Jesus and the Resurrection
April 19th, 1987 @ 8:15 AM
JESUS AND THE RESURRECTION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-19-87 8:15 a.m.
And welcome the throngs of you who share the hour on radio and on television. You are a part this morning of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor presenting an exposition of the latter part of the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Acts.
In this second missionary journey, Paul is in Athens. And in the agora, the vast marketplace, he is speaking to those Athenians who, of all people in the world, are—you have it translated here “superstitious” [Acts 17:22]. That’s unfortunate. The word is “religious.” They were very religious. They had more gods they worshipped than there were people in the city. And as he spoke to them about the gospel of the Son of God, they said, “What would this,” and you have it translated “babbler” [Acts 17:18], the actual word is seed picker, “What would houtos,” this contemptuously referring to him, “what would this seed picker say? For he seems to be a setter forth of strange gods,” plural: because Paul was preaching to them Iesous kai, and anastasis, lesous and anastasis.
They were accustomed to worshipping gods in male and female pairs, such as Jupiter and Juno, or Venus and Adonis, or Isis and Osiris, pairs of gods. And when Paul was preaching lesous, masculine, and anastasis, feminine, they thought he had a new pair of gods they’d never heard of—Iesous, “Jesus,” masculine, and anastasis. Your word Anastasia comes from that, anastasis, feminine, “the resurrection” [Acts 17:18].
Now there were two groups of philosophers who were listening to Him. One were the Epicureans and the other the Stoics [Acts 17:18]. And they listened very carefully and intently as Paul began to present the God, the One who was raised. But when he spoke of the resurrection of the dead, the Epicureans laughed out loud. They ridiculed him and mocked him. And the Stoics were somewhere kinder and more gracious. They just bowed themselves out and away [Acts 17:31-32].
The Epicureans were atheists and materialists; and that does not mean they were not brilliant. They were atomic scientists. They believed that the whole world was made up of atoms. Isn’t that an unusual thing? Long before our modern atomic theories, the Epicureans taught that the basic material that make up the substance of this creation is atomic. The coarser atoms, they said is the earth; the finer atoms, they said is the body; and the finest of the atoms is the soul. But when you die, you just go back to your atomic, molecular structure. They were atheists. “If there were any gods,” Epicurus said, “they were way out somewhere, had nothing to do with us in this world.” They were materialists. They were hedonists. Their theme you’ve heard all your life, “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.” So when the Epicureans heard Paul speak about the resurrection of the dead, that we would live again, they laughed out loud. They mocked and ridiculed [Acts 17:31-32].
The Stoics, named after Zeno who taught on the stoa, the “porch,” the Stoics were more gracious. The Stoics were pantheists. God is everything and everything is God. And we are a part of this world’s soul, and when we die we go back into it; certainly, no such thing as a personal life, a resurrection after the dead. So, when he spoke of the life promised in Christ after we are raised from the grave, the Stoics were very gracious and very kind and said, “We will hear thee again of this matter” [Acts 17:31-32], and they left.
This attitude, this reception, of the message of Christ in His resurrection has been a pattern of life through all of the centuries and is no less so today. I’ll take one instance out of ancient history and one out of our modern history; the skepticism and unbelief on the part of so many, that if a man die he will live again, that there’s such a thing as a resurrection of the dead.
In about 100 A.D. Trajan was the emperor of the Roman Empire, and he instigated a furious persecution against the Christians in Antioch. It was in that persecution that the great preacher Ignatius was fed to the lions in the Roman Coliseum. Anyway, Trajan took five Christian virgins, maidens, and he burned them. And he took the ashes of those five Christian virgins, and mixed them with molten brass, and formed them into statues, and placed them there in Antioch in order that, as Trajan said, “The people might see that it was he and not their God who raised them from the dead.”
A modern instance of the continuing skepticism of the resurrection of the dead is found in Albert Einstein. Albert Einstein, the incomparable scientist, spent the last years of his life in Princeton University. Albert Einstein said, “I want it understood that I am an atheist. And when I die, there is to be no memorial service, no funeral, but my body is to be burned and scattered to the winds.” And when Albert Einstein died, the atheist, the materialist, there was no service of any kind or order; they burned him, and they scattered his ashes to the wind.
There is no doubt but that mortality and the turning of our anatomical figure back to dust is patent and latent and demonstrable on every hand. I live in that kind of a world; burying the dead, yesterday, the day before. It is an unceasing phenomenon; all of us are born to die.
