Our Beloved Dead
May 31st, 1987 @ 8:15 AM
OUR BELOVED DEAD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-31-87 8:15 a.m.
Once again we welcome the throngs of you that share this hour on radio. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas presenting the message from God’s Word concerning our dead. In our preaching through the Gospel of John, we are in chapter 5 and the verses of presentation are 25 and 28. John 5:25 and 28, “Verily, verily,” amen, amen, it is in Greek:
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.
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 most amazing revelation that could be found in all of God’s Word.
There are two kinds of dead spoken here; there are two kinds of dead people. There are those who are alive in the flesh but dead in their souls; they are spiritually dead. Then second: there are those who are dead in their physical bodies and are buried in the earth. Our Lord in this passage speaks of His raising both kinds of dead. The occasion of His speaking was the bitter attack against Him delineated in the first half of this fifth chapter of John, over His healing the paralytic man: thirty and eight years he had been invalid, and the Lord healed him [John 5:5-9]. And over the bitter confrontation because of that miracle [John 5:10-27], the Lord said, “Not only does the Son of Man have power to speak and the paralyzed are restored, but the Son of Man also has power to raise the dead” [John 5:28-29]; two kinds of dead. He has power to raise the dead who are dead in their souls: “Marvel not at this: I say unto you, the hour now is, when the Son of Man shall speak; and they that hear shall live” [John 5:25]. That’s the voice of God in our heart when we’re saved, raising us from spiritual death. Then He speaks of a future time, not “now is,” but, “the hour is coming, in which all that are in their graves shall hear His voice, and they that hear shall come forth” [John 5:28-29].
How does Jesus raise the dead? He does it by His omnipotent voice. He speaks and the dead are alive [John 11:43-44]. That’s a remarkable thing. But God is always presented just like that. “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light” [Genesis 1:3], by fiat. And God spoke, and the worlds and the universes and the planets in their orbits came into existence [Genesis 1:14-19]. In the first chapter of the Book of the Revelation, John sees Him in His glory [Revelation 1:12-15]; and out of His mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword [Revelation 1:16]. In Hebrews 4:12:
For the word of God is powerful and quick, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and of the marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
The voice and the Word of omnipotence: Jesus, by His voice, by His word raises the dead [John 11:43-44].
The centurion from Capernaum, when he came up to the Lord in another city said, “My servant is dying. Would You heal him?” And the Lord said, “I will go with you.” He always answers the cry of the human heart. “I will go with you.” And the centurion says, “You need not come; just speak the word, say the word, and my servant will be made whole” [Matthew 8:5-8]. The voice of Christ, “Ephphatha,” and the dumb could hear and speak [Mark 7:34-35]. Talitha cumi; and the daughter of Jairus is raised from the dead [Mark 5:41-42]. Stopping the bier that carried the son of the widow of Nain to the grave, He speaks and the youth rises from the dead [Luke 7:11-15]. He speaks and Lazarus comes forth [John 11:43-44]; the omnipotent power of Christ our Lord. And this is the will of God for us, “that we be not agnoeō,” our word “atheist” comes from that “. . . that we be not without knowledge concerning these who die, who fall asleep . . .” [1 Thessalonians 4:13]. Death is so universal that our Lord would not have us stumble in darkness concerning its ultimate and final meaning and what lies beyond the grave.
This last week, within a day two of our noblest deacons have died. What of death and its ultimate and final meaning for us? So God reveals its meaning and what lies in the darkness beyond: “I would not have you without knowledge, my brethren, concerning them who are asleep, that ye sorrow not, as others who have no hope” [1 Thessalonians 4:13]. This vast world beyond the pale of the promise of Christ lives in utter darkness and deathly fear.
I take two extremities of that spectrum. One: the animist in darkest Africa; death is a terrifying thing, it is a paralyzing thing and he trembles before it. I speak of the other side of the spectrum, the learned philosophical Greek. Man said, “Everything we know we learned from the Greeks.” Back yonder, hundreds of years before Christ, they were speaking of the atomic molecular framework of this universe. “Physics” is a Greek word; “metaphysics,” beyond physics, is Greek. They peered into the darkness and could find nothing beyond the silent, swollen River Styx. When Paul stood before the Areopagus in Athens and preached Jesus and the resurrection, the Epicureans laughed at him—ridiculed him. The Stoics, more gracious bowed out saying, “We will hear thee again of this matter” [Acts 17:19-32]. To them it was unthinkable!
In our modern day the severest attack against the resurrection of this physical body is brought by the preacher-theologian. That somehow has been typical through the ages. Isn’t it strange that it should be the Sadducees—the Sadducees—these who had control of the temple and all of the worship of Israel? It was the materialistic, secular, humanistic Sadducees that scoffed at the resurrection [Acts 23:8]. But in our Lord, there came another voice and another hope, another revelation. And that hope lies in our commitment and belief in the deity of Jesus our Lord. When we turn aside from our faith in Christ, we turn into absolute hopelessness and sorrow.
