The World Beyond Death
April 8th, 1968 @ 12:00 PM
THE WORLD BEYOND DEATH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-8-68 12:00 p.m.
And today, the first message, The World Beyond Death. In the Book of Acts, Doctor Luke’s description of the martyrdom of the first Christian:
Stephen, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,
And Stephen said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God . . .
And they stoned Stephen, as he called upon God, and said, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit . . .
And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
So the background of the subject, The World Beyond Death. What is it to die? And what lies beyond?
Nothing, says the materialist, and the atheist, and the infidel, and the unbeliever. What lies beyond death? Nothing! We are not passing on; we are passing out. And to them this planet on which our life and lot is cast faces nothing but an ultimate and inevitable extinction, either by fire, some of them say we shall fall into the sun; or these vast universes somewhere someday shall collide, the traffic control of the stars shall fail; an extinction lies ahead for this earth and our universe. Some of them say that the extinction will lie in the planet becoming a frozen ball. The sun shall fail, light shall fail, heat shall fail, and ice and howling winds shall blow like hurricanes over the impenetrable and eternal darkness. What lies ahead according to this view for the planet? Nothing but extinction.
What lies ahead for human life? Nothing, they say, but a like extinction. We are enmeshed in this planet, they say, with all other forms of life; and when the forms of life perish, we shall perish with it and that’s all. Life to them has no meaning and no purpose and no goal. We are caught up, they say, in a web of circumstances over which we have no control. Mankind, they say, is harassed by conditions they cannot change. The human race, they say, is ground beneath an upper and a nether millstone of blind fate and cruel circumstance. And all that awaits us, they say, is the inexorable juggernaut whose chariot wheels roll on and over the human race, leaving nothing but corpses behind. And the essence that makes up human personality will be dissolved into the oblivion of nothingness.
Such a view magnifies the inevitable, to them, triumph of the grave. Death is to be king forever, and the realm of darkness is eternal and impenetrable. And the chains that bind us to corruption and to dissolution are forever unbroken. Such a view not only magnifies the victory of the grave, but it reduces the Christian faith to an indescribable uselessness, hopelessness, darkness, and despair. I cannot help but think of the exclamation of the apostle Paul in the fifteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter and the nineteenth verse, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” [1 Corinthians 15:19]. The Christian faith is an indescribable uselessness if this view of life and death is true. It took the tormented Mary Magdalene from her wretchedness and sin only to plunge her into the grave; took the publican Zaccheus from his dishonesty only to cast him into the grave; took the martyrs Stephen and Peter and Paul and Antipas only through their sufferings to plunge them into the grave; kindles hopes, makes promises to the saints, only to dash them into the grave. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” [1 Corinthians 15:19].
But isn’t there some other word? Isn’t there some other revelation? Isn’t there something else to be said? Is the infidel right? Is the atheist right? Is the unbeliever right that this life is a vale of pain and tears and age, and finally the eternal blackness and darkness of the grave? Is there not some other word somewhere? Is there not? Didn’t God ever say anything? Did you know, that’s where you and I came from in the Christian religion, who belong to the Anglo-Saxon race? The most vivid of all the passages written by the Venerable Bede is the story of the conversion of the Angles of Northumbria. Canterbury sent a pale missionary Paulinus to preach the gospel to the Northumbrians. Bede was born in Northumbria, and the scene that he describes happened but a few years before he was born. And in the marvelous recounting of that glorious historian, as he tells the story in the early 600s AD, Paulinus, the Christian missionary from Canterbury, is standing in the great hall of King Edwin. And he is presenting the claims of Christ and appealing to King Edwin and his warriors to accept the Lord. And after Paulinus has made his appeal and presented his gospel, he pauses for an answer. King Edwin is seated at the great council table with his warriors around. And he sits there in deep and pensive silence. And in the silence, one of his aged warriors stands up and says, “Around us lies the black land of night.” Then he continues:
Athwart the room a sparrow
Darts from the open door:
Within the happy hearth-light
One 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 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 sun of hope may shine
He makes life worth the living!
I take his God for mine!
[from “The Visions of England,” Francis Turner Palgrave]
And our forefathers that night cast life and lot and faith in Jesus Christ.
There is another word. There is another stanza. There’s another chapter God has spoken. It is the Christian faith and the Christian hope and the Christian revelation. May I speak of it just for a moment, briefly, from the Book?
The Lord is presented as “He who brought life and immortality to light” [2 Timothy 1:10]. And the heart of the Christian message is this: that in God we shall live again [Isaiah 26:19]. The grave is not our home; our home is in heaven [Philippians 3:19]. And the marvelous revelation in this Holy Book of the ecstasy, and the glory, and the light, and the victory, and the triumph of the godly soul beyond death is indescribably sweet and precious [1 Corinthians 15:55].
