‘Do you want to live forever?’ was the catchy question leading into an article, ‘From Here to Eternity’ in The Weekend Australian magazine, (May 27-28, 2023). ‘Coming back from the dead, then living as an immortal?’ the article begins. ‘It sounds like science fiction,’ the article continues, ‘but the pioneers behind this wild venture are true believers’.
The article takes up personal stories of a small number who believe in the science of freezing their body at death, and holding it in ‘cryonic suspension’ until they are revived. This will be at a future time when science and medicine will have permanently addressed the issues of aging, disease, and death.
While almost all scientists reject such a development, two features stand out: only a very tiny number would benefit; second, given the world’s history of conflict and war, there is little hope that anyone ‘waking’ in fifty or three hundred years will find a world of just and lasting peace. Would we really want to live forever in such a world?
Come with me to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 28 where, following his own resurrection from the dead, we read these astonishing words of Jesus: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’.
He then laid out what we might call his royal mandate to his disciples that, going, they are to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’ (28:18-19).
Significantly, embedded in Jesus’ commission is that disciples in all the nations are to be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. These words provide the key to a more assured hope of life everlasting in a world where true and lasting peace exists. Why do I say this?
Significantly Jesus uses the singular word, name in speaking of the three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This tells us that three persons constitute the one God. Everyone who is baptized is to be instructed in the existence and the triune nature of God. It’s important we think about this.
In his introduction to his Gospel, Matthew records that Jesus is of royal human lineage – a descendent of Israel’s King David. Furthermore, before Jesus was born, an angel had appeared to Joseph who was wondering if he should marry Mary because she was pregnant and he wasn’t the father. The angel informed him that Mary’s baby was conceived from the Holy Spirit and that the boy was to be named Jesus for he will deliver his people from their sins (Matthew 1:20f).
We also learn that even though Jesus was conceived in a way no other human has ever been conceived, he was born in the same way we were. His flesh and blood were conceived by the Holy Spirit, so that even when there was only one cell of him in the womb of his mother Mary, that cell was fully human and fully divine.
He wasn’t some spiritual hybrid, half man and half God, like the mythical centaur, half horse and half man. Rather, Jesus was 100% human, and 100% divine — or as the Nicene creed puts it: Very God of very God; begotten not made…
And as Matthew’s Gospel unfolds, we learn that at his baptism the Spirit of God descended on him like a dove… and a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’ (3:16, 17). Furthermore, when the imprisoned John the Baptist asked if Jesus was truly the promised Messiah, Jesus responded with words from a messianic prophecy in Isaiah 35: ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them, and blessed is the one who is not offended by me’ (Matthew 11:4-6).
Furthermore, when Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus responded, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven…’ (Matthew 16:17).
We can see why Jesus taught with the richest understanding of the Old Testament law and its application – as we find in his Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7). We can understand why he taught with power and authority and could heal the sick and overcome the forces of evil with a word of command. He could walk on water, still a raging storm, and even raise the dead to life.
In every situation throughout his public life, Jesus revealed a profound understanding of God and the true nature of humanity. When challenged by the finest theological and legal minds, he outclassed them – and not least when they tempted him with a ‘Gotcha’ question.
His teaching and his miracles, the profundity and power of his words, his compassion for the poor and the sick, reveal someone who stands unique in history.
Indeed, HG Wells, author of The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine observed, ‘I am an historian. I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.’
Throughout his public life Jesus also revealed a power and authority that are not simply unique but are signs of the supernatural. Supremely his resurrection from the dead testifies to this. He alone has broken through the barrier of death thus opening a future for all who truly turn to him.
That the life beyond the grave he offers will be one of true and lasting peace is assured by the nature of the relationship between the three Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Throughout eternity they enjoy perfect harmony and peace with one another, for unlike the relationships amongst the pagan gods, there is no envy or jealousy, tension or conflict between them.
In our world of ongoing injustice and conflict, sickness and death, the remarkable advances of science and medicine seem to offer us some hope for a longer life. But do they offer what we really long for – a life for ever in a perfectly restored world where peace reigns?
It is the triune God who made us to enjoy him who, in his love holds out the key to our future. It is Christ who has opened the way for us to enter God’s presence; it is the Spirit who, working with the word of the gospel, opens our eyes to this wonderful truth, and now lives within us (Romans 8:9). It is in coming to know this triune God that we find a sure hope for life beyond the grave – a hope that awakens within us a true joy and an inner and lasting peace.
A prayer for Trinity Sunday: Almighty and everlasting God, you have given us your servants grace by the confession of a true faith to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and by your divine power to worship you as One: we pray that you would keep us steadfast in this faith and evermore defend us from all adversities; through Christ our Lord. Amen.