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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:The resurrection and the Life
Text:LD 22 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Death Defeated
 
Preached:2011-05015
Added:2011-05-16
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Liturgy from 1984 Book of Praise.  Bible Translation NKJV

Psalm 16:1,4

Psalm 115:6,8

Hymn 55:1,2,3

Psalm 16:5

Hymn 56:1,2,4

Read:  Job 19; Revelation 21.

Text:  Lord’s Day 22.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


 

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In 1979 the British Rock Band that went under the name of Pink Floyd put an album together called “The Wall” and in that album they had a haunting song called “Goodbye Cruel World.”

Goodbye cruel world, I’m leaving you today.

Goodbye. Goodbye.  Goodbye.

Goodbye to all you people

There’s nothing you can say

To make me change my mind.

Goodbye.

How sad!  What a bleak and depressing song!  When I went on to YouTube and listened to it this past week in preparation for this sermon, I had to think of the Preacher’s refrain in the book of Ecclesiastes:

“Vanity of vanities.  All is vanity.”

This song is hollow and hopeless – and certainly not the type of music that we as Christians should fill our heads with.  But equally sad is that this song is one that many people want to have played at their funerals.  This song clearly has a message that resonates with how many people feel:  “Goodbye cruel world.”  Goodbye to a world that is horrible and hopeless.

We live in a messed up world with many people living what are called messed up lives.  Drug runners facing life in prison before their lives hardly began.  Drug users imprisoned in their own bodies, chemically and psychologically dependent on a fix, seemingly unable to escape from the dizzying spiral down.  Eleven hundred women in Congo raped every day but unable to escape the hell they call home.  Refugees in camps for years on end, their lives effectively put on hold.  Children in hospital, their limbs torn off by land mines.  Old people at home alone, waiting for their son or their daughter to call (but the phone hardly ever rings).  And then many people wonder:  is this what life is all about?  Is there nothing more to look forward to?  Or is this all there is, so that at the end of life it is appropriate to say goodbye to this cruel world and drift away into the darkness of death?

But the song “Goodbye cruel world” should never be played at a Christian funeral.  Because a Christian funeral, like a Christian life, is not hollow and hopeless.  A Christian funeral will call those who mourn to lift up their eyes to the One who gives comfort in life and in death. 

You will not hear the song “Goodbye cruel world” played at a Christian funeral.  But what you will normally hear is a confession of faith.  A confession of the faith of the church and the faith of every Christian that ends with the words,

I Believe . . . the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting!

This is a confession of hope and a confession of triumph.  And, as Lord’s Day 22 explains, it is a confession that gives us comfort.  Comfort both in life and in death.  A comfort not just for the graveside but for every day we live on earth.  And so I preach to you the Word of the Lord as the church has confessed it in Lord’s Day 22 under the following theme:

The Holy Spirit comforts the church with the promise of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. This promise gives us:

1.    Comfort for the present.

2.    Hope for the future.

1. Comfort for the Present.

We live in a fallen and a broken world.  We are often faced with disease, disorders, deformities and death.  Some of us also have experienced the pain of a pregnancy that did not go as hoped.  Miscarriage and death are all too common – not to mention the pain of the inability to have children.  Others among us have wept as our children were wheeled in – or out – of the operating theatre in the hospital.  (And some children even have multiple operations.)  Physical disabilities, mental illness and degenerative diseases often cause grief that goes on for years.  Indeed, life is often a vale of tears, an existence where suffering and sadness is no more than a medical test, no more than a phone call, no more than a missed heartbeat away.

And for that reason we feel that we can relate to the man Job.  In our minds we can see him there, sitting on an ash heap with a piece of a broken pot in his hand, trying – but failing – to find relief from the painful boils that covered his body from the top of his head to the soles of his feet.  We wince at his cries of pain.  We are shocked when he appears to blame God for his suffering.  We grieve at his lament of isolation, of being abandoned by all those around him.

In the book of Job we also get a glimpse of the prospect of death through the eyes of one who is suffering.  In his discussions with his friends, Job reflected on the nature of death and on what lies beyond it.  And in the middle of that suffering there were times when things appeared to Job as being very bleak and he questioned both the meaning of life and the point of death.  Let me read with you from a few passages in the book of Job. (And remember as we read these verses that Job did not have God’s full revelation as we have received it in His Word today.)

In chapter 7:6-10 Job said,

6      “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle,

            And are spent without hope.

7      Oh, remember that my life is a breath!

            My eye will never again see good.

8      The eye of him who sees me will see me no more;

            While your eyes are upon me, I shall no longer be.

