How Jesus gives us Hope in Death

Title: How Jesus gives us Hope in Death

Text: Mark 16:1-7

Time: March 16, 2008

Next Sunday is Easter Sunday, the celebration of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ to life after his death and burial. It’s a day of great hope for everyone all over the world because it provides living proof that there is more to life than death. Or in other words, everything doesn’t just end when we die, that there is more to life than this earthly life, that life conquers death. Now all of us in the United States and in North, Central, South America, and Europe – what is known traditionally as Western Civilization, we take for granted that there is something more than this present life. We automatically assume that there is life after death is some form or fashion. Since the introduction of Christianity into what is now known as Western culture, most people in our culture have believed in life after death. But more and more in our society people are beginning to question that assumption. Today, there is the rise in the belief that either God doesn’t exist or that God doesn’t care about us here on earth, and that there either isn’t life after death or if there is we can’t know that there is or isn’t. There is a growing skepticism towards any knowledge that can’t be obtained except through the scientific method. Colleges and universities are more and more teaching students that belief in God and belief in life after death, while possible, is not a rational belief but more of an emotional belief. Christianity is seen more and more as a psychological belief rather than a rational belief. Belief in another life after the grave is seen as comforting and assuring in this life, but nothing more than a sentimental belief designed to help us deal with doubt and anxiety in life, so goes the argument. But Easter Sunday directly challenges these skeptical teachings because it provides evidence that there is more to life than earthly life and that another life awaits us on the other side of death. Mark 16:1-7 describes, “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?’ But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen. He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” I’d like to talk about this passage as it relates to three different beliefs people have today about life after death: one, some people believe there is no life after death; two, some people believe that there might be but there is no way of knowing; three, Christians believe that there is life after death because Jesus proves it Easter morning.

First, some people believe that there is no life after death. Mark 16:1-3, “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?’” Now as typical, orthodox Jews, these women all believed in some form of life after death, but not all Jews did believe in life after death. There was a group of Jews called the Sadducees who interpreted the Bible to teach that there is no life for the soul after death. Now don’t ask me how they came up with that, because I think it’s pretty clear from reading all parts of the Bible that there is life after death. Even by limiting the number of books of the Bible as the Sadducees did to just the first five books and a few others you can’t get the doctrine that the soul exists only in this life. But that’s what they believed. Now the women who came to the tomb early that first Easter morning, they all believed in life after death, as did the vast majority of Jews, but they weren’t thinking that Jesus would be risen from the dead then and there; they probably thought that all souls would rise again on the great last day that Mary and Martha referred to in the scene where Lazarus had died. Most all the Jews at that time believed in a general resurrection of the dead on the last day when the eternal kingdom of God would begin. But these women were not thinking that Jesus would be risen from the dead then and there. But the Sadducees didn’t believe in life after death and that’s a lot like more and more people today. Now why is that? Why is it that more and more people are questioning something that’s been assumed for thousands of years here in the West? Because of the rise of science, or more accurately, the rise in the faith in science as a means to discover all truth. For some people, science has taken on the form of a religion where everything that science teaches is true and everything else is false. You run into this faith in science at universities and colleges, of course, but it’s also spreading to the general population as well. Through television, with shows back in the 70’s like Cosmos hosted by the atheist scientist Carl Sagan, and other similar programming, television has helped spread the atheistic vision that there is no god and no life after death. But more and more people are able to go to college for an education and they pick up atheism there in certain classes like philosophy and science. Even evolution as taught in high schools promotes a form of atheism. Popular books, for example, by authors such as Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, etc. all promote atheism and no life after death. So is it any wonder that more and more people are believing that the grave is final. How depressing and hopeless such a belief is. If there is no life after death, then there is ultimately no difference in the ultimate fate of an Adolf Hitler and a Mother Theresa, both end up in the same state. How unfair, how unjust. No wonder depression is growing in our society, some of its caused by a hopeless attitude toward life after death. But as Easter proves, this depressing belief isn’t necessary. But there’s another opinion that people hold concerning life after death.

