2009 West Coast Conference - Session 7 - Alistair Begg
Dr. Begg returned to the pulpit to bring a message entitled In the Likeness of His Resurrection — The Bodily Resurrection of the Believer, taking his text from 2 Corinthians 5.
He then read a portion of a message that a pastor might deliver at a funeral. A text that affirms not just the continuity of life, but the resurrection of the physical body. The Christian’s view of death and resurrection ought to be a great apologetic in our day. There is a reason why graveyards used to be near churches. It makes sense. We have the anticipation of a new heavens and a new earth to look forward to.
But in our day not everyone even has a funeral. We have memorials. (We wouldn’t want to think so-and-so died.) It is as if we are afraid of death itself. If a funeral isn’t solemn, what is solemn?
The writer of Ecclesiastes: “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad” (Eccl. 7:2-3).
It was Catholicism that gave us “wakes” and “viewings.” It is Christian to face the full weight of death’s finality (in this world) — to be made to fully grasp the fact that your mother is now 6-feet under in the ground. In another day, the family members would themselves lift the dirt and fill up the grave.
Richard Baxter said it is the pastor’s job to prepare his people for death, and he was right. For Paul, to die was gain because to live was Christ. The former requires the latter.
I. WE KNOW.
(a) that our bodies are like tents, and (b) that our earthly bodies will be destroyed, and (c) that when we do, we have a building from God.
We know. Not we feel; we know. The resurrection of Christ is the pledge of the believer’s resurrection. But sadly many churches want to start a service by singing about our feelings, rather than the deep truths of God (which can fuel our praise).
To confirm the reality of Christ in our heart is not the same thing as to confirm the resurrection. The former is an experience that ebbs and flows the latter is a historical reality.
In Ecclesiastes 12, we have an apt description of the demise of a human being at the end of a natural life.
Someone had asked about cremation. Yes, if one is cremated, they can still receive a resurrected body. There are two instances in the Bible describing cremation, but these passages suggest that it was a bad thing. Advocacy of cremation originally came from a few Unitarians. It was an expression of disdain toward God and the resurrection of the dead.
But burial is a picture of being “sown in dishonor, and (someday) to be raised in glory.” It is also a reflection of the biblical imagery of going to sleep.
2. WE GROAN.
This is also mentioned in Romans 8. Groaning is a reaching out for what is to come. We groan in frustration with the current limitations and with anticipation of what is to come.
Alas the lack of honest groans in our congregations. A lament allows someone else to open up, cry, groan. There is no dissonance between the knowing and the groaning. No, we know, and so we grown. Paul was looking forward to “putting off the earthly tent.”
There is a guarantee: “He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” Cross-reference to Romans 8, “we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” It is by the Holy Spirit that we are able to say — to cry — “Abba Father.” And sometimes, in our hearts, that is all we can do. (Need to admit that, because some mistakenly reason that because we know we do not groan. The reality is we don’t moan in unbelief but we groan with anticipation.)
3. WE LIVE.
We live by faith. Taking God at His word, trusting His promises, heeding His warnings. Faith is like a muscle — you use it, it grows; you don’t, it atrophies. God has given us means of grace. The Scriptures, the sacraments, the benefits and privilege of prayer, we have the fellowship of God’s people, and the experience of trials. Confidence comes by living by faith not by sight. And it is knowledge that builds confidence for living. Paul says that he would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
What will heaven be like? We don’t really know. But everything we know of God gives us confidence that it will be unimaginably wonderful. Look at the beauty of this creation, and note that the new heavens and earth will be even more breathtaking.
4. WE MUST.
There will be a final exam. Everyone will take it. It is a “divine must.” “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:10).
And who else will tell people about this? The same principle which seals the doom for the wicked will be used to distribute rewards among the just. We make it our goal to please him.
We were once without God and without hope in the world. But now we have passed from death to life. And this hope does not make us ashamed.