Ultimately reality of life is death for many, Patterson says

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP) – He was by his father’s bedside in Dallas, Texas, in the last days of his life, but when it came time for Paige Patterson to fulfill an obligation to preach in Atlanta, Ga., his mother insisted that he go. His father, who was so ill he could not speak, nodded in agreement.

“She told me that I should never miss an opportunity to preach the gospel,” Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, said during a sermon during the annual Pastors’ Conference at First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla., Feb. 5. “On the plane somewhere over Alabama, God spoke to me, so clearly it was virtually an audible voice, and He said, ‘Your father is with me.’”

When he got off the plane, Patterson said he phoned his mother and asked only one question: “What time did he die?”

The grief Patterson said he experienced, however, was bittersweet. He had lost his father, but he was sure that he was in heaven. Sadly, he said, many people never experience that assurance and must come to grips with the ultimate reality of a life lived without Christ—physical and spiritual death.

Patterson said Paul spoke in 1 Corinthians 15 of the hope Christians have in eternal life, based not on mere speculation but on the evidence of history and the testimony of eyewitnesses. The gospel, he said, shows that Christ died for the sins of humanity and was raised “triumphant over death on the third day.”

“This is the gospel and it is that gospel alone which saves our souls, with nothing added and nothing taken away,” Patterson said. The resurrection, he said, is essential, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians.

Patterson said Paul gave ample proof for the resurrection, such as the corporate witness of a large body of Jesus’ disciples. “He was seen by more than 500 witnesses at one time. These are not 500 separate appearances to 500 people who are hallucinating,” he said. Added to this eyewitness experience was Paul’s own experience, Patterson said.

In the letter to the Corinthians, Paul was concerned with proving the resurrection. If there was no resurrection of the dead, Patterson said, then eight things must be true: Christ has not been raised from the dead; the preaching of the gospel is in vain; the Christian faith is empty; Christians are false witnesses and remain in sin; the dead have truly perished; Christians should be pitied; and they should abandon the testimony of baptism.

Patterson dissected 1 Corinthians 15, bringing light to key pages such as Paul’s reference to “baptism of the dead.” He said that Paul’s statement is conditional, and that it is intended to convey the futility of the symbolic exercise if Christ has not been raised.

“When we walk into the pool and the minister stands there and lays them away … what are you doing? You are performing a burial, you are indicating a resurrection, and you are making a historical statement, an existential statement and a prophetic statement all at one time,” he said. “There is no reason on earth to submit yourself to a dunking in public like that if there is in fact no resurrection from the grave. It is the ordinance of baptism that reenacts the resurrection of our Lord.”

It is because of the resurrection of Christ, and the fact that Christians will be raised on the day He returns, that the ultimate reality of life for the Christian is no longer death. The ultimate reality for the Christian is that Christ has conquered death.

“All of our lives death taunts us. All of our lives it hangs over us, but thanks be to God who gives us the victory,” Patterson said.

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