Second, some people believe that there might be life after death but there is no way of knowing. Mark 16:4-5, “But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.” The women who came to the tomb that first Easter morning didn’t know what was happening, they lacked knowledge, they didn’t know who moved the stone and they didn’t know who the young man dressed in white was who was sitting inside the tomb of Jesus. The point is they were ignorant, they lacked knowledge, they just didn’t know. Well, that’s what a lot of people think about God and life after death. In fact, it might be the case, no matter what the statistics show as far as what people believe, it might be the case that in reality most people are skeptics or agnostics at heart about God and life after death. The definition of an agnostic is someone who simply doesn’t know or somebody who can’t make up their mind one way or another about God, heaven, hell, life after death, etc. I have relatives who are skeptics or agnostics about spiritual matters. If you ask them whether they believe in God or whether they believe in life after death they’ll say maybe, maybe not. They’ll tell you that they have their doubts but you never know what could be possible. They will sit on the fence about such things. Some might say that whether there is a God or whether there is life after death, it’s not important. What’s important is how you live your life here and now on earth. All of you probably know people who say things like this to avoid giving a definite answer as to what they believe. Maybe they are really atheists but they just don’t want to offend or start an argument with someone who believes. That’s the way some politicians are – they don’t want people to think bad of them, so they simply say that as far as spiritual questions are concerned, they just don’t know. Other people genuinely don’t know, or at least haven’t been convinced either way. They can’t say for sure if there is a God, but then they can’t say for sure that there isn’t a God. They can’t say for sure there is life after death, but then again, they can’t say for sure that there isn’t life after death. So they say, “I’m an agnostic,” or “I’m a skeptic, I’m skeptical of all spiritual claims, but I wouldn’t completely reject them either; prove it to me.” This isn’t as bad as outright rejecting God and life after death, but it’s close. For example, if you are a real atheist and you don’t believe in life after death, then you can’t celebrate Easter Sunday because you believe it’s all hogwash. But if you are an agnostic, you can’t celebrate Easter either because you think it might not be true or you doubt that it’s true. In reality, agonistics are most of the time closet atheists because while they say they don’t know whether there is a God or life after death, they don’t spend very much time searching out the truth either. And that means they are probably atheists because if you really didn’t know you’d want to spend your life trying to find out what is the truth, and if you really, honestly searched for the truth you’d find that Christianity is true and you’d be a Christian. So the fact that agnostics so often just don’t seem motivated to search out the truth shows that most of them are probably really atheists instead. The end result is the same for agnostics and atheists – no ultimate hope for the future, no ultimate morality (Hitler and Mother Theresa share the same fate) and despair. It’s a very black and depressing belief. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Third, Christians believe that there is a God and there is life after death because the resurrection of Jesus Christ proves it. Mark 16:6-7, “’Don’t be alarmed,‘ he said, ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, that He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” The angel announced to the women and to the world that early Easter morning that life had conquered death in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Here’s the simple logic: If Jesus rose from the dead, that proves that there is life after death. Jesus rose from the dead. Therefore, there is life after death! There is no need to be an atheist – someone who doesn’t believe in God and doesn’t believe in life after death. There is no need to be an atheist because Jesus proved both things – that there is a God and that this God rose Jesus from the dead. There had to be a God to rise Jesus from the dead because if he was really dead, dead dead, then he’d need something other than himself to rise up from death. That’s where God the Father comes in and rises Christ from the dead. Now that proves that there is a God to do this. Next, it also proves that there is life after death because Jesus died, but he came back to life after he had died. Death isn’t this final and absolute thing that atheists see. Death is only a stage to another life of existence, for some, eternal life, to others eternal punishment, all depending on our relationship with Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus also proves agnosticism or skepticism wrong too. There is no reason to doubt that there is a God or that there is life after death because of the resurrection. All the Sadducees – if there are any left today — now have no excuse for not believing in life after death or even doubting life after death. Listen to what the angel says, “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen. He is not here. See the place where they laid him.” In other words, “Look here, see the empty tomb, nobody moved him, nobody stole the body, nobody touched it, it just got up by itself because Jesus rose from the dead.” What that means is death isn’t final, it’s only temporary. Now I can’t testify to that reality because, well, I’ve never died before, but on the authority of God’s Word, I can say that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the death proves that there is life after death. We don’t have to walk around in life depressed or in despair because we are getting older or because our bodies are wearing out. If I didn’t believe in God and life after death I’d be getting pretty depressed because every day I look in the mirror and see my body falling apart more and more. And if this life is all there is, then I’m in big trouble. Like that old Peggy Lee song, “Is that all there is, is that all there is . . .” But no, we don’t have to be depressed because this life isn’t all there is, there is a life awaiting beyond the grave. Now the big question for you and me today, am I ready for it? Do I have everything right between me and God right now? Am I in a right relationship with God? See the big question now isn’t whether there is or isn’t life after death, there is. The big question is, where will we spend eternity in the next life? Well, Jesus can help us on that question too. He says to repent and believe in order to have life eternal. Have you repented of yours sins? Have you put your whole hearted trust in Jesus to save you from your sins through his death on the cross? Do you believe by faith that He rose up from the dead? These are the real questions we should be concerned about now. I hope this morning that you have settled for yourself these questions. Let us pray.

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