Jesus And The Resurrection
April 19th, 1987 @ 10:50 AM
JESUS AND THE RESURRECTION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-19-87 10:50 a.m.
Welcome the thousands of you who share this hour on radio and on television. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. The message is entitled Jesus and the Resurrection, and it is an exposition of the latter half of the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Acts [Acts 17:16-33].
On a second missionary journey, the apostle Paul is in Athens waiting for his companions to come and to follow him in the completion of his journey. The next place to which he goes is Corinth. And while he was waiting in the university city of Athens, walking through the city, he saw more gods than he saw people; the whole city given to idolatry. And he was moved in his heart, speaking to them, saying, “I perceive that in all things you are,” and you have it translated here “superstitious,” no, very religious, “very religious,” deisidaimonesterous, very religious [Acts 17:22].
So he begins speaking to them in the agora, the Acropolis there, the Areopagus, Mars’ Hill here, and the agora spread out before them. And as he spoke to the Athenians in the marketplace, the agora, why, there were members of two philosophical schools listening to him. One were Epicureans and the other were Stoics [Acts 17:18]. And as they listened to the apostle, they sarcastically said, “What would this,” and the translation here is “babbler,” the Greek is “seed picker,” “What would this seed picker say, if he had anything to say? He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods,” plural, strange gods, “because he preached unto them Iēsous kai Anastasis” [Acts 17:18], masculine and feminine.
And all of their lives they had have been taught to worship gods in pairs, a masculine and a feminine, like Jupiter and Juno, or Venus and Adonis, or Isis and Osiris. So when they listened to the apostle preach about Iēsous, masculine, and anastasis, feminine; why, they thought he was preaching and presenting a pair of gods they had never heard of before. Jesus, masculine; Anastasis, feminine, Anastasia, a girl’s name comes from that; “Jesus and the resurrection.”
So they brought him before their supreme court, the Areopagus [Acts 17:19]. It met on Mars’ Hill right below the Acropolis. And there Paul began to present the gospel of the Son of God. It ended, of course, as any triumphant message of the Christian faith would end; it ended in the glorious, victorious resurrection of our Lord and His triumph over death and the grave [Acts 17:30-32]. And when Paul began to speak of the resurrection of the dead, the Epicureans laughed out loud. They mocked and ridiculed what he said, but the Stoics were more gracious. They bowed and said, “We will hear thee again of this matter” [Acts 17:31-32], and they walked away.
The Epicureans were followers of Epicurus, who lived around 300 BC, and was an atheist and a materialist. Epicurus said, “If there are gods, they are out there so far away that they are oblivious to us who live in this mundane world.” They were brilliant; do not ever persuade yourself otherwise. For example, these Epicureans were atomic scientists. We think we are so modern today in our molecular and atomic discoveries; they were speaking about those things back there. Epicurus said there are three kinds of atoms: the coarse ones make up the earth, the ground; the finer ones make up our anatomical bodies; and the finest make up our souls. But when we die, all of those atomic molecular structures of which we are made and composed go back into the earth and the ground where they came from. They were atheists. They were materialists. They were secularists. And their famous sentence of life you have heard all your days, “Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” That is hedonism, Epicureanism, materialism, secularism, atheism; there is no meaning or purpose to life, so have a good time and live it up.
The other who listened were the Stoics [Acts 17:18]. They were followers of Zeno, who by the way was a contemporary of Epicurus. And they received their name from the fact that Zeno taught on the porch, one of the porches in the Athenian university city, and the Greek word for “porch” is stoa. So they were called Stoics. The Stoics were pantheists: god is everything, and everything is God.
The Stoics were very exemplary in their philosophical academic teaching. They believed in the four great cardinal virtues; the first and foremost which was fortitude. They were fatalists: whatever happens, happens; and the noble response of a human soul is to accept it. So you get the word “stoicism,” “stoic” from that teaching that we are fatalistically to accept all of the providences of life and not murmur or fight against them.
As I said, they were pantheists; and as such, all of us, everything belongs to a world soul. And when we come out of it, being born; we go back into it, being dead. And to them also, the idea of a personal resurrection was unthinkable and unimaginable! So they also bowed out when they listened to the apostle speak of a personal life after death, a resurrection from among the dead [Acts 17:32].
