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This sermon was preaching during our service on Sunday 10 May. The audio recording of the entire service is attached below under 'Downloads.'

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I speak to you in the Name of Jesus Christ, who is the Resurrection and the life. Amen.

Introduction

Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers and grandmothers!

I also want to acknowledge those for whom this is a difficult day. Perhaps you’ve lost your mother or you are a mother who’s lost a child. Or perhaps you’re both alive but the relationship between you is strained or broken. Perhaps you’re a woman who wants to be a mother but cannot due to infertility or another reason.  

But whether this is a happy or a sad day for you, I’m very thankful that you’ve joined us today.  

I should also acknowledge that today is not the main Mother’s Day for some of us. If you’re from Britain, Mothering Sunday was back in March; in fact it’s always on the 4th Sunday of Lent in the Church calendar because one of the appointed Bible readings for that day is about our future home of the heavenly Jerusalem: the mother of us all (Gal. 4:26).

In the meantime and in anticipation of that future, the Church is our spiritual mother, giving birth to new children in the waters of baptism, nourishing us with the Word of God, and raising us to full maturity.  You could say that this Mother’s Day in this year of pandemic is a hard one for the Church, as she is physically separated from her children and unable to give birth to more through baptism.  

It reminds me a bit of a story from the life of Jesus when He was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside and they want to see you, but they cannot (in that case because of a crowd). But He answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21).

It’s a striking reply and might seem to be disrespectful to His own mother. But the point is that the Word of God brings us into a close new relationship with Jesus. I would even take it a step further and say that we are all like Mary, the mother of Jesus, in that when we hear the Word of God and receive it in faith, Jesus is conceived in our heart by the Holy Spirit. We bear Jesus within us; and the Christian life can be hard – we suffer labour pains. But through that, new life is born into the world and our lives.    

John 5:19-29 & Ezekiel 37:1-12  

In our Gospel for today, Jesus says something similar: Very truly I tell you, (meaning, He really wants to emphasize this): anyone who hears my Word and believes in Him who sent me has eternal life.  

Three things: hear the Word, believe, and receive eternal life. Friends, that’s the Christian life in a nutshell. That’s what happens today and every Sunday we gather for worship: we hear God’s Word, we are renewed in our belief, and we receive eternal life afresh.  

This ultimate gift is given to the simple listening believer. But what does it mean to believe?  The trouble with the word ‘believe’ (as we hear it) is that it sounds a bit too abstract; we think it’s all about the thoughts in our minds. But in John’s Gospel – and his other writings - believing involves our whole person, everything we say and think and do. It’s an active disposition, a way of life.  

So ‘trust’ would be another way to put it: Hear the Word of God, trust its promise and carry out its commands. 

For John there is no distinction between belief/faith/trust on the one hand and obedience/acts of love/good works on the other. Hearing, believing, trusting, obeying God’s Word is a new, holistic way of life.   The one who hears and believes is made nothing less than a new creation – you are born again into eternal life.  

Eternal Life  

So what is this eternal life, anyway? First, we must clarify what it is not.  

There’s a common misunderstanding that ‘eternal life’ refers to life after death, or going to heaven when you die. Now, our risen Lord Jesus Christ certainly does give us a sure and certain hope beyond the grave, but eternal life does not merely refer to this.  

Eternal life begins now. It’s tragic that so many Christians think it’s merely a future promise when it’s available to be enjoyed immediately. We need not pine away for the hereafter when the most heavenly possibilities are available here and now.

Friends, it’s absolutely vital we get this. Eternal life is offered to you right here through God’s Word on this Lord's Day – it’s a preview and foretaste of what we shall fully receive in the age to come when Christ returns to establish the new heaven and new earth.  

Both of our readings today, from John and Ezekiel, draw a connection between this glorious future and something available to us right now: our spiritual resurrection to newness of life, the new beginning and new possibilities God gives us, the new person we each become.  

In Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of the dry bones, we see a vivid preview of the future resurrection of human bodies from the dead. But it’s clear that Ezekiel’s message was also for his own day. At the end of the passage, we’re told that the bones represent the whole house of Israel who complain, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost, we are cut off completely.’

Ezekiel prophesied during the days of Israel’s exile from their Promised Land – a fate so devastating it was tantamount to being buried in a mass grave. But God promised His people through Ezekiel that they would be brought home – the nation would be raised from the death of exile.  

(We can perhaps see some similarities here with our situation in this present pandemic – we are cut off from our churches, our jobs, our families, our regular way of life. We may at times feel lifeless and without hope).

But God brought Israel out of exile long ago. He will bring us through this present pandemic. And He will ultimately defeat sickness and Death on the last day. God has always been in the business of giving new life. He is now and ever shall be.  

Jesus makes the same connection between the present and future resurrection in our Gospel. In v. 25 He says, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. That’s the present – Jesus raises us from the death of sin to newness of life.  

