If A Man Dies, Shall He Live Again?
April 9th, 1993 @ 12:00 PM
IF A MAN DIE, SHALL HE LIVE AGAIN?
Dr. W.A. Criswell
4-09-93 12:00 p.m.
The last message this morning may be just a little tiny bit longer, and if so, why, you patiently listen as we bring the series to this climax: If A Man Die, Shall He Live Again? The question I would think is as old as the first grave; asked in sorrow, in grief, in tears, in hope, in fear, in disappointment: If A Man Die, Shall He Live Again?
Did you ever notice that the great monuments of the earth are dedicated to death? One of the seven wonders, the Pyramids: death. The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus: death even took the name of the king Mausolus and made it a place, a mausoleum for death. St. Peter’s in Rome: over the grave of the apostle. St. Paul’s in Rome: over the grave of the apostle. If you’ve ever been to Paris, one of the tremendous monuments in all France, to Napoleon Bonaparte. Many of you have been to Westminster Chapel in London; it is a place for the burial of the dead. Even in our own nation in Washington, there is the Jefferson Memorial; there is the Lincoln Memorial; there is the Washington Monument, all dedicated in the memory of one who is dead.
It is universal, you cannot escape it: no Hun, no Tartar, no Gaul, no Saracen ever was so decimating as death—without regard to the young, without pity for the poor, without thought for the aged, without consideration of the good and the true and the beautiful; the universal decimation of death.
So Job wrote in the fourteenth chapter of his book. After the death, and standing by the graves of his ten children, Job wrote:
Man who is born of woman is a few days, and full of trouble.
He comes forth like a flower, and fades away: he flees like a shadow, and does not continue.
There is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it will sprout again, that its tender shoots will not cease.
Though its root may grow old in the earth, and its stump may die in the ground;
Yet at the scent of water it will bud and bring forth branches like a plant.
But man dies, and is laid away. He breathes his last and where is he?
As waters disappear from the sea, and as a river becomes parched and dries up;
So man lies down, and does not rise . . .
As waters wear away stones, as torrents wash away the soil of the earth . . . so God destroys the hope of man.
You prevail forever against him, and he passes on. You change his countenance, and send him away.
His sons come to honor, and he doesn’t know it. They are brought low, he does not perceive it.
His flesh is in pain over it all . . .
Then the text: “If a man die, shall he live again?” [Job 14:14]. The finality of death is so tragically oppressive. Thus, Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 12: when the silver cord is loosed, and the golden bowl is broken, when the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel is broken at the cistern, man goes to his long home, and the mourners go about the street [Ecclesiastes 12:5-7].
So we look and peer into the night and into the darkness with wonder and without understanding. What is this? Death? The ancient civilization and the ancient cultures were unable to come up and forward with an answer. They just looked and observed. The hieroglyphics, the language of ancient Egypt, was unknown, undecipherable, untranslated until lately. Scholars for centuries and centuries just looked at it and wondered what it could reveal. When finally it was deciphered with the discovery of the Rosetta stone, the hieroglyphics of Egypt speak of death and the life and the world to come.
So with the cuneiform inscriptions in the ancient Chaldean language, looking at them for centuries and centuries, wondering what they might say. When finally, in modern times, we were able to decipher those cuneiform inscriptions, they spoke of death and of the world to come.
Thus, the Greek warrior was buried with his armor, and thus the painted American Indian was buried with his bow and arrow. He would need them in the world to come. The lowest tribes in Africa and the degraded Patagonians in southern South America had a hope beyond the grave, beyond death.
The centuries and the centuries and the changing cultures made no difference. That was still in the heart of man, a hope beyond the grave. Nor has rationalism and modern atheism and naturalism been able to take away that persuasion that there is something beyond the grave—there is life beyond death.
It is an amazing thing how, with all of the attacks of unbelief and infidelity, that conviction that there is life beyond death is still as regnant in the heart of the multitudes as it was with our first family [Genesis 4:8]. It doesn’t change.
