How Can God Raise Me From the Dead?
April 22nd, 1984 @ 8:15 AM
HOW CAN GOD RAISE ME FROM THE DEAD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-22-84 8:15 a.m.
And thank you young people for leading us in the worship and praise of the Lord. And God bless the great multitudes of you who share this hour on radio. And no less may the Lord be praised for the great throngs that are here present today. We have a goal of ten thousand and one in Sunday school, and we are persuaded that with your attendance and your faithful coming, God is going to give us a wonderful victory in that goal.
This has been the sixty-eighth year that our church has conducted pre-Easter services in our church. The theme for this year was taken out of the Gospel of John, “My Lord and My God” [John 20:28]. On Monday: How Could God Become a Man? On Tuesday: How Could God Recreate Me? On Wednesday: How Can God Save Me Forever? On Thursday: How Can God Sympathize With Me? On Friday: How Could God Die For Me? And today, Easter Day, the climatic day: How Can God Raise Me from the Dead?
The reading of our Scripture is in the eleventh chapter of John, beginning at verse 21, John 11:21. John 11:21:
Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother—Lazarus—
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.
When our Lord comes, there are going to be two groups who welcome Him from the sky. There will be those who are raised from the dead, “For the dead in Christ shall rise first” [1 Thessalonians 4:16]. Then the second company to welcome Christ when He comes will be the immortalized, transfigured, changed, living who in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump, are glorified [1 Corinthians 15:51-52]; and those two groups will greet our Lord when He comes. First, the dead in Christ, they shall be the first to see Him. They’ll be the first company to welcome Him [1 Thessalonians 4:16]. Then all of us who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, we shall be changed in that moment and rise with those who have preceded us to welcome Jesus from heaven [1 Corinthians 15:51-52].
The overtones of that greeting by these two phalanxes is frequently found in the Word of God. You find it here in this wonderful saying of our Lord, “I am the resurrection, and the life” [John 11:25]; “I am the resurrection”—the resurrection refers to those who are going to be first in greeting Jesus from heaven—”and the life”—the life refers to those who will be living when He comes. And they’ll be transfigured in that moment, and they’ll welcome Jesus along with these who have been raised from the dead.
You find that overtone in the ninth chapter of the Book of Luke when Jesus is transfigured on the holy high mountain [Luke 9:28-35]. And there appeared Moses and Elijah, talking with Him about His exodus, translated in the King James Version, “decease,” talking to Him about His exodus, which He should accomplish in Jerusalem [Luke 9:30-31]. There those two are again; Moses led the exodus of the people out of Egypt [Joshua 24:5; 1 Samuel 12:6, 8]. He represents those who have died. Moses died and was buried [Deuteronomy 34:5-6]. And when Jesus comes, Moses will lead the exodus of those out of the graves to greet Jesus from the sky [Daniel 12:1-2].
Elijah never died. He was translated to heaven in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye [2 Kings 2:11]. He was wafted up to glory; he was immortalized immediately, and he represents those who will be living at the time of our Lord, and Elijah will lead the exodus of those who are transformed and transfigured [1 Corinthians 15:51-52; Ezekiel 37:12], with Moses and those from the dead greeting Jesus in the sky [1 Thessalonians 4:16]. You see that again—and I mustn’t take time to multiply it too much—you see it again in the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians and the fifty-fifth verse, “O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?” [1 Corinthians 15:55]. There it is again, these who are raptured, who are transformed in a moment [1 Corinthians 15:52], they cry as they rise to meet Jesus, “O Death, where is thy sting?” And these who are resurrected from the grave [1 Corinthians 15:52], cry, “O Grave, where is thy victory?” Both companies as they welcome our Lord from the sky.
This hope of a life beyond the grave has been the greatest universal passion among men. And I might make an aside here to say, if you are a discerning reader of history, you can see in it that one reason for the great conquest of the Christian faith has been its promise to despairing men, that there is hope and life and heaven beyond the grave. I say that that is universal, the passion of men, the praying hope of men for a life beyond death.
