Great Fact of the Gospel: Jesus Is Alive
April 19th, 1981 @ 10:50 AM
THE GREAT FACT OF THE GOSPEL: JESUS IS ALIVE!
Dr. W.A. Criswell
4-19-81 10:50 a.m.
It is a privilege and a gladness no less for us here in the First Baptist Church of Dallas to welcome the uncounted multitudes of you who are sharing the hour on radio and on television. This is the pastor bringing once again one of the doctrinal sermons on Christology. The title of the message today, The Great Fact of the Gospel: Jesus Lives, Jesus Is Alive. In the closing chapter of Luke, chapter 24 beginning at verse 36, Luke 24:36:
And as the disciples thus spake, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them and saith unto them, Shalom, peace be unto you. But they thought they were seeing an apparition, a ghost, a phantom. They were terrified and affrighted. Then He said unto them, Why are you troubled? Why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Look at 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 nail pierced and His feet. And while they yet believed not for gladness, for joy, and while they wondered in amazement, He said unto them, Have you here anything to eat? And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And He took it, and did eat before them.
This same Jesus. In the 1 Corinthians letter chapter 15, 1 Corinthians chapter 15, beginning at verse 17; 1 Corinthians chapter 15, verse 17:
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, the central, cardinal fact of the gospel; not the primary premise, or supposition, or hypothetical metaphysical theory, the great reality and central fact of the gospel, Jesus is alive. It is a remarkable thing that the emphasis of the Scriptures upon the raised, upon the arisen Lord is that this is the same Jesus. And they use those words, "this same Jesus" [Acts 1:11].
But as gloriously remarkable as that is that He who was crucified, buried, this same Jesus is alive. As remarkable I say as that is, to me as I read the record it is no less remarkable, this same human recognitions that characterized Him in the days of His flesh, characterize Him now. Little personality traits, you could call them human idiosyncrasies. Those little things that make you, you, and you, you; Jesus possessed them in His life and raised from the dead, He still possessed them. He was no different.
I mean things like this. In the story of the race of Simon Peter and John to the tomb, when Mary Magdalene came and said, "He is alive, the tomb is empty," the younger man John outran Simon Peter. And when he came to the tomb, he stopped and just peered through the door into the sepulcher. But when Simon Peter arrived, he just ran right into the tomb. Then John also entered.
And as John writes it, he says when he saw the napkin that shielded His face that covered His head; when he saw the napkin folded up and lying in a place by himself, John says, "I believed that He was alive." That is, John recognized the way that Jesus folded up a napkin [John 20:1-8].
I mean by that avowal a thing like this. When Mary Magdalene remained at the tomb, somebody spoke to her. And turning, she thought she looked at the gardener and asked where His body had been taken. And the figure standing before her said, "Mary" [John 20:15-16]. And she recognized Him immediately by the way that He pronounced her name; those little human recognitions.
By the avowal, I mean something like this. In the story of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, there was a Stranger who sat down to break bread with them at suppertime. And they asked the Stranger who seemed so knowledgeable of the Scriptures if He would lead grace, if He would say the prayer of blessing. And as He said the blessing, they recognized Him. That is they recognized the way Jesus said a blessing at the table [Luke 24:30-31].
In the story of the disciples on the Sea of Galilee when the Lord said, or whoever it was unknown to them standing in the gray mist of the morning on the seashore, "Take the net and transfer it from this side of the little boat to this side," and when they did, they caught a great school of fishes. Then it was that John said to Simon Peter, "Simon, you know who that is? That’s Jesus, a fisher of men. That’s Jesus" [John 21:6-7], His human recognitions.
And of course the disciples when they saw Him, recognized Him by the print of the nails in His hands and by the scar in His side; His human recognitions [John 20:19-20]. Those little things that make Jesus, Jesus are just as true of Him raised from the dead as they were in the days of His flesh.
All of them having believed, having been convinced, there was one skeptic. His name was Thomas the Twin [John 20:25]. And I can understand him. I’m kind of like that a whole lot in a lot of things in my own life and in my own mind myself. And I can’t deny it. Thomas said, "I do not believe that dead men rise." And I can understand. I’ve never seen a dead man rise. "I do not believe that He is alive because dead men do not rise from the grave."
