OUR OWN COMING RESURRECTION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-21-81 10:50 a.m.
The title of the sermon this morning is Our Own Coming Resurrection. In the series of doctrinal messages on the “Great Doctrines of the Bible,” in this section on Christology, the last time I preached here it was entitled The Resurrection of Our Lord; our Lord’s Entrance into Resurrection Life. And the message this morning is on our coming resurrection.
In the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts, Dr. Luke writes of the address, the apology, the apologia, the apology, the defense of the apostle Paul as he stood before Herod Agrippa II. And in the first verse, “Agrippa said to Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. Then Paul stretched forth the hand,” evidently a gesture that was so common to him, “he stretched forth a hand, and answered for himself: I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day,” concerning the faith, the Christian faith [Acts 26:1-2]. And in verse 8, as he speaks of the Christian way, he asks, “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, a brilliant and gifted lecturer of the last century, standing over the body of his dead brother said, “Life is a narrow veil 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.” The old patriarch Job, in verse 14 of the fourteenth chapter of his book, asks an eternal question, “If a man die, shall he live again?” [Job 14:14]. There is no one of us but has asked that question in fear, in hope, in dread, in agony. I suppose the question was asked over the first grave [Genesis 4:8-10], and has been repeated through all of the centuries since. It is emphasized by the great monuments of the world; each one an attempt to reach toward immortality; life beyond this life.
The ancient pyramids of Egypt are tombs. The Mausoleum of King Mausolus of Halicarnassus was one of the ancient wonders of the world; like the pyramids, a tomb. The Taj Mahal in Agra, India, I suppose the most beautiful—the most beautifully effective building I have ever seen in the world, is a tomb. The tombs of the emperors of ancient Japan, in Nara and Kyoto, stand as monuments to the hope of an immortal life. The tomb of Napoleon in Paris, France; the tomb of St. Peter’s Cathedral, the Vatican in Rome; and the great basilica built over the grave of St. Paul’s on the Ostian Way; Westminster Abbey, in which are entombed the great of the British Empire—all of it emphasizes the hope and desire of the human soul for immortality— “If a man die, shall he live again?” [Job 14:14].
The waste of death is devastating and universal. Neither Goth, or Vandal, or Hun, or Mongolian, or Tartar, or Saracen ever slew so mercilessly—no pity for the young; no mercy for the old; and no regard for the good and the true and the beautiful—the devastation of death. And his presence brings such finality. All of us feel it, standing before a newly-dug grave; or being introduced for the first time to the dissolution of your family circle, these that we have loved and known in our family group—a mother or a father. All of it presses upon our hearts with such apprehension. The very appearance of the approach of the pale horseman strikes terror to our souls. And we peer into the darkness of the grave and repeat Job’s ancient question, “If I die, do I live again?” [Job 14:14].
Now, as we read and as we study and as we search in our own hearts, there are two answers to that question. One can be found in human history, in the undying hope of the nature of man. And that answer concerns the immortality of the soul. It is an unfading and an undying hope in the human spirit. All of the passing ages and ages do not flood it and do not dissuade us from it. Cicero has brought down to us the most exhaustive study from ancient history of that subject. And Cicero concluded with this sentence, “The immortality of the soul is the belief of all peoples.” And that conclusion of the ancient Roman senator and orator Cicero is confirmed by everything that we know.
When finally we were able to decipher the ancient hieroglyphic picture writing of Egypt, it concerned the dead. It is called the Book of the Dead, and it describes the life beyond the grave. When finally, we were able to decipher the ancient cuneiform, the wedge-shaped writing of the ancient Akkadian, Sumerian, and Babylonian, it also concerned the life beyond the grave—immortality. The subject is the song of Homer in his Iliad and his Odyssey. It is the inspiration of Virgil in his Aeneid. The ancient Greek warrior was buried with his armor; he would need it in the other life. And the painted American Indian was buried with his bow and his arrow; it would be a part of his life in the happy hunting ground. There are no tribes so degraded in central Africa or even among the Patagonians at the tip of South America but who hold that hope in their hearts.
The passing of the ages and the centuries has not deterred the human spirit from the belief that there is a life beyond the grave. And again, all of the thinking and all of the writing of the great, rationalistic philosophers of mankind have not dissuaded us from the belief in the immortality of the soul. For example, Jean Paul Richter, the eighteenth century German author and philosopher, said, he wrote:
I have traversed the worlds.
