THE RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-14-68 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message, this Easter morning, entitled The Resurrection from the Dead. The reading of the passage from God’s Book is in the Book of Acts, chapter 26. It is a part of Paul’s defense before Festus, the procurator of Judea, and his guests, Herod Agrippa II, who is himself a Jew.
Now I begin reading Acts 26 at the first verse:
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself.
Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself:
I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews:
Especially because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews: wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently.
My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews;
Who knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.
And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers:
Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews.
Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?
And that is my text. "Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?" [Acts 26:8].
I suppose there is no more primary or central or cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith than the resurrection from the dead. It is peculiarly and uniquely Christian. No other faith and no other religion believes in the resurrection of the dead. They all practically believe in some kind of immortality. That was a common Greek philosophical conception; some kind of a spirit world beyond the River Styx, a shadowy limbo. But the only faith that has ever announced to the world the resurrection of the dead, this body, is this cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith. Nor has there ever been a doctrine that the heathen and pagan philosopher scoffed at and ridiculed more than the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead.
When Paul stood on the hill of Areopagus before the supreme court of the Athenians and preached the gospel, when he came to the resurrection of the dead, they laughed him to scorn. Such a thought in Greek philosophy was unthinkable and unimaginable! It was ridiculous, and the Greek Athenian philosophers, both the Stoics and the Epicureans, laughed when Paul preached the resurrection of the dead.
In this chapter out of which I have read this passage this morning, as Paul is defending his gospel, when finally he came to speak of Christ and the resurrection of the dead, Festus, who was seated there by King Agrippa, the Roman procurator of Judea, said – he broke into the message that Paul was delivering and said, "Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad" [Acts 26:24]. Paul, your mind is deranged and your intellectual processes are demented, such a thing as preaching a gospel of the resurrection from the dead. And Pliny, who was a contemporary of these days and a glorious Roman and man of letters, said, "God Himself could not raise the dead!"
Now, I submit to you that to defend the impossibility of the resurrection from the dead from appearance is very easy. There is a finality in death that all of us sense and all of us feel. We see it in the whole created world around us: everything dies, everything, everything. From the microbe to the man, everything dies. The trees die. The flowers die. Insects die. Birds die. Beasts die. Everything dies. The day dies. The seasons die. The years die. Everything dies. It may exist for a moment or for a millennium, but somewhere everything dies, and, of course, that includes the man that God made out of the dust of the ground. He dies. And there is no one of us that is not more sensitive to it than anything else we know or observe in life: death!
In the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, there is a phrase, "These all died," and he dismissed billions and billions of human beings in that phrase. "These all died." We all know the way, finally, to the cemetery. This last summer I visited the little town in which I grew up as a boy. I had not been there in forty-five years, but I knew the way to the cemetery and went out there to it; some of the most poignant memories of my childhood, the journey out there to the cemetery. Even God’s Son died. We all die. And apparently the grave holds its victim and forever. Shakespeare referred to it as that undiscovered bourn from which no traveler returns [Hamlet act 3 scene 1].
When we look at death, the grave seems to hold forever these that fall into its treacherous and darksome maw. I heard when I was a seminary student, I heard a teacher from Shanghai College, our Baptist College in Shanghai, I heard him describe before our group a class in Shanghai University. And he had gone to the blackboard and was writing there the students’ – those university students’ objections to the Christian faith, and he wrote them down one after the other, and their biggest objection to the Christian faith was this: they did not believe in the resurrection from the dead. And this teacher in Shanghai University said to his Chinese students, "Now, why do you not believe in the resurrection from the dead?"
And he said the most brilliant student in his class stood up and said, "Sir, because the dead do not rise again." And that seems very final, and from observable experience and from the phenomenon of life, that seems a positive conclusion: the dead do not live again. But there is another consideration, and a mighty one. "King Agrippa, why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?" [Acts 26:8]; that God should raise the dead. Now, if we are infidels and atheists and do not believe in God, that closes it. There’s nothing more to be said. That’s termen. That’s finis. That’s over. There’s not any hope, there’s not any star, there’s not any life, there’s not any future, and there’s not any purpose, and there’s not any meaning to life.
One of the young women in our church, one of the girls in our church fell in love with an atheist, an avowed atheist, one of these smart university students. And it distressed her heart that he was an atheist. So she brought him to me and said, "Pastor, please talk to him." So I spoke to the boy, one of these smart boys.
So I said to him, “What do you think is the future?"
"Death," he said.
"What do you think is your future?"
"What do you think is the future of this girl that you are going to marry?"
"What do you think is the future of your father and mother?"
"What do you think is the future for everybody?"
"What do you think is the future for all things?"
Why, I shivered as I asked him those questions one after another after another; after his mother, of his mother, of his father, of his wife, of his soul, of his home, of his children that might be born; everything! I felt the gloom and the despair; death. Well, if you don ‘t believe in God, there’s not anything but despair, and gloom, and the grave, and the night, and the dark, and death.
