The Lion, The Witch and Wardrobe is coming out in theatres on December 9 and that is one movie I want to see. I have read the Narnia Chronicles, as I suspect many of you have. In fact, I understand we now have them in the church library. They are great stories and have some great spiritual truths in them, especially The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. One of the main things in the story is the wardrobe which is a connecting point between this world and the world of Narnia in which Edmund and Lucy and the others have their adventures.
For many people today, there is only our world. They do not believe that there is another world. They believe that at death that is the end, but we don’t believe that. Of course, it isn’t the world of Narnia that we believe in, but we do believe in the eternal world of God’s kingdom. What is the connecting point between our world and the eternal world? Will we enter that other world? Who will enter that other world? What happens between the time we leave this world and enter that other world? These are the questions we ask about the connecting point between our world and the eternal world.
As EMC, we have certain beliefs about that which come from the Bible. Once again, I would invite you to read with me the confession of faith.
“We believe Jesus Christ rose bodily from the dead. All, believers and unbelievers, will be raised from the dead as well, the believers to the resurrection of life and the unbelievers to the resurrection of condemnation. We also believe that people already enter the eternal state at the time of death. The righteous go into the presence of their Lord and the unrighteous into conscious suffering (Daniel 12:2; Luke 16:19-31; 23:43; John 5:28-29; 20:20, 24-29; Acts 24:15; I Corinthians 15; Philippians 1:19-26; Revelation 20:11-15).”
The primary reason we believe in a resurrection, or a connecting point between our world and the eternal world is that we believe that someone has already made that connection. We believe that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. This morning, I would like to anchor that belief in our minds and our understanding by looking at some of the Scriptures which speak about it..
In each of the gospels, we have the story of the death of Jesus and a description of how he was buried. In each of the gospels, we also have a description of how someone went to the place where they had buried Jesus and they discovered that his body was no longer there. In several of those accounts, we are told about how an angel told those who came that Jesus was not there, but that he had risen from the dead.
Following this initial news, we also have numerous accounts of appearances of Jesus. One of these is found in John 20:20-29. The disciples were together and Jesus appeared to them. Thomas, however, was not with them and when they later met him and told him that they had seen Jesus, he was quite sceptical. He told them that he would not believe unless he saw. A few days later they were together again and this time Thomas was with them. Once again, Jesus appeared to them and invited Thomas to touch the hole in his hand and put his hand into his side where he had been pierced by the spear. When he saw and heard this, Thomas said, “My Lord and my God.” He was convinced that Jesus had risen.
A number of years later, Paul was dealing with some questions about the resurrection and in I Corinthians 15, which is one of the most complete passages about the resurrection, he states once again the conviction that Jesus was raised from the dead. His proof is the appearances of Jesus and in I Corinthians 15:5-8, he lists all the different appearances. His conclusion in verse 20 is a cry of victory and celebration, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead…”
Now when we talk about the resurrection of Jesus we need to be clear that we are talking about a bodily resurrection. Our confession of faith indicates that we believe that Jesus “rose bodily from the dead.” This is an important distinction. There are false teachings which deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus. In I Corinthians, the argument that Paul makes argues for a bodily resurrection. The accounts of the resurrection in the gospels give us the same impression. In Luke 24:39-43, Jesus assures his disciples who think that they have seen a ghost. He tells them in verse 39 – “Look at my hands and my feed. It is I myself! Touch me and see…” Then in verses 41-43, he asks for and receives a piece of fish to eat and eats it in their presence.
We believe that Jesus rose bodily from the dead and there are many things which convince us of this. The fact that Jesus said he would rise, the fact that he really died and was buried, that the tomb was empty, that the guards had to make up obvious lies to cover their failure to protect the tomb, the appearances to many and the changed lives of the disciples all point to the fact of Jesus resurrection.
In spite of this clear evidence, there have been many who have doubted these things. They have tried to explain the empty tomb and the appearances in other ways.
