PROOF: DEATH AND RESURRECTION OF CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 15:20
2-5-56 10:50 a.m.
Most of the time we preach to the heart. This morning I’m going to preach to the head. I am going to try to demonstrate a proposition, just like a professor of trigonometry or geometry or algebra might write a proposition on the blackboard, and then prove it. I have done that thing many, many times in school, in geometry, in algebra, in trigonometry, take a proposition, take a blackboard, take a piece of chalk, and prove it up there on the blackboard. I’m going to do that this morning.
All I ask of you is just to sit there, here in this great auditorium, or sit there by your radio. And if you would like to take a pencil and paper and write it down and look at it, now, as I preach it, or later on, as you review it.
I have a plain, simple avowal, a proposition, to prove. I am going to prove this morning, by God’s help and with His grace, the proposition that Paul speaks here in the twentieth verse of the fifteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter, when he says, "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept." Last Sunday night we left off at the nineteenth verse. He was saying, from the twelfth verse to the nineteenth verse, what it is if Christ be not raised from the dead.
If there be no resurrection, then Christ is not raised.
If Christ be not raised, our preaching is vain.
Next Verse, We’re false witnesses of God.
Next Verse, If the dead rise not, if Christ be not raised, our faith is vain, then we are yet in our sins.
Then they which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
Then, finally, If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
[1 Corinthians 15:13-19]
Now, this morning, we are picking up the triumphant avowal. "But", that twentieth verse, "But now is Christ raised from the dead, become the firstfruits of them that slept. Since by man came death, through Adam, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive." Every one of us in his order, Christ first, then we that are Christ’s at his coming.
A few years ago, I arose early, early in the morning, and, I went on top of the inn where I was staying just beside of the walls of Jerusalem. Built like those Eastern buildings are so often built, with a flat roof, I went up on the roof and sat down. The stars were shining, and a beautiful moon filled the night with a soft glory. And, while I sat there, thinking, meditating, talking with a companion, light began to break in the east. And the sun began to rise over the plains of Moab, over the valley of the Jordan, over the hill Olivet, and began to fall around the walls of Jerusalem.
About nineteen hundred years ago that same sun began to dawn in the eastern horizon. And it’s light began to fall around the walls of Jerusalem, and, the light fell upon a strange and an unusual scene, for just beyond the Damascus Gate, on the north side, the light found a corps of Roman soldiers standing in the front of a sepulcher. What a strange thing to guard. They were guarding a grave for strange things that had happened on the Friday before. There were signs in the heavens. There were signs in the earth. There were signs in the Temple. A man from Galilee, from the hills of the north country, had been crucified. And, after they buried Him, they remembered that the deceiver had said, "But the third day, I will rise again." This is now the dawning of that third day. And those Roman soldiers jest and mock, as they say to one another, "What ridiculous, what inanity, what silliness to guard a grave. Dead men don’t rise."
It was the Passover season, and all of that country around Jerusalem was covered with tents. Pilgrims were there from the ends of the earth, attending the Passover season in the city of Zion, worshiping in the great Temple of Jehovah God. In that early dawn, as the sun began to rise over the hills of Moab, as its light began to bathe Olivet and Jerusalem, there were three women, Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, and Salome, sad, sad women, They were winding their way through the many tents of the pilgrims. They were going to the sepulcher, bringing spices for His body, for you see, they had heard the imprecations upon His head and the curses upon Jesus as He died.
They were just a few left of a little handful of feeble and despised disciples who loved Him, now scattered and afraid. And, apparently, they only, these women, had that courage even to draw near the grave where they had laid Him. They come to the sepulcher. To their astonishment, it’s open! To their amazement, it is empty! And, to their joy, ineffable and beyond words, they see Him, their risen and resurrected Lord!
Is that so? First, the proposition has to be proved that He was dead. For, you see, He might have fainted. He might have been in a swoon. He might have been resuscitated. That’s what, from eternity, His critics have said. He wasn’t really dead. They just thought He was dead. And, they buried a fainting man. They buried a swooning man, and He was just resuscitated.
