Robert Jeffress - A Tale From The Crypt
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. From restrictive diets to rigorous exercise, people of all ages are trying new ways to prolong their lives and postpone the end. But no matter what exercise, regimen or diet you follow, the fact remains that death is inevitable. One day we're all guaranteed to pass from this life into eternity. But because of one event in history, we no longer need to view death as the end. In fact, it's only the beginning. My message is titled, "A Tale From The Crypt", on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
Today, people don't like to talk about the subject of death. In fact, since the beginning of the last century, when there's been a rise in the advancements in technology and science, there has been a concerted effort to deny the reality of death. And you see that in many ways. For example, unlike preview generations, today children are excluded from the death process. They aren't allowed at deathbed scenes with family members. Usually parents don't want them viewing the corpse of a loved one. Death has become a private affair. Even family members, many times don't participate in the process of death. Instead of dying at home, most people die alone today. Either in a rest home or tied up to tubes and machines in a hospital.
Geoffrey Gorer began studying this phenomenon. He wrote an article entitled "The pornography of death". And Gorer said that, in today's culture, it is just as shameful to talk about death, as it was in the Victorian Era to talk about sex. We've just exchanged one taboo for another. Why is it we're so reticent to talk about the subject of death today? It's because death represents the ultimate defeat. The open casket reminds us of the limitations of science and technology. The open grave reminds us of the futility of all of life's accomplishments. And yet the Bible unlike culture, is willing to tackle the subject of death head on, as we'll discover in today's passage.
If you have your Bibles, I want you to turn to John chapter 11, as we look briefly at a passage I've titled the message today, a tale from the crypt. And in this passage today, we're going to look at the universality of death, the despondency of death and the ultimate victory over death. Now, John 11 records Jesus' greatest miracle of all. Let's look first of all, at the universality of death. John 11 beginning with verse one. "Now a certain man was sick, his name was Lazarus of Bethany, of the village of Mary and her sister Martha. And it was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. And so the sisters sent word to him, saying, 'Lord, behold, he whom you love is sick'". Jesus loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus. But strangely, instead of coming immediately, Jesus chose to stay where he was. Look at verse six. "When therefore he had heard that Lazarus was sick, Jesus stayed two days longer in the place where he was".
Now that's a strange response. Why would Jesus not answer immediately a request for help from somebody he had a special love for? For that matter, why doesn't Jesus answer your request and my request for help immediately when we face problems? It's because many times God has a plan different than our plan. And God has a timetable that is different from our timetable. Look at verse 11, "Finally, after that he said to them, his disciples, 'our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep: but I go, that I may awaken him out of the sleep'". Lazarus finally died from his illness. There is a universality of death. And that means not only is there a universality of death, there's an accompanying despondency of death, a sadness of death. Sometimes it expresses itself in uncontrollable sobbing, sometimes in a quiet resignation.
I was talking to one of our members not long ago. Her husband had died years earlier. And I just asked her, I said, "How are you doing"? She said, "Oh, pastor, I guess I'm doing okay, I'm doing better. But every morning I wake up, I wake up with a sensation, there's something wrong. There's something not quite right. And I suppose I'll carry that feeling with me until the day I die". That's the despondency of death. It accompanies every loss. The reason for that despondency over death is because what death represents. Did you know that word death is the Greek word thanatos. It literally means separation. A physical death is the separation of our spirit from our body. Spiritual death is the separation of our spirit from God. But any kind of separation is painful, no matter how brief that separation is.
You see despondency of death beginning in verse 33. Lazarus had died, Jesus had arrived, "When Jesus therefore, verse 33, saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, 'where have you laid him'? They said to him, 'Lord, come and see'". And then the shortest verse in the Bible, "Jesus wept". Literally he wept uncontrollably. Now we understand why the Jews wept. Their friend Lazarus was dead. And many of the Jews did not believe in a resurrection from the dead. They thought they would never see Lazarus again. We understand their grief. We also understand the grief of Mary and Martha over losing their brother. But how do you explain the despondency, the weeping of Jesus? Why was he deeply troubled in his spirit?
Think about this, Jesus knew the truth of the resurrection, didn't he? He knew better than anyone that in just a few moments, he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. But separation, I don't care how brief it is, is painful. It doesn't matter what you believe, there is still a despondency that comes with death. Many of you know that despondency. You've lost a husband or a wife, a parent, a child, a close friend. And well meaning Christian friends try to tell you, just have faith, have belief, you need to get over this. Most people who say that have never experienced a loss themselves. Because the fact is, there is a grief that accompanies death. And grief is not only normal, it's actually necessary.
