How the Death of Christ Saves Us
May 24th, 1981 @ 10:50 AM
HOW THE DEATH OF CHRIST SAVES US
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-24-81 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering again one of a long series of doctrinal messages on Christology. Just now, in this part of it, the death of Christ; and the title of the message this morning, How the Death of Christ Affects Us, How the Death of our Lord Saves Us. In the second chapter of Hebrews, the Book of Hebrews chapter 2, verses 14 and 15, Hebrews 2:14-15:
Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, Christ also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver us who through fear of death are all our lifetime subject to bondage.
In the message, we confront, we have to do with, what the Bible calls “the mystery of iniquity.” In the Revelation chapter 10 and verse 7, it is referred to as “the mystery of God”: “In the days of the sounding of the seventh trumpet, the mystery of God shall be finished” [Revelation 10:7]. But Paul, in 2 Thessalonians chapter 2, verse 7, refers to it as “the mystery of iniquity” [2 Thessalonians 2:7]. Why is it that God did not crush Satan in his rebellion in heaven? [Isaiah 14:12]. Why is it that God allowed Satan to destroy this beautiful and verdant earth, to bathe it in human blood and to drown it in human tears, violence and war and suffering on every page of its history, and its ultimate destiny to be one of catastrophe? The earth is nothing other than a place in which to bury our dead. We cannot enter into that mystery, the mystery of evil [2 Thessalonians 2:7], the mystery of God [Revelation 10:7]. All we are able to do is just to look, to see, and to observe.
And when we look we see the awesome and fearful power of Satan. He is called a god. Paul refers to him as “the god of this world” [2 Corinthians 4:4]. He offered to Jesus the glory of all the nations of the earth [Matthew 4:8-9]. It belongs to him. He owns it, he possesses it; the god of this world is Satan [2 Corinthians 4:4]. He is awesome and fearful in himself. In the ninth verse of Jude, “Michael the archangel dare not bring against him a railing accusation, but saith, The Lord rebuke thee” [Jude 1:9]. Even Michael, God’s mighty warrior and archangel, dare not confront Satan; the awesome power he possesses in his own person, the fearful power Satan possesses in the demonic hosts that follow him. The angels of the hosts of heaven, in the Revelation, are numbered as ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands [Revelation 5:11]; the Greek is myriads, myriads times myriads, and myriads and myriads, innumerable. And of that vast innumerable host, one-third of the angels of heaven chose to follow Satan; and they’re here in this earth, demons on every hand [Revelation 12:4].
He is fearful and awesome in his kingdom. As there is a kingdom of light and life presided over by Christ the Lord [John 8:12], there is also a kingdom of darkness and death and despair presided over by Satan the prince of terrors [2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:13]. How else would you ever explain the thrust and the march of communism, or of idolatry, or of Islam, except it be energized by the power of Satan? Not only in himself a fearful and awesome person, but his ableness to take every good thing in this earth and wreck it, throw it into havoc, damn it, degrade it, is no less fearful than in his own personality. He takes everything good, everything, and adds to it sin, and turns it into a curse. Love, the sweetest, tenderest of all feelings in human heart, he adds to it sin and turns it into jealousy, into inordinate concupiscence and promiscuity. He destroys it. He takes home the dearest of all the memories of our childhood, he adds to it sin and it becomes a place of misery, and frustration, and failure, and tears, and sorrow, and heartache. He takes money, one of the finest instruments to glorify God that we possess—with it we can send missionaries to the people of Brazil, we can send children to our church camp, we can magnify the cause of the Lord in building the great Christian institutions of the land—but he adds to it sin, and it becomes as the Bible says, “the root of all evil” [1 Timothy 6:10].
He takes everything good and damns it. Movies, radio, TV, the printing press, the marvelous instruments of the media could glorify God—make the gospel known to the ends of the earth—but he adds to it sin, and it becomes an instrument of violence, of terror, of immorality, of the darkest, deepest, most abject, abysmal sin. That’s Satan. A car, a boat can be used for such pleasure and such avocational happiness; he adds to it sin, and they become instruments of the Lord’s Day’s desecration. How Satan can take everything good and destroy it in wreck and havoc is in his power.
