The following is a lightly edited transcript.
I know why every one of you is here this morning. That is, I know why God in his providence brought you here. He brought you here so that you would know you don’t have to die. That’s why you’re here. He brought you here so that you would know who says, “I Am” — Yahweh God almighty not John Piper. That’s why you’re here. Those two reasons that you may know that you don’t have to die and that you may know that the authority behind that statement is not mine but God’s through Jesus. Then there are a few implications of that for your life — massive total ones. Nothing stays the same. If you don’t think you’re going to die ever, everything changes.
A Fierce Conclusion
There’s another piece of this text — the opposition. It’s terrible. John doesn’t record the opposition that Jesus is getting because it’s pleasant to read. It’s horrible. This is family. These are his people. He has come as a Jew among Jews in order to save the Jews and bring the kingdom to the Jews and present them the Messiah to the Jews and fulfill all the promises to his family. And they say, “You’ve got a demon.” That’s not pretty. Have you ever had a family member say you’re crazy? You’ve got a demon and it comes to a fierce conclusion when Jesus responds and says, “I don’t have a demon. I’m God.”
It comes to a fierce conclusion because they pick up stones. What are they going to do with those? They’re going to kill him according to Leviticus 24. Stoning is capital punishment for blasphemy. They weren’t confused about what he was saying. This is a very violent and scary moment, and it’s all built around this crazy statement: “If you keep my words, you’re never going to die.”
I wrote an article a few weeks ago just because it was just brimming out of my devotional life. I’ve been trying to memorize the Sermon on the Mount for months. I’m 68. It doesn’t come easy anymore, but I’m working. I was just so impressed how utterly ludicrous it has been over the centuries for people to try to turn the teacher of the Sermon on the Mount into a pleasant comfortable human teacher of ethics and the fatherhood of the God and the brotherhood of man and let’s just all get together and love our enemies. You get to the end of the Sermon on the Mount and he says, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not do many mighty works in your name? Didn’t we cast out demons in your name?’ I will say to them, ‘Depart from me you workers of inequity. I never knew you’” (Matthew 7:22–23).
Who’s talking? The Judge of the universe is talking. At the last day, everybody reports to Jesus. That’s in the Sermon on the Mount. That’s the ethical teacher. That’s him right here. If you keep his words, you never die. “Who do you make yourself out to be?” they said. Well, that was a good question.
Do Not Oppose Jesus
The opposition has already been going on John 8 and culminates in verse 47. Jesus says to them, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:47). So, they had already shown themselves deaf to the word of God. They’re not listening to the word of God. Jesus says, “The reason you’re not is that you’re not of God.” The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you’re a Samaritan and have a demon” (John 8:48)?
“Eternal life can’t stop. Believers don’t see death. They don’t taste death.”
Samaritan — where did that come from? It’s a multilayered slur. At one level, the Samaritans are Jewish half breeds who intermingled with the Gentiles, formed their own Bible and decided to worship in another way than at Jerusalem. And so the Jews hated the Samaritans. They’re calling him one of those half-breeds.
Here’s another layer. Several times in the Gospel of John the issue is that Jesus was born of Mary and nobody quite knew who got her pregnant. So they could say, “We don’t know who your father is. For all we know, he was a Samaritan.” Then to cap it all off: “and you’ve got a demon.” So, a racial slur, a slur against his mom and his origin, and the slur against the power that he has, claiming he’s demonic. This is pretty ugly and powerful stuff.
Jesus responds, “I do not have a demon” (John 8:49). Has any family member ever said to you “You’re crazy”? It’s just a light form of “you’ve got a demon.” What do you do at that moment? Anything you say they’re going to say is defensive, but Jesus was very settled and steady: “I don’t have a demon. I’m not crazy. I do not have a demon. I honor my Father, and you dishonor me.” That’s an understatement. “Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge” (John 8:50). So, he’s saying, “I don’t need to defend myself. I have a defender, my Father and he is seeking my glory. My Father will seek my glory. My Father will vindicate me. My Father will defend me. I don’t need to win this argument. My Father will win it in the end and he will be your judge.”
