When we talk about the quality of physical life, we often use phrases like “in the prime of life”, “the good life”, “barely alive”, “in the peak of health”. When we answer the question, “How are you?”, we may have responded with words such as “fine”, “OK”, “still kicking”, “so-so”, “could be better”, “could be worse”, “hanging in there”, “not very well”, “fantastic”, “doing well”, and a host of other descriptions. There are many possible and reasonable answers to that question.
When we speak of physical death we sometimes use phrases like “deader than a doornail”, “deader than a doorknob”, “deader than a doormat”, “as dead as can be”. But think about that logically. When you’re dead, you’re dead, right? You can’t get any deader than that! If you’ve ever watched the movie, “The Wizard of Oz”, you may remember that Dorothy’s house fell on the wicked Witch of the East. After the Munchkin coroner examined her body, he gave his professional conclusion very clearly and succinctly.
“As coroner I must aver,
I thoroughly examined her;
And she’s not only merely dead,
She’s really most sincerely dead.”
I think he got the point across very clearly, don’t you? There aren’t degrees of physical death because it’s not a comparative term; it’s a once-and-for-all term, with a few rare exceptions given in the Scriptures. A mortician/embalmer may do such a masterful job of preparing the person’s body for viewing that everyone at the funeral service believes that the dead loved-one is only sleeping. But even a “total makeover” is not going to bring that person back to life.
This passage of Scripture we are studying deals with spiritual life and spiritual death. There is a basis for comparison here. A spiritually lost sinner is as spiritually lifeless and helpless as a dead person is physically. He cannot save himself and he cannot give himself spiritual life. In this passage of Scripture, the Lord Jesus is telling His listeners that He not only has the power to give physical life, but He also has the greater power to give spiritual life with all its benefits, and to remove spiritual death with all its consequences.
I. SPIRITUAL REGENERATING (verse 24)
Verse 24 begins with the words, “Truly, truly, I say to you.” Jesus is once again telling them that He is speaking from personal knowledge and experience, therefore what He has to say is true. To put it into our manner of speaking, Jesus is saying something like “Pay close attention to what I am about to tell you.” “It is very important information.” He continues by saying, “he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” This verse of Scripture has a lot to say to us.
The phrase “He who hears My word” is often misunderstood. In this case, as well as in many other New Testament scripture passages, the word “hear” conveys the idea of listening, being receptive, and responding in obedience. There were many who heard Jesus speak, in the sense that they were in “earshot” of Him and heard the words He said. There have been many over the centuries since that time who have “heard” the gospel message with their ears, but with no concern or response. It was “in one ear and out the other” so to speak. When correcting a child, a parent might sometimes use the words, “Do you hear me?”. Does the parent mean, “Did you hear the words I pronounced to you”? No! When I’ve heard those words spoken, the parent meant, “Are you going to do what I just told you or are you going to face the consequences!
There are some Old Testament scriptures that may give us a better perspective on this phrase, “He who hears my words”. You will find that I often go to the Old Testament to seek a basis for the words of the Lord Jesus Christ: how He said them, where He said them, to whom He said them, and why He said them. There is a reason why I spend a great deal of time seeking answers to those questions in the Old Testament scriptures. I am personally convinced that the Lord Jesus is often tying His words to the words God spoke to His people through the prophets. He is thus reminding them that this isn’t the first time that similar words have been spoken to them, He’s also implying that He is the “Prophet who is to come” – the Messiah. I think we miss much of what Jesus is saying to His people if we fail to make that connection.
In this case, when the Lord Jesus says, “He who hears My words”, scripture passages galore should have come to the minds of His listeners. Jesus is in Jerusalem, speaking to the leaders of His people, the Jews. Do the words, “Hear the Word of the Lord” sound familiar to you? If they do, imagine how familiar and convicting they would have sounded to the Jewish leaders standing before Him. Moses, the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, and Micah, used those words when prophesying to the people of Israel and Judah, and usually those words were an indication of an impending judgment by God upon His people.
Here in verse 24, however, we have participles instead of verbs in the Greek text. The beginning of the verse is literally saying, “The one hearing My word and believing the One having sent Me”, and the result is positive rather than negative. It’s as if the Lord Jesus is showing them a contrast between those words of impending judgment, spoken by the prophets to their ancestors, and the words of pardon and eternal life that He is about to offer them.
