Christians Never Die
May 30th, 1971 @ 8:15 AM
CHRISTIANS NEVER DIE
Dr W. A. Criswell
5-30-71 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message. It is on one of the profoundest texts in the Bible. It is entitled Christians Never Die. When I began studying the Greek language, the professor said – and this is his judgment, of course, but it is his judgment, and a learned one – he said that the most profound and significant, meaningful of all the words that ever said by human lips are these words that I read now in John 11:25: "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." And the actual text is the last sentence, "And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die" [John 11:26].
We have a strange combination today, this day. It is not seen so much at this service as it will be at the 10:50 o’clock service, which I hope that so many of you coming to this one who do not attend that one; if you do not come at 10:50, be sure to turn to Channel 11 on the television and watch the service. Today is Memorial Day. Today is also Senior Day, when our young men and women who are being graduated from high school are signally and significantly honored, and there the two are together. Memorial Day, a day set aside for the memory of our men who have laid down their lives for our country, and a day set aside for the memory of all of our loved and sainted dead. When I was in the country, Memorial Day was the day when all of our people gathered today and cleaned the cemetery and saw to it that the graves were remounded and everything made beautiful in this home of the dead. Then at the same time we have a day honoring our seniors, these who are standing at the very threshold of life. And there they are together, a Memorial Day and a youth day, a Senior Day, a life day, side by side, at the same time.
I stood one time in front of the Coliseum in Rome. And as I stood there, I was facing the Roman Forum. And I saw children playing hide-and-seek in the ruins of the Roman Forum. I thought, "What endures except the human race? Those gigantic, mammoth, piles of marble, and granite, and porphyry, and yet the people who built them so long departed, and their grand, vast, gigantic, colossal monuments in ruins, but the children of Rome playing there. I was standing at another place one time in the eternal city, in Rome. There were evidently excavating for a tremendous building because it was downtown. The excavation was very large and very deep, and as I stood there by the side of the big yawning hole, down there at the bottom of it – it looked to be fully at least fifty feet down – down at the bottom of it were tremendous and majestic arches, down there. The teeming city was built on top and top and top and top of an ancient civilization buried down there beneath.
When you go into the Damascus Gate at Jerusalem – that’s the northern gate, I’ve been through it several times, and always just go into that Damascus Gate – the last time I was there, the archeologists had dug down. You get to the Damascus Gate now on a bridge, for they have excavated down on either side, and this last time as I walked through, I looked down to the left and there to the left, way down in the ground, in the wall, is a beautiful and effective marble doorway. How the centuries pass, the millennia pass, and the people who built that doorway so long departed, and yet the Damascus Gate is used more extensively today than it ever was. That is a kind of immortality.
Beyond marble, beyond these tremendous monumental buildings, even the Pyramids which are made out of solid granite; there is an immortality of the human race. It goes on and on and on when all of these vast edifices have crumbled down into the very dust. But is there an immortality besides the immortality of the enduring of the race? Is there a personal immortality? Shall we live? Shall I live? Will this body live? Will my spirit live, my soul? Is there besides the enduring of the race a personal immortality for us, for you, and for me?
We are told in God’s Word a specific and definite answer to that question. We are to live forever and we are never to die! "Whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never, never die" [John 11:26]. That is immortality. It is everlasting life. We shall never die. It would demand then some interpretation because I see death around me on every hand. I live in that kind of a world. I bury the dead. Yet the Lord says, "He that liveth and believeth in Me shall never, never die" [John 11:26]. What God says is this; what we call the phenomenon of death is nothing but a temporary separation of soul and spirit, of soul and body. But the life never ceases to exist. Even the body never ceases to exist.
One of the major fundamental tenets of science is the indestructibility of matter. It cannot be destroyed. "Burn it up, pastor, burn it up! Is it not destroyed?" No, matter, thereupon, just takes another form. It will be gaseous, it will be in soot, it will be in components parts in which the flame is able to break down the elemental substance, but matter is indestructible! That means then that this body I live in is indestructible. It is somewhere forever! God then has some things to say to us about our spirit, our soul, and that body. "Whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never, never die" [John 11:26].
I speak first then of the spirit, of the soul. The word "soul" refers to a spirit that is incarnate in a body. God is spirit. God the Father is spirit. But when the spirit is incarnate, it is a soul. A soul demands a body. There is no such thing as a soul without a body. There is a spirit without a body. Satan is spirit. The fallen angels are spirits. The angels are spirits. They don’t have bodies. But a soul must have a body. So, inside of us is a soul, a spirit that is incarnate in us. I speak first then of the soul, of the spirit that lives inside me. It never dies. It continues forever. I can illustrate that in several ways. First, anatomically, and second, spiritually, scripturally, by the Word of the Lord.
