The Real Superman
May 24th, 1970 @ 7:30 PM
THE REAL SUPERMAN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-24-70 7:30 p.m.
As you know, every Sunday night I preach from the life of our Lord. I am asked, ah, so many times, how I preach the services that are conducted in the church. And I describe the days past and the years past, but I say now, as long as God gives me length of days and breath, I’m going to preach Sunday night from the life of Jesus. Whatever the message may be Sunday morning, and it follows many courses now. I’m preaching Sunday morning through the Book of Daniel. But, whatever Sunday morning, Sunday night the message will be from the life of our Lord.
And we’re going through these gospels. And when we get through with this fourth one, the Book of John in which I’m now preaching, we’ll go back to the first chapter of Matthew and go through them again. And every Sunday night, as long as I live, it is my purpose of heart to preach a message on the life of our Lord.
Now, the title of the sermon tonight is, The Real Superman, Christ Jesus. And if you listen to us on the radio, on WRR, we invite you with us, here in the First Baptist Church in Dallas, to read out loud the passage with us. John, chapter 2, John, chapter 2.
And we shall begin with verse 13 and read through verse 22. John, chapter 2, beginning at verse 13 and reading through verse 22. And let’s read it out loud together. The Real Superman, and when you read the passage, you will see the reason for the title. Now, all of us reading it out loud together.
And the Jews’ Passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem,
And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting:
And when He had made a scourge of small cords, He drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;
And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not My Father’s house an house of merchandise.
And His disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of Thine house hath eaten Me up.
Then answered the Jews and said unto Him, What sign shewest Thou unto us, seeing that Thou doest these things?
Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will rear it up.
Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt Thou rear it up in three days?
But He spake of the temple of His body.
When therefore He was risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this unto them; and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.
This is the first public appearance of the Messiah in Jerusalem. It is actually the first formal presentation of Himself before the leadership, the rulers, of the Jewish nation. And can you imagine anyone doing it like this? It is as though a young pastor had been called to be pastor of the church, and he overturns the whole thing, from top to bottom, from side to side. He either throws it out or sweeps it out or turns it around, the first day he is there.
Or, it is the same kind of a thing as though a young presidential aspirant went to his political convention and turned the whole thing upside down. I just cannot imagine such a thing as this. The Lord did that twice. The second time that He did it was on that, what you call Palm Sunday, on the first day of the week when He made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. And on that day, that first Sunday of His Passion Week, the week He was crucified, on that Sunday, He did the same thing again.
Some of you have seen the Passion Play at Oberammergau, and some of you are going to see it this year. Every decade, it is presented, and this 19 and 70 will be the decade that is presented this time. And when you look at that play as I have done, glad that I did, but it’s no loss to you if you don’t see it, remember that. Now, why should I have made that remark? Ah, I guess it’s because people just, you know, they effervesce over something and when actually they just talking. Well, anyway, if you have seen it or if you go to see it this summer, you will find that the play presents the final denouement of the life of Christ in His death. You will find that the play centers around this incident here in the beginning of that denouement, the destruction of the Lord, the crucifixion of Jesus.
And Walter Rauschenbach, one of the great theologians of a past generation and a Baptist, Rauschenbach says that there is great scholarly support for that Oberammergau presentation, that it was this cleansing of the temple on that first Sunday of the Passion Week that made the leaders and rulers of the Jews adamant in their plan and in their program that Christ must be destroyed.
Well, when you look at this carefully, you’ll see why these Biblical scholars would be persuaded of that. Heretofore, until this, what Jesus had done was to antagonize the Pharisees, and He did that because He broke their traditional laws. He didn’t observe their laws of clean and unclean, of washing hands. He broke their traditions, the traditions of the elders, not Bible tradition but rabbinical traditions. And He didn’t observe their rabbinical laws concerning the Sabbath. You know all these things better than I. And the Pharisees were against Him and sought to entrap Him and encompass His fall because He broke their ceremonial laws.
But the Sadducees who were the real rulers of the nation and had all of the temple conduct and guard and program in their hands, the Sadducees were inclined to dismiss the pharisaical objection to Jesus with a sneer, with a sarcastic word. They didn’t care anything about those incidental religious scruples. But what happened in this cleansing of the temple was, when Jesus did that – and you’re going to see this in the development of the sermon tonight – when Jesus did that, He touched the very life – economic – of the Sadducees.
