The Cross and the Crown
April 18th, 1976 @ 10:50 AM
THE CROSS AND THE CROWN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-18-76 10:50 a.m.
It is a joy and a gladness for us to welcome you who are sharing this service on radio and on television. There are so many of you who are writing to us, and it blesses our hearts to have the privilege to pray with and for you.
The address is simple. It is written on your screen. Write and it will be one of the deepest joys of our lives to pray with you and for you. For the Lord is there just as He is here; there is no place where our living Christ is not. And as we pray to Him here, and you bow to worship in His name there, we have a bond and a communion that binds us forever together in Him.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Cross and the Crown. In our preaching through the Book of Isaiah, we have come to chapter 53. And here in this chapter, you find bound together the humiliation and the exaltation of our Lord. Typical of the prophets as they spoke of His coming, did Isaiah write:
He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth…
as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth. Therefore
– now the triumph –
therefore will I divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoils with the strong.
[Isaiah 53:7, 12]
That same marvelous depiction of our Savior as being humble and as being exalted is found in the apostles. And typical of the presentation is the passage of Scripture we read together a moment ago, "Our Lord being in the form of God" – the morphe of God – whatever the morphe of God is,
Our Lord, being in the form of God, thought it not a thing to be held onto to be equal with God, but poured Himself out and made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and being in fashion found as a man, He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore,
– now the exaltation –
Wherefore, God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name;
That at the name of Jesus every host in heaven, and all the throngs in earth, and these who inhabit the netherworld, shall confess that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
And that same humiliation and exaltation, the cross and the crown, is found again and yet again in the Apocalypse. In the first chapter of the Revelation, John says:
Seeing the exalted Lord, I fell at His feet as dead. And He laid His right hand upon me, and said, Fear not: I am the First and the Last: I am He that liveth, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of hell and of death.
And once again, typical of the Apocalypse: "I beheld and behold, I heard a voice of many angels round about the throne,and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands" – the Greek is myriads and myriads and myriads, uncounted numbers – "saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain’" . The cross and the crown:
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and honor, and glory, and blessing.
And every creature in heaven, and on earth, and in the netherworld,heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and power, to Him that sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb forever and ever.
Our highest imaginations cannot enter into the glory nor comprehend the exaltation from whence He came. Nor can we enter into the depth of the descent of our Lord, down, and down, and down; the immeasurable distance between the glory of our Lord in heaven and the shame to which He descended in earth. Down, and down, and down, finally made in the form of a man, who is composed of the dust of the ground, and became a servant, poor among the poor; and finally, committed to execution in a death reserved for criminals, and felons, and malefactors.
He was raised between the heaven and the earth, as though both rejected Him, despised by men and refused by God. And as though abuse were not vile enough, they covered Him with spittle [Matthew 27:28-31]. And as though spittle were not contemptuous enough, they plucked out His beard [Isaiah 50:6]. And as though plucking out his beard was not brutal enough, they drove in great nails [John 20:25]. And as though the nails did not pierce deeply enough, He was crowned with thorns [Matthew 27:29]. And as though the thorns were not agonizing enough, He was pierced through with a Roman spear [John 19:34]. It was earth’s saddest hour, and it was humanity’s deepest, darkest day.
At three o’clock in the afternoon it was all over [Matthew 27:45-50]. The Lord of life bowed His head [John 19:30] and the light of the world flickered out.
Tread softly around the cross, for Jesus is dead. Repeat the refrain in hushed and softened tones: the Lord of life is dead. The lips that spoke forth Lazarus from the grave [John 11:43-44] are now stilled in the silence of death, and the head that was anointed by Mary of Bethany [Mark 14:3] is bowed with its crown of thorns. The eyes that wept over Jerusalem [Luke 19:41] are glazed in death, and the hands that blessed little children [Mark 10:16] are nailed to a tree, and the feet that walked on the waters of blue Galilee [John 6:9] are fastened to a cross, and the heart that went out in compassionate love and sympathy for the poor and the lost of the world [Matthew 11:4-5; Mark 6:34] is now broken; He is dead.
