If Christ Be Not Risen
April 14th, 1963 @ 10:50 AM
IF CHRIST BE NOT RISEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 15:4-22
4-14-63 10:50 a.m.
On the television and on radio you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled If Christ Be Not Risen. Before I read the text, could I again invite all of the people of our city and of our county, who are otherwise not with spiritual responsibilities tonight, to come and to be with us in our great Easter service in the Dallas Memorial Auditorium at seven-thirty o’clock? There are eleven thousand seats in that great arena. And what a tribute of love and praise to bring to our blessed Lord, if we were able tonight, eleven thousand of us, to sing and to pray and to listen to God’s Word in that great auditorium.
Easter Sunday morning we commemorate an empty tomb. Easter Sunday night our Lord appeared to His disciples [John 20:19]. And the message is entitled tonight The Living Presence, God with us. Come if you can, and invite all friends and family and neighbors to share with you in that holy and celestial hour.
The reading of the Word of God at this service is in the first Corinthian letter, in one of the greatest chapters of the Bible, the resurrection chapter, number 15, 1 Corinthians chapter 15, beginning at the fourth verse:
And He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures:
And He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:
After that, He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once . . .
After that, He was seen of James; then of all the apostles.
And last of all He was seen of me . . .
Now if Christ be preached that He rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?
For if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:
And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ: whom He raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.
For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:
And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
But, but, but now is Christ raised from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
For since by man came death, by Man came also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
[1 Corinthians 15:4-8, 12-22]
This is an avowal of the very heart and substance of the Christian faith!
When I was a youth in the seminary there was an illustrious old missionary, Dr. E. M. Poteet, a professor in our Baptist University at Shanghai, China, who came to the seminary for a series of lectures. And one day he described a scene in his classroom in Shanghai. While he was talking to his students about the Christian message and the Christian faith, and when he described the raising of Jesus by the power of God from the dead, one of those Chinese students broke in and said, "Sir, I do not believe that." And Dr. Poteet, the professor, turned to the young man and said, "Well, why do you not believe it?" And the student replied, "For the very simple reason that dead men do not rise."
If there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, our preaching is vain, our faith is vain, ye are yet in your sins, we are false witnesses of God. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable, for these who fall asleep [1 Corinthians 15:13-19],
and that includes us all, "are eternally and finally and ultimately perished" [1 Corinthians 15:18]. When we speak of the revelation of the Bible, of the raising of the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], and of the power of God to raise up Christ from among the dead [Ephesians 1:19-20], the firstfruits, the harbinger, the earnest of all of us who shall sleep [1 Corinthians 15:23], when we speak of this doctrine and this revelation, we are speaking of the very cardinal foundation of the faith of Christ Himself.
You see, the miraculous birth of our Lord, wonderful as it is, is not enough. Adam was generated by the Holy Spirit of God without a human father [Genesis 1:26-27, 2:7], and he is called the son of God, but he’s not God Himself. To be generated by the Holy Spirit in the womb of a virgin [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:26-38], miraculous and wondrous as it is, is not enough. The marvelous miracle working power of our Savior is not enough.
Under the hand of Moses, great miracles were wrought. In the power of Elijah and Elisha, God did stupendous and unusual things. Others have worked miracles, and they were mortal men. The fact that Christ was able in the power of the Holy Spirit to bring to pass things supernatural is not enough, not enough. And as glorious and as matchless and as incomparable as all the words and teachings of our Lord, they are not enough.
It is conceivable, I could not imagine it, but it is conceivable, I could not think of the reality, but it is conceivable that there could be a human genius like Shakespeare, or like Dante, or like Homer, a genius raised to the nth degree who might be able to deliver the great words of truth of our Lord. That is conceivable. It’ll never be, I don’t think it could be, but it is conceivable. I do not think that the words of our Lord are enough. As matchless and as holy and as high above this earth as they are, they’re not enough.
There must be that distinct, and supernatural, and heavenly power of God in a demonstration that separates and marks out Jesus of Nazareth from all other men who ever lived, from Adam, who was generated by the Holy Spirit, with out a human father, from all of the miracles workers of all time, and from all of the great philosophers and wise sages of the past. There must be something separate and distinct to mark out Jesus Christ as deity and God Himself. And the Holy Scriptures avow that that marking, and that declaration, and that separation and that designation is found in the miracle of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. As the same apostle Paul wrote in the first chapter of Romans in the fourth verse, "God marked Him out, God separated Him out, God took Him out, God singled Him out, God declared Him the Son of God by the power of His being raised from the dead" [Romans 1:4].
