OUR OWN COMING RESURRECTION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-21-81 8:15 a.m.
And welcome the great throngs of our people who are listening on the two radio stations that bear this message. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. In the long series of messages on the “Great Doctrines of the Bible,” we are in the series in the section on Christology, preaching Christ, the meaning, the message of our Lord. The last Sunday that I was here the message concerned His resurrection, and today the message concerns our being raised from among the dead. The title of the sermon is Our Own Coming Resurrection. As a background text, in Acts chapter 26:8, when Paul is defending the message that he preaches before King Herod Agrippa II, he raises a rhetorical question in verse 8: “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?” [Acts 26:8]. The resurrection of the dead; is there life beyond the grave?
Robert Ingersoll, the brilliant and gifted infidel who lectured all over America in this last century, Robert Ingersoll, standing over the body of his dead brother, said, “Life is a narrow vale between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities. We strive in vain to look beyond the heights. We cry aloud, and the only answer is the echo of our wailing voice.”
Job, the patriarch of the Old Testament, in verse 14 of chapter 14 asked a question that resounds through the centuries. “If a man die, shall he live again?” [Job 14:14]. Who has not asked that question? Sometimes in dread, sometimes in fear, sometimes in hope, sometimes in agony, sometimes in heartbrokenness; I would suppose the question was asked over the first grave [Genesis 4:8-10]. And through the centuries since, the great monuments of the earth have emphasized its repercussion in the human heart. The pyramids of Egypt; the mausoleum of King Mausolus of Halicarnassus; the Taj Mahal of Agra in India; the tomb of Napoleon in Paris, France; the Westminster Abbey in England; the tombs of the emperors in Nara and Kyoto, Japan; the endless mausoleums, and cemeteries, and epitaphs, and sarcophagi; all are built in the hope that somehow life might be immortalized and remembered.
“If a man die, shall he live again?” [Job 14:14]. The devastation of death is universal, knows no end. Neither Goth, nor Vandal, nor Hun, nor Tartar, nor Mongol, nor Saracen have ever slain so mercilessly, without pity for the young, without mercy for the old, without regard for the good or the true or the beautiful. And the finality of death somehow fills our very souls. All of us feel it, standing before a freshly new dug grave, or for the first time being introduced to the breaking up of our family circle, or our own dread of the appearing of that pale horseman who knocks at every door—dear God, is there an answer to Job’s question? “If I die, do I live again?” [Job 14:14].
As we study, there are two affirmative answers to that heartfelt cry of the old patriarch. One is found in continuing human history and the undying hope of the human heart: the immortality of the soul. It is an undying persuasion. It has characterized the story of mankind from the beginning. Cicero made the most exhaustive study that has come down to us from ancient days, and Cicero concluded, quote, “Immortality is the established hope of all peoples.” That is confirmed by everything that we know. When finally the hieroglyphics, the picture writing of the ancient Egyptians, was deciphered, it was that; called the Book of the Dead, the life that is to come. When finally the cuneiform inscriptions of the ancient Akkadians, Sumerians, Babylonians was deciphered, it was that; a recounting of the life beyond the grave.
That hope is the song of Homer in his Iliad and his Odyssey. It is no less the inspiration of Virgil’s Aeneid. The Greek warrior was buried with his armor. The painted American Indian was buried with his bow and arrow. They were theirs to be used in another life, in another world. And there are no tribes so low in Africa nor even among the degraded Patagonians in South America but who have that undying hope: beyond death there is another life.
And as we read human history, it is remarkable that all of the reasoning of the rationalists have been unable to blunt that deep persuasion of the human heart that “If I die, I shall live again.” Jean Paul Richter, the eighteenth-century German author and philosopher, wrote:
I have traversed the worlds, I have risen to the suns, I have pressed apart the great waste places of the sky . . . I have descended to the place where the very shadow cast by being dies out and ends . . . We are orphans, you and I . . . Every soul in this vast corpse-trench of the universe is utterly alone.