I have this afternoon the memorial service for one of our finest, saintliest deacons. And though I have on a black tie and a black suit, the service will not be the celebration of a defeat, but it will be one of victory and triumph in Christ; for the trumpets have sounded on the other side of the river, and one of God’s saints has gone home. Gone where? What lies beyond death? Heaven is a place. Our Lord said, in the most precious of all the verses in the Bible, “I go to prepare a topos, place,” you can’t translate that word any other way, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and take you, receive you, come for you, to Myself” [John 14:2-3]. Heaven is not a state, it’s not a limbo, it’s not an element; heaven is a place, as Dallas is a place. The twenty-first chapter of the Book of the Revelation says it is a golden city: “And I John saw the New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” [Revelation 21:2]. It is a place. It is a golden city.
And we go there when we die. When we close our eyes in death, we open our eyes in heaven. Think of it. In the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Luke and the twenty-second verse, “And it came to pass that the beggar died, and the angels carried him into Abraham’s bosom, into heaven” [Luke 16:22]. Luke 23, verse , “And Jesus turning to the thief who was dying with Him on the cross, said, Today, this day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise, in heaven.” When Jesus went back to glory, He did not go alone; but He carried with Him, arm in arm, the thief who died by His side. “This day, today thou shalt be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43]. In 2 Corinthians 5:8, “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.”
In our Reminder, our church paper, they used to have a column they called “Obituaries,” or “Our Dead,” something like that. I went to the young fellow who was editing it, long time ago, and I said, “You’re not going to call it that anymore. This is no obituary, nor is this our dead. You entitle that column ‘Absent from the body, present with the Lord’” [2 Corinthians 5:8]. And for these years since, that has been the column where we list the names of these of our saints who have fallen asleep in Jesus. “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.” There’s a play on Greek words there: ekdēmeō, ekdēmeō, absent, as to the body; ekdēmeō, at home with the Lord, at home. What an incomparable assurance and comfort! We close our eyes in death, but we open our eyes at home in the Lord, where Jesus is [2 Corinthians 5:8].
Robert Louis Stevenson, every child has read his Treasure Island, every adult has read his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The life that he lived was one of torment and illness. He died when he was forty-four on a South Sea island, Samoa, seeking health. He was tubercular; wrote most of what he wrote from a bed of affliction. Robert Louis Stevenson, when time came to die, wrote these words:
Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I lay me down with a will.
This be the verse you ‘grave for me:
Here he lies where he long’d to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
[“Requiem,” Robert Louis Stevenson]
Or, as our grandfathers and grandmothers sang it in an old time hymn:
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
[“I Am A Stranger Here,” Henry Bateman]
What lies beyond death? God and our Savior and the beautiful city and the home God hath prepared for those who love Him [John 14:1-3; Revelation 21:1-3].
While I was preparing this sermon, a man called me on the telephone, and he said, “I’m not a member of your church, but I have been moved to faith and assurance by messages I’ve heard you preach on television and radio.” He said, “I want you to help me. I have recently been through a heavy illness, and I thought I was to die, and it frightened me. And I found that I am afraid of death, and I’m afraid to die. And I want you to help me. What shall I do? I’m afraid to die.” I said, “My dear friend, have you trusted Jesus as your Savior? If you were to die this moment, would you die trusting the Lord?” He said, “The best I know how, I have, I do.” Well, I said, “Listen, listen, God gives us grace for every trial, grace. And when I am perplexed, God gives me wisdom from heaven and grace for that perplexity, or a trial, or an exigency. Now,” I said, “when time comes to die, God will give us dying grace; when the time comes. He doesn’t give it to you now. You’re well. He didn’t give it to you then, you weren’t to die. But when the day comes and when the hour arrives and it’s time to die, God will give you dying grace, and you will be unafraid.” We don’t need dying grace now. We are well. But when the hour comes, if He delays His return, we shall have strength, and grace, and assurance, and God’s presence for the hour. We are not to be afraid.
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]
That’s what it is to die.
I. Materialist, atheist, infidel,
unbeliever say nothing
A. Our planet faces
B. Our lives face
C. The hopeless view
1. Magnifies the
Christian faith to indescribable uselessness and hopelessness (1 Corinthians 15:19)
II. Is there some other word?
A. There is
1. Venerable Bede
III. The Christian revelation (2 Timothy
A. A place (John
14:1-3, Revelation 21:2)
B. Immediately there
after death (Luke 16:22, 23:43, 2 Corinthians 5:8)
C. We shall have a new
body (1 Corinthians 15:50-52)