NOW IS THE ACCEPTABLE TIME
Today I want you to turn with me to the 4th chapter of Luke's gospel, beginning at the 15th verse. How many have your Bibles? Lift them up. Hold them up. Wonderful! Look at the Bibles, thousands of Bibles!
"And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all. And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
"And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph's son?" [Verses 15-22.]
Here we have a picture of Jesus coming back home, back to His home village at Nazareth. He had already been away. He had been up in Galilee preaching, teaching, healing. His fame had gone before Him, and now He comes home. And He goes to the old synagogue where He had gone as a boy. And when He walked in, everyone looked at Him and began to whisper among themselves, "That's Jesus. That's the carpenter's son. Our old familiar friend is back, not this time as a boy in a carpenter's shop, but this time as a prophet, as a preacher."
So the officiating rabbi handed to Jesus the book and said, "Well, you read and comment today." So Jesus took the book, and He turned to the 61st chapter of Isaiah and He read that passage. Then He closed the book.
Now that passage of Scripture had been written eight hundred years before. Eight hundred years before this, Isaiah had written that. Then, as Jesus closed the book there was something about His face, something about the snap of His eye, that held everyone's attention. Then He made this astounding, sparkling statement. He said, "This day this prophecy written by Isaiah eight hundred years ago is fulfilled." And He sat down.
Then the writer says all of those in the synagogue fastened their eyes on Him. Curiosity, wonderment, unbelief were written all over their faces as they looked at Jesus.
Today I want you to get your eyes on Him. I want you to fasten your eyes for the next few minutes on the person of Jesus Christ. Rabbi Stephen Wise once said, "Jesus was not humanly divine, but He was divinely human. It is a real joy to us of the house of Israel to recognize, to honor, and to cherish our brother, Jesus the Jew."
H. G. Wells said, "Christ is the most unique person in history." He goes on to say no man can write a history of the human race without giving first and foremost place to the penniless preacher of Nazareth.
Napoleon was right when he confessed, "I know men, and I tell you Jesus is not a man. Comparison is impossible between Him and any other thing in the world."
Emerson was right when he was asked why he did not include Jesus among his representative men. He confessed that Jesus was more than a man. Emerson said, "Jesus is God."
Arnold Toynbee, the great British historian, has said, "And now as we stand indeed with our eyes fixed upon the further shore, a single figure rises from the flood and straightway fills the whole horizon of history. There stands Jesus, the Savior."
Today I want to ask the question: Who is this person who has done more to transform history than any man that ever lived? Who is this person that commands the loyalty of millions of people? Thousands of the finest brains in America bow and do Him homage. Thousands, and hundreds of thousands, of American young people today are marching under the flag of Jesus Christ. Who is He? Who is this Christ who demands your loyalty? Who is this Christ who says He can change the world?
Mr. Bill Jones[?], a Los Angeles businessman, has been here the last few days; and he has just got back from Soviet Russia. Last night Mr. [George] Ivey entertained a few of us downtown, and Bill Jones[?] was telling us some of his experiences from the Soviet Union. He said that when you go to Moscow and walk along the streets, you do not hear any chatter at all. Because, he said, their experiences, the little things in life, are not important as they are to us--our social events and the theater and the television, and so forth, that we discuss. He says there is a quietness and a dignity in Moscow. He said you never see a drunk person, you never see a lewd picture, you never see the emphasis on sex that we have in this country.
He said you see a dedication written on their faces. He said thousands upon thousands are studying and working because they believe they are going to change the world. And he said, "When I left the Soviet Union, I was scared to death." He said the Soviet timetable called for America and the whole world to be under communist domination within the next seventeen years. And he said they are already years ahead of their timetable. And he said they actually, literally believe they are going to take the world and they are going to make a new world and bring about a new social order.
Jesus Christ also said He could change the world. He has changed the world. He has changed millions of people. Some day, the Bible teaches, He is coming back to rule and reign, and His kingdom shall be from center to circumference. Every time we pray the Lord's Prayer, "Thy kingdom come" [Matthew 6:10], we have the assurance within our hearts that His kingdom shall some day come when the Prince of Peace comes again.
