************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 57-58 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 20, 2011
Q & A 57-58
1 Corinthians 15:50-57
"I Believe the Resurrection and the Life"
"Love Wins." That is the title of a new book. Not a book about marriage or raising children. Rather, it is a book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived. "Love Wins." Meaning what? Meaning that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. The book puts hell on trial and hell loses. The book affirms that no one goes to hell and everyone ends up in heaven.
The book has been written by Rob Bell. Time magazine calls him "a singular rock star in the church world." An internet site describes him as the most vibrant, central religious leader of the millennial generation.
The internet traffic concerning this book is simply phenomenal. One blogger said this:
Thank you for having the guts to say what the majority of the people in our churches actually believe. Someone once said that the majority of individuals in church today are functioning universalists. In one sense we affirm a literal Hell but with our actions we deny the existence of a literal Hell or the simple fact that hundreds of people go everyday.I sure hope this blogger is wrong – that most of us are functioning universalists. Another blogger wrote this:
As to hell or heaven, it's all sort of relative anyway. My idea of a good after life is hanging out with my friends, who, by the way, share many of my bad habits. If I am destined to hell for my beliefs and habits, I will be there with a bunch of my friends, which doesn't sound all that bad to me. And then there is this wonderful follow-up:
If, on the other hand, going to heaven means I would have to spend eternity with all those close-minded, uptight people who assure me they are going to heaven, that actually sounds a bit more like hell.
Uhhh... you do know that Jesus called Hell the place where there is weeping & gnashing of teeth, that was created for Satan & demons & all who side with their rebellion against God, right? There's no tea parties or late night talks about universalism over lattes in hell. It's a place of eternal burning. The book of Revelation calls it the lake of fire. Sooo... you and your friends aren't going to really enjoy it all that much, if that's the route you're embracing. I'd probably consider doing a 180 and taking the afterlife seriously. Salvation by faith in Jesus alone.
These are just some of the reactions even before the book went on sale this past Tuesday.
We finish our study of the Apostles' Creed today by looking at the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Let me remind you, in studying the Creed we are looking at the Gospel and the content of true faith. So, what is in front of us is not just the opinion of twelve men some two thousand years ago.
I Comfort Facing Death
A Did you hear that the Catechism speaks of "comfort" two times in the questions and answers in front of us? It wants to know the comfort of the resurrection of the body. It asks about the comfort of the life everlasting. Comfort is such a beautiful word. It is a word which means "strength, power, security."
The Catechism speaks to people who need the comfort of the resurrection and the life everlasting. At the time the Catechism was written Europe was in turmoil. There was war, plagues, hunger, persecution. Death stalked the land. People needed the comfort of the resurrection and the life everlasting in order to keep on going.
You know, we need this comfort too. Why? Why do we need this comfort? Because everyone of us will someday face death. Perhaps a long time from now, perhaps a short time from now, but one day you will die. What a sobering thought!
A father, busy making a living, shall be taken away. A mother, seemingly needed so much yet, shall breathe her last. A busy dairyman, dreaming of expanding and passing something on to his children, shall lay down his work. A minister, absorbed in the challenges of his work, shall be called up. A student, finding her way in the world of books and learning, shall lose her life. A child, with her whole life in front of her, will be laid in a casket. A grandparent, dreaming about days gone by, will give a last sigh and a final breath. People deeply involved in the business of living – which includes you and me – shall one day end their earthly journey. One day your soul shall be required of you.
B Does this scare you? It should. The Bible teaches us that death is the final enemy. Death is not something to take lightly. Death is the beginning of sorrow for those left behind and, for those taken away, it is the end of a life on this earth. People try their best to prolong life and postpone death. People have even renounced Jesus and eternal life in order to live a few more short years on this earth.
What happens after death? That is the question we are facing today. Without the comfort of the resurrection and the life everlasting death is the end. Dust to dust, earth to earth, ashes to ashes. Nothing more. Now that is scary.
So, with this in mind the Catechism asks about comfort as we face death. It asks about the comfort of the resurrection and the life everlasting.
II The Comfort of the Resurrection
A With the church of all ages we confess the resurrection of the body. How does this comfort you?
First of all, says the Catechism, this means death is not the end. Notice how the Catechism puts this: "my soul will be taken immediately after this life to Christ its head."
It is a wonderful and awesome thing to be human. Man can experience so much. He can bless or curse. He can complete tasks or avoid his duties. He can cherish ideals or he can create anarchy. He can bring either hope or despair. He can build bridges or burn bridges. But overall, to be human means there will come a point in time when God will demand a man's soul; there will come a moment when each person will be called before the judgment throne of God to give account for everything he has done. In that day each person will stand alone. In that day every connection to this earthly life will be broken. Everyone!
Unless he or she is a Christian.
In the believer's life there is one bond that is never broken. That is the bond between Christ and Christian. In the terrible moment of death when all ties are cut, the tie of love and life and faith will be kept between the believer and his Savior. The Christian and Christ will always remain united – even in death and before the judgment throne of God. Remember what the Apostle Paul proclaims:
(Rom 8:38-39) For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, (39) neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.Which is why "my soul will be taken immediately after this life to Christ its head."
