The Philosopher and the Resurrection
March 29th, 1964 @ 10:50 AM
THE PHILOSOPHER AND THE RESURRECTION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-29-64 10:50 a.m.
On television and on radio, you’re sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. It was a happy privilege this morning to welcome KIXL Radio in its broadcasting of our eight-fifteen o’clock morning service. We start at eight-fifteen, and they pick it up at eight-thirty, and carry it through to the end of the worship hour. KIXL also is the radio station that broadcasts this eleven o’clock hour. We began at ten minutes till ten, and they pick it up at eleven o’clock. We are grateful to the management and the courteous, generous friendship of radio station KIXL. And of course, we are eternally indebted to channel eleven, for the televising of this eleven o’clock hour every Lord’s Day morning. And to you who listen on the radio, and to you who watch on television, we hope that you will be at the Dallas Memorial Auditorium tonight, to share with us in this tremendous Easter night service. Our Lord appeared to his disciples Easter Sunday night; not in the day time, at night. And our Lord appeared to his disciples the following Sunday night. The institution of the Lord’s Supper is a supper; He broke bread with his disciples and He instituted that holy ordinance at night. Yet how few people ever observe it at night time, when it was instituted; a supper. And how few people ever go to church on Sunday night. In behalf of what God intends for us, and His will for his people, our service on Easter is held at night, at the Dallas Memorial Auditorium. And if you’ll come, there’ll be a blessing in it that God gives us as at no other time, and at no other hour. I have the assurance from God, answering prayer, that tonight will be a mighty and a soul-saving hour. Come at seven-thirty o’clock in the great arena, eleven thousand seats, in the Dallas Memorial Auditorium.
Now this would encourage any pastor’s heart: at eight-fifteen o’clock this morning, this auditorium, which is one of the largest church auditoriums in America, this auditorium was packed, and God hath filled it up again, with us, who believe in His name, and with us who this morning may make a decision in committing our lives and our souls and our families to the Lord. The title of the sermon is – and this is the pastor of the church preaching – the title of the sermon is, The Philosopher and the Resurrection. It is an exposition in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Acts, beginning at the sixteenth verse. It brings Paul, the preacher of Jesus, to the city of Athens. And I could not conceive of a more interesting situation than for Paul the preacher of the gospel of the Son of God, to be standing in the philosophical, intellectual university city of the world. Verse 16: “Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoics, encountered him; and said, What would this spermologos say if he had anything to say?” translated here,
What would this babbler say? What would this seed picker say? And others said, Well, he seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because Paul preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.
And they took him and brought him to their supreme court, called the Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?
For thou bringest strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.
(For all those Athenians and the strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)
Then Paul stood in the midst of the supreme court of the Areopagus,
“Areopagus” means “Mars Hill”, where the court sat.
Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars Hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are very reverent, very devout –
you have it translated here “too superstitious”; that would have insulted anybody. He began with a generous compliment –
Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are 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 worship without knowing, him declare I unto you.
Then he begins with a description of the great creator Lord; then he speaks of His Son. Then he adds,
The times of this passed unknowing, God overlooked: but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent:
Because He hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all of us, in that He hath raised Him from the dead.
But when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked –
they burst out into laughter, in derision and in ridicule –
some mocked: and others said, who were more gracious, Oh, thank you for the word; we’ll hear thee later.
And they walked away.
So Paul departed from among them.
So the preacher of Jesus, stands in the presence of the university center of the world – not only then but for hundreds of years previous had Athens been the great educational intellectual, scientific, dramatic, historical, architectural, any way if there was any part of learning or of teaching, it centered in the city of Athens – and Paul stands in that great intellectual center, and preaches Jesus and anastasis; male Jesus, female anastasis. Jesus and the resurrection. And those Athenians, who all their lives had been accustomed to the male and female pairing of their Gods – Jupiter and Juno, Isis and Osiris, Venus and Adonis, male and female – and when they heard this man speak of those two gods, Jesus and anastasis, masculine Jesus and feminine anastasis, they said one to another, “What an amazing pair of gods. We’ve never heard it. What strange deities.” So they took him, and set him in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Now tell us of this strange pair of gods we never heard of before, Jesus and anastasis. Jesus and the resurrection” [Acts 17:19].
