Presented on The Lutheran Hour on November 7, 2010
By Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker of The Lutheran Hour
(Q&A Topic:Asleep or Awake?)
Copyright 2023 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Revelation 7:16-17
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Because of Christ's sacrifice, because of His death and glorious 3rd-day resurrection from the dead, all who believe on Him as Savior are forgiven and are being directed to the magnificent terminal of "heaven." Today, by God's grace, may you who mourn be comforted and may all who believe look forward to an eternal reunion with your Savior and all who have believed. God grant such a vision and reunion to us all. Amen.
Normally, when I sit down to write a message for The Lutheran Hour, I have no idea where the Holy Spirit will take it and who is listening. Speaking in a studio as I do, the Lord gives me little insight as to just who is on the other side of the speakers. I suspect, although I cannot prove it, on any given Sunday the Lutheran Hour is sharing the Savior with an audience composed of the most educated theologians, the most hardened criminals in our prisons, and a four-year-old who is being kept in bed with a temperature. Technology has allowed me to speak of Jesus' sacrifice to a soldier far away from home, a family snowed in at home, and a golden-ager who is spending his first weekend in a nursing home. It has given me opportunity to address a frightened family sitting in a hospital emergency room, a fisherman sitting in his boat, and a college student sitting in his dorm cramming for a final. Each week I have been allowed to take the Christ to a truck driver headed across country and the ambulance driver who is making a one-mile emergency run.
Truly, speaking on The Lutheran Hour is never seeing your audience, and not knowing who's listening, who's fallen asleep, and who's about to turn you off and move on to another station. Which is why, for 80 years, every Lutheran Hour speaker has been thoroughly convinced that the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit alone can use that message to accomplish His purposes.
For me, it has meant the Lord uses these weekly ½-hour broadcasts to extend a call to repentance and salvation to those who are hearing the Gospel for the very first time and those who are hearing it for the very last time. By God's grace I have been allowed to go up to total and faceless strangers and say, 'Hello, I'd like to introduce you to Jesus. Let me tell you about Him and how your life is incomplete and your eternity insecure without Him." When people have asked, "Sir, we would see Jesus", this broadcast has tried to make sure they really get to see the Redeemer; that they see God's Son being born as a Human Being; how He lived a perfect life of obedience for us; how Jesus endured suffering, derision, and physical pains so we might, someday, be declared innocent of any and all sin.
And yes, they have heard of how, nailed to a cross outside the city walls of Jerusalem, Jesus died the death which our transgressions had earned. All these things The Lutheran Hour audience has heard, and they have always been told one thing more: they have been told how, on the third day after His cold and lifeless body was buried in a borrowed tomb, Jesus rose from the dead. A risen Lord, a living Lord Jesus stood before His disciples and said, "Boys, look, you can touch me, see me, feel the wounds. I am alive and because I live you can live also."
This year marks the 80th year of The Lutheran Hour going out to an unknown audience of the air. But today is a little different. This message is being written for just one person. That the Lord may well use it to touch a multitude of others, I have no doubt. But as I sit and compose what will be said in these next minutes, I have only one person in mind, one person whose face is before me. He is an old friend, a good friend of 20 years. When I was serving my last parish in Minnesota, he served beside me. For a number of years he was my congregational vice-president and, after that, the Church Chairman. But there was more than a pastor-parishioner relationship. We were good friends. Every Wednesday morning at 6:30, he and I, along with another friend, got together for breakfast. Eggs, sausages, hash browns, toast. The food was good, the conversation was better.
Forgive me; I have forgotten to tell you the name of the individual who is the inspiration and recipient of this message. His name is Carl Hanson. Carl is his name, but everybody has always called him "Kelly". Born in Chaska, Kelly's father was the County Recorder, a job which Kelly took on after his father passed away. Kelly is a good man, a kind man, a gentle man. He is a Viet Nam vet, a husband, a father, grandfather, and avid golfer. Indeed, he always joked that, when he retired, he would like to be a greens-keeper on his favorite course. I say Kelly was joking about that, although, quite frankly, I was pretty sure he was serious. Joking or not, taking care of a golf course is not in his future. The rest of this message will explain why that is and it will let you listen in while I talk to my friend. Let's begin this way:
Hi, Kel. It has now been less than 24 hours since your wonderful wife, Margaret, called me up and visited with me. In truth, I don't remember all the things which we talked about and all the topics which we covered. I do remember that somewhere in the course of our conversation, that incredibly brave and courageous Christian lady said two words: it's terminal. I suppose there are words in the English language which are more lonely, more frustrating, more discouraging. I imagine there must be such words but I don't know what they are. It's terminal. Physicians hate saying those words. It means their years of education, their skill and knowledge, all the great advancements in medicine which God has given to this sorry, sinful world have their limits. The caring, compassionate medical profession has to confess it has encountered an enemy it cannot conquer, they are dealing with a situation they cannot change.
