Showing posts with label Sheol. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sheol. Show all posts

Friday, April 13, 2012

"Father, Into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit" sermon

What Was Jesus Doing the Three Days He Was Dead?

Luke 23:46:

Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” When He had said this, He breathed His last.

“Father, into Your hands, I commit My spirit.” We usually think, “Oh, that’s a nice sentiment. He’s trusting God to take His spirit to Heaven when He dies,” and when a normal person says that or prays that – “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit” – that’s exactly what they mean.

But that is not what Jesus meant when He prayed this prayer. Jesus was quoting one of the psalms, written by his ancestor, King David. King David was the warrior-king. He was the one who slung a stone and killed the ten-foot-tall Goliath. He’s the one who conquered Jerusalem and made it the capital of Israel. David was always at war, and here’s one of the prayers that He prayed to God:

Psalm 31:

In You, LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in Your righteousness.2 Turn Your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. 3 Since You are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of Your name lead and guide me. 4 Keep me free from the trap that is set for me, for You are my refuge. 5 Into Your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, LORD, my faithful God.”

When David prayed, “Father, into Your hands, I commit my spirit,” he wasn’t praying to be taken to Heaven when he died. He was praying for God’s protection because he knew that only God could save him from his enemies. Now, Jesus is echoing His ancestor because He knows that only God can save Him from the greatest enemy of all – Death!

Death had claimed every single person who ever lived, except for three – Enoch, who God took into Heaven; Elijah, who was taken to Heaven in a chariot of fire; and Moses, who was resurrected and taken to Heaven as soon as he died. No one else had ever gone to Heaven.

If you said, “Heaven,” to a Jewish person in the Old Testament, they would have said, “Oh, yes, that’s the sky, space, the place where God and the angels live, and those other three saints that got to go there.”

If you said, “Hell,” they’d say, “That’s an interesting new word you’ve got there.”

Because, you see, for the Jewish people of the Old Testament, death was the end. They knew that Enoch and Elijah and Moses had gone to Heaven, but they never imagined that their spirits would ever go to Heaven, or to Hell. That’s because their spirits didn’t go to Heaven or Hell. Their spirits went to death. Their spirits stayed inside their bodies, in the grave, in a kind of sleeping hibernation state.

Psalm 6:5:

No one remembers You when he is dead. Who praises You from the grave?

Isaiah 38:18-19:

For the grave cannot praise You, death cannot sing Your praise; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness.  19 The living, the living—they praise You...”

The people were dead and, for all intents and purposes, their spirits were dead too. Their spirits couldn’t leave, they weren’t aware of anything, they were just there, sleeping, waiting.

Waiting for what? Waiting for Christ. Waiting for their Maker to come wake them up!

All humanity was trapped in death. That was the punishment for sin. But then the Creator, the Judge Himself, became a person, put on human flesh in the form of Jesus the Christ, and died, taking our punishment for us.

1 Peter 3:18-20:

"For Christ died for sins once for all, the Righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through Whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison...”

The King, the Creator of Life, descended into death. He woke those souls up, He preached to them, and because it is impossible for God, the Source of Life itself, to remain dead, He rose.

With Him, rose the spirits of all those He had awakened. He had taken the punishment of death for them. They didn’t have to serve out their punishment anymore. When we die, our punishment has already been taken, so our spirits don’t have to stay dead either. They go to the place we’ve decided for them to go, either to Heaven or to Hell.

When Jesus died, He faced humanity’s greatest enemy, death, and He completely broke it forever. It has no hold on our spirits. When Christ returns, He will also raise our bodies. That’s the miracle of the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus defeating the power of death is the miracle of Easter.

When your body dies, your spirit doesn’t. It returns to God. When Christ comes again, He will bring your spirit back from Heaven with Him, He will raise your body new and healthy from the ground, from the ashes, from decay, and He will reunite your body and spirit, making you a whole person once again, who will live forever and ever with Him.

Easter is what broke death. Easter, Jesus’ resurrection, was the first step toward our resurrection when Christ returns. Amen?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What are Ghosts?

