The Resurrection: Fact or Fiction?
July 9th, 1950 @ 10:50 AM
THE RESURRECTION: FACT OR FICTION?
Dr. W.A. Criswell
7-9-50 10:50 A.M.
We are in the last chapter of the first Gospel, Matthew 28. The title of the sermon is the resurrection: The Resurrection, Is It Fact Or Fiction? Matthew 28:1-15:
Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. 4 And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you. So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word.
And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, Rejoice! So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me
Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, Tell them, His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept. And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure. So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.
That is they said His disciples came by night and stole His body way, He didn’t really rise from the dead.
I heard a university professor from Shanghai sometime ago describe a meeting that he had with his students. He was a Christian man and he was describing to those students the resurrection of Jesus Christ and one of the men arose and said, “Sir, I do not believe that.” And the professor said, “Why do you not believe that?” And the Chinese student replied, “Because, dead men do not rise from their graves.” Can I believe it? Can you? Can you?
So, when we turn to this discussion of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are turning to far more than just a discussion of the resuscitation of a man. But when we turn to it this morning, we are discussing the citadel of the Christian faith. We are looking at the keystone of the arch of Christianity. This is the heart, and circumference, and center, and all-in-all of the Christian message; the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It entails His person and His character and His deity.
It was a marvelous thing, marvelous thing, that Jesus should be begotten of the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin. What a miraculous thing; but that does not establish His essential deity. Adam was the generation of the Spirit and not of a human father. In Luke 3:38, you have that close of the genealogy – so-in-so, the son of so-in-so, the son of Seth, who was the son of Adam, who was the son of God – but that didn’t make him God. The Virgin Birth itself does not establish, I say, the deity of Jesus Christ.
He did many marvelous miracles and we are astounded at them but there were other men who were mortal who did miracles. Moses, Elijah, Elisha, they were men of mighty power, men of great faith and the favor of God was upon them, but they were men. They were men, they were not God. The teachings of our Lord, as sublime as it is, does not establish His deity.
How would you know but that our Lord – in the things that He said – that our Lord was nothing more than the genius of a Shakespeare, or a Milton, or a Homer, raised to an nth degree? No, if He is the Christ of God – if He is God of very God – then He must come with divine appointment; not only like those shared by other and mortal men, but there must be a chain of evidences from the time that He appeared into this world until the time when He comes back to this world again. And every one of those chains, every one of those links, must be supernatural and super-human, and the center of it all is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Rather than continue to present that in my words, may I argue it from the words of the Apostle Paul in the sublime chapter, the fifteenth of I Corinthians? “If there be no resurrection,” in verses 13 to 19 he says three things there: one, that if Christ did not rise from the dead our faith is vain, we are yet in our sins, the whole plan of salvation collapses if Jesus is not alive, if He is not alive. It would be the same thing as though you were drowning in the sea and somebody on shipboard threw you a rope and you seized the rope, but it is not anchored at the other end. There has to be an anchor to it. It has to hold. Our faith is built upon something that never did happen if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. The whole Christian gospel is shattered in a lie, and in a fantasy, and in fiction, and in a phantom.
Could a dead Christ save anybody? Could a dead Christ conquer sin and the grave? Those two men, Cleopas and anther who walked on the way to Emmaus after they had seen Jesus crucified, as they were sad and spake to one another, they said these words, “We had thought, we had thought that it had been He that should have saved Israel,” but He is dead and a dead Christ can’t save Israel – nor us, nor anybody. It never occurred to them that Jesus, dead and buried, would ever save anyone. Nor does it occur to me. If He is dead, then He is not a Savior, then He is not Lord, and He hasn’t won any of those great victories that He claimed. Nor is He anything that He said He was. “Your faith is vain and we are yet in our sins,”
He says another thing, He says, “not only that but we are found false witnesses of God and our preaching is vain.” We testify that God raised Christ up, but if He didn’t do it – He is still in the grave where He was buried by Joseph and Nicodemus – our preaching is vain and we are found false witnesses of God. Look at Simon Peter at Pentecost. He is a living flame; he is a fire and his message has in it burning conviction. But that glorious message preached by Simon Peter on the day of Pentecost was a sermon on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and it’s a lie if He didn’t rise from the dead. That burning, that conviction, that power in the Gospel message of Simon Peter was all built on a deception and an illusion; and that same deception and illusion has been perpetrated on all the/generations ever since, if Jesus Christ didn’t rise from the dead. Our preaching is vain and we are found false witnessed of God. Think of those men after Simon Peter – then Paul, then Timothy and Titus, then Augustine, then Savonarola, then John Huss, then John Wycliffe, then Spurgeon, Luther. And then those towering giants in our State of Texas – Carroll and Gambrell and Truett–and they all preached lies because they said that Christ was living and that He rose from the dead. But if He didn’t rise from the dead, all through the generations, it was vain preaching by deceived men who labored under colossal and false illusions. Think of it, think of I, “then is our preaching vain and we are found false witnesses of God.”