And when the Sadducees decided that it was time to get rid of this young firebrand from Galilee, they had the Pharisees already with them, so it was nothing except a normal, natural outworking of the leadership of the whole nation when the Sadducees and the Pharisees got together and decided to do away with Jesus. Well, it was an amazing thing, an astonishing thing. You rub your eyes to read such a thing as this. And it’s one of the most impossible achievements that ever happened. We’re going to look at all this tonight.
Now, first of all, I think we ought to understand why those oxen, and doves, and pigeons, and rams, and bullocks, and kids, why they were all there for sale. We ought to do that first. And then we ought to know why the money changers were there. Why were they there in the temple?
Now, if you go to visit the temple – there’s a Mosque of Omar on it now – but if you go to look at it, you’ll see it’s a very large area, and the Court of the Gentiles where all this traffic was covered 14 acres. In behind the high wall was the Court of Israel. Then behind another wall, the Court of the Women. Then behind another wall, the Court of the Priests. The wall of the Priests were about, oh, two feet high. And then beyond that was the sanctuary, the temple itself.
Now, out there in that outer court, the Court of the Gentiles, that was were all this traffic was. Now, there’s a reason for it. First, the money had to be changed that was brought to the worship of God in the temple. There was a law according to the Word of God that all the males of Israel had to pay a half shekel tax a year, and all over the world that tax was assessed. And if they lived abroad and couldn’t come, they sent it. That’s one of the reasons the temple was so enormously rich.
But if it was possible, the Jew brought it. Now, if you had a Roman coin, and of course the whole world used Roman coins, all of them did. If you were in Phrygia, or in Asia, or in Achaea, or in EspaÃ±a, or in Gaul, or in Etruria, no matter where you were, you used Roman coins, because it was the coinage of the Empire. Now, the Roman coin had an effigy of Caesar upon it and had a superscription dedicated to Caesar. And it was unthinkable to the Jew that you could bring a superscription, that you could bring an inscription to Caesar, that you could bring an image of Caesar into the temple. So they had to change the money from whatever province they lived in to a temple money that had no image upon it.
Now that’s where your money changer came from. Also, they changed big pieces of money into little pieces of money, just like we do here. If you’re going to give it to the Lord, why, let’s give it just as small as we can.
Did you know here in this church, I had a fellow come up to me and ask me if I had change for a nickel. Why, I said, why don’t you give the nickel? No, he said, I don’t want to give that much. Now, that happened right here in the City of Dallas, in this very church.
Whenever we give to the Lord, we just pull out all the tail feathers we possibly can before we put in the collection plate. Well, that’s what they were doing there too. We’re just like those Jews, and those Jews just like us. We’re going to give just as little as we possibly can and get by with it. So they had money changers there.
Now, about that traffic in the temple; as you know, when you worship God in the temple, you did it with an offering, with a sacrifice. And it was convenient; if you lived over there in, oh, in Phrygia, or in Mysia, or in Macedonia, or down there in Libya, or just wherever over the Roman Empire. Some of the worshipers came clear from England. If you lived afar away, it was a help to you to buy your lamb there, or to buy your pigeon there, or to buy your bullock or your kid or whatever, to buy it there; the same with the meal, and the salt, and the oil, and all the other things that went into the rudiments of worship there. So, that’s why you found these in the temple.
Now, the thing was a vile institution. Anything that is bad, always, it is something good corrupted. There’s no exception to that. God made all things good, and He said as He looked upon it, "it’s good." But what’s bad is good corrupted. And that’s what happened to this institution here. It was a gracious thing that they had a lamb provided if you lived way out there in the far province and came to Jerusalem for the worship. It was a gracious thing to have the lamb there for you to buy; a gracious thing to have the meal, and the oil, and the salt.
But, ah, they had made it a vile institution. And here’s the way they did it: When you come to the New Testament and read this story, what obtains is this, the Roman government is selling the high priesthood to the highest bidder and to the most astute political aspirant. And the fellow that had it in the days of Christ was the house of Annas. He himself was high priest. His four sons were high priests, and at this particular time, his son-in-law Caiaphas was high priest. And if ever there were shrewd, corrupt bargainers in this world, it was the House of Annas and that high priesthood. They were dupes, and pawns, and stooges of the Roman government; that’s all they were. And they used that high and sacred office for economic gain and aggrandizement. And it is very simple how they did it. When they changed money, they made money on it.