For centuries men looked upon those mummies in Egypt who were wrapped in papyri on which were written hieroglyphics—picture writing. But they had no way to decipher it until the Rosetta stone was discovered near Alexandria, at the mouth of the Nile in Egypt in 1799. Then using the three languages of the Rosetta stone, they were able to decipher those hieroglyphic picture writings and what were they? They call it the Book of the Dead. They were writings about the life beyond the grave.
For years and years and centuries men discovered those cuneiform, that wedge like writing, in the Mesopotamian Valley, in Assyria, in Babylonia, in Iran, in Persia, but they couldn’t decipher what those tablets were. Then in 1846 they deciphered that great Behistun Rock in western Persia and found the key to the hieroglyphic writing, found a key to the cuneiform writing. And what was it about? It’s about the hope on the other side of the grave. When you read ancient Assyrian or Babylonian or Greek or Roman literature, and when you look at their statuary, it concerns the life beyond death.
The Gaelic warrior was buried with his armor he needed in the other land. And the painted American Indian was buried with his bow and arrow; he would need it in the happy hunting ground beyond death. There is no tribe so degraded in Africa or in Patagonia but who has hope of a life beyond the grave. And the greatest scientists who have ever lived have embraced that same persuasion.
I began my work out of the seminary in a college town. And the dean of the university was a very faithful deacon in the church. And one day he brought to me a book written by a great scientist, and he said, “Pastor, look at this.” The man had written an epilogue to his book, a book of science. And in that epilogue he had said that in the days past as a scientist, materialist, secularist, he believed that death was the end of all life, that the dust was all that remained to us who’d ever lived. “But,” he said, “Since I have begun writing this book, my mother has died and my father has died.” And he said, “Somehow, though I cannot prove it, I believe my mother and my father are living somewhere in some land beyond the grave.”
This is an experience all of us share. Can you remember the first time you were ever introduced to the harsh, cruel presence of death? I so-well remember. When I was a small, small, small lad, in our class at school, a little girl, a little playmate had died. Living in a very small town, they dismissed the school that we all might attend the memorial services of that little child. And I sat there for the first time in my life and wondered what had happened to that little girl who played with us on the school ground; death.
Nor could I ever, ever forget the first funeral that I ever conducted. I had a young couple, tenant farmers, poor, poor, poor—I had them with me in my little coupe. And the child that had died was on a truck, in a coffin on a truck, and I followed that truck with my little car and the couple by my side, the coffin placed on the bed of that truck; my first funeral. Nor can I forget the visitation of death in my own family. Before I was born I had a little sister, they told me, who had died, a little sister. And I wondered ten thousand times, “Is she still a baby? Or is she grown to be a girl? And what would she look like and how would she be?” Then of course, burying my mother, burying my father; “Are they forever dead?”
All of us are like Plato who cried out of his soul, after the years of his great philosophy, Plato cried, “Oh, for some certain word on which to launch our hope, across this sea of death.” And that hope and that certain word is brought to us in the faith and in the gospel of Jesus our Lord. “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me . . . shall never, ever die” [John 11:25-26], the profoundest sentence ever written in human speech, and in [2 Timothy 1:10], “He, our Lord, brought life and immortality to light.”
The old images of death have been the shadowy figures in sheol or the dark River Styx. The old aegis of death has been a skull and a crossbones or a broken column. The old image of death has been a darkened house or a black painted hearse. The old image of death has been the weeping and crying in despair or the black rose, decorated with the plumes of darkness and of death. But in Christ, all of that has passed away [2 Corinthians 5:17]. The image and the aegis of death today is one: an empty tomb. “Come,” said the angel, “see where He lay. He is not [here]; He is raised from the dead” [Matthew 28:5-7]. The image of death today is an open tomb.
Second: the image of death today is an Easter sunrise. It’s an Easter morn. The image of death today is the song of triumph that we sing:
Up from the grave He arose
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes.
He arose a leader o’er the dark domain
And He lives forever with His saints to reign.
Hallelujah, Christ arose.
