Series: Great Doctrines

The pastor speaks this morning upon the subject When the Christian Dies, and our reading is in the eleventh chapter of the Book of John.  And if you’d like to turn to it, it is not an exegesis.  It is a basis for this sermon.  The eleventh chapter of the Book of John, reading from the eleventh to the thirteenth and then from the twenty-third through the twenty-sixth verses.  John 11:

Jesus saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.

Then said His disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. –

Being sick, if he could relax and sleep and rest, that’s fine, Lord.  That’s good –

Howbeit Jesus spake of His death: but they thought that He had spoken of taking of rest in sleep.

Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. [John 11:11-14]

Now the twenty-third verse:

Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.

Martha saith unto Him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.

Jesus said unto her, 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 die.  [John 11:23-26]

It is early in life that we are introduced to that ghastly enemy, the pale horseman – death [Revelation 6:8].  If any of you have ever, if any of you have ever visited Chicago University, there is a wide, wide and beautiful boulevard upon which the university is built; and at the head of the boulevard is one of largest pieces of sculpture in the world.  It goes clear across the street.  It blocks the avenue, and it is a figure of an old, old man with a beard and a scythe; and that’s time.

And he looks across a small lagoon of water, and on the other side is that enormous sculptured piece [“Mountain of Time”].  It is our race.  It is our people in the different ages of their life as they are looking at death.  Over to this side are children, and they look upon death with wide-eyed wonder and astonishment – a thing incomparable to them, death.  In the center are young people in the prime of life; and they look upon death with horror and with terror, and they shield their eyes and their faces from it.  To the far left are the aged, the old, and with arms outstretched and with eyes lifted up in expectancy and in relief, they are welcoming death.

That sculptured piece is so true of human life.  We all are introduced to it early, and we never get away from it.  Our own playmates have died.  Our own age group, friends in the circle have died.  By and by, our own family groups are broken up.  And by and eventually, we face that terrible enemy ourselves.

Somebody has said, “We are not bodies that have souls, but rather we are spirits that have bodies.”  Well that sounds very smart and philosophical.  People who say that do so because they’re getting ready to emphasize something.  But in the Bible, in the Word of God, you will not find any especial emphasis upon either side of that for in the Word of God, both soul and body endure and are preserved forever.  In this life, both are component parts of our existence [1 Thessalonians 5:23]; and in the life that is to come, both body and soul, both shall endure forever [Matthew 10:281 Corinthians 15:50-54].  One we call the immortality of the soul.  The other we call the resurrection of the body.

Now in the Word of God, there is no such thing as death being the annihilation, being a ceasing to exist.  In the Bible, death means nothing but separation.  When the body and soul are temporarily separated, we call that “physical death.”  That’s the death that we see when our family groups break up.  Sometimes in the Bible, spiritual death is referred to as a “second death.”  That is, the soul, the spirit, is separated from God, and they call that death.  But in neither case, and in no wise anywhere, is there any such thing in the Bible as death being annihilation, being a ceasing to exist.  It means nothing but separation.  So let us look at the Christian when he dies.

When the Christian dies, his soul is separated from his body.  When a man’s spirit is inside of him, we call him a “soul.”  When the spirit is separated from the body, we refer to him as “spirit.”  That’s the difference between the use of the word “soul” and the use of the word “spirit.”  I am a spirit separated from my body.  I am a living soul when my spirit is in my body.  Now, when I die – what you call death – my spirit is separated from my body.  So, temporarily, I am too.

I have a soul.  I have a body.  They are separate, and there are two different things that happen to them.  The body sleeps, but the soul, becoming my spirit, never sleeps.  I sleep now.  In the nighttime, we all sleep.  But my soul doesn’t sleep.  My body doesn’t sleep.  My mind doesn’t sleep.

Almost every psychologist will tell you that your mind never stops acting, never ceases to function.  And when you wake up and you think you have dreamed endlessly, actually all that is is just the thoughts that you have thought within the last moment or second or two before you awake, and you can recall them.  But when you went to sleep, your mind stayed active all the while that you were asleep.

Your mind, your spirit, your soul – the you – never, never ceases to think or to be.  Now, there are men who have so trained themselves that they can go to bed at night and give a problem to their subconscious minds, and in the morning it is mostly solved and worked out.  We have ourselves inside ourselves, and that self never dies, never dies.  The spirit, when it is separated from the body, continues to live.  It continues to be.  That’s the “I.”  The body sleeps, but the “I” that lives on the inside never, never perishes.