Are they really the spirits of once-living people come back to say good-bye or to tend to unfinished business?
There are only two places where the Bible talks about ghosts. The first is 1 Samuel 28:3-20:
Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in his own town of Ramah. Saul had expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land.  The Philistines assembled and came and set up camp at Shunem, while Saul gathered all the Israelites and set up camp at Gilboa. When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart. He inquired of the LORD, but the LORD did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets. Saul then said to his attendants, "Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her."
"There is one in Endor," they said.  So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. "Consult a spirit for me," he said, "and bring up for me the one I name."  
But the woman said to him, "Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?"
Saul swore to her by the LORD, "As surely as the LORD lives, you will not be punished for this."
Then the woman asked, "Whom shall I bring up for you?"
"Bring up Samuel," he said.
When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, "Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!" 
The king said to her, "Don't be afraid. What do you see?"
The woman said, "I see a spirit coming up out of the ground."
"What does he look like?" he asked.
"An old man wearing a robe is coming up," she said.
Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.
Samuel said to Saul, "Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?"
"I am in great distress," Saul said. "The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has turned away from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams. So I have called on you to tell me what to do."
Samuel said, "Why do you consult me, now that the LORD has turned away from you and become your enemy? The LORD has done what he predicted through me. The LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors—to David. Because you did not obey the LORD or carry out His fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the LORD has done this to you today. The LORD will hand over both Israel and you to the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The LORD will also hand over the army of Israel to the Philistines."
Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, filled with fear because of Samuel's words. His strength was gone, for he had eaten nothing all that day and night.”
Is this really the spirit of Samuel coming back from the dead, or is it a trick of the medium? In this case, we have to assume that it really was Samuel being summoned because we are given no indication that the event was inauthentic in any way. The key here is that Samuel had to be summoned. He wasn’t wandering the earth or haunting his old residence.
So where was Samuel being summoned from? He surely wasn’t in Hell and he wasn’t in Heaven yet. Samuel was being summoned from Sheol, or death, the place where all Old Testament persons had to wait until Christ died for them (more discussion on Sheol in the next chapter). And Samuel is only summoned for a brief period of time. He is still bound in death after this and unable to communicate or to leave death without being summoned again.
The second mention of ghosts in the Bible is found in Luke 16:19-31.
“Jesus said, “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.  The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
In this parable, Jesus is clearly portraying Lazarus and Abraham as being in Heaven and the rich man as being in a fiery Hell. Thus, Jesus is projecting the story forward to the time when He has already died and freed Abraham and all other Old Testament persons from Sheol. The story takes place in the time when people’s spirits do not remain in death, but are “carried” directly to Heaven or Hell. And when the rich man begs for Lazarus to return (as a ghost) and to speak to his family, his request is denied. Not because it is impossible, but because it is impractical. The sending of people back from the dead is simply not done in Heaven. It is ineffective in persuading people to repent.
So Samuel was able to be summoned because he was in Sheol at the time. Presumably, anyone could be summoned when they were in Sheol. But could Samuel be summoned after Christ died and Samuel was moved to Heaven? Could Abraham or Lazarus be summoned? I think not. People who are in Heaven or Hell, as in the parable, will not leave those places again until the time of Christ’s second coming and the final resurrection.
So what about ghosts that we see today? If people are carried directly to Heaven or Hell now and they do not return to appear as ghosts to us, what are the ‘ghosts’ that people experience?
I believe that the ghosts we see today are not people at all, but demons disguising themselves as our loved ones and the random dead. The reason they do this is to cast doubt on the reality of Heaven and Hell. If the demons can make us believe that people become ghosts and wander the earth for a time, then it takes away some of the urgency of our eternal fate. It makes it seem like Heaven and Hell aren’t so immediate. We don’t have to worry about it quite as much. We can finish what we were doing on earth first. We can avenge our murderer. We can say good-bye to our families first.
Whereas these are all nice and comforting thoughts, they aren’t the reality. We don’t have any more time after we die. We can’t change our minds or repent or do things differently. We only have one life to do what needs to be done and we only get one life to make our decision for eternity. When we die, that’s it. Time’s up and Heaven and Hell are all that’s left. So we better live like we understand that. Demons appearing as ghosts only seek to distract us from this fact. Any ghost that we see today is a false apparition.

What is Sheol?

We often say that Jesus has defeated death. But what does that mean?

Let’s start with the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11:1-44. Jesus travels to Bethany and is immediately accosted by Martha, the sister of the dead man. “Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever You ask” (John 11:21).

You can almost hear the accusatory tone in Martha’s voice. “You should have been here! If You had been here, Lazarus, my brother. wouldn’t have died!” But then, she softens a bit, still hoping that Jesus will come through for her. “You can still do it, Lord. Won’t You do it? Please?”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Does Jesus mean now or does He mean at the final resurrection? Martha takes it as the latter.

Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

But Jesus meant the former. Jesus said to her, “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. Do you believe this?’"

Well, the question is, do we believe this? The first part is easy enough for us to believe as Christians. Jesus says that whoever believes in Him will live, even though that person has died. And we think immediately of Jesus’ second coming, when He will come down from Heaven and raise everyone who has died back to life. The Christian Church has always believed that Jesus will do this. We call it the Final Resurrection.

But what about this second part? Jesus says, “and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.” Do we believe this? That’s a little bit harder to believe, isn’t it? I mean, how many of you have ever known someone who believed in Jesus, but then, they died? We’ve all known Christians, true Christians, who have died, haven’t we? So, how can Jesus say that if someone believes in Him, they will never die?

Well, to answer that question, we need to go back in time and find out what the word death meant to a Jewish person living in the time that Jesus said this.

To start, I wonder if you can think of a place in the Old Testament where it talks about someone dying and going to Heaven.

There is Enoch, who went to Heaven, and Elijah, who was carried up to Heaven in the chariot of fire, but they didn’t die, right? They were taken to Heaven without dying, so they’re kind of an exception to the rule.

The fact is that there is nowhere in the Old Testament where it talks about someone dying and going to Heaven. Neither is there any place where the Old Testament talks about someone dying and going to Hell. In fact, there’s not a place in the Old Testament where God even says that people can go to Heaven or Hell when they die. Why is that?

