Facing Life, Death, and Judgment
April 21st, 1985 @ 10:50 AM
FACING LIFE, DEATH, AND JUDGMENT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-21-85 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Facing Life, Death,
and Judgment. The sermon is an exposition of the first part of the ninth chapter of Ezekiel and the second part of the fourteenth chapter of Ezekiel, and it has to do with life and death and judgment. Beginning at verse 1 in chapter 9:
The Lord cried in mine ears with a loud voice, saying, Cause them that have charge over the city to draw near, even every man with his destroying weapon in his hand.
And, behold, six men came from the way of the higher gate, and every man had a slaughter weapon in his hand; but one of them, clothed in linen, had a writer’s horn by his side: and they went in, and stood beside the brazen altar.
Then God called to the man clothed with linen, which had the writer’s inkhorn by his side;
And the Lord said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, and set a mark upon the foreheads upon the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done.
And then to the others He said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity:
Slay utterly old and young, both maids, little children, and women: but come not near anyone upon whom is the mark;
begin at My sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house.
And He – God – said unto them, Defile the house, fill the courts with the slain: go ye forth. And they went forth, and slew in the city.
And it came to pass, while they were slaying them, that I alone was left.
Standing in the midst of that vast carnage, that bloody gore, streets running with the crimson of life; in the midst of death and desolation, the prophet writes, "I alone was left." Standing in the midst of the multitudes that are cut down by death, I am here. We are present. Walking through the cemetery, thousands and thousands lie beneath the earth – by far, more beneath it than are above it – and I still live. I am left. In the ravages of disease and before the daily exposure to the termination of life, I still live. Why am I alive and these are dead? Why should I be able to stand on the rock of life, and these waves of death that dash against it have drowned and destroyed the other thousands and thousands around me? Why should I be left?
There are only two reasons that can come to my mind. The first one is this: some of us are left in order that we might yet be saved. Ripening for damnation, drying the wood for the fire, God in His grace and mercy has left some of us that we might turn, and repent, and confess our Lord, and be saved. In His grace, in God’s abounding love and tender care, some of us yet live, in the hope, and praise, and love, and grace of God, that we might yet turn and be saved.
A second reason why some of us are still left: that we might do God’s assignment and calling and work in the earth. There is a task unfinished yet for us to achieve for Him. We are left while these others have been destroyed by the grim presence of death. Out of all of the classmates that I have known, with whom I went to school, out of all of them, I alone am still active in my assigned ministry. The rest of them, all of them, have either died or been retired years and years. This last one week, the dear friend with whom I went to college, for a quarter of a century the executive leader of your foreign mission board, he died.
This last one week, one of my dearest friends with whom I went to school, people in the church that he once pastored sent me word, saying, "Would you pray? He is at the point of death." Tomorrow at 12:30 o’clock, I shall conduct a memorial service for a young man who was president of our chapel choir. He is thirty-one years of age. Among the thousands and the thousands that are cut down by the grim visit and visage of death, why am I left? There is no other reason except in the grace and mercy of our dear Lord, there is work unfinished. There is a task yet to be done. And in God’s kindness, He yet gives strength, and life, and days, and length of years that it might be accomplished.
I listened last week with Dr. Melzoni at a pastor’s conference, and in the meeting, there was told the story of a conservative Baptist missionary in the Congo. And in these last few years, in a vicious civil war, there were thousands and thousands of those Congolese who fled into Rwanda. And this missionary, in a jeep, followed them, and coming to a rise, he looked at a great, vast valley in Rwanda, in the heart and center of Africa. And as he looked into that valley and upon it, and thought of the thousands and thousands of Congolese refugees that were there, his heart pled, "O God, that they might be saved." And as his heart went out for those thousands and thousands, a voice – and I asked, "Was it an audible voice?" And the answer was "yes"; an audible voice said, "Why don’t you ask Me for them?"
