THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-15-79 8:15 a.m.
On this resurrection day, we welcome the uncounted thousands of you who are listening to this hour on the two radio stations. This is the pastor of the church bringing the message entitled The Resurrection of the Dead. In preaching through the Book of Acts, we are in chapter 26. And Paul the apostle is standing on a pavement below and is addressing an apology, a defense of his life, to King Agrippa, who is the guest of Festus, the Roman procurator of the province of Judea. And in the eighth verse of this twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts, is the text and it reads: "Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?" [Acts 26:8]. And of course, the thrust of the question is because Agrippa is a Jew. Festus, all the Roman procurators, were pagans. But King Agrippa, the guest of the procurator, was a Jew. And as Paul begins his apology he asks the Jewish king Agrippa, "Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?"
The first and fundamental and primary article, doctrine, teaching, belief, persuasion, commitment, of the Christian faith is this: that Jesus was raised from the dead [1 Corinthians 15:13-19]. And Paul says that He is the firstfruits, and if Jesus was raised from the dead we also shall be raised from the dead [1 Corinthians 15:20-23]. Now, there is no article, there is no doctrine of the Christian faith that has been more viciously assailed by heathen philosophers than that article, that we live because He lives [John 14:19]. The idea of the resurrection of the dead was impossible to those who were learned in the Greek world. Do you remember the apostle Paul, coming to the university city of Athens? And as they listened to him in the Agora, down there where the people were in the marketplace, they said to one another, "He seems to be a setter forth of strange gods," gods plural, "because Paul preached Jesus, and the resurrection," in Greek lesous and anastasin [Acts 17:18]. lesous is masculine; anastasin is feminine. So it sounded to their ears as though he was preaching a strange pair of gods; for all of the gods were in pairs. It’d be Isis and Osiris, and it’d be Jove and Juno, it’d be Venus and Adonis; so to their ears, when he preached Jesus and the resurrection, anastasin, it sounded like strange gods. They took him before the Areopagus, the Supreme Court of the Athenian province, city, and he spoke to them of that faith, and they listened very intently until he came to the resurrection of the dead [Acts 17:22-31]. And when he began to speak of the resurrection of the dead, the Epicureans, the philosophers, the Stoics, the philosophers, laughed out loud; they scoffed and bowed out and went away [Acts 17:32].
In this passage here, as Paul stands in defense of his life, and as he speaks of what Christ has done for him, when he came to the resurrection of the Lord, that Christ should suffer, and that He should be the first that should rise from the dead [Acts 26:23], Festus broke in, the Roman procurator broke in and said, "Paul, thou art beside thyself" [Acts 26:24]. That’s a nice way of translating it, "You’re mad." That’s another translation, "Paul, thou art mad; thou art beside thyself. Much learning hath made thee mad [Acts 26:24]. You’ve lost your mind. You are unbalanced. For no sane and reasonable man could believe in the resurrection of the dead." There was a contemporary with Paul at this time; he lived south of the capital city of Rome, a tremendously famous statesman and writer. His name was Pliny; a gifted man, like Cicero. Pliny said, "Even the gods cannot raise the dead."
Now, from appearance, these heathen philosophers and these pagan rulers, from appearance they have every right to believe what they say: there is no possibility of a resurrection from the dead; for everything dies, and it stays dead. The grave holds its victims. Everything dies. All creation dies and is dying. All creatures die or are dying. From the smallest to the greatest, from a microbe to a man; days die, seasons die, the years die, even the stars in the firmament flicker, fade, and die. These burning stars finally turn to cinders. Our sun will. Everything dies. The man dies. When you read that long genealogic table in the fifth chapter of the Book of Genesis, after every man, however he lived, Adam, Methuselah, all, the refrain is like a dirge, "And he died. Lived so long, begat sons and daughters, and he died" [Genesis 5:1-32]. Hebrews 11:13, "And these all died"; it refers to the billions of men, the race of mankind that has inhabited this earth. They are all dead or we are dying.
