The Incomparable Christ
April 13th, 1980 @ 10:50 AM
THE INCOMPARABLE CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-13-80 10:50 a.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Incomparable Christ. It is a message of a little different turn. It is correct and right and proper that we worship Jesus as our Savior. He redeemed us from our sins [1 Peter 1:18-19]. He is the sacrifice, the atoning gift of God that we might have eternal life [John 3:16]. And for us to preach about Jesus as a Savior, as a Redeemer, is altogether in keeping with the sweet, precious, marvelous, glorious work that He did for us.
But there is another facet of the life of our Lord that is no less wonderful and marvelous. That is why I have called the sermon The Incomparable Christ. This is the Christ of the teaching ministry, guiding us in the way that we ought to live. And the reason that I call it The Incomparable Christ, you cannot listen to what the Lord says and not be amazed and astonished at His doctrine.
Just as a background text, the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5, 6, and 7 [Matthew 5:1-7:29]—the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7:28-29, closes with this astonishment: “And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at His doctrine”—amazed at His teaching; doctrine is the Latin word for teaching. “The people were astonished at His doctrine: For He taught them as one having authority,” and not as those who quote those who quote those who in tradition still quote those, such as the scribes [Matthew 7:28-29]. That amazement of these who heard Jesus in the flesh is the amazement of us who listen to our Lord today. He is the separate and the different and the unique Christ. He is the incomparable [John 7:46], the great unlike, the vast dissimilar, the incomparable. We are amazed at Him!
Now, what I have done in this sermon, that I pray God will bless, is just to take—this morning, I found that I could only take two of them—out of a multitude of things that could be chosen that are astonishing in what Jesus teaches us, I just take two. If we had hours, we could take a dozen.
Maybe in the world to come, God will give me a little planet of my own, and I’ll set down my little soapbox and take the Bible and just have all eternity in which to extol the glories of our marvelous Lord. Won’t that be great? And if anybody wants to come and visit me on my own little planet, you now have the invitation to do so. We’re going to—we’re going to start with one, and then I pray God we’ll have time to present the second, out of a multitude I say. In the Sermon on the Mount, the first of the chapters, chapter 5, verse 41; Matthew 5:41. This is the first I have chosen out a multitude of the astonishing doctrines and teachings of our Lord. Matthew 5:41: “And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.”
The meaning of our Lord and the admonition of our Lord is altogether lost to us in this translation. Not that the translation is bad, it just can’t contain what the Lord was teaching when He said it, “And whosoever aggareuō,” translated here “compel,” “whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him two” [Matthew 5:41].
Aggareuō is a Persian word. It’s not a Greek word. It’s not a Latin word. It’s a Persian word. Aggareuō is a verbal form the Persians use to describe the compulsion, the coercion of citizens into service for the government. And the way it worked was the Persian government sent its dispatches aggareuō, aggareuō; that is, they would impress a citizen to carry the message thus far.
Then they would impress into service a citizen to carry it the next far, and so however the governmental dispatch was sent across the empire or across the country or across the nation, it was done so by aggareuō, by compelling citizens coercively to carry the dispatch up to this point; and then it would be relayed on beyond by others who were likewise aggareuō, impressed into the service.
Now, the Romans followed that practice, and they took the Persian word and used it in Greek and in Latin. Aggareuō refers to the compulsion, the coercion, the impelling of somebody to carry out a mission, a mandate of the government, usually of a Roman soldier. You have an instance of it in Matthew 27, and the exact word aggareuō is used. When the Lord Jesus fell beneath the weight of the cross, they aggareuō, they compelled Simon of Cyrene—he was just a passerby—they compelled Simon of Cyrene to carry His cross [Matthew 27: 32]. That was in keeping with Roman law and Roman government.
Now, what happened in Judea was this: a Roman soldier traveling through the country would have equipment, things to carry, so he could choose just any citizen of Judea, anybody that was there. He could just say, “Come here,” and the Roman soldier had the right to coerce that man to carry his equipment or his load the length of a Roman mile, and then at the end of that Roman mile, why, he could aggareuō, compel another man to pick it up and carry it another Roman mile.
