Great Fact of the Gospel: Jesus Is Alive
April 19th, 1981 @ 8:15 AM
THE GREAT FACT OF THE GOSPEL: JESUS IS ALIVE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-19-81 8:15 a.m.
And we welcome the great throngs of you who are also sharing this hour with us on radio. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And in keeping with the long series of doctrinal messages, “The Great Doctrines of the Bible,” this is one; and it is entitled The Great Fact of the Gospel – Jesus Lives. In the last chapter of Luke, the Third Gospel, Matthew, Mark, Luke, in the last chapter of Luke, beginning at verse 36:
And as they thus spake, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Shalom, peace be unto you.
But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit.
And He said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?
Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself: handle Me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have.
And when He had thus spoken, He showed them His hands and His feet.
And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, He said unto them, Have ye here anything to eat?
And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish, and of a honeycomb.
And He took it, and did eat before them.
And in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, 1 Corinthians chapter 15, verses 17 through 20:
If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
[1 Corinthians 15:17-20]
The Great Fact of the Gospel: Jesus Lives.
It is as a remarkable thing to me, as I read and study the gospel witness to the resurrection of our Lord, that He was known, this same Jesus, He was known in the most unusual ways: not only by handling Him, by looking at Him, His bodily presence, but the unusual idiosyncratic personality traits that Jesus possessed that made such a profound impression upon those who saw Him and knew Him. I say it is just as astonishing to me, His human recognitions, as the very fact that He was there standing before them Himself. By that I mean things like this: when Peter and John ran to the tomb, Peter just ran on the inside of it, John being younger outran him, but paused at the door and just looked in; but Peter ran right on inside the sepulcher. Then John went in, and John says that when he saw the napkin that covered the Lord’s…when he saw it so carefully folded and laid in a place by itself, John says, “I believed” [John 20:3-8]. He recognized Jesus in the way that the Lord folded up a napkin; a little character trait, a little human recognition.
By that avowal I mean a thing like this: Mary of Magdala, supposing Jesus was the gardener, asked where His body had been taken; and it was then that Jesus called her name, “Mary” [John 20:15-16]; and He had a way of saying it that was unique to Himself, and Mary recognized Him in the way that He pronounced her name.
By that avowal I mean a thing like this: the two disciples on their way to Emmaus did not at first recognize the Lord [Luke 24:13-16]; but as they sat at the supper table and they asked the Stranger to ask a blessing, they recognized Him in the way that He said a blessing, a human recognition [Luke 24:30-31].
By the avowal I mean a thing like this: [John 21:6-7] Simon Peter, when the Stranger standing on the shore, said, “Take the net and place it on the other side of the boat, and you will catch,” when they transferred the net from there to here, just a few feet from there to this side, they caught a great draft of fishes, and [John] said to his friend [Peter], he said, he said, “[Peter], you know who that is? That is Jesus.” Fishermen, and how to catch fish.
Of course, the ten recognized Him by His scars, His hands, His feet, and His side [John 20:19-20, 24].
I find in my heart an amazing reading when I think of the human recognitions of Jesus: when He was raised from the dead, He was just the same as He was in the days of His flesh—this same Jesus, as Acts 1:11 describes Him.
Now when all the others believed, there was one materialistic, harsh, rude skeptic who did not believe. His name is the Twin, Thomas the Twin. Now, Thomas is like most of us. Dead men don’t rise; that is I’ve never seen a dead man raised from the dead. Dead men stay dead, so far as I can see. Well, Thomas was like that: “I don’t believe that a man is raised from the dead.” Death is so final, it’s so ultimate, it’s so everlasting dead. When the keystone is taken out of the arch, the whole masonry tumbles down. When the hub is removed from the center of the wheel, the whole wheel collapses. When the breath is taken from the body, the house of clay falls into corruption. “When the silver cord is loosed, and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel is broken at the cistern, then does the body return to the dust as it was” [Ecclesiastes 12:6-7].
