Children of the Resurrection

There once lived a man named Job. He is familiar to many of us Ð a man who suffered much. But it had not always been that

way. Once he was a wealthy man with a fine family enjoying good health. Then came the hard days. He lost his wealth; his children were killed in what today we would call a tornado. He

was afflicted with disease and suffered much.

It was in those difficult days that Job said, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God. I myself will see him with my own eyes Ð I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27)

These words came from a man who lived before Christ came to be the world’s Redeemer, but in a prophetic way, Job delivered the central truth of the Gospel. Death has been defeated in the resurrected Christ. Not only has Christ been raised from the dead, but one day those who died trusting in Christ as their Savior will be raised. This is what we confess in the words of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” St. Paul reaffirms this same truth when he writes, “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (I Corinthians 15:42-44)

It is natural that humans, who learn the Biblical teaching regarding the resurrection of the body, would ask, “You mean that my body will be resurrected?”

“Yes,” the Christian replies. “You confess that in the worship service.”

“I probably do, but I just haven’t given it much thought. In fact, I wonder if I really believe it,” is the faithful church attender’s answer.

That was the feeling of the person who came to Jesus one day with a question about the resurrection. He was a Samaritan, and they didn’t believe in the resurrection. “Master,” he said, “suppose a man with a lot of brothers died. Now it is the law that his oldest brother has to marry the widow. The marriage takes place, but then her second husband died. This is repeated several times. In the resurrection this woman has been married to seven men. Whose wife will she be?”

Jesus answered that in heaven there is neither marriage nor giving in marriage.

Today our question might be, “What about those who have been cremated, and their ashes have been thrown into the depth of the sea? How will that body be raised?”

I don’t know, but I do like what Dr. George Forell writes. This former professor at the University of Iowa says, “The doctrine of the resurrection asserts that God, who created humans in the

first place, can recreate us.” He is the Almighty, and His works go far beyond what our little minds can comprehend. But you have a right to ask, “What relevance does this teaching have to our day? Can’t you find something that affects us where we are right now?”

Stop and think for a moment. Would you rather live with the threats of society or the promises of God? Our President said that if we do not defeat terrorism, and nuclear weapons fall into the hands of the terrorists, all of civilization could be destroyed. He is not speaking idle words. This is a threat that could come to be. But our Savior said, “I promise those who receive me as Savior and Lord a place in heaven with a new body.” Again, do you want to live with the threat or the promise?

A few weeks ago, I preached at an installation service where two friends were involved. The pastor of the church, who was officiating at the installation service, has terminal cancer. He has served this congregation for 25 years. The man, who was being installed as the new pastor, has been successfully treated for cancer and has been declared cancer free. It was not the way either of them wanted it to be, but in spite of the afflictions they have gone through, there was a peace in their souls that radiated in their faces and a confidence in their voices as they confessed, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”

I put my arms around the terminally ill pastor when the service was over and said, “You delivered the message today. I spoke words. You demonstrated the truth of the message that I proclaimed from God’s holy Word.” Looking at me with tears in his eyes and a smile on his face, he said, “We live with the promises of God.” For him it was not the message of defeat that had come from his doctor, but the message of victory that comes to him from His Lord.

Isn’t this a relevant message?

Jesus says, “Believers in Him are God’s children.” Then He gives us a new title:

CHILDREN OF THE RESURRECTION

I have been doubly blessed. For these few years on this earth I have been able to say, “I am an American and a child of the resurrection.” But one day, when this life is over, I will still wear the title, a child of the resurrection. These are also your titles, if you live with His promises.

Profound Thanksgiving

Dr. Lloyd Ogilvie, chaplain of the United States Senate, writes, “Only a sense of unworthiness can issue in a profound thanksgiving.”

In this sermon, I would like to distinguish between ritualistic and profound thanksgiving.

Our dictionaries define ritual as an order of words prescribed for a religious ceremony. When the family gathers around the table for dinner and they pray: “God is great, God is good; And we thank Him for this food.”

This is a ritualistic prayer of thanksgiving. These are words used by the family repeatedly. When you are completing a very meaningful worship service, the congregation may rise and sing the Doxology, a ritualistic prayer of thanksigiving:

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow,

Praise Him, all creatures here below,

Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;

Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost,”

These are fine expressions of thanksgiving that should be used regularly, both in our homes and churches. They can be a very profound expression of thanksgiving, but it is also possible that they become only verbal and ceremonial when repeated often by well-meaning people.

