Christians Never Die
January 24th, 1988 @ 8:15 AM
CHRISTIANS NEVER DIE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-24-88 8:15 a.m.
Once again we welcome the throngs of you who are listening to this hour on radio. You are now a part of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor delivering a textual sermon out of the eleventh chapter of the Book of John. In our preaching through the Fourth Gospel, we are in the heart of one of the greatest chapters in all the Word of God. And the message today is at the very heart—cardinal, vital—of the Christian faith and revelation.
The chapter of course concerns the death of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, a home in Bethany in which Jesus so often was a welcomed guest [Luke 10:38-40].
Martha saith unto Him—
in verse twenty-four—
I know that my brother shall live 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.
And the title of the message is Christians Never Die. “Whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never, ever die” [John 11:26]. There is an undeniable immortality of the race, humanity, the flow of human life.
I stood one time by the side of the Coliseum in Rome and looked just before me at the ancient Forum. Centuries and centuries have they been dead who built that great heart and center and civic life of the Roman Empire. And for centuries it has lain in ruins. But children were playing on it, all of those old columns that had fallen down and great stones that were quarried a millennia ago, children playing on them; so long dead, the leaders of the empire, that these children, so very much present, alive.
Walking through that same ancient city, I saw in an excavation, way down deep, beautiful, majestic arches. They were built by hands of genius in centuries gone by. But the teeming city is alive above. There’s an immortality of the race, the onflowing of humanity.
But is there a personal immortality? We, individually, do we live forever? A skeptic has said, “We are not bodies that have souls, but we are souls that have bodies.” And these bodies are soon cast off and decaying or forgotten, turned back to the dust of the ground.
The Christian faith is that both are immortal: the body and the soul. In 1 John 3:2, the inspired apostle writes, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He appeareth, we shall be like Him.” “Like Him,” like our Lord. Well, how is He like? In the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Luke, the Third Gospel, when the Lord resurrected appeared to His disciples, they were affrighted, thinking they were seeing a spirit, a ghost, an apparition [Luke 24:36-37]. But the Lord said to them, “Do not be afraid. Handle Me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, such as you see Me have” [Luke 24:38-39]. Then He asked, “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]. This is our Lord raised from the dead [Luke 24:1-7].
There was a miracle. Did you ever think of a miracle in your daily life, when inert food is quickened into your living body? It is also a miracle, one step upward, when our Lord ate the broiled fish and the honeycomb [Luke 24:41-43]. A second step in that same miracle; it became immortalized in His living body. The Scriptures say that both our spirits—our souls—and our bodies are immortal [1 Corinthians 15:44]. They live forever.
‘Tis a wondrous thing: death annihilates, destroys nothing. It is a repercussion of the great scientific affirmation that nothing can be destroyed. The universe, matter, creation, is here forever and can never be annihilated. That’s one of the basic premises of science itself.
So when it is applied to us, this thing, this phenomenon that we call death, changes nothing. It just separates the soul from the body. But neither is destroyed.
At the great judgment day, the lost are separated from God; the Bible calls it the second death [Revelation 20:11-15]. But in neither case is one or the other destroyed. The spirit and the body are immortal. They live for ever [1 Corinthians 15:44].
May we think first of the spirit, the soul, the difference between the use of the words “spirit” and “soul.” A spirit does not have a body [Luke 24:39], like angels are spirits. The Holy Ghost is spirit. God is spirit. But when you use the word “soul,” soul always has a body. When we think of the spirit, of the soul, we are conversant with the immortality of the soul. And it is very apparent to one who would think. It’s kind of like the mind. The mind never sleeps. When the body sleeps, your mind is still active and alive. You dream, the body’s still very much conscious.
I remember here in this very pulpit, R.G. LeTourneau, of that great mechanical mind. R.G. LeTourneau, at the beginning of his tremendous work, R.G. LeTourneau said he was wrestling with one of those mammoth conceptions, the building of that great earth-moving machinery, but he came face to face with a gear that he had to create and he couldn’t find a solution to it, how to make it, a great gear. He said he went to bed one night and that was on his mind—found no solution to it however he tried. But he said the next morning when he awakened, it was perfectly clear how to make that gear. His mind, his subconscious mind had solved the problem while he lay asleep at night.