Now that’s Thomas. And that’s most of us. “I don’t believe that dead men rise.” And when the other ten pressed upon Thomas, “But we have seen Him, and our hands have handled Him, the Word of life,” then Thomas presented his hard, crude, rude, harsh material test: “Except I see the print of the nails in His hands, and put my finger in the print of the nails, and except I see the scar in His side and thrust my hand into the scar in His side, I will not believe” [John 20:25]. And the next Sunday night when the apostles were gathered together in the upper room, Jesus suddenly stood in the midst. And when they wondered for surprise and joy, He turned toward the skeptic, toward Thomas. And I can well understand how the joy and the surprise of that apostle turned into deepest shame and confusion. And he heard the Lord repeat that materialistic test. How strange it must have sounded in the ears of Thomas to hear his own words from the lips of the resurrected Lord. “Reach hither your finger, Thomas, and place it in the print of the nails in My hands; and reach thither your hand, and thrust it into My side: and be not faithless, but believing” [John 20:27]. And Thomas, overwhelmed with the gift of faith from heaven, cried the great affirmation, “My Lord and my God” [John 20:28]. Then the sweet benedictory beatitude for all of us: “Thomas, because you have seen you believe; blessed are those, makarios, happy are those, felicitously fortunate are those, blessed are those who though they have not seen, yet do believe” [John 20:29]. And that includes us.
It was a remarkable thing, again, an amazing thing to me as I read the gospel witness, how the Lord just suddenly was there. In the garden, there He was [John 20:14-16]. Down a lonely road, there He was [Luke 24:13-17]. At the supper table, there He was [Luke 24:30-31]. In the upper room, there He was [John 20:19-23]. By the seashore, there He stands [John 21:1-25]. On the mountaintop, there He is [Matthew 28:16-20]. Walking with the apostles up to the brow of Olivet, there He is [Acts 1:6-9]. Just suddenly there He is. Any time, any moment, anywhere, there He might be. For forty days thus it was with His disciples [Acts 1:3]. He just suddenly was there. Then after forty days, they didn’t need to see Him with their physical human eyes anymore; they knew Him by His presence working with them [Matthew 18:20]. Jesus was alive, and Jesus was walking by their sides and blessing the work of their hands. And His final promise, “Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the age” [Matthew 28:20], they found to be true. When the first martyr, Stephen, was stoned to death, he raised his face toward heaven and there stood Jesus [Acts 7:55-56]. When the persecuting Saul of Tarsus was making his way to Damascus, there in the way stood Jesus [Acts 9:1-5]. He said He was Jesus, that glorified Person whose face was above the shining of the brightness of the midday sun, blinded the arch persecutor as he fell to the ground [Acts 22:6-7], “Who art Thou, Lord?” and He replied, “I am Jesus, that same Jesus; I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. I am Jesus of Nazareth, the same Jesus whom thou persecutest” [Acts 9:5; 22:8]. And when Paul was tried before Nero, he said, “All have forsaken me; but the Lord stood by me and delivered me out of the mouth of the lion” [2 Timothy 4:16-17]. And when the apostle John, exiled to Patmos, a little island in the eastern Mediterranean, there to die of exposure and starvation, Jesus was there [Revelation 1:9-13]. And He is with us to the end of the age, through all the years the Lord is with us [Matthew 28:20]. He is alive. He is alive.
He is with us in obedient service, doing His work He is with us. He helps us, and His presence is felt in our souls, and He works with us. In obedient service, Jesus is ever present. I stood by the side of an enormous statue of David Livingstone, facing the Zambezi River and those vast Victoria Falls, a river a mile wide, pouring over a chasm four hundred feet high—Niagara is just ninety feet high—four hundred feet high, into a narrow canyon, and the roar, the awesomeness of that sight is one of the wonders of the world. And there that enormous statue of David Livingstone looking at the Zambezi and looking at those Victorian Falls: this is how he discovered them; he was going down the Zambezi to see if there was not some way of entrance into the heart of central Africa from the eastern shore. And as he proceeded down the Zambezi, a friendly tribe said to the missionary, “You must proceed no further. Savage tribes are down the river. And seeing you in your canoe, they will immediately accost, confront, and destroy. You mustn’t proceed any further.” David Livingstone had a habit, one of those little human characteristics, a human recognition I call it, something peculiar to David Livingstone: he believed that if he would pray and take the Bible like this, and then just let it open where it would, looking down would be God’s answer to his prayer. So not knowing whether to proceed or not down that great vast river, David Livingstone prayed and asked Jesus what to do. And then he took his Bible and lowered it and let it open. And he looked down to find God’s answer, and it was this: “Go and make disciples of all the people; and I will be with you all the way” [Matthew 28:19-20]. And he turned to his helpers and said, “We’re going.” God is with us in our obedient service, as He took care of David Livingstone down that great Zambezi and beyond those Victorian Falls that he discovered. He is with us today; He lives, He lives. And in our service, He is with us, and He blesses us.