So Paul stood in the midst of Mars Hill, and began to speak, with a compliment, then the unfolding of his message, on of the most dramatic, one of the ablest ever found in human literature; then closing it with the preaching of the blessed Jesus, who was buried for our sins, and raised the third day for our justification. But when he came to that part of his sermon, on the resurrection of the dead, those Epicurean and Stoic philosophers fell into derisive ridicule; the resurrection of the dead. And some of them laughed outright in their derision, and others more gracious, proud, and said, “We will hear thee again, some other convenient time. I haven’t the opportunity now, but some other time we’ll hear thee” [Acts 17:32], and left.
Well, there was a reason. The Epicurean was the atheist and the materialist of the ancient world. His doctrine, his teaching, his philosophy of the creation around him was atomic; just as modern as your atomic theories today, and just as learned, and just as true. Never has been – never shall be, in my humble opinion – a race of men with the intellectual acumen and the scientific insight of those ancient Athenians. And the Epicurean an atheist and a materialist said the world was made out of three kinds of atoms: there are course atoms, and they comprise the dirt and the soil and the ground; there are finer atoms, and they comprise the human body; then there are finest of atoms, and they comprised the soul. And when you die, said the Epicurean, when you die the atoms go back to the world where they came from. And their philosophy of life was, based on their atheism and their materialism, “Let us eat, let us drink, let us be merry, for tomorrow our atomic structure goes back into its primeval form.” That was the Epicurean. And when he heard of the resurrection of the dead, it was a matter of ridicule and laughter to him.
Now the Stoic was of a different stripe. The Stoic was the pantheist and the moralist of the ancient day. The philosophical explanation of the world around him, on the part of the Stoic, was that there’s a great world soul, and that world soul is manifested in creation. And everything you see is God, that world soul. And everything that world soul is, is God. God is everything, and everything is God. And it led to what you call Stoic fortitude. “For,” said the Stoic, “all of us are a part of that inexorable, inscrutable process of nature. And no man has any choice: he must accept the destiny that is outlined for him in life.” So the idea of the Stoic was that we who are alive are a part of this great creative process, and when we die we are again identified with that great creative process, we lose our personal identity in it; and the idea of a resurrection, a personal resurrection, to a Stoic, was something unthinkable and inconceivable. But he was a little more gracious than the Epicurean who laughed and danced and drank and forgot his troubles. The Stoic was a man of great courage and fortitude; they developed those great four cardinal virtues of the Greek: to be temperate, to be courageous, to be just, and to be wise. So when they heard Paul preach the resurrection, they were a little more gracious; they bowed and said, “Yes, yes, we understand. We’ll hear thee again of this matter,” and they walked away.
And that spirit of philosophical, intellectual skepticism has never ceased through the centuries since: it is the same situation as you find here when Paul preached at the university of Athens. In the second century, for example, in Lyon, Gaul, in Lyons, France, the populous there took the Christians, and burned them to ashes; and then in mockery scattered the ashes of the martyrs up and down the Rhone River in order to demonstrate the preposterousness, the inanity of the Christian persuasion that we who live and die should be raised from the dead. Trajan was the emperor of the Roman Empire from 98 to 117 A.D. And in his day there arose a furious persecution against the Christians at Antioch. And Trajan, to illustrate his contempt for the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, took five of those beautiful girls in the church at Antioch, five of them, and he burned them to ashes. Then he took the ashes of those five beautiful Christian girls, and mixed the ashes with molten brass, and cast it into images, “That,” and I quote Trajan, “that it might be seen that it is I, and not their God, who have raised them from the dead.”
And that spirit of contempt and ridicule and rejection continues to this present hour. The doctrine of the present world is one of materialism and of atheism. I’m not speaking of Russia; I’m speaking of the United States of America. The acceptable doctrine in the great university and in the professorial chair and in the ordinary life of the people is one of abject atheism and abject materialism and abject rejection. Why there are ministers by the uncounted thousands who don’t believe any of the things that Paul preached when he stood on Mars’ hill and spake the name of Jesus and the resurrection from the dead.