Then his last word, the most pathetic that a man could say, “Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.” If all there is to this life is right now, “we are of all men most miserable.” Socrates died drinking the fatal hemlock, Caesar fell by the assassin’s daggers on the Senate floor of the Roman forum, and Jesus was crucified on the cross. But they all died alike, they were just martyrs – Socrates, Caesar, and Jesus, all alike. They died and that was the end of their careers.
And our Lord said, “If I leave you I’ll go away and prepare a place for you that where I may be there ye may be also.” But He didn’t go, He didn’t go, the grave held Him bound, and He didn’t get there – and He’ll not come back and there’s not any place prepared for us.
But over there in the twenty-first and twenty-second chapters of the Book of Revelation, John describes for us the beautiful City of God, the place Jesus has prepared for those who know Him. But there is not any City of God, because He is still in the grave, He is still in the grave. And we sing these beautiful songs, “There Is a Home For Me Over There,” but there is not any home over there because He is still in the grave. He didn’t rise from the dead; it’s a deception and an illusion and a false hope.
One of the blessed men broke my heart one time telling me about his boy as we rode along in a plane, telling me about his boy. He never had but one child, a little fellow, and the little boy died of spinal meningitis. And he was growing blind, and he didn’t realize what was the matter. The little fellow, he thought it was getting night and time to go to sleep, and he said to his Dad, “Dad, it is growing dark, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” said the father, “it’s growing dark, it’s growing dark.” And the little boy said, “Well, if it is, I ought to get ready to go to sleep, shouldn’t I?”
“Yes,” said his Dad, “you must get ready to go to sleep.” So the little boy raised his pillow and turned over to go to sleep. Then he said to his father, “Good night, Daddy, I’ll see you in the morning.” And his daddy said, “Good night, Son, I’ll see you in the morning.” But there’s not any morning, see? There’s not any morning. He put his hand over on my knee and he said, “”Preacher, I am living for that day, I am living for that day when I’ll see that boy in the morning, like he said.” But there’s not any morning, there’s not any morning. He didn’t rise. There’s not any victory over death. There’s not any victory over the grave. “If in this life only we have hope in Jesus we are of all men most miserable,then they also who are fallen asleep in Jesus are perished”
I say as I began, I say that the heart of the Christian faith and the Christian communion, the keystone, its very bastion and citadel, is the resurrection of Jesus Christ; that He arose from the dead. Can I believe it? Can I? What assurance? What assurance? As I’ve got a mind as well as a heart, if I can’t believe it with my head somehow – if I can’t take it and trust it, then it means nothing to me; I have got a head as well as a heart. Can I?
I’ll have time: I pray in these brief moments to give you three evidences, three assured evidences of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. First you look at this: when they were going on their way, those blessed women, to tell them that Jesus had risen from the dead, why the watchmen came into the city and they told the chief priests and the elders what had happened. And when they were assembled, the council, they said to them, “Here, take this money, and you say that while you were asleep, while you were asleep, they, the disciples, they came in by night and stole His body away. And if Pontius Pilate hears it, it may cost you your life; if you were on duty and slept on your post. If he hears about it, we will secure you with more money in his hand. So they went, they took the money and they said, “While we were asleep they stole His body away.” All right that’s our first one. What do you think about that? You are a rational being and a reasonable somebody, what do you think about it? And we are looking at this: the evidences of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. What do you think about that? If they were asleep how did they know that the disciples came and stole His body away?
