HOW CAN GOD RAISE ME FROM THE DEAD?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-22-84 10:50 a.m.
This has been the sixty-eighth year that we have conducted pre-Easter noonday services, and this has been the fortieth year that I have shared in them. And because of the thousands and thousands of Gospels of John that we have given to homes in the city, this year I chose a theme out of the Gospel of John: the exclamation of Thomas, "My Lord and my God" [John 20:28].
And then, preaching through the book, on Monday: How Could God Become a Man? And on Tuesday: How Could It Be That God Can Remake, Regenerate Me? And on Wednesday: How Is It That God Could Keep Me and Save Me Forever? And on Thursday: How Is It That God Could Sympathize With Me? And on Friday: How Could God Die for Me? And today – Easter day, resurrection day – the title of the message is: How Could God Raise Me from the Dead?
Our passage is in the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John. John 11, beginning at verse 21, this is in the story of the resurrection of Lazarus, John 11:21. And we welcome the great multitudes of you who share the hour with us here in the First Baptist Church of Dallas on radio and on television. And if you will get your Bible and read it with us, it would be a benedictory blessing. John 11:21:
Then said [Martha] unto Jesus, Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.
But I know, that even now, whatsoever Thou wilt ask of God, God will give it Thee.
Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.
Martha saith unto Him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.
Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live;
And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never, never, ever die.
"I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die" [John 11:25-26]. My old Greek teacher said, "When we read that in Greek," he said, "that is the profoundest statement, the profoundest word that ever fell from the lips of men."
When the Lord comes, when Jesus comes from heaven, there will be two groups, two phalanxes that will rise to meet Him as He comes with the clouds, with the shekinah glory of God, in the air. One group, and the first one, will be these that are raised from the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16]. They will see Him first. And the second group that shall meet Him, will be all of us who remain and are alive at the coming of the Lord [1 Thessalonians 4:17]. And we shall be transformed, transfigured, immortalized, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye [1 Corinthians 15:52]. And with these who have fallen asleep in Christ and now raised, we shall rise with them to greet and to meet our Lord from the sky [1 Thessalonians 4:17].
The overtones of that revelation are frequently found in the Word of God. It is here Jesus said, "I am the resurrection" [John 11:25]. This is they that shall rise from the dead and welcome our Lord from heaven. "I am not only the resurrection, I am the life, the life" [John 11:25]. These are they who will be living that final and last generation, when they are transfigured, immortalized in that moment, and they also rise to welcome our Lord from the skies.
I say you often find those overtones in the Word of God. You see it in that ninth chapter of the Book of Luke, beginning at verse 38, when the Lord is transfigured on the tall and holy and high mountain, and there appear unto Him Moses and Elijah talking to Him about – you have it in the King James Version – talking to Him about "His decease which He should accomplish in Jerusalem" [Luke 9:30-31]. The Greek of that: they were talking to Him about "His exodus, which He should accomplish in Jerusalem." Moses fell asleep in the Lord and died and was buried [Deuteronomy 34:5-6]. Moses led the exodus of God’s children out of Egypt [Exodus 3:10-12; Numbers 1-36], and Moses, raised from the dead [Daniel 12:2], is going to lead the "exodus" of God’s risen saints as they meet our Lord in the air.
Elijah never died. Elijah was transfigured, he was immortalized in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye [2 Kings 2:11]. He was wafted up and raised up and caught up to glory. And Elijah will lead the exodus of God’s saints who are alive at the coming of the Lord, and in their transfiguration, shall greet our Lord as He comes from the skies.
You see it again, and I don’t want to belabor the point, you see it again in 1 Corinthians 15:55, the marvelous resurrection chapter that Dr. Merrill said is the high point of all God’s revelation. In 1 Corinthians 15:55: "O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?" There it is again. These who are raptured, who are changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye [1 Corinthians 15:52], as they rise to meet our Lord in the skies, they cry, saying, "O Death, where is thy sting?" [1 Corinthians 15:55]. And these who have fallen asleep in Jesus, who are raised out of their graves, they rise, saying, "O Grave, where is thy victory?" [1 Corinthians 15:55]. And both of them, together, as they are caught up to meet our Lord in the air, cry, "Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." No wonder Paul calls it the blessed hope [Titus 2:13].