And the Bible is honest and truthful and verifiable in facing that inevitable fact; the whole Book of Ecclesiastes concerns the death of this body that turns back to the dust of the ground. But there is something more, and something else, and something over, and something above the mortality of this human body. And Jesus our Lord met that skepticism boldly, and courageously, and fearlessly.
You see it in that old conundrum that the Sadducees, who were materialists and atheists—isn’t that a strange thing, that most of the Jews are atheists? When you go to Israel, most of them will be atheists; it’s an astonishing thing. The Sadducees were materialistically atheist, and they had an old story by which they decimated the Pharisees, a sect that believed in the resurrection of the dead and the power of God to raise them up.
The old, repeated story for hundreds of years concerned the Levirate marriage. In the law of Moses, if a brother died and left no issue, his brother must take the widow and raise up children to the dead brother in order that the family name might not perish [Deuteronomy 25:5-6]. So the conundrum: there were seven brothers, seven of them. And the first one took a wife and he died without issue. So his brother took his wife, and he died without issue. And the other brother took his wife; he died without issue. And the third and the fourth and the fifth and the sixth and the seventh died without issue. All seven of the brothers had that same woman. Then the question of the Sadducees, “And in the resurrection that You say you believe in, whose wife shall she be? Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,” and they laughed at the Pharisees, who believed in the resurrection, to scorn [Matthew 22:23-28].
Now they brought that story to the Lord Jesus. He never, ever failed or equivocated. Anytime, anywhere, anything, whether the philosophical or moral, political—name it—was brought to Jesus, He faced it fearlessly and honestly, and He did here. He said, “Ye do err, first not knowing the Scriptures, and second, not knowing the power of God…First, ye do err, for not knowing the Scriptures . . . For the Scriptures say, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob’” [Matthew 22:29, 32]. Like the choir sang a moment ago, “I am,” not I was! “I am the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. And God is not the God of the dead, but He is the God of the living [Matthew 22:32]. You err not knowing the Scriptures, and you err,” our Lord said, “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 our Lord avowed that all heaven and earth conspires to bring to pass the promise of God that they that believe in Him shall live forever, both in this body and in the resurrected life of a spiritual immortality promised yet to come [John 11:25-26]. The springtime, according to the fifteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter, the springtime is an evidence of the wondrous recreative power of God; every flower that blooms, and every plant that grows, and every tree that buds and fruits [1 Corinthians 15:34-38]. Out of the death of the wintertime, is an affirmation of the power of God to raise the dead [1 Corinthians 15:35-49]; and how much more unto us who are made in His likeness and in His image?
This I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God . . .
But, I show you a 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 in Christ shall be raised . . . 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 mortal body; it is raised an incomparably glorious, spiritual body.
[1 Corinthians 15:42-44]
This is the power of Christ. This is the power of God [Matthew 22:29].
The sublimest words ever spoken are these: in the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John, “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]. The greatest historical fact in human history is this, “He is not here; He is risen; Come, see the place where the Lord lay” [Matthew 28:6].
The greatest confession and affirmation of human heart is this, “Come, put your finger in the scars in My hands; and thrust your hand into the scar of My side: and be not faithless, but believing” [John 20:27]. And Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God” [John 20:28]. And the greatest prophetic promise is this in 1 Thessalonians 4, “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first” [1 Thessalonians 4:16].
Job can stand up from his ash heap [Job 2:8] and the psalmist can take his harp from the weeping willow trees [Psalm 137:2]. The king can take off his sackcloth [Jonah 3:6], and 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 Lord [John 20:28]. He is alive [Luke 24:5-7], and in Him we have the living promise of our own resurrection and our own glorious life in the world that is yet to come [2 Corinthians 4:14]. Oh, blessed day! Blessed Christ, blessed hope, and blessed tomorrow; that’s the faith. That’s the Lord. That’s our Christian religion.
We’re going to sing now a hymn of appeal, and while we sing the song, this beautiful, meaningful precious, significant day, what a glorious time to give your heart in faith and trust to the blessed Jesus [Ephesians 2:8-9]. What a marvelous day to bring into the circle of a family of God your home and your children. “Pastor, God has spoken to my heart, and I’m answering with my life. And I’m standing here in token of that commitment” [Romans 10:9-10]. If you’re in the balcony, down one of these stairways, in the throng and press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me. This is resurrection day. This is Easter day. This is a new beginning day, and here I stand.” God bless and angels attend in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.