There is no such thing as a resurrection of Christ unless, first, He was certainly dead! Isn’t that what Paul said, as he began the chapter, "For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died!" First of all, that He died! That’s the first proposition. Didn’t I say we were going to take this like an algebra problem? All right. That’s the first thing. First, it has to be proved that He died. There’s no sense to anybody’s word about a resurrection unless, first, we know that He died. So, that’s our first proposition: that He died.
All right. Number one: His death was a matter of legal processes. He could have died clandestinely, furtively, secretly. He could have died in some unknown and some unmarked spot. But, not so. He was to die where all men could see it and witness it, and He was to die as a matter of legal process. It was to be written up in the courts of the land.
This is just another instance where God has made the wrath of man to praise Him. Christ died as a matter of Jewish and Roman jurisprudence. He was arrested, he was tried, and he was condemned by the two highest governments in the earth. The religious government of the Jewish people, the Sanhedrin, the great Council of the Jews, arrested Him, and tried Him, and condemned Him to be worthy of death. Then, He was taken to the highest court of the Roman Empire, the court of the Roman procurator himself. And, there, He was tried, He was condemned, and He was given to the Roman legionnaires for an official crucifixion.
This is a matter of legal record. When you read the Roman histories of Suetonius and of Tacitus, they speak of the fact as a criminal execution that occurred under Pontius Pilate. Where did the historians Suetonius and Tacitus find that? They found it as a matter of legal record.
That’s the first thing. He died openly, publicly. He was publicly tried. He was publicly condemned. And, He was publicly executed by the Roman government. That’s the first thing: He died.
Second thing, He died at the Passover season. When pilgrims were there from every civilized nation in the earth, all of them winding their way to the city of God, to the Temple of Jehovah, that season was placed at the time of the first full moon after the vernal equinox, and it was set at that time so the pilgrims could easily find their way to the great city of God. He was slain at the Passover season, when men were there from every part of the earth.
Third, He was slain nigh to the great city, just beyond the Damascus Gate, on a little hill, on a little knoll, rising above the contour and topography of the land. And, as in a great city today, there’s a constant stream of people going in and out of the city. The Lord Jesus Christ was raised between the earth and the sky on that little knoll just outside the city wall by the great thoroughfare that went to the north and to Damascus. And there did they see Him by the thousands and the thousands. The high priests were there. The Sanhedrin was there. The great and the elders were there. And they mocked Him, saying, "He saved others: Himself He cannot save." Such a sight was interesting to any sojourner and any passerby. He was slain outside the city walls, near to the gate. And, they saw Him by the thousands.
Four, four, He died a slow and torturous death. His death would have been just as efficacious had He died suddenly, cataclysmically, catastrophically. But, not so! God’s doing this! The Lord Jesus Christ dies, and He dies slowly, torturously. Nine o’clock in the morning, they nail Him to the tree. At twelve o’clock, at noon, He’s still hanging on that tree, three hours. One o’clock in the afternoon, two o’clock in the afternoon, three o’clock in the afternoon there He hangs on that cross, alive. He is alive. And at three in the afternoon He dies. Six long, torturous, horrible hours is He there hanging on the tree where everybody can see Him.
But, God’s not done. No, sir. That hour and that moment and that time and that day is the great pivotal central hour of all the eternities! And, God points His finger, this hour, this day, this moment; God’s not done yet. Look at God. God darkens the sun. From twelve o’clock at high noon until three o’clock in the afternoon that orbit of the sun’s circumference, there’s darkness in the heaven above and darkness on the earth beneath! God pointed all men to that moment and that time. The Bible says that the men from Jerusalem, in that hour of darkness, went out, looked upon that sight, beat their breasts, and returned! That’s God.
He’s not done yet. The Lord God took this earth, and He shook it! Shook it like a cat would shake a mouse. And the rocks were rent and the graves were opened. And after His resurrection, many of the saints appeared to those in the holy city of God, in Jerusalem.
