Will I Really Live Forever?
John 11:18-27, 39-45
Would anybody here like to live forever?
At the crossroads of faith we come today to discuss the question of immortality. Yet to explain the unexplainable and to describe the indescribable and to peek through the shadows of earth and catch a glimpse of eternity is often more than our grieving minds can grasp and our questioning intellects can assimilate. We, like Mary and Martha, may be more inclined to argue about God’s timing than to embrace Christ’s resurrection.
While immortality is ultimately an act of faith, there are good reasons to hold on to this belief in life after death. So come now for just a few moments and let us reason together about life that is everlasting and eternal.
You see, immortality just makes sense. Modern materialism would have us believe that human beings are combinations of genes and cells which live to reproduce and finally die. What philosophers call “mind” and “soul” can be reduced to physical brain power.
John Hospers says, “The body seems to be involved in every activity we describe even though we are forever trying to imagine existing without a body.” To separate body and soul, from a materialist point of view, is nothing more than wishful thinking, at best. Let me confess to you, I am not a scientist. Every time I encounter this line of reasoning I think of an old, old sermon Harry Emerson Fosdick preached back in the 1940’s.
He said, “From a chemical point of view, the average man contains about enough fat to make seven bars of soap, enough iron to make a medium size nail, enough lime to cover a 20 x 40 foot lawn, enough phosphorous to make about 2200 match tips, enough magnesium for a good dose, and enough potassium to explode a toy cannon, along with a little sulphur. At current rates, (1940’s) these elements could be obtained for about 98 cents.”
Is that all there is to human life? That I am dust and to dust I shall return may not make a lot of difference to many people, but what about the lives that really mattered? What about Lincoln, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Beethoven and Bach? Shall we go down the list of those who have marched across the stage of life? Well, reasoned Fosdick, if you can believe that, you can believe anything. Immortality makes sense.
Immortality is the next step. Isn’t it interesting, while it is extremely difficult to affirm immortality, everything within us is trying to stretch us to it? Is not that a God-given gift to all of us? We are never satisfied with where we are. We want the next step. We want to stretch beyond. We want to see something more. Something inside us makes us want to push the envelope, dream impossible dreams, beat unbeatable foes. And rightly so.
Those of us who go by the name Christian recognize, embrace, and empower the notion that immortality is a gift of God to us through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Jesus said to Martha, “Your brother will rise again.” Do you believe it?
And Martha, right out of Sabbath school says, “Yes, I know, I remember, I believe in the resurrection of life at the last day.” Jesus turns to her and says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, though they die, yet shall they live. And whosoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Can you believe this, Martha?” Well, can you believe it?
You see, for Christians, immortality is not an argument, it is an announcement; it is not a debate, it is a declaration; it is not a fantasy, it is faith. If Christ is not raised, then we have no faith to live, but if Christ is raised from the dead then we are, of all people, most hopeful, most prophetic and most believing. My friends, if I didn’t believe that today I could not do my job .
At every funeral I open with these words of Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life and they who believe in me, though they die, yet shall they live.” I have buried too many babies, walked in front of too many caskets containing teenagers, held too many young mothers’ hands who were losing their children to death, walked the last road with young fathers, and I have buried close personal friends and family. I want to tell you my faith is built on the sure and certain hope that Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life and without it we have no faith to proclaim. Immortality. It makes a lot of sense.
Of course, eternal life is not just something in the future. It is radically present now. The whole message of John’s gospel was to present to us a notion of eternal life, not just over there, but now.
And the way you think and believe about what is “over there,” dramatically impacts how you live now. Think about it for just a moment. Immortality gives present life dignity and purpose.
We are forever being put in somebody’s pigeon hole. We are named, numbered and put away somewhere. But then I read the gospel that tells me that I am created in the image of God, and no less than the moon and the stars. I have a purpose for being here. Though I do not often act like it, the psalmist said I’m just a little bit lower than the angels. You’ve got dignity, value, purpose, worth. Don’t let anybody take it away from you.
Let there be no doubt about it. I know there are joys that are waiting when I have gone the last mile of the way. Let me die with dignity, too. I have got some place to go, and if you have some place to go, you can turn loose of life here. Belief in immortality transforms the way I live my daily life.
Belief in immortality gives reason to character. Why be good if it makes no difference? Do your kids ever ask that question of you? I ask it occasionally of myself. The preacher in Ecclesiastes asked it long ago, way before Peggy Lee put it in a song, “Is that all there is?” You see, if that is all there is, then being good does not make a lot of sense. Just keep on dancing, bring out the booze and have a ball, if that’s all there is. If that’s all there is, then materialism makes sense. Take the cash and let the credit go. If that’s all there is, then why live for others. Take your chance and grab all you can. Run for it for what few days you have on earth, if that’s all there is.
But what if that’s not all there is? Did you hear about the pastor, an executive and a Boy Scout who were in a private plane when the plane developed engine trouble? The pilot said, “Sorry to tell you guys but this things going down. I’m sorry to tell you further that we only have three parachutes for four people. I need to tell you I’ve got a family at home and they need me so I’m taking one parachute and I’m out of here.” With that he took a parachute and jumped. The executive looked at the other two and said, “There are people in this world who think I am the smartest man on earth. The world would suffer a great loss if I were to lose my life in this crash.” So with that statement he grabbed for a parachute and jumped as well. The pastor looked at the Boy Scout and said, “Son, you have your life ahead of you and I’ve lived my life. Let me just ride this thing out. Why don’t you take the parachute that’s left and I’ll just see what happens.” The Boy Scout said, “Relax, Reverend, the smartest man in all the world just grabbed a Boy Scout back pack thinking it was a parachute and jumped out of the plane.”
Jesus said, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” That only makes sense in the light of eternity. So many of our Christian values only make sense if there is immortality written into the universe.
Immortality. It transforms the nature of service. It gives meaning to service. C. S. Lewis, the great Christian philosopher, painted pictures of heaven and hell this way. In Lewis’ image of heaven and hell, people in both places had long spoons and elbows that would not bend. They were all sitting at a table that contained a feast for all. In heaven, people were full, happy, rejoicing. In hell, people were starving, angry, and shouting at one another at the table. What was the difference?
In heaven, people had learned to take those stiff arms and long spoons and feed one another across the table. In hell, they were still trying to do it themselves!
You see, my friends, temporal deeds take on eternal dimensions when you do it for others. The last time I checked, the final exam has only one question on it. Did you do it for the least of these? I want to tell you, the least of these are not very beautiful people, most of the time. The least of these are not very thankful people, most of the time. The least of these are not very deserving people, most of the time. It is only when you transform the least of these into service for Jesus Christ himself, who will one day ask me, how did you do with the least of these that I discover the great need for the simplest giving and sharing. If the least of these becomes the physical presence of Jesus among us, then every client becomes a guest, every patient becomes a child of God, every member must be viewed in the light of eternity. It transforms the way I see the world.
Immortality keeps hope alive.
YOU and I are called to be the people who keep hope alive. Dante said, “Life without hope is hell.” I believe in life after death. Do you?
So the answer to this sermons topic is, if we trust the Lord, believe the Bible as the True Honest living word of God, Yes, we will Live Forever with Jesus in eternity.