Facts and the Resurrection of Christ
March 11th, 1979 @ 8:15 AM
FACTS AND THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-11-79 8:15 a.m.
In our preaching through the Book of Acts we have come to chapter 25. And the title of the message is Facts and the Resurrection of Christ.
The end of chapter 24 leaves Paul in prison in Caesarea, the capital of the Roman province of Judea. And he stays there for two years, bound in prison, under the direction of Felix [Acts 24:27]. And at the end of those two years, Felix is replaced by a far more capable Roman jurist; his name is Festus. And when Festus came into the office of the Roman procuratorship, he went up to Jerusalem [Acts 25:1], and in Jerusalem the leaders of the Jews said many things against a prisoner named Paul that was incarcerated in Caesarea [Acts 25:2]. And they asked that Festus allow Paul to be brought up to Jerusalem to be tried there, intending, it says in the third verse, to kill him in the way [Acts 25:3]. But Festus answered that they ought to come down to Caesarea, and there before the judgment seat to accuse Paul of any wickedness they found in him [Acts 25:4-5]. So Festus returns to Caesarea, and these leaders of the Jewish nation, the Sanhedrin and the priests, come down and accuse Paul of many things [Acts 25:6-7].
Then when Paul answered for himself it was plain that he had not broken any Roman law [Acts 25:8]; but Festus, willing to do the Jews a pleasure, said, “Paul, will you go up to Jerusalem, and be tried for these charges before me there?” [Acts 25:9]. And it was then that Paul said, “I am a Roman citizen, and I do not with reluctance face death, but I am not guilty of the things whereof they accuse me, and I appeal unto Caesar” [Acts 25:10-11]. One of the privileges of Roman citizenship was anywhere in the Roman Empire you could appeal your case personally to the Roman Caesar. So Festus replies, “You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar shall you go” [Acts 25:12].
Now while Paul is in Caesarea waiting to be sent to Rome to be tried before the Roman Caesar, why, there comes to visit the procurator King Herod Agrippa, King Herod Agrippa II and his wife Bernice, Bernice [Acts 25:13]. And while they are there, why, Festus tells Agrippa about this unusual prisoner, and to us it is a remarkable thing what Festus says about him. Festus says that he had these Jewish people to come and to accuse him, but when they came and accused him it was about nothing such as he supposed [Acts 25:14-18]; but, verse 19: “They had certain questions against him of their own deisidaimonia,” translated here “superstition.” No: “They had certain questions against him of their own system of religion, deisidaimonia” [Acts 25:19]. Do you remember in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Acts when Paul begins his address to the Athenians, those cultured literary Athenians, he says, “I see that in everything you are very deisidaimon, very religious” [Acts 17:22]. Not “superstitious,” as it is translated in the King James Version; “You are very devout, very devout, very religious” [Acts 17:22]. Well, that’s the word here: deisidaimonia. “When I had the trial, I was amazed that it was not something of violence or of wickedness; but they had certain questions against him of their own system of religion, and”—now this is a Roman procurator’s idea of what Paul was doing—“and of one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive” [Acts 25:19].
Now in the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts, Agrippa gives Paul the opportunity to plead his own cause [Acts 26:1]. And in the eighth verse, Paul addresses King Agrippa, saying, “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?” [Acts 26:8]. Then in the twenty-third verse he describes his gospel: “preaching what Moses and the prophets said: that Christ should suffer, and that He should be the first that should be raised from among the dead” [Acts 26:22-23].
Well, as you look at that, you can immediately see that, in the preaching of the gospel, the heart of it and the center of it is of this one Jesus, who was dead, whom Paul affirms to be alive [Acts 25:19]. And that is so true, so eminently and everlastingly and significantly true. The keystone of the gospel of Jesus Christ is His resurrection from the dead that He is alive, that He lives [Matthew 28:1-7]. If that is not true, all of Christianity falls crashing to the ground; it’s rubble, it’s debris. The very heart of the Christian message is the resurrection of Jesus Christ [1 Corinthians 15:3-4].