That spirit and that response of unbelief to the Christian message and to the Christian faith continues through all of the passing centuries. It is regnant today. I have chosen two instances of this continuing skepticism of the resurrection of the dead, one in the ancient world and one in our modern day in which you and I live.
The ancient illustration: in 100 AD, under the emperor Trajan, there was a fierce persecution that broke out against the Christians in Antioch. The pastor of the church at Antioch was Ignatius, and he was fed to the lions in the Roman Coliseum. But in the city of Antioch, Trajan thought of a way to ridicule the Christian commitment to a life after death, to resurrection. Trajan took five virgins, five Christian young maidens and he burned them. And he took the ashes of the five virgin Christian girls and mixed them with brass, molten brass and then had them shaped into the form of young women and placed them there in Antioch; in order that, as Trajan says, “it might be seen that it is I that raised them up and not their God.” That is one out of a multitude of instances whereby the ancient world ridiculed and mocked and persecuted the Christian people who believed in the resurrection of the dead.
Now I choose one instance in our modern society. Albert Einstein came to Americ,a as you know, and became a part, a refugee, became a part of Princeton University. Albert Einstein said, “I want it understood that I am an atheist, and when I die there is to be no memorial. There is to be no funeral. There is to be no service. I want my body burned and the ashes scattered to the wind.” And when Albert Einstein died, they burned his body and they scattered the ashes to the wind.
A handful of dust that is blown by the wind
That is sporting with whatever stuff it can find.
It goes swirling and whirling and scattering on
Until it puffs into nothingness–and then it is gone.
A handful of dust.
It may be a king who of old held his rule
O’er a country forgotten–it may be his fool
Who had smirks on his lips and had tears in his heart;
But the king or the fool who can tell them apart
In this handful of dust?
It may be some man who was mighty and proud,
Or a beggar, who trembled and crept through the crowd;
Or a woman who laughed, or a woman who wept,
Or a [miser]–but centuries long have they slept
In this handful of dust.
It may be a rose that once burst into flame,
Or a maiden who blushed as she whispered a name
To its ruby red heart–and her lips were as red–
But no echo remains of a word that she said
In this handful of dust.
[“A Handful of Dust,” by Wilbur D. Nesbit]
The Scriptures in nowise ever denies the mortality of our human soul and our human life. The whole Book of Ecclesiastes speaks of our body as it returns to the dust of the ground. And that skepticism and ridiculous response to the hope of a resurrection of a life beyond death was met boldly and fearlessly and courageously by our Lord. It is a marvelous thing about Him. Whether the question was civic or political or social or marital, Jesus always met it boldly, bravely. And He did it here. You see, the Sadducees were materialists. They actually were atheists. And they scoffed, ridiculed the very thought of a resurrection from the dead. The Pharisees believed in a resurrection, in a life after death [Acts 23:8].
Now, for centuries, for centuries, the Sadducees had a conundrum, and with it they mocked and laughed and pulverized the Pharisees who believed in a resurrection. It was this. According to the law of Moses there is a levirate marriage. If a brother died without leaving issue, his brother was, under the law, obligated to take the widow and raise up children to the brother in order that his name might not perish from the earth [Deuteronomy 25:5-6]. So the conundrum of the Sadducees was: “There were seven brothers. The first one took a wife and died without issue. And under the levirate law, the second one had to take her. He died without issue, and the third one did. He died without issue, and the fourth one did. He died without issue, and the fifth one did; and the sixth died without issue; and the seventh one finally had her and he died. And in the resurrection, whose wife shall she be? Ha, ha, ha, ha,” said those Sadducees. “You believe in the resurrection? In the resurrection all seven had her. Whose will she be in the resurrection? Ha, ha, ha, ha.” That is what they brought to the Lord Jesus [Matthew 22:23-28].
And what did the Lord say? The Lord said, “Ye do greatly err. You do greatly err, not knowing the Scriptures, and not knowing the power of God” [Matthew 22:29]. Number one, “You err, not knowing the Scriptures.” Then the Lord quoted, “For the Lord God said, I am the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob” [Matthew 22:32]. “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” [Exodus 3:6]. Like this glorious choir just sang, “I am, I am.” He did not say, “I was!” “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob!” And He is the God of the living, and not of the dead [Matthew 22:32]. “I am,” the Lord is alive, and His saints are alive. And He is a God of a living people. “You err, not knowing the Scriptures” [Matthew 22:29].
