Dying for a Lost World / W.A. Criswell
A Christmas Sermon
by Dr. W. A. Criswell
Text: Matthew 20:28
We welcome you as fellow worshippers with us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled Christ Dying for Our Sins, Dying for a Lost World. And the sermon has in it a twofold hope in its message. Number one: that back of Christmas—with all of its color, and tinsel, and tinfoil, and the accouterments, the sleigh, the carol, the Santa Claus, the reindeer, the tree—back of all of it we remember the great purpose of the coming of our Lord into the world.
That is the first hope I have in delivering this sermon. The second is that we remember this Great Commission that God has given us to publish to the world the redemptive story of our Savior, our foreign mission enterprise.
There are two texts: one is in the twentieth chapter of Matthew, and the other is in the nineteenth chapter of Luke. Matthew chapter 20, verse 28: “The Son of Man came… to give His life a ransom for many.” And Luke 19:10: “The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
As the Lord God in heaven looked down upon this world, He saw it lost, lost to God, lost to godliness, lost to righteousness, lost to life, lost to heaven. When the Lord God looked down on this world, it seemed to Him to be a vast and illimitable cemetery, a place in which to bury our dead, lost in sin, in judgment, in death, in the corruption of the grave.
And the lost world cried out unto God in heaven. The story begins like that: when Cain killed his brother Abel, the Lord God spake to that first murderer and said, “Cain, what hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood cries unto Me from the ground” [Genesis 4:10].
The story continues like that: the antediluvians, the pre-diluvians. God looked down from heaven, and the earth was filled with violence and blood, and the very imaginations of men’s hearts were evil. And God repented Him that He had created the man on the face of the earth [Genesis 6:5-6]. And the Lord came down from heaven and said to Abraham, “I am to see if the sin and the iniquity of Sodom and Gomorrah is as it has come up unto Me in heaven” [Genesis 18:20-21]. And the Lord in heaven heard the cries of children as they were sacrificed to the god Molech, burned in his fiery arms. And in 2 Chronicles [36:16] and in Jeremiah [44:22], the Lord said to His prophets, “I can bear their iniquity no longer.” And Israel was carried away captive into Assyria, and Judah was carried away captive into Babylon.
The Lord looked down on this world lost in sin, and in death, and in blood, and in darkness. And the story of humanity has been no different through the unchanging years.
My first remembrances as a child concern the First World War. As vividly as I saw it then, I hear the cries of Mrs. McGowen, one of the members of our church, following the casket of her boy, Lloyd, who had been killed in France: “Oh, my boy, my boy, my boy!” In the midst of the Second World War, was I called as undershepherd of this dear church. In those days, the army sent telegrams to the pastor. And he’d go to the home of the father and mother and read to them that telegram: “We regret to inform you that,” and then I had the heavy assignment of saying to mother and father, “Your son has been killed in the war.” Nor do we forget the conflict in Korea and in Vietnam. Nor are we oblivious to the awesome destiny that seems to lie inexorably before us, the final, and atomic confrontation of the great Armageddon powers of the world.
God looked down upon this world, lost, bathed in violence, and blood, and war, and sin, and death, and the grave—lost! In the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, there is described a scene in heaven. And our imaginations can well enter into how that must have been. The Son says, the Lord and Prince of glory, “A body hast Thou prepared for Me… and lo, I come to do Thy will, O God” [Hebrews 10:5, 7].
And the Lord Jesus Christ came from glory down into this dark and sinful world. He came from heaven to earth; and He came into a world of illimitable, and immeasurable, and indescribable lostness and darkness. We can find no more dramatic or traumatic illustration of the lostness of the sin in the world than how Jesus was received when He came.
When the angels bid Him goodbye in heaven, 1 Peter chapter 1 says they did not understand His mission. The prophets spake of His suffering, but they didn’t understand it. And the angels were aware of those prophecies. They didn’t understand it [1 Peter 1:10-12]. And when the Lord bid goodbye to the angels in heaven, they rejoiced over the goodness, and the love, and the care, and the grace of the Prince of glory who loved this fallen race.
And when He came into the world, they sang songs of glory: “Glory to God! Glory in the highest! On earth, peace, good will to men” [Luke 2:14]. It was a beautiful, glorious, dramatic, precious, incomparably meaningful, significant moment when the Prince of heaven came down into this world and was incarnate and became a human being like us.
