CHRISTIANS NEVER DIE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-24-88 10:50 a.m.
Welcome once again the uncounted multitudes of you who are sharing this hour on radio and on television. You are now part of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message. It is a textual message; it is a presentation of the cardinal, central doctrine of the Christian faith. It is entitled Christians Never Die, and the thesis from the Word of our Lord is that our bodies, this human frame made of dust, is as immortal as our inward souls and spirits.
In our preaching through the Gospel of John, we are in the eleventh chapter. The Gospel of John is built around seven miracles of our Lord, and the seventh and last miracle is the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead. And in the depiction of that incomparable miracle—he had been dead four days [John 11:17], and in that climate over there, and without embalming, you can imagine what happened to that physical frame after four days—when the Lord said, in verse 23 to Martha, the [sister] of Lazarus:
Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.
Martha saith to Him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.
Jesus said unto her, 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 die.
That avowal is our text: “Whosoever liveth in Me…believeth in Me, shall never ever die” [John 11:26]. Christians never die. There is an immortality of the human race that is most obvious. It flows on through the centuries and the millennia.
I stood one time by the Roman Coliseum and looked out before me at the ancient Roman Forum, for centuries fallen into decay. And as I looked at that Roman Forum—the center and the heart of the civic power of the Roman Empire, those great columns fallen into ruins and those vast stones, a heap of rubble—as I looked at it, I saw children playing on the Forum. What an amazing thing; the children, the human family, the race far more substantial, enduring, everlasting, than those vast cut stones and columns of marble: the ongoing of the human race.
Walking through the city, I saw in a deep excavation, way down deep, I saw beautiful majestic arches buried for centuries, and yet the city teeming above them full of every facet of modern life. There is an immortality of the human race that goes on and on and on forever, but is there also a personal human [immortality] that each one of us is endowed with from God’s omnipotent hand in heaven? The “race” lives; whether I die or not, the family goes on, but do I live? Is there an immortality of my soul and of my body?
An unbeliever sarcastically said that we are not only bodies with souls, but we are spirits with bodies which will be cast away, returned to dust: decay. The Judeo-Christian avowal of the Bible is so different from that. According to the revelation of this sacred page, both are immortal—the spirit and the body. In 1 John 3:2, the inspired apostle [John] wrote: “Now beloved, are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.”
There is a day when our Lord appears. And when He does, we shall be like Him—resurrected from among the dead, and our immortal spirits and our immortal bodies, our resurrected bodies joined in one perfect personality. “We shall be like Him” [1 John 3:2]. Our Lord buried [Matthew 27:57-60], was raised from the dead [Matthew 27:5-7], and it was His body, His actual body [Luke 24:39], that was reconstructed, resurrected; a vital, viable part of human life, still human, still in the body.
In the twenty-fourth chapter, the last chapter of the Book of Luke, the Third Gospel: when the Lord appeared to His apostles, they were affrighted, thinking they had seen a spirit, an apparition, a ghost [Luke 24:36-37]. And the Lord said: “Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. Handle Me, and see that it is I Myself. For a spirit hath not flesh and bones, such as ye see Me have” [Luke 24:38-39]. Then He said: “Children, have you here anything to eat? And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And He did eat before them” [Luke 24:41-43].
That’s a part of the miracle of God: when you eat, there’s a miraculous upward-ness, a transformation. This dead inner matter becomes living mind and heart and you! When our Lord ate the broiled fish and honeycomb [Luke 24:42-43], the second step of that miracle took place. It was immortalized as His body was immortalized, resurrected, glorified [Romans 6:9]. We are to be like that: when we see Him; when our Lord comes when our Lord comes, we are going to be like Him [1 John 3:2], raised from the dead—flesh and bone, a living human, a living personality [Romans 6:10]—our bodies are as immortal as our souls, our spirits [Romans 6:8].
