Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
~ John 3:7
And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.
~ John 6:39-40
Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.
~ Isaiah 26:19
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
~ Revelation 20:12
The Coming Resurrection, by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. 1869. The following contains an excerpt from his sermon.
“Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”— John v. 28, 29.
The doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is peculiarly a Christian belief. With natural reason, assisted by some little light lingering in tradition, or borrowed from the Jews, a few philosophers spelled out the immortality of the soul; but that the body should rise again, that there should be another life for this corporeal frame, was a hope which is brought to light by the revelation of Christ Jesus. Men could not have imagined so great a wonder, and they prove their powerlessness to have invented it, by the fact, that still, as at Athens, when they hear of it for the first time, they fall to mocking. “Can these dry bones live?” is still the unbeliever’s sneer. The doctrine of the resurrection is a lamp kindled by the hand which once was pierced. It is indeed in some respects the key-stone of the Christian arch. It is linked in our holy faith with the person of Jesus Christ, and is one of the brightest gems in his crown. What if I call it the signet on his finger, the seal by which he hath proven to a demonstration, that he hath the king’s authority, and hath come forth from God? The doctrine of resurrection ought to be preached much more commonly than it is as vital to the gospel. Listen to the apostle Paul as he describes the gospel which he preached, and by which true believers were saved: “I delivered unto you,” saith he, “first of all that which I received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” From the resurrection of Christ, he argues that of all the dead, and insists upon it, that if Christ be not risen, both their faith and his preaching were vain. The doctrine of the resurrection in the early church was the main battle-axe and weapon of war of the preacher. Wherever the first missionaries went they made this prominent, that there would be a judgment, and that the dead should rise again to be judged by the Man Christ Jesus, according to their gospel. If we would honour Christ Jesus the risen one, we must give prominence to this truth.
Moreover, the doctrine is continually blessed of God to arouse the minds of men. When we fancy that our actions are confined to this present life, we are careless of them, but when we discover that they are far-reaching, and that they cast influences for good or evil athwart an eternal destiny, then we regard them more seriously. What trumpet call can be more startling, what arousing voice can be more awakening than this news to the careless sinner that there is a life hereafter, that men must stand before the judgment-seat of Christ to receive for the things done in their bodies whether they be good or evil? Such doctrine I shall try to preach this morning for just such ends, for the honouring of Christ, for the awakening of the careless. God send us good speed and abundance of the desired results.
We shall first expound the text, and then secondly, endeavour to learn its lessons.
I. First we shall EXPOUND THE TEXT. NO exposition will be more instructive than a verbal one. We will take each word and weigh its meaning.
Observe then, first, in the text there is a forbidding to marvel. “Marvel not at this.” Our Saviour had been speaking of two forms of life-giving which belonged to himself as the Son of man. The first was the power to raise the dead from their graves to a renewed natural life. He proved this on one or two occasions in his lifetime, at the gates of Nain, in the chamber of the daughter of Jairus, and again at the tomb of the almost rotting Lazarus. Jesus had power when he was on earth and has power still, if so he should will it, to speak to those who have departed, and bid them return again to this mortal state and reassume the joys and sorrows and duties of life. “As the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.” After our Lord had dwelt for a moment upon that form of his life-giving prerogative, he passed on to a second display of it, and testified that the time was then present when his voice was heard to the quickening of the spiritually dead. The spiritually dead— the men who are dead to holiness and dead to faith, dead to God and dead to grace; the men that lie enshrouded in the grave clothes of evil habits, rotting in the coffins of their depravity, deep down in the graves of their transgressions- these men, when Jesus speaks in the gospel, are made to live; a spiritual life is given to them, their dead souls are raised out of their long and horrible sleep, and they are enlivened with the life of God. Now, both of these forms of quickening are worthy to be marvelled at. The resurrection of the natural man to natural life is a great wonder; who would not go a thousand miles to see such a thing performed? The raising up of the dead spirit to spiritual life, this is a greater wonder by far. But albeit that these are wonders, and things which it is legitimate to wonder at by way of admiration, yet there is a marvelling of mistrustful unbelief which is insulting to the Lord, and is, therefore, forbidden. Our gentle Master, as if to overwhelm the gainsayers who were astonished at his claims, addressed them to this effect: “You need not marvel at these two claims of mine; I claim another power of quickening, which will much more amaze you There will happen before long an event which to you, at any rate, will, be more marvellous still than anything which you have seen me do, or which I claim to perform. There will come a time when all the dead that are in their graves, multitudes upon multitudes in the valleys of death, shall all at once, at my voice, start up to life, and stand before my judgment throne.” To you, dear brethren in the faith, the quickening of the dead is not so great a marvel as the saving of dead souls; and, indeed, the raising of a corpse from the grave is by no means so great a marvel as the raising up of a dead soul from the sleep of sin. For in the raising up of a dead body there is no opposition to the fiat of Omnipotence. God speaketh, and it is done; but in the saving of a dead soul, the elements of death within are potent, and these resist the life-giving power of grace, so that regeneration is a victory as well as a creation, a complicated miracle, a glorious display both of grace and power. Nevertheless, to the few, and to all who are still ruled by the carnal mind, to the mere outward eye, the resurrection of the body seems a greater marvel for several