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Philip Conley's Morning Thoughts

Morning Thoughts (John 11:25-26 – “The Truth About Death”)

“The Truth About Death”

John 11:25-26, “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?”

This morning, there are many things that people fear, and death is one of the top contenders. Over the years, I have heard that people fear public speaking more than death – as a general rule. As one that has to speak publicly quite a bit as a minister, I find it remarkable that people would generally rather die than have to do what I do. Regardless, death is greatly feared. There are few subjects that have been philosophized about as much as death. Men of learning and some measure of knowledge have wondered and tried to figure out what happens at death, after death, and all the connection points between this fragile thing we call life and the great unknown beyond it. Job of old (probably the oldest book of the Bible) even asked the question, “If a man die, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14a) At my secular employment, I get asked questions surrounding it on a regular basis. Yet, it seems to my observation that more energy has been put into trying to figure out what God has already plainly declared. After all, Job answered his own question when he said, “All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.” (Job 14:14b)

The scene surrounding our study verses is focused on Jesus’ interaction with a family of Bethany that had lost a family member due to death. Mary and Martha recently lost their brother Lazarus, and when Jesus arrives with His disciples, He converses with both sisters before heading to the tomb to raise Lazarus back to life. Our study verses are in the midst of His conversation with Martha. In these thoughts we see what might seem at first blush to be a contradiction of thought. However, when placing these verses next to other passages of the Bible, they harmonize quite well with what the Bible plainly declares about life, death, and everything that follows. Notice the seeming clash of thought: 1. If someone believeth in Him, they will live though they have died, 2. If someone believeth in Him, they will never die. In side by side notation, they appear at odds with each other. But, as we have tried to stress many times over the years, problematic situations in Scripture comes from our problematic minds not the text itself. Our minds are frail and faulty, whereas the word is pristine and sublime.

To answer the critic’s charges while also probing one of the most discussed and philosophized concepts in history, we will see the great power of God’s deliverance while also strengthening our grip on fervent and assured service in the here and now. Man is composed of 3 parts: body, soul, and spirit, and two of these parts are unseen while the body is the portion that is visible to the naked eye. This writing, nor any other writing of man, can delineate what exactly the division of the soul and spirit is. Only Jesus can do such a thing (Hebrews 4:12), but Scripture affirms that man is composed of these 3 parts. (I Thessalonians 5:23) So, when Jesus makes a statement about never dying and also says that death shall be followed by the resurrection, we can clearly see the answer to the critic’s problem with the portion of man’s composition under consideration.

Scripture teaches that the internal, unseen parts of man do not die. The spirit goes back to God that gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7b), and the soul departs at the moment of death. (Genesis 35:18) The body, on the other hand, does lay down in death and go back to corruption. (Ecclesiastes 12:7a) So, from these places – among others – Jesus’ statement about never dying refers to the unseen parts of man, while the resurrection happens for the body that we see. One of the problems that man has in his postulating and philosophizing about death and things beyond it is the fact that he is thinking only in terms of things that we can see. To the natural sight, death is a reality with finality to it. We cannot see beyond that separation by natural ability, and to truly appreciate and cling to the things beyond this life, the sight of faith’s eye is required.

One of the things that I did not realize growing up is how different my perspective on death and the things surrounding it was from most of my peers. Most of my peers were unfamiliar with funerals, and they did not think about death much due to their youth. As a minister’s son, I went to many funerals and saw all the associated things with it such as grief, mourning, and comfort. Only after I was grown and began to understand how different my perspective was did I come to appreciate how treasured the situation of joyful hope and strong trust and belief in these things really is. Jesus strongly makes the point that there is a high premium on belief in these situations. Now, to be clear, belief is not what makes these things so. Belief never changes reality. Belief is simply an admission of what is reality. If I believe the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, my belief does not make it so. My belief is simply an admission of what is reality based on the evidence at hand. The reason death, things surrounding it, and the situation beyond it is so hard to grasp is because man does not see tangible evidence at hand to rely upon.

