End Times 3: Saints Triumphant

Preached: November 15, 2009

You've Crossed Over to Life
John 5:24-29

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit brings us Jesus and his word is John 5

Truly, truly I say to you that the one who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and isn't coming into judgment. Rather, he has crossed over from death to life. Truly, truly I say to you the time is coming and now is here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who have heard will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he gave to the Son to have life in himself, and he gave him authority to carry out judgment, because he is a son of man. Stop being astounded at this, because the time is coming when all who are in the graves will hear his voice. Those who did good will come out for the resurrection of life, and those who practiced evil, for the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:24-29)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Ghosts crossing over into the light. As psychic propaganda and occult ideas seep into our culture, they increasingly infect people's conceptions of death and what comes next. Even our own thoughts can be manipulated by what we see on TV whether it's purely a fictional story supposedly for entertainment or whether it claims to be real.

Rather than having our minds shaped by psychics or mediums, let's listen to the words that come from the Lord of life and death. He too talks about a crossing over, but how vastly different this crossing over is from the deceptions promoted in our age. Let's take to heart, dear friends, what Jesus says about crossing over.

A. Keep listening to the Son's voice

1. What kind of “crossing over” is Jesus talking about?

First of all, when Jesus in the text talks about crossing over, he's not talking about ghosts or spirits, whose bodies have died. He's talking about people whose hearts are beating and lungs are breathing. For you see, once the body dies, it's too late for you to cross over into the light. I don't care what the TV tells you. There's no second chance, no time to make amends. You heard that in the Scripture reading from Hebrews 9 last week, “. . . man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment . . .” (Hebrews 9:27 NIV). Whoever does not cross over while they're alive on this earth will never enter the light. Whatever light they think they see as death approaches is only a deception of Satan, who masquerades as an angel of light. Death brings them the outer darkness and damnation of hell, the unending torment and unquenchable fire.

Have you crossed over?

Jesus says, “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” (John 5:24 NIV). That's what Jesus means by crossing over. To cross over is to believe that the Father sent his Son, Jesus, to bring you over from death to life, to bring you over from darkness of sin to the light of forgiveness. It's to believe that Jesus' death frees you from sins power to condemn and his resurrection brings you eternal life. So important is this that Jesus introduces these words with that statement of verity, “I tell you the truth.”

So important is this that he repeats the same idea in the next verse: “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 NIV). Now maybe if we just had the words about the dead hearing his voice, we'd think about Jesus raising the dead on the Last Day. But look at the context. He says, “a time is coming and has now come” (John 5:25 NIV). Jesus wouldn't say “now” if he were talking about the Last Day. Rather he's talking about what's going on right then and has continued to go on down to our day. The previous verse explains it, doesn't it? “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me . . . has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24 NIV). The dead who hear his voice and live are those spiritually dead who believe his word and come alive through faith in him.

2. What does it mean that we were once dead?

How different from what we see in society and on TV! There faith in Jesus has nothing to do with life or death. But in the real world faith in Jesus makes all the difference.

Now maybe we miss what Jesus so clearly says here because we don't like to think that, before faith was planted in our hearts, we too were dead, dead in sin. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Christians at Ephesus drives home how dead we were: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of the world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-3 NIV).

Dead in sin. You and I and that little baby, all people began this earthly life dead. What can a dead body do? Lift a finger? Decide to sit up? Choose to become alive? Think of that little girl, the daughter of Jairus. Sickness overcame her, and she died. Mourners had filled the house. Jesus comes to her bedside, takes her hand, and says, “Talitha koum!” which mean “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” (Mark 5:41 NIV). Now where did the power to get up come from? Only from Jesus' words. None of it came from the little girl. She has dead, powerless, lifeless.