Albert Einstein, our greatest modern scientist, said, “I want it understood that I am an atheist. And when I die there is to be no service. My body is to be burned and its ashes scattered to the wind.” And when the great scientist died, there was no service; they burned his body and scattered the ashes to the wind. When we deny the being, and the presence, and the ableness, and the omnipotence, and the very fact, the very truth of our Lord, we turn to abject, indescribable darkness and oblivion.
That’s why Paul says, “I speak unto you by the word of the Lord.” The only revelation we could ever have of what lies beyond the grave lies in the revelation of God. “This I say unto you by the word of the Lord. If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them that believe in Him will God bring with Him” [1 Thessalonians 4:14-15]. Our own resurrection lies in the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord [1 Corinthians 15:14-17]. And I haven’t time to submit it, just to affirm and to avow. There is no historical fact in history substantiated with greater certainty and affirmation than the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. There’s no other way to explain the marvelous, indescribable change in the apostles who laid down their lives for that truth. There’s no other way to explain the incomparable conversion of Saul of Tarsus except that Jesus appeared to him raised from the dead [Acts 9:3-5]. And there’s no other way to explain the power of the gospel in the days of the Roman Empire than that back of it lay the great affirmation: “Jesus lives! He is alive!” [Matthew 28:5-7; Luke 24:5-7]. And that brings to us the great affirmation and revelation of the power of Christ in our day and in our lives.
In this passage in the fourth chapter of 1 Thessalonians and in the incomparable revelation of God in the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, in both places we don’t die, we just fall asleep in Jesus, awaiting the day of His voice to awaken us [1 Thessalonians 4:13-17; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52].
In this brief moment, may I apply that to the three ages of life? First: that death has lost its sting and the grave its victory [1 Corinthians 15:55-57] when we lay to rest these aged, our fathers and mothers, these who have come to the end of a long life, what death means to them. When I began as a young pastor, just seventeen years of age, when I began there is so much that a young pastor has to learn. I had to learn. I knelt down by the side of an old warrior of the cross, an aged saint, invalid. I knelt down by his bed and began to pray. And I prayed in my youthful not-knowing, I prayed, “Lord extend his days, give him years, raise him up, make him strong and well again.” I was praying that. And while I was praying, he reached forth his hand and touched me, and interrupted, saying, “Young pastor, don’t pray that. Don’t pray that I will have length of days and years added to my life, or that I’ll be raised up, don’t.” He said to me, “Young pastor, my life is lived and my work is done. My wife is gone. My children are gone. All of my friends are gone. And I am alone here in the world.” He added, “Young pastor, pray that God will release me and let me go to be with Him and these I have loved and lost for the while. Pray, young pastor, that God will release me, and open heaven for me.” I changed my prayer. I have never forgotten that lesson, sixty years ago. Death has been robbed of its sting and the grave of its victory [1 Corinthians 15:55]; and no longer is it a fearsome and horrible visitation. It is the opening of the doors of heaven.
That’s why Revelation 14:13, “Makarios, makarios, happy, blessed are the dead who die in the Lord! Yea, said the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.” Nothing is lost; all we’ve ever done or said for Christ is our eternal reward in heaven. “Makarios, blessed, happy, fortunate are those who die in the Lord.” Our reward is up there [Matthew 5:12]. Our home is up there [John 14:2-3]. Our inheritance is up there [Matthew 6:20]. Happy day when we come into the presence of Christ and receive from His blessed hands these things, these better things He hath prepared for those who love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9].
Bringing that affirmation to the youth who dies, the young man and the young woman who die, we think, “What an indescribable sorrow and tragedy!” It’s like Joseph in a strange and far country, but called to high office and exalted [Genesis 41:37-44]. Or like Rebekah married to Isaac and taken away into a far country [Genesis 31]. These, even in their youth translated to heaven; and there, living a life of glory and exaltation in the presence of God. When the youth dies, he is separated from all the sorrows that we know in this life.
And last, our little children: what of that baby who has died? Our little ones? There is a famous painting, The Pitcher of Tears, and 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 the heavy pitcher,
Play away the sunny hours.”
From the tender lips 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 she 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 lonely day.
[adapted from “The Legend of the Pitcher Of Tears,” Mary A. Borroughs, 1877]
God says it is better over there than it is here [Philippians 1:23]. And when we lay to rest our beloved dead—if it is a child, God will guide the life into perfect beauty and happiness of that darling little one. If it is a youth in young manhood and womanhood, God has a heavenly purpose for that Joseph and that Rebekah in another land. Or if it is in our old age and our task is finished, to us it is a release and a reward. “Even so, come, blessed Lord Jesus” [Revelation 22:20].
In this moment when we sing our hymn of appeal, to give your heart to the Lord [Romans 10:9-10], to come into the fellowship of the church, to answer a call of the Spirit in your heart, or for any reason God would bid you, make the decision now. And when we stand and sing this song of appeal, in the name of our Lord, risen and resurrected, welcome, welcome, while we stand and while we sing.