Christ and Death
March 31st, 1972 @ 12:00 PM
CHRIST AND DEATH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-31-72 12:00 p.m.
This will close the fifty-third year that we have held these pre-Easter services in a downtown theater, and the theme for this year has been “Christ and Contemporary Crises,” our Lord in His meaningful presence and message to us today. On Monday it was Christ and the State, Christ and Politics, government; and on Tuesday it was Christ and War; and on Wednesday it was Christ and Modern Science. Yesterday it was Christ and Communism, the greatest challenge and confrontation that Christianity has ever faced: the communist menace that threatens to overspread the whole world. And now, today, the last message on the day He was crucified: Christ and our Last Enemy – Death. In the Revelation:
I heard a great voice behind me, as of a trumpet,
Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last,
And I turned to see the voice that spake unto me, And being turned, I saw seven golden lampstands;
And in the midst of the seven lampstands One like unto the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the breast with a golden girdle.
His head and His hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and His eyes were as a flame of fire;
His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and His voice as the sound of many waters.
He had in His right hand seven stars; and out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword: and His countenance was of the sun shining in his strength.
And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead; And He laid His right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the First and the Last:
I am He that liveth, and was dead: and, behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen; and I, I have the keys of hell and of death.
And I, I have the keys of death and of the grave.
Christ and our last enemy, death: it is beyond our thinking and beyond our imagination, the heights of the glory from which He came, down to the depths of the shame of His death. Paul expressed it in inspired language in the second chapter of Philippians: “Christ, our Lord Messiah,” the pre-incarnate Christ, “who, being in the form of God, the morphos of God” – whatever the morphos, the form of God is, Christ was that –
Who, being in the morphos of God, thought it not a thing to be seized, to be grasped, to be held onto, to be equal with God;
But poured Himself out, and made Himself of no reputation, and was made in the likeness of a servant, of a slave.
And being found in fashion as a man, He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Down, and down, and down, and down He came from the heights of glory. He who was the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, down and down and down He came until He became a man made of the dust of the ground. Yea, a slave, poor among the poor; yea, to die, even the death of a criminal, of a malefactor, of a traitor, on the cross; crucified between two thieves [Matthew 27:38], raised between the heaven and the earth as though both refused Him; rejected of God, despised of men, cursed and abused. And as though abuse were not vile enough they covered Him with spittle [Matthew 27:30]. And as though spittle were not contentious enough, they plucked out His beard [Isaiah 50:6]. And as though to pluck out His beard were not brutal enough, they crowned Him with thorns [Matthew 27:29]. And as though the thorns were not sharp enough, they drove in great nails [Matthew 27:35]. And as though the nails did not pierce deeply enough, they opened His side with a Roman spear [John 19:34]. It was earth’s darkest day. It was humanity’s darkest hour.
Tread softly around the cross, for Jesus is dead. He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit [John 19:30], and died like a man dies. The head that was so beautifully, worshipfully anointed by Mary of Bethany [Luke 7:37-38] is bowed in silent death. And the very lips that spake the words that called forth Lazarus from the grave [John 11:43-44] is still and silent. The eyes that wept in compassion over Jerusalem [Luke 19:44] is glazed in death. The hands that blessed little children [Mark 10:16] are nailed to a tree. And the feet that walked on the blue waters of Galilee [Matthew 14:25-27] are fastened to a cross. And the heart that bled and loved the world is broken and ruptured, and the encrimson of His blood spills out on the ground. He is dead!
The mob looked at Him, and dispersing said, “He is dead.” And the passers-by, pausing to look for just a moment, went on down the road saying, “He is dead.” And the Sadducees, congratulating themselves upon the encompassment of their enemy, returned to their coffers in the temple, saying to one another, “He’s dead.” And the Pharisees, speaking in gloating victory over an enemy for whom they paid for betrayal, said, “At last, He is dead.” And the centurion wrote out his official report to the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate and wrote, “He is dead.” And the soldiers who came to break His legs said, “No need to wield the mallet against the central figure, for He is so certainly dead” [John 19:32-33]. And Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus his friend, went to Pilate and begged for the body, saying, “He is dead” [John 19:38-39].
Mary, His mother and Mary Magdalene and the other women who followed Him to the cross [John 19:25], wept in His presence, crying, “He is dead.” And the eleven apostles, like frightened sheep crawling into eleven shadows said to one another, “He is dead.” And Cleopas on the road to his home in Emmaus, said to the Stranger who walked by his side, “He is dead” [Luke 24:13-20]. The sorrowful refrain was repeated from heart to heart and mouth to mouth, whether in upper rooms, or behind closed doors, or on lonely roads, or in hiding places, “He is dead.” All the hopes, and dreams, and visions we’ve ever had, for us, our people, our nation, the world, turned into dust and ashes. He is dead. The light of the world has flickered out. The hope of mankind has perished.
