St. Timothy's Church

Heaven: what happens when we die?

Saints Day 2011

Heaven: What happens when we die?

The Rev. W. Terry Sweeney


In the Name of God: + Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Dr. Ken Boa says, "The greatest forces in human civilization are not nuclear weapons or massive armies, but ideas. An idea motivated great political revolutions like the French And American Revolutions of the late 18th century . . . . The ideas we entertain about ourselves and our place in the world shape our decisions in every facet of life from how we spend our money to how we cast our votes."

Ideas are at the root of the jousting match between science and faith which notably began as culture moved out of the Dark Ages into the Renaissance of the 15th-17th centuries and the Age of Reason (The Enlightenment) of 1650–1790.

Erasmus, Kant, Hume, Philosophers such as Spinoza, Locke and Bayle; Isaac Newton and Benjamin Franklin and many others ushered in an age of reason which gave way to Romanticism's emphasis on emotion.

Modern day critics of faith such as Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawkins have attempted
to throw a one-two Cambridge-Oxford punch into the solar plexus of faith. They counter with an attack through ideas that are contrary to the historic Christian faith.

I for one do not think science and faith are exclusive of one another. I would like to believe that their hypothesis and our doctrines can find a common ground: One that supports Gods existence and grand design.

The idea so called Big Bang that created an infinite number of galaxies which may have no end simply demonstrates God's omnipotence (strength).

The order of the universe – the laws that govern time and space and gravity simply demonstrate God's omniscience (intelligence).

Actually the word omniscience comes from two important middle Latin words: "omni" comes from the word "omnis" or ALL and "science" which comes from "scientia" or "knowledge".

The mathematics we use comes from God's knowledge, His intelligent design, His irrefutable laws, which He has designed us to inquire and learn as does chemistry, physics and biology, psychology, physiology, and so on.

Science pursues knowledge; God has designed us in such a way as to be able to progressively grasp such knowledge and use it.

The beauty and wonder of all that we can perceive from the smallest to the largest simply demonstrates God's Omnipresence (proof that He IS)

It is simply an error to say the universe could not have had a first cause that is called God. A God we describe as One who spoke and the universe erupted into being. God who created the laws of the universe.

Science is mostly concerned with WHAT and HOW questions (What happens and How); faith is mostly concerned with WHO questions (first cause answers). Both Science and Faith eventually get to WHY questions even though they may end up with different answers.

If the Age of Reason taught us anything it is that Science is not the elixir to man's questions – science is not the savior we keep looking for – that's God's department.

Faith filled, thinking Christians must not be afraid of science; we must however understand that it is God who created and maintains all we can perceive and come to understand (on some level).

God works in realms that we cannot begin to even think of more less understand.

I say this because we a journeying into a second slice of our topic of Heaven and today we will briefly look at what happens when we die.

One possibility is that we will simply cease to exist; we'll fall headlong into a void of blackness forever.

Another possibility is that "something" awaits us; it's that "something" that we as Christians hope for. 1 Cor. 15:19, "if only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men."

There is a huge body of evidence for the immortality of the soul. Much of it is philosophical with an equally large body of testimony from individuals who have "died" and were later Resuscitated.
Of course the lynchpin testimony comes from scripture and the resurrection of Jesus.

I think we can all appreciate the role of science in helping us live longer and better. Many of us place a huge reliance and belief that we can go to the doctor and he can prescribe a medicine that
heals the problem.

We're often shocked when we hear that the doctor can't help – our life as we know it now will end. Ultimately science cannot stop death.

Faith doesn't stop it either. The most faithful people have and will die.

Albert Einstein was on a train. The conductor was making rounds to collect the tickets. As he entered Doctor Einstein's car he noticed Einstein was on all fours looking under the seats. The conductor asked if he could help. Dr Einstein said NO, he had misplaced his ticket. The conductor insured Dr Einstein that he did not question whether or not Dr Einstein had purchased a ticket. He was sure he had. On his way back the conductor once again noticed Dr Einstein on all fours. The conductor once again reiterated that there was no question as to whether Einstein had purchased a ticket. Dr Einstein stood up and finally in exasperation said, "I know I bought a ticket, I don't
know where I'm going.

God's word clearly tells us where we're going once we die – that is God's design and promises through His revealed Son Jesus of Nazareth.

I understand this can be an uncomfortable subject – it's not my favorite – but on this All Saint's Sunday it is more than appropriate to consider given that every saint we remember today has died a physical death.

The latest statistic from the Federal Government is that 1 out of 1 people die.

Just this past week the church, as she has done for many generations, intentionally remembered the souls of the departed in three consecutive days: all Hallows Eve (Oct 31st), All Saints Day (Nov 1st ) and All Faithful Departed (Nov 2nd).

This morning we have transferred All Saints Day from Tuesday to Today. This is one of the especially appropriate days for baptism and we are blessed to have three maybe more baptisms this

All Saints is also a day to remember that we are part of a communion. Not just any common-union but an eternal one headed by Jesus. We are part of the common-union of saints: people called by the Lord into life giving saving faith.

