THE REALITY OF THE RESURRECTION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-15-90 10:50 a.m.
And welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on television. You are now part of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas. The text this Easter Sunday is in Acts 25. The king Agrippa and Bernice come to Caesarea to salute Festus [Acts 25:13], and while they are there, why, announcement is made that there is a package that is to be delivered and opened. And the Scriptures say that when the accusers stood up, they brought none accusation of such things as Paul would suppose, but had certain questions against him of their own superstition, and of one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive [Acts 25:19]. And in the tremendous chapter of resurrection in 1 Corinthians that Paul writes:
If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain, ye are yet in your sins.
Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
[1 Corinthians 15:17-19]
The heart, the summation of the Christian faith is found in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus from among the dead. And this is the message that is preached wherever the gospel of Christ is made known: our Lord’s resurrection from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7]. It is a part of the tremendous affirmation of the Word of God. And I have seven incontrovertible presentations affirming that living again of our Lord out of the tomb.
The first is a philosophical fact. In the fourth verse of the first [chapter] of the Book of Romans, Paul avows that Jesus was horizō, “out of the horizon” of the dead, He was chosen to be brought to life again [Romans 1:4]. And in that death of our Lord we have a common denominator with all mankind. And in the resurrection of our Lord we have the promise of a glorious triumph that is yet to come [John 14:19]. There is nothing comparable in the life of the peoples of the world. There is nothing comparable to the glorious resurrection of our Savior in His conquest over death [1 Corinthians 15:55-57]. He came forward, He came forth to announce to the world that He was King and Lord over the grave [Revelation 1:18], and He lives forever to provide for us a like victory in our day and in our time [John 6:40].
Another great fact of the resurrection is the pragmatic and empirical fact that He lives. Our Lord’s death was ascertained on every hand. He died! [Matthew 27:32-50]. He was buried! [Matthew 27:37-60]. And there was a Roman guard above His sealed tomb [Matthew 27:65-66]. Yet, three days later the body of our Lord is not found there [Matthew 28:5-7]. The grave clothes are undisturbed [John 20:6-8], but He has been somehow taken away. He has vanished!
How do you account for the absence of the body of our Savior in the grave? Well, it was raised by supernatural hands or somebody stole the body away. If somebody stole the body away, it had to be either by a friend or by a foe. If the body were stolen away by His friends, how could they do it? There’s a Roman seal on the tomb. There is a Roman guard there to watch [Matthew 27:62-66]. It would have been impossible for those disciples to have stolen His body away. Well, could it be that He was raised by those enemies of His? They stole His body away? That’s unthinkable because it would add to the gospel of His resurrection that they were trying to deny. And besides that, how could they steal that body away when there had been a Roman pronouncement that it was to be buried and sealed! [Matthew 27:66]. Such a stealing away of the body of our Lord is unthinkable and impossible. And may I add one further paragraph? A few days later when Simon Peter was preaching the resurrection of our Lord [Acts 2:14-40], all they had to do—if the enemies possessed His body—was to produce the dead, decadent and decaying body of our Savior. That would have closed the gospel forever. They never had His body. Why? Because it was raised in triumph from the dead [Luke 24:4-8].
Another fact is a psychological fact affirming the resurrection of our Lord. A psychological fact: what transformed those disciples? They were in despair. They were hiding in twelve different hiding places. But after three days, they are aflame with the Word of the living Christ [Acts 2:1-41]. What happened? They had, some of them, even gone to the tomb to embalm a dead body, and now they are proclaiming the living Lord, raised in triumph from the dead [Luke 24:1-12; Acts 2:31-32]. What happened? It was the resurrection of Jesus Christ! Nothing could have changed them so as that glorious triumph of God over the grave [1 Corinthians 15:55-57]. A psychological fact: every one of those apostles laid down his life. Everyone was martyred. And they were martyred because they were preaching the gospel of the living Lord, the resurrection of Christ. And it is psychologically impossible that they laid down their lives for a lie! It was the truth, and in affirmation of that truth they offered themselves as a dying sacrifice unto God.
