Risen

During the time of the Russian revolution, about the time of World War I, some Russian communists made a village turn out for a long harangue. They then called out the local pastor of the village church and gave him five minutes to reply. The pastor replied that he only needed five seconds. He then stood up before the village and gave them the familiar Easter greeting: “The Lord is risen!” The thunderous reply came back from the crowd: “He is risen indeed!”

The central truth of Christianity, the linchpin on which it hangs, is the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. This event is the basis of the timeless validity and certainty of the gospel, and it is based upon the unanimous and consistent testimony of the apostles through the New Testament that the Lord is risen indeed. The fundamental belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is fundamental to a person having saving faith in Jesus Christ. And as this one event stands it reduces other religions to myths and stories and other philosophies to vain speculations and mere imagination. Marx and Mohammed remain in their graves, but the sure and confident faith of the Christian is that Jesus rose from the dead and is alive forevermore.

One of the eyewitness testimonies to the risen Christ comes from the apostle John. He passes on to the world the turnaround of his fellow apostle, a man whose hopes had been dashed and who seemed to have been turned into a confirmed skeptic of the resurrection. This account was passed on to persuade us of the fact of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and to guide us to a personal faith in Jesus. For the apostle, and for the apostles and the New Testament itself, the proper outcome of the persuasion of the fact of the resurrection is a personal trust in Jesus himself and him alone for salvation, for eternal life. What was written was given to us in a confident, gentle and loving manner to guide us to enter into an experience of him as a living Savior who is able to bring us eternal life.

“But Thomas, who was one of the Twelve, who is called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples were then saying, ‘We have seen the Lord!’”

“But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the wounds in his hands and I put my finger into the wounds from the nails and I put my hand into his side, I won’t believe it!’”

“And after eight days the disciples were inside, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came while the doors were closed, and he stood in the center and said to them, ‘Shalom to you!’”

“Then he said to Thomas, ‘Bring your finger here and check out my hands, and bring your hand and put it int0 my side, and don’t be unbelieving but believing!’”

“Thomas answered him and said, ‘My Lord and my God!’”

“Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen do you believe? Blessed are those who have not seen and who have come to faith!’’”

“Jesus performed many other signs before the disciples which have not been written in this book. But these things have been written that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that as you believe you might have life in his name.”

(John 20:24-31, Dale’s sight translation, click here for other translations)

The resurrection of Jesus Christ assures us of his reality as a living Lord and Savior. The risen Lord lives and is able to give us all that he has promised, and in view of his resurrection, having been persuaded that he is risen, belief in him, trust in him and following him is the greatest realism.

The resurrection of Jesus was a real event three days after the crucifixion. There was no controversy among the disciples who were there that they were seeing the same Jesus alive whom they had seen arrested and crucified three days earlier. This is what they had to say to Thomas about that: “But Thomas, who was one of the Twelve, who is called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples were then saying, ‘We have seen the Lord!’”

The apostles, the eyewitnesses of the resurrection, had recognized the same Jesus whom they had all known and loved was alive among them on the evening of the day of resurrection. The invitation of Jesus to touch his body and see and touch the wounds of the crucifixion, show that it was the same body in which he was crucified, and it was able to be touched and handled. This establishes that the resurrection wasn’t a ecstatic vision, nor the haunting of a ghost, nor a hallucination, nor the shared memory of a dear departed friend, as some have tried to explain the resurrection appearances. It was the resurrection of Jesus in the same physical body in which he had lived and died, but radically changed in nature and capability. The testimony of the eyewitnesses is that the body of Jesus was the same but he had undergone a radical transformation. It was a real body that they saw and touched, but a spiritual body that was no longer subject to death. His resurrection was more than the resuscitation of a corpse, like Lazarus. Rather, it was the entrance of an entirely new physical life from the power of God. His resurrection was not the loss of personal identity nor the loss of corporeal life, but the reception of physical immortality and incorruptibility. And this points out the ultimate destination of the believer in Christ, glorification, resurrection to be like Jesus himself.

It was and remains entirely reasonable and realistic to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, and it is the ultimate moment of transformation in this life. For the apostles, it meant that a scared and defeated group of men, most likely from a couple of men as young as John to older men past middle age, saw behind the closed doors the visible, demonstrable triumph of the Son of God over the power of sin and death. This was the basis of their later zeal and preaching that turned the world upside down, and eventually, all but one of them laying down their lives for their testimony to the risen Lord. This was the power of the cross and then the resurrection that changed these men then and continues to change lives today. There’s a story about an undertaker’s son who was in Sunday School who said confidently that Jesus would never have risen if his father had gotten ahold of him. It makes a cute story, but it’s true that no power on earth could have held him down, as Dallas Holm so wonderfully put in the song, “Rise Again.”

This passage then also shows something extremely important in our day and age about the nature of belief in the resurrection of Jesus and the nature of saving faith in Jesus. It is not belief without evidence, as some may try to mischaracterize Biblical faith. It is believe through the testimony of the eyewitnesses, and it ultimately goes back to the evidence that came through the apostles, the chosen witnesses of Jesus to the resurrection.

So here’s how Jesus lovingly corrected Thomas for his refusal to believe on the evidence that came through the apostles to him:

“But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the wounds in his hands and I put my finger into the wounds from the nails and I put my hand into his side, I won’t believe it!’”

“And after eight days the disciples were inside, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came while the doors were closed, and he stood in the center and said to them, ‘Shalom to you!’”

“Then he said to Thomas, ‘Bring your finger here and check out my hands, and bring your hand and put it int0 my side, and don’t be unbelieving but believing!’”

Thomas wasn’t a gullible or naïve man. He was passionate and intense, as it would seem, from the gospel record. But he knew then what every normal adult man and woman knows from his or her experience in this world: dead men do not rise from the dead. Except, though, there would be this one case where that would happen despite his prior determination not to believe it. Before long, the proof would be standing before him. And not only that, the risen Lord would be standing before him speaking directly to him and contradicting his refusal to believe what he had been told.

Jesus obviously considered that the testimony of the other apostles was sufficient for Thomas to have believed their word about his resurrection. Their testimony is recorded throughout the New Testament. It is the testimony of those eyewitnesses who laid down their lives for the certainty of their claims. It is an intellectually reasonable and defensible and historically accurate record of events that actually happened. There have been many over the centuries who have examined the record of the New Testament and found it reasonable and credible. Here are two:

Charles Hodge (past president of Princeton Theological Seminary): “It may be safely asserted that that the resurrection of Jesus is at once the most important and best authenticated fact in the world.”

John Broads (past president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary): “If I don’t know that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead, then I know nothing in the history of mankind.”

The evidence is therefore considered sufficient for saving faith from all the gospel writers and the writers of the New Testament. The resurrection was the culmination of the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God throughout his life and ministry. What there is is sufficient to confirm the claims of Jesus Christ to be the Son of God, the Messiah, to back up his promises and teaching, and the reality of his resurrection. There’s a report that a Muslim once taunted a Christian that, “You Christians do not even have a tomb to which you can point, where your Jesus lies buried. We have the tomb of Mohammed in Mecca.”

The Christian then replied, “That is just the point; your prophet is dead and lies buried; our Christ is risen and with us always.”

Therefore, the historic, Biblical faith of the Christian lies in a risen Savior. The persuasion of the truth of the resurrection is the basis of a strong, securely grounded faith. And this means that faith in Jesus Christ is not an escape from reality, a childish mind game, a comforting refuge for the weak minded, nor a fantasy, but an acceptance of the deepest reality in our world, and a living, livable, the only viable option of life. The persuasion of the truth of the resurrection must then lead to the point of personal faith in and commitment to the Lord Jesus, the risen Savior.

Persuasion of the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ calls for a personal faith in him. It is completely reasonable and fitting for someone who claims belief in the fact of the resurrection to come to personal belief in and commitment to the risen Lord himself. This is the proper response which is recommended from the gospel itself:

“Thomas answered him and said, ‘My Lord and my God!’”

“Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen do you believe? Blessed are those who have not seen and who have come to faith!’’”

The personal commitment of faith in and obedience to Jesus comes from the words of Thomas himself. It means making that personal commitment of faith in him and obedience to him, to be his follower and disciple in the Biblical sense of the words. For Thomas, these words meant a full pledge of his allegiance and submission to Jesus as his Lord and Master: “My Lord!”; in our day, some try to use the word, ‘leader’, here, but I think that’s too weak a word for the complete and total commitment that these words describe. In our day and age a leader may seem to be someone out in front, but it’s often seemed to me that people feel themselves under very little obligation to follow a leader unless that person leads them in a direction which they approve. But what this meant for Thomas was giving Jesus total authority over his life.

It is, moreover, personal submission to Jesus himself, and full acceptance of his Deity, as Thomas acknowledged, “ . . . and my God!” Thomas knew Jesus as an extraordinary man. He had witnessed the miracles of Jesus and had heard all the teachings of Jesus over the course of the ministry of Jesus. It’s also evident from his earlier mention, in John 11, that he was deeply attached to Jesus personally and thought that he would be willing to die for Jesus. This admission of Deity is way more than a normal Jew of the time would have made unless he had come into contact with extraordinary, incontrovertible evidence. And the final evidence was more than the teaching and the miracles, though they had pointed forward to this moment. In this moment, what came from his mouth was the acknowledgement that the man before him, bearing wounds of the crucifixion, the one that they had known to be dead but was now alive, was God himself. The nature of this belief would later be worked out over years to come, to the attestation that Jesus was the Son of God in the unique sense, as the Second Person of the Trinity. The belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God was not upon mere assertion but upon the stupendous reality of his resurrection.

