This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Bower Delivered March 10, 2013 First Presbyterian Church, Whiteville, NC Is there a stranger place than a cemetery? There is no place in the world that’s full of such beauty: gorgeous grounds with green grass and blooming, fragrant flowers. And that’s what makes it so strange: these beautiful places are full of reminders—
reminders etched in cold, hard, unyielding stone—that this mortal life is just that: mortal. Standing in front of the grave of one you love can be inexplicably joyful and unspeakably painful…all at the same time. It’s like opening up an old photo album: you laugh and cry over the great memories you shared, and cry some more over the ones you never got to. In those moments you’d give anything to have one more day, one more hour, one more smile, one more hug. And even though you may hate standing there, somehow it’s hard to leave. But you do…with the full knowledge that you yourself will someday be visited there as well. In the past 6 months or so it seems like we’ve lost a lot of good folks, a lot of brothers and sisters in Christ…a lot of people we loved. This, along with the realization of our own mortality, often leads us to ask: “What happens when you die?” Or, what we’re really asking: “What’s happened to the one I love? What happened to Mama, to Daddy, to my daughter, son, sister, brother, friend?” And, ultimately, “What’s going to happen to me?” Today’s Scripture points us to the answer. But…it may not be the answer you think you know. It’s not what most Christians believe. It also happens to be better—infinitely better—than what we’ve been taught. Jesus was betrayed, arrested, tried, mocked, slapped, spat on, tortured, stripped, crucified, and placed in a stone tomb. You just heard the conclusion of that story: “He has risen from the dead!” Those are the 6 most important words you’ll ever hear: “He has risen from the dead!” The truth of those 6 words sets us on the path to answering our question—“What happens when you die?” These words give us our identity as Christians and as the church. They are the foundation for our future hope and our present mission. So…what happens when you die? I asked a friend this past week that question. She’s a dedicated, lifelong Christian. She said what most Christians, I think would say: “If you’re right with God when you die you go to heaven to live forever.” She could tell
by the look on my face that I was setting her up. “That’s not right, is it?” Actually…no. Not exactly. That’s what I was taught, that may be what you were taught, that’s what gets preached at most of the funerals I go to, it’s what’s in the books I’ve bought on how to teach your children about death. But no…that’s not the full and final truth. At least, that’s not what the Bible says. But if we don’t just go straight to heaven and live there forever, what does the Bible say will ultimately happen to believers? What is our final destination? Here’s a sampling. Romans 6:4-5—“Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.” Revelation and John1: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. I was dead and behold I am alive forever and ever; Because I live, you also will live.” 1 Thessalonians: “The Lord himself will come down from heaven…and the dead in Christ will rise first.”2 Philippians 3:10—“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” Romans 8:11—“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.” In John 5 Jesus says, “A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear [the Son of God’s] voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.”3 Do you hear the promise God has in store for you? You’ve got a new body on the way! You’re not waiting to throw off this nasty body so God can take your soul up into the sky! No, your whole self—mind, body, soul—will be redeemed. Because Jesus was raised from the dead—mind, body, soul, everything—you will be, too.4 And just like Jesus, you’ll be raised in a body that looks like the body you have now, but is no longer subject to disease and decay—it’s incorruptible, imperishable, a spiritual body.5 At the resurrection you 1 Revelation 21:6; 22:13; 1:17-‐18; John 14:19 2 1 Thessalonians 4:16 3 John 5:28-‐29 4 see Colossians 3:1-‐4 5 2 Corinthians 4:13—5:10 gives a great description and explanation of this “new body.”
will be you—but transformed, fulfilled, perfected! It seems to me this answers one of the questions I’ve been asked a million times: “Will we recognize each other in heaven?” Well, the disciples recognized the risen Christ. So, yes, assuming the people you want to recognize are in God’s kingdom, yes, you will absolutely recognize them. Sadly, that means you will also recognize those people you had hoped wouldn’t make it.6 And where will you live in this new body? Right here! Your final home—the place where you will spend eternity forever and ever with God if you’ve put your trust in Jesus Christ is not heaven…it’s right here. Revelation 21 and 22 gives us the picture of the end of the age and it’s not all the redeemed floating on clouds and playing harps. It’s a new heaven and a new earth. It’s God’s original intentions way back in Genesis 1 being fulfilled and perfected. It’s creation and human beings and animals and nature restored and transformed into what they were intended to be. It’s the Garden of Eden restored and yet transformed into a city where all God’s people live together in peace and love and justice…just the way God created us to be. And together you will enjoy this world as God intended it to be enjoyed—unbroken, not twisted, beautiful, and whole—with God himself as your light. I can’t explain it. Neither could the biblical writers; just know that it’s this world without sin and corruption. PERFECT! The Bible scholars here will now raise 2 questions. The first: “What about all the people not in Christ?” Put another way, what about hell? There isn’t enough time to give a full answer to that in this sermon. Right now it’s enough to say that I believe it’s impossible, reading the New Testament in one hand with a newspaper or iPad in the other, to believe that there won’t be some kind of ultimate judgment of evil. Auschwitz, Darfur, Sandy Hook and a million other evils cry out for justice, and God would not be good if he didn’t answer. There will be human beings who resist God to the point that God says to them, as C.S. Lewis put it, “Thy will be done.”7 But I will never know who those people are and will live my life believing that ever sinner is redeemable…because
relationships will be the same at the resurrection. Everything will be transformed and perfected. For example, Jesus teaches that marriage, as we conceive of it and practice it now, will not exist in exactly the same way in the age to come (Luke 20:27-‐40). 7 These 3 sentences adapted from N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: Harper One, 2008), 175-‐183. Check it out for a fuller discussion of this topic.
