THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-18-65 10:50 a.m.
You who listen on the radio and who are watching on television 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. In the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John:
Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.
But I know, that even now, whatsoever Thou wilt ask of God, God will give it Thee.
Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.
Martha saith unto Him, I know that he shall 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 whosever liveth and believeth in Me shall never, never, never die.
When we came to this passage in our Greek lesson, the illustrious and gifted professor said, “These are the most profound and meaningful words ever uttered by human lips.” “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life” [John 11:25].
On the Mount of Transfiguration, Moses spoke to Jesus, and Elijah spoke to Jesus about His death which He should accomplish in Jerusalem [Luke 9:28-31]. And Moses spake to our Lord about the resurrection, for Moses is to be raised from the dead [Deuteronomy 34:5-6, Daniel 12:1-2]. And as a representative of all of those who sleep in the dust of the ground, Moses spake to the Lord about the resurrection; Elijah spake to the Lord about the life that shall never see death [Luke 9:30-31]. Elijah himself was translated [2 Kings 2:11]. He was raptured. He never saw mortality, corruption, or decay. And Elijah represents those who shall be in this earth when the Lord descends from heaven––these who shall be changed immediately, in the twinkling of an eye at the last trump, when the trumpet shall sound and all of God’s people shall be changed [1 Corinthians 15:51-52]––Moses and Elijah, the resurrection and the life [John 11:25].
The apostle Paul spake of that in the incomparably glorious resurrection chapter, the fifteenth of 1 Corinthians: “O Grave, where is thy victory?” [1 Corinthians 15:55] This is the cry of those who shall be raised from the dead. “O Grave, where is thy victory? O Death, where is thy sting?” [1 Corinthians 15:55] This shall be the cry of those who shall never taste of death, who are raptured, who are taken to glory and transformed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye [1 Corinthians 15:52]. This is the cry of those who shall see Jesus when He comes back to the earth [John 14:13]––all of it in our Lord, the resurrected, these that are raised from the dust of the ground, the raptured, these who shall be here, who shall never taste of death when the Lord comes again [1 Thessalonians 4:15-17]. “I am the resurrection, and the life” [John 11:25].
There has been no people, no generation, there has been no human family, there has been no tribe, or clan, or tongue, or language under the sun, there has never been a people who did not find in their souls a persuasion inescapable, inwoven in the very mesh of life itself, that somewhere, somehow there is a better world beyond the grave. There is an immortality beyond this sorrow, and separation, and bereavement.
For centuries men looked into those Egyptian tombs and found there books and inscriptions made in the strangest patterns and with the strangest hieroglyphics. What those books said, nobody knew. What those inscriptions referred to, nobody knew. But upon a day in the latter part of the seventeen hundreds, there was discovered the Rosette stone. And it was a key to those hieroglyphics. And when we read the books of the ancient Egyptians and the inscriptions they placed upon their sarcophagi and their tombs, what they said was the hope of a life that is yet to come. And those books described that better world into which these who had died had ultimately gone.
In like manner for centuries, men looked upon those strange wedge-shaped characters called cuneiform writing and inscriptions. Books, tablets, the Behistun Rock on the side of a great mountain, those unusual cuneiform writings, what did they say and to what did they refer? And when finally the secret of that ancient language was unlocked, those people were speaking of, and dreaming of, and looking forward to some better day, some sweeter life beyond the grave.
The Gaelic warrior was buried with his armor. He would need it in the land beyond the river. And the painted American Indian was buried with his bow and his arrow to be used in the happy hunting ground on the other side of the great divide. Nor has there ever been a language, nor has there ever been a people––however degraded, whether in Central Africa, or the most degraded of all of the families that have ever lived on the face of the earth, the Patagonians, and the Tierra del Fuegan’s down on at the tip of South America––wherever men have lived, however degradation, they have entertained in their souls the hope of a better life to come. Nor have we been able to escape it in our finest scientific training and culture. I could not help but notice the prayer of Dr. Stony Cotton. However the scientist may learn and however he may persuade himself, there still is that lingering persuasion, that hope, that something that lies beyond the grave.