From this, then, the confession of Thomas would be a fully viable expression of saving faith from those who would come to faith later on. This is why Jesus put in that remark about those who have not seen and who believe. It was more than his gentle, loving rebuke of the previous unbelief of Thomas. It was the indication to them that there would later be those who would not have the eyewitness experience that they did and yet would come to saving faith in him.

So then the apostle gets gently personal with each person who is reading: “Jesus performed many other signs before the disciples which have not been written in this book. But these things have been written that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that as you believe you might have life in his name.”

The apostle is asking each one who is reading to take the words he has written and upon them, come to faith in Jesus Christ. Just as Jesus was loving and gracious with Thomas, the apostle echoes this grace and love in extending this invitation. No high pressure; no strong demands; no spittle flecked ranting into a microphone like the caricature of an old time evangelist; the apostle just gives you the opportunity to consider what he has written and come to saving faith, eternal life, in the name of Jesus. The invitation is to make that open declaration of faith in Jesus which the Bible calls saving faith. This is the way that the apostle Paul put it: “. . . if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

What this is is personal submission to Jesus himself, from the personal conviction that he is risen from the dead, to make him Lord of your life. This is more than church membership or commitment to a church. So many may be a part of a church and may be good and moral people, but may never have made that personal commitment of saving faith in Jesus Christ. For instance, a long time friend of mine from years ago, unfortunately (for us) now deceased, years ago went to a convent and became a nun because she was seeking direction and discipline in her life. But then some years afterward, she volunteered to become a counselor at a Billy Graham Crusade in her area. It was as she she was reading the material that she was expected to explain to another person that she realized that with her discipline and work with the church, that she had missed the most important point: she had never put her faith in Jesus personally, for herself, and had not received eternal life by faith in him. And then she did so.

Lots and lots of people visit and attend churches and explore and become involved in religions and religious activities, but miss the point. I myself attended church with my family for years as I was growing up, but until August 27, 1974, I never understood or discovered the point of it all. It’s like the reaction of the newspaper editor in Dayton, Ohio, to whom Katherine Wright, the sister of Orville and Wilbur Wright, gave this telegram: “We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas.” The editor said, “How nice that your brothers will be home for Christmas.” People get involved with churches and religions for guidance, for spiritual curiosity, because of family and tradition, and out of desire for some kind of social connection. But they often miss the point of the witness of the church to the resurrection of Jesus and the invitation through the apostles to receive eternal life by faith in him alone.

Years ago Leon Jaworski was a household name during the Watergate controversy in the USA. He was the special prosecutor for that time, but what is less known about him is that he was the son of a Polish immigrant who was an evangelical preacher. In 1981 he went beyond his years of church attendance to speak more openly of his faith in Jesus Christ, and he said, “I had a heavy burden off my heart because I did something that I felt I should have done a long time ago.”

Saving faith in Jesus Christ, then, is this openly professed faith in Jesus Christ and submission to his Lordship. It means belief in his resurrection and his Deity, and upon the authority of Jesus Christ, the truthful and almighty Savior, this brings the assurance of eternal life. The assurance of eternal life is not in anything that we are, in anything that we have done, but in whom we have come to know, the risen Savior, through a personal and conscious decision of faith.

Jesus Christ is risen! The same Jesus Christ who died on the cross has risen from the dead! This truth calls us today to celebrate, with worship and praise to the Lord for his victory. And the point of the celebration is to celebrate with faith in him.

Join in the celebration, with all believers everywhere today. Give your praise and adoration to the Lord of life, the resurrected Son of God! Praise him for his almighty power and for his all powerful love and goodness, which has conquered sin and death. Praise him for the hope which he has made certain, for the eternal life of those who love and follow him. Praise him for his eternal glory, as the Son of God, who is greater by far than anything or anyone else is or ever shall be.

Keep on in the celebration! The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is to give us joy and confidence every day of the year, even though we focus on it today. His resurrection is truth to nourish and strengthen our faith and the foundation of our faith. This will bring us consistency and stability in the faith, as we live with the understanding and awareness that we serve a risen Savior. The constant realization that the Son of God is alive means that we are not pursuing a fantasy, but that our love for him and our obedience to him is to a real and living Person. And our declaration that the Lord is risen will ignite our hope to be with him and to be like him, and make it a burning expectation within our hearts.

Enter into the reason for our celebration. For believers in Jesus, his resurrection is not something that happened far ago in history that happened to a stranger. It is the victory over sin and death of the Lord whom we have come to know personally when we put our faith in him. The reason that we celebrate is because we have received eternal life by faith in the risen Son of God. So then, the question come to you through all the ages: have you made a personal commitment of your life to Jesus Christ? Have you made a conscious decision to repent of your sins and to put your faith in him alone for your eternal salvation? Will you declare your faith in him and then follow him as your Lord?

Preview

In August 2005, I had one of the unique and most enjoyable and uplifting experiences of my life. It was aesthetic, and not spiritual. I attended a writer’s conference in Columbus, Ohio, to see whether I could jumpstart my fiction writing. That was not to be at that time, but I was privileged to be able to meet, to spend time with and to hear Ted Kooser. Ted was then ending his time as the Poet Laureate of the United States. He had actually spent almost his entire career in the insurance industry, and he had retired as an insurance executive. Yet he never forgot his dedication to poetry, and I found it extremely impressive how much effort  he put in over the years to learn and improve his poetry, and I was privileged to be able to spend some time simply talking with him and one evening to hear him recite his own poetry. Over the decades this tremendous care and effort put his poetry resulted in a unique achievement, a modern day poetry that reaches ordinary people and speaks to their experiences. His books of poetry sold at ten times the number that were usual for books of modern poetry, and it was because of this that he was honored with the Poet Laureate title.

In the Bible there are many poetic passages, and other than David, the prophet Isaiah could be known as a Poet Laureate of the Old Testament. Isaiah had a ministry in Jerusalem, in close contact with the kings, for at least 60 years. It may be that his actual seal has been recently found in Jerusalem; the name on it is actually Isaiah, and several letters from the Hebrew word for prophet follow. It was as if this seal would have read in English, “Isaiah the proph . . .”. His poetic prophecies came first of all for the guidance and comfort for Israel after the defeat of the Assyrian army on the doorstep of Jerusalem, in 701 B.C.E. Yet after this historically attested devastation of the immense army from the world empire of the time, God have Isaiah spiritual awareness of a different world power that would threaten the people of God in the future. Isaiah prophesied, in some of the most beautiful and memorable poetry of the Bible, about the survival of the remnant from the Babylonian exile after the destruction of Jerusalem. In this section of prophecy, the book of comfort from chapters 40-66, gives four Servant songs for the comfort and spiritual awareness of the people of God for what was then the future and for all the people of God for all time. In these songs he was speaking about someone special who would be coming, in the future, the virtual representative of the nation in one person. The first Servant Song established that this special Servant was the ruling Son promised to the house of David far earlier in the book and the ministry in 9:-17, and the one on whom the Spirit would dwell in 11:1 and following. All these Songs came together to provide pieces of a preview of what was to come, and the cumulative effect of the pieces of the previews was to give a picture of the Messiah to come. Among all the Servant Songs, the fourth Servant Song is and remains the most familiar and the most influential, among the most beautiful and well known.


Messianic prophecy is in a way like the previews and trailers for upcoming movies that we see in our day. In Messianic prophecy God gives a brief series of word images as a preview of what he would do through the Messiah who was to come to a prophet, and the prophet describes what God had shown him. In this fourth Servant Song telling the people of God for all time what was to come. His previews of the Messiah to come were not not a series of videos but word dramas, and previews, in most beautiful, highly crafted poetry, with metaphors, similes, verses, stanzas, rhythm and all the other aspects that distinguish what we call poetry from prose. Most often in the ancient world prophecy was expected to be poetic, and it fully met this expectation in the Old Testament and in the work of Isaiah, to convey God’s words strikingly and memorably. Ancient Hebrew poetry was not so much rhyme as in popular poetry and songs in English, but parallelism and rhythm. Though modern rap is somewhat lost on me, the parallelism and rhythm might have seemed somewhat like rap. In a way it seems like the fourth Servant Song was the masterpiece of the great prophet. It seems evident to me that he put great care and love put into fabrication of the prophecy of the Messiah as the suffering and exalted Servant – and if there’s anything that Ted Kooser taught me, it’s that quality poetry that speaks to people is very hard work and takes great loving care and concern. This, shows how precious the truth was to him, how much he wished to communicate it appropriately, and how much the Holy Spirit was working within him to bring it to us in his writing as the inspired Word of God. But we now live after the fulfillment of this prophecy, in the New Testament, and the fulfillment of this prophecy in the New Testament is like having in front of us the whole spoiler alert, of the whole drama as the whole fourth Servant Song was enacted before us now. What was then a prophecy is now a  reality for all of us now on the other side of the prophecy, for those of us who have already seen the preview for the entire drama of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. And we can now live with the realization that this was not a drama for our entertainment, enjoyment and distraction but for the fulfillment of our deepest needs now and forever.


“Look! My servant will achieve success;
He will be lofty, lifted up and exalted.
Just as so many were amazed at him,
So was he abused beyond even appearing to be a human being,
More than the children of Adam,
So has he sprinkled many Gentiles!
Kings have shut their mouths at him,
Because just as it was not told to them they will see,
And what they had not heard they will understand.”


“Who, then, has come to believe what they have heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord explained this?
He rose up before us like a sprouting plant,
Like a sapling from dry ground.
He had no visage or beauty to draw us to him,
Nor an outward appearance that we would find compelling.
Rather, he was despised and rejected by mankind —
A man of sorrows and acquainted with what breaks our hearts.
We hid our faces from him; he was despised
And we were not impressed by him.”


