THE TRIUMPH OF CHRIST OVER DEATH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 15:55
4-11-90 12:00 p.m.
[I am so thankful for the] wonderful First Baptist Academy – the most reverential listeners I have ever spoken to in all of my life. Remember, this is your busy lunch hour, and if you have to leave in the middle of a sentence, in the middle of a syllable, we all understand; you’ll not bother me or anyone else at all. The services will last thirty minutes each day from 12:00 until 12:30. The theme this year is The Triumphant Christ, The Triumph of Christ. Monday: Over Satan; yesterday: Over Sin and Hell; tomorrow: Over the World. "In the world ye shall have tribulation," our Lord avowed, "but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" [John 16:33]. On Friday: The Triumph of Our Lord on the Cross. And today: The Triumph of Christ over Death. All of the messages are out of the tremendous fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians. Verse 55:
O Death, where is thy sting?
O Grave, where is thy victory?
Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
[1 Corinthians 15:55, 57]
The visage of death is terrible beyond description. The eighteenth chapter of the Book of Job calls death "the king of terrors" [Job 18:13-14]. You have never seen a picture of death. The newspaper will present stories of violence. The TV and the screen at the movie house will tell stories of tragedy, of turmoil, of trouble, of conflict, of death; but you have never seen a picture of death in your life. It’s never in the newspaper. It’s never in the movie. It’s never on the screen of television. They will cover over the figure of death with a sheet, and you never look underneath that sheet. Never. It is a horrible visage.
You see it also in a funeral service. The mortician does his best, and the beautician is brought in with his or her enablements and gifts in order to cover over the terrible visage of death; and we add to it flowers and all else to cover over that terrible king of terrors.
When Abraham spoke to the sons of Heth about Machpelah, a cave in which he was seeking to bury his wife, he said to the sons of Heth, "Give me this cave at a price that I may bury my dead out of my sight" [Genesis 23:4]. Of whom is he speaking? Of his beloved wife, Sarah, "that I may cast her from my visage" [Genesis 23:2-4].
The Bible, in this fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, calls death an enemy. God calls death an enemy. The twenty-sixth verse: "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" [1 Corinthians 15:26]. Death is an enemy; it was never intended. Death is an intruder. It is an interloper. God never meant for death to crown and to end the life of the man that he made [Romans 5:12-19].
I have often wondered – have you? – what Adam and Eve thought when the Lord said, "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" [Genesis 2:17]. Did they know what death was? Not until after they had fallen. The Lord slew animals; and they looked upon the blood poured out, and their nakedness was covered with the skins of those animals [Genesis 3:21]. Not ’til then did they know what death was. And can you imagine the horror and the sorrow when they looked upon the dead body of Abel who had been slain by Cain [Genesis 4:8]?
Our Lord came into the world to conquer death, to be victor over the grave. In the second chapter of the Book of Hebrews, He entered the domain of death that He might destroy him who had the power of death [Hebrews 2:14-15]. What that means is a mystery beyond our comprehension and understanding. In 1 Peter chapter , there is a passage concerning the descent of our Lord into the dark realm of death and the grave [1 Peter 3:18-20], but the passage itself is more disputed than any other one I know in the Bible. There is something of a mystery about the descent of our Lord into the realm of death to grapple there with "him who has the power of death," Satan [Hebrews 2:14]; into which we cannot enter.
But the other part of the triumph is most visible and most glorious. As 2 Timothy 1 says, "Our Lord died that He might bring life and immortality to light" [2 Timothy 1:10]; and His ministry was just that. When John the Baptist wanted to know if He were the real Messiah, He sent word back to the Baptist preacher, "Tell him that the dead are raised" [Luke 7:22]. In the presence of death, Jesus was always victor. He raised the daughter of Jairus [Mark 5:22-23, 35-43; Luke 8:41-42, -56]. He raised the son of the widow of Nain [Luke 7:11-17], and all of the Gospels recount in minutiae, in detail, the glorious resurrection of our Lord [Matthew 28:1-20; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-53; John 20:1-21:25].
What does that mean in the Christian faith and in the Christian message? For the world, death is a despair. It’s a defeat. It’s a burial. However the existentialist philosopher may say, he ultimately faces the end of life in death and to him it has no meaning. To those outside of God and outside of Christ, the horror of the judgment of the eternity to come is beyond description [Luke 13:28; Revelation 14:9-11, 20:11-15, 21:8].
Can you imagine in my place having a funeral service for someone who is lost? What do you say? I have gone to funeral services and listened to preachers who speak of the man as now entering the gates of heaven. I can’t do that; my conscience will not allow me. This man refused the overtures of the grace of God, and he’s dead, and he faces an eternity without Christ. Then what? What do you say at a memorial service for someone who is not saved? What do you say? In the Bible, there is a dramatic presentation and picture of this awful trial we all, somewhere, sometime, will face: death.
In one of the great museums of the world, I looked at a picture. It was entitled, "The Race of Death," and there was a large track and a young man on a horse in the race; and he was being followed by death – skull, bones, a pale horseman – like the sixth chapter of the Revelation [Revelation 6:8]. John, in the Apocalypse, sees first a white horse, and the rider is triumphant [Revelation 6:1-2]. That’s youth, vigor, conquest and victory. But that horse is followed by a red horse with a sword dipped in blood [Revelation 6:4], followed by a black horse [Revelation 6:5-6], and that followed by the pale horse with a sign: death [Revelation 6:8].
