Do you know what the highest rated television series for the past two years has been for viewers between the ages of 18 and 49? If you attended one of our home group Bible study sessions last week, you may not have mentioned that fact about this show, but you did talk about the show for a moment in the introduction to the lesson. It’s a show called “The Walking Dead.” If you are between the ages of 18 and 49, you may know very well what that show is about, but if you are not between 18 and 49, you may or may not have any idea whatsoever that the show called The Walking Dead is a show about Zombies. The most popular TV show in America today is a show about dead people who come to life and then try to scare to death those people on earth who are still alive.
Now this show is about fake people, because Zombies are make-believe. Some researchers who study television trends say its popularity results from the attempt to find a mindless escape that will allow people for a little while, at least, to avoid thinking about all of societies’ problems or the problems in their own lives, just like, of course, many forms of entertainment are – and always have been. However, we can say that there are Real Zombies in a totally different sense – in a totally spiritual sense – in a sense that allows us not to try to escape the reality of our problems, but to face them head-on. The last verse of our lesson – verse 24 – tells us who those Real Zombies are – and that those Real Zombies are you… Verse 24: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”
In this part of God’s Word Jesus tells us that people who have crossed over from death to life are people who believe in Jesus as the living God. The opening verse of our reading – verse 18 – tells us that the Jewish leaders were trying very hard to kill Jesus because he called God his Father, making himself equal with God. Every once in a while you will hear people say that they don’t believe Jesus is God, because Jesus never claimed to be God. People who say that – or if you and I are ever tempted to think that – need to remember that the very reason the Jews did end up calling for the death of Jesus a couple of years later was for the very same reason. They accused him of speaking blasphemy, claiming to be God himself, and by our law, they said, he must die. They did not believe that Jesus was God, but there was no confusion in their minds at all that that is exactly who he claimed to be.
Earlier this week I was trying to rake up some of the many leaves on my lawn, when a couple of nice people parked their car a few feet away from my driveway and asked if they could talk to me. A break from the rake is always a good idea, so I let them start talking to me, but I ended up feeling so bad for them because they were Jehovah’s Witnesses who were telling me that God promised there would be total peace on the earth some day, and that that is what we should look forward to and be able to enjoy by living a good life. One of the reasons they believe that is because, like many people, they do not believe that Jesus came to this earth to forgive our sins of not living a good life the way God wants us to and in that way to take us away from this earth someday to a place in heaven which he is preparing for us. Sadly, they do not believe there is a hell that we need to be rescued from, nor do they believe that Jesus is the almighty, eternal living God who has forever been in heaven, but, they believe, is rather someone created by God.
Spiritually Real Zombies believe something far different from what those nice people believe, something I hope they end up believing some day before they die. You and I can be very thankful that God has given us the faith to believe the things Jesus said about his connection to the Father in verses 19-20, where Jesus tells us that the Son can only do what he sees his Father doing, and that the Father shows him all he does. What that is saying is that the Father and the Son are one, just as is the Holy Spirit. That the Father and the Son are one – yes, that Jesus is the true and living God – is exactly what you and I say together about Jesus every time we speak the words of the Nicene Creed, as we do on almost every communion Sunday: “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father. Through him all things were made.” All those expressions are expressions for which the Jews tried to kill Jesus. We are confessing for all the world to know that we believe that Jesus really, truly is the living God, even if someday someone might threaten our life for believing that, just as they threatened – and eventually took the life – of the one about whom those words are true.
What if those words weren’t true? What if Jesus wasn’t the living God? Every single person – every single religion — which does not believe that Jesus is the living God — also does not believe they need a Savior from sin. If Jesus were not the living God, he could not have shed blood that was perfectly innocent, and he could not have lived a life that was totally perfect – a perfect life and an innocent death that would have paid the price for the sins of the world. If Jesus were not the living God, we would right now be – and we would forever remain – spiritually dead people, no matter how good or bad our lives might be going right now, no matter how much good or bad in our lives we might be doing for others right now.
That is why Real Zombies also believe in Jesus as the one who gives life to dead people. Let’s think about that for a bit.
