Those Who Shall Never Die
April 2nd, 1972 @ 8:15 AM
THOSE WHO SHALL NEVER DIE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Matthew 4:13-16; John 11:23-26
4-2-72 8:15 a.m.
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 Shall Never Die.
And 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 the prophet Isaiah, 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.
[Matthew 4: 13-16]
Then again, in the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John:
Jesus saith unto her, 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, never die.
And in the first chapter of the second letter to Timothy, “Jesus Christ, now made manifest, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” [2 Timothy 1:10].
There is a theme running through these passages at the first of the New Testament, in the middle of the New Testament, and at the end of the New Testament; and that is that Christ has abolished death and has brought life and immortality to light [2 Timothy 1:10], and that this glorious God-given heavenly gift is in the Lord Himself. “I am the resurrection, and the life” [John 11:25].
When Moses spoke with Him on the top of the Mount of Transfiguration [Matthew 17:1-3], he represented those who shall be raised from the dead [Deuteronomy 34:5-6]. “I am the resurrection” [John 11:25]. And on that same glorious Mount of Transfiguration, when Elijah talked to the Lord, he represented those who shall be raptured, who shall never see death [2 Kings 2:11], who will be here when Christ comes. They shall be taken up, changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye [1 Corinthians 15:51-52].
All in Christ, “I am the resurrection” [John 11:25], these who fall asleep in Jesus and are buried in the heart of the earth [1 Thessalonians 4:16], “I am the life” [John 11:25], these who shall be raptured when the Lord shall descend in triumph and glory from heaven [1 Thessalonians 4:17]. These who are raptured shall shout and say, “O Death, where is thy sting?” and these who are resurrected shall shout and say, “O Grave, where is thy victory?” [1 Corinthians 15:55]. He hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light [2 Timothy 1:10].
There has been no age, nor has there been any race, nor has there been any family or nation, nor has there been any people who has ever lived but who has believed somehow, some way in the immortality of the soul, in a life beyond death. For many thousands of years, those hieroglyphics in Egypt were unknown and untranslatable. They were a part of a language that had died with the ancient Egyptians. But those hieroglyphs were seen everywhere. They were carved on the sarcophagi. They were found in the pyramids. They were in endless papyri, and especially, the mummies were wrapped in those endless papyri, written over with that picture graphic language. Then the Rosetta stone was discovered in 799 AD, and the whole world of the ancient Egyptian was opened to modern literary translation.
And what were those words? They belonged to the Book of the Dead and described the life in hope for the Egyptian beyond the grave. It was so with these cuneiform inscriptions, that wedged-shaped writing found in ancient Assyria, and Sumeria, and Babylonia, and Akkad. And when finally, in the discovery of the Behistun Rock, they were able to decipher those cuneiform writings and inscriptions.
They spoke of the life beyond the grave. It was so in the ancient literature of the Greek and of the Roman, and in their statuary and art. There has never been any people but who believed somehow in a life beyond the grave. The Gaelic warrior was buried with his armor; he would need it in the life to come. The painted American Indian was buried with his bow and arrow; he would need it in the life to come. The lowly Patagonian and the Tierra del Fuegans, the lowest of the human race, even among them there was belief in a life beyond the grave. And it is so with our greatest scientists.
I was pastor one time in a college town. And the dean of the college, who was a deacon in our church, brought me a book on science. It was a book that had to do with the field in which the author was teaching in the university. And at the end of the book he had written an addendum. And in that addendum he wrote the strangest testimony. He said, and this is a great modern scientist, he said that he had never believed in a life beyond death. But he said, “My mother has died, and my father has died, and this experience so recent has brought to me a change in heart and a change in belief. I cannot defend it,” he said. “I have no way to substantiate it,” he wrote. But he said, “Somehow I cannot believe that my father and my mother are eternally dead. I believe they live somewhere in another land, in another place, in another clime.”
Now, all of these intimations of immortality have been shadowy. They have been just hopes. But when Christ came, He brought life and immortality to light [2 Timothy 1:10], and one other thing; for the first time in human experience, He brought the assurance that we should experience a resurrection from the dead [John 11:25]. There has never been a faith, there has never been a religion, there has never been a people, there’s never been a family or a language who believed in the resurrection of the body.
They all have somehow believed in the immortality of the spirit and in a life beyond the grave. But the Lord Christ brought to the human family and to the human heart a hope and an assurance beyond anything that mind had ever imagined or that hope had ever dared to express: that these very bodies shall be raised from the dead, and we shall live in His sight [John 11:23-26]. He brought life, life, this life. He brought life, eternal life, and immortality to light [2 Timothy 1:10]. This is the great glorious evangel of the Christian faith; the gospel that set the whole world aflame, when they saw Him alive, raised from the dead [1 Corinthians 15:3-4].
