The Incomparable Christ
April 13th, 1980 @ 8:15 AM
THE INCOMPARABLE CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-13-80 8:15 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the message entitled The Incomparable Christ. I pray the Holy Spirit of God will help me do this morning what I have in my heart in bringing an adoration, a praise, a wonder, a marvelous gratitude to our Lord in a little different way than we usually look upon our Savior. We are right and correct and we are doing the beautiful thing when we worship our Lord as our Redeemer [1 Peter 1:18-19]. He died to save us [1 Corinthians 15:3; Romans 5:8]; He is the sacrifice for our sins [1 John 2:2]. Our justification is in His blood, in His righteousness [Ephesians 1:7]. And when we adore the Lord and praise the Lord as our Redeemer, our Savior, we do right; we bow in His presence, we worship His holy name. But there is a great deal more to our Lord, and it is almost blasphemous to word it, and yet I don’t know how else to say it. There is a great deal more to our Lord than a sacrifice for our sins.
Our Lord was also a Master Teacher, and the way He taught us and the truths that He revealed to us are from heaven itself. He is as glorious in His teaching, in unfolding to us the truth of God, as He is glorious in His sacrifice for our sins. And it is somewhat of the marvel and wonder of the teaching of our Lord that comprises the sermon today. My problem in preparing the message is I had to leave out this and had to leave out that and had to leave out the other, and in seeking to compress it into these few moments, it seemed to me I left out all of it. There is so much to be said.
As a background text, the Sermon on the Mount closed with these two verses: “It came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at His doctrine” [Matthew 7:28]. They were astonished at His teaching; doctrine is teaching. “For He taught them as one having authority, and not,” parading the pedantic, trite sayings of those who had spoken before, “as the scribes” [Matthew 7:29]. Now, that same wonder and amazement at the teaching of our Lord that overwhelmed those people who heard Him in the flesh no less overwhelms and amazes us who listen to His words today. And I am taking, for whatever moments allowed in this small service, I’m taking some of the things of our Lord and just looking at them and marveling at what He taught us.
The first one is in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:41. He said to us, Matthew 5:41, “And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.” The wonder of that is lost in our English translation. We just don’t see it, because in the translation the word is lost. But when we look at the word that our Lord used and see what it was to which He referred, it is a wonder, this Master Teacher, what He had to say. The word is angareuō. It’s not a Greek word; it’s not a Roman word; it’s a Persian word, angareuō, translated here “compel”: “Whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile, go with him two.” Angareuō referred to the Persian way of the government in carrying the dispatches of the court. That is, the dispatch, the message, was carried from place to place by impressing the citizens of the state in service. This man would be compelled, angareuō, to take the message from here to there, and then that man would relay it from there to there. That was the Persian way of carrying governmental dispatches. Now the Romans adopted it and took the Persian word into the Greek language, meaning the same thing. Angareuō refers to coercive government service. The man was compelled by the law, impressed in service, whatever the government asked him to do.
You have an instance of it in [Matthew 27:32], and the same word is used, angareuō. When the Lord staggered under the cross, they compelled Simon of Cyrene to bear it for Him. That was the Roman law, taken from the Persians. Any man could be impressed into service, chosen by an official of the government or by a soldier of the Roman legions.
Now, when the Roman soldiers implemented that law, they gave a limitation to it of a Roman mile. A soldier going through the country on a mission could choose a citizen and make him bear the equipment of the soldier. He’d bear the armor, the spear, the sword, or whatever, and he could be compelled, angareuō, to carry it a Roman mile, from there to there. Then when the soldier got to the end of the Roman mile, he’d just pick out another citizen, and he would be compelled, angareuō, to bear it another mile, and another mile, and so throughout the journey of the legionnaire.
Now, it is hard for us to realize the seething, scalding bitterness of the Jew toward the Roman. The Roman soldiers and their horses were billeted upon the people. They’d just pick out a home, and they, that house, had to take care of this soldier and his equipment and his horse. Not only that, but the Roman was a sign of the servitude of the nation, and the Jewish people were the people of God, and for them to be enslaved by a heathen and foreign power was galling. They marched under the aegis of idols. They even had them on their standards. The Romans had built the Tower of Antonio above their sacred and holy temple, where they could look down into the courts of the most sacred and holy place in the world—still is to the Jew. There was a party of zealots among the Jewish people. One of them was an apostle: Simon the Zēlōtē, Simon the Zealot [Luke 6:15]. And it was that Zealot party that precipitated the war in 66 AD, that culminated in the destruction of the nation and of the city in 70 AD by General Titus. The seething hatred of the Jew for the Roman to us is indescribable.
