David Jeremiah - Is He Living or Did He Die?
I heard about a Christian who was walking through an art gallery in Glasgow, Scotland, on one occasion. He came upon a small boy who was gazing upward at a painting of the Crucifixion. After watching him a moment, the man laid a hand on the little lad's shoulder and he said, "Young fella, what is that picture"? And the boy said, "Why, sir, you don't know? It's our Lord dying on the cross. He is bearing our sins". The man patted the boy on the shoulder and said, "Thank you", and he walked on, looking at the other pictures in the gallery. Suddenly, he felt a tug at his sleeve and it was that same little boy again and he said, "Pardon me, sir, I forgot one thing. He's not dead anymore. He's alive".
When I read that story I'm reminded of 1 Corinthians chapter 15. The entire chapter says, "Pardon me, sir, he's not dead anymore. He's alive". If you have your Bibles today, you should find 1 Corinthians 15. If you don't have your Bibles, we'll have most of it up on the screen but, particularly today, I hope you will see in your own Bibles the wonderful message that answers the question, "Is he living or did he die"? And the answer is "Both".
Now 1 Corinthians might not be familiar to you. You may not know what's in that chapter or perhaps if somebody said, "What is 1 Corinthians 15", you wouldn't know how to answer. But if you were to select the ten greatest chapters in the Bible, hardly anybody who knows the Bible would leave this chapter off that list. I've never seen the list of the great chapters in the Bible where 1 Corinthians 15 wasn't on the list. It's all about the Resurrection. Paul gives us the clearest and most concise definition of the gospel.
If somebody were to ask you today, "What is the gospel"? what would you say? Well, here's your answer: "I declare to you the gospel", said Paul, "that which I also received", and here it is. "That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures". That is the gospel. That is the good news. And Paul insisted that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ be a part of that definition. It is pivotal to our lives. In fact, the apostle said that if the Resurrection isn't a part of it, nothing that we do has any meaning.
In the next few verses of 1 Corinthians chapter 15 and verses 17 through 19, Paul says this: "If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile", that mean it's meaningless. "If Christ is not risen, you are still in your sins! If Christ is not risen, all of those Christians who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If Christ is not risen, in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied".
I remember growing up in a Christian family and going to the church where my father preached and he always preached on the Resurrection on Easter and once in a while he would preach on it at other times. But I was a student in seminary in my second semester as a freshman before I really came to grips with what the Resurrection was all about. I'll never forget it. I went to a friendship dinner where Haddon Robinson was the speaker and he spoke on the Resurrection and I will never forget that message. For the first time in my life I realized that the death of Christ is without meaning if there is no Resurrection. If Christ died and he did not come out of the grave as he said he would, then his death is no better than the death of any martyr who ever lived before him or after him.
The Resurrection is the touchstone of the gospel. It was the Resurrection that was the message of the apostles after Jesus came out of the grave. And if Jesus Christ is not alive today, men and women, those of us who are Christians should be pitied. And here's why: Because we believe there is a better world than the one in which we live. We believe that this world is temporary and the events of the future are really significant and if Christ isn't risen, we have given up both worlds. We have turned our backs on this world in order to face a world which doesn't even exist.
Paul was right. If Christ is not risen, we should be pitied. We simply cannot over-estimate the importance of Jesus's Resurrection. If it didn't happen, our lives are futile and meaningless but look at the next verse in the text and rejoice with me: "But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep", hallelujah. It isn't a matter of, did he rise. It is a matter that he did and now we rejoice in the fact that we know the risen Christ and we understand the Resurrection.
Now, don't miss this. The Bible says that Jesus's Resurrection is not just about him but it's about us. Today, I want you to consider some things we might never have known about Jesus and one of them is this. That Jesus is the first fruits of those who sleep. And I want you to just hold your questions about that and let me explain that from the Old Testament. In the Old Testament book of Leviticus in the 23rd chapter, we have the background of the feast of the first fruits. That was a Jewish feast. How many of you know that much of the truth of the New Testament rests upon some understanding of the Old Testament?
So let me tell you a little bit about this feast. Every year during harvest time, a Jewish person would go out into the harvest and he would go out into the grain and he would mark out a spot in the grain and he would cut off a sheaf of the harvest and he would bring it back and he would give it to the priest, and the priest would take it and he would wave that sheaf before the Lord. What was the meaning of that? Well, it was called the first fruits. It came out of the first part of the harvest and, by waving it before the Lord, the priest was saying, "This is the beginning of the harvest, but the harvest hasn't totally come yet. This is the first fruits; this is a promise there is more".
