Take Ye Away the Stone
April 7th, 1957 @ 7:30 PM
TAKE YE AWAY THE STONE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-07-57 7:30 p.m.
As we prepare for these days of revival appeal, the sermon this morning and tonight is in the Gospel of John. So let’s turn in John’s gospel, the fourth gospel, to the eleventh chapter. Let’s read together the passage of the text: John 11:30-44, John 11:30-44. We’ll start at the thirtieth verse and read through the forty-fourth. John eleven, eleventh chapter of the fourth gospel, beginning at the thirtieth verse. John 11:30-44. We have it? All right, let’s all read it together – John 11:30-44:
Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met Him.
The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, "She goeth unto the grave to weep there."
Then, when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying unto Him, "Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died."
When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled,
And said, "Where have ye laid him?" They said unto Him, "Lord, come and see."
Then said the Jews, "Behold how He loved him!"
And some of them said, "Could not this Man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?"
Jesus, therefore again groaning in Himself, cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.
Jesus said, "Take ye away the stone." Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto Him, "Lord, by this time he stinketh, for he hath been dead four days."
Jesus saith unto her, "Said I not unto thee that if thou wouldst believe thou shouldst see the glory of God?"
Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, "Father, I thank Thee that Thou hast heard Me.
And I knew that Thou hearest Me always, but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that Thou hast sent Me."
And when He thus had spoken, He cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth!"
And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, "Loose him, and let him go."
Which is one of the tremendous miracles of all time. The Lord God that could do that could do anything.
"Lord, by this time he is decayed. Corruption and putrefaction are multiplied and run riot for he hath been dead four days" [John 11:39]. Jesus saith unto her, "Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldst believe, thou shouldst see the glory of God?" [John 11:40]. We are to speak tonight of that tremendous miracle which Jesus said God had already heard and had given Him power through the Holy Spirit to perform, and He thanked God beforehand before it came to pass: "Father, I thank Thee that Thou hast heard me" [John 11:41] past tense. "And I knew," past tense, "that Thou hearest Me always" [John 11:42]. Thank Thee, Lord, for the moving power of the Spirit of God.
This great miracle that Jesus was to do, this wonder He was to perform, this sign He was to accomplish, there was just one thing that lay between Jesus and the accomplishment of that incomparable miracle, and the Bible describes it: He was buried in a cave, and a stone lay upon it [John 11:38]. Jesus said, "Take ye away the stone [John 11:39]. Take ye," you, "take away the stone, and we shall see the glory of God" [John 11:39-40]. We shall see the dead raised up. We shall see death rolled back and life come in [John 11:23-27]. "Take ye away the stone" [John 11:39].
Why didn’t the Lord take it away Himself? Could He not do it? Yes, I believe He could have raised that dead man from the grave if on top of that stone that covered the sepulcher of Lazarus there were piled all of the rocks and all of the mountains and all of the debris and all of the earth of this planet. And on top of that, if we had put Jupiter, and Saturn, and Venus, and Mercury, and Pluto, and all of the other stars of the heaven on top of it, the Lord still could have raised Lazarus from the dead.
But He said, "You take away the stone" [John 11:39]. Wonder why? I think simply, humbly, this: He was calling attention to it. That was all. "This is the stone that lies between the raising of the dead, the bringing to pass of this incomparable miracle. This is the stone that lies in the way. Roll it away. Take it away and see the glory of the Lord."
I think God points to that same thing today. I have learned that His works in the past are like His works in the present. God’s the same yesterday, and today, and forever [Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8]. There is a stone that lies in the way of a tremendous miracle that only the power of God can bring to pass.
Would you like to see Lazarus raised from the dead? Would you like to see out of the pit lost men raised and quickened to everlasting life? Would you like to see death rolled back and life like a flood come in? Would you? Then bend your back and lift! "Take ye away the stone" [John 11:39].
Not till God sees us in dead earnest, not till God sees us lay both our hands in determination upon every obstacle will the miracle come to pass. We don’t deceive God. We can’t sow half-heartedness. We can’t sow indifference, and spiritual apathy, and lethargy, and reap a great harvest of quickening life and the power, and glory, and salvation of the Lord. Bend your back and lift: "Take ye away the stone" [John 11:39].
