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Description: Who are we hoping can help us make wise decisions? Do they really know enough? Could they help on what lies beyond death?
Both Sides of the Grave
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
Romans 14:9, “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.”
We’ve been talking for about two or three months now, about ìadiaphoraî. You didn’t know it? We were; we were talking about ìadiaphoraî. ìAdiaphoraî are things which are not right or wrong in themselves but which individual Christians need to get guidance on. That’s what we’ve been discussing, not things like murder or adultery about which there’s no question that the Bible allows no latitude in your behavior and mind about those things. But there are other things like observing Jewish feast days after you become Christian, or whether you should eat meat or just vegetables, or in our modern day, whether you should have prayer in schools, or whether you should have nuclear disarmament; that kind of thing.
Things about which honest, godly, scholarly interpreters hold opposing views. These are the things we’ve been talking about and really what God has been saying through Paul to us is, “Look, when you come to these things, would you human beings be careful? This is why you fell from my fellowship because you wanted to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. You got proud about what you felt was right and what you felt was evil. It’s very easy for you to fall back into that same thing with things that in themselves are not good or evil. But you certainly say this is right and I do it, or this is wrong and I don’t do it. Then you wanted to impose that upon everybody else.” God through Paul is saying to us, “Look, go gently on these things that are neither clearly right or wrong from a scriptural point of view. Go gently, otherwise you can fall back out of salvation by faith and you can fall back into salvation by works.” “Oh I don’t eat meat,” or, “Oh I observe this day and they don’t”, or you’ll fall back into justification through knowledge. “I have this little corner on truth that nobody else has.” So that’s what God has been saying to us. But I don’t know what you think; I certainly thought, ìYes, but where do I get guidance for these things then?î
If it’s not absolutely plain in the Bible what I should do about these things like nuclear disarmament, or prayer in schools, or all the other things that come in my life, where do I get guidance? You remember how good it was back when we were nine years old, your dad or your mom kind of told you what they thought you should do. Life was very much simpler and very much more secure. You weren’t sure about something so you asked them and they gave you their wisdom on it. In a sense, wouldnít you agree that many of us have been kind of looking for that ever since then?
You’re always hoping that maybe the swimming coach or this football coach will take an interest in your life and will begin to guide you as to the way you should live it. Or, you kind of hope maybe this professor that you have got to know or maybe this new boss who seems to have a real interest in you outside work, maybe he will somehow be able to guide you in these things that you’re not sure of.
Of course, more and more you find that they don’t have experience in these other fields. They may be good as swimming coaches or football coaches or professors of English but they haven’t experience in the other fields that you want to know about it. So you eventually get married and you think, “Maybe this is it. Maybe my wife will be to me what my father or my mother was, maybe she’ll be a real authority or help to me in these things that I am not sure what I should do about and yet are important.” Of course, wives or husbands often are able to do that, but we’re more complex now. We’re more complex individuals than we were when we were nine years old and the issues are more complex and we find that our dear wives or our dear husbands actually aren’t where we are exactly in every situation. They can’t give us the wisdom that we really need.
Of course, that’s when many of us kind of start looking to the public figures. We start looking to the people whom we see on television or the people that we listen to on radio or the books that we read. We try to start getting guidance from those things except that we find that we can never read enough books to answer all the complex questions that we have every week in our normal everyday life. We find too that there are limitations in these public figures.
We find that they often don’t live where we live. They don’t understand the kind of people we are and they don’t really see things from the same viewpoint as us. Then, I don’t know about you but one heart stopping fact occurs to you about these people when your old professor dies, or your mother dies or Buckminster Fuller dies, or your old pastor dies, you suddenly realize, “What does he know now? What did he know about where he is now?” You begin to realize that all their knowledge is locked in on this side of the grave and however good they were and wise they were, it was only for this world and this life.
You suddenly begin to realize, “But the way I live and the things I do are only partially valuable for this life, they’re valuable to me a great deal because they prepare me for the next life, for whoever is going to have control over my destiny. These people that I trusted for wisdom in these things, I can see now that they themselves end at death. They can only give me guidance and advice on this side of the grave.” You know it is true.
Even if you’re asleep at night and you lose consciousness, it’s amazing; you still have contact with this world. You have dreams that bring scenes to your mind of things in this world. Your breathing is still connected with the air around you in the bedroom. Indeed if it gets too stuffy, you’ll at times waken gasping for breath. So even though you’re unconscious in sleep yet you’re still in some way in touch with this world.
Now loved ones, death isn’t like that. In death, there is no continued connection with this world. You know we’ve all read about the people who have been in comas for even years, some of them. But they’ve continued to breathe. They’ve still been alive. We know people whose heart has momentarily stopped and they have been medically declared dead and in those times, some of them have said, “Oh, we’ve seen great brightness after death. We’ve seen a Christ-like figure waiting for us”, but it’s only for a few moments that they see those things and none of them know what comes after that. So, even those who have been what we call ìmomentarily deadî, even they can only tell us what happened immediately after they apparently died. None of them can tell what happened weeks after they were dead. None of them can tell whether those scenes were just the visions of their own mind or whether they connect up in some way with reality.