Death, the phenomenon of death, changes nothing! It annihilates or destroys nothing! One of the great scientific affirmations of these textbooks is this: that matter, the universe, is indestructible. We can destroy nothing that God has made. It may change form or fashion or shape; but it is never annihilated. Matter is eternal according to the scientist. That same affirmation can be applied to the human personality, to the human being. The phenomenon of death destroys nothing. The soul and the body are separated temporarily—death. Sometimes in the Bible, we read where the lost are separated from God, called the second death [Revelation 20:14-15; 21:8]. But in neither case, is one or the other annihilated. We live forever; our souls, our spirits, and our bodies.
Now may I speak of that from the Word of the Lord? First, the spirit, the soul: the difference in the use of the term “soul” and “spirit.” A spirit has not a body. The angels are spirits; they are incorporeal; they have no bodies [Psalm 104:4]. God the Father is Spirit [John 4:24]; He has no body. The Holy Ghost is spirit [John 3:6]; He has no body. The word “soul” always refers to a spirit that has a body. Jesus has a soul. You have a soul: that is a spirit that belongs to your body [1 Thessalonians 5:23]. And the body belongs to the spirit. And the word “soul” refers to a spirit that has a body [Jonah 4:11].
Now that spirit that lives within us, that soul that indwells us is immortal. It never ceases being. Its existence is continuous forever and ever. You have an illustration of the eternality—the unending existence in life of the spirit—in your mind. A mind, your mind, is a good illustration of that existence of the spirit. The body may sleep when you go to bed at night, your body will sleep. But not your mind, your mind will continue, very active—you will dream; many of us dream, it’s very active—the subconscious mind is very, very continuous, it doesn’t stop.
Last night, last night I had one of the craziest dreams: I dreamed that each member of this orchestra was presented to our church at this 10:50 hour. And it took two hours to present you each one, telling about you. What must have happened was yesterday I had a big wedding here in the sanctuary. And that girl, Jennifer Jenson, had a quartet of beautiful violinists who played here. And it was the first time in a wedding I’d ever seen like that. Usually just the organ plays. Well, those four girls played the violin beautifully in those marches in the wedding. And it made an impression on me. Well, I must have thought about that. My mind doesn’t stop; when I go to sleep, my mind just continues on, continues on.
Let me give you a brilliant example of that. In this very pulpit where I now stand, R.G. LeTourneau, who built that great company of machinery, R.G. LeTourneau was standing here one time. And I was listening to him. He said, in building that mammoth machinery that moves the earth—earth-moving equipment—he said: “I had to have a gear of a certain kind. And I couldn’t find in my mind and study how to make that gear. Strive, struggle, think: couldn’t find a solution to it.” He said: “One night, thinking about that gear that I had to have if that great machine was to function,” he said, “going to bed, I was thinking about that gear, and in despair had no idea how to make it.” He said: “When I awakened the next morning, I had the whole thing clearly in my mind.” What happened was, while his body was asleep, his subconscious mind continued working, and came to a beautiful and dynamic solution, as you know, from this great earth-moving equipment you see everywhere.
I’m just illustrating the life of the soul from the activity of the mind. The mind never sleeps. It continues on. The body may—not the mind! So, our souls: our souls continue in existence all through this lifetime and the world that is yet to come. That is so easily seen from the Word of God. On the Mount of Transfiguration, Moses, Moses is talking to Jesus [Luke 9:28-30]. Well, Moses lies in a tomb that no man knows [Deuteronomy 34:5-6], un-resurrected for a thousand—now for three thousand four hundred years—yet Moses is there speaking to Jesus about His “exodus” [Luke 9:30-31], the Bible calls it; about His great intercessory work of atoning love for us [Matthew 20:28; John 3:16]. He is alive! Though his body sleeps, is dead, Moses is alive! [Luke 9:30].
In the story of Saul, Samuel the prophet appears to him. Saul has transgressed. Samuel, though he is in his grave, is still accusing him of departure from the will and purpose of God [1 Samuel 28:7-19], still alive, though his body is in the grave.
