The Philosopher and the Resurrection
March 29th, 1964 @ 8:15 AM
THE PHILOSOPHER AND THE RESURRECTION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-29-1964 8:15 a.m.
Now the message this morning is entitled The Philosopher and the Resurrection. And the reading of the Scripture is in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Acts, beginning at verse 16. Athens was the great university center of the world. It was in the days of Paul; it had been for hundreds and hundreds of years. And for this preacher of Jesus, finally to come to the great intellectual center of Athens, immediately poses one of the most interesting situations that history could command. Acts 17:16:
Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him. Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoics, encountered him. And some said, What would this spermologos say
– this “seed-picker” say, translated here “babbler” –
What would this babbler say, if he had anything to say?
Others said, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? Thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but to tell, or to hear some new thing.) Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ Hill
– Areopagus –
Areopagus is Greek for “Mars’ Hill.” It was the Greek term for the supreme court of the Athenian people. He stood in the midst of the supreme court, and said, “Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are very religious,” translated here “superstitious”; that would have insulted them. Nothing of superstition connoted in the word.
I perceived in all things you are very devout, very reverent. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly, whom therefore ye worship not knowing, Him declare I unto you.
Then he closed this incomparable message, with a reference to the resurrection of our Lord from the dead, with these words:
The times of this unknowing, God hath overlooked; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: because He hath appointed a day, into which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead. And when they heard
– these Epicureans and these Stoics and these Athenian intellectuals –
and when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, sklerazō – they ridiculed, they jeered the resurrection of the dead. They mocked, derided, and others who were more gracious said, We will hear thee again of this matter and bowed themselves out. So Paul departed from among them.
I repeat, I could not imagine, I could not imagine in history a more interesting situation than to bring Paul the apostle of Christ to Athens, the philosophical, intellectual, university center of the world. And when Paul stood daily in the marketplace, and began to preach the gospel of the Son of God, and to declare His resurrection, the philosophers, the Epicureans and the Stoics gathered around him, and one said to the other, “This is a strange thing! We have never heard the gods Iēsous and Anastasis,” male and female. In the Greek, Iēsous, of course, is masculine, and anastasis is feminine; anastasis, their word for resurrection. He seems to be a setter forth of strange gods, plural, because Paul preached unto them Jesus and anastasis. All their lives they had become acquainted with those pairs of God. There was Jupiter and Juno, male and female. There was Isis and Osiris, male and female. There was Venus and Adonis, male and female. All of their gods were in pairs, and when Paul stood in the marketplace and preached the gospel of Iēsous and Anastasis, they said, “We’ve heard of gods all our life, but we never heard of these two gods.”
So they took him and set him in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Tell us this unusual and strange message of these gods we’ve never heard of before” [Acts 17:19-20]. So Paul stood in the midst of the supreme court and began to witness to the saving grace and the revelation ultimate and final of the Lord, true God that lives in heaven, and who came down in the likeness of men, and who died for our sins, and was raised for our justification. And when they came to the subject of the resurrection of the dead, those Epicureans laughed outright, and the Stoics, more gracious and gentle, bowed out and said, “We will hear thee again, some other time [Acts 17:31-32]. We haven’t opportunity now. We’re busy, we’re busy.”
It’s a very simple reason why the Epicureans laughed. The Epicureans were the atheists and the materialists of the philosophical world. Their interpretation of the world was atomic. They reduced everything to atoms just as we do today. Everything is made out of atoms the Epicureans said. And he divided the atomic structure of the world into three parts: the coarser atoms were the earth, the finer atoms were the human body, and the finest atoms comprised the human soul. And when a man died, all the atoms of him just went back, scattered around in the world. Their philosophy of living was, “Let us eat, let us drink, let us be merry, for tomorrow our atoms go back, scattered into the world.” That’s why the Epicureans laughed out loud when Paul spake of the resurrection of the dead.
