The Claims of Christ
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Matthew 27:33 – 43
7-29-62 7:30 p.m.
On the radio you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the evening message entitled The Claims of Christ. And you are invited, with the vast congregation here in God’s house, to turn to Matthew chapter 27, and we shall read together verses 33 through verse 43. Matthew – the First Gospel, the first book of the New Testament. The Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 27, beginning at verse 33 and reading through verse 43.
And the text is found in the last verse, verse 43, "For He said, I am the Son of God" [Matthew 27:43]. Is He? That is what He said He was. He also said He could do many things. Can He? The Claims of Christ. Matthew 27:33 down through 43. Now, let us everybody read it together:
And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a Place of a Skull,
They gave Him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when He had tasted thereof, He would not drink.
And they crucified Him, and parted His garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted My garments among them, and upon My vesture did they cast lots.
And sitting down they watched Him there;
And set up over His head His accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
Then were there two thieves crucified with Him, one on the right hand, and another on the left.
And they that passed by reviled Him, wagging their heads,
And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save Thyself. If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.
Likewise also the chief priests mocking Him, with the scribes and elders, said,
He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He be the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.
He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He will have Him: for He said, I am the Son of God.
Is He? Is He? "And, mocking Him, the scribes and the elders reviled Him. He saved others, but He cannot save Himself. If You are the King of Israel and the Son of God, come down from the cross, and we will bow before Thee. He trusted in God" [Matthew 27:41-43], that is what He said. Ha! Let Him deliver Him now – if God would have such a thing as that thing, hanging in agony on the tree, for He said, "I am the Son of God" [Matthew 27:43].
The Claims of Christ. That’s no new thing. I suppose that’s a concomitant of human nature: to ask proof, you say? Well, then, what is the proof that what you say is true? That was the period of the temptations in the life of our Lord [Matthew 4:1-10]. For at His baptism, the Holy Spirit came upon Him and the voice from heaven was heard saying, "This is My Son, My beloved One" [Matthew 3:17]. "Hear Him" [Luke 9:35]. Driven out into the wilderness to be tempted, to be tried of the devil [Matthew 4:1], the devil came up to Him and he said – now you have the idea from this King James version, that when Satan said "If You are the Son of God, well, let us see You do this and this and this." Oh! There’s no syllable of that.
What Satan said was this, "I was there at the baptism. And I saw the Holy Spirit fall upon You in the form of a dove. And I heard the voice of God in heaven say that You are His beloved Son. Now, since You are the Son of God, let us see a demonstration of it. There is a stone, turn it into bread. Prove it!" [Matthew 4:3].
Then, the second temptation. And he carried the Lord up on the pinnacle of the temple, a height so great Josephus says it would make you dizzy to look down in the Kidron Valley hundreds of feet below; and carried the Lord up on the pinnacle of that temple [Matthew 4:5], Satan said to Him, "Since You are the Son of God [Matthew 4:6] – that’s what the Lord said at Your baptism [Matthew 3:17] – since You are the Son of God, if You are the Son of God, cast Yourself down, and let us see the angels bear You up, lest You cast Your foot against a stone. Prove it," said the devil [Matthew 4:6].
Same thing with the scribes and the Pharisees; they came to the Lord Jesus asking a sign. "You say that You are all this, and You are all that, and You are so much. Well, let us see You do a sign! Moses did signs! Let us see You do a sign to substantiate these claims that You make concerning Yourself" [Matthew 12:38]. And so, here at the crucifixion that same thing in human nature: mocking Him, ridiculing Him, reviling [Matthew 27:39, 41]. "Look at Him! Look at Him! He saved all these others – blinded halt and lame, and deaf and dumb – He saved others, but look at Him, He cannot save Himself! [Matthew 27:42]. Look at Him. Look at Him. Look at Him. If You will just come down from the cross we will believe You and all that You say [Matthew 27:42]. He trusted in God – that is what He said – He trusted in God; well, let God deliver Him now, if God would have such a thing. For He said, I am the Son of God" [Matthew 27:43].
Now, that’s the tenor of the sermon tonight, and we’re going to take some of these things that Jesus said. Is He what He said He was? And we’re going to take some things He could claim to do; and can He do them?
