THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-14-68 10:50 a.m.
On Channel 11 television and on KIXL radio, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message on this glorious Easter day entitled The Resurrection of the Body; this body. Reading from the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts, Acts chapter 26, Paul has been arrested in Jerusalem [Acts 21:33], has been brought down to Caesarea which was the Roman capital of the province of Judea [Acts 23:23-33]. Festus is the procurator of the Roman province, and he has as his guest, Herod Agrippa II, a king, a Jew [Acts 25:13]. And Agrippa expressed an interest in hearing this unusual man named Paul, who preached such an unusual gospel [Acts 25:22-23]. So Paul is brought in the Praetorium and standing there before Festus the procurator, and Agrippa the king, he is ready to speak [Acts 25:24-27]. Then the chapter follows:
And 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 the 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 also knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.
But 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, “O King Agrippa, why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?” [Acts 26:8]. Agrippa was a Jew. Agrippa believed the Holy Scriptures. Agrippa was a child of the chosen family of God. So Paul framed that question, “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?”
There are many cardinal, primary, central doctrines of the Christian faith, but none is more cardinal than this doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. Nor has there been an article in the Christian faith that has been more ridiculed or more scoffed at by pagan and heathen philosophers than by this Christian doctrine of the resurrection of this body. All of your philosophers for the most part, especially Greek philosophers, believe in an immortality of some kind beyond the River Styx, some shadowy limbo in which there is some kind of a spirit world, but no one of them, no one of them believe in the resurrection of the dead.
And least of all is it an article in any other religion. There are many religious faiths that believe in some kind of an immortality. We are going to be swallowed up, as a Buddhist might say, in some impersonal nirvana. There is something beyond. But the peculiar and unique doctrine of the Christian faith is this; that we believe in the resurrection of the dead [1 Corinthians 15:19-20; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17].
Now I say there is no article of the faith that has been more scornfully ridiculed and rejected by pagan and heathen philosophers than this cardinal doctrine that we preach, the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. You have a fine illustration of that in the apostle Paul as he stood before the Areopagus, the highest court of the Athenians [Acts 17:19]. And he came preaching strange gods. He preached a duet, they thought, a pair, Iēsous, which is male and anastasis, which is, they thought, female. Iēsous is masculine gender, and anastasis is feminine gender in the Greek language.
So when Paul was in the agora, he was preaching Iēsous and anastasis [Acts 17:17-18]. And they thought, well of all the strange pairs of gods, we’ve got Venus and Adonis, and we’ve got Jupiter and Juno, but whoever heard of Iēsous and anastasis? So they took Paul up to their highest court in order to judge him regarding these two strange deities [Acts 17:18]. But as Paul preached the gospel, Iēsous, Jesus, was the incarnate God from heaven who came down to walk among men [Acts 17:22-30]. And when he preached anastasis, the resurrection from the dead, those Epicurean and Stoic philosophers cried, “Ha, ha, ha, ha! Who ever heard such an inane, unthinkable—unimaginable to an intelligent mind—who ever heard of a doctrine like that? The resurrection of the dead?” And they laughed at him [Acts 17:31-32].
You have the same thing in the continuation of this story that I’ve just read in the Book of Acts. As Paul stands before Festus who is a Roman, and before Agrippa who is a Jew [Acts 25:22-23, 26:1]; and when he finally in his message comes down to preach the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead [Acts 26:8-23], Festus cried out with a loud voice and said, “Paul, thou art beside thyself: much learning doth make thee mad!” [Acts 26: 24]. It would be a demented mind, according to Festus the Roman, to stand before an intelligent group and speak of the resurrection of the body [Acts 26:24].
Pliny, one of the noblest of Romans, the great man of letters who is practically a contemporary with these men in the New Testament, Pliny said, “Even God could not raise the dead.” Now, it would not take much from any one of us, looking at appearances, to defend the idea of the finality of death. It is everywhere. Death is everywhere. Everything dies!
Big, little, the microbe and the man, the trees die, the flowers die, the birds die, the beasts die, the insects die, the day dies, the years dies, the seasons die, even the stars flicker and burn out and die. Whether the life or the existence is for a moment or for a millennium, everything dies. And how true poignantly is that of the human family. In the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, there is a phrase, “These all died” [Hebrews 11:13]. And with that simple phrase, the author dismissed billions, and billions, and billions of our humankind. We all die.
Finally we all know the way to the cemetery. Last summer for the first time in forty-five years, I went back to the little town where I grew up as a boy. And I went to the cemetery. I knew the way. I remembered it exactly. Some of the burning things that are in my soul and heart, I remembered on the way to that cemetery. Even God’s Son died [Matthew 27:45-50]. We all die. We may invent bomb shelters to protect us from the radiation of atomic fission, but there will be no bomb shelter invented to protect us from death.
