The Reality of the Resurrection
April 10th, 1977 @ 10:50 AM
THE REALITY OF THE RESURRECTION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-10-77 10:50 a.m.
There are a multitude of you who are sharing this hour with us on television and on radio. We welcome you, this glad, happy, triumphant, victorious Easter morn. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the message entitled The Reality Of the Resurrection.
In the twenty-fifth chapter and the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts, there is recorded the apology, the defense of the apostle Paul, as he stood trial for his life. He is in Caesarea having been arrested in the temple in Jerusalem. And down there in Caesarea, for over three years, he has been incarcerated. Felix the procurator, having been recalled, and Festus the new governor, having been sent to take his place, find one of the prisoners named Paul, left in the prison. He listens to the prisoner and the charges that are made against him, and is very surprised at the accusations.
While those days are passing, there comes, to see the governor Festus, Herod King Agrippa the second and his sister, with whom he lives as a wife, Bernice. They come to visit the Roman procurator. And, while they are there, Festus begins to speak to them about the affairs of state and finally mentions this unusual prisoner, and says to Agrippa, "He has appealed to Caesar. I must send him to Rome, because he is a Roman citizen. But I hardly know what to write in his accusation. If I send him to Caesar, there must be some criminal charge pressed against him. But I do not know what the charge is. For when I examined him, it concerns certain questions of their religion, and of one Jesus, who was dead, whom Paul the prisoner affirms to be alive" [Acts 25:13-21]
And Agrippa himself, being a Jew, said to the Roman procurator, "Festus, I would also hear the man myself." And the procurator replies immediately, "Tomorrow, at this time, thou shalt hear him" [Acts 25:22]. Now, in the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts, Paul is making the defense for the faith before Herod Agrippa II. And, in that defense, he says:
And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers:
Unto which promise our twelve tribes, serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused of mine enemies.
Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, a Jew, that God should raise the dead?
What a poignant question and appeal, "Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, who believe in God, that the same mighty Jehovah Lord should raise the dead?"
It would be trite. It is a truism for me to say that the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead and the grand pronouncement of the resurrection of Jesus from among the dead is literally the dynamic foundation of the Christian faith itself. You read in the passage just now, "If Christ be not risen, then is our faith vain; we are yet in our sins [1 Corinthians 15:17]. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that sleep" [1 Corinthians 15:20]. And as the choir sang, as in Adam all die, and we are all children of the fallen race of Adam, as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive [1 Corinthians 15:22]; the doctrine, the teaching, the grand, heralded pronouncement of the resurrection of Christ from the dead.
Now, in the message this morning I have seven incontrovertible facts of the raising up from the dead of Jesus our Lord; one, a philosophical fact; two, a pragmatic fact; three, a psychological fact; four, an ecclesiastical fact; five, a soteriological fact; sixth, a literary fact; and last, an experiential fact.
The Reality Of The Resurrection; fact number one: a philosophical fact. One of the most poignant and meaningful of all of the verses in the Bible is Romans chapter 1, verse 4. Speaking of Jesus Christ; the verse: "He is declared, horizō, horizō." Our English word "horizon" comes from that. The place marked out where the earth meets the sky. So let me translate that verb literally. "Jesus Christ, marked out, among all mankind and all humanity, this Man is marked out to be the Son of God with power, by the Spirit of holiness, in the resurrection from the dead" [Romans 1:4]. The meaning in that verse is almost infinite. "Marked out, this Man to be the Son of God with power, by the Spirit of holiness, in the resurrection from the dead."
It is an incontrovertible fact that in this universe there is omnipotence; there is power immeasurable. And we see it everyday and on every hand. The sun shines by the fiat of God; the oceans are liquid; these planets in their orbits, with unvarying orbit around that central sun, guided by the infinitude of an invisible hand. And in a thousand other ways, do we see the immeasurable power of God in the earth.
That power also, and no less, reaches down to the morality in which God has created us in this universe. It is as factual, right and wrong, and our sensitivity to it, as that the sun shines, or that the planets swing in their orbits around it. The life of our Lord was beautiful, and perfect, and godly, and spiritual, and reverential. He lived a holy and beautiful life. But that life ended in ignominy and shame and disgrace. He was crucified, executed as a common felon and an ordinary criminal [Matthew 27:26-50].
