Our Lord’s Entrance Into Resurrection Life
June 7th, 1981 @ 10:50 AM
OUR LORD’S ENTRANCE INTO RESURRECTION LIFE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-7-81 10:50 a.m.
The sermon this morning is one in a long list of doctrinal messages, this section on Christology. And right now, in that section it concerns The Entrance of Our Lord into Suffering; The Entrance of Christ into the Grave; The Entrance of Our Lord into Heaven; The Entrance of Our Lord Beyond the Veil as our tremendous intercessor; and today, The Entrance of Our Lord into Resurrection Life, the climactic chapter of the First Gospel, Matthew 28. The women came to the tomb, and in verse 5 the angel said unto them:
Fear not: for I know that ye seek Jesus, who was crucified.
He is not here: He is risen.
Come, see the place where the Lord lay.
The Entrance of Our Christ into Resurrection Life.
Many years ago, I listened to a wonderful missionary from China, Dr. E. M. Poteet, and he described a scene in China—in Shanghai, that I so well remember. He was lecturing to his class on the resurrection of our Lord and one of the students spoke up and said, “Sir, I do not believe that.” Dr. Poteet asked the student, the young man, “Why do you not believe that?” And he replied, “Sir, dead men do not rise again.” I can understand the feeling, the persuasion, of that young college student. I never saw a dead man “rise again.” All the dead I have ever seen or heard of are still dead, and, apparently, they stay dead forever. Well, what makes you think that maybe there might be an escape? If one somebody escaped, maybe, ultimately, all of us can.
What makes you think that Jesus was an exception and that He was raised from among the dead, that He lives? I must have an answer, for it is basic to every hope we entertain in our hearts. Did Christ rise from the dead? It is false or it is fact. And dependent upon the truth of that answer is every hope that we hold dear to our souls.
There are some things that happened in history that are debatable. The historians discuss them back and forth. Whether they are true or not has no particular significance. It is just that the historians debate them. Did Alexander the Great, when he came to the Indus River, weep because there were no more worlds to conquer? It doesn’t matter one way or another. It’s just something that the historians can discuss. Did Caesar cross the Rubicon? It doesn’t matter. It is just a discussion debated in history. Did Washington throw a dollar across the Delaware River, or did he chop down the famous cherry tree? It doesn’t matter. It is just a discussion in history. But it is all-significant, all-consequential—it does deeply matter whether it is fact that Jesus was raised from among the dead.
In the twenty-eighth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, there is a little word here in verse 17 that is strange. Upon the appointed mountain in Galilee [Matthew 28:16], Jesus appeared before them, above five hundred brethren at once. “And when they saw Him, they worshipped Him: but some doubted”[Matthew 28:17]. That’s the strangest little clause. He is standing there, resurrected, immortalized, glorified in their presence, “but some doubted.” There is something that God has to do to affirm and to communicate the truth to our hearts, otherwise it never becomes factual or truth.
You have a brilliant instance of that in the history of Dallas. Did Lee Harvey Oswald, unaided, unassisted, without conspiracy, assassinate John Fitzgerald Kennedy? You can ask the American people, and fifty percent of them will say yes and fifty percent of them will say no. Do you believe the Warren Commission Report concerning the assassination of President Kennedy? George Gallup, the famous pollster, replied after his survey of American opinion, “Fifty percent say, ‘Yes. I believe the Warren Commission Report.’ Fifty percent of them say, ‘No.’” There has never been an incident in history so thoroughly investigated as the assassination of President Kennedy, nor an investigation that so immediately followed the tragedy. In the last congressional session, they appropriated millions of dollars for that further meticulous interrogation. And still the American people will reply—half of them, “I believe Lee Harvey Oswald answered to God on his own. He alone did it.” But fifty percent of the American people still believe there was a conspiracy, and he was one out of others.