One of the greatest scientists in the world, one of the greatest scientists in the world, died a few years ago, here in America. And when he died, when he lay on his deathbed, he said, “I want it plainly understood that I am an atheist. And when I die, there is to be no funeral service. My body is to be burned, and its ashes scattered to the winds.” And when that great scientist died, there was not service. His body was burned, and the ashes scattered to the blowing, whirling winds. This is the tone of modern life, and of modern philosophy, and of modern teaching, and of modern education. I don’t think we could express it better than in this modern poem; it is a magnificent poem, and it expresses exactly that tone of unbelief and rejection:
A handful of dust, that is blown by the wind
That is sporting with whatever stuff it can find,
It goes swirling 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
O’er a country forgotten–it may be his fool
Who had smiles on his lips and had tears in his heart;
But the king, or the fool–who can 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 a handful of dust.
It may be a rose that once burst into flame,
Or a maiden who blushed as she whispered a name
To its ruby-red heart–and her lips were as red–
But no echo remains of a word that she said,
In this handful of dust.
[“A Handful of Dust,” Wilbur D. Nesbit]
That is the mood of modern life: skepticism, ridicule, rejection, blasphemous unbelief.
We began. The Holy Scriptures acknowledge, the Holy Scriptures avow in the beginning, the Holy Scriptures begin with the avowal we are made, this frame is made, out of dust. “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground” [Genesis 2:7]. Now turn the page: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground. For out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” [Genesis 3:19]. And that’s not peculiar or unique, as we lead in the Word of God, all go into one place, all are of dust, and all turn to dust again. There is denial, there is no denial that we are made of the dirt of the ground, of the dust from the face of the earth. “For He remembereth our frame, He knoweth that we are dust” [Psalm 103:14].
But in the same breath and in the same sentence and in the same syllable that the Lord God presents the man that He made as out of the dust of the ground, the same Word says, “And God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul, created in the image of Almighty God” [Genesis 2:7]. And in the power and in the promise of the Holy Scriptures, there is that reiterated avowal again and again and again; it is the Bible, it is the revelation from God, that we who perish shall live again in His sight. Job cried, “I know, I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he in the latter days shall stand upon the earth; and though through my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God whom I shall see for myself, and not another” [Job 19:25-27]. And Daniel cried, “They that sleep in the dust of the ground shall awake” [Daniel 12:2]. And it was at the very heart and soul of the teaching ministry of Christ, this resurrection from the dead. The Sadducees, who were the infidels and the rejecters and the blasphemers and the unbelievers of His day, the Sadducees had a stock story by which they slayed their enemies who avowed that there is spirit, and there is soul, and there is life beyond the grave; they had a stock story, and they slayed their enemies with it. And the stock story is this: and they came up to Jesus with it and said, “Now there was a man, and he married a wife. And the man died leaving no issue.” And according to the Levirite code that when a man dies and he leaves no child, why, his brother has to take his wife and raise up children unto the brother who’s dead. “Well, this man married a wife; he died, he had no issue. So the second brother took her. He died leaving no issue, and the third brother took her. And he died leaving no issue, and the fourth brother took her. And he died leaving no issue, and the fifth brother took her. And he died leaving no issue, and the sixth brother took her. And the seventh brother, and then last of all,” said the Sadducees to our blessed Lord Jesus, “the woman herself died. Now in the resurrection, now in the resurrection, Lord Jesus, whose wife shall she be? For all seven had her” [Matthew 22:23-28].
They had slain every believer in the power of God with that story for centuries. And they thought they’d lay Jesus low when they brought it to Him. But the Lord stood in the temple of the Lord Jehovah and said, “You, you. We’re not sexed in heaven. There’s no procreation in heaven. We’re as the angels are, Gabriel, Michael, Raphael. We’re ourselves in heaven, as the angels; not in procreative groups. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, did you never hear how God said, I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? God’s not the God of the dead, of the gloom, of the despair, of the dust, of the defeat, of the darkness. God is the God of the living. Ye do err, said the Lord, not knowing the Scriptures and the power of God” [Matthew 22:29-32].