And that has more significance for us than any other one thing in the world. This is our only hope. If one man could escape the grave, maybe two could. If two could escape, maybe many could. If many could, maybe a multitude can. And if a multitude can, maybe all of us can. But how much more so is it significant when that One who escaped the grave did so triumphantly and victoriously. “O Grave, where is thy victory? Death, where now is thy sting? Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” [1 Corinthians 15:55, 57].
“Of one Jesus, who was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive” [Acts 25:19]. Now the message this morning is seven incontrovertible, indisputable, unanswerable facts that Jesus was raised from the dead.
Fact number one: it is a philosophical fact. How could a life so pure, and so beautiful, and so godly, given wholly to truth, how could it end in a crime of shame, degradation, crucifixion? [Matthew 27:27-50]. Is that the end of life? Surely, surely there is more meaning to life than that! One so beautiful and so pure and so godly should die in such ignominy, in such disgrace and shame? Surely, surely there is more meaning to life than that! If all life is the looking forward to the grave, if all life is the injustice and the wrong we see in this present world, then we are faced with an insoluble mystery. Wrong, injustice, or right and righteousness have no meaning whatsoever, no pertinency at all. There is a philosophical fact that lies back of the resurrection of our Lord: namely, that there is more to this life than just that we fall into the grave [Matthew 28:5-7; John 20:1-18].
Fact number two: it is a pragmatic, empirical, practical fact. The Lord was crucified [John 19:16-30]. And so certainly dead “they brake not His bones” [John 19:33]. They thrust a Roman spear through His heart, and the crimson of His life poured out [John 19:34]. And they took His body and they laid it in a sepulcher; over that sepulcher was rolled a great stone, and that stone was sealed with a Roman seal [Matthew 27:60, 66]. And there was placed a guard there to see to it that that body stayed in that sepulcher [Matthew 27:62-66]. But after three days, on the third morning, the body was gone, and the grave clothes were not disarranged as though it were a robbery [John 20:5-9; Matthew 28:1-6]. How do you account for the disappearance of the body?
There is one of two things: the body was removed by human hands, or the body was removed by supernatural hands. If the body was removed by human hands, two possibilities: those hands were the hands of friends who stole His body away; or those hands were the hands of foes who stole His body away. Now of those two, His friends could not have done it, and His foes would not have done it. His friends could not have done it because there was a great stone rolled over that sepulcher; it was sealed by a Roman seal, and there was a Roman guard to see to it that the body was undisturbed [Matthew 27:63-66]. They could not have done it. Then His foes; His foes would not have done it. That was the very reason they were there. That was the reason they sealed the stone with a Roman seal. That was the reason the guards stood there to see to it that the body was not disturbed. And why would they have done such a thing, the opposite of which they were sent there to do, to steal His body away? Simon Peter is preaching about the resurrection of Christ a matter of days after this [Acts 2:22-36], and all it would have taken to have silenced the preaching of Simon Peter forever was to produce the body of Jesus Christ! “You say He was raised from the dead? Look at this decaying frame!” Why didn’t they do it? Because His body had been raised by supernatural hands! [Romans 1:4]. The second great fact of the resurrection of Christ is a pragmatic, empirical, practical one: the body had disappeared.
Fact number three: it is a psychological fact; namely the marvelous conversion and turn of the disciples themselves. On Friday, when the Lord was crucified and His body laid in the tomb [Matthew 27:57-60], they were plunged into abject and indescribable despair. “This is He that we thought should bring salvation to Israel. This is He that we thought should be the Savior of the world. But He is dead. We saw Him die [Matthew 27:32-50], and He has been placed in a tomb guarded by Roman soldiers.” And they were plunged into sadness beyond our understanding. Every hope they had ever entertained was dashed summarily to the ground. That’s on Friday.
And on Sunday, three days later, on the third day, they are new men. At first they are incredulous at what had happened. Then they have come to see that Jesus is alive! He has been raised from among the dead and He lives! [Luke 24:1-12; John 20:19-28]. Immediately, they were different. They are flames, they are fires, they are zealots [Acts 3:15, 4:10-12]. And for that fact they laid down their lives!