He’s saying, “You dishonor me. My Father is glorifying me. So if you dishonor me, you’re setting yourself at cross purposes with God, and he will be your judge.” That’s the cluster of thought here, which is to say, “Don’t do that. You don’t want to have God as your judge. You don’t. He’s God. You’re not. You don’t ever want to meet him as your judge, therefore, get in line with what he’s doing namely he’s glorifying me, not dishonoring me like you are.” This is a warning not to align yourself with anyone who dishonors the Lord Jesus.
Came to Save, Not to Judge
That word “judgment” in this gospel has a special ring to it because most of this gospel is written to say Jesus didn’t come into the world to judge. God is withholding judgment and sending a Savior. That’s John 3:17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” God is not in the moment of judgment here. Mainly, he’s still gathering. “Oh that Jerusalem would come and gather like little chicks under my wings. I’m not here to condemn you, I’m here to gather you.”
John 8:51: “Truly, truly, I say to you.” Now let this sink in. The “you” who just called him a Samaritan, a racial slur, a half-breed. This is “you” who is not sure who his dad is. The “you” who says he has a demon. And this is the “you” who is about to come under the judgment of God. If they don’t turn, he says, “Truly, truly I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (John 8:51). So, you blaspheming, dishonoring people, you don’t have to see death, you just have to keep my word. That’s amazing.
The reason it’s amazing is that there are other occasions in the gospel where Jesus says, “I won’t even talk to you anymore.” Remember that? He says, “By whose authority you do these things?” He says, “Let me ask you by whose authority did John the Baptist preach?” At the end of the day he says, “I’m not talking to you anymore.” He told us don’t cast your pearls before swine. Don’t give dogs what is holy. These are dogs. They said, “You got a demon.” That’s dog talk. In mercy, he doesn’t walk away yet — not until they pick up stones. So, this is him right now in this room doing that for you. So, whatever you brought here, feeling like you have called him that, you don’t have to feel like he’s walking away from you. Not yet. That’s why I said you’re here to know. This is a moment of grace for you.
How You Can Live Forever
“If anyone keeps my word, he will never die. He will never see death” (John 8:51). Now, what does that mean he will never see death? The adversaries here repeat it in the second half of verse 52. They say, “You say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’” They shift from see to taste. I think Jesus is okay with that because he doesn’t correct them. He didn’t say, “No, you misquoted me. I didn’t say taste, I said see.” I think he said, “You want to use taste when you see, it’s okay.” So, he’s saying, “If you keep my word, that is if you believe what I say, embrace what I say, treasure what I say, honor what I say, hold on to what I say as your great value, you’re not going to see death. You’re not going to taste death.”
I’ll give you a little clue as to how I read the gospels. I think that all four gospels were written with the expectation that the church would read them again and again and again and therefore know how it ended except the first time they read it. They would know how it ended and therefore any effort to read any part of the gospel without knowing the importance of the end I think would go against the author’s intention. So, when he says, “You keep my word, you live forever. You never die.” He’s not saying, “You don’t have to know anything about cross. The gospel is going to end there. This story is going to end there.” He’s already said, “the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11) So, when he says “my word,” that’s one of them.
“You won’t taste the end of your eternal life because there is no end of your eternal life.”
So, “If you keep my words, you remember what I said about I’m going to lay down my life for you. I’m going to be the shepherd substitute for you. I’m going to destroy death for you. I’m going to rise from the grave for you. Nobody takes my life from me. I lay down at my own accord. If they take it, I take it back. Those are my words.” Its not just commandments. That’s not the point. Keep his word. Love his word. Love the revelation of the Son of God in his totality. If you embrace what he said about himself and his death and his resurrection and his commandments, you embrace it as your life, then you live forever. You will never ever die. You never see death.