Now, when Jesus says he is the first fruits of those who sleep, and the word "sleep" there means death, he is waving the Resurrection of himself before the Lord and saying, "I'm the first fruits. There's more resurrections to come". Now let me just tell you something about this feast. It was the third of the seven Jewish feasts and the pledge was presented to the Lord on the day after the Sabbath. Which day is that? That is Sunday and what is Sunday? It is the reminder to us of the risen Lord. On the day after the Sabbath, on Sunday, they waved the sheaf before the Lord almost as if to connect it to the New Testament. "For the Lord Jesus is the first fruits of those who sleep".
It is so interesting to me that this puts these two things together because Jesus Christ came out of the grave, we rejoice in his Resurrection but we don't often realize that because he came out of the grave, that's the promise that one day we shall come out of the grave. He is the first fruits, he is the first of the resurrections, and there's more resurrections coming. If we live and die before Jesus comes back, we will go in the grave. Our spirit and soul will go to be with the Lord but our bodies will go in the grave. And the Bible says: "One day because Jesus came out of the grave victorious over death, our bodies will also be raised up".
How do we know that? Because Jesus was the first fruits and he's the guarantee, he's the promise, that there's more resurrections coming. That's the first fruits of the Resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15:20. I wanna talk with you next about the foundation of the Resurrection and this is in verses 21 and 22. And I'm not trying to get overly theological today. I'm trying to help you grab hold of some truth in this passage that is some things about Jesus you may not know. And I'm pretty sure there's someone here today that did not know that Jesus was the first fruits of all the resurrections to come.
Let me read this passage to you: "For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive". Now, in verse 21 we learn that there was a time when tragedy came into this world through one man. Who was that man, class? It was Adam, poor Adam. We've been piling on him for a long time. We don't often say much about his wife and I'm not gonna get into that discussion today by any... The Bible says: "By one man death came into this world".
Did you know that before Adam sinned there was no death? If Adam had not sinned, everyone would have lived forever. There would have been no death. But when Adam sinned, death was born. And the tragedy that came into this world through Adam is death but the Bible says in the same verse that through another man triumph came into the world, and who was that man? That was Jesus Christ. And how did that come into the world? Through the Resurrection. Through one man came death, through another man came life.
If you have a Bible like mine, look down at the text and you will notice that the second "Man" in your text is capitalized because that Man by whom came the Resurrection is the Lord Jesus Christ. What we have here are two different categories of men. We have Adam's race and we have Jesus's race. Really, there's only two races, and we hear a lot about racism today but in the context of the Bible there's only two races. There's Adam's race and there's God's race. And he's saying that, basically, these two races are in the world today. There's the race of natural man and there's the race of spiritual Man. Adam is the federal head of the natural race and, because Adam sinned, we've inherited that DNA. We're all in Adam's race. You don't have to ask to get in that race; you're automatically in it. Because Adam sinned, we all sinned.
Now, let me pause here and straighten out something that's gotten all sideways over the years. How many of you know what universalism is? Universalism is the idea that everybody gets saved no matter what they do, they we all go to heaven, hallelujah, isn't this a wonderful party? Nobody has to get saved, nobody has to repent. If you're born, God is so loving, he's gonna take everybody to heaven someday. Not. And one of the verses they use is this verse. They say, "Here it says, 'Even so in Christ all shall be made alive.'" But let's go back and look at that verse more carefully. The "alls" in this verse are particular, "As in Adam all die". That means everyone in the human race, every one of us who are of Adam, one day we shall die.
"As in Adam all die". Because Adam once died we will die. But are all of us in Christ? That is the question. I hope you are but notice it says, "As in Adam all die", if you're in Christ the "all" goes with you. All you who are in Christ, it's not all, everybody in the world. It's all, everybody in Christ. So as in Adam all die, in Christ everybody who's in Christ shall be made alive. Everyone who is in Adam dies; however, everyone who is in Christ shall live. Let me ask you this question this morning: Are you in Christ? You say, "How do I get in Christ"? You get Christ in you. You ask him to come and live in your heart, you accept him as your Savior.