But there is, I am submitting today, there is another consideration, and a mighty one! My first pastorate out of the seminary was in a college town, and one of our deacons was the dean of the school and a professor in the state college. We call it a state university now. And upon a day, when I was there in his office at the college, he took down a book of science and turned to the end of it and said, "Young pastor, I want you to read this." And what was written was an addendum, an appendix. And this great scientist said at the conclusion of his book, he said, "I just want to write here a personal experience. All of my life as a scientist," he said, "I have not believed in God, and I have not believed in immortality, and I have not believed in a life beyond the grave. But," he said, "recently, my mother has died and my father has died." And he said, "I cannot explain it and I have no scientific defense for it, but somehow now I believe," he said, "that my mother and my father live somewhere. They are still in existence." That is the intuitive reasoning of God!
There is a knowledge that comes to us from our five senses. My eye or my touch or my feeling, my nose, my ears, they are knowledges that I know from my five senses. But there are also knowledges that come to me from spiritual intuition. And this is the highest and the finest knowledge. I am at my best when I am able to have communion with God. "King Agrippa, why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead, that we should live again?"
Why, the most stupendous, majestic, unbelievable miracle in the world is what you see around you: that God could create out of nothing the starry spheres, this planet so verdant emerald, and the flowers that bloom and grace its every day. God made this by fiat. He spoke it into existence. "King Agrippa, why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?" He who made us can remake us. He who created us can recreate us, though we fall into the grave.
Now I say this was what the heathen and the pagan philosopher scoffed at and scorned. For example, in the days of the first Christian century, over and over and over again, everywhere, throughout the length and breadth of the Roman Empire, the pagan and the heathen did this. In order to show their contempt for the Christian and his God, the resurrected Lord Jesus, they did this. They took the bodies of the Christians, most of them martyred, they took the bodies of the Christians and burned them.
Now, the Christian never did that. The heathen burned the body. The pagan burned the body. But the Christian carefully sought to lay his dead away. That’s why you have the catacombs under the city of Rome. The Romans burned the body, but the Christians lovingly laid their dead away and buried them in those secret places, in those caverns they dug underneath the city.
So the pagan Roman and the heathen Greek took the Christian when he martyred him, and he burned the body, then scattered the ashes to the winds; flung them up and let the wind blow them to the ends of the earth, and then laughed as he said, "The resurrection of the body, the resurrection of the dead? Look at these ashes," and he threw them up and the wind blew them away. I don’t understand the thinking of a man – as though God could not recollect them, as though it were a trouble and a burden to God to reassemble these parts of the human frame. As though God were the God of the stars and the God of the majestic universe, but He’s not also the God of the little and the infinite. I don’t understand the thinking of a man’s mind.
When I was down there in the Amazon jungle I saw butterflies, enormous butterflies. And being intrigued by them, I read about them, and one of the things that I read was this: that there are forty-five million brilliantly tinted scales to the square inch in some of those gloriously colored and beautiful butterflies. Why, I can’t imagine such a thing. God, who is our Maker and Creator, God with such infinite detail, God makes forty-five million brilliant little tinted scales to the square inch in that butterfly’s wings.
Did you ever look at paint under a microscope? I did one time. I don’t care how thick or how fine it is, it looks like blobs under a microscope. Then I looked at a butterfly’s gauzy wing under a microscope. I don’t care how powerful that microscope, those beautiful colors will be beautifully and symmetrically and evenly spread. That’s God of the finite!
"Yeah, but a fish ate us up or an oak put a root down through our physical frame." I know, but God marks out dust. There is an element that is forever me, me, and God knows it, and God will gather it together someday, some infinitely glorious and triumphant day. "King Agrippa, why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?" If the Lord could care for such small things as the coloring of a butterfly’s wings, shall He not also be able to care for the dust of me that turns back into the earth?
Now I want to conclude, and it is an avowal that to me is paramount. It is this: the persuasion of a resurrection from the dead is inevitable in the Christian faith if you believe in God. I say it is inevitable. You can’t believe in God, and you can’t believe in Christ, and not come to that deep, everlasting persuasion that God shall raise the dead.
Look, look: Jesus said, "Abraham saw My day, and he saw it and was glad" [John 8:56]. Do you ever think back through the life of Abraham? When was it that Abraham saw Jesus’ day, and he saw it and was glad? Now, this is a speculation on my part – the Bible doesn’t say this – but as I look through the life of Abraham, this is when I think it happened.
God told Abraham, in order to try him, to take his only son, his only begotten son, the son that he loved, the son in whom all the seed and blessing of Abraham should be called, to take his only son and offer him as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah. And when, on the third day, they came to Mount Moriah, the old patriarch built the altar and laid on it the wood and bound his boy, Isaac, and laid the lad on the altar.
