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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:In our death and what follows, Jesus is a complete Saviour
Text:LD 22 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 113

Hymn 74

Hymn 69

Hymn 1

Psalm 149:1,2

Scripture readings:  Luke 23:26-43; Revelation 7:9-17

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 our Lord,

A pastor once made a visit to a hospital where a woman he knew was waiting for a serious heart operation.   The pastor visited with her and comforted her with the hope of the gospel.  She responded in a way which reflects the way some people think.  She said, “Well, it doesn’t matter much about this old body anyway, because one of these days I’ll be through with it forever.”  When the woman said this, she was in great pain and so we can certainly understand why she might be eager to be done with her body.  But at the same time, it shows a certain way of thinking among some Christians. 

That way of thinking can be summarized with one sentence:  Jesus Christ died to save our souls.  If you hear that, I’m sure you can certainly agree it’s true.  Jesus died to save our souls.  But the problem with the statement is not in what it says.  The problem is in what it doesn’t say.  Because Jesus Christ didn’t die to save only our souls.  Jesus Christ suffered and died to redeem both our bodies and our souls, in fact our whole life, everything about us.  The Bible won’t let us say the body is bad and destined for the rubbish bin.  The Bible won’t let us make an artificial opposition between the body and the soul.  Some have done that in the past. 

Under the influence of heathen ideas, some Christians have maintained that the body is bad and the soul is good.  The body is created and material, part of an evil world, they said.  The soul comes from God, it’s spiritual and so it is good.  But the Bible won’t allow us this way of thinking.  Jesus Christ came to save people whose bodies and souls were both corrupted and defiled by sin.  Body and soul have been redeemed by Christ.  He bought our whole being back from the empty and sinful way of life inherited from our forefathers.

The Heidelberg Catechism follows the teaching of Scripture and teaches us to see our Lord Jesus as a complete Saviour.  This afternoon we see this particularly in the articles of the Creed dealing with what happens after we die.  We’re comforted knowing how Jesus Christ is our complete Saviour, in the last moment of our lives and beyond.  I’ve summarized the sermon with this theme:

In our death and what follows, Jesus Christ is a complete Saviour.

We’ll learn how he promises:

  1. To take our souls immediately to himself.
  2. To later reunite our bodies and souls.
  3. To give us perfect blessedness forever. 

The passage about the repentant criminal on the cross beside the Lord Jesus is well-known.  The man was one of two who were mocking our Saviour.  The man appears to have suddenly repented of his sin.  He expressed faith in Jesus and asked to be remembered when Christ came into his kingdom.  The Lord answered, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”  Of course, “paradise” is another word for the place where the souls of God’s people go after death.  The striking word in this passage is “today.”  Jesus didn’t indicate any delay in the arrival of the man’s soul.  We know that it would be only the man’s soul – his body would have remained on the cross, later taken down and left to decompose.  The important thing at this point is the clear teaching of Scripture that this believer’s soul was immediately received into heaven upon his death.  We have every reason to believe that this exemplifies what happens with each and every believer.  

It was important for the Catechism to mention this in QA 57 because there have been wrong teachings on this point.  These wrong teachings had been around for hundreds of years already at the time of the Catechism and they’re still around today.  One of these wrong teachings is the Roman Catholic idea of purgatory.  The Roman Catholic church developed this teaching out of a passage from 2 Maccabees 12 in the apocrypha – of course, they regard the apocrypha as being part of Holy Scripture.   The idea is that when believers die they usually continue to have sin clinging to them.  Since no one can come before God’s holiness in that way, Roman Catholic theologians thought there had to be a place called purgatory.  When most believers die, they must go to a place called purgatory where their sins will be purged away.  This involves different degrees of suffering and pain.  In purgatory, believers are given their final preparations for their arrival into heaven. 

The problem is that it just doesn’t fit with what the Bible teaches us.  We could think of our reading from Luke 24.  But we could also think of the story Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16.  When Lazarus died, the angels immediately brought him to Abraham’s side in heaven.  Of course, that was a parable, but our Lord Jesus gives us a good idea of what really happens when we die.  Some immediately go to heaven and others immediately go to hell.  There’s no intermediate place spoken of in Scripture.  The Bible has no waiting room filled with suffering and pain.  The idea of purgatory also compromises the Scriptural doctrine of Christ’s comprehensiveness as a Saviour.  If we argue for the necessity of a place called purgatory where we have to suffer for our sins, what are we saying about Christ’s ability to wash away all our sins?  There is and can be no intermediate place called purgatory.

