The Gospel of Jesus and Paul
April 22nd, 1979 @ 8:15 AM
THE GOSPEL OF JESUS AND PAUL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-22-79 8:15 a.m.
It is a gladness on the part of all of us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas to welcome the uncounted thousands of you who are listening to this service on the two radio stations. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Gospel of Jesus and Paul. And it is a message far different than what you might think; far different from what I would have thought when I grew up as a boy.
In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we are in chapter 26. And I begin reading at verse 15. Paul is describing his conversion, and he says:
Who art Thou, Lord? And He said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.
But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee,
Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:
But preached first in Damascus, then at Jerusalem, then throughout all the region of Judea, then to the nations, that they should turn to God.
There is no tenet, there is no teaching, there is no doctrine of the Christian faith that has not been bitterly, and viciously, and vengefully, and vitriolically assailed. Whether it be the inspiration of the Bible, the infallibility of the recounted Word, or whether it be the deity of Christ [Titus 2:13], or the virgin birth of our Lord [Matthew 1:20-25], or His atoning death [Matthew 27:26-50, Romans 4:25], or His resurrection from among the dead [Matthew 28:1-7], or His coming again [Acts 1:10-11], there is no doctrine, no preaching, no teaching of the Lord that has not been bitterly denied and viciously assailed. But one of the strangest and most unusual of all the bitter attacks against the gospel message is this: that there is an abysmal discrepancy between the simple Jesus and the theological Paul.
The critics say that Paul took the humble peasant Teacher from Nazareth and grafted upon Him and foisted upon Him a vast system of speculative theology regarding sin, and salvation, and faith; that the apostle Paul took the humble Jesus of Nazareth and made out of Him some kind of a great high priest who offered Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. And these critics avow that Paul took the church away from its main course, early in the first Christian century, and that it has never gotten back to its original purpose in the centuries since; and that what we need to do is to be rid of the speculative theological positions of Paul and to get back to the simple, humble Prophet of Nazareth. For example, I’m going to read a passage from Dr. Henry Clay Vedder. It is entitled "The Fundamentals of Christianity." This is the great Baptist scholar of Crozer Theological Seminary, a Northern Baptist Institution, and the author of the Baptist history that was my textbook when I went to the seminary. I quote from Dr. Vedder:
That Jesus of Nazareth spent His public life in giving to the twelve a teaching that He declared to be the way of life, and that He had no sooner left the world than from His state of glory, He straightway deputated another man to be His mouthpiece and chief accredited organ, and that through this new mouthpiece, He proceeded to set aside the chief part of what He had taught during His lifetime, substituting for its simple ethic a complicated group of theological speculations, so as to make a system of theology the gospel, instead of a proclamation of the kingdom of God. This is a hypothesis so fantastic, so lacking in all elements of credibility, that one marvels how it could find a sane advocate anywhere. Who can credit that the heavenly Christ, taught through Paul, something so different from what the earthly Jesus taught the twelve? It is a historical fact, of course, that the entire church of the following centuries proceeded to substitute Paul for Jesus as the authoritative teacher of Christianity. Paul’s teaching was quietly put in the place of the teaching of Jesus.
This from one of the great Baptist scholars of the world.
He but echoes what had been said years before him by Renan, the great, gifted genius, literary critic, of France. Years ago, Renan, in the closing chapter of his Life of Saint Paul, wrote, just like this, and I quote from Renan, quote:
After having been for three centuries, thanks to Orthodox Protestantism, the Christian teacher par excellence, Paul sees in our day his reign drawing to a close. Jesus, on the contrary, lives more than ever. It is no longer the epistle to the Romans which is the resume of Christianity; it is the Sermon on the Mount. True Christianity, which will last forever, comes from the Gospels; not from the epistles of Paul. The writings of Paul have been a danger and a hidden rock; the causes of the principle defects of the Christian theology. Paul is the father of the fierce theology which damns and predestinates to damnation. Jesus is the Father of all those who seek repose of their souls in the dreams of the ideal.
End quote. It’s not very often that I bring before the congregation in a message all of the theological liberalism that is destroying our churches and destroying our institutions and destroying the old mainline historical denominations of the world. But this time, speaking here in the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts, I wanted to speak of the gospel message of Jesus and Paul.