First, anatomically: my mind never stops, never. When I go to sleep at night, my body sleeps, my mind does not sleep, it continues on, and sometimes I can remember some of the workings of that mind. My mind doesn’t stop, it goes right on. I sometimes can remember those dreams that I have. They are my mind continuing to work. Anybody who is connected with mnemonics will tell you the finest thing to do to learn something is to go to bed having just studied it, and your mind will unconsciously work on it all night long. I’ve heard men say that some of the intricate problems that they wrestled with for which they couldn’t find an answer; they went to bed with it in their minds, and the next morning the problem was solved lucidly, plainly, clearly. I’ve tried that many times in messages and in sermons. It works. The subconscious mind doesn’t stop, it goes right on, though my body is asleep.
Now I speak of that scripturally. In the Scriptures, the Scriptures say that when the body, what we call dies, when the body sleeps, the spirit, the mind, the personality goes right on. The Lord said to the malefactor who was crucified with Him and who repented, "Today shall thou be with Me in Paradise, in heaven" [Luke 23:43]. And when the Lord returned to heaven after He bowed His head and dismissed His spirit [Luke 23:46; John 19:30], they went up to heaven together. Their spirit did not cease to exist; it continued to live, those two in heaven. The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians chapter 5:8, "Absent from the body, present with the Lord." When my spirit is dismissed from this house of clay, immediately I am with God in heaven. "Absent from the body, present with the Lord." In the first chapter of the Philippian letter, the apostle Paul said because of his age and because of his incarceration that he desired to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better. "But to stay here in the flesh," he said, "is better for the churches and for the people" [Philippians 1:24]. But to depart and to be with Christ, to depart and to be with Christ, "for to me to live is Christ, and to die is a gain" [Philippians 1:21]. The spirit doesn’t cease to exist, it goes right on.
Now in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, our Lord revealed that there are two places that the spirit goes when we die, the soul goes when we die. One is illustrated in the beggar Lazarus, that godly man, poor, wretched, covered with boils, felt good when the dogs came and licked his sores. When he died, the angels came and carried him up to Abraham’s bosom, to heaven [Luke 16:20-22]. But Dives also died – the rich man – and was sumptuously buried, and in torment in hell he lifted up his eyes in the flame [Luke 16:22-23]. We don’t die when we die. The spirit continues on and is as active and alive as when we were in this house of clay. We see that so many times through the Bible. When Saul the king was terrified at the army of the Philistines, he went to the witch of En-Dor [1 Samuel 28:7-14]. Now no witch can raise the dead, nor can any necromancer speak with the dead, nor can any magician tell you the future, nor can any sorcerer or sorceress. That thing is condemned by the Bible from the first chapter to the end of the Book. But God allowed that witch of En-Dor to raise up Samuel for Saul in order for a judgment upon the king of Israel. And the reason, very patent, that she could not do it was when Samuel appeared it terrified her. She didn’t expect it, she’d never done it, she couldn’t do it, but the Lord allowed that in order for Samuel to speak to Saul in a judgment. Why, Samuel was dead. No, he’s not dead! He spoke to Saul [1 Samuel 128:15-20]. When the Lord was on the Mount of Transfiguration there appeared to Him Elijah and Moses speaking with Him. Why, Moses had been dead for a thousand four hundred years, and Elijah had been dead for nine hundred years. Yet they are present there, speaking with the Lord [Luke 9:28-31]. When Stephen died, he saw the Lord Jesus [Acts 7:55-56]. When Paul was converted, he saw the Lord Jesus [Acts 9:3-5]. When John was on the isle of Patmos, he saw the Lord Jesus [Revelation 1:9-13].
Moody one time was in a railroad station, and he was being interviewed by newspaper reporters. And Dwight L. Moody said to the reporters in the course of that interview, he said, "Sometime you’re going to read in the papers, ‘Dwight L. Moody is dead.’" He said, "Don’t believe it. Don’t believe a word of it. I shall be more alive then than I have ever been in all my days." So the spirit does not die. The soul does not die. When we depart this life, immediately we are in glory [2 Corinthians 5:8].
Now, there is another part of us. I am not only soul, I’m not only spirit, but I’m also body, and this body is an integral component part of me. What about the body, the body sleeps for awhile. In the eleventh chapter of the Book of John, the Savior says, "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth." Then His disciples said, "Lord, if he is asleep, that’s wonderful. That is good news. That means he is on the road to recovery." Then Jesus said plainly, "Lazarus is dead" [John 11:14]. The body sleeps. Does it sleep forever? Listen to what the Savior says. "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep" [John 11:11]. The body sleeps, the soul never sleeps. The mind never sleeps; it continues forever. "For awhile the body sleeps, but I go that I may awake him out of sleep." This is the Scripture, the New Testament, nomenclature for death. Always it is sleep. A cemetery in Greek is koimeterion, koimeterion, a sleeping place. That is a Christian word, koimeterion. When you take it out of Greek and put it in English, it comes out cemetery. It is a sleeping place. That is a Christian word; these who have fallen asleep in the Lord.
