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Commemoration of Faithful Departed Sermon – John 5:24-29

November 24, 2014

November 2, 2014 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

“An hour is coming….” That phrase spoken by the LORD in the Scriptures calls people to attention, to focus their hearts and minds on what He says and promises. It is a statement meant to conjure up anticipation among those who hear it. The LORD foretells the arrival of a time that is accompanied by great acts that He will perform.

You heard about that time in the Scripture Readings for this day when the Church commemorates the believers whose earthly lives have come to an end. For them, their days in this world that the LORD created have drawn to a close. There was no further hour in the glass, no next day on the calendar. In our customs, we mark their graves, chiseling a date of birth and a date of death. Their allotted time has concluded.

As that reality of death is put in front of us, the LORD speaks of an hour that is coming, of another day that will arise. But this is not bonus turn of the hourglass or a 13th month on the calendar. No, the LORD speaks about a different moment, a time when something great will take place. Jesus declares: “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of the judgment.” Peter foretells: “The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” Isaiah prophesies: “Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”

These divine statements reveal an hour, a day, a time when judgment will take place, when all that is present now will pass away, and when resurrection will be given. This is no ordinary moment! No, it is an instant that no person has ever seen, an event that is unlike any other in the world’s history. The LORD foretells the fulfillment of all that He has accomplished to bring redemption to the earth. Verdicts are rendered. All the vestiges of imperfection are consumed. The results of the creation’s rebellion against its Maker are reversed. Life is granted where death once ruled supreme.

That is the great message of Gospel proclaimed by the Church which has received these statements from the LORD about what He is going to do. The LORD’s people are not immune from the afflictions that He will remove. No, we are familiar with the matters which Isaiah addresses: blindness, deafness, lameness, the inability to speak. This is what we deal with in this hour, this day. Many individuals personally experience such maladies and afflictions. Others know all too well the costs and efforts needed to offer medical treatment that will never completely remedy them. Humanity is also under assault by the creation that it was once meant to dominate: the drought and ravenous beasts which Isaiah mentions are still threats today.

Isaiah’s list outlines many difficulties that humanity faces. But there is the greater problem that Jesus’ words make known. Perhaps eyes can be made to see, ears made to hear, limbs made to work, tongues made to talk, if the medical profession and scientists are given enough time. But Jesus speaks about death and those who dwell in the grave. That is a fate that no one can prevent. It befalls even those who have perfect vision, hearing, dexterity, and speech. But the promise is made: “Truly, truly, I say to you, an 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.” Jesus’ statement discloses an overcoming of what has no human cure.

But Jesus does not leave the matter there. He not only speaks about overcoming death, He also shows what makes it possible: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” There is the key to understanding what that day foretold by the LORD is all about. Jesus’ words indicate that He has been sent with the power and authority to bestow life. He connects Himself to the divine promises that had been made beginning at the Fall and extending through humanity’s history. He is the One that had been foretold to the man and woman who had brought death into the world through their disobedience. All who had followed in their footsteps, receiving the same curse, are addressed by Jesus’ words. He extends that promise not only to two particular individuals, but to all humanity who will hear His message and believe in the Father who sent Him.

That category of people what this day in the Church’s Calendar commemorates. The title of the day puts it plainly: The Commemoration of the Faithful Departed. These are all the individuals who had heard Jesus’ words and believed the Father who sent Him. They believed what Jesus had said about His identity, that He was in the world to bring salvation to it. They believed what Jesus had said about His mission, that He was giving His life as a ransom for many. They believed what Jesus had said about the outcome of His work, that He was offering individuals abundant and eternal life. They believed what Jesus had said about His ability to do this: “For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son also to have life in Himself. And He has given Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man.”

The situation that Jesus will reverse is well known. Trips to tombs have been made as long as mankind has walked the earth. Each time, there is the closing of the tomb: the stone rolled in front of the cave, the dirt that fills the grave, the mausoleum door that is shut, the vault that is sealed. What Jesus promises you cannot achieve for yourselves or obtain from anyone else. You or someone else can open the tombs. But no matter how hard you try, the dead will not come out alive.

But that is the outcome that Jesus promises. It is meant for all who have heard His word and believed in the Father who sent Him. It is granted to those who have anticipated their God coming and saving them from death. His words had brought them conversion and regeneration, the rising to spiritual life. And the promise goes further: His words will also bring them resurrection and restoration, the rising to physical life. For those who have believed Jesus, this now becomes their great anticipated hope.

“An hour is coming….” As you have heard that phrase, you are meant to anticipate the same great benefit. The same faith held by those who have departed this life as believers in Jesus is shared by you. You also have heard Jesus’ words. You have heard the testimony that He has given about His identity and His work. You have heard the promises that are based in His death and resurrection for your sake. And so you anticipate receiving the benefit. Jesus’ statement is spoken and you believe it: “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” That is what you look forward to receiving along with all the faithful departed.

So when will that hour arrive? When will that day be? That is a matter which Jesus has not addressed, which the LORD has not disclosed in His Scriptures. There is no set date on our calendar when this tomb-opening word will be uttered from Jesus’ mouth. But it is a moment that will arrive. It is to be anticipated. That is why Peter wrote to fellow believers who were looking forward to seeing the resurrection of the dead: “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some out slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

The promised day will arrive. Until it comes, there is opportunity to hear Jesus’ words and believe in the Father who sent Him. For any who have been a bit lax in doing so, now is the time to be attentive to Jesus’ teaching. Be revived again: “An 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.” For all faithful hearers, now is the time to put Jesus’ teaching into daily practice, as Peter exhorts: “But according to His promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by Him without spot or blemish, and at peace.” For those whose allotted hours on earth draw to an end, now is the time to have hearts and minds squarely focused on receiving the benefit that Jesus promises: “He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

Jesus declares that the tombs will open and the dead will rise. And what will they receive? Hear again the LORD’s promise spoken through Isaiah: “And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” So it shall be for those who hear Jesus’ words and believe in Him who sent Him—even you.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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