SCARS FOR THE LORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-11-73 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are worshipping with the people of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Scars for the Lord. These last several months I have been preaching through the Book of Galatians, and this is the last and the concluding message. Sometime in the fall, all of them will be published, and we can read them again. The text is Galatians 6, the last chapter, verse 17 [Galatians 6:17]. And the context is this, beginning at verse 11:
You see with what large letters I write unto you with mine own hand.
As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they themselves should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.
For neither they who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.
But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.
Now the text:
From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.
“For I bear in my body ta stigmata”—if I could translate it exactly, “for I bear in my body the brand marks of the Lord Jesus” [Galatians 6:17].
Out on the western plains of Texas, where I grew up as a boy, every ranchman, every bossman had his brand mark. And at the roundups in the spring and in the fall, the brand that was on the mother cow was incised. It was burned or cut into the flesh of the calf, a brand mark. When I went through Africa many years ago, unless it was a second generation Christian, every native African I saw had scars—deep, deep scars—cut on the face or somewhere on the body. They were signs that this tribal member belonged to a certain clan and a certain family.
It is just such a thing as you found in the days of the Roman Empire. And if I could describe the Roman Empire as any one thing above anything else, I would call it an engine of slavery. Out of a population of something like a hundred million, sixty million of them were slaves. They were chattel property. As you walked down the streets of say, Antioch or Ephesus or Athens or Corinth or Rome, in the days when Paul walked down those streets, three men out of every five you met would have been bond slaves. In those days of such massive human slavery, the owner cut a scar—a place in the body of the slave, in order that he might be easily identified and apprehended if he ran away. It might be in the lobe of the ear. It might be in the face, in the hand, the arm, somewhere. And the Greeks had a name for it, as they proverbially had a name for everything. The Greeks had a name for it. They called that scar cut in the flesh of the slave a stigma—plural, stigmata. We have taken the word bodily, spelled exactly alike, and put it in our English vocabulary, a stigma—a sign, somehow of inferiority. But in the days of the apostle Paul, it was the word for the scar cut in the body of the slave—a stigma. And Paul uses that word to describe his own devotion to Christ, “For I bear in my body ta stigmata—the brand marks, the scars—of the Lord Jesus” [Galatians 6:17].
Sometimes the beauty of the language of the King James translation will hide away the rough, jagged edges of a word that the apostle will use. Here is an instance of it. In Romans 1:1 and Philippians 1:1 and Titus 1:1, in the King James Version you read it like this: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ.” What he actually wrote was, Paulos doulos Iesou Christou, “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ.” No life but the life of the Lord. No will, no message, no vision, no hope, no tomorrow, but that he found in Christ, “a slave of Jesus Christ.” And as a slave, he refers to ta stigmata—the brand marks, the scars he bears as a sign and symbol of that servitude. He belongs to Jesus—scars, brand marks, for the Lord.
I wish I could have seen the body of the apostle Paul. Great, livid scars filled his face. And I could have asked him, “Paul, where did those scars come from?” And he could have replied, “Once was I stoned at Lystra and dragged outside the city for dead” [Acts 14:6, 19]. I wish I could have seen his back, crossed and crisscrossed with livid scars. “Paul, where did they come from?” And he could have replied, “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one [2 Corinthians 11:24]; and thrice was I beaten with Roman rods” [2 Corinthians 11:25]. They are the scars, the brand marks of the Lord Jesus. I wish I could have seen his wrists and his ankles, covered with deep callouses. “Paul, where did those callouses come from?” And he could have replied, “In prisons above measure” [2 Corinthians 11:23]. It is hard for us to realize that most of the ministry of the apostle Paul he spent in dungeons, manacled in fetters and in stocks. They are the brand marks, the scars, ta stigmata, of the Lord Jesus.
Well, Paul, aren’t you boasting? Aren’t you proud of your devotion? Aren’t you lifted up because of your great sufferings for the Lord? No, for he had just written in the text, “God forbid that I should glory, that I should boast, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” [Galatians 6:14]. Well then, if you are not boasting and glorying in your superlative devotions and illimitable sacrifices, then why do you speak of yourself and why do you refer to your scars? The answer is found in the book as a whole.
The Book of Galatians was written to the churches that he founded on his first missionary journey. And as Paul preached, he was always followed by Judaizers, who said that he was a false apostle. “He is a pseudo-apostle. The real apostles are the twelve—Peter, James, and John. But this Paul, this Saul, we do not even know how he got into that fold or in that classification. And he is not a true emissary from heaven. And the message that he preaches is not the true message of Christ. It is heresy. It is a dilution. It is not a true revelation of the grace of God.” And they spurned his work and discounted his ministry and made little of his efforts. And it was in answer to that castigation that Paul wrote this letter called “Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia.” And in defense of his apostleship, he writes this text, “For I bear in my body the stigmata—the brand marks, the scars, of the Lord Jesus” [Galatians 6:17].
Somehow it is very difficult to scorn and to ridicule and to belittle real devotion, the pouring out of life unto death. I remember one time seeing on the front page of the Dallas Morning News the picture of a minister of the British government as he stood before the student group of the University of Glasgow. He was a strange and funny and odd-looking spectacle because the students, evidently greatly disliking the British government at that time—and especially that particular representative of it, the students had come prepared for him. And when he was introduced and stood there on the platform before them, they pelted him with rotten eggs and rotten vegetables. Then they threw flour all over him. And the picture that I saw was of that dignified minister of the British government standing there before the student group at the University of Glasgow, covered with rotten eggs and rotten vegetables and then flour all over him.
I asked Lance Burks about that this morning. And he said, “No, that’s just Scots people for you; that’s not England.” But you know, as I looked at the picture of the insult that they planned and executed on that minister of the British government, my mind went back to another occasion, when in that same university another man had been introduced to the student group. The chancellor of the university that day introduced to the young men of the University of Glasgow God’s missionary—David Livingstone. And in the history book that I read, the book said that when David Livingstone stood up and walked to the front of the desk there to speak to the group, the students looked at him—his hair burned crisp under the torrid, tropical sun; his body wasted and emaciated with jungle fever; his right arm hanging limp at his side, destroyed by the attack of a ferocious African lion. And the book said, when the students looked at him they stood up in awe and in silence before God’s missionary.
There is a power in consecration and devotion that grips the human heart and it is difficult to belittle it or to ridicule it. Is not that the power of the Son of God—the message that saves us from our sins? Is it not the story of the cross: the message of His sufferings; the preaching of the gospel of His love and life poured out unto death? If there had been no Gethsemane and had there been no cross and no crown of thorns and no blood poured out, we would yet be in our sins. The power of the gospel of Christ is found in His sufferings and in His cross. And the corollary and concomitant is no less true. The power of the church has always been in its consecration and in its devotion, in the blood of the martyrs, in the songs of those who praised God while they were being burned at the stake, in the pouring out of life unto death in behalf of the name of Christ—the stigmata, the scars of the Lord.
And there is another corollary, and concomitant, and amendment that follows also. The weakness of the church is found in its lack of devotion—our unburdened hearts, our unprayed prayers, our unspoken testimonies, our unoffered gifts. We give something if there is anything left over, it does not cost us anything. We come if it is convenient. But as for the pouring out of life unto death, as for tears of intercession and burden, as for our consecration that God could use and bless, we hardly know it in our effete and effeminate life of ease.
A few years ago, as some of you know, I was in Oberammergau, looking at that famous Passion play. And I was told that in a previous time there was an American tourist and his wife who were there in attendance upon that play. And between acts, the wife of the American tourist said to her hubby, “Now, you pick up that cross, and I will take a picture of you carrying the cross.” He thought it was a good idea, so he walked over there to pick up the cross while his wife took a picture of him. He could not lift it. And about that time, Anthony Lang came by—who for thirty years played the part of the Christos in the play. And the American asked him, Anthony Lang, “Why so heavy? For this is just a play. This is an act. Why is the cross so heavy?” And Anthony Lang humbly and simply answered, “Sir, when I carry it, if I don’t feel it, I can’t play my part. If it doesn’t cost me anything, if I don’t feel it, I can’t do it.” And that is exactly the measure of our devotion before God. If it costs us nothing, then it turns to dust and ashes in our hands. The power of the testimony and the reality of the message is defined by the tears, sobs, and prayers, and sacrifice that we are willing to pour into it. And if there are no tears and there is no sacrifice and if it does not cost, then the witness is feeble and sterile and empty in the earth. Where are our scars for the Lord?
There are a thousand areas in our church life of which I wish I had time to speak. Oh, to call our church to a tremendous dedication! Doing what else we do to make a living, to pay the bills, but actually our lives are God’s, and what we do we are doing for the glory of the Lord. The building of our elementary school, oh, I pray our church will help us build that school. Building our Institute; O God, bless our efforts in building that teaching ministry. All of the other things; this home that I so dream for, for our retired people, coming to the end of life with a song and a gladness—not with dread and foreboding. But out of all of the things that I could speak of, pouring our lives into the service of Christ, I choose one—the main one, the one that colors all others and that is, our winning lost people to Jesus—searching for them, praying for them, witnessing to them, bringing them to the Lord; that is our heavenly mandate.
You know, sometimes things that happened when you are young made a far greater impression upon you than what happens in greater life. Here is one, something that happened when I was a youth—just beginning to preach—that gave a color and an emphasis to every day of my gospel ministry through the years since. Upon a time, through a friend, I accepted an invitation to preach in a revival meeting, a two-week meeting in a place I had never seen, with a church I had never heard of, and a pastor I did not know. For two weeks, I preached in that little country church. There was no burden. There was no prayer of agony for the lost. There was no effort to win them. For two weeks, every morning and every night, I held that revival meeting. And it was barren, and sterile, and empty, and void.
On Friday of the second week—on Friday morning at the morning service, I went through the congregation in the church and I asked them one at a time, “Do you have a burden for the lost? Is there somebody you are praying to be saved? Is there somebody that you lay before God’s throne of saving grace? Is there somebody on your heart?” I went through the entire congregation, and the answer was, “No,” there was nobody—nobody. After I was ready to dismiss the service in despair; the whole revival was a daily Gethsemane to me. I just died and suffered in my soul. Before the benediction that Friday morning, there was a little mother on the second row at the end of the seat, who held up her hand like this and said, “Brother Criswell, Wait, wait. My husband died several years ago. I am a widow, and I have two boys, and I am trying to raise those two boys.” And she said, “My boys are lost,” and broke down and cried. The first time I saw any burden of heart in two weeks. She broke down and cried, “My two boys are lost.” When she regained her composure, she added, “Oh, that someone would help me win my two boys to Christ!”
After the service was over, we went to a beautiful Kentucky home, such as you would think of in that bluegrass state, and there was a lovely dinner prepared by the hostess of the home. The table groaned under the victuals that were cooked and placed there on the table. And after all of us had eaten to our heart’s content, why, we went outside. And there on the beautiful lawn in front of the home, under those big, beautiful maple trees, why, we sat down and were talking and talking, and the afternoon was slipping away. And my heart grew increasingly heavy. I moved my chair over to the side of the pastor, and I said to him, “Did you hear that little woman this morning?”
He said, “Yes.”
“Her two boys that are lost?”
He said, “Yes.”
“And her plea that somebody would help win them to Jesus?”
He said, “Yes.”
I said, “What are you going to do about it?”
And he replied, “Why, nothing. Why, nothing. If God wants those boys saved, He will save them, without your help or mine.”
I found out that the whole of the church was like that. “If God is going to do it, He is going to do it. If God is not going to do it, He is not going to do it, and without any effort on our part—God’s will. I am not going to do anything.”
I said to him, “Could I be excused from this lovely and gracious company, and would somebody take me to that little mother’s house?”
He said, “Why, certainly, if you want to go.”
I said, “I want to do it more than anything in the world.”