In this vast universe, is that the verdict of right and morality? Does wrong triumph over evil? And does sin and death and the grave reign forever? The same Lord God Almighty that made that sun to shine, and these planets to swing in their orbits around it, and that created the thousand other marvelous things that are astonishing to our eyes, is the same Lord God that created our sensitivity to right and to wrong. And it is impossible, it is unthinkable, that wrong should forever triumph, and that truth should forever be in disgrace, and that sin and death and the grave should have dominion over God’s heritage, world without end. There is a philosophical reason that lies back of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the triumph of goodness over evil; of life over death, of heaven over hell.
Second, the reality of the resurrection of our Lord: there is a pragmatic fact. And we’re coming to the other end of the spectrum, pragmatism, empiricism. And I refer now to the fact of the empty tomb. You look how the Lord was buried: in a winding sheet, with one hundred pounds of spices, frankincense, myrrh, aloes and with a headdress separate and apart, laid in a new hewn tomb over which a great, heavy stone was rolled [John 19:39-40]. And that stone was sealed by the seal of the Roman Empire, the highest authority the world had ever known. And not only that, but it was guarded by a Roman guard [Matthew 27:66]. A contingent was there, night and day, to see to it that He stayed dead.
On the third day, after Friday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, on the third day, the body was gone. The tomb was empty [Matthew 28:1-7]. The grave clothes were undisturbed, but the body had disappeared [John 20:4-7]. How was that? It could have been two things: by human hands or by supernatural hands. If by human hands, it could have been done by two different groups: by His friends and apostles, or by His enemies, by His foes. Did the apostles steal His body away? How could they? He was there in a tomb covered by a heavy stone; sealed by the seal of the Roman emperor and guarded by a contingency of Roman soldiers [Matthew 27:62-66]. How could they have done it?
If not by His friends, then by His enemies, by His foes. Would they have stolen the body away? My friend, they were there to see to it that no such legendary hallucination could have happened. They were there to guard the tomb. And for them to steal it away and to lend credence to the very superstition that they were sent there to obviate is unthinkable!
And again, within a few days, after the crucifixion of our Lord, Simon Peter is standing up and filling Jerusalem with the marvelous good tidings that Jesus is raised from the dead [Acts 2:23-24]. All it would have taken to have sown the lie to the preaching of Simon Peter was for His foes and enemies who crucified the Lord, to say, "This man, Simon Peter, says He is alive. Come here!" And there, opening the tomb, exhibit the dead, decaying body of the Son of God. Why didn’t they do it? Because there was no body there to be exhibited: those grave clothes, that winding sheet and headdress, undisturbed, were empty. The body had disappeared, that is a pragmatic fact, undeniable [Matthew 28:5-7].
Fact number three: a psychological fact. Can you account, we have to account in some way for the miraculous change in the mind and attitude and spirit and life of those disciples. On Friday, they are cast down; they are in the depths of abysmal despair. Every hope they had ever entertained had died when Jesus expired on the cross [John 19:30]. And they never believed in a resurrection. They were the ones not convinced. They were the ones who argued against it. They were the ones that had to be shown. As one of them said: "I do not believe He is raised from the dead unless I put my finger in the print of the nails and thrust my hand into the riven scar in His side. I do not believe!" [John 20:25]
Those are the disciples. And yet, three days later, they are flames of fire. They are filling Jerusalem, and finally the whole earth, with the heralding and the announcement of the good news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. How do you account for that? That is a psychological fact and must be faced. How do you account for it?
I have an alliteration. There are three possibilities. Number one, they are proclaiming a lie. They stole His body away. They hid it away and now they are saying that He was raised from the dead. They are preaching a lie. That is a psychological impossibility. These men are suffering for the faith. These men are being executed, crucified, burned at the stake, thrown, cast into boiling cauldrons of oil. These men are laying down their lives for a lie? It is psychologically impossible. Men don’t lay down their lives for a lie. Yet every one of those apostles was executed except John, who was exiled to die in exposure and starvation [Revelation 1:9].
If it wasn’t a lie, then it must be a legend. Wait! A legend? You mean a legend could develop in three days? You mean a legend could develop from Friday until Sunday? It is psychological unthinkable and unimaginable.