Medical science has learned how to prolong life, but it has never learned how to keep death at bay. We have bombproof shelters and bulletproof vests, but we don’t have any death proof houses. And it seems that the grave keeps everything into which the dead fall. As Shakespeare says, "There is no traveler who has returned from that undiscovered borne." I listened to a teacher in Shanghai University many years ago, and he said he stood before his class of brilliant young Chinese students, university students, and he said, "I’d like for you to come up here and write on the board where we can look at it and discuss it, why you don’t believe in the Christian faith." And the first student stood up immediately, and walked up there to the board and wrote on the blackboard, "Dead men do not rise." They have a case; in appearance they are eminently and everlastingly correct.
But the thrust of this question is in another world: as Paul faces King Agrippa, he says, "Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead? [Acts 26:8]. A Jew, believing in God, why it be incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?" There’s a concomitant, there’s a corollary, apparently that follows along with a man who believes in God. That is there is power in the omnipotent Almighty to break that prison house of death. If you don’t believe in God, then of course there’s no argument; there’s nothing more to be said. There’s no hope, there’s no star, there’s no song, there’s no tomorrow, there’s no meaning, and there’s no purpose; for there’s no God.
One of the young women in our church was proposed to by a young fellow, and she wanted to marry him. She brought him to me for me to talk to him; he was an infidel, and it bothered her. You have a command in the Scriptures: you’re not to marry an unbeliever [2 Corinthians 6:14]. So, being bothered, she brought the young fellow to me. And she said, "I love him, and we want to be married. But he’s an infidel, and would you talk to him?" So I spoke at length with him, and I asked him a simple and plain question, "What do you envisage as the future of your life, of your wife? If you have children, of your children? Of your home? Of your father and mother? What do you think lies ahead? What is the destiny before?" And of course, the answer is always what they say: "Nothing, darkness, death and the grave. There’s not any meaning, there’s not any purpose, there’s not any hope, there’s not any golden tomorrow." If you don’t believe in God, then the grave and death are forever supreme. But if you believe in God, "Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, Agrippa, that God should raise the dead?" [Acts 26:8]. If you believe in God, in the almightiness of His omnipotent hands, there is power to break that awful prison house of death, and to liberate those who fall into its grasp.
I think there are two tremendous miracles in the hands of the Almighty God. The first one: He made something out of nothing. He created by fiat, He spoke into existence the whole creation around us. The firmament above, the earth on which we stand, everything that eye can see, everything we feel and touch, all of it God made out of nothing. It’s a miracle, the creation of the world. God did it [Genesis 1:1-31]. The second great miracle is no less marvelous and wonderful, namely the re-creation, the regeneration, the reclaiming of a fallen universe; the redemption of what God created that fell, that became spoiled and ruined [Romans 8:20-21]. The rejuvenation, the redemption, the re-creation of God’s world is no less a marvelous miracle. I see it on every hand. There are dead trees, they look dead; and in the springtime they live again, foliated, beautiful. A dead seed, and in the springtime it lives again, dead bushes, and in the springtime aflame with flowers. Dead grass, it looks dead to me, it is dead; and in the springtime it’s green and verdant. And the whole world, everything in it comes to life. It’s the glory of God. It’s a miracle. Out of the death and the dust of the ground, out of the grave in which it lies, all of it comes to life. How do you explain that, other than the marvelous miracle of the omnipotent power of God, the regeneration, the re-creation?
