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Life After Death July 23, 2012

Posted by roberttalley in Uncategorized.
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Acts 23


Death is a difficult issue to think about. I think that is why the book of Ecclesiastes says that a funeral is better than a party. A funeral brings us back to reality. President Obama has called the nation to reflection and prayer because of death.


Perhaps you’ve read about Jessica Ghawi, the young lady who died in the tragedy at Aurora, Colorado. She had escaped a similar tragedy in Toronto just a few weeks back. Those of us who weren’t involved in Toronto had already forgotten about it. We had moved on to other tragedies. That is the way life is lived nowadays. This young woman, however, had written in her blog about escaping the incident, saying, “I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath.”


Like I said, death is a difficult issue. It is a difficult issue because life is so precious that to lose it is a devastating loss. To deal with it, we make jokes.


“Perhaps you’ve heard the story of Bill and George who were both avid baseball players. One day they wondered if people played baseball in heaven. They agreed that whoever died first would find out the answer and try to come back to communicate with the survivor. Eventually Bill died. Several weeks later George was awakened with a vision of his friend Bill. He was delighted to see him and asked, ‘Do they play baseball in heaven?’ Bill said, ‘I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is, they play baseball all the time in heaven. The bad news is, you’re scheduled to pitch next week’” (from Ray Pritchard).


You may have smiled and humor has a very important place in dealing with death but I think we can do better than that. I want us to look at the Bible’s answer to the question, “What happens when you die?”


  1. There are two answers, depending on who you are. First of all, for us as believers, being absent from the body means being present with the Lord. This is a quotation from Philippians 1. Paul in prison expressed his longing to be with the Lord. He was certain that death meant immediately to be with Jesus.


  1. This was Paul’s view here in Acts. Although he was using cleverly the question as a part of his defense, the question of the resurrection is first and foremost a question about what happens immediately after you die. The Sadducees lack of belief in an angel and in a spirit, that is, in life after death, is much different than Paul’s view. He expounds on it in 2 Corinthians 5:1-9. “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened–not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”


Paul did not merely believe in life after death. He believed in a new creation. In other places like First Corinthians 15, Paul writes about this new creation, describing it as Christ’s victory over death. N. T. Wright says in his book, Evil and the Justice of God, “When we think of a world unreachable by death, we tend in Western culture to think of a nonphysical world. But the truly remarkable thing Paul is talking about here is an incorruptible, unkillable physical world. New creation is what matters, a new kind of world with a new kind of physicality, which will not need to decay and die.” That is what Paul means by the clause, “…so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”


  1. Paul’s view was consistent with the Pharisee’s view, which was the common view of the Jews in Jesus’ day. In the Old Testament, the witch at Endor was shocked to see a ghost. However, in Jesus’ day and in the book of Acts people believed in ghosts. We use the word spirit because the word ghost is associated with haunting and Halloween. That was not what the Pharisees thought about. They believed that the spirits of those who died were reserved until such time that they would be raised from the dead. This was not talked about much in the Old Testament. Daniel talks about it and this was believed after the time of Daniel but it was not based on long passages in the Old Testament but rather on snippets of truth. It was reserved for the New Testament and especially Paul to talk about our future after death.


  1. It was contradictory to the Sadducee, that is, the priestly family’s view. The party of Sadducees was conservative. They lived according to the letter of the law, rejecting the many traditions and rules that the Pharisees had added to the Jewish faith. They were not liberals as you will sometimes hear it said. It is popularly believed that they did not believe in angels. That view is based on a misunderstanding of verses eight and nine. You will find it in many commentaries. In Vermont I had a perceptive young person ask how it could be that the Sadducees did not believe in angels when they obviously believed as priests and strong believers in the Old Testament in the supernatural. N. T. Wright has in the last decade explained what the Sadducees seem to have really believed. Their hope was not that of a resurrection but was that of a good reputation and a moral legacy for the next generation to build on. In other words your “angel” or your “spirit” simply ceases to exist when you die. What a hopeless view of death.


John Donne, like a lot of poets, wrote a lot about death. We are most familiar with the line, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.” He wrote, however, a more hopeful line about death and resurrection, “One short sleep past, we wake eternally; and Death shall be no more; Death, thou shall die.”


On the other hand, I should point out that death is not easy for us as believers to handle even though we believe that our angel or our spirit will continue to exist. “Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse—beloved Bible teacher of another generation—told the following story. While he was still a young man in the ministry, his first wife died. As he was returning from the funeral with his heartbroken children, their car came to a stoplight just as a massive truck pulled up next to them, blocking the light of the sun. Seeing the immense shadow that had overtaken them, Dr. Barnhouse asked his children if they would rather be run over by the truck or by the shadow of the truck. ‘By the shadow,’ the children instantly replied, knowing that a shadow could not hurt them. ‘That’s what has happened to your mother,’ he told them. ‘Death cannot hurt her because the Lord Jesus Christ took her to heaven. It is only the shadow of death that took her from us’” (from Ray Pritchard). That is the reason we have hope because we realize that for the believer death is only a shadow.


  1. However, for unbelievers, being absent from the body means being held for judgment in hell. Jesus’ description in Luke 16 is an awful description. There is much I don’t understand about hell. I do know this. I don’t want to go there.


This rich man appeared to die well. He died wealthy. But to die and go to hell is not my idea of dying well. If you want to die well, you have to live well and to live well you must know Jesus Christ as your Savior so that you can right now have eternal life.


  1. For believers and unbelievers there will be a resurrection which will be followed by evaluation and/or judgment. Hebrews tells us, “It is appointed unto man once to die and after this the judgment.” It matters for all of us how we live because after we die, we will be held accountable.


Does our lives here as believers matter? Absolutely, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10. That verse was written to believers about the ministry we have of telling others the gospel of Jesus Christ. I do not believe that we will lose our salvation but it will be a terrible thing to give account for what we have done or not done in our bodies.


The unbeliever will be judged also, but his judgment is different. The judgment of the believers comes before eternal life. The judgment of the resurrected unbeliever comes with eternal death.


     Augustine was preaching to his congregation one day. “Let me address the lover of this present life. What are you doing, why are you in such a hurry, why so full of dread, why taking to your heels, why looking for a hiding place?

     In order to stay alive, he says.

     Really to stay alive? To stay alive in such a way as to be alive always?


     Then you aren’t going to all this trouble to destroy death, but only to delay it. If you go to such lengths just to die a little later, why not do something in order never to die at all?” (from Sermon 302).




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