And second, “You err, not knowing the power of God” [Matthew 22:29]. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. . . . He spake of the temple of His body” [John 2:19, 21]. And the whole Christian faith finds its highest climax in that glorious fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, which is a resurrection chapter. The first part of it is an avowal that we see everywhere, the power of God in the resurrection of life in the springtime. Out of the dust of the ground, these flowers, and these fruits and these trees and the blossoms that enrich and glorify the earth, that is a demonstration of the power of God [1 Corinthians 15:35-38]. And no less so is the same Lord God that raises these to life every springtime is the same power of God that shall raise us from the dead, when Jesus speaks and the trumpet sounds.
For this I say, unto you my brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
But, I show you a great mystery; We shall not all sleep, but 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, we shall all be changed.
[1 Corinthians 15:50-52]
“This body 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; decaying, body; it is raised an immortal, glorified, resurrected body” [1 Corinthians 15:42-44]. That is the power of God. That is God. That is the ableness of Almighty God.
The sublimest words that were ever spoken are found in the eleventh chapter of the Book of John. Our Lord at the tomb of Lazarus said, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever that liveth and believeth in Me shall never, ever die” [John 11:25, 26].
The greatest fact in history was announced on an Easter morning at a tomb in Jerusalem. “He is not here, He is risen from the dead” [Matthew 28:6-7]. The greatest affirmation that was ever made: “Thomas, come hither and behold My hands; and take your hand, and thrust it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing. And Thomas replied, My Lord and My God” [John 20:27- 28].
And the greatest prophetic promise ever given for the encouragement of our souls is in the fourth chapter of 1 Thessalonians. “The Lord Himself,” He, “the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first” [1 Thessalonians 4:16]. They will be the first to look upon the glorious face of our risen and coming Lord. O God, what a hope, and what a promise.
- Job can rise from his ash heap [Job 2:8].
- The psalmist can take his harp from the weeping willow trees [Psalm 137:2].
- The king can change his sackcloth to robes of glory [Jonah 3:6].
- Nehemiah can cease his weeping [Nehemiah 1:4].
- Daniel can rise from his knees [Daniel 6:10].
- And Thomas can forsake his skepticism and his unbelief [John 20:25].
- Jesus is alive! [Luke 24:5-7].
- Raised from the dead [1 Corinthians 15:4], reigns in heaven [Revelation 11:15], and some day with His saints [Jude 1:14], coming to earth to establish a kingdom that shall never pass away [Daniel 7:14].
Oh, glorious faith! O marvelous Lord, incomparable Savior, blessed Jesus!
And that’s our appeal to your heart today: to accept Him from all that He said He was, and is able to do; to rear your family in the love and admonition [Ephesians 6:4] of the Lord; to find in Him an answer to every human problem; to live triumphantly, and to die victoriously in Him. Make it that kind of a day. And in a moment when we sing the invitation hymn, on the first note of the stanza, “Pastor, here I stand.” Down one of these stairways from the balcony, down one of these aisles in the press of people on this lower floor, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and I am answering with my life” [Romans 10:8-13].
May we pray now together? Our Lord, could there have been imagined a more glorious gospel than the one our Lord has framed for us, placed in our hands and in our hearts? If we suffer with Him, we shall reign with Him: If we die with Him, we shall live with Him [2 Timothy 2:11-12]. He is our all in all. He will not fail. And our Lord, into that care and keeping of that glorious Savior, we commit our lives, our souls [Romans 10:8-13]. Stand by us, Lord, in this earthly pilgrimage. Be close by in the hour of our death, and receive us into glory. Raise us from the dust of the ground [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], and open heaven’s gates for our coming. And Lord, without loss of one, may all of us be in the kingdom, in the love of Christ, in the arms of our Savior, in whose precious name we pray, amen.
In this moment when we sing our hymn of appeal, “Pastor, today this is God’s day for me, and I am coming. This is my family, we all are responding.” Or just answering the call of God in your heart [Acts 17:30], make it now, come now, welcome now, while we stand and while we sing.