But, He’s not done yet. That hour, that moment, eternally fixed! Thousands and thousands of worshipers are gathered, holy and pious people, from the ends of the earth. And, they’re gathered there in the Temple court. And, at three o’clock in the afternoon, the time for the evening sacrifice, at three o’clock in the afternoon, the lamb is brought before the great altar. And, the high priest, dressed in all of his glorious vestments, raises his hand high to offer the lamb as a sacrifice. And, when he does, when he does, at three o’clock in the afternoon there’s an unseen hand that reaches down, from God, out of heaven, and He takes the veil of the temple, eight inches thick and rents it from the top to the bottom, like God would tear a veil, and they hear the grand roar of His tearing! And, for the first time, men look into the Holy of Holies, upon the mercy seat, upon the place of the offering of the blood of the covenant. And, methinks I see the knife drop from the hand of a priest and the lamb goes free! Christ, the Lamb of God, has been offered in the presence of the God of wrath. You don’t hide those things.
But, God’s not done. He died! God’s not done yet. He died. He was condemned publicly. It was a transaction that moved the heavens and shook the earth! And, men by the thousands, from every nation under the sun, were there to see it. But, God’s not done. That was a public transaction. And, it demands a public investigation that He died. And, God received it.
First of all, the Roman legionnaires, that was their job to execute criminals. They go out and see that He’s dead. They go to one, break his bones, haste his death. They go to the other, break his bones, haste his death. They come to the cross in the center, the Cross of the Son of God. His eyes are glazed. He is manifestly dead. But, to make sure that He died, one of those Roman soldiers took his great heavy iron and spear, and thrust it into His heart! He ruptured the heart of the Son of God! He cut Him through! When he withdrew the spear, there followed it the evidence of a broken heart, blood and water, and, it spilled out upon the ground. Dead. Dead.
But, God’s not done. Did He die? No resurrection unless He died. There came to Pontius Pilate, a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, asking for the body of Jesus. And Pilate was amazed that He died so soon for they linger two and three days on the cross. So, Pontius Pilate called the Roman centurion and said, "I want an official word. Is He dead?" And the Roman centurion made an investigation, returned to Pontius Pilate, and as the representative of the Roman legionnaires, the centurion reported, "He is dead!" Then Pontius Pilate gave His body into the hands of Joseph of Arimathea. Officially, He is dead! His heart has been ruptured by a Roman spear.
And one other thing, Joseph of Arimathea, being a rich man, was able to buy great long, long, long, long sheets of winding. And Nicodemus brought one hundred pounds of spices, one hundred pounds. And they took the body of Jesus and that one hundred pounds, and they wrapped it, and wrapped it, and wrapped it, and wrapped it, and rolled it, and rolled it, with one hundred pounds of spices, embalming, rolled it, and rolled it, then bound the head securely with a napkin and laid it in the grave.
God’s still not done. His friends forsook Him. His disciples left Him. They fled away. But His disciples remembered that deceiver said, "The third day, I’ll rise again." And, so, God finally had wrath of man. To roll that stone over the grave and to seal it with a Roman seal. I can hear the Roman soldiers as they mock, "So, He will rise from the dead? Even God Himself wouldn’t dare break that Roman seal." And then, the guard is placed there to see that He stays dead. He is dead. He is dead. He is dead. "I delivered unto you first of all that which I received, how that Christ died!" That’s the first proposition: Christ died.
All right. My second one: That He was buried, and that He rose again the third day. "But now, is Christ risen from the dead?" My second proposition. The guard is watching that tomb. But, somebody else also is watching. The angels in the courts of glory are also watching. And they cry to the Lord God omnipotent, "How long? How long does death triumph? How long does man exalt? How long does darkness hold jubilee? O God omnipotent, how long? How long?" And, the Lord God in heaven says, "Until that moment, that exact moment." And, that exact moment comes the first day of the first week of the full moon after the vernal equinox, that day that had been prophesied and foretold and set from the beginning of the foundation of the world.