So it is with our bodies: they also fall into the grave and perish, but the same almightiness that brings to birth and to life and to regeneration these that are fallen dead into the ground, that same glorious power raises us up who have fallen into the grasp and arms of death [Romans 8:11]. So the Lord appears before them, and they are terrified and affrighted [Luke 24:37], "It must be an apparition. It’s a phantom, it’s a spirit, it’s a ghost." And Jesus says to them, as you read in the twenty-fourth chapter of Luke, "Why, handle Me, and see that it is I Myself: for a spirit hath not flesh and bone, such as ye see Me have" [Luke 24:39]. And He showed them the nail prints in His hands, and in His feet [Luke 24:40]. And then He said, "Do you have anything to eat?" And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and of an honeycomb; and He did eat before them [Luke 24:41-43]. The same Lord Jesus, only glorified, immortalized, raised from the dead. It is a miracle! It is a mighty miracle! It’s worthy the omnipotent almightiness of God; this body, this body, sown in corruption; raised in incorruption: sown in weakness; raised in power: sown in dishonor; raised in glory: sown a natural body; raised a spiritual body [1 Corinthians 15:42-44]. That is what, of all the doctrines of the faith, the pagan and heathen philosophers scoffed at and ridiculed. And as the Christian faith began to spread over the Roman Empire, they burned the Christians and took their ashes and scattered them to the four winds in derision and in scorn of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. And I can just see their thinking in that. Here’s a Christian, and they burn him at the stake. And then they take his burned ashes and they throw them up, and the wind scatters the molecules and atoms to the ends of the earth. And the philosopher laughs, laughs, "So you believe in the resurrection of the dead," and he laughs as the wind carries the atomic material, the molecular animality to the ends of the earth.
And he laughs, that is, as though it would be a trouble and a burden to God to reassemble those little atoms and molecules. As though – and we’re talking about the philosopher – as though the great God might be a god of the sun, and a god of the moon, and a god of the stars, and a god of the great universe, but He is not a god of the small and the inconsequential and the infinitesimal. And that’s where they haven’t thought; for God is the God of the molecule and the atom and the smallest element, as He is the God of the macrocosm above us.
Did you ever touch a moth? There’ll be a little dust on your hand when you touch a moth, the wing of a moth; be a little dust. A fellow one time had me look at a microscope, and he said, "You look at that. You look at that." And he said, "We have figured out that there are forty-two million, forty-two million brilliantly tinted scales to the square inch." Forty-two million, now he said to me, with that high powered microscope, he said, "Do you see this brilliant color?" It was red, solid red, had a little thing covered in paint, brilliant; he said, he said, "Now I want you to look at this under this brilliant, under this high powered microscope." So he put that piece of red whatever it was, paint on a piece of paper, he put that underneath that microscope. And do you know what? As I looked at that, solid red, like enamel paint, solid red, as I looked at it under that tremendous microscope, it looked like blobs. It was a blob there and then a space, and a blob over there and a space, and a blob over there. It was just like blobs. Then he said, "Now I want you to look." And he took the wing of a butterfly, and he put that underneath that high powered microscope. And I looked. And did you know the beauty of the color and the arrangement of that wing of a butterfly was an astonishing thing to see? And I thought, with a deep, moving response, I thought, "Think of the pattern of the glory of God to expend such infinite pain upon the smallest wing of a little creature. Think of that." And do you mean to tell me that that same Lord God who painfully arranges forty-two million of those brilliantly tinted scales to the square inch, the same Lord God doesn’t mark the atoms and the molecules in my ashes? My body changes all the time, every seven years I have an altogether new physical frame. But there is something that is me. And God knows what that something is. And even though it fall into the dust of the ground and die, God marks those little molecules and those little ashes. And God cares for that dust. And in God’s time, if He tarries, we shall be raised from the dead; we shall live again. You will be you, and I shall be I [1 Thessalonians 4:15-17].
May I conclude? Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ inevitably carries with it a faith in the resurrection of the dead. That’s where the Christian faith came from: it arose out of Joseph’s tomb [Matthew 27:59-60]. It began in the preaching of the glorious announcement that Jesus is alive, He is risen [Matthew 28:5-7]. And because He lives we shall live also. The same power of the Almighty God that raised Him from the dead shall raise us from the dead, a regeneration [Romans 8:11].
