Preaching the Resurrection
April 14th, 1974 @ 10:50 AM
PREACHING THE RESURRECTION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-14-74 10:30 a.m.
On the radio and on television, you are getting happy with the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. I have a great message this morning if God will help me deliver it. It is entitled The Handful Of Dust, it is entitled The Philosopher And The Resurrection. And it is expounding of a story in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Acts:
Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.
Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, with the proselytes, and in the market daily with them that met with him.
Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoics, encountered him. And some said, What would this seed-picker say if he had anything to say? Others said, You know, he seems to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection
“He seems to be a setter forth of strange gods,” plural, “because he preached Jesus, and the resurrection” [Acts 17:18], because he preached Iesous and anastasis; Iesous, masculine, and anastasis, feminine. All the gods that they had ever heard of came in pairs, there was always a male and a female god. There was Jupiter and Juno. There was Venus and Adonis. There was Isis and Osiris. So when Paul came preaching Iesous, masculine, “Jesus,” and anastasis, feminine, “the resurrection,” they thought he was preaching a pair of strange male and female gods that they had never heard of. So they took him, and brought him unto the Areopagus, to the Supreme Court, saying, “Tell us what this new doctrine is” [Acts 17:19].
Thou bringest strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.
(For all of the Athenians and the foreigners which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)
Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus which met on Mars’ Hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are very religious.
For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore you worship without knowing, Him declare I unto you
Then he preached the gospel unto them. And finally coming to the resurrection of the dead, they broke in:
And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked; ridiculed, and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.
So Paul departed from their midst
Those philosophers, the Epicureans and the Stoics; the Epicureans were atheists and materialists. They were atomic scientists. We think we are very advanced in our day and our age. We just compliment ourselves. We are egocentric. We love to exalt ourselves. Actually, there is not anything new that we have or know today except just a few gadgets that we put together. Those ancients knew it—found it long time before Christ. And these Epicureans were atomic scientists—tomeō means “to cut”; a is negative—an alpha-privative. So atomeō means “uncut.” So atom would be something that is indivisible, uncut, uncuttable, undividable. So they said that the universe was composed of “atoms”—little individual particles that could not be cut; they were indivisible. And they said there are three kinds. They said the coarser kinds of atoms make up the physical world; the finer kind of atoms make up the body; and the finest kind of atoms make up the soul. Then these Epicurean atheists said that when a fellow dies—when a man dies, the atoms are dispersed. They just scatter; they go back wherever they came from, back to the original earth. And to them, a resurrection was ridiculous! So when Paul preached the resurrection of the dead, the Epicureans, “Ha, ha, ha, ha! Listen to him. He believes in the resurrection of the dead,” which to them was sheer, unadulterated inanity. Their life philosophy was “Let us eat, let us drink, let us be merry, for tomorrow we die.” So the Epicureans mocked and laughed [Acts 17:31-32].
The Stoics were somewhat different. At least they were more courteous. They said, “We will just hear thee again of this matter” [Acts 17:32]. The Stoics were pantheists and moralists. They got their name from stoa—”the porch.” And in those beautiful buildings in Athens there were peripatetic teachers walking around on the porches and teaching their philosophy. They were pantheists; that is they believed pan-theos—pan, “everything”; theos, “god”—everything is god, and god is everything. And we are a part of that world, so everything you see is a part of that pantheistic world soul. Out of it we come, and when we die we go back into it. They were moralists. The Stoics were the ones who treat the four great cardinal virtues. “Fortitude,” and that is the first one. That is where you get your word “stoical,” fortitude. They were fatalists. Whatever happened in life, just bear it without repercussion or grievous response. Be stoical in it—fortitude. That is the first of their cardinal virtues. The second was “temperance,” or self-control; the third “justice,” and the fourth “wisdom.” And when the Stoics heard of the resurrection of the dead, they were more courteous and they just bowed and said, “Well, we will hear three again of this matter” [Acts 17:32], never intending to hear anything more of such an inane, ridiculous philosophy as that the dead should rise from the grave.