reasons. Comparatively few in our Saviour’s day were quickened spiritually, but the resurrection shall consist of the quickening of all the dead bodies of men that have ever existed. Great marvel this, if you consider the hosts of the sons of Adam who have fattened the soil and glutted the worms, and yet shall everyone of them rise again. Souls were quickened in our Saviour’s day as in ours, one by one— here one and there one. Long years roll on , the whole history of manhood interposes before the regeneration of all the elect is accomplished ; but the resurrection of the dead will take place at once; at the sound of the archangel’s trump the righteous will rise to their glory; and after them the ungodly will rise to their shame; but the resurrection will not be a gradual uprising, a slow development, for all at once the myriads shall swarm on land and sea. Conceive then what a marvel this must be to a mere natural mind! A graveyard suddenly enlivened into an assembly; a battle-field, whereon tens of thousands had fallen suddenly, disgorging all its slain. The suddenness of it would amaze and startle the most carnal mind, and make the miracle appear great beyond comparison. Moreover, my brethren, the resurrection of the dead is a thing that such men as the Jews could appreciate, because it had to do with materialism, had to do with bodies. There was something to be seen, to be touched, to be handled, something which the unspiritual call a matter of fact. To you and to me the spiritual resurrection, if we be spiritual men, is the greater marvel, but to them the resurrection seemed to be the more wonderful because they could comprehend it, and form some notion of it in their unspiritual minds. So the Saviour tells them that if the two former things made them wonder, and made them doubt, what would this doctrine do, that all the dead should be raised again in a moment by the voice of Christ? Beloved, let us humbly learn one lesson from this. We are ourselves by nature very like the Jews; we wonder mistrustfully, we unbelievingly wonder when we see or hear of fresh displays of the greatness of our Lord Jesus Christ. So narrow are our hearts, that we cannot receive his glory in its fulness. Ah, we love him, and we trust him , and we believe him to be the fairest, and the greatest, and the best, and the mightiest, but if we had a fuller view of what he can do, the probabilities are that our amazement would be mingled with no small portion of doubt. As yet we have but slender ideas of our Lord’s glory and power. We hold the doctrine of his deity, we are orthodox enough, but we have not thoroughly realised the fact that he is Lord God Almighty. Does not it sometimes seem to you to be impossible that such-and-such a grievously ungodly man could be converted? But why impossible with him who can raise the dead? Does it not seem impossible that you could ever be supported through your present trouble? But how impossible with him who shall make the dry bones live, and cause the sepulchre to disgorge? It appears improbable at times that your corruptions should ever be cleansed away, and that you should be perfect and without spot. But why so? He who is able to present tens of thousands of bodies before his throne, who long have slept in the sepulchre, and mouldered into dust, what can he not accomplish within his people? O doubt no more, and let not even the greatest wonders of his love, his grace, his power, or his glory, cause you to marvel unbelievingly, but rather say as each new prodigy of his divine power rises before you, “I expected this of such a one as he is. I gathered that he could achieve this, for I understood that he was able to subdue all things to himself. I knew that he fashioned the worlds, and built the heavens, and guided the stars, and that by him all things consist, I am not therefore astounded though I behold the greatest marvels of his power.” The first words of the text, then, urge us to faith, and rebuke all unbelieving amazement.
To the second sentence I now call your attention. The coming hour. “The hour cometh” saith Christ. I suppose he calls it an hour, to intimate how very near it is in his esteem, since we do not begin to look at the exact hour of an event when it is extremely remote. An event which will not occur for hundreds of years is at first looked for and noted by the year, and only when we are reasonably near it do men talk of the day of the month, and we are coming very near it when we look for the precise hour. Christ intimates to us, that whether we think so or not, in God’s thought the day of resurrection is very near; and though it may be a thousand years off even now, yet still to God it is but one day, and he would have us endeavour to think God’s thought about it, not reckon any time to be long, since if it be time at all it must be short, and will be so regarded by us when it is past, and the day has arrived. This is practical wisdom, to bring close up to us that which is inevitable, and to act towards it as though it were but to-morrow morning when the trump should sound, and we should be judged.
“The hour is coming,” saith the Saviour. He here teaches us the certainty of that judgment. There are some events which may or may not be; emperors may live or die, their sons may ascend their throne, or their throne may be broken into dust and scattered to the winds of heaven; dynasties may stand or they may wither like autumn leaves; the greatest events which we suppose to be inevitable may never occur; another wheel, which has not yet been seen by us in the great machinery of Providence, may make events revolve in quite another fashion from what our puny wisdom would foretell; but the hour of resurrection is certain, whatever else may be contingent or doubtful. The hour cometh; it assuredly cometh. In the divine decree this is the day for which all other days were made; and if it were possible that any determination of the Almighty could be changed, yet this never shall be, for “he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” “The hour cometh.” Reflect, my brethren, that most solemn hour cometh every moment. Every second brings it nearer. While you have been sitting still in this house, you have been borne onwards towards that great event. As the pendulum of yonder clock continues unceasingly to beat like the heart of time, as morning dawn gives place to evening shade, and the seasons follow in constant cycle, we are drifted along the river of time nearer to the ocean of eternity. Borne as on the wings of some mighty angel who never pauses in his matchless flight, I onward journey towards the judgment bar of God. My brethren, by that selfsame flight are you also hurried on. Look to the resurrection, then, as a thing that ever cometh, silently drawing nearer and nearer hour by hour. Such contemplations will be of the utmost service to you.
