THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-15-79 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Resurrection from the Dead. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we are in chapter 26. On a high raised dais is King Herod Agrippa II with his sister, the children of Herod Agrippa I—who is the grandson of Herod the Great—and they are guests of the Roman procurator Festus. And Agrippa has asked that he might listen to this prisoner named Paul who is on trial for his life [Acts 25:22].
And as Paul stands on the pavement below [Acts 25:26], he addresses those distinguished jurists and kings and procurators who are seated there on the raised dais [Acts 26:1]. And as he makes a defense for his life, and as he pleads the faith that once he destroyed and now proclaims to the world [Acts 26:2-7], he turns to Agrippa and asks a question that is our text for the day. “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?” [Acts 26:8]; preaching the resurrection of our Lord, which is the heart of the gospel; then asking Agrippa, “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you?” Agrippa, a Jew, one who believes in Jehovah God; believing in God, “Why should it be thought a thing incredible to you, that in the omnipotent power of Almighty God, He should raise the dead?”
Out of all of the doctrines of the Christian faith, there is none that was more viciously and violently and vigorously assailed by heathen philosophers than the doctrine of the resurrection of the body [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. They spurned it and ridiculed it. For example, in the seventeenth chapter of this Book of Acts, Paul is in the ancient university city of Athens. And speaking in the agora, down in the marketplace, listening to him, the Athenians said, “He seems to be a setter forth of strange gods, plural: because,” Luke explains, “Paul was preaching Jesus, and the resurrection” [Acts 17:18], in Greek; Iēsous and anastasis—Iēsous is masculine, anastasis is feminine. And all their lives, they had been introduced to pairs of gods. They came in pairs: a male and a female. There would be Isis and Osiris; there would be Jupiter and Juno; there would be Venus and Adonis—always a male and a female god. So listening to Paul speaking of Iēsous and anastasis, they said, “We never heard of that pair of gods.” So they brought him up to the Areopagus, to the Supreme Court of the Athenians, and asked that he speak to them concerning these unknown gods [Acts 17:19]. And they listened intently and well until Paul came to the resurrection of Jesus Christ [Acts 17:22-31]. And when he spoke of the resurrection of the dead, the Epicureans and the Stoic philosophers laughed out loud. And scoffing and in ridicule, they bowed themselves out [Acts 17:32].
In this twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts, as Paul stands in the court of the Praetorium in Caesarea, and speaking to Agrippa and to Festus and to the elite of the Roman province of Judea, as he spoke concerning Christ—that He should be the first that should rise from the dead [Acts 26:23], when he said that, Festus, the Roman procurator, cried with a loud voice, “Paul, thou art beside thyself!” [Acts 26:24]. “You have lost your mind! You are mad; unbalanced, speaking of a resurrection from the dead!” One of the contemporaries of Paul living at this very time was Pliny—Pliny the Elder—living south of Rome; one of the most distinguished of all Roman orators and writers and scholars. Pliny said, and I quote him, “Even the gods themselves could not raise the dead.”
It is to be admitted that all appearances are on their side. It is easy to defend that everything dies and that the grave holds its victims forever. Everything does die; all of the creation is a dying creation. Little things, big things, a microbe, a man, trees and flowers and fruits, and all living dies; the day dies; the seasons die; the year dies. The very stars in the firmament die—they fade and flicker and finally turn into cinders. Our sun is dying. All creation die, and of course that includes the man the Lord God made. We belong to a dying people, and we ourselves are dying.
The fifth chapter of the Book of Genesis, those long genealogical tables, genealogical tables, every one that is written there, his life is closed with “…and he died.” Adam lived so long, begot sons, and he died [Genesis 5:1-5]; and Methuselah, and he died [Genesis 5:24-27]. Hebrews 11:13: “These all died,” a phrase that refers to uncounted billions and billions of mankind; we die. There is hardly any one of us but that knows the way to the cemetery. And there is no family that does not have a remembrance of somebody loved and lost for a while. Death is universal and final. These wonderful medical scientists have found ways to prolong our lives. But they haven’t found a way to keep death at bay. We have bombproof shelters and bulletproof vests, but we don’t have any death-proof homes. And it seems that the grave holds its prey forever. As Shakespeare said, “No one returns from the bourne of that undiscovered country.”
I listened to a professor many years ago who was teaching in Shanghai University in China, and standing before his class of brilliant young Chinese university students, he asked them why they could not accept the Christian faith. And he said, “I would like for you to come up here and write it on the blackboard, and we will discuss thesis by thesis, what you say.” And the first young man immediately stood up, walked up to the blackboard and wrote in big Chinese characters, “The dead do not rise.” That is the position of the heathen philosopher, the rationalist, the infidel,”The dead do not rise.”