Now what becomes of me when my body and my spirit are separated?  What the Christian does is he goes to be with Jesus [2 Corinthians 5:8].  He goes to paradise.  There is somewhat of an intermediate state into which we go when we first die.

That intermediate state I have always referred to as paradise.  It is the translation of the people of God in the presence of Jesus our Savior.  And we stay in that paradise until the day of the Lord’s coming again, until the day of the resurrection.  And I will speak of that as the other part of this message, our bodies.  But when we die, we go to be with the Lord [2 Corinthians 5:8].  That is, I do.

Now this body is nothing other than a house of clay [2 Corinthians 4:7].  When I pare my fingernails, that’s a part of my body.  When my hair is cut, that is a part of my body.  The old cells that are sloughed off in existence, in life – without which life is impossible – that’s a part of my body, but that’s not I.  That decays; that goes back to dust.  But the I that lives on the inside of this house, the I that is I – my consciousness, my personality, whatever I am – I live forever and I never sleep.

When separation comes, death comes, I go to be with the Lord.  The Lord Jesus said to the man who was dying by His side on the cross: “Today thou shalt be with Me in Paradisō, in paradise.  Today thou shalt be with Me” [Luke 23:43].  They would recognize each other.  They would be together.  That man would remember, “This was the promise, and I see Him,” and Jesus would welcome that dying thief.  They were that day – that day – to be in paradise.

The apostle Paul wrote in the fifth chapter of his second Corinthian letter: “For we are willing rather and confident rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” [2 Corinthians 5:8].  When separation comes, what we call “death,” absent from a body, my body here, but I present with the Lord.

In the first chapter of the Philippian letter, Paul wrote: “For to me to live is Christ, but to die is a gain” [Philippians 1:21].  And he said: “I am in a straight betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: nevertheless to remain in the flesh is better for you” [Philippians 1:23-24].  To Paul, when he died, he went immediately to be with the Lord, and that’s true in all of the Word of God.

When Samuel was called back to the earth, there it was Samuel though his body was asleep somewhere in the earth [1 Samuel 28:12-15].  When Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus talking about His coming death [Luke 9:28-31], their – one of their bodies was in the earth [Deuteronomy 34:5-6]; the other one had been translated [2 Kings 2:11].  But a mystery into which we cannot enter: when he saw them, both of them were there – the one that had been buried and the one that had been translated – but there they were, talking to Jesus [Matthew 17:3-4].

And in the wonderfully incomparably revealing story of the rich man – and we call him Dives because the Latin word for “rich man” is Dives – Dives and Lazarus[Luke 16:19-31], they’re both in that other world, and they are both conscious – one awaiting the Great White Throne judgment of the wicked dead [Revelation 20:11-15]and the other in Abraham’s bosom.  But there they are though their bodies are in this world.

When Dwight L.  Moody [1837-1899] in his age one time was met by a newspaper reporter – – the newspaper reporter talking to Dwight L.  Moody – – Moody said to him, “Some of these days soon you will read in the paper, ‘Dwight L.  Moody is dead.’  But don’t you believe a word of it for Dwight L.  Moody will be more alive than he ever was before.”  In death, the Christian never dies – never.  We just go to be with the Lord.  “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead,” what you call dead, “yet he lives.  And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die” [John 11:25-26].  We go to be with Jesus.

Now, my body, my body.  “These things saith Jesus: ‘Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep’” [John 11:11].  The body rests.  The body sleeps.  And when we speak accurately of what happens to the Christian, that’s what the Bible says.  The Bible will never refer to us as “dying” except as convenience as you would say the sun rises, but the Bible, when it is able to present the idea clearly, will always refer to a Christian as “falling asleep.”

Now in the seventh chapter of the Book of Acts, there is a description of the martyrdom of the first martyr, of Stephen, and it says this:

And they stoned Stephen as he called upon God and as he said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.”  And when he had said this, he fell asleep.   [Acts 7:59-60]

“And when he said this, he fell asleep” [Acts 7:60].  But do you notice – – and this is the Word of the Lord, this is the truth and the revelation of God – – before it says that, “and when he had said this he fell asleep,” before he said that, he said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” [Acts 7:59].

