Saturday, 3 May 2014
Dr John Neufeld: 11:23
The question is: when we speak about heaven, what are we actually talking about? 1 Thessalonians 4: 3-18 tells of a sequence of events related to those who have hoped in Christ and who have died, and of course that relates to our own Pastor Carlin. We take that very personally now. I would like to read that passage to you. It simply says, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do, who have no hope, for since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you, by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive and are left until the coming of the Lord are not to proceed those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven. With a cry of command, with a voice of the archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to be with the Lord in the air so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore, encourage one another with these words.”
In a very few minutes I would like to encourage us with these words and I want to draw out several points from the text I’ve read. First of all, when Christ returns all those who have died with Him with follow Him, and that of course will include Pastor Carlin, who has already been told he has an assignment, and that is that he is to rise and follow the risen Christ in His triumphant ride as He comes to claim his own.
Secondly, the dead in Christ, it is referring to our brother, Pastor Carlin, will rise first. That in his rising, he will be among those, who accompany Christ. So clearly in 1 Thessalonians the account it somewhat collapsed. What is referred to here is discussed in Revelation, chapter. 20: 1-6, and there it is called the first resurrection and it happens at the return of Christ. That the dead come to life with Christ and that they reign with Him for a thousand years and after that comes the end of the age. At the second coming of Christ those who hope in Christ who are still alive, if you’re on the earth, believers in Christ will not proceed those who have fallen asleep, that is that if any of us are still alive when Christ returns our resurrection follows immediately after those who belong to the company of which Pastor Carlin is part.
Now at first glance, it would seem to indicate, that the dead in Christ are asleep so that in some ways there are those who argue that they are not conscious until the coming of Christ. And if that were so we might argue that Pastor Carlin now rests in peace until the second coming of Christ and that he would not be conscious now. But that is not what the Scripture clearly teaches even though you have the passage that we just read, there are others to be considered in this topic as well. I would like to read from 2 Corinthians now, chapter 5: 6-9, which says, “So we are always of good courage, we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home with the Lord, or away, that is, away from His presence we make it our aim to please Him.” So notice that to be away from the body at the very moment of death that is what 2 Corinthians 5 teaches us, that believer is at home with the Lord. Since that is so there can be no doctrine of soul sleep. There is state of conscious existence of all who die in Christ.
Furthermore, let me add to that passage which is more explicit than the 2 Corinthians one I have read. It comes from Philippians 1:21-23 and there we read, “For me to live if Christ and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh that means fruitful labour for me. Yet which shall I choose, I cannot tell, I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ for that is far better.” I want you to notice several things about the Philippians passage. When the believer dies, it is called both gain and better by far or far better, meaning that the state of our brother, Pastor Carlin, is now a great deal superior. We would say infinitely superior, far more advantageous it is to depart and be with Christ than while on earth. Now if the doctrine of soul sleep were true that would be no advantage at all, would it? For there would simply be unconscious existence, but the Bible is very explicit on this matter. To die is better by far. We notice that departing which is a metaphor for dying means to be with Christ. Not only is it better by far, it is to be in His presence. So whereas in our early life, in Pastor Carlin’s early life, 2 Corinthians reminded us that Pastor Carlin loved Christ, whom he had never seen. Having not seen him, yet he loved him, having walked by faith and not by sight. But that is not the case for him today, he sees now with his own eyes, of that the Bible is very clear. One other passage which deserves further consideration is Jesus’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus. At the point of both men’s death, both the rich man and Lazarus are assigned to their places. Lazarus being fully conscious, fully aware of his surroundings, being comforted and content before his God.
So I have an illustration for that, and it’s with apologies to Randy Alcorn, I borrowed this slightly. Imagine you are living to Tuktoyaktuk, on the northern end of the Northwest Territories, far above the arctic circle. Imagine you are living there in the winter and it is a place where the sun never rises. Imagine you are being told that a rich, gracious benefactor has purchased property for you and it is right outside Honolulu. A beautiful house with beach front property, wonderfully quiet and secluded in beautiful weather. And you might object even at this illustration and say surely the life I am no living is better than the good citizens of Tuktoyaktuk enjoy in the middle of the winter, but remember this life is the life where sin, death, rebellion, and evil live. They not only exist in the world, we fight with them in our own lives. We remember to subject everything to the Lordship of Jesus, and we are involved in a fight that goes on as long as we are here.
Remember how silly it is for individuals to say things like this at a memorial service: “Our brother has passed from the land of the living.” No, this is not the land of the living, this is the land of the dying. This is the place where the living die every single day by the millions. Cries of despair, of pain and of hurt, and of futility, are the cries that rise from this earth. This is the land where the sun doesn’t properly shine. Now imagine the day that your move has come and the day has arrived. Your plane tickets have come and you’re heading to the airport. You realize as you go to the airport that you have a stopover, and the stopover is in Vancouver. I know every illustration is imperfect as it goes, but as you travel from Tuktoyaktuk in January to Vancouver. You’ll notice that as you arrive in Vancouver it is better by far. It’s raining, but there’s a sun, and as a matter of fact there is no snow on the ground, and it’s warm. You can go for a nice long walk and you are overwhelmed with what greets you, and you can hardly imagine that there is something even better to come. And so what is this stop-over, what is this intermediate stage? It means that Pastor Carlin’s earthly body has been destroyed, but his soul or his spirit continues to live. Every illustration has limitations. Pastor Carlin is not experiencing the partial but the complete perfection, perfect joy, perfect fulfillment, exquisite glory. He sees Christ face to face and I do believe that he spent some time in Christ’s loving embrace, but as of yet, he is not experiencing the fulfillment of all things.
