From Death To Life


Sermon By Terry Siverd / April 04, 2021 / Cortland  Church of Christ

After being away from you for over 100 days and traveling thousands of miles, it is so good to be home!  We very much enjoyed our time away (spent mostly with family), but as Dorothy declared in The Wizard Of Oz, “there's no place like home”.  I want to assure you that your absence from our lives has only served to make our hearts grow fonder for you all!!     I want to publicly express my gratitude to Vic Rossi and Rob Espinosa for their wonderful preaching while I was away.  I knew they would do well, but these faithful brothers surpassed my highest expectations.

The year 2020 was a difficult one.  And the first three months of 2021 have been perhaps even more so.  

<> On January 12th, I received the news that Marvin Jacobs passed away.  I had been communicating with Jake and I knew that his days on earth were numbered.  He was 89 and his cancer had returned and spread, although he suffered with very little pain.  His son and daughter requested that I speak at his funeral.  He passed away in Waco, TX and then his remains were taken to Albuquerque, NM, for a second and final memorial serive.  He was buried at the National Cemetery in Santa Fe, NM.  After traveling 2,400 miles to Yuma, Jeannie & I (and Betina & Bo) traveled another 1,800 miles round trip to Albuquerque/Rio Rancho where I was honored to deliver Jake's eulogy on January 28th.   Marvin was a beloved mentor to me throughout my formative teen years and well beyond and I loved him dearly.

<> On January 19th, I lost one of my favorite uncles, Jim Lawlor, of Warsaw, IN.  He was the husband to my father's middle sister - - my aunt Dolly - - a very good and godly man.  Sadly, being so far out west and being committed to Jake's funeral, we were not able to attend his funeral.

<> Shortly after my uncle Jim passed, I received word that my long-time friend, Larry Wheeler, was ill.  I have known Java since I was 10 years old.  He and my father were the “best men” in our wedding.  In mid-December (on the Saturday before we left for Yuma) Jeannie & I dined together with Larry & Gale.  Larry seemed so jolly and so very much alive.  I spoke with him on the phone on January 18th - - he had been diagnosed with COVID, but seemed to be bearing up fairly well.  I spoke to him a week later on January 27th, while en route to Jake's funeral - - this time his words were of great concern.  While traveling back from Albuquerque, we spoke with Gale and she informed us that Larry had to be taken to the ER and that his condition was quite serious.  On February 3rd, one week later, my heart was broken to learn that Larry Wheeler had passed away (he was only 69).

Like our household, many of you have stories to tell of loved ones lost or afflicted during the last year or so.

This morning, I want to challenge you with an Easter sermon that may be unlike anything you've ever heard.  I believe it to be quite Biblical, but it may stretch your thinking in a number of areas.

Upon returning from our extended stay out west we visited with Jeannie & Mark's brother Tim in Ocean Springs, MS.  From there we traveled to Bellingrath Gardens in Theodore, AL, where we made a brief stop and then we journeyed via Hwy 98 hugging the the Gulf Coast through Mobile, Daphne, Fairhope & Foley, and onward into the Florida panhandle and subsequently on to Aunt Barb's in Atlanta.  In Pensacola, we had determined that we wanted to visit briefly with a few relatives.  We ended up doing a Facetime call with my aunt Verna, who is 96.  For the most part she was fixated on talking eschatology - - the second coming … the judgment … and the resurrection.  Some of her questions/accusations have contributed to my desire to share this morning's sermon.

This past Monday I scurried to the BMV to renew my driver's license.  For fear of being boxed out or hemmed in, we left in mid-December (using two-weeks of unused vacation time).  In our hurry to get going, I had a lapse in my type-A mentality.  My license was due for renewal on my 12/26/20 birthday.  (As it turned out, I drove over 14,000 miles through 14 states with an expired driver's license).  In gathering the data I needed for the new enhanced license (needed to fly) I was looking for my social security card.    The whole process was discombobulating and Gestapo-like.  Stay outside till we come get you! … My W2 was handwritten … Was my hair gray/white? ... Why did my old license data not mesh with my passport? … Being irritated, I pondered debating the Male/Female option (transgenderism), but I could hear Jeannie's voice telling me, “Don't go there!”  I'm rambling a bit ('m rusty), but I am headed for my sermon.  In searching for my SS card, I stumbled upon an old bulletin (1981) article, When Should A Preacher Leave?  “It's time to leave when the deacons present you with a gift certificate redeemable at the local U-Haul.”  This led me to remember - - Before I left for sabbatical I had expressed publicly that one of my high hopes was that before I retired our church building debt could be fully eradicated - - that we as a church could be debt-free.  In my first conversation with our dedicated church treasurer Roseann Kennedy excitedly told me (in essence) that we've got one more payment to make on the building.  I chuckled to myself, wondering if this was a “sign”.

- - - - - - -

Long ago a fellow preacher student at Harding U. postulated that he could accept many of the views of those who adhered to a realized eschatology or fulfilled prophecy point of view, but he could not explain Ezekiel's Valley Of Dry Bones.  For him, Ezk.37 was a non-starter, blocking him from getting onboard with the preterist's perspective.

