Facts and the Resurrection of Christ
March 11th, 1979 @ 10:50 AM
FACTS AND THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-11-79 10:50 a.m.
We welcome the thousands uncounted, the hosts of you that share this hour on television and on radio. You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and the pastor bringing the message entitled Facts and the Resurrection of Christ. Last Sunday, we left off at the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Acts, and it concludes with Paul in prison in Caesarea, the capital of the Roman province of Judea. And Porcius [Festus] and Felix, the Roman procurator, to please the enemies of the cross, have left Paul in prison. And for two years he languishes there a prisoner [Acts 24:27].
Now the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Acts begins with Festus, the new procurator, appointed by the Roman Caesar over Judea; Festus [Acts 25:1]. All we know about Festus is what we read here in the Bible, but he must have been a far more capable and able man than Felix, his predecessor. So Festus comes into the province and then from Caesarea goes up to Jerusalem [Acts 25:1]. And there in Jerusalem, the chief priests and the Sanhedrin inform him against Paul, a prisoner left by the former procurator, Felix, in Caesarea [Acts 25:2]. And they desired a favor of Festus that he would have Paul come up to Jerusalem for his trial and they would ambush him and slay him on the way [Acts 25:3]. But Festus was a brilliant man, and he said, “Well, no. You come down to Caesarea and accuse him, and then we shall try him according to your accusations” [Acts 25:4-5].
So the Sanhedrin and the chief priests come down to Caesarea, and there they arraign Paul and accuse him of many things [Acts 25:6-7]. But Paul answers for himself and it is very plain that the many and grievous complaints they lodge against Paul are fictitious [Acts 25:8]. So Festus, willing to do the enemies of Paul a pleasure says, “Now will you go with me to Jerusalem to be tried there?” [Acts 25:9]. And Paul, knowing it would mean the destruction of his life says as a Roman citizen, “I appeal to Caesar” [Acts 25:10-11]. That was one of the privileges of a Roman citizen throughout the empire. He could appeal directly his case to the Roman Caesar. So Paul appeals his case, and then Festus says, “You have appealed to Caesar? To Caesar thou shalt go!” [Acts 25:12].
Now while Paul is waiting in prison in Caesarea, to be sent to Rome to be tried before the Roman Caesar, there comes to visit the Roman procurator in Caesarea; there come to visit King Herod Agrippa II and his sister Bernice—Bernice [Acts 25:13]. And while they are there, Festus says to Agrippa, “I have a most unusual prisoner here left by Felix” [Acts 25:14]. And now we have an interesting thing; how the Roman procurator will speak of Paul to Herod Agrippa II. So he says of Paul that when he had his accusers come and face him, that it was not as he supposed, not at all [Acts 25:15-18]. But in verse 19, “They had certain questions against him of their own” [Acts 25:19]. And the word here is translated “superstition,” deisidaimonias.
Do you remember in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Acts? Paul begins his address to those cultured and educated Athenians, “I see in all things you are most deisidaimon,” translated there very superstitious, “that you are very.” Oh, no! That would have been an insult. Paul, addressing that Areopagus—the high supreme court of the Athenians—begins by saying, “I perceive that in everything that you are deisidaimon— you are very devout, very religious” [Acts 17:22].
So it is the same way here: “It is not as I supposed,” Festus says concerning the accusations against the apostle Paul, “but they had certain questions against him of their own deisidaimonias—of their own system of religion—of their faith, of their worship. They had certain questions of their own religious system, and of one Jesus which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive” [Acts 25:18-19].
Now in the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts, the next one, Agrippa having said, “I would love to listen to this man myself” [Acts 25:22], he appears before Agrippa and the court, and when Agrippa says to Paul, “Thou art permitted to speak for thyself” [Acts 26:1], then Paul speaks [Acts 26:2-7], and in the eighth verse he says, “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you,” King Agrippa, “that God should raise the dead?” [Acts 26:8]. Then, in his message he speaks in defense of himself—the apology for the gospel that he speaks and he preaches is none other thing than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: that Christ should suffer. And that He should be the first that should be raised from among the dead [Acts 26:22-23]. Well, it is very apparent as you read of this trial before Festus, and then before Agrippa, that the heart of the gospel message that the apostle delivers concerns the resurrection of Christ from the dead. “Not anything as I supposed for,” says Festus, “but of one Jesus who was dead, whom Paul affirm to be alive” [Acts 25:18-19]. That is the heart of the message of the gospel that Paul preached. And rightly so.