[from “Dream of a World Without a God,” Jean Paul Richter]
Or read again from Bertrand Russell, the eloquent and famous British philosopher and mathematician and author. I quote:
That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes, his fears, his loves and beliefs are but the outcome of the accidental collocation of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the noonday brightness of human genius are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of the universe in ruins—all these things, if not beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of despair can the soul’s habitation henceforth be built.
[from “Free Man’s Worship,” Bertrand Russell, 1903]
These are the writings and conclusions of rationalistic thinkers. Today we call it secular humanism. “There is nothing that lies for us but the grave and nothing before the universe but solar death and extinction.”
Isn’t it a strange thing, that with all of those rationalists in their writings throughout all of the centuries, that the hope of immortality is as brilliant and as bright and as viable today as it was in the beginning, an undying persuasion? Somehow we feel that life is like a great arch and this part is the first pillar upon which it stands, and there is another one that reaches beyond this life. We cannot help but be persuaded that life is like a great bridge over a vast chasm, and we stand on this side, but it doesn’t end in the midst; it reaches over and across the abyss to the other side. There’s another story. There’s another chapter. There’s another life. “If a man die, shall he live again?” [Job 14:14].
But where is that certain persuasion that without controversy or without doubt would assure us of heaven, of a better world, a better life? Where? I think one of the most pathetic utterances of ancient literature is the cry of Plato in the presence of death: “Oh, that there were some divine word upon which we could more securely and less perilously sail upon a stronger vessel” [from Phaedo ]. As Plato looked beyond the shadowy immortality of those who had crossed beyond the River Styx, his soul cry was that we had a revelation, that we had a word upon which we could more securely rest our souls as we launch out into the vast and illimitable deep.
And that is the second answer to Job’s heart cry, “If a man die, shall he live again?” [Job 14:14]. The first answer, the persuasion undying of the human heart through all history of immorality; somehow the soul doesn’t die. The man lives forever. The second answer is the answer of the Christian faith, of Him who brought life and immortality to light and who abolished death forever [2 Timothy 1:10].
There are many, many biblical scholars who would avow that the high watermark of all biblical Christian revelation is the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians [1 Corinthians 15:1-58]. It rises and rises; God’s revelation unfolds and unfolds until it reaches its zenith of brilliance and victory, triumph, in the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, and that is the chapter of the resurrection of the dead. If you would turn to it in your Bible, chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians, we shall look at this Christian hope together; 1 Corinthians chapter 15. We begin at verse 12; 1 Corinthians chapter 15, verse 12. If your neighbor doesn’t have his Bible, share your Bible with him. First Corinthians 15:12:
If Christ be preached that He rose from the dead, why do some of you question the resurrection of the dead?
If there be no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen:
If Christ be not risen, we have preached in vain, and our faith is also vain.
And we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ: whom He raised not, if so be that there is no resurrection of the dead, if the dead rise not.
And if the dead rise not, Christ is not raised:
And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ—these who have died before us—are perished.
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
But now—but now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept.
For since by man came death—
by Man came also the resurrection of the dead—
For as in Adam we all die—
born in sin, conceived in iniquity, the sentence of death written in us when we come into this world [Psalm 51:5]—
for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
[1 Corinthians 15:12-22]
What a marvelous hope and assurance. Not one that is just a persuasion, or a longing, or a hope, but one that is verified in the resurrection of Christ from among the dead [1 Corinthians 15:20-21]; He lives, and because He lives we shall live also [1 Corinthians 15:22]. Job now can rise from his ash heap [Job 2:8], and he can cry in triumph:
I know that my Redeemer liveth … and though through this skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God;
Whom I shall see for myself . . . and not just through the eyes of another.
The psalmist now can take his harp down from the willow trees [Psalm 137:1-4]. Nehemiah can cease his weeping [Nehemiah 1:4]. The king can change his sackcloth for the garments of beauty and glory [2 Kings 19:1]. Daniel can rise from his knees [Daniel 9:3-19]. Jesus has conquered death [Acts 2:24; 2 Timothy 1:10], and has promised us a resurrection from the grave [John 5:25, 11:25-26].
