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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
 
Title:Jesus Christ is our Resurrection and our Life
Text:LD 22 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Death Defeated
 
Preached:2008
Added:2008-12-23
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 4:1-4
Hymn 1A
Psalm 16:1,4,5
Psalm 133:1,2
Psalm 107:1,12,17 (after offertory)
Hymn 52:1-3

Reading:  John 11:1-44
Text:  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 the Lord Jesus,

 

Have you ever wondered what unbelievers do with death?  What really goes through the mind of an unbeliever when they encounter the death of a loved one?  How do they process it?  How do they cope with it? 

 

As far as I can tell, the American writer Joan Didion is an unbeliever and she wrote a book about this.  The Year of Magical Thinking is about the sudden death of her husband John and how she wrestled with it in the year following.  John had been a writer too and two nights before he died, he asked Joan if she knew how many characters had died in his most recent novel.  Months after his death, she found the list of twelve characters in very faint pencil on a legal pad.  Later, as she considered the deaths of some close friends in real life she wrote:

 

Each of them had been in the last instant alive, and then dead.  I realized that I had never believed in the words I had learned as a child in order to be confirmed as an Episcopalian:  I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting, amen. 

 

I did not believe in the resurrection of the body.

 

Nor had Teresa Kean [these are the dead from her husband’s book], Parlance, Emmett McClure, Jack Broderick, Maurice Dodd, the four people in the car, Charlie Buckles, Percy Darrow, or Walden McClure.

 

Nor had my Catholic husband.

 

I imagined this way of thinking to be clarifying, but in point of fact it was so muddled as to contradict even itself. 

 

I did not believe in the resurrection of the body but I still believed that given the right circumstances he would come back. 

 

He who left the faint traces before he died, the Number Three pencil.

 

Joan Didion says that she denied what we confess in the Apostles’ Creed, but yet somehow she hopes that death is not final, that it’s not the end, period.  There’s confusion here and uncertainty, lack of clarity and contradiction. 

 

We can contrast that with what we confess from the Scriptures in the Heidelberg Catechism.  Here we have clarity, certainty, and comfort.  When we’re faced with the death of a believing loved one, and also when we’re faced with our own death, we can confidently say with Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:55, “Where, O death is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  We can look death in the face with clarity, certainty and comfort because we know Jesus Christ, our resurrection and our life.  That’s our theme this afternoon as I preach God’s Word to you.

 

In the first question and answer of this Lord’s Day we’re reminded that it is by the power of Christ that the resurrection of the body will become a reality.  And this is exactly in line with what Scripture teaches us in passages like John 11.  When the Lord Jesus has his conversation with Martha, he reassures her in verse 23 that her brother will rise again from the dead.  Martha’s thoughts intuitively go to the resurrection of the body at the last day.  Knowing the relevant Old Testament passages like Psalm 16 (which we just sang), she said, “I know he will raise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 

 

Then we find those powerful words in Jesus’ reply:  “I am the resurrection and the life.”  Notice how he puts this:  he says that he is the resurrection.  Martha has her knowledge of the Old Testament and her belief that the dead will be raised at the last day.  But Jesus says that all of those passages point to him.  He is the one in whom the resurrection will become a reality.

 

He is the one who raises Lazarus from the dead – showing in a preliminary way that he has power over death.  He is the one who himself rises from the dead on the third day – definitively illustrating that death does not have the final say over him.  Rather, he’s the one who has power and the victory over sin and death.  He rises from the dead on the third day and reveals himself as the resurrection.

 

Through faith we share in his resurrection.  Lazarus came back from the dead, but he only came back for a time.  Lazarus eventually died again and was buried, and he did not rise again.  But look at what happened with Christ and you get a picture of what will happen with all who believe in Christ.  Christ died and was buried and on the third day rose again.  He rose again, never to die again.  The blood that flows through his glorified body will never cease to flow.  The heart that pumps his blood will never stop pumping.  The lungs that expand and contract with his every breath will never stop expanding and contracting.  The electrical nerve signals that course through his body will do so into eternity.  And all these things will be true of us too when our flesh is reunited with our souls and made to be like his glorious body!  We die once and then we will rise again, never to die again. 

