Mystery of Life

From the perspective of eternity, our life is only a mist that will soon vanish away – so what is its purpose?

When John said, “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” he was not talking about physical life or consciousness; he was talking about something more.

From the first century, Jesus brings His followers face to face with the mystery of life. Join Brother Philip Hess as he explores how we can experience the essense of life, relationship with God and unity with Him.

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I wish you God’s blessing tonight. We believe He’s here in our midst. We want to bring glory to His name.

Jesus addressed the multitudes one time, and He said, except you eat My flesh and drink My blood, you have no life in you. And His disciples said, “This is a hard saying. Who can understand it?” And many of them went away from Him and did not follow Him anymore (See John 6:53-66). Jesus had brought them face to face with the mystery of life, and they could not understand.

So tonight we’re going to talk about the mystery of life, but we’re only going to scratch the surface. There’s so much that we have to learn, so much that we have to grow in, so much that God wants to reveal to us. And I believe that He will continue to do that through all eternity.

So as we think about the mystery of life, I want to talk about Three Types of Movement, so that we can think about how that relates to types of life.

[First type of movement]

So, we’re sitting here fairly still, fairly quietly. But you know, you are sitting still relative to this tabernacle, relative to Roxbury Holiness Campground, relative to the earth. And this stillness is an illusion.  

So right now, as you sit here, you’re spinning; you’re rotating around the earth’s access. We’re heading eastward about 795 miles per hour here at 40 degrees north latitude. That’s faster than most of us have traveled in an airplane.

And you know, the sun is setting somewhere over in this direction. And in six months from now, you will be about 186 million (186,000,000) miles away in that direction. You’re traveling around the solar ecliptic about 66,000 miles per hour. If you could travel that fast here on earth, you could be at Los Angeles in less than 3 minutes.

But our motion is not done. If you look up in the sky on a dark clear night, you can see a faint cloud above you. That cloud is actually about a hundred billion stars (100,000,000,000). It’s our home galaxy called “The Milky Way.” And we sit here in a spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy. The galaxy is rotating; it’s twisting up. And so we are traveling around the galactic center about 483,000 miles per hour, so they tell us.

But our movement relative to the cosmos, to the universe, goes beyond that. We have a group of galaxies that are moving together. We are moving toward the Andromeda galaxy. And as scientists look out at the cosmic microwave background, they believe that we are moving relative to the universe traveling through space about 1.3 million miles per hour (1,300,000 mph). So you have never been at this spot in the universe before, and you will never be here again. You’re traveling with breathtaking speed.

So we have one type of movement, three-dimensional space, you can move through.

Now I want to think about another type of movement. You can influence your movement through space just a bit. You can move forward and back, even though you’re being irresistibly carried forward. But this [next] type of movement is one that you cannot resist. It is carrying you forward with a force that is absolutely irresistible. You’re traveling through time.  [Second type of movement]

There may come a time when you lie under a gravestone, and on that gravestone, there may be a date of your birth and a date of your death. In between those two dates is a dash. That’s what life is. It’s just a dash between the cradle and the grave. You were born on a certain date; you are headed with breathtaking speed for a final day. Now you can delay this final day a bit possibly by making wise and healthy choices, but you can’t avoid it.

So as you sit here tonight, you are moving through time. You’re growing older. Your genetic mutations are accumulating. Each generation of cells being produced in your body is less fit than the one before. Your eyes are getting dimmer. Your ears are getting duller. Your skin is losing its tone, even while you sit here. Little by little, you’re hurdling toward physical death, and you cannot avoid it.

Now this is an unsettling thought to many people. There is a whole industry dedicated to freezing heads and bodies for large sums of money in the hopes that someday science will have discovered how to restore this spark of life.

But what is life? Here we come to the mystery. Wikipedia says, “There is currently no consensus regarding the definition of life.”

So we want to talk about Several Kinds of Life tonight.

1) The first one that we’ll touch on briefly is Physical Life, or Biological Life.

God created a world teeming with biological life, and He called it very good. From the bottoms of the oceans up into the atmosphere, the earth is filled with all kinds of life: bacteria, animals, plants. And mankind has physical life in common with the animals.

