Those Who Never Die
April 2nd, 1972 @ 10:50 AM
THOSE WHO NEVER DIE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-2-72 10:50 a.m.
On the television, on the radio, you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Those Who Never Die. In the fourth chapter of the Book of Matthew:
And leaving Nazareth, Jesus came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast in the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali:
That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying,
The land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles;
The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.
In the first chapter of Paul’s letter to Timothy, the second letter to Timothy, “Jesus Christ is now made manifest . . . who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” [2 Timothy 1:10]. And in the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John,
Jesus saith unto Martha, 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 whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never, ever die.
Those who never die: Jesus said, “I am the resurrection, and the life” [John 11:25]; the resurrection, these who are laid in the dust of the ground in the heart of the earth and are raised in the likeness of the glorious image of Christ, the resurrection [Romans 6:5; Philippians 3:21]. On the top of the Mount of Transfiguration, Moses spake unto Jesus about the resurrection; he was a type of those who had died and had [been] buried [Deuteronomy 34:5-6] and will be raised from the dead [Matthew 17:1-3]. “I am the resurrection” [John 11:25]; and Moses typifies those who shall be raised from the dead in the power of Christ.
Elijah, with Moses, was on the Mount of Transfiguration and spake unto Jesus about the life. Elijah is a type of those who never experience physical death; he was translated, he went up to heaven in a whirlwind [2 Kings 2:11]. Like Enoch, he never tasted death [Genesis 5:24]. “I am the life” [John 11:25]; and Elijah, as Enoch, is a type of those who are raptured, who are alive at the coming, at the descending, at the appearing, at the parousia of our Lord. And they’re taken up into heaven. They are transformed, immortalized, glorified in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye at the last trump, when the dead shall be raised, and we who are alive shall all be changed [1 Corinthians 15:51-52]. “I am the resurrection, and the life”; both symbolized by Moses and by Elijah, these who are raised and these who are raptured [John 11:25].
These who are raptured shall cry and say, “O Death, where is thy sting?” [1 Corinthians 15:55]. There shall be no death and no sting, no agony, no dread, no crying; they shall be raptured to heaven. And the resurrection shall cry, “O Grave, where is thy victory?” [1 Corinthians 15:55]. They shall be raised in the likeness of the glorious resurrection of Christ [Romans 6:5]. “I am the resurrection, and the life; he that believeth in Me shall never, ever die [John 11:25] … For He hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light” [2 Timothy 1:10].
Now there has never been any nation, any family, any people, any tribe in the earth, in the ages past, today, and forever but who believes in the immortality of the soul, the life beyond the grave. It is a belief, a persuasion that has characterized humanity from the beginning, and it is impossible to stamp out of the human heart; though modern atheists and communists seek to do so, it still lives in the hearts of men and has through the unending eons. In those days when men tried to decipher the sarcophagi of Egypt, and those papyri written in hieroglyphics they could not read—then the Rosetta stone was discovered in 1799 and provided the key to the understanding of that hieroglyphic, picture graphic writing. And what those writings were, even the mummies were wrapped in those writings, the papyri, what those writings were they called it the Book of the Dead. They were writings about the life beyond the grave, the immortality of the soul. Those cuneiform inscriptions, that wedge-shaped writing, the cuneiform inscriptions of ancient Acadia, and Sumeria, and Babylonia, and Assyria, what did they mean?
For centuries the language and the lettering was lost to the civilized world. Then it was discovered, and there on the Behistun Rock and in the other inscription in clay tablets, there they read again. And we read today of their hope of the immortality of the soul, the life beyond the grave. There have been no people but who believe in a life beyond death. The Gaelic warrior was buried with his armor; he would need it in the other world. The painted American Indian was buried with his bow and his arrow; he would need it in the happy hunting ground. There have never been tribes, and nations, and families so degraded but that they believe in immortality. The Patagonians and the Tierra del Fuegans, down there at the tip of South America, the most degraded specimen of mankind that has ever lived, they and the degraded tribes in the heart of Central Africa, wherever they are, however debased, they believe in a life beyond death.