Now the Stoic philosophers were the great moralists and pantheists of the philosophical world. Their philosophy of the world was that the world itself is a world soul, and what you see is a manifestation of that world soul. Everything is God, and God is everything, and we are a part of the inscrutable process of nature. Their philosophy of living was one of fortitude and courage. They were fatalists. A man has no choice but to live in the inexorable process of that world soul. He’s a part of it, and when he dies he goes back into it, and that is the finest of all existence and of all life. So it’s simple to see why the Stoic – when he listened to the resurrection, the personal resurrection of the dead – it’s simple to see why a Stoic would bow and say, “Oh, yes. Oh, yes, but we have other things, we have other things.”
Those philosophies are the dominate philosophies of our modern world. Most of this world today is either atheist or pantheist and materialist, one or the other. The greatest scientist that America ever had – when he died a few years ago – said on his deathbed, “I want it understood that I am an atheist, and when I die there is to be no funeral service for me. My body is to be burned and the ashes scattered to the wind.” This is the dominant philosophy of our modern world, beautifully expressed, pointedly expressed in this unusual poem:
A handful of dust that is blown by the wind
That is sporting with whatever stuff it can find.
It goes smiling, and whirling, and scattering on,
Till it puffs into nothingness – then it is gone –
A handful of dust.
It may be a king who of old held his rule
Over a country forgotten – it may be his fool
Who has smiles on his lips and tears in his heart;
But the king, or the fool; who could tell them apart
In this handful of dust?
It may be some man who was mighty and proud,
Or a beggar, who trembled and crept through the crowd;
Or a woman who laughed, or a woman who wept,
Or a [miser] – but centuries long have they slept
In this handful of dust.
It may be a rose that once burst into fame,
Or a maiden who blushed as she whispered a name
To its ruby-red heart – and her lips were as read –
But no echo remains of the words that she said,
In this handful of dust.
[“The Handful of Dust,” Wilbur D. Nesbit]
This is modern philosophy. This is the end of life. This is the great goal of all striving. This is the great finale, grand and sublime, of all existence – the handful of dust.
Now, the Word of God begins – the Word of God begins with a tremendous admission: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground” [Genesis 2:7]. And again, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it was thou taken: dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” [Genesis 3:19]. And that is repeated in the Holy Scriptures. All go into one place, all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. The Scriptures begin with that admission. This physical frame, this body of clay, was formed out of the dirt of the ground, and back into the dust of the earth shall it someday return.
But – but, God hath said another thing; God hath revealed another promise. God hath set before the man that He made another hope. For in the same syllable and in the same breath that God said, “A man is made of the dust of the ground,” the Holy Spirit also avowed that the “Lord breathed into His nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” [Genesis 2:7]. And the same avowal: “God made the man in His image” [Genesis 1:27], immortal, eternal, everlasting. And the sublimity of that promise, and of that revelation, and of that hope is throughout the whole revealed Word of the living God. And Job cried, saying, “I know – I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand in the later day upon the earth; And though through my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God, whom mine eyes shall behold, and not another” [Job 19:25-27]. And Daniel prophesied saying, “And many that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, shall awake” [Daniel 12:2].
And the incomparable message of our Lord Christ to the atheists, and to the materialists, and to the skeptics of His day was this; the Sadducees had slayed their enemies with their agnosticism and infidelity and unbelief for generations, and they did it with an old stock story. They said to the Pharisees – to us hypocrites, but in that day and time the great, devout, religious devotees of that era – they said to the those who believed in the resurrection, “So you believe in the resurrection? You believe men should live again?” ‘Well,” said the Sadducee, “There was a man, and he had a wife and no issue. Then according to the Levirate marriage, his brother had – when the man died – his brother had to take that woman and seek to raise issue up to the first man, the first brother, and then he died leaving no issue. Then the third brother took her, and he died leaving no issue. Then the fourth one took her, than the fifth brother, than the sixth, than the seventh brother, all seven of those brothers sought to raise issue to the first brother, but all died not having an issue, not having a child. And last of all, the woman herself died. Now in the resurrection, now in the resurrection, whose wife is she because all seven had her? [Matthew 22:23-28]. Ha, ha, ha, ha!” said the Sadducee, said the infidel, said the skeptic, said the unbeliever, said the materialist, said the pseudo-scientist. “Ha, ha! Oh, the resurrection! Whose wife is she going to be? She was all seven of them,” and there wasn’t anybody could answer.