There is no historian who is conscious of the development of human history but who would say that the reason for the great conquest of the Christian faith is found in its promise of a life beyond the grave. The resurrection of Jesus Christ, that’s the keystone of the gospel message of our Lord [1 Corinthians 15:12-20]. He rose triumphant over death, He is victorious over the grave [1 Corinthians 15:55-57], and He promises life and immortality to us who place our trust in Him [John 11:25-26].
The passion for life beyond death is universal. It is not by any means confined to one group, or one tribe, one people, or one nation. It is forever universal among all mankind. For centuries and centuries and centuries, men looked at those hieroglyphics, the papyri wrappings around the mummies in Egypt, and wondered what they meant, that picture writing. In 1799 there was discovered the Rosetta Stone at the mouth of the Nile, near Alexandria. And the three languages on that Rosetta Stone, now in the British Museum, opened the possibility of deciphering those hieroglyphics. And when they deciphered it, they found that those papyri belonged to The Book of the Dead, and described the hope of the Egyptian, that he would live beyond the grave.
The same kind of a story is true of the cuneiform tablets and inscriptions. That’s the wedge writing of the Sumerians and the ancient Assyrians. They saw those inscriptions everywhere, and they dug up those cuneiform tablets everywhere, but they couldn’t decipher them. And in 1846, a scholar deciphered the great cuneiform inscription on the Behistun Rock in western Iran, ancient Persia, and the whole vista of that ancient Assyrian culture was opened to modern view. And what was it about? It was the hope of those ancient people for a life beyond the grave.
When we read the literature of the ancient Greek and Roman, and look at their statuary, it is a depiction of a life beyond the grave. The Gaelic warrior was buried with his armor. He would need it in the land and life to come. And the painted American Indian was laid to rest with his bow and his arrow. He would need it in the hunting ground of the world that is to come. There is no tribe or family, however degraded, in the heart of Africa or in the Patagonian kingdom, but that exhibits to the world that same hope, that somehow there is life beyond the grave.
Not only is that true with these degraded tribes or these ancient peoples, but it is also true of modern scientists. In my first pastorate out of the seminary, there was a fine college in the town, and the dean of the school was a deacon in our church. And one day he brought to me a book written by a famous scientist. And the scientist had prided himself on his secularism, on his materialism. "There’s no proof," he avowed scientifically, "of any life beyond death. We just turn back to the dust of the ground."
And the dean brought me that latest book of that great scientist. And the scientist had written an epilogue. In that epilogue, he was saying, at the close of his latest book, "I have been a materialist, and as a materialistic philosopher and scientist, refused any thought of life beyond the grave. But," he said, "As I have written this book, my mother has died and my father has died." And he wrote, "Somehow, though I cannot prove it, somehow I believe my mother and my father are alive in some other place and in some other land." All of us are introduced to the experience of death sometime, somewhere.
Do you remember the first time you ever looked on the visage and face of that pale horseman? I well remember. In the little town in which I lived, a little girl in our class died, and they dismissed school for us to attend the memorial service. And I looked in the casket, at the face of that little girl who was our playmate, and wondered what had happened.
Could I ever forget my first funeral, as a teenager? In a country church a poor tenant couple, their little child died. And in my little one-seated car, I had the young mother and the father. And the coffin in which the child was placed was on the bed of a truck. And we followed that truck with the coffin on the bed, and the couple, crying so piteously, my first funeral.
And then, when death visits the family, my home and house, they say to me, "Before you were born, you had a little sister, and she died," a little sister. And I’ve wondered countless times, "Is she still a baby in heaven, or did she grow up in heaven? Is she a young woman in glory, and what does she look like?" Then my father died and my mother died. Death, finally, is a common experience to every home, every house. And we cannot but wonder, as we look into the distance, "Where are they, and how do they fare?"
All of us share that cry of Plato. After he had written his great philosophies, Plato cried, saying, "Oh, that there was some certain word on which we could launch our hope, as we cross this vast sea of death!" That hope and that certain word is in Jesus Christ, our risen Lord: "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that liveth and believeth in Me shall never, ever die" [John 11:25, 26]. In 2 Timothy 1:10, the apostle Paul wrote: "Our Lord has brought life and immortality to light."
There is a glorious, incomparable transformation that our Lord has brought to the sorrowing human heart. The old aegis, the old image of death used to be the shadowy figures in Sheol or the dark River Styx. The old image of death used to be the skull and the crossbones or a broken column. The old image of death used to be the darkened window or the blackened hearse. The old image of death used to be the wailing in despair or the black dress and robes decorated with the plumes plucked from the wings of night and darkness.