And the Book of Hebrews said that when Abraham raised the knife to plunge it into the bloodstream of the boy and pour out the crimson of his life down the sides of that altar, the Book of Hebrews says that Abraham believed that God would raise him from the dead, that God would raise him from the dead [Hebrews 11:9], and it was then that the angel called to Abraham and said, "Stay thy hand" [Genesis 22:12]. And he saw the ram caught in the thicket and substituted the ram for the lad. That’s when I think he saw Jesus’ day and was glad, believing that God would raise him from the dead. We all come to that place in our life before God. We believe intuitively somehow, some way, that there is meaning and purpose beyond this brief, temporal existence and the grave into which we fall.
Ah, beyond the world of sense and taste and touch and sight, beyond this world, there is another world, a vast world, and it is as real; the sky is so big and God is so great. And it’s into that world that we enter where God is. And the power of the Lord is felt. And Jesus is able to raise us from the dead.
I want to read you a little note, a little note. If you are conversant at all with Baptist history or Baptist preachers, you have stumbled many times into the great English London Baptist preacher named F.B. Meyer. F.B. Meyer wrote many books; one of the saintliest men of all time. F.B. Meyer is the one who said, "When Spurgeon was only ninteen years old, when Spurgeon came to London, he was like a meteor in the sky. The whole world knew of Charles Haddon Spurgeon overnight. Thousands and thousands pressed to hear him. He finally went to Exeter Hall that would seat thousands, and still the people could not fit in. It was an amazing phenomenon when Spurgeon, nineteen years old, came to London."
Well, F.B. Meyer is the one that said when he saw the throngs and the crowds waiting on that young minister, envy and jealousy entered his heart. And F.B. Meyer is the one that said he got down on his knees and said, "Lord, that’s not right. That’s not right for me to be envious and jealous of this young minister who preaches the gospel of the grace of the Son of God. Lord, that’s not right. Now, Master, I want to pray for him and love him."
And F.B. Meyer is the one who said, "And the day came when every one of Spurgeon’s triumphs seemed to me as though God had given it to me myself because I had prayed for him and loved him." Well, this is the man, F.B. Meyer, and I want you to look at a little note. After a long and gracious life, he was told that he could not live; just suddenly, he was to die.
And a day or two before he died, he wrote this letter:
I have just heard to my surprise that I have only a day or two to live. It may be before this reaches you I shall have entered the palace. Don’t trouble to write. We shall meet in the morning.
With much love, yours affectionately,
"Don’t trouble to write. I’ll see you in the morning." That is the Christian faith. To us it is credible, it is reasonable, it is of God that though we die we shall live again; that there is meaning and purpose in this life; its reverberations are beyond the grave and its ultimate triumph is not here but beyond the skies. This makes the Christian a singer of songs and a glorious paean of praise, whatever any day or any future may hold. There’s life and light and glory for the child of God now in the day, and then face to face.
We sing our song of appeal, and as we sing it, a family you, to put your life with us in this dear church, you come. A couple you, "Here I am, pastor, today; I make it now," or one somebody you, "I give my heart to God, I give you my hand, and here I come." On that last topmost row in the balcony, somebody you, there is a stairway on either side at the front and at the back, and there is time and to spare; come, come. The throng, the press on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, come, what a glorious day and what a glorious hour to respond. "God speaks to my heart. I know God lives, and I trust Him in Jesus, and here I come." On the first note of the first stanza, come. Make the decision now. Make it now, and when you stand up in a moment, stand up coming. That first step is the greatest step you’ll ever make in your life, and God will attend you in the way. Come, come, come, while we stand and while we sing.
THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Paul’s question to Agrippa(Acts 26:8)
B. Resurrection of the dead a cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith
1. None more viciously attacked (Acts 17:18, 31-32, 26:24)
2. Unique to the Christian faith
II. The finality of death
A. A world of death
1. Every creature, lowest to highest
2. Man(Hebrews 11:13, Genesis 5)
a. Enoch and Elijah(Revelation 11, 1 Corinthians 15:50-52)
B. It seems the grave holds its prey forever
III. Resurrection not incredible to a man who believes in God
A. There is a world beyond our five senses
B. If you don’t believe in God, there is nothing else to be said
1. Young infidel – "Nothing lies ahead but death"
C. There is an intuitive knowledge from God
1. Skeptic scientist loses his parents
D. The great miracle of creation(Genesis 1:1-31)
1. Same Lord God Creator can re-create and remake us
E. Pagan and heathen philosophers scorned and ridiculed this doctrine
1. Romans burned Christians’ bodies; in derision scattered their ashes
2. But the God of the infinitude is the God of the infinitesimal
IV. Resurrection is inevitable following faith in Christ
A. Abraham offering up Isaac(John 8:56, Hebrews 11:17-19, Genesis 22:2, 6-11, 13)