I can think of a multitude of stones that lie between us and the glory of God and the power of the Lord. Here’s one. "Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto Him, ‘Lord by this time he’s putrefied. He’s decayed. No, Lord, not that’" [John 11:39]. I can understand. Had it been somebody she cared nothing of, somebody didn’t belong to her heart in love, I could understand. Why, I’d be perfectly indifferent with her whether the stone is taken away or not.
But this was her own brother and in her heart and in her love, and to look upon his decayed face was more than even Martha could stand. When the Lord said, "Take away the stone and expose this man, this corpse," was more than Martha could bear, and she remonstrated. "No, Lord, no. By this time, he’s decayed, and for me to look upon the face of my brother in decay is more than a feeble spirit could bear. No, Lord. By this time, he decays, for he hath been dead four days" [John 11:39]. That’s the first stone. It’s one of spiritual unbelief. And I know it was unbelief because Jesus said unto her:
Said I not unto thee that if thou wouldst believe, Martha, you’re not going to look on the face of your brother decayed and corrupt? You’re going to look on the face of your brother quickened and alive and saved. Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldst believe, thou shouldst see the glory of God?
[From John 11:40]
Aren’t we that way toward most of the people who are lost and who are dead from God? Who could undo this sin, and this death, and this riot of hell? Who could? "Too hard for God. God can’t do that. That’s too great a thing to ask of God. We ought not even to pray with any manner of faith or persuasion that God would bring it to pass. That’s too hard for God! Even God Himself couldn’t raise a dead man who’d been in the grave four days." Unbelief. Christian unbelief. That’s the hardest obstacle that God has to work with, is people don’t believe that it can be done. It’s too hard; it’s too difficult. They are too steeped in sin, or indifference, or neglect, or the world. It’s more than ought to be asked of God. We shouldn’t expect it. It’s too much, too much. Oh! For a spirit, for a faith, for a persuasion, for a commitment that anything is possible with God [Matthew 19:26; Mark 9:23] – anything, anything. Nothing too hard and nothing too difficult for Him [Jeremiah 32:17; Luke 1:37; Romans 4:21]: the spirit of achievement, of encouragement, of triumph – not the dressing of corpses or the ducking of graves! Not defeatism and despair, but life and victory and triumph: "Take ye away the stone . . . Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldst believe, thou shouldst see the glory of God?" [John 11:39-40]. Oh, for a tremendous and unlimitable faith!
A man wrote a book, and in that book he scientifically proved that it would be impossible for a steamer to cross the ocean. It would sink under the weight of the coal you’d have to pour on the inside of that hull in order to drive it across the ocean, and he proved that scientifically. And the first steamer that crossed the ocean carried that book in it and delivered it on the other side. By scientific aeronautical engineering, a bumblebee can’t fly; but he doesn’t know it, so he flies anyway.
Oh, for a tremendous faith! And they gathered around Columbus and said, "And you sail this way, and that way, and that way, and if you keep on sailin’, and by and by you’ll sail over the abyss. You’ll come to the edge of the world and you’ll fall over." And other people gathered round him and said, "Did you know there’s a great monster in the midst of the ocean, and when he breathes, that’s the tide coming in, and when he exhales, that’s the tide coming out? And if you sail out there to that middle of the ocean, that great monster will swallow you up." Unbelief, discouragement: "God can’t do that – too hard for Him."
I have always liked that song that the builders of the canal in Panama sang. When they got through with their job they sang a song that went like this:
Don’t send us back to a life that’s tame again,
We, who have shattered a continent’s spine.
Easy work? Oh! we couldn’t do that again.
Haven’t you something that’s more in our line?
Got any rivers you say are not crossable?
Got any mountains you can’t tunnel through?
We specialize in the wholly impossible –
Doing what nobody ever could do.
[Author and date unknown]
For the spirit of conquest and achievement, it can be done; and we’re the people by God’s grace and help that can do it.
Would you like to see the dead raised? Would you like to see miracles wrought? Would you like to see the most impossible and unbelievable things in God’s hand come to pass? Then don’t sit on that stone. Get off of it and push! Lift! "Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldst believe, thou shouldst see the glory of God?" [John 11:40]
That stone is one of almost universal spiritual lethargy and apathy – or could I say it like this: downright, no count, good for nothing, sorry laziness. And it stands in the way, and it blocks, and it’s solid granite: the vast, tremendous, indescribable, unbelievable lethargy of God’s people. I read where a group of Pentecostals, having a great mission work assigned them and having the task of learning difficult and recondite languages, they were praying for the gift of tongues. And a fellow said, "What you praying for the gift of tongues for?" And they replied, "To save us the trouble of learning the languages." Praying for the gift of tongues: sorry, no-count, lazy. God’s people – lethargy, phlegmatic, spiritually lazy.
