9. Jesus the Resurrection - 7th April 2013 - Dave Walker

Bible readings: John 5:19-30 and John 11:17-44

Click here to listen to the talk

Some people have voices that make things happen. You know the sort of thing. Most teachers have a special ‘big voice’ that they bring out every now and again, the sort of voice that they only have to utter a few syllables, and the room falls silent. It’s the sort of voice that makes things happen. Lots of vicars have a voice that makes things happen. You know the sort – they only have to speak a few syllables, and you’re away with the fairies. Certain voices have certain effects.

God has a voice that makes things happen. Genesis tells us that the first thing that happened in all creation was that God spoke. He said a few words – “let there be light” – and there was light. God spoke, and the universe happened. God spoke, and there was life.

Jesus has a voice that makes things happen. He speaks, and the dead rise. John’s gospel tells us that he went to the grave of his friend Lazarus and said a few words. That’s nothing unusual, people are always going to graves of loved ones to say a few words. But the words Jesus said were “Lazarus, come out!” And Lazarus did. Jesus spoke, and there was life.

It’s that connection between what God says and what Jesus says that this passage we read in John is all about. It’s there at the end of verse 19 where Jesus says “whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” Jesus is the Son of God, and that means that he has his Dad’s characteristics. God the Father speaks, and his words give life and they judge. So Jesus the Son speaks, and his words give life and judge.

We’ve been going through a Bible overview here at Christ Church, seeing what the storyline of the whole Bible is. And a couple of weeks ago we reached the point in the Bible where Jesus walks onto the scene. And we saw that he really is the centre of it all. Jesus is everything that God has promised – do you remember that? Well since then we’ve been through Easter and we’ve thought about Jesus dying and rising, and we’ve seen how that is the most important thing that has ever happened. This morning we’re thinking about our future and what will happen after we die, and so it’s no surprise that here too we need to know that the centre of the issue is Jesus Christ. He is the one who will judge. He is the one who will make the decision whether we enjoy eternity in God’s new creation or if we are thrown outside into hell. We’ve all heard something of how loving and kind and merciful Jesus is, and he is. We also need to know that he will be the judge of us, and of everybody else.

We’re going to discover two things about Jesus our judge. One thing about the future, and one thing about now. The first is this:

You will hear Jesus’ voice in the future (vv28-30).

One day, sometime in the future, we don’t know when, Jesus will say a few words and something extraordinary will happen. All the dead will rise. Jesus tells us about this, there in verse 28. Look at it with me:

“Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear [Jesus’] voice and come out.”

Jesus will speak and everyone, in the whole of history, will rise from their graves and stand before him. That’s what the Bible calls ‘the resurrection.’ It’s something that was spoken about by the prophets. Do you remember a couple of weeks ago when we were talking about the Old Testament prophets and how they promised a future beyond exile when God would put things to rights? Well as God opened up that vision to them it became clear that God was promising more than just a return from exile. God was promising a resurrection of people. We see that in a number of places in the Bible, especially in the prophet Daniel chapter 12 where he says “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” That’s the resurrection. When we think of the resurrection we tend to think of Easter day. When the Old Testament prophets and people in Jesus’ time thought about the resurrection they were thinking about the last day. All people raised from their graves.

It seems unimaginable doesn’t it? Absolutely everyone? That’s the power of Jesus’ voice. Just like God spoke in the beginning and all that there is came out of absolutely nothing, so then on that day Jesus will speak and those who have been dead, even for thousands of years, will rise. The logistics of how it will work needn’t concern us. The fact is, Jesus is able to make it happen. He proved it when he said “Lazarus, come out!” He proved it when he rose from the dead himself. Jesus will speak, and the dead will rise.

That means everyone. That’s all of us here if we’ve died by then. That’s everyone we’ve ever known. Even everyone we’ve never known. We will hear his voice in the future. And then everyone will face him as their judge.

If you think about it, that’s both a really good thing, and a really scary thing. It’s a really good thing because it means nobody will “get away with it.” Because one of the grim things about real life as opposed to Bond films is that in real life it often seems that baddies get away with it. People live very well off being as horrible as they can, and they often seem to get away with it. That’s one of the things that has bothered people so much about Jimmy Saville, isn’t it? He left this trail of devastation, and it never caught up with him. He died peacefully, still deeply popular, mourned by the nation with a full evening of tribute on BBC. He got away with it, didn’t he?