Ezk. 36 is filled with predictive omens entailing dire consequences due to Israel's unfaithfulness.  Things look ugly for Israel - - one might even say, “hopeless”.  cf. Ezk.37:11b - - Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished.  We are completely cut off.  But God intervenes in Ezk.36:22 declaring,     It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My Holy Name...  Jehovah God then promises a wayward Israel (Ezk.36:26) - - I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you... 

Read from Ezekiel 37:1-14

Scholars seem split as to what to do with Ezekiel's Valley-of-dry-bones prophetic oracle.  Some argue that it is a colorful description of Israel's return from Babylonian captivity.  Others see it as something much bigger to which I readily agree.  Note how this sounds very much like Paul in Romans 11.  For many, like my college cohort, Ezk.37 is all about the general resurrection of the dead at the end of time.  Let me inject here, the Bible speaks often about the time of the end, but never once of the end of time.  Let me add - - There is a world of difference between these two concepts:  THE END OF TIME VS THE TIME OF THE END.  In some religious circles this recent pandemic has fueled speculations about the end of time.  These speculations are fed by what we might refer to as “newspaper theology” - - a faulty hermeneutic which takes current events and attempts to foist them upon the pages of the sacred writings.  I urge you not to do that.   The Scriptures are ancient words and they must be carefully interpreted in their historical context.

The passage that I like to use to illustrate this point is 1Pet.4:7.  This is what the text plainly declares:  THE END OF ALL THINGS IS AT HAND...  When we encounter this passage (and a host of others like it), honesty requires that we ask a few questions.  What did Peter mean when he stated, The end of all things is AT HAND?   We all know that little phrase “at hand” means near or soon to take place.  Check your dicitonary.  All of our brethren readily acknowledge this when it comes to passages like Mt.3:1-2 - - Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'    Most everyone I know understands that John was heralding the soon-coming ministry of Jesus.  However, if we accept Peter's at-hand exhortation in the same way we read John's at-hand admonition, we must ask, What then did Peter mean when he announced, THE at hand?  How can one not wonder if Peter was mistaken in what he said?  Many have concluded that he was indeed mistaken.  Our defense of Peter's declaration is further compounded by his emphatic language.  He doesn't just say An at hand, he affirms THE END and he adds a phrase that drives us to conclude that he views this END as being an especially significant end - - The end OF ALL THINGS.  Some of you might be thinking silently - - Terry's back and his sermon is making my head spin once again.  Your head might well be spinning but it is not because I'm spinning the Scriptures.  While recently discussing some eschatological matters, someone accused me of “gathering feathers”.  I think what they were meaning to say is that to support my view I was “reaching”.  Listen to me here very carefully.  If your head is spinning it may be that you are not listening as well as you should be.  Here again is what the inspired apostle Peter declared:  The end of all things is at hand.  Remember, Peter was one of Jesus' twelve apostles - - he was taught by JESUS Himself (Reread Mt.23-25).  Added to that, Jesus promised His apostles that He would send the Holy Spirit who would teach (them) all things and bring to (their) remembrance all that (He) had said to them (Jn.14:26).  Concerning the very important work of the Holy Spirit, Jesus also said to the twelve apostles (minus Judas):  He will guide you in all truth...and He will disclose to you things to come (Jn.17:13).  Believing that Peter was taught by Jesus and guided by the Holy Spirit forces us to hear his declaration in a different light.  THE END OF ALL THINGS IS AT HAND.  If, by saying, the end of all things was at hand, Peter meant the end of life on planet earth, then he was mistaken/wrong.  Two-thousand years have passed and planet earth continues to keep on ticking.  But, what if Peter was talking about the end of the Old Testament covenant?  What if Peter's eschatology was focused on the changing of the covenantal worlds (the OT yielding to the NT) or, ancient Israel giving way to the church of the living God, concerning which Paul says in Eph.3:20 - - to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever (world without end/KJV).  I might add that you ought also note 1Pet.4:5 / they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.  This is part of the “all things” context about which Peter contended the end was at hand.  So I say to all who have been engaging in multiplying your anxieties during this past pandemic,  “Stop worrying about “the end of all things” because it has already happened!”   If you are interpreting the Scriptures correctly you will realize that “the end of all things” about which Peter wrote, is in our rear-view mirror - - it is behind us.  I know some of you might be asking, But, didn't the Old Covenant end with the cross?  In the days to come I will address that question in another sermon.  In closing, I want you to highlight one more really important text - - this one from Jesus (Lk.21:20-22).  It concerns the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, which included the destruction of the temple of Israel.  But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is at hand ...because these are the days of vengeance, in order that ALL THINGS which are written might be fulfilled.  Last Thursday, I originally posted (on our website) the title of this sermon:  The Ramifications Of Christ's Resurrection.  One assignment I want to give you for next week, when I take up that sermon topic, is to read Mt.27:52-53. 

Dear Heavenly Father,  Thank You for the gift of Your Son:  His life, death, burial and resurrection.  Father, we are forever grateful that through Jesus you provided for us a new and living way - - not just,a heavenly realm in the hereafter but also a radically new life in the kingdom of heaven in the here and now.  Through Christ we pray.  Amen.


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