Jesus refers to His Father as “the One who sent Me“. He used that phrase several times while He was on this earth. Does that sound impersonal to you – to refer to His Father in that way? It did to me at first, but after doing some research, I think I understand why Jesus uses those words at times when referring to His Father. Whom did God “send” in the Old Testament scriptures? He sent Moses to lead the people of Israel and be His spokesman. He sent the prophets to declare His words to His people and speak of things to come. He also sent “the Angel of the Lord” to protect and defend His people. Earlier in his Gospel, the apostle John said, in chapter 3, verse 17, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” The apostle Paul says in Galatians 4:4, “In the fullness of time God sent His Son . . .”. By using the words “Him who sent Me”, Jesus is telling His listeners: “You can’t believe the Sender and not believe the One who was sent.” To put it another way, “You can’t believe in the One who sent His Son without believing in the Son Whom He sent.”
The Lord Jesus is telling His listeners, and each of us, the relationship between hearing and believing. Both knowledge and faith are involved in salvation. The apostle John’s thinking about faith is unique to the New Testament. Faith is based on the testimony of historical witnesses. At that particular point in time, Jesus was giving a testimony about Himself, and that testimony was authenticated by the Father. Eternal life was the result of listening to that testimony and choosing, by God’s enabling, to believe Him by putting their trust in Him as their Messiah, the Son of God, sent by the Father. At that moment eternal life began. The focus of Jesus Christ in verse 24 is on the object of one’s faith. The Lord Jesus has just been telling them that He is equal to the Father in working (verse 19), in knowing (verse 20), in resurrecting (verse 21), in judging (verse 22), in honor (verse 23), and now in regenerating (verse 24). They have received Jesus’ testimony concerning Himself. Now He is inviting a response from them. Only faith in Him as the Son of God and the Father’s Representative results in “eternal life, no judgment, and passing from death to life”. No One else and nothing else can bring those gifts as a result. Only Jesus Christ is equal to the Father in regenerating – giving spiritual life. As Jesus said in John 10:27-28, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me, and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand”. “Following” is the outward evidence of genuine belief.
You and I have saving faith when we understand what the Bible says about Jesus Christ, and when we act upon that truth by putting our trust in Him as our Lord and Savior. When that happens, events occur in heaven and in your lives. It will be a life-changing event, as the Lord Jesus begins to conform us to His image and as we take delight in spending time with Him in His Word and prayer. So the words “eternal life” also refer to a change in the quality of our lives while we are on this earth.
Dr. H.A, Ironside, the famous Bible expositor and pastor of Moody Bible Church in Chicago a generation ago, said that a friend of his preached on a similar passage of Scripture, John 3:36. At the close of the meeting, his friend went down to the church door to greet people as they were leaving. A lady who was troubled about her soul came by the door and the preacher looked at her and said, “Well, how is it with you tonight? How is your soul; have you been born-again? Are you saved?”
She said, “I don’t know, sir. I hope so.”
He said, “Well let me go over that text with you again. It says, he that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life. Do you believe in the Son?”
She said, “Oh yes, I do sir. I believe in Jesus Christ.”
He said, “Well, do you have everlasting life?”
She said, “I hope so.”
He said, “Well, let’s look at the verse again: he that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life. Do you believe in the Son?”
She said, “Yes I do.”
“Do you have everlasting life?”
“I certainly hope so.”
“Well, read it again”
And so they went through the same thing again, and finally he said to her, “You know, when you were a little girl they spelled very differently from what they did when I was a boy.”
She looked at him and said, “What do you mean; I’m not so much older than you.”
He said, “Well, evidently when you were a girl, H-A-T-H spelled hope. When I was a little boy, H-A-T-H spelled hath.”
She said, “Oh! I see it! He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life!”
It makes you wonder how many truly born-again Christians are still hoping for something that they already have! I say that because, on the night I believed in Jesus Christ, after having the Gospel message presented to me, and all my questions answered, I memorized several verses on assurance of salvation, including John 5:24, before going to bed that night. The concept and the promise were so amazing to me that I needed to go over and over that realization in my mind so that I could remove all doubts and enjoy what was now mine.