Do you ever change money going abroad? Let me tell you, if you do, you get skinned two ways. First of all, when you take your money and change it into their money, they skin you. They take you for all you’re worth. All right, the first time they get skin. Now the second time you get skinned is when you take their money and change it back into your money, they skin you again, or change it into another nation’s money that you are going to visit the next day.
Well, that’s exactly what happened then. Those money changers skinned them coming, and they skinned them going, and they charged them high interest rates. What is that word? Usuriance. It’s usury, then it would be usuriance. Isn’t that right? You don’t know. Both of us try to preach this sermon tonight. They were cheats.
All right, second. Annas and company had monopolistic control of that traffic in the cattle, and the herds, and the fowls that are offered for sacrifice. And by monopoly, I mean a total economic stranglehold on it.
Now, let me show you. Now, all this I just read back there. These are things that are written in the history books. Suppose you brought a lamb. Now, you brought it yourself. Now, if you bought it, if you bought it from Annas and Company, or if you bought it from a subsidiary – I don’t care what it was, it was very acceptable. But if you bought that lamb or that sacrificial offering from anybody but Annas and Company, they would carefully look at the lamb you brought and find some kind of a black spot on your white lamb, and they wouldn’t accept it. Or, they would find a little tail feather out of position in your dove or in your pigeon, and they wouldn’t accept it. So if you wanted to get by with your sacrifice, the smart thing for you to do was, to buy it from Annas and Company or one of their subsidiaries.
Did you know what I came across? So vile was that temple traffic, and so monopolistic was it, that once in a while, they would take out everything that was possible to be offered, and then what little was left, they would charge exorbitant prices for it. And here’s what I read in my studying: One of those worshipers who came to the temple to sacrifice, poor, he had to pay four dollars for a pigeon that normally cost eight cents. That’s what went on in that temple.
And that’s why, when Jesus came, His face flushed red, and His eyes flashed fire. Now, can you imagine Jesus like that? This poor, anemic, bony, skinny, emaciated, half-starved critter that you have painted who’s been hung up there on the cross, now can you imagine that? Standing there before that group of temple guard and Roman soldiers, looking down from the tower of Antonio, and the Sadducees, and the high priests, and the Pharisees, and the doctors of the law. Can you imagine that skinny, anemic, weak Christ doing this?
Ah! You get a wrong idea because of some of this sentimental preaching that I heard you talking about back there on the part of these pacifistic preachers. Did you know the revelation of God in the Bible is one of grace, and mercy, and forgiveness? That’s correct. But just as much in the Bible will you find Him to be a God of retribution, and of judgment, and of condemnation.
There is a phrase in the Book of the Revelation that ought never to be blotted out, and that phrase is, "The wrath of the Lamb." Remember that phrase? "The wrath of the Lamb." Remember that sentence in the sixth of the Revelation that closed the Book, "For the great day of His wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?" Well, that’s what you find here.
This is nothing other than a fulfillment of this prophecy in the third chapter of the Book of Malachi. The Lord’s coming, coming to His temple, Malachi says.
But who may abide the day of His coming?
Ad who shall stand when He appeareth?
For He is like a refiner’s fire
And like fuller’s soap – like a dyer’s soap, like a laundryman’s soap.
And He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.
[Malachi 3:2, 3]
It’ll be a flame and a fire when He comes! And that was true both times, when He came here in this, and it’s certainly true when He comes again to bring judgment on all the earth. So, here this firebrand, here this young prophet, first time He appears before the nation in Jerusalem, here He appears. And He has a cord in His hand, one that He wove Himself. And look at Him. Why, you’d rub yours eyes in astonishment as you see it. And you’re overwhelmed by what it is, and you’re mystified because there’s no opposition to Him.
The temple guard does not do anything. The Roman soldiers don’t do anything. And nobody does anything. He just does it. He takes that cord, and He drives out of the temple all of the oxen, and the herds, and the flocks; takes it all out. And He takes those money changers’ tables, and He – and I can just hear the sound of that silver and gold as it splashes on the temple and rolls all over the place, as He turns over the money changers and drives them out.
Well, I want you to tell me why it is that – now, He doesn’t have an army with Him. He’s by Himself. He’s just standing there by Himself. How is it that this young firebrand, this fanatic, this young prophet out of Galilee that nobody every heard of until John the Baptist introduced Him to the world, how is it He does that and they don’t arrest Him or beat His brains out?
