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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 a Complete Saviour
Text:LD 22 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Spiritual Warfare

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 113:1-3

Hymn 1A

Hymn 56:1-4

Hymn 55:1-5

Psalm 116:1-5

Readings:  Luke 23:26-43, Revelation 21:1-4

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 Christ our Lord,

A pastor in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church 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 that reflects the way many people think.  She said, "Well, it doesn't matter much about this old body anyway, because one of these days I will 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 many Christians. 

This way of thinking can be summarized with one sentence:  Jesus Christ died to save our souls.  If we hear that sentence, we can certainly agree that it's true.  But the problem with the statement is not in what it says.  The problem is in what it does not say.  Because Jesus Christ did not 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 will not let us say that the body is bad and destined for the garbage.  The Bible will not 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 is spiritual and so it is good.  But the Bible will not 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 Holy Scripture and teaches us to see the 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.  These articles have to be seen in connection with the preceding ones about the Church.  In describing the comfort that comes from the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, we hear about comfort that Christ gives to the church.  The church is comforted knowing that Jesus Christ is her complete Saviour, in the last moment of our lives and beyond.  I preach to you the Word of God as it's been summarized in the Catechism with this theme:

In our death and what follows, we clearly see Jesus Christ as a complete Saviour.

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. 

1.  Christ promises to take our souls immediately to himself.

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 and being verbally abusive towards our Saviour.  The man appears to have suddenly repented of his sin.  He expressed faith in the Lord Jesus and asked to be remembered when Christ came into his kingdom.  The Lord answered, "I tell you the truth, 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."  The Lord did not 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 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.  Many of you will probably have guessed that one of these wrong teachings is the Roman Catholic invention 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 invented 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 does not fit with what the Bible teaches us.  We could think of our reading from Luke 24.  But we could also think of the story that Christ 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, this was a parable, but the 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 is no intermediate place spoken of in Scripture, 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.  This is another error which already existed during the time the 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, they are taken up into heaven and their souls 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 does not 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 "If his sons are honoured, he does not know it; if they are brought low, he does not see it."  In other words, the dead know nothing about what happens here in this realm.  Besides, we also have the passage I mentioned earlier from Luke 16.  When Lazarus died, he does not appear to have fallen asleep at Abraham's side.  At the very least, this is suggestive that we will be consciously enjoying what Christ has prepared for us. 

Of course, the Scriptures do speak of falling asleep in the Lord, but we know that this is simply a reference to the appearance of the physical body.  It says nothing about the state of the soul. 

Now having said all that, we have to recognize that the Bible does not 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 and we'll look at how in our second point:

2.  Christ promises 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 are often inclined to regard salvation as merely a matter of the soul.  But the article concerning the resurrection of the body reminds us in a very clear way that Jesus 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.  The 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, this has 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 goes to great lengths to show that 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.  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.  The Lord Jesus said so in John 5:28-29, "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."  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 does not 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 is 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 the 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 the Lord Jesus.  If he can take a dead sinner and bring new life by the power of the Spirit and Word, why should it be impossible for him to bring a decomposed body back into existence?  We should not doubt the power and strength of our God! 

The good news about the resurrection of the body gives us comfort, especially when we are 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.  Let's consider that with our last point:

3.  Christ promises to give us perfect blessedness forever.

Perfect blessedness is a concept that's hard to grasp.  God meant 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,  "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him."  Something is coming for us that is completely perfect – a state of blessedness too incredible to imagine.  As we think about that, our thoughts should also then turn to Christ.  It is 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."  We will 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 21:1-8.  Our perfect blessedness is vividly, even if only partly, described here.  Of course, 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 will 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 will 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 trost, that powerful word in German which reminds us of a pilgrim in a faraway land.  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 now already 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 are 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 is the Saviour you have to hold on to.  Then 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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