if God redeemed this sinner he can redeem anybody. The 2nd question: what about when Jesus says things like, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” And “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” and “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am”?8 And to the criminal on the cross, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”9 Seems like Jesus means we’re going to heaven to be with him…right when we die. Good point. This is where the Good News that sometime in the future we will be raised to live in a redeemed creation gets even better. This is the answer to what happens between death and the resurrection: For those who die in faith, before our final reawakening, we are promised that as soon as we die we will be “with Jesus.” I don’t know what this means or what it looks like, but Jesus calls it “paradise,” and that’s all I need to know. N.T. Wright says, “Paradise here means not a final destination but the blissful garden, the parkland of rest and tranquility, where the dead are refreshed as they await the dawn of the new day.”10 So what happens when we die? What happened to our loved ones ahead of us? The amazing news brought to us through Christ’s death and resurrection is this: those who die in Christ will be with him in paradise—whatever that may mean—to be refreshed and renewed until the day when all people are raised from the dead and those in Christ will enjoy an eternity together in redeemed, imperishable bodies on an earth that is transformed just like our bodies into the creation that is exactly what God intended it to be. We could stop here…but news this good calls us to live here and now in a different way. Whenever I heard heaven preached on as a kid I always asked myself, “But what good is this now?” Sure, this makes all the difference in the world when I die, but I’m still alive! What difference does eternity make today? If it were true that heaven—or paradise, or whatever you wanna call it—were our final destination, we could just look forward to getting beamed out of this awful world and then smile while it burned. But it’s not. Our final destination is this earth, redeemed by God. This fact empowers and transforms our mission. Again, N.T. Wright says it
better than I could: “The church claims this world in advance as the place of God’s kingdom, of Jesus’ Lordship, and of the Spirit’s power. The church that takes this seriously will go straight from worshiping in the sanctuary to debating in the council
chamber; to discussing matters of town planning, or harmonizing and humanizing beauty in architecture, green spaces, and road traffic schemes; and to environmental work, creative and healthy farming methods, and proper use of resources. If it is true that the whole world is now God’s holy land, we must not rest as long as that land is spoiled and defaced. This is not an extra to the church’s mission. It is central. Such a church will also seek to bring wisdom to offices and shops, local government, civic holidays, and the shaping of public life. This is not an extra to the church’s mission. It is central. The church that takes this seriously will go straight from worshiping Jesus in church to making a radical difference in the material lives of people down the street: running playgroups for children of single working moms, organizing credit unions to help people at the bottom of the financial ladder find their way to responsible solvency; by campaigning for better housing, for drug rehab centers, for wise laws relating to alcohol, for decent library and sporting facilities, for a thousand other things in which God’s sovereign rule extends to hard, concrete reality. Once again, all this is not an extra to the mission of the church. It is central.”11 It turns out that our life after death…and resurrection life after that, has an awful lot to say about how we live our present life as Christ’s church! I hope this morning you’ve received this news as the Good News God intended it to be. I hope it gives you comfort as you grieve the loved ones you’ve lost and missed. I hope it makes you fear death a little less, and leads you to look forward to whatever that wonderful paradise is we’ll be in when we die in Christ. And if you’re not sure about it, if you’re not sure about Jesus or what he did or these promises I’ve talked about here, I pray that you’ll give it thought, give it prayer, and finally give your life over to Christ. He died and was raised to give you everything, everything, in this life, in life after death, and in our final resurrection: our life after life after death. It would be a shame for that gift to be left unopened by anyone. I hope that at the resurrection I’ll look around and recognize you and all those we’ve lost and those we’ll love and serve with who we 11 Wright, “Heaven Is Not Our Home.”
haven’t even met yet—and that we’ll hug and laugh and enjoy forever together, right here in the restored, redeemed creation. And until that day, I look forward to serving alongside you and all our brothers and sisters in Christ as part of a church that boldly claims this world in advance as the place of God’s kingdom, Jesus’ Lordship, and the Spirit’s power, doing kingdom-building work until I draw my last breath—in this body. Amen.12
It’s Paul’s teaching on resurrection that’s often read on Easter Sunday. Beautiful stuff!
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.