Well, I have a reason for that. One, because of the moral grandeur, the sublime stature, the moral glory of Jesus Christ, that’s the first reason.
You know, I ever once in a while, I’ll hear somebody write or hear somebody talk about how such and such and such could not have been in the life of the Lord. You know, the miracles that He did. You know, ever time I read that or ever time I hear that, I think this, "My brother, you couldn’t begin to imagine what was possible in the presence of the grandeur of Jesus Christ. You don’t know, you don’t know." Think of standing in the presence of the Son of God. No wonder the demons fled, and eyes that were blind could see, and the ears that were stopped began to hear in His presence. All right, now that’s the first reason.
Why didn’t the temple guard arrest Him, or why didn’t those money changers, like they did the Apostle Paul, don’t you remember in the Book of Acts when the Apostle Paul visited that temple, they got a-hold of him and they were beating him to death, and the soldiers up there in the Tower of Antonio came pouring down the temple and rescued him. And had it not been for the rescue of those Roman soldiers, they would have beat Paul to death right down there in that identical place, but they never touched Jesus, and the most they said to Him, they came up to Him and asked Him, they said, "What sign givest Thou that thou doest this?" Meek little lambs in His presence. Now, why?
Well, that’s the first reason, because of the moral grandeur of the character and bearing of the Lord Jesus. And this isn’t unusual or peculiar. You’ll find it again and again. Over here in the Gospel of John, they have decided to arrest Him, and they send the entire temple guard to arrest Him, and they come back without Him. And the Sanhedrin said, "Where is He? We sent you to arrest Him." And the temple guard said meekly, "No man every spake like that man;" couldn’t lay their hands upon Him.
All right, another time. Do you remember in the Book of Luke, when the Lord Jesus is speaking in Nazareth, His home town? And they were infuriated by His message, and they brought Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, to cast Him headlong down. Do you remember what the Book says? It says, "And Jesus just walked through their midst." Just walked through their midst. Why didn’t they take Him? Walked through their midst.
I’ll tell you another instance. It’s just all through the life of our Lord. Do you remember when He was arrested, when He was arrested, and the motley crowd – there were Roman soldiers, there was temple guards, there were scribes, Pharisees – there was everybody there in that motley crowd. They had staves, and swords, and torches, and just a great throng in the Garden of Gethsemane where they arrested Him.
Do you remember, they said to Him, "We are seeking Jesus of Nazareth." And the Lord said, "I am He." And they all fell over backward. Remember that story? There was something about Jesus that was incomparable. That has never been with any other man who ever lived. It was not the Apostle Paul; they nearly beat him to death in that same place. It was not with David. It was not with Isaiah. It was not with anybody. That was one of the grandeurs of Jesus.
Every once in a while a poet, you know, will try to seize that pristine glory. That’s the way Tennyson describes Sir Galahad who found the golden grail. Not Lancelot, not any of the other Knights of the Round Table. Sir Galahad did. Remember how Tennyson presents him?
My good blade carves the casques of men,
My tough lance thrusteth sure,
My strength is as the strength of ten,
Because my heart is pure.
That’s an idealization that ultimately found its realization in Jesus Christ. The reason they didn’t take Him is because of the glory of God in Him.
All right, a second reason they didn’t take Him. Somehow there is a cowardice, a condemnation in conscience that is inescapable. Shakespeare says conscience makes cowards of us all. The sketchers, the proverb says, the wicked flee when there are none to pursue, but the righteous are bold as a lion [Proverbs 28:1].
Do you remember Richard the Third says in Shakespeare’s play, remember Richard says, "My conscience has a thousand tongues and every tongue brings a several tale, and every tale condemns me for a villain" [The Tragedy of Richard the Third, Act , Scene 3]. That’s a second reason they didn’t lay hands upon Him. Somehow, when they are involved in a traffic like this that is an affront to God, they are weak like water. And when the Lord came and stood there in His glory, in the righteousness of God Himself, ah, there was a height and a stature that was just unapproachable, and that’s why this happened!
Now, I have come to my sermon. What I wanted to preach about tonight was this glorious saying of our Lord, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." And the Jews said in astonishment, "Forty and six years was this temple in building" [John 2:19, 20], and they were still at it. This is the great temple of Herod. Forty and six years was this temple building.