One of the most unusual things I ever held in my hand, the dean of a university, a state university, brought me a book. It was written by a scientist, by a naturalist, by an unbeliever, by an infidel, a man who rejected everything and the promise of the gospel. And he turned to an addendum, to an epilogue in the last page of the book and said, “You read this.” And what the man had written, he said, “All the things that I have thus far printed seem to me to be true, but, since I have written them, my father and my mother have died and somehow, I cannot but believe that somewhere they are alive today.”
How do you explain that? All of the rationalism of a life devoted to so-called science yet, when father and mother are taken away, somehow, they still live in another place, in another life.
So it is, we peer into the darkness beyond the grave and we seek and long for a word of certainty and assurance. O God, where can we find it? The whisperings and the intimations and the probabilities that are spoken of by say, a poet, and the intimations of immortality, by a philosopher looking at the phenomenon of human life and persuasion, all of these things somehow don’t satisfy. There’s no conclusion in them. In the presence of death, when we wade through the teachings of natural religion and read the philosophies of these who are supposed to be advanced in the knowledge of human life, Lord God, is there not some certain and sure word of assurance?
Even the Old Testament, reading the sacred infallible revelations of the Old Testament, they still leave us with a longing for a revelation. When it says Enoch walked with God and was not [Genesis 5:24], what was it? When it says that Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven [2 Kings 2:11], then what? When Saul speaks to Samuel, called from the dead [1 Samuel 28:15], what is it? And even Daniel, concluding in this twelfth chapter his visions from heaven, even Daniel is told to seal it up unto the appointed time [Daniel 12:4]. What is this ultimate and final revelation for which our hearts so pray and for which our souls so long?
Sweet people, it is that Jesus our Lord is King and victor over death [1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Colossians 2:15]; that is the gospel; that is the surety, the assurance, the glorious message from heaven. Jesus is our assurance and our answer. “I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore and I, I have the keys of Hell and of Death.” [Revelation 1:18] Or as Paul wrote: “He hath vanquished, conquered death and has brought life and immortality to light” [2 Timothy 1:10]. Jesus, King over the grave; triumphant over death [1 Corinthians 15:54-57].
The old images of death used to be the River Styx, or the shades of sheol, or a skull and crossbones, or a plumed wing from the gloom of the night, or the darkness. Today, the sign, and insignia of death is the sunrise, Easter, songs of praise and glory, the stories of the angels, of heaven, of the Lord’s triumphant coming again.
Oh, how He has changed the defeat, and the agony, and the sorrow, and the tears of death! He says: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never ever die” [John 11:25-26].
What a triumphant avowal! He had the words of life [John 6:68]. He spoke a word and the daughter of Jairus was raised from the dead [Luke 8:41-42, 49, 50-55]. He spoke a word and the son of the widow of Nain lived again [Luke 7:11-15]. He spoke a word, “Come forth,” and Lazarus, dead for four days, lived again [John 11:39-44]. Our Lord is King over the death, over the grave and over the despondency and despair of human life.
So it is that death in Christ is now a going to be with Jesus. “Today,” He said to the dying thief, “Today thou shalt be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:42-43]; semeion, “this day you will be with Me in Paradise”; walking arm-in-arm down those golden streets, Jesus and a thief; what a triumph!
As Paul said: “Absent from the body, present with the Lord” [2 Corinthians 5:8]. Death now is a going to be with Jesus; what a rendezvous; what a meeting! Death now is going home, going home.
I am a stranger here,
Heaven is my home.
Earth is a desert drear,
Heaven is my home.
Sorrows and dangers stand
Round me on every hand,
Heaven is my fatherland.
Heaven is my home.
[“I’m But a Stranger Here,” Thomas R S. Taylor, 1836]
Death for a Christian is going home, “In My Father’s house are many mansions”—room for us all—”and I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go, I will come again, and take you unto Myself.” [John 14:2-3] Death is going home. Death is our door into glory. The fourth chapter of the Revelation begins: “I saw a door in heaven, and I heard a voice say, Come up hither” [Revelation 4:1]. “And there was no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither was there anymore pain: for these things are all passed away” [Revelation 21:4]. No wreaths on those mansions in glory. No funeral processions down those golden streets. And no cemeteries outside those jasper walls. Death is our door into heaven [2 Corinthians 5:8].