Profound thanksgiving is an expression that gives evidence to our emotions having been touched and our behavior changed. This type of thanksgiving is expressed to an individual or a group of people who have blessed your life. It could be a teacher who has had a positive influence on your thinking, a physician who has pulled you through some serious illness, or a fire fighter who carried you down many flights of stairs in the World Trade Center on September 11. “How can I thank this person enough for what he or she has done for me?” is your question.

King David’s 103rd Psalm is an excellent example of a person who has seen his unworthiness and is now profoundly thankful for God’s grace. David was once a shepherd boy with few earthly possessions. Then, one day David became the King of Israel. Life changed! No longer did he live in the hills of Judah where he grazed his sheep and fought off lions and wolves from attacking the flock. Now he lived in the palace where he was attended by servants, and all of his material desires were satisfied. For those blessings, David thanked God each Sabbath in the synagogue as he partook of the ritualistic worship.

Like us, there must have been many worship experiences where David’s heart was touched and the rituals had great meaning for him. At other times, he was repetitiously going through the prescribed rituals of the Jewish faith.

But then came that day when David’s life changed. He committed adultery with a beautiful woman named Bathsheba, and then he sent her husband into battle to be killed. It was in the midst of this unrighteous living that Nathan, the prophet, paid a visit to the king.

“Look at what you have done,” Nathan said to David. You have so much, but Bathsheba and Uriah had only each other. Because of David’s sin, Bathsheba had been raped and Uriah was dead. “How could you do this, David?”

David, a broken person, confessed, “I have sinned against God.” It was then that Nathan pronounced the absolution and said to David, “The Lord has taken away your sins. You are not going to die.” David’s profound thanksgiving is expressed in Psalm 103. His words are emotional and come from the heart. Here are a few of David’s expressions:

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love.”

“He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.”

“As the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him.”

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.”

Think of life without this merciful God. What would it be like if we only saw God as One seeking vengeance and offering only judgment? At the same time, if He were a God who only winked at our sins and gave us the impression that we are worthy of our blessings, there would be little for which to thank God. How easy it is to fall into this frame of thought Ð that what we have has come through hard work. “No one ever gave me anything. I had to go out and earn all that I have,” is an expression heard often.

It is only when we see our unworthiness that our thankfulness is profound. Then it is verbal. We express our thanksgiving to this Merciful God in words Ð both in informal conversation and prayer Ð but it is also a thankfulness that is revealed in our behavior. Paul’s words, “to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God,” can only come from a profoundly thankful heart. Then Christians sing,

“We give thee but Thine own,

What ‘ere the gift may be;

All that we have is Thine alone,

A trust, O Lord, from Thee.”

As we sit around the table on Thanksgiving Day and look at each member of the family, we have to say, “I am not worthy of this blessing, but thanks be to God for those parents who raised me in the right faith and provided for my needs; for those children who enjoy sound bodies and minds, and are my soul’s delight; and for those siblings with whom I can share so much of the home where we were raised.

As Christians, we are profoundly thankful for the health we enjoy, the material gifts that make life pleasant, for our nation. When I was a kid, someone gave me a copy of the Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to give this little book to our children? Occasionally I take my copy off the shelf and read it.

When I see how people are living in Afghanistan and other countries in the world, I am profoundly thankful to be an American. It is emotional to read these words in the first amendment to the constitution, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceable to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” We can express ourselves verbally or in writing, sometimes, to the extend that I believe we carry it a bit too far. We can assemble in our churches and worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience. No foreigners are thrown in jail because they are trying to win converts to their religion in our country. No so in Afghanistan. Ask the young ladies who have been rescued from talking to others about their faith in Afghanistan. We are the land of the free.

Lloyd Ogilvie said it well, “Only a sense of unworthiness can issue in a profound thanksgiving,” but where did this great preacher receive this insight? From the Word of God.

The Wake-Up Call

For me, some of St. Paul’s richest writings are found in his second letter to the Corinthians. In this portion of God’s Word we read, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, the new has come!” In writing to the people of Corinth, he points to these “new people” who lived in Philippi and Thessalonica and challenged them to imitate these brothers and sisters in practicing good stewardship of their material possessions.

Paul was making a plea to aid the Christians in Jerusalem who lived in poverty. When these Macedonian churches, which also were living in extreme poverty, heard about the suffering brethren in Jerusalem, Paul writes, “They gave as much as they were able and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints” (vs. 3).

