This sermon is part of the sermon series "Four People You Meet in Heaven". See series.
If you had the opportunity, who would you like to meet face to face? Is it someone living? Someone who has already died? A celebrity? Nobility? A leader, an inventor, a thinker? A war General, a writer, or a rights activist? Who would you most like to meet face to face?
I asked this question to a group of men several weeks ago. Of the men said "Oprah," which I thought was ridiculous until I remembered an experience I had back in 1996. Tiffany and I were touring Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. We had secured tickets for a taping of an episode of "Coach"—you know, the sitcom with Hayden Fox, coach of the Screamin' Eagles? As Tiffany and I walked to the sound stage, Steven Spielberg drove by on a golf cart. We took our seats with about 300 other people up in a "balcony" of sorts. When the taping was over, assistants directed people to the back doors, but Tiffany and I moved forward, down the stairs and onto the stage. There we were standing next to Shelley Fabray, Jerry Van Dyke, and Bill Fagerbakke. The only thing I could think to say was, "Wow, you're a lot bigger in real life!" I got an autographed photo and copy of the script before they asked us to go away. As we left, I just thought, How surreal …. What I had watched for years at a distance and only experienced in an edited version in my living room all became very real, very exciting, and very personal as I met the actors face to face.
The meaning of resurrection
On Easter morning several women went to Jesus' tomb, fully expecting him to be there, but an angel appeared to them and said, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.'" (Matthew 28:5-7). He's not here; he's risen from the grave; soon you'll see him face to face.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).
Jesus died, was buried, and three days later began making appearances to people. Now, these aren't the same kind of appearances people claim to experience today—reports of Jesus' face on billboards, in dental x-rays, on tree trunks and garage doors. When Paul states that Jesus "appeared" and people "saw him," he means people saw him in the flesh. Jesus wasn't simply an apparition; he was alive! These people touched him, talked to him, ate with him, and embraced him. He appeared to hundreds in person—face to face. This is important, because if people saw Jesus face to face, then two things are true:
First, God is knowable. I don't know what your opinion of Jesus is. If you listened to his lessons, you might conclude he was a great teacher; if you looked at his miracles, perhaps a humanitarian; if you focused on the cross, maybe you'd think him a revolutionary and a martyr. But the resurrection changes everything. The resurrection is the single silent witness to Jesus' Deity. If he were anyone less than God, he couldn't have risen from the grave—but he did, which means Jesus is God, and if he is God, then God came to earth. God stepped out of space and time, clothed himself with human flesh, and came near. And he did this so that we could know him, get close to him, have a relationship with him. When I stepped on the soundstage in Universal Studios, suddenly actors were real. If I met Jesus face to face after his resurrection, I'd know that God is real and that God is knowable.
Secondly, the fact that people saw Jesus face to face means that new life is possible. John 10:10 says: "I have come that you may have life and have it to the full." The "life" Jesus was talking about wasn't an old life slightly restored or re-varnished.
Have you caught wind of the case against Unique Performance in North Dallas? Customers paid upwards of $200,000 for rebuilt, custom, Mustang Shelbys. As the story unfolded, it appears that the company used old Shelby bodies, removed the VIN plates, used knock-off parts from Taiwan and up to 13-gallons of putty to fill cracks and dents to make the cars look new. The cars were constructed by convicted felons rather than skilled professionals. Not surprisingly, the buyers balked; they didn't want an old car patched up but a new car made perfectly. God isn't just in the renovation business; he's in the resurrection business. Romans 6:4 reads, "… just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." Jesus' resurrection is the prototype and proof that new life is possible for each of us. Jesus lived, Jesus died, Jesus was buried, Jesus rose, and Jesus appeared. If you met Jesus face to face, you know that God is knowable and that new life is possible.
Jesus face to face
Now, let's get personal. I attended the funeral of an 87-year-old woman who died this week. At the funeral, her family said, "Lou went home to be with the Lord." That's a loaded statement that suggests both the existence of life after death and the potential for a relationship with God. It sounds like Lou will meet Jesus face to face; I believe she will. Jesus Christ is the first and foremost person we meet in heaven.
But before you can meet him face to face there, you must meet him by faith here.
People have defined "faith" as wishful thinking or blind belief; faith is that mental narcotic that helps you hang on when times are tough. The Bible defines "faith" simply as trust. It is a confident belief in who Jesus is and what he has done.
Sin is the one obstacle in the way of us living the life God intended. Sin stands in the way of having relationship with God. Sin stands in the way of heaven and meeting Jesus face to face. So God sent his Son to remove the obstacle of sin on the cross, and he raised him from the dead to prove that God is knowable and new life is possible.
The person who places her faith in Jesus Christ as the Savior who has died for sin and been raised from the dead—this person enters into a relationship with God and begins living a new life today that she will one day enjoy fully in heaven. John 6:40 says, "For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." Everyone who looks to the Son—placing their faith in him for salvation will receive eternal life and will enjoy the resurrection from the dead into the personal presence of God. Just think: Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his friends. One day his friends will be raised from the dead and appear before the Lord.
The most important person you could ever meet face to face is Jesus Christ. But before you can meet him face to face there, you must meet him by faith here. The resurrection of Jesus means that God is knowable and new life is possible—both now and later—for those who trust in the risen Lord.
David Daniels is the lead pastor of Central Bible Church in Fort Worth, Texas.