“Certainly he has shouldered what breaks our hearts,
And he has taken our sicknesses upon himself.
We regarded him as someone who was suffered;
Struck down by God and utterly beaten down.
He was pierced for our transgressions,
Beaten to a pulp for our wickedness.
The punishment to bring us peace was upon him,
And by the whipping marks on his back we have been healed.
All of us, just like sheep, have wandered off;
Each one of us have rebelled to follow our own way,
And the LORD has brought down upon him the iniquities of us all.”


“He suffered oppression and suffering,
Yet he did not open his mouth!
Like a lamb to the slaughter he was brought out to trial,
So he did not open his mouth!
By oppression and from trial he he was brought out —
And who can discover any of his descendants?
Because he was cut off from the land of the living.
And for the transgressions of my people the death blow came upon him.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
And was with a rich man in his death,
Though he himself had committed no crimes,
And no deception was found in him.”

“Yet God was satisfied when he was crushed and when he suffered,
Though he makes his life a guilt offering,
He will see his offspring, he will stretch out his days.
After the suffering of his soul he will see light;

By his knowledge my Servant will justify many;
And he will carry away their sins.
Therefore I will assign to him his place among the great ones,
And he will divide up the prizes with the strong,
Because he poured out his life to the death,
And he was numbered with the transgressors,
Because he bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for sinners.”

(Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Dale’s own translation; see here for other translations)


The salvation which God brings is the ultimate shock to this world. The salvation that God brings amazes to silence the greatest that the world has to offer; the high and mighty shrink to insignificance before the person who brings this salvation. The person who brings the salvation, the suffering servant, has brought it about in total contradiction to the conventional wisdom of this world. The salvation of God, despite all the expectations of this world, would come about through a servant who had experienced the ultimate suffering.


The exaltation of the suffering Messiah is the ultimate wonder of the world. All the world of mankind diminishes with nothing in itself beside the suffering and exaltation in triumph of the suffering Servant of God. The preview that the prophet gives, that he had seen, and then explained and celebrated, was about a shocking disfigurement and a shocking exaltation to power and authority.


Ancient poetry is divided into strophes (pronounced strof –ee). The word comes from Greek, and is a common term in the study of ancient Greek poetry as well. The first strophe – or stanza, or first verse of the fourth Servant Song – is in Isaiah 52: 12-15:

“Look! My servant will achieve success;
He will be lofty, lifted up and exalted.
Just as so many were amazed at him,
So was he abused beyond even appearing to be a human being,
More than the children of Adam,
So has he sprinkled many Gentiles!
Kings have shut their mouths at him,
Because just as it was not told to them they will see,
And what they had not heard they will understand.”

In accord with much literature, and in ancient literature particularly, Isaiah begins the fourth Servant Song at the conclusion. He describes the wise success and exaltation of the suffering Servant, after his suffering has taken place. Through the prophecy of the fourth Servant Song, then, God calls the world to behold the exaltation of his Servant. This song starts with the wonder of the world at the ultimate wonder of this world, the exaltation of the Servant after his suffering. Though he was upon the hill of Zion, behind the walls of the city of Jerusalem, the vision of the Suffering Servant in the fourth Servant Song goes far beyond the Jewish nation. What would happen with the Suffering Servant would astonish the world to speechlessness and it would be something spectacular about which the world had no clue. What would come about from him would even be a priestly work even to sprinkle the vast nations and hordes of Gentiles, which would be entirely the action of a High Priest to sanctify but entirely unprecedented in that no High Priest of the line of Aaron of the nation of Israel every came close to doing such a thing, let alone at the cost of severe personal suffering. And in the context of the previous prophecies about that Suffering Servant would be the ruling Son of the House of David, this tells that the path to the fulfillment of these promises of rule would be his severe suffering! Rather than taking up political rule, this establishes that suffering would be the path to the promises of the rule for the ruling Son of David. For a nation which had experienced severe setbacks and reduction from the past glories of political power in the ancient Middle East, the expectation would be that military and political power would be the path to triumph against the imperial war machines of that day. Yet this establishes that the shocking work of the wisdom of God, in the suffering of the royal Son of David, would follow after the return from the captivity in Babylon – which had just been mentioned in the previous context in the earlier verses of chapter 52 of Isaiah.


The preview of the coming attraction shows something that no one of this world would consider attractive from the start. The worldly wise who do not begin from the fear of the LORD (Proverbs 1:7) would never have figured it out beforehand. The great reversals characteristic of how God works through the coming of Jesus into our world, to bring the rulers and authorities of this world to bow down before the pierced feet of the Messiah in wonder and outright astonishment that such a thing could happen, and how it would show them to be next to nothing besides him.


Even more, the life and times of the suffering Servant would not be what the world as a whole would ever find as a suitable beginning of God’s ruler of this world. The path of the Suffering Servant to supreme power and authority over the universe would never be the path of someone that they would ever consider for the person who would become vastly superior to all of them with all authority and power in heaven and earth. So this is what we find in the second verse – not the same as the first! The second stanza and the second strophe, in Isaiah 53:1-3, goes like this:

“Who, then, has come to believe what they have heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord explained this?

He rose up before us like a sprouting plant,
Like a sapling from dry ground.
He had no visage or beauty to draw us to him,
Nor an outward appearance that we would find compelling.
Rather, he was despised and rejected by mankind —
A man of sorrows and acquainted with what breaks our hearts.
We hid our faces from him; he was despised
And we were not impressed by him.”

Again, the fourth Servant Song centers on the life of a single person. The previous astonishment of the entire world at the exaltation of the suffering Messiah gives way to the utter; astonishment of the Prophet at the few who believe and receive the news about the suffering Servant. The suffering Servant would be someone who would come from humble beginnings, yet he would be ultimately and exclusively ‘the arm of the Lord’. This world looked for the beautiful person with the aura of power and magnetism. But this world could not and would not realize the real power was in the life and ministry of the man who dealt with people who had griefs and sicknesses, and that very man who received the disdain and rejection of the high and mighty at the culmination of his ministry.


The people of this world seek often enough the attractive, dominating, attractive and magnetic persons to lead. From them often arise the false Messiahs of this world, the earthly figures of politics, entertainment and human religion. But God continues throughout history with the great reversals of value that come with Jesus, when he changes the price tags on so much that this world has held to be of value. In the ultimate reign of God over our world and over the course of time that we dare to call human history it all comes down at the end to be the history of the Son of Man, the Jesus of the scriptures. There is ultimately nothing compared with the Savior who came and lived among us already. This certainly gives us sufficient reason never to lift up any human being on a pedestal, to see another person as the Messiah for us when the true Messiah has often come. This was once brought home tragically to the frontier hero Kit Carson. He was part of the rescue mission for a woman named Annie White who had been captured by the Apaches, and she tragically did not survive. He later wrote, “In camp was found a book, the first of the kind I had ever seen, in which I was made a great hero, slaying Indians by the hundreds … I have often thought that Mrs. White read the same … [and prayed] for my appearance that she might be saved.”


The suffering of the Suffering Servant, though, is not at all suffering for the sake of suffering. It is by no means the infliction of suffering of a vengeful God upon an helpless and unwilling victim. Rather the suffering Servant suffers entirely and willingly for the ultimate good of his people. He came as the deliverer who delivers not by conquest of evildoers but by being delivered to the worst that the evil doers could do, and yet through that conquering the evil of this world by providing the path of peace and reconciliation for the entire world. This is what the prophet celebrates in the third verse, the third stanza or the third strophe (53:4-6):

“Certainly he has shouldered what breaks our hearts,
And he has taken our sicknesses upon himself.
We regarded him as someone who was suffered;
Struck down by God and utterly beaten down.
He was pierced for our transgressions,
Beaten to a pulp for our wickedness.
The punishment to bring us peace was upon him,
And by the whipping marks on his back we have been healed.
All of us, just like sheep, have wandered off;
Each one of us have rebelled to follow our own way,
And the LORD has brought down upon him the iniquities of us all.”

The prophet now includes himself among the people of God. Here he is speaking of the reason for the suffering of the Servant before he describes the suffering. He describes the suffering of the servant as bearing sickness and sins, as one who takes it and bears it away. Certainly his affliction and torment came as divine punishment, but not for anything he had done wrong at all. In fact, the prophet emphasizes the innocence of the Servant here emphasized as he describes how he was pierced and pulverized. Again, all this was totally unprecedented and totally contrary to the conventional wisdom of the day. In this fourth Servant Song the Suffering Servant then provided the satisfaction of justice to bring about peace and reconciliation between mankind and God – an amazing, unbelievable accomplishment in a world where all people were regarded as separated from each other by their national cultures, families and clans and national god and myths. Here is the image of mankind as sheep who were going astray, since like sheep we are all prone to wander off and get lost, and find ourselves in need of someone stronger and wiser to save us from where our ignorance, follies and transgressions have taken us. So many of us see it as justice for the fools that we see around us to suffer the consequences for their folly, but here the prophet tells us all that the penalty for the single-minded, hard headed wandering around which is the life of sin, which is the way of all of us, has been taken entirely by the Suffering Servant of the fourth Servant Song.

So then, this is what we find out here, and it should be terribly shocking and eye opening to each one of us: in a world where you don’t get what you deserve, someone else got what you deserved. In this world which is stuck on stupid, stuck on hardheaded, stuck on defiant, it ended up with someone else getting what everyone in this world deserved. But this not something that we find as meaning anything for us without a real personal connection to what it was all about. It falls to each one of us to be one of those who realizes what it’s all about and makes that personal reception of it for ourselves. For someone raised in church, or comes to church through marriage or family, this is often the step not taken in that person’s life, to take it for himself or herself. For with what the Messiah has done for each one of us, there is still that personal connection to him that is needed, that there is no secondhand faith that can save, but that each of us rather need to make one’s own peace with God, to receive the gift that came when that Suffering Servant took what you deserved and what he did not deserve.


