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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:The gospel promises that speak of a blessed ever after through Christ
Text:LD 22 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 116:1-5

Psalm 16:1,5

Hymn 67:1,2,5,7

Hymn 1

Hymn 74

Scripture readings: Job 19:23-27, Matt. 22:23-33, Philippians 3

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 Jesus,

This afternoon we’ve come to the last two articles of the Apostles’ Creed.  Since they come last, one might think that these more or less rank at the bottom in terms of importance.  And sure enough, in the history of the church there have been those who’ve taken that approach to them.  There have been those who’ve said that these articles are basically optional.  For instance, there was the German theologian Horst Stephan.  Writing in 1921, he said, “The strong interest in the human body and its glorified entrance into eternity, which marks the belief in the resurrection, should not be considered an absolutely necessary part of the Christian faith...”  Did you hear that?  “...should not be considered an absolutely necessary part of the Christian faith.” 

What does the Bible say about that?  In his letters to Timothy, Paul mentions three false teachers named Hymenaeus, Alexander, and Philetus.  They denied a future resurrection of human bodies.  They spiritualized the resurrection of the dead.  They said it had already happened.  Paul says that these men had made shipwreck of the faith and had erred concerning the truth.  Rather than make room for them and tolerate their errors, as if these things were optional, Paul said that they had to be excommunicated, thrown out of the church.  Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul addressed the Corinthians on the same matter.  He told them if they denied this teaching, they threw the whole Christian religion out the window.  And there were the Sadducees who also denied a future resurrection of human beings.  Our Lord Jesus told them, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” 

These articles of the Apostles’ Creed are not negotiable, not optional.  They’re fundamental to the Christian faith.  They too are part and parcel of all that a Christian must believe.  They contain gospel promises that every child of God must embrace for salvation.  This afternoon, we will consider the gospel promises that speak of a blessed ever after through Christ our Saviour.  We’ll see that these promises pertain to:

  1. The resurrection of the body
  2. The life everlasting

To begin with, we need to be clear on what resurrection is and which resurrection we’re speaking of here.  Resurrection simply means rising again.  It means that a body that once was dead comes to life again.  When we hear that, right away we typically think of Jesus.  He died on the cross, then on the third day his body came back to life.  That is the resurrection of Christ.  But that’s not what we’re referring to here.  Today we’re talking about the resurrection of regular human beings like you and me.  The Bible tells us that when our Lord Jesus returns, our bodies that were once dead will come back to life. 

This has happened before.  Jesus’ resurrection is not the only one in the Bible.  Looking back to the Old Testament, there was the son of the widow of Zarephath in 1 Kings 17.  Elijah prayed to God and the boy came back from the dead.  There was the son of the Shunammite woman in 2 Kings 4.  Elisha prayed to God and that boy too came back from the dead.  Then there was that anonymous man in 2 Kings 13.  He had died and was being buried.  He was buried in the tomb of Elisha and when his body touched the bones of Elisha, suddenly he came back to life.

But those resurrections were not lasting – in fact, they’re better described as resuscitations than resurrections.  Eventually, all of those people died for good and stayed dead.  Nevertheless, in Israel there was a hope for a lasting, eternal resurrection.  There are several places in the Old Testament that speak of it, and one of the most memorable is found in Job 19.  You know the story of Job.  There was a man who suffered horribly.  His body was rotting away before his eyes and his health completely gone.  Yet there in Job 19 we find those words of faith and confidence.  Job knew he had a Redeemer who lived and who would one day stand upon the earth.  Job knew the day would come when his skin would be destroyed by death.  Yet by faith he knew that that was not the end of his body.  Some day in his flesh, with his very own eyes, he would see his Redeemer, his God.  He would see the glory of Christ and as he focussed on that, real, physical pupils would dilate. 

The words of Job have brought comfort and strength to believers through the ages.  In my first congregation, there was a godly older brother who was dying.  By the time his illness was diagnosed, he only had a few weeks to live.  These words from God in Job 19 were his anchor.  And they gave comfort to his grieving wife and family after the Lord called him home too.  “I know that my Redeemer lives...”  Powerful, beautiful, encouraging gospel words.