The reason is that for the Jewish people of the Old Testament, and for some Jewish people today, Heaven and Hell was not a concept that entered their minds. The people in the Old Testament never even dreamed that there was a Heaven or a Hell to go to. They knew God lived in Heaven, of course, but that was where God and the angels lived, not people, and certainly not regular people like you and me.

For the Jewish people of the Old Testament, death was the end. Their spirits didn’t go to Heaven or Hell.

As David writes in Psalm 6:5, No one remembers You [God] when he is dead. Who praises You from the grave? You see, David isn’t imagining singing in any Heavenly choir when he dies. He knows that he will never again praise God once he has passed on.

Similarly, King Hezekiah in Isaiah 38:10-11, 18-19, writes, In the prime of my life must I go through the gates of death and be robbed of the rest of my years? I said, “I will not again see the LORD, the LORD, in the land of the living; no longer will I look on mankind, or be with those who now dwell in this world.” For the grave cannot praise You, death cannot sing Your praise; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness. The living, the living—they praise You...

The words that have been translated in these verses as “death,” “grave,” and “pit” all come from the Hebrew word, Sheol.

So, we see that the people of the Old Testament had no hope of seeing or being with God when they died. They served God for this life – God rewarded them in this life – and then, they died. That was all they knew.

And they knew why they died. They knew that God had told Adam and Eve that if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would die. They ate anyway and died as a consequence. Everyone after them dies because we are all their descendants and we all have Adam and Eve’s sinful nature deep down inside of us. We’ve all done things that God has told us not to do, just like they did.

But yet, we know that there is something beyond death, don’t we? That’s the difference between us and the people of the Old Testament. They died because of sin and thought that was the end. We die because of sin but know that it is not the end. So, what has changed for us? Why do we have this hope of Heaven when they did not?

Romans 5:12, 15-17 reads,  Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned….the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man's sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

Adam sinned and died as a punishment. We sin and die as a punishment. The difference is that Adam and everyone else in the Old Testament were living before Christ came, and we are living after Christ came. Because Jesus had not yet come in the Old Testament, Adam had to stay dead. That included his spirit. Jesus had not yet died to forgive Adam for his sin, so Adam’s spirit had to stay with his body in the grave. It couldn’t be rewarded by going on to Heaven. It had to stay where it was. But for us, we have been forgiven. Jesus died on the cross, taking the punishment for our sins on Himself. So, when we die, our punishment, our penalty, has already been taken care of. We can’t stay dead because Jesus has already died for us.

It’s kind of like baseball. In the game of baseball, you can’t have two runners on the same base. Either one has to move forward, or the other has to go back. They can’t occupy the same base. It’s the same way with us and Jesus. Jesus has already occupied our place in death, so when we get there, death makes our spirits move on. We can’t stay there. We have to either go to Heaven or to Hell, based on the decision we have made.

So, our souls are free to move past death and go on to Heaven. That’s how Jesus can say that we will never really die. Even though our bodies die, we’re not really dead. Our spirits live on through death and don’t have to stay in death like the spirits of the people of the Old Testament did.

That’s us. But now we have to go back and ask: Well, what happened to the people of the Old Testament who died before Jesus came? Do their spirits ever get to move on past death like ours do? Does Adam ever get to live again?

And the answer to that question is yes. In fact, their spirits have already moved on. Matthew 27:52-53 saysThe tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

Everyone who lived before Christ were stuck in death. Once He died and was resurrected, they were free to move past death. Jesus had come to occupy their place and they had to move on. You see, Jesus’ death wasn’t just for us. He wasn’t defeating death just for us. He was dying for Adam and for Cain and Abel and for Noah and for everyone who had died before He came.

1 Peter 3:18-20a says, For Christ died for sins once for all, the Righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.

Jesus went and preached to the people who were dead, all those people who had died in the Flood. His Spirit spoke to their spirits and told them the good news, told them the message of why He had come, and gave them the opportunity to place their trust in Him for salvation. Jesus preached to the dead so that their spirits could live again.

Jesus told His disciples that He was going to wake Lazarus up, as if Lazarus were only sleeping, even though Jesus knew that Lazarus was dead. But for Jesus, death is only a sleep, isn’t it? He did wake Lazarus up, bringing him back from death, and He did the same thing for the rest of the people who had died by going to them in His Spirit, in their own death, and waking them up with the power of His word and preaching to them.

This idea of the Old Testament people being stuck in death for a time and not being able to go to Heaven as soon as they died may have been another concept that gave rise to the doctrines of Purgatory and Limbo.

But the point is that now everyone is able to escape death. Jesus has defeated death so that it no longer has any power. We don’t have to stay dead. Our loved ones don’t have to stay dead. Adam and the rest of the people of the Old Testament don’t have to stay dead. Our spirits can live on, and one day, when Jesus returns, He will even bring our bodies back to life, and we will never die again.

Sheol was temporary. That place of death was emptied when Christ took our place. Now, we bypass it on our way to Heaven or Hell.