Now James talks about this type of life. James says in James 4:14, “What is your life? You’re even like a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” So if you go out in the morning, and you see the dew coming off the grass; there’s a bit of fog out there, pretty soon the sun rises and shines on that, and the mist disburses, and it’s gone. Seen from the perspective of eternity, that’s what your life is. It’s just a little mist. You’re here for a short time.

So, if your life is just a little mist that will soon vanish, what’s its purpose? What does it mean? Why does it matter?  A quote from a man Dr. Steve Brewer:

“Life is the embodiment of selfishness. Life is selfish because it is for itself in two ways: it is for its own survival, and it is for its own reproduction. This desire is embodied in an adaptive autocatalytic chemical system, forming life’s embodied mind.”

So this is a perspective on life that simply sees life as the accumulation of physical processes, biological processes.  And if that was true, I think ultimately our existence would be meaningless. The little mist that you are, would come and it would go.

2) But beyond physical life, we have Consciousness.

Now, I’m tempted to call consciousness soul life. I think it is a function of the soul, but I have to confess we’re talking about mysteries here, and I do not know for sure what consciousness is. And again, there is plenty of debate about this. Again, quoting:

“Despite millennia of analyses, definitions, explanations, and debates by philosophers and scientists, consciousness remains puzzling and controversial, being at once the most familiar and also the most mysterious aspect of our lives. Perhaps the only widely agreed upon notion about the topic is the intuition that it exists.”

So once again, mankind has not figured out what life is. But consciousness is a defining characteristic of humans. It’s awareness of the internal and external world. It’s self-awareness. The animals don’t seem to have this, at least not in any degree like the humans do. So, we don’t hold a grizzly bear morally responsible if it kills a person. It’s doing what grizzly bears naturally do. It’s not a moral agent; it’s not self-aware. But humans have moral understanding. This comes from our souls, and because we have moral understanding, we have moral responsibilities. We’re created with moral obligations to fulfil.

Now I want to introduce you to three individuals that I’ve met in years gone by. Imagine you’re standing up here on stage tonight.

We have Homa. She is a lady of the Baha‘i Faith. She follows a prophet named Baha‘u’llah. And she believes in the unity of God, the unity of religion, and the unity of all mankind. She’s for world peace. She has a lot of good desires. I think we would say that there’s basic goodness in those concepts.

And then we have Mohammed. Mohammed worships a God called Allah, and he is zealous for this God. He tries to follow the teachings of the Qur’an as he understands it, and he is willing to look different for the sake of his religion, from the rest of society. He’s a very zealous man.

Then we have Svea. Svea is a Jew. He is attempting to follow the Mosaic law, according to the teachings of the rabbis. He’s attempting to serve God according to his understanding of applying the Old Testament to a post-temple day.

And now if you were to stand up here on the platform beside these three individuals, would there be any physical visible difference between you and them? Perhaps there would be a certain peace about your face if you’re a born-again Christian, if you’re serving God, but there wouldn’t be much difference to look at. All four of you would have physical life. All four of you would have consciousness. You would have self-awareness. So is there any difference between you, the born-again Christian, and these three people who are each trying to serve God in their own way?

The apostle John would say it this way, in 1 John 5:12 “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” This is not talking about physical life. This is not talking about consciousness. These are characteristics of all people. John is talking about something more, something beyond consciousness, beyond physical life. So tonight as we consider the mystery of life, I want to talk about this life that John refers to.

Now we come to our third type of movement.

You’re moving through space; you’re moving through time. You can’t do much about those facts. But this type of movement is something that’s within your free will. And this is the most important movement that you can make in your life because it comes from your choice. This is Movement toward God or away from God.  And this movement toward God or away from God is about the gain or the loss of this third type of life that we want to consider.

3) This is about Spiritual life. Spiritual life is life from the Spirit of God. It’s called “eternal life,” “everlasting life,” “the life of the age to come.” It’s life beyond life.  It’s real life. It surpasses and subsumes all the others. Now, it’s the life of the age to the come, but it has already invaded the world in the Person of Jesus Christ. It’s what the Scriptures refer to as the greatest need of man. Jesus said that in John 10:10. (On the front of your brochures, it’s printed there.)