 

Loved ones, we can be confident of this, because the Lord Jesus promises it.  He promises that as we rest and trust in him, we can know that he is our resurrection, that whoever believes in him will live, even though he dies.  That means that we do die, but only once.  And then Jesus adds that whoever lives and believes in him will never die, in other words, such a person will never experience the second death.  Believing this, we can have confidence, and we can also have comfort.  We can know that there is nothing to fear from death.  Because death is not the end.  In fact, with Christ and his death and resurrection, we see the death of death.

 

Let me draw out a couple more important points about the resurrection of the body.  First of all, let’s be clear that this resurrection is a resurrection of the body.  The body is a material thing, something you can see and touch.  This is underlined by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 when he says that Christ’s resurrection is the first-fruits of our resurrection.  When Christ rose from the dead, did he still have a real human body that his disciples could see and touch?  Well, you remember the story of Thomas the doubter in John 20.  John 20:27, “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it into my side.  Stop doubting and believe.”  Christ’s resurrection body was a body that could be seen and touched.  If he is the first-fruits, we would expect everything to follow to be in the same line. 

 

Furthermore, from Romans 8:23 and Romans 8:11, we learn that Christ’s redeeming work includes the body, the physical human body.  And in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44, it is the body laid in the grave that is later raised.  It is the same body, but now perfected and glorified, raised imperishable, glorious, powerful, and spiritual.  In the resurrection, everything about us will be healed and restored as it was created to be. 

 

Towards the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Sam believed his friend Gandalf to be dead.  When he learned that he was not, he cried out, “I thought you were dead!  But then I thought I was dead myself!  Is everything sad going to come untrue?”  In the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of the body, we have the answer to that question.  Everything sad about us is going to come untrue and even more amazingly, somehow it will be even greater for having once been broken and lost.  This too is part of the comfort of knowing Jesus Christ to be our resurrection. 

 

We also should reflect briefly on the time of the resurrection of the body.  Very briefly, the Bible tells us that it will take place when Christ returns.  When that will be, no one but God the Father knows.  When Christ returns, the dead will be raised, and then comes the final judgment.

 

When Christ returns, the dead will be raised.  And the Bible is clear that all the dead will be raised, both believers and unbelievers.  The souls and bodies of both believers and unbelievers will be reunited.  We know that from passages like John 5:28,29, where Jesus says, “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.”  Similarly, Paul says in Acts 24:15, “I have hope in God...that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust.”

 

So, there is a resurrection of those who have been justified by faith in Christ, and a resurrection of the wicked, those who are still in their sins.  The difference between these two is their destination after the resurrection.  Jesus says that the just will rise to live.  In John 10:10, he said that he came so that we may have life and have it to the full.  And the Catechism paraphrases 1 Corinthians 2:9, describing an undescribably wonderful perfect blessedness.  The difference is life.  The difference is that those who are resting and trusting in Christ’s perfect righteousness will have abundant life and abundant comfort for eternity.  That gives us perspective, that gives us the big picture as we continue on our pilgrimage through this world where there’s so much brokenness and dysfunction. We are on our way to a better land, to the promised land where there is perfect blessedness.  We can be sure of this comfort because just as he said to Martha, Jesus is not only our resurrection but also our life.

 

That means at least two things.  First of all, Jesus Christ is the source of the life everlasting.  “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me” – John 14:6.  Believing in Jesus Christ, we can come to the Father.  It is through Christ alone, because of Christ alone, that we have the life everlasting.  We’re going to look at this more closely next week when we deal with Lord’s Day 23 and what the Bible teaches about our justification. 

 

That Jesus is our life also means that he is the one who publicly announces our eternal life at the last day.  From Scripture (Matthew 25) we know that Jesus Christ is coming to judge the living and the dead.  At the last day, he will separate the sheep from the goats.  To the goats he will say, “Depart from me you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”  But to the sheep, to all believers, he will announce publicly for the whole world to hear, and we’ll hear these comforting words from his lips, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”  And what will happen after that?  The Lord Jesus says that the goats (unbelievers) “will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”  (Matt. 25:46).  