There has to be something from God to affirm the truth in our hearts. Luke the historian avows that he carefully went through all of the evidence in the life of our Lord and wrote it down: the Third Gospel [Luke 1:1-4]. Can I believe that? Is that factual and truth for me? It lies in the affirmation of God. All I can do in this message is to present the undeniable, unassailable, incontrovertible facts of the resurrection of our Lord. But its truth in power lies in the affirmation of the Spirit of God in your heart.
So let us begin. The facts, the unassailable, unanswerable, undeniable facts—what are they? Number one: a philosophical fact; there has never been a life so beautiful, so tender, so humble, so self-effacing, so given to ministry as the life of our Lord; preaching the gospel to the poor, healing the sick, blessing the people [Matthew 11:3-5]. His words, they said as they listened to Him, “Never a man spake like that Man” [John 7:46]. You can read them for yourself. They’re incomparable. As they watched Him in His acts and ministry, they said, “It was never so seen in Israel” [Matthew 9:33], never a life like our Lord’s. Yet it ended in ignominy and in shame and in crucifixion [Matthew 27:32-50]. That posits an insoluble mystery. How could a life so beautiful, so preciously dear, so tenderly meaningful in ministry end in such tragedy and such evil and such shame?
The insoluble mystery is this: is it forever that evil triumphs over good; that wrong triumphs over right? Are death, and terror, and violence, and wrong to reign forever? Is there not another chapter? Is there not another story? Is there not another ending? Somehow, is there not some way that human life comes into triumph, and glory, and goodness, and not find itself buried in the grave of wrong, and death, and sin, and the night? A philosophical fact: is there not some answer to that insoluble, impenetrable, dark mystery—the end of life?
A second, an empirical, pragmatic, practical fact: what became of the body of our Lord? On Friday, He was embalmed, wrapped with a hundred pounds of spices, laid in a tomb, sealed, and guarded by a Roman contingency [Matthew 27:66; John 19:38-42]. Sunday, the grave clothes were beautifully undisturbed, but He was gone [John 20:1-8]. What happened? How do you account for it? My brother, within days—within days Simon Peter was standing, with the other apostles, proclaiming to the world that He had been raised from among the dead—that He lives! [Acts 2:14-40]. All it would have taken for the Sadducees who didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead, or the Roman soldiers who had crucified Him and who were supposed to guard Him [Matthew 27:62-66], all it would have taken for the unbelieving multitudes to shut up Simon Peter forever would be the decaying, dead body of our Lord. Why didn’t they do it? Because they didn’t have it; something had happened, and the body had disappeared.
There are two alternatives in that: either human hands had taken it away, or supernatural hands had taken it away. If it was human hands that had taken it away, then it was either by His friends or by His foes. His friends could not have taken the body away; they weren’t able, they weren’t capable. It was sealed with the Roman seal and the Roman soldiers stood there to guard it [Matthew 27:66]. And had they stolen it surreptitiously and furtively, how was it that the grave clothes were so undisturbed? [John 20:6-7].
Did His foes steal His body away? Why, my brother, that was the exact and identical thing they were there to prevent—that anyone might steal it away and then say He was raised from the dead [Matthew 27:62-64]. It is a fact, a plain, empirical, practical fact: the body of Jesus was gone. The tomb was empty [Matthew 28:5-7].
Number three, a psychological fact: the marvelous, wonderful transformation of the apostles. When they saw Jesus die Friday, they were plunged into abysmal, indescribable despair, the depths of agony. The Roman centurion officially reported to Pontius Pilate, “He is dead.” And when Pilate, the Roman procurator, marveled that He had died so soon [Mark 15:44], a Roman soldier took a spear and thrust it into His heart, and out of His side poured the crimson of His life [John 19:34].
And the Sadducees looked upon Him and said, “He is dead.” And the Pharisees congratulated themselves, saying, “He is dead.” And the passers-by looked and said, “He is dead.” And those who sat and watched Him said, “He is dead.” And the women came to the tomb to embalm a dead body [Mark 16:1-2]. And when He appeared to the apostles, they thought they had seen an apparition—an apparition [Luke 24:36-37]. And Thomas, one of the apostles, said, “Except I put my finger in the print of the nails in His hands, and except I thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe” [John 20:25]. Then Sunday, the whole world is livid with the liquid fire. “He is alive! He is alive! I have seen Him,” said Mary Magdalene [John 20:11-18]. “I have seen Him,” says Simon Peter [Luke 24:34]. “I have seen Him,” says the eleven [Luke 24:36-43]. “We have seen Him,” says the five hundred brethren at once [1 Corinthians 15:6]. And for forty days He appeared [Acts 1:3].
What happened? Oh, we know what happened. Those apostles gathered together and in some secret place they said, “This is horrible. Let us pretend that He is alive. Let us say that He rose from the dead.” And they go out, and they laid down their lives for a lie! They are persecuted unto death—some of them thrown into boiling cauldrons of oil, some of them burned at the stake, some of them are crucified, for a known lie! It is psychologically impossible. They sealed their testimony with their blood, for they had seen Him raised from among the dead. Jesus lives. He is alive. He is alive—a psychological fact.
Number four, an ecclesiastical fact: you’re in it. Here’s a church, they are all over the earth; where did it come from? It was formed by the Jews. Those first members were Jews, every one of them. In the second chapter of Acts, there are three thousand of them that are baptized [Acts 2:41], as you saw Dr. Brown and his family baptized this morning; three thousand of them. Turn the page in the Book of Acts, and there are five thousand andron, “men,” in contradistinction to the gunaikon, the “women” [Acts 4:4]. Turn the page and there are great multitudes of the priests who have been obedient to the faith [Acts 6:7]. And turn the page, and the multitudes are so great they cannot count them! [Acts 4:32]. A historian has suggested that there were between fifty thousand and one hundred thousand belonging to that first church in Jerusalem. How do you explain that?
Deuteronomy 21:23 expressly says, “Cursed is every man that is hanged on a tree.” Do you mean to tell me those Jewish people looked back to a crucified malefactor for their Lord in the organization of the church? It began in a glorious, heraldic announcement, “Jesus is alive!” [Matthew 28:6-7]. And that little band of common people, mostly slaves, faced the entire system of state worship in the Greco-Roman empire and challenged it to the death! And when the Roman Caesar made his presence and his image and his idol a part of that worship—to deny worship to the Roman Caesar was to be traitorous to the Roman Empire, an enemy of the state and of the emperor—and they paid for their faith in Christ in death. They were literally baptized in blood and burned in fire, intrepid still. How do you account for that: the church? And it lives today, today; we’re in one, I say. And in China there’s an underground church, and in Russia they serve in slave camps in Siberia, but the church lives. Where did it come from? An ecclesiastical fact.
Number five, a soteriological fact: the marvelous conversion and transformation of Saul of Tarsus [Acts 9:1-22], who became Paul the apostle [Acts 13:9]. What a mighty man he was and what a mighty mind he possessed. You can read them for yourself, thirteen of those letters are from the apostle Paul. The Book of Hebrews is Pauline completely. His dear friend and the beloved physician, Dr. Luke, wrote the Book of Luke and the Book of Acts. That’s sixteen; that’s 13, 14, 15, 16—that’s sixteen books in this Bible of the New Testament out of twenty-seven. There are sixteen out of twenty-seven that came from the apostle Paul; read them, they are wonderful. They are marvelous.
And where did Paul come from? It was he that thought he was doing God’s will to persecute that church unto the death [Acts 22:4], having received letters from the chief priest on his way to Damascus to hale into prison and to execution those that called upon that name, the name of the Lord Jesus [Acts 9:1-2, 22:4-5]. And on the way, he says, “I saw the risen and resurrected Lord” [Acts 9:3-6, 22:6-8]. And in the chapter that you read, in 1 Corinthians 15, it begins:
He was crucified according to the Scriptures;
He was buried, and the third day He was raised again according to the Scriptures:
And He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:
Then above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain until today—that day…
And last of all He was seen of me, as one ektrōma—born before the time.