Our Lord said to that dying thief, that malefactor, on the cross, “Today—sēmeron, this day—you will be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43]. Our Lord was resurrected three days later [Luke 24:1-7]. That malefactor is still in the grave; but our Lord said, “Today—sēmeron, this day, today—you and I will be in Paradise” [Luke 23:42-43]. In our Lord’s story of Dives and Lazarus, one is in heaven in Abraham’s bosom, the other is in torment, in hell [Luke 16:19-26]. But both are alive! The spirit in you, the soul in you, lives forever. It never sleeps; its existence is eternal.
I read in the life of Dwight L. Moody, in his old age, he said: “One day soon you’re going to read in the paper, Dwight L. Moody, D. L. Moody is dead.” The great evangelist said: “Don’t you believe it! I will be more alive than any time in my life!” The soul never sleeps. The spirit of the man lives forever; we are immortal! [1 Corinthians 15:54].
Now the revelation from God: our body sleeps. It’s like at night when you go to sleep, but you awaken. Death is nothing other than a long night, waiting for the morning, the awakening, the resurrection. Our Lord said here in the eleventh chapter:
Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.
His disciples said, Lord, if he sleep, that means he is doing well.
Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that He had spoken of taking of rest in sleep.
Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.
But Jesus calls it “sleep,” and what Jesus terms what we call “death,” as “sleep” is the whole revelation of God. The seventh chapter of the Book of Acts closes: “And they stoned Stephen, as he called upon the name of the Lord, saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice…and when he had said this, he fell asleep” [Acts 7:59-60]. Once again in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Acts: “For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption” [Acts 13:36].
This is the human frame, the human body: we go to sleep, called “death,” we go to sleep—the body sleeps. But by the very nomenclature, “sleep” means an awakening; it looks forward to a resurrection. And that is the revelation of God: our body is as immortal as our spirits. The spirit never sleeps! It continues in sensitivity in life, in viability, forever, even at night. Into the eternity, the body sleeps. But in sleeping, it is waiting for a great resurrection [1 Corinthians 4:13]. That is the heart of the Christian faith; it is the revelation of the biblical Judeo-Christian religion.
There is no other religion in the world that believes in the resurrection of the body. All other faiths—ancient, modern, today, those past, present—all other faiths believe in the destruction, in the decay, the corruption, the cessation of the life of the body. It is a biblical revelation that our bodies are as immortal as our spirits; that both of them shall be raised, joined together, in a full-orbed personality, body and soul. This is the heart of the gospel of the Christian faith: this body and this soul, immortal, redeemed by the grace and love of God [1 Thessalonians 5:23].
You see that in the climax of the four Gospels—all four of those Gospels end in the same glorious, marvelous, victorious, climactic resurrection; all four of them—they tell the story of Jesus and His cross [Matthew 27:32-50; Mark 15:20-37; Luke 23:26-46; John 19:16-30]; then the glory of a resurrection day when He is raised from among the dead [Matthew 28:5-7; Mark 16:1-7; Luke 24:1-7; John 20:1-16].
Renan, the atheistic infidel French philosopher, wrote a famous life of our Lord. And when he came to the death of Christ on the cross, he wrote there finis, “the end.” I don’t know whether it still goes around or not. But in the last few years, there’s been a play written by unbelievers called Jesus Christ Superstar. And that play follows the life of our Lord to the cross. Then when Jesus dies, the play ends. That’s the gospel of infidelity, of unbelief. But the gospel of the Son of God, full-orbed, in the Holy Word, is beyond death. Our Lord was raised from the grave and lives triumphantly to be our Savior, Mediator, our great Friend [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25]. That’s the heart of the gospel!
Nor do I speak of it alone; in the Gospels themselves, in the preaching of the message of Christ, the resurrection of our Lord was at the foundational existence of such a faith and such a message. Listen to Paul again in this fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians:
If there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:
And if Christ be not risen, then our preaching is vain, and your faith also is vain.