 

Let’s now consider that eternal life a bit more carefully.  First of all, we have to be clear that when we die, our souls are immediately taken up to Christ and his presence.  Do you want proof of that?  Think of the thief on the cross who repented and believed.  Jesus says to him in Luke 23:43, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”  In Acts 7:59, when Stephen was stoned, he expected to be received by Christ right away and that’s reflected in his prayer, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  So too, when we die, we can be absolutely sure that the moment our heart stops beating and we take our last breath, we will be immediately with God in heaven, free from sin and its effects.  What a wonderful, comforting thought! 

 

Also, wonderful and comforting is the truth that something even better is coming.  Yes, we will immediately be taken up to Christ after we die.  But that’s not the final state of believers.  The story is incomplete at that point.  The drama continues when Christ returns and the dead are raised, and we receive our bodies back and condemnation takes place for unbelievers and vindication for those who are righteous in Christ.  When that last day comes, the Bible teaches us to expect something awesome.  There will be a new creation which will be a renewal of the present creation.  The present creation will be purged and cleansed with fire.  Not only that, but Revelation 21 leads us to expect a dramatic coming together, a dramatic conjunction  of heaven and earth.  And this is the place where we will dwell for ever in God’s blessed presence.  In his Reformed Dogmatics, when he deals with the doctrine of the end things (eschatology), Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck put it in a beautiful way when he says that at that moment, time will be charged with the eternity of God, space will be full of his presence, eternal becoming will be wedded to immutable being, and even the contrast between heaven and earth will be gone.  Amazing, mind-blowing, incomprehensible.

 

And we will have joy for eternity.  The Catechism says that right now we feel in our hearts the beginning of eternal joy.  As believers, we face struggles.  There are struggles with sin, struggles with temptation, struggles with disease, struggles with circumstances beyond our control.  But in the face of all that, like Paul in prison in his letter to the Philippians, we can feel in our hearts the beginning of eternal joy, because we know Christ, and we know that we’re right with God through him, and we know that all of God’s promises are for us because of him.  This joy flows out of faith, faith in Christ.  And because we have Christ, because Christ has us, we know for sure that perfect blessedness and joy await us hereafter. 

 

This joy which we will enjoy hereafter is a joy that will only increase for eternity.  As we live in God’s blessed presence, we will take more and more joy in God, and God’s worth will be more and more magnified by us.  If one thing is clear about our eternal dwelling place from the Revelation to John, it’s that it’s going to be a busy place.  What are we going to be busy with?  Giving praise and glory to God for eternity, piling up the praises for him, piling up the joy that we experience from knowing him as our gracious Father.  Loved ones, don’t think of your eternal home as a place where everything stands still.  If you do that, you’ll be missing out on the expectation of the joy that’s going to be ours.  We have much to anticipate, much to look forward to in the life everlasting.  Ever abounding, ever increasing joy.  And all because Jesus Christ is our life. 

 

I know that there are a lot of questions about all these sorts of things.  Every time I teach Lord’s Day 22 to our catechism students, we end up having a lot of discussion.  That’s because there are lots of questions, questions like:  are we going to remember what happened here on earth in this life?  Are we going to recognize one another?  What if I had a baby and he passed away, what age will he be in heaven and will I recognize him?  What age will my elderly mother or father be in heaven?  We have so many questions and quite honestly, the Bible doesn’t give us all the answers.  It does tell us everything we need to know to live and die in the joy of the comfort of belonging to Christ.  It does direct us to the gospel.  It does tell us to keep looking to Christ, to fix our eyes on him, to rest and trust in him and in his Word, in his promises to us.  So loved ones, let’s do that and look forward to this perfect blessedness in which God will be all in all, and in which we will be praising him forever. 

 

Let’s pray together:

 

Heavenly God and Father,

 

We thank you for the comfort that the doctrines of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting give us.  We thank you for Jesus Christ, who is our resurrection and our life.  Help us to continue fixing our eyes on him in faith.  We pray that he would return quickly with the clouds of heaven, with his holy angels, to usher in the age to come.  Father, we also pray that if we die before he returns, that we would be strengthened with your Holy Spirit to face death without fear, and with the comfort of knowing that we belong to you and that we will go to you.  Father, we pray that through faith in Christ we would constantly feel in our hearts the beginnings of eternal joy, and that after this life, we would have the perfect, indescribable blessedness promised in your Word.  Please give us more grace with your Word and Spirit so that we grow in our trust in you and in your promises.  We pray it all in Christ, who is our resurrection and our life.  AMEN.      




* 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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