February 06, 2019 | Articles by Rev. David Bodanza
A five-year-old boy asked his grandmother a question in church last Sunday. I was amazed at its depth. The little boy had been to a cemetery and knew basically what it was about. He was also taught about heaven and how God's people go there when they die. He asked how a person can go to heaven when their body is buried in a cemetery. Now that is a fair question. A question even adults would ask but either have no one to ask or are too afraid to ask it. That five-year-old unknowingly asked an age old question.
At the root of the question is the dichotomy between what you see and what you believe. You may see a body in a grave but believe that the person is in heaven. The recognition by mourners today is prevalent: our loved one "is in a better place now." What happens in the time between one's death and the resurrection? Theologians refer to this as the "intermediate state."
Our souls neither die nor sleep. Death is a temporary cessation of bodily life. At death our souls separate from our physical bodies. Ecclesiastes 12:7 tells us that "the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it." The souls of God's people go immediately into the presence of the Lord God where, as the Westminster Confession of Faith so beautifully explains it, "they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies." Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." (John 11:25-26) The Apostle Paul spoke of having the desire "to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better." (Philippians 1:23) In reflecting upon death, Paul says, "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." (2 Corinthians 5:6-8) To be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord. And Jesus said to the thief who was dying upon the cross beside him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43)
Jesus went to prepare a place for His people. He said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." (John 14:1-3)
Furthermore, the bodies of all those who have died will not remain in the earth or in ashes forever. The word of God clearly teaches us that there will be a resurrection. At the second coming of Christ, the souls of God's people will be reunited with their now imperishable resurrected bodies. The Apostle Paul provides a wonderful and profound explanation. He writes, "But someone may ask, 'How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?' How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body." (1 Corinthians 15:35-38) "The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, 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." (1 Corinthians 15:42-43) In 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18 it stands written, "We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words." The Apostle Paul continues in 1 Corinthians, "Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed -- in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory.' 'Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?'" (1 Corinthians 15:51-55)
The Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is full of mercy and compassion. One day, people were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.' And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them." (Mark 10:13-16)
Some may say seeing is believing. But the Bible says instead that "we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:18) What you can see with your eyes is not all there is.
Country artists Brooks & Dunn express this so eloquently in their song, "Believe." In the song, the singer recalls his friendship with an old man in his neighborhood he refers to as "Old Man Wrigley." The singer learns that Old Man Wrigley's wife and baby have both died, and the singer asks Wrigley how keeps himself from going crazy over their deaths. The old man expresses that he will soon see them in heaven when he passes away because of his faith in God. In the first chorus, the old man confesses his faith:
I raise my hands, bow my head I'm finding more and more truth in the words written in red They tell me that there's more to life than just what I can see
Oh I believe ...
The singer confesses his own faith in God in the bridge of the song:
I can't quote the book The chapter or the verse You can't tell me it all ends In a slow ride in a hearse You know I'm more and more convinced The longer that I live Yeah, this can't be No, this can't be No, this can't be all there is
Thanks be to God, this is not all there is.