W. Graham Scroggie wrote about both the reality and the necessity of grief. "To see the things our loved ones have left behind will give us daily pain. The clothes they wore, the letters they wrote, the books they read, the chairs in which they sat, the music they loved, the hymn they sang, the walks they took. Their seat in church and much beside. But would we be without these reminders? Would we like quickly to break with the past in order to assuage grief? Those who truly love will say that they have found in sorrow a new joy, a joy which only the broken-hearted can know". Grief is a necessary part of the healing process. The fact is, it doesn't matter what you believe or how strongly you believe it, there will be a despondency that accompanies death.
Paul wrote about it in 1 Thessalonians 4:13. He said, "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that is those who have died, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope". He didn't say, I don't want you to grieve period. But he said, as a Christian, you and I don't have to grieve as those who have no hope. Because we know however real grief is, it is also very temporary. Because the despondency of death will ultimately be followed by the victory over death. And that victory is what we see described in John 11, beginning with verse 38. Look at it with me. "Jesus therefore again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, 'remove the stone'. Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to him, 'Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead for four days'".
That was Martha's way of saying, Lord if you had gotten here a little earlier, we wouldn't be facing this problem. Four days, you've waited. Verse 40, "Jesus said to her, 'did I not say to you, if you believe, you will see the glory of God'? And so they removed the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes, and said, 'father, I thank thee that thou have heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people standing around I said it, that they may believe that thou didst send me'. And when he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come forth'. Somebody has said that if Jesus had not specified Lazarus, the whole cemetery would've been raised immediately. Lazarus, come forth". Look at this, verse 44. "He who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings: and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. And Jesus said to them, 'unbind him, and let him go'".
Why is it Jesus waited until Lazarus had been dead three days. Why did he wait until the fourth day to raise him from the dead? The Jews had a superstition, but said that a person's spirit stayed with him for three days even after he died. And that that's not true. 2 Corinthians 5:8 says, "To be absent from the body is to immediately be in the presence of the Lord". But the Jews believed that your spirit hung around for three days. And so Jesus wanted to make sure that these Jews understood this wasn't a resuscitation, this was a true resurrection. He raised him from the dead. You say, well, is that an unusual thing? No, it's not unusual at all. Because the fact is, everybody one day is going to be raised from the dead.
Did you know that? Everybody in this room, everyone watching on Pathway to Victory around the world, every one of us is going to be raised from the dead. It doesn't matter whether you're a Baptist a Buddhist, a Catholic, a Hindu, an agnostic or an atheist, doesn't matter what you believe or what you don't believe, everybody who has ever lived is going to be raised from the dead. Most people don't understand that. They think only religious people are raised from the dead. Oh no, no. Don't matter what's your religious beliefs or unbeliefs, everybody is going to be raised from the dead. But here's what most people don't understand. The majority of people who are going to be raised from the dead, they're going to be raised to face God's everlasting contempt and judgment. They're being raised for God's judgment.
Daniel 12:2 talks about this. "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, some to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt". The Book of Revelation 20:13-15, talk about those who will be raised from the dead to face God's eternal judgment. Listen to John's words. "And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and hades gave up the dead which were in them: and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. And death and hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire".
What is the book of life? It is the book that records every person who has ever trusted in Jesus as his Savior. When you trust Christ is your Savior, you can be sure your name is found in that book of life. You have received God's forgiveness of your sins. But if anybody's name is not found written in that book at this judgment, he is cast into the lake of fire, that is hell. But before that he's judged by God. And notice how that unbeliever is judged. Verse 13 says, according to his deeds, according to his work. But listen to me carefully, an unbeliever, a non-Christian is somebody who has simply said to God, God, I'm good enough to get into heaven on my own. I don't need a Savior. I don't need Jesus' forgiveness. Although I'm not perfect, I'm good, and I'm good enough. And you need to let me into heaven.
Most people in the world think today, that because of their good works or they were baptized or they joined a church, that they're good enough to get into heaven. They don't need God's grace. And so at the final judgment, God will raise all of these unbelievers who rejected Jesus Christ. And he will say, okay, you want to be judged by your works, let's get at the books and we're going to look at your works. But what the unbeliever doesn't understand is this, God doesn't grade on the curve. God doesn't say, okay, 70%, that's good enough to get in. Or you're better than Adolf Hitler and Osama Bin Laden and all these other drug dealers and child molesters. You're pretty good. We'll let you into heaven. No, the standard by which every person will be judged, is the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. God demands 100% perfection to enter into heaven. Who qualifies for that? None of us.