Paul continues in this affirmation: "If there be no resurrection, then Christ is not risen: And if Christ be not risen, our preaching is vain, and your faith is vain, and ye are yet in your sins" [1 Corinthians 15:13-17]. If that didn’t come to pass, if that didn’t happen, if there’s not any Easter, and if Christ was not raised from the dead, then the very fabric of Christianity disintegrates, and the very house of the temple of God is shattered and falls in ruins. There is no salvation unless our hope and our faith is anchored in the truth of Almighty God [Acts 4:12].
It’s just the same kind of a thing as if a man were drowning, and somebody on board the vessel threw him a rope, a lifeline, and the drowning man grasped it in hope; then when he pulled himself to freedom and to life and to salvation, why, the rope fell from the ship and rope and drowning man sank together. The rope has to have an anchor if it is to save! So the great faith we have in Christ must have an anchor in His deity, in His being raised from the dead, if we who are drowning are to be saved.
"If Christ be not risen, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins" [1 Corinthians 15:17]. A dead Christ can’t save. A dead Christ is not victor over the grave. A dead Christ cannot present us some day faultless and without blemish before the throne of the presence of God. "If our Lord be not raised, our faith is in vain; we are yet in our sins" [1 Corinthians 15:17].
Then, "We are found false witnesses of God" [1 Corinthians 15:15]; and that seemingly stung Paul more than all of these other "ifs" in this resurrection chapter. He speaks more of that than he does anything else, "We are found false witnesses of God, for we have testified that God raised up Christ; whom He raised not up, if God did not raise Him up from among the dead" [1 Corinthians 15:15]. I can see how Paul would feel that way.
Simon Peter, aflame and afire, standing before his persecutors, and the archenemies of heaven, declaring God raised Christ from the dead [Acts 4:2], for which the great witness was martyred [John 21:18-19], and he laid his life down for a lie, for a lie. And the great first Christian deacon and preacher Stephen laid his life down for a lie [Acts 7:54-60]. And finally Paul himself, on the Ostian road, beyond the walls of the city of Rome, a martyr for a lie.
And my mind, as I think through the pages and the chapters of the Christian church ever since, the immortal preacher Savonarola, martyred there in the square of Florence, laying down his life for a lie; John Huss burned at the stake; William Tyndale burned at the stake; our great Baptist preacher Balthazar HÃ¼bmaier burned at the stake; Felix Manz, our great Baptist preacher, drowned in the Zurich River, all laid down their lives for a lie. It’s unthinkable. I say this thing stung Paul to the heart: "Yea, we are found false witnesses of God; because we testified and do avow God raised Him from the dead; but [if] God never raised Him from the dead, we are false witnesses of God" [1 Corinthians 15:15].
"Yea, if Christ be not raised, they which are fallen asleep in Jesus are perished" [1 Corinthians 15:17-18], forever, ultimately, finally, death and the grave seizes them and holds them forever. No more life, no heaven, no world that is to come, no better place, evil and sin and darkness and death triumph, reign king forever if Christ be not raised from the dead; "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable" [1 Corinthians 15:19].
Socrates died drinking the hemlock. Julius Caesar died at the hands of assassins on the senate floor. And Jesus died nailed to the rood; and He was just like all of the others, another hero. And buried, and stays dead, and all who have died stay dead with Him. All of the sweet and holy and precious promises by which the weeping and the bereaved have comforted their hearts through the centuries, their tears are in vain, and their hopes are black like the despair of the night.
He who said, "I go away to prepare a place for you" [John 14:2]. He didn’t prepare a place for us. And John who saw the Holy City come down like a bride from heaven, adorned for her husband [Revelation 21:2], and he heard the voice of God saying, "Behold, behold, there will be no more death, neither pain, nor sorrow, nor crying; these things are all passed away" [Revelation 21:4], they haven’t passed away. And there’s not any heaven, and there’s not any beautiful golden city that is yet to come. And when our people sing, "O think of the home over there," there’s not any home over there; "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable" [1 Corinthians 15:19]. Nothing awaits us but the night, and the dark, and the clod, and the dust, and the corruption, and the decay, and the everlasting reign of the king of death.