The heart of the message of the Christian faith concerns the resurrection of Jesus Christ [Matthew 28:1-7]. It is the great central keystone, and if it is removed, if it is not true, then Christianity crashes in rubble and debris to the ground. The heart of the Christian message is the resurrection of Jesus from among the dead. Could I also make an avowal? That it is the very center and circumference of our own hope; if we have any future hope. If there could have been one Man who escaped the grave; then maybe two men could. If two men could slip out of the grave then maybe ten could. And if ten could, maybe a multitude could. And if a multitude could, maybe all of us can. And how much more triumphant is that hope when it concerns Jesus Christ, who was victorious over the grave. “O Death, where now is thy sting? O Grave, where now is thy victory? Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” [1 Corinthians 15:55, 57]. The preaching of the resurrection of Christ from among the dead is the heart of the Christian faith [Matthew 28:1-7]. And is the height and depth, breadth and width of our hope for ourselves and for these whom we love.
So the message concerns this text, “and of one Jesus, who was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive” [Acts 25:19]; and the title, Facts and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Fact number one: a philosophical fact that Christ was raised from the dead; indisputable, indisputable, incontrovertible, unanswerable facts of the resurrection of our Lord. First, a philosophical fact: the life of our Lord was holy and pure, and given to a God-like devotion to the truth. But it ended in violence and in blood, in shame, in disgrace, and in execution [Matthew 27:27-50]. Is that the end of life—death and shame and disgrace? If a life so beautiful, and a life so precious, a life so godly, and one so perfect, ends in nothing but violence, and crime, and disgrace, then we face an insoluble mystery. Death is but the end of all life. It has no meaning. And wrong and injustice shall reign for ever in the earth. Our hope and our promise of the triumph of righteousness, and goodness, and purity, and holiness, and godliness lies in the fact of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. His life, so beautiful and pure, does not end in the violence of execution and the burial in the grave. But His life ends in triumph and in glory in the resurrection [Matthew 28:5-7; John 20:1-18]. Fact, number one: a philosophical fact.
Fact number two: a pragmatic, empirical, practical fact; our Lord was surely, surely dead. So certainly dead they brake not His bones. So certainly dead they thrust a Roman spear into His heart, and the crimson of His life poured out [John 19:30-34]. And they wrapped Him in a winding sheet and laid Him in a tomb [Matthew 27:59]. Over that tomb they rolled a heavy stone [Matthew 27:60]. And against that stone they sealed it to the living rock with a Roman seal that a man dare not break. And before that sepulcher they placed a Roman guard lest anything should happen; lest His body should be stolen away [Matthew 27:62-66]. And yet with all of that security, the third day the body was gone, and the grave clothes were in perfect array—not a robbery [Matthew 28:1-7; John 20:1-8].
What happened to the body of our Lord? And how do you explain that empty tomb? One of two ways: His body was taken away by human hands, or He was raised by supernatural hands. If His body were taken away by human hands then there are two alternatives: His friends stole His body away, or His foes stole His body away. And of those two things, His friends could not do it and His foes would not do it. His friends could not do it. That heavy stone was sealed with a Roman seal. And all of the power of the Roman Empire was back of that seal. And not only that, but it was guarded by a contingency of Roman soldiers lest anyone say they had taken His body away [Matthew 27:60, 62-66]. His friends could not do it. His foes would not do it. It would be unthinkable and unspeakable, for they were there for just the opposite reason. They were there to see to it that no one disturbed that sepulcher and bothered that body. Think how easy it would have been; just a few days after this Simon Peter is preaching that Jesus is raised from the dead [Acts 2:22-36], how easily it would have been to contravene and interdict and to obviate and to make ridiculous the preaching of Simon Peter if they had the body of the Lord. Just expose it, “You say He was raised from the dead? Here is His corrupting body.” They could not do it. Why? Because Jesus was raised from the dead, not removed or stolen by human hands, but by the power of Almighty God [Acts 2:24; Romans 1:4; Ephesians 1:20].
Fact number three: a psychological fact; the marvelous change in the life of the disciples. On Friday, they were plunged into abysmal despair—into indescribable grief. Every hope they had for the kingdom of God; every dream that they had dreamed for the Messiah Lord Jesus had been dashed to the ground. They had seen Him die [John 19:16-30]. They had seen the rupture in His side and heart. They had seen the blood and the water spill out [John 19:31-34]. They had seen Him buried in a tomb [John 19:38-42]. He was certainly dead. And with the dead Christ, there was buried all of their dead hopes.