One of the strange things that I read so often in the Revelation, as I study the Word of God; so ingrained is it in the human theologian and in the experience of life that we should all die, that those two unnamed witnesses in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Revelation [Revelation 11:3-12], many of these philosophers and theologians say that that must be Enoch [Genesis 5:24], and Elijah [2 Kings 2:11], because they were translated to heaven without dying, and it is appointed unto men once to die [Hebrews 9:27], and they will be brought back to die!
Well, I don’t believe that. I think there is a generation that will never die, Ms. White. I think there is a whole generation that will be alive when Jesus comes. And we will be translated. We will be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead in Christ shall rise, and we who are alive, and we shall all be changed [1 Corinthians 15:50-52].
But I am just illustrating that, in these theologians who love God, so deep is that ingrained in their experience and in their study that they believe these two who are translated will be brought back in order that they might die [Genesis 5:24; 2 Kings 2:11; Revelation 11:;3-12]. Well, from all appearances, there is a finality in the grave that is eternal and everlasting; dead, dead, as Shakespeare said “that undiscovered bourne from which no traveler returns.” Dead.
When I was a student in the seminary, there came back from China a professor in the University of Shanghai. It was a Baptist school and a great one. And I remember before us, a group of students, he was talking about presenting the claims of Christ and the gospel message of Jesus before his class of Chinese students. So he said he went to the blackboard, and he took a chalk in his hand, and said to the young men in his class, “Now, I want you to name me the reasons why you don’t accept the Christian faith.”
So they were naming it. He was writing them down. And one of the first ones was “We don’t believe in the resurrection of the dead.” So the professor said, “I wrote that down. We don’t believe in the resurrection of the dead.” Then he turned to the young and brilliant student in his class who had given that objection and said to him, “Why don’t you believe in the resurrection of the dead?” And the young student said, “Sir, because dead men don’t rise again. Dead people don’t live again.
There is a finality in the grave that in all appearances writes finis, furte—over, “roger”—on every life. That is, that is, that is if all that there is to life is what my five senses, what I can touch, or what I can taste, or what I can see, what I can hear, what I can smell, if all there is to life is what I can know from my five senses, there is a finality in death that is all pervasive and everlasting. That’s correct.
But, but there is another and a mighty consideration! “King Agrippa, why should it be thought a thing incredible to you, that God should raise the dead?” [Acts 26:8]. There is a world beyond the world of my five senses. This whole physical earth is margined by a vast and greater world around it and beyond it; the great infinitude of God above me and beyond me.
I remember when I was in Baylor, Dr. White, I was president of the Sigma Tau Delta down there; that’s the English fraternity, I majored in English. I would love to be an English teacher, teach English literature. Well, while we were there, we presented to the university Edna St. Vincent Millay, an American poetess. She wrote one of the great poems of all time, one of the great poems in the English language, “Renascence,” you’ve all read it. Well in her presentation that evening, Ms. Millay said for us, quoted that poem. And do you remember the last stanza in it?
The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky—
No higher than the soul is high.
The heart can push the sea and land
Farther away on either hand;
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through.
But East and West will pinch the heart
That cannot keep them pushed apart;
And he whose soul is flat the sky
Will cave in on him by and by.
[“Renascence,” Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1917]
If all of our world is the world that we can sense, that we can touch, that we can see, that we can hear, that we can put in test tubes and reduce to formulae, if that is all there is in the world, the very sky will fall on us, and east and west will crush our souls and our hearts. But there is another and a mighty consideration. “Why should it be thought a thing incredible to you, that God should raise the dead?” God [Acts 26:8].
Now if we do not believe in God, there is nothing else to be said; nothing, nothing! There’s no star, there’s no hope, there’s no dream, there’s no vision; there’s no life. There’s no purpose and no meaning if there is no God; nothing more to be said, that’s it.
One of the young women here in this church fell in love with an atheist, one of these smart boys at one of our universities here in Texas. Ah, she was so distressed. She was a devout young woman here in this church, and she had fallen in love with an atheist. Of all the shallow people you’ll ever talk to in your life, you’ll never talk to a shallower one than one of these smart boys at one of these universities who is an atheist. Well anyway, she brought him to me, sat him down, and said, “Now he’s an atheist. I want you to talk to him.” Well, it’s like talking to a pygmy. It’s like talking to an adolescent, like talking to a nitwit; their world is about that big and getting littler all the time. So for her sake, why, I sat there and I talked to him—smart boy, real smart—so I say to him, “Son, you tell me you’re an atheist?”