Why would anyone, who was so poor he could hardly care for his own needs, give liberally to others? These people were different. They had become new people in Christ. Today we might label them “fanatics.” We follow the practical advice to take care of our own first, and then if there is something left over, share it with others less fortunate. Sometimes this “caring for our own first” not only includes the necessities of life, but also luxury items. Congregations can be guilty of this practice. We spare nothing in buildings and the best equipment for ourselves, and are content with a smaller mission budget to bring the gospel and provide material needs for others.

Kenneth Chafin, professor at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, writes, “While at a convention I visited with several pastors, and one of them dominated the conversation with his concern that a number of his best members were giving very generously to world hunger. What had him upset was that, in an effort to completely refurbish and redecorate the church parlor, the project had not gotten off the ground. While I didn’t comment on his dilemma, in my mind I could see how much more attractive I would find it to furnish grain for planting or eating to people who were starving than it would be to buy a new carpet for the church parlor. When we give to others whose needs are real, we feel fulfilled because we are reflecting God’s priorities.”

Through the inspired pen of St. Paul, Christ gives His Church great help in practicing good stewardship. Let me emphasize four points in Biblical stewardship:

1. The person to whom you appeal for gifts of time, talent, and money are Christians. These people have become new creatures in Jesus Christ. God certainly would not ask those who have never tasted of His grace to give of their possessions, even though all that they have comes from Him. We sometimes assume that all people who have become members of a congregation are Christians living in a personal relationship with God and sensitive to His will. Such is not the case. Therefore, I used to say to the congregation when serving as their pastor, “If you are not yet committed to Jesus Christ, feel no obligation to give anything. God does not expect those who have yet to receive Him to finance His Kingdom.” Often we will hear people say, “The congregation is always asking for money.” Such a statement does not come from the person whose life is committed to Christ

2. Christianity places great emphasis on giving. It starts with God giving His Son, and Jesus giving His life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. Paul writes, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (9). Those who have received God’s gift of salvation in Christ receive this giving spirit and are anxious to give themselves to the Lord. Dr. Chafin says that giving is a “heart matter.” We have to give.

On the coast of Maine stands a church building that is very precious to me. When people came to that place from Denmark, they built a church. My grandparents were a part of that group. These people were Christians from the Inner Mission Movement of Denmark. They had little money, but a portion of what they had was given to the Lord so that people could meet and hear God’s Word.

This story has been repeated thousands of times. Ride through the countryside and look at the many country churches that were built by people of all denominations. They are symbols of these people’s faith and their willingness to give of their possessions to Christ for the extension of His Kingdom.

3. Paul, in this portion of Scripture, talks about the “grace of giving.” The Bible uses the word grace in two ways. First, we are saved by grace. This is God’s willingness to grant us forgiveness, even though we do not deserve it. Second, the word grace is used to give us strength to do something that is not natural. The Bible says that, in a time of great difficulty, God’s grace is sufficient for us. He will give us strength to get through the tough times. It is this sense that we can talk about the “grace of giving.” Even after Christ becomes personal in our lives, the old natural habits remain and have to be dealt with. Learning to be generous with material things is a matter of spiritual growth and maturity. It is God’s grace that creates within us a generous heart. No external pressure is needed; it is an internal pressure that makes us generous with material possessions.

Dr. Chafin tells the story of a carnival that came to town. The carnival featured the strongest man in the world. To demonstrate the power of his grip, the barker would cut a lemon in half and give it to the strong man. With his left hand he would squeeze every drop of moisture out of it. The barker would then work with the crowd to sell tickets for the rest of the performance inside the tent. As an additional come-on, he said the carnival would pay anyone from the audience $25.00 for every drop of juice that person could squeeze from the lemon. A small man asked if he could try. Using only his thumb and two fingers of one hand, he squeezed three additional drops of juice from the lemon. When he was paid and was asked the secret to his ability, he replied, “I have been the treasurer in our church for twenty-five years, and after trying to squeeze money out of reluctant members for the budget, that lemon was easy.”

Chafin goes on to say that way of raising money only produces guilt, anxiety, and resentment. Joy comes to those who give to the Lord’s work gladly. It is when our faith has increased so that we are willing to give sacrificially that we experience joy in our giving. I must confess that the Holy Spirit is still working with me to give sacrificially; but during those few times that the gift did require sacrifice on my part, I experienced real joy in giving. We were in the midst of the depression. Money was scarce, and my mother needed stronger glasses. When she crocheted, I noticed that she would use glasses that once belonged to my grandmother. Those lenses were stronger, but I didn’t like to have her go without adequate glasses. I learned what a new pair of glasses would cost, not much in those days, and made a great decision. I saved enough to buy her new glasses. On Christmas Eve, I wrapped that money and put it under the tree with a note saying, “This is for your new glasses.” Wow! I was happy. That night I experienced the joy of giving sacrificially. How strange that I have not practiced that kind of giving more often since that joy was so great I can remember it 65 years later.