But we’re not done. Looking at this same fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, verse 35, 1 Corinthians, verse 35: “But some will say, How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” [1 Corinthians 15:35]. Let me frame the word as I might place it in a different sentence, “If there is a resurrection of the dead, will I be I and will you be you? Am I still myself in the resurrection of the dead, or am I metamorphosized into something else, into something other? Do I live in my personality and my identity and my individuality in the resurrection of the dead? Is it I who live?” “With what body do they come?” [1 Corinthians 15:35]. And these following verses of Paul are a discussion and a revelation and an assurance that as Christ was raised from the dead [1 Corinthians 15:47-49]—and it was He; it is our Lord; He even had the marks of the nails and the prints of the nails in His hands and feet and the scar in His side [Luke 24:39-40; John 20:25-28]; it was the Lord—so we also, when we are raised from the dead, shall be ourselves [1 Corinthians 15:52-53].
Then he illustrates it in this fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians. He says “God gives to each one his own body. All flesh is not the same flesh. There is a flesh of animals and a flesh of fishes and a flesh of birds, there are celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies, and there is one glory of one, and there is another glory of another” [1 Corinthians 15:38-40]. So it is with us; we are not going to be all alike in the resurrection of the dead. You will be you, and you will be you, and I shall be I.
It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory,
It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.
It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.
There is a natural body for this world; there is a spiritual body God has prepared for us in the other world.
[1 Corinthians 15:43-44]
But that body is mine, and that body is now yours, and it will be yours in the world to come: the resurrection from the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. This is the unique revelation and doctrine of the Christian faith. Immortality was a persuasion of the natural man by the light, feeble though it was, of human nature. But that we should be raised in body from the dead is a revelation of God in Christ Jesus [Romans 8:11]. It is unique to Christianity. It is found only in the Christian faith.
When Paul stood on Mars’ Hill to speak to the Areopagus [Acts 17:22], the highest court of the Athenians, had he discussed immortality of the soul, no one would have scoffed, and no one would have laughed, and no one would have bowed himself out. But when Paul spoke of the resurrection of the body, those Stoics and Epicureans scoffed at the very thought and the idea that a man could live after he dies, that the body could be reassembled after it had fallen into decay [Acts 17:18, 31-32], but that is the heart of the Christian message and of the Christian faith [1 Corinthians 15:12-19].
Isaiah will not be Paul in the resurrection, nor will either one be Jeremiah. In the resurrection, John Chrysostom will not be George Whitefield, and neither one of them will be Charles Haddon Spurgeon. In the resurrection, Christ is our Lord Christ; it is He [Acts 1:10-11]. In the resurrection, John is John, Simon Peter is the chief apostle, and Timothy and Titus are they. You will be you and I shall be I. That is the Christian faith, the heart of the gospel of Christ [1 Corinthians 15:12-19].
One of the religions, mythological, that swept over the Roman Empire in the first Christian century was that of Isis and Osiris; came out of Egypt. The body of Osiris was fragmented and scattered over the face of the whole world, and Isis lovingly and tenderly and fondly gathered it together, and the god was resurrected and lived again. Mythological in character, but when I think of it, I also think of the ableness and power of God in our lives. It is the Spirit of God that will gather together the very molecules and the very atoms, the substance of this life that has turned back to dust [Genesis 3:19; Daniel 12:2; Romans 8:11]. God will do it, and gather it together it again. And the I that is I will be no less I in the resurrection of the dead, and the you that is you will be no less you in the resurrection of the dead.
This is something that Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:57 that God shall do. “Thanks be to God, who giveth us that victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And he speaks of it in two ways. The dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we who are living and alive at the coming of the Lord, “We shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump” [1 Corinthians 15:51-52]. It is something God does. Can the dead raise themselves? No! It is something God does. The body of our Lord was raised from the dead by the Holy Spirit. Romans 1:4 avows that Christ was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit, and it is that Holy Spirit of God that shall raise us up from the dead [Romans 8:11].
