THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-2-54 7:30 p.m.
In our preaching through the Word, we are in the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts, which is Paul’s eloquent apology, defense, of his faith before King Agrippa [Acts 26:1-32]. “Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself” [Acts 26:1]. And in the defense that Paul made, he said this word, beginning at the sixth verse:
And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers:
Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews.
Why, why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?
That is my text and my subject, “King Agrippa, why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?” [Acts 26:8].
The greatest article of the Christian faith is the resurrection of the dead. “If Christ be not raised, then your faith is vain; we are yet in our sins” [1 Corinthians 15:17]. The great keystone of the entire Christian faith lies in that article: we believe in the resurrection of the dead [1 Corinthians 15:3-4]. That is the focal point against which the attack has been made against Christianity through all the years and the centuries. In the days of the pagan philosophers, in the days of the Greek sophists, in the days of the infidel, and in the present day of the rationalist and the skeptic, the focal point of the great attack against Christianity has been centered right there, in this thing of the resurrection from the dead. It was so even here in the story of the first missionaries and the first evangelists and the first apostles, as they went proclaiming the message of Christ; the thing upon which the unbelieving pagan Greek world stumbled was this thing of the resurrection of the dead.
Don’t you remember when Paul was preaching in Athens, the cultural university city of Athens? There in the agora, there in the marketplace, they heard him talk about two gods, they understood two gods, Iesous and Anastasis. And they said, “What is this thing? He seems to be a setter forth of strange gods” [Acts 17:18], because Paul was preaching unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. The resurrection in the Greek grammar is feminine, anastasis, and they were accustomed to Jove and Juno, always they paired their gods together. So they thought he was preaching a new male and a new female god, Iesous and Anastasis. So they took him up to the court of the Areopagus on Mars’ Hill and set him there before the Athenian intellectuals and philosophers, the Epicureans and the Stoics, and they said, “Now what is this new thing, these gods?” [Acts 17:19-20]. And as Paul began to preach about the Lord Jesus, in the course of his sermon, when he spake of the resurrection of the dead, they mocked and they laughed [Acts 17:31-32], “Ha, ha! the resurrection of the dead.” And some of them said, “We never heard such ridiculousness, such inanity, such an unreasonable incredulous thing!” And others said, “We will hear thee again” [Acts 17:32], the nicer ones. And they left him.
The resurrection of the dead: in this same passage out of which I’m preaching now, if you read on down here to the end of the chapter, when Paul began to say, when Paul began to say that Christ should suffer, that He should rise from the dead, that He should be the firstfruits of them that sleep, when he began to talk about the resurrection [Acts 26:22-23], the Roman procurator, Festus, in the twenty-fourth verse, broke in and said, “Paul, Paul, you are speaking the things of a crazy man! Paul your mind is disarranged! Paul, thou art mad, thou art beside thyself. For men do not rise from the dead!” [Acts 26:24]. The aberration of a man who’s lost his balance, and lost his reason, and lost his equilibrium, preaching Jesus and the resurrection from the dead; it was a focal point of this thing that Paul was having trouble with in his Jewish nation. “For which hope’s sake, for which hope’s sake, the hope we have in Jesus, that though He died, yet He lives; but I am called in question this day” [Acts 26:6-7], and then that question, “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you Agrippa, that God should raise the dead?” [Acts 26:8].
Now may I start off with, it is easy, it’d be easy for anybody to defend the proposition of the finality of death. We live in a world of death, and it never changes; not yesterday, nor today, nor apparently forever. It is a world of death; from the lowest to the highest, from the microbe to the man, everything dies. The insect dies, the beast dies, the animal dies, the flower dies, man dies, everything we know dies. The day dies, the year dies, the seasons die, the very stars flicker and fade away and die. Everything that we know dies; everything. Some things may live for a moment, some things may live for millenniums; but by and by, somewhere, sometime, they die. And man dies. In the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, in the thirteenth verse, there’s a little word, “These all died” [Hebrews 11:13], and with that he dismisses billions and uncounted millions and billions of people, “These all died, these all died, all died” [Hebrews 11:13]. Our loved ones die; very few of us shall ever live long except we know the way to the cemetery. We ourselves who are living, we are dying. No man cheats the grave. We all take that long journey by and by. And even God’s Son, the Lord Jesus, God’s Son died! He was buried, and the grave received Him [Matthew 27:50, 59-60]. And nothing seems ever so final as the finality of death. That country from whose bourne no traveler ever returns, and when one dies, he stays dead! You’ve never seen an exception, you never will, not in this age, not in this mundane existence, not in this terrestrial earth. Whatever dies stays dead.