But there is a new gospel. There is a new aegis. There is a new image of death. The image of death to us in Christ is, first, an empty tomb. The Lord’s angel said to those sorrowing women, "Come and see where He lay. He is not here. He is risen from the dead" [Matthew 28:5-6] – an open tomb.
The second Christian image of death is Easter sunrise: the preaching of the gospel, the lifting up of our hearts in praise and prayer and glory, and the singing of these glorious, incomparably precious songs,
Up from the grave He arose
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes.
He arose a king over the vast domain
And He lives forever with His saints to reign.
Hallelujah, Christ arose.
[from "Up From the Grave He Arose," Robert Lowry]
The image of death today is Easter sunrise. The image of death today is a home in heaven. One time, I pastored a group in which was a marvelous artist. And before our church, he drew a picture. On one side was a cottage and a big sign on it, "For Sale." And the road led up to the brow of the hill, and on the brow of the hill stood an old, old couple. And the sadness of the scene weighed on your heart, as he drew the picture. But there’s something else, beyond and in the sky, toward which that old couple were lifting up their faces, he drew the beautiful city of heaven, the eternal city of God’s people.
My latest sun is sinking fast,
My race is nearly run;
My strongest trials now are past,
My triumph is begun.
O come, angel band,
Come and around me stand;
O bear me away on your snowy wings
To my eternal home.
["My Latest Sun Is Sinking Fast," J.W. Dadmun]
The image of death today is our home, in the sky. The image of death today is the welcome of Jesus as He greets His saints, gathering home. In 2 Corinthians 5:8: "Absent from the body, present with the Lord." When I came to be undershepherd of this dear church, I said, "In our Reminder, don’t put there ‘Obituaries’ or ‘These Have Died.’ Write: ‘Absent from the Body, Present with the Lord.’"
And the Lord receives these. He does it when they enter the courts of glory. "What makes you think that, pastor? What makes you think Jesus does it?" I give you an instance. When they stoned Stephen, and he kneeled down and cried and cried, saying, "Lord, receive my spirit" [Acts 7:59], do you know the rest of it? For the first time in the Book, you have it said that Jesus was standing at the throne of God [Acts 7:55-56]. Why standing at the throne of God when Stephen died? He stood to receive the spirit of His fallen martyr. That’s our Lord. He receives us. When we lay down this life and are taken to heaven, what is the sign and the aegis of death today? It’s a triumph.
In Ephesians 4:8, there is a picture of a Roman triumph. Isn’t it strange how Paul could take those Roman cultures and adapt them to the great revelation in Christ? He is leading captivity captive, and tied to His wheels is death, death [Ephesians 4:8]. He is triumphant over the grave.
And one other: what is the sign and the aegis of death today? It is an open door into heaven – an open door. In the Apocalypse, chapter 4, verse 1: "And I saw an opened door into heaven; and I heard a voice saying, Come up hither" [Revelation 4:1], and John found himself in glory [Revelation 4:2]. And as he looked at all the wonder of wonders that someday we shall see in that New Jerusalem [Revelation 21:1-3], he heard a voice out of the throne saying, "Behold, I make all things new" [Revelation 21:5] – all things new. These old things are passed away, all of them. Sickness here, and pain, and hurt, and broken-heartedness, and sorrow, and tearing, and crying, and weeping, and tears, and finally death, here: "But there, there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for these things are all passed away" [Revelation 21:4]. Here, we burn with fever and finally fall in the chilling clasp of death, and decay, and corruption. There is the forever soul’s Summerland, and there shall be no more death.
Here, we live in a dissolving tabernacle, a decaying body, but there we shall have a house, a body not made with hands, eternal in the heavens [2 Corinthians 5:1]. Here, we live in a cottage or a temporary house, but there we shall have the mansion Jesus is preparing for those who love Him [John 14:1-3]. Here we live in an aging and decaying city; there we shall live in the New Jerusalem [Revelation 21:2-3], with its golden streets and its pearly gates [Revelation 21:21], renewed through the millennia of forever and forever. Here, we see through a glass, darkly; but there face to face. Here reason and understanding is a spark; there it shall burst into a full-orbed flame: "Then shall I know even as God knows me" [1 Corinthians 13:12]. We’ll understand. We’ll understand.
