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The Vanishing Power Of Death

Forever Alive

Erwin W. Lutzer | April 4, 2010

Selected highlights from this sermon

Christ’s resurrection has secured our own resurrection. The teaching about the resurrection is sometimes mocked, but it’s absolutely necessary. Everyone will be resurrected, and those who have not trusted in Christ will be raised to eternal punishment. Death is coming, and the resurrection will follow. Are you prepared? 

I think everybody ought to stroll through a cemetery at some time. I personally like to do it because I love to see what is written on the tombstones.

True story: my wife and I were here in a cemetery, and the woman who was showing us some graves because, after all, the statistics on death are so impressive. [laughter] She was showing us some graves—she says in her cemetery there is a Chicago Cubs fan buried. On his tombstone is the Cubs logo, and then underneath, “I couldn’t wait any longer.” [laughter]

I’m told that in Indiana there’s a tombstone with this poem, and let’s see if I can quote it. The poem goes:

Pause stranger as you pass me by.
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now so you will be,
So prepare for death and follow me.

Underneath someone scrawled:

To follow you I’m not content
Until I know which way you went. [laughter]

There is a story about a man by the name of Harold Bundy. Harold Bundy loved to read the obituaries every morning. He’d get his cut of coffee, open the newspaper to the obituaries, and read them, and his friends knew it, so they conspired with the newspaper to put his obituary in the newspaper. Well, you can imagine how startled he was. He’s reading the newspaper and there he sees himself. He’s almost shook and he doesn’t know what to do so he calls his friend Tom. 

And he says, “Tom, do you have a newspaper?” 
“Yeah, I have a newspaper.” 
“Turn to the page of the obituaries.”
“Okay, I’m there.”
“Tom, what do you see on the second column?”
“Harold, Harold, it’s you!”
And then Tom’s voice goes to a whisper, “Harold, Harold, tell me where you are calling from.” [laughter]

Well, death can be both fantastic, interesting, but it is also fearful. The Bible calls death the last enemy, and it’s the last enemy and it’s the biggest enemy, and thank God, Jesus destroyed it, didn’t he? [applause]

When the women came to the tomb Sunday morning they noticed it was empty, and instead of finding a dead Christ, they found the living Christ, and they were able to connect with Him, talk with Him, and eventually even touch Him. He was the real deal, and He proved it.

You know, the Bible in 1 Corinthians, chapter 15—it is the most extensive discussion of the resurrection in all the Bible. In fact, an entire chapter is devoted to it. If you have your copy of God’s Word, you can turn to 1 Corinthians, chapter 15. But if you forgot to bring your Bible, in the seat in front of you you’ll notice a Bible, and it’s page 961 where Paul goes into detail about the resurrection. And what we’re going to discover here today about ourselves is going to be transforming. I don’t see how we can leave here today the way in which we came in once we begin to understand what Paul has to say about our future, our future.

First Corinthians 15:3, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received. Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures. He was buried. He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and He appeared to Cephas (That’s to Peter.) and then to the twelve.”

Notice this. “Then He appeared to more than 500 brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:6).

Do you understand what Paul is saying? He’s speaking about the fact of the resurrection. He says Jesus didn’t just appear to the disciples. He didn’t just give individual appearances—though he did do that—but at one time He appeared to 500 people, most of whom are living. So you skeptics out there, you go and you ask them what they saw, and see whether or not they saw the risen Christ. 

Paul is talking about the fact of the resurrection, but also you’ll notice he goes on to talk about the necessity of the resurrection. I’m going to skip to 1 Corinthians 15:14, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, your faith is vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God because we testified that He raised Christ from the dead.” 1 Corinthians 15:17, “And if Christ is not raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep (That is those who have died in Christ), they are perished. They are gone. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are a people most to be pitied.”

If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, pity us because we’re banking everything on it. We’re banking our future on it. Is it possible to be a Christian and disbelieve in the physical resurrection of Jesus? No, it is not. “Oh,” you say, “Oh yes, it’s possible because of the teachings of Jesus,” but it’s not the teachings that redeemed us, however good those teachings are. It is His death and His resurrection, and His triumph over death.

