Our Beloved Dead
May 31st, 1987 @ 10:50 AM
OUR BELOVED DEAD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-31-87 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, bringing the message, entitled Our Beloved Dead. In our preaching through the Book of John, we are in chapter 5 – in chapter 5:25, 28, Verily, verily," the Greek is amen, amen.
Truly, truly, I say unto you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live.
– Verse 28 –
Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice and shall come forth. . .
The occasion of this avowal and revelation was the bitter criticism that Jesus incurred when He healed that paralytic man at the pool of Bethesda, who had suffered with that grievous infirmity for thirty and eight years. And, in answering the scathing criticism of His enemies, the Lord said, "Not only does the Son of Man have power to heal the sick, but He also has power to raise the dead."
In these two verses, He speaks of two kinds of dead people and two kinds of resurrection. In verse 25, He speaks of those who are dead in trespasses and in sins. They are dead spiritually. They live in a life of the flesh, but spiritually, inwardly, they are dead. They have not been quickened. They are not resurrected. He speaks of that as in the present tense: "those that are dead now" [John 5:25] – at this time, at this moment.
In verse 28, He speaks of those who are dead physically, whose bodies lie in the earth. And, He speaks of that resurrection as future: "for the hour is coming" [John 5:28] – not now is, but "coming" when all that are in the grave shall hear His voice and shall come forth, both good and bad. He speaks of how they will be raised. What power is it? And, in what way are these incomparably describable miraculous events to come to pass. He says, in both instances, that "the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live."
In the twenty-eighth verse, the same thing is avowed again. "All they which are in the grave shall hear His voice" [John 5:28] – the omnipotent voice of the Son of God. It was the voice of command that healed this paralytic. It will be the voice of God heard in our hearts, calling us to renewed faith and dedication to Him. And, it will be the voice of God’s Son, Christ Jesus, who will, in trumpet sounds, speak, and the dead in their graves shall respond to His call.
In the picture of the risen and glorified Lord, described by John in the first chapter of the Revelation, after delineating His incomparable figure, glowing and shining above the brightness of the sun, John says, "Out of His mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword." In Hebrews 4:12, we are told,
For the Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
The Word of God, the Word of Christ, is omnipotent and all-powerful.
When the centurion of Capernaum sought Him out and said to Him, "My servant is ill. Just speak the word and he will be healed" [Mark 7:34].
The Lord said, "No, I will go with you and lay my hands upon the servant" [Mark 5:41].
The centurion demurred, "Not necessary – not at all. You just speak. You just say the word and my servant will be healed" – the all-powerful, omnipotent voice of Christ.
"Ephphatha," He said in Decapolis, and the deaf and the dumb could hear and speak. "Talitha cumi," He said to the daughter of Jairus, and the young maiden awakened to life from the dead [Mark 5:41-42]. He stopped the procession of the burial of the son of the widow of Nain. And, speaking to the young man, he was awakened to life [Luke 7:14]. He just said the word, "Come forth," and, Lazarus, bound in his graveclothes, stepped out of the sepulcher into the living life [John 11:43-44]. The omnipotent, all-powerful voice of the Son of God will be heard and the very dead shall come to life.
It is the purpose of our Lord that, in the face of the most universal and devastating experience in human life – death, that we should not be without knowledge. He begins this marvelous passage that you just read together, "My brethren, I would not have you be agnoeo." Our word agnostic comes from that Greek verb – agnostic, I don’t know. "I would not have you without knowing, my brethren, concerning them which are asleep – who are dead, that you sorrow not, even as others who have no hope" [1 Thessalonians 4:13]. This thing of the visitation of death, so universal, is not something strange and unknown. It is in God’s purview and in God’s power. God would have us know that beyond the tragedy of this present life, there is a great and glorious revelation. And He speaks to us of that in these incomparably meaningful verses.
This last week, within one day, two of our noblest deacons died. We live in that world. All of us face it. There is no family circle that has not been broken somewhere, sometime, somehow. Mother is gone or Father is gone. Parents are gone. Children are gone. Grandparents are gone. Friends are gone. We live in the presence of death. And, that’s why God avows, "I would not have you. . .without knowledge concerning them who fall asleep in Christ" [1 Thessalonians 4:13]. He says here, "We are not to sorrow as those who have no hope."
As I think of this whole vast world, there are two extremities in its spectrum regarding this tragedy of death. One is typified by the animist in darkest Africa. Terrorized by it, frightened by it, he runs away. There is no light. There is no hope. There is nothing beyond the darkness that he sees, when he stands in the presence of his dead.
The other spectrum is seen in the learned and educated Greek. A man of scholastic academic training said, "All that we know, we learned from the Greeks." Five hundred and more years before Christ, they were spinning out these philosophical equations concerning the atomic and molecular structure of our universe. When you speak of physics, you are using a Greek word. When you speak of metaphysics, you’re using a Greek word.