But another, then if it was not a lie, then if it was not a legend, then certainly it was a lunatic hallucination. Mary Magdalene said she saw the Lord, raised from the dead [John 20:11-18]. And the critic, the French critic, Renan, said the dream of a hallucinated woman became the foundation and the hope of the church.
Ridiculous! It was not Mary Magdalene alone who said: "I have seen Him. He is raised from the dead" [John 20:16-18]. It was Simon Peter! [Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5]. It was the two on the way to Emmaus! [Luke 24:13-32, 35]. It was all of the apostles! [John 20:26-31]. It was above five hundred brethren at once! [Matthew 28:16-20; 1 Corinthians 15:6]. It was James, the Lord’s brother! For forty days, did they walk with Him, see Him, talk with Him [Acts 1:3]. And could it be, just at that particular time, never before and never after, these hundreds and hundreds were deluded by lunatic hallucinations? It is unthinkable!
This is a psychological fact: the marvelous transformation of those disciples, from men of despair to men of the preaching of the great faith of Christ for which, they laid down their lives.
Fact number four: an ecclesiastical fact. There is a church. It exists, and there was a time when it was founded and began. The ecclesiastical fact: the presence of, the birth of, the ancient and primitive church. Where did it come from? This is the most dynamic thing ever born in the history of humanity. Where did that church come from? What gave it credence and what gave it power?
Look at that church. The first church was composed entirely of Jews, thousands of Jews. On the day of Pentecost there were three thousand Jews who were added to the faith [Acts 2:41]. Turn over to the next chapter. There were five thousand, andron, men [Acts 4:4], who are now obedient to the faith, which would mean at least twenty-five thousand members of the church. Turn the page again and, in the Book of Acts, we read that a great multitude of priests have now become obedient to the faith [Acts 6:7].
Do you not read the old covenant? In the Book of Deuteronomy it is written: "Cursed is every man that is hanged on a tree" [Deuteronomy 21:23]. Cursed is every man who is crucified, nailed to a cross! Yet in Jerusalem, there are thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of Jews, all of them Jews, who are humble disciples and followers of the Son of God. How do you explain that?
But that’s not all. That primitive church faced the Greco-Roman world, the entire Roman world, and they did it with fearless, and bold, and intrepidity. They challenged the whole system of civilized worship, every false God in every province of the Roman Empire. That was no small thing because the hand of the emperor sustained that worship. And it was looked upon as a patriotic duty that every citizen of Rome and every slave in the Roman Empire, was to bow down before the image of the emperor and place on the flame that burned before his image a little pinch of incense. And the Christian refused to do it. And not only that, but challenged the whole system of Oriental religion. And it became a cry in those days: "The Christians to the lions." Or again: "The Christians to the stake." And they fed them to wild beasts, and they burned them with fire.
But that primitive church faced the Roman emperor in all of his power, and they faced the whole system of ancient worship. And within a relatively short time, they swung the Roman Empire on new hinges, and they subverted the whole Greek-Roman world of false deity and false worship.
Do you know anybody today that is worshipping Neptune? Do you know anybody today who is worshipping Venus or Apollo or Isis or Osiris or Jove or Juno? Do you know anybody today who is building great, beautiful, and elaborate temples to those false deities? That primitive church subverted the whole civilized world. Where did it come from? Who gave it birth? That is an ecclesiastical fact.
A soteriological fact: the conversion of Saul of Tarsus [Acts 9:1-18], this man who was breathing out threatening and slaughter against the people of God [Acts 26:10]; haling them into prison [Acts 22:4]. And when they were put to death he cast his vote [Acts 22:4], as a member of the Sanhedrin, against them. This man, the archenemy of Christ and of the Christian faith, this man is now preaching the faith that once he destroyed [Galatians 1:23]. What happened? On the road to Damascus, above the brightness of the noonday, Syrian sun, there appeared to him, in the way, the Son of God [Acts 9:1-4]. And this persecuting Saul fell at His feet and said, "Who art Thou, Lord? And He replied, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutes [Acts 22:8]. But rise, stand on thy feet, for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to show thee of great things thou must suffer for My name’s sake. And I send thee to the ends of the earth, to the Gentiles" [Acts 9:5-6, 15].
