Preached Sunday 10th November, 2019 at Turramurra Uniting Church
Series:Real People, Real Questions
Guest Speaker: Rev Phil Swain
Bible Reading: Luke 20:27-38
How does it feel to be excluded? Have you ever had the experience of being left out? How did it feel?
This series was designed to explore some of the real questions that real people ask. This week I had a reminder of just how real this is. I have been involved in helping plan and officiating at for three funerals in just over two weeks and as part of this I was chatting in this group of people and one asked, “Can I ask you a question?” Sure … go for it.
“When people die, do they go to heaven straight away or is there a time in between where there is nothing and everyone is taken up to heaven at the same time?” Good question.
She paused, thought and continued, “I guess I wonder whether or not my mum is looking down on me or not”. Another good question.
Another person asked, “But what happens at the resurrection when someone has been cremated? How does that work? Do we get a new body”
Real people really do have real questions … and I couldn’t believe that in the week leading up to today when I was scheduled to explore questions about resurrection, that people were asking me questions about life after death and resurrection.
In our bible reading for today, the people during Jesus time was also asking questions about resurrection – if you get married and widowed and married again and widowed and married again etc … then in the afterlife who would you be married to?
And to be honest, Jesus responses just raises more questions.
When Jesus says that in the afterlife there is no marriages – does that mean there are not relationships either? Will we know each other in the afterlife? And what did Jesus mean when he said, “those who are considered worthy of taking part resurrection from the dead” … none of us are worthy … aren’t we saved by grace, not my our worth?
Or we can get really technical with their questions and point to when Jesus was referring to Moses talking about Abraham as alive as an example of resurrection … and ask that isn’t Jesus supposed to be the first one resurrected (Col 1:18) so if Jesus is the first to experience resurrection, then how can people in the Old Testament be alive? But then again, Moses and Elijah visited Jesus at the transfiguration and if no one has been resurrected until Jesus then Enoch would be really bored waiting thousand years for the next person to arrive in Heaven.
So … what are your questions when it comes to resurrection, or life after death, or eternal life, or heaven etc.
Chat with the people around you … 90 seconds … and we will see how many of these questions we can get up on the screen.
series is not necessarily rushing to the answers but exploring the questions
… so, while I will come back and give my thoughts on some of these questions,
I wanted to first just spend a few moments giving some context to the bible
When I was at college, we did a number of classes on “listening and discerning”. The idea was that we as ministers were not trained counsellors but rather, we are trained listeners who could help a person to reflect. In these sessions we were taught to rather answering a question to sometimes ponder why someone was asking a question in the first place. I think that this is important in the context of our bible reading.
The question about the unlucky in marriage widow was asked by a group of people called the Sadducees – a sect within Judaism who, as the first line in our reading acknowledged, say there is no resurrection. This is because the Sadducees only believed in the Torah – the first five books of the bible, and there is no specific reference to resurrection in the Torah … therefore it is not true.
So, if the people who don’t believe in resurrection are asking questions about marriage in the afterlife … it does make you wonder why they are asking the question in the first place. I think the Sadducee’s were not looking for an answer but rather they were hoping to stump Jesus and thus demonstrate how foolish the whole idea of resurrection from the dead is, that it is indeed unbiblical and impractical.
I sometimes find that this is the way that some people ask me questions too. When a person asks me, “Do you believe that God will answer a prayer for a car space in busy shopping centre?”, sometimes they are really questioning how I can believe that an uttered prayer can make any difference in any situation.
And as we have already acknowledged, Jesus answer raises more questions than it answers. So let’s explore some of these questions, and the ones that you have raised.
So, is there life after death?
I can see people nodding … but lets just stay with the question before rushing to an answer. Even in Jesus time within Judaism there was a divergence of views on this question – The Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead, the Sadducees didn’t, the Essenes were a bit both ways, believing in the afterlife but not the resurrection of the body.
Across Australian society today have people believing that death is the end and nothing more, through to Eternal life in Heaven; to reincarnation; to we meld into a universal light, to a ghostly presence on earth until we pass over to the other side; to … I could go on but you get the idea. I could say that the problem is that no-one has experienced what it is like after we die and therefore we can’t really know … except there are people who claim that they have experienced the light or heaven or whatever in a near death experience.
