The Promise: "Ever After" Week One
This Easter Sunday we'll be launching a new sermon series at First Church entitled, "Ever After."
One of the most difficult questions that I get as a pastor is "what happens to us when we die?" Generally, these questions get asked when I am visiting someone who is extremely ill, or who has otherwise had to come to terms with their own mortality.
I've come to understand that most people have clear opinons about life after death, even though their foundations for these opinions are as vague as a shadow.
Other people believe that when you die, you just sort of stay on this plane of existence, drifting about like Casper the Friendly Ghost, only no one can see you and you're not huggable.
I grew up in faith communities where we talked a lot about Hell as a possible after death destination---as in the people who didn't believe like us (and who we didn't especially like) were going there.
Still others, believe that death is the end of it all. Finito. Caput. Done.
Or there are people who think that you get sent back around again to try again as something/one else.
But in the end, many of us realize that we are facing the unknown. And facing the unknown is scary. The knowledge that "Ever After" is something that we all have to deal with eventually is small comfort to those of us who are facing it.
And so, "What happens to us when we die?"
I guess the answer would have to be: That depends.
What does the Bible say about all of this? What can we learn from Scripture that might give us hope for the future? And how can we know what it means to have the hope of Resurrection? What is Heaven like? Is there a Hell? Who gets to spend eternity with God?
These are all questions that we'll be seeking to answer in the coming weeks.
But first... The Resurrection.
This is an Easter sermon, after all.
I have to say this. I believe that Jesus was raised from the dead. I believe that it was a bodily resurrection. I believe that his body was lying in the tomb on Friday evening, but on Sunday morning when the sun rose and day broke, that he got up and walked out.
I don't believe that it was just an idea perpetuated by a bunch of desperate people. I don't believe that the "resurrection" was something the disciples experienced when they realized what he'd taught them.
It happened. I believe it. I have lots of reasons why I believe it, least of which is my own deep, feelings that it's true. But I am not preaching a sermon on how to prove the resurrection. I'm preaching on what it means for you and for me.
First, the Resurrection is important. let's begin there. The resurrection has been referred to as the "central engine" of the Christian faith, the very thing upon which the whole Christian belief system hinges. The Apostle Paul, the greatest missionary of the first century, and the Church's first theologian wrote, "If Christ is not raised from the dead, then all our preaching is useless and so is your faith."
Useless. But why?
Because the Resurrection demonstrates that Sin & Death do not get to win. We don't have to fear the worst things that can happen to us because they have been defeated. They don't get the last word.
Without that confidence, we have nothing. There is no real point to all of this. I mean, you might say that the point would be to live a good life and do the best you can. Wow. That's so hope-filled and awesome. Talk about having something to aspire to reach. I want that carved on my tombstone. "He was an okay guy who did the best he could."
There's something about the idea of Resurrection that speaks to something deep inside of us. Even people who don't really get the whole Christian thing secretly wish that at least that part is true. Wouldn't it be awesome to one day be raised from the dead---and not like a Walking Dead or Night of the Living Dead kind of raised. I'm talking about raised from the dead like you were when you were at your best---only better than that.
alt Disney had his head frozen so that it could be reanimated one day?
Seriously, I read about this guy named David Pizer, a multi-millionaire who has made arrangements for his body to be cryogenically frozen when he dies. He's also left himself $10 million dollars as a gift to himself when he's awakened in the future.
Awesome. I bet his kids are thrilled with that setup.
You see, I believe that God has something incredible in mind that beats having your tired old body thawed out. I think that God's ultimate plan for Resurrection is one that will blow your mind when you hear it.
But first, I want you to take this in, and let it fall on you:
The Hope of The Resurrection Comes Down To This: God Never Gives Up On What He Creates.
I don't know about you, but just hearing that without even knowing more about it makes me feel good.
Read Romans 8:9-11
Pay attention to the line that reads, "And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you."
I'm sorry, what? Life to your mortal bodies? Yup.
What Paul is saying unequivocally is this: We will have a bodily resurrection just like Jesus.
Read Romans 8:18-21, 24-25
Pay attention to the last part of verse 21 where Paul says that creation "will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God."
Paul is teaching something here that the early believers---you know the ones that actually knew Jesus--held close to their heart. That our bodies, and indeed of all Creation was going to be transformed, freed from death and decay... Resurrected.
Paul connected this to an indwelling of the Spirit. It was special. This resurrection was directly connected to the Spirit "who raised Jesus from the dead," and who Paul indicates is living in the Believer.