When the keystone is taken away from the arch, the masonry tumbles to the ground. When the hub is taken out of the wheel, the wheel collapses. And when the breath is taken from the body, the body of clay turns back to corruption and to dust. "When the silver cord is loosed, and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain of the wheel at the cistern, then shall the body return to the dust as it was" [Ecclesiastes 12:6-7].
That’s Thomas, and that’s the way I am most of the time, "Dead men don’t rise." And when the apostles came to Thomas and said, "Thomas, but you do not know. We’ve seen Him. We believe. He is alive. He is raised from among the dead." Thomas said, "No." And, in his abject despair, just looked into the darkness of despair. And when they pressed upon their fellow apostle, "But He is alive, we have seen Him, our hands have handled Him, He is alive," Thomas said, "But as for me, I will not believe until I can put my finger into the print of the nails in His hands and thrust my hand into His side. I won’t believe" [John 20:25]. Next Sunday night when the apostles were gathered in the upper room, He suddenly stood in their midst. And in their wonder, and amazement, and joy, He turned to Thomas – a skeptic that I can understand – He turned to Thomas and the amazed gaze and wonderment on the face of Thomas turned to shame as he cast down his eyes.
And how strange it must have been for Thomas to hear the harsh, crude, rude, material test that he had said, "Until I put my finger in the print of the nails and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe." And the Lord said to the shamed-faced, sullen, unbeliever, with his materialistic ultimatum, "Thomas, put your finger in the print of the nails and put your hand into the rupture of My side. And be not faithless but believing." And Thomas cried in a great affirmation of faith that comes ultimately out of the hearts of all of us skeptics, "My Lord and my God!" [John 20:26-28]. Then, the benedictory beatitude that is for us: makarios, blessed, happy, fortunate, makarios, "Thomas, because you have seen, you believe." Makarios, "Blessed are they who though they have not seen, yet do believe" [John 20:29]. Our beatitude: Jesus is alive and we believe it.
In those days of His resurrection and remaining in the earth, just suddenly He would be anywhere at any time. In the garden, suddenly He was there, standing there [John 20:14-16]. Down a lonely road, suddenly He was in step [Luke 24:13-17]. At the supper table, just suddenly He was present [Luke 24:30-32]. In the upper room with the doors closed, just suddenly He was there [John 20:19-23]. On the seashore, just suddenly there He is [John 21:1-25]. On the mountaintop, just there He is [Matthew 28:16]. And walking up the brow of Olivet, there He is just suddenly anywhere, anytime without announcement [Acts 1:6-12]. Suddenly there He stands. There He is.
And after forty days [Acts 1:3], they did not need to see Him any longer with their eyes; they knew Him by His presence working with them. Jesus is alive. And in keeping with the incomparable promise, "You go, make disciples of all the nations of the earth, and, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" [Matthew 28:19-20]. He is with us. He is alive!
The first martyr Stephen, when he was stoned to death, lifted up his face to heaven and there He was, Jesus at the right hand of God [Acts 7:55-56]. He is alive. Saul of Tarsus breathing out threatening and slaughter against the disciples of Christ, on the road to Damascus, there He was above the brilliant bright shining of the noonday Syrian sun. There He was [Acts 9:1-5]. The sainted apostle John on the isle of Patmos to die of exposure and starvation and exile; there He is [Revelation 1:9-13]. Jesus is alive. And through these years, through the generations since, there Jesus is in our midst. He lives. Jesus is with us in obedient service. However feeble our dedicated effort may be, Jesus is with us, serving Him, working in His name [Matthew 28:20]. He is alive. He is here.
I stood in the heart of central Africa looking at the tremendous gargantuan statue of the missionary David Livingstone. He faces the Zambezi River where it falls over a gigantic precipice down four hundred feet to the chasm below; a mile wide river, the Victoria Falls. And as I stood there looking at that gigantic statue of David Livingstone facing the Zambezi River and the Victoria Falls, I remembered how it was he first looked upon them, going down the Zambezi seeking an ultimate entrance into central Africa from the eastern coast.