All right. We shall begin with the text. Is He the Son of God? For He said, "I am the Son of God" [Matthew 27:43]. Well, let’s just look at how we would react. Suppose a girl with a baby and no father. Suppose a girl were to come up to you and say, "This baby in my arms, without a father, this baby is the Son of God." Would you believe it? A man went up to a minister and asked him that. "You ask me to accept Jesus as the virgin-born, only begotten Son of God, conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary by the Holy Ghost from heaven [Matthew 1:20-25]. Now, you ask me to believe that? Now," said this unbeliever, "if I were to bring to you, or if a girl were to come to you and she were to say to you, ‘This Babe I have in my arms has no father. He is begotten of God in heaven’ [John 3:16]. If she were to come to you and say that, would you believe it? Would you?"
Well, he thought he had that minister at the end of his rope. But God blessed that preacher, and he replied like this: he said, "Sir, if there came up to me a girl who had never been married, and she placed before me a Babe that she said was begotten of the Holy Ghost from heaven [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:3031, 34-35], if the birth of that Baby had been prophesied by all of the prophets of God for the thousands of years before [Genesis 3:15; Numbers 24:17; Isaiah 9:6-7], and if, when that Baby was born, the angels came and announced His birth to the shepherds in the fields [Luke 2:8-12], and, when that Baby was born, if a star from the East guided the priests of the Pharsees [Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11], and if all heaven burst into rejoicing and into glory and into gladness [Luke 2:13-14], and if that Child grew up to be the most remarkable of all of those who ever spake [John 7:46], and the most remarkable of all of those who ever wrought; and if, when He was slain [Matthew 27:32-50], the third day He was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7], and if, after His appearing for forty days [Acts 1:3], He ascended back up to glory [Acts 1:9-10]; and if, after these two thousand years, there were followers of that Baby by the millions and the millions; if a girl could bring to me a Baby like that, I would say the Child was begotten of the Holy Ghost from heaven" [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:30-31, 34-35].
Ah! What an answer! It’s the same kind of a thing as a man one time went up to Napoleon Bonaparte, and he said, "Napoleon Bonaparte, I’m trying to start a new religion, and I’m the messiah of the new religion, but I can’t get anybody to follow me and I can’t get anybody to believe me. What shall I do?" And Napoleon Bonaparte, mockingly, said to him, "Well, I’ll tell you what to do. You do this and you’ll have a great following: you be born of a virgin, you die, and the third day be raised from the dead, and you’ll have lots of people who’ll believe in you. Very simple, very simple." Ah! The testimony to the truth of the claim of the Son of God who said, "I am the Lord from heaven" [John 6:5].
Another claim of Christ: "He that believeth on Me, as the Scriptures say, out of his life shall flow rivers of living water" [John 7:38]. "I am the light of the world: he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life" [John 8:12]. What an amazing thing! "The light of the world shines in Me. I am the light of the world." Is He? Is He? Can He substantiate that claim? Can He?
One of the most unusual and blessed of all the experiences of my life came to me in a revival meeting. I did not know of it except the pastor. I knew that the pastor had been a chaplain in the army. I did not know where he had been a chaplain, I knew nothing of his service, I just knew that the pastor of the church where I was holding a meeting was a chaplain in World War II. And one day, as we were seated at the dinner table after a noon service, my singer, who was from another church, my singer turned out also to have been a chaplain in the armed forces of our country.
And as those two men, the pastor of the church and the singer in the revival meeting – he was an ordained minister, the singer was – as they sat there at the table, it just happened to be that they began to talk and found out that both of them were chaplains in the same area of that world conflict. They were chaplains in the South Pacific seas.
And I sat there and listened to the most amazing of all of the conversations I have ever listened to in my life. For, those chaplains described how those American boys would parachute out of the skies and fall down in those impenetrable jungles in New Guinea. And those chaplains would describe how those American boys, shipwrecked at sea, would be washed up on the shores of those South Sea Islands. And they described how those American boys were rescued by natives – black – who heretofore had been cannibalistic. And those natives had taken those American boys and had taught them the Word of God, and had won them to Jesus, and had baptized them into their little churches in New Guinea and in the Pacific South Sea islands. And as I listened to those chaplains talk, I felt I was standing in the presence of all the chapters of The Acts of the Apostles. For missionaries had been before them, and they had won those black natives to Jesus on the Fiji islands, in New Guinea, throughout the vast Pacific seas – had built little churches.
