BY Pastor Glenn Pease
From out of the files of the great Michelangelo comes the story of the young artist who labored long and tedious hours on the statue of an angel. When the time for its unvailing had finally come, the young artist hid himself in an inconspicuous spot and waited breathlessly for the response of the great sculptor. When Michelangelo arrived and carefully examined the statue, he turned to one of his colleagues and said, "It lacks only one thing...."
The expectant heart of the young artist was crushed, and without waiting to hear what that one thing was, he slipped away with tearful eyes to grieve. One of his close friends, seeing his condition, mustered up the courage to go to Michelangelo and ask what the statue lacked. The great artist said, "The statue lacked only one thing-life. With life it would be as perfect as God himself could have made it!"
The young artist grieved prematurely for he had done the best that man could do, for only God can give life. God was the first sculptor, and Genesis 2 tells us he formed man from the dust of the ground. Man was first a beautiful lifeless statue, like those we see of great men and women all through history from ancient Greece to our own great presidents. But God could do something that no one has ever been able to do to a statue. He breathed into that statue of Adam the breath of life, and man became a living being. Out of darkness God said let there be light. Out of dust God said let there be life. The Bible says God is the origin of life, the author of life, the creator of life, for God is life.
Life is, because God is. Life is eternal, because God is eternal. Life is the foundation of all that is, for life was before all things. In contrast to those who speculate that life must have developed, or been spontaneously generated out of non-life, the Bible says just the opposite is the case. All non-life is a product of life, for God is life, and all that is, is because God as life, made it so.
It is fascinating to study life from the point of view of how the creator of life has designed it. There are marvels that make science a form of worship, as men probe into the mysteries of life. Take, for example, the wonder that so many of the precious values of life that make modern living such a blessing are non-living products that exist because of life that was sacrificed. Coal, oil, gas, and diamonds, just to name some major ones. These, and their numerous by-products, are all derived from life.
God has so arranged the structure of physical reality that there is only one atom that can be the foundation for life, and that is the carbon atom. All other atoms can form only small molecules of a dozen or less atoms. Carbon, on the other hand, can form molecules of hundreds, thousands, and even millions of atoms. Therefore, carbon is the only atom that can form molecules large enough, and complicated enough, to make life possible. That is why it is called the element of life. There is no life without carbon. It has a tenacity to hold together like no other element. It is the hardest of the elements to melt, and to pull apart. Plants are full of carbon, and ten percent of the atoms in a human being are carbon. Remove the carbon from this room, and not only are the plants gone, but so are we, for carbon is the chemical foundation of life.
When trees fall in a forest and lay there as dry wood, they are 50�rbon, but as they decay further and become peat, they become 60% carbon. The peat becomes Lignite, which is 67 % carbon, and it becomes Bituminous coal, which is 88% carbon, and then the pressure finally produces Anthracite coal which is 95% carbon. The ultimate comes when the carbon is pushed together as hard as it can be with all non-carbon squeezed out, and you have a diamond. The diamond is related to coal, just as the black and white man have the same origin. So the black coal and white diamond have the same origin. The point of all this is, God has so made physical life that even in death it is not defeated, but becomes a source of great physical blessings. Almost all of the power that makes life a joy comes from coal, oil, and gas-all products of life. All the sources of fire are from that which was once alive. Fire is a flame produced by life. Diamonds that beautify life, also have their source in life. Nothing lovely ever dies completely, but passes into other loveliness. This is the gospel of chemistry.
The Conductor of the great Symphony of Life has so composed the music that there is a continuous interplay of life and death, with life always bursting forth from death. Spring is one of the greatest movements in this symphony of creation. Martin Luther said, "Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection not in books alone, but in every leaf of springtime."
The hope of life within us burns
As life bursts forth when spring returns.
The flowers with their colors bright,
The lilies clothed in robes of white,
They speak a silent message clear,
That robs death of its power and fear.
When we move into the higher sphere of life, we hear the advanced orchestra playing the same tunes of the interplay of life or death. Sometimes the blues dominate, and we are compelled to be conscious of the reality of sin, tragedy, sorrow and death. But then the music changes, and the tempo speeds up, and our hearts are lifted, for love, light, and life are the themes, and we are filled with praise and rejoicing. We are moved by the variations to have different moods, and when the blues are playing we wonder how the symphony of life will end. Will it be a solemn and somber dirge, ending with a whimper, or will it be a crashing crescendo of sound, climaxing in rejoicing and praise?
Here in John 11, we see Jesus, the composer of life's symphony, giving us the answer by word and deed. The setting is a time of sadness, and the blues have overwhelmed the sisters of Lazarus. He was relatively young, and now he is decaying in the tomb. Jesus did not try to comfort the sisters by saying something like this: "Look at it this way-the carbon from your brothers body will be crushed beneath the earth, and some aeons hence may become part of a diamond that will grace the crown of some great king or queen."