In my first pastorate out of the seminary, in the little city in which I was called to be undershepherd, there was a state college. And the dean of the college was a faithful deacon in our church. And upon a day in his office he said, “Pastor, look at this.” And he had in his hands the newest publication of one of the greatest scientific authorities in his field. And the dean turned to the last chapter and said, “Pastor read these words.” And what those words were, were this: The scientist had said, “All of my life, all of my life, in my studies, and in my thinking, I have repudiated the idea of immortality and a life beyond the grave. But,” he said, “in these recent days, my mother has died and my father has died, and,” he said, “I cannot explain it, and I have no reason for it, but somehow I believe in my heart that they live, my father and my mother, somewhere, somehow.” That is the human soul. That is the image of God; a flame, a burning, a hoping, a longing that never, ever dies. And that same wondering has been the experience of every human life, all of us alike.
When I was a very small boy, the pastor of our church died and left his little family in that small community. It was such a wonderment to me. In about the first year of grade school, a little playmate, a little girl died. Her funeral service was the first one I ever attended. And I can feel to this moment, the wonderment and astonishment as I filed by with the rest of those people in that little church and looked upon the silent form of that little girl who sat in the desk across the aisle. And when I began my first ministry as a teenage boy, and the pastor of God’s little country churches; living with the people; identified with their hopes, and loves, and dreams; that amazing responsibility of laying aside our beloved dead, the breaking up of a home and a family, crushed my heart then and to this present day. Death, the grave, and the astonishing wonderment that carries like a sword, piercing our very souls.
The old imagery and insignia of the disillusion and decay of our bodies was fierce, and terrible, and awesome. It was the River Styx, dark, and black, and sullen, and swollen. Or it was the shades of Sheol, an impenetrable blackness and darkness into which no man could enter, the undiscovered bourne from which no man returned. Or the sign of the presence of death was a darkened house. And the shades drawn low when the silver cord is loosed, or the golden bowl is broken [Ecclesiastes 12:6]. Or it was the sign of a skull and a crossbones. Or it was a black, black hearse that I saw and followed in the days of my childhood, so black and so dark. Or it was the robes of darkness decorated with plumes plucked from the wings of gloom. This was the insignia of death, and corruption, and decay in an ancient day and a long ago world.
Look, look, look! When the ministry of our Lord was introduced in Galilee [Matthew 4:14-16] that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet saying:
Land of Zebulun, and 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 shadow of death, light is sprung up.
And in the incomparable message preached by the apostle Paul:
There is now manifest the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death, who hath destroyed death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
[2 Timothy 1:10]
The profoundest words in human speech: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, though he die, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me can never, never, ever die, never” [John 11:25-26]. This is a new insignia of death. This is the new hope beyond the grave. One: Easter, the sunrise, the flowers, the sweet message of announcement from an angel, the preaching of the gospel of the grace of the Son of God, this is the Christian faith, Easter, Easter. Heaven, heaven, the glory, and the light, and the beauty, and the immortality, and the grace, and the presence of our living Lord:
What eye hath never seen, and what ear hath never heard, what the heart of man has never imagined, what God hath prepared for those who love Him—heaven, heaven.
[1 Corinthians 2:9]
Because of just that exact time, you see, mother had just written me a letter, and she said in that letter, “Your father has reached an age where he can no longer work. He has sold the shop and our home is for sale. And we’re going to retire and move to California.” That Sunday in our church, an artist drew a picture with chalk while somebody sang a song about glory. And the picture the artist drew was this: there was a home to the side and in the yard on a stake a sign saying, “For sale.” There was a road by the side of the home going up to the top of the hill. And looking into the sunset at the top of the hill was an aged man and an aged woman facing the sunset together. Then the artist drew in the sky a picture of heaven––its balustrades, its turrets, its walls of jasper, its mansions of glory.
Oh, is this what God in Christ hath done for us? Death is no longer dying. The grave is no longer corruption and disillusion, but this is the door into heaven. This is the gate into glory. Death now is a home going, a being with Jesus.
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 father land,
Heaven is my home.
[“I Am But a Stranger Here,” Thomas R. Taylor]
This did Jesus do for us on Easter. And this is our greatest triumph, our final and finest hour.
For the time has come for me to be offered up, and the time of my departure is at hand.
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
Henceforth, henceforth, here after beyond this martyrdom, there remains for me a reward, a crown of righteousness, which the Lord shall give unto me in that day: and not to me only, but to all them also that love His appearing.
