JESUS IS THE DESTROYER OF DEATH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 15:26
4-12-95 12:00 p.m.
In our speaking of the life of our Lord, “Who is Jesus?,” today it is, He is victor over death. Tomorrow: He is our great Friend and Intercessor in Heaven. And then climactically, on Friday: He is our coming King.
Our background text is in 1 Corinthians 15:25-26, “For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. And, the last enemy that will be destroyed is death.” The Old Testament calls death the king of terrors [Job 18:14]. And, as all of us are acutely aware, he is the last victor over each one of our lives. Every trail of human experience ends in the grave.
And even God in Christ called death an enemy [1 Corinthians 15:26]. It was not intended. When our Lord created our first parents in the garden of Eden [Genesis 1:27, 2:18, 21-23] it was His purpose that they live forever in the love and mercy of God. But in the fall of our first parents [Genesis 3:1-6], death came in as an intruder and as an interloper. It was not intended. And when it avows that death is the last enemy that God will destroy [1 Corinthians 15:26], that means it is not now. It is not yet. It is not today. But in God’s ultimate and infinite purpose the time is coming when death will be forever and completely destroyed.
The facet of death is interwoven in every life. I so vividly remember when I was a senior in the university, the great president, Samuel Palmer Brooks, died. And in the new building, Waco Hall, they had his memorial service. The university appointed an honor guard to stand by the casket. And I said to those authorities, “If you don’t mind, let me stand there.” So for several hours I stood at the head of the casket while the throngs and the throngs passed by. And that is a parable of my life. For sixty-eight following years I have stood and watched that column pass by, form, reform, but always passing by.
One of the most amazing pictures of human life is found in the sixth chapter of the Apocalypse, the Book of the Revelation. The seals are opened; that begins the Apocalypse. And when the first seal is opened, a white horse appears [Revelation 6:2]. And on it a young man in vigor, in youth, in triumph, conquering and to conquer, glorious, wonderful. Then the next seal is opened. And there appears a red horse with a sharpened sword dipped in blood [Revelation 6:3-4]. Then the next seal is opened and there is a black horse with a pair of balances, scales. And he is parting out the precious little amount of food that keeps a hungry world from starving [Revelation 6:5-6]. And the last seal, the next one; there is a pale horse, and the rider is named Death, and Hades and hell follow in his way. And he covers the earth with death [Revelation 6:7-8]. That is God’s picture of this planet upon which our lives are cast. And however we may choose to war against that final enemy [1 Corinthians 15:26], we find ourselves ignominiously and disastrously defeated.
If I say, “I will lock the gate, and he cannot enter in,” he comes in stealthily and sometimes unexpectedly. If I will say, “I will stand up and confront him,” I am cut down. And if I say, “I will take my strength and war against him,” my very flesh falls from the bone. And if I say, “I will search him out in the gloom of the night and destroy him,” I cannot see, for the sockets of my face have no eyes. And if I avow, “I will protect my loved ones from so vile and vicious and violent an enemy,” I see them rot before me.
I think one of the most poignant things I’ve ever read in my life is the experience of Abraham, dealing with the sons of Heth for the little mound of Machpelah and the big cave beneath. And in desperation Abraham says, “Do it now. Let me buy it now, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” Of whom is he talking? Of his beloved Sarah [Genesis 23:2-3, 7-9].
If I say, “I will flee to the mountains.” If I say, “I will hide in the hills.” If I say, “I will mingle in the city.” If I say, “I will go beyond in the ocean.” No matter where, what, when, or how, I inevitably meet that enemy of death. God called him an enemy [1 Corinthians 15:26].
As you know, for almost fifty years, I have traveled literally over every continent of this world. And one of the things that I see and have been sensitive to everywhere, the great tremendous monuments of mankind are not or to the despairing presence of death. Stand in Egypt before the Seven Wonders of the World; they are erected in which to bury the dead. Over there on the other side of the Mediterranean—destroyed now—in Halicarnassus, Mausolus built a glorious, world-famous monument called the Mausoleum, a name used all over the earth for a monument to the dead. Walking in the environments of Rome, there is Hadrian’s great tomb on the Appian Way, and the uncounted graves of those who are buried along that great tremendous highway. Go over to India in Agra, and there is absolutely one of the most amazing architectural creations in this earth, the Taj Mahal. And they call it a Teardrop of Shah Jahan. Come into the environments of Japan, and there in Nara are the great tombs of the emperors of that vast country. Come to Paris, and there, beautiful, the Invalides, in which is buried Napoleon Bonaparte. And across the isthmus into London, and the world-famed cathedral Westminster Abbey is dedicated to the dead of the British Empire. And here, even in America, outside the city of Washington is the tomb of George and Martha Washington. And inside the city, that great Washington monument, built in memory of the dead.