Likewise, there is no intermediate state called soul-sleep.  That’s another error which already existed during the time our Catechism was written.  In fact, John Calvin’s first book was written against this false teaching.  The error resurfaced in Reformed churches in the Netherlands during the last century.  Soul-sleep is the idea that when believers die, their souls just fall asleep and are unconscious of everything.  One of the Dutch books defending this view reflects this in its title, “De doden weten niets,” or “the dead know nothing,” an expression taken from Ecclesiastes 9:5.  The dead know nothing because they are asleep. 

Of course, this teaching appears to have some Scriptural support.  I already mentioned Ecclesiastes 9:5.  However, we should question the wisdom of building doctrines from passages in Ecclesiastes.  Much of Ecclesiastes is written in a spirit of irony.  After all, do we really want to have a doctrine which states without further qualification, “Everything to come is meaningless.”?  Moreover, the passage in Ecclesiastes doesn’t necessarily support the doctrine of soul-sleep.  It could have a similar meaning to what we read in a passage like Job 14:21.  There Job speaks about man in a general way.  Eventually man dies, and “His sons come to honour, and he does not know it; they are brought low, and he perceives it not.”  In other words, the dead know nothing about what happens here in this realm.  Besides, there’s also what Paul writes in Philippians 1:23.  He doesn’t know whether he’s going to live or die and which he prefers.  And then he writes in Philippians 1:23, “I am hard pressed between the two.  My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”  Paul knew that when he died he would go to be with Christ.  He wasn’t going to fall asleep – he was going to go straight to the Lord.  

Of course, the Scriptures do speak of falling asleep in the Lord, but that’s is simply a reference to the appearance of the physical body.  When you’re dead, it looks like you’re asleep.  But that says nothing about the state of the soul. 

Now having said all that, we have to recognize that the Bible doesn’t tell us a lot about what it will be like between our death and the resurrection – what we call “the intermediate state.”  We don’t have a lot of information to work with.  We do know the good news spoken of in the Catechism.  We know for certain that we will immediately and consciously be taken to our Saviour’s side.  But it gets better because there’s also Christ’s promise to later reunite our bodies and souls.

As I mentioned at the beginning, the fact confessed in QA 57 is easily forgotten by Christians.  We’re often inclined to regard salvation as just a matter of the soul.  But the article concerning the resurrection of the body reminds us how Christ is very much a Saviour of the body as well as the spirit or soul.  Some of the clearest evidences of this are found in the gospels, especially in the book of Mark.  Our Lord Jesus came to bring freedom for those held in captivity.  He graciously brought healing and compassion.  The healing was there, not only for lost souls, but also for broken bodies.  Of course, in some sense the healing of broken bodies pointed to the saving of lost souls – but it also has merit on its own as part of a plan to redeem the whole person. 

After all, that’s always been God’s plan of salvation for his people.  We can see it revealed already in the Old Testament.  In Job 19:25-27, Job expressed his faith that he would one day see God with his very own eyes, the two eyes embedded in his physical body.  Job pointed to Christ’s complete salvation when he said, “I know that my Redeemer lives…” 

That revelation was brought to fullness in the New Testament.  One of the clearest passages is 1 Corinthians 15.  Paul shows how the resurrection of the dead is an essential Christian doctrine.  Without this doctrine, the Christian faith falls.  Paul’s argument reflects the fact that Jesus Christ is a complete Saviour.  Christ has been raised from the dead as the first fruits of our own glorious resurrection.  The day is coming when the trumpet will sound and all the dead will be raised.

Let’s notice something interesting here.  All the dead will be raised.  Your unbelieving neighbours will also be raised from the dead.  In fact, so will the unbelieving neighbours of your great-great grandparents.  All unbelievers, in fact.  How does this relate to the resurrection of Christ? 