In these days passed, the symbol and the insignia of death has always been terrible. To the ancient Greek, somehow it was a shadowy figure beyond the dark swollen River Styx. To the ancient Hebrew, it was a shadowy veil of darkness beyond sheol. To the American and to the modern scientist, death was represented by a skull and a crossbone, pictured on a bottle of medicine. Or it has been a drawn window, and drawn shutters, and a closed darkened house. Or it has been a hearse, so black and so ominous. Or it has been darkness itself, drawn plumes from the wings of the midnight. These have been the signs and the symbols of death in days passed.
But today, to the Christian, the sign of death has become our entrance, our door, our archway into glory. “I am the resurrection, and the life” [John 11:25]. He hath brought life and immortality to light [2 Timothy 1:10]. And the resurrection of our Lord has brought to us an immeasurable, indescribable, and illimitable triumph. May I name some of them? One: the resurrection of our Lord has brought to us Easter, Easter. Easter, with its sunrise, with its first day of the week, the Lord’s Day, the first Lord’s Day, with its flowers, these beautiful Easter lilies, with the verdant meadows and the foliated forests; it has brought to us the angel announcement. “He is not here: He is risen” [Matthew 28:6]. It has brought to us the most glorious hope that heart could ever imagine, or mind conceive. It brings to us our songs of triumph as these young people in the Chapel Choir have just sung. The glory of Easter is indescribable. It’s the hope now, it’s the hope in the hour of our last trial, and it’s our assurance in the world that is yet to come [Romans 8:11]. Our songs at Easter are precious.
Low in the grave He lay,
Jesus my Savior
Waiting the coming day,
Jesus my Lord
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!
[“Christ Arose,” Robert Lowry]
The resurrection brought to us Easter. If He lives, we shall live with Him. If He reigns, we shall reign with Him [2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 22:3-5].
Second: the resurrection of our Lord brought to us the vistas of glory and of heaven. No longer dreading the cold, damp, dark, the corruption, the disintegration of the grave, as though that were the consummation of life and the end and purpose of living and existence––the despair and the darkness of death–no, to the Christian now, there opens before him the vistas of heaven! For beyond this life and beyond this grave there is a glory that God hath prepared for those who love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9]. Ah, the comfort of it, the strength of it, the blessedness of it!
You know, when my parents were aged and then died, at that time, at that time there came to the church where I pastored a very famous chalk artist. And he drew a picture of a cottage, and in front of the cottage, a sign “For Sale”; and then up the road by the side of the cottage to the top of the hill an old couple, who were going over the hill. And as I looked at it, it was doubly poignant to me because my mother and my father had grown old and died. The house for sale, and they at the top of the hill, beyond the horizon, and then the artist drew beyond the road and beyond the top of the hill and beyond the cottage for sale, he drew a picture in the sky of heaven. There in all of its glory, its foundations, its gates of pearl, its streets of gold [Revelation 21:10-21]. Oh, the impression that made upon me then shall live in my heart forever, forever! For death now is just our entrance into glory [2 Peter 1:10-11].
This is our greatest and our finest triumph; the hour of our death, our translation. As Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is a gain”; to gain a better body, and to gain a better home, and to gain a better fellowship. And as Paul wrote in his final letter of triumph:
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 at that Day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing!
[2 Timothy 4:6-8]
It is our entrance into heaven.
I want to read to you out of the Living Letters; this thing of the triumph of the Christian in death, when he lays this body down and is given his new body which is in heaven. Here in the translation the Living Letters, a paraphrase that is taking the thought of the original language and expressing it in the idiom of our modern American English. Let me read it to you. “For we know that when this tent we live in now is taken down,” that’s translated in the King James Version “this tabernacle, for we know that when this tabernacle”:
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 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. Take off the old clothes and put on new clothes; we shall take out of our bodies our spirits in death, and put them in a new body, 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 wouldn’t like to think of dying and having 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. I am the resurrection, and the life. That 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’re 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 Him in heaven.