That same spirit of unbelief, rejection, askance, and any such doctrine as the resurrection of the dead persists through all of the centuries, and is rife today. There is no other religion in the world that preaches the resurrection of the dead except the Christian faith. There never has been, there never will be. Practically all religions would avow the immortality of the soul. But the resurrection of the dead—that this body shall live again—is a unique, and separate, and distinct Christian doctrine. And it arose, of course, out of the resurrection of Christ [Matthew 28:1-7].
But that askance, that skepticism, that rejection of the resurrection of the dead has always characterized unbelieving humanity. In the days of Trajan, who was emperor of the Roman Empire from 98 to 117 AD, under Trajan there arose a vicious persecution against the Christians in Antioch. And their great pastor Ignatius was fed to the lions in the Roman Coliseum at the order of Trajan himself. And he did something else: there were five virgins in the church there in Antioch, and Trajan had them burned, and he took the ashes of the five and made statues of the virgins, mixing their ashes with molten brass in order that, said the emperor, it might be demonstrated that it was he and not their God that raised them from the dead.
One of the interesting remarks of Eusebius who was the father of ecclesiastical history: he was in Caesarea; he was one of those men who went to the Council of Nicea, Eusebius. In Lyons, Gaul—what you call France—on the banks of the Rhone River, the Christians there were burned. They were martyred. And their ashes, in order to ridicule their doctrine of the resurrection, their ashes were scattered on the bosom of the Rhone River that ran down into the sea. And the comment of Eusebius was this: he said it was strange to him that they should think that the power of God would not be able to raise them up out of the depths of the sea or from the bottom of the river, just as He could do it out of the dust of the ground and from the bottom of the grave.
And that ridicule of the doctrine of the resurrection has persisted to the present day. Einstein was, I suppose, the greatest thinker of this century. Einstein said, “I want it understood that I am an atheist and when I die, I want no funeral service. I want my body to be burned and the ashes scattered to the wind.” So when Albert Einstein died, they burned his body; they had no funeral or memorial service, and they scattered his ashes to the wind. That is the unbelieving world. And to them, that is the great goal and purpose of life—that we die and fall into the grave, and that we turn into dust and into ashes.
A good example of that philosophy of pessimism and existentialism is found in this poem:
A handful of dust that is blown by the wind
That is sporting with whatever stuff it can find,
It goes swirling and whirling and scattering on,
Until it puffs into nothingness— then it is gone—
A handful of dust?
It may be a king who of old held his rule
O’er a country forgotten; it may be his fool
Who had a smile on his lips and had tears In his heart;
But the king and the fool—who can tell them apart
In this handful of dust?
It may be some man who was mighty and proud,
Or a beggar who trembled and crept through the crowd;
Or a woman who laughed, or a baby who wept,
Or a child—but centuries long have they slept
In this handful of dust.
It may be a rose that once burst into flame,
Or a maiden who blushed as she whispered a name
To its ruby red heart, and her lips were as red—
But no echo remains of a word that she said,
In this handful of dust.
[“A Handful of Dust,” Wilbur D. Nesbit]
This is the ultimate of life to those who do not believe. It ends in an indistinguishable swirling, blowing handful of dust. Now there is no doubt that the Scriptures avow to us what we see with our eyes, that we are made out of dust. In the second chapter of Genesis, in the creation of man, the Word expressly says, “And the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground” [Genesis 2:7]. And in the third chapter, when he fell because of his sin [Genesis 3:1-6], the Lord said, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat bread all the days of your life until you go back to the dust, the ground from which you were taken; for out of dust wast thou taken, and unto dust shalt thou return” [Genesis 3:19]. In the third chapter of Ecclesiastes, that same avowal is reiterated, for all of us were taken out of dust and all of us to dust shall return [Ecclesiastes 3:20]. There is no doubt about that. God says so. And my eyes see it.