They were words that pointed ahead to the coming of the one who called himself the Life -- the one who said that he had come to bring life and to bring it abundantly.  During his earthly ministry, several times Jesus showed that he has power over death.  The one example that often springs to mind is Lazarus.  The resurrection of Lazarus was especially powerful because he had been dead for so long.  By the time he was raised, he had been dead for four days.  In Jesus’ day there were charlatans and fraudsters known for “raising the dead.”  They were raising people who just had a pulse, a pulse that couldn’t really be felt.  These people looked dead.  Their breathing was so shallow that there was no obvious rising and falling of the chest.  These fraudsters had tricks in their bag for reviving these people who were just barely alive.  These weren’t true resurrections.  But here in John 11, God comes to a real funeral.  He comes to a funeral where the deceased has been dead long enough for decomposition to obviously set in.  Martha warns Jesus against going into the tomb because of the stink.  Lazarus was dead, dead.  And to the glory of God, Jesus calls him out, and he walks out alive.

But again, Lazarus is no longer with us.  His resurrection was a sign pointing to Jesus’ victory over death, but it was not the fulfillment of that victory, not its consummation.  That is yet to come.  It will come when our Lord Jesus returns with the clouds of heaven.  In Philippians 3, Paul speaks of eagerly awaiting the Saviour to return from heaven.  When he returns, we will “attain to the resurrection of the dead.”  When he returns, our lowly bodies will be transformed to be like his glorious body.

Loved ones, when we die, our souls immediately go into God’s presence.  Heaven is a good place to be, but it’s not the final destination.  In theology we call it “the intermediate state.”  It’s intermediate -- that means that it’s in between.  Our final destination is the new heaven and new earth.  We will live in that final destination not as disembodied spirits, but as true human beings with both body and soul joined together as we were created and designed to be.  At the resurrection, our bodies and souls are reunited and the separation that death created is undone. 

When I teach this to catechism students, often all sorts of questions get raised.  For instance, they might ask about the bodies of people who were vaporized in a plane crash.  Those bodies are no longer in existence.  But if you stop and think about it, Lazarus’ body is no longer around either.  Along with billions of other human bodies, it’s disappeared.  But the Word of God tells us that with his miraculous power, somehow God will reconstitute all these human bodies at the last day.  Somehow all these human bodies will be called back into existence.  Think of creation.  If God could create everything out of nothing with his Word, then certainly we can believe that he can reconstitute human bodies at the last day by his Word.  He has the mighty power to do so.

It’s also important to realize that this resurrection of the body happens to both believers and unbelievers.  Unbelievers are also going to receive their bodies back.  But that happens so that they may receive their eternal punishment in the very same bodies in which their sins were committed.  Theirs is a resurrection of shame.  For them, there is no comfort in the resurrection of the body.  However, for believers, of course there is.  We have the consolation of knowing that we will some day have perfect bodies dwelling in perfect peace and perfect joy with God.  The gospel promises this to us.

And those gospel promises for the future then also have a bearing on our life in the here and now.  Think of Paul’s words in Philippians 3 again.  He writes about the enemies of the cross.  Their mind is on earthly things, and they live accordingly.  Paul says their god is their stomach.  In other words, he’s speaking here about those who live focussed on food.  They have an obsession with food.  When we’re obsessed with food, our stomach becomes our god and we have our mind set on earthly things.  There’s nothing wrong with enjoying food, but we’re talking here about obsession and what we set our minds and hearts on.  Do we want to be like the enemies of the cross?  Of course not.  So, what does Paul say to point us in the better direction?  “Our citizenship is in heaven.”  It’s time to be heavenly-minded, keeping in mind that the new heaven and new earth is our destination and we should start living as those who will be there.  Our bodies will be like Christ’s glorious body, so today is the time to start taking care of them and being heavenly-minded even with our eating and drinking and whatever else we do with our bodies.  The Holy Spirit here wants to rouse and stir us up to a greater and more serious pursuit of holiness, so that whether we eat or drink or whatever we do, we do it to the glory of God, expecting the resurrection of our bodies through the power of Christ.  It’s time to be who we are, a people destined to be living with Christ forever.

That thought brings us to the gospel promises regarding the life everlasting.  Some day we shall indeed have perfect blessedness.  What does that look like?  Our Catechism paraphrases 1 Corinthians 2:9 and tells us that it is a blessedness that no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor heart of man conceived.  It is a blessedness that we can begin to describe with some help from the Bible, but eventually we run up against a wall because this blessedness is just too much, too much for us to handle, too much for us to understand.  It’s too awesome. 

