Olivet Covenant Presbyterian Church,
Let’s dream together. I want you to think about Heaven. Get a good picture in your mind. What do you see? Puffy clouds? Wings? Harps? Lots of singing? For many people, as cartoonish as it sounds, that is their picture of what Heaven is like. I admit that for much of my life, that is how I pictured Heaven. To be perfectly honest, I was not too jazzed about spending eternity in a place like that. For me, the biggest draw to Heaven was that it’s not Hell.
Much of Christian culture has bought into this Neo-Platonic idea that Heaven is a non-physical realm – to call it a “place” would be to think of Heaven too literally for the Neo-Platonist – that Christians transcend to upon their physical death. The existence of the Christian is then as an ethereal being, a non-physical spirit, having undergone some degree of memory erasing, knowing little or nothing of his or her life before death. The basic argument for this point of view is two-pronged.
First, it asserts that sin is primarily manifest in things physical. So, a truly sin-less realm could not be physical, at least in the way we are used to experiencing things physical. Second, it assumes there cannot be continuity of consciousness or retention of memory after death, for such continuity would infer the ability to remember sin – that which we committed and that which was committed against us – and such memories would undoubtedly bring pain, and pain cannot exist in Heaven, ergo, neither can continuity of consciousness or retention of memory.
What results is a depiction of Heaven that is based more on cartoon imagery than on the Bible, one that is so tepid that Hollywood has made more films about people who die and go to this “Heaven” only to try and figure out ways to get back down to their lives on earth, than about the joy of living in Heaven itself. Having bought into this kind of depiction of Heaven, I admit that I have been more than a little afraid of death. Not because I feared going to Hell, but because Heaven sounds really boring.
Many of us have also bought into the notion that the Bible has very little to say about Heaven and that what it does say is so cryptic that it is beyond our capacity to understand it. I want to assure you that that is a lie. The Bible has plenty to say about Heaven and it is not beyond our grasp. In fact, a fantastic book as been written entitled Heaven by Randy Alcorn. It is a 400 page tome on Heaven, the first half of which is a solid Biblical theology of Heaven.
I could preach for months out of that book, and perhaps we’ll start an evening study of Heaven, but this morning I want to spend our time remaining on one small, but extremely exciting, aspect of Heaven: our resurrection.
Easter was two weeks ago. On that day each year we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. Why is that? Because it was a pretty neat trick? It was so much more. Jesus’ resurrection marked the end of Satan’s reign. God never intended death. With Jesus’ resurrection, God undid death once and for all. God undid death for us.
You see, death is the antithesis of God. God is life. God creates, Satan destroys. When Jesus goes to the tomb of his good friend Lazarus, who had been dead four days, whose body was reeking of physical decay, the Scripture says Jesus was “deeply moved” (John 11:38, NIV). I, personally, think that is a weak translation. The Greek word there is embrimaomai. The Greek playwright Aeschylus in 467 B.C. used this same word to describe the way that war horses snort and stamp their hooves as they anticipate going into battle. It implies an intense, burning anger. Jesus was mad. At the tomb of his good friend, he is confronted with the embodiment of all that he is not and it makes him very angry. Angry like a horse ready to do battle.
Then the Scripture says that Jesus cried out “in a loud voice”, literally megas phone (where we get our word “megaphone” from) “Lazarus, come out” (John 11:43). Charles Spurgeon once said that had Jesus not specified for only Lazarus to come out that all the dead within the sound of his voice would have risen from their graves. There is only one other place in Scripture where Jesus cries out in a megas phone loud voice. When he is on the cross and shouts “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). The only two times where Jesus shouted at the top of his lungs was when he was faced with death – his friend’s and his own.
The disciples were with Jesus when he raised Lazarus from the dead. In fact, the Apostle John specifically mentions that Thomas (called Didymus) was there. There is an important reason for John making mention of Thomas in this section of Scripture. Our first Scripture reading today covers the story of Thomas we’re more accustomed to hearing. Thomas the Doubter. The sorry sap who wouldn’t believe that Christ was alive again until he could see it with his own eyes. Ever wonder why?
Thomas had been with Jesus when he physically resurrected Lazarus from the dead. He had heard Jesus call himself the “resurrection and the life” (John 11:25) and had heard Jesus promise his own resurrection (John 12:32). He knew that for Jesus to be resurrected and to fulfill that promise would mean that Jesus would undergo a real, physical resurrection of the same body that was dead and laid in the tomb. That body would be identifiable to Thomas just as the resurrected Lazarus was identifiable to those who witnessed his resurrection. Nothing less would suffice. No ethereal spirit-like ghost Jesus, no disembodied vague presence. Nothing but the same Jesus he’d eaten with and learned under would do.
So when Jesus does physically appear to Thomas, what does the disciple do? Does he touch him? No need to. Do you need to touch me to believe that I’m standing in front of you? Nope. Neither did Thomas need to touch Jesus. He was satisfied. Jesus had done what he promised he’d do, what Thomas knew he would do. He had physically arisen from the grave. He’d conquered death with life.
