An Old Sermon On Death

Dr. John MacArthur: A message preached on March 29, 1970, entitled, “Abolishing Death: The Ultimate Triumph” (original source here):

TRANSCRIPT:

Turn in the your Bibles to 1 Corinthians chapter 15, as we look at our lesson for this morning from the Word of God. When you have arrived at that point, just hold your thumb in that area or something to mark verse 54, where we shall consider our text in a few moments. There is a preacher of the old school, but he speaks about as boldly as ever today. He’s not very popular, even though the world is his parish, and he travels to every part of the globe, and he speaks in every language. He visits the poor. He visits the rich. He preaches to people of every religion, and he preaches to many of no religion. And the subject of his sermon is always the same. It never changes. He is an eloquent preacher, and he is able to stir emotions in hearts that are not emotional. He is able to bring tears to eyes that seldom weep. His arguments are beyond refutation. There is no heart that remains untouched and unmoved by the force of his appeals. This preacher shatters life. This preacher disturbs the status quo. Most people hate him. Everybody listens to him. His name is death. Every tombstone is his pulpit. Every newspaper prints his text. And one day you will be the subject of his sermon, and he will stand at your graveside and preach to others…

With this in mind, Thomas Gray said, “The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power, and all that beauty, all that wealth ere gave, await alike the inevitable hour, the paths of glory lead but to the grave.” With every living soul that comes into this world, there is a built-in little time fuse, and we all have one. And when we’re born, it’s lit, and it begins to burn. And some burn fast and some burn slow, but all burn. And every birth signals the beginning of a countdown, and every countdown zeroes on an exit. And some countdowns are long and some are short…

And so life is just the process of dying. And yet men shrug off their indifference, and they yawn in God’s face while their fuse burns and their countdown continues. And to many men, life may seem like a dead end street. And at the end of that dead end street is the inevitable pine box, and that’s about all they have to look forward to…The day when the fuse burns out, the day when the hearse arrives and somebody has reached zero hour. And then what? What after that? I mean is there a hope? Is there an escape from doom? Is there something that has power over death, or does death grab us and hold us?

One night, many years ago, and you all remember it very well, in the Atlantic, there was a very serious, grim countdown. The countdown began for some people who were on a ship called the Titanic, and a huge question mark still hangs over the spot where the Titanic sank. Many people met their countdown then. Life zeroes in on an exit…And I’ve often looked at the story of the Titanic and asked myself, “Was that the sinking of the world in metaphor?”…Because many people reached their zero hour that night, reached their dead end voluntarily, refusing with scorn the lifeboats that left the ship half filled, thinking that ship couldn’t sink. Soon their scorn turned to terror… Continue reading

Did God Die on the Cross?

sanders__fred_41059966622This is an excerpt from Fred Sander’s essay “Chalcedonian Categories for the Gospel Narrative,” from Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective (B&H Academic, 2007). Fred is a systematic theologian with an emphasis on the doctrine of the Trinity. He and his wife Susan have two children, Freddy and Phoebe. They are members of Grace Evangelical Free Church.

God Died on the Cross by Fred Sanders

In the days leading up to Good Friday, I’m going to post a few theological answers to questions I get every year around this time. The answers will be unblushingly doctrinal, so prepare to put your thinking caps on.

This little series isn’t mainly about getting the theology right for its own sake (though I’m strongly inclined to do that, because who wants to get the theology wrong?). It’s mainly to clear a few theological questions out of the way before the Good-Friday-to-Easter church sequence arrives.

My dream is that we could think hard about theology online during the first part of the week, and then have our thoughts in order before we experience the annual remembrance of the death and resurrection of Christ in the last part of the week in church. These posts are intended to clear away some theological confusions that might prevent intelligent participation in the life of the church.

The first one is what it means to say that God died on the cross. My answer is an excerpt from a book I edited about ten years ago:

In one of his hymns, Charles Wesley wrote: “O Love divine, what has thou done! The immortal God hath died for me!” This is a bold thing to say, because it claims so much: “God . . . died.” The Bible itself says it that bluntly in a few places, such as Acts 20:28, “God purchased the church with his own blood.” This is how the voice of faith speaks when it confesses what God has done. This is a good Christian sentence. When theologians get hold of stark, paradoxical statements like “God died,” they have an instinct to clarify what is being said. They do not want to remove the shock or the force (that would be very bad theology), but they do want to make sure that the true paradox rather than something else is being communicated. They want to rule out misunderstandings that either take away the shock, or substitute for it the fake shock of logical incoherence. Continue reading

Does My Soul Sleep After Death?

john-piperQuestion and Answer with Dr. John Piper (original source here)

Transcript

Gabriel, a listener from the Philippines, asks a very common question: “Pastor John, when we die, does our consciousness continue somewhere? Or do we just sleep awaiting the second coming and the judgment? And why is sleep so often used to describe death, even by Jesus himself? And where in the Bible can I be more confident of what happens to me or to someone I love when they die? Should I imagine them sleeping, awaiting Christ’s return. Or already in heaven or even in hell?”

