John 20:19–31; 1 Peter 1:3–9
Today we come to the end of our series, Examining the Evidence. And today’s question is – I think – a most important question. Is there life after death? All of the other questions we have asked in this series – Does God exist? – Who is Jesus? – Did Jesus really rise from the dead? – all of these have logical, sometimes scientific, historical and statistical evidence to support the answers. Again – all of the sermons in this series can be reviewed at our church’s website, zionontheweb.com.
So – is there life after death? There are some who would want to tell you that all this talk of heaven and hell is nonsense – skeptics, atheists, agnostics, and the like – who would want us to believe that this world is all there is. That death is the end of life. And one of the reasons I have been preaching this sermon series is to answer the critics who say that God – and the resurrection – and the hope of heaven are nothing but nonsense and wishful thinking.
When it comes to the question of life after death, let me say up front that I cannot offer you the same kinds of evidence I have given you in the other sermons. I can give you evidence that is anecdotal – in other words – evidence based on personal experiences, and case studies. You have probably heard these referred to as near-death experiences. If these near-death experiences are true – then science has to play a role. Science has to step in to declare that those individuals who experienced these near-death experiences were not just merely nearly dead, but really, most sincerely dead. In other words, the person’s heart completely stopped and the brainwaves completely ceased. That’s the clinical definition of death.
Many books have been written about near-death experiences. Most recently was the book Proof of Heaven by Dr. Eben Alexander. Another popular book is Heaven Is For Real. The movie version of that book was just recently released – and is showing at a theater near you. We are intrigued by this stuff, because we want to know. We want to know, is there really life after death, or is this life all that there is?
Pastor Chip Ingram tells the story of a woman who was clinically dead for three hours, which obviously, if she ever comes back her brain should never work. In fact, nothing should work.
They were pushing her into the morgue and she spontaneously, comes back to life. And so, obviously, the person pushing that cart had a rough day. Then, she begins to explain to the doctors what they were wearing, the jokes they told, what happened. She described – what many describe – of coming out of her body, being able to see what was going on.
Studies have been done with people that were physically blind who had a near death experience and they describe what was happening in the operating room.
Now, let me tell you, it’s all over the map how people have interpreted these phenomena – and what these experiences mean. But I don’t want to suggest – as compelling as these stories are – that we can base our belief – our faith – and especially our theology – on these incidents.
So I’ll leave it up to you to read the books – to watch the movies – and let you draw your own conclusions. But you know what? I don’t need books like these – or stories like these – to tell me that there is life after death. Quite frankly – I really don’t know what to make of all of these near-death experiences. They are intriguing. But let me tell you that God’s word is enough for me to confirm that God is – that God loves you – God loves me – and that someday by God’s grace – we will be with God forever.
I do believe that there is life after death. After all – throughout this series we’ve asked these questions and we’ve looked at the evidence and the evidence tells us that God is real. That we did not get here by chance or dumb luck. That the Christian Scriptures can be trusted. That Jesus is exactly who he says he is, both Lord and Savior. And as we discovered last week, that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a fairy tale, it is not a myth – it is not a lie – it is not a story that the disciples made up. The resurrection is a matter of fact as well as of faith.
So there’s got to be a reason for all of these things we’ve looked at – there’s got to be more to the story. What’s the purpose? Glad you asked. As the Nicene Creed tells us – it is “For us and for our salvation.”
So what can we learn from the Bible about life after death?
Listen again to today’s reading from I Peter. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,...for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” What does I Peter tell us?
• It tells us that we are given a new birth into a living hope in the here and now through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
• The second thing it says is that we are given an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.
• The third thing is that the gift of salvation is not just a future thing. It is also a now thing. He doesn’t say “You will receive.” No. He says, “you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Our salvation is a now—not just a someday thing.
But what else do the Scriptures say about life after death?