I could not imagine a more severe, caustic, devastating indictment than these two typical critics from whose writings I have just read. For you see, most of the New Testament is Pauline. There are twenty-seven books in the New Testament; he wrote thirteen of them – fourteen if you count Hebrews. And his friend, the beloved physician Luke, wrote two others; which makes fourteen, fifteen, sixteen all together. Most of the New Testament is from the pen and influence and preaching and doctrine of the apostle Paul. And when we look at the apostle himself, he had no idea but that he was delivering the inspired and infallible message of Christ. In the text that I just read, three times in the Book of Acts does Paul recount his conversion [Acts 9:1-18, 22:6-16, 26:12-18]. And in all three instances he recounts his call to the gospel ministry, such as I’ve just read. "I am Jesus. Rise, stand upon thy feet; I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a witness, a minister of the things which you have seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee" [Acts 26:15-16]. And Paul had no persuasion but that he was delivering the heavenly message of Jesus our Lord.
He so writes, vigorously so. He says, for example, to the churches in Galatia:
Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we have said, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
Then look at him: "I certify unto you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it of man; but by the direct revelation of Jesus Christ" [Galatians 1:11-12]. That was Paul’s persuasion of the message that he delivered.
Now what did the apostles in Jerusalem think about the gospel message of Paul? He writes in this book to the churches of Galatia, "They heard that he which persecuted us in time past now preaches the faith which once he destroyed. And they glorified God in me. They praised the Lord for His grace extended unto me" [Galatians 1:23-24]. And then he says in the next chapter, "When James and Cephas, Peter, and John, pillars of the church, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the Gentiles, and they unto the circumcision, unto the Jews" [Galatians 2:9]. Nowhere in all of the story of the revelation to us of the truth of God in the New Testament is there ever the slightest hint that there is an abysmal discrepancy between the message that Paul preached and the message the apostles preached, which was the gospel of the grace of the Son of God.
Now, we shall look at it, just for a moment, in the brief time that we possess. First of all, concerning the person of our Lord, concerning the person of Jesus, what does Paul say? And what do the Gospels say about Jesus Himself? This is what Paul says. When he recounts the story of his conversion, and three times in the Book of Acts, as I have said, does he recount it, when Paul recounts his conversion, he says that that glorious figure who met him above the brightness of the meridian Syrian noonday sun, that that glorious person who appeared unto him introduced Himself and identified Himself with these words: "I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest" [Acts 22:8]; the historical Jesus of the Gospels. Then he writes, in the first chapter of the letter to the Colossians, he writes about,
The kingdom of God’s dear Son, in whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation: For by Him were all things created, that are created, whether in heaven, in earth, visible, invisible, throne, dominion, principality; all things were created by Him, and for Him: And He is before all things, and by Him all things consist.
[1 Colossians 1:14-17]
Is that the gospel? I quote from the Gospel of John:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made.
In Him was life; and the life was the light of men,
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten Son of God,) full of grace and truth,
For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
[John 1:1-4, 14, 17]
Whether I read it in the Gospels or whether I read it in the apostle’s letters, He is the same Christ, the same Lord Jesus, the same Son of God. As Paul says in the Galatian Epistle, "In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman" [Galatians 4:4]; the same message in the four Gospels; the same message in the epistles of Paul.
I would discuss, if I had time, the ethical content of the messages of Paul, as he writes his letters. Whether it be in the epistle to the Romans, chapter 12 [Romans 12:1-21], or whether it be the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5, 6, and 7 [Matthew 5:1-7:29], it is the same high exalted ethical appeal from God: that we live beautiful, and chaste, and perfect, and Christian lives.