It's terminal. If those words are frustrating to physicians, they are painful, incredibly painful for those who love you and are closest to you. When they hear, "it's terminal" many of them are going to feel just as helpless as I did. There are your old friends from town, the community which you have called "home" for all of your life; there are the church folks, your golfing buddies, your friends, and your family. More than anyone else your family is experiencing your pain. They have been with you during your recent illnesses. They have rejoiced in your improvements and cried over your setbacks. Each of them, in his or her own way, had dreamed a dream of what might be when you got better. And now those words, "it's terminal" have inserted themselves into their lives. Those words have robbed them of dreams and removed years of hoped-for tomorrows
It's terminal. Today there are a lot of people who may be wondering what more can possibly be said in the face of such finality. I give thanks, dear friend; you are not one of those people. In saying that, I am not pretending the information you have received hasn't rocked your world. It may have given you a dose of anger, frustration, and a bit of fear. That's normal. But when the numbness wears off, you will realize, you will remember the words of your Savior, Jesus Christ. You will recall His words, "Because I live, you will live also." (John 14:19) Yes, you will remember and you will, like so many who have gone before you, be given the peace which only the risen Savior can give.
It's terminal. Kel, you and I know every person who is born in this world is going to end up at one of two terminals. Those terminals are ending spots, disembarkation points at the conclusion of an individual's life. I'm not going to spend a whole lot of time talking about one of those terminals. For you, a Christian, it's not necessary for me to do so. It's enough you remember that once, because of your sin and transgression, you were headed to this terminal. It was a straight run. Non-stop, Kel. You may be a good man, a gentle soul, but you are still a sinner. It was those sins which ensured that your terminal was going to be hell and try as you might, you couldn't do a thing to change your destination.
No, there wasn't anything you could do ... but that doesn't mean there wasn't anything God's Son could do. Long ago, when humankind's disobedience to the Creator had brought sin into the world, the Lord realized this day would come. He knew it would come for you, even as it comes to every individuat. Now God could have walked away, washed His hands of us and said, 'It's their problem, not mine.' He could have said that, but He didn't. Motivated by His grace and mercy, and impossible for us to understand, our heavenly Father said He would send His Son to be our Substitute. As the prophet Isaiah said, "He would let Jesus bear our griefs and carry our sorrows. He would let Jesus be smitten and afflicted. God's Son, not us, would be wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. Through the innocent Savior's suffering we would be given peace and through His stripes we would be healed.
As your friend and previous pastor, I know you believe this. Together we have stood by Jesus' Bethlehem manger and seen God's Son become a Human like us. Yes, Jesus was One of us but with this notable and most wonderful exception: as God's Son, He didn't sin. At every turn of His life, Jesus resisted the temptations placed before Him, the suggestions to sin which were designed to derail God's plan to save us. Kel, Sunday after Sunday and year after year, you have heard and believed in this Savior. You believed when Scripture spoke of His love, a love which was unafraid to touch a leper or to call a hated publican to discipleship. You heard of His power which could still a storm, raise the dead, and offer healing and forgiveness to a lame man. Holy Spirit-given faith has allowed you to recognize Jesus as your Savior, Friend, your constant and caring Companion.
But your faithful church attendance allowed you to see more than a Pal when you looked at Jesus. You saw the Savior Who would give anything, everything to make sure your last terminal wasn't going to be hell. You have been there to see a disciple betray Jesus into the hands of His enemies. You were there to see Jesus mocked and spit upon; laughed at and scorned. You heard the lies which were told about Him and you watched as one unfair trial after another railroaded Him to His death, the most unfair death this world has ever seen. You were amazed that Jesus didn't use His brilliance to turn the tables on those who hated Him; and He didn't use His power to procure His release. It has been with a broken heart that you saw Jesus being taken to the cross to win your forgiveness. Yes, Jesus was nailed to the cross and with Him on that cross were hung your sins. Large sins and small, private sins and public. They were all there with Jesus ... and when He died, your sins, the world's sins, were erased.