Another thing, if they were asleep how could they have remained asleep in the execution of that task to roll away that to break the seal to exhume the body and never wake them up? They must have been not only asleep but drugged with all those operations going on and they not awakened. And then again, could you imagine the weak, timorous little group of those frightened and scared disciples attempting such an operation that? Over that Roman seal, over that Roman guard, to attempt such a thing? And then last, why would His disciples have chosen to do it? Why? The only reason you could give would be just that, in order that they might tell lies about His resurrection. But those who did not believe in the resurrection were those very disciples whom they said did it in order to tell lies about it. Oh, no! tthe disciples, the only thing they could have done would have been to steal His body in order to bury it some other place. But He had a royal burial. Joseph loved Him – of Arimathea. Nicodemus loved Him; they were rich men and these poor disciples were peasants and fishermen. They could never have given Him the burial that Nicodemus and Joseph did. Sir, it is preposterous, I say. It doesn’t make sense in my mind. Such a lie manifests, manifests – the only thing that it does is that it acknowledges, it acknowledges that the body of Jesus was not there. And against that rock these infidelities risk themselves. What became of the body of our Lord? His disciples steal it away? It’s preposterous, and manifestly preposterous. That body wasn’t there. What became of it? What became of the body of Jesus?
And that leads to my second word. What assurance do I have of the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Because here I stand, face to face with the heart of the message of the Christian faith. What assurance do I have? My second one, it is the marvelous, marvelous conversion and convincing of those apostles and those disciples. When Mohammed died, when Mohammed died, old Mark came out in front of the tent and brandished his sword and said, “I will hew dawn any man who dares to say that Mohammed is no more.” And they propagated that faith with the sword.
It was exactly the opposite when Jesus died. His disciples saw Him die, and they lost all hope and all faith in the gospel and in the kingdom of Jesus Christ. They were the ones who were skeptical; they were the ones who didn’t believe. It was they who loved Him and had followed Him: His friends. The women came to the tomb. Why did they come? They came to embalm a dead Jesus; they came to embalm a dead Lord. They came to embalm a dead Christ. They never dreamed that he would rise from the dead. And the angel chided them, the angel chided them. He said to the women, “Don’t you remember, don’t you remember that He said that ‘after three days I will rise again?'” Then they remembered, then they remembered; but had they been told that two hours before it would have been nothing, nothing, because those women had seen Him die. And they had come to embalm His dead, dead body. What did His disciples do? They saw Him die. “He’s dead!” John said, “He is dead–I saw Him die. I saw the blood and the water gush from His side. I saw His eyes glazed in death. I saw Him die. He’s dead! He’s dead! He’s dead!” And that was echoed from one to the other. “He is dead, He is dead.”
And when the other ten came to Thomas and said, “Thomas, but He’s alive again, He’s alive again!” Thomas said, “I’ll not believe that. Do you think I am so childish? Do you think I am so simple that when you come and tell me that Jesus is alive again that I’d believe it? No, I won’t believe it. But if I were to put my finger in the prints of the nails in His hand and if I were to thrust my hand into His side, then I might believe.” And the following Sunday night, the Lord Jesus stood in their midst and held out His hand and His side and said, ‘Thomas, you come and do just like you said and be not faithless, but believing, that it is I, Myself.” Then He turned to all the rest of His disciples and said, “You handle Me and see that it is I Myself and not a spirit, for a spirit doesn’t have flesh and bones such as you see Me have.” And He said, “Have you anything here to eat?” And He ate a piece of a broiled fish and an honeycomb before them – the same Lord Jesus.
Here in this chapter that I have just read to you, the twenty-eighth of Matthew, one time the angel calls Him Lord, “Come see the place where the Lord lay.” But everywhere else in that chapter He is called Jesus. “Jesus came and spake,” and they held Jesus by the feet, Jesus, the same Lord Jesus. Oh, the conversion of those disciples!
A skeptic is a good fellow to have around because these incredulous fellows, these skeptics, these unbelievers, they point out the trickster, and the spiritualist, and the charlatan, and the cheapskate, and the deceiver. They pick him out. Who were the skeptics here? They were the disciples of the Lord. “I don believe it,” said His disciples. But Jesus walked with them and talked with them for forty days and their faith turned to victory. They changed, they changed from cowards to-courageous men of God, They had gone to the tomb to weep–they turned rejoicing; their dirges were changed into anthems. They began to preach, they began to preach the resurrection of Jesus Christ, “We have seen Him,” said the disciples. “We’ve seen Him. He’s alive. He’s alive!”