When Jesus came to Bethlehem, the angels sang. But there also came to Bethlehem the sword of Herod. The holy family came to Bethlehem; the star came to Bethlehem; the shepherds came to Bethlehem; the wise men came to Bethlehem—tramp, tramp, tramp—the feet of the brutal soldier came to Bethlehem. And the beautiful, glorious song of the angels was turned into the cry of Rachel; I heard a voice out of Ramah weeping, lamentation and crying; Rachel crying for her children and would not be comforted because they are not [Jeremiah 31:15; Matthew 2:17-18]; the mothers in Bethlehem crying because of the slaughter of their little children—a lost world.
When Jesus came to Nazareth, His hometown, He opened the scroll in Isaiah 61:1-2. And as He stood before the people and delivered the message of the Lord, they all bare Him witness, the gracious words that fell from His lips [Luke 4:18-22]. But as He preached, they were filled with wrath and seized Him; and took Him to the brow of the hill, on which their city was built, to cast Him down headlong [Luke 4:23-29]—the lostness of the world.
When Jesus came to the synagogue, there sat a man with a withered hand and a withered arm. And the Lord turned to him and said, “Stretch forth thy hand.” And he that was so hurt and crippled stretched forth his hand, and it was healed! [Mark 3:5]. Wouldn’t you think that the people had rejoiced in the healing power given to such a Son of God? Instead, they took counsel how they might destroy Him [Mark 3:6]. When Jesus came to Bethany, He raised Lazarus from the dead [John 11:43-44]. And wouldn’t you have thought that they would have rejoiced with joy unspeakable and full of glory at the power God hath exhibited in a man to raise the dead? The story ends: “And they took counsel how they might put Him to death” [John 11:53]; this lost world!
And Jesus came to the temple. “Never a man spake like that Man” [John 7:46], the words of glory and wisdom that fell from His lips; I quote the Bible, “And they sought to entrap Him in His speech.” They asked Him [about] the tribute: “Is it right to give tribute to Caesar?” [Matthew 22:17].
If He said “Yes,” then the people who hated Rome would have seized Him. If He said “No,” the Roman government would have arrested Him for insurrection and insubordination—to entrap Him in His speech—the wisest Man who ever lived, hated; The lostness of the world!
And Jesus came to trial; He had what only God could do. He possessed the ableness to speak of the future, to prophesy of things to come. And instead of glorying in the great revelations and prophecies of our Lord, when He came to trial, they blindfolded Him, and one of them came up and slapped Him on the face and said, “You who know the future, You who know prophecy, tell me, what’s my name, who struck You?” [Luke 22:63-64]. The lost world!
And Jesus came to Calvary.
When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through His hands and feet and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns. red were His wounds, and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days when human flesh was cheap.
[From “When Jesus Came to Birmingham,” by G. A. Studdert-Kennedy]
They walked back and forth in front of Him and wagged their heads and said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save” [Matthew 27:42]. And they put a superscription above the cross: “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS” [Matthew 27:37]. And below they could have placed another superscription: “HE CAME UNTO HIS OWN, AND HIS OWN RECEIVED HIM NOT” [John 1:11]. This lost world! God looked down upon this world in sin, in darkness, in death, in the grave.
The purpose of Christ coming was to suffer and to die for our sins, that we might be ransomed, that we might be redeemed, that we might be resurrected unto life and unto glory and unto heaven. That seems to be the way of the universe—without exception—there is no redemption, there is no achievement without a cost, without a sacrifice, without blood and tears and labor and travail and effort. The whole universe—the one above us, the one around us, the one before us, the one behind us, all of it—is like that. Any achievement, any redemption, any blessedness is at a cost, at a sacrifice.
A woman, lot of women say, “I don’t want this child!” Thousands upon thousands of women say, “I’d rather be the mother of this baby than anything in the world!” But how does a woman become a mother of a baby? There’s no other way but through travail and labor—at a cost, at a sacrifice. The world is made like that.