How do you account for that? Was this man a small man in mind and understanding? There has never lived a greater, in mind and in spiritual sensitivity, than Saul of Tarsus, Paul the apostle. Read for yourself. In this New Testament, in my Bible, most of that New Testament is adventitiously, summarily, written by him, with no thought of a great literary masterpiece, just writing out of his heart to a church or to a son in the ministry. And yet, the words that he writes are Scripture themselves. They are the revelations of God, and they rise from one literary peroration to another. There is no language beyond it, and there is no literature that excels it.
This is the man, converted on the Damascus road. It was not long, the Lord was crucified in 33 AD, 1 Thessalonians was written about 50 AD, it was not long after the crucifixion of our Lord, just about seventeen years, that Paul wrote that letter to the church at Thessalonica. And just a little while after that, not long, he wrote the 1 Corinthians letter out of which you read just now. And in those letters, he expresses an infinitely precious hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ [1 Corinthians 15:20 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:14]. And he names these to whom the Lord appeared. He names James [1 Corinthians 15:7]. He names the five hundred or more at one time [1 Corinthians 15:6], with whom the Lord appeared and talked, on an appointed mountain in Galilee. He speaks of the twelve [1 Corinthians 15:5]. He speaks of Simon Peter [1 Corinthians 15:5]. He speaks of the two on the way to Emmaus.
When Paul wrote, those, Simon Peter and James and all of those apostles, when Paul wrote that, those people to whom the Lord had appeared were still alive. Any man could have verified the words of the apostle Paul because the witnesses were still living, every witness to whom you could have turned. "I saw Him! I looked upon His face. I talked with Him and walked with Him for forty days" [Acts 1:3].
The tremendous fact of the conversion of the apostle Paul and these avowals that he writes in his letters are incontrovertible. There are thirteen of his letters. With Dr. Luke, there are Luke and Acts, with the Epistle to the Hebrews that many think he wrote, there are sixteen books in the New Testament that comes from the heart and life of this great witness, the apostle Paul. How do you controvert it? How do you interdict it? It is a soteriological, a conversional, fact.
Fact number six: a literary fact. Here in the Bible, for anyone, for everyone to read, are the four Gospels. The four Gospels. There is a literary fact in the substance of those four Gospels that usually we have never been introduced to. May I speak of it now? In those four Gospels, you have the story of God and man, walking and conversing side by side. And they do it naturally and beautifully and harmoniously. That is a literary impossibility.
For you see, through the centuries, great literary giants have tried to place in converse, supernatural and natural, gods and men. And when they seek to do it, it is manifestly a laborious imagination, and they never succeed. It is fictional, always! For example, there is not a schoolboy but who has been introduced to Greek mythology and Roman mythology. And you read there by the greatest literary giants of all time: Homer, Aeschylus, Euripides. These marvelous Greek literary giants; you read their dramas, and their epics. And all of them are about gods and men and their converse.
But there is not a schoolboy that ever lived that ever read Dante, or Euripides, or Aeschylus, or Sophocles, or any of the other ancient Greek authors, there is not a one of them, that when you read it, what that literary giant has created is manifestly fictitious. It is strange. It is not in anywise, even an attempt to portray the truth of reality. It is a story. It is a novel. It is an imagination. It is manifestly such.
Or let us come to our English people. To us, who speak English, the greatest literary genius of all time is the myriad minded Shakespeare. And Shakespeare tried it. In the greatest one of his tragedies called "Hamlet," he has, in there, a scene between the ghost and Hamlet. But it is manifestly fictitious. Even Shakespeare is laboring with a heavy imagination, trying to make it appear plausible and reasonable, the converse between the ghost of his father and Hamlet.
Let us turn now to the Book. Here we read of deity and humanity talking and walking and visiting and sharing, yea, even eating together in perfect and beautiful harmony. Renan, that critic I spoke of a moment ago, said that the most beautiful story in literature is the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Luke. That’s the story of the raised, and risen, and resurrected Lord as He walks with the two saddened disciples on the way to Emmaus, and was made known to them in asking the blessing, before the breaking of bread [Luke 24:13-35], so natural, so beautiful, so simple, so real. Why? Because these men are not writing out of prolific and fertile imaginations. These men, who wrote those four Gospels, these men are writing a plain, and simple, and beautiful, and marvelous, and heavenly, and godly truth. They are just describing in simple language what had happened; Jesus raised from among the dead [Matthew 28:5-7], Jesus, the Savior of our souls. Jesus blessing the disciples as He was departing from them [Matthew 28:20; Luke 24:50-51], a literary fact.