The promise of the Lord Jesus in verse 24 not only includes the free gift of eternal life which we do not deserve; it also removes the judgment that our sins really deserve. The believer “does not come into judgment”. A poll conducted for the Times Mirror Company in 1993, revealed that more than four out of every five Americans agree that “we all will be called before God, at judgment day, to answer for our sins.” I was surprised to find that figure to be so high, only because I wasn’t expecting people to be so honest and willing to admit their own accountability to God.
Dr. H.A. Ironside said that one of the first illustrations that ever made a real impression upon his young heart was a simple story which he heard a preacher tell when Harry was less than nine years old. It was of pioneers who were making their way across one of the central states to a distant place that had been opened up for homesteading. They travelled in covered wagons drawn by oxen, and progress was necessarily slow. One day they were terrified to note a long line of smoke in the west, stretching for miles across the prairie, and soon it was evident that the dry grass was burning fiercely and coming toward them rapidly. They had crossed a river one day before but it would be impossible to go back to that before the flames would be upon them. One man only seemed to have understanding as to what could be done. He gave the command to set fire to the grass behind them. Then when the space was burned over, the whole company moved back upon it. As the flames roared on toward them from the west, a little girl cried out in terror. “Are you sure we shall not all be burned up?” The leader replied, “My child, the flames cannot reach us here, for we are standing where the fire has already been!”
What a picture of the believer, who is safe in Christ!
“On Him Almighty vengeance fell,
Which would have sunk a world to hell.
He bore it for a chosen race,
And thus becomes our Hiding Place.”
The fires of God’s judgment burned themselves out on Him, and all who are in Christ are safe forever, for we are standing where the fire has been.(H.A.Ironside, Illustrations of Bible Truth).
Verse 24 ends with the words, “but has passed out of death into life”. The Lord Jesus is saying that those who believe in Him immediately pass from spiritual death and judgment into spiritual life, never to be condemned. The only way this could be possible would be for Jesus to be judged in our place and pay the penalty Himself, which He would accomplish on the cross of Calvary (Philippians 2:5-8). For those of us who have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ, our judgment is now in the past, paid-in-full, and God the Father has signed off the debt. It’s written in blood – the blood of His Son. A change of reservations was made. Your reservation for hell was immediately cancelled and your reservation for heaven was immediately written down in the book compliments of the Owner (your Heavenly Father). You have first-class accommodations awaiting you, and you will be treated like family forever because you’re a child of God!
Looking at verses 24-29, I personally observe five resurrections mentioned by Jesus. In each case, the resurrection came to pass as a result of the words of Jesus. In verse 24, we have already looked at the first resurrection – the spiritual regeneration and resurrection of all who hear Jesus’ words and believe. At the moment of genuine belief in Him as Lord and Savior, one has eternal life, release from the condemnation for one’s sin, has passed from spiritual death to spiritual life, and has a changed life. The second resurrection is given in verse 25. I believe that Jesus is referring to the physical resurrections from the dead that He is going to perform while on this earth. At that point in time the Lord Jesus hadn’t performed any resurrection miracles yet, but they were soon to come. There were three of them recorded in God’s Word, and in each case the resurrections occurred at the voice of Jesus. The third resurrection is given in verse 26, and I believe that Jesus is referring to His own physical resurrection from the dead in fulfillment of His words. The fourth resurrection, in verses 27-29a is the resurrection of life – the call of believers to the judgment seat of Christ. The fifth resurrection, mentioned at the end of verse 29, is the resurrection of unbelievers to judgment and condemnation. In this sermon we are studying the first two resurrections and will save the other three for the next construction project. There is much yet to learn from verse 25.
II. RESURRECTIONS TO PHYSICAL LIFE (verse 25)
In verse 25, the Lord Jesus makes the same oath again, saying “Truly, truly, I say to you”. I take those words to mean that Jesus is about to say something different; that He is attesting to something else that He is going to do. He says, “An hour is coming and now is.” There are things that are going to be happening, and they are just about to happen. What is it that’s about to occur? The Lord Jesus continues, “when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear shall live.” My conclusion is that Jesus is talking about those people whom He is going to physically raise from the dead while He is here on this earth. He has not performed any physical resurrection-miracles yet, but it’s going to start happening very soon.
