The Reality of the Resurrection
April 10th, 1977 @ 8:15 AM
THE REALITY OF THE RESURRECTION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-10-77 8:15 a.m.
On the radio of the city of Dallas and on the radio of our Bible Institute, you are listening to the service of the First Baptist Church, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Reality of the Resurrection. It would be trite for me to repeat that the resurrection of Christ is the fundamental, primary, dynamic foundation of the Christian church and of the Christian faith. You will see this poignantly illustrated in the defense, the apology, of the apostle Paul before King Herod Agrippa ll. Having come with Bernice, his wife and sister, to Caesarea to salute Festus [Acts 25:13], Festus describes to the King Agrippa that he has a prisoner who has made appeal to the Roman Caesar [Acts 25:10-11], but he does not know what to say, as he writes the indictment to the imperial emperor of the empire [Acts 25:26-27]. And so he describes to Agrippa that he has one Jesus, who was dead, whom Paul affirms to be alive [Acts 25:13-26], and describing the prisoner, Paul, Agrippa said to Festus, the procurator of Judea, “I would also hear the man myself.” And the procurator replies, “Sir, tomorrow at this time, thou shalt hear him” [Acts 25:22].
Then the next chapter is the defense of the apostle Paul for the Christian faith [Acts 26:1-32]. 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 the Jews. Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, being a Jew and a believer in God, why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?
“If the dead rise not, then is not Christ risen: And if Christ be not risen, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins” [1 Corinthians 15:16-17].
You read that just a moment ago. The foundation of the faith is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And the message this morning is made up of seven incontrovertible facts that present the resurrection of our living Lord. One is a philosophical fact, one is a pragmatic fact, one is a psychological fact, one is an ecclesiastical fact, one is a soteriological fact, one is a literary fact, and the last one is an experiential fact.
First, the philosophical fact: there is no more moving and dynamic verse in the Bible than Romans 1:4. Jesus Christ was marked out, in the King James Version translated, “declared to be”; the Greek word horizō, our English word “horizon” comes from it; “marked out” where the sky meets the earth, the circle, the marking, horizō, “Marked out to be the Son of God…by the Spirit of holiness, in the resurrection from the dead.” And Paul adds a little phrase, “with power” [Romans 1:4]. What a remarkable philosophical fact. “He was marked out with power, by the Spirit of holiness, in the resurrection from the dead” [Romans 1:4]. An incontrovertible fact; there is an omnipotent power in this universe. The reason the sun shines, it is God who makes it shine. The reason these planets orbit around that central sun, it is the power of God that guides them. The reason the oceans are liquid, a thousand things do we see manifest in this universe, demonstrating—marking out—the power of God. That same almighty power reaches down into morality, into human life, into what is right and what is wrong. There is no thing more factual in the universe and in human life than morality, the sensitivity to what is right and what is wrong.
Now, “marked out as the Son of God by the Spirit of holiness in the resurrection from the dead” [Romans 1:4], the life of our Lord was perfect, it was beautiful, it was sinless, it was moral, it was godly, it was spiritual, it was reverential. And yet, that life ended in execution. He died a criminal and a felon. He died in disgrace, in ignominy, and in shame [Matthew 27:26-50]. Is that the power of God in the universe, that truth is always subjected to wrong and that sin and death and the grave are forever triumphant? It violates the presence and power of God in the universe. There has to be some other conclusion than that; wrong forever triumphs, and sin and death are forever king. The Holy Scriptures say that God raised Him from the dead; for it was not possible, it was not in the power of the arrangement of God that He should be holden of death [Acts 2:24]. Truth ultimately is always triumphant over error. And death, and sin, and the grave are temporarily victorious [1 Corinthians 15:54-57]. There is a philosophical fact concerning the resurrection of our Lord.