Jesus rose above this chemical gospel of creation to the higher level of the gospel of resurrection. Diamonds for leaves is a good trade off, but diamonds for lives is not good enough. Man does not want to be glorified by being petrified. He wants to live. Pilgrim setting out from the city of destruction cried out, "Life, life, more life." This is the cry of all men on their journey through this world.
Sir Wilfred Grenfell, the medical missionary, in his book, What Life Means To Me, wrote about life after death, and said, "I know little about it, but that is not of any great importance, because I want it, whatever it is." This is how the majority of human beings feel. They do not relish seeing their life end. Life by its very nature loves to live, and so it longs to conquer death, and live on.
In 1855 Louis Napoleon received a letter from his mother in Switzerland where she was dying. He carried this letter with him the rest of his life. She ended it by writing, "Have faith that we shall meet again. It is too necessary not to be true." This is the universal longing of the human heart. Love is too precious a gem, even more valuable than diamonds, and the only way love can be eternal is if life is eternal, and so, man longs for eternal life.
Jesus responds to this universal longing, which was the specific longing of Mary and Martha, by making the boldest statement ever made on this planet. He said in verses 25 and 26, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies: and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." This is the ultimate statement on life. It is the pinnacle, the peak, the summit.
You don't go beyond this, for this is that beyond which there is no beyond. This is the word of life itself, and life has the last word. The symphony of life and death will end with life. Death will die, and life will live. But, meanwhile, there are problems to deal with. Edgar Guest wrote this poem, Life Is A Problem.
Life is a mystery, all of man's history
Tells us but little of how it began.
All earth can show of it,
All we can know of it
Give scarce a hint of its purpose and plan.
Life is not altered by what men have guessed of it,
He is the wisest who just makes the best of it.
What does it matter to tailor or hatter,
Butcher or baker or truckmen who drive,
How it all started ?
Clear-eyed and warm-hearted
Each is a person and each is alive!
Life is a problem and this is the test of it,
He is the wisest who just makes the best of it.
Life has its sadness, its goodness and badness,
Nor all of man's wisdom can alter that fact.
To this should the living
Their full thought be giving,
How in its grief and its joy shall we act?
Surely if happiness here be the quest of it,
He is the wisest who just makes the best of it.
But the question is, how do we just make the best of it? The answer is, you look to the Author of life, and the Authority on life, who alone has conquered death, and offers to those who believe in Him those qualities of life that every person longs for-the qualities of a powerful life, a purposeful life, and a perpetual life. When you are in on these three qualities, which only Christ can give, then, and only then, are you making the best of life. Lets look at each of them. First, life in Christ, who is the life, is
I. A POWERFUL LIFE.
The scene is sad, for the power of death seems to be superior to the power of life. Mary and Martha are weeping and grieving, and Jesus himself wept, for death has the power to rob us of love. This is a preview of the sorrow of the cross, where the forces of evil will do their worst, and death will plunge the world into darkness, as the light of the world, and the light of life is put out, and death will seem to be lord of all.
The only way you can get a final answer to the question, which is the most powerful-life or death?-is to let death do its worst, and let life do its best, and see what the outcome is. The cross is deaths worst, but the resurrection is life's best, and the outcome is, life is proclaimed the winner, the champion, the gold medallist, the one more powerful than death. Geogia Harkness wrote,
On this glad day my heart is lifted high
With gladsome praises to the Lord of life.
The hallelujahs ring; the heavens are rife
With song and story. He who could defy
The powers of death has risen again-is nigh
To say, "Fear not...men, put away your strife,
I am the resurrection and the life.
Jesus makes this claim before His own resurrection, and He proves it by raising Lazarus from the dead. It is not enough that Jesus can raise Himself, for men want to know, can he raise me? And Jesus says yes. Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies. That is the kind of powerful life every man longs for-life that will overcome the power of death.
Jesus, by raising Lazarus, gave us an historical confirmation of the power of life. Paul longed to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection, for this is the power of life that is needed in the daily battle with the forces of evil. This is not just relevant at funerals, and once a year at Easter, it is the power for daily living. Earnest Gordon in, Through The Valley Of The Kwai, tells the moving story of British prisoners of war during World War II. Their Japanese captors forced them to build a railroad through the valley of the Kwai river. For many it was life worse than death. The starvation, exhaustion, and disease led to despair and death, and the men were losing their humanity. Selfishness, fear, and hatred took over, and it was every man for himself for survival. They treated each other worse than animals as they kicked, shoved, and fought over a scrap of food.
That camp became a scene just like that around the tomb of Lazarus. Death was lord, and all looked sad and hopeless. But one man brought forth life in the midst of death. Angus McGillivray, a great strapping man, determined that his dying friend would not die, but live. He gave him his own blanket to replace the one stolen from this friend. He gave up his own rations so his friend could be nourished. He used his own money to buy duck eggs and medicine for his friend. Gradually this special care led the soldier to recover his health. But Angus became exhausted, and he collapsed and died. The doctor said he died of starvation and exhaustion. He had laid down his life for his friend.