The Bible says if you're just in Adam you're gonna die but if you're in Christ you're gonna live. And there's a little paradigm that I remembered from way back when. It goes like this: "If you've been born once you have to die twice. But if you've been born twice you only have to die once". That's a pretty good deal right there. You say, "How does that work, Pastor"? Well, it works like this. If you've been born once and you haven't been born again, you're gonna die physically and you're gonna die spiritually. Physical death is the separation of the soul from the body. Spiritual death is the separation from your soul from God forever. You don't want the second death. You don't want that. The Bible says you can avoid the second death by being born twice. You've already been born physically. Now get born spiritually. Let Jesus Christ come into your life and when you are born spiritually, you may die once physically but you will never die spiritually.
So let me say it again. If you have been born once, you will die twice. But if you have been born twice, you will only have to die once. And some of you, some of us, I believe I'm gonna be one of 'em, I might not have to die at all 'cause if Jesus comes back before I die, I don't have to die no more at all. How would you like to escape it all? How would it be if Jesus came back and none of us have to die at all? Not physically, not spiritually, hallelujah. Even so, come, Lord Jesus, amen? So you have the first fruits of the Resurrection and then you have the foundation of the Resurrection.
Now, this is gonna get a little complicated but I think if you stay with me we can get through this. This is the future order of the Resurrection. Verse 23 says: "But each one in his own order: Christ the first fruits, afterward those who are Christ's at his Coming". Now, in the Bible, resurrection is a preeminent theme. We have the Resurrection of Christ but there's other resurrections and I want to go through these with you so you understand them and we don't leave here ignorant. Stage one is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. More than 2000 years ago, Christ was raised from the dead. And that doesn't mean he was the first one ever to overcome death.
Some people will say, "No, Pastor Jeremiah, he wasn't the first. There were people in the Old Testament who were resurrected. What about Lazarus and the widow's son and Jairus's daughter"? There were at least ten events in which people rise from the dead in the Bible. That's true. But Christ's Resurrection was different from them all because whereas they rose to die again, Jesus rose to die no more. And when he rose to live in the power of an endless life, he rose with a glorified body so he is the first Resurrection.
This is a wonderful reminder for all of us that when we get to know the resurrected Jesus, we're getting to know Jesus as he really is today. We remember, do we not, that we discovered one of the things we may not have known about Jesus that he's in heaven in his body; in his glorified, resurrected body, he is in heaven. When we pray to him, he hears us not just through his spirit but he hears us through his humanity. He is in heaven. When we see him in heaven someday, he will show us the scars in his hands and the wound in his side and probably where the thorns went on his head. And forever, whenever we see him throughout eternity, we'll be reminded of the price that was paid for us to be in heaven with the Lord Jesus. The degree to which we neglect the Resurrection is the degree to which we neglect to think about Jesus as he really is. Jesus is in heaven in his resurrected body.
So stage one in the resurrections is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. But how many of you know there's another resurrection coming? And here's how that works. Let me just paint this picture. Here we are, folks, we're living in the church age. That's where we are right now. How many of you know the end of the church age is when Jesus comes back in the Rapture? He doesn't come all the way back to the earth. He comes, and we go up to meet him and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
And the Bible says in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 that when Jesus comes back in the Rapture, what will happen is those who have died already, those who are asleep in Jesus, "they will hear the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God and the dead in Christ shall rise", there's the second resurrection, "rise first". The Thessalonians were all concerned when they heard about all the good things that were gonna happen in the future because their loved ones had already died and they were in the grave and they were saying, "What about Mom and Dad? What about Gramps and Grandma? What's gonna happen to them"? And Jesus said, "Don't worry about that".
Paul wrote. He said that when Jesus comes back there's gonna be a shout, the voice of the archangel, and when that happens the dead in Christ shall rise first. That means that all of us who have loved ones who have already died as Christians, they will participate in stage two of the resurrections. The next resurrection that is coming is the resurrection of all who have died in Christ during the church age, during this time as we await the return of Jesus Christ. Resurrection number two.
Somebody says, "Why do they come first"? And some wag said, "'Cause they have 6 feet further to go". I don't know if that's true or not, but... and the Bible says that at the Rapture when this resurrection happens, we're gonna be caught up to be with the Lord and, listen to me now, on the way up we're gonna get our resurrection bodies. And our bodies are gonna be just like the body of the Lord Jesus. There are several passages in the New Testament that talk about that and I love what Paul said to the Philippians. He said God is gonna "transform our lowly body so that it may be conformed to his glorious body".