I come now to the discussion that is largely at the heart of this critical and caustic attack, namely, the Pauline conception of the purpose of the death of our Lord: that He died for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], that His death is an atoning sacrifice that we might be saved [1 Corinthians 5:7]. Paul explicitly and repeatedly preaches the gospel that we are lost in our sins, face an inevitable judgment, and that Jesus came into the world to die for us; and in His sufferings, and in His cross, we have forgiveness of sin and hope of eternal life. That is Paul. He will write, for example, in Galatians 6:14, "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." He will write, for example, in Galatians 2:20, "I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me." Paul will write, as in the second chapter of his first letter to the church at Corinth, "And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of knowledge, declaring unto you the oracles of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" [1 Corinthians 2:1-2]. Or the wonderful passage that we read out loud together in the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, "My brethren, I declare unto you, I make known unto you . . . the gospel, wherein ye are saved" [1 Corinthians 15:1-2]. What is the gospel? Then he defines it, "How that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; He was buried, and the third day He was raised again according to the Scriptures" [1 Corinthians 15:3-4], or as he says in the Book of Romans, "He was delivered for our offenses, and was raised for our justification" [Romans 4:25]. Or look again, as Paul will write in the second Corinthian letter, chapter 5, in the last verse, verse 21, "For God made Him to be sin, huper hemon, in our behalf, for us, as our substitute; God made Him to be sin for us, Him who knew no sin: that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" [2 Corinthians 5:21]. Or just typically once again, as Paul would write in the fifth chapter of the Book of Romans, verses 6 through 8:
When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would dare to die.
But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died huper hemon, in our behalf, as our substitute;, in His own body He bore our sins on the tree.
[Romans 5:6-8; 1 Peter 2:24]
Now that is the gospel of the apostle Paul: the atoning death and sufferings of our Lord, whose blood washes our sins away [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5].
Is that also the gospel? Is that also what we read from the pen of those four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? Let us look for just this moment. The very format of the Gospels is that: the death of our Lord. Look at this, dear people: all of the other saints and patriarchs and prophets and apostles in the Bible, all of them, when they come to die, are dismissed in just a sentence or two or three words. No story about their death at all. It’ll be, "Adam, so and so and so, and he died. Methuselah, so and so, and he died." Or, of the patriarchs, "And he was gathered unto his fathers." It’ll be a little brief dismissal sentence like that. John the Baptist was the greatest man ever born of woman, so said the Lord Jesus [Matthew 11:11]; but his death is recounted in a few sentences [Matthew 14:10-13]. And when Luke, the careful historian, speaks of the death of the apostle James, the brother of John, he does it in less than half a dozen words [Acts 12:2]. Wherever in the Word of God the death of a great man of God is presented, it is done in a syllable or two. But when you come to the death of our Lord, all four Gospels delineate that suffering and that cross with long, long chapters. That’s an amazing thing, when you look at the very format and shape of the Gospels. Only two of the Gospels present the virgin birth of Jesus [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:26-35, 2:1-16]. Only two of them describe His temptation [Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13]. Only two of them will describe His Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29; Luke 6:17-]. Only two of them will present His ascension into heaven [Mark 16:19-20; Luke 24:-52]. The transfiguration [Matthew 17:1-5], the agony in Gethsemane [Luke 22:44], and the institution of the Lord’s Supper [Matthew 26:26-28], is not even mentioned by the apostle John. But all four of the Gospels, after they present the Lord Jesus, describe His suffering, and His death, and His cross in great detail.
Where did the Gospel writers get that idea that the death of Christ on the cross was so important, everlastingly significant? Where did they learn that? They learned that from Jesus Himself. He taught them meticulously, patiently, faithfully, that His death was an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. In the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John, He will say, "I am the good shepherd; and I lay down My life for the sheep" [John 10:14-15]. If you want to see how different that is, just compare it with the most beautiful psalm ever written, the twenty-third, when David says, "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. . .He anoints my head with oil; He makes my cup to overflow" [Psalm 23:1-5]. That’s David. But Jesus says that He, being the good shepherd, He lays down His life for the sheep, in behalf of His people [John 10:14-15]. What a difference.
Or look again: Jesus is talking to a learned doctor of the law, a member of the Sanhedrin, a leader of the Pharisees, and He will say to Nicodemus, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whosoever looks to Him, believes in Him, should not perish, but have eternal life" [John 3:14-15]. That’s the Lord Jesus. Or look again, in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Matthew, as the Lord will say, "The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister; and to give His life a ransom for many" [Matthew 20:28]. That is one of the most dynamic imageries in the earth: "to give His life a ransom for many"; the imagery is souls in slavery, lives in bondage, and He buys us, He liberates us with the sacrifice of His own blood. That’s Jesus. Or again, the Lord Jesus teaching His apostles that the Son of Man must suffer and be handed over to the Gentiles, and be crucified, but be raised from the dead [Mark 8:31], and He will say it like this: when the heathen pagan Greeks came to see Him, He said, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me" [John 12:32]. And John adds the next verse, "This spake He, signifying by what death He should die" [John 12:33]; on a Roman cross.
