THE REALITY OF RESURRECTION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-15-90 8:15 a.m.
I have been listening to that for a good sixty some odd years, and I have always wondered if the day would ever come when they sing those five hallelujahs and stop, and somebody sings it again. Have you ever experienced that? No. Oh, these youngsters did it beautifully; and it honors the Lord.
We welcome the multitudes of you who share this hour on radio. You are now a part of the Easter morning service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message. The text is in Acts 25:19: “But these opposing brethren had certain questions against Jesus of their own superstition, and of one Jesus, who was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.”
This is the very heart of the Christian faith. You can see it in this passage in 1 Corinthians 15:
If Christ be not risen, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished for ever.
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable—
[1 Corinthians 15:17-19]
the assurance of the resurrection of our Lord and in Him the promise in the life that is yet to come.
Did Christ rise from the dead? And is He the firstfruits of us who someday will fall asleep in the Lord? These are some of the tremendous facts that assure us of His resurrection, and through Him, of our own [2 Corinthians 4:14]. Number one; a philosophical fact: our Lord lived a beautiful and perfect life, yet it ended in a cruel and shameful death. Is this possible in the aegis and under the hand omnipotent of Almighty God, that good ends in evil, and the triumph of violence and shame and death are eternal? This is the purpose of the presentation in the Gospels of the life of our Lord. Somehow there is something in us that rebels against the thought, the persuasion, the idea that good can be ultimately overcome by evil. And in our Lord’s life, pure, beautiful, perfect, not did it climax in death and shame; but the end of it was an incomparable triumph—a resurrection from among the dead [Matthew 27:32-28:7].
And that is avowed by the Holy Scriptures. In Romans 1:4, horizō, your word “horizon” comes from it, horizō, “He was pointed out as the righteous One, as the triumphant One, as the holy and pure One, by the resurrection from the dead.” There is a philosophical fact, I say, that argues for our living Lord.
There is also a pragmatic, empirical fact: our Savior is slain by His enemies, but when they looked into that tomb, the graveclothes were beautifully arranged, but He was gone! [John 20:1-10]. What happened? Either He was raised from the dead by omnipotent power, or someone stole His body. If someone stole His body, it was either by His friends the disciples, or by His enemies, His foes. If His body were stolen by His friends, how could they? There was a Roman guard there [Matthew 27:62-66]. And what would they have done with it had they stolen it? And why would they have attempted such a thing? But if His body were stolen away by His foes, by His enemies, why would they? That would just lend credence to the word that He had risen from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7]. It would have been unthinkable that the very enemies of our Lord would have stolen away His body, when the denial of the resurrection of our Lord was the very heart of those who bitterly opposed Him.
And one other simple thing: when Simon Peter stood up a few days later to preach the doctrine of the resurrection of Christ [Acts 2:14-40], all his enemies had to do was to produce the dead, decadent, decaying body of our Lord, to give the lie to the gospel Simon Peter was preaching; a pragmatic reason for the belief that Jesus was raised from the dead.
A third reason, a psychological reason: look at the enormous change in the attitude, and in the life, and in the response of His apostles. When the Lord was crucified and was buried [Matthew 27:32-61], they fell into deepest, darkest despair. But the third day they are aflame with the hope and the glory of the resurrection of Jesus Christ! [1 Corinthians 15:4]. Some of them had even gone to the tomb to anoint a dead corpse [Mark 16:1-4]; and now these very apostles and disciples are preaching the glorious resurrection of Jesus [Acts 2:31-32]. How could such a thing be psychologically, if they were preaching a lie? It could not be done. You could not on the part of those apostles have laid down your life: every one of them was martyred. You could not have laid down your life for a lie. It was the truth of God; and they gave their lives for it.
A fourth fact, an ecclesiastical fact: the birth of the early church. Where did it come from? “Cursed be every one that is hanged on a tree,” said Deuteronomy [Deuteronomy 21:23] and quoted in the third chapter of Galatians [Galatians 3:13]. Yet it was of this Jew that was hanged on a tree, that was crucified [1 Peter 2:4], that is now preached to the Jew as being the Son of God and the hope of the world [Acts 2:14-40]. And that first primitive church was Jewish.
On that Pentecostal day there were three thousand of them marvelously converted [Acts 2:41]. In a chapter following there are five thousand andrōn, men, that believe in the faith [Acts 4:4]. And it is estimated that there were more than fifty thousand Jews who belonged to that church in Jerusalem. They are worshipping a Man who was crucified and nailed to a tree. It is a miracle of God! Then when the message of that primitive church was preached to the Mediterranean world, to the Greco-Roman civilization, that little band challenged the entire system of worship in the Roman Empire. And they did it with intrepidity. They laid down their lives, they were martyred by the thousands and the thousands; they were thrown to the lions, they were burned at the stake, because Jesus had been raised from the dead.
There is a soteriological fact: the conversion of the apostle Paul [Acts 9:1-18]. I suppose there has never been in the life of the human species a man as brilliant as Saul of Tarsus. In this Bible out of which I preach, in this New Testament, thirteen of those books are written by him. And Luke and Acts are inspired by his physician. And even the Book of Hebrews represents the theology of the apostle Paul. That means sixteen of these twenty-seven books come from the heart and mind of this one man, Paul. Yet that is the man who was breathing out threatenings and slaughters against the children of God [Acts 9:1]. How was it he was converted? How was it that he was changed? How did he become a Christian and an emissary of the gospel of Christ? Because he met the living resurrected Lord on that road to Damascus [Acts 9:1-18].
