The Preaching of the Resurrection
April 14th, 1974 @ 8:15 AM
THE PREACHING OF THE RESURRECTION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Acts 17: 16-34
4-14-74 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing with us an Easter service Sunday morning message. This is the pastor delivering it, entitled, The Preaching of the Resurrection, or A Handful of Dust. 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 talked he in the synagogue with the Jews, and 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? And others said, He seemeth to
be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Iēsous, and anastasis.
"He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods," plural, because he preached unto them, Iēsous, masculine, "Jesus," and anastasis, feminine, "resurrection." They’d been all their lives accustomed to listening to the priests present to them for worship a duality of gods, always a male and a female: Jove and Juno, Venus and Adonis, Isis and Osiris, and on and on. Always they came in pairs, a male and a female god.
So when the apostle Paul preached Iēsous, masculine, and anastasis, feminine – Iēsous and anastasis – why, they said to one another, "He seems to be a setter forth of strange gods," plural.
So they took him, and brought him to their supreme court – the Areopagus – and said, May we know more of this doctrine?
For thou bringest strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.
(For those Athenians and foreigners which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)
So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus – in the midst of the lawyers, the judges of the Supreme Court – 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 ye worship without knowing, Him I declare unto you.
Then he preaches the Christian message, and this is the response:
And when those philosophers, and those Athenian dialecticians heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked – laughed out loud – and others said, more kindly and graciously, We will hear thee again of this matter. So Paul departed from among them.
That is one of the most unusual confrontations in all of the story of the academic university world; for in that day, as in centuries preceding, Athens was the center of the intellectual, philosophical, dramatic life of the world.
So this man Paul comes and preaches the gospel, and the climax and consummation of the message was the resurrection from among the dead – that this body would live again. And when the Epicureans heard it, they laughed out loud, "Ah ha ha! Listen to him, preaching the resurrection of the dead." For the Epicureans were atheists and materialists. They were atomic scientists. They promulgated the atomic theory of the universe.
We think we’re very modern. We’re very up-to-date. We’re very abreast of the times. There’s not anything new today. All that a man could think of – outside of maybe putting a few gadgets together that we have that they didn’t have – outside of few gadgets, all that a man could think of, they thought of centuries before Christ.
So these Epicureans were atomic scientists. They called it, "Atom." Tomao means, to cut. A is alpha primitive: a denial, an interdiction, a negative. So atomao, what cannot be cut – atom, an indivisible unit, the smallest of all uncut units, and they believed the universe was made like that, all of it. They were materialists. The courser atoms, according to the Epicureans, made the earth. And the finer atoms made the human body. And the finest of the atoms made the human soul, the human spirit.
So in death, the atoms were dispersed. They were scattered abroad. They went back into the great swirling mass of the atomic universe. And when they heard Paul preach the resurrection of the dead, the gathering again of those scattered atoms, they, "Ah! Ha! Ha!" They mocked him and walked away. The basic philosophy of the Epicurean was hedonistic. "Let us eat. Let us drink. Let us be merry, for tomorrow we die."
Now there met him also, the Stoics – the story says – the Stoics. The Stoics were pantheists and moralists. They were a very noble tribe, I have to confess. The Stoic philosophers, they taught peripatetically in the stoae, the porches of the beautiful buildings in Athens. So they were called Stoics.
Well, the Stoic believed that the whole visible world was an expression of a world soul: that God was everything and everything was God. They were pantheists; pan, "everything," all; theist, "God." Pantheist: everything is God, and we are a part of God as everything else is a part of God. And when we die, we go back into that world soul. They were moralists and of a high order. They preached the four cardinal Greek virtues: fortitude – and that’s where you get that expression "stoical." They were fatalists, and whatever came, they were taught to bear it without grievous response. They were stoical, that was from their first cardinal virtue of fortitude. The second virtue was temperance or self-control. The third was justice. And the fourth was wisdom. They were moralists of the highest order, but being pantheists, the resurrection of the dead was inconceivable to the Stoic philosopher. So when they heard Paul preach it, they were more gracious than the Epicureans. The Epicureans laughed out loud. The Stoics were more gentle and kind. They bowed out saying, "We will just hear thee again of the matter," never intending to hear again of the matter.
Well, that spirit of skepticism of the resurrection of the human body has continued as before, so through all of the ages. There is no religious faith in the earth – present, past or foreseeable – that believes in the resurrection of this human body. It is a distinct, unique Christian doctrine. It is heard only and found only in the faith of Christ. All religions practically will believe in some kind of an immortality of the soul, but there is no faith that believes in the resurrection of this body except the Christian faith. And that arose out of the resurrection of Christ.