Of course you would never have heard of all these things if Jesus had remained in His tomb. A dead Jesus should have stayed dead. That's what the world believes, it's what it expects. They believe you're born, you live, you die. That's it. That's it for the world. But a sealed and guarded grave was not the terminal for God's Son. You remember how, three days after He had been put into a borrowed grave, Jesus rose. Through repeated appearances the disciples eventually believed the Christ had conquered death and hell. Then, on Pentecost it became clear that Jesus had lived, suffered, and died so they, and all who believe on Him as their Savior, their Substitute, might be saved. Because of Jesus our terminal no longer had to be hell; because of Jesus, believers were given a new terminal, a new destination: heaven. Little wonder the disciples rejoiced when they understood the wonder of Jesus' promise: "because I live you will live also." Eternal life in heaven, not eternal death was our new terminal. It is where you are going my friend; it is where I am going, too. The only difference between us is this: you have been given a bit more of a timetable than I.
We are going to a new terminal. Kel, down here in St. Louis, we have an old railroad terminal: it's called the Union Station. You've never seen it, so let me describe it to you. It was built in the 1890s and it covers more than 11 acres. 11 acres. It's monstrous big, and it's incredibly beautiful. A Tiffany stained-glass window, frescoes, sweeping archways, mosaic tiles, and gold-leaf detailing prove that no expense was spared in the terminal's construction. In the 1980s it cost $150 million dollars just to restore the place.
You know, as I've wandered around in the terminal, I've often wondered what the people from those 1890 farms and small towns felt, what they thought when they entered the terminal for the first time. Remember, this was in the days before electric lights, color magazines, movies, and television. What do you think went through their minds as they stood at the terminal's entrance? I have to believe they stood there for a few minutes, stood there with their jaws open, scarcely able to comprehend all they were seeing, take in all the wonders of the place. I'm not sure what everybody thought, but I knew a great many of them wrote to the folks back home and told them about the overwhelming beauty of the terminal. Understandably those who had never been to the Union Station
often disregarded those letters as being fictional. Indeed, some took the description of the place with a grain of salt.
Well, in my hand, I have a letter from a fellow named John who has been to the terminal which is going to be our final destination. You see the Lord, with His Divine understanding, He knew that people like you and me would be understandably curious as to what our heavenly terminal would be like. For that reason He took the apostle John there and gave him a glimpse of the place. Then the Lord instructed John to write to all the people back home, the people like you and I who had never been there and tell them what He had seen.
John did just as he had been told. His description of the terminal is in the 7th chapter of Revelation. Now, I should tell you there is a problem with what John recorded. You see, John was a human being like you and me. His thoughts are human thoughts and the words describing heaven are human words. And that's where the problem comes in. John was describing a Divine place with words that simply didn't do justice to all he had seen. In fact, John found it easier to describe what he didn't see. If you listen closely, you'll hear I'm telling the truth. Listen, this is how John described the terminal. He said, "there Is no hunger here and there is no more thirst. People don't get all hot and miserable under the scorching sun." That's what John said. And then, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, he added, "These blessings are here because of Jesus. Because of Jesus", John says, "the Lord will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
In other places in his book John adds to this description of the terminal. He says the place has gates made of pearls and streets constructed of gold. Those are all bits of interesting information, but the part I like most is that which talks about the Lord wiping away our tears. Kel, I have to tell you in the last 24 hours I have cried. I have cried because you have been a dear, dear friend, and I am going to miss you. But I want you to know, I have not been upset that you are going to the terminal which Jesus has opened up for you and all who believe in Him as Savior; for all who are forgiven by what He has done. No, Kel, I am not crying for you. You are going to see wonderful things I can't imagine. You are going to be welcomed into heaven by your Lord and you will be reunited with your mom and your dad and my folks and a whole host of witnesses whose souls have also been washed of wrongdoing and made spotless by the Savior.
No, Kel, I like so many who know you, have been crying for ourselves, for our lives which will be a bit poorer without you. But you should know, the same Savior Who is going to end your illness and welcome you into the terminal is also going to be around taking care of us. And although it is going to take time, He will also wipe away our tears. We know He will do it because He has promised to do it. He will enable us to envision you standing in awe at the entrance to the terminal and we will know this place, in the presence of your Savior, is far more beautiful than anything this world can offer; He will help us know you are there far happier than you ever were here.