Sometimes you meet people who say, “Well, you know, I’m just interested in Jesus Christ’s spirit. He just arose spiritually.” If Jesus just arose spiritually, redemption is not completed. As a matter of fact, the Bible teaches that your body is just as important as your soul to the whole question of your personal identity and who you are. Your body is as important as your soul. And Jesus redeemed us body, soul, and spirit. He had to rise physically. The body that was put in the tomb is the one that was raised that Sunday morning.

“Oh,” you say, “But what about the people who are in heaven today? They are conscious and they don’t have their bodies yet.” And that’s right, but they are incomplete, the Scripture says. For the time being their soul takes on some of the characteristics of the body so they can communicate, but they are all looking forward to the day of resurrection when redemption is final.

Now, in this chapter, Paul was talking to some skeptics particularly because of Greek philosophy. We won’t go into the details but there were people who were saying this. “We don’t believe God is going to raise anybody from the dead because there are some philosophical questions with it.” And if I could put those questions in contemporary language, a soldier dies on the battlefield. His body decomposes, and it becomes part of the earth, and it helps some grass to grow, and a cow comes along and eats the grass and then we go to McDonald’s and eat the cow, and the question is, “Where is this body you’re talking about? It has disappeared.”

And then there are some people who have been cremated and their ashes, of course, become a very small part of who they were, and their ashes are there, but their body is who knows where in the cosmos?

Now notice Paul is asking these questions and answering them for those who have no knowledge of God, he says in the last part of 1 Corinthians 15:34. And then he says in 1 Corinthians 15:35, “Someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of a body do they come?’” And it’s these skeptics that are asking that, and so Paul answers them in 1 Corinthians 15:36 and says, “You foolish person.” (chuckles) That’s rather strong. It’s unlike Paul, but sometimes you have to say that to somebody. What Paul is saying is this. “Cut out your cynicism as to what you think God can or can’t do. If God created the worlds in a moment of time just by speaking the Word, why can’t God reconstruct whatever elements He wants from people’s bodies, no matter where those molecules have gone? Why can’t God reconstruct it the way in which He wants to, and raise it from the dead? Don’t question God’s ability to do miraculous things.”

And then the apostle Paul says this in the rest of the text. He says, “In fact, there are some illustrations of resurrection already in nature.” Now notice he picks it up there, and he says in 1 Corinthians 15:37, “And”—notice and I’ve now turned two pages—1 Corinthians 15:37, “Now what you sow is not the body that is to be but a bare kernel perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.” Paul is saying this. “When you put a seed into the ground, what happens is it grows, but that growth is very unlike the seed. There is continuity but you’d never notice a direct resemblance.”

When I was born on the farm my mother used to always order seeds, or she used to buy them. Those little packets of seeds, and we, as kids, used to shake them in the package with lovely pictures on the side of the package. Now, if you had never seen a flower, and you were given one of these little seeds, and you were told this little seed was going to be put in the ground, do you have any idea? Could you draw a picture of what it was going to look like after it had been in the ground for a while? Of course, you couldn’t. No way could you understand that. In the very same way, the Bible says we don’t understand the resurrection body, but we’d all admit there is continuity. There is something in that seed that is now in this glorified body, but we can’t even get our minds around what that glorified body is like.

Now, Jesus had a glorified body after the resurrection, and the reason this is important is it says, “We shall see Him as He is and we shall be like Him.” In fact, I read it this morning. The apostle Paul says, “God is going to take this lowly body of ours and make it like unto His glorious body.” (Philippians 3:21).

Jesus Christ’s body after the resurrection had continuity. The disciples were able to see the marks in His hands, and the place where the sword was put in His side. They could still see that, so there was continuity. But believe me, there was so much difference that when He failed to reveal Himself they never even recognized Him. He had to veil His glory, and then He had to reveal Himself to them so they’d understand who He was because the transformation was so amazing and so complete.