Friends, one of the things I prize about my growing up time is that I was surrounded at those funerals and times of natural sorrow by people that knew the truth about death and freely talked about it during those seasons. Churchgoers react to death and funerals very differently from those in the world. Even Martha in her interaction with Christ was able to cling to the idea of the resurrection while mourning the loss of her brother Lazarus. Paul encourages us in I Thessalonians 4 not to sorrow as others “which have no hope.” There are people in this world that literally have no hope or expectation of anything beyond this life. Such a mindset makes us of all men most miserable. (I Corinthians 15:19) These surroundings for me in my formative years staved off many of the fears and doubts I may have enjoined about death had I not had such grounded people around me all the time. It is my intent with my young children now that they have a similar situation. When they are full grown and facing the world themselves, my desire is that they have a good grasp about death without living in fear of it.

To the believer, there is an assuredness when the loss of death occurs that this is not the end. Job of old knew it was not the end, and I rejoice today in knowing that all of my friends and loved ones that we have buried over the years will be raised back to life one day. As I approach death in the future, I can do so with the joy and expectation that this body that is about to lay down with a final gasp will one day be raised in power and fashioned like unto His glorious body. (Philippians 3:21) This belief and trust allows us to have joy in the midst of sorrow and hope in the midst of suffering. Jesus’ words should still ring and strike chords today that there is something beyond this vale that is glorious and majestic.

Taking it a step further, the believer today can rejoice in knowing that though the dead body of a loved one is being laid beneath the sod of this earth, the conscious aspect of them in soul and spirit is at that moment basking in the glorious presence of the Almighty. (II Corinthians 5:6-8) As soon as the eyes of the body close in death, the soul and spirit arrive in glory to rejoice and shout at the Saviour’s feet until the moment of reunion with their glorified body. When I think of those that have gone before me through that portal, I sometimes get a little envious. They are free of all the shackles that weigh us down daily. Oftentimes when I meet people at work in the morning, I will say, “How are you doing?” getting the response, “It’s another good day, because I’m above ground and this side of dirt.” While I understand the natural sentiment, the better day for our situation comes when the body is ready to go to the other side of the dirt. When that situation comes, we will see Him whom our soul loves and rejoice in glory surrounded by majesty.

From time to time, I ask a question in preaching, “What would you give for what you are blessed know about Jesus and all that He has done? How much is it worth?” Belief and trust in the Master is priceless, and the subject of death is a prime example of it. Though we mourn the loss of fellowship when others pass from this life, the knowledge that we have gives relief that nothing else can. I cannot imagine trying to live life without the steadfast belief in the resurrection of the body and the immortality of the soul. This should be so prized by us that we heed Paul’s concluding exhortation about this knowledge to be steadfast, unmovable, and always abounding the work of the Lord. (I Corinthians 15:58) Jesus would go on from these statements to raise Lazarus back to life showing His power over death. One day, He is going to raise all of the sleeping dust of men’s bodies and actually kill death itself by doing so. Death will have no more dominion. But, Lazarus still had 4 good days in soul and spirit basking in the beauty of heaven. Our trust and belief cannot rest in things we see but in the things that we cannot see. If we cling to these things, we can face our own death and of those we love with the resolution that we have not ended the story but just been parted for a while. The story continues. There is much more to come and left to see beyond this life, and if we believe these things, let us rejoice in life knowing these things. Jesus asked Martha if she believed. Do we? If we do, then let us show that in our love and devotion to Him who has so delivered us from the power of death.

In Hope,
Bro Philip

Morning Thoughts (John 11:43)

John 11:43, “And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.”

This morning, language still has meaning. One of the earliest lessons about the Bible that I was taught as a little boy from my natural father was, “You can never hope to know what the Bible means if you don’t first know what it says.” To get the meaning and the message that God has left on record for us, we have to be acquainted with the Bible’s language. By understanding language, we can then build the language into secure and solid building blocks of concepts. Those concepts are in turn then laid together to form the structure of Biblical theology as a house that both shines as a testimony to God’s work and an example for our course here below. Without the understanding of language, we fail to make blocks (or perhaps worse make unsteady blocks that cannot hold weight). Without blocks that can be laid together, we have no structure as a house and shield in the world. We then become ignorant, forget about God’s grace, and wander aimlessly in our daily struggles. Let us choose the former path that keeps a good house of Biblical thought built upon the language of the Bible itself.