That moment came. And, the Lord God omnipotent, with a gesture of His hand, gave His angels permission. And, down to this earth did they come. And, the guards, strike them stone dead in terror as they see the exultant glory of heaven opening before them. And, those angels push aside the stone that would deign to hold captive the Son of God, and in contempt, sit upon it. And, the Holy Spirit of God touches the body of Jesus, and He rises from the dead, the Son of Glory forever more.
How do you know? All right. My second proposition: How do you know? First, number one: He rose from the dead because responsible witnesses said, "And, I saw Him. I looked upon Him. He rose from the dead."
He was seen of Cephas, Simon Peter. He was seen of the twelve, the disciples of the Lord.
He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain unto this present. Some had fallen asleep, but most of them are still alive.
He was seen of James, the brother of the Lord, the pastor of the church at Jerusalem, then again of all of the apostles.
And last of all, He was seen of me also, I, Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, I saw Him.
[1 Corinthians 15:5-8]
Simon Peter: "I saw Him." James: "And, I saw Him." The five hundred brethren: "And, we saw Him." Paul: "And, I saw Him, and, I saw Him." Witnesses looked upon Him, that’s the first.
The second proof: the transformation of those disciples that looked upon Him, the transformation of the twelve. They were beaten men. They were saddened men. They were despairing men. They weren’t looking for any resurrection. They never thought that he’d rise from the dead. It was holden from their eyes. And when the Lord appeared before them, they thought they had seen a spirit. They were not expecting a resurrection. And, the Lord Jesus had to say, "Come and handle me, and see that it is I, myself" [Luke 24:39]. And, He ate before them. And, the disciples were transformed. A moment before, in despair, sad, given up, now unafraid, dying, facing martyrdom. For what? A lie? No. For the profoundest thing they’d ever seen in heaven or earth: the living, resurrected Son of God. The transformation of the twelve.
The transformation of James. James was one of His brethren. They didn’t believe on Him. In all of His lifetime ministry, His brethren didn’t believe on Him. But, after the resurrection, James, the Lord’s brother, he’s the leader of the church. He’s the pastor of the congregation. And, Jude, James’ brother, another half-brother of the Lord, Jude is the writer of one the books in the Bible. These men are remade by the resurrection of the Son of God.
The transformation in the apostle Paul, "And last of all seen of me also, as of one born out of due time." Paul a blasphemer, Paul, persecuting the church, Paul, on the way to strange cities to hail them before the Jewish court, to condemn them to death, Paul, the preacher of the Son of God, who turned to Him, going to death, to martyrdom, to suffering for a lie? Going because he had seen Jesus, the resurrected Lord God of glory.
This is a story of common knowledge. Lord Littleton and Gilbert West, two blaspheming infidels in Oxford University, agreed, at the end of an academic year that Littleton would take the conversion of Paul. Gilbert West would take the resurrection of Christ. They would study all that long summer. And, when they came back in the fall, each one would prove to himself and the world the ridiculousness of the idea of the conversion of Paul and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
After they had studied that long summer intersession, they came back in the fall to compare notes. Lord Littleton said, "I’m convinced of the resurrection. I’m convinced of the conversion of Paul." And, Gilbert West said, "And, I’m convinced of the resurrection of Christ." For, putting it together, those two blaspheming Oxford’s said that all the suffering and persecution and, finally, martyrdom for twenty-five years, such a life as that had to be somehow turned, some way. And, it was turned by his conversion. What was his conversion? His conversion was he saw the Lord. And, if he saw the Lord, then the Lord had to be raised from the dead. That’s the second proof: The transformation of the disciples.
The third proof: the disappearance of the body of the Son of God. Dear blessed layman in this church, George Cobb, has written a fine little book on the defenses of the faith. And, in it, you’ll find a magnificent, laboring of that point there: the disappearance of the body of the Son of God.
Listen to this. Listen to this. Within a few days, within a matter of days after this thing happened, after Jesus was buried, within a matter of days, Simon Peter is preaching like a flame. And, they are filling all Jerusalem with the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
What would have stopped their preaching? All of you people that think you believe this preaching, all of you people who are dupes of this man Simon Peter, all of you so-called Christians, come here! Come here! Come here, all heaven and earth! Come here! Look at that! In the sepulcher we’ve got His body. Look at it. Then, go out and preach that He was raised from the dead. Then, accept that doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. There’s His body.
Why didn’t they show the body of the Lord? They had it. They were carefully guarding it. They had it sealed with a Roman seal. Why didn’t they point to the body? The silence of the Jews is as convincing as the open avowal of the Christians. The body was gone. It had disappeared.
Somebody had robbed it. Who robbed it? Who did it? His enemies robbed it. Ha. They were guarding it because they said, if that body gets away, the last error will be worse than the first. They wouldn’t dare dispose of it. That was their number one exhibit, the body’s enemies. Then, one of his friends stole it away. How? How? And, what would they want with it? They weren’t looking for any resurrection. And, they couldn’t build a great faith on a lie and a delusion.
And, another thing: and it wasn’t stolen. For, when the body of Jesus arose from the dead, the napkin was carefully folded and the grave clothes were just as Joseph and Nicodemus had wound and wound and wound and wound them. Had they stolen His body, they could not have unwound that naked body. Time was of the essence. To steal it, seize it, take it away, the grave clothes would have been around it. The grave clothes were there. It was just the body that was gone.
That’s the third proof: the body was raised out of those grave clothes, under the eyes of the guard of Rome and they, beyond the seal of the empire.
All right. Briefly, others. The fourth proof: the existence of the church. Where did it come from? Where did it come from? Back yonder in the beginning, back yonder, great multitudes turned to Christ. Back yonder, in the beginning, great numbers of priests obedient to the faith. Where did they come from: that infant church, that primitive church? Were they following a delusion, a lie? No, they were following the gospel of the Son of God.
The fifth proof, the fifth one: The gospel record itself. Read for yourself. Read the story of Jesus. When you read Hamlet’s ghost, you feel the laboring of an imagination. It’s manifestly drama and fiction. When you read of the god of Aeschylus and Homer, it’s manifest, pure, woven fiction, in the fabric of imagination. Read the Gospels of the Son of God. It’s the simple recounting of something that actually happened.
The sixth proof is the life and character of Jesus Himself. Read after that Man. Did He have a diseased mind? Was He self-deceived? Was He so criminal that He deceives others intentionally, purposely? It’s all of a piece, all of it. He was born of a virgin. He lived beyond a life the world had ever seen. When they slew Him, He was raised from the dead. It’s all of a piece: the life of the Son of God.
And, could I add the seventh: Our testimony today? By the millions, men and women rise. He lives. He lives. I feel His presence in my soul. I met Him on my knees or down a lonely road, or when the door was shut, there He was. Do you feel that way about George Washington? Abraham Lincoln? Julius Caesar? Napoleon? Any other? But of Jesus, in my soul, in my soul? Philosophy may scorn. Speculative rationalization may mock and laugh. But we, we, it is our testimony: The third day He rose again. And, He is the firstfruits of all of us who shall sleep in Jesus.
Now, look at it, when you go home. We haven’t followed cunningly devised tales. We have followed the truth, the historical record of the intervention of God in human history: "He died for our sins, according to the Scriptures. The third day He rose again according to the scriptures."
All right. While we sing our song, while we sing our song, somebody, you, give your heart to Jesus. Take Him as your Savior. "I believe in Him, that He lives." You come and stand by me. Put your life in the church, as God shall say the word and lead the way. While we sing, you come. For any reason God shall lay it upon your heart, while we sing, you come. All of us, as the Spirit shall call, as He shall lead, you come and stand by me, while all of us stand and sing our hymn together.