All have sinned, all have fallen short of a glory of God. The Christian is the one who recognizes his sin, and says, God, I can't be good enough. I need your forgiveness. I believe that when Jesus died on the cross, he died for my sins. He took the punishment from you that I deserve for my sins. I'm trusting in Jesus. And the Bible says, when you say that and mean that, your name is in the book of life. Somebody has said five seconds after you die, you'll either be experiencing eternal joy like you never imagined, or you will be experiencing unbelievable pain and unrelenting harm like you never thought possible. But either way, you're eternal destiny will be irrevocably fixed.
Let me ask you today. What are you trusting in to save you from the reality of God's judgment? Are you trusting in the words of some pastor who doesn't really believe the Bible, or some secular book you have? Or are you trusting in just your own reasoning that says, surely God would not judge people? I don't choose to believe in a God who judges other people. Just because you don't believe in that God doesn't mean he doesn't exist. Things exist that you don't believe in. Are you trusting in what other people say or what reason says, or are you going to trust in the words of the one person, the only person who's ever been on the other side of death, has said about what awaits us? You realize Jesus Christ is the only one who's gone to the other side of the grave and come back to tell us what is really over there. Jesus said, the majority of people who are going to be raised are going to be raised forever lasting judgment. But there's another group who will be raised to experience eternal joy.
And in this passage in John 11:25, Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life: he who believes in me though he were dead, yet shall he live again". Because Jesus defeated the power of sin and death, one day those of us who believe in Jesus will also defeat sin and death. Now listen to me, to believe in Jesus doesn't mean to agree to some intellectual facts about Jesus. To believe in Jesus doesn't mean to believe in him like we do believe in Abraham Lincoln or George Washington. That word believe means to trust in, to cling to, to put your whole faith in. When we believe in Jesus, what we're saying is, God, I cannot save myself. I know I deserve your punishment, but I believe, I'm clinging to, I'm trusting in the fact that Jesus died for me to save me from my sins. That's what it means to believe in Jesus. Is there a time in your life when you've done that?
In 1 Corinthians 15:22, Paul said, "For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all shall be made alive". Some people think that means that, well, everybody's automatically going to have eternal life and go to heaven. That's not what it's saying. Look at it carefully. Those who are in Adam die. Who's in Adam? That's every one of us. Anyone who's a descendant of Adam is going to die. In the same way, only those who are in Christ shall be made alive. It's only those who have put their faith in Christ who will one day be the recipients of eternal life. Many of you have made the trip to Israel before. If you haven't, you need to do everything you can to go one day. If you've been to Israel before, you know what it's like to go down, walk down those steep steps into that cave in Bethlehem. For the Lord was supposedly born.
You can't help but think what humility it took for the God, the King of kings to be born in such a nondescript place. Your journey in Israel will take you up to the via dolorosa, the way of the cross, where Jesus bore that cross on his back. You'll go to Golgotha, the place of the skull and see where Jesus poured out his blood for the sins of the world. It will take your breath away. But there's nothing that compares to walking into that empty tomb, and seeing he is not there, he is risen from the dead. Hallelujah, we serve a risen Savior. And because Jesus defeated death, so will those of us who have trusted in him.
Donald Grey Barnhouse was one of the great expositors of scripture. His wife died when she was in her 30s of cancer, leaving Barnhouse with three small children to raise. Donald Barnhouse chose to preach the funeral service for his own wife. As he and his three small children were in the funeral hearse, going to the cemetery, there was silence in the hearse. Barnhouse prayed to God that God would help him to console his inconsolable children who had just lost their mother. While Barnhouse was praying silently to himself, a large truck passed the funeral hearse and cast a giant shadow over the hearse. Barnhouse looked at his oldest daughter and said, "Sweetheart, would you rather this car be run over by that truck or by the shadow of the truck"? And the little girl said, "Well, daddy buy the shadow of course, because the shadow can't hurt us". Barnhouse said, "Honey, your mother has not been overrun by death, she's been overrun by the shadow of death. And that's why we don't have to be afraid".
Isn't that what the Psalmist said? "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me". There is a universality of death. Not one of us will get out of this world alive. There is a despondency, a sadness of death, but praise God there is victory over death. For is an Adam all die, so in Christ all shall be made alive.