And we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ: whom He raised not, if…the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:
And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins.
And they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished—
they are dead forever and ever—
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
But, but, but now is Christ risen from the dead.
[1 Corinthians 15:13-20]
Eddie, where are you? Son, get you one of those Handel Messiah’s glorious choruses and sing that.
But now, but now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept.
For since by man came death, by Man came also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam we all die, even so in Christ shall we all be made alive!
[1 Corinthians 15:20-22]
This is the gospel! That’s the message; that’s the hope of the Christian faith.
May I take time to illustrate it just one other? The church at Thessalonica—the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia—the church in Thessalonica believed literally as I do and as I preach. They believed literally the message of Christ; namely, in this instance, that He was coming again; and He was coming for us; He is coming for His people; He is coming for His saints [John 14:3]. We’re going to be with Him and one another forever and ever—they believed that.
Well what happened in Thessalonica was, when Paul had preached that gospel and had gone, and they had accepted it and believed it, some of their beloved members of family died [1 Thessalonians 4:13]. And Jesus hadn’t come. And they were buried in the heart of the earth—dead! And they sent to Paul and said: “We are brokenhearted for these who have fallen asleep, these who have died—what of them? Jesus hasn’t come, and they’re in the grave.” And the Lord revealed to the apostle Paul this glorious word:
My brethren, I would not have you without knowledge concerning them which sleep—
Isn’t that a glorious Christian term for the dead, “these that sleep”?
that ye sorrow not, as others who have no hope.
If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.
For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord
It’s a revelation from God Himself:
we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord shall not precede them which are asleep.
For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, with a trumpet of God: and these that sleep in Christ shall rise first;
They’ll be the first to see Him, these that sleep:
Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the air, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. And wherefore comfort one another with these words.
[1 Thessalonians 4:13-18]
Death, where is thy sting? Grave, where is thy victory? [1 Corinthians 15:55]. There is no victory in death; it’s just a phenomenon like going to sleep, and in God’s time we are awakened. He reveals at the coming of the Lord, we will be the first—if we die; if we sleep—we will be the first to see Him [1 Thessalonians 4:16]. Oh, what a hope, and, as Paul says, “What a comfort!” [1 Thessalonians 4:18].
We express that in our Christian community in many ways. Here’s one: the word koimētērion, koimētērion, the word means “sleeping place,” a sleeping place. When you take the word koimētērion and spell it out in English, it comes out “cemetery,” a cemetery. A cemetery is a Christian word. It’s the place where we lay our beloved dead, these who sleep in the Lord—a koimētērion, a sleeping place.
One of the strangest things that I ever come across—and it’s just universal, the schools halfway teach it, or teach it; I don’t know where it comes from, but those vast catacombs under Rome, the city of Rome—those great catacombs: I’ve meandered through them. I imagine many of you have. They are miles in length, those catacombs. When the schoolteacher speaks of that, they will refer to the fact that those catacombs were built for hiding places, for refuges for the persecuted Christians. Nothing could be further from the truth. There’s no iota of such a thing as being true. What those catacombs are is this: the pagan world burned their dead, all of them! But the Christian, when he stood before the Lord with his dead, to him that body was sacred and holy! And in order not to be forced to burn the body, the Christians lovingly, prayerfully, laid the body to rest in the catacombs. The catacombs are Christian’s koimētērions. They are Christian burying places, sleeping places.
I have no thing against you if you burn somebody in your family. And I don’t mean this to have overtones of being critical of you if you burn your beloved dead; it’s just the pagan reaction to death. As with some of you, I have stood in those great cities in India such as say, Calcutta. I don’t know why I would do a thing like this—just looking, and I’d see a constant stream out of that vast city of Calcutta, of these who had died. And they call them burning “ghats”— burning ghats—just row, upon row, upon row where they take the bodies of the dead, and they burn them, and they burn them, and they burn them. And that’s what the pagan world did with the body, they burned it.
