a very, very, very large churchyard, acres and acres in that churchyard, surrounded by a white painted wooden fence. There in the center is a beautiful little church with white columns. There in the corner was the parsonage. I was single the first ten years I was preaching, and that parsonage just over there, nobody inhabiting it; just hoping and waiting, you know.
And then, by the side of the church was a big tabernacle, an open tabernacle. Now I am talking about towards sixty-five years ago. The great event in the life of that whole part of the earth was that annual revival meeting under that tabernacle. And I was to lead it. I was to preach it. And when that Sunday evening came, I stood there in that churchyard and watched those people from the ends of the earth. They came by horse back. They came by buggy. They came by foot. They came by wagon. They crowded that entire area, literally uncounted numbers of them. And I was to preach.
I died on the inside of me. "O God, I can’t talk. My heart is filled with despair and defeat and inability. Lord God, look at these countless numbers of people that I am to preach to. O God what shall I do?" My singer, who was more advanced in the faith and in the years than I, seeing the desperateness of my heart, he put his arms around me, and he said, "Come here. I want you to follow me." He took me to the steps that led up to the backdoor of the parsonage. And he said, "I want you sit down there."
And I sat down on those steps. And he turned to 1 Peter 5:6-7: "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time: casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you." And then he said, "Now, I want you to get down here on your knees by my side." And he put his arms around me, and he began to pray, "O God, look upon this young fellow." I was a teenager. "Look upon this young fellow. Lord God, You do it. You fill him with the power of the Holy Spirit of God. You touch his tongue. You give him the message in his soul and in his heart. You stand by him Lord, as he tries to preach the unsearchable riches and the saving grace of God. God, You do it. You do it."
Sweet people, you ought to have been there. You ought to have been there. You just should have seen it; you should have felt it. "God came down, our souls to greet. And glory filled the mercy seat." Man alive, I preached all over creation, up and down, back and forward. You could have heard me ten miles. It was a great outpouring of the Spirit of God.
That is what we pray for – not what we can do, but what God can do. O God, come down. Come down and may the Holy Spirit of grace save our children, our homes, our people, our families, and us. Amen. Amen.
ONLY GOD CAN SAVE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. The height of the mountain experience
A. The vivid spiritual contrasts
1. On the mountaintop – the transfiguration
2. In the valley – a boy seized by an emissary from hell, writhing in pain
B. Repeated so often in life
1. Mount Whitney right next to Death Valley
2. Moses on Mount Sinai while Aaron in the valley leading an orgy
3. Jesus in the upper room while Judas in the Kidron Valley guiding soldiers against Jesus
4. Paul in the Mamertine dungeon writing 2 Timothy while executioner just outside the door
C. Simon Peter – "Let’s stay up hereâ€¦close our eyes to need in the valley."
1. Shut the window of the church, close the doors
2. Do nothing
D. We must take the message of God and implement it
II. Down in the valley
A. The nine disciples in failure – why?
B. Answer in the disciples themselves (Mark 9:18, 34)
1. Disputing and in pride
III. We have a confession to make
A. Confess to ourselves we are inadequate and unable
B. Confess to them we are unable to save
C. Confess to God, "You must save."