But where did He originate? Concerning most men, we can speak of their origin and birth as one and the same, but not with Jesus. We celebrate His birthday on Christmas when He was born, but that was not His origin. That was His incarnation, because the Bible teaches that Jesus Christ existed before the foundation of the world. The Bible says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" [John 1:1]. The Bible says, "He is before all things, and by him all things consist" [Colossians 1:17]. The Bible teaches that it was Jesus that created the whole universe. Into outer space today we claim we are going. I have been told by some of our scientists that we will probably put a man into outer space within the next five years. I'm not sure that I would volunteer to be the first man out, or the second. Russians claim they are going to beat us to the moon with a man, and they announced a few months ago that they were going to paint the moon red. Many people thought they were going to get up there and paint it on the full moon last January.
My children got out in the yard and looked up on the night of the full moon and watched to see if the moon were going to turn red as the Russians claimed they were going to do.
Well, we say that will be tremendous when we get out into the moon and we go to the planets. You know how long it will take us to get to the nearest star? Traveling at the rate of the speed of light--which we could never do, even supposing you could go through the air at the speed of light--it would take you forty years to get to the nearest star. Most of us would be too old by the time we got there, and we could never get back. So I'd advise not to try that!
But do you know how many stars there are? The scientists now tell us--they claim that in our Milky Way, the Milky Way that we live in, our universe--that there are now 100 billion suns. I said billion; I didn't say million. I don't know who counted them; but they say that's how many there are in our universe, our Milky Way.
You know what the average distance is between those suns? Seven trillion miles! You know how far it is to the nearest sun outside of our own sun? Twenty-five trillion miles! Now that's just our little Milky Way. And when you've traveled to those 100 billion suns, seven trillion miles from each other, you've only begun. Because they now estimate that there are over one billion more milky ways. In other words, the universe seems to be infinite.
Now this Bible teaches us that Jesus Christ is the creator of the whole business. The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ holds it all together, so that you and I set our watches by the stars. [See Colossians 1:16,17.] That's how precise this universe is. Perfect order, perfect precision, held there by the omnipotent hand of Jesus Christ.
You say, "Billy, prove that." I cannot prove it. I can't put God in a test tube. I can't put Him in a mathematical formula. I accept it by faith. By faith I accept it. And when I accept it by faith, it does something in my life.
We live like a little ant on this little speck of dust out in space. We get a Ph.D. degree and we strut across the stage and say, "Well, I don't know whether there is a God or not." And we can't even control ourselves. We can't even keep from blowing ourselves apart. We can't even keep from manufacturing nuclear weapons that could destroy the world. We can't even keep from hating each other and fighting each other and killing each other. We can't even keep from stealing from each other. We can't even keep from dying, because all of us are going to die. We can't even keep off death. And yet we claim, "Well, we can't take God; we can't believe in God."
No wonder the Bible says, "The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God" [Psalm 14:1], because a man that would deny the existence of God is a fool.
Last January I had the most thrilling and wonderful experience. I had the privilege of being with my wife when our fifth child was born. The doctor said to me when the baby was born--he said, "Billy, I'm not much of a churchman; but I want to tell you, anybody that can witness the birth of a child and not believe in God, he's a fool."
I said, "Doctor, you're quoting the Bible." That's what the Bible says. Jesus holds it all together. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords and Prince of princes. Ask me to understand it, and I cannot. I accept it by faith.
Look at His birth. The star, the shepherds and the angelic chorus, the magi, the angel speaking to the virgin Mary and later to Joseph and later to the shepherds. [See Luke 2:1-20.] His very birth indicates that He was more than a man. I cannot understand how God became a man. It's impossible for me.
There are many things in life I don't understand. Babies are born every day without knowing anything of embryology. You eat every day without comprehending all the processes of digestion. You breathe constantly without knowing all the functions of your diaphragm.