Listen to me, someday we are gonna have bodies by the Lord. Bodies of Jesus. The Bible says that, "we know that when he is revealed, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is". One day you and I are gonna have perfect bodies, bodies like the Lord Jesus, amen. Yeah, that was kind of delayed, but I'll take it. So here's the first Resurrection: Jesus Christ. Here's the second: at the Rapture.
Now, what happens after the Rapture, folks? A little lesson in prophecy. After the Rapture, there's a period of time called the Tribulation, seven years that's gonna happen on this earth. Don't get scared about this 'cause if you're a Christian you ain't gonna be here. You're gonna be in heaven. Why? 'Cause you're gonna be raptured up before the Tribulation. But on this earth, seven years, all hell is gonna break out on this earth. And some people say, "Well, nobody's gonna get saved during the Tribulation". That's not true. The Bible says that during that seven-year period of time, there's gonna be 144,000 Jewish evangelists set loose on this earth.
Can you imagine what will happen? Two witnesses, Moses and Elijah, I believe, will be teaching and preaching the Word of God. Here's what you need to know. During the Tribulation period, there will be the greatest revival on this earth that has ever happened in the history of the world. Hundreds of thousands of people will be saved during the Tribulation period. And many of those who are saved will pay for their salvation with their life. They will be martyred. The Antichrist will take their lives. They will be starved out. They will die. And the Bible says at the end of the Tribulation, at the end of the seven years, there's gonna be another resurrection.
Let me read to you the Scripture, Daniel 12: "There shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, every one who is found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt". When Christ returns to reign during the Millennium, not one single believer's body from Adam until that time will still be in the grave. All of those who have been saved during the church age will have gone up and been resurrected at the Rapture. Then there's the seven-year period of Tribulation. A lot of people get saved in the Tribulation. Many of them die. They're resurrected at the end of the Tribulation.
After the Tribulation, there's the Millennium. And the Millennium is 1000 years when Jesus is gonna reign on this earth. He's gonna be King of kings and Lord of lords on this earth. He will have a reign of righteousness and peace. No one who is unsaved will go into the Millennium but in the Millennium there'll be many unsaved. They'll have children who don't know the Lord. And at the end of that 1000 years, the final resurrection is like this. Everybody who is not saved, everyone who's not a Christian, will be raised up, all at once. And they will come before what the Scripture calls the Great White Throne Judgment. And they will give an account for their life. There will be no Christians at the Great White Throne. That's the last resurrection.
Here's how the Scripture describes it: "And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works". There will be no saved people at that judgment. Everybody who comes before that judgment will be sent to hell because they have rejected Jesus Christ. But there will be this great resurrection at the end of the Millennium.
You just heard me read it from the Scripture. And this helps us to understand what Jesus said, "Each in his own order". First, Jesus, then all the Christians who are alive when he comes, then all those who get saved during the Tribulation, and then all of the unsaved of all of time are resurrected. Somebody said, "Well, we just die and that's it". Or "We die as dogs. After you die, that's it, you're done". No, that's not true. Listen to me here. Every one of us in this room is gonna be alive somewhere forever. We get to make the decision as to where that will be in this life alone. You don't get a do-over. You only go to heaven if you make the decision to go to heaven now. You have to make your reservation now by putting your trust in Jesus Christ. If you're not a Christian, I hope that message is clear.
What is the final result of this resurrection? Here it is and here's what Paul says. He says when this is all done, when all we've been talking about is done, "Jesus Christ is going to deliver up the kingdom to God the Father", verse 24 and 25, "when he puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all of his enemies under his foot". Jesus came into this world not just to redeem us. He came into this world to redeem the whole universe and, one day, there's gonna be a renovation of this world. I haven't time to talk about it today. And just as he redeems us and changes us from the inside and makes us new, one day he's gonna redeem this whole earth and make it new. And that's a story for another day. He will deliver the kingdom.
Then the Bible says that when Jesus comes to the end of his time on this earth, death will be destroyed. 15:26 in 1 Corinthians says: "The last enemy that will be destroyed is death". Just as death came because Adam sinned, death will be destroyed, and the Bible says that Jesus Christ is gonna take this last enemy, this last enemy of death, and it will be forever destroyed. I don't know whether you like it or not. I surely don't like it. But we're overtly created to think about death. And the older we get, the more we do it. Every time you have a little pain, "Is this the end"? Every time you forget something, you say, "Oh my goodness, is this the beginning"? We think about it, don't we?