Now to the opposite end of the spectrum, there is a pragmatic, a practical fact, concerning the resurrection of our Lord: it is that empty tomb [Matthew 28:5-7; John 20:1-9]. How do you explain that? He is buried in a winding sheet, with a hundred pounds of aloes, and frankincense, and spices; carefully, wonderfully, tenderly wrapped in a winding sheet with a covering over His head, separate, and laid in a new tomb [John 19:38-41]. That tomb is covered by a heavy stone, and that stone is sealed by a Roman seal, and that grave is guarded by a Roman guard [Matthew 27:62-66]; and yet, the tomb is empty [Matthew 28:5-7]. The clothes are in perfect arrangement—the head dress and the winding sheet—but the body is gone [John 20:3-7]. One of two things: either the body was taken away by human natural hands, or by supernatural power and hands. If it was taken away by human hands, by natural hands, then one of two things: it was done by His friends, the apostles; or it was done by His foes, these who hated Him and slew Him. If it was done by His friends, by the apostles, how could they?
That tomb is covered by a great stone. That tomb is sealed by the power of the highest empire the world ever saw and that tomb is guarded by a Roman guard [Matthew 27:62-66]. How could they? And if the body was taken away by His foes and by His enemies, why would they? Would they contribute to the very thing that they were seeking to annul: that His friends had stolen Him away? To see that that did not happen, they were there. Would they do the opposite of what they were trying to guard against?
And better still, within a few days after the Lord was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:5-7, John 20:1-9], Christ is preached that He is risen. And Simon Peter is filling all Jerusalem with the glad news of His resurrection [Acts 2:23-24, 32-33]. What more normal and final thing could have happened than that: Simon Peter preaching Jesus raised from the dead? Come and look! Here is His dead body wrapped in a winding sheet, with one hundred pounds of spices, look upon His dead face and His dead body [John 19:38-41]. Why didn’t they produce the body to controvert, and contravene, and interdict the preaching of Simon Peter? Because He had risen from the dead! [Matthew 28:1-7]. There was no robbery there; the clothes were in perfect order [John 20:3-7]. A pragmatic fact, incontrovertible: raised from the dead.
Third, a psychological fact: can you account for the change of these apostles? They were the ones who did not believe that He was raised from the dead; they were the ones who had to be convinced. On Friday, and Saturday, and up until Sunday, having witnessed the execution of our Lord, they were plunged into inconsolable despair and grief. Every hope they’d ever had was dashed to the ground and died when Jesus bowed His head, and gave up His spirit on the cross [John 19:30]. And yet, three days later, three days later, Sunday after Friday, on the third day, they are aflame, they are alive, they are glad, they are triumphant, they are rejoicing [John 20:20], they are filling the whole earth with the glorious knowledge of the good news of the resurrection of the Son of God [John 20:20]. How do you account for that?
All right, let’s look at three things that I have alliterated in “L’s.” One, could it be that they are preaching a lie? They stole His body away – which we have just said is impossible, but supposedly – are they preaching a lie? Now you look at this: it would be psychologically impossible for a group of men to suffer and to lay down their lives for a known lie. And yet these apostles suffered, and all of them were executed except the apostle John who was exiled to die of exposure and starvation [Revelation 1:9]. They laid down their lives for the faith, a lie? A psychological impossibility.
Number two, an “L”: it’s just a legend, just a legend; no fact in it, legend. Man, are you telling me that a legend could develop in three days? In three days? Are you saying that to me that a legend could develop in three days? That these men are dupes of a long process of time that gives birth to legends, in three days? It is psychologically impossible.
A third “L”: they are victims of a lunatic hallucination. Renan the great French critic, speaking of Mary Magdalene, who came first with the announcement He was raised from the dead [John 20:11-18], Renan said, “The dream of an hallucinated woman became the hope of the church.” What? These men are dupes and victims of an hallucination? How would you hallucinate that many men? There were five hundred of them at one time whom the resurrected Lord met with on an appointed mountain in Galilee [Matthew 28:16-20; 1 Corinthians 15:6]. And how is it that the hallucinations came just that moment, but never before and never after; for these are sane and reasonable men; Simon, and James, and John, and Thomas, and Matthew, and Bartholomew. It is a psychological impossibility. Therefore it becomes a psychological fact, that He was raised from the dead.