The spirit is like the mind, and the mind is like the spirit. They never cease; they never die. They continue on forever. We see that so clearly in Scripture. On the Mount of Transfiguration, there spoke with our Lord, Moses [Luke 9:28-30]. Moses has not been resurrected from the dead. The body of Moses is still buried in an unknown tomb [Deuteronomy 34:5-6]. But there he is speaking to Jesus about His coming exodus, His death for the world [Luke 9:30-31]. In the story of Saul, Samuel comes at En Dor and speaks to him [1 Samuel 28:15-20]. Samuel is not resurrected from the dead [1 Samuel 28:11-12].
When our Lord turned to the thief on the cross, He said to him, “Today, sēmeron, this day, sēmeron, this day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43]. That is three days before the Lord was raised from the dead [Luke 24:1-7]. And certainly that dying thief had not been resurrected from the dead. But “sēmeron”— this day, this exact day—“Today thou shalt be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43]. The soul, the spirit, never dies.
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:8, speaking of death, “absent from the body, but present with the Lord.” The soul never sleeps; it never dies. It is immortal; it goes on forever.
D. L. Moody said, in his last days, “You’ll be reading in a paper, ‘D. L. Moody is dead.’ Don’t you believe it,” said the great evangelist, “for I’ll be more alive than I have ever been in my life.” The soul doesn’t sleep. The soul never dies; it continues on and forever.
The body is in that instance different. The body sleeps. It is an experience that all of us have in common every day of our lives. The body sleeps. Jesus said here in the eleventh chapter of the Book of John:
Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.
Then said His disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do 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.
The soul never sleeps, living, vibrant, viable, alive forever. But the body sleeps.
In the seventh chapter of the Book of Acts:
And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, as he said, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep—
he fell asleep; his body fell asleep.
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]. The body sleeps.
But God, one day, shall awaken this sleeping frame from the dead. Jesus said, “I go, that I may awaken him” [John 11:11]. He means that, “I will raise him from among the dead” [John 11:43-44]. The body sleeps, such as at night. And death is asleep only through a longer night.
But the doctrine of the Christian faith is that the body sleeps for a moment, for a time, for awhile, and then it is raised to life from the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:13-17]. May I make an aside there? The Christian faith is the only religion, the only faith in the world that believes, that teaches, the immortality of the body. All of the pagans believed in the immortality of the soul. I supposed, practically every religion that is practiced believes in the immortality of the soul. But the Christian faith is the only one that teaches the immortality of the human body, that we just sleep and are raised from the dead.
May I point out that the Christian faith is cardinal in that doctrine? It is not a supposition. It’s not a corollary. It is at the heart of the Christian faith, that the body sleeps and is raised from the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:13-16]. This is the climax of all four Gospels: the resurrection of our Lord from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7; Mark 16:1-7; Luke 24:1-7; John 20:1-9].
When the atheistic, unbelieving French philosopher Renan wrote the life of Christ, when he got to the cross, he wrote finis, “the end,” and stopped. Until recently, there was a play that went around over America entitled Jesus Christ Superstar. It was written by unbelievers. And the play ends the life of our Lord at the cross, at His death [Matthew 27:32-50].
The Christian faith is so different. The great climax of all of the four Gospels is the same: it climaxes in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And without that resurrection, there is no faith; there is no gospel to preach. It is, I say, the very summum bonum, and the very heart and glory, and the very essence of the gospel itself; the resurrection of the body, this human frame in which we live.
Paul writes in the beginning of this fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians:
If there be no resurrection of the body, then Christ is not raised:
And if Christ be not raised, our preaching is vain, and your faith is also vain.
And we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified that God raised Him from the dead: whom He did not raise from the dead, if the dead do not rise. 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.
Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ—
then they are perished.
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
But now is Christ raised from the dead. . .
For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam—
in this old nature—
we all die, even so in Christ shall we all be raised, made alive.