As we have already mentioned in our previous writing, Christ’s spoken language in the account of Lazarus in John 11 was for our benefit to understand what He did, how He did it, and what it means. Progressing into this three word sentence of Christ, we will see some beautiful particulars about the Lord’s call, and from that, we glean rich insights into the overall scope of the Lord’s work in this regard. However, for starters, we need to make some qualifying statements. While we will use Christ’s language to make a comparison to the effectual call in the new birth (and by extension the resurrection), this account details bringing a naturally dead man back to natural life again. What Lazarus experienced in reality (natural raising), points to what God’s family experiences in spiritual raising.

The first word of Christ’s sentence is “Lazarus.” We have often heard it said, “Had Christ not spoken Lazarus’ name, all the graves would have opened and come forth.” While that statement sounds good and comforting superficially (i.e. it seems to lend strength to the power of Christ’s voice), it actually diminishes the power and might of God’s purpose. Had Christ only purposed to raise Lazarus and not spoken his name, only Lazarus’ body would have been raised due to the purpose of Christ Jesus the Lord. Christ could have said nothing at all, “come forth,” etc. and only Lazarus would have been raised if that was Christ’s purpose.

However, by utilizing the name Lazarus in His address, Christ gives us insight into the effectual call. First of all, it is personal. We oftentimes hear people talk about a “personal Saviour.” According to Biblical theology – characterized by Christ’s address here – the Saviour must be personal. He came on this occasion for the raising of a particular man, and His work in the great economy of salvation is not for the general saving of an indiscriminate mass of humanity. As Paul describes it, Christ did it for “me” out of love for “me.” (Galatians 2:20) Doubtless, Lazarus could say that Christ came that day for him personally. While I have no recollection of the exact moment of my regeneration, I like to think that His voice spoke the word “Philip” into my heart.

Since the call in the resurrection is similar to regeneration (see correlation between John 5:25 and 5:28-29), the same personal aspect holds true when He comes to call our old bodies out to be fashioned like unto His glorious body. While countless millions will be raised in a moment, we will all be visited personally by Christ. What He did He did for us personally, and all aspects of that work will be seen to in a personal fashion on a personal basis. Some might say, “How would millions of people simultaneously hear their own individual names at that moment?” Nothing is too hard for the Lord, and we will be able to not only say, “He loved me and gave Himself for me, but He came and got me personally.” (I Thessalonians 4:16-17)

The second word of Christ’s sentence is “come.” If the first word denoted the personal nature of the call, this word denotes the authority and power of the call. Notice that this word has no qualifiers, additions, etc. to go with the command. It is simple. Come. Now, looking at this naturally, I tell my children to come quite often on a daily basis. Sometimes, my voice is successful, and sometimes it is not. While the children deal with the consequences of willfully avoiding and not heeding my voice, such is not the circumstance with God. When He speaks, it is done. (Psalm 33:9) Consider also that I am telling living children to come with fair to moderate success. He is telling dead children to come with 100% success. How infinite and authoritative is the power of this One!

Lazarus did not say, “Not today Lord. Maybe tomorrow if I feel like it.” Doing some field work yesterday, I had the opportunity to listen (albeit briefly) to a radio preacher say these words, “It is the Holy Spirit’s function to give the new birth. It’s His job. We must let Him work and give us the relationship that matches our standing with God.” He went on to declare that we already have good standing with God – through Christ’s death – but the relationship is not cemented until we let the Holy Spirit through the door. Should this statement be true, we have a division and disharmony of power in the Godhead. Indeed, Christ can make us just and grant good standing in the halls of heaven, but the Holy Spirit is helpless and powerless to consummate that relationship unless we “let Him?” Isaiah plainly states that the Lord will work and who shall let it. (Isaiah 43:13)