Practically speaking, listen to what this means for Paul. Paul can say
(Phil 1:21,23) For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (23) I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far ...Remember what Jesus said to the repentant thief on the cross: "Today you will be with me in paradise" (Lk 23:43). Think of Stephen as he was being stoned to death. He could say, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (Acts 7:59). And, on the isle of Patmos John heard a voice from heaven saying, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord ..." (Rev 14:13).
Contrary to what Pastor Rob Bell may say or believe, this comfort belongs only to the Christian. This comfort belongs only to those who believe the historic Christian faith as we find it expressed in the Apostles' Creed. This comfort belongs only to those who believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
B Which brings us to the comfort of the Catechism's second point: "my very flesh, raised by the power of Christ, will be reunited with my soul and made like Christ's glorious body."
Let me ask you what may sound like a silly question: What is a human? What does it mean to be human? A human is a creature made by God in His image with both a body and a soul. I want to emphasize the last phrase: body and soul. God made us with body and soul. And at the time of the resurrection God will remake us as body and soul.
Do you know what the resurrection does? The resurrection makes us whole. After death, we are in heaven as a soul or we are in hell as a soul. But we are incomplete. Because we aren't just a soul or just a body. We are a body and a soul.
There has always been much confusion about the human body. The medieval saint, Francis of Assissi, had no appreciation for his body. He called it "my brother donkey." At the point of death he is reputed to have said, "I am glad to put off this mantle of sin."
Today, there are two extremes when it comes to the body. On the one hand there is an unwholesome preoccupation with the physical body. I heard something on the radio the other day about fitness fanatics – they spend four or five hours every day exercising to the point that they damage their marriage and their family.
On the other hand, there are many who have little or no appreciation for their physical well-being. They rarely exercise, they stuff their faces with junk food, they abuse alcohol and drugs and tobacco.
I have seen both extremes in the church. There are those Christians who think the body is unimportant. That it is unspiritual to look nice. And there are those Christians who always have to be dressed in the latest style and have the latest hair-do. Both are equally wrong.
C The Catechism makes reference to Christ. We need to remember that Jesus is fully human – exactly like us with a human body and a human soul. What arose from the grave on Easter was a real human body. What went into heaven at the Ascension was a real human body. What will return from heaven at the time of the second coming is a real human body.
Someday, my body will be raised by the power of Christ, it will be reunited with my soul and made like Christ's glorious body and I will again be a complete person. All because of Christ, His resurrection, His power.
D The Christian religion is unique here. No other religion teaches, as does the Christian religion, that our bodies will be raised from the dead to live forever. Some Eastern religions teach reincarnation – that a person or animal will return to life in a different form. But all theories of reincarnation maintain that when you have finished one life, you are done with that life forever. The Christian faith teaches, in contrast to this, that life continues after death. My soul is with Christ in heaven and my body will someday be raised and reunited with my soul. Or, my soul is in hell fire and someday my body will be raised and reunited with my soul to spend eternity in the fires of hell.
III The Comfort of Life Everlasting
A With the church of all ages we also confess the life everlasting. How does this comfort you?
First of all, says the Catechism, this is my comfort: "I already now experience in my heart the beginning of eternal joy." On this earth, in this life, in this body I already experience eternal joy. Eternal joy. I. Which means death cannot be the end of me because then the joy is not eternal.
Let me ask a strange question: When does eternal life begin for the Christian? Some might say, "When Christ returns." Or, "When I die and am in heaven." In the Reformed faith we have always maintained that eternal life begins the moment you are born again. We say this because not even the death of the body can really kill a person who believes. They continue to live after death and they will do so everlastingly.
"I already now experience in my heart the beginning of eternal joy." In what way? How? Look at what we see in the Revelation. We see the promise of Christ to be with His people (Rev 21:3-4). Well, Christ – in His divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit – is not absent from us for a moment. We see the promise to eat at the wedding supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:9). Didn't we have a foretaste of this when we celebrated the Lord's Supper last week? We see the promise of healing (Rev 22:2). Isn't that the promise of the Gospel we hear every Sunday? We see the promise of light (Rev 22:23). Yet, the Bible tells us that we are light in the Lord. God promises us rest. In this life and on this earth we get a foretaste of our eternal rest on Sunday as we gather together for worship instead of doing the work and activities of everyday life.
B Which brings us to the comfort of the Catechism's second point on the life everlasting: "after this life I will have perfect blessedness such as no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no human heart has ever imagined: a blessedness in which to praise God eternally."
Many authors have tried to give us a picture of the future. But they never succeed. We can only compare it to what we have today. Which means our picture can only fall short.
But, again, let me tell you this promise is only for the Christian. It is only for those who believe the Gospel. As for those who don't know Christ, their future existence can only be described as an eternal death, what Revelation calls the second death and the lake of fire, a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The Catechism depicts for us the comfort given to the Christian both now and in the future. For the present, there is the comfort of being taken to be with Christ in heaven and the beginning of eternal joy. As for the future, there is the comfort of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
Let me repeat, this is the Christian's comfort. "But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death" (Rev 21:8).
In spite of what Rob Bell may say, not everyone ends up in heaven and not everyone experiences eternal joy. Right now God's mercy may triumph over judgment but there will come a day, congregation, when there can be no more mercy. As Paul puts it, now is the day of salvation so now is the day we should believe in Jesus lest we perish everlastingly in the second death.
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