3. How were you brought over from death to life?

So also, that was our spiritual condition. Dead in sin. Powerless to come to Jesus. Powerless to make a right spiritual decision or choice. Powerless to cross over from death to life. But Jesus' words entered your dead ears, dear Christian friend. His voice spoke to you in the water and word of Baptism. He brought you to life, eternal life. You've crossed over from death to life. That's theme to take home this morning. You've crossed over from death to life, eternal life

The voice of God the Son has brought you over. Why stop listening and fall back into death, darkness, and damnation? Keep on listening to his voice. His voice calls to you only through God's Word, Baptism, and the Lord's Supper. Don't listen to other voices babbling in your heart, echoing in your head, or whispering in your ear. Keep listening to the Son's voice alone. For you see, only his word brings life, for he has life in himself. Jesus says, “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man” (John 5:26, 27 NIV).

Yes, that man, born from Mary, that man, standing before those Jews furious at him for healing on the Sabbath, that lowly man has life in himself. Only his words brings us across from death to life. How astounding for many in Jesus' day, for they saw only a man. They did not see that this man is our God, the Son of the Father.

But that is the faith which Jesus' words have called forth in you, dear Christian. You believe that this man who walked dusty streets, who was arrested and beaten, convicted and crucified, that this man is your God. You believe that his bloody body, hanging limp and lifeless on the cross is the body of your God, sacrificed in your place. You believe that, contrary to all laws of nature and all human experience, this lifeless body came back to life. The Crucified lives, and because he lives, you too shall live. You believe because the voice of Jesus in Word and Sacraments have called you from death into life. You have crossed over. You are among those whom Jesus describes. “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life” (John 5:24 NIV). You believe that this man Jesus was sent by the Father to free you from sins condemnation and bring you eternal life. You have heard his word and believed. So keep on hearing the Son's voice. Keep on listening to it for you have crossed over from death to life.

B. Keep anticipating the resurrection

1. What do you anticipate as you look forward to the resurrection?

And also keep on anticipating the resurrection. That' part two. Because you've crossed over from death to life, keep anticipating the resurrection. For you know what is waiting for you. You don't need to worry about what's in the light. For Jesus has told us in his Word that he will take us home. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-4 NIV).

Jesus is coming back. For the Father has given him the authority to judge the living and the dead. He will raise you from the dead, out of the grave. Jesus promises that “a time is coming when all who are in their graves” [the physically dead] “will hear his voice and come out.” (John 5:28, 29 NIV). He will raise all the dead. For you and me who believe in him, what a day of joy and victory! For Jesus will glorify your body like to his glorious body. You will live with him forever and ever. Anticipate that glory. Anticipate your heavenly home, Jerusalem the golden with milk and honey blessed. Keep anticipating the resurrection.

2. How do we anticipate the resurrection?

How do we keep anticipating it? Certainly, as we talked about in part one, by continuing to hear his word and believe; otherwise, we'd fall back into the darkness of death. Then his return would bring only horror and woe, for he'd condemn us to hell forever. That's the sentence for all who do not believe in him as their God and Savior. Anticipate the resurrection by continuing to hear and believe his word.

But that faith in Jesus does not lie idle in our hearts. It bursts forth into our actions. Just like a dead body that's brought back to life, doesn't stay lying there. It moves. It gets up. It acts. Think of Jairus' daughter. Think of Lazarus, whom Jesus called out of the tomb. Think of the son of the window of Nain.

So also when spiritual life fills you and me, we act. We do good, the good that God himself has prepared for us to do. Living faith moves. It gets up. It acts. Martin Luther wrote in his “Preface to the Epistle of the Saint Paul to the Romans”, “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God's grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times. This knowledge of and confidence in God's grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures. And this is the work which the Holy Spirit performs in faith. Because of it, without compulsion, a person is ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, out of love and praise to God who has shown him this grace. Thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire.” (Luther's Works, vol. 35, page 370)

That's why Jesus can describe those who have believed as “those who have done good” (John 5:29 NIV). He's not saying that good works save us. That would contradict what he said just a few verses earlier when he doesn't mention works at all but says, “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life” (John 5:24 NIV). Rather faith, like fire, shines out by doing good. Due to our sinful nature, we often fall short of the good we can do. Faith turns back to Christ for forgiveness again and again each day. But that same faith strives forward eager to do good. Anticipate the resurrection. Anticipate by doing what is good and right in God's sight For you have crossed over from death into life. Live now as children of the light. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313