Apostles' Creed: I Believe in the Life Everlasting

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on May 23, 2003

John 3:1-16

John 3:1-16
I believe in the Life
Everlasting

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with
me to John, chapter three. We’ve come to our final lesson in our study of the
Apostles’ Creed, and we will look at the final clause, “I believe in the life
everlasting.” We want to look at what the Bible calls eternal life and ask
ourselves, what do we mean when we confess with the Creed, “I believe in the
everlasting life, or in life everlasting? What does the Bible teach about
eternal life?”

We will consider a number of passages, many of them
in John’s writings, and some in Paul’s writings. But first, turn with me to John
3 and the story of Nicodemus’ visit to Jesus. You have to read between the
lines, but you can tell that Nicodemus respects Jesus, longs to understand what
He is teaching more clearly, and seems to be confused about what Jesus is
teaching about the new birth, what it means to have new life in Him, to be
confused about what Jesus is teaching about the Kingdom of God and about eternal
life. So Nicodemus comes at night for fear of the rest of the Sanhedrin and
what they would have thought had they known that this great teacher of Israel
was consorting with this out of the way, peripheral, unordained rabbi, who was
causing such a stir in Israel. So, let’s give attention to God’s word here in
chapter three:

Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a
ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we
know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs
that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly,
truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of
God.” time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly,
truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter
into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that
which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You
must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of
it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone
who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not
understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know
and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. If I told
you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you
heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from
heaven: the Son of Man. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even
so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have
eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

Amen. Thus ends this reading of God’s holy inspired and
inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts. Let’s pray.

Our Lord and our God, as we study Your word, open our
eyes to behold wonderful truth in it, especially this day. Show us, by Your
Spirit, what it is to confess to believe in the life everlasting. Show us what
Jesus means when He speaks of eternal life and how He brings that about, this we
pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Nicodemus was confused about the new life that Jesus
was offering. He was confused about Jesus’ teaching regarding new life, new
birth, and eternal life. He came to Jesus wanting some clarification because of
his confusion. And many today are confused about the Christian teaching of
eternal life. Some view the Christian teaching of eternal life to be a case of
‘pie in the sky bye and bye.’ These poor Christians, they can’t quite cope with
life, and so they’ve come up with this belief that helps them cope with the hard
things of this life. They run into hard things in life and they say, “Well,
that Ok, the Lord will give us a life of glory to come.” It’s a coping
mechanism, it’s ‘pie in the sky bye and bye.’

I quoted last week from that very significant
twentieth century systematic theologian, Billy Joel, and I’m going to do so
today. I mentioned the lullaby that he wrote for his daughter when she asked
him, “Daddy, what happens when we die?” That lullaby is called, River of
Dreams.
Here’s his answer to the issue of the afterlife.

In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep
From the mountains of faith
To a river so deep
I must be looking for something
Something sacred I lost
But the river is wide
And it’s too hard to cross

And even though I know the river is wide
I walk down every evening and I stand on the shore
And try to cross to the opposite side
So I can finally find out what I’ve been looking for

In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep
Through the valley of fear
To a river so deep
And I’ve been searching for something
Taken out of my soul
Something I would never lose
Something somebody stole

I don’t know why I go walking at night
But now I’m tired and I don’t want to walk anymore
I hope it doesn’t take the rest of my life
Until I find what it is that I’ve been looking for

In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep
Through the jungle of doubt
To a river so deep
I know I’m searching for something
Something so undefined
That it can only be seen
By the eyes of the blind
In the middle of the night

I’m not sure about a life after this
God knows I’ve never been a spiritual man
Baptized by the fire, I wade into the river
That runs to the promised land

In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep
Though the desert of truth
To the river so deep
We all end in the ocean
We all start in the streams
We’re all carried along
By the river of dreams
In the middle of the night

Don’t ask me to explain all of that. I have no
idea. It would take a long conversation with Mr. Joel to sort that out, but
what is clear is, he views the afterlife as a dream. That metaphor is
pictured throughout the poem. It’s a wish, it’s a dream, but it’s not reality.
The reason he can’t get across that river is because it’s not reality. He
wishes it were true. He wishes he could believe it, he says. It’s just not
true. It’s a dream. A lot of people view the Christian teaching of eternal
life like that. It’s just a dream, it’s a dream that people make up. Part of
their wish fulfillment. Now, we will see that John’s view of eternal life 2,000
years ago, is already built and designed to refute that kind of view.