And that’s why the catacombs in Rome: the Christian refused to burn the body. It was sacred and holy to the Lord. So they dug those catacombs—miles and miles of them—and lovingly, tenderly, preciously, laid their dead away. It was a Christian reaction to the human body. Well, that’s what it is to be a Christian. I believe in the resurrection of the body [1 Thessalonians 4:14-17]. I believe in its immortality [1 Corinthians 15:53-54]. It sleeps, yes. But Christ comes, as He did for Lazarus [John 11:43-44], to awaken us out of our sleep, and according to His holy promise, we shall be the first to see Him when He comes [1 Thessalonians 4:16].
May I close with something that made an impression upon me? There was a great scientist, physicist, in England, by the name of Michael Faraday. He lived in the last century, one of the great scientists of all time. He was a devout Christian. That’s a wonderful tribute. Some of the greatest Christians in the world are your greatest scientists. Well, so with this physicist, Michael Faraday. In one of his lectures, he just happened to refer to the resurrection of the dead. And one of his students, after the class was over, the professor Faraday heard him sneeringly remark about this resurrection from the dead; the impossibility of any such thing in human experience. Well, Michael Faraday overheard the student as he sarcastically referred to that superstition.
The next day when Michael Faraday, the great scientist, came to the class, he carried with him, he brought with him, a large glass jar of sulfuric acid. And on the inside of that jar of sulfuric acid, he dropped a silver cup. And the class watched that sulfuric acid dissolve that cup before their eyes. And it went out of sight; completely dissolved. Then the great physicist took a handful of common, ordinary salt and threw it into that bowl of sulfuric acid. And immediately—the salt, acting as a catalytic agency—the silver coagulated and dropped to the bottom of the glass; an unshapen mass. The great scientist retrieved it, took it out of the jar, that mass, and took it to a silversmith. And the next day he brought it back and showed it to the class, more beautiful than ever before. And the great scientist said, “If I, a mortal man, can dissolve and reshape, resurrect, recreate this silver cup, why should I stumble or hesitate before the ableness of Almighty God to take my human body that dissolves in the dust of the ground [Genesis 3:19], and He raises it, and reshapes it, more beautiful than it ever was before.”
That’s the Christian faith. If we die, we shall be raised. If we’re laid in the tomb, we shall be resurrected [1 Thessalonians 4:14-17]. If our body falls in the corruption and decay, God is able to raise it and make it more beautiful than ever before, made like unto His glorious body [Philippians 3:20-21]. O God, what a preciousness and what a hope and what a promise we have in our living Lord. May we pray?
Our Savior, O God, there might be more and more of the faith of our Savior in us. And our Savior and Lord in heaven, when we hesitate before the promises and we sometimes fall into doubt concerning the ableness of God, O Lord forgive us. And help us with all of the strength of our inward souls to believe in Thee [Acts 16:30-31], to trust in Thee [Ephesians 2:8], and committing our lives to Thee [Romans 10:9-13], to find hope, and encouragement, and blessing, and life in Thee [John 3:16]. And our Lord, if there are those among us, and there is no family that escapes, who has someone loved who has fallen asleep, help us Lord to believe the ableness of God to raise them from the dead, and to remake us, and reshape us, and re-create us, and resurrect us more beautiful than we ever were before. And begin with us now, Lord, teaching us the humble, sweet, precious ways of Jesus, ways that lead to heaven and home, in His dear name, amen.
In this moment that we sing our invitation hymn, to give your heart and life to the Lord Jesus [Romans 10:9-13], or a family of you to come into the fellowship of our dear church, or to answer some call of the Spirit in your life, won’t you come and stand with us? There is a stairway on either side, front and back in the balcony, and there is time and to spare, come. In the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, God has spoken to me, and I’m answering today with my life” [Ephesians 2:8], come and welcome. God bless, angels attend, while we stand and while we sing.