WHEN GOD WIPES AWAY OUR TEARS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-21-63 10:50 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning message entitled When God Shall Wipe Away Our Tears. In our preaching through the Bible, after many, many years, we have come to the Revelation. In our preaching through the Revelation, we have come to chapter 21. If you would like to turn in your Bible to the text, you can easily follow the message this morning. It is an exposition of verses 3 through 7. And I read verses 1-7, Revelation 21:
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.
And I, John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And He that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And He said unto me, Write: For these words are true and faithful. And He said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be My son.
Just to read the passage is a benediction to our souls. It is a comfort to God’s saints in this pilgrimage through this weary world.
Contrary to everything that I had thought, I had supposed that when I came to prepare these sermons on heaven, that they would be the easiest of all of the discourses I would deliver. I have found it just the opposite. In my studying for this message this week, in my reading, I came across a sentence from a world-famed expositor, and the sentence is this. He said, “Out of all of the subjects in the Bible, the most difficult to speak of is the subject of heaven.” That is so different from anything I had supposed. I thought these chapters in the Revelation, back there numbers 7, and 8, and 9, and 12, and 13, and on, I thought they would be very difficult. But when I came to the subject of heaven, I thought the sermons would be easy to prepare. It is not easy to prepare. Heaven is a most difficult subject to preach about.
You can find that difficulty illustrated in the experience of the men of God who have written this Book, who, under the Spirit of Jesus, have penned these words in our Bible. For example, the apostle Paul says – and he describes his experience in the twelfth chapter of the 2 Corinthians letter – the apostle Paul says that he was taken up into paradise, into the third heaven, the heaven of heavens where God is, this heaven. Does Paul describe his experience? Does he say what he heard and what he saw? No! All the apostle says is this; that having been taken up into the paradise of God, into the third heaven, that he heard words that are unspeakable and that are not lawful for a man to say [2 Corinthians 12:4].
Poor, weak language could not bear the weight of the glory, the experience, nor could sentence and syllable say the words that he heard uttered in heaven. You have another like illustration of that in the experience of Moses, who upon a day asked of the Lord that he might behold His glory. And the Lord said to Moses:
You come and stand by Me on this rock. And in a cleft of the rock, I will hide you and cover you with My hand until My glory shall pass by. And then I will take away My hand and you can see My back parts, but no man can see My face and live.
How would a mortal describe the presence of God, and how could he enter into the glory of the great Jehovah? For no man can look upon His face and live. You have another instance of that in what Paul writes in the second chapter of the 1 Corinthians letter, “Eye hath not seen, and ear hath not heard, neither have entered into the heart of a man, the things God hath prepared for those who love Him” [1 Corinthians 2:9]. We cannot enter into it. Our very minds and souls cannot imagine it, this creation that God calls our heavenly and eternal home.
The next verse in the second chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul says: “But the Spirit hath revealed them unto us.” These things that eye cannot see and ear cannot hear and heart cannot imagine, God has revealed unto us by His Spirit. He will say that there is a language of the soul, and there are eyes of faith. And we can feel these things, and we can sense these things, and we can experience these things, though a man cannot describe them in language, and he cannot adequately present them in a sermon.
You can find that difficulty of describing the glories of heaven and preparing a sermon commensurate with what God hath prepared for us; you can see that difficulty illustrated here in what John has written in the text:
And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, (look,) the skene of God is with men, and He will skenoo with them. They shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God.
Skene, “the tabernacle of God,” and He will skenoo, “tabernacle with them”; the dwelling place, the pavilion, the house of the Lord is with us – men. How could you imagine that? By what language would you describe the very pavilion of the Lord, the tabernacle, the tent of God, cast, set up among men?
The Lord dwelt with our parents in the garden of Eden: He walked with them. He talked with them. He visited with them [Genesis 3:8]. God tabernacled with the patriarchs: He spake to Abraham as a man would talk to his friend, face-to-face [Exodus 33:11]. The Lord cast His tabernacle among His children of Israel, and His Presence there was seen above it in a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day [Exodus 13:21]. In the days of the temple, the Lord dwelt in the darkness of the Holy of Holies. In [John 1:14], the author of this Revelation says, “And the Word was made flesh, and skenoo,” the same identical word here, “and skenoo – and dwelt among us,” and tabernacled among us – “and we saw His glory, the glory as of the only [begotten] of God the Father.”