But the most fearsome and awesome of all the ableness of Satan is found in the way that he can degrade and demean and bemean God’s own people. Jesus said to Simon Bar-Jonah, “Your name will be petros; you are a rock” [Matthew 16:17-18]. Yet Satan took Simon Peter and wrapped him around his little finger; and in the presence of a little maid, Simon Peter the rock is cursing and swearing, “I never knew Him; I never heard of Him, I do not know Him,” denying his own Lord [Matthew 26:69-74]. That’s Satan. John the beloved disciple, asking permission to bring fire down from heaven on those hated Samaritans, that’s Satan [Luke 9:54]. Simon Peter said to Ananias and Sapphira, “Satan has put it in your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit of God” [Acts 5:3]; that’s Satan. And all through the generations, through all the history of the past, his insidious presence has always been a damning, destroying, degrading factor in human life.
Wouldn’t you have thought, after the earth had been cleansed by the Flood [Genesis 7:17-24], that this family beginning anew with God would be holy and separate and apart? But in the next verse after Noah and his family come out of the ark [Genesis 8:16-18, 9:17-19], Noah is drunk, and in his nakedness there is some kind of homosexual compromise with his grandson Canaan, who is fearfully and awesomely cursed [Genesis 9:20-25]. That’s Satan.
Wouldn’t you have thought that when Israel came out of the fiery furnace and was delivered from Egypt [Exodus 14:30], that things would have been better? Instead only two ever entered the Promised Land, Joshua and Caleb; the rest died under the curse of God in the wilderness [Numbers 14:30; 26:64-65].
Wouldn’t you have thought when Israel entered the Promised Land things will be better? But the story of Israel in the days of the judges in the Promised Land is one repetitive sentence after another: “And Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and God delivered them in the hands of their enemies.” That’s Satan [Judges 2:14].
Would you not think that Israel would do better under the kings? Things will be better. Saul, their first king, was eaten up with jealousy, and the Spirit of the Lord departed from him [1 Samuel 16:14]. David brought reproach on the house and the name of God forever [2 Samuel 11:1-12:12]. And Solomon, with his seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, brought Israel down to its depths [1 Kings 11:1-40].
Wouldn’t you have thought that in the purging fires of the Babylonian captivity things will be better? Instead the nation dropped, descended, to its lowest nadir and finally was destroyed as a nation in 70 AD.
If this is the power of Satan with God’s own chosen people, what shall we do but stand in terrified awe at the history of the nations beyond the realm and the chosen elective purposes of God? How could you ever describe in mere speech the sorrow, and the ravages, and the heartache, and the bloodletting of a Genghis Kahn or a Tamerlane or an Adolph Hitler? The whole earth bathed in sorrow, in tears, and blood—this is the world and the kingdom and the power of Satan. And our tremendous text says that our Lord came into the world to break it up, to break it up, to deliver us from the power of death and him who has it, namely Satan, diabolos, the devil, Lucifer, the fallen archangel of God [Hebrews 2:14-15].
I would suppose, and as I read the Scriptures, constantly more confirmed in the persuasion, I would suppose that Satan thought that he had the kingdom forever, death shall reign forever, sin and its judgment forever, and he be king of terrors forever. I would think so. When Jesus was crucified and when He died on the tree [Matthew 27:32-50], how Satan must have exalted; “Israel, the promised people, Israel has slain her own Son, look at Him, He is dead, nailed to a tree.” The promises of God, all of them are fallen down to the ground in the dust.” Sin, and death, and the grave, and violence, and blood here forever, and he king over it all. I would think so. But there was a great mustērion, there was a great secret kept in the heart of God that Satan didn’t know: in the descent of the Prince of Glory, Christ our Lord, the Son of God, in the descent of the Prince of Glory into human flesh [Philippians 2:5-8], and finally in death into the grave, there He grappled with the king of sin and death and the grave, and came out triumphant! [1 Corinthians 15:55-57]. He became flesh like us: we the children are made out of flesh and blood, He was made out of flesh, and being in the flesh He became subject to death, that through death He might destroy him that had the power of it, namely, Satan [Hebrews 2:14-15].