You know, I can’t tell whether the historian is right or not, but some of these historians say the most beautiful city in the world at this time was Jerusalem, and some of them say the most beautiful temple the world has ever seen was this Herodian temple in Jerusalem at this time; made out of white brick. There’s one of the most glorious passages in Josephus that describes that temple that you’ll ever read in human literature. He says it blinded your eyes to look upon it. That white, white, white, white limestone, and it was covered on top with golden spikes to keep the birds from lighting on it, and the vast area covering acres. Forty and six years was this temple in building, and yet you say, tear it down and you can raise it up in three days. But Jesus spake of the temple of His body.
Ah, what that does to these modern theologians! They say, they say that Jesus fell into death like any other mortal or any other hero who made a mistake in his program, and some of them say that He changed His program when He saw it was going to succeed, and thus fell into crucifixion and death. No! A thousand times, no! From the beginning, Jesus knew He was going to die. He came into this world for that purpose, to die for our sins. And here at the beginning of His Messianic ministry, He announces that death.
And think of a man saying that, destroy the temple of this body, and I’ll raise it up. Imagine that. Imagine your saying that. "Kill me, put me down in that dust, and dirt, and ground, and the grave, and I’ll raise myself up again." Ah! Like He said in the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John, "I have power to lay down My life."
Did you notice on the cross when He died? The Book says He dismissed His spirit. He laid down His life, and on the third day He took it up again. Ah! But further, there is a way in which this is literally the truth. "Destroy this temple – the Herodian temple – and in three days I’ll raise it up again."
For, in 70 AD, when that unnamed Roman soldier, against the commands, and mandates, and specific instructions of Pilate, the Roman general, when that Roman soldier took that torch and threw it into the Holy of Holies, and the whole temple set on fire, burned, and the Roman legions destroyed the city and the temple and laid it to the ground, there is a way in which that was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Christ.
The veil was rent, the temple was destroyed, and the old ceremonies and sacrifices ceased, hoary with age, and the old covenant passed away, and out of the death, and destruction, and suffering, and atonement was born the new order, the church with its gospel of grace for the whole world.
And I must conclude, our time’s gone. And this is a figure of what is happening in the world and shall continue to the great triumphant consummation of the age. Satan and evil men and sin tear us down. They waste us, they destroy. But out of the wreckage Christ shall bring in a new day, and a new order, and a new glory.
This afternoon, a man called me from a distant state. And he introduced himself. He said, "I’m a drunk." Now, that’d make you pay attention, whatever a man calls you. "I’m a drunk." That’s the way he started off to me. "I’m a drunk. But," he said, "I have found the Lord. I’ve been saved. I’ve been saved. The Lord has saved me, and I wanted to call you. I wanted to tell you about it. I’ve been saved. I’ve been regenerated. I’ve been born again." And he said, "I just wanted to know, if I went to the Southern Baptist Convention in Denver, would it be possible for me to tell the people there how God has gloriously saved me?"
I said, "Aw, fellow, I wish I could say yes, but the Convention is not like that. It’s a business session, and what part of inspiration is scheduled has been made by a committee years ago. And there’s no opportunity for any testimony like that. But," I said, "let me rejoice with you." And then he began to just pour out his heart, in praise to Jesus.
That’s this. Satan fouls us up, sin tears us down. The world wastes us. That’s right. But the business of Jesus is building us up. The business of the Lord is redeeming us, giving us new life, new vision, new hope, new dreams, new joy, new everything.
"Behold," He says, "I make all things new. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely" [Revelation 21:5, 6]. "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. Let him that heareth say, Come. Let him that athirst say, Come. And whosoever will, let him come down here and take the water of life freely" [Revelation 22:17]. That’s for us. That’s for you. Come, come, come.
In a moment we’re going to sing our song and in the balcony round, you, on the lower floor, you, to give your heart to Jesus, to give your life to the Savior, to come into the fellowship of His church; as the Spirit shall press the appeal, make it now. Come now, do it tonight. A family you, all of you come. A couple you, two of you come. A one somebody you, one of you come. Make the decision now. Do it now. And in a moment, when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. That first step will be the greatest step you ever made in your life. Do it. Make the decision now. And when you stand up, stand up coming. "Here I am, pastor, I decide for God tonight," while we stand and while we sing.