End Times 3: Saints Triumphant
Preached: November 18, 2012
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The words that Jesus speaks to us today are recorded in John 5
Truly, truly, I say to you that the time is coming and now is here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he has given the Son to have life in himself. He has also given him authority for judging, because he is the Son of Man. Stop wondering about this, since the hour is coming when all who are in the graves will hear his voice and come out. Those who have done good will rise to live; those who have practiced evil will rise to be condemned. (John 5:25-29).
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
“Get up! Pick up your mat and walk” (John 5:8 NIV84). Simple words that Jesus spoke to a crippled man lying by the pool of Bethesda. But how those words upset the Jewish leaders! As you well know, Jesus' words carry power. When he told the crippled man to walk, he was instantly healed. And of course he picked up his mat as Jesus told him to.
But it was the Sabbath. When the Jewish leaders saw him carrying his mat, they accused him of breaking the Sabbath. They became all the more angrier when they found out the work of healing Jesus had done on the Sabbath. We're told, “Because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him” (John 5:16 NIV84).
Jesus explains that his Father is always at work and he too is working, just as the Father is. Now they tried all the harder to kill him. He was not only breaking their Sabbath rules but was also making himself equal to God by saying he was the Son of the Father.
We have a portion of Jesus' answer in today's text. Jesus is worthy of equal honor with the Father because he is true God and does what only God can do. He brings life. He makes you alive, dear Christian. Modern medicine with all its advancements can't even keep someone alive. We all die. But Jesus brings life to the dead.
We're alive because of Jesus, dear Christian friends. I'm not talking about your physical life. Yes, the glory of giving us physical life belongs to Jesus just as it belongs to the Father, but that's not the focus of Jesus' words here. You're alive raised by the Son's voice. And you're alive raised to live eternally. Let's think about those two parts as the Holy Spirit through the words of Jesus move our hearts to shout with joy: “I'm alive!”
Yes, you dear Christian, you're alive. You've been raised by the Son's voice. “I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live” (John 5:25 NIV84). Notice that Jesus isn't talking about the distant future or the Last Day. He says that time has now come. It was happening in Jesus' day and is still happening in our day through the voice of Jesus.
What do you hear when someone's voice speaks? You hear their words. Jesus' voice is his word, which comes to us today written down as the Holy Scriptures, the Word of God.
And what does it mean to hear his voice and live? It means to believe his word -- to take what the Bible says as the truth, the full truth, and nothing but the truth. For the Bible is the voice of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, the words of him, who is trustworthy and true, the words of him, who is life itself, just as the Father is.
You see, verse 25 fits together with verse 24. Together they show that Jesus is speaking about spiritual life. Hearing his voice is the same as hearing his word, and the hearing that brings life is believing that word. Listen for the parallels as I read both of those verse. “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live” (John 5:24, 25 NIV84). Spiritual life.
How well this language fits with the way the rest of the Bible speaks about faith. For example, think about Ephesians 2. “As for you, you were dead in your trangressions and sins ... But ... God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ” (Ephesians 2:1, 4, 5)
Dead in sin. That's what we were. A dead body cannot choose to breathe. It cannot decide to sit up. It cannot take a single step toward life. It can't even hear, much less believe. That's how we began life. That's what we were born as. And that's how we would have ended this earthly deathward drift, dead in sin -- except for the voice of the Son of God. Not our choice, but his.
What living power the word of Christ has! “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63 NIV84), Jesus says in John 6. What living power when his word connected with water was spoken to you, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”! Romans 6 and Colossians 2 teach that in Baptism you were buried with Christ and raised to life with him. That's a resurrection. You who believe the word of Jesus have gone through the first resurrection already. You have crossed over from deadness in sin to life through faith in Christ.
Keep listening to his voice, dear Christian friends. Yes, keep listening to his voice, so that your faith keeps living. But make sure it is his voice you're listening to. God can certainly communicate in anyway he chooses. He could whisper in the night or send some sort of inner voice. He could walk with us and talk with us. But how could I know whether any of those were truly Christ's voice?
