The Resurrection of Jesus Christ
May 9th, 1954 @ 7:30 PM
THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-9-54 7:30 p.m.
In our preaching through the Word, we are in the twenty-fifth and the twenty-sixth chapters of the Book of Acts. We are in the defense of the apostle Paul before King Agrippa. And these sermons are delivered, prepared, in defense of the Christian faith.
Now you turn in your Bible to the twenty-fifth chapter of Acts, beginning at the thirteenth verse and reading through the nineteenth, and we will all read it together. The twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Acts, Acts 25, beginning at the thirteenth verse and continuing through the nineteenth; and the nineteenth is the text for the evening. Are you ready? Acts 25:13, now begin:
And after certain days King Agrippa and Bernice came unto Caesarea to salute Festus.
And when they had been there many days, Festus declared Paul’s cause unto the king, saying, There is a certain man left in bonds by Felix:
About whom, when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, desiring to have judgment against him.
To whom I answered, It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to die, before that he which is accused have the accusers face to face, and have license to answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him.
Therefore, when they were come hither, without any delay on the morrow I sat on the judgment seat, and commanded the man to be brought forth.
Against whom when the accusers stood up, they brought none accusation of such things as I supposed:
But had certain questions against him of their own superstition, and of one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.
And that’s my text.
They had none such accusations as that Roman procurator thought for – guilty of murder, guilty of treason, guilty of sedition, not any such thing; "But they had certain questions against him of their own religion, and of one Jesus, who was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive." That is the focal point of the Christian faith. That is the focal point of the attack against Christianity through all of the centuries, through all the generations. Whether the man was a heathen or a pagan, whether he was an infidel or a sophist, whether he’s a modernist, a liberal, whether he’s a rationalist or a cynic, this is the focal point against the Christian faith: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ. And this is the great affirmation of those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ: "And of one Jesus, who was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive, to be alive" [Acts 25:19]. The matter is serious. If Jesus is not alive, if He did not rise from the dead, the whole fabric of the Christian faith rots and disintegrates; it’s dust and ashes. If it is true, if it is true, we have the supreme authentication of the gospel message of our Lord, and we have hope: we have hope, we have hope for ourselves. If one man could escape the tentacles of the grave, then there’s a chance for every other man, if Jesus rose from the dead. "And of one Jesus, who was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive."
Now, can a man of a reasonable mind, of a rational nature, can a man be persuaded of the resurrection of the dead? Can he? Can it be proved to a man’s mind that Jesus rose from the grave, can it? "Whom Paul affirmed to be alive; one Jesus, who was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive," can it be? All right, I think it can; and I propose to do it tonight. To any man who is rational and reasonable, to any man who will look at it honestly and openly, I can prove tonight that Jesus rose from the dead. These are the proofs.
First: the marvelous, pristine purity and character of the life of Jesus Himself; that is the first proof that He rose from the dead. The life of Jesus was pure and holy and separate [Hebrews 7:26] and God-like; but it ended in a cruel and a shameful death [Matthew 27:32-50]. Is that all? Is that all? Is that the end of godliness, of purity, of holiness, of sanctity? Crucifixion, ignominy, shame, is that all? Could that be all? If that is all, we are faced with an insoluble mystery: the eternal triumph of wrong over right; and truth and justice flee from the earth, if that’s all. There’s more. There’s more. There is bound to be more to truth, and right, and holiness, and purity, and character, and justice in this earth than that it end in shame, and in sorrow, and in ignominy, and in defeat, and in death. But that’s the way Jesus’ life ended.
Another thing, the veracity of the Savior, His words and His promises; He said He would rise again, and He said it all through His ministry. When He began with the cleansing of the temple, the first cleansing of the temple, they said, "What sign do You give us that You do these things?" And He replied, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" [John 2:18-19].
"What sign do You give us that You are the Messiah of God?" "None other sign but the sign of the prophet Jonah who was in the belly of the whale. So the Son of Man shall be in the heart of the earth; but three days later He shall rise again," thus did the Lord speak [Matthew 12:38-40].
