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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:Through Christ the gospel promises us the resurrection and life everlasting
Text:LD 22 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Comfort in a World of Pain
 
Preached:2013
Added:2013-08-14
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 121
Psalm 116:1-5
Psalm 116:6-10
Hymn 1
Hymn 69

Scripture reading:  1 Cor. 15:12-28, 50-58
Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 22
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

Maybe you’ve run across the expression “living in the moment.”  People will say, “I just want to live in the moment,” or “I’m just living in the moment.”  It was never immediately clear to me what this means, but I’m told that it means that the person is just focussing on the present, not thinking about the past or the future.  It’s a popular expression and maybe even some of you have used it.  But could it be that some people use this concept as an avoidance strategy?  Could it be that some people think and speak about just “living in the moment” because thinking about the future causes them a lot of anxiety? 

If you’re an unbeliever, you have lots of reasons to be anxious about the future.  For instance, if there is no meaning or purpose to anything, if your life is just careening about without any direction, who knows what the future might bring?  Then there’s death and what happens afterwards.  That’s a big thing that can cause anxiety.  While many say that death is the end, period, deep down they know better.  Scripture tells us in Romans 1 and 2 that unbelievers really do know that there is a holy God whose law they have broken.  The Bible tells us that unbelievers know there will be a day of reckoning.  Like a person in denial about having terminal cancer, they don’t want to talk about it and will do everything in their power to avoid thinking about it.

For Christians, however, we can face the future without resorting to avoidance strategies or denial.  Our Catechism gives us a biblical worldview also when it comes to the future.  It does so right from the very beginning.  Already in Lord’s Day 1 we’re talking not only about life, but also about death.  Our confession speaks the language of the Bible, reminding us of what Jesus teaches about the hairs of our head all being numbered.  In the past, present, and future, not a hair falls from our heads without the will of our Father.  All things will work together for our salvation – you see, that’s a biblical, Christian perspective on the future.  That perspective is weaved throughout the Heidelberg Catechism.  Just as one more example, think of Lord’s Day 10 about the providence of God.  There we confess, again with the language of the Bible, “with a view to the future, we can have a firm confidence in our faithful God and Father that no creature shall separate us from his love.” 

A view to the future is also what we find in Lord’s Day 22.  Here we’re considering the last two articles of the Apostles’ Creed.  These articles have to do with what lays in the future.  We confess that we believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.  This is all part of what the gospel promises us, part of what a Christian must believe.  It all comes to us through our Saviour Jesus Christ.  So this afternoon, we’ll see that through Christ the gospel promises us the resurrection and the life everlasting.

In these biblical doctrines we have: 

1.      Clarity

2.      Certainty

3.      Comfort

The doctrines contained in Lord’s Day 22 are clear.  They are clear in the Catechism and they are clear in the Bible.  They’re clear in the Catechism because they are clear in the Bible.

Let’s start with the doctrine of the resurrection of the body.  At this point in the Apostles’ Creed, we’re not speaking about the resurrection of Christ.  We’re talking about the resurrection that will take place when Christ returns – our resurrection.  There are two parts to us as human beings, both make up who we are, both belong together.  There is a material part called our body and there is an immaterial part that the Bible calls our soul.  Death tears these two apart.  Our souls immediately go to be with Christ.  Like the criminal on the cross beside Jesus, at the very moment we die, we will be with him in Paradise.  This is clearly promised to us in the gospel.  If we have Christ as our Saviour, then through him we will be taken into the holy presence of God as soon as the last neuron has fired in our mortal bodies.

At that moment, we will be in what is called the intermediate state.  Yes, we will be in glory.  We will be with the Lord, but things will still not be the way they’re supposed to be.  We will not be living in the fullness of what it means to be human.  For that, we need our material bodies and that’s where the resurrection comes in.

When Christ returns at the end of the age, all of us will receive our bodies back.  We will return to a physical existence.  For Christians, this will be a glorious, eternal physical existence.  Our bodies will be “made like Christ’s glorious body.”  In the new heavens and new earth, we’ll live forever as whole human beings in the presence of God.  This is the final state -- this is what we look forward to with the resurrection of the dead.

This is clearly taught us throughout the Bible.  For this afternoon, we can focus briefly on 1 Corinthians 15.  There were people in the Corinthian church who were denying this very doctrine.  They denied that there was going to be a resurrection at the end of the age.  They believed instead that when believers die, they simply go to heaven and live a disembodied spiritual existence into eternity.  The background for this might have been in Greek philosophy or perhaps in an early form of what we call Gnosticism.  Both among the Greeks and the Gnostics there was this idea that material things are bad.  Material things have to be abandoned, because the really good thing is spiritual.  A physical body is bad, the soul is the good part of the human being – so they thought.  Therefore, there’s no way that a physical body can live in the presence of a good God.  Paul rebukes this thinking and all thinking like it in 1 Corinthians 15.