But is there not another word? Is there not something else? Is there not something over and beside? Is there not another chapter? Does the Book end there? Is there no further revelation? Is there not some word from God? There is. In the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Job, the great old patriarch who lived a thousand years before Christ—Job said, “I know that my goel—my kinsman Redeemer,” whose right it is to buy the lost possession:
I know that my kinsman Redeemer liveth, and at the latter day, He shall stand upon the earth:
And though, through this skin worms destroy my body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:
Whom mine eyes shall behold and not another…Whom I shall see…
The prophet statesman Daniel said, “And those who sleep in the dust of the ground shall awaken” [Daniel 12:2]. And our Lord Christ, when He was accosted by the unbelieving materialistic half-atheistic Sadducees about the resurrection of the dead—they came to Him with their stock story by which they put everybody to silence.
They said to the Lord, there was a man who had a wife, and he died leaving no heir, no seed, no child. And by the levirate law his brother had to take the wife and raise up children, raise up seed to him [Deuteronomy 25:5]. So the second brother married her. He died and had no seed. And the third brother took her, and the fourth one, and the fifth, and the sixth. And all seven of those brothers took her and by none did she have a child. And last of all, the wife died. “Now,” said the Sadducees, “in the resurrection—ha, ha, ha!—in the resurrection, whose wife shall she be? Ha, ha! For all seven had her. Ha, ha!” And they had put to silence in scorn and ridicule and laughter all who had ever believed in the resurrection of the dead. Our Lord said, “Ye do err. Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. Ye do err not knowing the Scriptures. For have ye never read,” said our Lord, “how the Scriptures say, I Jehovah am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” [Mark 12:18-27]. And concerning the power of God, the Lord Christ said, “Destroy this body, and in three days I will raise it up” [John 2:19].
Dust, yet out of dust comes all living—these beautiful lilies, there, here—all the living things, are part of the ground. How is it that dust and dirt and earth and ground could ever fruit and flower in what we see in the springtime? It is the power of God. And the same Almighty power that speaks life, and beauty, and fruitfulness out of this earth is the same Lord God that speaks in power and omnipotence and raises us from the dead [John 1:3, 5:25].
This is the glorious word of the apostle Paul in the greatest chapter in the Bible, the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians. There are scholars world without end who say that the high watermark of all revelation is the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians. And that is the chapter on the resurrection from among the dead. There Paul says that it is planted in the ground. It could be a seed of wheat or some other. And God raises it up, and God gives it a body. The little seed is planted in the earth but God raises it. God speaks life to it, and it lives, and God gives it a body [1 Corinthians 15:36-38].
So, he says, with us: we are planted in the ground, and God raises us up and gives us a body. “We are planted in corruption; we are raised in incorruption: we are planted in dishonor; we are raised in glory: we are planted in weakness; we are raised in power: we are planted a natural body; we are raised a spiritual body” [1 Corinthians 15:42, 43]. This is the power of Almighty God. What you see demonstrated here, and here, and in the verdant earth, and in the bursting of life in the springtime is a harbinger, and an earnest, and an announcement of the great consummation at the end time when God shall raise us from the dead [1 Corinthians 15:51-57; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17].
The sublimest words that were ever spoken from human lips were spoken at a tomb. In the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John, the Lord Jesus says to the sisters of Lazarus who had died, “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 on Me shall never die” [John 11:25, 26]. The sublimest words ever spoken by human lips, and it concerned the resurrection of the dead.
The greatest fact in human history, in human story and human life, is the fact of the resurrection of Christ. The angels at the tomb in the twenty-eighth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew said to the women who came to anoint His body and to see where He was buried, the angels said, “Come, come, see where the Lord lay” [Matthew 28:6]. “He is not here: He has risen . . . go tell His disciples that He goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see Him” [Matthew 28:6, 7], raised from the dead by the power of God [Acts 2:24, Ephesians 1:20].
The greatest confession ever made was that of unbelieving, doubting Thomas, “Except I see the scars in His hands and put my fingers in the scars in His hands, and except I see the scar in His side, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe” [John 20:25], because dead men do not rise! That is what Thomas said, and that is what the world says. When the Lord appeared to the disciples, He turned to Thomas, He had heard his avowal of unbelief and rejection. The Lord hears us, even the thoughts in our hearts. And the Lord turned to His disciple that did not believe and said, “Thomas, behold My hands; thrust your finger into the print of the nails, and behold My side, and thrust your hand into My side: and be not faithless, but believing [John 20:27]. And Thomas exclaimed, My Lord and my God” [John 20:28]. The great confession.