He looked to see who had spoken to him; he was alone in the jeep. Riding on, he came to a second rise, and looked again over that vast valley with its thousands of refugees. And once again, his heart welled up in intercession for those people that they might be saved, and a second time an audible voice said to him, "Why don’t you ask Me for them?" He knelt, he asked God for them, and said, “Lord, give me a sign that it is You. When I drive my jeep into the valley and stop, grant that there be gathered round, and out of those who gather, when I make an appeal for the gospel, You give me a harvest.” He drove into the valley. He stopped his jeep. Those refugees gathered around. He made an appeal for Christ. And there were eleven adults who came forward, accepting Jesus as personal Savior. Then he knelt once again and said: Lord, I ask You now for eighty churches. Give me in the conversion of these people, give me eighty churches that I organize and found, eighty churches.
As the ’70s turned into the ’80s, he organized seventy churches, then was stricken down and sent back to America to die. “But, Lord,” he said, “eighty churches, and seventy are not eighty.” Last year, the missionary died. Before he died, he received a letter from his Congolese-Rwanda Christians saying, "We have just organized the eightieth church, and we want you to know we are carrying on in the faith of the Lord." Nunc Dimittis! And he bowed his head and thanked God for the answered prayer, and died. We are immortal until our work is done and our task is finished. "And I alone was left" [Ezekiel 9:8].
Looking at this vision of Ezekiel, standing in the midst of universal death and destruction, we see in it, of course, the vision and the picture of the ultimate dissolution of the world in which we live. Just for a time is this day of grace. It is limited. There is no way in which it is not limited. If nothing else, one day, the very sun will cease to shine and to burn, and this whole planet will turn into solid ice. It is limited, and how much more so the brevity of the days of our lives. Just from here to here, for so brief a while is the grace of God extended to me. Then He shall come. Our Lord shall certainly come.
"Behold," He says, "I come quickly" [Revelation 22:12]. He that came as an infant shall some day return as the Infinite. He who came as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes shall come again dressed in the garments of the Judge of all the earth, around His breast the golden girdle, His eyes as a flame of fire, His countenance above the sun shining in his strength [Revelation 1:13-16], and in the grandeur and glory of that great God and King of all the earth, with all the holy angels, these of all ages shall be gathered before Him. Then shall the strident command be uttered by the great and reigning Judge, "Gather all the tares into bundles and burn them" [Matthew 13:30, 40].
And when that destroying angel carries out the command of the Judge of all God’s world, and the tares are gathered into bundles and burned in the fire, will I be left? Will I stand or will I be burned in the fire that consumes the lost of the earth? When these cry for the rocks and the mountains to fall upon them and to hide them from the face of Him that sits upon the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb [Revelation 6:16-17], will I cry for the rocks or the mountains to fall on me, or will I be able to stand? Lord God in heaven, what shall become of me and of my soul? And what shall become of these people in that awesome day of judgment?
God said before that judgment falls, this priest, dressed in a robe and ephod of linen, go through the city, the inhabitants of people, and place a mark upon their foreheads [Ezekiel 9:4]. That’s an amazing thing, "mark!" When you look at that in Hebrew in which Ezekiel is writing, when you read it in script, the word mark is tau, the last letter in the Hebrew alphabet, and in the Hebrew script, it is written in the form of a cross. He knew more, he wrote more than he knew. Ezekiel never realized the fullness of the vision that God had told him. "Place on the foreheads of these who are to be delivered the mark of a cross, under the blood of the blessed Savior, the Lord Jesus." That you will find in the Bible, marked. In the day when the awesome angel of death passed over the homes in the dark land of Egypt, any home that had a mark in the form of a cross, blood on the lentil and on either side of the door post, the death angel passed over [Exodus 12:22-23].
In the seventh and the ninth chapter of the Book of Revelation, God says to the four angels who hold the storms of wrath and judgment that are to be poured out upon the earth, God says to the four angels, "Hold back those storms until I mark in the foreheads these who are saved in the blood of the Lamb." In that day of awesome judgment, our only hope of salvation and deliverance lies in the blood of Jesus our Lord, in our personal acceptance of Him as our Savior.