A young couple beginning their pilgrim journey in married life together, at a cost, at a sacrifice, they labor and toil for a house, for a home, for the education of the child, for the creation of a new business, it’s at a cost. It’s at a sacrifice. A preacher: I watch them world without end. I can tell you in a moment the depth of the commitment of any preacher by the willingness with which he labors and toils and sacrifices, making a good ready for his ministry and then pouring his soul into it, at a cost, at a sacrifice. The world is made like that.
I do not know of any achievement without its price, without its sacrifice. A pianist, if he is a great artist, the hours and the days and the months and the years that he practices and plays at the piano, or the violinist, or the organist, or the painter, at a cost, at a sacrifice.
Raphael—sweet, almost heavenly, godly, saintly Raphael—years and years would toil over one of those paintings. And while he was painting The Transfiguration, the young man suddenly died. And he lay in state beneath that unfinished Transfiguration. That’s why I have such dislike and distaste and contempt for a Pablo Picasso. He drew his masterpieces in fifteen minutes, or five minutes, or three minutes! And they are hanging in museums and in the great palatial homes of the world. They are contemptible to me!
That “Amen” was said in the right place. I was in the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Art Museum, and as I was meandering around through all of those corridors looking at those great masterpieces of all time, there was a woman, a teacher in the public school systems of Chicago, who had a little class of about fifteen kids. And they were going to one and to the other. And she seated them on the floor around the paintings, and then she’d tell them all about why this painting was great.
Well, as I was meandering around, I came upon them when the little kids—about fifteen of them I’d say—were seated before a Picasso. And they were there looking at it. And that teacher was explaining to them the greatness of that painting. So I just stopped and just wondered how a teacher could twist the truth and present to those little kids that that was a great painting!
So as I stood there and she was up there going through all the things about that painting—that eye up here in the top of the head, and that leg down there where the stool ought to be, and all the misshapen things about it. And she’s going through, you know, all this, that and the other; and how great it was and how marvelous it was and how wonderful it was.
And then, when she got through all of that palaver, why, she said to the little kids down there, “Now, this is a beautiful, beautiful painting. What do you think it looks like? What do you think she looks like?” Well, I suppose she expected those little kids to say, “She looks like a princess to me! She looks like a queen to me! She looks like an angel in heaven to me!” And there was silence. And finally one little boy raised his hand like that. And she said, “What do you think she looks like?” And he stood up and said, “Ma’am, she looks like a witch to me.”
Like Schubert who wrote music so quickly, but he toiled for years and died—his unfinished symphony never completed. Anything worthwhile, anything of value, anything of great artistry or great moment or great meaning, anything in life that is worthwhile, costs—in the home, in the business, in the political world, in government, in life, in childhood, in manhood—sacrifice! That’s the way God made this world.
And when our Lord came down from glory and entered our humanity, He came in order to weep with us, and suffer with us, and die for us. That’s the purpose of His coming. And that’s the reason that lies back of Christmas. When our Lord came into the world, the angels said: “He is coming to save us from our sins” [Matthew 1:21]. And when the Child was presented in the temple, old, aged Simeon said to His mother: “And a sword shall piece through thy soul also” [Luke 2:35].
And throughout the life of Jesus, there was consciousness of His suffering mission. In His first appearance in the temple, He said: “You destroy this temple, and in three days, I will raise it up” [John 2:19]. “He was speaking,” said the sainted John, “of His death which He should accomplish in Jerusalem” [John2:21]. At the height and zenith of His glory, in the transfiguration, there appeared to Him Moses and Elijah, talking to Him about His decease—the Greek says His “exodus”—His death which He should accomplish in Jerusalem [Luke 9:30-31]. And the night that He was betrayed, He took bread and broke it: “This is My body…” And He took the cup and blessed it: “This is My blood shed for the remission of sins” [Matthew 26:26, 28]. Back of Christmas and back of the incarnation is the great purpose of God that we might be saved, that we might be redeemed from our sins. “He came to give His life a ransom” [Mark 10:45]. “He came to save the lost [Matthew 18:11]. And that is the gospel.
Paul defines the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. “My brethren, I make known unto you; I declare unto you the gospel.” What? “How that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and He was buried, and the third day He was raised again according to the Scriptures.”
