The Resurrection Angel
3 Dec 2005, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
THE RESURRECTION ANGEL
The following words I am going to read to you this morning were penned by a man called Uriah Smith. He was one of the leading pioneers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church at a time when it was coming to terms with many of the wonderful truths of Scripture as we now have the privilege to know them. These words, which were to express one of the foundation truths of the Church, were later set to music and placed in the old SDA hymnal. The concept of death is not one we like to deal with, but this is what he had to say. Listen carefully to the words.
Dark is the hour when death prevails, And triumphs o'er the just -
A painful void within the breast, When dust goes back to dust;
And solemn is the pall, the bier, That bears them from our presence here.
But there's a bright, a glorious hope, That scatters deaths dark gloom;
It cheers the saddened spirits up; It gilds the Christian tomb;
It brings the resurrection near, When those we love shall re-appear.
Then mourn we not as those whose hopes With fleeting life depart;
For we have heard a voice from heaven to every stricken heart:
'Blest are the dead, forever blest, Who from henceforth in Jesus rest'.
With kind regard the Lord beholds His saints when called to die,
And precious in His holy sight Their sacred dust shall lie
Till all these storms of life are o'er, And they shall rise to die no more.
A few more days, and we shall meet The loved whose toil is o'er,
And plant with joy our bounding feet On Canaan's radiant shore,
Where, free from all earth's cares and fears, We'll part no more through endless years.
'Dark is the Hour' - Uriah Smith 492 Old SDA Hymn Book.
Uriah Smith, in these words, is basing his hope in the concept of a resurrection that promises a future life for those who have been prepared to trust implicitly in the Word of God. Unfortunately, history shows that the majority of mankind have been more prepared to base their beliefs in man's own theories and philosophies of life than to accept those truths that were to be found in the Holy Scriptures.
Ever since the beginning of time man has had a craving for immortality - to live forever. People are ready to grasp at anything that would give some promise or substance to an existence beyond the grave. Some of the finest minds have wrestled with the mystery of death, but of himself man is incapable of finding the answers. We don't need to look far into history to see many of the vain attempts made by those nations and cultures who promoted the concept of the soul leaving the body and living forever.
The Babylonians were one of the first to suggest that 'There is life after death.'
The Zoroastrians suggested that 'The good enter heaven immediately after death. The wicked, they believed, must spend some time in a kind of purgatory where they will be fitted for heaven.'
The Greeks introduced the concept that 'When a person dies, the soul escapes the body and re-enters existence in a new form which could be human, subhuman, or even superhuman.'
The Romans continued the belief that 'The dead really live on.'
The Egyptian belief was seen in the massive pyramid constructions that were designed specifically '...to protect the body for the re-entry of the soul,'
A more modern example can be seen when Jehan Sadat (widow of Egypt's President Anwar Sadat) made the comment after his death that 'Our religion says that when the body dies, the soul continues to live. She says, 'I still feel Anwar is with me. Even now I, the children, we feel him' Peoples Weekly, Oct.18, 1982 p. 129
Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a prolific writer on the subject of death says, 'There is a conscious, spiritual existence after the death of the body.'
The Tibetans would tell us that 'Man is incapable of dying.'
The North American Indians suggest that 'When one dies, he travels to the 'country of the spirits', where no war or death exists.'
The Islamic Religion embraced the fact that: 'The soul remains after death, either living in ease and comfort or in torment.'
Pope Leo X- (Bless his heart) in 1513 issued a bull proclaiming the soul to be immortal.
These statements tend to show an overwhelming belief in one particular concept of immortality that says there is something in man that cannot die, that the body may be laid to rest, but his spirit or his soul lives on. These unbiblical views of man in death have often led Christians into an incorrect view of the resurrection and opened the door for many to become involved in spiritism. However, while these views have been prevalent throughout history, we need to recognise that there have also been many spokesmen like William Tyndale, who, as one of the early protestant reformers, argued from the Christian perspective that 'if the souls be in heaven,...then what cause is there of a resurrection' (Holland, 1983: 4-7).
