Sermon 11-06-2022: “I’m Forever Yours, Faithfully”

November 30, 2022

Scripture: Luke 20:27-38

In this All Saints Sunday sermon, I’m going to talk a lot about heaven. And when I say “heaven,” I’m referring to what the Bible describes as a two-stage kind of afterlife: When we die, the Bible says we go to be with the Lord immediately. Remember the criminal on the cross? Jesus tells him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Paul refers to Paradise when he says, “To live is Christ and to die is gain,” that life in Paradise is “better by far” than continuing to live in this world, and when he says that “to be absent from the body is to be present with Christ.” 1

That’s the first stage of heaven. The second stage takes place after the Second Coming. We Christians will be resurrected with new, eternal bodies. In fact, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 that we’ll have the same kind of resurrected bodies that Jesus had when he was resurrected. And God will give us a new world in which to live—a world in which heaven and earth become one

That’s what I mean by “heaven.”

And my main point in today’s sermon is this: Heaven means experiencing a kind of love that we can hardly imagine in this world! And I want to describe this love in three points: Number one, Christ’s great love for us. Number Two, Christ’s great suffering for us, and what it has to do with love. And Number Three, how it relates to All Saints Sunday.

Point Number One… Christ’s great love for us.

I was a product of the DeKalb County School system of the ’70s and ’80s, and back then, we had no middle school. Elementary school went from first grade through seventh grade. And high school went from eighth grade through twelfth grade. In May of 1983, the seventh grade class of the Midvale Elementary School had a dance… a seventh grade dance. Very exciting. And if you happened to be a 12-, 13-, or 14-year-old living back then, then you can surely name two of the songs that we slow-danced to. These two songs are by the band Journey: “Faithfully,” and “Open Arms.” These were some of the greatest love songs ever written!

My wife, Lisa, also grew up in DeKalb County. At her elementary school, the ballad “Open Arms” was even adapted and sung by her and her classmates at their seventh grade commencement ceremony. They changed some of the words to make it fit the occasion, and, trust me, Lisa would be more than happy to sing it for you some time.

But it just goes to show how popular these songs were! And the man who wrote them was keyboardist Jonathan Cain. Cain still plays for Journey. And when he’s not on the road with the band, he leads worship at his church in central Florida. Because Jonathan Cain, you see, is an outspoken Christian. 

And recently Cain gave a testimony of his Christian faith on the website I Am Second. In this video, he describes how instrumental his dad was in his music career. At one point, when Cain was discouraged about ever making it as a professional musician, his dad literally told him, “Don’t stop believin’”—which, of course, became the inspiration for that famous Journey song. 

His dad, he said, was the main inspiration and influence over his career and life. So when his dad died, you can imagine how devastated Cain was. He said he was sitting at the piano, in grief, literally weeping: “I didn’t think I would be able to carry on,” he said. “I always wrote [songs for my dad]. Every note I play I can trace back to my father.” 2

And then he said he heard God’s voice speaking to him in that moment. And God said, “No, Jon, it’s been me. It’s always been me… I am the source. I am where [these songs came] from.”

Cain suddenly realized that all these love songs that he wrote weren’t about mere human love; they were pointing to something much deeper: For example, when he wrote, “You stand by me, I’m forever yours, faithfully,” he was really writing these words about the Lord. When he wrote, “I come to you with open arms. Nothing to hide, believe what I say. Here I am with open arms. Hoping to see what your love means to me. Open arms,” he said he was really describing a relationship with Christ.

Besides, if these songs are about the love of Jesus Christ, rather than romantic love between a man and woman, they just make better sense. For instance, when Cain wrote, “I’m forever yours, faithfully,” and matched it with his unforgettable melody, it couldn’t sound more romantic. But these words can’t be true of the love of a husband and wife—even a marriage at its very best. After all, in a Christian marriage ceremony, the couple never says, “I’m forever yours, faithfully.” What do couples say in a Christian marriage service? They say, “Until death do us part,” or “Until we are parted by death.”

The strongest, most intimate, most passionate, most loving relationship between a man and woman isn’t for all time… It’s always only until death. 

That’s one thing Jesus makes clear in today’s scripture.

And on this point, at least, the first century Jewish sect that we meet in today’s scripture—the Sadducees—would be in complete agreement with Jesus: Marriage is only until death… not for what comes after. 

Well, that’s sort of what the Sadducees believed… Yes, they believed that marriage was only for life in this world, but it’s only because they didn’t believe in life in a world to come. The Sadducees also believed that only the first five books of the Bible were inspired by God—the books attributed to Moses. Belief in an afterlife, and belief in a future resurrection… they thought those beliefs were found in the later books of the Old Testament… not in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Therefore, they didn’t believe in heaven, in an afterlife, or in a future resurrection. When you died, they believed, you were simply dead.