That is the gospel. When a man preaches the gospel, what does he preach? That’s what he preaches; that we were lost, dying, and Jesus came to redeem us from sin and death and the grave! That’s the gospel! When we send out a missionary beyond the seas to preach the gospel, what does he preach? That’s what he preaches. We’re lost in sin, facing the judgment of death; and Christ came to redeem us, to save us, to deliver us!
For something like thirty years, every summer, I used to go to a foreign field and spend the month of August preaching there. When I’d come back, so many people would say to me, “Pastor, how do you preach to Stone Age Indians in the Amazon jungle? Or, how do you preach to benighted, darkened Hottentots in the middle of Africa? What do you say?”
And I reply, “It is simple.” I say, “First of all, that we’re sinners. There is a black drop in our hearts. All of us are sinners, and I’m on common ground with every human being in the world. We’re sinners, conscious sinners; and I face—we face—the judgment of death and the grave.”
Now, who can save us? Who can deliver us? That’s the good news—Jesus our Lord. That’s the gospel. It is that and forever that, we are lost, we face the judgment of death. Who can save us? Jesus our Lord—triumphant over death and the grave—Jesus our Lord! That’s the good news, called the “good news,” the evangel. That’s the good news that we’re to publish it to the world. We are to do it. God gave it to us.
When our Lord returned to heaven—after His death and resurrection here in the earth—when our Lord ascended back to heaven, Gabriel met Him and welcomed Him back home. And Gabriel said to Him: “Lord, what a gloriously, marvelously wonderful thing You have done to go down into that dark and sinful world, and to suffer and to die for that lost race. Oh, how wonderful it has been, and now to rise triumphant over death and the grave [1 Corinthians 55-57]—Lord Jesus, how wonderful! And I heard Your commission to them.”
Gabriel says to the Lord Jesus, “Peter, James, and John, and the apostles are to make known abroad the grace and the love by which You poured out Your life for them. And then they are to make disciples who tell others the good news of the gospel of Christ.”
“But Lord Jesus,” says Gabriel, “Lord Jesus, what if they fail to tell the story? And what if they forget to deliver the message, then what?”
And the Lord Jesus answers and says: “Gabriel, I have no other plan.”
There is no other mind in God; no other thought or plan for the evangelization of the world; that is, the publication of the good news of our hope in Christ, except as we proclaim it and declare it and preach it.
“I have no other plan.” And that condemns my own heart. Lord, Lord, after these years and centuries, most of this world has never heard the name of Christ. Most of them have never heard it.
A black man from another and neighboring village was there listening to a missionary preach the gospel, the good news: Jesus has come, paid the penalty of our sin, returned to heaven, and is waiting for us in victory and triumph. And the black man believed and accepted in faith the redeeming grace of our Lord and said to the missionary, “I must hasten and tell the people in my village what Jesus has done.”
And as he went away, he stopped, came back and said, “Missionary, I forgot to ask, when was it that Jesus died for our sins? Was it yesterday? Was it the day before? Was it last week? When was it that He died for us?”
And the missionary sadly replied, “My brother, it was two thousand years ago.” And the black man replied, “Missionary, why is it we’re just now hearing? Why didn’t somebody come sooner?”
It rebukes my heart. It humbles me before the Lord. Lord, how dilatory and lethargic and slow we are proclaiming the good news. May the Lord give us a fresh unction from heaven, like those first apostles, to proclaim the message of Christ in power, in saving grace, and in great glory.
And that is our appeal to you this morning. This is a day of salvation. To give your heart and soul and life to the blessed Jesus, come with us. Be a fellow pilgrim with us on our journey to heaven. Lift up your head and your heart God-ward and Christ-ward. Let the Lord walk by your side, be your friend and companion; guide you through every decision; lift you up in every sorrow or disappointment. “Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart and in my house and in my home for Thee.
Or a family you put your life with us in the circle of this dear church. Rear your children in the love and admonition of the Lord. Or just one somebody you, “Pastor, today I have made this decision for Christ, and here I stand.” In the balcony round, there is time and to spare, come. On this lower floor, down one of these aisles, a thousand times welcome. Come. Make it now. Do it now. It will be the greatest decision you ever made in your life, and that first step will be the most meaningful you have ever known. May angels attend you as you come, a thousand times welcome as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
Copyright © 2013 The W. A. Criswell Foundation.
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Posted with permission
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