“Upon this rock of the deity of Christ, I will build My church; and the gates of death shall not katischuō——be able to hold it down” [Matthew 16:18]. All of the relationships we make in life are torn asunder or dissolved by death, but the relationships we make with Christ and His church endure for ever—“My Lord and my God” [John 20:28]. And the greatest promise and hope in this world is the hope and the promise and the assurance that comes to us from the inspired apostle Paul in our resurrection from the dead:
Behold, I show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we, we shall all be changed.
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
And when this corruption shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death—death is swallowed up in victory.
O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory? . . .
Thanks be unto God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
[1 Corinthians 15:-51-57]
Job, get out of your ash heap [Job 2:8]—the Lord liveth! Psalmist, take your harp from the willow trees [Psalm 137:1-4]—the Lord liveth! Nehemiah, dry your tears [Nehemiah 1:4]—the Lord liveth! Daniel, get off of your knees [Daniel 6:10]—the Lord liveth! King of Israel, dressed in sackcloth [Isaiah 37:1], put on your garments of joy and glory—the Lord liveth!
Upon a day, reading from Dr. Truett, who preached behind this sacred desk for forty and seven years—reading along in Dr. Truett, he came to a place in his sermon where he was describing the glory of the resurrection—Easter, the living Lord. And the preacher just soared. Oh, I wished I could have heard him! The language, the sentences, and the spirit in the message, he closed it with this. He said there were two famous gifted Englishmen, Lord Littleton and Gilbert West. They were both dear friends. They were both ardent, zealous infidels, atheists. So they agreed; Lord Littleton to study the conversion of the apostle Paul and to write a book showing its inanity, its ridiculousness; and Gilbert West to study the story of the resurrection of Christ and to write a book exposing its fallacy and its futility. So the days passed and the months passed. And the days of study passed and the two men met together to compare what they had found and what they had written. And when the two men sat down, Lord Littleton spoke first and said, “Gilbert, my friend, I studied, and I studied, and I studied the story of the conversion of the apostle Paul who met the Lord Jesus, raised, resurrected on the road to Damascus [Acts 9:1-5]. And Gilbert, I have a confession to make. I found myself bowing at the feet of that living Christ, saying, ‘Lord, what would Thou have me to do?’ [Acts 9:6]. My friend, Gilbert, I have become a Christian.” And Gilbert West replied, “Lord Littleton, I studied, and I studied, and I studied the story of the resurrection of Christ [Matthew 28:1-10]. And as I studied it, I found myself kneeling in His presence. And Lord Littleton, I also have become a Christian.” And across the table, the men clasped hands in the faith, in the brotherhood, in the communion and in the fellowship of the glorious doctrine, and revelation, and historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ [Romans 10:9-10].
That is the gospel of hope to the world that faces inevitable death. “Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lifted up, you everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. “Who is this King of glory?” [Psalm 24:7-8]. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. He is the King of hope. “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive honor, and blessing, and power, and dominion for ever and ever” [Revelation 5:12]; our living Lord.
And to join hands around His exalted throne, to bow in His presence, to accept Him into our hearts and homes and lives, to honor Him in what we do, to call upon His name in the hour of death, and to look forward to the glorious rendezvous of the redeemed in heaven [1 Peter 1:18-19], what sweeter song? What more precious message could fall upon the heart or the ears of a man? Come, come, come.
In a moment we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, “Pastor, God has spoken to my heart today. I am answering with my life and here I come.” If you are in that furthest row on the topmost balcony, there is time and to spare. Come. Come. Down one of these stairwells, “Pastor, here I am. I will make it now.” On this lower floor, you, into the aisle and here to the front, “Pastor, today I give my heart to the living Christ [Romans 10:8-13]. I put my life in the fellowship of this dear church” [Hebrews 10:24-25]. As the Spirit shall press the appeal, as God shall extend the invitation to you, answer now. Come now. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.