And I say, through the centuries, it has been scoffed at. In the days of the persecution of the Christians – in the days of Ignatius, in about 100 AD, who is pastor of the church at Antioch – there were five Christian virgins that were burned in the persecution that arose about Ignatius, when he was fed to the lions in the Roman Coliseum.
In those days of that terrible persecution under Trajan, there were five virgins who were burned at Antioch, in the Christian church at Antioch. And Trajan ordered that their ashes be mingled with molten brass and formed into statues of the virgins, in order that, and I quote Trajan: "that it might seen that it is I, and not their gods who raised them up."
One of the interesting things in Eusebius, the first Christian historian – Eusebius of Caesarea – there were practically all of the Christians in Leon, France, in Gaul, burned, and in mockery of their faith, as though to defeat the purpose of God, they took those martyrs that belonged to the Christian church in Leon, in Gaul, in France, and having burned them, they scattered their ashes on the Rhone River. And Eusebius, remarking upon that, said – as though to the heathen and the pagan – "It would be more difficult for God to gather that body together out of the depths of the sea and from the bed of the river, than to raise it up from the dust of the ground." And so continues that contemptuous, ridiculous, response to the doctrine of the resurrection of the human body.
Einstein was the greatest mind of our century, I suppose. And Einstein said, "I want it understood that I am an atheist, and when I die, I want my body to be burned without a memorial or a funeral service, and the ashes scattered to the wind!" So when Einstein died, there was no funeral service. His body was burned, and his ashes were scattered to the wind.
I have here a poem of that same spirit of ridicule, and mockery, and nothingness concerning this human frame. It is entitled, A Handful of Dust.
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 ’til it puffs into nothingness,
Then it is gone, a handful of dust.
It may be a king, who of old holds his rule on a country forgotten,
It may be his fool who had smiles on his lips
And had tears in his heart,
But the king or 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 woman who wept, or a baby,
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.
And that’s all.
This is the unbelieving world – philosophical, academic, intellectual, political, economic, or ordinary – outside of Christ that is the hopeless despair of the unbelieving world; a handful of dust.
Now, looking at the Bible, at the Holy Scriptures, there is no deviation from that fact that we are made out of dust. "And the Lord God framed the man out of the dust of the ground" [Genesis 2:7]. That’s the way it began. And in the fall – the next chapter, the third chapter of Genesis – God says, "In the sweat of your brow, you will eat bread, all the days of your life, to you go back to the dust of the ground; for out of dust wast thou taken, and unto dust shall thou return" [Genesis 3:19]. And the third chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes avows that same thing again. ". . . for we were all taken out of dust, and all of us turn to dust again" [Ecclesiastes 3:20]. That’s true. The Bible itself avows it, and our eyes see it. We are dust, and this body shall return to dust.
But is there not some other word? Is there not something else? Is there not something over and beside? Is that the end of the book? Does it stop there? Is there no light that penetrates this impenetrable darkness of death, and decay, and corruption, and the grave? Is there not?
Job cried in a faith that thrills our hearts to this day, though he lived thousands of years before Christ. Job said:
I know that my Gaal, my Redeemer Kinsman – the One that can buy back this lost inheritance – I know that my Kinsman Redeemer liveth, and that in the latter day, He shall stand upon the earth:
And though through my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see my God:
Whom mine eyes shall behold, and not another.
And in keeping with that great, tremendous avowal, when the skeptics said to the Lord Jesus their stock story of ridicule and laughter and scorn – not believing in the resurrection of the dead – the Sadducees said to the Lord Jesus, "There was a man who had a wife and he died without a child, without seed. And according to the Levirate marriage law, his brother had to take his wife to raise up children up unto him. And the brother died without seed. And the third brother – and there were seven brothers, and all seven of them died without raising up seed. And finally the woman died. Ha! Ha! Ha! the Sadducees said to Jesus, "Ha! Ha! Ha! In the resurrection, whose wife shall she be? For all seven of them had her" [Matthew 22:23-28]. And the Sadducees had stumped, and put down, and ridiculed every man who had ever stood up and said, "I believe in the resurrection of the dead."
When the Lord heard it, He said: "Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God. Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, for have you never read, God said, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?" And, "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living" [Matthew 22:29-32]. And He said, "And you do not know the power of God" [verse 29]. The power of God – The power of God; "Destroy this temple," He said, "and in three days I will raise it up" [John 2:19]. "He was speaking," says John, "of the temple of His body" [John 2:21]. Dust, yes. All of it is dust, yes. But out of the dust everything is growing that grows. This thing was dust. This was mud. This was mire. You go down there to the roots and you’ll see it was dust. Look at it, the power of God! Everything that lives and moves in this earth was dust; God’s great, almighty omnipotence speaks and it lives! And that is the power that God says shall raise us also from among the dead, out of the dust of the ground, from the heart of the earth.