I have risen to the suns…
I have pressed up toward 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 Word Without God,” Jean Paul Richter]
Or look again, from the pen of the eloquent British philosopher and mathematician and author Bertrand Russell. He wrote:
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 of the labors of the ages, all of 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 a universe in ruins. All of 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 “A Free Man’s Worship,” Bertrand Russell, 1902]
This is the conclusion of the rationalist through all of the years. Today, we call it secular humanism: there is no God, there is no resurrection, there is no immortality, there is no life beyond the grave. And yet, after the centuries of this teaching and after the utmost thinking of the rationalist, the hope and the belief in immortality is as vibrant in the human heart today as it ever was. It is undying. Somehow, some way, life persuades itself that it is like a great arch, and this life in the world is but the great pillar and the other pillar upon which the arch stands is in the world to come.
Life persuades itself, it is like a gigantic bridge, and on this side is the great pier upon which it is anchored here. But the bridge doesn’t stop, it doesn’t break off in the middle above the abyss, but it goes over and beyond, and is anchored in a great pier on the other side of the grave. That is the human heart and the human spirit, and it never changes. As we look ahead and peer beyond the darkness of the grave, somehow intimations of immortality may be sufficient for fanciful poetry. But when the room is darkened and the baffled physician is forced to admit defeat, surely we need some certain word that can comfort and strengthen our hearts. I think one of the most pathetic of all of the utterances of ancient literature is the cry of Plato in the presence of death. He said, “Oh, that there were some divine word upon which we could more securely and less perilously sail upon a stronger vessel.” As Plato looked out into the darkness beyond the River Styx, he sought some revelation from heaven that would be a strong raft, a vessel upon which his soul might launch out across the sea of eternity and into the world that is to come.
And that is our second answer; “If a man die, shall he live again?” [Job 14:14]. The answer of human history and of the undying hope of the soul is there is an immortality. There is a life beyond the grave. But it was Christ who brought that life and immortality to light [2 Timothy 1:9-10]. Before Him, it was a vague hope, a shadowy belief, an insubstantial substance, a peripheral reaching, a peering into the darkness, a prayer, a cry. But in Christ, it took firm and undying substance. It is a revelation from heaven. There are many, many scholars, great biblical scholars who avow that the high water mark of all revelation is the fifteenth chapter of the 1 Corinthians letter.
And if you have your Bible, I wish you would turn to it. If you are watching on television or listening on radio, with the thousands of us that are in the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church here in Dallas, turn in your Bible to the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians; the great, tremendous revelation of God in Christ Jesus, and it concerns the resurrection of the dead. We begin at verse 12; 1 Corinthians, chapter 15, verse 12:
Now if Christ be preached that He rose from the dead, how say some among you there is no resurrection of the dead?
If there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:
If Christ be not risen, our preaching is vain, and your faith is vain.
And we are found false witnesses of God; because we testified of God that He raised up Christ: whom He raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.
For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ 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 are perished.
[1 Corinthians 15:12-18]
These, who before us have died, have died in hopelessness, in interminable and unmitigated darkness. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” [1 Corinthians 15:19]. Now, the heart of the Christian message:
But now, but now is Christ raised from the dead,
He is become the first fruits of them that slept.
For since by man came death, by Man came also the resurrection of the dead. As in Adam we all die,
[1 Corinthians 15:20-22]
Born in sin, conceived in iniquity [Psalm 51:5], the black drop of condemnation and judgment in all the bloodstreams of the human family, “as in Adam we all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” [1 Corinthians 15:22]. That is the heart and the substance of the Christian faith. Job now can rise from his ash heap [Job 2:8] and say with tremendous, triumphant voice:
I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand in the latter day upon the earth:
And though through my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God; Whom…
mine eyes shall behold, and not just another.
The psalmist now can take his harp from the willow trees [Psalm 137:2-4]; the king can exchange his sackcloth for garments of beauty and glory [2 Kings 6:30]. Nehemiah can cease his weeping [Nehemiah 1:4], and Daniel can rise from his knees [Daniel 6:10]. Jesus is alive. He has risen from the dead! [Matthew 28:5-7]. He is the first fruits—the first fruits of them that sleep [1 Corinthians 15:20]. And in our order and in our time and in our day, we also shall be raised in the likeness of His glorious resurrection [Romans 6:4-5; 1 Corinthians 15:23]. That is the Christian faith.