Therefore, can you imagine how a Roman soldier going down the road, carrying his equipment and whatever else burden that he had, choosing a Jew, and angareuō, compelling him to bear it, to carry it, for a Roman mile? So just our ordinary imagination entering into what happened all the time: that Roman soldier choosing a Jew, just pick him up, no matter what he was doing, angareuō, he had to do it, and carry whatever burden the Roman soldier laid upon him, carrying that for a mile. So, I say, you can just see that Jew, following after that Roman soldier with hatred and bitterness, cursing every step of the way, asking God to damn him, and his country, and his legions, and everything about what that Roman soldier represented. You can just see him following after. That was the way the Jew did it.
Can you imagine, therefore, Jesus saying this? If a Roman soldier angareuō, compels you, impresses you, coerces you by law into carrying the burden a mile, do not walk behind him in bitterness and in hatred and in cursing. Walk by his side. Ask him his name. Where does he live? Where does he come from? Is he married? Does he have a wife? Does he have a family? Does he have children? “What are the names of your children? Do you know the true God? Do you know the Lord of heaven?” Talk to him, be gracious to him, and when you come to the end of the first mile, by law you are free. You can put the burden down. But instead of putting the burden down, graciously, and beautifully, and courteously, and lovingly, and tenderly, say to him, “May I carry your burden a second mile? A second mile?” [Matthew 5:41]
Can you imagine the effect on a Roman soldier when a Jew—he’d have to be a Jesus kind of a Jew, a Christian Jew—who would say that at the end of the first mile? “May I go with you also the second one?”
Master, You are beyond me! I just can’t imagine teaching like that!
Yet I have run into it. I was visiting with a missionary family. They had been in China when the Japanese raped Nanking and overran most of China; this is before the Second World War. And this missionary family said they were fleeing before the onrushing, invading Japanese armies that were pillaging and raping and destroying the whole country. They were on a train leaving out. And the missionary said to me, “To our horror, the Japanese stopped the train and surrounded it, and boarded it. And then, as though that were not horror enough, one of those Japanese soldiers, armed to the teeth, came and sat down—you know how those foreign trains are; face to face—sat down right there, in front of us. And we had a little girl, and when he sat down—as though that were not horror enough—he looked at us carefully and he reached out his hand, and put it on our little girl. We were horror-stricken.”
But the missionary, instead of recoiling or remarking, smiled at that armed-to-the-teeth Japanese soldier, and began talking to him. “What’s your name? Where do you live? Are you married? Do you have a family? Are there children in your home?” And that Japanese soldier began to talk to the missionary about his home in Japan, and his wife, and his children, and the reason he had reached over to touch that little girl. He said, “Back home I have a little girl just her age.”
And he talked to the man about the Lord. That’s Jesus! That’s the Lord. Instead of bitterness, and hatred, seething, and calling cursing, go with him the second mile. Be gracious. Talk to him. Be interested in him, and tell him about the Lord. Can you imagine teaching like that? That’s just one little thing in the wonder of the doctrine of Jesus.
Look at this second one which immediately follows, beginning at verse 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 that despitefully use you, and persecute you . . . for our Father in heaven, He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good. He sends this beautiful April shower on the just and on the unjust. If you love them which love you, what reward have you? How are you any different from the world? Do not those publicans the same? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more than others? Do not the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
And there’s that word teleios: “Be ye therefore teleios, even as your Father which is in heaven is teleios” [Matthew 5:48]. Now it has a double meaning here. Teleios, “perfect”: when we are glorified we will all be just like our Lord; that’s what the Book says [1 John 3:2]. But teleios mostly refers to the goal toward which the Lord intended our achievement. Like a man is the teleios of a boy, an oak tree is the teleios of an acorn, it has reached the purpose for which God made it, so in our lives: His word here teleios refers to our maturity of Christian character.
