They Rule the World From Their Graves


They Rule the World From Their Graves

October 1st, 1986 @ 7:30 PM

Hebrews 11:4

By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.
Print Sermon
Downloadable Media
Share This Sermon
Play Audio

Show References:


Dr. W. A. Criswell

Hebrews 11:4

10-1-86    7:30 p.m.


We turn to the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, toward the end of the New Testament.  And we are going to read the first four verses, and the last word you read will be the text.  The title of the message is They Rule the World from Their Graves.  And you will see the text as we read it together. Do you have it?  Hebrews chapter 11, the first four verses.  Now together:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

For by it the elders obtained a good report.

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh

[Hebrews 11:1-4]

That word: “He being dead yet speaketh” [Hebrews 11:4].

 How many thousands of years have elapsed between the day that Abel offered unto God a blood sacrifice [Genesis 4:4], and this present day in which we live?  But through all of those millennia, those thousands of years, Abel has been speaking to us through the example of the sacrifice and the crimson blood that he poured out before God [Genesis 4:4].  They rule the world from their graves, men who though dead still mightily influence the course of human history and our own personal lives.

I shall not speak of some that I could name.  I have stood at the bunker in East Berlin where Hitler committed suicide after he had shot and killed his mistress.  And I have stood there in the place where, according to his last command, they poured gasoline over the body of Hitler and his mistress and burned their bodies away.  More than eighteen million men died in the onslaught of Adolph Hitler against the bastions of Europe.  But I do not speak of him.  Nor do I speak of Napoleon Bonaparte.  As with many of you, I have stood in the church of the Invalides and have looked at the sarcophagus of Napoleon in the center of that beautiful church.  Napoleon had a tremendous influence upon the generation in which he lived, reshaping the very map of Europe.

I speak of these as just instances and illustrations of many, many that could be chosen.  But these that I have included in this presentation tonight, leading up, of course—and you would already know it—leading up, of course, to Him who has reshaped human life and soul and destiny more than all of us put together.  I have chosen these as men who above all else, to me, have changed the face of the world.

My first one—men who have ruled the world from their graves—my first one is Alexander the Great.  Somebody said, “All that we know, we have learned from the Greeks.”  The founder of Western civilization is Alexander the Great.  He is the most famous and the most successful of all of the military men who ever lived.  He never lost a battle.  He was the son of Philip, the king of Macedonia.  At the age of fifteen, he was placed under the instruction of Aristotle, who for the rest of Alexander’s life was his mentor and tutor.  He later took his teacher with him on all of his campaigns.  Wherever you saw Alexander the Great, there you would see the great, incomparable philosopher, Aristotle.

Upon the death of Philip of Macedonia in 336 BC, Alexander became king of the country when he was not yet twenty years of age.  In 334 BC, when he was twenty-two years old, he crossed the Bosporus into Asia with his Greek army of thirty-five thousand men.  He defeated Darius, the king of the Persian Empire with his army of six hundred thousand soldiers; that battle was at the River Issus.  And by 333 BC, Alexander had conquered the rest of the world.  His sister was named Thessalonica, and he named the capital of Macedonia “Thessalonica,” after his sister.

One of the most intriguing stories you will ever read in human history, you’ll find in Josephus.  When Alexander with his army had conquered all of that part of Asia, he went down in the South toward Egypt—conquered Egypt.  But when he passed through Palestine, the high priest in Jerusalem came out of the city with all of his wonderful priesthood following him, and beyond them, the elders of the city and the people.  And the high priest, dressed in his robes, with his miter, and his breastplate, and his bells and pomegranates—the high priest went to meet Alexander.

Alexander, up until that time, when he would come to a city, would destroy it—level it.  They would war.  But when the high priest came to meet Alexander, he had in his hand a book, a glorious book.  He had a book of the Bible; he had the Book of Daniel.  And at that time, as you would know, all of the books were scrolls.  And he laid before Alexander the scroll of Daniel the prophet and showed him the passages at length in Daniel that describe the coming and the conquest of Alexander.  And so impressed was the great conqueror of the world, that he bowed down before the Lord God Jehovah—one of the most amazing stories you will read in history.