Then on Sunday, three days later, those same disciples are aflame and afire. They have seen the Lord. They have talked with Him. They have walked with Him [Acts 1:3]. They have even broken bread with Him [John 21:9-13]. They are aflame [Acts 3:15, 4:10-12]. He is alive! He is alive [Luke 24:1-7; John 20:19-28]. How do you account for the marvelous change in the disciples? Some might say, “They stole His body away,” which they could not do. Some might say, “They stole His body away and they are preaching a lie. They are delivering a deception. They are misleading the people. They know better. They know the truth.”
That is a psychological impossibility—for men to give their lives for a lie. These are the men who all of them are executed; these disciples—all of them. The only one who lived beyond execution was John, the sainted John; and he was placed on the Isle of Patmos to die of exposure and starvation [Revelation 1:9]. These men are preaching that Jesus is raised from the dead [Acts 3:15, 26, 4:10, 5:29-32]. And on the basis of that marvelous truth, they are laying down their lives which, I say is a psychological impossibility—for a man to lay down his life for a lie.
These men are changed. They have seen the Lord [Acts 1:2-3]. And they are delivering a great message of truth and hope and salvation [Acts 2:38-40]. But some might say they are hallucinatory. They have seen an hallucination. They just thought they saw Jesus raised from among the dead. My brother, there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people who saw the Lord Jesus after He was raised from the dead. Over a period of forty days [Acts 1:3], at one time there were more than five hundred gathered on an appointed mountain in Galilee who saw the risen Lord [Matthew 28:16-20; 1 Corinthians 15:6]. Seated there, Dr. Page Patterson said, “Pastor, how many men do you think saw the Lord Jesus? Do you think there were a thousand?” I replied, “I do not know. The Bible does not say. But there were hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds—five hundred at one time who saw the risen, resurrected immortalized, transfigured, glorified, living Lord Jesus” [Matthew 28:16-20; 1 Corinthians 15:6]. And wouldn’t it be strange if all of those people had hallucinations? And wouldn’t it be even more strange if they had none before and none after; but just at that one time they all fell into hallucinatory aberrations? Psychologically; psychologically, Jesus raised from the dead brought to those disciples in despair and despondency, a flaming hope and a glorious message.
Fact number four: an ecclesiastical fact; where did the church come from? Over the world you see these churches, and they all have an Easter message: Jesus is alive! He is raised from among the dead. “As in Adam, all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. Christ the firstfruits; and then they that are His at His coming” [1 Corinthians 15:22- 23]. The whole world has seen the spread of the gospel message in the churches. Where did the church come from? We go back, and we go back and we go back through the years and the centuries, and we find that the first church was entirely Jewish. There must have been fifty thousand Jews who were members of the mother church in Jerusalem. The Bible says not only were thousands and thousands converted to the faith [Acts 2:41, 5:14], but there were innumerable numbers of the priests who were converted to the Christian faith [Acts 6:7]. The church began in Jerusalem in the temple, in the Jewish people, in the deisidaimonias, in the system of religion of the Jews. In the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy it is expressly written in the Law, “Cursed be every man that hangs on a tree” [Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13]. The awesomeness of the execution of our Lord [Matthew 27:32-50], as terrible as it is to us, was a thousand times more accursed to the Jew. And yet, it is to them—it is to them that the story of Jesus is believed and accepted. How? There is no other explanation except the one that Simon Peter gives in the second chapter of the Book of Acts, “by wicked hands He was crucified [and slain]” [Acts 2:23]; but this One crucified, God hath made both Lord and Christ Messiah [Acts 2:36]. There is no other explanation for the beginning of the church except in the marvelous resurrection of Jesus from among the dead. And the same story is told as the church confronted the Greco-Roman world. With boldness and with courage and with fearlessness, the first Christian church faced the entire system, the deisidaimonias of the Greeks and the Romans. Their temples were everywhere. Their priests were legion. Their ceremonies and rites and songs were the daily practice of all of the people. And yet, the Christian church confronted it and challenged it, and finally, subverted it. As they did so, for three centuries the cry was, “The Christians to the lions”; or, “The Christians to the stake.” But they laid down their lives for the faith—fed to wild beasts, burned by fire. Where does that come from? The church had its beginning and its origin, its genesis, in a great message, “Jesus is alive! He is raised from among the dead [Matthew 28:1-7]. He lives!” [Matthew 28:5-7; Mark 16:5-7; Luke 24:4-7; John 20:1-16]. This is the birth and the beginning of the church—an ecclesiastical fact.