And apart from Him, we face an inevitable damnation; we fall into the fire, we are cast forever into hell. Our hope, our salvation lies in the intervening, saving, blood-atoning death of Jesus our wonderful Lord. The terror of the judgment apart from Christ is awesome to consider, even to contemplate, much less such a thing should ever be realized in human life. The law is in inexorable. There has never been – never will be any change or modification in the laws of God. They are never mitigated or ameliorated, they stand in judgment forever.
When Moses was the preacher, back of them was the background of Sinai that thundered and roared with fire and lightning the judgment of God from heaven [Exodus 20:18]. Somehow, and I don’t know why, somehow it has come into the unconscious response, or understanding, or persuasion of us who live in this gospel dispensation – it has come to us that somehow we are going to be saved by the minimizing of sin; by the shrinking, and shrinking, and shriveling of sin until it becomes so small that God overlooks it, and we’re going to be saved. My friend, my brother, it is the opposite in the Word of God!
Sin is exceedingly more sinful because of the purity of our Lord and the presence of the gospel of Christ. May I quote it, say it, as the inspired author of the Hebrew said it? Beginning at verse 26, in chapter 10 of the Book of Hebrews:
If we sin willfully, if we turn aside from Christ our Savior, if we sin willfully after that we have received knowledge of the truth, after we have heard the preaching of the gospel, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.
But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, that shall devour the adversaries.
He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses:
Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace and appeal? For we know Him who hath said: Vengeance is Mine, I will repay saith the Lord.
Again and the Lord shall judge His people,
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God
"for our God is a God of consuming fire" [Hebrews 12:29].
Where did we get the impression that the gospel minimizes sin, and because of its minutial consequences and circumstances, that therefore God’s going to overlook it? It is just the opposite; it is the opposite! I don’t mean to belabor the point, just to say the law said "Thou shalt not kill" [Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17], you must not murder; but the gospel says, "If you are angry with your brother in your heart, you are a murderer" [1John 3:15]. The law will say, "Thou shalt not commit adultery" [Exodus 20:14, Deuteronomy 5:18]; but the gospel says, "Any one of you that looks upon another, whether it be a woman looking on a man or it be a man looking upon a woman, anyone who looks upon another with lust in his heart has already committed adultery" [Matthew 5: 28]. It is a thousand times more sensitive to sin in human life in the gospel, than it is in the law. Lord God in heaven! If such be true, who then can be saved?
We can’t save ourselves. Only God can save us. Only Jesus can deliver us. And that is the preaching of the gospel. "He is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God by Him [Hebrews 7:25]. For His blood is able to wash away all of our sins" [1 John 1:7]. There are sins that we would be ashamed to confess, all of us, all of us. It isn’t just that’s a sinner over there, and she is one over there; all of us are alike, condemned in the presence of the holy, pure and sanctified Lord God in heaven.
All of us are sinners alike, and all of us need His redeeming grace, and His precious blessing, and His eternal forgiveness. The blood of Jesus Christ washes away all of our sins. One other, when we stand at that great judgment day of the Almighty, each one of us shall stand for himself. No one of us will find a proxy, someone to stand for us; each one of us responsible before God for himself.
The word of the Lord came again unto me saying: Son of man, though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their own righteousness, saith the Lord God.
Then verse 16 of chapter 14 [Ezekiel]:
Though these three men were in it, as I liveth, saith the Lord God, they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters; but only their own souls.
Though these three men were in it, as I live, saith the Lord God, they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters, but they only shall delivered themselves.
Though Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live, saith the Lord God, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall but deliver their own souls by their own righteousness.