When Mary anoints Him at that beautiful supper in Bethany, the Lord will say, "She has anointed Me for My burial" [Mark 14:8]. But most poignant of all, when He sat with His apostles and instituted the commemorative, the memorial of the Lord’s Supper: language can change, the meaning of the words can change, but these symbolic acts are the same forever: to eat and to drink. And He said, as He instituted that last supper, "This is My body, which is broken for you; take, eat, in remembrance of Me. And this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for the remission of sins; drink ye, all of you, in remembrance of Me" [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26]. Where did those Gospel writers get that idea of the all important death of our Savior? They learned it from Jesus Himself. And when Paul writes his epistles, and he speaks of the atoning sacrifice of our blessed Lord, Paul is just echoing what he said he was taught by the same Lord Jesus [Galatians 1:11-12], now exalted into glory.
And whether it be Matthew, or Mark, or Luke, or John, or the fifth one, the apostle Paul, it’s the same message. It’s the same gospel. It’s the same Lord Jesus. It’s the same sacrifice. It’s the same way of salvation. It’s the same blood that washes us clean from our sins [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5].
And, as I close with a last word, I would like to take my place by the side of the apostle Paul, who said that most beautiful of all verses in the Bible: "I am crucified with Christ: yet, I live; but not I, Christ liveth in me: and the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith, by the trust, by the commitment of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me" [Galatians 2:20]. And I’d like to take my place by the side of the sainted apostle John, who now a hundred years of age and on the isle of Patmos, writes this glorious sentence, "Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood . . . to Him be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen" [Revelation 1:5-6].
This is the gospel. It has always been the gospel. It is the gospel from the first syllable of the New Testament to its last benedictory prayer: that the Lord came into this world to die for our sins [Matthew 1:21-23; Luke 19:10], "And to those who look in acceptance and faith and trust to Him, to them He gives the right to become the children of God, even to them that believe in His name" [John 1:12]. And that’s the gospel we preach to you, and that’s the invitation we make to your heart: to accept Jesus as your Savior, to look in faith and trust in Him, to put your life with us in the circle of this Bible-believing, Christ-honoring congregation, and to walk with us, pilgrimage with us, love the Lord with us, pray with us.
In a moment we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, and as we stand to sing it, you stand taking that vital step toward God. "Today, I trust the Lord Jesus as my Savior." Or, "This day we’re putting our lives in the fellowship of this wonderful church." A family you, a couple you, just one somebody you, out of the balcony round, on this lower floor, down a stairway, down one of these aisles, "Here I am, pastor, I have decided for God; and here I come." May angels attend you in the way as you decide, as you respond with your life. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
THE GOSPEL OF JESUS AND PAUL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Many parts of the Christian faith viciously attacked by modern criticism
B. Say there is a vast disharmony and discrepancy between the historical Jesus and the Jesus of the apostle Paul
1. Dr. Henry Clay Vedder
C. A serious charge – Paul teaching what Jesus did not and would not
D. What Paul himself thought(Galatians 1:6-12)
E. What the apostles thought(Galatians 1:23-24, 2:9)
II. The teachings of Paul
A. The Person of Jesus(Acts 22:8, Galatians 4:4, Colossians 1:13-17)
B. Same message and descriptive language of the Gospels(John 8:58)
C. Ethical content (Romans 12, Matthew 5-7)
III. The way of salvation
A. No doubt what Paul preaches about atoning grace of the Son of God(Galatians 6:14, 2:20, 1 Corinthians 2:1-2, 15:1-3, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 5:6-8)
B. Is this the Jesus of the Gospels?
1. Even the format of the Gospels proclaim that
a. The emphasis on the death of Christ
b. Apostles learned from the Lord Himself that His death was all-important(John 10:11, Psalm 23:1, 5, John 3:14-15, Matthew 20:28, John 12:32-33, Mark 14:8, Luke 24:46-47)
c. Significance of the Lord’s Supper(1 Corinthians 11:24-25, Revelation 5:12)