Third, an ecclesiastical fact: how do you account for the primitive church? This is the most dynamic thing, the most viable providence that ever happened in human history: the birth of the primitive church, that first church. Where did it come from? How do you explain it? Number one, that church was composed of thousands, and thousands, and thousands of Jews; the first church was all Jewish. The apostles were all Jews, and those converts were all Jews. They had witnessed the ministry of the Son of God, and some among their number had delivered Him to the Romans to be executed, to be crucified. And yet, that group, that group, that group are comprising the thousands of that beginning ministry of the church. Three thousand of them in one day [Acts 2:41]; turn the page and there are five thousand androni, men [Acts 4:4]; turn the page and there is a multitude of priests who are obedient to the faith [Acts 6:7]. How could such a wondrous thing ever have happened? It happened because of the resurrection of the Son of God from among the dead.
Number two: and that primitive church faced an intrepidity, the entire Greco-Roman world. They challenged the whole system of emperor worship. They challenged the whole system of pagan deities. They challenged the whole empire in its might and in its power; that little primitive church. And they did it triumphantly. The cry was, “The Christians to the lions. The Christians to the stake.” Whether they were burned at the stake or whether they were fed to the lions, there they were in every city of the Roman Empire, preaching the gospel of the risen Savior [Acts 8:4]. It is an ecclesiastical fact.
It is a sotierological fact: the conversion, the salvation of Saul of Tarsus [Acts 9:1-18], how do you account for that? This is the man who breathed out threatening and slaughter against the church [Acts 9:1]. This is a man who persecuted them unto death [Acts 22:4]. This is the man who gave his vote against them in the Sanhedrin [Acts 22:20]. And yet this is the man who is preaching the faith that once he denied [Galatians 1:23]. What kind of a man is he? There’s no literature as the literature he wrote adventitiously, just summarily; not to sit down as Milton said, “To write a great piece of literature that the English nation would never let die”; but he wrote it just summarily. This man, he has thirteen letters in that Bible, thirteen. He is the reason for Doctor Luke and the writing of Luke in the Book of Acts. And there are many who think he wrote the Book of Hebrews. By far the largest part of the New Testament is by that man. And if I had time, I wanted to quote some of the most glorious perorations in human literature, from him! He was marvelously saved, converted by the appearance of the risen Lord on a Damascus road [Acts 9:1-18]. He wrote the Book of Thessalonians just a few years after the Lord Jesus was crucified. Jesus was crucified in 33 AD, the Book of Thessalonians was written about 50 AD. That’s in seventeen years. Seventeen years after the resurrection you have that glorious hope called 1 Thessalonians. This passage that we read together, the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, was written just a little while after the resurrection of our Lord. Now you look at this: he could, he had opportunity to verify every fact; and he did, he and Doctor Luke. Look again, anything that Paul said, and he names these resurrection appearances: He appeared to Simon Peter [Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5], He appeared to the two on the way to Emmaus [Luke 24:13-32], He appeared to James [1 Corinthians 15:7], He appeared to all the apostles [John 20:26-28], and He appeared to about five hundred brethren at once [Matthew 28:16-20; 1 Corinthians 15:6], and last of all, “He appeared unto me as one out of due time,” as an abortion, “as before the time” [1 Corinthians 15:8]. Anything Paul said about the resurrection, there were living witnesses all around him; they could have stood up and said, “That’s a lie. That never happened. I was there.” It was the opposite: “That’s the truth. I was there; I saw it.” And for forty days did He walk with us [Acts 1:3]. An incontrovertible fact: the conversion of the apostle Paul.
Number six, a literary fact: there is nothing in human speech or in human language like the four Gospels. Well, why do you say that, pastor? Because of this: from the beginning of the writings of men they have sought in harmony to place together things about God and things about men, and always it is manifestly with laborious imagination. For example, there’s not a schoolboy here but that has been introduced to Greek mythology, all of those stories about the converse of the gods with men. And every piece of that literature, though it was written by some of the greatest authors in the world, Homer, Euripides, Thucydides, Aeschylus, they are manifestly fictitious. They labor in their imagination trying to make gods and trying to make men converse in beautiful harmony and in natural environment. Even Shakespeare, who was the greatest genius of all literary history, even Shakespeare could not do it. When you read for example the ghost of Hamlet in Shakespeare’s greatest play “Hamlet,” it is manifestly a laborious effort; it isn’t natural. Shakespeare couldn’t do it. You read the Gospels: it is as natural, it is as simple, it as harmonious as anything that mind could conjure up; the raised God, with men who walk in the flesh.