Okay, so that’s a little about the Sadducees…

Now let’s look at the challenge they present to Jesus. What is going on here? Verse 28: “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.” They are referring to Deuteronomy 25:5 and something called “levirate marriage.” 

Levirate marriage means that if a husband dies before having children, it was the responsibility of a husband’s brother—assuming he had one—to marry the widow and have a child in her husband’s name.

I know this sounds weird to us today, but it was considered compassionate in the ancient world. A widow without children, in that culture, couldn’t simply go out and get a job; she had no means of financial support. And she probably wouldn’t be able to marry anyone else. So levirate marriage kept a widow attached to her late husband’s family, and they would support her financially.

So… in the Sadducees’ hypothetical scenario, not only does the woman’s first husband die and leave her childless, the next six brothers of this man do as well! Each of them took turns marrying her, each of them died and left her childless. Do you think the woman was poisoning these men? I hope the police investigated! Finally, the woman herself dies.

So the Sadducees assume, for the sake of argument, that there is an afterlife, and, in verse 33, they ask, “In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be?”

By asking the question, the Sadducees are trying to show how preposterous the idea of resurrection is. They’re trying to embarrass Jesus while they’re at it.

They really thought they had trapped Jesus… They couldn’t have anticipated his answer, however, which left them speechless.

Jesus answers in two parts: In the second part of his answer, he quotes from that section of the Old Testament that these Sadducees are supposed to already believe in, from Exodus 3—Moses and the the burning bush. And Jesus quotes from Exodus to prove that God ispresent tense—that God is, right now, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—that these faithful saints are still alive with God. It’s as if Jesus were saying to them, “If Moses, whom you believe is telling the truth, reports that God said this, then why don’t you believe him?” 

That’s the second part of Jesus’ answer. But my sermon is about the first part: Jesus says, we’re not going to be married in the afterlife. Marriage is strictly for people living in this age, not in the age to come.

And at this point, some of you may be asking a legitimate question: What about the Journey song? What about “I’m forever yours, faithfully”?

What about any of the hundreds of love songs that pledge “eternal love, endless love, love that never dies, love that never ends”? What about all the movies and TV shows and books that make the same point?

Now I get it… There are plenty of married couples who are unhappy in their marriages, and plenty of people whose marriages end in divorce… But according to recent research, most married couples are happily married. And even people who get divorced don’t usually give up on marriage: they usually believe that there’s someone out there for them… someone with whom they can share a “love that lasts forever.”

So why is Jesus throwing a wet blanket on our belief in the power of romantic love and saying, “No… even a really good and satisfying marriage doesn’t last forever”?

I imagine that most of us believe in a love that lasts forever, not in a “til death do us part” kind of love. Right? We believe in a love that says, “I’m forever yours, faithfully.” 

If so, here’s the good news: Jesus believes in that kind of love, too! That’s precisely the kind of love Jesus offers us! It’s just that married love, even at its most passionate and truest and most faithful, is only a shadow of the “forever kind of love” that Jesus offers us… the kind of love that we will experience in heaven.

And of course, if you want to think of it this way, you’re still going to love the person you’re married to now when you get to heaven; in fact you’ll love that person perfectly, in a way that you aren’t able to in this world of sin and fallenness. But you’ll have no need to be married to them.

Pastor John Lin, from Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City, said that every time he presides over a wedding, he preaches the exact same wedding homily. He said,

I always say that a wedding is basically like children dressed up in adult clothing. It’s like children playing make-believe… children who have clothes that are too big… children who have shoes that are too big… children who are making promises that are too big. And the reason why is that every wedding is a pointer to a grander wedding and a more enduring set of vows. The Bible speaks of heaven as essentially a wedding banquet. Every marriage—in its intimacy, and its oneness, and its romance, and its rapturous love… every marriage is a dress rehearsal for the far deeper intimacy that Jesus Christ has in store for his people in the resurrection. 3

Marriage is a dress rehearsal for the real thing… for the real marriage, which takes place at the end of history between Christ and us Christians, the Church. Paul makes this point in Ephesians chapter 5, when he describes the love that should characterize a Christian marriage. After describing the way husbands and wives ought to love one another, he quotes from Genesis 2 and the first marriage, between Adam and Eve. He writes: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”—that comes from Genesis 2:24. Then Paul says, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”4

The word “mystery” doesn’t mean what it means today. It refers to something that God has specifically revealed to Paul. And it’s this: From the beginning of time, when God first created human beings, he intended for marriage to communicate the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ—that is, to communicate what it means to be in a loving, saving relationship with God through faith in Christ.