Let me point out here a psychological impossibility: had it been a lie that Jesus was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7], had it been a lie that they had seen Him and talked with Him and broken bread with Him [John 21:9-13], had it been a lie that they had conversed with Him and walked with Him for forty days [Acts 1:3], had it been a lie, had they stolen His body away, to have laid down their lives for a lie is a psychological impossibility! They could not have done it. It is impossible. But those men who at first did not believe that He was raised from the dead [John 20:19-28], when they saw that He actually was, it was a truth beyond what heart could contain and mind could imagine! And for that fact, every one of them, except the apostle John, laid down his life!
Well, one could say, as many critics do, “It was a hallucination.” A hallucination? Isn’t it a remarkable thing that there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people hallucinated at the same time? In just one instance there were more than five hundred gathered on the top of a mountain in Galilee who saw the risen Lord [Matthew 28:16-20; 1 Corinthians 15:6]. And isn’t it strange that they all should have been hallucinating just at that one time; never before, never after? “But you see, pastor, maybe it was a spirit.” They were acquainted with spirits. Samuel appeared in spirit [1 Samuel 28:11-19]. “Well, maybe it was a resuscitation like Lazarus” [John 11:43-44]. They were acquainted with resuscitations such as Lazarus; they’d seen it [Luke 7:11-15]. But this was different: it was a man who had died, who was now immortalized, raised from the dead, the firstfruits of them that slept! [1 Corinthians 15:20]. He was raised from the dead! [Matthew 28:1-7]. And for that fact they laid down their lives. The third great fact of the resurrection of Christ is psychological: the change in the hearts and minds of the apostles.
The fourth great fact of the resurrection of Christ, “This one Jesus who was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive” [Acts 25:19], the fourth great fact is an ecclesiastical fact: how do you account for the church? Go back and back through the years and through the centuries, and go back to its beginning. How do you account for the initiation, the birth, the beginning of the church? How do you account for it? It must have started somewhere, because it’s everywhere now. Go back and back, how do you account for the resurrection of our Lord? How do you account for the beginning of the church of our Lord?
Well, it began in the Jews. At the first, all of the disciples of Jesus were Jews. At the first, every member of the church was a Jew. And they were by thousands in number, thousands and thousands and thousands. There must have been at least fifty thousand members in the church in Jerusalem; every one of them Jews. The Book says that there were many thousands of priests who were obedient to the faith [Acts 6:7], accepting the Lord Jesus. How do you account for that, when the twenty-first chapter of Deuteronomy says, quote, “Cursed is every one that is hanged on a tree” [Deuteronomy 21:23]. And Jesus was hanged on a tree [1 Peter 2:24]. He was crucified as a malefactor [Luke 23:32-43]. And yet, despite that curse written in the book of the Law, these who believe on the Lord Jesus by the thousands and thousands are Jews! How do you account for that? In no other way except what Peter says in the second chapter of the Book of Acts: “Him who was crucified, God hath made both Lord and Christ Messiah” [Acts 2:36]. There’s no other way to account for it.
And then again, how do you account for the beginning of the church in the Greco-Roman Empire? They statedly and fearlessly and courageously challenged and confronted the whole system of pagan religion, the deisidaimonia of the Greco-Roman Empire, all of it, all of it. And when they faced the system of religion, their gods, their temples, their priests, their sacrifices, their offerings, when they faced the Greco-Roman Empire, they did so fearlessly and courageously! As they did, the citizens of the empire sent their Christians to the lions, or their Christians to the stake! How do you account for that courage and that fearless confrontation of the religious system of the ancient world? It is found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. When you go back and you go back and you go back and you go back, you will find the beginning of the church in the resurrection of the Lord from the dead—an ecclesiastical fact [Matthew 28:1-7].
Fact number five: a soteriological fact; the conversion of the apostle Paul. What a man and what a mind he was! Thirteen books of the twenty-seven in this New Testament were written by him; fourteen if you count the Book of Hebrews; sixteen if you account his personal friend and physician who wrote Luke and Acts. Sixteen of the [twenty-seven] books in the New Testament were written by this man Paul. What a man and what a mind! And he was an arch-persecutor of these who called upon that name and walked in that way [Acts 9:1-2]. And now he is preaching the faith that he once denied! [Acts 9:20-22; Galatians 1:23] How do you account for that?
