Christ and Death
April 16th, 1965 @ 12:00 PM
CHRIST AND DEATH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-16-65 12:00 p.m.
I have never had any preaching experience comparable to the twenty-one years that I have stood here on this stage before this theater screen and tried to preach the unsearchable riches of the grace of God in Christ Jesus. The theme this year has been “Our Lord Today; Christ Today; The Contemporary Christ.”
Does God speak to our souls today? Does God have a message for our hearts this hour? So in a way that I never had attempted before, I have sought to deliver addresses that were pertinent to our life now. Monday it was Christ and Politics, Christ and government and law, Christ and Politics. Tuesday it was Christ and War. Wednesday it was Christ and Modern Science. Yesterday, Thursday, it was Christ and Communism, the most bitter and implacable foe that the Christian faith has ever faced. And today the subject concerns that last and cruel and final enemy that all of us, unless Jesus intervenes, that all of us shall inevitably face, the last and mortal enemy, death: Christ and Death. In the second chapter of the Philippian letter:
Our Lord, being in the form of God, thought it not a thing to be grasped to be equal with God: But poured Himself out—
gave up all the prerogatives of deity—
made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, of a slave, and was made in the likeness of men:
And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Wherefore, therefore God hath also highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name:
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . and every tongue should confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Our highest thoughts cannot comprehend the exalted majesty and glory of our Lord in heaven before the worlds were made. This passage here is an attempt on the part of the inspired apostle to set forth the prerogatives of deity. He was in the morphē—whatever the morphē of God is, whatever the form of God is—He was in the morphē, the form, of Almighty God. And as our minds in their most heavenly imaginations, as our minds cannot enter into the glory of His deity in heaven before the worlds were, so our finite minds cannot enter into the depths to which He descended.
The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, which is a description seven hundred fifty years before of the passion and death and crucifixion of our Lord, Isaiah begins that chapter with a question: “Lord, who hath believed our report?” [Isaiah 53:1]. Where is a man’s heart that could ever enter into such a thing; the immeasurable distance between the heaven of His glory and the shame of His death, the descent of our Lord from the morphē of God into the morphē, the form and fashion of a slave? Down, and down, and down, and down did He come, until God was made like a man of the dust of the ground, and made in fashion like a slave, the poorest among the poor; and finally, to die the death of a criminal, a crucifixion reserved for malefactors and felons and criminals, and raised between two thieves, lifted up between the earth and the heaven, as though He were rejected by both; disowned by man and forsaken by God, reviled and abused [Matthew 27:35-44].
And as though abuse was not vile enough, they covered Him with spittle [Mark 15:19]. And as though spittle was not contemptuous enough, they plucked out His beard [Isaiah 50:6]. And as though to tear away His beard was not brutal enough, they pressed on His brow a crown of thorns [John 19:2]. And as though thorns did not pierce sharply enough, they drove through His hands and feet great nails [John 19:16-18]. And as though nails did not tear enough, they ran through His heart with an iron spear [John 19:34]. It was earth’s darkest hour. At three o’clock in the afternoon it was all over [Mark 15:33-34]. He bowed His head and dismissed His spirit [John 19:30], and the Light of the world flickered out [John 8:12].
Walk softly around the cross, for Jesus, the Son of God, is dead. Speak tenderly in whispers, for the King of glory is dead. The head that was anointed by Mary of Bethany [Mark 14:3] is bowed in lifeless silence. The eyes that wept over Jerusalem [Luke 19:41] are glazed in death. The hands that blessed little children [Mark 10:16] are nailed to a tree. The feet that walked on the waters of Galilee [Matthew 14:25] are fastened to a cross. And the heart that beat for a lost world is thrust through with a Roman spear [John 19:34]. Jesus the Christ of God is dead. The mob that jeered and ridiculed and blasphemed [Matthew 27:39-42], gradually dispersed, saying one to the other, “He is dead.” The passers-by on the road from Nablus to Jerusalem paused to look, said one to another, “He is dead,” and went on their journey. The Pharisees with smiles of satisfaction, and rubbing their hands in self-congratulation, returned to the city, saying, “He is dead.” The Sadducees with sighs of relief went back to their coffers in the temple, saying, “He is dead.” The Roman centurion who supervised His execution made his official report to Pontius Pilate the procurator, and said, “He is now dead” [Mark 15:44-45].