You can’t imagine! We can hardly enter into the seething, scalding, bitter hatred of the Jew for the Roman. The Jew was the child of God, the chosen family of Jehovah, and for him to be enslaved by a foreign power was galling in the extreme! It was doubly so in Judea because the Roman soldiers and their horses were billeted on the people. They just chose any family that came to their mind, that appealed to them, and they were forced to take care of the Roman soldier, feed him and house him and his horse.
The Jew hated the Roman soldier because he came under the aegis of all those mythological gods. They marched under the banner of Poseidon, or Neptune, or Jove, or Venus, or whatever god was the one who sponsored that particular legion. And they had built the Tower of Antonio above the most sacred place in the earth, still is to the Jew, above the temple area. And there the Roman soldiers in their idolatry looked down upon the sacred services of the Lord.
There was a party, you know, in Judea called Zealots. One of their members was an apostle, Simon Zelotes, Simon the Zealot. They precipitated the war in 66 AD that culminated in 70 AD under General Titus in the destruction of the city and of the temple and the dispersion of the nation.
The Jew hated the Roman with a scalding bitterness beyond anything that we could ever enter into. So the soldier passing through the country would take a Jew and say, “Here”—aggareuō, compel him to carry his burden, his equipment, his shield, his spear, his sword, whatever, for a Roman mile. And then somebody else aggareuō, compelled to take it the second mile.
Now what does the Lord say? The Lord says—in an astonishing word, He says, “When you are aggareuō, when ye are compelled to pick up that Roman soldier’s gear and his equipment, his sword and shield, and equipment, whatever, and you are aggareuō, compelled to carry it a Roman mile, don’t walk behind him carrying the burden with seething, and scalding, and galling, and bitter hatred!”
“Damn that soldier, and his country, and his eternal city, and everything about him”—don’t walk behind him cursing him for all of your soul’s worth! But Jesus said, “Aggareuō, compelled to carry the burden for a mile? Walk by his side. Walk by his side. Talk to him: ‘What’s your name? Where did you come from? Are you married? Do you have a family? Do you have any children? What are their names?’ Talk to him. Tell him about the one true God. And when you come to the Roman mile, instead of blasphemingly and bitterly dumping the burden at his feet, say to him, `I’ve loved visiting with you. I’ve loved talking to you. I’ve loved finding about your wife, and your home, and your children, and your people, and your country. Could I carry the burden another mile, the second mile?’” [Matthew 5:41].
Could you imagine what an effect that would have upon a Roman soldier? I don’t exaggerate when I say to you it is no strange thing when I read in history that the Christian faith for the first three centuries was largely carried over the civilized world by Roman soldiers. How would you forget that? That’s Jesus and how He taught us. Astonished at His doctrine as they were, we are no less. And that’s universal, not just the Jew and the Roman, that’s mankind.
I listened to a precious Southern Baptist missionary family, just talking to them. They were in China before the Second World War, which was preceded, you remember, by a great invasion of China by the Japanese army. It ensued in horrible, terrible rape and pillage. Nanking—the rape of Nanking became a byword in the press in those years.
Well, this Baptist missionary family was on a train fleeing before the onrushing Japanese army, and to their horror, the Japanese army surrounded the train, and many of the soldiers boarded it. And to their further horror, one of those Japanese soldiers, armed to the teeth, came and sat down. As those foreign trains are made, the seats face to face, sat down right there in front of them. And as though that were not terror enough, that Japanese soldier, as he sat there and looked at the missionary family, reached forth his hand, and he put it on the little girl that belonged to that missionary father and mother.
Instead of resenting it, the missionary began to talk to that Japanese soldier, armed to the teeth. “What’s your name? Where do you live? Do you have a family?” And the reason he reached forth and put his hand on the little girl, he said, “I have a little girl just that age back home.” And the missionary began to talk to the soldier about the Lord. That’s Jesus. They were amazed at His doctrine, and we are, too: “If you are compelled to go a mile, make it two,” in love, and graciousness, and kindness, and courtesy; in interest, in prayerful consideration. What an amazing doctrine, this teaching of the Lord Jesus! [Matthew 5:41].