How were men like William Tyndale, Martin Luther, Uriah Smith and many others to combat false doctrine in the guise of 'the immortality of the soul' ?
What do the Scriptures teach concerning death and resurrection?
I would like to begin this morning by turning to two very well known portions of Scripture. The first is found in 1Thessalonians 4: 13 -18. (Good News Bible)
'Our brothers, we want you to know the truth about those who have died, so that you will not be sad, as are those who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will take back with Jesus those who have died believing in Him.
What we are teaching you now is the Lord's teaching (not man's theories) Repeat: We who are alive on the day the Lord comes will not go ahead of those who have died. There will be a shout of command, the archangel's voice, the sound of God's trumpet, and the Lord Himself will come down from heaven. Those who have died believing in Christ will rise to life first; then we who are living at that time will be gathered up along with them to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord. So then, encourage each other with these words.'
- Let me tell you that the non-Christian has no equivalent of the Christian's hope.
- Let me tell you that the righteous dead are not forgotten.
- Let me tell you that the unbeliever has no grounds for expecting life after death.
- Let me tell you that the Christian alone knows him who has conquered death on our behalf. (Jesus Christ)
- And let me tell you that this contrasts with the hopelessness to be found in the pagan world.
Let us turn to our second portion of Scripture found in 1 Corinthians 15: 50-54 (NIV)
'I declare to you brothers that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed - in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality...then the saying that is written will come true. Death has been swallowed up in victory. V 57...thanks be to God. He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ'
Dear friends, in view of this wonderful truth we must use every effort to resist the endeavours of Satan to undermine our faith in our lord and saviour Jesus Christ and what he has accomplished for you. We must use every effort.
The Biblical view of the resurrection is not a meaningless doctrine that meets no human need. It answers our human quest for immortality according to God's plans. It should motivate us towards loyalty to our risen Lord as we await the grand day of reunion with believers who have died.
Let me ask you a number of very important questions this morning.
What does a belief in the resurrection mean to you today?
What effect has this belief had on your life?
Do you still accept this blessed hope when we see the Christian world placing less and less emphasis on this pivotal belief?
We need to be reminded that death and decay have been with human beings since the fall and it needs to be recognised that this was never originally a part of God's plan. - We need to remember that death is an intruder into god's creation.
In order to understand this concept, we need to begin with the creation story. We need to recognise that the Scriptures confirm that our first parents had only conditional immortality. They could live forever only on certain conditions.
Lets read Genesis 2:16,17 'And the Lord God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.'
Condition No. 1 The need to be obedient to God's command
Condition No. 2 The need to have access to the tree of life
That second condition was forfeited when our first parents were expelled from the garden resulting in death. I doubt that any of us will ever begin to understand or feel the depth of sorrow that death was to cause God and, particularly after sin when Adam and Eve began to die.
It is interesting to note that Adam's epitaph in Genesis 5: 5 is starkly simple. 'All the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died'.
Was this to be the end? Was it possible to survive the grave? Was there still a chance for men and women to achieve immortality?
We need to read what the apostle Paul has to say in 1 Cor. 15: 21,22.
'For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.'
What does this wonderful promise mean?
It tells me that: Once death has occurred there has to be a resurrection before one is able to obtain eternal life.
It tells me that: This hope is only available to those who have found release from sin through Jesus Christ.
Well where has God provided us with the assurance in the Scriptures that the miracle of a resurrection is truly possible?
This morning we need to look for evidence in the Scriptures that will help to reinforce our belief in this greatest of all miracles - the miracle of the resurrection - the miracle of immortality.
I would like you to picture with me this morning one of the most dramatic scenes described in the Old Testament. It was to take place just prior to the entry of God's people into the Promised Land. God had just declared that Moses could not lead them and no matter how earnestly this faithful leader pleaded with God he could not secure a reversing of this sentence. Moses knew that he was going to die.
He was not guilty of a great crime, as the world would see it. His sin was one of common occurrence. The Psalmist says in Ps 106: 33 that 'He spake unadvisedly with his lips'. The spirit of exultation cast doubt upon the work of God.