I heard old-aged Dr. Poteet, missionary in China for a lifetime, I heard him one time describe a brilliant class of Chinese that he was teaching and trying to bring to the Christian faith. And they were telling him reasons why they did not believe in the Christian religion. And the first reason those intellectuals gave was this: “We do not believe that men who are dead ever live again.” Pliny, who was a contemporary of the apostle Paul, Pliny said, “There is one thing God cannot do, and that is to raise the dead.” I repeat, to defend the proposition of the finality of death is easy and apparently everlastingly true.
Paul turns to King Agrippa and says, “King Agrippa, why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?” [Acts 26:8]. And the point of that question is King Agrippa. He was a Jew. He was a religionist. He believed in Jehovah God. And the point of the question is, “King Agrippa, you who believe in God, why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, Agrippa, who believes in God, why should it be thought a thing that God, that God should raise the dead?” [Acts 26:8]. It is not incredible to reason that we who die shall live again, if we believe in God! There is power in God, if you believe in God, in the hope, for the hope, that the prison house of death can be opened, if you believe in God! It depends upon your belief in God. Without it, it’s vain, it’s foolishness, it’s silliness, it’s ridiculousness, it’s inanity; there’s no credibility to it, the most incredulous thing you can think of. Without God there’s not any hope, there’s not any star, there’s not any promise, there’s not any immortality, there’s not any heaven, there’s not any life to come. When you die, you die; and dead men don’t rise! The appearance and the finality of death is everlasting and indisputable and unanswerable; and there’s no logic in the earth that can overcome the appearance of its final gasp. The grave is the end. If you don’t believe in God, the end of all life, this earth, this heaven, everything you know is to die, is to die.
One of our girls who’s in one of our universities fell in love with a brilliant young man and wants to marry him. And she brought the young fellow up here to Dallas that I might see him. The boy is an infidel, made so by infidel teachers in a university. And as I talked to the boy, I said, “Son, sit down here by my side, and for about five minutes now, I want you to tell me what lies ahead for you, for your wife to be, for your home, for any children you may ever have, for your father and mother, for the world, for all destiny as you know and see. I want you to sit down here and tell me what lies ahead for you.” He stammered, he said a few sentences, finally he answered, “Preacher, there’s not anything ahead, not anything ahead but to die, but to die.” I said, “That’s right, that’s right. When a man gives up his faith in God, there’s not anything that lies ahead but to die, but to die!” [Romans 5:17]. There’s nothing but death outside of God, outside of God! The point of that verse, “King Agrippa, as a Jew, as a man that from his birth, from his mother and father, from his home, from the days of his youth, Agrippa, as a man who believes in God, why should it be thought a thing incredible to you, that God should raise the dead?” [Acts 26:8]. There is our hope: it lies in God, it lies in God [1 Timothy 4:10].
There’s something over and beyond and above that God has put on the inside of our hearts that somehow we cannot escape, we cannot escape. You ask a naturalist or a scientist, “Sir, what it is it that in the springtime, in the springtime, those great flocks go north, and in the fall time, those same great flocks turn south? What is that?” And the only answer he can make is, “It’s a God given instinct. It’s something God has put on the inside of the beating heart of the mallard, or a wild goose.” He goes north, he goes north in the summertime; he goes south in the wintertime. God does it. God does it. There’s an instinct, there’s something on the inside of a man’s soul that somehow he cannot but be persuaded there’s something else over and beyond and beyond what we see and know in this life. There’s something more to a man than just to die, than just to die.
All I need, all I need for that great persuasion is God; that’s all I need. If I can believe in God, I can believe that though a man die, he’ll live again. But first I must have God. “Well, preacher, why are you so persuaded that if you could have God, if there’s a God, then there’s a resurrection?” Because of this: the great miracle is not the resurrection from the dead; the great miracle is that God could create something out of nothing! [Hebrews 11:3]. And that miracle I see all around me. I know that I am. I know that you are. And we’re here tonight. There is creation, and I see it. And God made it out of nothing! He that could create something out of nothing can also recreate that which has died; be easy for Him, easy for Him, easy for Him; if I can just believe in God. The miracle I see around me, here I am, I can think, I can feel, where’d I come from? Where did this earth come from? Where did this firmament come from? Where did my soul come from? It came from the hands of God! [Hebrews 11:3]. And the same God who wrought the first tremendous miracle, to make us out of nothing [Genesis 1:26-27], to create a world by fiat, just by the word of His mouth [Genesis 1:1-25], the God that could do that can raise from the dead those who fall into the dust of the ground [Genesis 3:19; Daniel 12:1-2]. “King Agrippa, why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God, that God, that God should raise the dead?” [Acts 26:8].