Secondly, there are some that view this hope of
eternal life as ephemeral, it’s hopeless, and again, we’re going to see as we
look at John and Paul that eternal life is far from escapism. The doctrine of
eternal life, in contrast, is built upon an utter realism, not only about this
life, but about our experience of Jesus in this life. So we should see several
things as we study this doctrine of eternal life. First of all, eternal life is
now. Second, that eternal life is saving relationship with Jesus. Thirdly,
that eternal life is forever, and finally, how it is that one gets eternal
life.

I. Believers have eternal life now in Christ.
Please turn to I John
5:12. In John, eternal life is not ‘pie in the sky bye and bye.’ It’s not even
something that will only be experienced in the future, though it will be
experienced in the future. It is not something consigned to after the coming of
Christ, though it will be experienced after the coming of Christ. For John,
eternal life is something that begins in the now. Eternal life is now in
Christ, and John asserts that believers have eternal life now in Christ. “he who
has the Son, has the life.” The tense of the verbs, “He who has the Son, has
the life.” Not, “He who has the Son will have the life,” or “He who believes in
the Son now will have eternal life later,” but “He who believes the Son has
eternal life now.” John loves the picture, the word picture of eternal life,
and he uses it 50 or so times in his writings. John begins, in I John 1:2, just
as he began the gospel, speaking of life and eternal life, so he begins this
little letter. “What was from the beginning, what we heard, what we have seen
with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands concerning the
word of life, and the life was manifested and we have seen and testify and
proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to
us.” Back in I John 5:11 and 13, the testimony is this, “That God has given us
eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life, and
he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have
written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know
that you have eternal life.” John in very interested in speaking about this
eternal life, and we see this also in the gospel, John 1:4.

What
does John say? “And the word (Jesus) was made flesh and dwelt among us. In Him
was life and the life was the light of men.” In John 3:16, which we ready
earlier, he speaks of believing in Christ and having eternal life. The theme
verse of John is in 20:31, where John says that he has chosen to write the
things that he has chosen to write in the gospel, why? “That you may believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life
in His name.” So, eternal life is a standing concern for the gospel of John,
and the background to John’s teaching about eternal life is very important and
it’s found in the Old Testament, naturally.

Now you may say, “Yes, but the Old Testament doesn’t
have much about the after life in it.” Well, you need to go back and read your
Old Testament again. Especially as you get to the end of the Old Testament,
chronologically, and especially as you read the prophets, the latter prophets
speaking frequently about life in the age to come. A gathering and deepening
conviction occurs over the pages of the Old testament, that they who fellowship
with God in this life will experience that fellowship forever. And the Old
Testament speaks of it. God will come in judgment. He will bring in the age to
come. And we will fellowship with God, we will know God, we will relate to God,
we will have life again in that age to come.

In the background of that teaching you find verses
such as Daniel 12:2, where Daniel speaks of the future resurrection of the dead,
“Some will be raised to everlasting life.” The Greek phrase that he uses to
speak of everlasting life is probably the verse from which John and the other
New Testament writers draw their phrase, eternal life.

So John’s teaching on the eternal life is squarely
based in the Old Testament, but note several very distinct differences. In the
Judaism of Jesus’ and John’s day, there are two very significant things said
about eternal life. One says that eternal life does not begin until the final
day of the Lord. It is only when the future judgment comes that eternal life
begins. The second is that eternal life is found in keeping the Torah, in
keeping the Law. That’s where you find eternal life. There are rabbis saying,
“The Torah is great because it gives to those who practice it life in the age to
come.”

And what did John say? First of all, John said that
eternal life does not start later, but it starts now in Jesus Christ, when you
believe on Jesus Christ, the age to come breaks in to your experience, and you
begin to experience now the eternal life to come. Secondly, John says, “No, you
don’t find eternal life by practicing the Torah. You find eternal life in Jesus
Christ, alone.” So, against that backdrop of Jewish teaching John sets forth
Jesus’ person and work in terms of Jesus’ fulfilling these Old Testament hopes
and predictions regarding eternal life. Eternal life is in Jesus. When you
trust in Christ, the life of the age to come breaks in on you now. We’ve
actually sung about this. Open your hymnal to hymn number 700, the third
stanza. “The men of grace have found glory begun below, celestial fruits on
earthly ground from faith and hope may grow. The hill of Zion yields a thousand
sacred sweets, before we reach the heavenly fields or walk the golden streets.”
What’s the point? The life of the age to come has already broken in on those
who believe in Jesus Christ. We are already experiencing some of the glory, not
all of the glory to be sure, but some of the glories of the age to come.
Eternal life is now, not just pie in the sky bye and bye. The believer is
saying, There is a tangible difference in my life now. It’s not subjective, but
it’s objective. Not just something that I feel or perceive, but it’s a reality
that’s been brought into being in my experience through Jesus Christ.” Eternal
life is now.