We need to understand that the more important a person's position, the greater his influence and the greater his responsibility to God and the need for greater patience and humility. There is a need to exercise self-control under the greatest provocation. Without this one sin Moses would have been translated without seeing death.
Let us read Deut 32: 48-52; 34: 1-8
Moses had to die alone. No earthly friend could minister to him in his last hours. (You just think what that would have been like). Moses was then concealed from men in order to avoid the danger of idolatry over his body. The angels of God were commissioned to bury this faithful servant and to watch over that lonely grave. But, dear friends, he was not to remain long in the tomb. Jesus, along with the angels who had buried him, came down from heaven and the world was to witness for the very first time the miracle of a resurrection.
On top of this lonely mountain Christ was about to give life to the dead for the very first time. This was high drama
Up until this time the power of the grave had not been broken. All who were in the prison house of death, Satan claimed as his - never to be released. As Jesus and his angels approached the grave, Satan, with his supremacy now being threatened, stood to do battle over the body of Moses. (Jude 9) You just imagine this scene in the context of the great controversy
As the Scriptures tell us, Satan could not withstand the power of the Creator (Thank God), and there and then, Moses was raised from the grave glorified and he ascended with Jesus to the City of God.
With this event, the resurrection was forever made certain.
Moses was to receive an inheritance far more glorious than the earthly Promised Land.
Satan's power over death was effectively broken.
However, it was to be the resurrection of Jesus himself after His crucifixion that was to become the most important and significant event ever to have taken place in the history of the world to that time.
When Jesus was laid in the grave, Satan triumphed. The Devil claimed His body and set a guard about the tomb, seeking to hold Christ a prisoner. He dared to hope that your Saviour and mine would not take up His life again.
You could imagine the feeling of loss that Satan must have felt when, at the tomb, he heard the voice of that mighty angel, the resurrection angel, saying in a loud voice, 'Thy Father calls thee'. Your father calls you. It was at that moment that 'the saviour came forth by the life that was in himself' DA 785.
This event proved the truth of His words found in John 10: 17,18; 2: 19 where He said:
'I lay down My life, that I might take it back again...I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again'
'Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up'
'I am the Resurrection and the Life' John 11: 25,26
To Satan, this was the greatest challenge to his rulership of this old world.
When Jesus arose, He brought a multitude of captives with Him. The graves of these co-labourers with God, who had given their lives for Him, were opened by the earthquake that took place at His death. After His resurrection, they then went into the city and appeared to many and eventually they ascended with Jesus as trophies of His victory over death and the grave (Matt 27: 51-53).
While Jesus had raised the dead to life during His years of ministry on the earth, they were not clothed with immortality (Lazarus, son of the widow of Nain, the ruler's daughter). They were all still subject to death. In contrast, those who were raised at His resurrection were raised to everlasting life. They went home with Him to the Kingdom.
Well what does the resurrection of Jesus mean to you and to me?
By His resurrection Jesus is openly pointed out to be the all-powerful Son of God (Rom 1: 4; John 5: 23)
Our faith in God rests on the solid foundation of our faith in Christ's resurrection (1Peter 1: 21; 1 Cor 15: 17)
By the resurrection of Jesus Christ, believers have a new life (1 Peter 1: 3,4)
'I am come...that they may have life and that they may have it more abundantly'
It is through the resurrected, living Christ that we share life today and bring forth fruit as Christians (Romans 7: 4; 6: 3,4; Hebrews 13: 20,21)
And most of all, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is a guarantee of our own resurrection and immortal life (2 Cor 4:14; 1 Thess. 4: 14-18)
Rookwood Necropolis, which means the City of the Dead, is located West of Strathfield in Sydney. This sleeping city is known to be one of the largest burial grounds in the world and one of Australia's oldest cemeteries. It also encompasses the largest surviving Victorian public cemetery to be found anywhere in the world. This 283-hectare site, larger than the Sydney Botanical gardens, has been in continual use since it was established in 1867. More than 800,000 people have been interred within the grounds with the headstones and monuments reflecting much of the history, culture and beliefs of the early settlers of NSW. To those living in the Victorian era, death was a normal part of the life cycle, not to be hushed. Cemeteries were places to visit deceased friends and to have picnics (Rookwood Visitor's Information Booklet)
The following slide shows the Frazer family vault which would have cost approx $500,000 in today's currency to build. This largest building in Rookwood completed in 1894 illustrates the desire to protect and perpetuate one's life and memory after death. The mausoleum originally contained 8 bodies but during a time of considerable vandalism during the 1960's the vault was broken into, coffins smashed and bodies desecrated. This resulted in the family having the remains removed and cremated. It would seem that even in death one couldn't escape the ravages of time. (The wrought - iron fencing is in the shape of a tear- drop) (Ibid).