“Preacher, are you talking about the same body?” Yes, as I read the Word and ponder it, I am persuaded, God’s Book says, it is this body, this one, this one, this one, this body that shall be raised from the dead. “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and Death and Hades, the grave, delivered up the dead which were in them; and they were judged every man according to his works” [Revelation 20:13]. The sea gave up the dead that were in them. I’ve seen pictures of men buried at sea, haven’t you? Haven’t you? “The sea gave up the dead that were in them. And the grave gave up the dead that were in them. And Hades gave up the dead, Death gave up the dead that were in them”; that is, that actual body buried in the sea, buried in the heart of the earth [Revelation 20:13].
Then the scoffer and the rationalist says, “Now wait, preacher, now you wait, now you wait.” And so in the olden days, in the days of the pagan, they used to take the body and burn it, and take the ashes and scatter it to the four winds, and then laugh at those Christians, “Ha ha, you Christians who believe in the resurrection of the body, look, the body is burned. Look, these are its ashes, and look again; we scatter them to the four winds of the earth! Ha ha. Now where is your doctrine of the resurrection from the dead? That body, that body, some of it turned into flame, some of it turned into smoke, some of it turned into ash and the ashes thrown to the winds of the earth: now where is your body and its resurrection?”
This is the thing that I need, all I need: I need God, I need God. For the scoffer thinks and the rationalist thinks that He is not the God of the little elements, of the protons, the electron, the neutron, the God of the infinitesimal, the God of the little; but I know different. The great God of the universe is also the God of the little, of the elemental, of the infinitesimal; and there’s no part of this universe over which He does not govern, and there’s nothing happens but that He manages under His infinite all-wise hand. He thinks he has me stumped. He thinks he has me in a place of ridicule because he thinks my God could not gather and recollect all of the tiny elements that go into the making up of a body.
Why, you know what kind of a God is the God of our Lord in creation? You know what kind He is? He is this kind of a God: these moths, did you ever see a moth fly around little lights? Did you ever touch it and see the dust that comes off of it? Some of those moths are gloriously covered, gloriously colored, gloriously tinted. A scientist one time took one of those moths and looked at that fine dust, its beautiful scales, sometimes gorgeously colored. And there are more than forty-two million brilliantly tinted scales to the square inch of an insect that lives but a moment! God! God! God! Where did those scales come from? Who colored them with an infinite brush? Who multiplied them into infinitesimal numerical vast stupendous numbers? Forty-two million of them to a square inch? That’s God, that’s God, the God of the little and the tiny. And for Him to collect together again the elements of the body would be a slight thing in His sight; if I can believe in God, if I can just believe in God.
One other thing that the scoffer would say, the rationalist, he has a stock thing that he mentions: he says, “Wait a minute, preacher, you say the body is going to be raised from the dead, we’re going to live in His sight? [Hosea 6:2; 1 Corinthians 6:14]. Now wait, did you know there is such a thing as a body being shared, several have had it. For example, in the sea, in the sea a fish eats a body then and a man eats a fish. Or in a cannibal country, the cannibal eats the body, the body of a man; the cannibal eats it, and it becomes a part of the cannibal’s body. Then he has the stock Sadduccean question, “In the resurrection, whose wife shall she be, for all seven had her” [Luke 20:33]. And then he laughs and says, “And whose body will it be, for both of them had it, the man that first did, and then the man secondly that ate it? Now when the resurrection, whose body shall it be?” And he just thinks that he has me stumped. And he thinks that he’s made a ridiculous figure out of this preacher who reads the Book.
Oh, what he doesn’t know is this, what he doesn’t realize is this: the same Lord God that shall raise our bodies from the dust of the ground, and we shall live in His sight [Romans 6:5-8, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], the same Lord God shall do wondrously, shall do gloriously, shall do marvelously about choosing the elements that enter into our glorified and immortalized bodies. What is my body? What is my body? It changes all the time, all the time. Cells die in it every day, and new cells are made. Elements enter into it every day, and other elements are taken away. The body I have today is not the body I had a few years ago at all; it changes all the time and will continue to change until I die. And the same great God of the infinite and the infinitesimal, of the majestic and the microscopic, the same Lord God, when He pulls and picks out of the dust of the ground my body, the Lord shall choose those perfect elements that first were in it, and touched by immortality shall transfigure them in the likeness of the glorious body of the Son of God, according to His own will and His own purpose [Philippians 3:21]. All I need is God. Can I believe in God? “Agrippa, King Agrippa, why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead, should raise the dead, that we live in His sight?” [Acts 26:8].