[1 Corinthians 15:3-8]
Before Israel sees her Lord Messiah and is converted in a day [Isaiah 66:8], “He appeared to me, and I was wonderfully saved” [1 Corinthians 15:8]. That was in a day and an hour when every fact and every evidence could be carefully checked and sifted through and verified. And if the apostle Paul made a false statement, there were those who were capable of denying it. A marvelous, soteriological fact: the marvelous, incomparably meaningful transformation and conversion of the apostle Paul, “He is alive!” Paul said. “I have seen Him with my own eyes, heard Him with my own ears” [1 Corinthians 15:8].
Number six, a literary fact: we have here in this blessed Book, four Gospels of the life of our Lord—incomparable pieces of literature. And those Gospels achieve a goal, an assignment that is impossible to the greatest geniuses of literature who ever lived; namely, how do you write as though it were beautifully normal, the intercourse, the converse of a god with man? How do you do it? To achieve that has been the despair—and could I say, in parenthesis, the failure—of the most magnificently gifted writers in the earth. Look at it for yourself; the gods of Homer are manifestly fictitious. The story of the Iliad and the Odyssey is fiction. It sounds like it. It reads like it. It is. Take again the greatest genius of all time, the myriad-minded Shakespeare; his writing in Hamlet, of the ghost that speaks, it is manifestly and patently the effort of a laborious imagination. It is fiction, and you sense it when you read that greatest of all dramatic tragedies.
But you read the twenty-eighth chapter of Matthew; you read the twenty-fourth chapter of Luke. You read the sixteenth chapter of Mark; you read the twentieth and twenty-first chapters of John. Innately, internally, inherently deep in it is the sense of the recounting of a beautiful and precious truth: the Lord, risen Christ, in converse with men. Normal, beautiful, real, factual, because it happened; it was truth, a literary fact. Look at it for yourself.
And one other: an experiential fact—the seventh—an experiential fact; one that we can verify and affirm in our hearts, in our lives. He is alive. Alexander the Great is dead. Caesar Julius and Augustus are dead; Charlemagne is dead. William the Conqueror is dead, Washington is dead, Churchill is dead. It would never occur to any one of us to bow in the presence of any of these greats of the past and pray and beseech their favor and blessing. They are dead. But Jesus, the smallest child can be taught to kneel and to pray to the Lord Jesus, and it will be beautifully natural and spiritually moving. Even the child will answer normally. How much more for us who have been taught in the faith, in the decades of the passing years, to talk to the Lord Jesus who is alive, who bows down His ear from heaven to hear, and who helps us in our pilgrim way. He is alive, He lives—an experiential fact! [Matthew 28:5-7; Luke 24:5-7].
On a plane, a man came where I was, and he said, “Aren’t you W. A. Criswell?” I said, “Yes.”
He said, “Could I sit down by your side?”
I said, “Welcome. Be seated.”
So he sat down by my side, and he began, as the time passed, he began to talk to me about himself. He was a graduate of one of the world famous, liberal seminaries in America. And being taught in the liberal seminary, he was introduced to all of those academic theories concerning the Word of God—the documentary hypothesis that concludes that it’s a fabric of forgery and fakery, denying the supernatural, and the miracles, and the resurrection. His degree, his high degree was from that learned institution.
After he was graduated, he said, “I was an associate pastor,” and he named the world-famous, largest church of his communion and denomination. “I was the associate pastor, walked in and out before the people in my unbelief and in my infidelity, and in my denial of the faith.” Isn’t that a strange thing that the real enemies of God are not out there, they’re in the church? “I walked in and out before the people.”