‘Though He Die, He Shall Live’
I woke up this morning. And the first thing at the top of the news list showed that a NASCAR driver died the previous night from a crash. Next thing in the news, 40 people dead in Iraq in a plane crash. I didn’t even catch whether it’s our guys try to bring food to the trapped Christians. Daily Ebola death, daily Gaza deaths, daily Ukraine deaths, daily Christians persecuted all over the world. What do you mean, Jesus, you won’t see death? I see it. I mean 50,000 people die a day in this world every day. It’s not like death is a surprise.
So, what does he mean when he says, “You will never taste death”? Look at verse 51. Just see it. These are his words. He doesn’t say, “falsely, falsely will I say to you.” He says, “Truly, truly I say to you if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death or taste death” (John 8:51).
One of the most powerful moments in my seminary life long time ago now was the funeral of James Morgan who had been my systematic theology teacher. I think he was 36 and he had four kids. He got stomach cancer. We had played handball together. He had taught me important things. We had argued together. And when I was at his funeral, Lewis Smedes, who taught me ethics, stood up with his long flowing white hair and in his booming voice said, “James Morgan is not dead.” My 24-year-old spine just tingled. His wife and kids were sitting in the front row. He’s not dead. I’ve never forgotten that moment. It just landed on me like an avalanche of truth and power and grace.
So, my question is, “What happened if he’s not dead? What do you call it?” Jesus gives the answer in chapter 11 in front of Lazarus tomb. John 11:25: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,” and verse 26 “and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Well, wait a minute. Come on. Though he die, he shall never die. Which is it?
“The one who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and the one who lives and believes in me shall never die.” So, yes, we die. And no, we don’t die. Lazarus’s body was right there in the grave and he was not dead and he was dead. John 5:24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
We Have Passed From Death to Life
Believers in Jesus have passed already from death to life. That’s over. That’s done. The passing from death to life is over. They already have eternal life. Eternal life cannot by definition stop, right? Eternal life can’t stop. Believers don’t see death. They don’t taste death. Their bodies die, they lie there in the coffin and they look like they’re asleep. That’s why the Bible frequently treats death as sleep. It looks like sleep and it is as simple as sleep for God to take care of. Their bodies are there. The trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable and they should be changed. The bodies die but we don’t die. We’ve passed from death to life. We have eternal life. Eternal life is unbroken and in unending life.
So, back to John chapter three to Nicodemus, you must be born again. You must be born of the Spirit. What does that mean? It means that life must come into being in you that will never stop being. You must have a new kind of life. It isn’t just this physical heart beating, brainwave thing. That is not the life. That is the main life. You need a life that is so woven into you as a person that you will never die. You, the you, the essential you will never die. If you have to lay down your body for a brief season, that’s not ideal. It’s not the goal, but you will be alive to die as to be with Christ and that is far better.
Philippians 1:23: “Apart from the body is at home with the Lord.” In 2 Corinthians 5:8, Paul loved the thought that he could never die. Now this takes a lot of faith and I have never died physically yet and I pray about it a lot. Like R.C. Sproul used to say, “I’m not afraid of death, I’m afraid of dying.” I know exactly what he means, so do all you older folks. We have the death issue fixed but this dying thing, what will that be? What will that be like? I want to say to you on the basis of this text and I’ll give you the person who is giving it in just a minute. I want to say to you, there will be not one millisecond of broken fellowship with Jesus. That’s amazing — not one.
You’re his now. You won’t see the end of your eternal life. You won’t taste the end of your eternal life because there is no end of your eternal life. You can’t see and you can’t taste what isn’t. Your eternal life never ends.
Mockery Reveals Jesus’s Identity
We’ll come back in just a minute to close out with the implication of that, but first the mockery and what the mockery draws out. I don’t know who some of you are, maybe feeling that’s just weird mythology I’m talking about. So, John 8:52: “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?’”