[2 Timothy 4:6-8]
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 immortal home.
O bear me away on your snowy wings, to my immortal home.
[“My Latest Sun Is Sinking Fast,” Jefferson Haskell]
This is the resurrection, and the life [John 11:25]. It is a new world, a new world. “Behold,” He said that sits upon the throne, “behold, I make all things new, all things new” [Revelation 21:5]. A new heaven and a new earth, “I make all things new” [Revelation 21:1,5].
In this life and in this earth, we know age, and sorrow, and death. But over there on the other side of the river, there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for these things are all passed away [Revelation 21:4]. In this life, we know the burning of fever and the chill of a winter’s blast; there is the soul’s summer land. In this life we live in a house made of clay; there in a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens [2 Corinthians 5:1].
Sometimes here we live in a hut; there in a mansion [John 14:2-3]. Here in this life may be poverty, in a slum, or a ghetto in a great city; there in the New Jerusalem [Revelation 21:2-3], walking on streets of gold, entering through gates of pearl [Revelation 21:21]. Here our understanding and our reason is a spark; there it is a flame. Here our finest praise is but as a note; there shall it swell into a glorious symphony [Revelation 15:3]. Here we feed on a crust; there shall we sit at the banquet table of the Lord [Revelation 19:7-9]. Here the tree bears fruit once in the year; there every month, and the leaves are for the healing of the people [Revelation 22:2]. Here we drink at a broken cistern; there shall we drink at the fountain of the river of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb [Revelation 22:1]. “I am the resurrection, and the life” [John 11:25]; what Jesus hath wrought for us.
And that’s why in the generations and the generations past of our people, we became Christians––Christians, people of the resurrection, of the sunrise, of the glory of the presence of God. It came about this way. Anglia, in our modern language, ancient Anglia became England, Anglia, England. And the Angles had a great kingdom in the British Isles named Northumbria. And Venerable Bede, the first English historian, wrote the story of the conversion of our ancestors in about 620 AD. Venerable Bede, the historian himself was a Northumbrian, an Anglican. And the event he described happened about fifty years before his birth. And there is not a more eloquent passage in all history or literature than Venerable Bede’s description of the council table around which sat the warriors of King Edwin and before which stood Paulinus, the preacher of the gospel of Jesus seeking to persuade King Edwin and his Northumbrian warriors to turn and accept Jesus and the Christian faith. And as the council meeting progressed, and as the speeches were made, all so vividly delineated by the Venerable Bede, finally under the pleading of the preacher Paulinus, King Edwin fell into a great silence, the war of decision in his soul.
And while King Edwin, the King of Northumbria sat in silence with his warriors around the council table, there slowly rose one of his finest warrior sages, a man of many years. And he says, “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 will dwell.
If on that outer darkness the Son of hope may shine
He makes our life a heaven. I take his God for mine.
[“Edwin and Paulinus,” author unknown]
And King Edwin rose, and his warriors arose, and in confession and in faith, they gave themselves that venerable day to the Christian faith, the resurrection and the life of our Lord Jesus Christ [John 11:25]. And that’s why our ancestors were Christians.
Oh, what a message! What a gospel. What a glory. What a hope. What a promise. What a victory. What a heaven. “Thy brother shall live again. Yes, I know, in the resurrection at the last day. Nay; I am the resurrection, and the life; he that liveth and believeth in Me, though he die, shall never taste of death” [John 11:23-26]. Death becomes just an open door in the love and mercy of Jesus, to the glories God hath prepared for those who love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9].
And while we sing our hymn of appeal this morning, somebody you, give himself to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13]. A family you, to come into the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:24-25]; a child, a youth, a couple, one somebody; when we stand to sing this appeal, on the first note of that first stanza, you come. “Here, pastor, I give you my hand. I give my heart in trust and faith to Jesus” [Ephesians 2:8]. Or, “Pastor, this is my wife, these are our children. All of us are coming today.” As the Spirit of the Lord shall press the appeal to your heart, as God shall open the door, make it now, make it this morning. In the vast host in this balcony, there’s a stairway at the front and the back on either side, and time and to spare; come, come. As God shall make the appeal to your heart, answer, “Lord, here I am. Here I come.” Make it now. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.