II. Believers
value relationship with Jesus above all else.
Relationship with Jesus is the source of eternal life, in fact,
it’s the essence of eternal life. At some point in your life, someone in a
religion class will tell you that James, Paul and John view the Christian
religion differently. They will attempt to set them at odds with each other.
John doesn’t talk about justification; he talks about eternal life. Well, see
what Paul says in Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ.” Do you hear
the echo of I John 5:12, “He who has the Son has the life.” To live is Christ.
And because of that, to die is gain. John and Paul are saying the same thing.
Believers value relationship with Jesus above everything else. Eternal life is
more than endless existence. There will be endless existence in hell, and then
none of us will have the temerity to call that eternal life. The book of
Revelation calls it everlasting death

Eternal life is more than endless existence. It is
entering into the joy of Jesus, being with Jesus is the essence of heaven. It
is what the life everlasting is all about. That’s what Samuel Rutherford is
speaking of in the hymn we sing so often, The Sands of Time are Sinking.
He’s saying, “I’m not going to be looking at the robes I’m going to be clothed
in in glory. I’m going to be looking at Jesus. I’m not going to be looking at
the crown that He’s giving me. I’m going to be looking at Jesus. He’s the One
who is the glory of Emmanuel’s land. He’s the One that I want to be with.
There’s even a verse of that hymn that’s not in our hymnal, in fact, there are
about 15 verses of that hymn that are not in our hymnal, you’ll be glad to know,
and I’ll share one of them with you. “I shall sleep sound in Jesus, Rutherford
says, “filled with His likeness rise, to love and to adore Him, to see Him with
these eyes, between me and the resurrection, but paradise doth stand. Then,
then for glory, dwelling in Emmanuel’s land. The bride eyes not her garment,
but her dear bridegroom’s face. I will not gaze at glory but on my King of
Grace. Not at the crown He gifteth, but on His pierced hand. The Lamb is all
the glory, of Emmanuel’s land.”

First and foremost, the believer looks to see and
love Jesus, our Savior, Master and friend. That’s the essence of what it is to
be a believer. To desire Christ above all else, to desire to be with Him.
There may be a hundred people that we desire to be with in glory, and that is
perfectly appropriate, but there is no one that the believer more wants to be
with than Jesus Christ. Guthrie says, “Less would not satisfy, more is not
desired.” To be with Jesus, to be in saving relationship with Him, is of the
essence of eternal life. For the true believer, you see, Jesus is not just a
means to an end, He’s not your transport mechanism out of this world, He’s not
just the way that you get to live everlastingly, but He’s the reason you want to
live everlastingly, He’s the One you want to fellowship with everlastingly, He
is everlasting life.

III.
Eternal life is forever.
It is also true, and we want to boldly assert, that eternal
life is indeed forever. Eternal life is now, eternal life is in Jesus Christ,
but also, eternal life is forever. Believers look for the experience of life in
Christ to go and on and increase forever. In I Thessalonians 4:18, Paul says
that he’s saying this so that you can comfort one another. He knew that there
were believers in the church who had lost loved ones, and he wants to give them
a word of comfort, and so he’s explaining to them how both believers who have
passed on and believers who are alive when Jesus comes back will both be raised
into the air to meet Christ and dwell with Him forever. And he says in verse
17, “Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in
clouds to meet the Lord in the air and so we shall always be with the Lord.”

So if you didn’t get the fact that eternal life is
forever, from just the phrase, eternal life, you get it from Paul, “we will
always be with the Lord.” This is not a temporary thing. This is not a long
time. This is always with the Lord. But John also teaches that in John 12:25,
“He who loves his life (this life we’re in now), loses it; and he who hates his
life, will keep it to life eternal.”

