Sermon preached on April 28, 2011 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.
Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.
I love oxymorons. Oxymorons are figures of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear together. Bill G. had a military background and he often used to joke that the phrase, 'military intelligence' was an oxymoron. 'Deafening silence' is another. Since I like Apple products, one of my favorite oxymorons is, 'Microsoft Works'. And while I'm speaking of Microsoft, if you want to shut down you're your computer, don't you click the 'Start' button?
That shows us that some oxymorons are not just apparent contradictions—they are actual contradictions. 'Rolling stop' is another one. That's where some people, instead of stopping at stop signs, will just very slowly roll through the intersection. The police will give you a ticket for that. 'Open secret' and 'exact estimate' are two others that are actually contradictory. There's one oxymoron I don't like at all, it's, 'secular Christian'. That really is a contradiction in terms. That's like saying 'an unholy holy person'. It doesn't make sense.
But other oxymorons aren't contradictions at all. You've all heard the phrase, 'less is more'. 'Less is more', can sometimes be absolutely true. There are some short pieces of music that are just exquisite and when you hear them and they're over so quickly, you wish they were longer. But then some time later you'll be listening to a piece of music that you found was really nice at first, but it dragged on too long and really ruined the initial effect. Less is sometimes more.
In our text we have an amazing oxymoron. Jesus said,
"I am the Living One;
I was dead, and behold
I am alive for ever and ever!
And I hold the keys of death and Hades."
This is one of the most remarkable statements in all of the Bible. It sheds great light on the empty tomb and its meaning and should help us to love and obey our Savior.
There are four things we should see from our text. Each one of them is a great reason why we should live for Jesus. This doesn't just apply to Christians, it applies to everyone here. You need to live for Jesus. If you're not a Christian you need to stop the way you're currently living, turn from your sins and embrace Jesus.
The first thing that shows us this is the fact that
Jesus is the Living One.
To understand this we have to go back before Creation. One of the characteristics of God, of Jesus, is that He is independent. One aspect of this is that He has life in Himself. He is life. In John 5:26 Jesus said,
"For as the Father has life in himself,
so he has granted the Son
to have life in himself."
Jesus has life in Himself. Not only that, but He is the source of all life outside of God. John 1:1–4 says,
"In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made;
without him nothing was made
that has been made.
In him was life,
and that life was the light of men."
In Him was life! Leon Morris writes, (John, p. 82-83)
"It is only because there is life in the Logos that there is life in anything on earth at all. Life does not exist in its own right. It is not even spoken of as made 'by' or 'through' the Word, but as existing 'in' Him."
We see the same thing in Hebrews 1:3. It says,
"The Son is the radiance of God's glory
and the exact representation of his being,
sustaining all things by his powerful word."
When Genesis 1 says that God created all things, He did it through Jesus. Jesus spoke and it the universe came into existence. Jesus is the Great Creator. Life came from Jesus. You'll remember that when God created Adam, (Genesis 2:7)
"the Lord God formed the man
from the dust of the ground
and breathed into his nostrils
the breath of life,
and the man became a living being."
That breath of life, breathed into Adam, came from Jesus. Jesus gives life to all things. As the apostle Paul said of God in Acts 17:25,
"he himself gives all men
life and breath and everything else."
Jesus is the Author, or prince, or captain of life. He is life's cause and originator. Without Him there would be no life on earth. As Jesus said in John 6:33,
"For the bread of God
is he who comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world."
Jesus may be talking primarily about spiritual life there as He did in John 14:6 and John 11:25. You'll remember that He said,
"I am the way and the truth
and the life."
And in John 11:25 Jesus said,
"I am the resurrection and the life."
But Jesus is not just the source of spiritual life. He is the source of all life. What Jesus said about Him giving life to the world is true in a more general sense. He is the source of all life. Barton W Johnson says of Jesus, (John: a Commentary for the People)
"He is a fountain of life from whence life flows like a river."
Jesus is the source of all life, both physical and spiritual. Life is 'in' Him. One of the great characteristics of Jesus is life! He is the author and originator of life.
What does this mean for us?
You should live for Him.
It means that all of us should recognize that your life comes from Jesus. Your existence, your conscious life, your physical life, your energy, your enthusiasm for life—all of that comes from Jesus. Moment by moment Jesus gives you life and breath. You were made by Him and for him. Colossians 1:16 says of Jesus,
"For by him all things were created:
things in heaven and on earth,
visible and invisible,
whether thrones or powers
or rulers or authorities;
all things were created
by him and for him."
This means that all of us should live for Him
Jesus gives you life. What are you giving Him in return? You should be serving Him. You should be loving Him. You should be living only for Him. If you're not, you're most ungrateful.
The second thing we see in our text is that
Jesus was dead!