At Caesarea Philippi, when Simon Peter made his tremendous declaration, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" [Matthew 16:16], and the Lord Jesus replied, "And on that declaration I will build My church" [Matthew 16:18], at that time the Lord said, the Lord said He must suffer and die, but the third day rise again [Matthew 16:21]. All through His ministry it was repeated. On the Mount of Transfiguration, there appeared Moses and Elijah speaking to the Lord Jesus about His death [Luke 9:30-31]. And when they came down from the mount, the Lord said, "Tell no one of this vision until after the resurrection, until I be raised from the dead" [Mark 9:9]. And when the Lord died and was in the tomb, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees, and the scribes, and the elders of the people went unto Pontius Pilate and said, "Let us place a guard there by the tomb, because we heard that deceiver say that the third day He would rise again" [Matthew 27:62-64]. And He is a deceiver and a liar and a hypocrite, and He misled His disciples, if the third day He didn’t rise from the dead. The purity, the honesty, the godliness, the holiness of the life of the Lord Jesus argues that He rose from the grave. That’s the first proof.
The second proof: the proof of the empty tomb. The Lord Jesus was crucified, He was slain, and His blood was spilled out on the ground. And they wrapped His body in a long winding sheet, and they bound His head round about, and they laid Him in a tomb [Matthew 27:59-60]. And against that tomb they rolled a great stone, and they sealed that stone with a Roman seal, and before it they placed a Roman guard [Matthew 27:66]. That was done Friday evening before the sunset. Three days later, on Sunday, that tomb was empty [Matthew 28:1-7]; there was no body in it. One of two things: that body was removed by human hands, or that body was removed by supernatural means.
If that body was removed by human hands, it was done by His friends or by His foes. If that body was removed by His friends, first, if the body was removed by His friends, how could they do it? How could they? There was a great stone, there was a Roman seal, there was a guard, and in order to steal that body they would have had to break the seal of the Roman Empire, and they would have had to overcome the guards who stood there to guard it. And had they stolen that body, why was it that they stole it naked, for the winding sheet was carefully folded up, and the napkin was carefully folded and placed by itself? If the disciples stole it, they would have had to do it hurriedly; and had they stolen it, they would not have stolen it naked.
Then His foes stole it away, His enemies stole the body away. Wouldn’t it be strange that they would do the one thing that would lend itself to the "false" rumor that He was risen as He said? His enemies placed a guard there to see to it that nobody did steal it. Then it’s silliness to say they stole it themselves.
And another thing, a few weeks after this resurrection, a few weeks after this resurrection, Simon Peter, the great apostle, stood up and he preached there in Jerusalem to those people the resurrection of Jesus Christ [Acts 2:22-32]. If His enemies had stolen His body, why didn’t they therewith and therein produce it and say, "Here is the dead decayed body of the Lord Jesus," and silence Peter forever and forever? Could you imagine anything more conclusive? Could you imagine anything more final? When Simon Peter is up there preaching the resurrection of Jesus Christ, than to say, "Here is His body, dead and decayed!" The silence of the Jews is as eloquent as the testimony of Simon Peter! That’s the second evidence: the body was gone the third day. Who stole it? His friends couldn’t and His enemies wouldn’t!
The third proof of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: it’s the transformation of His disciples, a psychological phenomenon. The third day they were discouraged and sad. The third day they were heartbroken and downcast. For three days they were in despair. Friday they saw the Lord die. And for three days there was night, there was death, there was darkness, there was hopelessness, there was despair. Every star, the sun, the whole heavens had fallen. For three days those disciples were in the night of despair. Just like that, their sadness turned to gladness! Incredulous at first, then with a certainty they never doubted again! All in the space of Friday to Sunday, the most miraculous transformation, it’s the most glorious psychological phenomenon that the world ever saw! How do you explain it?
Some say they stole His body away. In the first place, they couldn’t; and in the second place, had they stolen His body, would a stolen body have done the impossible thing of transforming human character such as we see in those disciples? Impossible! A lie doesn’t give birth to the tremendous spiritual ethical impact that the Christian faith has had in the earth.
"It was a legend, it was a myth." And it developed in three days? Ha! Whoever heard of a legend developing in three days? It takes years and sometimes centuries for myth and legend to develop. Legends just don’t develop in three days.
"It was a hallucination. Mary Magdalene thought she saw the Lord Jesus." Renan, the famous French critic said, "And so the dream of an hallucinated woman became the hope of the church." "She just had a vision that He was alive; she just thought He was alive. It was an hallucination." You listen to me: there were more than five hundred men and women that saw the Lord Jesus at one time [1 Corinthians 15:6], and to get five hundred people to have an hallucination is a psychological monstrosity. And to do it over a period of forty days is another psychological inanity. They saw the Lord Jesus over a period of forty days [Acts 1:3]. They looked at Him. They talked to Him. And wouldn’t it be strange that these men whom we know, whose writings we have, Peter and John, here they are in this Book, they’re sane; they wrote the greatest literature in the world. Isn’t it remarkable that they had no hallucinations up to that point? And then beginning after that forty days they never had any hallucinations thereafter? But in that period of forty days, that little circumscribed period there, that little bit of time, they just had them one after another, hallucinations. Then they suddenly ceased, and never had them again. Why, it’s a psychological impossibility! Things like that don’t happen. The transformation in the life and heart and soul and ministry and preaching testimony and fearlessness of those disciples is beyond anything the world ever saw! They were cowed men, afraid. A little maid could talk to Simon Peter and he’d bow his head and run away [Matthew 26:69]. But after three days, they are bold and courageous like a lion [Acts 4:13]. What happened? Something marvelous and something great!