Our Lord lives and He is with us in agony of soul. I cannot refrain from recounting an event in the life of the great pastor of this church. Behind this very pulpit did he stand. He was out hunting with the chief of police of Dallas. Captain J. C. Arnold was the captain of the Texas Rangers and a precious member of this dear church. He’d just been elected chief of police of Dallas; and the two, Dr. Truett the pastor, and J. C. Arnold, the newly elected chief of police of Dallas, were in Johnson County, where Cleburne is, hunting birds. And the chief of police was walking in front of the pastor, and Dr. Truett shifted a hammerless shotgun from this arm to this arm, and unknowingly a hammerless shotgun, the trigger was accidentally pulled, and he shot the man walking in front of him, Captain Arnold. And from the wound, the captain died; the chief of police died. It plunged the great pastor into an indescribable sorrow, “from which,” he said, “I don’t think I can ever rise to preach again. I have killed my best friend.” But after long days and nights in which he agonized before the Lord, on a Saturday night, for the first time falling asleep, there appeared to him Jesus our Lord, and said to the great pastor, “Be not afraid. From now on you are My man, My preacher.” He awakened, went back to sleep; the same heavenly vision. He awakened, and for the third time the heavenly vision. The word went out all over the city of Dallas, “Dr. Truett preaches again.” And standing behind this very and sacred pulpit, the other churches dismissed their congregations that they might come and listen to the great pastor proclaim the message of the living Lord. He is alive. He is alive, and He comes to us in the moments of our great agony.
He comes to us when we open our hearts to His invitation. Revelation 3:20 says of the Lord, quoting Him, “I stand at the door, and knock: if any one hears My voice, and opens the door, I will come in, and we will fellowship, we will sup together.” Were there a great king standing at my door, a prime minister, were there even an angel such as appeared to Abraham [Genesis 22:11-18], or Manoah [Judges 13:11-20], or to Zacharias [Luke 1:11-20], how thrilled and excited would I be! But at the door of my heart stands the exalted Savior, knocking at the door of my life. But many of you might say, “Now He may knock at the door of your heart, and He may knock at the door of someone else’s heart, but I don’t think He ever knocks at the door of my heart.” Yes He does. Christ lives. Jesus is alive. And we see Him, and we meet Him, and we know Him in so many ways. We see our Lord, and we know our Lord, and we meet our Lord on the pages of this Holy Bible. He is there.
Erasmus, the great German scholar, Erasmus wrote in his preface to the Textus Receptus, the first printed New Testament in Greek, Erasmus wrote in the preface of his Greek New Testament, when it was published, the first one ever published, he wrote, “You will see Jesus on these pages more clearly and more fully than if He stood before you in the flesh. The whole Christ,” Erasmus wrote, “speaking, pleading, living, dying, raised again.” Jesus comes to us from the pages of the Bible.
Jesus lives. He lives in the midst of His congregation, in the church. He said, “For where two or three of you are gathered together, there am I in the midst of them” [Matthew 18:20], and Jesus is here. He listens to me as I speak words of testimony about Him. And He lives in your heart [Ephesians 3:17]. Jesus is present. He is with His people. And He meets with us in our worship of His blessed name [Matthew 18:20]. Jesus is here. And our Lord is present when people are converted, when they’re saved. He said, “There is joy in heaven over one who turns” [Luke 15:7]. He said, “There is joy in the presence of the angels of heaven over one who comes in faith to the blessed Savior” [Luke 15:10]. Wonder who those people are? “Joy in the presence of the angels in heaven,” well, He is one, because He is in heaven [Acts 3:21]. When somebody is saved, when somebody comes forward accepting Jesus, the Lord is there. He lives.
The Lord is with us in the great trials and frustrations and heartaches of life. The forty-second chapter of Job brings that story to its greatest climax, and it is this: “I have heard of Thee, O God, by the hearing of the ear; but now in this indescribable sorrow, but now mine eye seeth Thee: Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and in ashes” [Job 42:5-6]. Sometimes we learn more of the presence and power of God in disappointment, in despair, in frustration, in trial, than in all of the affluent triumphant successes of life.
We know Jesus and His presence as we lay before Him the decisions of life in prayer. The Lord said to Saul of Tarsus, “You go into Damascus, and there it will be told thee what thou must do” [Acts 9:6]. Then the Lord went to Ananias and said, “In the street called Straight, there you will find Saul” [Acts 9:10-11], and do you remember the next verse? “For, behold, he prayeth” [Acts 9:11]. God saw him on his knees, on his face, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” [Acts 9:6]. When you don’t know where to turn or what to do, lay it before Jesus; He will listen, and He will answer. He is alive. He is alive.