It is an ecclesiastical fact: the resurrection of our Savior. Where did that primitive church come from? It came from the converts of the Jewish people in Jerusalem. How could they have been persuaded—these Jews—that a man who had been crucified, hanged on a tree [1 Peter 2:24], was now the Lord God of our hope, our destiny, our life, our forever? [Romans 15:13]. In the Book of Deuteronomy it says, “Cursed is every man that is hanged on a tree” [Deuteronomy 21:23]. That is quoted in Galatians 3 [Galatians 3:9-14], and yet these Jews, by the thousands and the thousands—in one day on Pentecost there were three thousand of them [Acts 2:41]—in the next chapter there are five thousand men beside women and children [Acts 4:4]. It has been estimated that by the end of this Bible story there were more than fifty thousand Jews who belonged to that first church in Jerusalem. How could it have been that those Jews, who were taught that anyone hanged on a tree was cursed [Deuteronomy 21:23], now they worship Him as their Lord and God? How could such a thing be? And another thing equally as marvelous: when He was preached in the Greco-Roman Empire, when the people of Rome, and of Athens, and the Greco-Roman civilization heard the message of Christ, the message of the Lord confronted the gods of their pagan worship system. And the persecution raised against those first Christians—and they laid down their lives—the cry in the Roman Empire was, “The Christians to the lions,” or “The Christians to the stake, to the burning.” And yet, gladly, intrepidly, they laid down their lives for the gospel. It is a miracle of the intervention of the Lord from heaven.
A fifth fact, a soteriological fact, a soul-saving fact: one of the most brilliant of all of the men who ever lived is Saul of Tarsus. In this Bible out of which I preach there are thirteen of the books of twenty-seven in the New Testament that were written by him, beside his physician Luke, who wrote Luke and Acts, and beside the Epistle to the Hebrews which is inspired by him. There are sixteen books, in that twenty-seven in the New Testament, that come from the life and inspiration of this apostle Paul. How is it that he, breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the people of God [Acts 9:1], and persecuting the church [1 Corinthians 15:9], and haling them in the prison [Acts 8:3], and when they were put to death he voted against them [Acts 26:10], how is it that he is the great emissary and apostle of the saving message of Christ? He met Jesus on the road to Damascus [Acts 9:1-6]. He met the Lord, and it changed his life from one of persecution and hatred to one of adoration and worship and the preaching of the saving gospel of Christ. It’s a miracle!
I had walked life’s way with an easy tread,
Had followed where pleasures and comfort led,
Until one day in a quiet place
I met the 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 built my castles and reared them high
Until they pierced the blue of the sky.
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;
My castles melted and vanished away
And naught could I see but the Master’s face.
My thought is 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 the Master face to face.
[excerpts from “I Met the Master,” author unkown]
It is a soteriological fact: it changes life.
Number six: it is a literary fact. This Book I hold in my hand, there’s none like it in the earth. It is incomparable. Not in all literature, whether it be Greek, or Roman, or Hindu, or Chinese, or American, or English, in all literature there is nothing like this Book out of which I preach. How could such a book be written? Where did it come from? It came out of the simple, humble experiences of these who met Jesus raised from the dead. For example, the twenty-fourth chapter, the last chapter of Luke, Renan, the French critic says that that’s the greatest story in human speech. It’s the greatest story ever written. The story, you remember, is of the two disciples walking to Emmaus and suddenly the Lord is walking by their side [Luke 24:13-15]. Any critic of literature will say to you that it is impossible for human genius to write a story whereby the omnipotent God and the man, made of the dust of the earth [Genesis 2:7], are conversing in a manner that sounds normal and reasonable.
For example, you can read about the gods in Homer and it sounds wooden, it’s impossible. Or you can read about Hamlet’s ghost in Shakespeare, and it’s abnormal. It’s something that belongs to a wild imagination. But you read it here in the Bible, the risen God [Luke 24:5-7], and a common man [Luke 24:13-31], and it is tenderly, sweetly, natural and beautiful, and precious, and encouraging, and everything dear. That’s the marvel of the literary presentation of the blessed gospel of Christ written in that Book.