9      As the cloud disappears and vanishes away,

            So he who goes down to the grave does not come up.

10      He shall never return to his house,

            Nor shall his place know him anymore.

And he said in Job 10:20-22,

20      Are not my days few?

            Cease! Leave me alone, that I may take a little comfort,

21      Before I go to the place from which I shall not return,

            To the land of darkness and the shadow of death,

22      A land as dark as darkness itself,

            As the shadow of death, without any order,

            Where even the light is like darkness.’ ”

And chapter 14:7-12,

7      “For there is hope for a tree,

            If it is cut down, that it will sprout again,

            And that its tender shoots will not cease.

8      Though its root may grow old in the earth,

            And its stump may die in the ground,

9      Yet at the scent of water it will bud

            And bring forth branches like a plant.

10      But man dies and is laid away;

            Indeed he breathes his last

            And where is he?

11      As water disappears from the sea,

            And a river becomes parched and dries up,

12      So man lies down and does not rise.

            Till the heavens are no more,

            They will not awake

            Nor be roused from their sleep.

Reading the book of Job we get the impression that death is something that suffering Job both longs for and fears at the same time.  On the one hand with death comes the end to earthly suffering.  But on the other hand, if death is all there is, where is the comfort in that?  If death is all there is, then there would be no vindication for Job, no opportunity for wrongs to be made right, for suffering to turn to joy.

If death is all there is, then we too would be tempted to farewell this life with the despairing cry of “Goodbye cruel world!”

And for us as Christians, there is something else also that could cause us to despair about this present life and this present body.  For we know that it does not work for us to simply point our fingers at this cruel world and say it is all someone else’s fault.  We grieve because we know that this world was created good and that mankind was created very good, reflecting the very image of God.  But it was the sin of the human race, a sin that we collectively bear responsibility for, that has caused the grief and the sadness of this present life.  It is the sin of the human race that has caused the world to be in the bondage of corruption and to groan and labour with birth pangs (to use the description of Romans 8:21,22).  And that sin still clings to you and me today.  Although we confess in answer 58 of the Catechism that “I now already feel in my heart the beginning of eternal joy” this joy is often clouded by the reality of the sin that still clings to us.  As we confessed in Lord’s Day 21, our sinful nature is something against which we have to struggle in all our life.  We want to grow in godliness, we want to grow closer to God, we want to enjoy that sweet communion with Him, but it so quickly seems to happen that we fail and it is as if we are back in the gutter.  Our body, the apostle Paul exclaims in Romans 7, is a body of death!

And all this has caused some people to hate the body, to hate this life, to hate themselves.  And then they might say, “I can’t wait to be done with this body forever!”

But in the Apostles’ Creed we confess,

“I believe . . . the resurrection of the body!”

And the Catechism teaches us (rightly teaches us, I might add), that this gives us great comfort!  Comfort not just for the future, but comfort for today!  Comfort even in the midst of pain, in the midst of sin and in the face of trouble.  And this is the comfort:  That

“Not only shall my soul after this life immediately be taken up to Christ my Head, but also this my flesh, raised by the power of Christ, shall be reunited with my soul and made like Christ’s glorious body.”

And the comfort in this is that it demonstrates to us how far reaching the redeeming work of Christ is.  Since we, body and soul, were created in the image of God, He is not willing to leave any part of our salvation undone, but has redeemed us so that with body and soul, both in life and in death, we may belong to our faithful saviour Jesus Christ.  We may look forward to the time when this body of ours will be redeemed, will be made perfect, will be like the glorious body of Christ.  This earthly tent, created in the image of God, will once more reflect His glory!  The effects of sin that we still experience so strongly today will be completely removed.

And that is an ever-present comfort that we may experience today.  Romans 8 says that it is not only Creation that is groaning for redemption, but also ourselves.  Verse 23 and 24 of Romans 8 says,

23 Not only that, but we also who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.

24 For we were saved in this hope.

 

It is going to happen.  One day our bodies will be completely redeemed, they will renewed and made glorious, free from sin and the effects of sin.  Our physical and mental scars, our diseases and disorders, our addictions and anxieties will plague us no more.  And that was the comfort that Job also could look forward to.  In chapter 19:25-27 he looked beyond his suffering and in faith he lifted up his head and in a shout of triumph declared,

25      For I know that my Redeemer lives,

            And He shall stand at last on the earth;

26      And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,

            That in my flesh I shall see God,

27      Whom I shall see for myself,

            And my eyes shall behold, and not another.

            How my heart yearns within me!