And He is with us in our loneliness. Never think He is not also there. John heard a great voice on Patmos speaking, and he turned to see the voice that spake to him, and he saw the glorified Lord Jesus [Revelation 1:9-13]. We are never alone. Jesus is there.
And may I make one other comment about our lives? He is with us in all the providences of our lives [Hebrews 13:5]. He is there. He is there. In the building of your home, He was there. In the birth of that child, He created the little life, and He was there to give the little baby breath; Jesus is alive. And He is there at the last parting moment. Jesus is there. We don’t leave our beloved dead in some dark and damp and dismal cemetery; we leave them in the hands of Jesus.
In preparing this message, I tried to think back to the first time I was ever aware of death. When as a child was I first introduced to death, told about death, became aware of death? And I went back in memory, and back, and back, and back, and out of the many years of the long ago in my life, as a small, small, small child in El Dorado, Oklahoma, where I was born, a very small child, my father had gone away on a mission. And when he returned, naturally, I asked my father where he had gone. And he replied, “Son, I was gone to help bury my mother; one of her boys, and I was away to bury my mother.” Then he took me to himself and began to talk to me about his sainted mother. She must have been a wonderful, wonderful woman. My father loved to sing. I have heard my father sing; he sang with shaped notes, and he could just sing any song like those Stamps-Baxter books, he’d just sing all the way through. My father loved to sing. So as a little boy, he sang for me the song they sang at his mother’s funeral. And I can hear him now as he sang:
Safe in the arms of Jesus,
Safe on His gentle breast
There by His love o’ershaded,
Sweetly her soul shall rest
[“Safe in the Arms of Jesus,” Frances J. Crosby, 1888]
Jesus is there in that last parting moment. And what a glory and what a triumph to know that we don’t leave our beloved dead in corruption and in decay and in the darkness of the grave; but we leave our beloved dead in the arms of Jesus. He is alive. He lives, and is the firstfruits of them that slept [1 Corinthians 15:20]. As by Adam came death, so by Christ comes the resurrection of the dead [1 Corinthians 15:21-22]. He lives; the great fact of the gospel, the heart of the Christian faith, and the comfort of our souls. Jesus lives.
Now may we stand together?
Our wonderful Lord, whose name is Wonderful [Isaiah 9:6], what a comfort and a strength to know that the end of our life is not in darkness, and in death, and in despair, and in the midnight hopelessness of a grave; but the end of our life is in triumph, it’s in resurrection, it’s in glory, it’s in heaven, it’s with Christ our Savior who lives [John 14:19]. And in that comfort and faith, may we make our pilgrimage all the days of our lives, serving and working faithfully for Thee.
In the moment that we remain, praying, standing before our living Lord, a family you, to put your life with us in this dear church, a couple you, or just one somebody you, someone you to give himself in faith to the Lord Jesus; someone you to follow our Lord through the Jordan in baptism; someone you to give your life to Christ and to us, make the decision now in your heart. And in a moment when we sing, down one of those stairways from the balcony, into an aisle from the press of people on this lower floor, “Pastor, I have decided for God, and here I am.” And our Lord, bless them as they come to Thee and to us; in Thy saving and keeping name, amen. While we sing, while we make appeal, “Here I am, pastor.”
FACT OF THE GOSPEL: JESUS IS ALIVE
24:36-42, 1 Corinthians 15:17-20
I. They recognized “this same Jesus”
A. John, by the way He
folded up a napkin (John 20:4-8)
B. Mary Magdalene, by
the way He pronounced her name (John 20:11-18)
two Emmaus disciples, by the way He said the blessing (Luke 24:30-31)
by the dragnet of fish (John 21:7)
The ten, by the touch of the hand, by His eating fish and honeycomb (Luke 24:39-43)
II. They all believed, except Thomas
A. Death is the end –
final, complete (Ecclesiastes 12:6-7)
B. Thomas refusing to
believe (John 20:25)
C. Then Jesus appears,
repeating his ultimatum (John 20:26-28)
III. His presence with them
A. Without announcement
suddenly He was there
B. After forty days
their eyes no longer need to see Him
C. His promise (Matthew 28:20, Acts 9:5, 2 Timothy 4:17, Revelation 1)
IV. His presence with us through the years
A. In obedient service
B. In agony of soul
C. In opening the door
of our hearts (Revelation 3:20)
1. Through the
Word (John 5:39, Hebrews 10:7)
2. Through the
service in the church (Matthew 18:20)
3. In the
conversion of the lost (Luke 15:7, 10)
4. In bitter
failure, sorrow, trial, loneliness (Job 42:5-6, Revelation