“I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”

Now, this life includes physical life. I believe that physical life will be with us through eternity, but it’s far more than that. It’s a property of God that He shares with men through His Spirit. I believe the essence of it is relationship to God – unity with Him. It’s through that relationship to God that this divine life is communicated to us. Physical life is temporary, winding down. But this life is everlasting!

So, What does it mean to have life?

Let’s go back to the Garden of Eden. God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul. Then God told Adam, You can eat of all the trees of the Garden, except one. There’s a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the day you eat of that tree, you will surely die. (See Genesis 2:16-17.)

Now you all know the story. Adam took of that tree, and he ate of it. And then what happened? Then we read that Adam went on to live for 930 more years. So was God wrong? Did God make a mistake? No, God was talking about something much more important than Adam’s physical life. When Adam sinned, he died spiritually. Romans 5 says death spread to all men because all sinned. (See Romans 5:12.) His sin brought death into the world. Now that spiritual death that Adam experienced did lead to his eventual physical death. It took a while for that to catch up with him, but ultimately it caught him.

Paul tasted this death. He said, “I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died” (Romans 7:9).  And so have you, my friend, my brother, my sister. You have tasted of this death also. And so all died.

Isaiah said it this way: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). We have all taken of that forbidden fruit in our own way. Because of the corruption in our nature, “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Except One! One man! And He was the One Who could bring us the life that we need! 

So the apostle John says,

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . .  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

John 1:1,14

“He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”

John 1:2-4

John says again in the first epistle of John:

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life – the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us.”

John 1:1-2

Now, How was that life manifested?

Jesus! Jesus demonstrated the life that is in God. He did this through His life, through His death, through His resurrection. When Jesus came, He began preaching the Kingdom of God. He healed; He cast out demons; He opened the eyes of the blind. And this was to show that the Kingdom of God had come, and the rightful King was here, restoring what was ruined by the Fall. He was bringing life to drive out death. He was bringing wholeness to drive out corruption. Before Jesus came, corruption triumphed. If you touched something unclean, under the old Law, you became unclean. But when Jesus came with the power of an endless life, it went the other direction. Jesus touched lepers, and instead of becoming unclean, they became clean. Life flowed out of Jesus. And then on the cross, Jesus gave His flesh and blood. He said in John 6:51, “The bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”

Perhaps this is the greatest mystery that the life which He gave on the cross can be put in us by the Spirit of God. For, as we said earlier, “Except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53).

The life that Jesus wants to give us, is why Paul says, For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:10).  Through Jesus, we will experience salvation. We have experienced salvation, and we will continue to experience sanctification and ultimate salvation, as He works in us.

Now, I’d like to sing a song, if we could put that up on the screen here. Many of you will recognize this tune. It’s the tune we sing to “Children of the Heavenly Father.”

Perhaps you could rise, and we can sing this together.

Blessed be Thy name forever!
Thou of life the Guard and Giver,
Thou canst guard Thy creatures sleeping,
Heal the heart long broke with weeping.

God of stillness and of motion,
Of the desert, and the ocean,
Of the mountain, rock, and river,
Blessed be Thy name forever!

Blessed be Thy name forever,
Thou of life the Guard and Giver,
Thou hast sanctified and freed us,
Healed us from our soul’s diseases.

Lord of lords, o’er all creation,
Life’s great Cause and Consummation,
Changing not and failing never,
Blessed by Thy name for ever.

So we’re going to talk about spiritual life under three headings. We’re going to talk about receiving life, maintaining life, and life’s consummation. “Lord of lords, o’er all creation, life’s great Cause and Consummation.”

So,  1. How do we receive life?

We’re talking about spiritual life that we need to get from God. Well, paradoxically, it comes through death. You see we have the life of the old Adam in us. We have to die to that life. We have to die to that existence, so that we can be born again into the new humanity, the new family.

Colossians 3:3 says, “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”  When he says, “you died,” he’s talking about a death to yourself, a death to your own desires.

Dead to the world would I be, O Father,
Dead unto sin, alive unto Thee . . .

This happens at conversion. Paul says, “Buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).  So we need to participate in Jesus’ death; we need to be buried with Him by baptism into death; we need to die with Christ. 