And those godly natives, when our boys parachuted out of the skies and when they were washed up on the seashores, those boys had ministered to our American GI’s and had won them to Christ. An amazing thing! I’ve been around this world – in Africa, in India, in Indonesia – I’ve been around this world, and I tell you truly, no finer sight in this earth than to see out of the bush, or out in the jungle, or in the middle of the desert, a church of Jesus Christ with a little spire pointing up to God. And there you’ll find the hospital; and there you’ll find the orphanage; and there you’ll find the missionary; and there you’ll find the nurse; and there you’ll find the doctor. "I am the light of the world" [John 8:12]. Is He? Beyond the glorious imagination that any man could think for, this blessed Lord Jesus.
Once again, once again, Jesus said, "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never, never die" [John 11:25-26]. Is that true? No man ever said that. No orator, no poet, no author, no man that ever breathed ever said that. "I am the resurrection, and the life." If another man said that, it would be ridiculous! But for Jesus to say, it is the very truth of heaven itself. "I am the resurrection, and the life" [John 11:25].
In the day when our Lord said that, and in the days of the first Christian century, death was an appalling terror; it was an indescribable darkness and blackness. Even the Jew looked upon it with dread and foreboding in the shadowy space, unknown, of a Sheol. And how the Greek and how the Roman shielded his eyes from the awful terror of the coming death. But in Christ it was turned to incomparable celestial victory. One of the followers of the Lord could say, "O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?" [1 Corinthians 15:55]. And one of those followers could say, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is a gain" [Philippians 1:21]. Who could say that but one who had found the resurrection and the life in the Lord Jesus?
One day, going through the Roman Forum, I came unto a part of those ruins in which were displayed the ashes, in urns, of those noble Romans who had perished in their day. Then after that, I went down into the catacombs below the city, where the Christians of the first century laid away their dead. You see, the Greek and the Roman had no hope. He had no light. He had no joy. He had no victory. He had no gladness. Death, to him, was an indescribable end, a horrible judgment!
But for those Christians, they felt that in death we just fell asleep in Jesus [1 Corinthians 15:18-20; 1 Thessalonians 4:14] – open our eyes in a more glorious world [2 Corinthians 5:8]. So they took the Greek word koimaō, which means, "to sleep," and they called their places where they laid their dead, koimētērions. And when you take the Greek word koimētērion, "sleeping place," and spell it out in English letters, in our alphabet, in our pronunciation, it comes out "cemetery." A cemetery is a Christian word, it’s a Jesus word, it’s a church word, and it means, "a sleeping place." And that’s why the Christian buried his dead in the catacomb, for by law in the Roman Empire, the body had to be burned. But to the Christian, the body was a sacred house, a temple of the Holy Spirit of God [1 Corinthians 6:19], that one day would be raised in the likeness of the resurrection of our Lord [Romans 6:5]. So the Christian people took their dead and carefully, lovingly, laid them away awaiting the resurrection of the Lord. And they called the place of sleeping a "koimētērion," a sleeping place, a cemetery – until the trump shall sound and our Lord shall speak words of life to those who fall asleep in Jesus [1 Thessalonians 4:14-17]. "I am the resurrection and the life."
For just a moment now, can He do what He said He could do? Can He do what He said He could do? "Destroy this temple, He said, and in three days I will raise it up" [John 2:19]. And when you turn to the Gospel, you will find that, though the Lord said that three years before, when He was tried, they taunted Him with that [Matthew 27:39-40]. And when He was dying on the cross, they jeered Him and they tried bringing to His mind those things that He had said, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."
And John said our Savior was speaking of the temple of His body [John 2:21]. And when they crucified the Lord [Matthew 27:32-50], they laid His body in a tomb, and against it they rolled a great stone, and on that stone [Matthew 27:57-60], they made a Roman seal [Matthew 27:66], the breaking of which was to bring down the ire, and the wrath, and the judgment of the imperial power of the Roman Empire. But on the third day, but on the third day, an angel came down from heaven and rolled that stone away and in contempt sat upon it [Matthew 28:1-2]. The third day, He was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7] according to what He said: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" [John 2:19]. And the most substantiated of all of the facts of history is the living resurrection of our living Lord [Matthew 28:1-7].