How would you bury the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit lives in this temple; this the temple of the Holy Spirit of God [1 Corinthians 6:19]. When I accept Christ, I am baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of our Lord [1 Corinthians 12:13; Romans 6:3-5]. And death cannot waste the body of our Lord, and death cannot bury the Holy Spirit of Christ. When I am a part of the body of Christ, I can’t be buried. The Holy Spirit lives in me [1 Corinthians 6:19], and shall raise me from the dead [Romans 8:11], as the Holy Spirit raised Christ from among the dead [Romans 1:4]; it is something God does.
And we shall all be changed [1 Corinthians 15:51-52]:
This corruptible must put on incorruption…
And this mortal shall have put on immortality…
then shall be brought to pass the saying,
Death is swallowed up in victory.
[1 Corinthians 15:53-54]
It is something God does. We shall all be changed [1 Corinthians 15:51-52].
As there is a Stratford on Avon, there is also a Stratford on Bow, on the River Bow. And in the days of the bloody Queen Mary, there were two martyrs tied to the stake. One was lame and the other was blind, and when the fires were lit, the lame man threw his crutch away and turning to his friend said, “Courage, brother. This fire will heal us both.” What a gospel. What a victory. What a triumph. God shall raise us from the dead, and we shall all be changed [1 Corinthians 15:52]. Lord, thus to be persuaded in Christ—when the dark day comes and the pale horseman shows his awesome presence, it’s a day of victory, and of release, and of triumph, God having prepared some better thing for us [Hebrews 11:40]. Bless His name forever. May we stand?
Oh, oh, oh, it is too good to be true! It’s like a man who is starving to death, poor and ragged, and the news comes: “You are rich. You have inherited the wealth of the world.” How could it be? It is too good to be true. It is like a man who is dying of thirst, and before him is opened a fountain of living water. It is too good to be true. It’s like an aged man who faces the long and inevitable tomorrow, but the visage of death is no longer fraught with the plumes of the night, but it is changed into the bright, burning countenance of Jesus, who says, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me shall never, ever die” [John 11:25]. O Lord, O Christ, O wonderful Savior, O soul of my soul and love of my heart and hope in my despair; blessed, blessed Jesus.
And while our people in this moment wait before God, stand in the presence of our living Lord, to accept Him as your Savior: “I open my heart to Thee, blessed Jesus; come into my life. Holy Spirit of God, find a temple in my heart.” To accept Jesus as your Savior [Romans 10:9-10], come. To put your life with us in this beautiful communion, come. As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision now. And in a moment, down one of those stairways, down one of these aisles: “Here I am, pastor. I have decided for God, and here I stand.” And our Lord bless the sweet harvest that comes, each one; a family, a couple, just one.
Thank Thee, Lord, for the persuasion, and the hope, and the reply, in Thy saving name, amen. Now while we stand, while we pray, while we remain this moment, and while we sing this song, come, and welcome, welcome, welcome, while we sing our song.
A. Is there life beyond
1. We have all
asked that question in dread, fear, hope, agony(Job
2. Emphasized by
great monuments of the world
B. Death destroys
C. The seeming finality
of the grave
II. The immortality of the soul – the
undying hopein the human spirit
A. Not destroyed by the
a. Supported by ancient
writings and practices
B. Rational argument
has been impotent to reason it away
of immortality enough for mortality, but we need more when facing the darkness
of the grave
A. The high watermark
of all Christian revelation(1 Corinthians
1. The heart and
substance of the faith(Job 19:25-27)
B. Resurrection of the
body unique to Christianity(1 Corinthians
1. Paul on Mars’
Hill ridiculed when spoke of resurrection of the dead
one has a body; each one of us will be identifiable(1
C. God is forming for
us a spiritual body(1 Corinthians 15:57)
D. It is something God
does(Romans 1:4, 1 Corinthians 15:51-52)
E. In Christ there is
life abounding beyond the grave(John 11:36)