No, he didn’t. One day Jesus will speak and Jimmy Saville will rise from his grave and face him as judge. Jesus being judge is a good thing because it means nobody will get away with it. Evil will be punished. History is not just pointless. Jesus is just.

But Jesus being judge is also a scary thing, for exactly the same reason, because nobody will get away with it. Look at verse 29 with me:

“Those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.  30 By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.”

You see, in the cycle of speaking and hearing that we see in this passage, it’s not just that Jesus speaks and we hear. No, according to his verse Jesus hears too. As he says: “I judge only as I hear.” Our every action, and word, and thought, will come before the ears of Jesus. And he will judge us according to those things.

That too is a scary good thing. It’s a good thing because Jesus will judge fairly. That’s a very good thing. You see, if I were judge, I know I wouldn’t be fair at all. I know that I would be inclined to punish people who had hurt me in some way much more harshly than people whose actions had little or nothing to do with me. Personal grudges affect justice. That’s why they go to all that trouble to make sure that people who are doing jury service don’t know the person standing trial. So what Jesus says here is good news – he is not going to hold any grudges, or let personal grievances affect his verdict. He seeks only to please his Father, not himself.

But, in another sense, the last thing I need is a just judge. If I have to stand before someone to give account for everything I’ve ever done, I’m hoping for a forgetful judge, or a biased judge, or an incompetent judge who might somehow let me off. Because under the clear scrutiny of justice, I know that I don’t qualify as someone who has not done evil. The Bible tells us that all of us have done evil.

In those two categories in verse 29 – those who rise to live and those who rise to be condemned – none of us deserve to rise to live. We might think we deserve life, using our own categories of relative justice – like “I’m not that bad”, or “I’m not as bad as some other people.” But Jesus doesn’t use categories like that. His judgment is just. Absolutely fair. The condemnation of God is no less, and no more, than we deserve.

So that is what will happen in the future. Jesus will speak, and all the dead will hear, and come out of their graves, and stand before him. And he will judge us all justly. And nobody who is condemned on that day will be able to say “that’s not fair”, because Jesus will be completely just. You will hear the voice of Jesus in the future. That’s the first thing we’re thinking about this morning.

The other thing is this:

Will you hear Jesus’ voice now? (Vv24-25)

Jesus’ voice will be powerful to raise the dead in the future. But his voice is just as powerful now. Look at verse 25 with me:

“I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.”

A time has now come. This isn’t talking about the dead in their graves hearing Jesus’ voice in the future. This is Jesus talking about now. Now, he says, there are people who are dead who will hear Jesus’ voice and live. What does he mean? Does he mean that we should expect to see people popping up out of their graves all over the place? Well, if we’re going to understand, we need to look at the verse before, verse 24.

It says this: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”

People who hear Jesus’ word and believe have crossed over from death to life. The dead who Jesus is talking about here aren’t those who are physically dead, he’s talking about ordinary people like you and me who will in the future face condemnation when all their deeds are judged. And what he says to people like us is amazing: If we listen to his words and believe what he says – that is we believe in his Father – we have eternal life. Not ‘we will one day have eternal life’. No, we have it. Now. If we are believing and trusting in Jesus we already have crossed over from death to life.

Jesus makes that exact same point in the story of the raising of Lazarus, doesn’t he? Do you remember that scene in the middle of the story where Jesus is talking to Martha about Lazarus her brother, and he says “your will rise again.” And Martha replies “yes, I know he will rise on the last day.” Martha knows about the resurrection, that last day in the future when everyone will be raised and judged. But Jesus says, “no, you’ve still not got it – I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me has eternal life, even though he dies.” Jesus is the resurrection. This is how Easter day connects with the future. When Jesus rose from the dead on Easter day that was like the last day, the judgment day, come early. Easter was God declaring “Jesus is innocent; he is not guilty; death has no hold on him.” And that means that if we have Jesus then the last day has come early for us. God’s verdict on Jesus is his verdict on us. We too have the ‘not guilty’ verdict. It has been announced ahead of time. If we have Jesus we have eternal life and we will not be condemned.

That’s an amazing thing to promise isn’t it? That you or I, while knowing that our deeds will deserve condemnation on that judgment day, can nevertheless know now that we will not be condemned. Just because we hear Jesus’ voice and believe.