The Sadducee laid the believer flat. So they came to Jesus with the stock story. That ended it surely; surely that placed Jesus in the realm of the stupid, and the ignorant, and the unscientific. “For whose wife is she in the resurrection?” And our Lord replied, “In glory, in glory, we are not sexed, not anymore.” We’re not procreative anymore, in glory. We’re as the angels, Gabriel, Raphael, Michael. We’re as the angels. “But as touching the resurrection, you do exceedingly err, not knowing the Scriptures, or the power of God! Or have you never read in the Holy Word, ‘I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?’ God is not the God of the dead, of the dust, of the tomb, of the grave, of defeat, and despair, and of darkness, and night, but God is the God of the living” [Matthew 22:29-32]. And the power of God: “Destroy this temple” – and it referred to His body – “and the third day I will raise it up” [John 2:19]. Oh, the might, and the glory, and the power of our living Lord!
And in the passage I asked you to read today, the incomparable fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul uses an illustration. Paul uses an illustration [1 Corinthians 15:37-38], and every springtime I marvel at the power of that illustration. He uses the illustration of the root that’s dead, of the seed that’s buried, and in the springtime it bursts into life by the power of God! How a man can look at a lily, how a man can look at a daffodil, at an Easter flower, how a man can look at a redbud, or a japonica, or a dogwood that’s been dead through the cold of the winter, and bursts into glory and life in the springtime, and not bow in the presence of the great Maker of heaven and earth, I don’t understand it, I don’t see. Every flower that blooms is a sermon. Every tree that leafs is a message, and every dogwood and every japonica bush is a sermon from heaven. God is able out of the dead, and out of the dust, and out of the ground to raise beauty, and glory, and power, and victory in His name, in His name. As Paul says of us, “We are sown in corruption, we are raised in incorruption: we are sown in dishonor; we are raised in glory: we are sown in weakness; we are raised in power: we are planted a natural body; we are raised a spiritual body by the power of God” [1 Corinthians 15:42-44].
Sir, the sublimest words ever said: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead and planted in the heart of the earth, yet shall he live, yet shall he live” [John 11:25]. The greatest fact of history is this: “He is not here; He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay” [Matthew 28:6]. The greatest confession on the lips of a man is this: and Thomas said, “If I do not see the print of nails on His hand and the scars on His side, I will not believe.” And the Lord said, “Thomas, reach hither thy finger, and behold the print of the nails in My hands, and take your hand and thrust it into My side.” And Thomas said, “My Lord, my Lord and my God” [John 20:24-28] – the greatest confession of the lips of a man.
And the greatest, sublimest promise and prophecy is this, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, he that heareth My words, and believeth, shall have everlasting life, shall not come into condemnation; but is passed out of death into life” [John 5:24]. And the next verse begins with a double verily, “Verily, verily I say unto thee, The hour cometh, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live” [John 5:25].
Get out of your ash heap, Job, stand up! Take your harp from the willow trees, psalmist, and sing! Take the sackcloth off of your skin, O king of Israel, and dress in robes of light and glory! Cease your weeping, Nehemiah! Get off of your knees, Daniel. For our Lord liveth, and we shall live also; as Paul preached, Iēsous and Anastasis, Jesus, blessed Jesus, and the resurrection of the dead. Oh, what a faith! What a persuasion, what a comfort, what a gospel! No wonder the Book calls it euaggelion, the good news, the good news. We shall live again!
We sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, somebody you give his heart to Jesus, put his life into the fellowship of the church, as the Spirit of God shall say, “Yes,” open the door, lead in the way, make it now. Make it now. From that topmost balcony, there will be time and to spare. People who have responsibilities will be given the opportunity to go to them. Let’s stay prayerfully for this appeal, and I’ll give you opportunity to go to your responsibilities, but this morning, in this holy and heavenly hour – this morning, if the Spirit of God calls, answer with your life, while we stand and while we sing.