THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-18-65 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the Easter morning message entitled The Resurrection and the Life. Before I begin the exposition of this incomparable passage in the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John, and while we are on the radio, I would like especially to announce and to emphasize our glorious and meaningful Jewish Fellowship Week that begins next Sunday.
There will be distinguished Jewish Christians and prophetic leaders here to preach Sunday night and through Wednesday evening. And Tuesday evening of that week, Tuesday evening following next Sunday, we shall have our annual Christian Passover Supper. That is one of the most beautifully meaningful of all of the services I have ever attended or shared in my life, and Brother Tom McCall and his committee, in arranging that evening, make it the most effective and spiritually significant of anything you could ever share. And we invite for that supper all of the Jewish community of the city of Dallas. As Brother Tom McCall prayed in his prayer, in the congregation of the Lord are both Jew and Gentile, and throughout the centuries God has always chosen a few of the elect people of God to be with us in this ministry. And in our own church some of the most glorious Christian believers in our fellowship are these who belong to the elect household of the chosen family of Jehovah. God bless us as we share together those beautiful and meaningful days.
Now, this day is a glory day, a triumphant day, a hallelujah day, a heavenly day, a triumphant day, a victorious day, and in keeping with its high and exalted and celestial meaning, I read from the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John:
Martha saith unto Him, I know that my brother will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.
Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never, never die.
My Greek teacher, when we came in our Greek lesson to this passage paused to say, “These are the profoundest words ever spoken by human lips: ‘I am the resurrection, and the life’” [John 11:25].
On Mount Transfiguration Moses and Elijah spake to Jesus about His death, which He should accomplish in Jerusalem [Luke 9:28-31]. Moses spake unto Him about His resurrection, for Moses is to be raised from the dead [Deuteronomy 34:5-6]. Elijah spake to Him about the rapture—these who shall never taste of death—for Elijah was translated like Enoch and raptured up to glory [2 Kings 2:11; Genesis 5:24].
As Paul, in the incomparable triumphant word in the resurrection chapter of 1 Corinthians 15, “O Death, where is thy sting?” This is the cry of the raptured, the translated, who shall never taste of death; “O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?” [1 Corinthians 15:55]. This is the cry of the resurrected, who when the trumpet shall sound and the angel shall speak [1 Thessalonians 4:16], shall be raised in glory and in power in eternal immortality from the dead, “O Grave, where is thy victory?” [1 Corinthians 15:55].
I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, if he died, if this body shall fall into decay and corruption, yet shall he live: for whosoever liveth and believeth in Me can never, never die.
The persuasion of a life beyond the grave has been the hope of humankind through all of the centuries and millenniums of human history. For uncounted years, people, archaeologists probing in the tombs of the Egyptians, saw those books and papyri and inscriptions on tombs and sarcophagi. No man could make out what it was, those strange hieroglyphics. Then upon a time in the latter part of the 1700s, the Rosetta stone was discovered, and it provided a key to a language that had for centuries been dead. And when we read those hieroglyphic books and inscriptions, they concerned the Egyptian hope of a life that is yet to come. Likewise, for centuries men looked at that strange wedge-shaped writing–cuneiform books, tablets, inscriptions with those strange wedge-like characters—cuneiform. And when finally the language was discovered and we could read what the ancient cuneiform inscriptionists had written, it was the hope of a life that is yet to come.
And throughout the beautiful and eloquent literature of the ancient Assyrian, and Babylonian, and Greek, and Roman, and when you look upon their glorious statuary, so much of what they said and so much of the artistry of their hands expressed the hope of a life that is to come.
The Gaelic warrior was buried in his armor; he would need it on the other side of the great river. The painted Indian was buried with his bow and his arrow, for he would need it in the happy hunting ground beyond the great divide. There has never been discovered a tribe however low, whether in the heart of Africa or the most degraded of all the human race that ever lived, the Patagonians and the Tierra del Fuegians down at the tip of South America, there has never been discovered a family or a group or a tribe or a people who did not entertain that hope of a life that is yet to come. Nor has that same persuasion and breath of immortality been taken away when the mind of man has reached its finest scientific culture and development.