But, those learned and educated Greeks, peering into the darkness beyond the swollen River Styx, could see nothing. That is why, in their hopelessness, when Paul stood before the Areopagus, on Mars Hill, and spoke of Jesus and the resurrection – Iēsous and anastasis – a male and a female word, they thought he was talking about two strange gods they had never heard of before. And, when they asked him of this Iēsous and anastasis, and he brought it to flesh and blood and historical fact in Jesus and the resurrection, they laughed and scoffed. The Epicurean, ridiculing the preacher, walked away. And, the Stoic, more gracious, bowed and said, "We’ll hear you again," and left [Acts 17:22-32]. To them, it was unthinkable. It was impossible that there should be a life after death, that there should be a resurrection from those who are laid in the heart of the earth.
Today, in our present day, not only is it the large academic world that scoffs at the idea of the resurrection of this fallen frame, but the severest and most devastating attack against the announced Word of God concerning the resurrection of the dead is voiced by the preacher-theologian in his humanistic and modernistic pulpits. That is one of the strangest, strangest phenomenon I know in life.
In the days of our Lord, the Temple was in the care of the Sadducees. All of the worship of Israel gathered from the ends of the earth was under the direction of the Sadducees. And, they were materialists. They were humanists. They were naturalists. They were atheists. And when Jesus preached the hope of a life after death and a resurrection from the dead, the Sadducees scoffed and laughed and ridiculed, and then went through their old conundrum by which they had silenced for centuries those who believed in a life beyond the grave. The Levirate law of Israel: if a man had a wife, and the man died and left no issue under the Levirate law, his brother was to come to take his wife and rear a son for him, lest the family name die.
And, in the story of the Sadducees, there was a man and his wife. And, the man died. And, he had six brothers. And, the eldest brother took his wife and he died, without issue. And, the next brother died. And, the next brother died. And, finally all seven of them died. Then, the Sadducees, with their ridicule and scorn and laughter, "In the resurrection, Whose wife shall she be? Ha, ha, ha." Do you remember the Word of the Lord? "Ye do greatly err, not knowing the Scriptures or the power of God." Then, just in the story, Jesus said, "God announced in those Old Testament Scriptures, ‘I am the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. And, He is not the God of the dead. He is the Lord God of the living. I am the God of the living dead’" [Matthew 22:23-33].
So Paul avows in this incomparable passage regarding the resurrection of our physical frames. Paul says, "First, I speak by the Word of the Lord." It is God who makes this revelation. It does not come out of the speculation of human thought, "This I say by the word of the Lord. . ." [1 Thessalonians 4:15]. It is God who brings us hope. It is God who makes these promises. And, it is the power of God that shall raise our beloved dead from the grave. And, it is that same voice and power of God that someday shall raise us from the heart of the ground and the dust of the earth. When we lose that hope in the Lord, and when we lose our faith in God, there is nothing remaining but darkness and despair.
Albert Einstein, our greatest modern scientist, said, "I want it understood, I am an atheist. I do not believe in God. And when I die, there is to be no memorial service. My body is to be burned and the ashes scattered to the winds." When Albert Einstein died, not too long ago, there was no memorial service. His body was burned, and his ashes scattered to the wind.
When we lose our belief in God, we lose our hope for every future visitation and shepherdly care and remembrance from heaven. Nothing remains but darkness and despair. But, when we believe in the Lord, oh, what a light and what a brightness and what a hope God brings to our sorrowing souls! He says, "If we believe that Jesus died and rose again" – that is the foundation of theological principle – "If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, then these who sleep in Christ, someday will Christ bring with Him" [1 Thessalonians 4:14-15]. "It all lies," Paul says, "upon the fact or fiction of the resurrection of Christ. Did He rise?"
There is no historical fact more certainly authenticated in human history than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. How else would you explain that incomparable transformation in the life of the apostles, who laid down their souls for the preaching of that gospel? How could such a thing be, had they not seen Jesus raised from the dead? How would you explain the transformation in the life of Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul the Apostle, other than that he saw on the Damascus Road, the risen Christ, raised from the dead? [Acts 9:3-5]. How else would you explain the power of the gospel to overwhelm and conquer the ancient Roman Empire, other than the great foundational truth upon which it stands that Jesus is alive, that He lives, that He is able to raise us also from the dead?
And, that’s why Paul uses a new word with regard to our fallen people. He says both here in this passage in Thessalonians, and in the great marvelous chapter of 1 Corinthians 15; he says that we "sleep in Jesus." We sleep in Jesus. We fall asleep in the Lord, awakening at His voice in the day of His coming [1 Corinthians 15:51]. Death no longer is filled with the horrors of hell and damnation. The sting has been taken out of that ultimate and final despair, and the grave has lost its victory [1 Corinthians 15:55]. Christ has overcome death and hell and the grave.