Paul says elsewhere that if we share in His death, we shall also share in His life. (See Romans 6:5.)  “Always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in” us. (2 Corinthians 4:10).

So to receive God’s life, the life of Christ, we first have to die to ourselves. And you know what? Dying is not fun. Dying is hard!  It can be hard. We need God’s help to do this. You can’t just go out and say, “You know, I think I’ll go ahead and die today so I can receive Christ’s life.” No, this is something that God needs to help you through.

Now the example that Jesus gives us is that of a seed planted in the ground. He said, Except a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it abides alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (See John 12:24.)

And again, “He who loves his life will lose it, but he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25).

Death to self. So when we die to ourselves, we open ourselves for the life of God to be put in us. And that gives us a taste of the powers of the age to come. It’s just a taste. It’s not the fulness yet. It’s a down payment, according to the Scripture – a down payment of the Spirit. It’s a seed. I John 3:9 ESV says, No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.”

God puts His seed into your heart. We receive this life through connection to God. God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. I want you to notice that phrase “In His Son.” Since God has immortality, he who is connected to God can never die. Jesus said that when He talked to Martha before raising Lazarus. Jesus said, “Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:26).

Now that might sound confusing. Haven’t we seen people dying? But Jesus is talking about the spiritual life. So, in the New Testament, when Christians die, it’s generally said that they “fall asleep.” That spiritual life lives on. They shall never die. They shall be raised again.

So we receive life through death.

Now,  2. How do we maintain life?

Well, we maintain life similar to how we receive it. We have to continue to die to self. We have to continue to trust in Jesus. Jesus gave us a picture of abiding in the Vine. That’s a picture of staying connected to Jesus because He is your life! If you are cut off from the Vine, you will die. We allow God to grow His life in us by giving ourselves to Him. We call this the work of sanctification. It involves prayer. It involves fasting, self-denial. It involves crucifying the flesh, dying daily to self.

In Matthew 13 Jesus gave the parable of the sower, and He talked about different types of ground where people receive the Word of God implanted into their hearts. And it’s important how we receive the Word because there are some people that receive the Word like stony ground, and it sprouts up, but it soon withers away in the heat of the sun. And Jesus said about this: This person “has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the Word, immediately he stumbles” (Matthew 13:21).

So Jude exhorts us.  Jude is concerned about this. He says, Beloved, keep yourselves in the love of God, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus unto eternal life. (See Jude 1:20)

Many of you have been working on memorizing Romans 8, our memory passage for this weekend. I want to draw your attention to the first verse there. There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”

What a wonderful promise. Why is there no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus? Because “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” 

Now, we did skip a part there. You probably noticed it. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.”

Why is that important? Romans 8:13 gives us the answer. “If you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

So we need to walk in the Spirit. If you walk in the Spirit, you will stay connected to Jesus. And “When Christ Who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4).

And that is when the consummation of all things will come. So I want to talk a bit about –   

3. Life’s Consummation.

2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”

Now I believe that when Paul writes this, he’s thinking back to the story of Gideon.  So Gideon had 300 men. He went out to fight the Midianites. And God wanted the glory to go to Him, and not to Gideon’s army, so He whittled that army down to 300 men. And He sent them out at night in little bands of 100 a piece, and each of those men carried a jar, and inside that jar was a light. And then there came a moment when they blew the trumpets. At the sound of the trumpets, the men broke their jars and the lights blazed forth, and the enemy were confounded. So they had this treasure in their earthen vessels so that the glory could be of God.

Now I believe the Scripture points to the fact that something like this is going to happen to us. We have a down payment of the Spirit. We have a treasure in an earthen vessel. And Romans 8:19 says, The whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now, waiting for the revealing of the sons of God (See Romans 8:19-22). There’s a moment when those clay vessels are going to break open, and the light is going to shine forth. “When Christ Who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” (Colossians 3:4) That will be glorious!

