11/6/2016 7:21:51 PM
All Saints Are Alive - Pastor Aaron Dolan
I. Things are different for them
II. We are the same as them
Jane, Stephen, Florence, Ray, Lois, Mark. Those are the names of the First Evan members who entered that golden Jerusalem in the last twelve months. Death changes everything. Things are different for you when a family member or close friend passes away. A place at the table is conspicuously empty. A familiar voice is no longer heard. Companionship turns to loneliness. Things change. Things become different for us.
And so when loved ones die, we try to keep them alive, in a sense, by remembering how they were. In our mind we replay that laugh or that smile. We tell stories and relive memories, remembering the best times and trying to hold on to them. This is a good, natural thing to do, and it can be very comforting.
But let’s do something a little different today. Let’s consider not how things are different for us, but how things are different for them. Let’s think of them not how they were, but how they are now. After all, they still are today. Jane, Stephen, Florence, Ray, Lois, Mark…you can add other names to that list, names of your loved ones who have died in the Lord. All who die in Christ are still living, Jesus said. All Saints Are Alive.
They are alive, but things are different for them now than they were when they were living with us. Jesus made that point in this conversation with the Sadducees. The Sadducees were a group of people who would roll their eyes at us if they heard us talking about the dead being alive. Not unlike many people around us, they didn’t believe there was such a thing as a resurrection. They also didn’t believe in angels. They thought these things were ridiculous, fairy tales. So they made up a ridiculous hypothetical situation, thinking they could show how ridiculous rising from the dead is.
“Teacher…Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother.” That was true. That was an actual law for the nation of Israel. It was meant to protect a man’s name, his family name, which was linked to property and inheritance. So if a man died childless, his nearest relative, his brother, was to marry the widow and provide children that would inherit the dead man’s property and carry the family name. Now, the Sadducees concocted a nearly impossible scenario: All seven brothers in a family died one by one, each after marrying the same woman. What a mess it must be in the resurrection, Jesus, with seven guys claiming one woman, each as his wife! It was kind of a silly, sarcastic question. But there’s a flaw in the question, which Jesus pointed out. The question assumed that things are the same before and after death.
However, life after death doesn’t play by the same rules. Jesus answered the Sadducees with our first main point today: Things are different now for those who have died. One thing that is different has to do with marriage. “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage.” Only on this side of death is there marriage, not on the other side. That might be shocking, even disappointing to some. But Jesus tells us this not to disappoint us. He wants us to think about those departed saints differently and show how heaven is different. Marriage is important in our world, because it provides something that would be missing without it. Marriage is important for stability in a sinful world, for bringing children into the world and training them, for a special kind of companionship between husband and wife. But in heaven, there is nothing lacking. There is nothing missing that needs to be filled in by someone else. Everyone has everything that is good. And so earthly family relationships just aren’t needed. Your Christian wife will still be there, but you won’t need her to complete you like you do here. Your Christian mother will still be there in heaven, but you won’t need her to mother you. There’s nothing missing. All good things are already there for each person.
Things are different Look back at today’s First Lesson. The Lord said through Isaiah, “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” Things will be different. How are they different? “The sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.” Nothing to make anyone cry. Nothing! Ever! Nothing bad! Nothing missing! In Isaiah there were several examples of things that don’t exist there. Skim through that. There is no such thing as someone dying too early, because there is no death. It’s eternal life. There’s no such thing as meaningless work or work that goes unrewarded. All activity will be pleasurable and beneficial and rewarded. There is no such thing as crying out to God for help and waiting patiently for him to answer, because there is no reason to cry out for help and the Lord is always there, face to face, providing a constant supply of good things. There is no hatred or rivalry or bullying or destruction or harm. Even those who didn’t get along on earth live in peace and joy together, like a wolf and lamb feeding together. And the greatest blessing of all: Jesus is there, and he openly delights in his people.
Sometimes, when a loved one dies, we picture heaven or talk about heaven as if it’s a dreamy version of earth. “I bet Grandpa is playing cards and telling stories. I bet Grandma is making a big meal.” That makes us smile, and that’s good. But how about this too? “I know Grandma and Grandpa are feeling no pain. I know Mom and Dad are being rewarded for all their work and all the things they struggled through. I know my husband is experiencing the real peace and happiness he was always searching for. I know my friend is enjoying life the way she never could here. I know my child is getting a big hug from Jesus, who is so delighted with her.” That’s how the Bible talks about the saints in heaven! Things are different for them. They have simply moved from one side of death to the other, but now things are so wonderful for them, so perfectly complete and completely perfect.
There is a resurrection. Our bodies will rise from the dead someday. And all those saints who died in faith are living today. Jesus proved that by pointing to the way the Old Testament talked about God. When Moses spoke with the Lord at the burning bush, God referred to himself as “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” This was 400 years after Jacob died! Yet God still talked about them as if they were alive, because they were alive and are still living today. “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”
And so he is also the God of Jane, and Stephen, and Florence, and Ray, and Lois, and Mark, because they are living. And so are your loved ones who have died in the Lord. They are living, and God is taking delight in them, loving them to the fullest, where all sin and all the effects of sin are gone, making things different for them in the best possible way.
And we are still here.
We usually think of us them as two different groups, don’t we? They have achieved something; we are still working toward it. But when Jesus said that all saints are living, he wasn’t talking only about the saints who have died. He sees only one group, not two. As far as God is concerned, we are the same as they are. That’s our second main point today. Let’s see how that is true.
When talking to the Sadducees, Jesus said that the ones who have life after death are “those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age.” Are you in that group? Are you worthy? Who gets to determine that? Would your family and friends consider you worthy of taking part in God’s heavenly home? Maybe. But they’re usually pretty generous with you. Would your coworkers or acquaintances? Perhaps, but they don’t really know you all that well. Would your enemies consider you worthy, those who just don’t like you? Or would they have reason to say negative things about you? Then there is the toughest critic of all: your conscience. What does your conscience think about your worthiness, especially in light of God’s standard of perfection? Your conscience knows you aren’t worthy! It tweaks you so often when you put yourself first, when you fail to help someone, when you fall into sin again. Your conscience knows that you have not loved God with your whole heart in all things and at all times and that you have not loved your neighbor as yourself.
If worthiness were determined by any of these, then there is no hope of being a part of that one group that God sees as saints. But God is the one who determines worthiness, and he does it in a different way. He doesn’t look at you; he looks at Jesus! And the Bible shouts out to us, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!” (Revelation 5:12) When God looks at someone who is connected to Jesus by faith, he sees the worthiness of Jesus in that person—the Jesus who covers us, who serves as our substitute, who paid with his blood to makes us his family, and who rose from the dead to guarantee our resurrection.
Jesus said that those who are in heaven “are God's children, since they are children of the resurrection.” A child of God equals a child of the resurrection. Those two go togerher. And you are already called a child of God! Jesus covers you! He has paid for you! That means that right now, as God’s child, you are also a child of the resurrection.
Life in heaven is not something to aspire to; it’s something we have now, because of Jesus. We are the same as the saints in heaven. God sees us as exactly the same. All saints are alive to him. From our perspective we see the two different kinds of life: one on this side of death and one on the other. God sees only one life, the life that is being a child of God. You are already part of the same community as Jane, Stephen, Florence, Ray, Lois, Mark, and all the saints that have passed through death. You are already alive with the life that will carry you through death.
All saints are alive, alive for good, for eternity. While we wait for Jesus to return and usher in that eternity, we praise and thank him for the saints who have gone before us for what they have given to us and the example they have set. And we look forward to the day when things will be different for us, when we experience fully the life after death that Jesus has already given to us now.