Peter the rock is a rock no more. He’s in abject despair. James and John, the sons of Boanerges, “the sons of thunder,” are now thundering no more. They’re cast down to the dust of the ground. And Simon the Zealot is a zealot no more. The apostles, the disciples are in abysmal despair, “He is dead, buried, sealed in a tomb, and a guard stands there before it [Matthew 27:66]. He is so certainly dead.”
Then one day – one glorious day, one triumphant day, one Lord’s Day, one Sunday’s day – men stood dead in their tracks! Like liquid fire, the word leaps from heart to heart and mouth to mouth, “An angel says He is alive. He is alive” [Matthew 28:5-7]. Mary Magdalene says, “I have seen the Lord” [John 20:18]. Cleopas from Emmaus says, “He was known to me in the breaking of bread” [Luke 24:30-31]. And soon Peter the rock is standing in and filling Jerusalem with the bold announcement, “He, the Christ, has been raised from the dead! [Acts 2:32-33]. He is alive. He is alive!”
Down through every by-path in Judea, and along the shores of the blue Galilee, and around the coast of the great Mediterranean, and on the road to Athens, and to Rome, and to London, and to New York, and to Dallas, and to all of the world, the glorious announcement of the evangel: “Christ is alive!” Forevermore, He is come back to rule and to reign over the hearts and the nations and the kingdoms of men. Lift up your heads, ye sorrowing ones, lift up your very heart. Earth’s Calvary’s day and earth’s Easter day, earth’s saddest day and earth’s gladdest day is just one day apart. “He is alive. He lives.”
And the very cross on which He died has become a symbol of triumph and of victory. The bitter seed has borne a glorious and marvelous fruit. Each point of that crown of thorns is a brilliant in His diadem. The very blood that poured out from His side makes purple the royal robes that He wears. The very nails, the iron of the spear, are now fashioned into the rod of iron that shall rule the nations of the world. His cross is but a sign of His humanity, His identity with us. The Calvary on which He was crucified is the most sacred spot on the face of God’s earth. And the insignia of His conquest is In hoc siqno vinces, "This is the sign to conquer"; the cross of Christ, the empty tomb, and our Messiah Lord Jesus, who is alive.
Now, if He is alive He must be somewhere; where is He? Were there ten thousand men in the Roman Empire who saw Him raised from the dead, and were there testimonies written down by Josephus and by Tacitus and by Suetonius in their chronicles and annals, their corroborated testimony would not be as pertinent and as vibrant as the testimony we have today that Jesus is alive. He is a living Lord; He is a reigning Savior.
Well if so, where is He and what does He do? I find the corroboration of the resurrection, the life, the living Lord, I find it in many ways. One, I find it in our prayers for healing. I may not believe in divine healers, but I believe in divine healing. And by the bedside of God only knows how many of my people through forty-five years as a pastor, have I knelt and prayed for divine healing. I know that He lives in answered prayer. Bowing before Him, pleading, importuning, interceding, He bows down His ear from heaven and hears His children when they pray.
I know that He lives in the power of the regenerating Spirit that converts our hearts and saves our souls. As He saved Simon Peter and the sainted apostle John – as He saved Ignatius, and Polycarp, and Papias, and Savonarola, and John Huss, and John Knox, and John Wesley, and John Calvin – and as He saved L. R. Scarborough and George W. Truett, so He saves us today. We have felt the presence, the living presence and the cleansing power of the hand and heart and regenerating Spirit of the living Christ!
Happy day, happy day,
When Jesus washed my sins away.
He taught me how to watch and pray,
And live rejoicing every day.
Happy day, happy day,
When Jesus washed my sins away.
[from “O Happy Day”; Philip Doddridge, 1755]
I know Him as a living Christ when I was saved, and thank Him and rejoice in Him happily forever.
I know Him as alive in the presence of our churches. “And I saw One like unto the Son of Man, standing in the midst of the seven golden lampstands” [Revelation 1:13], Jesus among His people, Jesus in His churches. Why, I have felt His presence as though I could touch Him ten thousand times! And I have worshipped in the name of Christ in His churches. And I know Him as the living Lord, who in promise, and in faith, and in triumph, and in glory, is coming again.