They went to embalm a dead corpse. They had known of apparitions of spirits, talking about Samuel, that the witch of Endor raised [1 Samuel 28:11-19]. They’d seen bodies resuscitated like that of Lazarus [John 11:43-44]. But they never thought, nor did the world ever think, nor did any man ever dream of immortality, a body raised from the grave and immortalized, glorified, the same body yet different, different though the same. The third great proof of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: the transformation of the disciples.
The fourth great proof of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: the existence of the primitive church. Deuteronomy 21:23, "Cursed of God is every one that is hanged on a tree." Paul quotes that [Galatians 3:13]. The Lord Jesus in His death by hanging, by crucifixion, nailed to the wood, the Lord Jesus according to the law was cursed by God. And the Jews knew their law; and He was crucified in the capital city of Judaism, in Jerusalem, outside their city gates. And the law says, "Cursed is every man that is hanged on a tree." And Jesus died on a tree. And yet, and yet, a few days after they had crucified the Lord Jesus, and He was nailed to the tree, cursed of God, a few days thereafter there were thousands of Jews, thousands of Jews who are looking upon Him as their Savior and their Messiah [Acts 2:41, 4:4]. And a few days after that, thousands of priests become obedient to the faith, Jews [Acts 6:7]. The first primitive church was a Jewish church: all of them, Jews! And they are worshiping a Jew who was cursed of God and died on a tree! [Matthew 27:32-50]. How do you explain the birth of that primitive church? There’s no other way to explain it but the explanation of Simon Peter in Acts 2:36, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God, that God hath made that same crucified Lord Jesus. . .both Lord and Christ." God raised Him from the dead [Acts 2:32], and He lives, and He lives, and He lives, and He lives! [Matthew 28:1-7]. No other explanation of that church but the raising of Jesus from the dead; that’s the fourth proof.
The fifth proof of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: the witness of the apostle Paul. The apostle Paul is a sane man. The apostle Paul had a tremendous mind. The apostle Paul had an incomparable intellect. He was a giant. The apostle Paul wrote a letter about twenty years after this happened, the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. It’s the first letter to the church at Thessalonica. And the heart of that letter; the center of that letter; the cross beat of that letter is this: that because Jesus rose from the dead, we also shall rise from the dead [1Thessalonians 4:13-18]. And a few years after he wrote that first Thessalonian letter, he wrote a letter to the church at Corinth, 1 Corinthians. And the climactic chapter of the Corinthian letter is the fifteenth chapter, which is on the resurrection. And Paul lists in that fifteenth chapter of 1Corinthians; Paul lists the appearances of the Lord Jesus: this one, and this one, and this one. And then last of all, he speaks of his own meeting with Jesus on the Damascus road, and he places his own vision of the Lord Jesus on the same level with the vision of the Lord Jesus as the apostles had seen Him when He was raised from the dead [1 Corinthians 15:5-9]. All of that adding time, when Paul could verify every sentence that he wrote and every word that he said, all of the witnesses were still alive when Paul was converted. He could see them, he could talk to them, he could know them; and then last of all, he saw the Lord Jesus Himself [Acts 9:1-6; 1 Corinthians 15:8].
"Ah," but you say, "Paul was crazy. He had a mind of aberration. He wasn’t balanced." Tell me, did you ever see an unbalanced man write literature like that? The sublimest literature in the world is not in Shakespeare, it’s not in Homer, it’s not in Verde, it’s not in Dante, it’s not anywhere else in the world, but in that Book; and that Book is mostly written by the apostle Paul. Never a man, never a genius, never a literary figure, never a mind like that of the apostle Paul; and he’s the one who testifies the resurrection of the Lord Jesus – the fifth witness, the witness of the apostle Paul.