A second thing He said He could do: "And they brought to Him a man sick of the palsy, and the Lord looked upon Him and said, Thy sins be forgiven thee" [Mark 2:5]. "Thy sins be forgiven thee." Can He forgive sins? "Thy sins be forgiven thee." And those that were gathered around, when they heard Him say that, they said, "This Man blasphemes! [Mark 2:7]. Why, He blasphemes! Who can forgive sins but God?" [Mark 2:7]. That’s correct. Who can forgive sins but God? He blasphemes, "Thy sins be forgiven thee" [Mark 2:5]. And when the Lord knew what they were saying in their hearts, He said, "Tell Me which is easier. Is it easier to say thy sins be forgiven thee? Or is it easier to say, Arise, take up thy bed, and walk?" [Mark 2:8-9].
Well, you might try it. Let’s get somebody who is permanently ill, and let’s get you or Oral Roberts, either one – let’s get you or Oral Roberts, either one, and let’s see you say to one who is permanently, really, that I can see who is ill, let’s see you say to them, "Arise, take up your bed and walk." And if Oral Roberts can do it, I’ll quit being a preacher, I’ll quit being a Baptist, and I’ll be a devotee and a disciple of Mr. Roberts, and I’ll go around like the rest of the lunatics, and just on and on and on.
No man can do that but the Lord God. And I have never – and I’ve watched them by the hour – I’ve never yet seen one that I could verify, not one, not one. And I want to say my sentence that I believe so much: I believe in divine healing, I believe in praying for our sick, I believe in bringing them unto God, and I believe in the power of the Lord healing our bodies, but I don’t believe in divine healers, not a one of them! Whether it’s Amy Semple McPherson in the days when I was a boy, or whether it’s Oral Roberts in the days when I am a man – either one, either one.
So, He said, "Now, you just say which is easier: Thy sins be forgiven thee; or Take up thy bed and walk" [Mark 2:9]. Then the Lord said, "That you may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (He saith to him that was sick of the palsy,) ‘Arise, take up thy bed, go unto thy house’ [Mark 2:10-11]. And he arose, picked up his bed, and walked away whole again" [Mark 2:12].
Ah! What a confirmation! This is the power of God in our midst, and the verification of His power to forgive sins is His power to raise up these who are permanently, incurably, decimated by the power of disease. Christ can break it, and He still does it.
Walking down the streets of Chicago one time, just meandering around downtown, I heard singing, gospel singing. I walked across the street and up half a block and looked in, and there was a mission. And I never saw, not in my life, a more nondescript, polyglot group of indescribables in my life as I saw on the inside of that mission. Where they collected together, I have no idea. So I just opened the door and stepped in, and sat at the back and listened and watched. I tell you, you should have been there! All of them spoke in a brogue and in an accent, and they were people so different from what I’d ever seen and had ever known.
But, oh! The service! They just – I don’t know how long that they continued. I stayed there until I could hardly keep my eyes open any longer. They had everybody – they had something that he wanted to do. One would say, "I have written a poem about Jesus," and he’d get up and he’d read his poem about Jesus. And another would say, "I have a song I want to sing about Jesus," and he’d get up and he’d sing his song about Jesus. And another one would say, "And I have a testimony that I want to make about Jesus," and he’d stand up there and he’d testify about the Lord Jesus.
Why, I could hardly believe, that out of the gutter, and out of the dregs, and out of the flotsam and out of the jetsam of life, Christ could make together so glorious, so happy, so wonderful a group as I looked upon that night in the mission. And He does it all the time. He does it today, He will do it tonight; He will be doing it tomorrow and the next day. The Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins [Mark 2:10], and we can feel that power today.
And a last – and hurriedly, and hurriedly – "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" [John 10:10]. That is a reference to the gladness and the joy of the riches of the gifts of God to us in Christ Jesus. "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly," what Christ can bestow upon those who look in love, in faith, and in trust unto Him.
Ah! The misery that is in this earth outside of our Lord: the hurt, the agony, the pain. Lord Byron was gifted beyond most any Englishman that the British Isles ever produced. He was a nobleman; he was Lord Byron. He was handsome, one of the handsomest men the Lord ever made. And he was brilliant. And he was loved, and pampered, and idolized, cajoled. He was the hero of the British nation – Lord Byron, the incomparable poet. He wrote a poem on his thirty-sixth birthday, and it is entitled "On My Thirty-Sixth Birthday," and practically every schoolboy could quote the first stanza of that poem.