This is the glorious message of our Savior: He came into the world to destroy death. And in the second chapter again of the Book of Hebrews, the author avows, "Our Lord tasted death for every man" [Hebrews 2:9]. That is, He is Lord over the dominion of death just as He is Lord over the dominion of life and the eternity that is yet to come.
You remember the eighteenth verse of the first chapter of the Revelation? "I am the First and the Last. I am He that liveth, and was dead, and behold . . . I have the keys of death and of hell, of the grave" [Revelation 1:17-18]. Our Lord is Lord over the grave, over death, just as He is Lord over life and over the world of the eternity that is yet to come.
It is so meaningful to me when I read of the transfiguration of our Lord. There appeared unto Him Moses and Elijah speaking to Him about His exodus, about His decease, which He should accomplish in Jerusalem [Matthew 17:3; Mark 9:4; Luke 9:29-31]. Moses was buried [Deuteronomy 34:5-6]; he represents those who will be resurrected [1 Corinthians 15:52; 2 Thessalonians 4:16]. And Elijah was raptured [2 Kings 2:11-12]; he represents those who will be alive at the coming of our Savior [2 Thessalonians 4:17]. Both – whether we die or whether we are raptured – we are brought alive into the presence of Jesus, our Lord [1 Thessalonians 4:13-17]. And that is the exact passage here: "O death, where is thy sting?" [1 Corinthians 15:55a] That’s the rapture who will never die. "O grave, where is thy victory?" [1 Corinthians 15:55b] That’s the resurrection of those who fall into the arms of death before Jesus comes again.
He is triumphant over death and the grave. Death to us now is but an entrance to the portals of heaven. It’s like the ship loose from the harbor; it’s like the chariot of grace caught upward. It’s like the voice calling to us from the sky; it’s like the opening of the doors of glory.
Sweet people, I have said this before, and I avow it again. All of my life – I started my ministry when I was 17 years old, and I’m in my eighty-first year now – all of my life I have preached what a glorious thing to meet Jesus, to walk into the courts of heaven, to mingle with the hosts of glory, the angels of God. Sweet people, when time comes for me to die, I don’t want that hospital and those doctors and nurses and physicians putting all kinds of gadgets on me: all of those pumps and lines and bottles and, world without end, trying to add another moment to my life as though it were a horror to die, as though it were a tragedy to meet my Lord, as though to walk into heaven was the greatest sorrow the human heart could ever experience.
My brother, my sister, my young friend, that will be the greatest triumph of my life when I see Jesus face-to-face [2 Timothy 4:6-8]; and when that time comes, I’m ready to go. As long as I have health, and strength, and an assignment by which I can magnify His name in the earth, God give me strength to do it well [Philippians 1:19-26]. But when the task is finished and God says it’s enough, I want to go to be with Jesus.
As I said, I began preaching when I was a teenager, and I was pastor of little country churches for those beginning years of my pastoral work. So poignantly do I remember a young woman with pneumonia; and in those days before antibiotics, if you had pneumonia, you died. It was a sentence of death. Way back on a farm, back, back, back, way back on a farm, this young woman was dying of pneumonia, and they asked me to come.
I entered the house, sat by the bed, and she said to me, "Would you read to me out of the Bible?" And I read to her the twenty-third Psalm: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me . . ." [Psalm 23:4]; and I read to her the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, "In my Father’s house are many mansions . . . " [John 14:2]. When I got through reading the Bible, she said, "Would you sing me a song?" And the best I knew how I sang "In the Sweet By-and-By." Then she said, "Would you pray for my release?" And I bowed my head, and I prayed that God would open for her the gates of heaven. When I had done praying, she sank into a deep coma and died.
That’s the Christian commitment and hope and persuasion and belief and gospel message:
O precious cross! O glorious crown!
O resurrection day!
Ye angels, from the stars come down,
And bear my soul away.
["Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?" by Thomas Shepherd, 1693]
THE TRIUMPH OF CHRIST OVER DEATH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 15:55
I. Death a terrible visage(Job 18:14)
A. TV, movies – murder, violence, but never see the results
B. The skill of the mortician
C. Abraham seeking a place to bury body of Sarah (Genesis 23:8-9)
D. God calls death an enemy – it was never intended (1 Corinthians 15:26)
1. Did Adam and Eve know what death was?(Genesis 2:17)
II. Purpose of the coming of Christ – to destroy death
A. Theme presented over and over again in Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:25-26, 2 Timothy 1:10, Hebrews 2:14-15, 1 Peter 3:18-22)
B. His ministry of triumph(Matthew 11:3-5, Mark 5:41-42, Luke 7:14-15, John 11:39-44)
C. All four Gospels describe His glorious resurrection(Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20, 21)
III. The results in the faith and life of the Christian
A. For the world, death a dread and a terror
1. Philosophical, existentialist despair
2. Horror of awaiting judgment (Hebrews 10:29)
B. For the Christian death is a triumph(1 Corinthians 15:55)
1. He is Lord over the dominion of death as over the dominion of life(Hebrews 2:9, Revelation 1:18)
2. Moses and Elijah present at the transfiguration(Luke 9:30-31)
a. Moses represents those who have fallen asleep in Jesus
b. Elijah represents those who will be alive at the return of our Lord(2 Kings 2:11, 1 Corinthians 15:51-53, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)
IV. Death is the portal through which we enter heaven
A. Only way to enter is through door of death (1 Corinthians 15:50, Exodus 33:20, Revelation 22:1-2)
2. Young woman dying, "Would you read the Bibleâ€¦sing a songâ€¦pray for my final release?"