It is also interesting to note that most people have a desire to have people think well of them after they die even to the extent where a man named Robert Hancock who died in 1876 (Slide) placed a statue on his grave presenting himself as a well dressed cultured gentleman, whereas he was well known as a inner city brothel keeper. An ugly man, who looked nothing like the statue.
In visiting the cemetery some time ago I was interested to find out what emphasis was placed on the belief in a resurrection by those that were buried in the independent sector. It would seem that 100 years ago it was quite common to find comments such as 'Until the Resurrection', Until He comes' but these epitaphs seem to have disappeared from the headstones of those buried in the latter part of this century. It is also interesting to note that most headstones in the older portions were placed in such a way that they all faced east. This was in keeping with the concept that when Jesus comes back He would appear in the east and when the resurrection took place the first face they would see, along with the resurrection angel, would be the face of their Saviour.
The most startling and beautiful monument dedicated to the belief in the resurrection that I discovered was a marble sculpture depicting the resurrection angel holding a trumpet and pointing to the face of Jesus (Slide). Buried at this site are Sir Hugh Dixon (1841-1926) founder of the British Australian Tobacco Co and his son Sir William Dixon, whose famous collections form the Dixon Galleries in the NSW State Library. It was he who commissioned the erecting of this exquisitely carved marble statue (Jones: 1985: 55).
At a time when the Churches seem to be placing less emphasis on the belief in a resurrection and a soon coming saviour, where do you stand in relation to 'the blessed hope' that the Scriptures speak so much about.
Death is one of the certainties of life, but it is not the end of everything. The Scriptures tell us it is but the closing of the eyes, with no knowledge of passing time until we open them again in the presence of our Saviour.
Author Ellen White tells us in GC 644, 645 that when Jesus comes He looks upon the graves of the righteous, then, raising His hands to heaven, He calls forth the sleeping saints. Throughout the length and breadth of the earth the dead shall hear that voice, and they that hear shall live...All rise with the freshness and vigour of youth...All blemishes and deformities are left in the grave...All reflect the perfect image of their Lord'. (White, 1950: 644,645)
What a wonderful day that will be
In summary let me repeat again:
That the non-Christian has no equivalent of the Christian's hope.~
That the righteous dead are not forgotten.
That the unbeliever has no grounds for expecting life after death.
That the Christian alone knows him who has conquered death on our behalf. (Jesus Christ)
That this contrasts with the hopelessness to be found in the pagan world.
As Will L. Tompson once wrote:
There's a bright day coming,
A bright day coming,
There's a bright day coming by and by,
But its brightness shall only come,
To them that love the Lord,
Are you ready for that day to come?
"Christ in Song" Hymnbook
This old fashioned Bible doctrine of the resurrection is indeed a blessed hope for you and for me.
Dear Friends we need to be looking forward to that great day when we will have that wonderful opportunity to meet our resurrection angel and to see our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ face to face so that we will forever be with the Lord.
(Titus 2: 13)
Are you ready for that day to come?
Jones, M. (1985) Oasis in the West: Stathfield's First Hundred Years. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
Holland, K. J. (Editor) (1983) 'Do we get more than one Life', These Times, 92:12, pp. 4-7
White, E. G. (1950) The Great Controversy. Mountain View California: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
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