Vol. 11 — No. 21 May 24, 1970


The Ecumenical Faith: I Believe in the Resurrection of the Body, and the Life Everlasting

Genesis 5:21-24

And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah: And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters: And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years: And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.

In Christ Jesus, our ascended Lord who has gone ahead to prepare a place for us, Fellow Redeemed:

For forty days after His resurrection Jesus “showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs,” as St. Luke reports in the Ascension pericope. He appeared to individuals, as Peter and James and Mary Magdalene. He appeared to small groups, as to the two Emmaus disciples and the women who had come to anoint His body. He appeared to larger groups, as to the disciples gathered behind locked doors on Easter evening and to the multitude of over five hundred in Galilee. He permitted the women to grasp Him so as to assure themselves that He was bodily risen, and not a spirit. He ate before them—also to reassure them of His bodily resurrection. He spoke to them.

But during those forty days His coming and leaving were sudden, mysterious, miraculous. He would appear and then disappear when His purpose was accomplished. And always the disciples would wait for His next appearance. But there had to be a final appearance and a final departure. That occurred on the fortieth day. Once again the Lord was instructing His disciples, assuring them that the Comforter would, indeed, come, repeating His final command to them to go and bear witness to Him in all the world. His hands were raised in blessing. Then He began to leave them—not suddenly and mysteriously, but slowly and visibly. He just began to rise from earth to heaven. They stood there gazing until messengers from heaven assured them that their Lord would return once again—visibly. As they joyously returned to the city, talking about what had just happened, they must have thought of the words that their Lord had spoken to them on the night of His betrayal: “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if is were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” John 14:1-3. They must also have thought of His words: “Because I live, ye shall live also.” John 14:19. They must have thought about how He had spoken of the dead as merely sleeping and how easily He had restored them to life. What they had witnessed and what they had heard from His lips confirmed in their minds and hearts one important truth of the ecumenical faith of all believers of all times—the belief in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

The word “ecumenical” has taken on a rather sour taste in our midst because it is used to designate the modern movement of togetherness in churches which is to be achieved by sacrificing the great ecumenical truths that all believers of all ages have clung to. We would this morning nourish our faith by examining one of those ecumenical truths as we confess it Sunday after Sunday in the Apostolic Creed, namely—

The Ecumenical Faith: I Believe in the Resurrection of the Body, and the Life Everlasting.

Let us search the Scriptures to assure ourselves that this is and has been the faith of all children of God of all ages. Our text presents us the faith of—

I. The antediluvian children of God.

Chapter five of Genesis presents to us the brief history of Adam. What amazes us in this chapter is the longevity of those people who lived before the flood, the oldest being Methuselah who lived 969 years. The human race was stronger in those days, climate was quite possibly more favorable to life, and the blessing of the Lord rested upon the people so that the world could be populated. One might think that after living five, six, seven, and more centuries, the people might have had enough of living. But not so. They struggled to stay alive after nine centuries, just as much as we struggle to remain healthy and alive after sixty and seventy years. Yet death reigned in those days, just as it does now. The brief biography of each man is concluded with the monotonous, yet final words: “And he died.” Sin brought death, and death reigned. Was there no hope of escape, no deliverance from this tyrant death? Among the children of Seth there had been kept alive the promise of One to come, the Seed of the woman, who would crush the head of the serpent—Satan, who was a murderer from the beginning. Death would one day meet an opponent that could and would undo it, defy it, conquer it. This was the hope. This was the faith.

To confirm and strengthen that faith the Lord God gave the antediluvian believers a most remarkable object lesson—in the history of the father of Methuselah—Enoch. His history begins no differently from that of the others. We are told that “Enoth lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah.” We are told that Enoch was a faithful child of God, for he “walked with God.” He had a large family, but a relatively short life, for he only lived 365 years. But his history isn’t brought to a conclusion with those same sad, final, words: “and he died.” No, rather we are told, “And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.” He passed from this life bodily to yonder life. He was translated from earth to heaven. One day he lived with his family, the next in the presence of the Lord God. So it was that God gave the antediluvian people a confirmation of their faith in the bodily resurrection and the hope of life everlasting.