I don’t know why every time there’s a little change of weather the thing goes down. Goes down less in our church than any church that I know of, but it goes down. And I go out and look at it. Oh, it may rain forty years from now – we hope so – may. But you just let any little thing arise, any little thing, and there’ll be a great many people who just roll over in bed and go to sleep. They open one eye and the sun isn’t shining, so they just close both of them and go back to sleep. Isn’t that a sight? Isn’t that indescribable? God’s people, saved people.
I suppose the oldest story that I know is that one about that young fellow in love who was writing to his girl and telling her how much he loved her. Why, he loved her so much, he said in that letter, "For you, and my love for you, I’d cross the highest mountain and the widest desert, and I would swim the deepest river for you. Your lover, Sam. P.S. And I’ll see you next Saturday night if it ain’t rainin’." That’s us: "O Lord, how I love God, and how I love the church, and I’ll be there, Preacher, if it ain’t cloudy, or if it ain’t hot, or if it ain’t cold, or if it ain’t dry, or if it ain’t somethin’ else." God’s people: I marvel at us. I marvel at us.
What we need, what we need is what that veterinarian gave the farmer when he came to him about his old, lazy, flop-eared, good-for-nothing mule. And the farmer said to the veterinarian, "My mule is so lazy he won’t work, and I gotta do somethin’ to put a little life in him, little energy in him." And the veterinarian said, "Listen, you take this pill, this white one, and you give that to your mule. And if that doesn’t work, you give him this red pill, and I know that’ll work."
And after a few days the veterinarian saw the farmer and asked about his old mule, and the farmer replied, he said, "Doc, man, man, how those pills work!" He said, "I gave that white pill to that old, lazy mule of mine, and I tell you he got so much life and energy in him he ran away, and I’d have lost him had I not thought to take that red pill myself." We need – we need spiritual quickening and spiritual vitamin! We do.
I have said, ever since I’ve been pastor of this church, I do believe that if just one little humble simple thing would come to pass – just one, one little humble simple thing – if it would come to pass, I believe Life magazine – – sorry, no count, Life magazine – – I believe Life magazine would send photographers down here, and Time magazine would send newspaper reporters here, and Newsweek would be here, and all the other of that, all of the other of them. They’d all be here if just one thing, just one thing.
If we were to have a series of services here in the church – – and how many do we have that live here in Dallas that belong to our church? There are at least, there are at least from seven to nine thousand of our members that live here in Dallas, and they have a multitude of friends, and that doesn’t count our children and those too young to join the church. If we were to have a revival meeting down here and our people came, if they didn’t do anything else, if they just came, and you had three thousand of them on the inside here, and you had three thousand on the outside there, and you had another thousand or two extra up and down the streets tryin’ to look in, I say, it would astound the world! But the reason we’re not going to astound the world, and the reason there’s no great, wonderful miracle coming to pass, is because our phlegmatic, our lazy, our indifferent, our spiritual ineptitude and inaptitude! "Take ye away the stone," said the Lord, "and see the glory of God" [from John 11:39-40].
That stone is one of acquiescence and accommodation. We get accustomed not to expect anything. We get accustomed to doing nothing, and we acquiesce in however the thing is: just go along, just go along, go along.
Last Tuesday evening, the governor of Oklahoma – – you ought to cross yourself when you name that glorious state, and the next time Dean Willis introduces two of my finest members from Muskogee as from Mesquite, he’s got another job to find. Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Not puttin’ up with that no more. One time’s enough. The illustrious governor of the great commonwealth of Oklahoma was to be down here on Tuesday afternoon, and the Mayor was to meet him. Well, his plane didn’t get here until about, oh, seven o’clock, something like that. So the Mayor sent me word, and he said, "I’ve got a meeting tonight, and I can’t meet him. So I’ll send the city car and chauffeur and pick you up, and you go out there and meet him for me." I said, "I’d like to do that." Oh, I never had such a thrill in my life sitting back there in that limousine with that chauffeur up there and me telling him, "Now you turn right, turn left, and go this way" – never had such a good time in my life. I tell you, I’d like being rich. I’m frank to confess it. I believe I would. I believe I would.