Four times, lest we might have missed it; lest we might be mistaken, God repeats that four times in that short passage. The background of that is very evident. In this earth where we live, there are many instances where a people or a city or a nation have been delivered because of the intercession and righteousness of somebody else. For example, when Abraham stood before God, pleading for the cities of the plain, for Sodom and Gomorrah, finally God said to the intercessory appeal of Abraham, God’s friend, God said to him, "If I can find ten righteous in the city of Sodom, ten, for the sake of those ten, I will spare the city" [Genesis 18:32]. That’s what I mean.
A city can be delivered and spared and saved because of the intercession of righteous people in it. God blessed the house of Potiphar because Joseph was in it [Genesis 39:5]. When the Lord said to Moses, "You stand aside and let My wrath destroy these people!" Moses said, "Lord, if You destroy them – blot my name too out of the book of life which Thou hast written" [Deuteronomy 9:14, Exodus 32:32], and for Moses’ sake, God spared the nation.
Take just once again: in the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Acts, when the judgment of God fell upon that ship in which Paul and his companions were sailing and the ship was being dashed against the rocks, God said, "For Paul’s sake, I am sparing all two hundred seventy-six souls in this ship" [Acts 27:22-24]. That is in the Word of the Lord. But that is not at the great judgment day of Almighty God. When we stand before the Lord in that day, we shall stand alone. There will be no one to stand for us.
And He emphasizes it: "Though Noah and Daniel and Job were standing before Me, yet they would be but of their own souls saved" [Ezekiel 14:14]. They are not saving anybody else: Noah, who found grace in God’s sight [Genesis 6:8]; Daniel, greatly beloved [Daniel 9:23]; Job, with whom even Satan could find no fault ; they stand just for themselves. If I were looking for three men to stand by me, and for me, and with me, and in my behalf, under whose aegis I hope to escape the judgment of God, I could not choose three more godlier or righteous men than these. "Lord, for their sakes, and in their kindness and goodness, could be You merciful to me?"
When I stand at the judgment bar of Almighty God, I stand just by myself. Nobody can stand for me. I’m not saved because I’m a member of a church. I’m a member of this church; I’m a member of that church. I’m not saved because I’m a member of the church. I’m not saved because my wife has religion. Many and many a man says even to me, "My wife has the religion in my family." He’s not saved because of his wife’s religion. And the emphatic Word of our Lord here, "They can deliver neither son nor daughter" [Ezekiel 14:20]. Not even a child can be saved because of the parent’s religion. That is one of the saddest things that you will find in the Bible and one of the saddest things in human experience. Aaron with all of his weakness, the first great high priest of God in the old dispensation, Aaron, Aaron, Aaron’s two sons who were to succeed him, Nadab and Abihu, under the influence of strong drink were slain in the presence of the congregation of the Lord; Aaron’s two sons. Eli was a godly man, but Hophni and Phinehas were destroyed in the presence of the congregation of Israel [1 Samuel 4:10-11]. They were evil sons of a godly father.
I think of Absalom. David loved and doted upon Absalom; Ab shalom the father of peace. His mother was the child of a king and of a queen. And when the lad was born, David somehow found himself poured out in love and expectations for that boy, that child, called him Ab shalom, the father of peace. And could you ever read a more dastardly story of intrigue and rape and assassination than the story of Absalom? Died and put in a pit, on which we heaped stones of bitterness and disgrace [2 Samuel 18:15-17], the child of the man after God’s own heart.
Neither son nor daughter even is saved by the righteous father Noah or Daniel or Job [Ezekiel 14:20]. He who puts his hand in the fire is burned, he who tempts the flood is drowned, and he who does despite to the appealing grace and mercy of God is forever shut out, lost, from the kingdom of heaven [Hebrews 10:28-29]. I am born for myself; nobody can be born for me. I die for myself; nobody can ever die for me. I shall stand at the judgment bar of Almighty God for me; nobody can be judged for me. And if I am ever saved, I am saved for me; I can’t come down this aisle and believe for anyone else. If I could, I would do it a thousand times. I can’t stand in the presence of God in behalf of anyone else; he must stand for himself. And that is the appeal of the grace of God to your heart.