This is something like my personal connection to several Marvel movies that were extremely popular. With the first Avengers movie that was filmed in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, I went downtown on a Saturday to watch and take some personal photographs of the filming. It gave me the chance to be close to the set, see the extras, even to be considered a part of the crew. Then I also was extremely surprised as I recognized a number of scenes in the Captain America: The Winter Soldier movie, since I had already photographed them and had the images of those locations in my personal albums. There was even a scene in the Spiderman III movie where I could point out the place where I had waited for the Regional Transit Authority bus on my commute to and from my suburban home. But with all that, I was a witness to the locations and some of the filming but not a part of the films; even when I was close to the Avengers set I didn’t have the Marvel name tag that meant I was a part of the production. Many who are part of our churches and with whom we rub shoulders every day are close to our churches and believers, and may even be mistaken for a genuine believer, but they have never received that name tag, to be tagged with the name of Jesus Christ because one has put his or her faith in him for one’s own eternal salvation. This is what it means to have saving faith, like the testimony of John Wesley, who describes that moment came to faith in Jesus. When he reluctantly attended a meeting in Aldersgate, someone read from Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to Romans and then, about 8:45 p.m. ” . . . while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”


But then, the effect of the suffering of the Servant is described in the fourth Servant Song before the cause of the suffering of the Servant. The earthly machinery of injustice would bring about the suffering and death of the suffering Servant. The innocent but suffering Servant would be caught up in the suffering of the innocent in this world, and would be the ultimate example of the suffering of the innocent as he suffered to the uttermost. This is what the prophet told about in the fourth strophe (53:7-9). So here’s the fourth stanza, the fourth verse:

“He suffered oppression and suffering,
Yet he did not open his mouth!
Like a lamb to the slaughter he was brought out to trial,
So he did not open his mouth!
By oppression and from trial he he was brought out —
And who can discover any of his descendants?
Because he was cut off from the land of the living.
And for the transgressions of my people the death blow came upon him.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
And was with a rich man in his death,
Though he himself had committed no crimes,
And no deception was found in him.”

So then, the prophet comes to the prophecy of the the earthly circumstances of the suffering of the Servant. He describes what was to come and gives the preview of the suffering and death of the Suffering Servant, through terrible miscarriages of human injustice. The Suffering Servant would be known for his meekness and patience throughout the oppressive, unjust judicial proceedings, and ultimately he would be led away after arrest and sentencing to execution. He would be treated as one of the criminals of this world, and yet he would not buried as a criminal but as a rich man. The mention of no posterity pointed to the young age of the Servant, that the worthless and futile miscarriage of justice in that day and age would deprive him of marriage and children; his would be a life short changed of what he deserved and cut short of a normal human existence, of the rewards of marriage, children and a ripe and pleasant old age. Instead, he took the blow, the plague, the curse upon himself, for the sin and transgressions of the people of God, and, though totally innocent himself, the innocent Servant would subjected to the ultimate injustice of this world, of the machinery of human justice gone insane and fatally dysfunctional.


This would ultimately be for the comfort for the people of God. In this world the innocent and the innocent among the people of God suffer, and this tells us that that their subjection to injusice and oppression is not in vain. Though the righteous people of God who suffer innocently, through no fault of their own, they have before them the  ultimate example in the Savior who already suffered the ultimate in oppression and injustice. But, though, the prophet didn’t end here with the suffering of the Servant; rather he concluded just as he began with the victory of the Servant.


The salvation which God brings comes as the victory of the Savior. The salvation of God is the the salvation which exalts and glorifies the Savior by the will of God, and it is the utter triumph of the suffering Servant of God. This is the happy ending of the song which is the happy ending of the Servant and and the happy ending for those for whom he suffered.


Finally, the ultimate prize for the universe goes to the suffering Servant of God. Though that is a contest that no one would want to enter, yet the one who endured such humiliation and suffering would receive as his reward more than anything that the high and mighty would ever manage to take for themselves by force or command. He would be the ultimate conqueror who conquered ultimately by allowing himself to be treated as if he was conquered completely. This is the triumph of the fifth strophe (53:10-12). So this is the conclusion, the fifth stanza and the fifth verse:

“Yet God was satisfied when he was crushed and when he suffered,
Though he makes his life a guilt offering,
He will see his offspring, he will stretch out his days.
After the suffering of his soul he will see light;

By his knowledge my Servant will justify many;
And he will carry away their sins.
Therefore I will assign to him his place among the great ones,
And he will divide up the prizes with the strong,
Because he poured out his life to the death,
And he was numbered with the transgressors,
Because he bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for sinners.”

So the fourth Servant Song repeats the theme of unexpected exaltation and triumph as it returns back to the conclusion; in many songs we see this and call it the familiar A-B-C-B-A structure. And then here at the conclusion there is the return to the exaltation of the suffering Servant. The conclusion of the song is all about his victory, and it centers on his victory over sin and death more than his unexpected exaltation before the powers and authorities of this world. The Suffering Servant had  literally had become a guilt offering for this world, and what happened was the will of the God of Israel. In fact, the Suffering Servant provided way for sinful people to be accounted righteous by personal knowledge of him. Even more, he performed the High Priestly duty of making intercession for the wrongdoers, and even more he played the part of the priest who was himself the sacrifice. His suffering, then, preceded his ascension to the power and authority to deal with the mighty and powerful of this earth as he pleases, To him alone came the results of great victory, the spoils, the booty and the prize for which all the high and mighty of this earth were seeking and striving. The description sounds as if he were leading all his enemies in a victory parade – and that is a very New Testament depiction of the victory of Jesus (Ephesians 4:11-12). And in this passage resurrection definitely implied if not indicated by the textual variant which was preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls manuscript of Isaiah (“he shall see light”). But even if the actual text of Isaiah was different, the whole description implies resurrection of the Suffering Servant, since his suffering was suffering to death and the victory means that he must be alive afterwards.


The conclusion is that the ultimate victory is that of Jesus, who suffered and died according to the will and predetermination of God. Understand that all the rivals, such as Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna and Joseph Smith did not die for you; they are in their graves, they cannot save you, and they will not judge you at the end. Ultimately we will all face Jesus, and this will be the reversal for those who turn out at the end to have been on the wrong end of the machinery of injustice of this world. And with this comes the need for each one of us, the need to turn to Jesus, to be on the right side of the Son of God. For those who are not on the side of Jesus, they will find themselves in a worse predicament than the German soldiers in World War II who invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. They believed from the promises of the false Messiah Adolf Hitler that they would be in a victory parade in Moscow after the invasion of the Soviet Union, and they were; but as it happened, but they were there as the prisoners of the other side.


So the preview of the suffering of the ultimate Servant of God came to us as a carefully crafted song. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit it came not as a rant against injustice but a song of sadness and beauty which ended in the ultimate victory. It remains even if we are unaware of its poetic nature and beauty as one of the ultimate hit songs of all time, since it previews the ultimate happy ending for the people of God that came through the Suffering Servant. In our age, then the believer in Christ should definitely read and meditate on this song with the under stand that he or she knows exactly who the prophet was writing about. It may be that for us a modern song speaks to our hearts, but this one can and should speak to our hearts in a deeper way if we recognize who it is speaking about. This one came from the prophet through the Holy Spirit about the most precious realities that we can understand experience now and in the future. This song is the preview of what would happen through Jesus Christ in his life and ministry, death and resurrection. This song leads us to the ultimate, unshakeable hope in this world that has no hope in itself.

First of all, it should lead us all to recognize that all of us need a Savior, the Suffering Servant of this song. If you are reading this, your time is now to believe and receive eternal life through the Son of God. And just as much it should mean that we give no human being anything close to the worship and admiration that we give the Savior, since they will all fade to nothing, like the picture in an old television that shrinks to a dot and disappear, before the glory of the risen Savior, to whom all power and authority has been given in heaven and on earth. And finally this should mean that we also bow before the Savior in submission to him, for he has died and is risen again, and he is worthy!

The Final Miracle of the Son of God

Wilbur Smith once wrote, “It is time to come face to face with the fact that God is righteous, that God’s laws are righteous, that God demands righteousness, that God has sent his righteous Son to save us, and that an hour is coming when men are going to stand before this righteous Judge, and unless they have repented and believed, be condemned for their own deliberately unrighteous life.”

The realities of the future resurrection and judgment show the need of saving faith in Jesus Christ for everyone. Those realities to come show that need for entire reliance on him for eternal life and wholehearted submission to God’s anointed King who will also eventually be the Judge of each one of us. Far too often, due to our foolish complacency in our reasonably happy and affluent life, it takes a crisis in our lives to bring a person to the end of himself or herself and see his or her need of Christ. Yet far beyond the crises that come in our lives, there yet remains that final crisis which is coming to the whole world. That will be the time of the final miracle of the Son of God in his Messianic mission, and that will be the crisis which will decide the final destiny of all. The final miracle of the resurrection of all mankind for judgment before Jesus Christ personally is the final crisis that awaits each one of us, and it is a final crisis which is reason in itself to make known the gospel of saving faith in Christ to everyone.

Jesus explained this at length during his earthly teaching ministry in the Temple at Jerusalem. He had healed a paralyzed man on the Jewish Sabbath by the pool of Bethzatha – or Bethesda – there seems to have been a bit of confusion and several attempted corrections in the manuscripts since it had been first written. While there are several plausible locations that the miracle of healing took place, the result for this one was that the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem started to give Jesus a really hard time over it. It’s hard to say what exactly they were doing at this point, but they were known for plots against him, slanders against him, and trying to trick him and trap him throughout his earthly ministry, and what was happening seems to have been some kind of escalation of that kind of treatment after this miracle. Jesus used this time to explain more of his identity as the Son of God and how that miracle of healing pointed forward to an even greater miracle that would happen by his own command.