At the conclusion of the seventh chapter of the Book of Acts, when they were stoning Stephen to death, the Book says, "And Stephen says, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,’ and he fell asleep" [Acts 8:59-60]. He fell asleep. You would say, we would say, that he died; the Scriptures say, "And he fell asleep." In the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Acts when Paul is preaching at Lystra, he says, "David, after he had served his generation by the will of God, fell asleep and was laid unto his fathers" [Acts 13:36]. That is the way the Book speaks, the New Testament speaks, of death. We fall asleep, that is, the body, this body falls asleep.
Now, does it stay asleep? "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of his sleep" [John 11:11]. This according to the apostle John is a sign. He never uses the word "miracle" in the Fourth Gospel, always it’s a semeion, a sign. It is a parable, it is a Scripture teaching acted out. John chose seven of those signs, and that makes up the Gospel of John, and the greatest sign was the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead [John 11:43-44]. This body that falls asleep shall be awakened!
Now, I wish we had endless time to discuss that, but you be all ears and all heart now as I speak of that awakening of the body, what we call the resurrection from the dead. Remember it is a Christian doctrine. It is a peculiarly unique Christian doctrine. And remember also that it is a cardinal Christian doctrine. What it is to be a Christian as to be different from anyone else; first, it is in Christ; in Christ there is for us a resurrection to eternal life from the dead [2 Timothy 1:10]. There’s no other faith that believes in the resurrection of the body. There may be some of them such as Zoroastrianism and someone in Muhammadanism, there may be some other faith, some other religion that have a dim suggestion, but it is almost nonexistent as such in other faiths. To the Greek philosopher, it was an idiocy. When Paul stood on Mars’ Hill before the Areopagus and spoke about Christ; it was just most interesting, but when he got down to the resurrection of the dead, they scoffed. They laughed out loud [Acts 17:22-32] . To the Greek philosopher, it was unthinkable and unimaginable, it was unreasonable, it was not anything that would commend itself to intellectual acceptance [Acts 17:18]. But that is a cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith; we believe in the resurrection of the dead, that this body shall be raised out of the dust of the ground.
Well, why that cardinal doctrine? There are two reasons for it. First: the Christian faith began in the resurrection of Christ. That is Christian! Christian is not ethics. The Stoics had a marvelous system of ethics. Buddha has a marvelous system of ethics. Confucius has a marvelous system of ethics. Mahavira has a marvelous system of ethics. Greek philosophy had a marvelous system of ethics, especially the Platonic, Aristotelian, and the Stoical. Christianity is not just a system of ethics. Judaism had a marvelous system of ethics. Christianity is something else.
Christianity is first that Jesus dying for our sins was raised for our justification [Romans 4:25]. Easter is Christian. Sunday is Christian. Why Sunday? Because the Christians gather together on the first day of the week to celebrate the triumphant resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sunday is Christian! Resurrection is Christian! Easter is Christian! The doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is Christian, it is nothing else! You do not find in philosophy, you do not find it in religious faiths in the earth, you do not find it anywhere except in the Christian religion; the resurrection of the body. It is cardinal to us. Our Lord, if He did not rise from the dead, and if the dead do not rise, then our Lord is not risen, and our faith is vain, we are yet in our sins [1 Corinthians 15:16-17]. There are many, many great scholars that will say to you, and to us, that the high watermark of all revelation is the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, the resurrection chapter. It is cardinal. It speaks of the resurrection of our Lord [1 Corinthians 15:4-20]. And second, it speaks of the resurrection of God’s saints [1 Corinthians 15:21-23, 42-58]. We shall live in His sight. That’s what it is to be a Christian.
Now I don’t deny – and you’ll find it here in the Bible, and I shall speak of it in a moment remaining – I don’t deny that when we look at that, when we look at that, when they looked at it, when we look at it, there are seemingly insuperable questions and problems and difficulties with the resurrection of the dead. For example, here in the fifteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter. "But some will say how are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?" [1 Corinthians 15:35]. It is not we alone that look at that in amazement! How could the dead live, be raised up? What kind of a body do they have, will we have? And how is it that God could contrive so unusual, and so beyond imagination a thing? It is an astonishing thing! It’s peculiar to us that God should raise the dead, but this has been the Christian faith through the years, from the beginning.