Here our song is but a note; there it swells into a glorious symphony. Here, we eat on a crust; there we shall sit down at the banquet table of the Lord [Revelation 19:6-10]. As the old-time song says, "Christ Himself shall gird us and feed us with manna all around." Here the tree bears fruit once a year; there the tree bears twelve manners of fruit each month, full, abundant [Revelation 22:2]. Here we drink at a broken cistern; there we shall drink at the river of the water of life and live forever [Revelation 22:17].
What is that song we used to sing?
I’m living on a mountain
Underneath a cloudless sky.
I’m drinking at the fountain
That never shall run dry.
O yes! I’m feasting
On the manna,
What a bountiful supply,
For I am dwelling in Beulah Land.
[from "Dwelling In Beulah Land," C. Austin Miles]
What God has done for us who love Him: "I am the resurrection, and the life" [John 11:25].
I want to close, if I may, with a word about how come we became Christians. It concerns this gospel of the resurrection of the dead, and I’m speaking about England and our ancestors.
My father and mother were devout Christians, and their parents were. And my great-grandfather was a Baptist preacher who came to Texas from Mississippi, founded the First Baptist Church in San Antonio. And his parents were Christians, and back through the generations in England. And where did they become Christian? The Latin word for England is Anglia. And the Angles of Northumbria were a great part of the English people – the Angles.
And one of the most vivid and dramatic of all of the passages in human literature is the Venerable Bede, in his history of the visit of the missionary Paulinus, who came in 620 to Northumbria, to the court of King Edwin, to preach to him the gospel of the Son of God. And in this marvelous, inspired passage by the Venerable Bede, the first historian in our English language; in that passage, he describes the missionary Paulinus as he stands before King Edwin and his sages and warriors, pleading the cause of Christ our Lord. And after Paulinus has preached the gospel and presented the claims of Christ, he is seated. And the king sits there at the council table, in silence.
Eventually, one of his aged warrior sages arise and says: "Around us lies the blackness of night." Then, he continues:
"Athwart the room a sparrow
Darts from the open door:
Within the happy hearth-light
A flash, – and then no more!
We see it come from darkness,
And into darkness go: –
So is our life, King Edwin!
Alas, that it is so!
But if this pale Paulinus
Have somewhat more to tell;
Some news of Whence and whither,
And where the soul may dwell –
If on that outer darkness
The son of hope made shine; –
He brings the promise of heaven!
And I take his God for mine.
[adapted from "Edwin and Paulinus: The Conversion of Northumbria," anonymous]
And that’s where we became Christians. After the conversion and confession of that aged warrior sage, Edwin accepted the Lord. And the councilmen around him, his warriors, accepted the Lord. And the Northumbrians accepted Jesus, and the Angles accepted Jesus, and the English people, the Angles, accepted Jesus. And my ancestors accepted Jesus, and they came over here to America and preached the gospel to us. That’s where we came from; from a conviction that, beyond the darkness and sorrows and despair of death, there is a hope in Christ, another and a more glorious life presided over by our risen and resurrected Lord [1 Corinthians 15:19-22].
And for us to follow in the train of our forefathers, to live in that hope and to give our lives to it, is the greatest privilege God could open or extend to us today.
And that is our invitation to you this Easter day, this glorious sunrising day, this day of an open door and an open invitation: to give your heart in faith to our Savior; to bring your family into the circle and circumference and love and grace of our Savior; come, come. To give your life anew to Him, to bring your family into the fellowship of this dear church, to pray with us, to pilgrimage with us, to look up to heaven with us, to greet Jesus someday with us, welcome, and the angels attend you as you come. May we pray?
Our wonderful, glorious, transfigured, immortalized, risen, resurrected Lord; oh, what a hope, what a blessedness to bow in Thy presence, to invite Thee into our hearts and homes. With what riches does our Lord bring with Him when He walks into our house and when He becomes a guest in our family circle! The children are blessed. The work of our hands is blessed. Everybody that knows us is blessed. The world is blessed. The country is blessed. The nation is blessed. The city is blessed. O God, with what riches does our Lord bring to us who open our hearts to Thee! And our Lord, now when we sing this appeal, may it please the Holy Spirit to give us an abounding and gracious harvest. We will love Thee for the answer, in Thy dear and forever name.
In this moment, when we stand to sing the appeal, just now, make the decision in your heart. Turn to your wife and say, "Dear, let’s go." Gather the family together, "This is God’s day for us." That first step you make will be the most meaningful you will ever take in your life. May the Holy Spirit make you happy as you come. Thank Thee Lord, in Thy wonderful name, amen. While we stand and while we sing.