You know, in the eighth chapter of the Book of John, the Lord says, "Abraham rejoiced to see My day; and he saw it, and was glad" [John 8:56]. Do you ever, as you read a passage like that, do you ever say to yourself, "When did Abraham see that day? When did that happen to him?" When the Lord Jesus says, "Abraham rejoiced to see My day; and he saw it, and was glad," when did Abraham see the day of Christ and rejoice seeing it? Now, this is just my heart, but I think it was this: in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, "By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac; and he that had received the promises offered up the only begotten son, of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called"; now listen to it, "Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure, in a type, a type and a figure of the Lord Jesus" [Hebrews 11:17-19]. When the Lord says, "Abraham rejoiced to see My day: and he saw it, and was glad" [John 8:56], I think it was on Mt. Moriah when he raised that knife, that dagger, that sword, to plunge it into the heart of his only begotten son; believing that if he died, God would raise him up from the dead [Genesis 22:9-12]. And the author says, "A figure, from whence also he received him in a figure, in a type" [Hebrews 11:19]; that’s when I think he saw the day of the Lord Jesus. God is able to raise the boy up from the dead.
That is a concomitant of the faith. That’s what it is to believe in Jesus. That’s what it is to be a Christian; a life that is never destroyed, a life that lives forever, a life filled with the glory of the ableness and the almightiness of God.
In England, a contemporary with Spurgeon, though a younger man, was another Baptist preacher by the name of F. B. Meyer; wonderful, sweet, beautiful, precious pastor and preacher. When he saw the vast throngs that attended the ministry of Spurgeon, envy filled his heart. He got on his knees and told God all about it. And he said, "I began to rejoice in Spurgeon’s great ministry. And I began to pray for the power of God to come upon him." And he said, "The Lord answering that prayer, I began to rejoice in every victory that Spurgeon won. I’d pray for him, and asked God to bless him." That’s this man, F. B. Meyer. I read a letter from him. Just before he died he wrote a friend: "Dear friend, I have just heard to my surprise that I have only a few days to live. It may be before this reaches you I shall have entered the palace. Don’t trouble to write, I shall meet you in the morning. With much love, yours affectionately, F. B. Meyer." That’s great. That’s great. "Before you receive the letter, it may be I shall have entered the palace. So don’t bother to write. I’ll just meet you in the morning." There is nothing that ennobles a man’s life; that lifts up the soul; that brings honor and glory, meaning and purpose to the life like believing in our Lord. Raised from the dead, glorified under His mighty rejuvenating, re-creating, regenerating hand; and that is the Christian faith [Romans 6:4].
In a moment we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family, a couple, or just one somebody you, "Pastor, today, this beautiful day, this Easter Day, this glorious resurrection day, pastor, today, we have decided for God; and here we stand." Some of you accepting the Lord as Savior, some of you according to His command to be baptized [Matthew 28:19-20], some of you putting your life in the fellowship of this dear church, make the decision in your heart. Do it now. And in a moment, when we sing our song of appeal, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, "Here I am, pastor, I’m on the way." God bless you, angels attend you as you respond with your life, while we stand and sing.
RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD
A. Paul’s question to
doctrine more viciously attacked than that of resurrection of the body(Acts 17:18, 26:24)
II. The finality of death
A. All of creation is a
dying creation(Genesis 5, Hebrews 11:13)
B. It seems the grave
holds its prey forever
III. Resurrection not incredible to a man
who believes in God
A. If you don’t believe
in God, there is nothing else to be said
B. Two omnipotent,
mighty miracles in this universe
C. It is the ableness
of God to raise us from the dead
Jesus appearing to the apostles(Luke 24:36-42)
Body planted in corruption, raised in incorruption(1
heathen scoffed and ridiculed this doctrine
Ancient Romans burned Christians at the stake, and in derision scattered their
But the God of the infinitude is the God of the infinitesimal
IV. Resurrection is inevitable following
faith in Christ
offering up Isaac(John 8:56, Hebrews 11:17-19,
B. Meyer – "I’ll meet you in the morning"