I hear two questions: 1) Why is the word “sleep” or the image of sleep used to describe death even by Jesus? And 2) What is the experience of people between death and bodily resurrection? So, maybe we should start by not taking for granted the biblical teaching that God’s purpose is not just to have someday lots of spirits in heaven, but bodies on the new earth.

The resurrection of the body was a scandal to many Greeks who loved the idea of the immortality of the soul, but disliked the idea of the resurrection of this body. Christianity is not Greek in this regard. The body will be raised from the dead, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus in a form that could be recognized and that could be touched and that could eat fish was the prototype of our resurrection body. So Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:20, “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” And when people scoff in this chapter and say, “What kind of body do they come with?” he answers in verses 42–44, “So is it with the resurrection of the dead. 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 natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” So the resurrection of the body is absolutely essential to Christian doctrine.

Now the question is: What about the time between death and the resurrection of the body? Why is it sometimes called “sleep”? And we were talking earlier, Tony, as we began this, that this is really fresh for me, because at 8:00 this morning a very good friend of mine went into this state. So where is she? What is happening to her? Right now, it is 3 hours and 16 minutes — picture it — she is 3 hours and 16 minutes into what we are talking about right now. That is awesome. That is awesome to think about.

Here is what the Bible says about sleep. This is why he raises the question. This is 1 Thessalonians 4:14: “Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” All right? That is a reference to Christians who have died. Why does he say it that way? Or 1 Corinthians 15:17–18, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” So there’s another reference to falling asleep as a picture of dying.

And then there is Jesus where he raised the little girl. We named our daughter after this experience where he says: “Talitha, cumi” (Mark 5:41). He raised this little girl from the dead. And we know that she is dead because in Mark 5:35 they say, “Your daughter has died.” And when Jesus arrives to deal with this, he says, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead, but sleeping” (Mark 5:39). Well, she was dead and he calls it sleeping. Why?

My answer is that this is the way the body looks and acts. It is simply a description of death by a softer picture of what it actually looks like. If you have ever looked at a person who has just died, you ask, Have they died or are they just sleeping? Because they look like they are just there, like they have always looked. And they are just asleep. So I think it is a picture, it is a pictorial description in a softer way of the actual reality that they have died.

Now why do I say that? Why do I jump to that idea of meaning instead of just saying, “Well, no, no, they are not conscious on the other side of death. They really are undergoing something like soul sleep. They will have no consciousness until the resurrection?” Why don’t I say that? And the reason I don’t is because Jesus and Paul teach otherwise. So for example, the two key passages in Paul are Philippians 1:21–23, “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that mean fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose, I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” So when Paul contemplates his own dying, he calls it “gain,” not because he is going to go unconscious and have zero experience for another thousand years, but because he goes into the presence of Christ with Christ in deeper, more intimate way — and it is, he says, vastly better than anything he has known here.

And then he says the same thing in 2 Corinthians 5:6–9, “We are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” So, dying in the body means going to be at home with the Lord.

And here’s Jesus. He tells this story about the rich man and Lazarus, and he doesn’t say that it is a parable. Now I don’t know for sure, frankly, whether it was a parable or not, but it doesn’t say it was a parable. He just describes it like it really happened. And if it did happen or if it is a parable, it seems to be making the point that after death there is not oblivion or sleep, unconsciousness. There is life in torment or in bliss.

It goes like this: “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side” (Luke 16:19–23). So the picture Jesus paints — the parable or something that really happened — is one of a conscious life in torment or in happiness beyond death.

So, my conclusion is that Christians have a double encouragement for those who are dying or have died. For the believer who trusts in Jesus Christ, Christ’s blood and righteousness have removed the condemnation for every believer and secured for us both final resurrection of the body in a new heaven and a new earth, and now, after death, an intimate, sweet experience of being in Christ’s presence between death and resurrection. It is a blessed hope in both ways. We are safe. We are safe in him now, we will be safe in his presence at the moment of death, and we will be supremely happy in a new and healthy body forever and ever in the new heavens and the new earth.

Death: The Last Enemy, and Our Deliverer

dead-bodyExcerpted from Randy Alcorn’s book In Light of Eternity.

Peter uses the word exodus in reference to his own approaching death (2 Peter1:15). Death for the Christian is God’s deliverance from a place of bondage and suffering to a place of freedom and relief.

In 2 Timothy 4:6-8, Paul refers to his death with the Greek word analousis, meaning “to loosen.” Consider some of its common usages in that culture:

an ox being loosed from its yoke when it was finished pulling a cart.
pulling up tent stakes, in preparation for a journey.
untying a ship from dock, to let it sail away.
unchaining a prisoner, freeing him from confinement and suffering.
problem solving—when a difficult matter was finally resolved, it was said to have been “loosened.”
Each of these is a graphic picture of death for the Christian.

On the one hand, the Bible calls death “the last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26). On the other hand, for the person whose faith and actions have prepared him for it, death is a deliverer, casting off the burdens of a hostile world and ushering him into the world for which he was made.

No matter what difficulty surrounds it, God is intimately involved and interested in the Christian’s departure from this world: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).

What we call “death” is a transition from a dying body in a dying world to a world of light and life. No wonder Paul says, “To die is gain” and to go to be with Christ is “better by far” (Philippians 1:21-23).

There’s evidence that at death the believer will be ushered into Heaven by angels (Luke 16:22). Different angels are assigned to different people (Matthew 18:10), so perhaps our escorts into Heaven will be angels who have served us while we were on earth (Hebrews 1:14).

I’ve always appreciated this depiction of death:

I’m standing on the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She’s an object of beauty and strength and I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and the sky come down to mingle with each other. And then I hear someone at my side saying, “There, she’s gone.”

Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side. And just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination. Her diminished size is in me, not in her.

And just at the moment when someone at my side says, “There, she is gone” there are other eyes watching her coming, and there are other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!” And that, for the Christian, is dying.

What will happen as we set foot on Heaven’s shores, greeted by our loved ones? I envision it as C. S. Lewis did in the Last Battle: “The further up and the further in you go, the bigger everything gets. The inside is larger than the outside.” [1]

The moment we die the meager flame of this life will appear, to those we leave behind, to be snuffed out. But at that same moment on the other side it will rage to sudden and eternal intensity—an intensity that will never dim, only grow.

On his deathbed D.L. Moody said, “Soon you will read in the newspaper that I am dead. Don’t believe it for a moment. I will be more alive than ever before.”

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle (New York: Macmillan, 1956), 180.

Death Before Sin?

Biblically, Could Death Have Existed before Sin? (Satan, the Fall, and a Look at Good and Evil) by Bodie Hodge. A big picture of sin and death and how they are related in the Bible.

Introduction

Death and sin—these are two things today’s society seems to want to avoid in a conversation! In today’s secular society, kids have been taught for generations that death goes back for millions of years. But there is a huge contrast when you open the pages of Scripture beginning in Genesis.

The Bible is the authority on the past (as well as the authority on scientific and theological aspects), and it is logical that the Bible should be the authority on the issue of death and its relationship with sin. Getting a big picture of sin and death and how they are related in the Bible can make us better witnesses to today’s culture.

Everything Was Originally Perfect
Genesis 1:31 – God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

Deuteronomy 32:4 – He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.
When God finished creating at the end of Day 6, He declared everything “very good”—it was perfect. God’s work of creation is perfect. We expect nothing less of a perfect God.

What was this “perfect” or “very good” creation like? Were animals dying? Was man dying? Let’s look closer at what the Bible teaches. Continue reading

Please pray for God’s comfort for the Sproul family

Dr. R. C. Sproul, Jr, wrote this today, “My precious girl Shannon’s mute tongue is now loosed, though once lame she now leaps for joy. She and her mom are held by our Lord.”

May God bring His comfort and peace to all the Sproul household.

Back in June, R. C. Jr wrote the following at the Ligonier website:

It had been my plan to be in Virginia this week, teaching what we call Couples Camp, a small group gathering where we talk for a few days about the sovereignty of God, the family, and the kingdom of God. I looked forward to the trip, my old stomping grounds, visiting dear old friends, talking about issues that matter to me. In God’s providence I am not in Virginia. I am not teaching, but am learning. I am not talking so much as listening. And worst of all, I am in some old stomping grounds, roughly 100 yards from the hospital room where my beloved spent much of the last months of her life.

Five days ago, concerned over a radical increase in seizure activity, and a frightening lethargy I called Shannon’s neurologist. Shannon is my 14 year old daughter. Her brain did not develop properly, and she has the mental capacity of a toddler. She also suffers from seizures. The nurse with whom I spoke had no uncertainty with her advice- call 911 and get her to the emergency room. She has been wonderfully cared for. Sundry experts have run their tests. Nurses have loved on her. Visitors have come to cheer her. And, by God’s grace it looks likely she will get over this, and in a day or two we will go home. Why then is my heart so heavy?

Because I don’t trust my Father as I ought. I know that the fear that raced through me for those long hours when I didn’t know if she would make it, that fear was medicine for my soul. That is, I know that the immediate hardship I have been through this week is strong plant food for spiritual fruit. I trust Him to break my heart for the sake of making me more like Him. I trust in turn that He loves my little girl with a perfect love, that she, because she is my spiritual better, feels His loving arms holding her every day, in sickness and in health.