And the soldiers who were dispatched to break their bones, when they came to Him on the center cross, said, “We need not break a bone in His body, He is so certainly dead” [John 19:31-33]. And Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus went to the procurator and asked for His body, “He is dead” [John 19:38-40]. And Mary His mother, with the women who followed Him in Galilee [John 19:25], buried their faces in their hands, and between their sobs, they cried, “He is dead.” And the eleven disciples like frightened sheep, crawling into eleven shadows [Mark 14:50], hiding from the pointing finger of Jerusalem, said, “He is dead.”
And the two walking on the road to Emmaus, sad and downfallen in heart, in spirit, said to one another, “He is dead” [Luke 24:13-20]. Wherever the disciples met, in an upper room, behind closed doors, on a lonely road, in a hiding place, they repeated that sorrowful refrain, “He is dead and buried,” and they sealed the tomb, and a Roman guard marches up and down before [Matthew 27:62-66]. Was there ever such dark despair? Peter, the rock, is a rock no more. James and John, the sons of Boanerges, “the sons of thunder” [Mark 3:17], are sons of thunder no more. Simon the Zealot is a zealot no more [Luke 6:15]. Jesus is dead [Matthew 27:46-50].
Then one day, then one glorious day, then one triumphant day, then one miraculous and incomparable day, then one day, men stood dead in their tracks! There is a message running like fire, liquid flame, from tongue to tongue and heart to heart! The angels say, “He is alive! He is not dead; He is alive!” [Matthew 28:5-7]. Mary Magdalene says, “I have seen the Lord. He is alive” [John 20:11-18]. The two on the road to Emmaus said, “And He was made known to us in the breaking of bread” [Luke 24:13-32]. And bold Simon Peter, the rock that He was, is filling Jerusalem with the glorious and heavenly announcement, “God hath raised Him from the dead!” [Acts 2:14-32]. And soon along every byway in Judea, and along the shores of blue Galilee, and around the coasts of the great Mediterranean, and on the road to Athens and to Rome, in every poor man’s cottage and in every rich man’s palace, the grand and sublime announcement is heralded and proclaimed and preached. “Our Lord has been raised from the dead!” Triumphant over the grave, He cannot die [1 Corinthians 15:55-57]. He has returned to rule the hearts of men forever.
And how closely are the two; His humiliation and His exaltation. “He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore, therefore God also hath highly exalted Him” [Philippians 2:8-9].
Lift up your heads ye sorrowing ones,
And be ye glad of heart,
For Calvary’s day and Easter day,
Earth’s saddest day and earth’s gladdest day,
Are but one day apart.
[“The Gladdest Day,” Susan Coolidge]
The bitter seed brought forth this precious and glorious flower. And even the cross itself has become a glory to His name. Every, every thorn is now a brilliant in His diadem. The very bleeding and crimson of His wounds but stains the purple color of His royal robes. The iron of the nails and of the spear shall be the rod by which He someday shall rule the nations of the world. The hill upon which He was raised to die is the most sacred spot on the face of the globe. And the cross itself has become the insignia of our faith.
If He is alive, He must be somewhere now. And what evidence and what proof do the churches and the people of Jesus have that our Lord lives today? The contemporary Christ: my friend, had every citizen of the Roman Empire looked upon Him raised from the dead, had Caesar and all of his household, had Josephus, and Suetonius, and Tacitus, and all of the other Roman historians wrote of it as of their own eyes, their corroboration would not be the beginning of the corroboration and attestation we posses today that our Lord is alive.
One: the power to save, to convert, and to regenerate the human heart today, today. I’m not speaking of the conversion of Simon Peter, or of the apostle John, or of John Chrysostom, or of Savonarola, or of Wesley, or of Knox, or of Carroll, or of Truett—I’m speaking of Jesus’ ableness to convert today [John 6:37]. He saved me. I met Him in His gracious, atoning, loving grace when I was a boy. He saved me.
O happy day, happy day,
When Jesus washed my sins away;
He taught me how to watch and pray,
And live rejoicing every day:
Happy day, happy day,
When Jesus washed my sins away.