Randy Alcorn may have been right when he suggests that in this state, what we called the intermediate state, God clothes us with some kind of a physical form. He says that because, for instance, the martyrs are depicted in the book of Revelation, they are given bright white robes to wear, meaning that if they wear clothes they must have some form of physical form. The same is suggested to us in the story of Lazarus. So if that’s correct, then Pastor Carlin today exists in a physical form, which has been given to him. He sees Christ, he sees the angels gathered in celestial form. He sees the four living creatures which are before the throne. He sees the twenty four elders who throw their crowns before the throne, and fall in worship. He hears the creatures crying, “Holy, holy is the Lord God.”
I used to sit up here in the front with Pastor Carlin, and Pastor Ron would be leading worship, especially around a big majestic worship song, and he’d lean over to me and say, “This is huge!” I remember him saying that many times. I can imagine that first Easter celebration when the four living creatures are calling out “Holy to the Lord,” when the angels are gathering, when the saints are before the throne, Pastor Carlin leaning over to someone. I don’t know who it was, I bet it was Henry Hildebrand, and saying, “This is huge.” And you see, furthermore, there is a recognition and an enjoying of fellowship with those who have gone before. It would include Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and David, Peter and Paul, and all of the loved ones that we have known personally, who have known Christ.
It is untouched by sorrow and regret and rebellion. It is walking by sight and not by faith. It is experiencing pleasure the way pleasure should be experienced without anything vile attached to any pleasurable item. Whether he sees what happens here or not that’s not clear. We don’t know. We are told, however, than whenever a sinner repents there is more rejoicing in Heaven over one sinner who repents. If after today there is someone here who does not yet know Christ as Saviour and Lord, and who comes to Christ through this memorial service, I think it is quite likely that Carlin will hear, and will join the great rejoicing that if even at his memorial service perhaps one or two or more where to come to Christ. But Carlin still shares one thing with us, he, with us, awaits the church in heaven and the church on earth. He awaits the second coming of Christ with great anticipation because along with making all things new, he also awaits a new body made to be like Christ’s glorious body. A raised body being a prototype, Christ’s raised body in fact being a prototype and one that we will receive. So to put it plainly, when a believer dies, his or her spirit leaves the body. How exactly the soul thinks, or feels, or loves, or worships apart from the body that we are not told.
And yet maybe God creates an intermediate body so that the soul can rejoice in a way that is physical, but there is something that awaits both him and us, and I bring it to you from Revelation 21:1-4. “I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth had passed away and the sea was no more, and I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband, and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more. Neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore. For the former things have passed away.’”
I noticed first of all that the passage begins by saying “the sea is no more”. In the ancient world, you probably know, that most seafaring ships stayed within sight of land. The sea was seen as this incrossable barrier. It was something that was left to mystery, something that could not be gotten to the other side. The image is clear that the sea, that is the incrossable barrier between heaven and earth has been removed, and that is that the life to come is lived, yes, here on earth. In fact, there is a new earth that is created and the redeemed ones will live on earth with real bodies. And indeed, the life to come is to be thought of in physical terms. The life to come includes sights and sounds and smells, eating and drinking, and human interaction and human creativity untouched by sin. And the sure knowledge that everything we do, without exception, will be to the glory of God, whether it is to create or to worship or to work. All will be done for His glory. But the great incrossable barrier between heaven and earth will be broken and will be no more, so heaven and earth will touch each other, and that is still the future that Carlin and we share together if we hope in Christ.
So my question is, is this for you today? I am sure that almost everyone in this room is a believer, yet I’d like to end by reading a couple of passages from Revelation. First of all, Revelation 21, which says, “And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ And He also said, ‘Write these things down, for they are trustworthy and true. It is done. I am the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. Now hear these words, to the thirsty I will give from the water from the spring of life without payment. And to the One who conquers, He will have this as his Heritage, and I will be His God and He will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the unbelieving, and so on, their portion is the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.”
And then from Revelation 22, we have a word which says “The Spirit and the bride say ‘Come.’” It’s wonderful. Let the one who hears say ‘Come!”. Let one who is thirsty come, and let one who seeks to take the water of life without price come.”
The last words that Pastor Carlin left us are in this little bulletin. “When you come to the end of yourself and want peace with God and eternal life, this is the prayer that Jesus wants you to pray.” I’m going to pray that prayer in just a little while, but know that at the end of that prayer, Pastor Carlin wrote these words to us. “This is the best, the only thing I can leave with you. Please share it with others.” I would encourage you to do that, but if there is someone here who hasn’t done that, I’m going to ask you all to bow your heads with me in prayer, because it would be a tragedy to rejoice at the knowledge that our brother now experiences a life that is so full and rich, untainted by human sadness and sin, to rejoice over that one thing and have not found that life ourselves. Pray this prayer that simply says: “Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner. I believe you died on the cross for my sins and you rose again from the dead. I ask you to forgive my sins and come into my life. Please help me to become the person you want me to be. Thank you for saving me today in the strong name of Jesus. Amen.”
Paul Magnus, professor at Briercrest Bible College and Seminary and friend of Pastor Carlin for many years to come and close with prayer.