I mean--to know Christ does not depend upon your understanding of its mysterious operation, but upon the mighty fact which constitutes the source of the power. When you come like a simple child--and everybody has to come the same way to Jesus. You may be a professor at Queens College or Davidson College. You may be a student of science. You may be a chemist or a physicist. Whoever you are, you will have to come to Jesus Christ, just like anybody else. You will have to come like a child in simple faith saying, "I don't understand at all, but I know that I need an encounter with the living God. I know that I need Christ living in me."
When you come by faith He receives you, forgives you, changes you, and gives you a purpose and reason for living.
Look at His life. What explanations do we have for the unusual life of Christ, the miracles He performed--for He made the blind the see, the deaf to hear, the dumb to speak, the lame to walk, and the dead to rise?
The Bible says He taught as no other man. He taught with authority. He didn't speak like the scribes and the Pharisees. He spoke "as one having authority" [Matthew 7:29]. He was able to stand before His friends and neighbors and say, "Which one of you ever saw me commit a sin?" [see John 8:46].
Could you say that? I couldn't. I couldn't go out here to my father's farm and call in the neighbors that I grew up with and say, "Which one of you saw me sin?" Why, there would be a thousand testimonies right there against me.
But Jesus stood in His hometown and said, "Which one you ever saw me commit a sin?" Nobody could say a word. He was sinless. He was the Son of God. Look at His tenderness, His love, His selflessness. He never performed a miracle for Himself. In His death, He said, "Forgive them; for they know not what they do" [Luke 23:34].
Look at His death on the cross. There's one thing that the Protestant church has in common with the Catholic church--and that's a cross. Every Catholic church you go to anywhere in the world has a cross. Every Protestant church you go to--you'll find somewhere a cross. Why? Because the cross is the very central and focal point of Christianity. And without a cross there is no forgiveness, there is no salvation.
In a recent biography of Daniel Webster, the great American, 863 pages deal with the career of this statesman, but just five are devoted to the story of his death. In Hay's LIFE OF LINCOLN there are 5,000 pages and just 25 are devoted to the dramatic story of his assassination and death. And that is the rule of all biographies. The death of the hero seems to be a mere incident at the end of the book.
But when you come to the four biographies of Christ in the four gospels, we are confronted with this fact: that one-third of Matthew, one-third of Mark, one-fourth of Luke, and one-half of John are devoted to the last twenty-four hours in the life of Jesus Christ and the events surrounding His death.
Why? The death of Christ was different from all others. The lightning flashed, the thunder roared, the darkness settled, and even the soldiers confessed that this must be the Son of God [see Matthew 27:54].
One hundred prominent Americans were asked a question a few months ago: What do you consider the most significant fact of history? The number one fact of history of one hundred prominent Americans was the death of Jesus Christ. The death of Christ was different from all other deaths. No wonder Paul said, "I delivered unto you first of all that . . . Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" [1 Corinthians 15:3].
The Bible says, "When the fulness of . . . time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, . . . to redeem them that were under the law" [Galatians 4:4,5]. The Bible says, "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself" [2 Corinthians 5:19]. Jesus Himself said, "This is the cup of the new testament, drink ye all of it" [see Matthew 26:27,28].
Two thousand years ago He died on the lonely hill on a cross, and today the whole world by the millions recognize this was one of the changing points of history. Because when Christ died, it was God in Christ dying on that cross out of love for us. "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" [John 3:16].
The Bible says God "laid on him the iniquity of us all" [Isaiah 53:6]. The Bible says, "He [was] made . . . to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" [2 Corinthians 5:21]. When Christ died on the cross, He died for your sins. The Bible says you and I are sinners. We have broken the law of God. We deserve death. We deserve to be lost. We deserve hell. We deserve judgment. But Jesus said, "Wait a minute, I'll take your place."