Now do you see both of them there?  This man is being martyred.  He’s being stoned to death; and the Bible says, “And he fell asleep in the Lord” [Acts 7:60].  It looked as though, so quiet and so still, he was asleep.  But before he fell sleep he said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” [Acts 7:59].  So Stephen, the real Stephen – Stephen, the man and martyr and Christian of God – Stephen went away to be with the Lord, and the Lord stood to receive him [Acts 7:55-56].  Everywhere else in the Bible, He is seated at the right hand of God, the right hand of power [Ephesians 1:20].  This is the one and only instance where, looking up into heaven, he saw Jesus standing.

You see, you don’t die.  We’re like the Lord Jesus:  “For we shall see Him as He is, and we shall be like Him” [1 John 3:2].  And Jesus said, “Handle Me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, such as ye see Me have” [Luke 24:39].  He was resurrected, and He’s in glory [Romans 8:34].  He’s in paradise, and He stood up, and He welcomed Stephen, the spirit of Stephen [Acts 7:54-57].  But his body fell asleep [Acts 7:58-60]: “And when he had said this he fell asleep” [Acts 7:60].

Now, I say that’s universal wherever the Bible can say it that way.  In the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, about David: “For David, after he had served his generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers” – “he fell on sleep” [Acts 13:36].  And in the great fourth chapter of the first Thessalonian letter, Paul, talking to those who were sorrowing over the dead, he speaks to them: “That ye sorrow not, as others who have no hope, regarding those who have fallen asleep in Jesus” [1 Thessalonians 4:13]  So the Christian, when he dies – – and we can’t speak of it without the use of the word “death,” but we don’t die – – but the Christian, when he is separated from his body, he goes to be with the Lord in paradise, and his body falls asleep.

All right, the body falls asleep.  Then what?  Then some day, then some day, this: “I go that I may awake him out of sleep” [John 11:11].  At that glorious, and final, and incomparably consummating day when the Lord comes, the first thing, the first thing – – and by the way, if anybody ever says to you, “The Messiah is come, Christ is come.  The Lord’s here.  He’s over there,” you go out to the cemetery and look – for the first thing that comes to pass when the Lord comes is this:  that He shall awaken out of the dust of the earth those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.  The first thing that happens is the resurrection of the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].  They shall rise first to meet the Lord in the air: the resurrection of the body – that Christ may awaken him out of his sleep.

Now that is not just a byproduct of the Christian faith.  That is one of the great cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith, and you cannot be a Christian and refuse to accept by faith that revelation of God.  I say it is a cardinal doctrine.  That’s what makes us a Christian.  We believe in the immortality of the soul, and we believe in the resurrection of the body; and you cannot be a Christian without committing yourself to that faith and that persuasion.  “Well, pastor, you surely are dogmatic.”  No, just reading the Book, just reading the Book.  Now you listen to the Word of the Lord:

There are some that say there’s not any resurrection.

Now if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:

And if Christ be not risen, our preaching is vain, and your faith is vain.

Yea, we are found false witnesses of God; because we’ve testified of God that He raised up Christ: whom He raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.

For if the dead rise not, then is Christ not raised:

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 15:12-19]

That’s what makes us Christians is our persuasion that the Lord lives – that He was raised from the dead:

But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that sleep.

For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”  [1 Corinthians 15:20-22]

It is the cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith.  “Well, pastor, I just can’t believe it.  That thing of the resurrection of the body when the fish eat it up, when it goes back into the ground, when the great oak tree saps its strength and it becomes the tree itself, I can’t see it and I can’t understand it and I can’t believe it.”

When Renan [Joseph Ernest Renan, 1823-1892], the great French critic, wrote the story of the life of Jesus [Life of Jesus, 1863], after the crucifixion of our Lord, he wrote, “Finis” – “the end.”  If that is the end, we don’t have any Christ.  We don’t have any Savior.  We don’t have any intercessor.  We’ll never see Him.  There’s not any heaven.  You have a philosophy.  You have a system of ethics.  You may have a few moral parables, but you don’t have a faith, and you don’t have a religion, and you don’t have any hope, and you die in vain, and we are yet in our sins [1 Corinthians 15:17].  If after the crucifixion of Christ, Renan is right, and he wrote “Finis” – that’s it, that’s it, that’s it.

The resurrection of the dead: Michael Faraday [1791-1867] was one of the great scientists of all time.  One day, being a devout Christian, Michael Faraday referred to the resurrection of the dead, and when he did so, he overheard one of his students sneeringly refer to such an impossible come.  And Faraday thereupon took a silver cup, and he put it in a jar of sulphuric acid, and the acid dissolved it and you could see the cup no more.  It was absolutely gone.  It was in solution, in the sulphuric acid.  Then Michael Faraday took a handful of common salt, which is a catalytic agent in that, and he put the common salt in the sulphuric acid, and it precipitated the silver, and it fell in a mass to the bottom.