We are the body of Christ - in the flesh - as well as spiritually through what we know as "the heavenly host". We follow in the heritage of hundreds of thousands who have lived and died before us.

We all have a body, we're all material beings. Humans however are exceptional inasmuch as God breathed into us and gave us a soul - a soul of His own creation and likeness.

Made in God's image with His life giving breath permeating every cell of our being and giving us His life. We were made for Gods pleasure to commune with Him, to know Him intimately and to be known by Him.

Billy Graham wrote, "God cannot die, and as bearers of His image, they (Adam and Eve) were not meant to die either."

Rebellion literally spoiled Gods intention. Through rebellion came sin (the literal desire and ability to freely turn against God and attempt to live without Him or in place of Him). Sin is a universal generational reality. We're all born with it, it's a trait that is passed along from parent to child. It's
in our DNA, it's a genetic trait that's imprinted in us. We don't have to learn how to sin, it comes naturally, even though it's unnatural in terms of Gods design. Our bodies die as a result of sin. So 1 Corinthians 15:26 rightly calls sin the "last enemy".

Since we will all die we might conclude that death really does win after all. We might even feel tempted to think the grave is it, end of story, that's all she wrote.

Mankind has seemingly always believed that when death comes life goes on in another way. Ancient burial grounds have shown time and time again that early mankind fitted the dead in positions and clothing even including food and instruments helpful for the afterlife. Some charge those who take life after death seriously to be ignorant or just dead wrong. (No pun intended.)

Ecc. 3:11 tells us that God "set eternity in the hearts of men". People of faith look in a grave yard and see a temporary storage place, others see the end of the road.

In talking about life after death St Paul asked this question, "where O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting?" He declares that through Jesus Christ death has been swallowed up in victory. 1 Cor. 15:55ff

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead - btw, not unconscious for a few minutes, or even a few hours but dead for three days - is the reason why we all should have no doubts about life after death.

We may have heard stories or even been with people who have seen angels or loved one who have died in the room with them. Such sightings almost always bring about great excitement in the dying
person. They are eager to leave and go to heaven. Death is just the vehicle to get them there.

The soul is separated from the body and at some point, even thousands of years later, the soul and body are reunited to form an immortal man, just as God had intended at the first beginning.

Let's be encouraged by Paul's words in Romans 6:3-4, "or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of God the Father, we too may live a new life."

In faith through embracing Gods word we believe that as Christ died and was raised bodily from the dead, we too will die and one day are raised bodily from the dead.

Jesus taught us this truth, ". . . A time is coming (it could be tomorrow it could be in a thousand years) and now has come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live . . . . 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 condemnation". John 5:25-29

When we die some of us might think we become ghosts (hopefully good ghosts) or some may think we become angels and spend eternity floating around on clouds, playing harps or watching what goes on "down below".

The New Testament isn't too concerned with such details. Piecing a time line together we either live in an in-between state or we live in the grave unaware of anything till the resurrection of the dead.

There was a Dennis the Menace cartoon that showed Mrs. Wilson giving Dennis a cookie. Margaret is looking on a bit disgusted. The captions said, "Mrs. Wilson is giving you some cookies because she's nice, not because you are!"

My training and reading of the scripture leads me to this conclusion: god is gracious and merciful to us; He is nice to us when we're not always nice to Him.

When we die our body is buried and our souls go to be with the Lord in what we often refer to as heaven; when Christ returns to earth and ushers in His Kingdom, the new heaven and the new earth, there is a general resurrection of the dead followed by the final judgment where some are cast into the abyss of Hell others are to live eternally with the Lord.

What we experience at the moment of death is universal inasmuch as the physical part of us ceases to function. Our senses cease to work, we cannot move our muscles; we cannot talk or breathe. We stop working.

At some point our souls leave us and return to God our creator.

Our bodies are either cremated or buried (I would always prefer bodily burial over cremation)

In many funerals the passage from John is read which in part says, "there are many rooms in my Father's house, I go to prepare one for you.". Jesus said to one of the thieves on the cross - today you will be with me in paradise.

From these verses we often conclude that paradise or the Father's House is the final resting place. The word for dwelling place is monai which means a temporary dwelling - it's like an overnight stop at a hotel/motel when traveling. . . . It's not the final destination but a place to rest before going on.

We almost always understand Heaven to mean a permanent place. The word translated "paradise" is most often used to represent a blissful garden - again a stop- over - but not the final destination.

Passages such as Revelation 20:12-15 and 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 are clear that upon the Lords return there is a great ingathering of those who have died in Christ. Conversely there is a great shaking off of the wicked.

When we die it appears that our souls inhabit an in-between place, a blissful place, a place of rest. How time is measured in such a place is unknown. Days and weeks and years may be very different. Time may not even matter.

One thing among many that is absolutely clear is that when He appears, we will appear with Jesus in glory. Col. 3:4

What happens to us when we die?

Our earthly bodies will have broken down and stopped working.

We are buried but God will not abandon us in the grave.

Our souls will begin to experience a closeness to Christ that is unlike anything we've experienced before.

We will enter into the fullness of His presence and will see Him face to face but not as a stranger.

Let us pray.


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