 

Job was not yet out of his suffering, he was not able to make sense of what was happening, he still asked where God was in all that he endured, but confessed that even then he had a Redeemer.  And His Redeemer would see to it that everything that was wrong would be made right.  And more, he confessed that his present suffering would come to an end, and he confessed that the grave was not the end.  Yes, Job would die and be buried.  From dust he came and to dust he would return.  But the time would come that his Redeemer would at last stand on the earth and then in his flesh Job would see God!  Job could look forward to the time when he would see the One who would redeem him from his suffering and pain, who would restore to him the fullness of life. 

And that’s a beautiful things for all of us to be comforted with this afternoon.  At the resurrection of the body, you will still be you.  We don’t know how, but somehow God is going to resurrect your body and the bodies of those who died before us, and we will all stand before Him, we will all see God face to face.  I will still be me and you will still be you, except we will be different.  We will be changed, for we will be glorified.  Sin and decay and sickness and weakness will be gone and in their place will be a body that truly and fully reflects the glory of the body of Christ.  And in that hope God comforts us today.  This present body which today is ravaged by sin and sickness will tomorrow be raised incorruptible.  And son the new earth our body and soul will be together.  That’s how God made us and that is how He will remake us, to the praise of His glory.

2. Our future hope.

So how do you describe the life everlasting?  How do you describe an existence where we live before the face of God in eternal blessedness?  People try to do it.  They think of the best of the best of this life.  The joy, the happiness, the laughter, the gift of a spouse, of children, of a friend.  They think of the music that seems to speak to your soul and sends goosebumps all over your body.  And they think of those times when you can feel it so powerfully that God is with you and that you love Him.  But it is, of course, better than that.  As one commentator put it  (Kevin DeYoung),

“Life everlasting is like all of this power, beauty, delight, truth, and sweetness rolled into one experience, then multiplied by ten, then by a hundred, then by ten million.  Eternal life in God’s presence will be such a weight of glory that we will feel as if we never knew happiness before and all our troubles will be in a moment forgotten as so puny and so trivial and to be utterly inconsequential compared to all this joy.”

As we read in Revelation 21, in the life everlasting there will be no tears, no death, no mourning, crying or pain (for Christ has conquered all of these).  There will be no temple because we will never be away from God’s full and glorious presence.  There will be no sea, no place filled with danger and chaos where we would fear to go.  There will be no sun or moon because God’s glory will be so bright and so awesome that He will totally outshine any need for a sun.  Although there will be city walls as a picture of might and splendour and permanence, the gates will never be shut as there will be no enemies to be afraid of.  It will be so good and so beautiful and so perfect that there are really no words to describe it.  It will be, as our catechism says, quoting from 1 Corinthians 2:9,

“perfect blessedness, such as no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived – a blessedness in which to praise God forever.”

Not everyone will enjoy that eternal blessedness, however.  Revelation 21 teaches us that

“there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”  (Revelation 21:27)

As we will see further in Lord’s Day 23 next week, only those who by a true faith are grafted into Christ are declared righteous and may look forward to the life everlasting.  But our comfort lies in the sure promise that whoever calls upon the name of the LORD will be saved.  Our comfort lies in the confession that we belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to our faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.  Our salvation is in Jesus Christ and with His precious blood He has set us free from the power of the devil.  And therefore by His Holy Spirit we are assured of eternal life.  (Lord’s Day 1)  We are assured that the promises are for us and that we will enjoy them in their fullness.

We do not do so yet.  Today we still groan for the full redemption of our bodies.  But it will happen because He who is faithful has promised.

We live in a fallen and a broken world.  We are often faced with disease, disorders, deformities and death.  But at the end of our lives, should we be saying “Goodbye cruel world?”  No!  For the future will be better than that.  The comfort we may live in today is that we believe the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.  We believe that even though we die, in our flesh we will see God.

We will say goodbye to sin and sickness, disease and disorder.  We will say goodbye to chaos and confusion, suffering and sorrow.  But we will live again to see a new day and a new world.  It will be the same world and we will have the same body.  The same but better.  The same but perfect.  The same but glorified, like Christ’s glorious body.  And so we live in the joy and the comfort that we may know that in our flesh we will see the full benefits of the redeeming work of Christ, our Saviour and our Redeemer.   And so our comfort is not found in singing that song “Goodbye cruel world” but in singing this song of praise to God:

“Therefore I will rejoice with heart and soul;

my body rests secure in Your protection.

You will not leave me down in dark Sheol,

Nor let your Holy One there see corruption.

Your presence gives me joy in fullest measures;

Your right hand brings me everlasting pleasures.”

(Psalm 16:5, Book of Praise, 2010)

Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2011, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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