Well, the Bible tells us that all the dead will be raised at the last day.  Jesus said so in John 5:28-29, “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”  So there will be a general resurrection of the dead.  This includes those outside of Christ.  Unbelievers’ bodies will be reunited with their souls as well – but only for the purposes of judgment.  The resurrection of Christ has nothing to do with their resurrection, except insofar as it is the risen Christ who will judge them.  The Bible doesn’t say much about the resurrection of the unbelievers and so it’s best to avoid speculation in this area.   

The Bible says much more about the resurrection of believers.  The elect of God will have their bodies raised from the dead.  These bodies will be perfected.  All the weaknesses and imperfections of this life will be gone.  Our bodies will be reunited with their souls – this is for the purpose of vindication and blessing.  The resurrection of Christ has everything to do with this resurrection.  It’s the risen Christ who has saved us body and soul.  The resurrection of Christ has guaranteed our resurrection unto eternal life and perfect blessedness. 

When we think about these things, we’re often left with so many questions.  For instance, maybe we think of people whose bodies were annihilated in a fire or explosion.  There was nothing left to bury.  We wonder what will happen in such cases where there is no body.  Well, here are a couple of points to consider.  First of all, unless our Lord Jesus returns first, the same fate eventually will come to all bodies, including yours.  It’s simply a matter of time and speed.   The second thing to consider is the saving power of Christ.  If he can take a dead sinner and bring new life by the power of the Spirit and Word, why would it be impossible for him to bring a decomposed body back into existence?  Surely he who created the heavens and earth from nothing at the beginning can reconstitute our human bodies at the end.  We should never doubt the power and strength of our God! 

The good news about the resurrection of the body gives us comfort, especially when we’re faced with our own weakness and mortality.  These human bodies are destined to crumble.  But the promise of the gospel is that there is another chapter and it involves perfect blessedness. 

Perfect blessedness is a concept that’s hard to grasp.  For now, God means it to be that way.  To drive home that point, the Catechism quotes from 1 Corinthians 2:9, which in turn quotes from Isaiah 64:4,  “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.”  Something is coming for us that’s completely perfect – a state of blessedness too incredible to imagine.  As we think about that, our thoughts should also then turn to Christ.  It’s this Saviour who gives us this completely perfect state of existence.  Christ is the one who gives a perfect salvation.  When we have attained the reality, none of God’s people will think to say, “I wonder why this is missing or that is missing.”  We’ll be so completely absorbed with the wonder of it all, with love and wonder at Christ, that such thoughts will never enter our mind. 

We get a glimpse of what Christ is promising us in Revelation 7:9-17.  Our perfect blessedness is vividly, even if only partly, described here.  What we read here happens after the resurrection of the dead.  This final perfect blessedness will come at the last day, after Christ has returned on the clouds of heaven to judge the living and the dead.  Then all the saints of God will be living with him forever in close communion.  There will be no more sin to separate us from him.  We’ll have been made completely holy.  There will be no more sin.  Consequently, there will be no more death or pain.  There will be no more weeping and crying.  All these old things had to do with sin in the world – they will have all passed away.  The influence of sin has completely disappeared from the picture.  There’ll be no possibility of a second fall into sin that could disturb this picture.  Everything will have reached its fulfillment.

Now let’s think for a minute about why God gives us this picture today.  The Catechism gives us one powerful reason:  it’s for our comfort.  Comfort is what the pilgrim gets when he thinks about his home.  Comfort is what the pilgrim gets when he finally arrives home.  Comfort is why God gives us a glimpse of eternal blessedness.  Comfort is why God gives us the taste already now of eternal joy. 

God wants to encourage faithfulness, confidence, and hope in our hearts as we think about this eternal blessedness waiting for us.  We’re pilgrims on our way to a beautiful homeland of which we’ve only seen glimpses.  We’re given the glimpses so that we’ll keep going.  God knows that we need the encouragement to keep going.  He wants us to see these pictures or postcards of our real home and get excited about the journey, about having a relationship with him.  God wants us to stay motivated in our walk with him.  Brothers and sisters:  God gives you this comfort to show you a complete Saviour for your body and soul.  He’s the Saviour you have to cling on to.  Doing so, you can know for certain that all the promises we’ve heard about this afternoon are for you.  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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