Well, how do you achieve it? That’s the wonder of the teaching of our Lord. I just can’t imagine what He says. He says that the way up is down. Like Oliver Goldsmith’s famous drama, “She Stoops to Conquer,” the way up is down. He says in order to be first, you are to be last [Mark 9:35], and He would say that in order to live, you must die [Galatians 2:20]. I just can’t imagine such a teaching. And it is illustrated here: do not try to be revengeful and hateful and full of cursing. That imprisons you; it keeps you incarcerated. “But,” He says, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you; do good to them that hate you, pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you” [Matthew 5:44]. O Lord! Such a doctrine, such a teaching—and yet when I see it, how faithfully true is this amazing and wonderful doctrine of our Lord, how we are to grow teleios in Christian character.
If I would break the bars that imprison me in being revengeful, let me follow the admonition of Jesus and be loving and forgiving, forgiving, forth-giving—the giving of one’s self. And instead of saying, “These are my rights!” and defending them revengefully, rather, “I have Christian rights, and one of my Christian rights is to give up my rights.” How that liberates a man! You are somebody new if you do that.
Out here on the expressway—oh, three days ago, four days ago—there was a man driving on that expressway and another fellow cut into him, cut in front of him, and it made him angry. And he honked at him and followed him, and they drew off to the side of the road to have it out, and one of them shot the other one and killed him. That happened here, three days ago, four days ago, out there on the expressway! Jesus says, “How much better to say, ‘You want to cut in front of me?’ Slow down, ‘You’re welcome’”; courteous.
My minister of music said, “I was driving to church and a fellow cut in front of me, and I started to honk at him, and I looked closely and it was my pastor.” But whether it was his pastor or not he ought to be just the same. You just take it. You just take it. It’s all right; in honor, preferring each other; courteous [Romans 12:10]. The Christian has the right to give up his rights. You’ll be a new man. You’ll be a new somebody if you do that. It liberates you.
As most of you know, for ten years I was a preacher out in the country. I was single those years, and I lived with the people. So many things that pertain to their lives, I shared, for so long a time. In the little community where I pastored the little country church, there were two families, and they hated each other, and their children hated each other. It was on a boundary line between the two farms. That man over there said, “The boundary to my farm is on the other side of the creek, and both of these little bottoms belong to me.” And, of course, the man on this side said, “The boundary between our two farms is the creek, and that bottom belongs to you, and this bottom belongs to me,” and they hated each other and taught their children to hate each other. One of my men, named Mr. Chaney, bought the farm on this side. That bitterness between the two farmers became so acrimonious that one family just left, and that godly man bought the farm on this side. He was out there walking in the field, and that neighbor over there saw him, and he came across the little creek and came over to him and said, “Are you Mr. Chaney?”
“Well I hear you bought this farm?”
“Well, I want you to know,” he said, “that the boundary to this farm is right there!” And Mr. Chaney said, “Why, why, good neighbor, we’re not going to have any trouble. We’re not going to have any trouble.” He said, “We’re going to give this to an arbitrator, and we’ll settle it by arbitration.”
“Arbitration?” said the neighbor over there. “Arbitration? No! I’m telling you the boundary is right here on this side of the creek.” And Mr. Chaney said, “Friend, no, we’re going to give it to an arbitrator, and the arbitrator is you. You set the boundary, and wherever you put that fence, that’s the boundary between your farm and mine, and I’m your friend and your neighbor. You set the boundary.”
That fellow went home and said to his wife, “Never met a man like that; never heard a man talk like that.” And he said, “Wife, I tell you what, let’s put the boundary at the creek, and he has that side, and we’ll have that side.” That’s exactly where the boundary belonged, and they were friends and neighbors.
That’s what Jesus says. Master, I’m amazed at You! No wonder they said they were astonished at His doctrine [Luke 4:32]. You are free, absolutely free when you give up revengeful spirit and attitude of bitterness and hatred, and are gracious, and gentle, and courteous. “You want to go first? God bless you as you go first. You want to excel? The Lord bless you as you excel.” The last are the ones in God’s sight who are first. These are the ones who live, who give up themselves for Jesus sake.
If I could take just a moment more, I want to show that to you in the life of our Lord. Peter said, in 1 Peter 2:23, talking about Jesus:
He did no sin, neither was guile in His mouth:
when He was reviled, He reviled not again;
when He suffered, He threatened not;
but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously.
Not a word, not a word [Matthew 11:14]. Now let me read it to you out of the life of our Lord, Matthew 27:11-14: “And Jesus stood before the procurator,” verse 12:
And when He was accused of the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing.