Before we look at the resurrection-miracles of Jesus, let’s first look at the physical resurrection-miracles in the Old Testament so that we can use them as a basis of comparison. In I Kings 17, the son of the widow at Zarephath dies, and we see Elijah’s response and God’s answer: “Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and called to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord my God, I pray Thee, let this child’s life return to him’. And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child returned to him and he revived.” (I Kings 17:21-22). The restoration to physical life came as an answer to prayer. God was the One Who resurrected the child, not Elijah.
The second resurrection-miracle is found in II Kings 4:32-35. The Shunammite’s son dies and Elisha’s response is similar to that of Elijah. “So he entered and shut the door behind them both, and prayed to the Lord. And he went up and lay on the child . . . and the flesh of the child became warm . . . and the lad sneezed seven times and the lad opened his eyes.” Once again God restored life in answer to prayer.
By contrast, when Jesus raised the dead, He didn’t pray or apply “life-saving techniques”. He spoke or gave the command and the person was instantly restored to life. “Talitha Kum!” (which translated means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” (Mark 5:41). “Young man, I say to you, arise!” (Luke 7:14). “Lazarus, come forth!” (John 11:43). They came back to life as a result of hearing His voice. God alone can do that – give life and restore life by just saying the word! In the account of creation in Genesis we find God saying, “Let there be” , . . “and there was”. Psalm 33:6 says, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host.” The patriarch Job said, “The breath of the Almighty gives me life.” Jesus’ resurrection-miracles, and the way in which they were performed, were irrefutable proof that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. The people who watched those miracles occur could come to no other rational, logical, or Scriptural conclusion! They already believed that God is the Creator, and the only Creator and Controller of the universe. Therefore Jesus Christ must be God.
The Jewish leaders, as well as all of the Jews, revered Elijah because of his amazing miracles, especially the raising of the widow of Zarephath’s son. But as you can see, the Lord Jesus is infinitely greater than Elijah, and Elijah would wholeheartedly agree.
CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:
Jesus claimed the power to raise people from the dead. Did you notice that the dead always responded to the voice of the Lord? What about the living? How did they respond? That’s a different story, isn’t it? Very few of those who heard the words of Jesus and saw His signs, even His resurrection of people from the dead, responded in faith and followed Him. But did that stop Jesus from continuing to declare Who He was, or from explaining God’s plan of salvation? Not at all!
I may have shared a principle with you before, but it bears repeating because I have observed that Jesus followed this principle during His ministry on earth. Here is the principle: “Expose people to as much truth over as long a period of time as they will allow you.” It’s important that we understand the first word in that quote. The rest of the words are evident. The word “expose” means to communicate, not only by our words but also by our lives. People are looking for truth, and most of them not only want to see it in writing and hear it spoken, but also to observe it being lived out in a person’s life. People want truth that will set them free from their hopelessness and emptiness, and bring purpose, meaning, joy, and direction into their lives. If we are truly Christians, indwelt and empowered by the Spirit of God, our lives will be evidenced by a love for God and His Word, a love for people, a hope for the future, and joy in spite of circumstances. Is that a description of you? If so, don’t become discouraged in your witness. Keep growing in your walk with the Lord and faithfully being a witness for Him by word and by life. The Spirit of God is working in the lives of people. Many of those who may be silently watching you and questioning the things you are saying, may later want what you have and be ready to know the Giver of life eternal. Nothing we do in obedience to the Lord is without reward in this life and the next.
If you are not a Christian, are you willing to give more thought and consideration to the One who raised the dead by just saying the words? If Jesus Christ can have such power over physical life, and can give eternal life, imagine what He can do in your life if you put your trust in Him.
CONSTRUCTION SITE: COMPLETED
There are also over 100 completed sermons on this website and it’s always “Open House” here. Please take a look around the block! There are sermons from Philippians, James, Jonah, the Gospel of John, and other seasonal and assorted messages. Thanks for taking a look, and may the Lord bless your time in His Word.