And that’s been true of our greatest scientists. I was pastor in a college town, and the dean of the school was a member of our church and a deacon. Upon a day he brought me a book written by a famous scientist. And at the end of the book the author had written an addendum. It was a strange testimony as I read it. The scientist said, “In these days and years passed, I have not believed in a life beyond death. But,” he said, “recently my mother has died, and my father has died.” And he said, “Somehow, though I cannot defend it, and I cannot prove it, yet somehow I cannot believe that my father and mother have ceased to exist. I think, I believe, though I cannot defend it or prove it, I believe that they live somewhere, some place, in another world, in another clime.”
This has been our experience as we have seen these whom we have loved and lost for a while. Somehow it is difficult for us to believe that life is entirely stamped out, that the grave is its goal, and that the darkness and disintegration and corruption are the only things that lie ahead for human life and human personality.
Now this is the glorious word that is brought to us in the Easter message, in the Easter evangel of Jesus Christ: that not only did He bring immortality to light, not only did He abolish death, bring immortality to light [2 Timothy 1:10], but He said, “I am the resurrection, and the life” [John 11:25]. For the first time there was given to human hearts the assurance and the revelation that not only is there immortality of the spirit, life of the soul beyond the grave, but there is also in Christ the glorious immortalization, the incorruptibility, the glorious resurrection of the body! [Philippians 3:21]. This is a doctrine that is strange to the Christian faith. There is no other religion, no other faith, and there’s no other philosophy that teaches or presents the immortality of the body, the resurrection of the body, except the Christian religion. And it came to us through the immortalization, the resurrection of the body of Christ. What sent the evangelists out over the world was not so much the death of our Lord as it was the resurrection of our Lord!
His story became a flame, a fury, a frenzy, a fanaticism of hope and of assurance when the evangel said, “He is alive! He is raised from the dead!” [Matthew 28:6]. And that brought to the very heart of the Christian message the resurrection of the body! [1 Corinthians 15:3-4]. However ages passed, whether scientists or whether degraded mankind, might speculate or philosophize about the immortality of the soul, it was the Christian faith that brought, in the resurrection of Christ the belief, the persuasion, the evangel, the gospel that not only do we live in a spirit world beyond death, but that we live in a body world, in a topos, a place called heaven! We are actual people raised to live forevermore in His sight.
I want to show you how that is so much at the very heart of the Christian faith, the resurrection of the body. Out of the Living Letters, it is a paraphrase of the Greek New Testament, I’m going to read the first part of the fifth chapter of 2 Corinthians:
For we know that when this tent we live in now is taken down—
when we die and leave these bodies—
we have a wonderful new home waiting for us up in heaven, a home that will be ours forevermore, made for us by God Himself, and not by human hands.
How weary we grow of these bodies down here. That is why we look forward eagerly to the day when we shall have heavenly bodies which we shall put on like new clothes.
For we shall not be merely spirits without bodies.
While we are still in these bodies down here, they make us grown and sigh, but we would not like to think of dying and have no bodies at all. We want to slip into our new bodies so that these dying bodies will, as it were, be swallowed up by everlasting life.
This is what God has arranged for us and, as a guarantee, He has given us His Holy Spirit.
Now we look forward with confidence to our heavenly bodies, and realize that every moment we are still down here means that much longer we must be away from heaven where Jesus is.
We know these things are true by believing, not by seeing.
And we are not afraid, but are glad to be rid of these bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.
So our aim is to please Him always in everything we do, whether we are here in this body or away from this body and with Christ in heaven.
[2 Corinthians 5:1-9]
I read that so you can see how very much at the heart of the Christian message and the Christian faith is the resurrection of the body! It is not just that, as with the ancients or with the moderns, we believe in the immortality of the soul—practically all of the generations of mankind have believed in that—but the Christian’s faith is that we shall have a regenerated spirit in a regenerated, immortalized, glorified body! We believe in the resurrection of the dead. “I am the resurrection, and the life [John 11:25] … He hath abolished death, and brought life, resurrection, and immortality to light through the gospel” [2 Timothy 1:10].
Now the ancient signs, and for the most part, most of the world modern signs of death are terrible. They are sad and dark in the extreme. In the ancient Greek world, death to them was a dark swollen River Styx, and beyond it they thought they could discern the shadowy figures of those who had died. In the ancient world, there were those signs and insignia of death that were always shadowy and darkened. Even the ancient Hebrew looked into sheol and thought he discerned some figure, but had no light and no revelation. The sign of death to us, outside of Christ, is a skull and the crossbones; it is a darkened hearse; it is plumes plucked from the wings of darkness, of midnight. These have been the signs and the insignia in days passed.