When the power of Christ speaks life into the body of Lazarus, heart and soul in the new birth, or the resurrection at the end of time, the effect is immediate with force of power to fulfill the command. Lazarus was dead, and given a command. Naturally this does not work. Dead alien sinners are spoken to by God with a command. Bodies gone into the ground decay and have gone back to dust, but will one day be commanded to live and come. The reason that the dead do not stay dead nor disobey the command is because the command contains life, and with the life the draw to do what is commanded. (John 6:37, 44) Job never hinted at the possibility of refusal to obey this call (Job 14:14-15); Christ never admitted one iota of possibility that His work in ANY count come to nought. (John 10:27-30)

The final word “forth” brings the thought full circle. We have a personal call that is effectual in power by command, but the word “forth” denotes not the power or the personality of the call but the direction of it. Lazarus was not called out to some unspecified location, left to his own devices to “finally make it,” persevere long enough to outrun the devil into heaven, or any other erroneous teaching that is promoted from time to time. Christ called (commanded) Lazarus to a direction of “forth.” That word, when spoken in this way, literally means that the direction implied is towards the speaker. Christ’s direction by command of call was to Him! Lazarus was not called half-way, part-way, but all the way to Christ. This direction shows completion. What Christ did, He completed totally and fully.

Had Lazarus been given life and then told to “get all the way to Christ,” he still would have failed. How many of us, even after being given life, have lived a perfect day? Should any be so bold to claim such holiness, how about a perfect week, month, or year? Unless Christ did the work all the way, and thereby commanded us all the way to Him, we would have an unpopulated heaven and brimming capacity of hell. To show how secure our direction and conclusion with Christ is, let us consider how David describes being called out of a deplorable state.

In Psalm 40:2, David describes the work of the Lord in pulling him from the horrible pit and miry clay. However, David does not leave us to wonder what the Lord did after that. After pulling him out, God set his feet upon a rock and established his goings. The word “set” means to complete and secure something, as we today often speak of “setting concrete.” Once concrete has reached its “set” point of hardening, it is there, like it or not. If one does not like it, you either bust it up and start over or deal with it. Since no one can bust up Christ’s work, our best course is to thankfully view it with reverence and praise. What God did in setting David’s feet upon a rock shows security in the work.

Still, look at David’s ultimate completion: “established my goings.” By comparing Hebrew words, the English words “set” and “established” come from the same Hebrew word. Therefore, the security we ascribe to David’s position on the rock (Christ), is the same security we ascribe to his goings. Now, the fatalist might delightfully state, “Aha! What David did from that moment on was just as bedrock as his position on Christ.” Is that what David meant? Such would contradict the highest tenor of Scriptural injunction for us to walk in a godly way and keep ourselves unspotted from the world. (James 1:27)

Instead, what David means is that his “goings” are just as secure and complete as his position. Someone’s “goings” references their end. Like the end of a journey, the final place is “established.” David’s intended thought is that heaven awaiting at the end of his journey is just as bedrock as his current position on the Rock of Jesus Christ. Lazarus was called by Christ’s command to a position not a fraction short of being where Christ was. While I do not know how far Lazarus’ body physically had to come to be with Christ, he came forth however far that was to be with Christ.

This directional word should spark the highest sense of comfort in us that His work is not only authoritative but carries the fullest sense of completion down throughout all the ages of time and into the ceaseless age of eternity. We have not been called one fraction of a step short, but to come “forth:” directed right to where He is. On that day, Lazarus was directed to Christ’s physical position. One sweet day, our person in its entirety (body, soul, and spirit) will be directed to the very portal of heaven to be with Christ where He is. (John 14:1-6) Is it sure? Yea, indeed it is just as sure as our current position and standing on the Rock of our Saviour.

Friends, while Christ was not required to speak, we should delight in these three little – yet powerful – words that speak volumes into the work of Christ in the salvation of His people. From these three words, language is used to build the blocks of personal salvation, effectual and authoritative power of God, and completion of salvation to its fullest degree. These blocks are then, in turn, laid together as part of the building that heralds and cries unto the majesty of “grace” by God to unworthy dead men. This edifice of grace and love serves as a shelter from life’s evils and sufficient motivation to live a life of thanksgiving unto the One that has done all this. Who shall keep Him from it? Not one, but may we look with thanksgiving upon Him and His most blessed work.

In Hope,

Bro Philip