“What Christ Promised”

An All Souls’ Day Reflection

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John 11:25-26

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die,
yet shall he live, 26 and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

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rockThe founders of the spiritual tradition of which the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is a part – the Stone/Campbell Movement – believed that there were three and not just two sacraments, or as they preferred to call them “ordinances” — “Gospel ordinances.”   Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the two that everybody knows.  The Lord’s Day — Sunday morning worship — that’s the one that very few of us can name.  But our founders were insistent.  It’s only all together like the pieces of a puzzle that combine to make a beautiful picture that Baptism, the Lord’s Supper and the Lord’s Day combine to bear witness to the Gospel of God’s love established by the three facts of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.

The Lord’s Supper with its broken bread and poured out cup bears witness to Christ’s saving death on the cross.  The watery grave of baptism by immersion from which we are raised bears witness to both Christ’s resurrection and ours, and so does Sunday morning worship each week.  You see, Sunday is the Lord’s Day because Sunday was the day when Jesus Christ rose.  As our founders liked to say, “Every Sunday morning is a little Easter,” and that’s what makes the Lord’s Day a Gospel Ordinance.

Every time we make the effort to get ourselves up and to get ourselves to church on a Sunday morning, we are consciously reorienting our lives to and conscientiously reordering our priorities by the event that we say as Christians is the most important thing that has ever happened in human history.  Jesus Christ was raised from the dead on the third day, and by faith, we believe that we now get a share in that victory.  Because He is the resurrection and the life, Jesus said that “though we die, yet shall we live,” and that “whoever lives and believes in Him shall never die” (John 11:25-26).   If you are a Christian, what this means is that you are never going to die.  That’s what Christ promised.

Actually there are two promises made in John 11:25-26, and I think they correspond to the two things that Christ said He was.  “I am the Resurrection and the Life” Jesus told us.  And then Jesus promised, “Though you die, yet shall you live,” and “whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”  At first glance, these two promises can seem rather contradictory.  I mean, which is it?   Am I going to die and then live again, or is it that I am never going to die?  There’s a pretty big difference between these two things if you ask me.  And I think that the answer lies in the way that the Bible talks about death.   You see, Biblically, we are told that our bodies die, but so can our souls.  The Scriptures talk about both physical death and spiritual death, and so did Jesus Christ.

When Jesus told us that He is the Resurrection I think that what He was talking about was physical death.  When He said “I am the Resurrection,” I’m pretty sure that He was telling us that He is our victory over the death of our bodies.  What He was promising us was that after our bodies die that they will be raised again when the Kingdom finally and fully comes at the close of the age.  And then when Jesus told us that He is the Life, I think that what He was talking about was spiritual death.  When He said “I am the Life,” I’m pretty sure that what He was telling us was that He is our victory over the death of our souls.  What He was promising was that because of what He has done for us spiritually by His life, His death, and His Resurrection, that we need never die.  We “pass from death to life” when we believe in Him (John 5:24; I John 3:14), and spiritually, what this means is that we will never see death (John 8:51).

hadenThis is why Ben Haden, for so many years the minister of Chattanooga’s Historic First Presbyterian Church, always used to say that rather than being a spiritually draining experiences, that he always found the funeral service of a Christian to be a spiritually strengthening experience instead.  “The world has a gurgle in its throat when it comes to death,” he liked to say, “but the Christian can speak with total confidence.”  And the reason why he believed this was because of what Jesus promised in John 11:25-26.  As he put it –

I think the most overlooked portion of Scripture is that phrase right after Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me shall live even if he dies” in John 11.  It continues, “Whoever believes in me shall never die.”   We forget that Christians are incapable of being dead for even one moment.   When we pass from this life, we’re alive!

Right after Jesus told us said that He was the Resurrection who solves the problem that we have as human beings with physical death, and that He was the Life who solves the problem that we have as human beings with spiritual death, Jesus posed the question: “Do you believe this?

When I hear this question I think about an editorial that I read years ago in Christianity Today about an ordination interview in which the candidate had been theologically nuanced in all of his responses to all of the committee’s questions.  For hours he had danced around their questions about the virgin birth, the miracles of Jesus and His Second Coming with intellectual flights of fancy and sleights of hand.  Finally one exasperated building contractor on the committee blurted out: “Did Jesus walk on water or did he not? No trick answers!”

James Morgan was a very popular professor of theology at Fuller Seminary back in the late 1960’s.  He died of stomach cancer when he was just 36 years old.  At his funeral, one of his faculty colleagues, Dr. Lewis Smedes, was preaching from John 11, and when he got to the part where Jesus said “whoever lives and believes in me will never die,” he just stopped, looked up at this young man’s family and friends all sitting there, at his heartbroken wife and their four little children, and with a startled look on his face, Dr. Smedes cried out as if the truth of these words had just hit him full force for the first time: “James Morgan is not dead!” “James Morgan is NOT dead!”

Jesus

In John 11 Jesus Christ told us that He was going to defeat death, both physically and spiritually, because He is the Resurrection and the Life.  “Though you die, yet shall you live,” and “whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” That’s what He promised, and I believe it.

No trick answers.  DBS+

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