I have a body and brain that can deceive me, influencing my perception because of a mood I'm in or even because of a hallucination due to some unknown condition. How many of our inner feelings simply come from our outward circumstances? Can I really trust them? Even worse, I have a sinful nature inside me that constantly tries to lure me away from following Jesus. And Satan has great powers to deceive, masquerading as an angel of light. Even if something starts out as true, Satan may be behind it. For one of his favorite tricks is to string us along with what's true until he's ready to hook us with his lie. That's what he did to Eve. 2 Thessalonians warns us that Satan uses all sorts of counterfeit miracles, signs, and wonders to deceive. 1 John 4 warns us, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1 NIV84).
So any voice inside myself or from others on the outside can't be full trusted. I can't be sure whether it's the voice of Christ. But faith is being sure of what we hope for as Hebrews 11 teaches us. How can I be sure? How can you be sure? What voice dare we believe? “Faith comes from hearing the message and he message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17 NIV84), Romans 10 declares. The voice of Christ speaks to us with the words of the Scriptures. That's why we call the Bible God's Word. The Bible is the only voice I am to be sure off, the only voice I am to believe with all my heart, soul, and mind. The Bible is the voice of God's Son who has brought life to you, who were dead in sin. You are alive raised by the Son's voice. Keep listening to his word. Keep believing the Bible alone.
Then you, dear Christian, will live forever. Yes, our bodies grow old and die, but Jesus will raise your body from the dead. You're alive raised to live eternally.
The end of the text takes us to the Last Day. Even though Jesus' wording is similar to how he described raising us from spiritual death, notice the changes he makes to show us that he's talking about the Last Day. “A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out” (John 5:28, 29 NIV84). He doesn't say that this is happening now. He specifically mentions the graves, where dead bodies lie. And it's not only those who believe but all who are in the graves, both the good and the bad, who will be raised. This is the bodily resurrection on the Last Day.
But don't think all will have eternal life in the glory of heaven. Jesus continues, “those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:29 NIV84).
Remember that Jesus, the Son of God, who will judge all, is speaking these words. He determines what is good and what is not. He looks at the heart. And whose heart is clean enough, pure enough, holy enough to be called good by his penetrating eyes? Only the heart clothed with Jesus' righteousness. Only the heart washed clean in Christ's blood. Only the heart with a living faith that trusts in Jesus alone for full and free forgiveness, a living faith that pleads for mercy confessing that all my own works only earn me damnation, death, and hell, but that Christ's work alone freely bring me salvation, life, and heaven.
Such a living faith does not stay in the heart but shows itself by doing good in our lives. Faith is a living, busy, active, powerful thing. Just as a living, healthy apple tree produces good fruit, so a living faith produces good works. And even though my sinfulness still corrupts the best that we do so that even my righteous acts are like filthy rags on their own, yet Jesus accepts our god-fearing works as good and pleasing in his sight, for they are sweat-smelling offering flowing from faith that clings to him to wash them cling.
Good works include everything you do that is in line with God's commandments and flows out of faith in Jesus because of his great love toward you. As you take care of your family even the most trivial household chore, as you show kindness toward others even toward the lowest and least, as you forgive your enemy, as you diligently do your job, yes even as we eat and drink in thankfulness to God's goodness, all those are good works when they come from your heart of faith.
Those without faith in Jesus may do the same outward works we do, but they are not good works in the eyes of the Judge. For without faith it is impossible to please God, Hebrews 11 says. Those without faith will be raised on the Last Day and condemned, thrown into the unending lake of fire, hell itself.
But you, dear Christian, will rise to live with Jesus in the glory of heaven forever. What joy this brings us even now! What joy we have because of Christ's words. You're alive raised by the voice of God's Son, raised to live eternally.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.