So Paul says, “There is continuity. The body is put into the ground, and that which will come up will have some similarities, but it will also be totally different.” And that’s where you get now to the contrasts. The continuity—the contrasts. He says in 1 Corinthians 15:38, “But God gives it a body as He has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For all flesh is not the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, another for fish. There are heavenly bodies, earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one kind, and the glory of the earthly is the other.”

What Paul is saying is there are different realms. There are different realms and there’s the realm of humans. There’s the realm of animals, and God has created these different species to work in their different realms, and there is no crossover. No matter how many times you eat at Kentucky Fried Chicken, by the way, you’ll never grow a feather [laughter] because you are a human being. And so there are, you know, animals and humans, and when humans want to go up to the sky when they want to go into space, they can’t just go in their tennis shoes and jeans. They have to have special contraptions to help them navigate this new kind of atmosphere or lack of it. So Paul is saying, “Just like the earth is different, the sky is different. It exists in a different realm.”

Think of how different a flower is from the moon and the sun. In the very same way, Paul says human beings are also different. Their resurrected body has a different molecular structure. For example, Jesus was up in Galilee and then He decided to be with His disciples in Jerusalem, and the Bible says the doors were closed and Jesus walked through closed doors. And He did it because He had His new resurrected body, a whole different realm, Paul says. And in the very same way, every body is going to have its own glory.

Now, I want you to think about yourself today, the body that you brought with you, if you are here today at Moody Church, or the body in which you are listening perhaps by radio, perhaps by Internet wherever you might be. That body. When you are raised from the dead it’s not as if somebody else’s soul is going to be in your body, or as if your soul is going to be in somebody else’s body. No, no, no. The real you—body, soul, and spirit—with all of your memories, with all of your remembrance of your attachments. That’s the you that is going to be resurrected someday, but you’re going to have your own glory, and you are going to be distinct from me, and I’m going to be distinct from you. And the millions of people in heaven are going to have their own distinctiveness, Paul says. So he says, “There is continuity between the body that dies, but there are also contrasts,” and then he says, “There will be change.” 

Notice this in 1 Corinthians 15:42. “So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable.” And isn’t it true that what is sown is perishable? The minute you and I are born we begin to die. We are born with an expiration date. Our shelf life isn’t that long. All you need to do is to walk through a funeral home, and sometimes I’m amazed at the creative ways in which people have died. And they die young and they die old, and they die at different times of their life, and they die when it’s expected, and when it’s not expected. And so the Scripture says we have a perishable body, but it’s going to be raised imperishable, totally indestructible. The body you brought with you today cannot withstand the vicissitudes of eternity. The body you will have someday will be able to take on eternity and never flinch because it will be an indestructible body forever. Imagine that.

Dr. Hinson, before he died of cancer said, 

The stars shall live for a million years, 
a million years and a day, 
but the Lord and I will live together 
when the stars have passed away. 

Just think of that. “It is sown,” Paul says, “a perishable body but it is raised imperishable.” He says, “It is sown in dishonor (1 Corinthians 15:43), but it is raised in glory.” When somebody dies you put a shroud over them, a blanket over them. You cover them because you want to shield their body from the stares of others because the body is in dishonor. And that’s the way in which is it buried. It is buried in dishonor, but the Scripture says, “It is raised in glory.” Just imagine that, and this glory is so great there are no limitations. There’s no such thing as someone in heaven with a disability.

You say, “Well, what about infants?” Well, there’s evidence infants are going to be adults. God is going to give them a body like they would have had if they had been full-grown because when you read the book of Revelation you find everyone is praising God. Everyone is serving God, so any kinds of limitations might be brought upon an infant will be gone because of the perfections and the glories of heaven. It will be a glorious body. Glorious.

You’ll notice also, "It is sown in weakness,” Paul says, “It is raised in power.” (1 Corinthians 15:43). Now, imagine this. You and I get tired. We need to sleep. The body of Jesus, though—and our body is going to be like His. The thought! The thought is the movement. When Jesus wanted to go from Galilee to Jerusalem it isn’t as if he says, “Well, you know, I need to pack a lunch. It’s going to take me a long time. Some dusty roads along the way.” No! “I want to be there, I am there.” Imagine that. And for you workaholics, the Bible says there is no night in heaven. [laughter] That means it is continual day. You never have to sleep because your body is indestructible, and you are raised in power.

Finally, he says, “It is sown a natural body.” He says, “It is raised a spiritual body.” (1 Corinthians 15:44). When Paul says spiritual, don’t misunderstand that. Hear me when I tell you that spiritual does not mean we are going to be spirits. We’re not going to be ghosts. Uh-uh! You remember in Luke 24 when the disciples thought Jesus was a ghost when they were getting used to His new body. He says, “Come and handle me because a spirit, that is to say, a ghost, doesn’t have flesh and bones.” 

“Come and feel me,” and they felt Him, and He was solid all over. He was the real deal. The resurrected body is a solid kind of body, even though it can move through space quickly. So what it means is we are sown a natural body, but we are raised a spiritual body in the sense that it’s a body that can enter into heaven because the Bible says flesh and blood cannot enter the Kingdom of God. You and I can’t go to heaven today the way in which we are. We need a new body, an eternal body, one that belongs to heaven, and not one that is simply suited for a few years on earth. 

And so that’s why the apostle Paul ends by saying, “Oh death is swallowed up in victory.” I’m in 1 Corinthians 15:55. “Death, where is your victory? Oh grave, where is your sting?” I’m told, you know, that bees can only sting someone once, and after they’ve given up their stinger, that’s the end of it. They can only threaten. To the Christian death threatens, and in some sense can continue to be fearful. But at the end of the day, the Bible says, “He who believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:26). “He may die physically but he will not die spiritually,” Jesus said, “because the resurrection triumphed over death,” and the glory that awaits us can scarcely be imagined.

But all of this leads to a number of different conclusions that are important. The first is this, clearly, death is not the end of the road. Death is actually just a bend in the road. A number of years ago Rebecca and I were in Herrnhut, Germany, and we were there where the Moravians were in the 1700’s. There were hundreds of Christians living together in a colony. It’s an interesting story. But we went to the cemetery. And there’s a tower in the cemetery with a circumference of 180 degrees so you can see the entire cemetery. The Moravians regarded their cemeteries as very important, and they buried people in accordance with the choir they sang in. For example, if you sang in the youth choir, and you died, you would be buried there where the youth choir was going to be buried. And then you’d be buried where the sanctuary choir was, and Moody Church here, are we ready to get all of our cemetery plots together so all of you can be buried?

But the point is this. When you look at this cemetery which was filled with true believers in Jesus, you should see it as a garden. It’s really a garden, and the Bible says, “Someday the trumpet will sound, and in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump, the trump shall sound and the dead in Christ are going to be raised incorruptible.” (1 Corinthians 15:52). And those seeds have been planted in the ground, you can go look for them, and they are dead, and they will have disintegrated, but that seed will grow, and you cannot predict the glory of the body, not any more than a person who had never seen a flower predict its glory by simply looking at this dingy little seed. It’s a garden where God is going to speak, and the dead in Christ shall rise. It’s not the end of the road. It is only a bend in the road. Imagine conscious forever and ever.

But secondly, and this is very important, the bend in the road is actually a fork in the road. There’s a fork in the road. You see, not everybody is going to have a happy experience when they die. As a matter of fact, some people are going to have a terrible experience.

C. S. Lewis, the great professor of Oxford University, said this, and he was completely right when he said it. “Every human being is in the process of becoming a noble being, noble beyond imagination, or else a vile being, beyond redemption. The dullest and the most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature, which if you saw it now, you’d be tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, in a nightmare. There are no ordinary people. It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, snub and marry, immortal horrors or everlasting splendor.” Immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. 

See, Jesus said that. He said there was a resurrection unto life and a resurrection unto damnation. Even in the Old Testament, it was predicted all who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake. Every single human being is going to be resurrected, the Bible says, but some unto the resurrection of life, and some to everlasting shame and contempt. Everlasting shame and contempt.
Imagine that. And you will be one or you will be the other. There’s no middle ground. There’s no place where you can say you are in between somehow, and so that behooves us to ask the question, “How will our resurrection be, and how will we look when it has happened?”

Now, I can imagine there’s somebody here who says, “You know, you Christians, why do you think you have the corner on the truth? Why is it you are so sure you’re going to be in the resurrection to life and not the one to condemnation?” That’s a very good question. Furthermore, I’d like to tell you this. At Moody Church, we want to be the kind of church where people can bring their questions, and they can bring their doubts. When you come to Moody Church, if you are investigating Christianity, always feel free to ask your questions and to bring your doubts. And that’s a wonderful question that is in the minds of some of you.

The answer is this. It has very little to do with us, almost nothing to do with us. It has everything to do with Jesus because here’s what happened. Because you see, Jesus wasn’t just a teacher, because He was a redeemer, because He showed that He had the authority over death. Which, no other teacher has ever proven that he had. Because, you see, He was the Son of God, He is actually qualified to gain us entry into heaven, and He’s the only one out there who has those qualifications. Nobody else does. Teachers don’t, prophets don’t—only a redeemer does.

Here’s the problem. We can’t go into heaven as sinners. We can’t show up and then say, “Well, God, let me in,” and God says, “There’s sin in your soul, isn’t there? Look at all the sins you’ve committed that I cannot overlook.” You see, you and I have a problem with sin for which Jesus has the solution. This is the good news, when Jesus died on the cross His death was a sacrifice for sinners so those who receive Him personally are forgiven and they receive their ticket, so to speak, the righteousness of Christ, by which we can be received into heaven, by which we can be a part of the resurrection of the just, and not the resurrection of the unjust. 

Jesus is the one. He says, “I have the keys of death and of Hades.” (Revelation 1:18). Your relationship with Him determines your eternal destiny because there’s nobody else out there with His qualifications to lead us to God. Some of you know of Jesus, but you’ve never received Him personally. This is a personal decision. You don’t grow into it. You’re not born into it. You don’t get baptized into it. You have to personally acknowledge your sin and see Jesus as the Savior and see Him as Lord, the one who has triumphed over death.

Jesus put it this way, just different terminology but the same idea. He said, “Unless you are born again you can’t enter into the Kingdom of God.” (John 3:3). Unless you are born again. Now, all of us were born once. The IRS is interested only in your physical birth. You put it down there, and you can put the year. And you know the most difficult period of time for a woman, by the way, are the years between 29 and 30. So you can take it and you can write down [laughter]—I know I was going a little fast [laughter]—you can take it and you can write down the year of your birth and the date. But here’s my question to you, do you also have a second birthday? Jesus said, “If you don’t, you’re not going to make it because unless you are born again you’ll not see the Kingdom of God. 

To be born again means to be born again of the Holy Spirit. What it means is we acknowledge our need and we personally receive Christ. And I’m going to give you an opportunity to do that in just a moment, but before we do I want you to meet somebody whose testimony (Sarah, if you’d come up here please) reminds us of what it is like for just an ordinary person like me or like Sarah to be born again. And this young lady is going to tell us today her story. Sarah?

Hello. If I had to sum up my life in one sentence, I would say, “God is not who I thought He was.” I grew up on a dairy farm in a small town in Minnesota and was the sixth of eight children. I never knew life without pain and fear. My mother was dying from an incurable neurological disease, and my two sisters and I were responsible for taking care of her. It severely affected her mind and body, and dementia and angry outbursts were common symptoms. I lived in constant fear of her.

Unfortunately, my father was abusive to my mother, which only made the situation worse. When I was thirteen my mother was finally removed from our home, and my father had a girlfriend in another town, so he left to be with her. Thus my siblings and I were left to raise ourselves. As you can imagine, we did not do a very good job. All through high school I was into drinking and going to parties every weekend. I also joined the cross country team which I enjoyed very much.