I told a story some months ago on television that I'd like to repeat. I was going down to Florida a few years ago with my family and we were going toward Miami. And we went through a little town and suddenly the police caught me. I was going 45 miles an hour in a 35-mile speed zone. The policeman said, "Follow me." I followed him, and we went to the Justice of the Peace in the little town. And the Justice of the Peace was a barber, and he was shaving a man.
He said, "Wait a minute, sit down. I'll be with you in a little bit." But as soon as he had finished shaving the man, he came over, pulled off his apron and sat down at a table, picked up a gavel and said, "The court is now in session." He said, "What's the charge?" And the policeman told him the charge. He said, "Guilty or not guilty?" I said, "Guilty, Your Honor." I reached in my pocket to get ten dollars to give him--a dollar for every mile I was going over the speed zone. Then he looked up at me and said, "Don't I know you?" I said, "I hope not, sir." He said, "Aren't you Billy Graham, the preacher?" I said, "I'm sorry to admit it, sir, but I am." He said, "Put it there. I listen to you every Sunday afternoon on the radio." He said, "I think you're doing a wonderful job," and he went on.
Well, I put my money back in my pocket. I'd found a friend. We chatted a little bit. I began quietly to excuse myself and to get on down the road. But just as I was walking out the door, his smile suddenly faded. And he said very sternly, "That'll be ten dollars, please." Well, I reached back in my pocket and got ten dollars and pulled it out. He said, "Wait a minute." He said, "You know, I like you an awful lot." He said, "I'm sorry that we had to stop you here. But," he added, "you know I've already filled it out, and I try to run an honest court here. I've got to charge you because you're guilty." I said, "Yes, sir, I am." Then he said, "Well, I'll tell you. I'll pay it for you."
And he reached in his pocket and got ten dollars, clipped it to a piece of paper, put it in his drawer. "Now," he said, "let me buy you a steak dinner." I said, "That'll be fine. It's about lunch time, and we'd like to eat." We had a wonderful time with the Justice of the Peace. Here I had broken the law of his town. I deserved to be fined.
So I deserve the full penalty of the law, which is death, separation from God, hell, judgment. And just as I was ready to pay for my sins by being judged of God and being banished from His presence forever, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, stepped out and said, "Wait a minute. I'll pay the price." And Jesus on the cross, because He was the Son of God, had the capacity to bear the sins of the whole world. He had the capacity to bear an eternal eternity in hell within Him. And in that moment, He laid upon Himself all our sins.
And I tell you today, nobody will ever get to heaven who does not come to the cross. There are many people--and this is true especially in Charlotte--there are many people who have an idea that because they do good works, or because they give money to the church, or to charity, or because they live a fairly decent moral life, that they automatically are going to heaven. I can tell you nothing could be further from the truth. The Bible says, "By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of [any] works, lest any man should boast" [Ephesians 2:8,9]. And grace means unmerited favor.
I don't deserve to be saved. You don't deserve to go to heaven. You can't work your way to heaven. You can't buy your way to heaven. You might be worth a billion dollars and give it all, but that wouldn't buy you one day in heaven. You might work the rest of your life for charity, but that wouldn't buy your entrance to heaven because you don't get to heaven by good works.
If I were you, I would forget who you are and what you are. And I would come to the foot of the cross saying, "O God, I'm a sinner," and I would give my life to Jesus Christ. Yes, He died on the cross.
And two thousand years later J. P. Morgan, one of the richest men in the world, said a very significant thing about Christ. When J. P. Morgan died, by the way, it shook the financial world. This is what he left in his will to his children. Listen to this: "I commit my soul into the hands of my Savior in full confidence that, having redeemed it and washed it in His most precious blood, He will present it faultless before the throne of my heavenly Father."
J. P. Morgan was not counting on the millions he had given away. He wasn't counting on the financial empire that was the world's greatest when he died. He was counting on the one thing that could have saved his soul, the blood of Jesus that had been shed on that cross.
What are you counting on? William Gladstone, the prime minister of Great Britain, said, "All that I think, all that I hope, all that I live for is based on the deity of Jesus and the blood that He shed on His cross, the central joy of my poor wayward life." Gladstone wasn't depending on the fact that he was prime minister of the world's greatest empire. He was depending upon the fact that he had come to the cross and partaken of the atonement of that cross. Have you been to the cross?