Three times in the Book of Acts is it recorded what happened to the apostle Paul in the conversion experience on the way to Damascus [Acts 9:1-18, 22:6-16, 26:12-20]. He met the Lord. He saw the Lord. And the Lord spoke to him, and called him, and sent him into the gospel ministry [Acts 9:15]. Just a few years, less than twenty, after the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus [Matthew 27:32-50], Paul wrote the letter to the, the first letter to Thessalonica, 1 Thessalonians. And in that, the heart of the gospel he is preaching is the resurrection of the Lord, that He lives and that He is coming back again [1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:2]. A few years after that he wrote the first letter to the church at Corinth, 1 Corinthians, and we read together that high, high, elevating chapter, chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians: in Christ, in Christ we have hope for resurrection and heaven and life and all the things God has promised those who find refuge in Him [1 Corinthians 15:20-58]. A soteriological fact: the conversion, the witness of the apostle Paul.
Fact number six is a literary fact. You read the accounts here in the Book of [John], read them for yourself. Read the accounts of the resurrection of our Lord, and of His converse, and of His intermingling, and of His conversations with men. Read it. It will sound beautiful, and natural, and holy, and precious, and heavenly, full of every marvelous and incomparable hope. Read it. Read it. There is not a literary critic in the world but would say this is the greatest and the finest and the most elevating of human speech. Read it.
Now when you read it, will you notice something? In the twentieth chapter of the Book of John, the story of Peter and John running to the tomb [John 20:3-8]; the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of John, the story of the Lord Jesus by the Sea of Galilee [John 21:1-23]; and the twenty-fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, that Renan said is the most beautiful story in human language, the story of the risen Lord talking, walking, breaking bread, saying the blessing with the two disciples on the way to Emmaus [Luke 24:13-31]. Now you look at that. When you read it in the Scriptures, it seems so beautiful and so natural. But that is one of the most impossible literary achievements in human speech, in human story, in human life. How does an author write about the association and the conversation of gods with men and it not sound strange and fictional? No author has ever been able to attain it, none in human literature.
In all of those glorious, glorious literary masterpieces of the Greeks, such as Homer, when they write of the intermingling of gods with men, it is manifestly fictional! The greatest author that we have ever produced is Shakespeare; but when you read in Hamlet of Shakespeare’s ghost, it is the product of a laborious imagination: it is manifestly fictional! But when you read of the story of the risen God, the Lord Jesus Christ, as He speaks and walks with men in the New Testament, it will be plain, beautiful, simple, full of truth. Why? Because what John is writing, he’s just writing the truth; what Luke is writing of the two to Emmaus, he’s just writing the simple truth. And the truth is its own evidence of the tremendous witness of the fact of the risen Lord—a literary fact.
Number seven: the facts of the resurrection, “Of one Jesus who was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive” [Acts 25:19], the last fact is an experiential fact. This kind of a fact: it’s been two thousand years since the disciples saw Him, invited to put fingers in the nail prints in His hands and thrust a hand into the scar in His side [John 20:27]. It’s been almost two thousand years, and yet the Lord is more alive today than He was then. He is more alive today than He has ever been!
Think of the students on university campuses. Think of men in high estate, science, political life, literary geniuses, who have come to know the Lord personally. Think of the thousands of us who have met Him, talk to Him every day, who feel His gentle hand of blessing upon our lives. Jesus lives!
Do you know of anyone who has any persuasion that Alexander the Great is alive? Have you come across anyone in your life who believes that Caesar is alive? Do you know anyone who would say that Charlemagne, or Richard the Lionhearted, or Washington, or Lincoln are alive? No! But by the thousands will you find men and women, young people, who say, “Jesus is alive. I feel Him in my soul. He walks and talks with me every day of my life”—an experiential fact.