But when Paul addressed this question to Agrippa, “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead? [Acts 26:8]. As a Jew, King Agrippa, you believe in God [Acts 26:27], why should it be thought a thing beyond His omnipotence to speak to the dust of the ground and to raise from the grave these who have fallen prey to that awesome enemy [1 Corinthians 15:26]—that is, if you believe in God?” If you don’t believe in God, there is nothing else to say, no other word to be added. If you don’t believe in God, there is no hope, there is no star, there is no meaning, there is no purpose, there is no tomorrow; death is final, and dark, and ominous, and the end of all.
One of the girls in our church brought to me a young man with whom she had fallen in love, and he was an infidel, and it bothered her. You have a scriptural injunction, you are not to marry an unbeliever; you are not to be yoked with an unbeliever [2 Corinthians 6:14]. It bothered her, so she brought the young man for me to speak with. So, I spent a long time talking to the young fellow, and I said, “So you are an infidel? You are an atheist, you don’t believe in God?” Well, I said, “Would you tell me what you think is the destiny of your home, and your marriage, and your life, and if God gives you children, of your children? And your own father and mother, what is the destiny, what is the future?” And he replied, “There is no future, there is no destiny, there is no meaning, there is no purpose—just death!” I said to the young fellow, “You want to build your life, and you want to marry, and you want to have a home, and you want to raise your children on the basis that home, life, marriage, soul has no meaning, and no destiny, and no purpose—no God?” It startled him; it would anybody, except clowns.
“King Agrippa, why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?” [Acts 26:8].
There are two omnipotent, almighty miracles in this universe; and I see them with my own eyes, and I sense them and feel them with my own soul. Mighty miracle number one; the creation of the universe around me; the infinitude above me; the macrocosm arching like a chalice over my head, and the microcosm beneath me—the whole world around me. God created it by fiat [Genesis 1:1-31]. He spoke the world into existence, and by His word—everything made that was made—the miracle of the almightiness of God!
The second miracle is no less wonderful and marvelous; namely, the miracle of regeneration, re-creation, rebirth. It is as marvelous as the first miracle, and I see it. Walk down the street; look at this verdant earth; and this time of the year, the whole world bursts into the glory of God! Trees that looked dead are foliated and emerald; seeds that are dead burst in germination into life; bushes that were dead are aflame with flowers! Grass that looks dead is verdant and green. The whole earth is alive with the charming, precious, beautiful, quiet, glorious presence of the omnipotent God. How would you explain this universe and leave God out of it? How would you explain the flower that bursts out of the dust and mud and dirt of the ground other than the almightiness of God?
And thus it is with our bodies; it is the ableness of God to raise us from the dead [Hebrews 11:19]. “Agrippa, why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?” [Acts 26:8]. That is why I had you read the twenty-fourth chapter of Luke. And they thought He was a spirit [Luke 24:37]: He was a ghost; He was a phantom; for they had seen Him die [Luke 23:26-46]; for three days buried [Luke 23:50-56], and now He stands in their presence [Luke 24:36-37].
And when they cried out in terror, He said, “Be not afraid. Shalom; shalom.” He said, “Handle Me, and see that it is I; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have,” and He showed them the nail prints and the scars in His hands and in His feet. And when they could not believe for gladness and joy—too good to be true, He said: “Have you anything to eat?” “And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and of an honeycomb, and He did eat before them” [Luke 24:38-43], the same Lord Jesus, immortalized, glorified; raised from the dead!
And the great apostle says that because He lives, we also shall live [John 14:19]; because He was raised, He broke forever the power of the grave and of death, and we shall be raised also! [1 Corinthians 15:20-23]. This body planted in corruption; raised in incorruption: this body planted in dishonor; raised in glory: this body planted in weakness; raised in power: this body planted a natural body, made of the dust of the ground; raised a spiritual body: immortalized, glorified, like the body of our Lord [1 Corinthians 15:42-44]. And of course, against such a doctrine, infidelity, and atheism, and false philosophy, and pseudoscience inveigh day and night.
The ancient Roman took the Christian, burned him at the stake; and in derision of his doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, he took the ashes of the Christian and scattered them to the four winds of the earth! And then scoffed—ridiculed the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, burned, reduced to ashes and scattered to the winds. Strange; believe in a God of the universe maybe, a great God of the infinitude, but He is not the God of the microscopic, and the little, and the tiny, and the minuscule. That’s where they don’t understand; for the great God of the universe—of the infinitude above us—is also the great God of the molecules and the atoms that make up my physical frame. And He is infinitely careful for both; whether the infinitude above me or the infinitesimal below me—that’s God.