All right number two; the Lord just keeps on like that. Matthew 5:43:
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you:
That is the way the children of your Father in heaven ought to be: for He makes His sun shine on the evil, on the good, and He sends the vernal showers on the just and on the unjust.
If you love them that love you, what reward have you? do not even those sinners the same?
If you salute your brethren only, what do you more than others? do not even the publicans so?
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
What an amazing doctrine: “Be ye therefore teleios; even as your Father which is in heaven is teleios” [Matthew 5:48]. Teleios has two meanings and both of them are here. One of the meanings is rarely used. That will refer to our absolute, glorified perfection in heaven. We have reached our final consummation. The word teleios for the most part refers to maturity, having reached the goal for which God intended it. For example, a man is a teleios of a boy. That’s the purpose of God for the lad, that he grow to be a man, a teleios.
A big oak tree is a teleios of an acorn. That’s the purpose of God for the acorn, that it grow into a teleios, into an oak tree. So it is the Lord’s purpose for us that we grow in Christian character and that we grow toward that beautiful image of God in Christ Jesus.
Now how do you do it? That is the amazing thing of the teaching of our Lord. He says the way up is down. Like Oliver Goldsmith’s famous drama, “She Soops to Conquer.” The way up is down. Jesus says the way to be first is to be last. Jesus says the way to live is to die [Luke 9:23]. And so here He says the way to be free is to forgive, and to bless, and to love even those who hate you and despitefully use you and mistreat you! [Matthew 5:44].
Jesus says that a man is incarcerated, he is in prison, if he is revengeful, and bitter, and full of recrimination and revenge. But the man is liberated—he’s free, says the Lord Jesus—if he is forgiving. Don’t run those movies before your eyes and mind, filled with bitterness and hatred. Forgive, and you’re free. O Lord, a Christian has rights, but one of his rights is to give up his rights.
Out here on the expressway, was it three days ago? Was it four days ago? Out here on the expressway, one fellow cut into the front of another car driver, and it made the man furious. And he honked at him and kept up with him, and both of the men pulled over on the side of the street. And in the violent argument that ensued, one of them murdered the other. I’m sure he had his rights, but the right of a Christian is to give them up. You want to cut in front of me? You’re so welcome. You’re just so welcome, just fine.
My minister of music, who sits here so angelic-like, he made a confession here in this pulpit. He said he was driving to church, and driving to church, there was a fellow that cut right in front of him! He said it made him mad, and he pulled back his hand to honk at that guy! And he looked at him closely, and it was the pastor. He didn’t honk his horn. But I’m telling my angelic minister of music, he ought to be that way toward everybody, not just the pastor; everybody.
You want to cut in front of me? That’s all right. I have given up my rights. That’s Jesus. And you’re free! You’re liberated! No anger, no resentment, no bitterness. You’re free. You have given up your rights.
As so many of you know, for ten years, I was out in the country. I was a country preacher for ten years, and I knew the people so well. I was single practically all that time, and I lived with them.
There were two families in the little country community where I was undershepherd, and they hated one another, and they taught their children to hate each other. They were quarreling over a fence line, over the boundary between the two farms. This man on this side said, “The boundary is the creek,” and the man on the other side said, “The boundary is on the other side of the creek, and both of those creek bottoms are mine.”
And they warred and hated and fought, and their children brought up to hate each other. Finally, the man on this side just sold his farm and left, but he sold his farm to one of my godly men, Mr. Cheney. And Mr. Cheney, having bought the farm, was there in the field, and that man on the other side came across the creek to him and said, “So you bought this farm? Your name Cheney?”
“Well, I want you to know that the, that the boundary line is right there.”
And Mr. Cheney says, “Oh, oh, neighbor, you, you don’t need to be, to be fearful or, or full of trepidation. We’re going to submit it to arbitration, and we’ll get an arbitrator, and he’ll tell us where the line is.”
“Arbitrator? No! Arbitration? No! I’m telling you the fence line is right there! That’s the place of my farm.”
And Mr. Cheney said, “Oh, no, no, neighbor.” He said, “We’re going to appoint us an arbitrator, and he’ll tell us where the boundary line is, and the arbitrator is going to be you. You tell me where the boundary line is, and that’s where it’ll be. Whatever you say.”