Death is our ultimate and final triumph. “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but to all them also who love His appearing” [2 Timothy 4:7-8]. Death now is our final triumph.
My latest sun is sinking fast,
My race is nearly run.
My trials now are past,
My triumph is begun.
Oh, come, angels, bear my soul away.
[“My Latest Sun is Sinking Fast,” Jefferson Hascall, 1860]
A triumph, a glory, Jesus is King over death [1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Colossians 2:15].
And last, Jesus has changed this death from decay and corruption into a quickened, and living, and immortalized, and glorified body. “It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown in natural body; it is raised a spiritual body” [1 Corinthians 15:42-44], made like unto that of our wonderful and living Lord.
Let me close. Do you ever sometimes wonder where we came from? Our families? Our inheritance? Our heritage? Our language? We? Do you ever wonder that? Let me take a little leaf out of the Venerable Bede: as Herodotus was the father of the history in the ancient world, so Bede, B-e-d-e, Bede, was the father of history of our English people. So the Venerable Bede writes about the Anglians—the Angles. When you take it down through the centuries and centuries, it comes out “England”; the Angles, the “English.” And up there in Northumbria, where a great throng of those Angles lived, up there in Northumbria the Christian preacher and missionary, Paulinus, goes to preach the gospel. And King Edwin is the leader and lord of those Angles up there, those Northumbrians, those English.
And he preaches to them the blessed gospel of the Lord Jesus. And after he has preached, he makes an earnest appeal that they give their hearts in faith and love to the Lord Jesus. And after he is done with his sermon and after he is done with his appeal, King Edwin, bows his head in deep contemplation, and as he sits there in that deep spirit of conviction and meditation, one of his aged warrior sages arises, and he says, “Around us lies the black land of death.”
Then he continues:
Athwart the room, a sparrow
Darts from the open door:
Within the happy hearthlight
One flash and then no more!
We see it come from darkness,
And into darkness go;
So as our life, King Edwin!
Alas, that it is so!
But if this pale Paulinus
Have somewhat more to tell;
Some news of Whence and Whither,
And where the soul will dwell;
If on that outer darkness
The sun of hope may shine;
He makes life worth living!
And I take His God for mine!
[“Edwin and Paulinus,” The Conversion of Northumbria; Venerable Bede]
That was the conversion according to the Venerable Bede. That was the conversion of our forefathers. That was the conversion of our English people, and that faith and hope is our rejoicing today; Jesus our Lord and King, triumphant over death and the grave [1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Colossians 2:15]. God be praised for His abounding promises to us! This life is but the introduction to the glorious heavenly life that is yet to come.
So may we stand?
Our Savior, at this season of the year, O God, what a triumph You brought to us on Good Friday, on Calvary, on the cross! [Matthew 27:32-50; Luke 23:33-46]. And what a glorious message, Easter; He is alive. He is alive! [Matthew 28:1-7; Luke 24:1-7]. And we shall share in that marvelous victory. We shall live again, transformed, immortalized, glorified, transfigured, this broken body made like unto that of the body of our blessed Savior [Philippians 3:21].
And we’ll live with Thee and one another world without end, forever and ever in our beautiful and heavenly home [John 14:2-3]. O God, thank You for the promise, and thank You for the glory, in Thy precious and wonderful name, amen.
IF A MAN DIE, SHALL HE LIVE AGAIN?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
The question of the ages
The bedrock of religion and faith
I. If we live in this life only, we are of all men most miserable
1. Christ is dead and not risen
2. Our preaching vain, our labor useless
3. Our faith is vain, we are yet in our sins
4. They which have fallen asleep in Christ have perished
II. If we live beyond death, we are of all men most blessed
1. Death destroyed, swallowed up in victory
2. Christ is risen and we shall be like Him
3. Heaven, the glory of the faith is ours
4. No labor for the Lord is vain