I had walked life’s way with an easy tread,
Had followed where pleasures and comforts led;
Until one day in a quiet place,
I met my Master face to face.
With station and wealth and rank for my goal,
Much thought for my body, but none for my soul;
I had entered to win in life’s mad race,
When I met the Master face to face.
I met Him, and knew Him, and blushed to see
That His eyes full of sorrow were fixed on me.
I faltered and fell at His feet that day,
While my castles melted and vanished away.
Melted and vanished and in their place,
Naught could I see but the Master’s face.
I cried aloud, ‘Oh make me meet
To follow the steps of Thy wounded feet.’
My thoughts are now for the souls of men.
I lost my life, to find it again;
E’er since one day in a quiet place,
I met my Master face to face.
[“Rabboni,” S.T. Carter, Jr., 1899]
A soteriological fact.
Number six, a literary fact: I hold in my hands the New Testament. Those Gospels present the story of the living Lord. How could such a thing be written? If it were not inspired [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21], were it not the truth of God, how could men pen such marvelous words as you read in this four Gospels of the New Testament? It is an impossibility for human genius to write the converse, the communion between a holy God and common man and make it look and sound natural. All you have to do to convince yourself of that is just to read the gods of the ancient Greek world. They are wooden; it is manifestly fictional.
Or, take again, in our English literature: the ghost of Hamlet is plainly the product of a laborious imagination. Yet, as an example, the twenty-fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke; Renan, the French critic, said that’s the most beautiful story in the world. And as you read it, there is converse between the risen God and those two disciples on the way to Emmaus [Luke 24:13-35], and it is natural, it is tender, it is beautiful, it is moving, it’s of heaven! God did that.
And a seventh fact, an experiential fact: something that arises in our own hearts and souls and lives. As you would know, I have a magnificent study, a magnificent library. There are thousands of volumes in it. I study every morning and most of the times late at night. I can stand in my library at the parsonage, and there around me are the testimonies of these great saints of the centuries: Justin Martyr, Eusebius, Tertullian, Irenaeus, then as the days pass Savonarola, and Hubmaier, and John Huss, and John Wycliffe, and Martin Luther, and John Calvin; and then in this modern day, the commentaries of Joseph Parker, of Alexander MacLaren, the marvelous messages and sermons of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. I stand in the midst of those marvelous testimonies to the living Lord. Then I stand in the generation to which we belong, to which I belong. There are the churches of Jesus Christ over the face of this globe, proclaiming our living Lord. There are my fellow preachers. There are my fellow pilgrims. There are these who have found Jesus dear and precious to their lives, and they talk with Him, and walk with Him every day.
He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
[“I Serve a Risen Savior,” Alfred Henry Ackley]
My Savior is more alive today than He has ever been in the centuries that have gone by. And to demonstrate the presence of our living Lord is one of the simplest things that the pastor can do.
You watch me, and you look at it: I kneel and I pray, “Oh, Alexander the Great,” or maybe, “Oh, Julius Caesar, I need help. Look down on me.” Such an idea is unthinkable and almost blasphemous. Well, maybe I’m in the wrong area. I kneel down, “Oh, Marcus Aurelius . . . Oh, William Shakespeare, look down on me, and help me.” There is a foolishness in it. It looks as though I had lost my equilibrium. Well maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe I’m an American, and I need to make my appeal in the context of American history: “Oh, George Washington . . . Oh, Abraham Lincoln, look down on me.” The thought is opprobrious; it’s blasphemous!
You kneel with me. Son, come down here and kneel with me. You get on your knees right there, you get on your knees.
Lord Jesus, this is Easter time, the time we celebrate Thy triumph over Death and the Grave [1 Corinthians 15:55-57]. And in keeping, Lord Jesus, with that love for what Christ has done for us, we’re preaching the gospel here in this pulpit, and my yokefellow Fred is down there at the great hall presenting the life of our Lord, and people are being saved, and people are being converted, and people are being confirmed in the faith. Lord Jesus, thank You for the dedicated orchestra and singers and choir of our dear church. And thank You for my yokefellow Fred McNab as he magnifies the hope we have in Christ Jesus. Lord, bless him, and bless those who sing and play with him. And bless those who will be coming this afternoon and tonight to see once again the glory of God manifested in the incarnated life and death and resurrection of our gracious God and Lord, in whose precious name we pray, amen.
Doesn’t that fit? Doesn’t it? It does, Fred. It does. Anywhere, anytime, anybody will bow down and kneel and pray before the Lord God of heaven, you will find strength and presence and the blessing of God in answered prayer: the great affirmation of our resurrected and living Lord [Matthew 28:1-7], our friend, our fellow pilgrim, our companion, our dear, loving Savior.
My brother and sister, I’m so glad I’m a Christian. I’m so glad they taught me the faith when I was a child. And for sixty-three years I’ve been preaching that glorious hope in Christ Jesus, and will until I die.
All right, my sweet boy, Fred, let’s sing us a song. Let’s sing us a song. And while we sing the song, a somebody you this Easter morning to give your heart to Jesus [Romans 10:9-10], or to put your life with us in this dear church, to walk with us in the pilgrim way to heaven, a thousand times welcome, while we stand and while we sing.