Renan, that critic that I spoke of a moment ago, said, “The most beautiful story in the world is the twenty-fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke.” And all literary critics would say, “And the most harmonious, symphonic, euphonic, natural harmony, the story of a risen God walking with two on the way to Emmaus, and known to them in the breaking of bread when He said the blessing [Luke 24:13-35]. Why? Why are these Gospels so marvelous? And why are they so natural? Because of one thing: they are humbly, and simply, and believingly, and prayerfully, and tenderly, and wondrously describing the truth. This is what happened. And in the language that a child could understand, they describe how God was made flesh [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:26-35], and how He dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father [John 1:1, 14]. And when He was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:5-7], it was but the natural conclusion of what they had seen in His beautiful and godly life.
Last, number seven, incontrovertible facts of the resurrection of our Lord. There is an experiential fact, an undeniable fact: Caesar is dead. Did you ever hear anybody defend that he wasn’t? Alexander the Great is dead, Charlemagne is dead, Richard the Lionheart is dead, Washington is dead, Lincoln is dead. Is Christ dead? He is more alive today than He ever was. On the university campus, in the chair of the professor, down where people labor and strive and live, in the churches, in the homes, in our hearts, He is more alive today than He ever was.
Walking through one of the great museums of the world, I stood transfixed before one of the most beautiful pictures I ever saw. It was masterfully done, as you would expect in one of the great museums of the world, and it was this: there before me was a humble cottage interior, a father and a mother and the children gathered round. They were at a table; they had their heads bowed, he was offering thanks in a poor, poor home, manifestly a poor, poor family. And above, and above—above their bowed heads and above, the artist had drawn a beautiful, moving picture of the risen Lord Christ, with His hands extended in blessing upon that little family. And the caption underneath: Christ Among the Lowly. He’s alive. He’s alive.
Walking down the streets of Boston, Massachusetts, I passed by Trinity Church, where Phillips Brooks was the far-famed preacher for a generation. And there in front of the church, there by the side of the church, near one of the main entrances is a statue of Phillips Brooks. He’s behind his pulpit, he has an open Bible in his hand, and the man who did the sculpture also sculptured the Lord Jesus Christ standing back of him, with His hand upon the shoulder of His great preacher, Phillips Brooks. He’s alive. He’s alive.
Visiting the beautiful city of Rio, there on a high mountain overlooking that incomparably beautiful harbor is a statue of the living Christ, with His hands outstretched in blessing over the city. In the heart of the Amazon jungle, among Auca Stone Age Indians, who all their lives had bathed their hands in human blood, I stood preaching the gospel of the Son of God to a band of believers, a little church. He is alive. He is alive!
And what could I say more of the moving of the Lord in this sanctuary? And what could I say more of the moving of the Lord in your heart and in your life? And what could I say more of the thousands and the thousands who would stand here at this sacred moment and say, “Pastor, I have a word, I have a word. I met Him in my soul, and in my heart, and in my life, I met Him and He spoke to me. And I found resurrection, and life, and victory, and triumph, in that same living Lord,” the resurrection of Jesus, the incontrovertible facts that support and sustain our hope in the Christian faith. We’re not fanatics; we have not followed cunningly devised fables, nor are we men of hallucination. Standing on the power of God, standing on the greatest facts in human life and story, we announce today the resurrection of the Son of God [Matthew 28:5-7], and our hope and our life in Him [1 Corinthians 15:3-4].
We stand now to sing our song of appeal and while we sing it, in the balcony round, a family, a couple, somebody you, on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, “Here I am, pastor, today I’ve made this choice: I’ve given my heart in faith to the living Christ, and here I stand [Romans 10:9-13; Ephesians 2:8]. Pastor, I’m bringing my whole family into the circle and circumference of this dear church, I’m going to rear my children in the faith and among these dear people.”
As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make that decision in your soul and come. There’s a stairway at the front and the back and on either side, and there’s time and to spare, come. In the press of people on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, come. Do it now. Make it now. May the resurrection Easter angels who stood at the tomb [John 20:12], attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.