That’s why we read together the incomparably triumph, victorious passage in the greatest chapter in the Bible: the fifteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter. There are scholars, world without end, who say that the great high watermark of all revelation is the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, which is the chapter on the resurrection of the dead.
"You see," says Paul in that chapter, "God gives everything a body." And he uses that demonstration of a grain of wheat. It is planted in the ground, in the soil, and it grows, and is raised, and is resurrected, and God gives it a body. And in all things living, God gives it a body.
So Paul says with us, God raises us up and gives us a body. "It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body" [1 Corinthians 15:42-44]. This is the power of God. The power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead is the power of God that raises us from among the dead.
The sublimest words that were ever spoken were spoken by our Savior at the tomb of Lazarus; "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And, whosever liveth and believeth in Me shall never, ever die" [John 11:25-26], the sublimest words that ever fell from human lips; it concerns the resurrection.
The sublimest fact – historical fact in all history – is the resurrection of our Lord spoken at the tomb: "Come," said the angel, "Come, see where the Lord lay. He is not here. He is risen. Go tell His disciples that He goeth before you into Galilee. There shall ye see Him" [Matthew 28:6-7]. The greatest faith of humankind, of human story, of human history is the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The greatest confession that was ever made was made in the presence of the resurrected Lord: "I will not believe," said Thomas, "unless I put my finger into the nail prints of His hand, lest I thrust my hand into His side: I do not believe men that are slain live again" [John 20:25]. And when the Lord appeared before him, He said, "Reach hither, Thomas, your finger, and put it into the nail scars of My hands, and reach hither your hand and thrust it into My side: and be not unbelieving, but believing" [John 20:27].
And Thomas replied the greatest confession that man can make: "My Lord, and my God" [John 20:28]. And the greatest hope and promise we have in this world is the hope and promise that God shall speak life to us who die in His presence.
Behold, said the apostle, I show you a mystery; We may 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, the last great enemy, death, who is an intruder, who is an interloper, God never intended it – Death shall be 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 in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
[1 Corinthians 15:51-58]
Job, get up out of the ash heap! Job. Nehemiah, dry your tears. Daniel, arise from your knees. King of Israel, take off the sackcloth, for the Lord lives. And because He lives, we shall live also.
This is our incomparable victory, and promise, and hope, and assurance in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from among the dead. This is the power of God, immortalized, glorified; we shall live in His sight. This is the Christian faith.
Do you have time for me to tell you something I read in Dr. Truett? To the stranger here, Dr. Truett preached behind this very pulpit for forty-seven years. I was just reading along in Dr. Truett, and I came across one of the finest perorations and an illustration:
There were two Englishman, Lord Littleton and Gilbert West. They were infidels, atheists, and they scoffed at the Christian faith. So they made an agreement: Lord Littleton was going to study the conversion of the apostle Paul and write a book ridiculing it! And Gilbert West was going to study the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and write a book scorning it, disproving it, ridiculing it.
So the days passed and the months passed and they studied. And then at a set time they came back together again to compare their notes. And when the two men sat down, Lord Littleton turned to his friend, Gilbert West and said, "Gilbert, I have a confession to make. I have been studying the conversion of the apostle Paul, and as I studied it – and as I studied it – I found myself doing the same thing that Saul of Tarsus did on the road to Damascus. I have bowed in the presence of the living Lord saying, "Lord, what wouldst Thou have me to do? [Acts 9:6]. Gilbert, I have become a Christian – I’ve become a Christian."
And Gilbert West replied to his friend, Lord Littleton, "Lord Littleton, I have been studying the story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and I found its proof irrefutable. And I found its power seeping, seizing my heart. And, Lord Littleton, I found myself at His feet. I too have become a Christian." And across the table, they clasped hands of faith, and commitment, and fellowship.
To me, the same Lord God that can do this, and that can do that out of the dust of the ground, is the same Lord God that can raise this fallen body and make it into the image of His glorious, resurrected, living, reigning Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. That is the Christian promise and the Christian faith.
Do you find your heart drawn toward a Savior like that? Believe in a God like that? If you do, would you clasp hands of friendship, and fellowship, and faith and commitment with us? "Pastor, I too am a believer, and here I am, and here I stand."
As the Spirit of God shall press the appeal to your heart in any way God would have you answer with your life, make it now, and come now. In a moment we shall sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, if you’re in the farthest seat in the upmost balcony, there’s time and to spare. Welcome. Come, down one of these stairways. "Here I am, pastor, and here I come." Press of people on this lower floor into the aisle and down here to the front today – today – this Easter Day, this day of triumph and glory and gladness. "Here I am, pastor, and here I come." To give your heart to the living Lord, to put your life with us in the church, to be baptized – however God shall press the appeal to your soul, on the first note of the first stanza, come. And may the resurrection Easter holy angels attend you in the way as you come, as you come; while we stand, while we sing.