It’s like in the game of monopoly. Have you ever played Monopoly? It’s a horrible game. All the pleasant middle class games are. It’s like croquet – croquet looks like a genteel pastime, until you play it, and then you find out it’s basically about grinding your opponents into the dirt, by sending their ball off into the bushes. In monopoly the aim is to bankrupt all the other players until they storm off in a huff. My mum and dad memorably almost reached “irreconcilable differences” over a game of monopoly once. One of the features of the monopoly board is the “jail” square. When you land on that square you have to stay in jail, and you miss a few turns. Unless you have a “get out of jail free” card. If you’ve got one of them, you know that the jail has no hold on you. So you can go on playing the game with no fear of that dreaded jail square.

Jesus offers us now the ultimate “get out of jail free” card. He says that for those who hear his word and believe, the final verdict of judgment day is already decided. If we trust in him, judgment day holds no fear for us. Because we know the verdict already. We already have eternal life.

How can that be fair? How can Jesus let guilty people like us off just because we believe in him? Doesn’t that make a mockery of all that talk about ‘nobody getting away with it’ before? Well no. Because God does punish our sin. He punished it when Jesus died on the cross. Jesus the judge, takes our judgment so that we don’t have too. That’s why the cross was so terrible for Jesus – he, the one who knows all we’ve ever done, went through the hell that we deserve. No sin is overlooked.

So that verse is absolutely true. Look at it again, it’s breathtaking. Verse 24: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”

Judgment happens in two stages. There will be a day in the future when everyone in their graves will hear Jesus’ voice and rise. On that day everyone will be judged according to what they have done. But, for those who hear Jesus’ voice and believe, the verdict of that last day can be settled now. If you hear and believe, you have crossed over from death to life. And you will not be condemned.

So, back to that big question then: will you hear the voice of Jesus now?

If you’re someone who’s not yet believed in Jesus’ word, if you’ve not given over your life to him, then see what an amazing thing he offers. He offers you life, guaranteed life. He offers you that oh-so-precious verdict of life at the final judgment. That’s not something that anything else can offer you. There’s plenty of other religions that talk about final judgment, but none of them offer the anything like the certain hope that Jesus does. The best that they can do is tell you to try your best, to hope that your good deeds will outweigh your bad deeds (which they obviously can’t do if God is just), and to hope that somehow God might let you off on the day. There is no certainty, no assurance there at all. Jesus alone offers you a settled verdict ahead of time.

And he wants you to have it. That’s an astonishing thing about this great judge – he wants you to be given life and not to be condemned. He is interested in justice, but not only justice. Jesus isn’t like an over-zealous judge who delights in condemning people. Look at the lengths he went to in order that we might be given life instead of death. He went through hell so that you don’t have to.

But don’t put this offer aside for a rainy day. One thing the Bible never tells us is how much time we have to make this decision, whether to believe Jesus’ word or not. What the Bible says is this: “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” “A time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” In an important sense, today is the Day of Judgment. Don’t leave it ‘till it’s too late. If you hear Jesus’ voice now, don’t go home today without talking to somebody here about it. I’d love to talk to you.

If you are already trusting in Jesus, then I hope you see what a gift he’s given us. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. Whoever hears his word and believes the one who sent him has eternal life and will not be condemned. That’s got to make all the difference in the world hasn’t it? Don’t you think so?

Are you someone who can’t ever believe you are good enough? Jesus says you have eternal life and will not be condemned if you trust in him. Are you struggling with doubts about God? Jesus says you have eternal life and will not be condemned if you trust in him. Are you frightened about things in your future that you can’t control? Jesus says you have eternal life and will not be condemned if you trust in him. So let’s go on trusting him. Because it’s Jesus who says it, and his words make things happen.

And what about our friends who don’t know Jesus? Well, the time is now. The Jesus who we know longs for them to know him. He alone can offer them certainty in the face of coming judgment. And he does that through his word. As they hear of Jesus, that is how he calls, and offers to give life. So will we tell them?

Judgment, then, is all about Jesus. Jesus who is the just judge. Jesus who has a voice that makes things happen. You will hear Jesus’ voice in the future, when he summons everyone to the judgment. He calls now, offering life. Will you hear his voice now?