Some of us are going to walk through the catacombs in Rome in a few days. That’s one of the most – you just can’t imagine such a thing as that – miles, and miles, and miles, and miles, miles, and miles of those dark cavernous tunnels. Where did they come from? The pagan burned the body. The heathen the body. Rome burned the body, but the Christian lovingly and carefully laid his beloved dead away. He believed in the resurrection of the dead, and he didn’t burn, and he didn’t mutilate. He lovingly laid the body in the grave, and in Rome where it was prohibited, he dug those great, vast, cavernous, endless catacombs in order to find a place lovingly to lay his dead away.
Well, could such a thing be? Michael Faraday – one of the greatest scientists of all times, a British chemist and physicist – in his class overheard one of his students sneeringly remark about his reference to the resurrection from the dead. And when Faraday heard it, he took a silver cup and a jar of sulfuric acid, and he dropped the silver cup into the sulfuric acid. It dissolved immediately. It was gone, you could not hear it. That was the jar of sulfuric acid, and the cup absolutely disappeared. Then the great scientist took a handful of ordinary, common table salt which acted as a catalytic agency. He threw that handful of salt into the jar of sulfuric acid and immediately all of the silver blobbed down to the bottom, a mass. Michael Faraday took out the blob of silver, the mass of silver at the bottom of the jar. He took it to a silversmith, and when the silversmith had fashioned, it he came back before his class and displayed that beautiful silver cup more gloriously carved and wrought and etched than it had ever been before. And the great scientists said, "If I, if I can take this silver cup and dissolve it out of sight, and then bring it back and present it to you young gentlemen, more beautiful than it has ever been before," he said, "why should I stagger at the ableness of God to take this body that dissolves back into the dust of the ground, and He reassembles its very molecules and atoms only in a more beautiful and glorious form. Why should I stagger at the miracle of God?" That’s what it is to be Christian, to be believe in the ableness of the Lord.
Now, at Thessalonica – and that’s why I had you read the passage – before Jesus came, some of those Christian believers died, and that’s why Paul wrote that passage. "And when the Lord comes these who sleep in Jesus will rise first, rise first, rise first" [1 Thessalonians 4:15-17]. And the conclusion of this tremendous fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, "I show you a mystery; We shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump, when the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible" [1 Corinthians 15:51-52].
Think of touching a hand and finding it God’s. Think of breathing new air and finding it celestial. Think of stepping on shore and finding it heaven. Think of living in a land where we never, ever die. Think of dissolving this fellowship of evil, and darkness, and violence, and war, and murder, and bloodshed, and wrong, and sin, and pain, and suffering. Think of it! And then joining a fellowship, a culture, a civilization, a commonwealth, a citizenship where there is no pain, and no suffering, no violence, and no death, no sorrow, no crying, no tears, no heartaches; a world wherein dwelleth righteousness in God’s new heaven and in God’s new earth [Revelation 21:1-8] – that is the Christian hope. That is the Christian faith. That is what it is to accept Jesus, and to believe in Him. "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he sleeps, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never, never die" [John 11:25-26]. Life now, life in the hour of my death, life when I’m laid in the grave, life when Jesus comes again, life when I’m introduced to heaven, everlasting, eternal immortality – never, never die [John 11:26]. My soul, what keeps thee from shouting all over this place? Ah! "Be of good cheer, little flock," said the Lord, "it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom" [Luke 12:32].
Now we must sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, while we sing the appeal, come down here and stand by me. "Pastor, today we give our hearts to the Lord," or "Today we put our lives in the fellowship of the church," or "Today I’m reconsecrating and re-giving my life to the blessed Lord Jesus." As the Spirit of God shall press the appeal to your heart, come. In the balcony round, there’s time and to spare, down one of these stairways and to the front, on this lower floor, into the aisle and here to the pastor, "Pastor, I give you my hand. I’ve given my heart to the Lord, and here I come." Make the decision now, do it in your heart, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. God will see you through. The angels will go before you. The Lord will bless you forever. Put your hand in the hand of the Man who stills the waters [Mark 4:37-39]. Ah, I like that. Do it. God bless you as you come, as we stand and we sing.
CHRISTIANS NEVER DIE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. There is an immortality of the human race
B. There is a personal immortality of soul and body
II. The spirit
A. Body sleeps; mind does not
B. Our souls continue on (Luke 23:43, 2 Corinthians 5:8, Philippians 1:23, Luke 16:19-31, 1 Samuel 28:7-14, Mark 9:2-5, Acts 7:55-56, 9:3-5)
III. The body
1. Death is nothing other than a longer night, awaiting the morning (John 11:11-14)
a. "Cemetery" a Christian word
B. To be awakened (John 11:11)
1. A distinctly Christian doctrine
2. Heart of the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:13-22, 51-52, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
C. Belongs to the revelation of God (Acts 17:22-32)
1. Scientist Michael Faraday
2. God is able to take this frame of dust and reshape it (John 11:25-26)