THE WORLD’S GREATEST NEED
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-9-64 7:30 p.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the evening message entitled The World’s Greatest Need. And the answer is in the mission and message and ministry of our Lord in this earth: the world’s greatest need is a Savior, a Deliverer. In the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, if you will turn to it we shall read it together. These evening hours are built around the life of Christ, and the messages are presented from the life of our Lord. And these are the first of that long series of the ministry of Jesus in this earth. The first chapter of Matthew, the First Gospel, beginning at the eighteenth verse, and let us read to the end of the chapter, all of us out loud together:
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as His mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.
But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
And she shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sins.
Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and he took unto him his wife:
And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn Son: and he called His name Jesus.
He called His name “Joshua”; in Greek, Iesous; in English, “Jesus,” translated “Savior,” Savior: “And thou shalt call His name Savior.” In Hebrew, Joshua; in Greek, Iesous; in English, Jesus. “Thou shalt call His name Savior.”
In the story of the incarnation in the second chapter of the Third Gospel: “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you in the city of David this day is born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”; the Savior [Luke 2:10-11].
A savior is an angel with tears in his eyes. A savior is a deliverer with arms mighty as the arms of God, but tender in heart beyond the love of a woman. A savior is a messenger of such majesty as to humble the haughtiness of kings, but with a compassion above that of a mother, shepherdly caring for her child. There is a complexity in that word “savior”; and it is all of the humanity of mankind and all the deity of the Lord God. In that word is all the past of history, and all the promise of prophecy, and all of the mystery of the Apocalypse.
The world was large with expectation in the day of the incarnation of the Son of God. The historians who wrote of contemporary life spake of the world expectation that out of the East should come a mighty prince and deliverer. When you read the Fifth Eclogue of Virgil, it reads like a part of the prophecy of Isaiah. Judaism had spread over the civilized world, and had carried with it the promise of the messianic hope. Even from afar came those magi, asking in Jerusalem, “Where? Where is He that is born King of the Jews?” [Matthew 2:2]. The whole earth, in servitude and in shackles under the iron heel of the Roman Empire, looked for a deliverer to come.
In reading of ancient history, so many times I found the name “Antiochus Soter,” s-o-t-e-r, Antiochus Soter, Demetrius Soter, Ptolemy Soter, Philadelphius Soter. So many of those reigning monarchs had Soter after their name. I wondered what it meant. Then, learning Greek, s, omega, t, t-e-r, soter, that’s just the Greek word for “savior,” savior. Those men presented themselves as the great deliverer for their nation: as Hitler presented himself to the German people, as Mussolini presented himself to the Italian people, as Lenin presented himself to the Russian people. But in each instance, as they back there, so they in this generation: they build a false hope, they bring a false promise, and the people are plunged into disappointment and into despair.
This is the Savior promised of God: in a world then as in the world now, our greatest need. When I speak of the world at that time, I speak of the world in this day: it is a world of violence. Always has been; the prophet Daniel says it always will be. It is a world of bloodshed, of murder, of war, and of preparation of war. It is a world of corruption.
You do not read the first chapter of the Book of Romans in mixed company. I never heard it read in public in my life. But the corruption, and the filth, and the dirt, and the sin that characterized the Roman Empire is no more vicious or no more violent or no more pervasive than the same kind of dark iniquity that prevails in the cultured and civilized nations of this day. It is a world of corruption. It is a world of heartache, and suffering, and sadness, and misery! Every life knows its burden, and every heart knows its bitterness. Even in our laughter we are sad. In the beautiful poem of Shelley, “Ode to a Skylark,” he said,
We look before and after,
And pine for that which is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
And our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.
We pay these comedians fabulous salaries just to make us forget for a while. But always, always is that whisper of trouble, always that yearning uneasiness. The child is sick, death knocks at the door, the heart is broken, there are a million invisible enemies that violate the house, that intrude without our invitation. There is canker in the purse, there is rust on the gold, there is the foreboding of what may lie ahead. There is weeping in the night. When the sky is the bluest there will be streaks across its bosom that portend the violence of a coming storm. It is that kind of a world.
What does a world like that need? Does it need another counselor? Does it need another advisor? Oh, every age and every generation has had its soothsayers, and its seers, and its sages; these are passed, and we expect others interminably to follow. Does it need a philosopher, a metaphysician? In the generations past, as in the generation today, men have wrote all that men can write, think all that men can think; and we still sit in the valley of the shadow of death.
Does the world need an engineer? Does it need a reformer, somebody that can take the stream of humanity and turn it into another channel? Does it need somebody who can take the switches and the wheels and the pulleys of mankind and rearrange them in order to build a more perfect order and a happier society? What does the world need?
It is easily answered. What does a drowning man need? Does he need a discussion on floating objects? Does he need a scientific inquiry into specific gravity? Does he need a lecture on navigation? What does a drowning man need? He needs a firm grip! Metaphysics, physics, navigation, science by and by; but now he needs a savior! He may be someday a metaphysician, a philosopher, a speculator, nay, he may finally be an agnostic and an infidel and an atheist, but now he needs a savior! And with all of the ennui, and satiation of culture, and the veneer of a cheap civilization, in our affluence and in our abundance and in our self-satisfaction, we need no cross: just a little scented water will do, just a few sentences engraved on a gilded page will do, just a few accouterments to remind of the aesthetic will do. It will do for us in our sophistication and self-sufficiency; but in the hour of need and death, where is a savior, the grip that holds?