Some have suggested that Jesus never really died, but that he swooned and then was revived in the coolness of the tomb. Well, that argument does not make sense because a half dead man crawling out of the tomb would not have scarred the guards away and would not have convinced fearful disciples to boldly proclaim the resurrection.
Others have suggested that the disciples stole the body of Jesus and that explains the empty tomb. It may explain the empty tomb if it was believable that a group of scared disciples could really overpower a Roman guard, but it would never explain the changed lives of the disciples who went out and boldly proclaimed that Jesus was alive. Would they have done so if they knew he wasn’t? Would they have risked their lives for that belief if they knew he was simply buried somewhere else?
The other explanation that is sometimes used to dismiss the appearances to the disciples is that they did not really see Him, but that they were merely hallucinating. Once again, we can see the folly of such an explanation. Twelve people do not have the same hallucination much less 500 people.
We can be confident in the confession of faith we proclaim that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. We can live confidently in the knowledge of a living Saviour who has made a connection between our world and the eternal kingdom.
And it is important that we do live confidently in that assurance, because our own hope of resurrection is based on the resurrection of Jesus.
The connection between the resurrection of Jesus and our resurrection is clearly explained in I Corinthians 15:12,13. There Paul says, “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.” If we turn that around, then it is clear that since Christ has been raised, we also will be raised from the dead. Paul goes on to argue that if there is no resurrection, then our hope of sins forgiven and acceptance with God is an empty hope because it is based on the resurrection of Christ. If there is no resurrection, then all the work of proclamation of the gospel is an empty work. How wonderful to stand in the hope that Christ has been raised and to know that as Paul says in I Corinthians 15:20, Christ is a “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” That is a powerful and hope giving statement. It is a promise that Christ is not the first and last one to be raised from the dead, he is the first of many who will be raised from the dead.
Because Christ has been raised, we also will be raised.
But who will be raised? Will everyone be raised or just those who are in Christ? Our confession of faith indicates that we believe that everyone will be raised. This is a belief that comes from Scripture. Even in the Old Testament, in Daniel 12:2, we read, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”
When Paul was defending himself before governor Felix in Acts 24:15, he expressed his belief in the same truth. He said, “…I have the same hope in God … that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.”
But the outcome of that resurrection will be very different for the righteous and the wicked. Jesus announced a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous in John 5:28-29 where he said, “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”
In the end of time, there will be day of judgment. At that time, all people will stand before God and the righteous judge of all the earth will determine the eternal destiny of each person. The wonderful thing is that there is no mystery about how things will end up. Revelation 20:15 makes it very clear what the basis of that judgment will be. There we read “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” There are two destinations following resurrection. One is eternal life, which will be life in the presence of God without suffering and with blessing for all. The other is eternal punishment. Which will be our destiny depends on whether or not our name is written in the book of life.
It is important for us to understand this. We need to know that we will all be raised from the dead. We need to know that we will all stand before God. We need to know that eternal blessing is in store for those who follow God’s way. We need to know that eternal condemnation will be the result for those who are not right with God.
We do not like to speak about eternal punishment. Eternal punishment was never what God had in mind for people. Billy Graham said, “Hell was not prepared for man. God never meant that man would ever go to hell. Hell was prepared for the devil and his angels, but man rebelled against God and followed the devil…Hell is essentially and basically banishment from the presence of God for deliberately rejecting Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.”
Thus the important question for each of us to be very sure about is, “where will I end up on the day when I stand before the judgement seat of God?” The way is clear. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Life is given to us when we believe in Jesus and give our lives to Him through faith and follow Him in obedience because we have put our trust in Him.
I pray that each one here will rejoice in the hope of resurrection because they know that they will inherit the promise of God, the promise of eternal life. How will these things happen? When will they happen? What will heaven be like? These are all questions which Amos will answer in the last message on the confession of faith which will take place next Sunday.