The friendly tribe with whom he was then journeying said to him, "Down that river, down that river are ferocious and vicious enemies. And they’ll not let you pass. At the peril of your life, you go further." David Livingstone had a little human idiosyncrasy. When time came to make a decision, he would pray God and take his Bible and lower it. Where it opened it, he would look at the verse. And that was God’s answer to his prayer. So not knowing what to do, to proceed down the river or to refrain, he took it to God. And in prayer, he laid it before the Lord and took his Bible and lowered it and where it fell, he looked at the verse. It was Matthew 28:20, "I will be with you to the end of the way." And Livingstone turned toward his black retinue and said, "Let’s go." And there he was down the Zambezi and looking at those glorious falls that he discovered. Jesus is alive. "I will go with you." And in obedient service, He pilgrimages by our sides. Jesus is alive.
He is with us in that agonizing hour of infinite trial and sorrow. He is there. The great far-famed pastor of this church, who stood behind this pulpit for forty and seven years, had a wonderful friend in the congregation. Captain J.C. Arnold was the captain of the Texas Rangers and had just been elected chief of police of the city of Dallas. And Dr. Truett and the captain were in Johnson County, where Cleburne is, on a bird hunt. And in front of Dr. Truett walked Captain Arnold, the chief of police. And Dr. Truett, unthinkingly, inadvertently switched his hammerless shotgun from this arm to this arm. And when he did it accidentally touched the trigger. And he shot the man in front of him, his best friend, Captain Arnold. And from the wound, the chief of police died. The pastor fell into indescribable sorrow [and] said, "I can never lift my face to preach again."
The days past – never sleeping in agony of soul, and on a Saturday night, sleeping for the first time in days and nights – Jesus appeared before him; said to him, "Be not afraid. From this moment on, you are My man. You are My preacher." He awakened, went back to sleep. The same Lord appeared to him saying the same words. Went to sleep the third time, the same Lord appeared to him saying the same words of assurance. The word was said over the city of Dallas, "Truett is preaching again." The other congregations dismissed their services, that all the city might come and listen to the great man of God standing behind this very pulpit. Jesus is alive. Jesus lives.
He appears to us in the invitation and acceptance when we open the door of our hearts to Him. In Revelation 3:20, He says, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if anyone will hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in and fellowship with you, with him, with her. We will sup together."
Oh! Can I believe that? How thrilled and excited would I be if at the door of our house, or home, or my heart should stand a great king or should stand a prime minister or should stand an angel as appeared to Abraham or Manoah or Zecharias? But the exalted Christ Himself stands at that door knocking. And if I open the door, He will come in.
But you say, "Pastor, He may knock at the door of your house, and He may knock at the door of your heart. But He doesn’t knock at my door." But He does. In every providence of life Jesus is there seeking entrance into your heart, and into your home, into your house, into your life. He is there. He is on the pages of this Holy Bible. His face is on every leaf. He speaks to us in every word. This is the revelation of the presence of Jesus in our midst – these words are.
Erasmus, the tremendously gifted German scholar, wrote in the preface to his Textus Receptus, the first Greek Testament ever published and the one that is the basis of the translation of this King James Version, Erasmus wrote in the preface to his Textus Receptus, "On these pages you will see the face of Jesus, you will see the Lord Himself, the whole Christ more fully and more completely than if He stood in the flesh before you."
Jesus speaks to us from the Holy Page. And we see Jesus in the Holy Scriptures. Jesus is alive. He is here in this congregation. He said, "Wherever two or three of you are gathered together, there am I in the midst of them" [Matthew 18:20]. And we are here, and Jesus is with us. He is alive. He lives. Jesus is with us in our praise, and in our praying, and in our intercessions. Jesus is here. And when somebody is converted, when somebody is saved, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God [Luke 15:7, 10]. And I know Jesus is one of them. He is in heaven. And He looks upon us and worships with us in earth. Jesus is alive. He is with us in all of our trials and disappointments.
