A sermon on John 3:16 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 14 June 2020
Cryonics is the practice of freezing the body of a dead person so that it can be thawed out centuries from now when medical science will have advanced far enough to revive them and to cure them of whatever they died of. Some people have their whole body frozen. Some people have just their head frozen. It’s an expensive procedure that can cost about $150,000 and still faces overwhelming technological problems.
But it is still tempting for those who can afford it in order to purchase for themselves some kind of eternal life.
That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Living forever. I mean, of all the things that make us different from each other, the one thing we share in common is our mortality. As surely as we were born, as surely as we live and breathe, so shall we die. Life was God’s good gift.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.
But death is God’s judgment upon our sin. Adam and Eve turned against God, the source of their life. They reached out for the forbidden fruit, the knowledge that only God may have, and death now rules as a rebel prince over God’s domain.
By the sweat of your brow you will eat our food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.
And as soon as that thought crystallizes in someone’s brain, “I will die,” so they try to wriggle free of death’s clutches. No one wants to die. We all want to live forever. We just reach out for different ways.
The kings and queens of Egypt, for example, put their faith in mummification. After death, their bodies were bathed in preservatives and placed in lavish tombs, surrounded by their treasures. Others have searched for the elixir of life or for the Holy Grail, a drink from which is meant to give everlasting life. Some hope to achieve some kind of immortality in their achievements. Those landmarks and monuments we leave behind that prove that our lives once passed this way. Others hope to live on in the memories of their loved ones. Others ask to be buried with a packet of smokes in the pocket or with chewing gum or a racing form guide as if they are going to wake up and want them.
All these many and various attempts at cheating death ignore the simple fact that life without God, life without his blessing, life without knowing and loving and serving him, is just mere existence. Like birthday cake without the icing. Like steak without gravy and chips. Like popcorn without melted butter. Life without God is life with everything that makes it good and worthwhile sucked out of it. Instead, life, true life, life that is worth living forever, is God’s gift through his Son Jesus Christ. For death may be his judgment on our sin, but
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.
This everlasting life that we confess in the last line of the Apostles’ Creed is a gift from God. And if I know anything about gifts, it is these three certain things. A gift cannot be bought. A gift doesn’t come free. And a gift must be received.
Everlasting life, God’s gift of eternal life, cannot be bought. So those people spending thousands of dollars on freezing themselves, what are they buying? They think they are buying a chance for eternal life. They are simply purchasing everlasting death. Who in the future is going to care enough about a bunch of frozen dead people to thaw them out and cure them? The people in the future will be too busy curing cancer and feeding the world and saving the whales and stopping global warming or the next ice age, whichever comes first. They will have too much to think about worrying about the living, to spare one single thought for the dead, for those who already had their chance at life. What possible use will it be to bring them back to life? What will they be able to contribute to a civilization whose future technology they will not understand? Will they come back to life to produce great works of art or to discover new wonders of science or to invent some new time saving device? If they didn’t do that in their first life, who would give them a second chance? God gives us one free pass in his world and a lifetime supply of oxygen to be the best that we can be, to use it in the service of others. If you squander this one chance you have, who would bother giving you another?
Real life, eternal life, a life worth living forever can’t be bought from a refrigeration company. It is a gift. It is a gift of love. A gift whose giving springs from God’s heart of mercy. Death lives in this world like the tenant from hell, breaking and ruining everything it touches. But because of his love for his world, God gives life.
But just because it is a gift, doesn’t mean it’s free. Nothing’s free. Someone paid for the seat you’re sitting on. Someone paid for the paper and ink you read. Someone paid for the electricity you see by. Nothing’s free. Even if something is a gift, even if you don’t have to pay for it, someone did.
God’s eternal life comes to you from him as a gift of love. You don’t have to pay for it. You can’t. But someone did. God’s eternal life comes at the cost of the life of the Lord Jesus.
For God so loved the world, he gave his only Son.
He didn’t lend his only Son to get him back when we were finished with him. God gave his Son. God gave his Son to purchase life for us at the expense of his own. For on the cross, Christ suffered anguish that we might know joy. Christ was cut off, that we might be brought in. Christ was treated like an enemy, that we might be welcomed as a friend. Christ surrendered to hell’s worst, that we might attain heaven’s best. Christ was wounded that we might be healed. Christ suffered our shame, that we might inherit his glory. Christ entered into darkness, that we might know the light of his grace. Christ wore a crown of thorns, that we might wear a crown of righteousness. Christ died in our place, so that we might live. Life, true life, life worth living forever, is a gift from God that is free for us, but that comes at Christ’s expense.
And because it is a gift, it must be received. Like any gift, God’s eternal life must be taken with thankfulness and opened with joy and cherished with love from the bottom of our hearts.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him may not perish, but have everlasting life.
That’s the mistake that those who trust in cryonics make. They have not received God’s eternal life in Christ, so they try to buy a way to cheat death. That’s their biggest mistake. They fear the first death. The first death is just an ending of this life. An end to earthly suffering. An end to pain. An end to sorrow. An end to tears. But in Christ the first death can be a glorious beginning as it opens the way to God’s eternal kingdom. We fear death, but the first death is nothing compared to the second death.
In his Revelation, John records his vision of the end. He saw the dead standing before the throne, and books were opened. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name is not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
No one wants to die. But don’t make the mistake of fearing the first death. Fearing the first death is like fearing the school certificate. You just wait until you reach the higher school certificate. Fearing the first death is like fearing the end of that first day of manual labour. Digging holes. Carrying bricks. Baling hay. Mending fences. The blisters on top of blisters. The broken back. The aching shoulders. Yes, the end of the first day is bad enough. But you just wait until the end of the second day. The first death is nothing compared to the horrors of the second death in the lake of fire. Where there is no rest for the wicked. Where they continue to exist in hopelessness and regret, cut off from the blessing of God.
Better yet, fear neither death and receive God’s gift of life through Christ his Son. Jesus is the true elixir of life. Jesus is the true Holy Grail, not some cup hidden away, but Christ himself who stands in front of you saying,
I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will, but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
Do you hear that? Those who trust in Christ will not perish, but have eternal life. Their names are written in the book of life. They will pass through the first death, but the second death will never touch them. Because true life, life worth living is the gift of God. We can’t buy it. It comes free to us. But it comes at the cost of the life of Christ. And it must be received by faith. Taken with thankfulness. Opened with joy. Cherished with love. And so in the end, life may be a gift, but it is also a choice. So make your choice. You can pay your thousands, your hundreds of thousands to the refrigeration company if you want to. You can lie in your box with a packet of smokes in your top pocket or with a pack of cards if you want to. You can even build yourself a pyramid to lie in forever and surround yourself with all your treasures. But I will trust in Christ, because only he has an eternity worth living.