The infuriated mob that cried for His crucifixion gradually disperses; He is dead. And the passersby who stop just to see Him go on their way; He is dead. The Pharisees, rubbing their hands in self-congratulation, go back to the city; He is dead. And the Sadducees, breathing sighs of relief, return to their coffers in the temple; He is dead. The centurion assigned the task of executing Him, makes his official report to the Roman procurator, "He is dead." And the four, the quaternion of soldiers sent to dispatch the victims, seeing the Man on the center cross was certainly dead, brake not His bones, but pierced Him through with a spear [John 19:33-34]; He is dead. And Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus of the Sanhedrin go personally to Pontius Pilate and beg of the Roman governor His body [John 19:38-39], because He is dead.
Mary His mother and the women with her are bowed in sobs and in tears; He is dead. And the eleven apostles, like frightened sheep, crawl into eleven shadows to hide from the pointing finger of Jerusalem and they cry, "He is dead!" Wherever His disciples met, in an upper room, or on a lonely road, or behind closed doors, or in hiding places, the same refrain is sadly heard, "He is dead. He is in a tomb, they have sealed the grave and set a guard; He is dead."
It would be almost impossible for us to enter into the depths of despair that gripped their hearts. Simon Peter, the rock, is a rock no longer. And James and John, the sons of Boanerges, are sons of thunder no longer. And Simon the Zealot is a zealot no longer. He is dead, and the hope of the world has perished with Him.
Then, then, then, men stop dead in their tracks! There is a message like liquid fire, leaping from mouth to mouth, and tongue to tongue, and heart to heart – an angel says, "He is alive!" Mary Magdalene says: "I have seen the Lord!" [John 20:11-18]. And Cleopas of Emmaus says: "He was known to us in the breaking of bread" [Luke 24:30-35]. And Simon Peter, the rock that he was, is filling Jerusalem with a bold, and courageous, and victorious announcement: "He is alive! He is alive! He is alive!"
And all up and down the highways and byways of Judea, and along the shores of blue Galilee, and beyond the coast of the great Mediterranean, and finally on the roads to Athens and to Rome, and in every poor man’s cottage, and in every rich man’s palace, there is that glorious gospel: He is alive! He is alive! He cannot die, He has come back to rule the hearts of men.
How close together His humiliation and His exaltation, His cross and His crown.
Lift up your heads,
Ye sorrowing ones
And be ye glad of heart
For earth’s saddest day
And earth’s gladdest day,
Calvary’s day and Easter day
Are just one day apart.
["An Easter Song"; Susan Coolidge]
The bitter seed brought forth a beautiful and precious flower. The cross magnifies and glorifies our exalted and risen Lord. Every point in that crown of thorns is now a diamond in His diadem.
The very crimson of His life that was poured out stains His royal robe with purple. The iron nails of the cross and of the spear are now the rod of His scepter by which He shall rule the nations of the world. The wood of the cross is His identity with all humanity. The most sacred spot in the earth is Mount Calvary where He died. And the cross itself is the symbol of the Christian faith and our hope in the world that is to come. "If in Flanders’ fields poppies grow, it will be between crosses, row on row" [from "In Flanders Field"; John Alexander McCrae].
He is alive. Is He? If He is, where is He now? We have almost two thousand years of the record of His living. Is there proof? Is there evidence?
Had every man in the Roman Empire seen Him walk out of that grave, had Caesar and all of his officers and his legionnaires witnessed the resurrection of Christ on the first day of the week, and had Josephus, and Tacitus, and Suetonius recorded in their historical annals the eyewitnesses of the living Lord, it would not be proof as corroborative as the evidence that we have today in our very presence, in our very lives.
What proof? What corroboration and what evidence? This – number one: how do we know He is alive today? We know His presence by His healing grace and His saving power.
I may not be enthusiastic about professionally divine healers who live off the agonies of people, but the only healing there is, is divine healing. A surgeon may sharpen his scalpel and cut, cut. But only God can heal and Jesus is that Great Physician. In how many rooms darkened in despair, and over how many lives tears have been shed, have I – have you – seen health, and life, and length of days given in the gracious healing hand of our living Lord?
You heard a testimony just a while ago of the presence of the healing grace of Jesus who lives to save us from the grave. How do I know that He is alive? I know because of Him who bows down His ear to hear His children when they pray.