We find that same faith in—

II. The Old Testament children of God.

Many modern Bible scholars assume that there was an evolutionary development of truths that Christians now believe—although most of those truths have been lost in Christian churches of today. For example, these scholars assume that the patriarchs had a very primitive faith and certainly knew nothing of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. But once again the Bible reveals the scholars to be in error and unbelieving. There is an Old Testament clause that is used when narrating the end of a person’s life that boldly confessed the hope of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. For example, when Jacob on his death bed gave instructions concerning his burial to his sons, he charged them: “I am to be gathered unto my people: bury me with my father.” Then when he died, Moses reports that he “yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people.” (Gen. 49:29 and 33) The expression “to be gathered unto his people or one’s people” is a confession of faith that those people had not passed from the state of animate beings to inanimate objects, had not just become things, but that they were still living. Recall that when the Sadducees tried to prove their denial of the resurrection of the body Jesus refuted them by quoting the Old Testament Scriptures in which God consistently introduced Himself as “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Jesus made the self-evident statement that God is “not the God of the dead, but of the living.” Matt. 22:32. The Old Testament believers knew and believed that in death one merely passed from one manner of living to another. They knew and believed the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

One of the most glorious expressions of that faith came from the lips of Job—after his ten children had been killed and all his property destroyed, after his wife urged him to curse God and die, and while he was sitting in the dust scraping his boils with a potsherd. He confessed that he knew full well that the worms would devour his body, yet with even greater certainty he knew that “in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another.” He knew that and believed that because he knew that his Redeemer lived. This had been the ecumenical faith of believers of all times.

That ecumenical faith rest upon—

III. The testimony of our Lord.

We have already referred to the words of our Lord that He spoke the night of His betrayal. On the occasion of the death of His friend, Lazarus, Jesus spoke clearly and to the point. The body of Lazarus was decaying in the grave. Oh how his sisters had wished and hoped that Jesus would have been there, for they were certain that He could have healed their brother. Both of them believed in the resurrection on the last day, but neither of them believed that Jesus had the power to restore the decaying body of their brother to life again. It was to overcome this lack of faith or weakness of their faith that Jesus testified of Himself and of His power over death. He said: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he life: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” John 11:25-26. Thousands of antediluvian believers and Old Testament saints had died, closing their eyes in a firm, but simple, faith that God would fulfill His promises and send the One who could overcome death. They didn’t know Jesus by name. They didn’t know the story of His birth, as even our youngest children know it. They didn’t know the events of His life, His suffering and death, His resurrection and ascension—which are familiar also to our children. Yet they rested their faith in Him. Jesus testified that they would not be shamed in that faith. He would not let them down, for “he that believeth in we, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” The believing dead live on in the sleep of death and shall live again bodily on the last day. We who are alive, but trusting in our Lord Jesus Christ, shall, indeed, die. But in the moment of death we shall find that death has been converted to a sleep from which we shall rise when the Lord calls us forth. This faith we confess Sunday after Sunday in the words of the Apostolic Creed: I believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Such is also—

IV. The witness of the apostles for the New Testament Church.

St. Paul expressed that faith when he wrote to the Philippians that we New Testament Christians keep on looking “for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body.” Phil. 3:20-21. Our present bodies are described as “vile,” “lowly,” in a “humble state,” “wretched.” This is our condition now. But when the sleep of death is over, we shall be raised with a new body, a resurrection body that shall be like unto the glorious body of our risen Lord. This is something to look forward to!

In the great resurrection chapter, chapter 15 of I Corinthians, Paul speaks of the various kinds of flesh here on earth—that of beasts and fish and birds. Then he speaks of the different kinds of bodies—the celestial and terrestrial, each having a differing glory. These earthly conditions which we daily observe he uses as the spring off point for his testimony of the resurrection of the body: “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.” Paul concluded this testimony of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting with a doxology: “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:42-44,57)

From Adam down to the last person on earth children of God always have and always will believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. This is our hope, a blessed hope. The ascension of our Lord is the final event that confirms our faith. Our Lord ascended on high. He told us why. He assured us that it was to prepare a place for us to live with Him eternally. Now we wait unto He takes us to Himself. Amen.

—Pastor Paul F. Nolting

Preached May 10, 1970
Holy Trinity Independent
Evangelical Lutheran Church
West Columbia, South Carolina

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