All except one. In these years gone by, another minister and I were sent around the world by the Foreign Mission Board of our Southern Baptist Convention. And in Jerusalem, an Arab leader said to me, “Would you like for me to come by and call for you at dawn in the morning, and I’ll take you to the tomb of our Lord Jesus Christ?” Empty! There’s nobody in it.
I, in those days, reading my Greek New Testament, the two of us, where an angel stood there and an angel stood here [John 20:11-12], I opened my Greek New Testament and read the twenty-eighth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, the story of the resurrection of our glorious Lord [Matthew 28:1-7]. And that resurrection and the ministry of our precious Savior is the assurance of our ultimate defeat of death [Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 15:54-57]. You find it in His presence on the top of the mountain. There spoke with Him Moses [Deuteronomy 34:5-6], and Elijah about the decease of our Lord in Jerusalem [Luke 9:30-31]. Why those two? Moses represented those that are buried [1 Thessalonians 4:16], and Elijah [2 Kings 2:11] represented those that are raptured when our Lord comes again [1 Thessalonians 4:17], a great marvelous triumph.
Not only assured in His presence, but also in His words; said to the daughter of Jairus, Talitha cumi, “Damsel, arise” [Mark 5:41]. Said to the son of the widow of Nain, “Young man, stand up” [Luke 7:14]. And said to Lazarus, who’d been dead four days [John 11:39], “Lazarus, come forth” [John 11:43]. The assurance of our victory over death; His presence [Romans 8:11], His words [John 11:25], and His incomparable triumphant resurrection [Matthew 28:1-7]. Great God! How do you frame in words the meaning of that victory over the grave?
Up from the grave He arose;
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes;
He arose the victor over that dark domain,
And He lives forever with His saints to reign.
He arose! Hallelujah, Christ arose!
[“Up From the Grave He Arose,” Robert Lowry]
And the ultimate victory is described for us in the last book of the Bible.
Revelation 1:18, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last. I am He that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive forevermore. . .And I, I have the keys of Death and of Hell” [Revelation 1:8, 18]. The things that happen to us in this life are in the purview and will of the Son of God, “I have the keys of Death” [Revelation 1:18]. And of course, the ultimate and final victory, “And there was no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying: for these things are all passed away” [Revelation 21:4]. And that’s the way the Bible closes: the triumph of our Lord over death.
Let me take just a moment, for the time is already passed. I copied from a letter of Benjamin Franklin the first paragraph:
Dear precious family,
It is the will of God that these mortal bodies be laid aside, when the soul is to enter the real life.
Then, I copied from the last paragraph of that wonderful letter:
Our friend and I were invited aboard on a party of pleasure, which is to last forever. His chair was ready first, and he is gone before. We could not all conveniently start together. Why should you and I be grieved at this, since we are soon to follow, and we know where to find him? Till then, Adieu,
February 23, 1756.
His friend had died, but that was only because he was first in the chair to be welcomed aboard of that life of glory. And he was soon to follow after. Death is an enemy, but conquered by our Lord.
My heavenly home is bright and fair.
And I feel like traveling on.
No harm or death can enter there
And I feel like traveling on.
Oh, the Lord has been so good to me
I feel like traveling on.
Until those mansions I can see.
I feel like traveling on.
[“I Feel Like Traveling On,” William Hunter]
My home is not here, it is there [John 14:1-3]. Our beautiful city is not here, it is there [Revelation 21:2-3]. And, my reward is not here, it is there [Revelation 22:12]. God be praised for the victory He has won for us in the defeat of death! [1 Corinthians 15:55-57].
Now may we stand together? And, good pastor, you come and lead our benediction.
Father, we love You today. We thank You that, because You live, those of us who placed our faith and trust in You will live again, also [John 11:25-26]. You are our blessed hope: Your glorious appearing [Titus 2:3]. In Jesus’ name, amen.
THE DESTROYER OF DEATH
Death, king of terrors (Job 18:14)
Every trail of human experience ends in the grave
God in Christ called death an enemy
not intended – an interloper
Death the last to be destroyed – not yet, not today, but in God’s ultimate
purpose the time is coming
II. The facet of death interwoven in every
Samuel Palmer Brooks
seals opened at the Apocalypse (Revelation 6:2-8)
battle we cannot win(Genesis 23:4)
Through the centuries, men have erected their greatestmonuments to the despair
All except one – the garden tomb
III. Our assurance of victory over death in
His person(Matthew 17:1-3)
In His words (Mark 5:35-43, Luke 7:11-17, John
In His resurrection
In His final and ultimate victory (Revelation
2. Hymn, “I Feel Like