It’s my other children I weep for. When their mother was dying, they had, by and large, their father with them. When she passed, I was there. The children have their physical needs cared for. The older children are amazing- giving, loving, and diligent. Meals are being brought in. We have help for this need and that. But my children, who love their sister as tenderly as their dad does, worry without me there. They have no mother to comfort them. I am not there to remind them how to trust, to model faith before them. That this breaks my heart, however, reveals my awful lack of faith.

I am here and not there because He has brought this to pass. I am here for Shannon’s sake, for her good. I am here for my own sake, for my good. And I am here for the sake of Darby, Campbell, Delaney, Erin Claire, Maili, Reilly and Donovan. My Father knows what each of my children need. He knows how to grow the fruit of the Spirit in each of them. He knows precisely what they each need to become more like Jesus. And He has the power to bring this to pass. What they need right now if for me to be here.

Loss of a mother, worry for a sister are not emotional meteorites hurtling haphazardly toward the psyches of my children. They are the plans He has for them, plans to prosper them and not to harm them, plans to give them hope, and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). Which, by His grace, are the same plans He has for me. By His grace I will hope in Him and praise Him, for the help of His countenance (Psalm 42:5).

The Gates of Hell

Here is some good insight from Kevin Deyoung.

He writes: I hope I don’t ruin one of your favorite verses. Ok, I kind of hope I do. But only so it can be one of your favorite verses in a better way.

In Matthew 16 Jesus takes his disciples to the district of Caesarea Philippi to ask them a question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They stumble around a bit giving the latest Facebook updates from the crowd. Then Peter pipes up. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” What a guy, Cephas. Jesus commends his outspoken disciple, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (v. 18).

Since the Reformation there has been a lot of discussion about “this rock” and what it means for the authority of the Pope (not much it turns out). There has been little controversy, however, about the phrase “the gates of hell.”

I’ve heard several sermons on “the gates of hell” and have seen the phrase referenced in Christian books numerous times. The second half of Matthew 16:18 has to be one of the top ten favorite Bible promises. I can hear the voices right now: “Think about the picture here. Jesus says the gates of hell will not prevail against the church. Now tell me, how do gates prevail? When have you ever seen gates on the march? They don’t attack. They fortify. They are there to hold their ground. That’s all. Hell is not on the offensive, brothers and sisters. The church is. The church is marching into all the hells in this world, ready to reclaim every square inch for Christ. And when we storm the gates of hell, Christ promises we cannot fail. We will prevail! It’s time to put the devil on the run. It’s time to save souls and destroy strongholds. It’s time to reclaim this world for Christ. Listen up church, the gates of hell shall not prevail against us!”

Or something like that.

Of course, who can fault the zeal to save souls, make a difference in the world, or fight the good fight? The only problem is that the whole thing is built on faulty exegesis. One of the cardinal rules of biblical interpretation is to let the Bible interpret the Bible. So when we come to a phrase like “the gates of hell” we need to stop ourselves from imagining what we think this means, and do the hard work of finding out what it actually does mean.

The phrase pulai hadou (gates of hell) is a Jewish expression meaning “realm of the dead.” The same two words appear in the Septuagint version of Job 38:17 – “Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness [puloroi de hadou]?”). They appear again in Isaiah 38:10 – “I said in the middle of my days I must depart; I am consigned to the gates of Sheol [pulais hadou] for the rest of my years”.

In both passages, pulai hadou is a euphemism for death. Notice the parallelism in both passages. The first half of each verse clarifies that the second half of the verse is not about hell but about death. The gates of hell represent the passageway from this life to the grave.

Consequently, Jesus’ promise to Peter is not about storming Satan’s lair and conquering demonic powers. In fact, the repeated injunction in Ephesians 6 is “to stand.” Christ defeated the devil (John 16:11). Our responsibility is to hold fast and resist. Carman’s fantastic music videos notwithstanding, we are not demonslayers. The promise in Matthew 16 is not about venturing out on some Dungeons and Dragons spiritual crusade, but about Christ’s guarantee that the church will not be vanquished by death.

If you think about it, this makes much more sense of the imagery. Defensive gates can be used in an offensive way because Jesus is simply talking about death. Death stalks each one of us, but those who confess Jesus as the Christ know that death is not the end. We have the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:57). Jesus isn’t asking us to conquer anything, except perhaps our fear of the grave.

So preach and believe in Matthew 16:18 with all your might. But don’t misunderstand the promise. Jesus assures us of something even better than triumphalism here and now. He promises eternal life. With intense opposition and persecution, the early church was under attack from the gates of hell. But just as Jesus conquered the grave, so the gates of hell-death itself-will not prevail against those who belong to Christ. Or as Jesus himself puts it, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet he shall live (John 11:25).

That makes Matthew 16:18 a pretty cool promise after all.