And the Lord tabernacles today in His church by the Holy Spirit, and lives in our hearts, but how shall it be and with what words could you describe it when God Himself shall live in our midst, and our eyes shall see Him, and our ears shall hear Him speak, and we shall behold the glory and beauty of the Lord God Jehovah Himself? You can’t say those words. You can’t describe those realities. There is a sensitivity of the soul that can enter into them, but for a man to preach about it in the reality that it is, it is beyond him whatever poetry he might quote, and whatever song he might sing, or however eloquent peroration by which he might seek to describe the indescribable, infinitely celestial, unimaginable glory of the dwelling of God among us.
You find it again in the description here of the re-establishment, the redemption, the re-birth, the regeneration of this universe: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth,” and I spake of that last Sunday morning, “for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea” [Revelation 21:1].
“And there was no more sea.” What does that mean – in this new creation of God, “and there was no more sea”? Now, a spiritualizer will read that, and he will say that refers to the tearing down of all political and national and social barriers, and it refers to the great common brotherhood of all of the families and nations of the world. Well, that’s all right for a spiritualizer. I don’t expect them to come up with anything particular, so when he says that, that’s just fine. He could have been discoursing on Shakespeare or Milton or Thucydides or Plato, and come up with the same thing. It doesn’t matter.
Now, a symbolizer would say that that refers to the fact that John is trying to say for us that in heaven there is no more separation. Well, that’s – there is a basis for a symbolizer, a man who sees in these things in the Revelation symbols of great spiritual truths. I can understand that. For example, in the Revelation when it says the Lamb of God, that’s a symbol I know of our blessed Redeemer, the Lord Jesus. And a man who is looking upon this Revelation as being symbols of spiritual realities, I could see how he could read that: “And there was no more sea.” It was a symbol. The sea was a symbol of separation. John, on a lonely isle in exile, sent there to die of starvation and exposure, and across that waste of the sea were those he loved, his church in Ephesus, all of the friends and the saints of the household of God. And here he is, and that dark sea rolling in between. I can see how as a symbol John could say, “but up there in glory, there will be no more exile and no more separation.”
There is a dark sea that rolls between time and eternity. There is a dark river of death, a flood that rolls between us and our loved ones gone before. “And there was no more sea.” I can see how symbolically John might mean, “and there’s no separation in between.” We shall be together, world without end, in God’s holy and heavenly tomorrow. I can understand that.
“Well, pastor, what do you think that means, “And there shall be no more sea”? Well, one of two things. The lesser of the two, I think, is this: it could refer, of course, to the annihilation of the sea. There would be no more bodies of water in heaven. In the new creation, I can see that very easily. However, I am persuaded – and this is just something of intuitive response – I feel in my heart that what that actually means is the same kind of a thing that it means when it referred to the new heaven and the new earth. That does not mean, in my understanding, that there is going to be an annihilation of what God has done in His creative majesty. This glorious firmament of God and this paradise of the Lord in the earth was here before sin and the curse came, and God says it shall still be here when the curse is taken away. It shall be a redeemed earth, it shall be a redeemed heaven, it shall be a redeemed and regenerated creation! And sin and Satan and the curse all shall be cast out! God shall make it new and beautiful and lovely for us.
Now, I have the same feeling about the great sea. One of the reasons I feel that way is because to an ancient – those who lived in John’s day – to an ancient, the sea was a frightful and a fearsome and an awesome monster! They had no compasses, for example, and when the cloudy day came, their ships were absolutely lost on the vast bosom of the deep; and their frail barks were subject to destruction in those fearful storms that could arise, and the loss of life in the sea was beyond measure and innumerable. To the ancient, the sea was a horrible monster and a fearsome and awesome thing. And yet, when God makes the new heaven and the new earth, shall it be like the psalmist said? “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures,” in the paradise of God, and “He leadeth me beside the still waters” [Psalm 23:1-2].
No more angry, turbulent, fearsome, awesome disaster, God has made it new. And the sea as we know it, with its tempestuous and raging madness and destructive waves, is no more. The sea is gone like that, and in its place are the still waters beside which God shall shepherd His holy and celestial and heavenly flock. Well, those are just some things that I feel in my heart as I read the Book. I’ve already told you I cannot describe it, nor can I enter into it fully; just have to wait and see in God’s time.
Now the Lord writes:
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things all are passed away.