And a seventh one, a fact: the experience that we have in our own human lives. I stand every morning and sit every morning and many times late at night in my library; there at the parsonage I have several thousand volumes in my library. And as I stand there or sit there, all of those testimonies by men of God who through the centuries have written concerning the living Lord—Justin Martyr, Eusebius, Tertullian, Pyrenaeus, in the passing of time, Savonarola, Hubmaier, Huss, John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and up to our present day these great commentaries, Joseph Parker, Alexander MacLaren, the marvelous sermons of Charles Haddon Spurgeon—I live in that world of the testimony of these great men of God to the living Christ. Then the world in which our life and lot are cast; preachers from one side of our globe to the other, standing as I am today, exalting the name of our Lord, and the missionaries and the humble people in their homes, all of them praising God for the gift of life in Christ Jesus. He lives today. He is alive today, and we can walk with Him, and talk with Him, and pray to Him, and feel His blessing upon our souls and upon our lives. It’s an experiential fact!
May I demonstrate that? I kneel before Alexander the Great, or I kneel before Julius Caesar, and I pray, “O Alexander the Great,” or “O Julius Caesar, come help me! Forgive me my sins!” It sounds ridiculous. It’s inane. Or I bow in another category, in another world, and I bow my knee and I say, “O Marcus Aurelius! O William Shakespeare! Come and help me and forgive me my sins.” It is without meaning. It is inane. Well, maybe I’m an American and I need to readdress my supplication. So I bow and say, “O George Washington, the father of our country!” or “O Abraham Lincoln,” who was assassinated for freedom, “you come and help me and forgive me my sins.” It is unthinkable and unimaginable.
But you watch me. Fred, I want you to come down there and kneel; right down there. Jody, I want you to come right down there and kneel by his side. I want to kneel between you. Our Lord Jesus! Precious Savior, who died for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], who was raised for our justification [Romans 4:25], that we might someday find entrance into heaven; our Lord, bless Jody, my yokefellow, as he presides over the teaching of the Word of God, as he directs our ministries here in our dear church, and as he brings to the Lord Jesus these little children and these young people, taught in the way of the Lord. Bless Jody, I pray.
And our Lord, how we thank You for Fred, standing up here in God’s pulpit, leading our people in the praises of the Lord. And we thank You Lord for those presentations of the life of Jesus and pray for it this afternoon and tonight, that the Holy Spirit will guide it and will make it a blessing to the people. And through them, Lord, may God’s holy presence be felt in all of our hearts. And help me, precious Lord, to be a worthy servant of Christ and to be used of the Holy Spirit of Jesus to bring many to a saving faith in Him. Thank You, Lord, for answered prayer, in Thy precious name, amen. God love you boys.
What do you think? Was it fitting that I called upon the name of the Lord Jesus on my face, on my knees? How absurd that I would call on the name of an Alexander, or a Caesar, or an Aurelius, or a Shakespeare, or any other name named among men. But how fitting, how appropriate that in any hour of need, in any appeal for help, that I fall on my face before Jesus our Lord, and call on Him to stand by my side, and to answer my supplications, and to be to my family and to my church and to my people, health, and strength, and encouragement, and salvation now and to the end of this pilgrim way.
This is something that you can experience. I am not preaching about something strange and far off. I am talking about something that can bless your heart and your life every step of the day and every moment of the way. He is a wonderful Savior [2 Peter 3:18; 1 John 4:14]. He is alive [Hebrews 7:25]. He was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:5-7], and He is in heaven [Acts 1:9-11], coming someday to take from this earth His sweet and precious own [1 Thessalonians 4:13-17].
And that is our invitation to you. All of you who have listened on television, this is Easter Day. This is resurrection day and what more glorious moment could there be than that this day you give your heart in faith to the Lord Jesus [Romans 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:8]. On the screen you will find a telephone number. There will be a counselor, a godly man or woman, to answer that phone. You call and if you want to know how to accept Christ as your Savior, call that number. It will be the highest joy of our lives to point the way to heaven to you, and someday I will walk with you on those golden streets. Do it now.
And to the great throng of people in this sanctuary, this day, publicly, openly, unashamedly, to give your heart to God through Christ Jesus, come and stand by me. To come into the fellowship of the church, to answer the call of the Holy Spirit in your heart, on the first note of the first sentence of the first stanza, come! “This is God’s day for me, and, pastor, here I am!” Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.