Well, I went out there and met the Governor, and he came back here and sat over there, and we looked at this beautiful program and shared it, and then he made his speech. Then we went out that door over there, in order for him hastily to catch his plane to go back to Oklahoma City.
We walked down San Jacinto [street] to Saint Paul, walked down Saint Paul and got in the middle of our building here, right over there on Saint Paul. And the Governor stopped and he said, "My Lord, look at that!" And I looked at his finger pointing across the street, and there was our liquor store all lighted up and the neon sign blazing abroad. He said, "My land! Do you have that right across the street from you?" I said, "Governor, when I came down here to Texas, that was the first thing I noticed too. First thing I noticed: right across from the door where the children enter the First Baptist Church, we have an up and coming, rip-roaring, neon-flashing, fluorescent liquor store." I said, "I noticed that too, but," I said, "Governor, I’ve been down here about thirteen years now, and I don’t think about it anymore. I don’t notice it anymore. I’ve acquiesced in it. I’ve accommodated myself to it. It never enters my mind to try to do anything about those scoundrels and skunks down over there somewhere running that liquor store! I’ve just accepted it."
Remember what Pope [Alexander Pope, 1688-1744] said?
Vice is a monster of such frightful mien
As, to be hated, needs but to be seen;
But seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.
["An Essay on Man," by Alexander Pope, 1732-34]
That’s what’s the matter with us. We get accustomed to the way the world runs things. We get accustomed to little business for God. We get accustomed to a little thing, to a small response, to a little Sunday School class, to a small department. We get accustomed to a little work for God in a great sea of need all around us. Well, you say, "Preacher, it just can’t be done." That’s what Martha said! "It can’t be done" [John 11:24, 39].
Dwight L. Moody was a member, a layman, in a church almost empty, and it was one of those churches like most of them were, long time ago. You paid pew rentals. So Moody went to the preacher, and he said, "I want to buy all of these pews here." And Moody went out and got people and put them in those pews, put them in the little pews, and filled the church. That’s what we need. We need somebody who doesn’t acquiesce, and who doesn’t accommodate himself to all of these little old usual things and usual procedures and usual small works.
I would hate to have a showing of hands all the folks here who have won anybody to the Lord in the last six months. I’d hate to ask you to raise your hands. How many of you won anybody to the Lord in the last twelve months? How many of you ever in your life won anybody to the Lord? "Well, Preacher, it is difficult. It’s hard." That’s what Martha said: "Lord, Lord, by this time, no. It’s even something God can’t do" [John 11:39]. And Jesus said, "Said I not unto thee if thou wouldst believe, thou shouldst see the glory of God?" [John 11:40]
Take it away. Roll that stone away [John 11:39]. Do what you can. Do what you can. Bend your back and lift. See what God does. He just waits on us, that’s all. That’s all that stands between us and the great miracle of the Lord. Just roll that stone away and see what God does.
A little slave girl said to her mistress, "Naaman, so fine and great; Naaman, captain of the hosts; Naaman, a leper. Oh, that he could be down there in the land of Israel where there’s a prophet of God that could heal him of his leprosy" [2 Kings 5:1-3]. She did what she could, the little slave girl. She testified to the power of God and the ableness of the prophet of the Lord, and Naaman was healed of his leprosy [2 Kings 5:4-14].
There was a little boy that had a lunch: five little biscuits and two little small fish. And he gave it to Jesus, what he could; and God blessed it to the feeding of a whole multitude [John 6:8-13]. The Lord God said to Ezekiel, "Ezekiel, stand up and preach to this valley of dry bones!" [Ezekiel 37:1-4] My, my, preach to a valley of dry bones. What man in faith could do that? But God said, "Ezekiel, stand up there and preach." And Ezekiel stood up there and preached to the valley of dry bones [Ezekiel 37:7]. "And said I not unto thee, that, if thou shouldst believe, thou should see the glory of God?" [John 11:40] And God did the rest [Ezekiel 37:4-6]. The whole valley, quickened and alive, sprang up a living army for the Lord [Ezekiel 37:7-10].