The death of Jesus is a great mystery. Some aspects of it are unfathomable to us.
The great incongruity here is that Jesus died. He said,
"I was dead."
How could that possibly be? He is Life. He is the source of life. This reminds me of what Peter said in In Acts 3:15 where he gave us one of the most striking oxymorons ever. He said to the Jews,
"You killed the author of life…"
What a contradiction in terms. How could this be? How could the Author of life be killed? It doesn't make sense. How could the One who is the source of life die?
It was all because of God's love for sinners. John 3:16 speaks of the Father's love in this.
"For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him
shall not perish but have eternal life."
In John 10:11–12 Jesus said,
"I am the good shepherd.
The good shepherd lays down
his life for the sheep."
It was voluntary, because of His love for sinners. The curse of sin is death. The only way that we could be saved was for Jesus to die. In John 10:17–18 Jesus said,
"The reason my Father loves me
is that I lay down my life—
only to take it up again.
No one takes it from me,
but I lay it down of my own accord.
I have authority to lay it down
and authority to take it up again.
This command I received from my Father."
Jesus died. Now of course, as God He didn't die. It was His human body that died. His also soul suffered the terrors of God's wrath. It was with great anguish that He cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" It was as a human being that Jesus died. Yet when He died, Christ's human nature was united to His divine nature. Thus, in our text, Jesus, the Living One, can say,
"I was dead."
This is a profound mystery. All of us should be in awe of the words that Jesus spoke on the cross. In Luke 23:46 we read that Jesus called out with a loud voice and said,
"Father, into your hands
I commit my spirit."
Then we read,
"When he had said this,
he breathed his last."
He, the Author of life, breathed His last. This is one of the greatest paradoxes you will ever read about. The incongruity there. He died. The Living One was dead.
It was all to save sinners. As Jesus said in John 12:23–24,
"The hour has come for the Son of Man
to be glorified.
I tell you the truth,
unless a kernel of wheat
falls to the ground and dies,
it remains only a single seed.
But if it dies,
it produces many seeds."
Sinner, you were lost. Sin had separated you from God. Because of sin your proper place is in the lake of fire that burns forever and ever. In sending you there God would have been absolutely just and righteous.
But, wonder of wonders—God loves sinners. The Father, Son and Spirit, in their great love, before the creation of the world, devised a plan to save sinners. The Father sent His beloved Son into the world. The Son willingly took the curse of sin upon Himself. He became sin for us. (2 Corinthians 5:21) The Spirit testifies to this and opens sinners eyes to the glory of Jesus. 1 Timothy 1:15 says,
"Here is a trustworthy saying
that deserves full acceptance:
Christ Jesus came into the world
to save sinners,"
What this means for everyone here is that
you should embrace Jesus.
Not to is the height of ingratitude. To turn your back on Jesus, to willingly despise this magnificent gift of God—the gift of salvation from sins, the gift of eternal life, the gift of Jesus—there in no ingratitude that is greater. Jesus died for sinners. He invites you to Himself. In Matthew 11:28 Jesus said,
"Come to me,
all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest."
Think of Jesus' dead body. Think of it being placed in the tomb. Jesus was dead. It was all for sinners—that they might find life in Him. How can you reject that gift? Turn from your sins. Go to Jesus. Find life in Him.
The third thing we see in our text is that
Jesus is now alive forever and ever and holds the keys to death and Hades.
On that first Easter morning the tomb was empty. Jesus rose from the dead. He defeated death for us. Death and Hades has no hold on God's people. Jesus has complete control over them.
Consider what Jesus offers us—freedom from death and Hades.
Jesus, by virtue of His death, has the keys of death. In Matthew 27:51–53 we read about the instant when Jesus died,
"At that moment the curtain of the temple
was torn in two from top to bottom.
The earth shook and the rocks split.
The tombs broke open and the bodies
of many holy people who had died
were raised to life.
They came out of the tombs,
and after Jesus' resurrection they went
into the holy city
and appeared to many people."
That was a prelude of the great resurrection in the future. Jesus will release all His people from death when He comes. They will be raised from the dead and brought to glory.
We all know what death is, but what about Hades? In it's most general sense it refers to the place of the dead, the place where all the dead go, both godly and ungodly.
We see it used as the place of the dead, which even the godly are subject to, in Acts 2:27. In his Pentecost sermon, Peter applied the prophecy in Psalm 16 to Jesus. He said,
"Therefore my heart is glad
and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will live in hope,
because you will not
abandon me to the grave [hades],
nor will you let your Holy One see decay."
So Hades, in the most general sense, is the realm of the dead. Even the godly are subject to death. Even though their souls go immediately to be with Jesus, (to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, (2 Corinthians 5:8, see also Philippians 1:23) — yet their bodies go to the grave and are subject to decay. In death body and soul are separated, so even believers in Jesus, in a certain sense, experience Hades, the realm of the dead—their bodies and souls are torn asunder.