Without number are the times that you – that I – have known when we laid before our blessed Lord those decisions and problems and hurts, for which we were not equal in our lives, and we told Him all about it. And He who was tried in all points such as we are, in sympathy and in understanding, has bowed down His ear to hear His children when they pray. He is alive. I know Him in answered prayer.
He is alive; how do I know? I see the ableness of His might to regenerate, to save, to deliver, to forgive, to make new men and women. I see it in the glorious conversions that daily, daily are brought to God, trophies of grace under His saving hands.
A Simon Peter, a rough cursing fisherman, or a publican like Matthew, or little Zaccheus; or Paul, the persecuting blasphemer of the early Christians; or Ignatius, who was fed to the lions in the Roman Coliseum; or Polycarp, the martyred pastor at Smyrna; or John Chrysostom, "John the golden mouth"; or Savonarola, whom they hanged and burned in the square of Florence. Or John Wycliffe; whom they dug up, and burned his body, and spread his ashes on the River Swift that runs into the Avon, that runs into the Severn, that runs into the sea, that laves the coast of the continents of the world, bringing the Word of God.
Or a John Wesley, and a George Whitefield, and a [Francis] Asbury, and a Jonathan Edwards, and a Bishop Asbury, and a Billy Sunday, and a George W. Truett, and a Lee R. Scarborough, and a you, and a me; Christ moving in saving power today as He did yesterday, able just the same.
How do I know that He lives? He lives as He walks in grace and in blessing among His churches. In the first chapter of the Apocalypse, "I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven golden lampstands, One like unto the Son of God" [Revelation 1:13]; Christ walking among His people; Christ visiting in His churches.
And our Lord here, in this sacred place, in this sanctuary holy and heavenly; there have been times without number, when seated in that chair, I have bowed my head with tears overflowing just in the sense of the presence of the power of Christ in this holy place – our Lord, in the midst of His churches.
How do I know that He lives? He lives in the victory that He has brought to us over death. "Be not afraid," He said, "for I, I have the keys of the grave and of death" [Revelation 1:17-18]. Lest one might think that those keys lie in some other hand, He avows, "I possess that key to your life and to your death."
I shall not die until He wills it. Flame, or sword, or famine, or plague cannot touch me until He wills it. The key to death and to the grave is in His hand. Nor am I to cringe before the visage of that pale visitor, the last enemy, death. For our Lord went into His lair and there did He destroy our enemy, death, and forever did He bring victory and triumph out of the tomb [1 Corinthians 15:55-57]. There’s no sting in death, and there’s no victory in the grave, for Christ hath made it for us just our entrance into heaven.
And when I die, it will be in His will and in His choice. He will open the door and He will make the way into the upper and better world into which He has gone, into the beautiful city prepared for us in the day of our coming. Death to the Christian now holds no terrors; it’s just a going to be with Jesus.
A little girl in our First Baptist Sunday School was dying. And as the little thing came to the end of her brief life, the whole world turned dark. She was going blind. And in that frightfulness of the dark, she cried to her mother and said, "Oh, mother, mother, it is getting dark. And I am afraid! Hold me, mother, closer, closer."
And the mother replied, "Sweet child, Jesus is with us in the dark just as He is with us in the light. Don’t be afraid."
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me" [Psalm 23:4].
The hour of our death is to be our finest hour. The day of our translation is to be our greatest day. It is our moment of triumph, when earth recedes and heaven draws near; first the cross and then the crown:
O precious cross!
O glorious crown!
O resurrection day!
Ye angels, from the stars come down,
And bear my soul away.
["Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone" by Thomas Shepard]
This is the victory Christ hath brought to us in His precious and nail-pierced hands; first the cross, and then the crown.
And in this moment, when we sing our hymn of appeal, a family you, to place your life with us in the circle, and circumference, and communion of this dear church; a couple you, coming forward together; or just one somebody you, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, "Here I am, pastor, and here I come. I have made this decision in my heart for God, and this glorious day, I’m coming."
On radio, on television, if the Spirit has pressed the appeal to your heart, answer with your life. And whether there or whether here, may God have us as we offer ourselves in humility, in repentance, in faith, in praise, and in love to our living Lord.
Do it now, make it now. Come now, as we stand and as we sing.