Then he said to me, “One day, in a communion service, as I was taking the broken bread and drinking the fruit of the vine, I had an experience I can’t describe.” He said, “I began to realize that Jesus died for me, for my sins, that I might be saved” [1 Corinthians 15:3; Galatians 2:20]. And he said, “There came upon me a tremendous realization that Jesus bodily was raised from the dead, that He lives. My Savior lives” [Matthew 28:1-6].
I could not help but think, as he recounted his own experience, I could not help but think of John Wesley, who as a minister read the preface, the introduction to the Book of Romans by Martin Luther. And he wrote in his journal, John Wesley wrote in his journal, “I felt my heart strangely warmed.” And he stood up and went out and became a flame of fire, preaching the gospel of the grace of the Son of God.
As I listened to that young man, I remembered that experience in the life of John Wesley. He said, “I turned from the service with God, with Christ in my heart, then I resigned my place as the associate pastor of the church. I am now in a school house,” he says, “and I have gathered together a little band of believers. Every day,” he said to me, “I go from door to door, knocking. And I witness to the people of the grace of our Lord in Christ Jesus. He is alive, and He is my Savior, and He saved me.”
He paused and turned and looked at me with a searching, penetrating eye, and said, “Would you ever have thought that I would be knocking at a door, telling people about Jesus?” That is an experiential fact. And what that man has experienced, ten thousand others of us say, “Amen; glory to God; that’s right! He lives, I know He lives. He lives in my heart. He walks by my side. He helps me in my hour of need. I trust Him as my Savior. Someday, I will look forward to seeing Him face to face” [Revelation 22:4]. What a gospel. What a truth. What a fact; indisputable, unassailable, undeniable, forever affirmatively, amen! God bless us! May we stand together?
Wonderful, wonderful, living Lord, no wonder Charles Wesley could say, “O, for a thousand tongues to sing, My great Redeemer’s praise.” How could a poem ever contain its message in stanzas and verse? How could a musician ever capture its ultimate and final glory and beauty? Much less, how could a preacher ever adequately contain the message of salvation of our risen Lord in just words in a sermon? May the Spirit of Jesus bring the great affirmation to our hearts: “Jesus lives, He is my Savior.”
And in this moment that we pray and stand in quietness before our Lord, to open your heart to Christ, the living Christ, and inviting Him into your heart, into your home, into your life, would you answer this call of God today? “Pastor, here I stand. I accept the Lord for all that He said He was, all that He has done, and all He has promised to be.” Bring your family with you; a couple you, the whole family you, or just one somebody you. In the balcony round, down one of those stairways, and there’s time and to spare; in the press of people on this lower floor, into one of these aisles and down to the front, “Pastor, I have decided for God and here I come.” Do it now. May angels attend you in the way.
And thank You, Lord, for the sweet harvest, in Thy precious name, amen, while we sing, while we sing.
OUR LORD’S ENTRANCE INTO RESURRECTION LIFE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Student of Dr. E. M. Poteet – “Dead men don’t rise.”
B. Some historical records debated, inconsequential; not the resurrection
C. Even in His presence, some doubted(Matthew 28:17)
1. There is something God has to do to affirm the truth to our heartsII. A philosophical fact
A. Never been a life like His(John 7:46, Matthew 9:33)
B. How could such a beautiful life end in such tragedy and evil?III. A pragmatic, empirical fact
A. The empty tomb – the body gone
B. Either human hands or supernatural hands took His bodyIV. A psychological fact
A. The transformation of the disciples(John 20:25, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
B. They laid down their livesV. An ecclesiastical fact
A. The church started with the Jews (Acts 2:41, 4:4, 6:7, Deuteronomy 21:23)
B. Paid for their faith in deathVI. A soteriological fact
A. The conversion of Paul
B. He encountered the risen Lord (1 Corinthians 15:2-5)VII. A literary fact
A. Nothing comparable in literature to four Gospels
B. Inherently deep in it is the sense of the recounting of beautiful truthVIII. An experiential fact
A. He is more alive today than ever before