[2 Corinthians 5:1-9]
Isn’t that a glorious thing? He hath abolished death [2 Timothy 1:10]. It is no longer death. It is abolished. He has abolished death. And now, to die, what the world calls “to die” is for us just to exchange this old house of clay, this house of corruption and disintegration; we exchange it for the new body, the new house that God has made that shall never grow old, never die [2 Corinthians 5:1]. He hath abolished death! And to us, the Christian cannot die. That’s why I entitled the sermon Those Who Shall Never Die. And our greatest victory and the consummation of all purpose in living is found in that day when we are translated [1 Corinthians 15:54]. The old timers used to sing:
My latest sun is sinking fast,
My race is nearly run,
My strongest trials now are past,
My triumph is begun.
O come, angel band,
Come and around me stand;
O bear me away on your snowy wings
To my eternal home.
[from “O Come, Angel Band,” Jefferson Hascall]
Up there, not here; our inheritance there, and not here [1 Peter 1:4]; our reward there, and not here [Revelation 22:12]; heaven is there, someday to come back down here, and we with our Lord in triumph and in glory [1 Thessalonians 4:14]. Ah, the preciousness of the hope we have in our blessed and resurrected Lord! [Titus 2:13]. Think of it.
Down here we know age, and disease, and suffering, and pain, and finally death; but up there, these things are all passed away [Revelation 21:4]. They don’t dig graves on the hillsides of glory, and there are no funeral wreaths on the mansions in the sky, and there are no funeral processions down those streets of gold [Revelation 21:21].
Here in this world and in this life we live in huts and in houses; there we shall all live in mansions [John 14:1-3]; maybe on Hallelujah Street, close to Glory Corner, right across from where Jesus shall reign on His throne, world without end [Revelation 22:3-5]. Here our reason is a spark; there our appreciation, our understanding, our capacity shall be a flame.
Here our song is a note; there it shall swell into a symphony. Here the tree bears fruit once a year; there the tree bears fruit every month [Revelation 22:2]. Here we eat crust; there we shall sit at the marriage supper of the Lamb [Revelation 19:7-9]. Here we drink out of broken cisterns; there we shall drink out of the river of life, the flowing waters that come from His precious throne [Revelation 22:1]. Ah, the preciousness and the blessedness of the Christian faith!
I’m going to close with a reminder to you how our Anglo-Saxon ancestors became Christians. Go back in most of our families, back and back and back, and you will find that they came from Ireland, or Scotland, or England, or Wales. My people did, most of yours did. And when they came to America they were Christians. And when they pressed to the West across the Alleghenies they were Christians. When finally they came to these broad prairies of Texas they were Christians. And go back and back and back; where did they become Christians? Well, the story is told by Venerable Bede. One of the most classic and moving and dramatic passages in all human literature is the story in the history of the Venerable Bede about the conversion of the Angles in Northumbria.
It happened just before Bede was born; and the memory of it was fresh in the minds of his fathers. There came to Northumbria and to the court of King Edwin and to his warriors the missionary Paulinus. And there around the council table, before the king and his warriors, the missionary presented the claims of Christ; preached His death for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], His burial and His resurrection for our justification [Romans 4:25], and the hope of heaven that we have in Christ [1 Corinthians 15:19-20].
Paulinus preached that to King Edwin of the Angles and to his council warriors. Then the missionary pressed the cause of Christ and asked the king to accept the faith, to become a Christian, and to lead his warriors and his council and his Angles into the Christian faith. And Bede describes that dramatic incident when King Edwin sat at the head of the council table in long silence, debating in his heart whether he should accept Christ and the faith or not. And a poet has placed it in words. After a long silence on the part of King Edwin, a warrior sage arose and said, “Around us lies the blackness of night,” then he continued:
“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 that day and that moment, our forefathers, our ancestors, with King Edwin and his warriors by the side of that aged saint, stood up and accepted Christ as Savior.
Why, my brother, there’s no philosophy, there’s no human speculation, there’s no other religion, there’s no other faith; there’s no other commitment that begins to start to commence to approach the glory of the richness of God in the faith and in the hope of Christ Jesus. To be a Christian, to have a Christian family, to rear your children in the Christian faith, to love God in the name of Christ, to worship and serve Him is the highest, sweetest, heavenliest privilege that God hath given to men in earth.
In a moment now we shall sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing that song, in the balcony round, a family you, a couple, or just you, on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front: “Pastor, this is my wife, these are our children. All of us are coming today.” Or just you, as the Spirit of God shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now. Come now. Do it now. On the first note of that first stanza, come. Down one of these stairwells at the front and the back, and there’s time and to spare; or on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, “Here I come, pastor, I make it today.” What a glorious day to come! The sun’s shining in the sky, the Son of God is reigning in glory, and the Son of hope and immortality and life has burst into glory in our hearts. Come, come. Come, while we stand and while we sing.