Now, he’s not saying that those of you who are most
miserable will have eternal life, so work hard to be the most miserable person
in the room. That’s not what he’s saying. This is the one who values eternal
fellowship with Christ above everything else in the world, he who hates his
life, will keep it to life eternal. There’s John making an assertion of the
ongoingness of eternal life, as opposed to the not ongoingness of our temporal
life here. But John is even more explicit in John 11:25, in the middle of the
story of Lazarus, and Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life, he who
believes in Me will live even if he dies. And everyone who lives and believes
in Me will never die.” Eternal life is forever. It’s ongoing. And believers
look forward to it, not because we experience no joy here; we do, not because we
have no taste of God’s final glory here, but precisely because we do. Believers
find joy here from knowing God. That’s why you meet believers whose lives are
falling apart and yet, they know God and you see the joy of Christ in
their hearts and eyes. We find joy here from knowing people–sometimes. We find
joy here from knowing God’s people–sometimes.

We know exactly what that dear old lady from the
island of Louis meant when she said to Donald MacLeod
going out of church one day, “Oh, Professor MacLeod,
the older I grow the more I love the Lord’s people and the less I trust them.”
We know exactly what she meant. You know we do taste the future glory of things
to come through God’s people sometimes. There’s sometimes when God is so real to
us through His people that we could reach out and touch Him. And we find joy
here from enjoying the good gifts of life, and from doing God-glorifying things.
This will go on and be increased forever in eternal life.

You see, the Christian’s longing for eternal life is
not escapism. In fact, the Christian can’t escape the longing for eternal life
because God says in Ecclesiastes 3:11 that He implanted eternity in all of our
hearts. None of us can not think about eternal life; we are built to
think about eternal life. And so the Christian is not escaping from
reality; he is escaping to reality. And the Christian in every good thing
and every hard thing in this life is moved to long for eternal life. You see,
it’s not escapism; it’s realism. We live in a fallen world. We live in a world
where we know things aren’t right. They’re not the way they are supposed to be,
and it makes us long to be with God. You know, you’ve had those experiences
where there may be something and it goes so well that you say, “Lord, I just
don’t want this to stop.” But it always does. What does that experience do? It
leads you to long for the place where it will never stop. Or, it may be the
experience of, “Lord, I didn’t want this to start.” It leads you to say, “Lord,
take me from this place, the place where this will never happen.” In Christ,
believers live happily ever after. Herman Witsius, the Dutch theologian of the
17th century says, “The life everlasting is a most blessed state of
the whole man in which he rejoices in the immediate presence, contemplation, and
glorious enjoyment of God in heaven, and is thus conformed to Him as far as
possible in soul and body without the least interruption or diminution of his
happiness through all eternity. Eternal life is forever and in it we shall
worship and work and think and communicate and enjoy activity and beauty and
people and God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

IV. Only those
who put their trust in Christ have and will have eternal life.
But how do you get it? Eternal life is now; eternal
life is relationship with Jesus Christ; eternal life is forever; but how do you
get it? Well, turn back to John 3. I know you’ve memorized it and you know it by
heart. But look at verses 15 and 16. Eternal life is by faith; it’s only by
faith. It is by faith alone. Only those who trust in Christ have and will have
eternal life. There’s no salvation apart from Jesus Christ. Paul didn’t make
that teaching up. Peter didn’t make that teaching up. No other author of the New
Testament made that teaching up; Jesus asserted that. That is a Jesus claim.
Remember what Jesus says? “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes
to the Father but by Me.” Jesus said that. Paul didn’t say that; Peter didn’t
say that. Jesus said that. “No one comes to the Father but by Me.”

Have you seen any of the Phil Donahue interviews and
Shmuley Boteach and Al Mohler sitting there arguing about this? And the Jewish
rabbi is very offended by Al Mohler’s assertion that Jesus is the only way–it
angers him. And he says, “You’re going to ruin Jesus’ reputation talking that
way.” That’s an interesting discussion. Jesus said it! We’re just repeating what
Jesus said. There’s nothing mean about that.