Michael Faraday took the mass of silver at the bottom and took it to a silversmith, and said, “Make this into a beautiful cup.”  And he made it into a beautiful cup.  And the next day, Michael Faraday brought it back and held it in his hand and showed it to the class.  And he said:

My dear pupils, if I, just a mortal man, can make this cup disappear and dissolve and it’s not seen anymore, then re-gather its elements and fashion it again into a beautiful cup, cannot the Lord God who made heaven and earth gather out of the sea and out of the dust of the ground and out of the heart of this earth our elements, wherever they are, indestructible, gather our elements and refashion us into a glorious body, like unto His body, the Son of God?

We’re not the only ones who have trouble with this thing.  They had trouble with it then:

But some men will say, “How are the dead raised up?  And with what body do they come?”

How could it be, foolish one, that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die.  [1 Corinthians 15:35-36]

And he – and all that passage there which we haven’t time to peruse, all of that passage there is about the grain that falls into the earth, and it dies but it doesn’t die.  It lives in a new and a glorified body [1 Corinthians 15:38-44].  So it is this man is planted earthy, the first Adam, but it is raised like unto the second Adam, the Son of God:

Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom; and corruption can’t inherit incorruption.

But, I show you a mystery; we’ll not all sleep, because when the Lord comes we that are alive and remain to His coming, we’ll all be changed –

They will be changed, given their bodies; we will be changed having never seen death –

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised. . . and we shall all be changed.  [1 Corinthians 15:50-52]

That is the Christian faith.  That’s the reason Paul said: “Now death, where’s thy sting?  And now grave, where is thy victory?” [1 Corinthians 15:55].  For there’s not any death to the Christian.  We just transfer from this old house of clay [2 Corinthians 4:7] into the glorious, resurrected, immortalized, transfigured new house that God is preparing in heaven for those that trust and love Him [John 14:2-3].

Think of what it’s going to be.  We wake up, breathe a new air, and it’s heaven.  This old body wakes up, and it feels a new endurance: its immortality.  This old body wakes up, and it’s not sick anymore or old anymore.  It’s resurrection.  It’s glory.  It’s the fulfillment of the promise of God who faithfully will perform every word that He said.

Oh dear people, what’s in the Book and what things God has for us!  And all of these things are written here so we won’t ever be afraid, never; so we won’t ever be bowed down in a hopeless despair, never; ’cause Christians do not die.  We live now with the Lord, and we’ll just live then more fully with the Lord.

Do you like to sing it and would you with me?  My old mother would sing this song around the kitchen, washing dishes, sweeping the floor.  Let’s sing it together:

There’s a land that is fairer than day,

And by faith we can see it afar;

For the Father waits over the way

To prepare us a dwelling place there.

In the sweet by and by,

We shall meet on that beautiful shore;

In the sweet by and by,

We shall meet on that beautiful shore.  [“In The Sweet By and By,” by Sanford Fillmore Bennett, 1868]

Now in this little minute that’s left, I’m going to stand down here at the front.  Let’s sing that same stanza again without any of these instruments.  Just sing it just out of your heart.  And if there’s somebody you to trust Jesus or to put your life with us in the church, while we sing that song, precious Christian song – nobody can sing that but a Christian – while we sing that song, you come down here by me.  All right, while we stand and while we sing it.

For more sermons by W.A Criswell, please visit www.wacriswell.com

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About The Author

W. A. Criswell was born December 19, 1909 in Eldorado, Oklahoma. He received his B.A. from Baylor University, and his Th.M. and Ph.D. degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He served for fifty years as senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, for many years the largest church in the Southern Baptist Convention. As founder and chancellor of the Criswell College, Dr. Criswell gave his later years to preparing young preachers to preach the Word of God. Dr. Criswell went to be with the Lord January 10, 2002. His ministry continues through the messages he preached and the lives he touched during his seventy-five years of pastoral service. Over 4000 of these messages with notes, outlines, audio and video are available through the Criswell Sermon Library at www.wacriswell.com. The Sermon Library is a ministry of the W.A. Criswell Foundation, Inc. to assist pastors and lay people in sermon preparation.

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