Fact number five: a soteriological fact; the conversion, the witness, the change, the marvelous turning of Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul the apostle [Acts 13:9]. This man is no ordinary man; this is a man of illimitable mind, understanding, intelligence, genius. In this New Testament that I hold in my hand—in this Bible there are [twenty-seven] books in the New Testament. Thirteen of them were written by the apostle Paul—fourteen of them, if you count the epistle to the Hebrews; sixteen of them if you count the personal physician and companion of the apostle, Dr. Luke, who wrote Luke and the Book of Acts. Sixteen of those books out of the twenty-seven come from the apostle Paul. This is a man who was persecuting the church [Acts 8:1-3, 9:1-2]. This is the man who met the Lord, who was gloriously converted [Acts 9:3-18], and now, who preaches the faith that he once destroyed [Acts 9:20-22; Galatians 1:23]. Just a few years after the death of Christ, he writes the first letter to the Thessalonians and in that letter as he writes, the heart of the gospel is the resurrection of our Lord and His promised coming again [1 Thessalonians 4:13-18]. Just a few years after that, he wrote his first letter to the church at Corinth—1 Corinthians. And that is the reason I had you read out of the fifteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter. It is the great, tall, towering, mountainous, high-water mark of all revelation—Jesus lives! He has been raised from the dead! [1 Corinthians 15:20-58]. It is a soteriological fact, the glorious conversion of the apostle Paul [1 Corinthians 15:8-10]. And read his apology and defense of the faith for yourself. Three times in this Book of Acts, does he recount how he met Jesus, the living Lord Jesus, on the road to Damascus [Acts 9:1-18, 22:6-16, 26:12-20].
Fact number six: a literary fact; there is no literary critic in the world but reading the Gospels and reading the story of our Lord, does not respond. This is the highest of all literary achievement. There is nothing comparable to it in the world. Even [Joseph Ernst] Renan the skeptic in France said, “The most beautiful story in the earth is the Gospel of Luke, and the most beautiful story in the Gospel of Luke is the twenty-fourth chapter telling the story of the Lord Jesus as He walks with the two disciples on the way to Emmaus” [Luke 24:13-35]. When you look at these stories, there is a literary genius in it that humankind, human gift, human genius could never aspire to—could never achieve, and that is; these are the stories of the converse, and the concourse, and the intercourse, and the visiting, and the talking together of deity and common man. How do you do that and make it seem sensible and natural? When a man of genius tries to do that, it is manifestly a laborious imagination, it is that on the surface of it. I suppose the greatest Greek author out of all of those incomparable galaxies of Greek dramatists and poets and historians and authors, I suppose the greatest of all of them is Homer. But when Homer writes of the concourse and the visiting and the conversation of gods with men, it is plainly fictitious; it is manifestly fictitious. I suppose the greatest of all of the literary geniuses we ever produced is Shakespeare. But when Shakespeare writes of Hamlet’s ghost, it is manifestly the product of a laborious imagination. They cannot do it, and it sound real. But these men do it, as they write the story of this risen Deity, as He talks and walks with men. It is beautiful, and it is natural, and it is holy, and it is heavenly. Why? Because they are just recounting a simple truth; this happened. Jesus lives, He was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:5-7; Mark 16:6-7; Luke 24:4-8]; He talked to Peter and to John [John 21:7-19], and the two disciples on the way to Emmaus [Luke 24:13-31]. He spoke to Mary Magdalene [John 20:11-18]. He lives; He was raised from the dead.
Fact number seven: an experiential fact; a fact of our hearts, a fact of our response—it has been almost two thousand years since Jesus was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7]. And all through those years, many have testified of an experience with Him in their hearts, their souls, their lives. Students on the university campus, great scientists, the greatest the world has ever known, literary figures, men of political genius, men of world renown through the years and the centuries, they have spoken of their meeting with, relationship, blessing by this living Lord. How unusual is that? Alexander the Great is dead. Nobody says he isn’t. Caesar is dead. Nobody said he isn’t. Charlemagne, Richard the Lion-hearted, Washington, Lincoln, all of them are dead. No one says that they aren’t. But Jesus of Nazareth is alive: ten million times ten million say, “I have met Him. I know Him. I talk to Him. His hand of blessing is upon me.” When you go to Trinity Church, Trinity Episcopal Church in Boston, there is that famous statue of their great preacher Phillips Brooks. He is standing at a pulpit with an open Bible in his hand. And just back of him is the Lord Jesus with his right hand on the shoulder of God’s preacher—Phillips Brooks. He is alive. He lives [Luke 24:5-7].