You know, that neighbor went home and talked to his wife, and he said, “Wife, I’ve never met a man like that in my life, nor have I ever had anybody talk to me so graciously and so kindly, not in my life.” And he said, “Wife, I’ll tell you what let’s do. Let’s put the boundary at the creek, and on that side of the creek is his farm, and our side of the creek is our farm, and we’ll live in love and neighborliness with Mr. Cheney.”
That was where the boundary actually should have been. Man, that’s great. That’s Jesus. He is, He is the most incomparable Teacher! He is the Master Teacher. How He teaches us to live, to go, to walk, to be. It is wonderful.
May I point out something? There is power in law and in rights! That’s correct. There’s power in it, but there’s a greater power. There’s a greater power in love, and forgiveness, and kindness. That’s the power that subdues and subverts the whole earth.
When I was a kid, I read Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, and there is a character—he’s the main character in that long novel. His name in English would be Jean Valjean. And that low-down scum, flotsam and jetsam of the earth, one of the “les miserables,” one of the miserables, was entreated, and welcomed, and cared for in the bishop’s home. And when he stole away from the bishop’s home, he stole the silver candlesticks and escaped with them.
The police caught him and brought him back to face trial and judgment, and, of course, in those harsh days, everlasting and life in prison. But when Jean Valjean was brought back with his silver candlesticks, the bishop said to the gendarmes, to the police—the bishop said, “Oh, he didn’t steal them. I gave them to him. I gave them to him. They’re his. He just took what was his. He didn’t steal them.”
And the rest of the story is the story of the conversion and the nobility of that man, Jean Valjean. You can’t get away from that kind of a power. Greater than law, greater than coercion, greater than revenge is the power of loving interest and kindly forgiveness: and that’s Jesus [Matthew 5:43-48].
Astonished at Him? O Lord, what a wonderful thing to sit at Thy feet, and to enroll in Thy school, and to learn about Thee [Matthew 11:29]. That’s life. That’s joy. That’s victory. That’s triumph. That’s gladness. That’s heaven. That’s everything wonderful. That’s Jesus. Now may we stand together?
Our Lord, no wonder the prophet Isaiah said, “And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” [Isaiah 9:6]. When He comes, there are no more wars, no more hatred. Even in our homes, there are no arguments that make the other one feel little and despised. Lord, Lord; that we could just commit our way unto Thee. The Lord will be our defense and our refuge. We don’t have to defend ourselves. We don’t have to stand up and seize our rights. God will be our defense and refuge [Psalm 91:2]. O Lord, that we could just learn to trust in Thee. What a heaven You would make out of our homes. What a blessing would our lives be, just sweetly, humbly, beautifully, prayerfully, lovingly, tenderly following the Lord Jesus, kind as He was. O Master, to be like Thee.
In this moment when we stand and wait and pray, and in another moment when we sing our song of appeal, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, out of the balcony round, down a stairway, into an aisle and here to the front: “Pastor, today we have decided for Jesus, and here we are.” Some of you putting life and letter in the church, some of you coming by baptism, some of you answering the call of the Holy Spirit in your life, make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment, come forward. With what joy and gladness do the angels and we receive you.
So bless, Lord, this appeal, and make it a beautiful and precious and glad hour following Thee; in Thy saving and keeping name, amen.
While we sing our song, you come. Make it now, while we pray and while we wait and while we sing.
I. The second mile (Matthew 5:41)
Roman soldiers could force Jews to carry their equipment for at least a Roman
mile (Matthew 27:32)
B. Deep, smoldering,
seething bitterness of Jew against Roman
C. The word of the
D. Baptist missionary
family sharing Jesus with Japanese soldier
II. Love those who mistreat us (Matthew 5:43-48)
A. Be ye teleios
refers to absolute glorified perfection in heaven
refers to maturity, having reached the goal God intended
B. Forgiveness, a
giving forth of yourself, sets you free
1. Two families
fighting over boundary line
C. Something greater
than laws, the power of God’s love and forgiveness
1. Jean Valjean
from Les Miserables
III. No word for self-defense
A. He is the Prince of
Peace (Isaiah 9:6)
The Lord will be our defense and refuge