“Jesus, then, answered them and said, ‘Most assuredly I say to you, that the Son is unable to do anything from himself except for what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, the Son does the same things in the same way. Because the Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he is doing, he will show him greater works than these, so that you may be astonished. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son as they honor the Father. Most assuredly I say to you that everyone who hears my word and believes in the One who sent me has eternal life, and that person will not come into judgment but has already passed from death to life. Most assuredly I say to you that an hour is coming and now already is when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he has granted to the Son to have life in himself; and he has given him authority to judge, because he is the Son of Man. Don’t be amazed at this, because an hour is coming when all who are in their graves will will hear his voice, and will come forth: those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done wicked  to the resurrection of judgment’” (John 5:19-29, Dale’s sight translation).

The miracles of Jesus are the unique revelation of his unique nature. Those miracles which amazed the spectators and confounded his enemies and detractors were the expression of who he is. They express how no one has been nor ever can be anything like him and they establish him as more than a teller of interesting stories. They establish him as the one who has no parallel in our history.

The miracles of Jesus point to his unique identity as the Son of God. That identity is shared with no one ever who has lived on this earth in the same way that it was true and is true of Jesus. His Sonship was and is unique, and it was not something that someone else made up later and applied to him. Rather, it rests in the miracles which he performed and his own explanations which he made of his miracles during his own ministry. Moreover, this wasn’t simply something that he disclosed to simply the select few of his disciples, but something that he explained as well to those who treated him with hostility, and something he showed before a hostile world.

In verses 19-23, Jesus starts one of those big conversations and extended teachings which often followed his stunning actions. In fact, stunning, prophetic teaching following stunning actions is one of the patterns of the gospel of John, in each of the chapters from 2 through 9. His jaw dropping miracles were followed by jaw dropping statements. These conversations, then, are the stunning explanations of the stunning actions he delivered continuously throughout his earthly life and ministry. In this case, he was expanding on an earlier, briefer explanation of why he had healed on the Sabbath, and it always ticked them off when he did that. At first it sounds like he’s starting a parable about a father and a son but his hearers clearly understand that he’s talking about himself as the Son of God, and they give him a very rough time about it. In fact, the word that John uses to describe how they treated him was that they persecuted him. He is making a claim about God as his Father, equality with God and the personal authority to act as God in performing an act of healing on the Sabbath. He does not deny the charge that he was making God his Father.  At this time, as well as many other times throughout the gospels, he had a perfect opportunity to correct this misconception if he in fact in any way considered it a misconception. But not only does he not deny it, but he goes on further, to deliver an even deeper explanation of his divine nature to a hostile and rejecting crowd. His explanation of himself in the third person, as the Son who sees and acts with the Father in what he does in itself was a stunner. This brief but stupendous explanation definitely shows that Jesus could easily give an answer to his questioners far greater than any of them could ever completely grasp, and which could often confuse and even gall them for a long time afterwards. In fact, the memory of this explanation continued to rankle his hearers for months afterwards, as can be ascertained from later indications in the gospel of John (7:23, 9:16).

So as Jesus starts his explanation, it sounds a little like he’s starting a parable about a father and a son, until it becomes clear that he’s talking about himself as the Son and God as his Father. He’s explaining that something that was revealed in the Old Testament to his ancestor David about the Messiah, how God would be his Father and the Messiah would be his Son was more than the divine patronage that the kings of David’s line in the Old Testament had experienced. He’s explaining that the Son of God as applied to himself as the Messiah was not a kind of of adoption but rather it was true of his nature as the eternal Son of God.  He was explaining that his relation with God the Father as the Son means that he lived continually in the relation of love with the Father and the revelation of the nature of the Father, and it even went into acting as one with the Father in what he did – and that extended to the miracle which they had seen, and would extend to even greater miracles to come. And if that wasn’t enough, he went on to give them some more chunks of truth that they would find hard to digest. He didn’t use any large words – just an analogy to a father and a son. He didn’t engage in any deep philosophical discussion with explorations and refutations of alternative points of view – but simply explained a miracle.

The parable, then, that happened in this situation wasn’t what sounded like the beginning of a parable about a father and a son working together, but rather the miracle itself, where Jesus commanded a helpless man to get up and walk. The healing itself was a parable, and it looked forward to the coming resurrection and judgment. Most likely some in the hostile crowd knew about Daniel 12:2-3, which talked about resurrection, and it was already known to all of them that Jesus had already said, “Rise” to a prostrate and helpless man – and he rose and walked.  And Jesus was saying to them that he would be the one would be giving resurrection life to the dead and then serving as the judge of all. And the conclusion to this was not that he was committing blasphemy as if he were a mere man making himself to be equal to God by calling God his Father, but that the miracle pointed to the logical conclusion that they all were called by God himself through the miracle to honor him as the Son of God as they claimed to honor the God he called his Father. And in this as previously, Jesus was on solid scriptural ground, as placing himself in the place of the Son that everyone was called to honor in Psalm 2:8. These are the kinds of statements that could send the guards of the Temple who were sent to arrest him back in open mouthed astonishment that, “No one ever spoke like him!”

The stupendous claims about himself and the deeds which backed them up are the reason why the church has said that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. They are the reason why his Sonship is totally unique and different than any other way in which those words can be understood of anyone else. And this is why it is necessary to take Jesus Christ with the utmost seriousness, as God the Son, who came, acted and spoke with the glory, power and authority of God. All that he said and did that was set down for us was in full accord with God the Father, and the revelation of that ultimate, special, unique relationship that those words mean. This is why believers have been so careful to understand and explain as clearly and carefully as possible over the years his unique nature as the Son of God who is one with God the Father.  Over the centuries it has been and will always be necessary to make clear what it means for Jesus to be the Son of God from all eternity. In the Heidelberg Catechism, for example, question 33 gives this question and answer: “Why is he called God’s only begotten Son, since we also are God’s children? Because Christ alone is God’s own eternal Son, whereas we are accepted for his sake as children of God by grace.” And even more, as the ministry of Jesus went on, it became apparent that he brought a fuller and deeper revelation, hinted at as early in the scriptures as Genesis 1:2, that the one God not only revealed himself in two divine Persons, the Father and the Son, but in a third as well, the Holy Spirit – but that revelation would receive the fuller explanation on the night of his betrayal, during his last teaching session with his disciples, in John 14, 15 and 16.

And this, then, is the stupendous thing about the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, that he came not just to give us some stories and a few moralisms. He was God the Son and showed us what God was like in person, and he came to provide the way for us to enter into that personal relationship with us so that we could know the love of God personally. And this means that these statements which we may term doctrinal and theological are not mere theory, notions or opinions that we take up when we call ourselves Christians and sing our hymns. These are  statements about the reality of the God whose universe we live in and who has come to us in Jesus Christ.

Jesus was thus saying that when he said, “Rise up,” to a paralyzed and helpless man, he was making the deep theological point that he was doing it in the will and with the full cooperation of God the Father, and that it was in fact together their doing. And he was using this heavy theology, a brief and pungent explanation that strained the very limits of human language, to explain himself to some people who were giving him a very hard time over what he had already said and done. There was no hint of any kind of apologies or excuses in what he said, for being sorry about their feeling angry over what he had done. How in the world could or should the Son of God apologize to any human being for speaking and acting in full cooperation with God the Father? And even more, he presented what he had done as not being about the need of the paralyzed man, but about the nature of the person who told him to rise up and walk. With our modern addiction to easy, pat answers and formulas in our churches and our ‘me’ centered songs and sermons about my experiences, my feelings and my blessings, Jesus shows us that what matters is not about us but about who the Son of God is, and what he has done. And when we lose that focus on Jesus we lose the whole point of what it means to be a Christian and our worship comes down to little more than gushing out of our current emotional state or striving after a desired emotional state.

So Jesus’s identity as the unique Son of God means that he deserves unique honor as the Son of God. The reality which was shown in his life and ministry, the miracles which really happened to real people, the real teaching which was heard by real people who were often astonished, sometimes offended, and sometimes left scratching their heads, was a revelation that called for an appropriate response to the Son of God. And the honor that he expected as the Son of God was simply to be heard and believed and obeyed.  So consider a more down to earth example of what this entails for us. The owner of a a big electronics firm once told his personnel director, “My son will be graduating from college soon and needing a job. He’s going to be your new assistant, but he’s not to be shown any favoritism. Treat him just as you would any other son of mine.” 

So, when we understand from the gospels what it means for Jesus to be the unique Son of God, in a way in which no other human being can ever claim, this means that we are bound by the unbreakable chains of an eternal reality to give him the honor due to him as the Son of God, and give him the honor of being heard above everything and everyone else, believed in and trusted above everything and everyone else, and followed and obeyed above everything and everyone else. As we go further in to what Jesus is saying here, we will find out more of what this means for us in the here and now.

In verse 24, Jesus starts out another statement with that phrase, “Truly, truly I say to you . . .” If it may not be trite to paraphrase this as Jesus saying to us, in effect, “Underline this! Highlight this!”, we certainly should pay very close attention to his emphasis on the next statement. So, to those who were hearing him he made still another stupendous statement about what he came to offer them in his life and ministry. And again, the honor that he sought from them was simply to be heard and believed. He offered them pardon before the trial, in eternal life now and the certainty of not coming into judgment, the ultimate sentence from the ultimate Judge at the ultimate courtroom. His description of this was that the person who gave him the honor he came to give would have already passed from death to life. This is in one verse what it means to have saving faith in the Son of God, and it shows that in what he had done and what he was now saying that his goal was not to bring them to astonishment, shock and awe. Rather, he was calling them to saving faith, to receive eternal life by faith in himself. Note that his call was not for tolerance, not for sharing possessions, not even for baptism. His call was simply for them to take that step of saving faith, and that step would be giving him the honor that God the Father would honor with eternal life.

