Bible Talks - Sunday Night Church
Sunday, 31 March 2002
1. The Desire to Live Forever
One of the great urban legends of the late 20th century involves Walt Disney, and it says that somewhere in the United States today there is a fridge with Walt Disney's name written on it. His name isn't on it because it's his fridge. His name is on it because he's in the fridge! It is called cryogenics – the theory that corpses can be deep frozen until a cure is found for their disease, when they can be thawed and resuscitated.
Walt's hope was that in the future they would find a cure for the cancer that killed him. And that they would be able to thaw him out, and bring him back to life. Cryogenics is big business in the USA, and the modern interest in it probably started in 1964 with Robert C.W. Ettinger's book, The Prospect of Immortality.
We live in a world that's obsessed with wanting to live longer. That is why we are told to eat less fat, lower our cholesterol, give up smoking, eat less salt, and do more exercise. If you do those things you will live longer.
But the obsession goes further than that. People would really like to live forever.
This isn't something new. It's been going on for thousands of years. In ancient Egypt, the pyramids were intended to be the eternal home of the Pharaohs. They were buried there, together with everything it was thought that they would need for eternity. And, in one form or another, the search goes on for the fountain of youth.
In fact. we see it just as clearly today as well. Some time ago a front page Sydney Morning Herald article was entitled "One day we'll live forever - but not in our lifetime". The article opens with this line: "Death may not be certain after all". The article went on to talk about research with fruit flies and how the scientists had managed to double their lifespan.
Why is there this ingrained desire to live longer and to live forever? I suppose that the answer is obvious really. Most people fear death.
Most people don't know what stands on the other side of this life - and they don't really want to find out. So they try to squeeze all they can out of this life and this body. And they'll do it in whatever way they can.
But it goes beyond fearing death.
It goes to the heart of what makes us tick as people. Deep down, each of us knows that there is such a thing as 'eternity'. The thought of living forever strikes a chord inside every human being.
Perhaps that's why Walt Disney had his body put into the freezer.
That's why they're trying to make fruit flies live longer in Chicago.
But ultimately they won't be able to make the fruit flies live forever - or humans for that matter. And Walt Disney's hope of living forever will never come through advances in science or medicine. He's going to stay frozen - or some day they will give up and just defrost the fridge, Because in the end those things are out of man's control - they're in God's hands.
2. The Man who Does Live Forever
The final verse of our passage from 1 John 2 makes two very important statements about this. Firstly, it says that the world and its desires pass away.
How true that is in our experience! Before very long, our nice new car gets scratches and bumps; it starts to rattle and fall apart and blow smoke and the rust begins to eat through. Our once healthy body starts to deteriorate and the bones get brittle and our blood doesn't have everything it should or, even worse, has things in it which it shouldn't.
The world and its desires pass away. We use that expression 'pass away' as a euphemism for death, to try to soften the harshness of death, but it doesn't work. We are constantly reminded that the things of this world, the things which we value, even the people who are precious to us, as well as our own human bodies, will all ‘pass away’.
One day they will be gone.
But this verse has more to say. ‘The world is passing away along with it’s desires, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.’ The Bible has more to offer than the things of this world which are passing away.
‘whoever does the will of God lives forever.’
What are we to make of this statement? Is there any person for whom this is true. In one sense this doesn't give us a lot of hope because who of us could claim that we always do the will of God? Back in 1:8, John drives home the fact that we have all fallen short of God's standard. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves… Each one of us has strayed away from God's will. Each one of us is guilty of sin. Each one of us deserves death.
But there is one man who always does the will of God.
He is the man John has earlier called 'the Righteous One'; he is the man we call Jesus Christ. What makes Jesus stand out from every other human being who has ever lived is the way that he perfectly walked the path of obedience to his Heavenly Father. He always did the will of God. When we hear the Bible say that the man who does the will of God lives forever, our minds should jump straight away to Jesus.
On Easter Sunday we do think of Jesus and we think especially of his resurrection. When his lifeless body was placed into the tomb, the last thing on the minds of his friends and followers was any idea of Jesus 'living forever'. They thought he was dead! He was dead! At least his physical body lay dead in the tomb… until the third day, when that stone was rolled away.
The Bible tells us how, early on the Sunday morning, following the Sabbath day when no work was permitted, the women went to the tomb where they had seen Jesus' body placed. They went there intending to complete the necessary preparation of Jesus' dead body which had been cut short because of the Sabbath. When they got there, they found that the stone which they had seen placed across the entrance of the tomb had been rolled away and that surprised them. But what really amazed them was the two angels in clothes that gleamed like lightning [which] stood beside them. Do you remember the question the angels put to the women? They asked them; "Why do you look for the living among the dead?"
The women expected to find Jesus among the dead because they believed that he was dead! And of course, he had been dead! But the angels describe him as one of the 'living', not the kind of person you should expect to find among the dead. If it still hadn't sunk in, the angels continued; "He is not here; he has risen!" And they reminded them of the way that Jesus had told them beforehand that he would have to die and on the third day be raised to life. And they were right; Jesus had said that but they hadn't been able to comprehend it at the time.
He was not to be found among the dead, but among the living. It was true! Death could not hold him!
The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
3. Jesus and his Promise
So we understand that, in a unique way, that is true of the man Jesus. He alone perfectly fulfils the will of God. Yet this is not all that John is saying in this letter.
To Jesus alone belongs the right to 'forever life', but Jesus has also made it clear that he wishes to share that eternal life with others.
This comes out very clearly in the gospel of John.
Jesus often spoke about the gift of eternal life which he offered to others. Listen to some words from John 5 which were spoken by Jesus before his own resurrection, words spoken in the knowledge that God alone is the one who can give life. Jesus said: "For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it." [John 5:21]
But that leaves us with the question of who are the people to whom he is pleased to give it? That question is answered a few verses later when Jesus says: "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life."
You and I cannot perfectly keep God's will in the way that Jesus did and so we can never deserve to have eternal life in the way that Jesus does.
But we can do what God calls us to do.
We can hear what Jesus says and we can believe in him; we can place our trust in him.
That's what God wants us to do! That's his will for us! And the promise of Jesus is that when we do that, then we have eternal life! Jesus says that eternal life is something you and I can have, starting right now.
Jesus says whoever believes his words has eternal life. Eternal life begins the moment you start believing and trusting in Jesus.
Of course that is not to say that we will never grow old or that we will never suffer physical death. That will still happen to all of us. We know that is true. As followers of the Lord Jesus we still grow old and die; we may still be involved in accidents or suffer the effects of violence. But Jesus promises that even though we die physically, we will live. We will live with him forever.
Jesus said: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die."
The big question that we are left with is this - "How can we be sure that what Jesus said is true?" It’s impossible for someone to prove their view of what lies beyond death. That is, of course, unless they come back from the dead. If Walt Disney ever steps out of the freezer, he'll be an instant celebrity! An expert on death!
But he won’t be the first - Jesus has done it already!
And this is where the message of the resurrection of Jesus is so important. Jesus is the one who promised that he could give eternal life. And the guarantee of that is that he physically rose from the dead.
4. The Options
The article in the Sydney Morning Herald had this headline: "One day we'll live forever - but not in our lifetime".
The headline that Jesus gives is different. He says this: "You can live forever - starting right now".
In all this there's a choice to be made, and the choice is simply this: You can hope for the eternal life they are looking for in the science laboratories in Chicago. If that's the case then you had better go and buy your freezer now.
Or, you can trust in Jesus - the one who claimed to be able to offer eternal life and came back from the dead to prove he could.