I can know from this passage, then, that as long as we’re in this life, and in this earthly pilgrimage, there shall be tears in our eyes. Until we come to the gates of heaven itself, God’s people shall know how to cry. We may forget how to laugh; we shall never forget how to cry. Until we come to the pearly gates that enter the New Jerusalem, it is not until then that God shall wipe away the tears out of our eyes. Our pilgrimage in this world is like the pilgrimage of the children of Israel to the Promised Land. We are delivered in the grace of God from so much of the hurt and trial of the curse, but we are not delivered from the heartaches, and the diseases, and the afflictions, and the trials of this life.
It is a common denominator and experience of all of God’s people. Jesus wept, bowed His head in sorrow, in strong crying and tears, and poured His soul out unto God. Time and again, Paul will speak of his many tears. As long as we’re in this pilgrimage, until we come to the gates of glory themselves, God’s people shall know how to cry. It is only there, beyond the pearly gates and the jasper walls, that the Lord shall wipe away our tears.
There’s another thing to be said about this passage before we look at the actual words themselves: we are not to forget, in our pilgrimage with its burden and its trial, its losses and its crosses, we are not to forget that our crying and our sorrow and our bereavement, that these yield for God’s people a marvelous and heavenly increase on the other side of the river. For example, Paul will say: “For our light afflictions,” However, the weight of our sorrow and the burden of life in this world, he calls it “a light affliction.” He’s just been describing them: “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment,” but for a moment, “worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” [2 Corinthians 4:17].
Paul says these things that we suffer down here – the agony, and the tears, and the burden, and the heartache, and the disappointment of our lives – these things but work for us a far more and exceeding weight of glory.
Oh, there again, how do you put it in language? As most you know, I read Spurgeon so very much – our great and incomparable Baptist preacher of London of the last century. Do you remember one time I said – after having read through part of Spurgeon – I said, “Spurgeon has said here the most unusual, most unusual thing.”
Spurgeon said, “If I had my choice between being raptured at the coming of the Lord and taken up into glory and changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump – if I had my choice between being raptured to the Lord and dying and resurrected,” Spurgeon said, “I would choose to die the agonies of death, for,” said the great preacher, “my Savior suffered, and my Savior died, and my Savior experienced the power of God in His resurrection.” He said, “I would like to follow the sufferings of my Lord, the pangs of death, to know what it is to convulse and to die and to be buried. And I also might experience the power of the resurrection of God when He raises me up from the grave.” Well, that’s a tremendous thing, so different from anything that I ever felt for myself. I always thought, O Lord, to be raptured, to be here when Jesus comes, just in a moment, like that song:
Oh, joy! Oh, delight!
That we go without dying,
No sickness, no sadness,
No dread and no crying,
Caught up to the clouds
With our Lord into glory,
When Jesus receives His own.
[“Christ Returneth,” H. L. Turner]
I’ve always felt like that. I never had thought about that thing Spurgeon says; to suffer as the Lord suffered, to die as the Lord died, to be buried that I might know the power of His resurrection. Well, that same kind of a sentiment is spoken here by the apostle Paul: Our sufferings in this life, and our Lord suffered, “A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” [Isaiah 53:3]. Our Lord suffered, and [Paul] says, in the first chapter, [verse 5], of the 2 Corinthians letter, “We who have known the sufferings of God shall also know the consolation of the Lord.” Like this, God says here heaven is a place where there are no more tears [Revelation 21:4]: what would that mean to someone who had never cried? “God shall wipe away our tears”: what would that mean to someone who had never wept? It says, “There shall be no more death”: what would that mean to someone who never stood by the side of an open grave, seen somebody you love like your own soul and heart, laid beneath the sod? “Neither sorrow”: what would that mean to someone who had never bowed under the weight of care? “Nor crying, nor pain”: it’s because we have known these things in this life that heaven is sweet! “For our light afflictions,” says Paul, “which is just for a moment, worketh for us a far more and exceeding weight of glory” [2 Corinthians 4:17]. That’s what heaven is! Having suffered here, and wept here, and cried in agony here, and died here, heaven is God’s release from this bondage of death.