[“Christ Arose,” Robert Lowery]
The image of death today is a beautiful home in the sky.
When I was pastoring a group of gifted artists one time, there was one of those marvelous Christian men, before the church service, drawing a picture of a cottage on this side for sale. And then rising to the height of the hill was an old couple, and on the sadness of the picture he painted the age of that dear old couple. And as he drew it, it just brought heaviness to my heart. Then in the sky he drew a picture of our heavenly home, of the New Jerusalem [Revelation 21:2-3], and that old couple looking up into the sky at God’s home, prepared for those who love Him [John 14:2-3].
My latest sun
Is sinking fast.
My race is nearly run.
My strongest trials
Now are past.
My triumph is begun.
Oh, come, angel band.
Come, and around me stand.
Oh, bear me away
On your snowy wings
To my eternal home.
[from “My Latest Sun is Sinking Fast,” Jefferson Hascall]
The image of death today is our heavenly home. The image of death today is the welcome of Jesus for His dying saint. Second Corinthians 5:8; “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.” I had them put that in our Reminder, our little paper, not these “Obituaries” or “These that have died,” but “Absent from the body, present with the Lord”; greeting His saints as they gather home.
The aegis and the sign of death today is a triumph. In Ephesians 4:8, He led captivity captive, and He has tied death to the wheel of His chariot. And the image of death today is an opened door into heaven. Revelation 4:1; “And I saw a door opened into heaven: and I heard a voice, saying, Come up hither.” And John found himself in the presence of the great Lord and King of glory [Revelation 4:2-4], “And He that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new,” all things new [Revelation 21:5].
Here, here our lives are filled with sickness and pain and sorrow and finally age and death. “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 into the chilly clasp of death. But there, forever is the soul’s summerland. Here we live in a dissolving tabernacle, but there we have a home, a house, a body, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens [2 Corinthians 5:1]. Here we live in a temporary house. There Jesus has prepared a mansion for our home forever [John 14:2-3]. Here we live in an aging and decaying city. There we live in the New Jerusalem whose streets are solid gold, renewed throughout the millennia [Revelation 21:21]. Here we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face [1 Corinthians 13:12].
Here reason is a spark. There it bursts into a full-orbed flame: “Then shall I know, even as God knows me” [1 Corinthians 13:12]. Here, our song is a note. There, it widens into a symphony. Here, we eat on a crust. There, we shall be seated at the banquet table of the Lord [Revelation 19:7-9]. Here, the tree bears fruit just once a year. There, the tree bears twelve manner of fruits each, every month [Revelation 22:2]. Here, we drink at a broken cistern. There, we shall drink at the river of the water of life [Revelation 21:6].
I’m living on the mountain
Underneath the cloudless sky.
I’m drinking at the fountain
That never shall run dry.
I’m feasting on the manna,
What a bountiful supply,
I’m dwelling in Beulah Land.
[from “Dwelling in Beulah Land,” C. Austin Miles]
Nothing so dear, so near, so precious as the Christian hope; because He lives we shall live also [John 14:19]. “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, ever die” [John 11:25-26]. This is Easter; this is the Lord’s Day, and this is the gospel of eternal, unchanging, and everlasting hope [Colossians 1:5-8].
We’re going to sing our song of appeal and invitation, and while we sing it, in the balcony round, a family you, in the press of people on this lower floor, a couple you, anywhere there or here, a one somebody you, “Pastor, today, God has spoken to my heart and I’m on the way; I’m coming. I’m answering with my life.” “This is my family; this is my wife, and these are my children, we’re all coming today.” As the Spirit of God shall press the appeal to your heart, come, answer. Some of you today, “I want to renew my vow of belief and ministry and service before God. I want to recommit my life to Jesus.” I can’t make the appeal; God must do that in your heart. And as He speaks, “Lord, I hear Your voice, and I’m answering with my life” [Mark 1:15], come. Make the decision now. Then when we stand up, that first step will be the most preciously meaningful you’ll ever take in your life. May angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.