The Bible says that Christian marriage should teach us about the love that Jesus has for us Christians! As a man leaves father and mother and holds fast to his wife, so Jesus Christ left his Father in heaven and did what? He took on flesh so that he could hold fast to us, become one with us, never let go of us! It’s not for nothing that the New Testament calls us Christians the “bride of Christ.”

Therefore, Paul says, what’s best about the relationship between husband and wife in this world will be unimaginably better in our relationship with Christ in the world to come!

Let me repeat that: what’s best about the relationship between husband and wife in this world will be unimaginably better in our relationship with Christ in the world to come!

So listen… As I said, I know I’m talking to some people who are divorced, and I’m talking to some people who have had unhappy marriages… And of course I’m talking to many more people who have happy marriages. Irrespective of the kind of marriage we’ve experienced, most of us can think of times in which we’ve been happiest in our marriages, when we’ve been most passionately in love with our spouses. As we think of those times, we need to ask: Could love get any better than this? Could life get any better than this? Because this is really great!

And our Lord’s answer is to that question is… Yes. Yes, it can get better. And if we are Christians it will get better! That’s what heaven will be like!

But here’s some more good news. Even in this world we Christians sometimes get a foretaste of Christ’s amazing love, even on this side of eternity… I referred to this book a couple of weeks ago: It’s called Encountering Mystery: Religious Experience in a Secular Age, by Dale Allison, a New Testament scholar at Princeton. In the book, Allison cites all kinds of empirical evidence to suggest that a significant percentage of perfectly sane people living in our modern world have what they themselves describe as supernatural and miraculous experiences—more than we previously imagined! These experiences get under-reported because people are afraid that they’ll be judged by others, and other people will think they’re crazy.

Anyway, Dr. Allison begins his book talking about two supernatural encounters that he himself had with God that changed his life forever. Let me read an excerpt from a journal entry Dr. Allison wrote when he was a 23-year-old graduate student. He wrote: 

The day before yesterday I stood in my bedroom before a window that overlooks a [cemetery with a] grove of trees, evergreen, oak, maple. The sun, close to the horizon, still lit the landscape. A cool breeze moved the trees and, blowing through the open window, stirred the air in my room. The only sound was the song of seemingly happy crickets. A few moments passed—and then, suddenly, an emotion laid hold of me. I think I should… call it “joy,” though the word falls far short. This “joy” welled up from deep within, rapidly filled me entirely, and then passed beyond my body. No longer did I contain it, it contained me.”

He goes on to say that he saw a vision of heaven for a few moments before it began to fade. He writes, “This is what the saints shall see, walking upon the lawn of heaven… And in a moment of time, the faces of my family and friends appeared before my mind, and I clasped my hands and prayed that they might feel what I felt and see what I saw—if not in this world then in the world to come. Having offered this prayer, I turned away from the window, assured that my petition had been heard.” 5

And listen, I shared this on Wednesday night—and y’all didn’t throw rotten tomatoes at me; what I shared was well-received, and y’all didn’t think I was crazy, so let me repeat myself here… 

I think I completely relate to what Dr. Allison writes here. I attended a Baptist youth camp in the summer of 1984, just months after I myself got converted—after I made a profession of faith in Christ and was baptized.

I attended a week-long youth camp—no lie—right here in Toccoa, Georgia, of all places. At the old Baptist Center that Jonathan Sangster’s dad used to run. Jonathan used to cut the grass at the center—although he was grown up at this point. Anyway, after the worship service one evening, we returned to our cabins. It was lights out, and time to go to sleep. And I remember lying in my bunk bed, experiencing love like I had never experienced before. I knew that our Lord Jesus was right there with me, but not only that: I felt what seemed like wave after wave of this warm feeling of love flowing through me. I don’t know how to describe it. And I wasn’t just feeling Christ’s love for me—although that was profound—I felt intense love for everyone at the camp… for youth pastors, counselors, adult chaperones… my fellow youth. And like Allison in that excerpt I read, I wanted to give this love away. I wanted others to experience it. My experience lasted for maybe five minutes. I’ve had a couple of other experiences like that over the years…

But here’s what I know for sure… I knew it back in 1984, and I know it now, and I want you to know it too: If heaven is even a little like that—if we experience love like that in heaven, but even more so—then, friends, I want that more than I want anything else in life!

And I am confident, through faith in Christ, that I will have it in heaven! And you can have it too!

I like the way Teresa of Avila, a 17th-century Christian mystic, describes heaven: “The first moment in the arms of Jesus will make one thousand years of misery on earth like one night in a bad hotel.” 6

That’s Point Number One: Heaven means we experience the love of Jesus Christ like nothing  we can experience on on this side of heaven!