This is a hope-filled passage---hope is all through it. In fact, Paul addresses the function of hope at the end of the passage. "Hope that is seen," he says, "is no hope at all." He goes on, "Who hopes for what they already have?"
And what is the hope here? God's people are being promised a new type of bodily existence that is even more bodily than our current bodily existence.
Have you ever heard someone who was sick say that they felt like a "shadow" of themselves? That's sort of what we are like all the time. We are shadows of what we will become.
We are now and not yet. We are body and spirit in the present. But the hope here in Paul's teaching is that one day our body and our spirit will be one through a mysterious and miraculous transformation.
In verse 19 Paul uses the word apekdechtai which is translated "waits." This is the poorest translation of the word---which actually carries with the sense of someone who is "straining forward" or "craning" his neck in anticipation of what is ahead.
When I worked at Walt Disney World I used to work in the evenings on the Parade Crowd Control team. We would put up ropes along the parade route for the Main Street Electrical Parade. As soon as children began to hear the sounds of the parade from farther down the route, they would begin to stick their necks out and try to see it. That's the sense of this word.
The Believer can't wait for Resurrection. The Christ-possessed person is on the way to life---with a brief stopover in death. This means that there is nothing on this earth that we have to fear. Nothing.
And this is not about getting a replacement body. This isn't like having your frozen brain plopped into a new body. Although if that was the case, I would definitely like one that had a faster metabolism. This is about having your body transformed.
At this point, you might be saying, "But I hate my body!" This may be true. You may have put your fair share of miles on your earthly suit. You may have eaten too many Krispy Kremes, smoked too many Marlboros and downed too many Pabst Blue Ribbons, and your body shows it.
Maybe you have always hated your nose. Or your tummy. Or your breasts. Or your butt. Maybe you have wished that you could be one of the beautiful people for a change.
Some of you may wish that your body hadn't betrayed you and gotten sick.
Imagine the world as it should be... and you along with it. Imagine not ever having to care whether you were beautiful, or whole, or well in the ways that our culture defines all of those things.
Imagine what it would be like to have your spirit and your body at perfect peace and in perfect harmony. Imagine pure beauty. Imagine pure joy. Imagine pure freedom.
Imagine what it would be like to have all your skills and talents enhanced for the glory of God. What is it that you are really good at? Think about the joy that it brings you to do it well. Imagine that being multiplied to the power of "Oh My Gosh, I Can't Even Imagine Something Being That Good!"
Imagine fulfilling all of the "God-given" dreams of a lifetime. You know the ones I'm talking about. The dreams that filled your soul with an unbelievable sense of excitement. The dreams that seemed impossible, and beautiful. Imagine.
Imagine getting to accomplish all of the thing you gave up because "life" got in the way. Have you ever said, "I could have been..." Imagine never feeling that way ever again because you get to feel what it's like to erase that regret.
So, you might be thinking... "How do you know this?"
Because glimpses of this future life, this future resurrection, this future hope are happening all around us, in us and through us.
The Spirit of God is doing Resurrection work right here and now. We see it every single time a life is transformed because of faith in Jesus Christ.
When a marriage rocked by infidelity is restored.
When an addict becomes sober.
When a hungry child is fed.
When someone lays down their weapons.
When enemies embrace.
When the Church preaches grace.
When we forgive.
When a runaway child comes home.
When a heart turns to Jesus.
This isn't a future hope. It's a present reality. The desire to be released from slavery to Sin, Decay and Death is already buried deep in the heart of each of us. The Apostle Paul says that we strain toward it. He says that all of Creation is groaning in anticipation of it.
It's there. Right there. Hope.
The hope of the Resurrection, the signs of it are all around us, and we don't even see them because we are too busy worrying about what comes next when what comes next is too incredible for us to imagine.
I heard a story about a dear, saintly lady who was dying. Her pastor came to visit her in her home and they began to talk about her funeral arrangements. After talking about music and prayers, she told him that she had one request. She wanted to be buried with one of the forks from the church kitchen. "Why?" he asked her. "Because every time we had a church dinner, we would always tell everyone to 'keep your fork' when we were getting ready to pass out dessert. It was our way of telling them, 'Something better is coming! Be ready!'"
Keep your fork. Man I love that so much.
For those who are filled with the Spirit of God in Christ... We don't have to be afraid of dying. We don't have to be afraid of what comes next. We're keeping our forks because what comes next is wonderful.
The Hope of the Resurrection Comes Down To This: God Never Gives Up On What He Creates.
Keep your fork.