That opening verse tells us that the Jewish leaders wanted to kill Jesus because he claimed to be God. It also tells us that they wanted to kill him because he was breaking the Sabbath. What is that all about?
We know that in the law which God had given to the people of Israel, he had told them to do no work on the Sabbath Day, but to rest from their physical work and to reflect on the spiritual work God had done to make them his children. In other words, the whole point was to have them think about the eternal rest they would someday enjoy in heaven because of the soul-saving work the coming Messiah would do. It was never, ever meant to have them not do good and kind and helpful things for other people. That would have been totally absurd.
But absurdity is what you and I have to be very careful about, too, if we find ourselves looking at things the way those Jews did. What had just happened is that Jesus had given a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years the ability to walk again. Not only was this an evidence that Jesus truly was who he claimed to be – the Son of God and promised Messiah – but it was also just a really nice and compassionate thing to do. But this is what the enemies of Jesus said was working on the Sabbath and deserving of death. It didn’t even make sense, as Jesus once told them. If you have an ox or a sheep that falls into the pit on the Sabbath Day, would you let that poor animal stay there all day and night long because it’s the Sabbath? Of course not. There never is any rest from just doing normal, kind, decent, good things.
Now that Sabbath Day command was done away with when Jesus died on the cross, because his death on the cross did away with all those commands God gave to the children of Israel about their life at the temple and their life as citizens, but what has never been done away with is God’s desire that we take time for spiritual rest, and what has never been done away with is God’s desire for us to remember that there never is not a time not to do good and kind and decent things. Both of those thoughts are what Real Zombies are all about when they realize how great it is that we have crossed from death to life.
This is what I mean. If you and I don’t take time to regularly think about and study God’s Word, what will eventually happen? All kinds of things – and none of them are good. If we don’t take rest time with God’s Word, we will be more likely to think that all kinds of wrong things are okay for us to do and less likely to defend God’s truth when others attack it or less likely to fight against temptations when they attack us, because God’s love and God’s will won’t be deep enough in our hearts. If we don’t take rest time with God’s Word, we will not have the strength and wisdom to see bad things that happen in our lives as a reason to remember that the things of this world are not all that important or great, but we will be tempted instead to think that God must not be all that important or great if he won’t or can’t keep bad things from happening to us. If we don’t take rest time with God’s Word, we will either fear the judgment that verse 22 tells us the Father has entrusted to the Son on the Last Day, or we won’t care about it, because there are too many other cares and concerns and worries and pleasures that fill up our brains and our hearts, all of which end up pushing out of our brains and hearts the things of God.
But those are the kinds of dead things – the sins – that taking time to rest in God’s Word assures us have been eliminated from condemning us, because we have crossed from death to life. That last verse again says, “I tell you the truth, whoever ever hears my Word (whoever finds his rest in my Word) and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” And that is why we want to do good and kind and helpful things. We are no longer dead, but we are forever alive, with all kinds of time and opportunities to show our love for Jesus and his people both here on earth right now and then perfectly with Jesus in heaven. We do those things not because we want to show how good we are, but because we want to thank God for how great he is that he would send his own Son as the eternal, living Holy One to also cross from death to life. He crossed from death to life by dying on the cross on Good Friday and rising from the dead three days later. The one who himself gave life to his own dead body is the one who gives life to our dead souls and who on the day of the Last Judgment will tell our dead bodies to come out of the grave and be reunited with our soul that has never stopped enjoying the eternal life which Jesus says we already have right now.
A recent news article said that the viewership for the show about fake zombies called The Walking Dead was down in the first few episodes this fall, causing all kinds of buzz in the entertainment world about whether the show about the walking dead will soon itself be dead. Whatever does or doesn’t happen with that, you and I do not have to worry about up and down ratings when it comes to the love of our Lord, because you and I are judged on the basis of the one who himself is the living God, the one who himself has been pleased to do the work of taking us from death to life, the one who himself allows us to talk in a very different way – but a very true way– about Real Zombies, who, like Jesus and because of Jesus and by faith in Jesus are no longer dead, but alive – alive to live for him who lived and died for us. Amen.