Now, one other tremendous passage that Paul writes and a question he answers in this fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians—we look at verse 35, verse 35; 1 Corinthians 15:35: “But some will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what kind of a body do they come?” That is a very legitimate question. When we are raised from the dead, what kind of people will we be? What kind of bodies will we possess? Most of all, to place the question in my own words, “Will you be you and will I be I? Or, will we be some kind of a metamorphic creature far removed from us? Does the resurrection of the dead mean that I shall live, and it will be I? You shall live, and it shall be you? What kind of a body will it be?”
Now, the immortality of the soul, as I have tried to avow, is a universal persuasion of the whole human race through all of its history. By the feeble light of nature, even the most degraded tribes of the earth were able to see that there is a life beyond the grave. But the resurrection of the body [1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]—that we shall live, personally, identifiably, individually—the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is peculiar and unique to Christianity. No other faith ever dared to avow it. It is a doctrine alone, presented by the Christian believer—the resurrection of the body.
When Paul stood on Mars Hill [Acts 17:22], speaking to the Areopagus, the highest court of the Athenians, had Paul discussed the immortality of the soul, all of those Stoic and Epicurean philosophers would have been all eagerness in listening, in discussing. That is what they discussed in their ultimate philosophy. What of the soul? Is it immortal? And had Paul discussed the immortality of the soul, they would have listened with eager attention. But when Paul spoke of the resurrection of the dead, they burst out in scoffing! It was ridiculous to them. And they laughed. Those that were more generous and courteous bowed themselves out saying, “We will hear you later of this matter,” and left; and the others openly laughed [Acts 17:31-32].
The doctrine of the resurrection of the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], it is the heart of the Christian message, and it finds its basis in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He rose from among the dead. He did [Matthew 28:5-7]. He, Christ; it is He with the nail prints in His hands and in His feet; with the scar in His side [Luke 24:39; John 20:25-27]. It is He; Jesus, whom they crucified [Matthew 27:32-50], who is now raised from the grave [Matthew 28:5-7]. That is the Christian faith. And the Christian message of hope and salvation is that we who trust in Christ shall be raised together with Him [Ephesians 2:4-6]. And it will be you. It will be I. Paul will not be Isaiah. And Isaiah will not be Jeremiah. In the resurrection, it will be Isaiah. And it will be Jeremiah. And it will be Paul.
John Chrysostom will not be George Whitefield. And George Whitefield will not be Charles Haddon Spurgeon. It will be Chrysostom, the golden-mouthed preacher. It will be George Whitefield, God’s great evangelist. And it will be Charles Spurgeon, God’s great pastor. Identity is not lost. Identification is the key of this passage that Paul writes in answering that question, “With what body do they come?” [1 Corinthians 15:35]. In what body shall we live? Then he illustrates it.
Each one has a body, as God has made him. We are not all alike, and what God made is not all alike [1 Corinthians 15:38]. There are some men. There are some that are animals. There are some that are fish. There are some that are birds. There are celestial bodies. There are terrestrial bodies. And one is different from the other. “There is the glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars. So also is the resurrection of the dead” [1 Corinthians 15:39-42]. You will be you, and you are different from you. And we are different from each other. And each one of us will be identifiable in the resurrection:
It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:
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
[1 Corinthians 15:42-44]
We have a natural, material body for this life, this world. But God is fashioning for us a spiritual body for the world that is yet to come [1 Corinthians 15:44]. And isn’t that the most amazing contradiction in words you could ever say? A spiritual body; those two words are antithetical. They are mutually contradictory; spirit and body. But in the resurrection, God is framing for us a spiritual body. It is something that God does.
In my human mind, I was speaking of it a day or two ago. In my human mind, I don’t understand that—a man is buried in the ground, and a great oak thrust its roots through his physical frame, and the substance of the man is turned into leaves or into fruit, or the man is eaten up by a fish, and the man turns into the scales and the teeth of a fish. How is it that God raises this body from the dead? It is something that God does. God marks the molecules and the atoms of this physical substance, this life, this human frame in which my soul lives. And in the resurrection from the dead, God gathers it together. And I live, I live in His sight [Hosea 6:2].
