The Real Superman
September 28th, 1986 @ 10:50 AM
THE REAL SUPERMAN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-28-86 10:50 a.m.
We welcome the uncounted multitudes of you who share this hour on radio and on television. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Real Superman. It is an exposition of the last half of the second chapter of John. And on radio and television, wherever you are, if you have a Bible, we want you to read it out loud with us here in the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. If your neighbor doesn’t have a Bible, share yours with him. We’re all going to stand in a moment and read together John 2:13-22. You have it? Then, in the presence of the Lord, let’s stand together and read it aloud, John 2:13-22. Now 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 a 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 showest Thou unto us, seeing that Thou doest these things?
Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise 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.
Now may we be seated and we’ll begin. The Real Superman: this is the first public ministry of our Lord in Jerusalem. And it is an explosive and a shattering thing that our Lord confronted in that first public visit. We rub our eyes in astonishment at the fearlessness of this radical Reformer. And we look in amazement at the confrontation He makes with the leaders of the nation and the rulers of the temple—such an amazing thing for a young firebrand from the hills of Galilee to dare to do. This is in fulfillment of Malachi 3:1-2, “And the Lord, whom you expect, shall suddenly come to His temple. . . But who may abide the day of His coming? and who shall stand when He appeareth? for He shall sit as a refiner of silver, and as a cleanser with fullers’ soap.”
And as though this were not enough, He did it twice. He cleansed this temple, threw out those money changers, and cattle traders, and sordid hucksters at the beginning of His ministry [John 2:15]. And He did the same thing at the end of His ministry [Matthew 21:12-13]. On Palm Sunday, at the end of His royal entrance into Jerusalem, He once again did this identical thing.
If you have ever attended the Passion play at Oberammergau, you will remember that the plot hinges around this incident—the cleansing of the temple. And a great Baptist theologian, by the name of Walter Rauschenbusch, says that it has theological and historical confirmation. You see, the Pharisees hated the Lord Jesus because He spurned and scorned the tradition of the elders. But the Sadducees could not have cared less. They look with contempt upon all of those ceremonial perplexities that attended the worship of God as the Pharisees did it. But the Sadducees were roused to bitter opposition when their economic privilege was threatened in this traffic in the temple.
There were two things that were carried on in the temple that made possible the excuse for that monopolistic merchandising. The first was the exchange of money. There was a temple tax that had to be paid by every male Jew, one half of a sacred silver shekel. But when the worshippers came there from the ends of the Romans Empire, they had the coin of the realm which had on it an image of the imperial Caesar. But to bring an image of Caesar into the sacred precincts was, of all things, desecration. The money, therefore, had to be changed from the Romans coins, with the images of Caesar, and into the sacred Jewish one-half silver shekel. So that was the excuse for the money changers.
The sacrificial system brought to the altar each of the worshippers of the great Jehovah God. Now you could drag the sacrifice from the ends of the empire; but it was much more convenient to buy it there at the temple. So, with the sacrifice, and the meal, and the oil, and the salt, and all the other things that went into the libations and sacrificial offerings; why, they were provided there, and you could buy them with money.
In the sacred precincts of the temple, there was the Court of the Gentiles. It had fourteen acres. And those fourteen acres were covered with all of these money changers, and these sellers of sacrificial animals; and all the other things that went into the ceremonial system. Now that monopolistic market was taken advantage of by the Sadducees and especially their high priestly system. Under the Romans, the high priesthood was sold to the highest bidder and to the cleverest politician. And in those days, Annas and his four sons, and Caiaphas, his son-in-law, monopolized the high priesthood [Luke 3:2]. And it was a most lucrative market for them.
You see, when they changed the money, they did it at a usurious exchange rate. And they put the difference in their Sadducean high-priestly pockets. And of course, you could bring a sacrifice from the ends of the earth, but it had to be accepted by the temple priestly officialdom. And it was easy for one of those inspectors to find a dark spot on your white lamb, or a feather awry on your pigeon. But if you bought your sacrifice from “Annas and Subsidiaries,” you had no worry; it would immediately have been accepted. That was the sordid system by which the worship of God was offered to Jehovah in the sacred temple.