Many can remember the tremendous scene toward the end of the movie Chariots of Fire, where the great American runner Jackson Sholz supposedly gave Eric Liddell the quotation of scripture, of God’s statement that he would honor those who honored him. Jackson Sholz was still alive at the time of the movie, and he denied that it was he that had done that, but certainly someone did. And that is the kind of thing that Jesus is saying here also. As the Son of God, God would honor with eternal life those who honored him with hearing and believing.

So Jesus here was explaining saving faith, and this is characteristic of many of the conversations from the gospel of John. This accounts for many of the differences between the gospel of John and the other three canonical gospels: the other gospels contained a great deal of material, such as the Sermon on the Mount, which was meant for those who had already become the disciples of Jesus. But the gospel of John contains many of the conversations which Jesus had with people who were not yet disciples, in which he explained further and deeper what it meant to have faith in himself. The revelation of what saving faith is was not the invention of the apostles, not even of the apostle Paul, nor of an institutional church hierarchy after the death of Jesus, but what Jesus himself repeatedly explained throughout his earthly ministry. Certainly after his resurrection and ascension, after the day of Pentecost, the transmission of the gospel came through apostolic preaching, but the origin of the gospel and saving faith came from Jesus. And although this was characteristic of the gospel of John, it is by no means foreign to the other gospels, to the Jesus who came from Galilee proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and telling people, “The kingdom of God has arrived; repent and believe in the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15). And again, this whole explanation of the miracle with a story contradicts the post modern cliché that Jesus was just a teller of stories; but the gospel truth is rather that he told whatever stories he told to explain what faith in himself means and to bring others to that point of faith in himself.

The eternal stakes of faith in Jesus Christ are firmly based in his own explanations of saving faith. Think of that: the person who has trusted in Jesus Christ, believed in him as the unique and eternal Son of God, has eternal life and has passed from death to life. It may seem to be too easy, but it is what God has done through Jesus Christ to make salvation, eternal life, within the grasp of every human being. Professing Christians over the years have often tried to dumb down or trivialize these eternal stakes to just having church membership or a religious reputation or going through the motions of simply repeating a prayer and undergoing baptism. Certainly church membership and undergoing baptism can follow saving faith as a real expression of the reception of eternal life by those who have put their faith in Christ. But Jesus himself did not express receiving or having eternal life as being reducible to any of these outward acts. Rather, his own words declare the reception of eternal life to be through hearing the Son of God and coming to faith in him.

And so what Jesus said about believing in him means that person has received eternal life and has passed from death to life corrects so many of the confused ideas of confused Christians. Even further, what Jesus said about having eternal life and not coming into judgment furnishes a welcome correction of so many of the religious ideas and notions that people throughout the world have had now and in the past. It contradicts, for instance, the later ideas of Gnosticism, which started up over a century later, and preyed upon naïve Christians who were told that Jesus wasn’t enough, that there needed to be this extra gnosis, this extra knowledge that certain whacky, excommunicated teachers could give them – which turned out to be a whacky song and dance built up on tidbits of Greek philosophy and mythology and highly embellished by some people with overactive imaginations. Moreover, Jesus contradicts the idea of purgatory also, when he says that by faith in him there will be no future condemnation, and that the person who trusts in him has eternal life now. The idea that there is some purgatory for anyone does not come from the Old or New Testaments. Rather, Jesus puts the issue simply at trust in him determining whether a person goes to an eternity of shame apart from God or glory in the presence of God.

What Jesus said about believing in him means that person has received eternal life and has passed from death to life contradicts and corrects many of the ideas of what people have thought may happen after death.  For instance, what Jesus said also contradicts the ideas of reincarnation – rebirth, as some Hindus put it – and the cycle of 64,000,000 rebirths which Hinduism says are necessary to escape the cycle of rebirths, which they say are necessary because of karma of previous lives. Rather, Jesus says that hearing him and believing his Word is enough, and that no special teaching is necessary, and no cycle of millions of rebirths and karma is necessary. So Jesus brings freedom from this onerous teaching and guides to the truth of what he offers in eternal life in the gospel: not continuation in some altered form and identity over thousands of rebirths, but coming to resurrection life as the same person in a body radically changed in life and power, to be like his own resurrection body.

So this is why we say that Jesus Christ is the Son of God in our preaching and teaching. It is not a statement made upon the basis of no evidence or against the evidence; that is not scriptural faith but ignorant credulity. Rather it is that the explanation that Jesus gives is in the scripture for who he is and what he has done is what we have found to be the best explanation of the evidence of history, and that in our age also it still calls for the response of faith. What Jesus has revealed to us throughout his life, ministry, death and resurrection about himself, as he did in a stupendously brief claim after a stupendously awesome act of healing, shows how stupendous his gospel really is. It reminds us that his gospel is not kid’s stuff, childish make-believe, and not something for the ignorant and weak to use for false and naïve comfort in the hardships of life. It shows us how much we lose when we try to downplay it and dumb it down to self help, trite phrases and bumper sticker formulas and reduce the glory of the gospel of Christ to a series of religious tips and tricks. It shows us how much we lose when we sidestep these kinds of passages in the preaching and teaching of our churches because they are so heavy and significant. But we do not do anyone any kind of favor by doing anything less than honoring the Son of God as we read, meditate on, preach and teach on the Biblical passages about the unique nature of the Son of God and the nature of saving faith.

Even more, the strong truth of the Son of God, being one with God the Father, and the source and foundation of eternal life, needs also to penetrate and saturate our praise, worship and prayers and our evangelism as well, with crystal clarity. We do no one any kind of favor by trivializing, paraphrasing, over explaining, soft pedaling, hinting or obliquely alluding to these truths in what we sing, preach, pray and share. True gospel belief in the Son of God, from the authority of the Son of God, is the most serious and significant step that anyone can take. And because it is from the authority of the Son of God, it is not open to speculative addition, subtraction or modification by any human being in any age – and certainly there will always be a challenge in every generation when someone wants to try to bring it down to what he or she thinks will make it easier or more appealing to someone else. But ultimately, it is impossible to combine or compare the Jesus of the scriptures, the unique Son of God, with anyone else, and his message of eternal life by faith in himself with anything else. And ultimately, we will find that every step we take to make Jesus palatable to the petulant and impatient people of our age is a step away from the truth of the words, deeds and person of the Jesus of the scriptures.

It is at this point that Christian preaching and teaching loses its relevance when it loses its eternal perspective and significance. Not too long ago I went back to reading over some of the writings of the apostolic fathers, who were the first generation of Christian leaders after the apostles, from about A.D. 100 or so to about A.D. 175. I was immediately struck by the emphasis in such writings as I and II Clement to the future resurrection and judgment and the incentive to godly and virtuous living for Christ that this means. But what is the emphasis in so much preaching and teaching today? Having a happy family and learning tools and techniques to get well adjusted – in other words, following Christ as simply being another form of self help to build a personal utopia in this age. What reason, then, would there be for anyone to continue on in following Christ if they find that for some reason the tools, techniques and formulas don’t work in their situation or that they can’t find their way to the happy Christian family in this life? What reason, then, would anyone find to follow Christ if what they find being preached and taught inside the church is pretty much the self help of the world without Christ, when they pretty much can find the same thing elsewhere without the strong moral demands of following Christ?

In addition, we need to recognize that many of those who may seem to have dropped out from church may never have come to the realization of the eternal stakes and consequences of faith in Christ and the authority of the person who spelled them out. If all that they saw was a way to a happy life now, then they missed the entire point of why Jesus came, lived, died and rose again. And if that was all that they saw, then maybe they never really had saving faith in the first place, since they never gave Jesus the full honor as the eternal Son of God who came from the Father, but rather treated him only as an ancient self help guru and his church as a religious kind of human potential movement. It’s at that point, when anyone considers letting go of Christian belief because of disappointment in people or the formulas, to consider what Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, to whom else would we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:69).

But Jesus does not leave the matter at that; he goes on to give a more thorough and direct statement of the future that his miracle points forward to. That is a future which too often people nowadays often do not realize, understand or clearly recognize, even if they claim to be believers in Jesus. It is the future which those who take a piecemeal, pick and choose, bits and pieces approach to the scriptures often miss, because they look for what they find emotionally appealing or sentimentally reassuring.

The ultimate truth about the future which Jesus reveals is this: the future belongs to the Son of God. With his words he takes ownership of the ultimate fate of everyone and claims the accountability of everyone who has ever lived to himself alone. These words by themselves are either the most amazing truths or among the most deluded fabrications of a shockingly diseased mind possible. Jesus has not left us the alternative with these words of just taking him as a teacher of mildly helpful aphorisms. Someone who would claim this kind of power and authority to himself must be either the eternal Son of God himself, to whom they rightly belong, or someone who is not to be taken seriously in anything else that he would say.

In verses 25-27, Jesus continues to make some shocking claims about himself: “Most assuredly I say to you that an hour is coming and now already is when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he has granted to the Son to have life in himself; and he has given him authority to judge, because he is the Son of Man.” It is clear by the reaction of those around him that they understood that he was not referring to anyone else besides himself with what he said. And certainly he did not offer any correction to them if he did not intend that these words be understood about himself.  He claimed for himself the titles of Son of God and Son of Man within the space of several short sentences. And in this short utterance he claimed for himself the role of God’s agent for the resurrection and judgment of all mankind. And in one short utterance he brought together two strands of Old Testament prophecy and pointed them back to himself.