Did you ever touch a moth? There will be little dust come off of the wings of the little creature. Those are little tiny colored scales. And a scientist one time said to me, “I want you to look under this powerful microscope.” And I looked under that powerful microscope. And he said, “You see that wing of a moth? There are forty-two million little tiny brilliantly tinted scales to the square inch, forty-two million!” And then he took a little something that was colored red, red, red, red; solid red, paint—it was painted red. He put that under the microscope, and he said, “Look at that.” With my naked eye it looked red, red, red; solid red. I looked at it under that powerful microscope, and it looked like blobs—blob there, blob there, blob there, blob, blob; it just looked like stuff! Now he said, “Look again.” And he put underneath that powerful microscope the wing of a butterfly, and all of the color was beautifully even, beautifully arranged, symmetrically made.
He was just doing that, that I could see the difference between what a man could do in making paint and what happens when you look at a butterfly. Well, you know what? It just moved my heart and still does when I think of it. How God, how God arranges for the most momentary and temporary of His creatures—a moth, a butterfly, a creature of a day and of a night—and yet look at the infinitude of God’s almighty hand as He makes those little tiny, infinitesimal, tinted scales and colors and rainbow arrangements. Ah, the almightiness of God!
And shall I therefore stumble, as though it is too big a burden for God or too much trouble for God, that He mark the molecules and the atoms of my body? Wherever I may fall, God marks the dust of the ground; and in His omnipotence and in His almightiness, someday the trumpet shall sound and this dust shall be raised incorruptible, and we, we shall all be changed [1 Corinthians 15:52]. That’s God!
Agrippa, “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?” [Acts 26:8]. May I close? There is a corollary, a concomitant, an addendum, a deduction that inevitably follows the faith of Christ, and that is—we shall live again! [John 14:19]. In the eighth chapter of the Book of John, the Lord Jesus says, “Abraham rejoiced to see My day: and he saw it, and was glad” [John 8:56]. Turning over in my mind, when was it in the life of Abraham that he saw the day of Christ, and rejoiced seeing it? Now this is a speculation of your pastor. I don’t know this, but this is what I think. When did Abraham see the day of Christ, and rejoiced seeing it? I think this is the day—“By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up His only begotten son, of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a type, in a figure” [Hebrews 11:17-19]. On the top of Mt. Moriah, building an altar of uncut stones, binding his only son, raised the knife to plunge it into his heart [Genesis 22:9-10]. The angel stayed his hand [Genesis 22:11-12], but Abraham, so the Scriptures say, believed that if the life of his son was taken away, God would raise him up from the dead [Hebrews 11:17-19]. And the author says, that is a type and a figure of Christ and His glorious resurrection [Hebrews 11:19]. That’s when he saw the day of Jesus and when he rejoiced seeing it! [John 8:56]. That’s marvelous! That’s wonderful! The boy dies, God will raise him up; mother and father die, husband and wife die, children die, God will raise them up! [John 6:40]. And the preciousness of that hope comforts us and strengthens us in all of the trials that lie ahead, against the day of our translation.
We have two families here from England. A younger contemporary of the great Spurgeon of London was another Baptist preacher named F. B. Meyer, positively one of the dearest, sweetest Christian characters who ever lived. Just before he died, he wrote to a friend, and I read the letter. He says, and I read it, “Dear Friend, I have just heard to my surprise that I have only a few days to live.” He had been planning another trip to America. “I’ve just heard to my surprise, that I have only a few days to live. It may be before this letter reaches you I shall have entered the palace. Don’t trouble to write, I’ll meet you in the morning. With much love, yours affectionately, F. B. Meyer.”
That is Christian! That is the faith! That is the figure and type of our Lord. That is the reality in His resurrection, and that is God’s promise to us!
I’ll meet you in the morning by the bright river side
Where all troubles have passed away.
I’ll greet you in the morning, by our Savior’s dear side
And His smile, and His love will be ours, all the day!
[“I’ll Meet You In the Morning,” Alfred E. Brumley, Sr.]
There’s not anything I’ve ever seen, or heard, or read in philosophy, in literature, in history that begins to compare with the preciousness of the wonderful hope we have in Christ, when God raised Him from the dead [Matthew 28:5-10].
And this is the gospel we preach. And this is the invitation in His name that we extend. To give your heart in trust to the blessed Jesus; to follow Him in baptism according to the Great Commission [Matthew 28:19-20]; to put your life with us in this precious church, we invite you, encourage you, wait for you, pray for you. In a moment we stand to sing our hymn of appeal. In the balcony round, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, in the throng on this lower floor, into one of these aisles and down to the front, “Here I am pastor, I have decided for God, and I’m on the way.” May angels attend you, may the Holy Spirit encourage you as you make that decision in your heart. And on the first note of the first stanza, take that first step, and God will lead you the rest of the way. Come, and welcome! Come, with the angels of glory and with the thousands of us in this sanctuary today, we rejoice at the thought of welcoming you into the kingdom and into the church, while we stand and while we sing.