His death did something to that camp that gave life power over death, and love power over hate. The story spread like wild-fire through the camp. The officers came alive to their responsibility, and said, "We are in this together." They voted to use part of their allowance to buy extra food for the sick. The spirit of generosity became contagious, and soon men throughout the camp were buying duck eggs for the sick, and showing love for those in special need. They put the law of the jungle behind them, and became human again, as they cared for one another. Earnest Gordon almost died himself, but Dusty Miller, who was recovering from diphtheria, volunteered to bathe him and wash his ulcerous legs, and nurse him back to health.
There was a Presence in the camp he says-a Presence that motivated them to stop sinking to defeat, but to build a community of love. Soon there were groups of volunteers who were scrounging in the woods for materials to make artificial limbs for the amputees. The educated ones organized a jungle university to teach the others. Acts of love, compassion, and kindness transformed that camp to a place where men were living, and not just dying. They had found that powerful life that conquers death on every level-life in Him, who is the resurrection and the life. Secondly, life in Christ is-
II. A PURPOSEFUL LIFE.
There are many levels of living, but the highest level is Christlike living, which is purposeful living. Paul wrote in I Cor. 15:45, "The first man Adam became a living being, the last Adam, a life-giving spirit." Jesus said I am come that they might have life and have it more abundantly. Jesus did not just have life, He was a life-bringer, and a life giver.
The purpose of life is the same for us as it was for Him. It is to give life. It is the very nature of life to expand, grow, and increase. Jesus as creator gave life to all that is alive. Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, came to give abundant life, and Jesus as the Sovereign Savior gives life eternal. Jesus is the giver of all life. That is what life is all about-more life.
Why else would God create in the first place, except to increase life? The only thing that makes history, and all that creating free-willed beings worthwhile, is the end result of more life-more intelligent God-honoring life in the universe. The purpose of our lives, and the life of the church, is the same-more life, more names in the book of life, more people partaking of the tree of life, more people worshiping and praising the Lord of life forever. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. That is life, and purposeful life is helping others achieve the same end. The purpose of life is to live, and living is knowing and loving God. Jesus said in John 17:3, "Now this is life eternal: That they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent."
Purposeful living is doing what Jesus did with His life-so living it that others might come to know God, whom to know is life eternal. Ellen Jones wrote,
Would you know life abundant,
Love doubled for all you give?
There is a means no surer
Than helping someone to live.
Jesus gave people life now. He raised Lazarus now. He wiped away tears now. He healed bodies now, He taught people now. He gave light in darkness now. He was not just a life promiser, He was a life giver.
The reason Christianity grew so rapidly in Korea was because of the practical effect Christians had in purposeful living. The needs were so great after the war and people were so poor. When they came to the mission for food and clothing, and came to know Christ as their Savior, they were told to go and find someone in even greater need and share. This helped produce a nation of loving and caring people and the Christian faith grew like wild fire. Life was producing life.
"Life is currently described in one of four ways: As a journey, as a battle, as a pilgrimage, and as a race. Select your own metaphor, but the finishing necessity is all the same. For if life is a journey, it must be completed. If life is a battle, it must be finished. If life is a pilgrimage, it must be concluded. If life is a race, it must be won." Said Dr. J. Richard Sneed. Like Paul, we must all fight the good fight and finish the race, knowing that the prize Christ has for us is an even more purposeful life in eternity. Thirdly we see, life in Christ is-
III. A PERPETUAL LIFE.
Jesus not only says that those who believe in Him will live though they die, He says whoever lives and believes in Him will never die. What a paradox! They may die, but they will never die. Even though death has the power to rob them of their bodies temporarily, it cannot touch the essence of their life. They never cease to live, and so they never die, for to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, and so life does not skip a moment. Death may separate from the body, but not from the Lord.
In Him we have life that is perpetual. God intended life to be perpetual. Biologist tell us that the cells of life have the potential of immortality. If Adam had not fallen, it was Gods intent that he should live forever. Death was a result of sin, and not inherent in life. Jesus came to restore man to that life which God intended.
I know no life divided
O Lord of life, from thee;
In thee is life provided
For all mankind and me.
I know no death, O Jesus
Because I live in thee.
Thy death it is which frees us
From death eternally.
The story is told of a fox who came upon a cave where he saw many other foxes had entered. He was about to go in when his cunning eye detected that all of the tracks pointed one way. All were pointed in, and none pointed out, which indicated that none had never came back. He wisely changed his mind and did not enter. So man comes to the cave of the grave, and sees the same thing. All the tracks point in but none come out. He has no choice, however. He cannot refuse to enter, and so he does so without hope. That is, unless he has put his trust in the life giver, the Lord Jesus. Jesus had made clear foot prints coming out of the tomb, and those who follow Him can say, "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for thou art with me."
Jesus said in John 14:19, "Because I live you shall live also." Jesus came not only to preach the gospel, but that there might be a gospel to preach-a gospel of light that conquers darkness, a gospel of love that conquers hate, a gospel of life that conquers death. The bottom line is life. Gods best for time and eternity is found in Jesus-the resurrection and the life. Whatever our age, or health, or any other situation, we are expected to live for our Lord, for He is Life.