The sixth proof of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead: it is found in the record of the Gospels. Read it. Read it. Read it. The record of the gospel, read the story of Peter and John as they ran to the tomb [John 20:1-8]. Read it. Read the story of Jesus as He appeared on the banks of the Sea of Galilee and the fishermen who’d all night long toiled and caught nothing [John 21:1-25]. Read it. Read the most beautiful story in the world, the twenty-fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke; the story of Jesus and the two friends walking on the road to Emmaus [Luke 24:13-35]. Read it. Look. Look. Look. In that story you have a raised supernatural God walking along by the side of commonplace men, and the scene is perfectly natural. To have supernatural men, gods, in this commonplace earth, talking with commonplace men, and to present it naturally, reasonably is a difficulty and the despair of all literature! Read. Look. Read. Read of the coming of the gods in Greek literature as they mingled among men. It’s far-fetched. Even their greatest authors, Homer, Aeschylus, Euripides, any of them, despaired before it. Read. Read. Read.
The greatest genius the English people have ever produced is Shakespeare. Read, read Hamlet’s ghost, the supernatural talking and having intercourse with commonplace men. Read it. It’s far-fetched. It’s a part of laborious imagination. Read it, anywhere in any of the literature of the earth: when God comes down and walks with men, read it. Then read this. Then read that. And it’s natural. Why? Because the evangelist is writing it just as it happened, that’s all. He is telling simply the truth. He’s just repeating the story as it came to pass, and there’s not a literary critic in the world but will say it has in it, in it, in itself the intrinsic evidences of its own truthfulness. It’s not a fabric of a man’s imagination. It’s not literary culture. It’s not genius. It’s truth. It happened. And the evangelist just tells the story as it came to pass. Read it. Read it. It is its own greatest, highest defense, the gospel record. That’s the sixth proof of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
The last and the seventh: remember my text: "And of one Jesus, who was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive, to be alive" [Acts 25:19]. The seventh proof: the witness of the centuries, the test of time. One thousand nine hundred ten or fifteen years ago did it happen: one thousand nine hundred fifteen years ago did it happen. What of that centuries? What of the time that has passed? What of it? He is more alive today than He was yesterday. He is more alive today than He was in the days of His flesh. He is more alive today than on that Lord’s Day when He rose from the dead. The Lord Jesus, alive, He is alive.
I never think of Napoleon being alive. I never think of Julius Caesar being alive. I never think of Charlemagne being alive. I never think of Richard the Lionhearted being alive. I never think of Washington or Lincoln being alive. But the Lord Jesus, the Lord Jesus, standing at the right hand of God [Acts 7:55], the glory of heaven and the hope of earth, the Lord Jesus, after the passing of the centuries, He is more alive today than He was on that first Sunday raised from the dead, alive, alive, alive! [Matthew 28:1-7].
There’s hardly any schoolboy that doesn’t know of those two great English scholars, Lord Lyttelton and Gilbert West. In Oxford University, in the long vacation one said to the other, "I will study, you study; at the end of our vacation we’ll come back to Oxford. I will prove that the conversion of the apostle Paul was pseudo and not real. And you prove that Jesus never rose from the dead." They agreed. These two “Oxonions,” brilliant professors, at the end of the long vacation came back and compared experiences. Lord Lyttelton said, "I have studied, but I have become convinced that the conversion of Paul was real!" And Gilbert West replied, "And I, I have become convinced that Jesus Christ rose from the dead." [Thomas] Arnold of Rugby, head of the school said, "There’s not any fact in history so well authenticated as the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
“And of one Jesus, who was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive" [Acts 25:19].
Any man, whether he’s a rationalist like Littleton, a cynic like Gilbert West, any man who will read the record, who will open his heart to the truth, who will lift up his eyes to see, will have the same experience of doubting Thomas when looking into the face of the risen Lord: humbly and simply said, "My Lord, my Lord and my God. I believe. I believe. I believe" [John 20:28].
If that can be your persuasion, would you come and stand by me? Anywhere, anyone, would you come and stand by me? Giving your heart in faith and in trust to the Lord Jesus, coming into the fellowship of His church, on confession of faith, by baptism, by letter, by promise of letter, by statement, however God shall say the word and open the door, while we sing this appeal tonight, would you come? "I’ll make it now. I’ll make it now." Maybe you want to go, some other journey; but you’re here tonight, and as you listened to the message, faith came into your heart, "I believe, pastor, I believe. I believe that He lives. I believe that He is God. I believe He is my Savior. I take Him tonight. I do it now." Would you? Would you? While we sing our song, while prayerfully we make appeal, would you come and stand by me? "Here’s my hand, pastor, my heart I give to God in faith, in persuasion. He is all He said He was. He can do all He has promised to do. I’ll take Him tonight. I’ll follow Him now." Will you? While we stand and while we sing.