Our Lord’s words read as if the one hour of which he spake completely drove into the shade all other events; as if the hour, the one hour, the last hour, THE hour par excellence, the master hour, the royal hour, was of all hours the only hour that was coming that was worth mentioning as being inevitable and important. Like Aaron’s rod, the judgment hour swallows up every other hour. We hear of hours that have been big with the fate of nations, hours in which the welfare of millions trembled in the balances, hours in which for peace or war the die must be cast, hours that have been called crises of history; and we are apt to think that frequently periods such as this occur in the world’s history: but here is the culminating crisis of all, here is the iron hour of severity, the golden hour of truth, the clear sapphire hour of manifestations. In that august hour there shall be proclamation made of the impartial decisions of the Lord Christ with regard to all the souls and bodies of men. Oh, what an hour is this which cometh on apace! My dear brethren, now and then I covet the tongue of the eloquent, and now I do so that I might on such a theme as this fire your imaginations and inflame your hearts; but let me pray you assist me now for a moment, and since this hour cometh, try to think it very very near. Suppose it should come now while we are here assembled; suppose that even now the dead should rise, that in an instant this assembly should be melted into the infinitely greater one, and that no eye should be fixed upon the forgotten preacher, but all fixed upon the great descending Judge, sitting in majesty upon his great white throne, I pray you bethink yourselves as though the curtain were uplifted, at this moment; anticipate the sentence which will come forth to you from the throne of righteousness, consider as though at this precise moment it were pronounced upon you! Oh now, pray you examine yourselves as though the testing days were come, for such an examination will be to your souls’ benefit if you be saved, and they may be to your souls’ arousing if you be unconverted.
But we must pass on. “Marvel not at this: the hour is coming when all that are in the graves.” Notice this very carefully, “all that are in the graves” by which term is meant, not only all whose bodies are actually in the grave at this time, but all who ever were buried even though they may have been disinterred, and their bones may have mingled with the elements, been scattered by the winds, dissolved in the waves, or merged into vegetable forms. All who have lived and died shall certainly rise again. All! Compute then the numberless number! Count ye now the countless! How many lived before the deluge? It has been believed, and I think accurately, that the inhabitants of this world, were more numerous at the time of the deluge than they probably are now, owing to the enormous length of human life; men’s numbers were not so terribly thinned by death as they are now. Think if you will from the times of the deluge onward, of all Adam’s progeny. From Tarshish to Sinim men covered the lands. Nineveh, Babylon, Chaldea, Persia, Greece, Rome, these were vast empires of men. The Parthians, Scythians, and Tartar hordes, who shall reckon up? As for those northern swarms of Goths and Huns and Vandals, these were continually streaming as from a teeming hive, in the middle ages, and Frank and Saxon and Celt multiplied in their measure. Yet these nations were but types of a numerous band of nations even more multitudinous. Think of Ethiopia and the whole continent of Africa; remember India and Japan, and the land of the setting sun; in all lands great tribes of men have come and have gone to rest in their sepulchres. What millions upon millions must lie buried in China and Burmah! What innumerable hosts are slumbering in the land of the pyramids and the mummy pits! Every one, both great and small, embalmed of old in Egypt, who shall compute the number? Hear ye then and believe— out of all who have ever lived of woman born, not one shall be left in the tomb; all, all shall rise. I may well say as the psalmist did of another matter, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.” How hath God marked all these bodies, how hath he tracked the form of each corporeal frame? How shall Jesus Christ be able to raise all these? I know not, but he shall do it, for so he declareth and so hath God purposed. “All that are in their graves shall hear his voice.” All the righteous, all the wicked, all that were engulfed in the sea, all that slumber on the lap of earth; all the great ones, all the multitudes of the sons of toil; all the wise and all the foolish, all the beloved and all the despised: there shall not be one single individual omitted. My dear friend, it may be best for you to look at the question in a more personal light, you will not be forgotten; your separated spirit shall have its appointed place, and that body which once contained it shall have its watcher to guard it, till by the power of God it shall be restored to your spirit again, at the sounding of the last trump. You, my hearer, shall rise again. As surely as you sit here this morning, you shall stand before the once crucified Son of Man. It is not possible that you should be forgotten; you shall not be permitted to rot away into annihilation, to be left in the darkness of obscurity; you must, you shall rise, each and every one without a solitary exception. It is a wondrous truth, and yet we may not marvel at it so as to doubt it, though we may marvel at it and admire the Lord who shall bring it to pass.