When Jesus died on the cross and said, "It is finished" [John 19:30], that wasn't the end of it. Because the Bible says they took Him down from the cross tenderly, they put Him in a tomb, and then on the third day Mary and Mary Magdalene and Salome went up to anoint His dead body. The angel gave the world the greatest news that has ever been given: "He is not here, [he] is risen" [Luke 24:6].
I'm not offering you today a dead Christ. I am offering to you a risen, living Savior who lives today at the right hand of God the Father, and whose Spirit is here now, and who is coming again. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is what makes Christianity different from all the other religions of the world. We have a risen Savior. By faith I know He is risen. I know He lives because I talked to Him this morning. He lives within my heart!
All the scientists of all the universities could come and give to me all the proof that Jesus never existed, and it wouldn't change my faith the slightest. Do you know that? Have you experienced Christ? Oh, there are thousands of you today that have an intellectual comprehension of Christ. You've learned it in Sunday school, and you can repeat the catechism just like that. I learned the Shorter Catechism before I was ten. I knew a lot of Bible stories and a lot of Bible verses that I had learned in Sunday school, but I had never really experienced the Savior. Have you experienced Him? Is He vital and living today?
Did you know that I have never understood how any woman could reject Christ? You're a woman here today. You are today what you are because of Christ. I have traveled on every continent in the world except Australia. I want to tell you, in every place of the world where the influence of Jesus Christ has not gone, a woman is little more than an animal. It was Jesus who lifted the woman to her place today. And every woman owes everything she has to Jesus Christ. Why don't we have a woman looking at Him dying on the cross for her?
I don't see how any man could look at Christ shedding His blood in that terrible death at the cross, and have such a hard heart that he could turn away from Him. Yes, the power of Christ lives today. He changes men today.
I know that everybody here this afternoon will not agree with me on this. Not all of you will agree with what I said about Christ. The humanists won't agree, the naturalists, the positivists, the materialists, the cynics, and many others will not agree. There are many great scholars who will not agree.
When Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address, it was probably the greatest ever given on American soil. And the paper at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a neighboring town, reported it this way, "We pass over the silly remarks of the President." The Chicago Times had this to say the next day after he had delivered his address, "The cheek of every American must blush with shame as he reads the silly, flat, dishwatery utterance of the man called President." The American correspondent to the London Times wrote, "The ceremony at Gettysburg yesterday was rendered ludicrous by the remarks of the President." Today the whole world wonders at their blindness. His speech was to be memorized in the future by almost every American school child. And yet the people of that day thought it was silly, dishwatery, and ludicrous.
The Bible says, "This is the stone," talking about Christ, "which was set at nought of you builders, which [has] become the head of the corner" [Acts 4:11]. The architects of that day rejected the cornerstone. They rejected Jesus, and they were wrong. And there are many of you who are about to reject Him for intellectual reasons, or because you are proud. You don't want people to see you go forward to receive Christ, and you are wrong, and you will be proven wrong when you stand before God.
Pilate asked, "What [then] shall I do . . . with Jesus which is called [the] Christ?" [Matthew 27:22]. And when Jesus stood before him, he washed his hands of Jesus. Jesus could have washed His hands of Pilate, because it was Pilate on trial that day.
Jesus could wash His hands of you saying, "I will have nothing to do with you." Suppose He had; suppose He had never gone to the cross. Suppose He had never risen from the dead. We would have been of all men miserable and helpless. There would not be one ray of hope in the world today of salvation or forgiveness. There wouldn't be any knowledge of God.
What are you going to do with Him this afternoon? Every person in this audience today has to do something with Jesus before you leave here--this man from outer space, this Christ who was born, who lives, who died, who rose again. And, ladies and gentlemen, who is coming again. You can know Christ before you leave here today.