Jesus said it this way. In that day, “then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43). Are you looking forward to the day when you shine forth as the sun in the Kingdom of the Father? The prophet Daniel said, “They that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3 GNV)

So God has given us a picture of what will happen to us, by using physical life as a type. A picture is the lowly caterpillar. That caterpillar is just a worm, crawling along. He’s earthbound. He’s unable to fly. But within itself, it has the means of transformation. It goes to sleep inside a chrysalis, and that body dissolves. It basically becomes a chemical soup, but there is a life in there that is reorganized, and out of that little chrysalis comes a beautiful butterfly shining with iridescent wings.

So Jesus has redeemed the soul during this life, but our bodies have not yet been redeemed. Romans 8:23, our Scripture passage says, “We also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.” That’s coming yet in the future. The spirit has been transformed by Jesus. But Christians need to die physically, so that we, like that caterpillar can get a new body. When we die physically, we fall asleep, but the spark that God has put in us shall never die.

The body is something like a seed. “It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power” (1 Cor. 15:42-43)  “Then shall be brought to pass the saying…, “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54).

So in that day, there will be no sin. There will be no danger of falling. We will be raised incorruptible, to eat of the tree of life and drink of the river of life, for all eternity. That will be glorious!

But right now, we live in the land of the dying. All around us are people who are abiding in death, under the wrath of God. All around us are people who do not have life. Will we bring them to the fountains of living waters? Will we display the life of Christ to them in a way that will make them hunger and thirst after it? Will rivers of living water flow out of our hearts?

No man can pluck us out of the Father’s hand. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Except one thing, and that is you, because you have to allow God to maintain that life in you. You have to allow Him to put that life in you. God will take care of the life and the growth, but you need to open yourself to that.  You need to allow Him to do that in you. And you need to pull out the weeds that might choke the Word. So for this, we need God’s help. We need to come to Jesus as beggars, asking for grace. We need Him to heal us of our soul’s diseases. We need Him to give us His aid. He showed us on earth that He could do this. How much more now that He is at the Father’s right hand!

So tonight we turn to Jesus! And we say, “To whom else, Lord, can we go? You have the Words of eternal life! You have the healing and the wholeness that we need!”

Now one evening in Capernaum, according to the Gospel of Mark, almost the whole city came to the door where Jesus was, and there He showed His power, casting out demons, healing the sick.

So I want to close with a poem that was written about this.

At even, as the sun did set,
The sick, O Lord, about Thee lay,
Oh, in what divers pains they met,
Oh, with what joy, they went away!

Once more, ‘tis eventide, and we
Oppressed with various ills draw near,
What if Thy form we cannot see?
We know and feel that Thou art near.

Oh, Savior Christ, our woes dispel,
For some are sick, and some are sad,
And some have never loved Thee well,
And some have lost the love they had.

And some are pressed with worldly care,
And some are tried with sinful doubts,
And some such grievous passions tear,
It’s only Thou canst cast them out.

And some have found the world is vain,
Yet from the world they break not free,
And some have friends who give them pain,
Yet have not sought a Friend in Thee!

And none, O Lord, have perfect rest,
For none are wholly free from sin,
And they who feign would serve Thee best,
Are conscious most of wrong within.

O Savior Christ, Thou, too, art Man.
Thou hast been troubled, tempted, tried.
Thy kind but searching glance can scan
The very wounds that shame would hide.

Thy touch has still its ancient power,
No word from Thee can fruitless fall.
O Savior, come this evening’s hour,
And, in Thy mercy, heal us all!

Shall we pray?

O Lord, we come to You. You are the Giver of life. On the mount of crucifixion, fountains opened deep and wide. Thank You, Lord, for that river which comes from under the temple, and it is flowing and gets deeper and deeper. Thank You, Lord, for what You are doing in us. Thank You for giving us Your life. It’s not something we merit; it’s not something we deserve. It’s Your grace. Thank You, Father, for Your generosity. Thank You for Your love to us. O Father, would You help us to have that love in our hearts for You. My love is so cold and weak, and so small in comparison. I need so much more of You, Lord. We need Your Holy Spirit to fill us. We pray that You would fill, Lord, this place with Your Holy Spirit this weekend. Father, I pray that You would work in our mortal bodies. Give us life. Help us to encourage one another. Bring us to the Fountain of living waters. We pray this in the precious name of Jesus, Amen.