Now that question is why we get the greatest revelation in the Bible right here. If they hadn’t asked that question, we wouldn’t be getting this amazing word that we get about the deity of Jesus, so I’m thankful for this horrible opposition because of what it draws out. It comes out in two unbelievably amazing steps. Here’s stage number one of Jesus’s answer:
Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But, you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your Father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day and he saw it and was glad.” (John 8:54–56)
That’s almost as amazing as the most amazing thing but it’s not the most amazing thing. It’s just close. He saw my day. What does that mean that he saw my day? He saw the time when I am alive, my day, my triumph, my victory. He saw me in my day, my victory, my time, my throne, my reality. He saw me. He knew me. The commentators on this just go all over the place trying to figure out what was the vision, where did that happen, were they in heaven, the promise and the event, where is that? Jesus does not pause to explain this at all. I think the reason is they don’t care at all. They’re leaning in on the implication of it and they’re going to push it to the end.
John 8:57: “So, the Jews said to him, ‘You are not fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’ So, they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.”
“The world needs the Christ and the courage of Christians who believe they will never die.”
Now, if Jesus had meant to say it like a good Jehovah’s witness, he would’ve said, “I pre-existed Abraham,” he could have said that real easily. “Before Abraham was, I was.” That’s the way you say that, right? Before Abraham was, I was — like Michael, an angel. There’s no blasphemy in angels showing up in human flesh. That’s what they do. They take on appearances. There’s no blasphemy in an angel showing up. This is blasphemy and that’s true. They were ready to kill him and you kill blasphemers by stoning.
The reason they were ready to kill him is that he didn’t say, “Before Abraham was, I was.” He said, “Before Abraham was, I am,” which is weird — weird grammar and he means it to be gloriously weird. He knew what they knew — Exodus 3:14. “Who shall I say sent me,” Moses asks God. When I go down there, they’re going to say, “Who sent you?” He said, “Tell them I am who I am. Say I am sent you.” This is the clearest declaration in the mouth of Jesus that he is God. That he is Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament. “I am.”
What the World Needs from You
So, we have two points in this text. You are immortal if you keep the words of Jesus. God said so. That’s the point. Now closing implication. The world needs you to believe that. They don’t know what to believe. They don’t need more cautious Christians. They don’t need more Christians who just look like them, live like them, avoid all the troubles and risks like them, are afraid of death just like them.
Ernest Becker, 1973, wrote a Pulitzer Prize winner called, The Denial of Death. That was a popular book when I was in graduate school. He was a sociologist, as far as I know. The main thesis of this book he says is that the fear of death haunts the human animal like nothing else. It is the mainspring of human activity. He said the fear of death is the mainspring of human activity. That’s an amazing claim. The mainspring of all we do is colored by this avoidance and denial. I’m not going to die. I’m not going to die. I’m not going to die, not today at least, not today at least. That denial and fear just permeates our lives. I’m going to keep breathing here just to know the sounds.
The main thesis of this book is that the fear of death haunts the human animal like nothing else. It is the mainspring of human activity. Activity designed largely to avoid the fatality of death to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny of man. Now, the writer to the Hebrews agrees with that analysis of the human condition, because in Hebrews 2:14 he says that Jesus took on flesh, became like us in order that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and free those who threw the fear of death, have been held in life long bondage. That’s amazing.
That’s exactly what Becker said. The human race is enslaved to the denial of death. We just can’t let this in on our daily consciousness because it is so discouraging and horrifying. We don’t know what’s on the other side, if there is another side, and we love our sex and we love our food and we love our family. We love our everything, and death may take it all away. We cannot let that in because it’s going to ruin our lives. That’s true unless you will never die. If you will never die, you are the freest people in the world like, “Make my day Mr. Martyr-Maker.”
If we believe these things, so many of our little anxieties would look so foolish. So, I close by saying the world needs the Christ and the courage of Christians who believe they will never die. Wherever you live, wherever you work, you know what they need from you? They need a life of courage, risk-taking, radical, wild, crazy Christianity, and they need the Christ of a heart who knows “I will never die.”