Understand that people who view that as “hate” speech
don’t understand the intent of the speech. I’m not saying that Jesus is the only
way because I want to hurt people. I’m saying that Jesus is the only way because
I don’t want people to hurt! If the building is burning down and you say, “Get
out of here; it’s burning down.” There’s no hate speech in that. Now somebody
may want to argue with you about whether it’s burning down or not–that’s a good
discussion. But it is not hate speech to tell somebody that there is a future
end for every human being; it is either one of everlasting bliss or condemnation
and only in Jesus can you find everlasting bliss and brother and sister, I want
you to experience that. What’s hateful about that? It’s not arrogant either,
because we didn’t think it up. We’re just saying what Jesus said. Who are we to
think up something better than Jesus? We’re just saying what Jesus said. And so,
what does He say? “Whoever believes (John 3:15) will, in Him, have eternal life.
God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes
in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

Believing on Jesus is the only way to
everlasting life and peace. And because we believe in the life everlasting, and
because we believe in Jesus, we expect, with all the saints, to see the King of
glory passing by. Let’s pray.

Our Lord and our God, by Your mercy and grace, enable
us to believe unto everlasting life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

******************************

A Guide to
the Morning Service

The Worship of God
What is worship? Well, the Psalmist tells us succinctly. It is giving
unto the Lord the glory due His name (Psalm 29:1-2). Where do we find the
substance of and our direction for our worship? The Bible. Thus, at First
Presbyterian Church, our motto for worship is: “Sing the Bible, Pray the Bible,
Read the Bible, Preach the Bible.” So we strive to be sure that all that we sing
is scriptural, that our prayers are saturated with scripture, that much of the
word of God is read in each public service, and that the preaching here is based
on the Bible.

The Sermon
Today, we come to the close of our 18-week study of the Apostles’
Creed. For hundreds of years this Creed has served as an instrument for
instructing Christians in the basics of biblical faith. Our study of this
ancient confession of Christian belief has been designed to: (1) Anchor the
specific assertions of the Creed in text of the Scriptures
– to show clearly
that the Bible teaches these truths. (2) Address contemporary deterrents to
belief
– to respond to the cultural forces currently arrayed against
historic Christian teaching. (3) Affirm Christian confidence in biblical
truth
– to encourage Christians to whole-heartedly embrace the teachings of
Scripture despite modern skepticism. (4) Arrest Christian defection from the
biblical truth
– to respond to false teaching that often goes under the name
“Christian.” (5) Apply the truth to specific issues in the Christian life
– to show how good theology serves to lead to the good life. You can, by the
way, listen to today’s sermon and many others right on your computer! You may
even want to send one to a friend. You can do this in a number of different
ways, for instance, by visiting the First Presbyterian media site at http://resources.christianity.com/fpcjackson/
or by clicking on the Life Audio link on the library page of the church’s web
site at www.fpcjackson.org. If you have any difficulty, please email Jonathan
Stuckert at [email protected]

The Psalm and Hymns
Come, We That Love the Lord

We open our worship this morning by exhorting one another in song to worship.
Every line of this hymn is precious, but the following grips us every time we
sing it: “The men of grace have found, Glory begun below. Celestial fruits on
earthly ground, From faith and hope may grow. The hill of Zion yields A thousand
sacred sweets Before we reach the heav’nly fields, Or walk the golden streets.
Then let our songs abound, And every tear be dry; We’re marching through
Immanuel’s ground, To fairer worlds on high.” Today, we’ll be contemplating
those “fairer worlds on high.”

My Hope Is in the Lord
A modern hymn set to a simple and singable tune. The lyrics consecutively lay
out the practical implications of justification by grace through faith alone in
Christ alone. The final line of the chorus reminds us that “everlasting life and
light he freely gives.” That truth ties in well with our study of the final line
of the Apostles’ Creed.

The Lord’s My Shepherd, I’ll
Not Want (Psalm 23)

“And in God’s house, forevermore, my dwelling place shall be.” No thought could
be more comforting to a believer in the midst of the vicissitudes of life. In
this great scriptural song of praise, we acknowledge God’s everlasting tender
shepherding and watch care over us. This great psalm is one of the two best
known and loved of the old Scottish metrical psalms. We sing it today to the
familiar “Crimond.”

For All the Saints
We just had to end our series on the Apostles’ Creed with this hymn of
ultimate hope and longing. I can’t make my way through it without choking up –
too many precious memories. But it sets our heads and hearts in the right
direction, looking for “The saints triumphant [to] rise in bright array;” and
“The King of glory [to pass along] His way” and for that great day when “From
earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast, Through gates of pearl [will
stream] in the countless host, singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost: Alleluia,
Alleluia!”

This guide to worship is written by the minister and provided to the
congregation and our visitors in order (1) to assist them in their worship by
explaining why we do what we do in worship and (2) to provide them background on
the various elements of the service.

© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.

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