That’s why the triumph, that’s why the lilt, that’s why the up, that’s why the aspiration, that’s why the glory, that’s why the hallelujah, that’s why the unspeakable rejoicing and praise on the hearts of these first witnesses and apostles, on the part of God’s people ever since:
But, but, but now is Christ raised from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that sleep. For by man came death, in Adam we all died, and by Man, that Man Christ Jesus, came also the resurrection of the dead. Whereas in Adam we all die, all of us, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. Christ the firstfruits, afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming.
[1 Corinthians 15:20-23]
And that we might have assurance of that marvelous hope in our Lord, Paul wrote that infinitely precious and glorious sentence in the first chapter of Romans and the fourth verse: "Jesus, horizÃ³," horizon, the marked out boundary beneath the sky and the earth, "Jesus, horizÃ³, was declared the Son of God with power . . . by the resurrection from the dead" [Romans 1:4]. God marked Him out, God set Him apart, God designated Him for our assurance, and our comfort, and our hope by raising Him up from the dead. These are a few of those designations and those markings of God that we might have the assurance in our own souls that God hath power over sin, and over death, and over the grave.
God hath marked Him out as being our Savior and our Lord and our God, able and mighty, God hath marked Him out by one, that empty tomb! [Matthew 28:5-7; Luke 24:2-6; Mark 16:3-7; John 20:1-16]. What a foolish thing on the part of those enemies who said, "Take this money and say that His [disciples] came by night, His disciples came by night, our foes came by night, His disciples came by night and stole Him away. Take this money and say that" [Matthew 28:11-15]. So the guards took the money, and they said, "While we were asleep the disciples came and took Him away, stole His body away."
What an amazing thing to say! If they were asleep how did they know who came and stole His body away? If they were asleep, how did they know what happened? And what a foolish thing to imagine anyway; that tomb was sealed by a Roman seal, it had a great stone over it [Matthew 27:62-66]. And that body was wrapped up in a hundred pounds of spices [John 19:39-40]. And the spices and the winding sheet and the napkin that covered Him, all were there [John 20:5-7].
There was no robbery. And while all of that was going on, that guard, would they not have seen, would they not have heard, would they not have awakened? And to begin with, what did the disciples want with His body? All they could do would be rebury it. And our Lord had the finest burial place in a rich man’s tomb beyond anything the disciples could ever provide [Matthew 27:57-60]. And they were the last in the world to propagate a lie of His resurrection, for they were the ones that didn’t believe it, and wasn’t expecting it [John 20:9]. Marked out by that empty tomb in the power and designation and declaration of God, and marked out and separated and declared in the power of God by the marvelous indescribable conversion of those first unbelieving disciples [Romans 1:4].
When Mohammed died, Omar came to the front of the tent, drew out his sword, and said, "I will hew down any man who says that Mohammed is no more." It was the opposite thing with regard to Jesus. It was His disciples who were not expecting His resurrection from the dead [John 20:9].
When the women came to the tomb, they came to embalm a dead body [Luke 24:1]. When the women came and said, "He is raised, He is alive," the disciples listened to them, and the Bible says it sounded to them like old wives’ tales [Luke 24:10-11]. And when they came to Thomas, the other ten saying, "We have seen the Lord," Thomas said, "That is not so, nor would I believe until I put my finger in the scars in His hands, and put my hand in the scar in His side" [John 20:25].
Then, then, our Lord ate with the disciples [John 21:10-13]. He broke bread with the disciples. He talked to the disciples. He walked with the disciples, and for forty days in infallible proofs, He led them into the great revelation of God that we call our Christian faith [Acts 1:3]. And they turned, and they changed, and they were miraculously transformed and regenerated. From fear to faith, from cowardice to courage, from faltering to fearlessness, undaunted, they stand before men, and angels, and courts, and emperors, and kings, laying down their lives for the truth of the faith that Jesus is raised, that He liveth from among the dead.
And last of all, designated by the power of God, singled out by the power of God [Romans 1:4], set apart by the power of God in the incomparably glorious message that has changed and transformed mankind for these centuries since. Wherever that gospel of faith and of hope has been preached, there will you find the hearts of mankind lifted up, lifted up, lifted up.
I have been through these great continents like Africa and India and the isles of Indonesia. I have been in the heart of the blackest of ignorance and indescribable superstition, and there, and there, and there, and there, a little church, and a little spire, pointing up to God, and assembled in the household of the faithful, a little band singing the songs of hope and gladness you sing today, in an isle in the Pacific, that yesterday was peopled with cannibals, in a jungle settlement that yesterday lived in cringing fear, worshiping some vile featured devil, in India bowed beneath centuries and centuries of heartache and despair, a little church with a little spire, pointing up to God, and the people singing, "Hallelujah, Hallelujah, He arose, He arose."