Guess what? We share in this same, physical resurrection. We will also be physically resurrected. Not recreated into some strange, glowing orb. No, we will again inhabit the same bodies we are in now, although they will be perfected so as to be unmarred by the physical manifestation of sin. How can we know this? The tomb of Jesus is one place to start. It was empty. The same body that died lived again. Jesus’ words are the next place to look, “It is I, myself” he told his disciples (Luke 24:39) upon his resurrection.
Look at the activities that Jesus participated in after his resurrection. Jesus walked. Jesus talked. Jesus ate. That’s right, Jesus had quite an appetite after defeating death. How much more physical can you get? He cooked breakfast for his disciples! We can expect the same for ourselves. We will walk, we will talk, and we will eat.
The first Sunday of each month, we profess together in the Apostle’s Creed that we believe in “the resurrection of the body.” The Westminster Confession states “ All the dead shall be raised up, with the self-same bodies, and none other.” “But,” you protest, “I’ll just be a pile of bones by then, or maybe even dust.” So? Remember, Lazarus was stinking from rot when Jesus resurrected him.
“Still,” you say, “Mary mistook the resurrected Jesus for a gardener and the men on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize him right away. Maybe we won’t look the same.” In my small group this past week, we talked about that.
Then something curious happened. The girls kept crying. Even though she was walking right towards them, it seemed as if their extreme grief kept the girls from seeing Trudy or from comprehending what it meant that she was there. Robbie had to rise above the din of weeping girls and get their attention to get them to notice that Trudy had not been killed in a car accident, that she was right there in front of them, perfectly ok. Finally, one by one the girls stop and stare at Trudy in disbelief. One of the girls finally said, “What does this mean?” Robbie and Trudy responded, “This is what Easter morning felt like – Jesus was dead and then was alive again!” That day made a huge impact on some of those girls. Robbie and Trudy said they received cards on Easter for several years following from different girls saying “I remember…”. So, what happened to those girls? Why couldn’t they see Trudy, even though she was standing right in front of them? The girls had been literally blinded by their grief.
Is this what happened to Mary on the Resurrection morning? Maybe. It’s plausible. Or maybe it was something different. Whatever the reason, when Mary and the men on the road to Emmaus finally did recognize Jesus, it was not as if it took a great amount of persuading. Jesus didn’t have to say, “I know I look different, but trust me, it’s me, Jesus.” No, there was some amount of continuity in the way he looked, the way he acted, even the sound of his voice.
Our resurrected bodies will be similar. They will be us in our top form. Us in all the glory God intended for us. Unmarred by the effects of sin. Paul says that the bodies we have right now are like seeds; they will mature into the full plant when we are resurrected.
Paul also tells us that the entirety of our faith hinges upon this belief in a physical resurrection of the dead. If we say that we don’t really believe that we’ll be resurrected in these same bodies, then we make ourselves out to be liars. We can’t believe that Christ was raised from the dead into his pre-crucifixion body and then say the same can’t happen to us. And if that is the tack we take, we’ve made God out to be a liar as well! See, if Christ wasn’t raised from the dead, then death has not been conquered. If death has not been conquered then our belief that Christ has secured for us eternal life with God the Father is baseless, it is a useless profession. In Paul’s words if there is no physical resurrection, we should eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we may die.
So what’s the point of all this talk about resurrection? Well, it goes back to our understanding of what Heaven is and isn’t. If we are going to experience a physical resurrection, that implies some other things will happen too. Perhaps one of the most important of these is a physical redemption of this Earth from sin. I told you before that I really have no desire to spend eternity floating from cloud to cloud with a harp and a halo. Do you know why that is? Do you know why this holds no appeal to you either?
It is because we have an innate desire to live forever on Earth, in these bodies, in a sin-less utopia. Take a moment and think about that. That is one of the major driving forces behind the pharmaceutical, cosmetic surgery, and cryogenic industries. We want to live forever. Here. On Earth. In these bodies in their top form. We all share this desire because God put it there. We were created from the Earth to live on the Earth. And we will.
God has promised that He will restore things to the way He originally created them to be. We will live on a perfected Earth in our perfected bodies and God will live with us. Isn’t that amazing? In Genesis, God walked in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. In Revelation, He promises that after the physical resurrection of our bodies and the Earth, He will come down to live with us (Rev. 21:2-3), not beam us up to some non-physical realm to exist with Him. That is exciting! It is all we yearn for, promised to come true!
What will that life be like? Believe it or not, the Bible has plenty to say on that, too. Unfortunately we don’t have time to even scratch the surface right now. So what is it that you are to take away with you today? Hope and excitement. Hope grounded in the belief that what God did for Christ in his resurrection he will do for us. Excitement that this life does not end when we die, rather it is perfected. Excitement that we will see and recognize our loved ones who have died placing their trust in Christ. Excitement in knowing that we can look forward to an eternity of walking this Earth with God, experiencing it without sin, and living the abundance He always intended us to have. I hope that you can walk out of here today quoting Paul, saying, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:54b-55).
I started this morning asking you to dream a little about Heaven. I’d like to end the same way. Only this time I want to give you a soundtrack with which to dream.
(“Deep Enough to Dream” by Chris Rice from the album Deep Enough to Dream 3m:39s)
I hope that now you can begin to dream in brilliant colors you’ve never seen, of joining a million people for a wedding feast, and of never having to wake up from that dream, because that dream that will be our reality!