We can begin to describe it most clearly in terms of what it will not be.  We know that in the life everlasting there will never be hunger or thirst.  No one will experience sickness, pain or disease.  No one will have to say farewell to elderly parents.  No moms and dads will have to go through the pain of burying a child.  No husbands or wives will ever lose their best friend.  There will be no more death, no more grieving.  From what our Lord Jesus says in Matthew 22, we know that marriage will no longer have a place, at least not the sort of marriage that we’ve known here between a man and a woman.  In the life everlasting, there is no lack, there is no discontent.  No one will ever wonder, “Well, why isn’t this here?”  No one will doubt God.  No one will be distracted from God.  No one in the blessed life everlasting will ever flee from God’s presence or be cast out from God’s presence. 

Then there are also a few positive things we can say about the life everlasting from what the Bible teaches.  Our Lord Jesus says in Matthew 22:30 that we will be like the angels in heaven.  That doesn’t mean, as some have said, that we become angels when we die.  It means that in the hereafter, we can be compared to angels, we are like the angels in heaven.  Like the angels, we will serve God perfectly.  We will serve God eagerly and with passion.  Like the angels, we will always be close to God.  Like them, we will always delight to do what he wills, putting his will before our own.  Like the angels, we will give all the glory to the Lamb. 

In the life everlasting, we will have a perfect love for God our Father.  We will perfectly love him who created us and who sustained us and protected us under his wings each day.  We will love our Lord Jesus, our glorified head, we will love him with a love that will never decrease, that will never stop, and that will never lose its fervour.  When we remember how he called us with a holy calling and how he washed us in his blood from all our sins, how he renewed us with his Spirit, how he instructed us and guided us in this life and saved us from sins and our enemies, we will be irresistibly compelled to love him perfectly into eternity. 

Not only will we love our Lord Jesus, we’ll also delight in loving the angels who also love our Saviour.  We will love them as they have loved us and protected us during our pilgrimage here on this earth. We will affectionately join our voices to theirs in praise for our God. 

There will also be perfect love for the saints, for all those redeemed by the Lord Jesus.  Everything that made other believers difficult to love, whether it was in them or in us, will be done away with.  There’ll be no obstacles to our love for one another.  The gospel promises that in the life everlasting there will be a perfect love that unites the saints into one body, a body ever at peace.  Loving one another, we will together love God and lift up our voices in worship to him.  We’ve often had a foretaste of that here on earth (and again today), but in the life everlasting it will be blissfully perfect, unstained with sin and weakness. 

Brothers and sisters, that’s what the gospel promises us.  That’s what we have to look forward to.  Dwelling in love.  Think about it:  if you had a really good friend who did just a small fraction of what God has done for you, how you would love that friend.  Then think seriously about the life you’ll live forever in God’s presence, in his love.  Think of how your love for God in that life everlasting will flourish and be strong forever.  All of this is the reason why the apostle Paul says in Philippians 1 that it is so desirable to be with Christ.                           

The gospel promises are rich, deep, and wide.  Over the last months, we’ve explored them inside and out.  Everything in the Apostles’ Creed points us to God’s grace.  It’s these promises that we must all continue to embrace each and every day, not only as we hear them proclaimed from the pulpit, but as often as we encounter them in our own study of God’ Word, in our personal devotions, in our family worship.  Loved ones, this afternoon, our God is calling to all of us to think about what we have been promised by God in the gospel.  He is calling us to go on in faith, always embracing those promises for ourselves. 

In his Institutes, John Calvin also has a lengthy discussion of the Apostles’ Creed.  His conclusion is beautiful and worth listening to:

We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ.  We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else.  If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is “of him.”  If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in his anointing.  If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity, in his conception; if gentleness, it appears in his birth.  For by his birth he was made like us in all respects that he might learn to feel our pain.  If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion; if acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission of the curse, in his cross; if satisfaction, in his sacrifice; if purification, in his blood; if reconciliation, in his descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb; if newness of life, in his resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in his entrance into heaven; if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings, in his Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given him to judge.  In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other.  (2.16.19)  

Brothers and sisters, we have everything in the promises of the gospel.  Everything in Christ.  AMEN.


God of grace, our Father,

Thank you for the beautiful promises of the gospel.  The joyous sound of the good news encourages us so much.  This afternoon, we especially thank you for what we have in the articles regarding the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.  We praise you that we may look forward to a perfect bodily existence in your presence.  We look forward to living with you in perfect love and praise.  Father, we ask that you would bring that day quickly.  We pray that you would give us your help in living on this earth in these bodies.  Help us with your grace so that we would be heavenly minded, so that we would keep our eyes fixed on heavenly things.  We pray Father that we live as citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem.  Please give us your help with your Spirit who lives in us.     

* 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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