In the first centuries, in the Christian centuries, there was a mythological faith, religion, that spread over the Greco-Roman world. It came out of Egypt, the worship of Isis and Osiris. Osiris’ body was dismembered, and fragmentized, and scattered over the whole world. But Isis lovingly and tenderly and fondly gathered all of the pieces together, and the god was resurrected and reborn and lived again. That is mythological. That is an ancient and dead religion, but they had a truth in the affirmation that they were making, those who believed in Isis and Osiris.
God is able to gather up the fragments of our lives—the substance of this physical frame. And He is able to re-create it; to regenerate it, and we are born again. And we live in His sight, the resurrection of the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. It is God who does it [1 Corinthians 15:52-56]. That is why the apostle writes in the concluding, marvelous consummation of this chapter, “Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory,” this marvelous miracle, “through Jesus Christ our Lord” [1 Corinthians 15:57]. It is something that God does.
Can the dead raise themselves? No, they are dead! But the Holy Spirit of God raised Jesus from the dead. Romans 1:4 says He was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit of God. And the same Holy Spirit of God shall raise us from the dead [Romans 8:11]. The Holy Spirit lives in our bodies as a temple [1 Corinthians 6:19], and we don’t bury the Holy Spirit. By the Holy Spirit are we all baptized into the body of Christ [1 Corinthians 12:13]. We are made one with our Lord by the Holy Spirit. We belong to His body, and His body does not see corruption [Acts 2:27, 31]. And when we accept our Lord, the Holy Spirit comes and lives in our physical frame [1 Corinthians 6:19]. This is the temple of the Holy Spirit of God, and the Holy Spirit that raised up Christ is the same power that shall raise up us [Romans 8:11]. We are members of the body of Christ [Romans 12:5; Ephesians 5:30], and are imperishable. We shall live forever in Him [John 3:16, 10:27-30]. It is something that God does.
And do you notice one other thing? Not only does the Holy Spirit of God raise us from the dead [Romans 8:11], but the apostle avows, and we:
We shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,
at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound,
and the dead shall be raised incorruptible,
and we shall all be changed.
[1 Corinthians 15:51-52]
It is it something God does. God does it!
There is a Stratford on Avon, where Shakespeare lived; there is also a Stratford on the River [at] 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 as the fires were lit, the lame man threw away his crutch and turned to his companion and said, “Courage, brother, this fire will heal us both.” That’s God. We shall all be changed. The blind shall see; and the lame shall walk; and the old shall be young; and the feeble shall be made strong; and we all shall be re-created in the glorious likeness of our Savior [1 John 3:2]. This is the Christian faith. There is life abounding [John 10:10]—glorious in Christ even beyond the grave. “He that liveth and believeth in Me shall never, ever die” [John 11:25-26].
O precious cross! O glorious crown!
O resurrection day!
Ye angels, from the stars come down,
And bear my soul away.
[“Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?” Thomas Shepherd]
May we stand together?
Our dear Lord, the gospel we preach is too good to be true. How could such a thing be? O Lord, like a man dying of thirst and there before him opens a fountain of living water, it’s too good to be true. Like a wretch, poor and hungry, dying in poverty and a messenger comes and announces he has the wealth of the king, it is too good to be true. And we who face certain death and dissolution and corruption, that we should be immortalized and glorified and resurrected [2 Corinthians 5:2-4], Lord, it’s too good to be true. Could such a thing be? But our Lord God is able; and the same Holy Spirit who raised Christ up from the dead shall raise us up in our time [Romans 8:11]; He the first fruits; and then afterwards, we at His coming [1 Corinthians 15:23]. O blessed Lord, that we might be baptized in the Spirit of faith and that the power of Christ in resurrected glory might rest upon us [Philippians 3:10].
And in this moment when our people stand before God in reverence, in awe, in prayer, somebody you, give himself to the faith of Christ, come. A family you to put your life with us in this dear church, a couple, or just one somebody you, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles: “Pastor, we have decided for God, and here we stand.” Make the decision now in your heart; then come. That first step will be the greatest step you have ever made in your life, and welcome.
And our Lord, thank Thee for the sweet harvest. In Thy precious name, amen. While we sing; while we sing.