Then said Pilate unto Him, Hearest Thou not how many things they witness against Thee?
And Jesus answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marveled greatly.
Paige, you don’t have your Greek New Testament over there. You look naked without it. You look at this Greek: “He did not answer him,” pros oude hen rhēma, “He did not answer him, to not,” never, “even one word [Matthew 11:14].” It is as emphatic as the Greek language can write it.
Same thing happened in Luke’s story of the Lord before Herod, Luke 23, beginning at verse 4:
Pilate said, I find no fault in this Man.
But they were the more fierce, saying, He stirreth up the people. . . beginning in Galilee.
When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked, Is the Man a Galilean?
And as soon as he knew that He belonged unto Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod Antipas.
And when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad: for he was desirous to see Him for a long season, because he had heard many things of Him; and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by Him.
Then Herod questioned Him in many words; but He answered him—
and there’s that negative again, oude—
not a word at all. And the chief priests and scribes vehemently accused Him. And He never answered.
And Herod and his men of war set Him at nought, and mocked Him, and arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him back again to Pilate.
Can you imagine that? All kinds of lies and blasphemous things—vitriolic, acrimonious, bitter—said about Him; all kinds of things. He never answered at all; just committed Himself unto God who was able to deliver Him [1 Peter 4:19].
Can you imagine that? But that’s the way we ought to be. Not on the defensive; let God fight our battles for us, let God defend us. He will. We don’t need to. I think of one of the sweetest stories in the Bible; you’ll find it in the beginning of Samuel.
You know, strange thing: wherever polygamy is presented in the Bible, it is always with heartache and tears. So Elkanah has two wives: one is named Peninnah and the other is named Hannah [1 Samuel 1:1-2]. Now Peninnah had children, and God had shut up the womb of Hannah, and Peninnah, the Bible says, abused Hannah and provoked her sore. And what did Hannah do? She responded in like words, in hatred and bitterness—is that what the Bible says? What Hannah did was she answered never a word, but she took it before the Lord, and with many tears she told the Lord all about it [1 Samuel 1:1-10].
Man, you don’t have to defend yourself. You don’t have to walk up and down with a big stick. Just let God defend you. Let God deliver you. Let God do what is right by you, and He will never fail you.
Lord, Lord, how many times in the household are there arguments, and one of them will make the other one feel little, and rejoice over it? How much better, let God defend you. Don’t try to lord it over or to reply or to answer in kind. That’s Jesus. That’s our Savior. That’s the beautiful life. Peter said that was the testimony [1 Peter 2:22-23]. You can’t somehow forget that kind of a reaction and response and loving, tender spirit. It’s what makes us like our blessed Jesus. May we stand together?
Our Lord, we’re just like those people who heard Thee in the days of Your flesh. They were overwhelmed by Your teaching. They were astonished at Your doctrine [Luke 4:32]. They went away and said, “Never a man spake like that Man” [John 7:46]. We never heard it on this wise” [Matthew 7:28; Luke 4:32]. And we haven’t either. O Lord, Thou art so wonderful. We feel so unworthy. Lord, our lives are so cluttered up. We have feelings, and we rerun movies of anger and revenge, and we’re sensitive, and we’re volitive, and we make life a prison, when we could be free; absolutely, the door is open, just walk out into the glorious liberty of the sons and children of God. Lord, may we grow in that beautiful grace, loving Thee, kind to all others, and our testimony clothed in the love and grace of one who is a follower of the lowly Jesus. God help us to be like that.
This morning, in this little brief moment that we tarry before God, we’re going to sing a song of appeal, and while we sing the song, out of the balcony, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles: “Pastor, today I have decided to follow Jesus. It’s in my heart, and God help me. I’m pressing after Him.” Bring your family into this dear church. A couple you, or just one somebody you: “I have opened my heart to Jesus. Here I am [Romans 10:9-10]. I want to be baptized like it says in the Book” [Matthew 28:19-20], or “I want to put my life here.” As God shall say the word, answer with your life, and, our Master, bless the appeal. May the Holy Spirit bear it to the hearts of these who listen, and for the harvest we shall love Thee and thank Thee. In our Savior’s dear name, amen. Now while we sing our song, on the first stanza, down a stairway, down an aisle, you come, and God bless you in the way, while we sing.