Coming back this last week from a preaching assignment, a national convocation of ministers in the Christian denomination, the Disciples denomination, got on the plane late, late at night, returning home to Dallas, and I sat down and next to the window—I sat on the aisle—next to the window was seated a young man. And as I sat down, the plane took off, he extended his hand toward me, and he said, “Aren’t you W. A. Criswell, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas?” I said, “Yes, sir. Yes, sir.” Well, he said, “My name is Charles Cox; they call me Chuck. And I’m coming back home to Dallas from a journey to the Holy Land.” He said, “I listen to you preach every Sunday morning at the eight-fifteen o’clock service.” He said, “I am the pastor of a little Methodist church in Grand Prairie. I have a little congregation of about sixty, and we meet in a schoolhouse.”
Well, I visited with the young fellow, he seemed so bright. And this is what he said: he said, “I was in the university, and I was studying to be a professor of religion. Now,” he said, “my introduction to religion was just as you would think it to be in a university, studying it as such. All those higher critical approaches to the gospel and all of those lower critical approaches to the text, and all of those divisive, dividing, destructive things that are written in the scholastic world about religion,” he said, “that’s what I was doing.” Then he said, “Upon a day, at a Lord’s Supper, something happened to me. At the communion service, as I shared in the broken bread and the crushed fruit of the vine, something happened to me. Suddenly it came to my heart, ‘This is real. This is real. He actually died! [Matthew 27:32-50]. He paid the atoning price for my sins! [Romans 5:11]. He was raised for my justification! [Romans 4:25]. He lives! [Luke 24:3-7]. Jesus is real!’”
And that young fellow said, “He came into my heart.” And he said, “I asked to be ordained, and they ordained me. And I was assigned to be assistant pastor of the Highland Park Methodist Church, where I have been these last years.” And he says, “Now I have been given a little charge that meets in a schoolhouse in Grand Prairie.” And he said, “I go from door to door, knocking at the door, witnessing to the Lord Jesus.”
And then he parenthesized, he said, “Who would ever have thought that I would be knocking at the door? Who would ever have thought it? But,” he said, “I love it. I’m so happy talking to people about the living Jesus and gathering my little flock together in the schoolhouse against the day when we build a church and gather in the sanctuary of the Lord.”
How do you explain that? How do you explain that other than the fact Jesus lives? I said to him, “You remind me exactly of John Wesley.” A religionist, came over here to Georgia and ignominiously failed. And back home, Moravian missionaries spoke to him, and into Aldersgate Chapel, while a man was reading the preface to Luther’s commentary on the Book of Romans, Wesley wrote in his diary, “And as he read I found my heart strangely warmed. I came to see that Jesus died for me [1 Corinthians 15:3], that He was raised for me [Romans 4:25], that He lives.” And the rest is the revolution in the faith that saved England from the blood of the French revolution.
I don’t know of a fact in human life, in human story, in human history more identifiable, confirmable than the fact that Jesus lives, raised from the dead, in session at the right hand of God, guiding, living in His churches, walking among the seven-branched lampstands [Revelation 1:12-13], at whose feet John fell down as one dead, and the glorious Lord put His hand upon his shoulder, saying, “Fear not; I am He that liveth and was dead; and behold, I am alive forevermore; and I, I have the keys of Hell and of Death” [Revelation 1:17-18].
“Of one Jesus who was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive” [Acts 25:19]. What a glorious gospel! What an incomparable experience! What a living Lord! What a way to walk! And our invitation to your heart: pilgrim with us, walk with us, be one of us. “I also believe in the living Lord. I also accept Him for all that He said He was and all that He promised to do. And here I stand with you, coming to accept Jesus as Savior, coming to put heart and life in His church, coming to identify myself with the people of God, and here I am.” “On a confession of faith [Romans 10:9-10], in acceptance of the Lord, I’m coming today.” “Having been baptized into another church, I am coming to put my life here.” “Answering God’s call with my life, I’m on the way.” And as we sing this hymn, down one of those stairways and down one of these aisles, on the first note of the first stanza, “Here I am, pastor, here I am.” May God bless and angels attend in the way as you come, now; happily, gloriously, triumphantly, now, while we stand and while we sing.