Well, in June of 323 BC, he died in Babylon in the thirty-third year of his age.  I choose him as being one who rules the world from his grave.  Our civilization is a repercussion and reproduction of Greek thought and Greek literature.  He brought to the Western world a universal language and a universal culture.  When the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the church in Rome—so then, what language is the letter written?  It is written in Greek!  It is written in Greek.  That shows what happens to you when you are sound asleep in the services.  When Paul wrote his letter to the church at Corinth, on the other side of the world; when he wrote his letter to the church at Ephesus; when he wrote his letter to the church at Thessalonica; they are in Greek.  It was a universal language.  And Greek culture was a part of the whole civilized world.

Number two, and we must hasten, men who rule the world from their graves: Julius Caesar, one of the most remarkable and one of the most gifted men who ever lived.  The German Kaiser, Kaiser–that’s Caesar transplanted into the German language.  Czar, czar, the czar of Russia—that’s Caesar in the Russian language.  July, the month of July is named for Julius Caesar.  “Julian” is an adjectival word referring to Julius Caesar.  He was born in Rome the twelfth of July, 100 BC.  In 60 BC he formed the first triumvirate with Pompey and Crassus and Caesar.

In Gaul, he came to the Rubicon that separates what we call France from Italy.  And he said, “The die is cast.”  He crossed the Rubicon to conquer Pompey and become ruler of the Roman Empire.  Pompey fled to Egypt where he was assassinated.  When Caesar went into Egypt, he was captivated by the charms of Cleopatra.

He defeated the Parthians.  And do you remember the word that he sent to the Roman Senate?  Three words: “Veni, vidi, vici”—”I came, I saw, I conquered.”

He was master of the Roman world, and the senate conferred the title of Imperator for life upon him, from whence we get our name “emperor.”  He had no sons, so he adopted his nephew Octavius, who became Augustus Caesar.

In the senate upon a day, sixty senators gathered around him, led by Brutus.  They attacked; Caesar gathered his toga close, fell at the feet of the statue of Pompey in 44 BC, and thus was assassinated in the fifty-sixth year of his age.

He created the Latin world: Latin law, Latin language, Latin liturgy, Latin religion, Latin theology, Latin poets, Latin literature—one of the men that rules the world from his grave.

The next one I have chosen is in another world: Martin Luther.  He was born the tenth day of November in 1483, in Eisleben, in Central Germany.  His father sent him to school to be a lawyer.  But deeply influenced by religion and the religious faith, he, out of an experience, felt called of God to give his life to the Christian religion.  He and a friend were walking toward school in his undergraduate days.  And a bolt of lightning struck his friend and killed him and knocked Luther to the ground.  When he arose, he arose giving his life to the Christian religion.

He entered the monastery of the Augustinian order at Erfurt in 1505, and he led a rigorous life.  He would flagellate himself endlessly—beat himself with whips endlessly—trying to get the sin and the humanity out of him.  He, in vigils and in fasts, sought the mind of the Lord.  In 1508, one year after he was ordained a priest, he was called to teach at the University of Wittenberg, and he taught there until he died in 1546.

Have you ever been to St. John Lateran Church in Rome?  Just there is the sacred Scala Santa–the sacred stairway; it is supposed to be –of course, all of this is foolishness to me—it is supposed to be the stairway that Jesus climbed when He went up to be tried before Pontius Pilate.  And they’ll have little places in the stairway where you will see glass.  And you look down in that glass and you will see a drop of Jesus on the stone stairway.  Well, it is in a building to itself.  It is in a shrine to itself, by St. John Lateran Cathedral in Rome.

Martin Luther was in that first pilgrimage to the eternal city.  As a good Roman would do; religionist, he was climbing those stairs—climbing those stairs of the Scala Santa, saying prayers and all kinds of adjurations and all kinds of confessions.  He was there.