So I excused myself from the lovely company and got in a car, and the man took me up to such-and-such lane. And he said, “Right up that lane she lives.”
I got out of the car, and I said, “I will get to church some way tonight.” So I walked up that lane and knocked at that humble farm home, and that little mother came to the door. I said, “Mother, I heard what you said this morning. Your two boys are lost. Where are those boys?”
She said, “My younger son is in the barn milking the cows. And my older son has not come in yet from the fields.”
I said, “Mother, would you get down on your knees and stay on your knees, and pray and ask God to bless me as I try to win those boys to Jesus?”
She said, “I will.”
And she got down on her knees and I went out to the barn, and there was the younger boy, about sixteen years old, milking the cows. I got me a box, and I set it down by the side of the stool on which he was seated milking the cow. And I said to him, “Son, your mother is inside the house down on her knees praying for you.” And I opened my little New Testament, and I said, “Son, I want to read you out of God’s Book how to be saved.” And I read him those passages in God’s Book that tells us how to be saved. Then I said, “Son, would you kneel down here by my side and pray with me?” And he stopped his milking and knelt down, and I knelt by his side, put my arm around him, and prayed for him that God would save him. And when I finished the prayer, I extended my hand and I said, “Son, if you will give your heart to Jesus, take my hand.” And he squeezed it hard. “I will take the Lord as my Savior.”
By that time, the older boy, all of nineteen, had come in from the fields and he was unharnessing—taking the harness off of the horses, and he was hanging it on pegs in the barn. I went up to him and I said, “Son, your mother is inside the house, down on her knees praying for you. And I want to read to you out of God’s Book how a boy can be saved.” And I read to him those precious passages, and I said, “Son would you get down here on your knees by my side?” And he knelt by my side, and I prayed that God would save him. And when I finished the prayer I extended my hand on our knees, and I said, “Son, if you would take the Lord as your Savior, would you grasp my hand?” And he nearly crushed my hand—held it so hard.
That night at church, when I gave the invitation, those two boys came arm in arm. It was a glorious sight. And that sweet mother shouted like I had not heard anybody shout in thirty years. She shouted that night; those two boys, the only boys, the only people, the only souls that were saved in the meeting. When it was over, I went away. And I did so with a commitment and a resolution in my heart that has colored my ministry ever since. I believe that the praying and the working and the dedication of the whole church ought to be to one holy and heavenly end; namely, that the lost may come to know God. That is what it is all about.
If we are teaching, we are teaching toward that goal. If we are reaching and striving, we are striving toward that goal. If we are living and talking, we are living and talking for that purpose. Somehow God will bless the words we say, and the life we live, and the deeds that we do, that the lost might be saved.
It has just been this last week that a discerning visitor said to me, “I love to come to Dallas to go to the First Baptist Church, because when I sit there in the services, I know that when the invitation is given, God is going to give a harvest.” And he said, “It blesses my heart more than anything in the service to see people come down that aisle, taking Jesus as Savior.”
I said to him, “Sir, I’m exactly like you. As glorious as the choirs can sing, and as marvelous as the spirit of the congregation, and loving to be together and praising God, the sweetest and the most meaningful of everything that we do is to see people come out of that balcony, into these aisles down here to the front, giving their hearts to the blessed Jesus.”
Richard Peacock in his opening prayer thanked God for the service at 8:15. Well, I can understand why. They were from one side of this church to the other. Oh, it was a sweet and a blessed thing God did for us! Would the Lord do it again now? Does it please God to do it again? In a moment, we stand to sing our appeal and as we sing that song of invitation, a family you, a couple you, or a one somebody you, answering God’s call with his life, with her life, would you come? Would you make the decision now in your heart? And on the first note of that first stanza, come. Down one of these stairways, into this aisle here to the front, “Here I am pastor. I have decided for Jesus and here I am. I offer Him my life [Romans 10:8-13]. I ask His blessings of my heart and home and the work of my hands. I am coming today.” Make the decision now in your heart, and when we stand up, on the first note of that first stanza, “Here I come, pastor, here I am. God bless me,” and He will. While we stand and while we sing.