The reaction of Jesus was immediate, and terrific, and explosive, and shattering. It violated His sense of moral value and the spiritual nature of the worship of God. And let me tell you something. It is a weak and anemic imagination that thinks not to see the flash of lightning in our Savior’s eye, and the expression of wrath upon His face, and the sound of anger in His voice when He threw out the whole cattle trading, money changing business [Matthew 21:12-13; John 2:15].
Do you remember how the sixth chapter of the Revelation closes? “And they cried for the rocks and the mountains to fall upon them, and to hide them from the face of Him that sitteth upon the throne, and from the face of the Lamb: For the great day of His wrath has come; and who shall be able to stand?” [Revelation 6:16-17]. Let’s not cancel out that phrase: “the wrath of the Lamb.” It is an exaggerated sentimentalism that does not make room in God’s judgment day for the retribution of the Almighty Jehovah Lord. That’s what happened here.
Now when the Lord threw them out [Matthew 21:12-13; John 2:15]—cleansed the temple of all of that monopolistic, Sadducean, high-priestly merchandising traffic—doesn’t it occur to you, “Why didn’t one of those cattle traders, and why didn’t one of those money changers, club Him to the ground? Why didn’t half a dozen of them attack Him? How could He do that alone?” Or an obvious thing—when the disturbance rose, why did not the temple officers quell it? Not one accosted Him; not one interdicted Him.
The answer is twofold. Number one answer: there was something about the majesty, and the glory, and the spiritual stature of Jesus that was beyond anything that human experience had ever confronted or ever faced. Oh, when I hear somebody say, “These miracles that are written here in the life of our Lord, I don’t believe such a thing could have come to pass.” My friend, you don’t know what could come to pass in the presence of the personality of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Just look at that a moment; the moral stature of that Man, and the spiritual mind, and dignity in His presence. If you’ll turn the pages of that Bible where we’ve just read—about two more—if you’ll turn them, you’ll see the story there of our Lord in the temple. And the Sadducees and the Pharisees and the temple priests sending officers to arrest Him; and they come back without Him. And the high priest asked, “Where is He? You were sent to arrest Him. Where is He?” And they replied, “Never man spake like that Man [John 7:45-46]. We never felt or heard as we felt and heard in His presence.” Couldn’t touch Him!
After His ministry of healing and preaching, the people said, “It was never so seen in Israel” [Matthew 9:33]. Do you think what Israel had seen; all of those miracles in the days of Moses, those marvelous interventions from heaven in the days of Elijah and Elisha—but they had never seen anything like it in the presence of Jesus of Nazareth? [Matthew 9:33].
Do you remember, in Nazareth, infuriated by what He avowed [Luke 4:25-28], they took the Lord Jesus to the brow of the hill on which their city was built to cast Him down to death? And the Lord walked through their midst; just walked out [Luke 4:29-30]. Why didn’t they zap Him? Why didn’t they pulverize Him? Couldn’t touch Him! Just walked through their midst, an amazing thing! [Luke 4:30].
Ah, and when He stood before Pilate—He was arrested by the temple police and when He asked them, “Whom do you seek?”
They said, “We seek Jesus of Nazareth.”
And He replied, “I am He.”
And what happened? They all fell to the ground. Just in His presence! [John 18:4-6].
And when Pilate said, “Why do You not answer me? Do You not know I have the power of life or of death over You?”
And the Lord replied, “You have no power over Me at all, except it were given thee from above” [John 19:10-11].
Why didn’t they seize Him, pulverize Him, club Him to death? There was a majesty, and a glory, and a moral heavenliness about Christ that was beyond anything human mind could imagine, or human eye had ever seen, or human heart had ever felt—unique and alone!