In that beautiful description I referred to by the apostle John in the first chapter of the Revelation, John says, "I fell at His feet as dead," terrorized by the glory of that vision. And, he says, "The Lord laid His right hand upon him" [Revelation 1:17]. How many times, in the days of His flesh, had the Lord put His right hand on the shoulder of John? He put His right hand upon him and said, "Fear not. Fear not. Don’t be afraid. I am He that liveth and was dead. And I have the keys – I have the keys of hell and of death and of the grave. Don’t you be afraid" [Revelation 1:17-18].
In this last brief moment, may I apply that hope to our human experience, our human families and our human lives? That death in Christ has lost its sting and the grave has lost its victory; first of an old and aged saint, one who has lived his life and now comes to the end of the way, involute, old, dying.
As you have been to church here in these years, as you know, I began to be a pastor when I was seventeen years of age. And, oh, how much, how very much, a young pastor has to learn! In that beginning ministry, I knelt by the side of an old aged warrior saint of Christ to pray. And, I prayed like this, "Dear God, this saint, lay hands of strength and healing upon him and raise him up and give him length of days and other years yet to come." I was praying like that. And, that old saint of God reached forth his hand and touched me and, then, interrupted my prayer and said to me, "Young pastor, don’t pray like that. Don’t ask that of God." He said to me, "My life is lived and my work is done. And, I’m invalid and helpless." He said to me, "My wife is on the other side. And, all of my children are gone. And, my friends are gone. And, I am a stranger in the earth." He said, "Young pastor, pray that God will release me and let me go to be with Him and with these I’ve loved and lost for the while."
Never, ever could I forget that admonition. "When my life is done and my work is ended and my life is a burden, dear God, could it be that I could just go to be with Thee? Just open the door of heaven." That is why, in Revelation 14:13, God says, "Makarios – happy, blessed, fortunate – makarios, blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors and their works do follow them." We don’t lose what we have sought and wrought in the name of Christ in this earth. It is gathered in heaven. It is written in the Lamb’s book of life. It is our reward forever; not here, but there. Our inheritance is not here. It is there. Our home is not here. It is there. Our reward is not here. It is there. "Makarios, blessed are the dead who die in the Lord."
If there is a youth, or a young woman or a young man, in your family, who is dying, it is just a Rebekah who has gone to a far country, the bride now of Isaac. Or, it is a Joseph who is in another land, called and exalted to high office. Or, is it a baby? Is it a little baby?
A famous picture is entitled, "The Pitcher Of Tears." And, looking at it, a man wrote this poem:
Many days a stricken mother,
To her loss unreconciled,
Wept, bitter tears, complaining,
"Cruel death has stolen my child."
But one night as she was sleeping,
To her soul there came a vision;
And she saw her little daughter
In the blessed fields Elysian.
All alone the child was standing,
And a heavy pitcher holding;
Swift the mother hastened to her,
Close around her arms enfolding.
"Why so sad and lonely, darling?"
Asked she, stroking soft her hair,
See the many merry children
Playing in the golden fair."
"Look! They’re beckoning and calling,
Go and help them pluck the flowers,
Put aside this heavy pitcher,
Play away the sunny hours."
From the tender looks a-quiver,
Fell the answer on her ears;
"On the earth my mother’s weeping,
And this pitcher holds the tears."
"Tears that touch the heavenly blossoms,
Spoils the flowers where’er they fall;
So as long as mother is weeping
I must stand and catch them all."
"Wait no longer," cried the mother,
"Run and play, sweet child of mine;
Never more shall tears of sorrow
Shroud your happiness sublime."
Like a bird released from bondage
Sped the happy child away
And the mother woke, her courage
Strengthened for the long and lonely day.
[adapted from "Legend of the Pitcher of Tears"; Mary A. Burroughs]
Christ has taken the sting out of death and the victory from the grave. And, whether it be my aged father or mother, or whether it be a son or a daughter, or whether it be a precious child, God hath prepared some better thing for them. And, in that quiet persuasion and sweet commitment, we commend to God our beloved dead, and wait for that voice that shall raise them and call them from the grave. What an incomparably precious and comforting gospel we have in Christ Jesus, our hope and our Lord. Now, may we pray together?
A. Jesus speaks to His
1. Two kinds of
dead people (John 5:25, 28)
2. Two kinds of
resurrection (John 5:28)
B. How He breaks the
bonds of death
The omnipotent voice of the Son of God (John 5:28, Revelation 1:16, Hebrews
4:12, Mark 5:41, 7:34)
II. He would not have us without knowledge
(1 Thessalonians 4:13)
A. Animists in Africa
B. Philosophical Greek
1. Jesus and the
Sadducees (Matthew 22:23-33)
III. The message of hope
A. Direct revelation of
God (1 Thessalonians 4:15)
B. Denial of God leaves
us without hope
C. Belief in Christ
brings assurance from God
1. Fact of
Christ’s resurrection indisputable
2. Death means
"sleep" (1 Corinthians 15:18)
has lost its sting (Revelation 1:17-18)
IV. Sorrow not; comfort one another
A. The aged (Revelation
B. The youth