In one of my pastorates in the city, in the little city was located a state college, and the dean of the college, one of our faithful deacons. Upon a day in his office, he said, “Pastor, come here; I want to show you.” He held in his hand a book written by one of the great scientific authorities of this modern generation, and turning to the last of the book, he said, “Look at this. Read this.” And the man had written, as an addendum to the book that he had published, that as a scientist and as a trained man, he had in his life repudiated the thought of resurrection and immortality. Death was the final end of all existence to him. Then he said in that book, “My mother died and my father died, and now,” he writes, “I cannot defend it, I cannot explain it, but somehow I believe in my heart that my father and my mother live even now, somewhere, someplace.” Haven’t you fallen into those intimations of immortality, haven’t you?
When I was a small, small boy, the pastor of our church died and left his family in our little community. As a small lad that seemed so strange and inexplicable to me. When I was in about the first grade in school, a little classmate, a little classmate died, a little girl, and that was my first funeral to attend. And as a little boy, as I passed by in front of that casket and looked, it was so strange and inexplicable to me. And in my ministry, beginning as a teenager living among the people with whom I preached, the breaking up of a home and a family, and my responsibility to lay aside our beloved dead was something that broke my heart. I’ve never gotten away from it; it still does. The fact and the presence of death and the tears and sorrow and heartache that follow it are ever with us.
Oh, the gloom and the despair of the ancient world as it faced that inevitable and mortal enemy! The sign of his presence in an ancient day was the River Styx, so dark and deep. The sign in an ancient day was the shadowy sheol, and as they peered to see, nothing but darkness and impenetrable gloom. The sign in an ancient day was a darkened house, when the silver cord is loosed and the golden bowl is broken [Ecclesiastes 12:6]. The sign in an ancient day is the skull and the crossbones; death! The sign in an ancient day was a black, black hearse. The sign in an ancient day were the robes of darkness, decorated with plumes plucked from the wings of gloom.
Today, Easter day, today, resurrection day, today, glory day, today, Sunday’s day, today, victory day, has changed all that. It is not without reason that the great ministry of our Lord begins with these words:
Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, The land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles;
The people which sat in darkness saw a great light: and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.
And the apostle Paul, in preaching the gospel of the hope of Jesus, said:
But it is now manifest by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
[2 Timothy 1:10]
Jesus saith unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he die, yet shall he live:
And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me can never, never, never die.
[John 11: 25-26]
And from the darkness of night and the blackness of despair, in Christ we have all of the glorious promises and emblems and symbols of light, and resurrection, and glory, and heaven, and fellowship, and the immortal life that is yet to come. This is the hope of the blessed gospel of the Son of God. One: Easter, Easter, Easter, with its flowers; Easter, with its glorious preachments and proclamations and heraldry; Easter, with its songs and its music; Easter, with its light and its glory and its gladness; this is what Jesus hath brought to a darkening, despairing human race: Easter, and the glory of a heaven that is yet to come. Death now is but a translation [2 Corinthians 5:4]. It’s but a changing of house. It’s but a moving into a more glorious land. It’s but a better fellowship, and a better home, and a better body. It’s but a changing from a life that is drear, filled with sorrow and tears, to a life that is filled with music, and laughter, and gladness, and glory, and triumph, world without end. Jesus has made death the door and the entrance into glory. It’s but changing this for that; the life here for the glorious life that is yet to come [2 Corinthians 5:5-8].
One of the poignant memories of my soul: I had received a letter from my mother, and she said, “Son, your father cannot work any longer. He has reached the age where he has not strength to continue, so he has sold the shop, and our home is up for sale, and we’re going to retire to California.”
And that following Sunday, that following Sunday, there was an artist that drew a picture in our church, and sang a song of glory as he painted that picture. And the picture was this. Here was an old home, and in front of the old home was a sign staked in the yard, “For Sale.” And the road by the home ran to the top of the hill just beyond, and there was a feeble old man and a feeble old woman, arm in arm, going over the hill. And the artist painted in the sky and in the glorious beyond, he had painted a picture of heaven. That’s what Easter did, and that’s what Jesus did, for age and death now is a triumph and a home-going [2 Corinthians 5:4-8].
I am a stranger here;
Heaven is my home.
Earth is a desert drear;
Heaven is my home.