In other words, it’s very difficult to find anybody who can advise you for life on the other side of the grave. I don’t know if you’ve been present with your mom or dad when they died. I have been present with my dad when he died and with many other loved ones when they died. It doesn’t matter how close you are to them. It doesn’t matter even if you’re leaning over them to hear them speaking. The moment they die, you’re aware of a vast gulf between you and them that you can’t cross.
Loved ones, no human being has been able to determine to cross that gulf and come back and tell us what is on the other side and advise us how to live in the light of that. No one except one. There is only one human being that has ever been to the other side. There’s only one human being that has ever broken the barrier of death and therefore is able to tell us what lies beyond. Therefore he is able to advise us and guide us in all these million little things that we’re unsure of.
You know that’s a dear man that lived in the first century and that talked like the Son of God. He said, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen God.” When he was 12 in the temple, you remember, he said to his parents, “Didn’t you know I would be about my Father’s business?” His human father was a carpenter with no business in the temple. He is a man who acted like the Son of God. He said to a storm on a lake, “Be still”, and the water calmed and the wind went down. He came to a man Lazarus, who was already dead for some time, and he called him forth out of the tomb. But maybe the most miraculous thing about this man Jesus is he wasn’t caught off guard by death. He explained earlier on in his ministry, “There’s going to come a day when I will be killed by the scribes and priests and I will be buried, but on the third day I’ll rise from being dead.” And he did that.
He came back for more than a month and lived with his friends. He ate with them and ate fish with them. He went and had breakfast with them on the beach. He talked with them and he allowed them to touch him. He did everything to show them, “Look, I am not a ghost. I was where I said I’d go. I went there to prepare a place for you so that where I am, there you may be also. Now, I can tell you how to get there and I can guide you in this life.”
The more miraculous thing even than that, the way the old apostles put it, was, they said that when he was dead, he descended into hell. Of course, you kind of sense that something like that happened when he cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” [Matthew 27:46] Where would you feel forsaken of God but in hell. That’s the more miraculous thing about his death.
II Corinthians 5:14, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.” The anger in your heart or the uncleanness in your thoughts or the selfishness in your will that would cause you to be burnt up in a moment into the fires of hell the moment you approach the pure holiness of God — that anger and selfishness and unclean thinking was taken by God and put into Jesus. Then Jesus went to hell for you and that’s why he cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
I don’t know if you have ever been anxious or worried and you haven’t been able to get rid of the anxiety and the worry. That’s what Jesus bore in his heart for you — your anxiety and worry. Except he bore the anxiety and worry of all the people in the whole universe. Then you think of the guilt that you’ve felt at times when you’ve done something dreadful, he bore that. Then you think of the anger and the temper that you’re filled with at times when you’ve been wild with somebody, he bore that inside himself and allowed his Father to burn it out with his wrath.
So, he enabled you at this moment, to be in him, and still to be alive so that he is Lord not only of the dead but of the living. In a strange way, loved ones — I mean it’s unbelievable that God has put you into his Son Jesus and you, at this moment, exist on both sides of the grave. It’s amazing but that’s why you feel at times things that are heavenly. That’s why at times you feel peace because in actual fact, you are in Jesus on both sides of the grave. But you’ll only remain in him if in this life you believe these things. Youíll remain in him if in this life you begin to treat him as the Lord of the dead and the living and if you begin to treat him as the only one who can guide you in all these things.
Is there anybody who can tell you what to do or how to live your life on this side of the grave and on the other side? Just one, just Jesus and he gives you and me an opportunity again today to turn our eyes from even Jerry Falwell [Tele-evangelist]. We can turn our eyes from all the rest of us here and turn our eyes from all the great advisors and all the leaders. We have the opportunity to turn our attention to the only one who will meet you the moment after you die. That man is here this morning and he has you in his own heart and is asking you to believe that and to begin to treat him as your Lord, as the one who guides you in your life, who guides you what day to observe, what meat to eat, what things to do with your life. Treat him like that and your life begins to be simple and begins to be clear and clean. Let us pray.
Lord Jesus, we all are aware that death seems to end everything. Lord, we are aware how even the dearest man that we’ve known, the greatest saints and advisors that we’ve ever had, have all ended their influence over death and they’ve been unable to tell us anything more.
Lord Jesus, we believe you are alive. We believe that you destroyed death and that you are able to guide us in this life. Lord we do believe that we are in some miraculous way in you at this moment. In some way we are even on the other side of the grave and it is all one and there is no barrier for those who are in Christ Jesus.
So Lord Jesus, we look to you now as that Lord of the dead and the living and we commit ourselves to you. We ask you now to be our Lord and to guide us particularly in these things about which we’re not sure, the thousand questions we have each day. Lord, as we begin to look to you, will you start to show us what to do and what to say? We ask this for your glory and for our salvation.
The grace of our Lord Jesus and the love of God and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with each one of us, now and evermore. Amen.