By the side of the little church may be an orphan’s home, just beyond the orphan’s home a hospital; just beyond the hospital a ministry in school, in education, in teaching, in training, in loving, in visiting, in winning, in lifting out of the morass and the darkness of human hearts lost in sin. Oh! The uplift, the change, the glorious regeneration that has followed the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God in this earth; this is a designation. It’s a declaration. It’s a marking out of the power of God in His Son whom He raised from the dead [Romans 1:4].
It would be unthinkable to me to build these houses in the name of Alexander the Great, or in the name of Julius Caesar, or in the name of Neptune or Jove, or in the name of any other except the name of Jesus Christ. If there is a God, His name is Iēsous, Jesus, Jehovah, our Savior. And if there is a hope, it lies in His blessed face. If there is any truth, it is to be heard in His precious voice. And if ever we see the face of God, it will lie in the power of His resurrection [Romans 8:11]. And the sweetness and the blessedness and the preciousness of that hope is ours in the Christian faith and in the Christian message.
Yesterday, late afternoon, I had a funeral service. Tomorrow at noontide I have a funeral service, and in between this blessed and holy Easter day, proclaiming anew and again the resurrection of the dead, the preciousness, the blessedness of the hope we have in our risen Lord.
Yesterday, the service was of a dear and blessed mother whose father, a Baptist preacher, I had buried within a few days after I came to Dallas in 1944. And as I thought back of those days when I came to this city in 1944, and had conducted the funeral service of that holy man of God, there came to my heart another service I held here in this place. It was of one of our boys, a Marine, who had fallen in battle.
Accompanying that young man, whose body was brought here to this house, accompanying him, were about four of his fellows in the Marines, and a chaplain. And the chaplain had a program that he’d mimeographed on some kind of a bulletin that evidently the Marine chaplain was using as he helped to bury those men who had fallen in the war. And I sat there on this platform and held the bulletin, the program that the Marine chaplain had mimeographed. The front of it was a picture; and the picture was this: there was the smoke and the blood of battle and of war; bombs were bursting, shells were breaking, violence and death; it was a livid picture of that terrible war in which we were engaged in 1944. And in the foreground there was pictured an American boy, mortally wounded, falling down in death. And as the boy is struck to the ground, he has lifted up his eyes, and in the smoke of the furor of blood and of fire and of battle, there stands the blessed Jesus. And the fallen boy looks up into the face of Jesus. Oh, it made an impression upon me! And still does. And still does, standing by an open grave, weeping with those who weep, lifting up our eyes to see the face of Jesus, in despair and discouragement, in distress and in death, looking up into the blessed face of Jesus.
However the storm of life may rage and the providence of our days may lead, through valleys or over mountains, always, the face of Jesus, for He is the firstfruits of us who sleep, of us who sleep [1 Corinthians 15:20]; Christ, who makes the way, who opens the door, and all of us in our day and in our time who follow after. This is the very heart and substance of the Christian message, oh blessed hope, oh precious promise, and it is ours for the asking [Matthew 7:7].
While we sing this song of appeal and invitation, and I hope all of our people will prayerfully remain for this invitation, don’t leave now. In just a little while, just a little while, you’ll be given opportunity to go. Don’t leave now. Stay with a prayer in your heart. And while we sing this appeal, and while we pray, from that topmost balcony, this day, to give your heart in trust to Christ Jesus, would you come down that stairwell, one on either side, and here to the front and to the preacher? There’s a stairway there, on either side. And in the vast throng of people crowded into this auditorium, into the aisle and down here to the front, "Preacher, I give you my hand; I give my heart to God." And on this PA system, all over this building, there are those who are listening in these different rooms, if today you’ll give your heart to Jesus, come up into the auditorium and give the pastor your hand, and stand before men and angels witnessing to the faith and the hope God hath created, a gift of heaven in your heart. On the first note of this first stanza, if God bids you here, make it this morning. Make it now. Come immediately. "I’m going to put my life in the church, and here I come." "Pastor, this is my wife, these are our children, we are all coming," or a couple, or one somebody you, as God shall say the word and shall lead in the way, make it now. Make it this morning, while we stand and while we sing.