“Destroy this temple,” He said, speaking of the temple of His body, “Destroy this temple,” He said, “and in three days I will raise it up” [John 2:19]. And that was the marvelous preachment of Paul. In the fifteenth chapter of the 1 Corinthian letter, out of which I had you read, describing the resurrection of the dead he uses an incomparable illustration: the seed that is planted in the ground, the root that appears dead, God giveth it a body, and raises it up. That’s the illustration that we see every springtime: that dead seed, and it grows, and it grows to the glory of God. And the daffodil, and the lily, and the Easter flower, and the japonica, and the dogwood, and the apple blossom, where were they in the cold and dead of the winter? But by the power of God, the Lord speaks life and glory, and they appear, to the praise of the ableness of Almighty God. How can a man pass by and see a beautiful daffodil or Easter flower, how can a man pass by and look on the glory of an Easter lily, how can a man pass by and see a dogwood burst into glory in the wilderness, how can a man pass by and see a seed grow and fruit, how can a man pass by and see the trees leaf and the whole world foliate, and say, “There is no God.”? Paul uses that illustration with us. “We are sown,” he says, “in corruption; we are raised in incorruption” [1 Corinthians 15:42-44]. We are sown in dishonor; we are raised in glory. We are sown in weakness; we are raised in power. We are sown a natural body, turning back to the dust of the ground; we are raised a spiritual body, to the praise and the glory of our Lord Jesus. We shall see Him, we shall be like Him. This is the promise and the power of Almighty God.
God illustrates his sermons. God sends his messages. God showers upon this earth the ableness of his mighty power every springtime. Oh how could a man keep from bowing and saying, “What a Lord, what a mighty, mighty God, that can do this before our very eyes.” And we see it, and rejoice in it, and are blessed by it. The profoundest words that were ever said are these: “I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” [John 11:25]. The greatest fact in history is this: “Come, see the place where the Lord lay. He is not here. He is risen, as He said” [Matthew 28:6]. The greatest confession that ever fell from human lips is this: Thomas said, “Except I put my finger in the nail prints in his hands, and except I thrust my hand into His side I will not believe, for dead people don’t rise.” And the Lord stood in the midst, and said, “Thomas, Thomas, Thomas, reach thither thy finger, and behold My hands, and reach thither thy hand and thrust it into My side. And Thomas said, My Lord, my Lord, and my God” [John 20:24-28], the greatest confession that a man can make. And the greatest promise and prophecy in the Word of God is this: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, He that heareth My word and believeth on Him that sent Me hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed out of death into life” [John 5:24]. Then another, “Verily, 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].
Job, get off of your ash heap. Job, stand up. God liveth, and because He lives, we shall live also. Sweet psalmist of Israel, take your harp from hanging on the willow trees, and praise God; He hath triumphed, victory is His. King of Israel, take the sackcloth from off your skin and array yourself with glorious and beautiful garments; for the light of thy Lord hath risen upon thee. Nehemiah, cease your tears, cease your tears; for God hath built for us a New Jerusalem. And Daniel, get off of your knees, get off of your knees; for God hath answered prayer, He hath delivered us from the bondage of death and the seal of the grave, and hath bestowed upon His saints life everlasting.
Oh the holiness, and the purity, and the might, and the glory, and the power of the Easter message of the Son of God! Not in defeat, not in despair, but in hope, in glory, in light, in resurrection, and in victory, we lay our beloved dead away; we face that final and inevitable hour, this not the end, this not the goal, this not the grand finality, but the power of the presence of God who shall speak and the dead shall hear His voice, and they that hear shall live.
While we sing our invitation appeal, you, you, somebody, you, give his heart to Jesus; come and stand by me. A family, you, coming into the fellowship of the church. “Pastor, this is my wife, and these are our children; all of us are coming today.” A couple you, one somebody you. While our people prayerfully, earnestly, sing this song of appeal, make it today. Oh what a hallowed day, what a glory day to come to give your heart to Jesus, to put your life in the fellowship of this precious church. If you’re on the back row of that highest balcony, there’s time and to spare. There’s a stairway on either side at the back, on either side at the front. Come, come. The throng of people on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front. “Pastor, I give you my hand; I have given my heart to God. Here I come, here I stand; I make it now, I make it now.” While we stand and while we sing.