My days are in the yellow leaf;
The flower and fruits of love are gone;
The worm, the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone!
[From "On This Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Birthday"; Lord Byron]
And he died a few months later. He had given his life to pleasure, to wantonness, to sensuality, to carnality, and he died when he was thirty-six, a miserable wretch.
Bobby Burns did the same thing. "Pleasures," he said, "are like poppies spread,"
You seize the flow’r, its bloom is shed;
Or as snow falls in the river,
A moment white – then gone for ever;
Or like the rainbow’s lovely form
Evanishing amid the storm.
Or like the Borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place;
[From "Tam O’ Shanter"; Robert Burns]
Pleasure: it’s satiety, it’s ennui, it’s emptiness, it’s cheap reward.
Or money. Or money. Jay Gould, who came to Jefferson and wrote his name in the book there, they say, so interestingly, Jay Gould, one of the richest men in the world – a magnate and a tycoon of the railroad empire, when to be a tycoon and a magnate of the railroad empire was to be the most powerful man in the world. Jay Gould said in his riches, "I suppose that I am the most miserable man that lives."
And I haven’t time even to mention them – I had these that you know in Hollywood who commit suicide. Ah! Ah! If success is my life, to fail is to be miserable. If money’s my life, to be poor is to be miserable. If fame is my life, to be unknown is to be miserable. If power is my life, to be weak is to be miserable. If health is my life, to be sick is to be miserable. But, if Jesus is my life, whether I’m sick, whether I’m weak, whether I’m poor, whether I’m unknown, makes no difference at all. For He said, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" [John 10:10].
May I close with this thing that happened last Sunday night? Last Sunday night, I was preaching on this radio just as I am tonight, and one of our men who is here, and in his humility won’t let me call his name, one of the men was sick over there in the Oakcliff Medical and Surgical Clinic, and when the time came for this service, he turned the radio on. And as the moments passed, other men who were ill there in the hospital drifted into his room until they had a little congregation of seven or eight or nine. And as the service progressed, and as the preacher preached last Sunday night, their hearts were strangely moved by the presence of the Holy Spirit of God. And when I gave the invitation, the radio went off and the man who was seated at the foot of the bed said to our blessed and dear friend here and in the congregation, he said to him, he said, "You know, I can’t go down that aisle and give my hand to the preacher, but could I give you my hand in token of the fact that tonight I take Jesus as my Savior?" And our blessed young man said, "Why, yes," and extended his hand. And the fellow took his hand in token of the fact that he’d given his heart to Jesus.
And then, out of the fullness of his soul, he began to cry, just tears of gladness. And the nurse heard him cry, and she came in the room and looked at him crying and said, "Oh, sir, are you sick? Are you sick? Is there something I can bring you? Are you ill?" And the man replied, he said, "Good nurse, I was never so well in my life. I’ve never felt so good in thirty-five years."
And Sunday week, God granting, that man and his wife will be walking down that aisle to join the church on a confession of faith and by baptism, as soon as he’s able to attend. "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" [John 10:10]. "Good nurse, I never felt so good in my life. I never felt so well in thirty-five years."
If Jesus is my life, whether I’m in prison, whether I’m poor, whether I’m sick, whether I’m dying, yea, whether I am dead, everything is well with me. "I am the resurrection, and the life" [John 11:25] – abundance in this world and abundance in the world that is to come.
While we sing this appeal, somebody you tonight give your heart to Jesus. A family you, coming into the fellowship of the church, "Pastor, this is my wife, these are my children, all of us are coming tonight." Or just one, just you, in this throng, in this balcony round, there’s a stairway at front and at the back, and there’s time and to spare for you to come. If you’re on that back row in the top balcony, come, "Tonight, preacher, I give my heart in trust to Jesus." On this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, "Here I am, preacher, and here I come. Tonight I give my heart to Him. I give my hand to you." As the Spirit of God shall say the word, shall lead the way, shall make the appeal, make it tonight. Make it now. On the first note of the first stanza, "Here I come, pastor. Here I am. God be praised, I look in faith and in trust to Him. I do it now," while we stand and while we sing.