“Yes, yes, learnedly, I’m an atheist.”
Well, I said, “That’s very interesting. What do you think happens to your mother?”
“Well, she’s going to die.”
“Well, what else?”
“Nothing else,” he said. “My mother, she’s going to die. That’s the end, death.”
Well, I said, “Do you have a wonderful mother?”
“Yes, I have a great, fine mother.”
“And what’s the end for your mother?”
“Death, death, death.”
Well, I said to him, “Do you have a fine father?”
“Yes, fine father.”
Well, I said, “What lies ahead for him?”
“Death, nothing but death, death.”
I said, “You’ve fallen in love here with a precious girl here you’re going to marry. What lies ahead for her?”
“Death, death, death.”
Well, I said, “You may have some darling children someday and what lies ahead for them?”
Well, I said, “You’re a fine and intelligent boy going to one of our universities. What lies ahead for you?”
“Death. Death, death.”
And I say, “The world?”
“And all that we know?”
“And all the purpose, and dreams, and hopes, and loves?”
Oh, it chills your soul! It chills your heart, “Death, death, death.” The sky has fallen in on him. And the very points of the compass have squeezed his soul, “Death!”
There is a knowledge and a superior one. There is a knowledge and a heavenly one that is above empirical, experiential knowledge. It is the intuitive knowledge that God gives the human soul. It comes from above, not from touch, or taste, or sense, or sight, or hearing, but from God! There is an intuitive knowledge. The great knowledge is spiritual and heavenly and intuitive!
My first pastorate out of the seminary was in a college town. And the dean of the college—it is an university now—and the dean of the college was one of my deacons. And upon a day when I was in his office at the school, he pulls out a book and said, “Young pastor, I want you to look at this.” He had a book of science there on his shelf, and he turned to the last pages of that book, and the author, who was a great scientist, the author had written an addendum, an appendix. And I never read anything like that in a book of science. What the author, the scientist, had written was this, he said:
I want to give my personal testimony before I close this book. He said, All of my life as a scientist, I have been a secularist and a materialist. I haven’t believed in God, and I haven’t believed in the resurrection, and I haven’t believed in heaven, and I haven’t believed in the life beyond the grave. All of my life I have been a materialist.
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 scientific defense for it, but, he said somehow I believe that somewhere my mother and my father still live.
That is what I mean when I refer to the intuitive knowledge! There is a wisdom from above that is heavenly. There is a knowledge that comes from God. And in my finest moment, this is the spiritual knowledge that I sense, and that I grasp, and that I see, and that I believe, and that I accept.
“King Agrippa, why should it be thought a thing incredible to you, that God should raise the dead?” [Acts 26:8], you, who believe in God.” Why, look around you. The most stupendous, incomparable miracle that mind could imagine is just what you see around you with your naked eye. God did it by fiat. He created it out of nothing. He spoke and all existence came into being [Genesis 1:1-31]. The starry orbs, the Milky Way, this planet of earth clothed with its emerald and dotted with beautiful flowers and every glorious thing, God did that. “King Agrippa, why should it be thought incredible to you, that God should raise the dead, if you believe in God, King Agrippa?” [Acts 26:8]. The same Lord God who created this vast infinitude around us is the same Lord God that can re-create and remake us [Romans 8:11].
And I say it was that doctrine that the pagan and heathen philosophers scorned and ridiculed and laughed at [Acts 17:31-32]. Here is what they did: most of those Christians who died back yonder in that first century were martyrs. And in order to show their contempt for the Christian faith, the Romans took the bodies of the Christian dead and burned them. That was their way of disposing of their dead anyway. They cremated the body. That’s why under Rome you have those hundreds and hundreds of miles of catacombs. The Christian did not burn his dead. He lovingly laid his dead away. And in order to do it, he had to do it clandestinely and secretly. So they dug those vast caverns under the city of Rome. And there they laid their dead away.
But the pagans burned the body, so they took the body of their Christians that they had slain and burned them! And then to scoff at the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, they took the ashes and flung them up before the wind. And the wind scattered them to the four corners of the earth. And the pagan philosopher laughed, “Ha, ha, ha! The resurrection of the dead? Look!” and took the ashes of a Christian martyr and flung them to the wind. You see? God could not recollect it. You see, it was to be a trouble and a burden to God to reassemble that body that had been flung to the wind, and the pagan philosopher laughed as he saw the wind blow it away.
“Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?” [Acts 26:8]. As though God were not also the great Lord God of the little and the infinitesimal and the small; even the atoms and the molecules that make up this human frame. When I was down there—I’m illustrating how God is the God of the minute and the infinitesimal as well as the God of the stars, and how God pays attention to little tiny molecular things, God—when I was down there in the Amazon jungle, they brought to me some gloriously beautiful butterflies. We have them, not that large, but we have them in some places in America, gloriously beautiful butterflies. But when I saw those mammoth moths down there, I began reading about them. And here’s one of the sentences that I read “that to each square inch of that butterfly’s wings there are 42 million separate, tiny brilliantly colored hues”; God, God in the minutiae, in the little and the tiny; God!
Take an insect, alive for a moment, and color it with 42 million to the square inch tiny depths of brilliant hue. Let me tell you what you do sometime. Look at paint underneath a microscope, any paint. Just look at it. And under a microscope, it will look like blobs, blobs, blobs; the ugliest blobs you ever saw, the finest paint that a man can manufacture. All right, Then I want you to do something else. I want you to take a butterfly’s wing and look at it under a microscope, look at it. I don’t care how high powered that microscope, as you look at the gauzy colors of that glorious wing, it will be symmetrical and beautiful side to side, top to its depth—that’s God! Those little particles!
“Yeah, preacher, but what if a big fish eats me up?”
“Yeah, preacher, but what if a giant oak tree put its roots down through this human frame?”
I know, but there is a dust that is forever me. If I should die, think only this of me; that in some corner of a fallen land, in that rich earth there is a richer dust concealed, and God marks it. The God of those little molecules and the God of those little particles; God sees it and God marks it. Why, I change every day now as these cellular structures change, die, and are born again. But there is something of me that God knows. And when I die and turn back to the dust, there is something of me that is buried in the heart of this earth. And God marks it. And someday God shall speak life and I, this body, shall live again [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].
I must hastily close. The persuasion, the belief of the resurrection of the dead, this body, is inevitable to faith in God. It just is. It just is. If you believe in God, “King Agrippa, why should it be thought incredible to believe, that God should raise the dead?” [Acts 26:8]. If you believe in God, faith in the resurrection of the body is inevitable; it is [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. We are told in the Book that the Lord said, “Abraham saw My day: and he saw it, and was glad” [John 8:56]. When did Abraham see Christ’s day and rejoice? Now this is speculation, but I think it was at that time when God was trying Abraham and said to him, “Take your only begotten son, Isaac” [Genesis 22:1-2], in whom the Lord said the seed and the blessing of all the families of the earth would be called [Genesis 21:12], “Take Isaac thy son, thy only son, and on a mount that I will show thee, three days journey distance called Mount Moriah, there offer him as a sacrifice unto heaven, unto God” [Genesis 22:1-2]. And Abraham took his boy, Isaac, three days journey unto Mount Moriah and there built his altar out of uncut stones, and placed the wood on the top of the altar, and bound his boy, and laid Isaac as a sacrifice according to the trial of God [Genesis 22:3-9]. And the Book of Hebrew says that when Abraham raised his knife to plunge it into the heart of the boy, the Book of Hebrew says that Abraham—believing still that God would keep His promise that in Isaac should his seed be called [Genesis 21:12], and in Isaac should all the families of the earth be blessed [Genesis 12:3]—that Abraham accounted God able to raise him from the dead [Hebrews 11:17-19].
Though he plunged that knife into his heart, though the boy perish on an altar of sacrifice, accounting that God was able to raise him from the dead; I say that is the time when the angel called to Abraham and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” [Genesis 22:11-12]. And God showed him a ram caught in a thicket [Genesis 22:13]. And there was a substitutionary sacrifice, as Jesus for us [2 Corinthians 5:21]; that’s when Abraham saw Jesus’ day, and he saw it, and was glad [John 8:56]. We never rise to a higher faith than when we rise to that intuitive knowledge from heaven, “If I die, I shall live again [Job 14:14, 19:25-26]. And if I lay my beloved in the heart of the earth, God is able even to raise them from the dead” [John 11:24-26]. It will not be some shadowy spirit that enters the glorious gates of heaven, it will be you, you; it will be I, me, it will be we, us. This is the blessedness and the preciousness of the Christian faith. And we are celebrating it this Easter day and every Sunday, every Lord’s Day is a resurrection day for God’s people.
We sing our song, and while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, one somebody you, to give your heart to Jesus or to put your life in the circle and the circumference of this precious church, would you come and stand by me? If you’re on the back top row of that farthest balcony, there is time and to spare. There’s a stairway on either side at the front and the back, come. As God shall say the word and as the Spirit shall lead in the way, come now, on the first note of the first stanza, come. Where you are seated now, decide for Christ, “I am coming.” And the first step you make will be the greatest step in your life. God will attend you, the angels will go before you, come. Come. In a moment when we stand up, you stand up coming; God will bless you so. Oh, the rejoicing in Jesus, come, do it. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.