And this is the incomparable address of the Christian faith to the world, to us, to dying men, to the lost, everywhere: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, a Savior [Luke 2:11]. And thou shalt call His name Joshua, Iesous, Jesus, Savior; for He shall save His people from their sins” [Matthew 1:21]. Wherever there is a broken heart, God addresses the Christian message to him. Wherever there is a life in agony, God addresses the Christian message to him. Wherever one has lost hope, God addresses the good news of Jesus Christ to him. The address of the Christian message is to those who have need, to those who are lost, to those who face inexplicable problems and insurmountable obstacles. God has a message for us!
Don’t ever think to identify the Christian faith and the Christian message with its outward accouterments and embellishments; these, these things are not the faith. Whether the magnificent cathedral-like temple, whether the gorgeous ritual, whether the beautiful ceremonies, whether all of the objects of aesthetic enjoyment, these are not the Christian faith. The Christian faith is within: it’s on the inside. Look for it inside, within. Look for it in the heart of God. Look for it in the womb of the virgin Mary. Look for it in the little town of Bethlehem. Look for it in the garden of Gethsemane. Look for it in the blood of Calvary. Look for it within the veil in the heavenly sanctuary. Look for it in your soul and in the need of your own life.
God addresses His message of hope and comfort to the heart and to the soul. It is not a thing of forensic speculation; we haven’t done with the Christian message when we have debated with the philosophers and the metaphysicians. The house of God is not a debating club or a forensic society. The gospel message is not something to be debated, but a gospel message to be received. The message of Jesus is addressed to the heart and the soul and the need of a man. And the urgency of that message is undeniable.
The metaphysician and the philosopher and the social worker, they may sit down and discuss the mountains of poverty, and the insoluble problems of sorrow, and depredation, and degradation, and hurt, and decay in the world, and they have panels to discuss it, and they have meetings to discuss it, and they write books outlining it. And then after they have done it, they conclude by saying, “It is so complex, and the problem is so extensive, and the whole world is so big, until we must have other meetings to find solutions for it.” And they dismiss, and they say to one another, “Call me tomorrow. Call me tomorrow, and make it just as late as you can.” That is the answer of the philosopher and the metaphysician.
What is the answer of the Christian, whose heart burns with the message of Jesus, what is his answer? This is it, this is it: we may not be able to do everything, but we can do something; we can do something. There is no profit in our just discussing and our just discussing. Why, tomorrow the people may be dead! The message must be delivered now. There is no point in having assembly on this shore in order to debate, when the man is drowning out there in the sea: some one of us let us plunge into the waters to save that man. That is the spirit of the Christian faith and the Christian message.
Is there a sea of ignorance? The Christian faith and message will build a little school in the midst of it. Is there a veritable ocean of illness and disease? There will be a little dispensary made out of leaves built in the middle of it.
Going through some of those interminable regions of Africa, with its unspeakable, indescribable poverty and disease, time and again would I come across a little thatched arbor made out of the leaves of the bush of the jungle, and under it a Christian nurse sent out by our Baptist people, running a dispensary, running a dispensary. Not a doctor for maybe five million people: but instead of despair they’re building a little ministry in the name of the Lord God.
And is there a world of loss? Then a little church, with a cupola or a spire pointing the way to God and to heaven, that is the Christian ministry, and that is the good news of the hope in Jesus Christ.
Always, always it has an answer now. It has an answer for us now. It has a saving message for our souls now. It has a marvelous recompense for those who look in faith to Jesus now. There is in Christ a solution to every problem you will ever, ever face, ever face. There is no problem too great for the mind of God to encompass. He can see around it, and through it, and both ends, and the middle of it. There is an answer to every problem any child of God, any Christian, shall ever face. He has got an answer for you. There is a victory for every battle you will ever fight, in Him. God’s presence, the angel of His name shall go before us, shall fight for us, shall win with us. This is the good news: that God hath sent to us a Savior for our souls.
And this is the incomparable invitation that the pastor is commissioned to make in the name of the Lord God of heaven to you tonight. You, you, turning in faith, in confidence, in assurance that the Lord answers, that He lives, that He will be with me, “Here I come, and here I am tonight. I take Him as my own personal Savior. I do. I come. I make it now.”
While we sing this invitation appeal, in the balcony round, on this lower floor, down a stairway, or into the aisle and here to the front, “Pastor, tonight I give you my hand; I give my heart to God. In confession and in faith, in repentance and in God’s forgiveness, here I stand, here I kneel; I do come.” A family to put your life in the fellowship of the church, however God shall say the word, open the door, lead in the way, follow His Spirit of invitation tonight. You want to give your life anew to the Lord: “I want to consecrate all I have and am or shall ever hope to be to Jesus”; come, we’ll kneel and give ourselves to God together. However the Spirit shall open the door, shall make appeal, come, come, while we stand and while we sing.