And when the Holy Spirit lets us hear of the Savior's gift; when He tells us of your joy, when He helps us remember we are saying "auf wiedersehen" and not goodbye; when these things happen, we will have that peace which passes all human understanding. When that happens, we will know death has become God's track which takes us to a blessed terminal. So, dear buddy, that's what I had to say to you ... it's what I have to say to everyone who is listening today. And, if they need to hear more about the terminal of heaven and the Savior Who makes that place a believer's final destination, please, we invite you to call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers)
Topic: Asleep or Awake?
Announcer: Now, Pastor Ken Klaus answers questions about the soul. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, a listener wants to know what the Bible has to say about what happens to the soul after death.
Klaus: And that question seems to come up quite often.
Announcer: It is one of those frequently-asked-questions. But it's especially appropriate today as this is All Saints Day.
Klaus: We're nearing the end of the church year and the Bible readings appointed for these next few Sundays they serve to focus our attention on the end of time when Christ will return to judge the earth.
Announcer: And, it could also be that this is the sort of topic people don't really think about until it hits close to home; perhaps they've lost someone close to them. That's when they'd like to have definite answers to help them through those difficult times.
Klaus: Yeah, I think we can all understand that.
Announcer: Our listener recently lost her father to a long battle with cancer. She tells us her father was a Christian. Throughout his life he often told them, through his words and by his example, that Jesus Christ was his Savior.
Klaus: Thank God. What a comfort for her to know that.
Announcer: Our listener writes, "As I was leaving the cemetery, I looked at all the graves. Some old headstones bore the initials RIP--Rest In Peace and I wondered about the souls of all those people buried there. Where are they? What are they doing? Are they sleeping? Or are they already in heaven or in hell?"
Klaus: So, if we boiled the question down, it is: when we die, is it heaven or hell immediately or do we have to wait until we are awakened on Judgment Day? And does Scripture address the question?
Announcer: I think you've got it.
Klaus: Lutherans have always rejected the idea of "soul sleep" because it's not supported by Holy Scripture. Unfortunately, a lot of unscriptural ideas about heaven are floating around in our culture and often find their way into discussions about heaven and hell.
Announcer: And a lot of jokes and stories are based on some really bad theology.
Klaus: Indeed. The Bible teaches that at the moment of death, the eternal soul and mortal body separate. The soul of the believer goes immediately to heaven where it enjoys the presence of God and there it awaits the day of the resurrection. Scripture says those who are in Christ have already passed from death into life. Our Lutheran confessions state that "death abolishes this flesh of sin that we may rise absolutely new."
Announcer: And, in Luke Chapter 23, verse 43, Jesus promises the thief on the cross that he will be with Him in paradise that very day.
Klaus: And our Lord says, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in
Me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I
go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come
again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also."
Announcer: And, where does Jesus say that?
Klaus: Well, that's in John, chapter 14, verses 1, 2, and 3.
Announcer: Now, what does Scripture teach concerning those who reject God and His Word?
Klaus: 1 Peter 3: 19 and 20 refers to the fact that after Jesus died, He descended into hell to proclaim His victory to the spirits who were in prison. Just as the souls of believers are brought into the joys of heaven, the souls of unbelievers are delivered to Satan and immediately begin to suffer the torments of hell.
Announcer: And, are there passages which also speak of people sleeping. What about those?
Klaus: When the term "sleeping" is used, it generally means, that that "body's time is
over. That body's work is completed and done."
Announcer: And, then, what happens on Judgment Day?
Klaus: On the day of Resurrection, the soul is going to be reunited with the body. God is going to make all things new, free from tears, disease, pain, death. God's verdict of "heaven" or "hell" will then be made known for everybody to hear. There's no appeal or second chance on that day. Like a courtroom when a person is found guilty. The jury already knows what the verdict is, but the judge hasn't announced that verdict. On Judgment Day the verdict, already established by faith or lack of faith, will be made public. And one last thing, Mark: Jesus lived, died, and rose again so that all who trust in Him need not fear death or hell.
Announcer: Thank you, Pastor Klaus. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music selection for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by John Leavitt. Concordia Publishing House/SESAC
"Lord, Let at Last Your Angels Come" arr. Don Busarow. From Hymns for All Saints (© 2004 Concordia Publishing House) Concordia Publishing House/SESAC
"Lord, Let at Last Your Angels Come" arr. J.S. Bach. From Werke fUr Blechblaser von Bach, u.a. (© 1988 Hanssler-Verlag, Stuttgart)
"Toccata in d minor" by J.S. Bach. From Glory to His Holy Name by John Vandertuin (© 1999 Artisan Classic Organ, Inc.)