Lo! He comes on clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending,
Swell the triumph of His train:
God appears on earth to reign,
[from “Lo! He Comes With Clouds Descending”; John Cennick/Charles Wesley, 1758]
And He says, “I, I have the keys of the grave and of death” [Revelation 1:18]. Lest anyone think those keys are in the possession of some other hands, the Lord avows to His sainted disciple and to us, “I have the keys of the grave and of death.” We shall not die until He wills. Our lives are in His sovereign hands, and as long as He wills, our lives are immortal and shall be until our task is done and our work is finished. And when that hour comes, it will be no other hand but His who turns the key and opens the door through death into the glory that is yet to come.
The Christian no longer dies; for death has been robbed of its sting and the grave of its victory [1 Corinthians 15:55-57], and the Christian now but enters through the gates of death into and through the gates of glory. “I have the keys of the grave and of death” [Revelation 1:18]. And we are in His sovereign purpose, both in this life and in the hour of our death, and in the life that is yet to come. “Wherefore,” He said to the sainted apostle, “Fear not, fear not, I have the keys in My hand. Do not be afraid” [Revelation 1:17-18].
In our church and in our Sunday school was a little primary girl; she became ill, and the doctor said would die. And as the mother sat by the bed, the little child, approaching the end of life and the beginning of death, began to go blind. And she cried piteously to her mother, “Oh, Mother! It is getting dark, it is getting dark, and I’m afraid, Mother. Come closer, come closer. I am afraid. It’s getting dark.” And the mother replied, “Sweet child, Jesus is with us in the dark just as He is with us in the light. Don’t be afraid.”
“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]. “Fear not, for I have the keys of death and of the grave” [Revelation 1:17-18]. First the cross, then the crown; first the pilgrimage, the travail we know in this life, then the glory of the life God hath in store for us in heaven.
O precious cross! O glorious crown!
O resurrection day!
The angels from the stars come down,
And bear my soul away.
[from “Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?”; Thomas Shepherd, 1693]
Christ and our last enemy, death [1 Corinthians 15:26]; triumphant, victorious [1 Corinthians 15:55-57]; for us in His name, in His resurrection forever and ever, amen.
And blessed Savior may this Easter be to us ten thousand times meaningful because of the promise, and the hope, and the victory our Lord has won for us in the regions of death, in the valley of the shadow. And now, without fear, we face that last and final enemy, knowing that Christ has won for us that ultimate victory. And death now is just God’s open door into the heaven He has prepared for those who love Him [John 14:1-3]; in His Spirit, in His grace, in His love, in His name, amen.
CHRIST AND DEATH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Revelation 1:10-18, Philippians 2:6-8
I. The cross – the descent of Christ
A. The immeasurable distance between the heaven of His glory and the shame of His death
1. Became a man made of the dust of the ground; a slave, poor among the poor
2. Died the death of a criminal, rejected of God, despised of men, cursed and abused
3. Earth’s saddest day; humanity’s darkest hour
B. Tread softly around the cross, for Jesus is dead
1. "He is dead."
a. The mob dispersing
b. The Pharisees and Sadducees
c. The Roman centurion sending official word to Pilate(John 19:32-33)
d. Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus asking for the body(John 19:38-39)
e. Mary, His mother and the other women weeping
f. The apostles hiding in the shadows
g. The two on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-20)
h. The sorrowful refrain wherever His followers met
2. Indescribable heartache
II. The crown – the exaltation of Christ
A. One glorious day men stood dead in their tracks – like liquid fire the word leaps from mouth to mouth, heart to heart, "He is alive!"
1. An angel, Mary Magdalene, Cleopas, Peter(John 20:18, Luke 24:30-31)
2. Up and down every path in Judea, along the shores of Galilee, on the coasts of the Mediterranean, on the road to Rome and to all the world
B. How close together the cross and the crown
1. Bitter seed brought forth beautiful flower
2. Cross itself a symbol of faith and hope
III. Evidence He is alive today
A. Healing presence
B. Saving power
1. Hymn, "O Happy Day"
C. He walks in grace and blessing among His churches(Revelation 1:13)
1. Hymn, "Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending"
IV. He holds the keys of the grave and of death(Revelation 1:18)
A. We shall not die until He wills
B. Death no longer death to the Christian
1. Little girl dying, "It’s getting darkâ€¦I am afraidâ€¦" – her mother replied, "Jesus is with us in the dark just as He is in the lightâ€¦"(Psalm 23:4)
2. Hymn, "Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?"