Now, in the few moments that remain, to look at it – “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” Here’s a bereavement: Jesus wept, with Mary and Martha at the tomb of their brother [John 11:35]; tears of bereavement, tears of misfortune and poverty, as Lazarus who was laid at the door of Dives [Luke 16:20-21]; tears of lamentation, like the cry of Jeremiah: “Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughters of my people!” [Jeremiah 9:1]; tears of despair and agony and disappointment. “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”
“And there shall be no more death” [Revelation 21:4]: can you conceive of a world without the sight and the stroke and the dreadsome visit of that pale horseman? “And there shall be no more death.” There is no home without its shadow – in the circle of your family, a mother, a father, a wife, a husband, a daughter, a son, a child, a friend. There is no flock, however watched and tended, but one dead lamb is there. There is no fireside, howsoever defended, but that has one vacant chair. In a little plot in Southwestern Oklahoma, there is a little grave with a little inscription on the headstone – my baby sister who died before I was born. I never mentioned that; I suppose this is the first time I have ever referred to it in my life, save in my mind. Oft and often I have wondered: what shall it be like over there? And that little baby girl, what will she be like? Does she grow? Is she still a child? Oh, there is so much that’s not revealed – we’re not told.
Just this: that there are no stonecutters chiselling epithets in glory; there are no wreaths on the mansion doors in the sky; there are no graves on the hillsides of heaven; there are no obituary columns in the newspapers; no funeral procession. All that we can hear is the glad and triumphant refrain from God’s holy redeemed, when they say, “Death is swallowed up in victory” [1 Corinthians 15:54], and there shall be no more Death. He is cast, with the false prophet and Satan that deceives us, he is cast into the lake of fire; Death [Revelation 20:19, 14]. “And there shall be no more sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.” Sorrow follows us like a shadow; every heart knows it bitterly. How many pillows at night are wet with the teardrops that this world never sees and never knows, known and seen only by our Lord? Sorrow, sorrow.
We had a great preacher in this pulpit. You loved that man. Held a revival meeting here. Oh, from the days of my teenage boyhood, I loved that marvelous, wonderful man. When he was here holding a revival meeting, he began telling me about the days of his childhood. He was a mountain boy, raised in the mountains. His father was killed when he was a little boy. His stepfather was vile and vicious! One day at the breakfast table, the plate of biscuits that displeased him, he picked up and he threw the biscuits and the plate and all in the face of his mother. Then he cursed her. Then he doubled up his fist and he beat her! Then he stomped away from their mountain cabin. And the little boy went over by the side of his mother and said: “Mother, let’s leave. Let’s leave! I don’t know how, but I’ll make a living for you, Mother, let’s leave.”
And the mother replied: “Son, not so. There has never been a separation in our family. Never! And son, I shall not live long. Soon, I’ll be with the Lord Jesus, and God take care of you, my boy.” According to an intuitive knowing that God revealed to her, she died soon after. And the little boy drifted into the city, and according to the prayers of his mother, he was saved in the city and became the preacher that I loved and admired so much.
Sorrow, sorrow, grief, disappointment, sorrow and crying, these shall be no more; “God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes.”
“And he that sat upon the throne said: Behold, I make all things new” [Revelation 21:5]. New! I make all things new – a new heaven, a new earth, a new city. We shall dwell in a Jerusalem that shall never be stormed. We shall bask in a sun that shall never go down. We shall swim in a tide that shall never ebb. We shall eat from a tree that shall never wither. We shall drink at a river that shall never go dry. “I make all things new!”
I will sing you a song of that beautiful land,
The far-away home of the soul,
Where no storms ever beat on the glittering strand,
You see, the author of that hymn believed that there would be a new creation by still waters –
Where no storms ever beat on the glittering strand,
While the years of eternity roll,
Oh, how sweet it will be in that beautiful land,
So free from all sorrow and pain,
With songs on our lips and with harps in our hands,
To greet one another again,
[from “Home of the Soul,” by Ellen M.H. Gates, 1865]
At the early service, we sang this song. Let’s all sing it now, everybody.
There’s a land that is fairer than day,
And by faith we can see it afar,
For the Father waits over the way,
To prepare us a dwelling place there.
In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore;
In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore.
[“In the Sweet By and By,” Sanford F. Bennett]
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things all are passed away. And He that sat upon the throne said, Behold, behold I make all things new.
O blessed God, for His goodness, immeasurable, indescribable, unfathomable, celestial, to us – to us.
Now, while we sing our hymn of appeal, somebody to give his heart to Jesus, come and stand by me. A family to put their lives in the fellowship of this dear church – would you come and stand by me? As the Spirit of the Lord shall lead in the way, in the throng in this balcony round, in the press of people on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front: “Pastor, I give you my hand, I give my heart to the Lord.” Or as the Spirit shall lead, shall say the word, shall invite, shall open the way, would you make it now? Make it this morning in the hush and sweet and quiet of this holy and precious hour. Come! Come, while we stand and while we sing.