William Carey, Andrew Fuller at Kettering – I made a special trip up there just to be in that room – got together with a few other of those humble Baptist ministers, less than sixty dollars for the evangelization of the world. But they did what they could, and God blessed it. And this whole modern American, European, worldwide missionary movement has come out of that little band in Kettering who did what they could: matched their faith against the power of God, against the whole writhing host of the darkness of this world.
There was a timid, humble Sunday School teacher by the name of Kimball [Edward Kimball]. I don’t know a thing about him except that name. His name was Kimball, and he had a young fellow in his class who was not a Christian. And the little – and the young fellow worked in a little shoe store selling shoes. And Kimball went down to see if he couldn’t say something to him that’d win him to the Lord; and when he got down to the shoe store, he lost his nerve and he couldn’t go in. And he walked up and down in front of the shoe store asking God to give him strength and to give him help as he went in to talk to the young fellow about being a Christian. Then he went in and asked for him, and the man at the front said, "He’s working in the stock at the back."
And the fellow went back. The Sunday School teacher went to the back, and there the young fellow was on a ladder up at the top working with all of the merchandise in the shoe store. And the Sunday School teacher just blurted it out, "I’ve come," he said, "to talk to you about the Lord. I’ve come to talk to you about being a Christian." And the young fellow climbed down the ladder, and he gave the Sunday School teacher his hand and took the Lord as his Savior right there in the back end of a shoe store. That’s all God needed – just that. Just take that stone away [John 11:39]. That was all God needed.
And that hand that that young fellow outstretched was the same hand that in England and in America raised up, invited, thousands and thousands and uncounted thousands to the Lord. That hand belonged to Dwight L. Moody, and that young fellow was Dwight L. Moody. And that Sunday School teacher never realized what he was doing, but he did what he could, and God wrought the miracle.
It is not for us to raise the dead. We’re like Martha: "Lord, Lord, where death has multiplied and corruption is riot, O Lord, it is not for us to raise the dead" [John 11:39]. It is not for us to convert the soul. It is not for us to regenerate the life. It is not for us to lift up out of the pit. That’s God’s work. It is just for us to roll the stone away. That’s all. That God could have a channel, that He could have a faith, that He could have hands, that He could have hearts, that He could have us through which to bring to pass the marvelous wonder and miracle of His great power.
Why not? Why not? "Lord, Lord, in faith, in faith, here are my hands; in faith, my feet; in faith, my tongue of witness and testimony; in faith, such as I have, Lord, give I unto Thee. God bless it. Make of it a channel, an instrument, by which the glory of God can be seen." That’s all that He asks. That’s all that it takes, and the rest is in the sovereign power of the Lord who is able to raise the dead.
While we sing this song of appeal tonight, is there somebody here, somebody you that would put his life with us in the faith and ministry and fellowship of our blessed and wonderful church? Is there somebody tonight who would give his heart in faith and in trust to the Lord Jesus? Would you come and stand by me? Maybe there’s somebody here that would like to give his life anew to the Lord. "I have followed – I have followed afar off. I have been phlegmatic and indifferent. I have neglected and forgot. This is the beginning of a revival. It’ll start in me, and I consecrate anew my life to the Lord tonight." You come and give me your hand.
As God shall press the appeal, as the Spirit shall open the door, as God shall make the call to your heart, would you come? Would you come? Give me your hand. "Preacher, I’m taking Jesus as my Savior," or "I’m coming into the church," or "I’m re-consecrating and rededicating my life to Him." As the Lord shall make appeal, while we sing this song, would you come, while we stand and while we sing?
TAKE YE AWAY THE STONE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Before the marvelous miracle, a stone had to be rolled away
B. Why did Christ pause before this hindrance?
1. To call attention to it
C. Until God sees earnest determination, the miracle will not come
II. The stone of spiritual unbelief
A. Corruption multiplied
B. Blinding, binding, deadening thing of unbelief (2 Kings 7:1-2, 19, Matthew 13:54-58)
C. Who said it can’t be done?
D. Bend your back and lift
III. The stone of spiritual lethargy and apathy
A. Missionary group prays for tongues rather than learn the language
IV. The stone of acquiescence, accommodation
A. Vice is a monster
B. Accepting the situation
V. Do what you can and see the glory of God
A. Examples from the Bible
B. William Carey and Andrew Fuller