Sorrows and dangers stand
‘Round me on every hand;
Heaven is my fatherland;
Heaven is my home.
[“Heaven Is My Home,” Thomas Rawson Taylor]
This is our victory; crucified, dead, and buried for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3]; raised in triumph for our justification [Romans 4:25].
My latest sun is sinking fast;
My race is nearly run.
My strongest trials now are past;
My triumph is begun.
O come, angel band;
Come and around me stand.
O bear me away on your snowy wings
To my eternal home.
[“O Come Angel Band,” Jefferson Hascall]
This is the triumph of the resurrection from the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16]. It is the promise of a new world and a new life [Revelation 21:1-3]. “Behold, He that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new, all things new” [Revelation 21:5].
In this life we know age and death. “But yonder there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for these things are all passed away. “I make all things new” [Revelation 21:4-5]. In this life we know the burning of fever and the chill of the north wind; there is the soul’s summer land. Here we live in a decaying house; there we live in a house not made with hands, eternal, the gift of God [2 Corinthians 5:11]. Here our home may be a hut; there it is a mansion [John 14:1-3]. Here our reason and understanding is a spark; there it is a flame. Here our finest praise is but as a note; there it bursts into a full symphony. Here we eat on a crust; there shall we sit at the banquet table of the Lord [Revelation 19:7-9]. Here a tree bears fruit once in the year; there every month, and the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations [Revelation 22:2]. Here we drink at broken cisterns [Jeremiah 2:13]; there we shall drink of the fountain of the water of life [Revelation 21:6], clear as crystal, that proceeds out of the throne of God and of the Lamb [Revelation 22:1]. “Behold, I make all things new” [Revelation 21:5].
We who belong to this house and race and family, for the most part grew up in a family who loved the Lord Jesus, and that grew up in a family in our grandparent’s home who loved the Lord Jesus, and back and back through the generations; once in a while do you ever think of how they became Christians? May I tell you? May I tell you? The first English history was written by the Venerable Bede in the 600s. Anglia in our present today’s English becomes England, and the Angles had a kingdom they called Northumbria. And in about 1620, Paulinus, a preacher of Jesus, made his way to the Angles in Northumbria, and there preached to King Edwin and his warriors the gospel of the hope of the Son of God. And one of the most eloquent passages in Venerable Bede is his dramatic description of the council table, when Paulinus preached Jesus and the resurrection, and the warriors discussed whether they should believe or reject.
And as Paulinus preached and pled the cause of Jesus, and the warriors at the council table discussed it, King Edward fell—King Edwin fell into a great silence. And while the king was so passive and intent, struggling in his soul what he should do—and his kingdom of Northumbria, the Angles, the English—one of his aged warriors arose, one of the sages of the kingdom, and said, “Around us lies the blackness of night.” Then he continued:
Athwart the room a sparrow
Darts from the open door:
Within the happy hearth-light
A flash—and then no more!
We see it come from darkness,
And into darkness go:—
So is our life, King Edwin!
Alas, that it is so!
But, but, if this pale Paulinus
Have somewhat more to tell;
Some news of Whence and Whither,
And where the soul may dwell:—
If on that outer darkness
The sun of hope may shine:—
He makes our life a heaven!—
I take his God for mine!
[adapted from “Edwin And Paulinus: the Conversion
of Northumbria,” Venerable Bede]
And that’s when the Angles became Christians; our forefathers in 620 [AD]. Oh, what a gospel, what a faith, what a hope, what a victory! Whether to live or to die, we’re the Lord’s. “For he that liveth and believeth in Me can never, never die” [John 11:26]. Just falling asleep in Jesus, if He tarries [1 Thessalonians 4:14]. O, precious and blessed Lord!
While we sing this hymn of appeal, somebody you, give his heart to Jesus today [Romans 10:9-10, 13]; a family you, to come into the fellowship of the church today; a couple you; or one somebody you, as the Spirit of our Savior shall knock at the door of your heart, as the Spirit of invitation and appeal shall plead and invite, make it today. What a glorious day to come. And if you are seated in the topmost row of this balcony round, there’s time and to spare in your coming; a stairway on either side at the front and back; make it now. Make it today [2 Corinthians 6:2]. On the first note of the first stanza, come. Come, come, while we stand and while we sing.