But in Christ they are swept away like cobwebs that keep out the glorious sunlight. In Christ there is light, and there is life, and there is immortality, and there is resurrection [2 Timothy 1:10]. “He hath abolished death!” [2 Timothy 1:10]. And the sunrise of God’s glory for those who love Him is shining in their hearts now, today, when they’re saved, and forever! This is the glory of the Easter message. It brought to us the incomparable good news that our Lord is alive, and we shall live and reign with Him [Revelation 22:3-5].
The Easter message is the sunrise shining there in the sky, shining in the light of the face of the Son of God: the Son in heaven, and shining in our hearts [2 Corinthians 4:6]. The Easter message of the sunrise; it is the message of the flowers: the resurrection out of the dust of the ground and the heart of the earth. The whole earth becomes emerald. The forests are foliated, the very ground cracks and breaks as life springs up to the glory of God.
Easter is the message of the angel. “He is not here: He is risen [Matthew 28:6]. See the place where He lay? But go, He has a rendezvous with you at a stated and appointed time and hour” [Matthew 28:5-7; Mark 16:6-7]. It brings to us these glorious Easter songs,
Low in the grave He lay,
Jesus our Lord
Waiting that coming day,
Jesus our Christ
Up from the grave He arose,
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes;
He arose a victor from the dark domain,
And He lives forever with His saints to reign.
He arose, He arose,
Hallelujah, Christ arose!
[from “Christ Arose,” Robert Lowry]
This is the Easter message. It’s one of song, and of sermon, and of evangel, and of good news, and of flowers, and of resurrection, and of life, and immortality. This is the Christian evangel. He has abolished death [2 Timothy 1:10], and He says, “I am the resurrection, and the life” [John 11:25].
It brings to us the glories of heaven. Heaven; death now is but the entrance into glory. When my father and mother died, at that time, in those days, there was a famous chalk artist who in church painted a picture, with song, of a cottage and in the front yard a stake, and on it the sign “For Sale,” and the road leading by the house to the brow of the hill, and the old couple there facing the sunset. Oh, it was so sad for me as I thought of the dissolution of my own family circle. Then, after the artist had painted the cottage for sale, and the lonely road, and the hill over which father and mother were descending into the night and into the sunset, then the artist painted in the sky where those two, father, mother, that aged couple, where they lift up their eyes and see, there he painted the glories of heaven—the city with its wall and its foundation, the city with its pearly gates, the city with its golden streets, the city with its towers and turrets and bastions, the beautiful golden city of God [Revelation 21:10-21]: this is what death means for us now in Christ, it is our open door into glory [2 Peter 1:11].
When I came to the church I had them change the caption where they print the names of these who are translated, who died. They used to have the words like “obituary,” or “our dead.” I said, “Let’s change that to this passage from 2 Corinthians chapter 5, ‘Absent from the body, present with the Lord’” [2 Corinthians 5:8]. And that’s the way it is now in our Reminder every week: “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.”
For now in Christ in the Easter message, in the resurrection, death is now but our entrance into glory [2 Peter 1:11]. It is our greatest triumph, our finest day, our noblest hour. We’re not to dread it. We’re not to be afraid of it, nor are we to be timid before it or withdraw from it. When our task is finished, and our work is done, and our assignment is complete, then death to the Christian is but our open door into the glories God has prepared for us who love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9]. It’s our greatest triumph, our finest hour.
The apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is a gain.” Gain a better body, gain a better home, gain a better fellowship; to die is a gain. And he wrote in that final word to his son in the ministry, Timothy, as he closed out his life:
For I am ready 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 there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me in that Day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.
[2 Timothy 4:6-8]
This is our greatest hour: the hour of our death, and our triumph, and our entrance into heaven. The old timers used to sing a song:
My latest sun is sinking fast,
My race is nearly run.
My strongest trials now are passed,
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
[“Oh, Come Angel Band,” Jefferson Hascall]
Death now to the Christian in the Easter message is a triumph. It is a final, ultimate entrance into glory. Oh, think of all that it means!