Yet at other times in the New Testament the word 'Hades' is used in a different sense—to refer to the temporary abode of the ungodly prior where they await the final judgment. For them it is a place of torment. We see this in Luke 16, Jesus told the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man and He said that the rich man died and was buried, Jesus continued, (Luke 16:23–24)
"In hell, [hades] where he was in torment,
he looked up and saw Abraham far away,
with Lazarus by his side."
For those that do not know Jesus, Hades is a place of torment. It's a place that the ungodly go down to, for punishment. In Matthew 11:23 Jesus said about the wicked people in Capernaum,
"And you, Capernaum,
will you be lifted up to the skies?
No, you will go down to the depths [Hades].
If the miracles that were performed
in you had been performed in Sodom,
it would have remained to this day."
For the ungodly Hades is a temporary place of punishment. This is clear from Revelation 20:13-15, which we will look at shortly.
So for those who do not know Jesus, Hades is a temporary holding place, a place of torment where they are held until the final judgment. It's like a prison, with walls (perhaps figurative), since in Matthew 16 refers to 'the gates of Hades'.
Geerhardus Vos says that the New Testament never uses the word 'Hades' ("Hades," ISBE)
"in connection with the final state of punishment, as subsequent to the last judgment. For this GEHENNA and other terms are used."
Now, to clarify, we are not to think of Hades in terms of the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory. Purgatory is not a biblical concept. The Roman Catholic church teaches that all who die at peace with the church, but who are not perfect, must undergo penal and purifying suffering in the intermediate realm known as purgatory. (Boettner, Roman Catholicism, p. 218) Roman Catholic people are taught that the souls of many of their relatives and friends in purgatory suffer greatly in the torment of flames and that they cannot do anything to help themselves—that they have to stay there until God's justice has been satisfied. They were also taught that people on earth can shorten or alleviate their friend's sufferings in purgatory—through buying indulgences etc.
But none of that is biblical and has been made up by men. Jesus told the thief on the cross, (Luke 23:43)
"I tell you the truth,
today you will be with me in paradise."
In 2 Corinthians 5:6–8 the apostle Paul wrote,
"Therefore we are always confident
and know that as long as we
are at home in the body
we are away from the Lord.
We live by faith, not by sight.
We are confident, I say,
and would prefer to be
away from the body
and at home with the Lord."
Christians don't go to purgatory when they die. Their souls immediately go to heaven, to be with Jesus.
But for those who don't know Jesus, they go to Hades. There is no hope for them. There is no second chance for them. There is not opportunity for them to atone for their sins by suffering a certain amount of time in purgatory. As we read in Hebrews 9:27
"man is destined to die once,
and after that to face judgment,"
The biblical teaching is that unbelievers go to Hades after death, that they are in torment there until the final judgment. Then, when Jesus comes again, they are going to be raised from the dead. Revelation 20:13 says of that great day.
"The sea gave up the dead
that were in it,
and death and Hades gave up the dead
that were in them,
and each person was judged
according to what he had done."
Jesus spoke about this in John 5:28–30. He said,
"Do not be amazed at this,
for a time is coming when
all who are in their graves
will hear his voice and come out—
those who have done good
will rise to live,
and those who have done evil
will rise to be condemned."
After the great judgment, this is what happens. (Revelation 20:14–15)
"Then death and Hades were thrown
into the lake of fire.
The lake of fire is the second death.
If anyone's name was not found
written in the book of life,
he was thrown into the lake of fire."
So Hades is a temporary place, a prelude to the eternal lake of fire.
Jesus has the keys of death and Hades. This means that whatever you do in life, you need to have Jesus as your friend. Do you have Jesus as your friend? Have you gone to Him for the forgiveness of your sins? Have you embraced Him as your Lord? Do you follow His commands? In John 15:14 Jesus said,
"You are my friends
if you do what I command."
Don't fool yourself. You are Jesus' friends only if you obey what He says.
Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians, consider carefully Jesus' words here. He says that He has the keys of death and Hades. Death and Hades are used together, what does that teach you?
Well, these terms are used together in four places in Revelation in our text and three other places. In 6:8 it refers to a rider named death and Hades followed close behind him. In 20:13-14 we read that death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them and that then death and Hades were thrown in the lake of fire.
One of the things that these two terms being used together show us is that
death is not the end, that death does not mean annihilation, the end of human existence—that a much more dreadful reality awaits.
Hades is a prison that follows death. It is a place when the ungodly go. There they are conscious, aware, suffering, awaiting the final judgment. It is a horrible place. Go to Jesus. Only He can save you from unbearable misery.