[1 Corinthians 15:13-22]
There’s an immortality of the body, the human frame. I say again it is the cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith. That is why they were so troubled in Thessalonica. They had been taught that this body is immortal, and it would be forever with the Lord. But after Paul had left, preaching that gospel and that hope, some of the members of that dear church at Thessalonica had died. And the body corrupting, they buried out of sight. And they were troubled in Thessalonica. “What of these who have died?” [1 Thessalonians 4:13, 18].
And that gave occasion to one of the great revelations of all Holy Scripture. Paul writes to them: “My brethren, I would not have you without knowledge concerning them which are asleep” [1 Thessalonians 4:13], God’s word for what happens to us when we die.
these who are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others who have no hope.
For 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—
from the word of Jesus Himself—
that we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede them which are asleep.
We will not see Jesus before they do.
For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with a voice of the archangel, with the trump of God: and these who sleep in Christ shall awaken first.
They will arise first.
Then we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord 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.
Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
[1 Thessalonians 4:13-18]
The cardinal doctrine of the faith is this; that these bodies that fall in sleep, in death, are also immortal. God shall raise them, these bodies, from the dust of the ground. And we shall be whole, once again, as He was whole [Luke 24:36-43]: spirit and body, flesh and bones, a full-orbed personality.
I have to close. That’s why, that’s the reason why the Christians call a burial place a koimētērion, sleeping place. When you take koimētērion and spell it out in English, it comes out “cemetery.” A cemetery, a koimētērion is a Christian word. It’s where the Christians buried their dead, a sleeping place awaiting the great sound of the trumpet, and the voice of the archangel, and the resurrection of the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].
Sweet people, that’s why the catacombs in Rome, so oft times do I hear people refer to the catacombs in Rome, those great subterranean underground passageways, I hear them refer to them as being places of refuge for the persecuted Christians. Nothing could be further from the truth. There’s no approach to an idea of the beginning of an introduction of anything like that.
Well, what were the catacombs underneath the city of Rome? What were they if they were not hiding places and refuge places for the persecuted Christians? Why, my brother, the catacombs were the burying grounds of the Christians. Rome burned their dead. The whole pagan world burned their dead. But the Christian refused to burn his dead. And he, lovingly and carefully and prayerfully, laid his dead away. And they were buried in the catacombs, the burial ground of the Christian, where that body, though dead, asleep, was precious and immortal. And they carefully laid that body away. It’s a Christian doctrine.
Let me take just one other word. Time’s already gone, but just one other. There are great scientists who are devout Christians. And one of them was Michael Faraday, a British physicist. He lived in the last century. One time in one of his lectures he referred to the resurrection of the dead. And after the class was over, he happened to overhear one of the students, sneeringly and sarcastically, refer to that “superstition,” mentioned by that great professor of the resurrection from the dead.
And the next day, Michael Faraday, the famous physicist, had with him a bowl, a glass of sulfuric acid. And in that sulfuric acid, he dropped a silver cup. And immediately it disintegrated and disappeared in the sulfuric acid. Then Michael Faraday took a handful of ordinary table salt and threw it in that bowl of sulfuric acid. It was a catalytic agency, and the silver coagulated and fell to the bottom of the glass.
Michael Faraday recovered the disorganized and broken silver, took it to a silversmith, who reshaped it into a beautiful cup. And the great physicist brought it back to his class and held it up and said, “Young men and women, if I, a mortal, can dissolve this silver cup and then raise it up and reshape it into a more beautiful cup than it was ever before, then why should I stumble at the great promise of God that our omnipotent Lord can take our fallen bodies and raise them from the dead and shape them into a more beautiful form than ever they were before?”
That is the Christian faith. And that is the meaning of Christ’s resurrection for us [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. And this text, “He that liveth and believeth in Me can never, ever, die” [John 11:26]. The Christian lives forever [John 3:16, 10:27-30]. Oh, what a glorious hope and what an incomparably precious gospel!
We’re going to sing us a song now. And while we sing the hymn of appeal, to give your heart to the Lord [Romans 10:9-10], to open your soul heavenward and God-ward, to come into the fellowship of our church, to answer the call of the Spirit in your soul, as God Himself shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision now. Come and stand with us. A thousand times welcome, while we stand and sing our invitation hymn.