Coming back from a preaching mission to a national convocation of Disciples of Christ ministers, the Christian Church, coming back this week on a late, late plane, I sat down on the aisle, and next to the window sat a young man. After I was seated, he turned to me and extended his hand, and he said, “Are you not W. A. Criswell, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas?”
I said, “Yes.”
And he said, “Well, my name is Charles Cox. They call me Chuck. And I’m pastor of a little Methodist Church in Grand Prairie. I am coming back home from a visit to Israel. And I am so delighted to so you. Because,” he said, “I listen to you preach every Sunday morning at the eight-fifteen o’clock service.” Well, I had a wonderful time visiting with the young fellow. And here is what he told me: he said, “In the university I was studying religion, and I was preparing myself to be a professor of religion.” And he said, “It was typical of all of those things that you read in critical books: Christian religion decimated, destroyed—the higher critical approach to the gospel message, and to the documents of the Old Testament; and the lower critical approach to the texts, and all of the things of divisiveness and doubt that go in these scholarly books; studying deisidaimonias religion.” And then he said, “Upon a day, I was in a communion service, observing the Lord’s Supper.” And he said, “Something happened to me, as I took the bread and as I drank the cup, something happened to me,” he said. He said, “It came to my heart in vivid reality, this is factual. This is real; Jesus died for my sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], and Jesus was raised again for my justification [Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:4]. He lives! He lives! [Luke 24:3-7]. This is real, this is not like those books. This is not like those doubts, this is not like those cynicisms; this is real.” And he said, “I asked to be ordained, and I was ordained. And they assigned me to be assistant pastor of the Highland Park Methodist Church in Dallas.” And he said, “Just recently they have given me my first charge. I have sixty in my little flock. And we meet in a schoolhouse in Grand Prairie.” And he says, “Every day I knock at the door, visiting the people; witnessing to the grace of God in Christ Jesus.” And then he exclaimed, “Who would ever have thought that I would be knocking at the door of the people? But.” he says, “I do it now every day, and I love it.” What a change. What a remarkable conversion.
I said to him, “You remind me of John Wesley, who in failure came back to Great Britain from Georgia—from a disastrous ministry in Georgia, taught by the Moravians. Attending a chapel in Aldersgate, listening to a man read the introduction to Martin Luther’s Commentary on the Book of Romans, and as he writes in his Diary, as he wrote, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I believed. I received. And Jesus lives! And out of that humble experience of meeting the living Lord, came the great revival in England that delivered our motherland from the horrors of the blood of the French Revolution.
He is alive! He lives! He is over there where that young Methodist preacher is knocking at the door, building up the household of faith and a congregation of the Lord. And He lives in our hearts, and we pray, and we talk to Him, and He walks by our sides. And He comforts us in our sorrows, and He encourages us in our trials, and He stands by us in the hour of our death, and He sends His angels to take us up to heaven some day [Luke 16:22]—He is alive; He lives.
These seven incontrovertible, indisputable, unanswerable facts of the resurrection of Jesus Christ; of one Jesus, who was dead whom Paul affirmed to be alive [Acts 25:19]. What a message! What a gospel! What a hope, what an assurance, what a reality; Jesus is alive! He lives; and because He lives, we shall live also [John 14:1-3].
That is our humble and prayerful earnest invitation to your heart today. “I believe. I accept. I open my heart heavenward and God-ward. And I ask the Lord to come into my life. Pastor, here I stand. I am accepting Christ as my Savior. I want to be baptized as He commands in His Holy Word” [Matthew 28:19-20]. Or, “I want to join the church. And I am bringing my family and we are all coming.” Down a stairway, down one of these aisles, from this balcony side to side, from the throng and press of these people on the lower floor, into that aisle and down to the front, “Here I am pastor. I have decided for God and I am on the way” [Romans 10:9-10]. May angels attend you. May God bless you as you answer with your life. Make the decision now in your heart. “Now God help me, I am on the way. Open the door for me, Lord. I am coming through.” Make the decision now in your heart. When you stand up, stand up taking that first step. It will be the greatest step you have ever made in your life. Do it now. God bless you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.