Here we know age, and senility, and pain, and death; there’s no death there. These things are all passed away [Revelation 21:4]. They don’t dig graves on the hillsides of glory. There are no funeral wreaths on the doors of our mansions in the sky. And there are no funeral processions down those golden streets.
Here men burn with fever and shiver with cold; there is the soul’s summer land. Here we live in huts and houses; there we live in a golden mansion [John 14:1-3], maybe on Hallelujah Boulevard, at the corner of Amen Street, right across the square from the throne of God. Here in this world we have a decaying and dying and poverty stricken city; but there it is the New Jerusalem that shall never pass away [Revelation 21:2].
Here our reason and understanding is a spark; there it is a flame as we come into the full knowledge of Christ and of God. Here our praise is a note; there it swells into a full symphony. Here we eat crust; there we sit down at the marriage supper of the Lamb [Revelation 19:7-9]. Here in this life the tree yields fruit just once a year; but there every month [Revelation 22:2].
Here we drink at broken cisterns; but there we shall drink from the water of the river of life [Revelation 22:1]. Oh, the glory, the glory, the glory God hath prepared! [1 Corinthians 2:9] And we enter into it through the gates of death. “I am the resurrection, and the life [John 11:25] . . . He hath abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light” [2 Timothy 1:10].
My people were Christian people. Most of your people were Christian people. My people are Anglo-Saxon people. Most of your people are Anglo-Saxon people. Back yonder through the generations, through the generations from coming to Texas, to those pioneers who pressed across the Allegheny Mountains, to the Christians and the Pilgrims who came and settled this New World, back to England and to Scotland, and to Wales and to Ireland, back and back and back our people go. They were won to Christ back there in the British Isles. Do you know the story of how those Anglo-Saxons became Christians?
In the days of a long time ago, in 620 AD, there came to Northumbria, to the Angles, there came a Christian missionary and preacher by the name of Paulinus. There is no passage in the earliest history of England by the Venerable Bede that is so dramatic as the story when Paulinus appeared before King Edwin of the Angles of Northumbria and there at the council table presented the claims of Christ to the king, and to his council, and to his warriors. Venerable Bede tells that story with such vivid words, for it happened to his father. He was just a few years later than the scene that he was describing.
A poet has taken that occasion. Venerable Bede writes the speeches that were made, and the appeal that was made by Paulinus the missionary. And after the appeal was made, King Edwin is seated at the head of the council table with his warriors in silence, in contemplation. The great decision being made in his heart: shall he accept Christ and this new gospel, or keep his pagan gods?
And a poet has placed it in verse. Finally as King Edwin sits there in silence, debating in his heart at the council table what he shall do, an aged warrior sage arises and says, “Around us lies the blackness of night.” Then he continues:
“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 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 our life a heaven!
I take his God for mine!”
[adapted from “Edwin and Paulinus: The Conversion of Northumbria,”
And at that council table King Edwin arose and by him his warriors and his sages, and that night they gave their hearts to Christ. That’s where we came from. Those were our forefathers. And they accepted Jesus the Christ as the hope. “I am the resurrection, and the life from the dead” [John 11:25], and in heaven and now and forever.”
My sweet and dear friend, there is no hope like the Christian hope. There’s no message like the Christian message. There’s no comfort like the Christian comfort. There’s no gospel like the Christian gospel. Nor is there any way for a man to live his life or to build his home or to rear his children than the sweet and beautiful and glorious way in the name of Christ, who says,
I am the resurrection, and the life; he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.
He that believeth and liveth in Me shall never, ever die [John 11:25-26].
For He hath abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light [2 Timothy 1:10].
And upon them that sat in darkness, a great lighted has shined, and upon them who sit in the valley of the shadow of death light is come.
[Isaiah 9:2; Matthew 4:13-16]
This is the glory and the blessing of the Easter message; the faith and the communion and the promise of Christ.
In a moment we shall stand and sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing that song, in the balcony round, a family you, or a couple you, or just a one somebody you, if you’re on the topmost row in the last seat of that second balcony, there is time and to spare, come. On this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, “Here I am, pastor. I make it today. I decide for Christ and I’m coming now.” As the Spirit of Jesus shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now, come now, do so now. On the first note of this first stanza, come. Stand up, down one of these stairways, into this aisle, down to the front, “Here I am, pastor, I’m coming now.” Do it now, make it now, while we stand, while we sing.