The first strand of Old Testament prophecy that Jesus takes and points to himself is from Daniel 12:1-2:  “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.  And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” This passage is the clearest prophecy of the resurrection of the dead in the Old Testament. And Jesus brings this up to point out that the voice which will be calling forth the dead from their graves to judgment and their ultimate fate will be his. He has already claimed for himself the title of Son of God, and in the healing of the paralyzed man he has already showed how his word alone was sufficient to make a helpless man rise to his feet. His justification for doing that miracle in the way that he did it was his claim to be the Son of God.

So then, Jesus takes the further step of making the shocking claim that the voice which will raise the dead in the future will be his own. Those who were around him, for the most part, did not have a problem with believing that there would be a future resurrection. The influence of the Pharisees, who taught the resurrection of the dead, had influenced many, many more than that of the Sadducees, who denied a future resurrection. What was not merely controversial but utterly unprecedented was that there was someone who had been raised in their utterly monotheistic culture and taught in their utterly monotheistic synagogues who was claiming the power in himself to fulfill this prophecy. This was far beyond any claims to be able to do something showy or ostensibly magical like the levitation of an unsuspecting person. Rather, he was making right in front of them the claim that he was able and was actually going to raise from the dead by a single utterance everyone who had ever lived and died.

Then Jesus goes on to the next shocker. He backtracks within the book of Daniel to grab another strand of Old Testament prophecy and apply it to himself. The next strand of Old Testament prophecy that he grabs is Daniel 7:13-14, and he applies it to himself: “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.  And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.”

This is the ‘Son of Man’ passage, and it demonstrates that Jesus clearly wanted those who heard him to understand that he was claiming to be the Son of Man from the book of Daniel. In the other three New Testament gospels it is a way in which Jesus often referred to himself, and by his reference here to the Son of Man passage he makes it clear that he was using it in a way that wasn’t simply some weird circumlocution to refer back to himself, that when he spoke of the Son of Man, he wasn’t simply saying, ‘Just little old me.’ It wasn’t common in the days of Jesus to understand the Son of Man as the Messianic king of Old Testament prophecy, but here Jesus endorses that connection. And even more, his claim is that the Son of Man who brings the kingdom of God is the one who will call forth the resurrection and judgment, and that he is standing right there and declaring to them who he is and what he will do.

So here we will pause and allow all this to sink in, and then to consider its significance for us today. Note that Jesus stood his claims upon Old Testament prophecy regularly, consistently and without apology. His constant  explanation of Old Testament prophecy, and his connection of one passage with another and expansion of Old Testament prophecy upon his own authority shows unclouded intelligence of the Son of God and his own unparalleled knowledge of the Old Testament. The use of the Old Testament throughout his ministry was his endorsement of its authority and eternal validity and application. So then, the acceptance of the authority of Jesus is the acceptance of the authority of the Old Testament. Because of Jesus, the Old Testament and its prophecies cannot be dismissed as the moldy old ravings of old men stuck in a patriarchal culture. Rather, because of Jesus we understand the Old Testament to be the instruction guide to the people of God of the greatest blessing of God in the Messiah and the future of all mankind as wrapped up in his chosen King. Even more, it shows the eternal plan and patience of God that he would take a man by the name of Abram, call him Abraham, and then bring forth a people that would be the people of the Messiah. The Old Testament itself is the demonstration that the preparation of the coming of the Messiah was all part of God’s plan, the whole counsel of God from all eternity.

So here too, in these claims of personal authority and in these claims of his personal fulfillment of the Old Testament, as he tells the world of the final miracle of his Messianic office, we see Jesus standing in the office of the ultimate and final Prophet as he states what he will do in his office as the coming King. In this short statement of the Apostles’ Creed the professing church week by week mentions the final miracle of the Son of God: ‘From whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead . . .” So then, the question comes down to each one of us -– do you really believe what is a regular part of the confession of orthodox faith handed down?  And when in the Apostles’ Creed we say that we believe “. . .  and the life everlasting . . .” do we mean when we say these words that they reflect the scriptural teaching of the resurrection to life and do they reflect our personal acceptance of the scriptural teaching from the words of Jesus Christ? Or are they – as I am afraid that I think that they are for many who attend church around the world — just phrases that we repeat mindlessly just to get some kind of emotional buzz, by hearing and repeating something familiar, like some sort of Christian mantra? So if they are something that we say that we really don’t mean just to get some comfort by repeating some familiar words, then all the more reason for us to consider what Jesus is here saying about himself.

But finally Jesus brings home the zinger at the conclusion of what he said there in that day in Jerusalem. The zinger, in what it meant for them and also what it means for each one of us takes us far beyond what we think of ourselves, what others may say to us and far beyond our ideas and the standards of those around us. It takes us beyond the common tendency of human spiritual blindness to give ourselves too much credit for being good enough and points us rather to  what it takes to be prepared for the time when Jesus shows up to perform his final miracle.

So Jesus goes on and brings home the conclusion of all that he has said to those who were hearing him: “Don’t be amazed at this, because an hour is coming when all who are in their graves will will hear his voice, and will come forth: those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done wicked  to the resurrection of judgment.” It’s a fool’s quest to contradict Jesus, but it’s hard not to be amazed at what he is saying! But I think that the point that he is making is that our amazement at what he has said is not to drive us to suspend our belief and acceptance of what he is saying. It can be human nature to dismiss truth just because it does not fit our preconceived ideas or our personal orthodoxy. It is amazing contemplate these things and to imagine based upon scripture what they will be when they come to pass, but our imagination and amazement must not lead us to incredulity and unbelief.  But the emphasis of Jesus is that the first thing that dead people will hear is the voice of the Son of God, his own voice, the man standing before them. His voice will be the voice that calls all the dead back to life.  His claim is then that he would decide the final fate  of all after they have come back to life. He would be the one that would bring life and judgment to them, in his eternal being as the the Son of God and his heavenly office as the Son of Man that had been predicted by Daniel the prophet.

Note that Jesus said all these things in the context of what we could call a small group evangelistic dialogue. He was speaking to a small group about eternal matters. Here he shows us more about what it really means to have an evangelistic dialogue with a small group. It often seems that our generation has been spending too much time in John 4 and has been hearing too much about the woman at the well in current preaching and teaching and not enough in the other evangelistic dialogues of Jesus. I think that we’ve not heard enough preaching and teaching this passage in John 5, or for that matter, John 3 or any of the other evangelistic teaching sessions and dialogue of John 6-10. Our generation has too often treated the conversation with the Samaritan woman as if it were the only one on one evangelistic conversation he ever had, or maybe we’ve also focused some attention on the conversation with the rich young ruler when someone wants to sneak in a plug for the redistribution of wealth. But this passage shows that Jesus was very ready to tell people about his identity as the eternal Son of God, the Messiah, base that upon his miracles, tell them of eternal realities of sin and judgment, and then to call them to a repentance and faith in himself.

So not only would Jesus tell people about the eternal consequences of the person and authority of himself during his ministry, he also based the revelation of his person and authority upon his own exegesis of the Old Testament. The apostles themselves would later do the same thing during their own ministry, as they followed the example of Jesus. In this case it’s likely that those who heard Jesus would have had a reaction of would have provoked ‘I never made that connection’ among his hearers of Daniel 12 on the resurrection and Daniel 7 on the coming of the Son of Man. Further reflection  on what Jesus said would have brought them to the realization that ‘He’s right!’. In other words, Jesus did not base his claims just upon his own stupendous authority and miracles but also upon his own explanations of the Old Testament, and with this the apostles also followed his example. So then, Jesus’s own example here shows how he is treating those who were hearing him as adults who were capable of witnessing what he said and did and comparing them to the Old Testament revelation. He was not simply expecting them to accept things just on the basis that he was saying them – though no one else in history could have ever had that expectation – but to see the consistency between himself and the revelation of the Old Testament.

So, when Jesus talked about the coming resurrection, he was not telling them anything new. He was giving them a deeper explanation about a future event but something that most of those who heard him probably already believed would happen. Belief in the resurrection was quite common in  Judaism at the time of Jesus. It was the belief of the Pharisees, as blurted out by Paul in  funny moment in Acts 23:6. During his earthly ministry Jesus usually didn’t debate the reality of the coming resurrection, except in an exchange with the Sadducees in Matthew 26:4-6. But most of what is revealed in the New Testament about the resurrection and the final state of mankind actually comes from Jesus himself, especially ab0ut the resurrection of judgment.

So what Jesus says here is his declaration of the final, ultimate miracle of the Son of God. the eternal state of mankind, every person who has ever lived, is resurrection to one of two states, to eternal life or to eternal death.  Jesus makes his statement on the ultimate consequences for those who have done good and for those who have done evil. The challenge is not to inject our own ideas of what is good and bad here, who are evil people and who are good people, since our own ideas tend to be quite self centered and childish – often not much more than the ‘goodie’ and ‘baddie’ language of the preschooler. Rather, the challenge is to understand what Jesus means by those who have done good and those who have done evil from the standpoint of what he had just said and the standpoint of what he has said throughout the whole gospel of John.

S0 let’s consider what Jesus meant by life and judgment, by going good or doing evil. Those were never anything that he ever soft-pedaled – and certainly we are never going to be any nicer or more loving than Jesus if we soft-pedal those huge, significant truths. But here in this very passage we can find that what he meant  simply by what he has already said. The good thing that he means is honoring him as the Son of God by faith in him; the evil thing which he means is rejection of him and his salvation. This is entirely consistent with his other statements such as John 3:16-18, and the statement of John 3:36 in prior context of the gospel, and the later statements in John 6, 7 and 8. So the good which Jesus seeks first of all is the acceptance of him by faith as the Messiah, as the eternal Son of God, and the salvation which he has brought. And the evil which he says leads to judgment is the rejection of himself as the Messiah and the claims he meant for himself. This is the gospel, the good news from Jesus on that answers the ultimate questions of life. Certainly not everyone liked his good news then, and not everyone likes his good news now. But he provides the only answers which stand up in the light of eternity. 