Dear people, before I close, I want to make one comment from Hebrews. On the thesis that resurrection is inevitable to faith, if a man believes, if he has faith, resurrection is an inevitable concomitant and corollary. Listen to the Word, listen to the Word: “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac; and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son” [Hebrews 11:17]; that is, God said, “In Isaac shall all the nations of the world be blessed [Genesis 21:12, 22:18], and should his name be called and his seed should multiply like the stars in the sky [Genesis 15:5, 26:3-5], in that boy Isaac . . . he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son. Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called” [Genesis 21:12; Hebrews 11:18]. There he was, offering him up on an altar [Genesis 22:1-2, 9-10], slaying the boy’s life. Listen, oh, listen! “Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure” [Hebrews 11:19]. Do you see that? Do you? Isaac, in whom all the blessings and promises of God should materialize, in Isaac, and the Lord says, “Slay the boy, slay the boy, slay the boy” [Genesis 22:1-2]; Abraham found him and laid him on the altar and lifted up his hand to slay the boy [Genesis 22:9-10], in whom God had said, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called” [Genesis 21:12]. There was room enough in Abraham’s world for a resurrection. He wasn’t bound by appearance, by temporalities; he wasn’t bound by what he saw; he wasn’t bound even by blood and by death. In Abraham’s world, there was room; it was a big enough world for resurrection. “And when he lifted up his hand to slay the boy, he accounted that God was able, God was able to raise him up, even from the dead” [Genesis 22:10; Hebrews 11:19].
When they came to Thomas and said, “Thomas, He is alive, He is alive; we have seen Him. The Lord is risen indeed. He is alive! He is alive!” [John 20:25]. Thomas said, “Not so, not so, dead men don’t live again. When you die, you die.” His little world had no room in it for a resurrection, wasn’t big enough to include the immortal Son of God [John 20:25].
You and I can build a world like that. We can circumscribe it, we can pull in its walls and its vision, we can have no more room in our world than for our little petty employments and the passing fancies of the day! But say, friend, look up, look up, in the great infinitude above you, there’s a spiritual world margining this world. And it goes out and out and infinitely touches the very throne of God. And in that vast world touched by God—that reaches up to heaven itself—in that vast world, there’s a world big enough, there’s room enough for the resurrection of Jesus Christ [Matthew 28:1-7], and there’s room enough for your resurrection, if the Lord tarries until we die [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. That is the Christian faith and the Christian hope. “King Agrippa, why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?” [Acts 26:8].
F. B. Meyer, one of our great Baptist preachers of England, lived a long precious life. There’s no sweeter thing that any man of God ever did than when F. B. Meyer wrote this letter:
Dear friend, dear friend, I have heard to my surprise that I have only a few days to live. It may be before this reaches you that I shall have entered the palace. Don’t trouble to write, we shall meet in the morning. With much love, yours affectionately,
F. B. Meyer
Isn’t that a great way to live? Isn’t that a great way to die? “Farewell, don’t bother to write. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“King Agrippa, why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, who believe in God, that God should raise the dead?” [Acts 26:8].
O Job, O Job; “The worms through this skin destroy my body, yet in my flesh shall I see God; raised from the dead” [Job 19:26]. Though we die, yet shall we live in His sight [Hosea 6:2; 1 Corinthians 6:14]: the Christian hope and the Christian faith.
Let’s sing our song. And while we sing it, somebody tonight to give his heart to the Lord [Ephesians 2:8], somebody tonight to come into the fellowship of this church, as God shall say the word and open the door, make it now, make it now. “Preacher, I believe in God. I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and today, this day, this hour, this minute, I yield my heart and my life in trust to Him” [Romans 10:9-13]. Would you make it now? Would you make it tonight? While we make this appeal, while we sing, would you come? As God shall say and open the door, by confession, by baptism [Matthew 28:19], by letter, by statement, as the Lord shall say, would you make it now? A child, a youth, a family, “Here we are, pastor, and here we come,” while we stand and while we sing.