Why didn’t they seize Him? Because, for a second reason, the condemnation of their conscience. What they were doing—Shakespeare, in that tragedy of Richard III coming to the conclusion of that marvelous play, says: “Conscience doth make cowards of us all.” Then Richard says, as he dies, he had almost destroyed the house by murder of Plantagenets. And he was in the throes of a last effort when, as a usurper, he is stricken down in his battle. And listen to the king as he says, “O coward conscience, how does thou afflict me? My conscience hath a thousand several tongues, and every tongue brings in a several tale, and every tale condemns me for a villain.”
There is something about wrong that slays the one who gives himself to it. It’s a vast, interminable, seizing, debilitating weakness. And that’s why He did it unscathed; the great moral stature of the Lord Jesus.
I think of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem, “The Knights of the Round Table.” And it was Sir Galahad who found the Holy Grail; the cup out of which the Lord drank the last supper. And do you remember the first stanza of Tennyson’s poem to Sir Galahad? The young prince says:
My good blade carves the casques of men,
My tough lance thrusteth sure,
My strength is as of the strength of ten,
Because my heart is pure.
That is the Lord Jesus—morally superior, majestically alone, nobody like Him.
Now we conclude. So they asked Him, “By what authority do You do these things? And what sign do You give us that You have that authority?”
And the Lord replied: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” [John 2:18-19]. Then John comments on it. “He was speaking of the temple of His body” [John 2:21].
“Three days and I will raise it up” [John 2:19]; isn’t that an unusual thing about our Lord? As He begins, and this is His beginning ministry—as He begins, He sees the end from the beginning. He is an Isaac, climbing the mountain of sacrifice [Genesis 22:2, 4-10]. And He has no illusion about who the offering will be. He begins His ministry knowing that it ends in an atoning death [John 2:21].
There’s a very famous picture of our Lord, nineteen years of age, in the carpenter shop in Nazareth. And He is standing in such a way that behind Him against the wall is a picture of a rugged cross. He came into the world to die [Hebrews 10:5-14]. And He said: “No man takes My life from Me, I lay it down of Myself” [John 10:18]. No man could touch the Lord: He acquiesced in His arrest [John 18:4-11], in His trial [John 1:35-36], in His crucifixion [John 10:15-18]. He did it voluntarily [Hebrews 10:5-14].
And glory of glories, the same majesty of the Lord God that made Him impenetrable, unperturbable, unseizable; the same Spirit that made Him the perfect superman, the great God and Savior that He was [2 Peter 1:1]; that same ableness raised Him from the dead. “I have power to take [up] My life again” [John 10:18].
Do you ever think of that? Have you ever been in a cemetery? It’s a question I ask these youngsters when I talk to them about the penalty of sin. Have you ever been in a cemetery? And they all say yes. Cemetery, where we lay our dead; could you imagine one of those in the cemetery with the power to raise himself from the grave? That’s the power resident in our Lord—to raise Himself from the grave [John 10:18].
Now I’m not pressing the text too much when I avow, He also spoke of that temple around Him, the sacred temple in Jerusalem: “Destroy this temple. . .” [John 2:19]. The death of Christ was the destruction of that temple and the passing away of the old order [2 Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews 8:13], and the resurrection of Christ was the creation and birth of a new order—the church of the Lord Jesus Christ [Colossians 1:18]. Isn’t that an amazing thing—the destruction of that temple? [John 2:19].
Titus for two years besieged the city of Jerusalem in 70 AD. His father Vespasian had begun the war of conquest in Palestine and was called to Rome to assume the emperorship of the empire. And he left the conquest of the country in the hands of his son Titus, who upon the death of Vespasian became himself emperor of the Roman people.