And as he walked up—I mean, as he climbed up on his knees, halfway—I walked up–but as he climbed up on his knees halfway, suddenly there came to his mind the great text in Habakkuk and the Book of Romans, “The just shall live by faith” [Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17].   He stood up, walked back down the Scala Santa, returned to Wittenberg, nailed his ninety-five theses on the wall of the Wittenberg  church, and the Reformation was on.

He translated the Bible into German.  He wrote thirty-seven hymns.  One of them we are going to sing right now.  And when I hear people sing it, it sounds more like the thrust and the march of that great reformer than ten thousand sermons that he ever preached.  I want you to turn to number thirty-seven.  You have a piano player over here?  Thirty-seven.  You got an organist over here?  Thirty-seven.  Let me get my hymn book.  We are going to sing it: thirty-seven, and when you sing this hymn, you’re going to feel the pulse beat of that great German reformer.  Do you have it?  All right, let’s have the key.  Now let’s sing it!

[Congregation sings first verse of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”].

            A mighty fortress is our God,

A bulwark never failing;

            Our helper He, amid the flood

            Of mortal ills prevailing:

            For still our ancient foe

            Doth seek to work us woe;

            His craft and pow’r are great,

            And, armed with cruel hate,

            On earth is not His equal.

[“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” Martin Luther]

There is something about that—it marches, it is this way, it is this way.  Glorious!  That’s Luther, and that’s the Reformation.

Now, I’ve chosen one out of an altogether different world, and this arises out of my reaction going through Africa.  Village after village–and I’m talking about little cities in the heart of Africa—no electric lights, just little lamps made out of porcelain, out of clay, with a little wick hanging out, and that’s all.  And it was a new experience to me; for all of my life, I had lived in towns and cities with electric lights.  And to see those little cities dark, no lights except the flickering wick of someone who was carrying a lighted lamp, it was an amazing experience to me.  Never had thought of it, never had considered it, but the darkness of the land at night, and the darkness of the towns and cities, was an amazing experience to me.

So, I have chosen as one of the men who rules the world from his grave: Thomas Alva Edison, born in 1847, died in 1931.  He invented the incandescent lamp.  He invented the electric light.  He had one thousand one hundred patents in telegraphy, in photography, in the recording of the human voice, in the lighting industry, the recording industry, the movie industry, the theater industry, the TV industry, the radio industry, all of the batteries that you have—all of those things are the result of the genius of Thomas Alva Edison .  When you look at your TV, when you go to a movie—if you do, and God be good to you if you do, and not strike you dead–whatever you do in the recording of the human voice and the picture of whatever you are looking at, all of that is the fruit of Thomas Alva Edison—most remarkable man in the inventive world that ever lived.

Now, we’re coming to our ultimate climax.  Men who ruled the world from their graves: Vladimir Lenin, born in 1870, died in 1924.  I remember that well.  I visited, as many of you have, his tomb in the Red Square in Moscow.  Right beyond him is the Kremlin wall and the Kremlin itself; in front of him, the Red Square.  On this side, GUM Department Store, on that side, St. Basil’s.  On this side another government building,  and right in the center of it, and all day long—every day, all day long—that long queue, passing by this way, this way, this way, the embalmed body of Vladimir Lenin.  He got shot in his arm, and when you look at him there, he has one arm out over his chest.  And there he lies since 1924— embalmed.

He was a fanatical disciple of Karl Marx, the father of communism.  His eldest brother was a terrorist and executed for the attempted assassination of Czar Alexander III.  In 1894, in St. Petersburg, he began his propaganda work with his paper Pravda, a paper that is still the propaganda publication of Soviet Russia today.