He insists that there will be a resurrection of the body.  Physical bodies are not bad, because, after all, Jesus had a physical human body.  He wasn’t a fake human being in any sense.  He was completely real – and he still is today.  Today Jesus lives in the presence of God with a true human body.  He died and rose again.  Now his body is different in that it is glorified.  It is no longer subject to any of the effects of sin, whether death or disease or anything else.  But it is still a real human body, raised from the dead.  So if Christ has a real human body and he was raised from the dead, how can anyone say that those who are united to Christ will not experience the same by his power?  Through Christ, we too will rise and we too will receive our bodies back, although transformed and glorified.  The perishable will clothe itself with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality.  Death will be swallowed up in victory!  The Bible is so clear on it, brothers and sisters!   

That brings us to the beautiful doctrine of the life everlasting.  Already now we have eternal life through Christ.  We have joy in him, the beginning of eternal joy as the Catechism says.  But there is something in the future that we can’t even wrap our minds around.  This everlasting life is going to be a state of perfect blessedness where we will praise God forever.  There will be perfect unstoppable joy for eternity.  Nothing and no one will ever cause it to wane.  We will be in God’s presence and we will be loving him and worshipping him perfectly.

Here on this earth, we do love the Lord and we do want to worship him.  But we do so imperfectly.  If you’re honest, don’t you find it easy to lose your focus when you’re singing songs of praise to God in church?  Your mouth is saying the words, but your heart is not really in it sometimes.  Or how about corporate prayer?  That’s a tough one.  The minister is leading the congregation in prayer, but how often don’t our minds drift and we start thinking about other things?  Other examples could be added from our public worship, but also from our family worship or our private devotions.  Our worship here is always going to be weak and imperfect because we are sinful creatures.  But in the life everlasting, none of that will be true anymore.  No one will lose focus.  No one will get distracted.  No one’s mind will ever drift from worshipping the true God in whose presence we’ll dwell.  It will just be glorious worship through and through, offered by us perfectly with no need for mediation by the Holy Spirit, and received by God perfectly.  He will be honoured by creatures who are living the way they were designed to.  Loved ones, this is really something to look forward to!

When it comes to the basics of this doctrine, there is nothing unclear in the Bible.  The Bible lays it out for us.  For instance, the Catechism paraphrases the words of 1 Corinthians 2:9.  Paul was speaking there about perfect blessedness “such as no eye has seen nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived.”  That’s the life everlasting.  It will simply be a state where you receive an abundance of everything truly good from the hand of God.  He will bless you in ways that you can’t even begin to understand here yet.  If we put it briefly:  it’s going to be awesome.  You can’t even imagine how awesome. 

Yes, I know that people ask all kinds of questions about heaven and about life in the age to come, life in the new heavens and new earth.  Catechism students often love to quiz the minister about this or that.  I have my opinions about all sorts of those questions.  The problem is that most of them are just opinions and I’m not here on the pulpit to give you my opinions.  Sure, I believe my opinions are based on what the Bible teaches.  They’re often inferences or conclusions drawn from the broad body of teaching in Scripture.  But we have to be careful that we don’t take those and elevate them to the status of “Thus says the Lord.”  The most important point for all of us to take away this afternoon is that there will be perfect blessedness in the life everlasting.  The Bible is amply clear about that and that is what we need to hold on to above all else.  Perfect blessedness means that there will be no discontent about anything.  No one in the life everlasting will ever complain about anything.  We will all find perfect and lasting satisfaction in the presence of God.  This the gospel promises us.  This is what you must believe with all your heart, brothers and sisters.

Then we need to address the question of certainty.  Someone might say, “How can I know that this is all true?  How can I know that I will receive a glorious body like that of Christ?  How can I know that will have eternal life?”  These are good questions and people do ask them.  It’s good to have certainty, not only now already, but also as we look to the future.  Also as we look to a time when we may be facing death ourselves.

Our certainty on these doctrines comes first and foremost from what the Scriptures teach.  The Bible promises us that there will be a resurrection from the dead.  The Bible also speaks of a further guarantee that this will happen.  That guarantee is in Christ himself.  In 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul speaks of Christ as the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  The imagery is agricultural.  It comes from the world of the vineyard or the orchard.  Harvest time is approaching.  As it does, there are firstfruits.  There are fruits on some branches of some trees that ripen and are ready for picking before others.  The firstfruits assure you that an abundant harvest is on the way.  Christ is the firstfruits of the resurrection of the dead.  He arose victorious over sin and death and his resurrection is the guarantee that many more are to follow.  Those who are united to him in faith, will follow him.  They will be raised, they will receive a glorious body.  You can know this for certain, because it’s guaranteed in Jesus. 

The life everlasting is also guaranteed to us in the Word of God.  Think of what Christ said in John 6:40, “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”  There you have both the resurrection and everlasting life promised by our Saviour.  His promise is reliable.  In John 6:47 he said, “I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life.”  If you believe in Christ, you can be certain that everlasting life is yours!  One more example, this one from John 10:10.  Christ said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  Abundant life, everlasting life is promised to us through Christ!  Brothers and sisters, of that you should never doubt.

The Catechism mentions something else that gives us certainty when it comes to these doctrines.  It’s at the beginning of Answer 58, “Since I now already feel in my heart the beginning of eternal joy…”  There is joy when you rest and trust in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  That joy that you feel also strengthens your certainty that even greater joy is coming.  If you have joy in Christ already, you can be sure that he will complete your joy.  He will do that in life everlasting and in the resurrection.