We now enter a world that is barely, barely exhibited in the Bible. When Jesus died in those three days of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, when Jesus died, in those three days, He went down into sheol, down into Hades, and there He confronted Satan, the devil, Lucifer, and the spirits of darkness. We have a hint of it in 1 Peter chapter 3: He went down into the grave and into that silent earth to proclaim the gospel of deliverance and victory [1 Peter 3:19]. Then in the fourth chapter of the Ephesians He is described as entering into Paradise, into heaven, taking captivity captive [Ephesians 4:8], entering into glory [Ephesians 4:10], with all of the delivered Old Testament saints, and Satan chained to his chariot wheel; like a great Roman triumph our Lord entered into heaven victorious over sin and over death and over the grave [Colossians 2:15]. This did He do for us when He became man, and died, and entered the grave [Philippians 2:5-8].
But there’s more. In His resurrection He opened the door for the rest of us [Matthew 28:1-7]. Paul could write in such victorious triumph, “Now, O Death, where is your sting?” He has taken it away. “Now, O Grave, where is your victory?” Christ has taken it away [1 Corinthians 15:55, 57]. We now are victorious over sin and over Death and over the Grave [1 Corinthians 15:57]. But there’s more; there is still more. The greatest and the finest and the best of all that Christ has done for us in the pouring out of the crimson of His life [1 Corinthians 15:3], is something that you and I experience. Listen to it: Romans 5:10, “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life,” by His resurrected life, by His regenerating life, by the power of Christ to enter our human hearts, and our human lives, and our human homes, and our human world, and remake it, regenerate it, re-create it.
When I speak of the Lord descending into the depths of the netherworld [Ephesians 4:9], my mind can hardly encompass it. I just read in the Scriptures and behold in wonder the mystery. But when it speaks of Christ saving us by His life [Romans 5:10], then we enter the realm of human experience. And I can verify it or I am competent to deny it. What of it, then? When the Lord Christ died on the cross and poured out the crimson of His life into the life stream of humanity, is there power in the death and in the resurrection of Jesus? [Philippians 3:10]. Is there ableness in Him to regenerate, to re-create, to make anew, to save? Is there, as Paul describes, is there? That’s a wonderful thing, the pouring out of the life of our Lord into this earth.
I think of this wonderful church that Ed McIntyre has so preciously described. Dr. Truett, my predecessor, stood behind this sacred pulpit desk for forty-seven years. He died here, pastor of this church; forty-seven years he poured his life into this congregation. And when I came, soon to be thirty-seven years ago, I inherited from his gracious hands and his marvelous ministry, blessings untold—unspeakable, indescribable—the pouring forth of the life of the great pastor into this church. I think of our forefathers writing the Constitution, declaring themselves independent, sealing their commitment to liberty with their own lives and sacred fortunes; and we today have inherited from them blessings unspeakable. To meet here, to preach the gospel, to have the right to work, to advance as far as each one of us may have talent or ability to achieve, the glory of the freedoms of America, the gift of their hands; the forefathers who lived before us. I think of my own parents; the sacrifice of father and mother, who poured their very lives into me. How could I ever thank them enough? This is but a small, small approach, so small an illustration of the vast, immeasurable blessings poured out into this earth in the crimson life and blood of Jesus Christ our Lord. Oh, I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene!
The world plays, kind of a like a ploy, the world plays with the manifestations of sin, but never grapples with its causes, never. All of secular reform, all of it, just plays with the manifestations, the outward appearances of sin. Like a doctor who doesn’t know his assignment, and he plays with the pimples on the skin when the cause is in the bloodstream, so with the ploys of secular reformational movements. Take the gun by law from the hand of the murderer, and in his heart he’s still a murderer. Take the needle by law from the dope addict, and in his heart he’s still a dope addict. Take the bottle by law away from the drunkard, and in his heart he’s still a drunkard. Take the harlot away from her paramour, and in her heart she’s still a prostitute. And our penitentiaries, and our jails, and our reformatory schools, and our policemen are but monuments to the failure of social and secular reform. Jesus in His life and the pouring out of His blood has brought to us not a new suit, but the creation of a new man [2 Corinthians 5:17], the making of a new people, a regenerated generation: the power of the poured out life of Christ to make us anew [Romans 6:4].