And the last one, an experiential fact. I do not know of a greater fact in human experience than this: that Jesus lives. He is more alive today than He ever was. He lives on university campuses. He lives in professorial chairs. He lives in the academic world. He lives in the "dark continent" of Africa. He lives in the Amazon jungle. He lives in the Orient. He lives in the great cities of America. He lives in our churches. He lives in our souls, and in our homes, and in our hearts.
Jesus is alive. Alexander the Great is dead. I never hear anyone think otherwise. Julius Caesar and Augustus Octavius is dead. I never hear it otherwise. Charlemagne is dead! Napoleon is dead! Frederick the Great is dead! Washington is dead! Lincoln is dead! All of the great of this earth are dead. But Jesus the Christ, I meet Him down almost every road. I see Him in ten thousand, thousand faces. I meet Him everywhere.
Walking through one of the great tremendous museums of the earth, I stood transfigured before a beautiful and moving picture. The artist so gifted. Naturally being in that world-famous museum, the artist had drawn the interior of a humble cottage, very poor, all of the surroundings, those that were pictured there, poverty. They were at a kitchen table, the father here, and the mother here, and the children around. They were bowing their heads in prayer. And the father was saying grace at the table. And that gifted and marvelous artist, above the heads of those who were bowed, thanking God for the morsel of bread, the artist had pictured the Lord Jesus Christ with His hands extended in blessing above the poor. And the caption on the picture below: "Christ Among the Lowly." And, as I looked at it, I thought how blessed, and how faithful, and how true: Christ with His hands extended above the bowed heads of the poor.
Walking down the streets of Boston, Massachusetts, I walked by Trinity Church. And there, next to the entrance, on the side of the church, is a sculptured statue of Phillips Brooks, the far-famed preacher of Jesus. There he stands, in that statue, behind his pulpit with an open Bible in his hand. And back of Phillips Brooks, God’s great preacher, stands Jesus the Christ with His hand on the shoulder of Phillips Brooks.
Looking at the beautiful, incomparably beautiful harbor of Rio de Janeiro, in a hill, high hill over looking the entire city, is a mammoth statue of Jesus the Christ with His arms extended in blessing. In the heart of the Amazon jungle, among Stone Age Indians that had known no other thing in their tribal life but to bathe their hands in human blood, I stood with a Bible in my hand, reading the precious things about Jesus, speaking to their hungry hearts, singing and praying together in the name of the Lord.
How shall I stop? Time would fail me to speak of preaching the gospel in Australia, or Indonesia, or in China, or in Africa, or in India, or in Europe, or in North America, or in South America, or in the islands of the sea. He is alive. He is alive. He lives. And how would you find time to speak of the living Christ whom you have met in your life.
"Walking down a self-chosen road, I met the Son of God." Some of you, "I met Him at my mother’s knee." Some of you, "I met Him in a quiet place of prayer." Some of you, "I met Him in a desk over which I bowed my head in despair." Some of you, "I met Him in the church." Some of you, "I met Him in a great crisis." Some of you, "I met Him in a open grave." Ten thousands times ten thousands would His disciples rise today and say, "I met Him. I, with eyes of faith, have seen Him. With ears of my soul, He spoke to me and I heard and I have never been the same since."
This is an incontrovertible fact. There is no attestation today to any truth that is known to humankind or fully authenticated than the fact of the resurrection of Jesus our Lord from among the dead [Colossians 1:18]. He is our hope. He is our Savior. He is our Mediator [1 Timothy 2:5] and Intercessor [Hebrews 7:25]. He is our great God and coming king.
And for that purpose we press the invitation of faith in Him today. In the balcony around a family, a couple, or just one somebody you, in the press of the people on this lower floor, a family, bring your children to us, let us together grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord. Maybe here some sweet day, when we are assembled in His presence, Jesus will come for His own, and we will rise to meet Him together in the air [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. Oh, blessed hope! Oh, precious promise!
In the throng on this lower floor, into that aisle and down to the front, "Here I come, pastor, here I am. I have made a decision for God today, and here I come." Do it. And may the angels that guarded the empty tomb on that Easter morning [John 20:11-12] attend you in the way as you come. Make it now. Do it now. Come now, while we stand and while we sing.