That brings us to our last point this afternoon, the comfort we have in these doctrines.  Research has been done into the top human fears.  Statistics and surveys show what people fear most.  Can you guess what the top human fear is?  Actually, it’s not death.  It’s making a presentation before a crowd of people.  Death came further down the list at number 7.  As someone quipped, “I guess we’d rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy.”  Now that was just one list and others are different.  But they all have death on them.  People are afraid of death. 

Sometimes even Christians are afraid of death for various reasons.  Some just fear the experience of death.  Does it hurt to die?  What if I have a painful death?  But others also fear the unknown that they think comes with death.  What if everything I have believed is wrong and I find that out right after I die?  There are many more such questions that could be asked.  Such questions have been asked for centuries.  Think about it.  Billions of people have lived and died before us.  The odds are exceptionally good that your doubts and questions have been experienced by others before you.

You can see that with the pastoral approach of our Catechism to these doctrines.  Notice how both of the questions in Lord’s Day 22 include the word “comfort.”  “What comfort does the resurrection of the body offer you?”  “What comfort do you receive from the article about the life everlasting?”  Of course, that word is found in Lord’s Day 1 as well, “What is your only comfort in life and death?”  The Catechism has been described as a confession of comfort and the theme comes back repeatedly throughout.  That reflects a pastoral concern.  Christians are people in need of comfort.  They need comfort when faced with doubts and questions.  They need comfort when faced with the future.  They need comfort to prepare for death, whether for themselves or for loved ones.  Comfort is what the gospel promises us in these beautiful biblical doctrines.

The resurrection of the body offers comfort.  It gives us the comfort of knowing that we shall receive a glorious body like that of Christ.  Every day with every one of us our bodies are slowly decaying.  Our bodies are breaking down.  Some of us feel it more acutely than others.  As you start racking up the decades, generally speaking your body is more fragile and more prone to sickness.  But all of us, young and old, are on the road to death.  We are promised a physical existence in the age to come.  We will receive our bodies back.  Now by itself that promise might not encourage us.  If you’ve been feeling like your body is your enemy, always making your life miserable for whatever reason, the resurrection by itself might not be what you want.  After all, who wants to spend an eternity with arthritis, just to give one example.  But the doctrine of the resurrection is a comfort because it promises us glorified bodies in Christ.  Think of Philippians 3:21.  Christ will “transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”  There will be no arthritis or diabetes or depression or Crohn’s disease or heart trouble, or any other ailment that afflicts us here in our bodies.  It’s comforting to know that the Word of God promises us relief in the age to come. 

The life everlasting gives us even more.  It gives us the comfort of knowing that all the griefs and sorrows of this world will be left behind.  We so often face pain and distress because of this broken world.  There is sickness, death, relationship difficulties, financial challenges, problems with children, apostasy from the faith, and the list goes on.  The life everlasting offers us comfort.  Perfect, eternal blessedness is promised us.  Eternal joy is promised us.  An existence where there will be nothing more to trouble or upset us.  I think you know where this is most clearly promised.  I think you know those comforting words that we find at the end of the Bible in Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  There you find comfort.  For believers, the promise of heaven and all that comes afterwards for believers is like medicine for the hurting and broken.  We long for it.  Some glorious day it will come.  A Puritan by the name of Ezekiel Hopkins once put it well, heaven is “where the unveiled glories of the Deity shall beat full upon us, and we forever sun ourselves in the smiles of God.”

Loved ones, you need not fear death.  You have Christ as your Lord and Saviour.  You therefore have the promises of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.  You have the comforts that these doctrines bring us.  You can face death not with fear, but with a defiant spirit.  Because you have Christ, death is not the end of the story for you.  Because Christ rose from the dead, you will too.  Christ dealt a deadly knock-out blow to death on Easter Sunday.  You share in that victory and that enemy death will not have the final say over you.  We have comfort in Christ, also when we look to the future. 

And brothers and sisters, we can look to the future.  We don’t have to be experts in avoidance or denial.  We know that our lives are in God’s good hands.  We know that our death will be in God’s good hands.  We know that what happens after our death is in our Father’s good hands.  There’s nothing to fear from the future.  Instead, as Christians, we can look ahead to the future with hope, knowing that through Christ we have the guarantee of better things to come.  AMEN. 

Prayer:

Our gracious heavenly Father,

Thank you for the clarity of your Word about our future.  We’re glad that you have clearly revealed these teachings about the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.  Thank you for the certainty that your Word gives to us.  We praise you for the glorious resurrection of Christ, the first-fruits of our own glorious resurrection.  We thank you for all the sure promises about the age to come.  We give thanks as well for your Holy Spirit who works the beginnings of eternal joy in our hearts.  We pray Father that these beautiful doctrines we’ve heard about this afternoon would continue to give us comfort.  Let these teachings kill all our fears and doubts.  We ask you to keep on strengthening our faith in your Word, so that we can walk as your children each day in faith and obedience.               

 

                                                       




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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