The Resurrection of the Dead and the Life of the World to Come

Dear Church Family,

Please excuse my rambling stream of consciousness.

Imagine, indeed!

I’ve been able to catch a couple episodes of season 8 of The Voice. I’ve never actually watched the show before, but I’ve been amazed by the innate talent (as much of the viewing audience has been, I gather) of fifteen year old Sawyer Fredericks from upstate New York. He’s just fun to watch and listen to. I think he hooked a lot of people right out of the gate with his audition performance of “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow.” Contrary to the title of the show, he seems to be more than just a voice, but a singer/song-writer/musician, and a young man of substance.

Then, last week, I was disappointed when he sang one of my least favorite songs of all time: “Imagine” by the Beatles (apologies to any Beatles fans that read this). I think one of the judges actually commented that they thought John Lennon was looking down on Fredericks’ performance and smiling. Consider the irony of that statement. The song begins, “Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try. No hell below us. Above us only sky. Imagine all the people. Living for today…”

The even greater irony is the inherent inconsistency of the song: if everyone just lived for today then we would have peace and the world would live as one. Really? It strikes me that the exact opposite is true. If everyone was simply living for today (carpe diem!), wouldn’t that make people more selfish and less concerned about others? If this world is all that there is, then the person who dies with the most toys wins. Right?

The World to Come

Then, this week, I ran across an article by Robert Tracinski called “Why is the Angry Left So Angry.” Now, I’m not a very political person by nature. It’s not just my cup of tea. Bless you, if you like that tea. Me? Not so much. Nor would I endorse Tracinski’s theology. I don’t know anything about him, but from the article, he mentions that he’s not a Christian. Still, his point about people’s drive to immanentize the eschaton (bring the final, heaven-like utopia to the present world by their own efforts) is very interesting. His conclusion is that those who have a hope in the world to come tend to be more charitable, while those wishing to bring about a utopia in the here and now because they believe that this present world is all there is, tend to be more angry:

For the Christian, the ideal end state is safely in the next world and therefore is never in doubt. For the individualist, it’s in his own life, and it’s mostly under his direct control. For the leftist, however, it is all outside his control. It requires other people, a lot of other people, and those [other people] usually refuse to cooperate. Talk about rage-inducing.

If the whole focus of your life is on getting everybody else to agree with you on every detail of your politics and adopt your plans for a perfect society, then you’re setting yourself up to be at war with most of the human race most of the time.

 

The contrast between the philosophy of those who want to immantize the eschaton (live for today because that’s all there is) and the Christian way of thinking struck home to me this past Sunday as we recited the Nicene Creed in our worship service – especially the concluding line: “and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” We confess that the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come is something that we look forward to – something we focus on – but do we really do that?

Jesus’ Focus

This got me to thinking about the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. In our sermon series in the Gospel according to John, I’ve been struck by Jesus’ emphasis on looking for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come:

37 "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.  38 "For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.  39 "This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.  40 "For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day." (John 6:37-40)

 

Notice that Jesus mentions the resurrection twice in these short verses (once each at the end of verses 39 and 40). Everything that Jesus did in His earthly ministry was centered around a focus on the last day – the day of the resurrection. He kept His eye on the finish line. He was seeking lost souls, calling people to believe in Him, so that they would be raised up on the last day.

Our Focus

We, too, as followers of Christ, are to fix our eyes on Jesus, “the author (or pioneer) and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endure the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

In our Men’s Discipleship Group on Wednesday mornings, we’ve been reading and discussion The Enemy Within  by Kris Lundgaard. The last study question from chapter 10 was a provocative one: “Are you willing to deny yourself for the sake of the Kingdom?” This is the implicit question in Jesus’ statement to His disciples: “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, but will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life” (Luke 18:29-30). Indeed, Jesus commands us to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

Conclusion: Bringing it all together (hopefully)

It seems apparent, then, that the way Jesus was able to live such a selfless life – giving of Himself, enduring shame and persecution, serving others – was because He looked for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. All that He did in His earthly ministry was done for the purpose of gathering souls to eternal life so that they might be raised up on the last day.

Christians often wonder and think about how they ought to order their priorities, or how they ought to think about their purpose in life. Then, once they have determined that purpose, the question is: how do I find the motivation and the specific game plan to implement that purpose? Well, we have the answer in the life and priorities of Jesus Christ Himself; we have the answer in the Nicene Creed: look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”

If your focus in on the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come in the new heavens and the new earth, you won’t cling so tightly to the things of this world. Rather than being ruled by the god of your stomach and setting your mind on the earthly things, Christians ought to set their eyes on their citizenship in heaven, from which they eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:19-20).

The Apostle Paul writes that “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). If that is the case concerning our afflictions, ought it not to be even more the case concerning our personal comforts. If you want to learn how to seek God’s kingdom, to do all things for the sake of God’s kingdom, then focusing on those things which are eternal – the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come – is essential. When you know what greater glory and eternal joy awaits you on the last day, you’ll be more able to let go of the things of this world and give of yourself to Christ and others.

Paul wrote to the Philippian Christian that he considered everything that he had obtained in the flesh as rubbish so that He might press on and lay hold of that for which also He was laid hold of by Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12). What was that thing for which Christ laid hold of Paul? Well, you can probably guess, but I’ll let Paul have the last word (note the final purpose statement in verse 11):

8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ,  9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith,  10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;  11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11)

 

Thus ends my rambling stream of consciousness.

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch