“What is life?” Now, that may sound like a discussion topic for philosophers and academics, but I believe it’s a question all of us are confronted with from time-to-time. You don’t have to have a college degree to know that “life” consists of more than the definition offered to us by biologists. They define “life” as, “The property or quality that distinguishes living organisms from dead organisms and inanimate matter, manifested in functions such as metabolism, growth, reproduction, and response to stimuli or adaptation to the environment originating from within the organism.”
Philosophers are not nearly as concerned with the biology of life as they are about the “meaning of life.” Sadly, the greatest philosophers through the ages haven’t been able to agree on a definition of the meaning of life. Aristotle was a famous Greek philosopher who lived almost 2400 years ago, but his definition of life is anything but outdated. Aristotle said, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” I would say that most people living in the United States today are Aristotelian in their beliefs even though they’ve probably never heard of the guy!
There are so many things that we can find happiness in as we live our lives. Spending time with my family and friends makes me happy. Teaching God’s Word makes me happy. Running makes me happy…well, maybe not “happy,” but I do enjoy the people I run with. Watching the Thunder beat the Heat makes me happy. Thursday night was not a happy moment!
Everyone has their own idea about what makes them “happy.” Isaac Davis, in Woody Allen’s movie, Manhattan, was lying on the couch speaking into a tape recorder and thinking out loud when he said,
Why is life worth living? It’s a very good question. Um… Well, There are certain things I guess that make it worthwhile. uh… Like what… okay… um… For me, uh… ooh… I would say… what, Groucho Marx, to name one thing… uh… um… and Wilie Mays… and um… the 2nd movement of the Jupiter Symphony… and um… Louis Armstrong, recording of Potato Head Blues… um… Swedish movies, naturally… Sentimental Education by Flaubert… uh… Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra… um… those incredible Apples and Pears by Cezanne… uh… the crabs at Sam Wo’s… uh… Tracy’s face… (Isaac Davis, Manhattan)
The list is endless isn’t it? We can find so many things that makes us smile. The only problem is that the level of happiness diminishes over time in most cases.
Jean Paul Sartre was a French existentialist philosopher who pondered the meaning of life and concluded, “Life has no meaning the moment you lose the illusion of being eternal.” (Jean Paul Sartre)
Albert Camus was another philosopher who wrote a book called, “The Myth of Sisyphus,” to convey his thoughts about the meaning of life. Camus believed in the philosophy of the absurd: “man’s futile search for meaning in an unintelligible world devoid of God, values, and eternal truths.” In his book, Camus describes the predicament of Sisyphus, a figure from Greek mythology who was caught sharing secrets with mortals. The gods sentenced Sisyphus to push a huge boulder up a hill all day every day. Each day Sisyphus would push the huge boulder up the mountain. Towards the end of the day, just as he would approach the top of the mountain, the boulder would roll back down to the bottom. The next day Sisyphus would have to start all over again. The point of Camus’ story is that life is being conscripted to do something pointless, living each day, from which nothing ever comes except the need to do it again. Albert Camus said,
We modern people believe in absolute freedom. Many of us don’t believe in God at all. Many of us don’t believe in a God that you can know. Therefore, we believe in no God or no God you can really know because we believe in freedom. If there was a God we could know, who told us how we had to live, and who gave us the rules, and the regulations, well, then we wouldn’t be free but because we believe in freedom and because we don’t believe in the traditional view of God…we are free. But if we are free we are all like Sisyphus. (Albert Camus)
For so many people today the idea of being totally free to do whatever they want is the ultimate meaning of life. Camus says that our freedom to do whatever we want is as meaningless as Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the mountain each day.
We all know that real life is more than possessing a heartbeat and inhaling and exhaling oxygen. It’s more than being totally free to do whatever we want. It’s more than experiencing what we attach value to. Still, we haven’t found the answer to the question, “What is life?” I hear people say, “There’s got to be more to life than this!” when they are exasperated with the circumstances of their life. I’ve heard people say, “You need to get a life!” to those they are frustrated with. I’ve been told, “I just want to live my life!” by those who want to be free to do whatever they want. If you don’t know what “living” looks like, what “life” as God intended means, then how can you ever even begin to answer the question? We may not know the answer to the question, but I know who does. Let’s read our Scripture for this morning found in John 5:25-30.
25 Very truly I tell you, 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. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. 28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out–those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is 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. (John 5:25-30 NIV)
If you will remember our study from a couple of weeks ago Jesus was confronted by the religious leaders who were livid that He healed the man on the sabbath who had been unable to walk for 38 years. Instead of arguing with the religious leaders, Jesus took the opportunity to teach them some of the most valuable lessons of life. In John 5:17-24, Jesus told the religious leaders…
• His work was the Father’s work. (v 17)
• What He did was in accordance with His Father’s perfect will. (v 19)
• Just as the Father gives life, something all of the Jews would have agreed upon, so He
gives life to whom He desires. (v 21)
• God the Father judges no one, but has entrusted judgment to Jesus, the Son. (v 22)
• All who honor the Son honor the Father. Anyone who doesn’t honor the Son doesn’t honor
God the Father. (v 23)
• Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life. (v 24)
In John 5:25-30, Jesus continues to teach the religious leaders. You and I would do well to pay attention to these lessons so that we might learn some of life’s most valuable lessons. Let’s take a look at verse 25 and we’ll get started. Jesus said,
25 Very truly I tell you, 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. (John 5:25 NIV)
When we first read this verse Jesus seems to be talking about those who have died, but that’s not the case. Jesus will speak about those who have died in vss. 28-29, but this verse is talking about an altogether different subject. Here, Jesus says that the dead will hear His voice and live.
The Bible teaches that we are born physically alive, but spiritually dead. For those of us who have never heard this before, it is a mind-boggling proposition for us to consider. I will assure you that it is no less mind-boggling for you and me than it was for the people in Ephesus so long ago. Turn with me to Ephesians 2:1-2 and let’s read together.
1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. (Ephesians 2:1-2 NIV)
This idea, that we are born spiritually dead, is not an isolated teaching of the Bible. In Colossians we read, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh…” (Colossians 2:13a) In 1 John 3:14 we read, “we know that we have passed from death to life…” This idea that left to our natural state we are spiritually dead is a bizarre, unthinkable, mesmerizing thought isn’t it? I mean it goes against everything that seems normal to us. We deal so much in the physical realm and there is no question in our minds that we know the difference between life and death. Those of us who are sitting in this sanctuary are alive. Those who are laying in the cemetery are dead. Yet, the Bible says that the world is filled with the walking dead, spiritually dead that is.
This isn’t the most bizarre, mind-boggling truth that we learn from the Bible. Jesus taught over and over again that His singular mission in life was to come for those who were the enemies of God, those who were dead in their sins, those who are incapable of doing anything about their condition. Let me give you an example. The religious leaders in Jesus’ day were appalled that Jesus would actually eat with sinners, the low lifes and undesirables of society. They quizzed Jesus’ followers about what they were witnessing. Turn with me to Mark 2:16-17 with me and let’s read together.
16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:16-17 NIV)
The irony of the scene is that those who were so-called “religious authorities,” those who looked at others as sinners, were even more sin-sick than those they looked down upon. Let me give you just one more example. In John 3:16-17, Jesus said,
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17 NIV)
This is the most mind boggling proposition in the history of the world! Understand this: God didn’t look across the broad horizon of humanity and see billions upon billions of innocent victims and have sympathy for them. That would be commendable wouldn’t it? When we hear stories about how people see someone in distress and do something to help them out, we call those folks “heroes.” There is a dramatic difference between the hero who rescues the innocent victim and what God has done for us. Our situation is described for us in Romans 5:10. Read along with me.
10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:10 NIV)
“While we were God’s enemies…” God came to us, we didn’t go to Him. If you have been with us as we’ve been reading and talking about the Gospel of John then you already know that Jesus never hesitated to say that He was God in the flesh, He was God come to humanity.
“Those who hear His voice will live”
I’ve asked the question, “What is life?” and shared all of this information with you to lay the groundwork for two very important statements that Jesus made in our Scripture for today. The first statement is found in John 5:25. Read along with me.
25 Very truly I tell you, 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. (John 5:25 NIV)
Jesus said, “a time is coming and has now come…” The time has come! As Jesus walked through the land of Israel the dead came to life. You may think I’m referring to Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, or the widow of Nain’s son—those who were physically dead. They had no pulse until Jesus restored them to life. That’s certainly one way Jesus brought the dead to life, but there are only three instances of this type of restoration in the Gospels. What I’m talking about are those countless times that the spiritually dead encountered Jesus and came to life for the very first time.
We just got through reading the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. She was as lost as she could be, she was a failure at relationships, she had more questions than an ACT test, and she was clueless about spiritual matters, but she met Jesus and He changed her life. She ran back to her town and told everyone!
Do you know what is amazing? Jesus is still changing lives today. He’s changing lives all over the world. So many today talk about “cultural religion” and being “culturally sensitive” to other people’s religion. Do you know what that means? Cultural religion is the belief that people’s faith is based upon their native land or their culture. So, if a person is from China or Japan they are probably Buddhist, if they are from India they are probably Hindu, people from Pakistan or Jordan are most likely Muslim, those from Haiti are probably adherents of Voo Doo, and a person from Salt Lake City is probably Mormon. According to those who hold to “cultural religion,” we need to recognize that people are a product of their culture.
I wish those who believe that a person’s faith is based on their culture could have been with me last Sunday while I was at Christ the Rock Community Church. I worshiped Jesus with over 2,000 people from all over the planet. They were Asian, Indian, Latin American, Middle Eastern, from the Caribbean, and the list goes on and on. Do you know what we all had in common? It wasn’t our skin color, our backgrounds, economic status, or education. What we had in common was this: Each of us had met Jesus and He has changed our lives, He has given us life, His life! Jesus is still changing lives today my friend!
Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life
I told you that there were two powerful statements that Jesus made which we need to understand. The second statement is found in John 5:28-29. Read along with me.
28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out–those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. (John 5:28-29 NIV)
I don’t know that “amazed” really captures the emotions that the religious leaders were feeling as they listened to Jesus talk. They were appalled that He would say the things that He was saying and yet Jesus said, “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming…” Remember, back in verse 25 Jesus said, “A time is coming and has now come…” when He was speaking about giving life to those who were spiritually dead. Now, Jesus is speaking about a totally different topic, the resurrection of those who have physically died, and the time has not yet come. The resurrection of the widow’s son, Jairus’ daughter, and Lazarus from the grave were precursors of things to come. If we were to read the story of Lazarus in John 11 we would see that Jesus did much more than raise Mary and Martha’s brother from the grave, He used that amazing event as a teaching moment for Martha, Mary, and everyone who witnessed Lazarus being raised from the dead. Let me set the scene for you. Lazarus had been dead for four days. When Jesus arrived Martha said, “Lord, if you had only been here my brother would not have died.” Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again.” Then we read in John 11:24-26.
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:24-26 NIV)
Martha went and got her sister. The crowd went to where Lazarus was placed, in a tomb, and Jesus said, “Lazarus, come out!” And Lazarus walked out, fully alive. It’s one thing for someone to claim to be the “resurrection and the life,” to say that they have the power to raise the dead, but it’s an altogether different deal to actually restore life to someone who has died. This is what Jesus did and this is what Jesus will do for all of those who know Him as Lord and Savior. What a promise for all of those who are followers of Jesus! I know how Jesus had changed my life, how He has changed my day-to-day living, but I can only imagine what life will be like living forever in God’s presence.
C.S. Lewis in the last book of his “The Chronicles of Narnia” series, “The Last Battle,” beautifully describes our hope and what eternity will be like. At the end of the book, Aslan the Lion, who is representative of Jesus, tells Peter, Edmund, and Lucy there has been a railroad accident and they are dead. Listen to Lewis’ words,
And as he [Aslan] spoke he no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before. (C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle.)
“Every chapter is better than the one before.” What a beautiful description of what it will be like for you and me, those who are have fallen at Jesus’ feet and cried out, “My Lord and my God!”
We need to talk about one more thing before we go. Jesus said that all of those who are in their graves, when they hear His voice on the last day will “come out–those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” There are two important things to learn from this section of verse 29. First, did you notice that all people who have ever lived will be raised from the dead? “Those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” There is an eternity awaiting every single person in this sanctuary and in this world today. The only question is will you spend eternity in the presence of God or will you spend eternity separated from God? God desires that no one should perish; that is what we read in 2 Peter 3:9. Turn there with me.
9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 NIV)
So, all of us have eternity before us whether we are followers of Jesus or not. The only question is, “Where will we spend that eternity?”
The second thing we need to understand is “good” and “evil.” Jesus says, “Those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” Religion, all of the religions of the world, are humanity’s attempt to be made right with God by being good. The Bible says that there is no good in us, not in and of ourselves. Isaiah 64:6 says, “our most righteous acts are like filthy rags” to God. Having a relationship with God, through Jesus, results in good fruit, which are products of our life in Him. In Galatians we read about the fruit of the Spirit—“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” These are byproducts of walking with Jesus. In John 13:35, Jesus said,
35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35 NIV)
You and I can try with all of our might to live the best life possible, to do more good than anyone who has ever lived, and we will fall so far short. Let’s face it, we can show a good face to those around us, we can do good deeds throughout the day, but inside we know that our hearts are dark and hard. That isn’t an indictment against any of us. It is only further evidence that when Jesus said He had come for the sick, that He came for you and me. Won’t you invite Him in this morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
February 23, 2014