Point Number Two, I want to talk about Christ’s suffering and how it relates to this love…

I read an article last week in the New York Times about actor Matthew Perry—and a memoir that he has just published. Perry played Chandler Bing on the most popular TV show of the ’90s, Friends. In my opinion, Chandler was the funniest character. Of course it was well known, even back during Friends’ original run, that Perry, at some point, had a drug problem. But until this memoir came out, many of us underestimated how long the problem lasted and how far-reaching this problem was. 

He’s been clean and sober for only 18 months. And listen to what happened to him as recently as 2018. The article says:

[His] addiction led to a medical odyssey… that included pneumonia, an exploded colon, a brief stint on life support, two weeks in a coma, nine months with a colostomy bag, more than a dozen stomach surgeries, and the realization that, by the time he was 49, he had spent more than half of his life in treatment centers or sober living facilities. 7

Let me point out this one other detail from the article: One of the most famous episodes of Friends was the one in which Chandler marries Monica. Perry describes the day they filmed that episode: “I married Monica and got driven back to the [drug] treatment center—at the height of my highest point in ‘Friends,’ the highest point in my career, the iconic moment on the iconic show — in a pickup truck helmed by a sober technician.”

And of course we’re supposed to see the irony there: On the happiest moment of this fictional TV show—during the wedding episode—Perry was himself in the throes of his drug addiction and his desperate attempt to find healing.

Something seems incompatible with the joy of a wedding and the intense pain and suffering that Matthew Perry and the people who loved him most were experiencing at the time. For many of us, joy and pain don’t seem to go together.

But not so fast… As anyone who’s been married for a while knows, love and suffering go hand in hand. Lisa has had to suffer for the sake of being married to me, that’s for sure! But not because I’m uniquely bad… Suffering for the sake one’s spouse is true—more or less—for all spouses in all good and lifelong marriages. To love someone with the deep, intense, passionate kind of love that unites husband and wife is to accept pain and suffering as part of the deal… There’s no other way. This isn’t often portrayed on popular sitcoms or in Hallmark Christmas movies, but it’s true nonetheless.

Now consider this: Jesus Christ, who is God the Son—the bridegroom, as New Testament describes him—Christ our bridegroom understood this truth when he took on flesh and became human to unite with his bride, the Church. 

Christ our Bridegroom understood that pain and suffering were part of what it meant to be in the deep, intense, intimate, passionate loving relationship with us that the Bible describes… except in his case, this pain and suffering were greater than we can imagine—because Christ’s pain and suffering included death on the cross and hell.

Why did Christ do this… for you and me? Hebrews 12:2 tells us: “for the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross…” For the joy. What joy? In large part, the joy of making you and me a part of his family forever! Because he loves us that much.

So… for Point Number Three… How does this apply to All Saints Sunday?

I hope I’ve already answered that question for the most part. Our departed loved ones are most assuredly not suffering. At this very moment, they’re experiencing this love I’ve been talking about. But I want to leave you with one more thought: 

Maybe you doubt that Christ loves you the way I’ve described. Maybe you feel guilty for your past, guilty for your sins, guilty for the harm you’ve done…

If so, consider this: If Christ endured unimaginable pain and suffering for the sake of his love for you, do you think for a moment that Christ is going to give up on you now

Do you think for a moment that he’s going to lose patience with you now

Do you think for a moment he’s going to say, “By all means, I loved you back then”—when you first believed in me and received my gift of eternal life—“but that was before I knew how badly you were going to sin… how badly you were going to break my commandments… how badly you were going to disappoint me… how badly you were going to make a mess of your life!”

No! Of course not… Because all of those sins, all of those broken commandments, all of the mess you’ve made of your life—Christ knew all about those things when he chose to suffer and die on the cross.

And Christ said, “Suffering and dying on the cross is totally worth having you with me. I paid your debt in full. And now… I’m forever yours, faithfully.”

  1.  Luke 23:43; Philippians 1:21-23; 2 Corinthians 5:8
  2.  “Jonathan Cain,” Accessed 3 November 2022.
  3.  John Lin, “Jesus on the Afterlife [AM],” 13 August 2006, Accessed 3 November 2022.
  4.  Ephesians 5:31-32 ESV
  5.  Dale C. Allison Jr., Encountering Mystery: Religious Experience in a Secular Age (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2022), 3-4
  6.  Paraphrase by Tim Keller in “Arguing about the Afterlife,”, 1 July 2001. Accessed 4 November 2022.
  7.  Elisabeth Egan, “The One Where Matthew Perry Writes an Addiction Memoir,”, 23 October 2022. Accessed 4 November 2022.

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