In 1895, he was arrested, placed in prison and the next three years exiled to Siberia.  In 1917, he led the Bolshevik Revolution.  And you can hear his words of confrontation and bitterness as he raised his clenched fist, saying, “Workers of the world arise, you have nothing to lose but your chains.”  And he took from Karl Marx, “Religion is the opiate of the people.”  He died the twenty-first of January in 1924, in Gorky, near Moscow.

When Lenin died—and it was a shock to the whole communist world—when Lenin died, the Supreme Soviet, the highest council in Russia, issued this report.  I quote: the Supreme Soviet said upon the death of Lenin, “No man ever wrought as Lenin.  He was the greatest leader among men.  He was the greatest teacher of all time.  He was the author of a new social order.  He was the founder of a new humanity.  He was the savior of the world.”

But unknown to the Supreme Soviet, they spelled out their doom and ultimate judgment in the tense of the word that they used.  He “was” the greatest teacher of all time, but look at him—he is dead.  He “was” the founder of a new humanity, but look at him–he’s dead.  Look at him.  He “was” the author of a new social order, but look at him—he is dead!  They defeated their ultimate communist crusade in the tense of the word that they used.

Have you been to the holy city of Jerusalem?  And have you been to the Garden Tomb?  Have you?  You won’t see the body of Jesus in that grave.  “He is not here,” said the angel, “He has risen from the dead!” [Matthew 28:6-7].  And with what triumph does the Christian announce to the world, “My Savior lives!”  “He lives, He lives!  Salvation to impart.”  Glory, glory, glory!  Jesus is alive [Revelation 1:18].

And as He rules the world in love, and in grace, and in mercy, and in love, and in forgiveness; more and more and more of the earth comes to know Him and bow in His living presence.  And someday, “Every knee shall bow . . . and every tongue shall confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God our Father” [Philippians 2:10-11].

He rules the world.  He is alive!  He is alive.  And that is the most marvelous, triumphant avowal that human ear ever heard, and human tongue could ever speak, or voice could ever say: Jesus lives!

Denny, we are going to sing us a hymn.  And while we sing it, a family you to come into the fellowship of our dear and precious church—welcome.  A somebody you, to give himself in faith to the Lord Jesus, “I take Him as my Savior tonight.”  Come.  To answer the call of the Lord God in your heart, as God shall speak, make the decision now.  And when you stand up, that first step you take will be the most precious and meaningful in your life.  On the first note of the first stanza, come.  God bless you in the way.  Make it the greatest moment of your life, while we stand and while we sing.


Dr. W.
A. Criswell



I.          Alexander the Great

A. Founder
of western civilization

Most famous and successful of all military men

C.  Became
king in 336 BC; by 333 BC he had conquered world

D.  Story
from Josephus of his passing through Palestine

E.  He
brought a universal language and culture

II.         Julius Caesar

A.  One
of the most remarkable and gifted men who ever lived

B.  Formed
first triumvirate with Pompey, Crassus and Caesar

C.  Master
of Roman world – title of emperor for life

D.  Created
the Latin world – law, language, liturgy, religion, literature

III.        Martin Luther

A.  Born
in 1483 in Germany, father sent him to school to be a lawyer

Bolt of lightning struck and killed his friend, and knocked him to ground

1.  He arose giving his
life to Christian religion

C.  Entered
monastery of Augustinian order; led rigorous life

Climbing stairs of Scala Santa, Scripture came to his heart “The just shall
live by faith”(Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17)

1.  Nailed
his ninety-five theses to the wall – Reformation was on

IV.       Thomas Alva Edison

A.  My
experience in Africa – villages with no electric lights

B.  Invented
incandescent light

V.        Vladimir Lenin

A.  Visit
to his tomb in Red Square

B.  Fanatic
disciple of Karl Marx

C.  Led
Bolshevik Revolution in 1917

D.  Death
shocked communist world

1.  Supreme Soviet – “He
was the greatest…”

VI.       The empty tomb in Jerusalem

A.  Won’t
find body of Jesus in the Garden Tomb(Matthew

He rules the world in love, grace and mercy

Someday every knee shall bow (Philippians