To Tell the Truth About All Saints
"To Tell the Truth" is a game show where contestants try to ferret out which of the 3 contestants is telling the truth. Two of our text's sentences begin with Jesus most solemn way of saying something is absolute truth: "Truly, Truly I say to you." The NIV translates this as "I tell you the truth." And to tell you the truth about All Saints is what Jesus is doing.
To tell you the truth about all saints, they've already changed addresses. The NIV has "crossed over." Two things. First, one Greek lexicon has "passed over" but says it is more specifically translated "change one's place of residence" (BAG). Two, it's a Greek perfect. They've moved for forever.
You've changed addresses. How many times have you moved back to the exact place you left? I've never. And so it is with all saints, both the living and the dead. Notice the first tell you the truth statement is about "whoever" hears Jesus' Word and believes in the Father who sent Him has (present tense) eternal life and has forever (perfect tense) changed his address from death to life.
All those in Christ, whether they breathe the air of here or heaven live in the realm of angels and archangels. All those who live in the faith of Jesus or die in the faith of Jesus live in Him eternally. Hear Augustine on this: "For the souls of the faithful departed are not divorced from Christ's kingdom, which is the temporal church. We conclude, therefore, that even now, in time, the church reigns with Christ both in its living and departed members" (City of God, 20.9).
Jesus' second "to tell the truth" statement tells you that life is available to all the living who are really dead. "I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live." This is the first resurrection from the walking death of unbelief to living in the faith of Jesus. Yes! Those dead in their sins no matter how long or how many are to hear the Good News that God sent His only Son to take their sins on Him and die their death.
"No one has to die here today," that's what they say in the police dramas where the suspect has a gun to a hostage and the police have their guns on the suspect. He shoots the hostage; they'll shoot him. "No one has to die here today." The Devil has the gun of the Death to our head because of our many sins and the Law gives him the right to shoot. But no one has to die here today because Jesus took the Law away from the Devil and took the bullet of Death in your place. You can walk out of here like all the saints: alive, forgiven, having forever changed your address from death to life.
To tell you the truth, everyone does eventually change their address from this life to the afterlife, but there is more than one afterlife. There's an afterlife that is living and there's an afterlife that is dying, and to tell you the truth all those who have moved to either place will be back. You've done that too. You haven't moved back to a former address but you've gone back to see the old place All, not just saints but unforgiven sinners too, come back to flesh and blood. The time is coming, says Jesus, "when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and come out."
Two things to remember. One as the wife of an early 20th century evangelist said as the coffin of their 12-year-old daughter was lowered into the grave, "'I'm so glad that Elisabeth is with the Lord, and not in that box'" (Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, 349). That which was Elisabeth didn't live there anymore. None of the dead live in their graves. All the souls of the dead are either in heaven or hell. It's only their body that rests there. The word cemetery' is a Christian term first known to be used in the 15th century and it means "sleeping place" or "dormitory." Who's afraid of their bedroom? Who's afraid of their college dorm?
Jesus says that one day He by just His voice will call all the dead out of their graves. Notice the difference? Now His voice in the Gospel goes out to all those dead in their sins, but when God works through means of the humble body of His Son let alone my fallen one, He can be resisted. People can refuse to hear His word calling them away from the death of their sins to life in Christ. They can go on as the walking dead.
Not so on the last day when the glorified Jesus fully uses His divine powers as a Man. No one then will not hear and obey Him. For the Voice that created everything out of nothing, it's a small thing to call something back. For the Voice that sends sins away from a person separating them from body and soul, it's a small thing to call body and soul back together. For the Voice that calls Water lifegiving and so gives life and calls Bread Body and Wine Blood and so gives His Body and Blood, it's a small thing for Him to call dead bodies alive and so they come out of the grave.
We must sense that the dead can be wakened by a voice. 19th century Scottish minister, George MacDonald said, "Beside the dead, men speak in whispers, as if the deepest rest of all could be broken by the sound of a living voice" (Phantastes, 147). Yes, but not the sound of just any living voice, but the voice of the One who said, "For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself." It's easy for the Voice of Life to call dead bodies back to life.
To tell you the truth, all saints have already permanently changed their address. To tell you the truth, at death everyone has a change of address but the grave is not a permanent address for the bodies. All will come out of the grave. And to tell you the truth about all saints there is a glitch. I know you heard it; some of you felt it; some of you winced.
Netflix's has a show titled Glitch. Six people spontaneously rise from the dead one night. They physically crawl out of their grave whole and healthy not in a Zombie state. The Zombie state is not a bad picture for how those outside of Christ will come forth from the grave. The whole, healthy state is how those will rise the second time who have been risen from the dead the first time by the Words of Christ.
The glitch in that series is that people shouldn't be crawling out of their graves after years, decades, or more than a century. But where is the glitch with all saints. Tell the truth, you know. Let me give you a hint. It's in the last verse. Jesus says, "Those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned." That's one big glitch, isn't it? Of which of our loved ones who have permanently changed their address could we say "they have done good" and so will rise to live? Who among us can say we have not done evil and so won't rise to be condemned?
There are some subtle differences between the two groups that don't come out in English. For one it's not the same word for "done." The word done' in done good' is one and done. It's like in music. Once you've done the piece nothing remains to be done. Done as in done evil' is a different word. It refers to something that is restless, ever on the move. Think of some sharks that can't stop swimming or they drown.
Of course, the words good and evil are different, but Jesus uses very specific words for each. Good' signifies that which is morally honorable and pleasing to God Himself (Vine). But evil' is not the word for malignant evil but worthlessness, good for nothing. So those who are called forth from their graves into life aren't goody-two-shoes, aren't good enough. They have done the good absolutely. And those who rise into judgment aren't all that evil. They are just worthless, useless. So, the glitch continues. What it takes to get you to heaven is far more than you think, and what it takes to get you into hell is far less than you think.
There's an obvious difference in destinations. Some rise literally "into resurrection of life." Wait a minute? I've heard that before. Jesus says those who hear and believe His Word have life same word right now. In fact, now anyone who is dead and hears the voice of God through the lips of a Man will live same Word. Very few people have had the experience except in dreams of thinking something has killed them and realizing they're alive! That's you, says Jesus. You came in here confessing to be dead in your sins and God for the sake of Jesus' perfect life and guilty death gave you life in Jesus' name. You're not the walking dead! You're alive! And you've had a permanent change of address from death to life.
But there's more. Jesus says you can't be rising to be condemned, because earlier He said those who hear and believe His Word "will not be condemned" same word. But it's not will not be condemned' in the future but it's present tense. Literally, it's "into condemnation not comes." There's no future about it. You're not walking about in life in Jesus' name now only to be called forth after death to a judgment you moved away from in life. Only those rise to judgment who have not had a permanent change of address from death to life in this life. They're like a petulant child who insists he can do it himself. And so you let him, till he despairs, and then you rush in to do it for him. That's those in Christ. They've despaired of doing it themselves and take comfort that Jesus did it once and for all in their place by His living, dying, and rising.
In that show "Glitch" people come out of their graves spitting dirt. MacDonald wrote about that too telling the truth about All Saints. He pictures them in a heaven "of restored friendships; of revived embraces, of love which said it had never died; of faces that had vanished long ago, yet said with smiling lips that they knew nothing of the grave" (Ibid. 127). To tell the truth, no saint comes out of the grave tasting dirt. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
All Saints' Sunday (20161106); John 5: 24-29