• St. Paul in two different places in the Bible – 2 Corinthians and Philippians – talks about being away from the body and at home with the Lord. So for Paul, death meant separation from this earthly body. Paul was of the belief that upon his death – and thus every Christian’s death – that he – and we – would experience an immediate entry into the presence of the Lord.
• Now here’s the problem. The Bible says that someday – all who are in the graves will be resurrected – raised to new life. Those who believe in and trust in Jesus Christ for their salvation go to heaven. Those who don’t – well – they go to that other place.
So which is it? Do we have to wait for the Resurrection? Or do we go to heaven immediately when we die? Some say that when you die, you don’t go to heaven right away. Your body – your remains – are waiting for the resurrection. BUT that it will seem like an immediate thing for the person who has died.
Some say the soul – or the spirit – the part of you that is fundamentally you – goes to heaven. Then, at the resurrection the soul is reunited with the body that is raised – a new, resurrection body.
I don’t know. Maybe when we die – we are taken out of the current space-time dimension – I know I’m borrowing language from Star Trek here – we are taken out of this current space-time dimension and immediately brought to the resurrection.
Folks – let me tell you. I believe in the resurrection of the body. And that this resurrection of the dead has not yet happened. I also believe that somehow – some way – at death – we are ushered immediately into the presence of the Lord. How all this happens I do not know. The truth I think is somewhere in what I just told you. (That star treky, space-time dimension stuff. That actually is what makes the most sense to me. But I’ve got to tell you – that’s my own logic at work here.) But hey! At the end of the day – it is enough for me to know that – regardless of the mechanics behind it – when we die we will be in the presence of the Lord. And that’s enough for me.
Because in John 14 Jesus tells us, “I go to prepare a place for you, so that where I am there you may be also.” And again in John 14, “Because I live, you will live also.” And most of you know John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life.”
These are promises. And they all point to life after death – a home prepared just for us – in heaven with the Lord and all our fellow saints – forever.
How? By virtue of the finished work of Jesus Christ – through his life, death and resurrection. Everything God in Jesus Christ has done – was done with you and me in mind.
So is there life after death? If the Scriptures can be trusted – and as we have seen – they can be, then the answer is yes. And just what is heaven like? I’ll tell you. I don’t know. But listen. I Corinthians 2:9 says, “…no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” How can you describe something that you have never seen or heard or even imagined?
It is – I think – enough to know that your place in heaven is secure. Jesus said because I live you will live also. Do you believe this? Do you?
Let me wrap things up here – I mean – the whole sermon series.
Our Gospel reading today is the story of the man we have come to call Doubting Thomas. But hey – all of those original disciples doubted. They all struggled with belief. They had the benefit of the evidence appearing right before their eyes. We – on the other hand – trust their witness. And the fact that almost all of them died martyrs’ deaths for proclaiming what they had heard and seen and touched and experienced in the risen Christ is – I think – the clincher – the strongest piece of evidence we have that the resurrection is true.
Folks – if you’re here today, and you’re still a skeptic – a doubter – about all the things that I have been talking about in this series in the last eight weeks – that’s okay. Let that be your starting point – to ask questions – to examine the evidence – and look for answers. If after examining the evidence – you still refuse to believe that God is real – that Jesus is who he says he is – that the resurrection is true – even after hearing all the evidence – which to me is just overwhelming – well, that’s fine. But maybe – just maybe – you’re here today because you needed to hear this.
So where will the evidence lead you? I simply ask you to examine the evidence – and follow the evidence to its logical conclusion. Everything we have examined in this series is more than just wishful thinking. It is a trust – it is a belief – it is a faith that asks the tough questions of why we believe. That what we say about God and how we got here – that what we say about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – that it’s true! It’s all true.
For what purpose? To what end? It was – and it is – for us and for our salvation.
Look! When you go back home today, I want you to reread the last verse in our Gospel reading – John 20:31. It pretty much sums up this sermon series – as well as the Gospel of John. “But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you might have life in his name.”