My father one used a line that I appreciate. He said that if we are in a situation where we can’t really know the absolute truth, we look for things that can give us some assurance. And the bible is full of verses and promises that can give us the assurance that yes, there is life after death.
John 11:25 Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die”
John 14:2-3 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
1 Thess 4:14 And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don’t want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.
I could go on … but I want to be clear – and I affirm this in ever funeral that I run – just as God raised Jesus from the dead, God will indeed raise those who die to life. Death is not the end, it is just a doorway that we step through to an even greater life with God.
Ok … but, now how do we begin to explore the other plethora of questions:
- When we die, do we go directly to heaven or is there a period of nothingness and we all go together
- Is my mum watching over me?
- How does the “new body” work? Is it the same or different? Will people still recognise us? And what happens if we have been cremated?
- But I love my wife? Why can’t we be married in heaven?
- Will we know each other in heaven? What will relationships be like?
- Will my pets be in heaven?
- What about babies who die? People from other religions? How does that work in the afterlife?
- What will heaven/eternal life be like? An eternity of singing praises to God might start to wear a bit thin after a couple of million years.
- What about Hell? What about those people I love who I have a feeling did not love Jesus?
(I might try and explore some of these off-the-cuff)
Things to note:
Theological answer vs Pastoral Answer.
Sometimes a question can be answered legitimately in difference ways. Some rely on a more logical, academic, proof texting approach and some rely on a more practical, experiential, loved focused approach. We want to argue that one way is “more correct” but I think both approaches give us good things to think about.
Eg. Is my pet going to heaven?
- There is nothing in the bible that explicitly states that a pet goes to heaven.
- Animals don’t have a soul so they can’t
- But the bible implies that animals sing praises to God, can listen to God and see spiritual truths (eg Balaams Donkey)
- If Heaven is an extension of the good things on earth, then it makes sense that animals are in heaven.
- Some pets are like family, so why wouldn’t a loving God reunite an owner and a loved pet?
I think that when it comes to such personal things such as death and death of a love one we need to be careful not to only speak in terms of black and white theological answers but give room to have the more pastoral answer.
What is important lives on…
One of the most helpful ideas that I have received and often share with others is that what is most important lives on.
Paul in 1 Corinthians when pondering the question of what sort body will we have in eternity says that what is perishable will be gone and what is imperishable will remain. So this body which gets old and breaks down will be gone, replaced with a new body (hence it is ok if we are cremated) but the things that imperishable – things like love, our faith in Jesus, our relationship with Jesus, and even our relationship with other people … will remain. Faith, hope and love, these things never end.
So when people ask the question, will I know my loved ones in Heaven … of course you will – our relationships are an important part of who we are. And this is one way of understanding Jesus words on marriage and eternal life.
Let me ask you, will I still be my father’s son when
I get to heaven? Yes – but Jesus says
that I will also be one of God’s own children.
So the relationship with my dad will be same-same but different. I think it will be the same with
marriage. Will I still know Marion in
heaven – but as the church we will also be the bride of Christ, so yes the
relationship will still be there, but it will be same-same but different.
Exploring these questions about resurrection is not supposed to make you fearful or worry or feel stressed. As Christians, we can find great hope and comfort through the resurrection of Jesus.
Yes, there are lots of questions and the answers are not also clear … but if we track back to my father’s wisdom of assurance … Jesus gives us heaps of promises and words that can give us the assurance of eternal life.
Jesus in John 14 reminds us that if our hearts are troubled that we just need to trust in God and trust in Jesus. Jesus says that in God’s house there are many rooms and that Jesus is preparing a place for us and will come and take us to be with him forever. Jesus then gave us direction to this place – through him. Jesus is the way. Jesus is the good shepherd who will guide us through the valley of death, who will protect us as we step through the door to the next life. Jesus is the one who makes us worthy of all God’s blessings. Jesus is the one who tells us that in this future life there will be no more suffering, or mourning, or death or pain.
We can have this assurance. And if anyone asks us how they can have the assurance … we just point them to Jesus too.
After all, God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him and through him – all are alive.