The lord of Saxony Germany, Frederick the Elector, saved Martin Luther from execution. He protected Luther for a year in his castle. In the coming years, Frederick died, grieving Luther. Luther moaned, ‘Death is oh so bitter – not so much to the dying as to the living whom the dead leave behind.’ ( Luther, Metaxas, 340) Many of us have grieved over the death of a loved one. We know the pangs of being left behind. Good Friday and Easter Sunday are just passing in the rear view mirror. Like me, maybe you have reflected on death and resurrection. Let me share a Scriptural text that has consoled me in the wee hours of the night on death and life.
Jesus speaks it to you and me as he did to the onlookers at the Pool of Bethsaida. He just healed a man lame for thirty eight years. He says, ‘Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.’
Jesus introduces his word saying, ‘Very truly’ or, ‘verily, verily’ as in the King James Version. In the New Testament text it is literally, ‘amen’, ‘amen’. A teacher says, ‘Class, y’all listen up’. Perk up your ears. Listen carefully. Trust what I’m going to tell you. It is the truth. Guaranteed. You can ‘take it to the bank’. It will be on the exam.
‘The hour comes’. In fact, ‘the hour is now.’ The tense is ‘progressive present’. The ‘hour’ was present when Jesus spoke. The ‘hour’ is still present - at this very moment. It is a special hour, a rare time. It will not always be here. It is here now. It is the juncture of circumstances that have been ripening to a purpose - n o w. It is five minutes to midnight Christmas Eve. You’ve been preparing for the stroke of midnight for weeks. You have been anticipating it for months. It has now arrived!
What hour is it? The hour ‘when the dead will hear’. Has not the hour for the dead past? Why should the ‘dead’ concern us? Jesus is referring to you and me. Jesus can use the word ‘dead’ for both the biologically and the ‘spiritually’ dead. Here Jesus is speaking of the spiritually dead. It is not applicable to the biologically dead. Have you ever thought of yourself as ‘dead’? Every person either was, or, is, dead. It is the default human state. The apostle Paul tells the Ephesian Christians to remember ‘you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you once walked’. We either were, or, are, dead? Can I own it?
My wife Pam lived in Haiti. Her Haitian friend Vivi knew a Haitian girl the witchdoctors made a ‘zombie’. The witchdoctors made this girl a ‘zombie’ by giving her a potion – a powdered drug. It puts the victim in a paralyzed state, a ‘zombie’ state. Though she was fully conscious, she was buried alive on top of the ground. At night the witchdoctor took her out of the grave. She did not die. But she was not the same. She lived in a disoriented state. She was what the Haitians call a’ zombie’ – the walking dead. You are not a Haitian zombie. But you were or, are, the walking ‘dead’.
The hour comes ‘when the dead will hear.’ Who can speak to the dead? Is it not a contradiction in terms? The dead are dead! Are they not incapable of either having sounds directed at them or receiving them? There is One who speaks to them. He spoke to the possessed woman, Mary Magdalene and to Zacchaeus. What amazes me is He even wants to speak to the dead! Jesus says, ‘I came not to call the righteous but sinners.’
What will the dead hear? ‘The hour is now when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God.’ The dead will hear the Voice of the Son of God. Last summer my recent retirement was haunting me. In the wee hours, retirement felt too much like death. I was meditating on this phrase ‘the dead will hear’. I cried to Jesus as a suppliant in the dark, ‘I want to hear your Voice…speak to me…I want to hear…I want to live’. Hallelujah! He speaks to the dead! What is the effect of his speaking to the dead?
‘The dead will hear …and those who hear will live’. ‘Will live’ is contingent. Living is dependent on listening. The dead will hear with their ears. Sounds will go in. They must listen with their hearts. They must consent to, own, obey, keep, treasure, and actively trust in what is said. Those who hear say, ‘Yes, I will!’
I will never forget Harry R. Truman. This is the other Harry Truman. Harry and his wife operated for forty years the Spirit Lake Mountain Lodge at Mt. Saint Helen’s, Washington. In 1980 the once dormant volcano began volcanic activity. Scientists began to caution an explosion was imminent. Officials warned people to get off the mountain. ‘This is an extremely dangerous place to be’ said a USGS volcanologist. Harry Truman was not going to hear of it. He said, “I don’t have any idea whether it will blow…But I don’t believe it to the point that I’m going to pack up…the mountain ain’t gonna hurt me.’ Law officials were incensed he refused their last warning. The next morning the entire northern flank blew off. Harry was never heard of again.
Jesus’ word to mortals is heartening: ‘those who hear will live’! They will live now, and into eternity. Jesus promises, ‘Anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life’. Be sure of this - you can take it to the bank- those who hear will live! I want to live! I want to live now! I want to live into eternal life! Don’t you?! Repent, and put all your confidence in Jesus’ word. Martin Luther’s 13 year old daughter Magdalena lay dead in her coffin. Luther said, ‘Go ahead and close it! She will rise again on the last day’. After the coffin was carried away, he said, ‘Do not be sorrowful. I have sent a saint to heaven.’
Do not be dead - and deaf!