So then, finding such words about the resurrection to life and the resurrection to judgment in the mouth of Jesus across the gospels lends credence that the teaching about eternal judgment – hell – that this teaching certainly did not come from nor was it dependent upon the apostle Paul – whom some critics ignorantly try to disparage with the origin of the teaching about eternal life and eternal judgment. It furthermore discredits the claim that the parts of the gospel that these critics find unappealing come from Paul – rather from Jesus who is standing on the prophecy from the Old Testament  which they despise also.  But with the awareness of the reality of progressive revelation in the scriptures – that some realities are revealed gradually through a number of God’s spokesmen over many years – the doctrines of eternal life and eternal judgment come into clarity. In fact, the doctrines of heaven and hell and the consequences of faith in or rejection of Jesus in the New Testament stand pretty much the same even if a person ignores all that the letters of Paul have to say on the subject.

Again, it’s not loving but it is ultimately dishonest to downplay the real eternal consequences of faith in Jesus or to downplay the real eternal consequences of rejection of faith in the eternal Son of God. Perhaps this may have come as a  reaction against unloving, strident and scary ways of preaching and teaching the realities of heaven and hell that happened in the church over the years. I suspect that more often it’s the personal arrogance of some professed believers who have become embarrassed at the gospel of Jesus Christ and who are trying to posture a kind of worldly pseudo-sophistication and intellectualism. But downplaying the eternal consequences it’s only unloving if you consider the claims of Jesus to be false in the first place. It means that you’re taking that side of the world that rejected Jesus and disdained contemned his words.

But even more then, the suggestion needs to be made – as lovingly as possible — that for some people, the offense at these statements of Jesus and attempts to downplay or ignore them in witness may itself be evidence of an unregenerate heart. I would never bring this to anyone as a dogmatic declaration of the state of his or her heart. Rather, there’s a real question of the reality of regeneration to be put where the witness of the scriptures rings clear and yet there is still tremendous internal and external resistance to the truth of the gospel of Jesus, his identity and the eternal consequences of acceptance of the truth. The challenge then means for that person to look into these things part of the habits of an adult faith, which is based upon first hand convictions from examining the scriptures, not upon family pressure, hand me down slogans and sound bites. And this grounded, adult faith will then give us the perspective to stand outside the hip, the trendy, the pseudo sophistication of this world, and to live beyond the desire to be ‘radical’ or  ‘extreme’ because it makes us feel cool and superior.

A. W. Tozer once said something to the effect that God put the preacher in the pulpit not to ask questions but to answer them. Here, in this passage, perhaps more than anywhere else in scripture, Jesus addresses the ultimate questions all in one place.  We can reduce the ultimate questions of life to the four questions that Billy Graham sought to address in his evangelistic ministry:

  • “Who am I?”
  • “Where did I come from?”
  • “Where am I going?”
  • “Is there any meaning to my life?”

So when Jesus said certainly contradicts much in this age. He certainly contradicts atheism – the assertion that there is no God – and scientism – the  assertion that science is the ultimate guide to truth — and materialism – the assertion that material reality is all that there is. He also contradicts philosophical and nihilistic Buddhism as being fundamentally wrong  in their ultimate authority and worldview, however moralistic they may be at times. They may be attractive in the West as a kind of moralism and often pseudo-spirituality. But with regard to their ultimate basis and their understanding of the ultimate consequences of life, Jesus himself contradicts them all with his assertion that the dead will rise to either eternal life or eternal judgment.

But what many people may not notice, even those who may attend or be a part of the church, is that Jesus’s assertion of the resurrection to life or judgment contradicts spiritism as well. There has been a seeming resurgence in interest in what scripture calls necromancy, ghosts and ghosthunting in the past few years in the United States like I have not seen since the early 1970s. That resurgence shows how unsatisfying to the human heart the assertion is that this life is all that is. But Jesus’s words assert that the fate of the dead is not to be disembodied spirits and ghosts but rather the resurrection to life or judgment. But it is also far too left unsaid lately in the modern evangelical church that this resurgence and undue curiosity leads to the demonic, and in this modern evangelical churches are repeating the mistakes of the mainline churches of the past. In the 1960s and the early 1970s I can personally remember how the mainline churches were often horribly undiscerning on this, often syncretistic in trying to combine the occult and superficial Christianity.  For instance, I personally first came into contact with séances at a church camp from a mainline denomination from the son of a pastor of a mainline church back in the 1960s.

In addition, the declaration of Jesus about the resurrection to life and to judgment also contradicts the beliefs in reincarnation and Karma which have entered the belief systems of many from a very watered down Hinduism. It is noteworthy that the the popular belief in Karma bears no resemblance to the 40,000,000 rebirths of orthodox Hinduism. For some people, though, a belief in Karma is often a kind of shorthand for consequences and retribution in this life, which they received from the impeccable spiritual authority of John Lennon and the Beatles during their flirtation with Eastern mysticism (sarcasm intended). But this belief also receives direct contradiction from but the Jesus who lived in Palestine in orthodox Judaism, and his assertion means that that each of us has one life, that all will not be punished or rewarded in this life, but some will wait until his return to the resurrection to life and judgment. 

Again, it needs to be noted that professed Christians tend to fall into these ‘ism’s and that people tend not to be converted to Christ from them unless the truth of the ultimate revelation of God in Jesus and the ultimate state of each of us is not made clear. When things like the statements of Jesus on the resurrection to life and to judgment are not a regular part of the preaching and teaching of the modern evangelical church, people get fuzzy and foolish on the eternal destinies of men and women around them. They tend to mix pagan ideas with shallow and unscriptural notions of the eternal state of men and women upon death. This becomes a severe problem when so much preaching and teaching stays in the shallow end of the pool, and when the public preaching and teaching ministry of the church ignores or dumbs down these incredibly significant eternal realities. Many people may come to a church out of curiosity, entertainment or to find quick fixes for personal dissatisfactions and problems. But they will quickly get bored with the Christianized self help and pop psychology when the world without Christ offers so much of it without the strong moral demands of Christ. The result may be when the disappointment comes with our Christianized self help and entertainment a type of moralistic cynicism and nihilism.

But even among these casual and occasional church attenders, God has set eternity in their hearts – instincts to want more than the comfy family and sexual satisfaction in a wonderful marriage. Unless the preaching  and teaching addresses and addresses regularly ultimate questions, people become more and more dissatisfied. They lose the awareness of the deep and ultimate realities of the faith and this leads to a loss of growth in spiritual maturity. This likely has a lot to do with the  shocking laziness after God, insensitivity to fellow believers in Christ and for the need of the world at large among so many professed believers and still so many pastors still tend to trot out the same ‘marriage, family, financial responsibility and sex’ sermons and teachings over and over again and keep on embellishing them with stories about their own families, and their  congregations which are led down this path tend to become the seed sown upon thorny ground. But when Jesus speaks to us about the eternal realities, and his words permeate the preaching and teaching of the church, the foundational truths tend to keep believers safe and properly directed and grounded in the truth of God in this world.

Finally, words of Jesus about the resurrection to life and the resurrection to judgment should be the ultimate buzzkill to any utopian fantasies that may ever infiltrate the church of Jesus Christ and the imaginations of professed believers. Taking up the false mission of Karl Marx – “I’m out to change my world” — is missing the whole point. In our age, very selective citations of the gospels and the New Testament – these hoary interpretations of old mainline nineteenth century liberalism, which have long  since been refuted exegetically, long since been bypassed  by believers from not so long ago who saw through their falseness to the message of the New Testament – have been brought back to influence the shallow, superficial and spiritually immature and possibly unconverted people in our churches who have come to think that it’s chic and cool to be radical.  (The truth is that his sheep hear his voice – they don’t go looking for the voices of this world in his words.) The challenge is then to read all the red lettered sections, not just a couple of them, and you’ll find that eternal realities such as the resurrection to life and the resurrection to judgment was much more the emphasis of Jesus than anything close to warmed over Marxism of the 1960s counterculture and mainline churches. And you’ll find that the writings of the apostles, including the much maligned Paul, are much more faithful to the message of Jesus than those who brazenly asserted that they knew what Jesus meant better than the apostles. But then again, it was always one of the problems of the very characteristic of the mainline churches in the 1960s and early 1970s, that they tended to  major on the very minor portions of what Jesus said to come up with very twisted ideas. But the challenge remains to actually read the New Testament and don’t blindly accept the moldy old statements stolen from long dead 19th century ‘higher’ critics, and you’ll find that Jesus takes the ultimate and final responsibility to change our world: “See! I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5).

The shocking claim of Jesus Christ himself is that he personally is the Son of God and the Son of God mentioned in the Old Testament, and his personal power and authority will one day bring about the resurrection of the dead and the judgment of every person who has ever lived. This final miracle of the Son of God is the ultimate hope in this world for the final and eternal victory of  the infinite goodness of God and the ultimate justice of God. But his final miracle would be preceded by his walking up the hill of Golgotha outside the wall of Jerusalem to suffer and die by crucifixion, and by this he would pay the price for to provide eternal forgiveness and eternal life for anyone who ever lived. Moreover, he preceded his final miracle by the miracle  of his own resurrection, by being the first one raised from the dead as the portent of the final resurrection of all. And his resurrection to life preceded the next miracle of his ascension to the ultimate authority in heaven and on earth, where he offers to those in this world the first of eternal life if they will repent and trust in him. Therefore, since he has already given notice to this world far in advance of his final miracle, submission to him as Lord and trusting in him as Savior to receive his gift of eternal life is the preparation he has already called for.