[“Oh, Happy Day That Fixed My Choice,” Phillip Doddridge]
The contemporary Christ: He is alive today. I meet Him on my knees in answered prayer. There is a listening ear bowed down from glory to hear when I pour out my soul before Him. He is alive today, walking among His churches [Revelation 1:12-13, 20]. And where two or three are gathered together, according to His sacred promise, there is our living Lord in the midst [Matthew 18:20]. I am often asked, “How is it you go down to a theater and you preach Christ in a theater?” And my reply is, “My brother, come and see, come and see, and if you do not feel for yourself the presence of Jesus, and the power of the Holy Ghost in the assembly of God’s people, even in a theater, a house of pleasure and amusement.”
The contemporary Christ: and He lives today in the expectancy of His people who lift up their faces toward that final and ultimate consummation, when our Lord shall come again. “Behold, behold, He cometh with clouds: and every eye shall see Him” [Revelation 1:7]. And by the uncounted millions do His children, in every nation and language and tongue on the face of this earth, lift up their hearts and their eyes in expectancy for the glory that is yet to come: the visible and personal return of our living Lord [Titus 2:13].
It may be at midday; it may be at twilight;
It may be perchance that the blackness of midnight
Will burst into light in the blaze of His glory
When Jesus comes for His own.
O joy, O delight, should we go without dying,
No sickness, no sadness, no dread, and no crying,
Caught up through the clouds with our Lord into glory,
When Jesus comes for His own.
[“It May Be Morn,” James McGranaham]
Our contemporary Christ, living today—and in the event that He delays His coming, and we face that last and mortal enemy [1 Corinthians 15:26], death and the grave, then what?
And I fell at His feet as dead. And He laid His right hand upon me, and said, Fear not, fear not; I am the First and the Last:
I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, living, I am alive for evermore; and I, and I, and I have the keys of Hell and of Death. I have the keys of the Grave and of Death.
We’re not to be afraid as though some other hand possessed them. They lie in the hands of our living and sovereign Lord, and the issues of life and of death are with Him. And through flood, and through fire, and through pestilence, and through plague, our lives are immortal until Christ shall will that we be translated out of this life into the life that is yet to come [John 10:28]. Until our task is done and my call is finished, I shall not die. He will preserve and guard and keep His own [John 6:39]. Then someday, if He wills and I fall into death, it shall be but a going to sleep in the arms of Jesus [1 Thessalonians 4:13]. Death has been robbed of its sting, and the grave has been robbed of its victory [1 Corinthians 15:55-57]; and there is no such thing as death anymore for the Christian. He just closes his eyes on the scenes of this mortal vale of tears and opens his eyes in glory [1 Thessalonians 4:14]. Death is nothing but a gate, but a door that Jesus opens, when one by one His children are gathered home. And as with Stephen, when the saint died the Lord stood up to receive his spirit [Acts 7:55-56, 59-60], so with us, when we fall upon death, our Lord shall be standing to receive His saints in glory [Acts 7:55-60]. It will be His hand alone that opens the door. It will be His will alone that chooses the day, and I am to be unafraid [Luke 12:25-26].
One of the little primary girls in our Sunday school was stricken unto death, and in that heartbreaking hour, the little girl, in her dying, was going blind. And she said to her mother, “Oh, Mother, it is so dark! Mother, I am afraid. I am afraid! Come closer, Mother, come closer.” And her devout mother replied, “My sweet child, Jesus is with us in the dark just as He is with us in the light, and we are never to be afraid.”
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I am to fear no evil; for Thou art with me” [Psalm 23:4]. My dying hour is to be my finest, and the last moment of my breath is to be my richest. “For to me to live is Christ,” said the Christian apostle, “and to die is a gain” [Philippians 1:21].
O precious cross! O glorious crown!
O resurrection day!
Ye angels, from the stars come down
and bear my soul away.
[“Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?” Thomas Shepherd]
Christ and the day of our death; Christ in our final hour of triumph and glory.
And our Lord, at the end of this holy week of convocation and assembly, with gratitude unspeakable we thank Thee for every moment in which God gives us the privilege to witness to the saving grace and power of our Lord. And in Thy goodness and grace, may every one who listened to the message of hope and victory today find in his heart a responding faith and trust [Romans 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:8]. “O Lamb of God, I also come kneeling at the cross, looking up into Thy dear face.” “When Thou comest into Thy kingdom, Lord, remember me; save me” [Luke 23:42], and we shall thank Thee forever and ever. In Thy love and grace, and in Thy blessed and precious name, amen.