4. Stewardship is a part of the growing experience for a Christian. God doesn’t really need our money. It all belongs to Him, but we need to give. So he gives us the “wake up call” and challenges us to give of our time, talent, and money in the building of His Kingdom. It is in our response to His call that we continue to grow as His children whom Paul called, “a new creation.”

Just remember, stewardship can be summarized in these words:

We give out of love to Christ in relation to our faith!

Would You Like to Know More About Heaven?

Would you like to know more about Heaven?

Some would answer, “Not really. I’ll take what I have here and leave the rest to chance. Why don’t you choose a more relevant topic for your sermon?”

I would then ask: Is what you have here enough to satisfy your desires? Have you buried someone in your family? What were your thoughts at the grave? Why do you enjoy the stories about St. Peter meeting a person at the pearly gates? Is it more than just humorous? Why do we have all of these questions about the funeral? Some want a large funeral and are willing to pay whatever it costs. Others see no need for a funeral. Some believe that cremation is the way to go. Still, others can’t stand the thought of cremation.

Would you like to know more about life after death? I’ll bet you would because where I live, the subject of life after death gets a lot of attention. Does the funeral give us a complete final closure of our loved one’s life? Why then do the memories continue? What is the primary topic at family reunions? Isn’t it talking about those who meant so much to us and are now gone from this earth?

Aren’t those photos that we have of the departed parent, child, sibling, precious to us?

Surely we think of people long after attending their funeral. This is one reason why the Church calendar has a Sunday set aside to talk about those matters of life after death, and to remember those who have died trusting in Christ and now live with Him. It’s called “All Saints’ Sunday,” and that’s the Church festival we celebrate today.

Let’s use this time to refresh our memories of what the Bible says about heaven. We read, “After this I looked and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne, and before the Lamb. They were robed in white with palm branches in their hands” (vs. 9).

From this passage we learn that there will be masses of people in heaven. The people will have come from all parts of the world. Missionaries will have moved from one country to another telling the good news of Jesus Christ while they were on this earth. Here we will see the fruits of their labors.

The Bible tells us the believers will have a new body. “What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body; it is raised a spiritual body” (I Corinthians 15:42-44).

“Where did these people all come from?” the elder asks. “They have come out of the great tribulation.” This world is referred to as a place of tribulation. We love this world and do not want to leave it. However, life has not always been easy here. We have tried to build our utopias here, and people have done well in making this an easier place in which to live. However, we have failed with all of our education in changing human nature, and therefore, heartaches are all around us. It is in heaven that we will know what a utopia really is.

The elder goes on to ask, “How did all of these people get here?” (vs. 14b). The answer is clearly stated, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” There is only one way to arrive in heaven, and that is through faith in Jesus Christ who has taken our sins upon Him and presented us, spotless and clean, before Almighty God. It was not our good works that won us a place in heaven. They didn’t even contribute to our being there. It was completely through the atoning merits of Jesus Christ.

“What will the quality of life be like in heaven?” people asked then, and continue to ask. God tells us, “They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heart; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (vs. 16).

This is the eternal home of the saints. “And who are the saints?” you may ask. They are all people who trust Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Some of us are still on this earth. The masses are in heaven with God.

Does this message have any effect on us now? Is it a relevant message? You bet it is. Go to the bed of a dying person. Those who trust have a security and a peace that comfort them. They are going home. Stand beside the person who has no hope. There is defeat, sorrow, and often bitterness. If our future is secure, we can face the present realistically. It is not that we desire to leave this world filled with tribulation, for here our loved ones live. But we are assured that, when we pass to the heavenly home, all will be even better than it was here.

Hearing all of this from Scripture, the person might say, “You still haven’t answered all my questions Ð really the questions that matter most to me right now. Will we know one another in heaven? What will we do there? What about all of those people who have never heard of Jesus while they were on earth? Will they have a chance to be in heaven?

To get the answer to those questions and many more, you will have to wait until you see Jesus face to face. Then He will answer all of your questions. But remember, to have that blessing of seeing Him face to face in your heavenly home, you must know Him as your Savior while you live here in your earthly home.

Today, if you have heard His voice, do not harden your heart.