If eternal destruction is the final state of those who do not know Christ and life is the eternal state of those who do know Christ and if there is a day of judgement coming on which all of these things will be determined, what happens in the mean time when someone dies?
This is a question which is commonly asked when there is a funeral and I have been asked it more than once. We want to know, what will happen to my loved one now that they have died. Do they go to a place of unconscious existence? Do they simply wait? Do they receive their reward now already?
There are not many indications about this in the Bible, but there are several passages which point in a direction.
One of those stories is the parable Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus. What happens between death and the day of resurrection is not the point of this parable, so we have to be careful about over interpreting it, but there is an indication in this story. What we see is that the rich man, who was not a God-fearing man, ended up in a place of torment. Lazarus, the poor man, who although poor was a man who put his hope in God, was in a place of comfort. We also learn that there is no way of going between the place of blessing and the place of torment.
This story seems to suggest that at death those who are righteous go into a place of comfort and those who are unrighteous into a place of torment.
Another passage which speaks to this issue is Luke 23:43. When Jesus was hanging on the cross, he had a conversation with the two thieves who were hanging next to him. The one rejected him, but the other recognized that there was something special about Jesus and seems to have believed in Him. Jesus assured him in this passage with the words, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” This once again indicates that, at death, believers go to a place of blessing, into the presence of God.
These are the only indications we have, but we can rest in them and rejoice that when our loved ones who know Him die, they will be in God’s presence and when we die, we will be in the presence of God. What a blessed hope that is!
However, if the unrighteous already enter a state of conscious suffering and the righteous go into the presence of the Lord, what does the resurrection and the final day of judgement add?
Our confession of faith is not specific about that. Let me share with you what I understand the Scripture to teach about it.
One clue comes to us from Jesus. When he died, he was raised from the dead. He is the only one who has experienced resurrection to this point. Therefore, what happened to Him is what will happen to us when He returns. What we notice about his resurrection is that there was continuity and discontinuity between who he had been and who he was after the resurrection. He had a physical body, as we have seen, because the disciples recognized Him and could touch him and he could eat food. On the other hand, there was something very different about Him. He was no longer subject to death. He was able to appear and disappear from their midst. This suggests what the resurrection might mean for us. It suggests that we will be like ourselves, but that we will also be quite different and have an eternal body.
There is a story among doubters which tells of a man who died and when he died, he was buried on his estate. After he was buried, they planted an apple tree over his grave. Over the years the apple tree grew and the roots went down into the decayed body of the man who had died. His descendents ate from the apple tree as did many others. So in reality, the physical parts of the man were in all the people who ate the apples from that tree. Of course the question is, what will happen in the resurrection. The answer to this question is that found in I Corinthians 15. In 15:35, Paul raises the question, “How are the dead raised.” Paul answers by saying that in our present state, we cannot inherit eternal life. The “perishable” cannot “inherit the imperishable.” We learn that resurrection will be something like planting a seed. When a seed is put into the ground it dies. The plant that grows from that seed, however, has continuity and discontinuity with the seed that was sown. The plant that grows is still wheat or potatoes, but it looks quite different. That is how it will be in the resurrection. We will still be us, but there will be a difference. We will then no longer be subject to death, we will receive a heavenly body. You see, resurrection is ultimately an activity of God.
From all of these Scriptures, it is my understanding that at death, if we know Christ as Saviour, our souls go to be with God. When Christ comes back, we will be raised and at that time, we will be raised bodily and we will be in the presence of God for all eternity.
We are resurrection people. We live now in the reality of the resurrection of Christ – serving Him because He is alive. We live now in the hope of our resurrection. What does it mean to be resurrection people?
People who are dying think of the time that is left. They think of today. They may think, “I will make each day count because it could be my last.” They think of the lasts which will come before the end. They fear what is coming.
People who are living, think of the future. They “make each day count not because it could be the last, but because they don’t know how it will impact future opportunities. They plan for the present but also for the long term. They anticipate what is coming.
How do you live your life, as one who is dying or living?