I was unwilling to share my pain with anyone. I believed no one cared about me, especially God. Because I enjoyed running so much, I decided to go to college and pursued a biology degree, as well as the cross country and track teams. 

Being away from home was an incredible rush of freedom, but I soon realized my troubles weren’t over. With each passing day, I felt more and more doomed to spend the rest of my life grieving over my past. I discovered even though I was now in a new location, the emotional baggage had followed me, and I was a prisoner to it.

I began binge drinking at a very young age, but that didn’t help. I found I was actually good at school, but even that didn’t fix the pain in my soul. I was a good athlete. I was the captain of my cross country and track team at college, and I was happy for a moment when I ran well, but at the end of the day, that didn’t do it either.

Finally, I turned to an unhealthy relationship. I was hoping it would fix my problems, but rather it just added a brand new problem to my life. During this time, I often thought about ending my life. I saw it as a logical conclusion. I assumed God didn’t care because if my own parents didn’t, why would anyone else. It was during this time I was out for a run near campus and another lady named Therese. She invited me to her church, and I smiled and nodded but I was not planning to go. Later, I remembered this invitation and decided I had nothing to lose.

After the service, I bumped into her, and she remembered my name and was happy to see me. As I left the church that day I distinctly remember a small ray of hope penetrated the darkness I was in. I wanted more of it, so I returned the next week, and the next. Soon I was going regularly. As I began to absorb the truth from the Word of God, the deep darkness I was in began to slowly lift and was replaced with a living relationship with God. I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior at the age of 21, and God began to give me hope for a brighter future, although I realized I still had a long way to go.

I soon graduated from college and moved to Chicago to start a Ph.D. program in neuroscience at UIC. My first few years in Chicago I didn’t have a home church and just read the Bible on my own. But I knew something was missing. I started attending The Moody Church over three years ago, but I was still a very broken person. I loved Jesus and I knew He was the answer, but I hadn’t been able to receive the provisions of mercy and healing I knew God had for me. What I discovered at The Moody Church was a place where I was embraced by others in an environment where honesty and authenticity about myself was okay, even welcomed. I joined the Salt Group and a small group Bible study, and when I shared the hurt from my life with my friends here, instead of running in the other direction or just ignoring it, I was embraced and encouraged and prayed for.

I have experienced the goodness and the love of God through this church for the past three years. I had a terrible start to my life, and then I made it even worse by trying to go my own way. Jesus met me in the midst of my mess and offered me a new way. By placing my trust in Jesus, I started out on a journey, a journey to discovering the truth about God and about myself. I saw God’s ways are not harsh or restrictive, but rather freeing and beneficial for me. 

In every way, I have found God’s Word to be true, a healing balm for my soul. On the cross, Jesus took my suffering and shame and replaced it with peace. No longer do I walk with my head down, but I live with joy because I am beloved and redeemed, and I look forward to an eternity with God. Thank you.


In a moment we’re going to pray together, but I can’t help but think there are many of you who are here because God brought you here today. And you know even while I was speaking and as Sarah gave her testimony that really what you need is a Savior to take away your sin and to connect you with God. Jesus has done it for millions and He can do it for you.

I’m going to pray in a moment, and in this prayer, I’m going to pray a prayer that you can pray. No matter where you are seated, you can pray this up to God and receive His gift and His provision.

Let’s pray.

Father, I want to thank you for the power of the cross, for the fact that Jesus redeemed us and the resurrection proved it. Thank you for Sarah. Thank you for millions of Sarahs. We’ve all come the same way, acknowledging our need and receiving what Jesus did on our behalf. Help others to do it today, I pray. 

And now, I’m no longer talking to God. I’m talking to you. I’m going to pray now, and if you want to receive Christ, you can say something like this. It’s not the words. It’s your heart that matters.

God, I realize I’m a sinner. I now know I need a Savior. Right here I receive Jesus as mine. I thank you He died for me, and I receive His forgiveness and grace, and I’m banking on His promises that as many as believed on Him He gives life. 

Father, confirm this in the lives of many we pray. And thank you again for the power of the cross. 

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