O Lord, there is not a pastor in the world—including your wonderful pastor Ed McIntyre—there is not a pastor in this world whose heart is not full of marvelous remembrances and illustrations of the power of Christ to save, to regenerate, to make anew. This week there was placed in my hand a book, and the title of it intrigued me. It is called Unshackled. And I looked at it and opened it. It’s a book recounting the modern miracles of regeneration in the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago. One of the reasons that I was especially sensitive to it, when I was a youth meandering at night down the city streets of Chicago, I heard Christian singing, and I turned in, and I found myself in the Pacific Garden Mission. If I were to live a thousand years, never could I forget that service. They were there out of the gutter, out of the bawdy house, out of the depths of sin, new people. The drunkard had lifted up his head in honor. The harlot was there sanctified, purified, cleansed. The prodigal son was there preparing to go back to his father’s home. And that rat out of the gutter was there, with a crown of sainthood on his brow. They sang, they testified, they glorified the Lord, they witnessed to the saving grace of Christ in them. What an impression it made upon me as a youth. But I see it here every day. If this Sunday is like all the other Sundays, down this aisle there’ll be a traipse of men from that stream of life that goes through that YMCA across from our front door. And they’ll be men who have been marvelously rescued by the loving grace and power of the regenerating presence of Jesus; a miracle, a miracle!
But I’m not done; I’m not through. It is yet a greater miracle, you, you. However it may be marvelous to see a man lifted up out of the depths of the sewer, or a woman raised up out of the house of harlotry, it is more wonderful to see lives that have never known the debauchery and the abysmal damnation that sin can bring into the human life. It is more wonderful to see children, and teenagers, and young marrieds, and families that stand strong and pure and great in the presence of the great God and our Savior Christ Jesus. That’s the best of all. That’s the greatest of all. And that’s the life you and I have known in the church, in our Christian parents, when you were saved, when the Lord touched your heart and led you to that humble commitment to the blessed Jesus. Saved, saved, saved by the blood, and the by the death, and by the resurrection, and by the life of the Crucified One:
All praise to the Father,
all praise to the Son,
All praise to the Spirit,
the great Three-in-One.
[adapted from “All Creatures of Our God and King,” Francis Assisi, 1221 AD]
Saved, delivered, blessed, by the death, and the blood, and the life [Romans 5:10], and the resurrection of the living One, Jesus our Lord [Ephesians 2:6]. May we stand together?
Our Savior, how could we ever frame the sentence to put it together, the depths of our gratitude that the love of Christ and the grace of our Lord reached even unto us? If I lived a thousand lifetimes, never could I forget the little village church and the face of the preacher shining like the face of God’s servant Moses [Exodus 34:29-35], preaching the gospel of Jesus, and inviting those to come who would trust in Him—and I came. Oh, blessed day, blessed Lord, blessed moment, blessed little church, blessed memory, blessed forever! Saved by the life and the death of the Crucified One. And our Lord, through all of these, over half a century now, of ministries, how many have I seen with my eyes, who have found Jesus dear to their hearts, a comfort and a strength in time of need. Forgive our sins, write our names in the Book of Life, bless and help us through every pilgrim day. O Lord, we love Thee. We praise Thy name. God help us to serve Thee more beautifully and well.
And in this moment when our people pray, and in this moment when our people sing, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, “Today, pastor, we have decided for God, and here we stand.” Out of the balcony, down one of those stairways, with time and to spare; in the throng on this lower floor, into one of these aisles and down to the front, “Pastor, this is God’s day for us, and here we come.” Bless you as you make the decision in your heart. Bless you, may angels attend you as you come. Bless you in response with your life to the Lord God who bids you welcome. And thank Thee, Lord, for the precious harvest, in Thy saving name, amen. And while we sing, while we wait, while we pray, come, come, come.