And that leads to this last avowal. What makes you believe that He arose from the dead? First, I said, “His body, His body.” Second, I said, “The miraculous conversion of His disciples who were the skeptics. And this is the last–it is the Christian witness through all of the ages–the Christian witness. The presence of the church: you and you and you. And how I feel in my heart, and how all our fore-fathers have felt in theirs. Listen to it. Paul appeals to the sane and sensible men. Listen as He said, “He arose again the third day according to the Scriptures,” as God’s Book says, “According to the Scriptures.” And He said, He arose again the third day, according to the Scriptures,” and then He was seen of Cephas, and/Simon Peter, then He was seen of the Twelve, after that He was seen of above 500 at one time–500 sane men and women gathered on that mount in Galilee. I will be preaching about that this coming Sunday: more than 500 at one time, 500 “of whom the greater part remain unto this present,” when he wrote this, “though some are fallen asleep.” After that He was seen of James; then of all the Apostles – when He ascended. “And last of all He was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.” Paul said, “And I saw Him, and I saw Him!”
“Paul, you must be a mad man!” Isn’t that what Festus shouted when Paul was preaching that he had seen the Lord? Festus broke in and said, “Paul, thou art mad, much learning hath made thee mad.”
“No,” said Paul, “I am in my right mind, I an in my right mind. I saw Him with my own eyes. I talked to Him face to face and He laid upon my soul the burden of this commission to preach the everlasting hope to the nations and to the Gentiles. I saw Him.” Can I believe he was a sane man? Brother, have you read – we have thirteen letters written by the Apostle Paul, thirteen of them there in that Book. Do they sound like they were written by a madman? Do they look as if they were written by one unbalanced? Why, those are the greatest pieces of literature; they transcend Shakespeare and Dante as the heavens overarch the earth. Were they written by a madman? Why, they are the sublimest revelation we have ever read in any tongue and any language and in any literature. And that man who wrote them said, “I saw Him. Last of all He appeared unto me and I saw Him also – I saw Him also.” And the Christian witness through all of the generations has but-echoed the reality of the presence of our living Lord.
He walked with them for forty days. He walked with them for forty days, and then, having appeared when they didn’t look for Him, being by their sides when they weren’t expecting Him – sometimes when they’d sit down to break bread, there he was breaking bread with them. Sometimes, walking along the road, there He was by their sides. Sometimes in a prayer meeting, suddenly there He was and they looked at Him. For forty days that continued and then they didn’t need Him any more; they didn’t need to look at Him any more, they knew Him by His presence by their sides. He was just there; more nearly there, more certainly there, more actually there than He was in the days of His flesh.
After forty days He went away, His body was taken out by a cloud. But He was there, right by their sides just as He had always been. And for the unending years from that day until this, God’s people have felt the Presence by their side; sometimes in a quiet season of prayer, sometimes when the Holy Ghost falls upon a great meeting such as this. But time and again have God’s people risen to testify, “I have felt Him and I saw Him, and my head almost touched Him. He’s alive, He’s alive, He’s alive!” It’s the Christian faith; it’s the Christian message.
Before we go off this air, if you have listened this morning by that radio where you are; if you’ve never given your life in faith to Jesus, would you now? Would you now right where you are? “I believe that /He lives. I believe. I believe. I do, I do, and I do.” Would you this morning?
And in this house of God in which we have assembled, up there in that topmost balcony and from side and around, if today you would give your life to that risen Lord, would you come and stand by my side? Would you so? Would you so? “I take Him as my Savior this day. I believe the witness of the word that He lives, that He lives. By baptism I come, by letter I come, by statement I come, by promise of letter I come, by rededication of my life I come.” However God shall say the word, would you come? Would you come?
From side to side, on the first note and the first stanza, would you come? Is there a family here? All of you come. Is there one somebody, you? Would you come? While we sing our song, would you this day? Would you? While we stand and while we sing.