Letters to the Prison - Week 49

Hello, everyone.
During this time apart, we want to encourage you.  Remember that we are with you in Spirit.  That may sound shallow and of little comfort on the surface.  For some, it’s like saying “well, it’s the thought that counts.”  And sometimes that “thought” counts for so very little…  But for Christians, it means so much.  Christ is with us always (Matt. 28:20) and how is he with us?  In Spirit.  Since Christians are one in Christ (we’ll see that when we study John 17), we too are with you in Spirit.  Paul speaks of this often in his letters.  For further reading, see Philippians 1 and Colossians 2.  For generations, faithful Christians have taken great comfort in these thoughts even as they endured the most terrible circumstances.  We can do the same in spiritual fellowship with one another as we pray for one another and consider God’s word together.  So, remember to pray for us.  We need it!  And let’s get to the business of studying God’s word together.
Last week, we saw some mind-blowing things that Jesus says about himself.  Imagine a human being -in the flesh- standing before you and telling you that he is God… equal to him in every conceivable way… and if you don’t honor him as God you are blaspheming… and that if you believe in him as God, you have eternal life.  He’s either crazy or he’s telling the truth, right?  How would you decide?  What if you had just seen him heal a man who had been lame for 38 years?  What would you think then?  Jesus has made some astonishing claims… and he’s backed them up with even more astonishing works…  
But Jesus isn’t done.  Look what he says next as we continue our study:
•“Truly, truly, I say to you, an 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.-John 5:25
This is the 7th “truly truly” statement Jesus has made so far in our study of John.  And we know that when he says those words, he’s about to say something stunning.  This is no exception.  It’s so stunning, in fact, that we’re going to spend the rest of this letter considering it.
To begin, it’s clear that Jesus is referring to himself here as the Son of God.  This is “old news” for us.  But let’s think about the timing of what Jesus says.  “An hour is coming and is now here” means that there is a sense in which what Jesus says is being fulfilled at the very moment he speaks it.  Yet there is also a future anticipation of something coming.  It’s an “already / not yet” kind of idea.  It creates a sort of permanent tension… an expectation we can feel even today.  So, what does it mean, then, that the dead are hearing and yet will hear Jesus’ voice?
To answer this, we need to consider what Jesus means by “dead.”  Some might say, “well isn’t it obvious?  Dead means dead!  Like… literally not alive.  Dead.  No.  Longer.  Living.”  And this is true.  As Jesus speaks at that very moment, he means that physically, biologically dead people will one day hear his voice.  And they have (1 Peter 4:6  and see Mark 5:41).  Later in our study, we’ll see Jesus speak to a man named Lazarus –4 days after he died.  And Lazarus will hear him (John 11).  That Jesus could speak to someone who was actually literally dead and have them hear him is amazing enough.  
But this is not all Jesus means by “dead.”  Consider this:
People who are physically alive but don’t believe in Jesus are already spiritually dead.  That may sound harsh, but here’s a preview of what Jesus says about this very thing.  We will consider it in more detail later in our study:
• … “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” …  I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”  -John 8:21, 24
These are some tough and dire words from our Lord and Savior and his meaning is clear.  Without his atoning sacrifice for our sins, we’re as good as dead.  Look what Jesus says elsewhere:
•Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 22 And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”
-Matthew 8:21-22
These difficult truths make it plain that those who aren’t saved by Jesus may be alive physically, but they are dead spiritually.  In case we have any doubt, Paul sums it up for us:
•And you, who were dead in your trespasses … God made alive together with him (Jesus), having forgiven us all our trespasses…-Colossians 2:13
So, in John 5:25, it isn’t just the physically dead who will hear Jesus’ voice.  The spiritually dead will hear him.  And some of them were hearing him as he spoke at that very moment.  
Now, consider this also.  Jesus has a habit of saying things like this:
•“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”          -Matt. 11:15; Mark 4:9; Luke 8:8, 14:35
This is one way Jesus calls those who are spiritually dead.  Going back to John 5:25, one might wonder: what happens to those who are dead (either physically or spiritually) who hear Jesus’ voice?
•“Truly, truly, I say to you, an 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.-John 5:25
The physically dead who hear Jesus’ voice come back to life!  And those who are spiritually dead and hear his voice –those who say “yes!  Jesus is who he says he is!”-- are no longer merely alive and walking around.  They are also spiritually alive!  And eternally so!  
Now, let us be plain:  The “hour” that “is coming, and is now here,” dear brothers and sisters, is going on right now.  Today.  As you are reading this.  Jesus, the Son of God, is speaking to you through his word.  Do you have ears to hear?  Will you hear him and come to eternal spiritual life?  We hope so!  We love you!  Until next week!

Dean A.

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