If you’ve ever been to Rome, you’ve seen the Arch of Titus that celebrates and commemorates the triumph of Titus over the Jewish people. Titus in the two years that he besieged the city of Jerusalem, when finally he overwhelmed it, he gave explicit commandment and instructions to the Roman legionnaires that they were not to touch that temple. But when those Roman soldiers, after two years, were able to breach the walls and to pour into the Holy City, a Roman soldier lighted a torch and threw it into the Holy of Holies, and the temple went up in flames. And the fury of the soldiers tore it down, every stone one upon the other.
Titus said, “We’re not to destroy that temple.” Jesus had said, “Not one stone would be left upon another” [Matthew 24:1-2]. The destruction of the temple—and when I think of it, with one hand God took away forever—God took away that ancient temple with its sacrifices, and its priests, and its altars, its showbread, its lamp stand, its holy place, its Holy of Holies. With one hand, God forever took away the whole sacrificial system. And, with the other hand, God drew back the curtain and exhibited to our view the Savior of the world—the new glory, the new day, the new worship, the new Lord, incarnate God, Jesus, our hope and our heaven [John 2:19-22].
May I conclude with just one other observation in keeping with the passage? I think it is a preview, and an affirmation, and a prophecy of what our Savior will do for the whole creation. As we look at it now, it is fallen; dead planets, dead suns, black holes. And even our earth is fallen; deserts, caps of ice, disease, destruction and universal death.
If I could call our planet any one thing above any other thing, I’d say it’s a place to bury our dead, the whole planet, a vast cemetery. It’s a fallen universe. It’s a fallen system. It’s a fallen earth. It is a fallen humanity. But with the same mighty hand that will someday erase it away, pass it away, the same omnipotent hand will brush aside this curtain of death and sorrow, hurt, age, tears [Revelation 21:1-4].
That same Lord God will reveal to us, when the heavens are parted, will reveal to us that same glorious, marvelous Christ Jesus coming down. And, in His new creation, there are no half-finished mansions in that New Jerusalem. And there are no ruins in that city of God [Revelation 21:1-4]. For He hath said: “Behold, I make all things new, new!” [Revelation 21:5]. A new heaven, and a new earth, and a new home, and a new city, and a new humanity, and a new body, gloriously resurrected and a new life in Him and together [Philippians 3:21]. Oh, dear people, the ableness and the almightiness of this real superman—Jesus our Lord! Now may we pray?
Our Lord in heaven, would God we had the words commensurate with the marvelous presence and ableness of our wonderful Savior. We stagger before and stammer trying to say what is not able to be said. It’s too glorious. It’s too wonderful. And the marvel and the glory to think that we shall live to see these things come to pass. We shall live to experience that resurrection from among the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. We shall have a mansion in that heavenly city [John 14:2-3], and we shall our Lord glorified face to face [Revelation 22:3-4]. O heaven, come down. Come down. Bless Lord this appeal we make.
And in a moment when we stand to sing, to give your heart to the Lord [Romans 10:8-13], or to bring your family into the fellowship of the church, or to answer the call of the Spirit in your soul, come and welcome. There is time and to spare, people in the topmost balcony, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, today this is God’s word to me and here I stand.” And our Lord, bless these to come, in Thy saving and keeping and triumphant and glorious and coming name, amen.” While we stand and while we sing.
I. The first act of His public ministry
A. Explosive and
shattering thing to do
B. Fulfillment of
1. He did it
again at the end of His ministry
C. Passion Play at Oberammergau
II. The reason for the temple traffic
A. Money exchange
B. Animals for
C. Court of the
Gentiles had fourteen acres for this purpose
D. A richly profitable
and lucrative monopolistic market
1. Romans sold
high priesthood to highest bidder
brought had to be inspected and approved
III. The reaction of Jesus
up in indignation, threw them all out of the temple (Revelation 6:16-17)
B. Why did no one
stature of Jesus (John 7:46, 18:4-6, 19:11,
Matthew 9:33, Luke 4:28-29)
Condemnation of their conscience
IV. The sign of the destroyed temple
A. He begins ministry
knowing it ends in atoning death
B. Referred to destruction
of actual temple also