And the Bible says that there are some people who go through life and that's all they think about. The Bible says that they are held in the grip of bondage because of their fear of death. And one of these days, our resurrected King is gonna wrap the chains of eternity and the glorious of his glorious power around death and he's gonna throw death into the lake of fire and death will be done and we'll never have to face it again. And the Bible says in heaven there will be no more dying, no more dying. I love that final truth.
As a pastor, I have presided over death a lot in 50 years and I've buried my mother and my father and my sister and my brother-in-law and Donna's brother and her mother and her father, and there's been a lot of death over the years. And though we don't fear death as believers, we don't want to have it happen either. I tell everybody, "I'm not afraid to die but I don't wanna die". Are you with me on that? The wonderful truth of all of this, men and women, is that death is not the end.
Winston Churchill arranged his own funeral and there were stately hymns in St. Paul's Cathedral and an impressive liturgy. At the end of the service, Churchill had an unusual event planned. When they said the benediction, a bugler high in the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral on one side played "Taps", the universal signal that the day is over. There was a long pause and then a bugler on the other side played "Reveille", the military wake-up call. It was Churchill's way of communicating that while we say "Goodnight" here, we say "Good morning" up there. And why should we know that that is true? Because he believed in Jesus Christ. And when you know that Jesus is alive and that you're related to him, it changes everything, does it not? Not just about the future. It changes everything today.
There's a great biography about Martin Luther that came out a couple years ago and in that biography, it tells a story of Martin Luther coming down to breakfast one morning and he was in a time of great discouragement. He was very depressed. And his wife came down to breakfast and she was dressed in black. And he said, "Honey, why are you dressed in black"? She said, "'Cause I'm in mourning". And he says, "Why are you in mourning? What are you mourning about"? She said, "Well, God has died". He said, "God has not died". She says, "Yes, he has". He says, "God is not dead". She says, "Well, no he's not but you're acting like he is. So cheer up. You serve a living Savior, Martin. Quit mourning".
However bad it may be, the one truth that stabilizes everything is we're related to a God and to a Christ who never dies, who lives within us and he is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And our lives can be a daily experience of sharing in the power of the risen Christ. I can't tell you how excited I am to let you know that Jesus Christ is alive today. He is at the right hand of the Father and one day he's coming back. And most of us who have grown up in the church, we've grown up with the truth of the Resurrection wrapped around our hearts. So much so that we don't even take notice of it. But I wanna tell you a little story that tells me how we should respond to the risen Christ.
"Ruth Dillow was working at her sewing machine at the National Garment Company on Thursday, February 28, 1991. She was called to her boss's office and two somber men in uniform were there to tell her that her youngest son, Clayton Carpenter, had been killed by a cluster bomb during Operation Desert Storm. She said, 'I can't begin to describe my grief and my shock. It was almost more than I could bear. For three days I wept. For three days I expressed anger and loss. For three days people tried to comfort me but to no avail because the loss was so great.' Neighbors came with flowers and cakes and casseroles, sympathy cards filled the mailbox, nearby businesses posted signs in honor and memory of her son. But Ruth was inconsolable and couldn't take her eyes off a picture of her son. 'I kept looking at that picture,' she said, 'and I kept saying, "No, he can't be dead. This has to be a mistake".' Three days later, the phone rang and the voice on the other end said, 'Hi, Mom, this is Clayton.' Ruth froze, thinking somebody was playing a cruel hoax on her. But Clayton said, 'Listen, Mom, c'mon, please believe me. They couldn't find me. They didn't know where I was but I'm alive and, though I'm hurt, I will soon be home.'"
Now, let me ask you, what do you think it was like in that woman's heart when she found out that the son she thought was dead was really alive? What a party she must have had. She wouldn't have been able to do anything for a while, just out of the sheer shock and relief of this story. Ladies and gentlemen, that's how we should feel when we comprehend the fact we do not have a dead Savior. We have a living Savior. He is not dead. He is living. Scour the religions of our day, none of them have a living leader. They go to the places where their bodies are interred and there are monuments where they celebrate, but we have a living Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He's living in our hearts. I talked to him this morning, I bet you did too. He is alive. And if you don't know him, you know, I can rave on and on about Jesus.
There are not enough hours in the day for me to tell you all the wonderful things about him but here's the most important thing. He can take away from you the most awful thing you know about yourself and that's the sense of guilt and wrongness. When you accept Jesus Christ, he forgives you for everything you've ever done or will do. He takes away that guilt and he replaces it with peace and with a sense of his presence in your life. Why would you not want to make that important decision today to put your trust in him?