Job ends with the word of the great patriarch saying, "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth Thee" [Job 42:5]. Trial, and frustration, and disappointment, and sorrow bring to us a feeling, a sensitivity to the nearness of Christ; He is alive. He is with us in our loneliness; you are never by yourself. I suppose John thought that on Patmos, exiled there to die that he was alone. Turning to hear the great voice that spoke behind him, he looked upon the Lord Jesus [Revelation 1:9-13]. In our loneliness, He is always present. He is with us. He is alive. And in all of the providences of life, Jesus is with us [Hebrews 13:5].
In the day when you built your home, He was there. In the day when that baby was born, He fashioned the little life, and He breathed into the child the breath of a soul living. Jesus was there. And at that last parting moment at the grave, Jesus is there.
We don’t leave our beloved dead in the hands of the grave or in the hands of a Hades, in the hands of darkness and destruction. We leave our beloved dead in the hands of the blessed Lord Jesus.
Preparing this sermon for the first time in my life, I begin to think back through the years and the years. When was the first time I ever saw death? When was the first time I was ever introduced to death, to dying? When was it? In the fifty-three years I’ve been a pastor, how many times have I bowed my head with a sorrowing family, have I committed to the earth a body dead? When was the first time I ever heard of death? I begin to think back, and back, and back, and back and finally to the years of my beginning childhood in Eldorado, Oklahoma, where I was born. I left Eldorado, we did, when I was five years of age, so it was before then.
When I was a small child there, my father went away on a mission. And when he came back, being a little fellow, a little boy, I asked my father where he’d been. We’d missed him. And he pulled me to himself, and he said, "Son, I have been away burying my mother." From him and from others I found that she was a godly and saintly woman. "I have been away," he said, "Burying my mother." And then to my childhood heart, the best I could understand, he told me about the translation of his mother and the memorial service. And then he said, "And the song they sang, I’ll sing it to you now." My father loved to sing. He used to take those hymns with old time shape notes. And he would just sing hour after hour. He loved to sing. So he says to me, "Son, I’ll sing you the song they sang at dear mother’s funeral." And he sang it.
Safe in the arms of Jesus
Safe on His gentle breast.
There by His love o’er shadowed
Sweetly my soul shall rest.
["Safe in the Arms of Jesus; Fanny Crosby, 1888]
Ah, Lord, what a comfort and an indescribable strength to know that we don’t leave our beloved dead in the hands of the grave, or of death, or of darkness, or of despair. But we leave them in the arms of Jesus. And Lord, what a comfort to know that when the day comes for my own translation, it will not be to corruption, and to darkness, and to despair that I look forward to. No. I look forward to seeing Jesus face to face.
Safe in the arms of Jesus
Safe on His gentle breast.
There by His love o’er shaded
Sweetly my soul shall rest.
He is alive. Jesus lives. And the heart, and strength, and hope, and glory of the gospel is in life as in death; in sickness as in health; in poverty as in affluence; in youth as in old age. Jesus is alive. And He walks with us, and blesses us, and works with us. Jesus is alive.
Now may we stand together?
Our Lord whose name is wonderful, wonderful Lord, oh, what an infinite prospect and what a precious promise Jesus is alive, nor will He ever leave us or forsake us in youth, in old age, in all of the providences of life Jesus is with us. And what a preciousness to be invited to come into His presence and to lay all of these tears, and sorrows, and joys, and happinesses of our lives before Thee; to commend to Thee our children, our own hearts, every dream and vision that we have. And our Lord we just pray that there might be more room in our souls for Thee. Come into our hearts Lord Jesus as into our homes, as into this church, as into this service, O living Lord live wonderfully, beautifully, triumphantly, in and through us.
While our people stand in the presence of God and pray, a family you, "Pastor, we have decided for Jesus and here we are." A couple you, one somebody you, in the balcony round, down one of those stairways, in the press, and the throng of people on this lower floor, into this aisle and down to the front, "Pastor, we have decided for God and here we come." To put your life with us, to follow the Lord through the waters of the Jordan, to accept Jesus as Savior, as the Spirit shall press the appeal, make the decision now, answer with your life. And wonderful Savior we thank Thee for the sweet harvest, in Thy precious name, amen. While we sing, while we sing.