And in v. 28-29, He says, the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear [God’s] voice and will come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. There’s the future resurrection on the last day.  

Why do I stress this link between the present and future resurrection?  Very simply because there is no resurrection to eternal life possible for those who have not first tasted it in this life. There is no heaven, no paradise possible for those who have not begun to experience it here.  

Friends, I put it in that striking way not as a warning (and certainly not as a threat), but rather as a friendly wake-up call: the paradise of eternal life is available to you today! Of course, our experience of it in this life will be incomplete, but we can grow towards its perfection. That’s the adventure and the joy of the Christian life!  

We can discover how to live in heaven while still on earth. We can taste paradise within the humdrum and the hardships of this world. We can experience eternal life while going even through valley of the shadow of death. Let me give you the down-to-earth reality of what I mean: 

  • It is possible even in the anxieties and pressures of this life to keep the centre of your being calm and undisturbed.
  • It is possible in this world to go through one hell after another with strength and confidence of spirit.
  • It is possible to endure physical pain and suffering while the mind and heart are filled with joy and peace.
  • It is possible to face terminal illness with courage and hope.
  • It is possible to grieve the death of a loved one and suffer the devastation of that loss without being completely, irredeemably shattered.
  • It is possible to bear insults, betrayal, discrimination and persecution and to love your enemies in return. 

You get the idea. And you have known people who have shown you this. So have I. Some of you are among them. 

Now those examples are more extreme ones – they are instances of living with eternal life in the most difficult situations this world presents. But it’s vital we see that this eternal life is a regular, everyday reality too. As one poet said, it ‘makes drudgery divine’ – meaning, we can taste paradise even in the ordinary.    

Conclusion  

In conclusion, I’m quickly going sketch of what this looks like on a daily basis. It may seem to be a high standard, but the purpose is to encourage you that it’s possible and inspire you both to receive and pursue it.

We see these marks and characteristics above all in Jesus Himself and in the lives of His saints. All of these taken from New Testament commandments, because again, it is God’s Word that bestows this eternal life upon us.  

Eternal life in the here-and-now means a deep transformation within yourself so that you live, act, see, speak, and think more and more like Jesus. Your old self dies and Christ becomes your true Self within.   

  • This involves mastering your inner thoughts, taking every thought captive to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).
  • It means you’re increasingly self-aware and self-disciplined when it comes to your inner passions, your dark and hidden fears, your lusts and sins. (Matt. 5:21-30; Mark 7:21-23; Luke 6:45).
  • It means being able to turn off our auto-pilot or stop sleep-walking through this world. Turn off the TV, switch off your cell phone, get away from the computer; it means learning to eat and sleep properly.
  • It means being careful and charitable with our words – in every conversation (James 3)
  • Eternal life in the here and now means that you can detach yourself from worldly cares, priorities, and possessions. Not that you necessarily have to give them up entirely, but allow God to loosen your grip on them (Matt. 19:24; Rom. 12:2; Heb. 13:5; James 4:4)
  • It means that you make time and space for serenity, stillness and silence (Luke 5:16). Slow down, control your breathing, pray deeply and meditate on a Bible verse. This is how you gain self-mastery, inner peace and stability which nothing else in this world cannot give (John 14:27; Phil. 4:6-7). 
  • It means that you intentionally observe the natural created order and endeavour to live in harmony with it (Matt. 6:25-34). Jesus was a keen observer of nature. Flowers, birds, fish, growing crops, grazing sheep – the natural world was not lost on Him. 
  • It means freedom from anxiety and worry (Matt. 6:25-34)
  • It involves the strength and focus to resist temptation, and increasingly the absence of even the desire to sin (1 Cor. 10:13; Heb. 4:15; James 1:12) 
  • Eternal life in the here and now means you don’t promote or assert yourself (Matt 23:12)
  • It means you’re approachable, comfortable with all peoples in all circumstances, compassionate and loving, and willing to bear others’ burdens (Matt. 9:10-13, 11:19; 2 Cor. 1:3-4; Phil. 4:11; Col. 3:12; 1 Pet. 3:8; Gal 6:2).  

And since prayer is at the centre of this eternal life, I’ll end with a prayer that we may all experience this eternal life today, this week, and more-and-more throughout our lives:  

Almighty God, you make the minds of all faithful people to be of one will; give your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that among the many changes of this world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Sources consulted and quoted:

  • Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: a commentary (Eerdmans)
  • Howard Hageman, 'Paradise Now,' in Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (Plough), p. 276-80.
  • Addison Hodges Hart, The Ox Herder and the Good Shepherd (Eedrmans)
  • Robert W. Jenson, Ezekiel (Brazos)
  • Christopher J.H. Wright, The Message of Ezekiel (IVP)

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