You have four courses open to you. One, you can ridicule Him. You can say that you're too intellectual, like the stoics of old. He said long ago that they would say that. Paul said it would be foolishness to many [see 1 Corinthians 1:18]. And they have mocked Him in his day. Some here in Charlotte this afternoon will mock and say, "I don't need Him. That's a lot of foolishness; that's a lot of tommyrot."
Secondly, you can reject Him outright. The story is told that Aaron Burr--when he was an old man, his little granddaughter came to him and said, "Granddaddy, last night I went down to the revival meeting they're having, and I was converted to Jesus Christ. Granddaddy, I wish you'd give your life to Jesus."
Aaron Burr said, "Honey, when I was a boy--fourteen years of age--I, too, went to a revival meeting; and Jesus spoke to me. I knew I should have given my life to Him. But I went out that evening because I had plans of my own already as a boy of fourteen. And I looked up into the skies; and I said to God, 'O God, if you leave me alone for the rest of my life and let me have my own way through life, I'll let you alone.'" And he said, "God has kept His end of the bargain, and God has never spoken to me since that day."
It's too late. Yes, you can reject Him. Did you read the Lutheran chaplain of the Nuremberg prison report in the Saturday Evening Post when the German war criminals were hung? They said that on the day before Hermann Goering, the commander of the Nazi air forces, took the capsule that took his own life, Goering's wife came through. And Mrs. Goering is a wonderful Christian who really knows Christ, as well as her daughter. And Hermann Goering said to his wife, "Where is the message my daughter has for me?" Mrs. Goering said, "Hermann, your daughter wants to meet you in heaven, and she wants you to give your life to Jesus Christ." Hermann Goering turned away and bit his lips, and moisture filled his eyes. And he said, "I settled that a long time ago."
They would beg you. They would say, "Give your life to Jesus, be saved, repent." "But you wouldn't believe them any more than you would believe me," Jesus said. If you don't believe the prophets, don't believe the preacher, you won't believe that one is even raised from the dead. [See Luke 16:31.]
Yes, you can reject Him if you want to, and be lost forever; or you can neglect Him. You can just put Him off. There are many of you who believe in Christ, believe in God, even the Bible. You believe in the church, but you just neglect Christ. You are just going to put Him off. The Bible says you can only come to Christ when the Spirit of God draws you [see John 6:44]. And the Bible warns that "he who hardeneth his neck, being often reproved, shall suddenly be cut off, and that without remedy" [see Proverbs 29:1]. The Bible says, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man" [Genesis 6:3].
You say, "Billy, how can a person get up out his seat where I am sitting and come and stand down there and have his life changed?" I don't know. I only know it happens. I only know when a man means business and gives himself to Christ, Christ meets him; and Christ has promised him forgiveness and a change of life. He doesn't mean that your life becomes a bed of roses. It doesn't mean that all of your problems are solved. You may even have more problems, because the Christian life is hard. The Christian life is tough. It's not easy to be a Christian. But in the midst of life, He gives peace, joy, happiness, security, and an assurance that you've never known. It can all be yours. You can know that you're going to heaven.
D. L. Moody, the great evangelist, was preaching in London once; and five thousand atheists had come to hear him preach.
Mr. Moody joked with them a little bit, then he started preaching. When he was finished, he said, "I'm going to give an invitation this way. All of you atheists that claim you don't believe in God and you'd like to give your life to Christ, I want you to stand to your feet and say, 'I will.' Those of you that will not give your life to Christ, I want you to stand up and say, 'I won't.'" So a great big old burly fellow stood up and said, "I won't." And everybody laughed. He was a big hero. He sat down. Another man stood up with great big muscular arms, and tears were coming down his cheeks. And he said, "Mr. Moody, I will." Another man said, "I won't." Another said, "I will." Another said, "I won't." Another said, "I will." Until five hundred men had stood to their feet and said, "I will."
I am asking you to say in your heart today, "I will. I will give my life to Christ. I will receive Him. I will trust Him. I will surrender to Him." I want you to come right now.