The Dead Still Speak, Though Not from the Grave

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Walter Albritton

By WALTER ALBRITTON

I find it helpful to give thanks for old friends who made a difference in my life and now await my arrival in heaven. Thomas Samford was one such friend. Though he departed this life in August of 2003, Thomas still surfaces in my memory and elicits gratitude for his friendship.

I met Thomas in his office at Auburn University where he served for 30 years as the school’s general counsel. The occasion of my visit was to discuss, at his invitation, his recent diagnosis with terminal cancer. He embraced his coming death with no self-pity; his focus was on using his remaining time wisely and well. His sincerity became clear when he agreed to help me teach Charles Colson’s book, “How Now Shall We Live”, in a Wednesday evening class. To be available to teach, he had to forgo his love of dove-hunting during the coming season.

While the diagnosis was correct, Thomas lived 11 more years with only minor hindrances to his health. During those years he taught a Sunday school class which tripled in size because people were inspired by the remarkable faith of a man facing death. Recently I came across a copy of a lesson he taught, two years before his death, on the resurrection of Jesus. As I read his lesson it occurred to me that often the dead still speak, but not from the grave. Since a person is a soul with a body, not a body with a soul, it is the soul of my friend Thomas that speaks now from his home in heaven.

  Believing that you may be blessed by a message from someone who died 18 years ago, I want to share with you five truths that Thomas harvested from Luke’s account of the resurrected Jesus appearing to two crestfallen disciples on their way to the village of Emmaus. So here, in his own words, is Thomas Samford speaking today:

1. First, Jesus Christ is real. He is no imaginary character from a “One upon a time” fairy tale. I remind myself constantly of the reality of God and the reality of His Son. Life is not a game, not even a serious game. Life is the reality of existence in the varying circumstances in which we each find ourselves, and our relationships and reactions to the forces and factors that determine our being. Life must be lived and believers must make Jesus Christ the center — the determining force — in our identity. If the Resurrection happened, we must interpret all things in the light of that fact. If it did not, we must interpret all things in the light of that fact. Dr. Earl Guinn, former president of Louisiana College, once said what we all instinctively know: “If Jesus did not rise from the dead, nothing really matters. If He did, nothing else matters.” Jesus Christ is real.

2. Second, Jesus is the sole source of truth and wisdom. “Truth” as used in the New Testament is the reality that salvation is through Christ alone, and wisdom is acceptance of that truth. In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Seems rather arbitrary, doesn’t it? No other way? No other way! The Word God teaches clearly is that Christ alone is the way of salvation. To proclaim other ways is to misstate the word of God, to mislead those to whom we minister, and further to deny the necessity of His birth and redemption. So Christians must reject the doctrine of universalism promoted in the name of a comfortable humanity and proclaim the truth of the Gospel: Jesus Christ is the sole source of truth and wisdom — and salvation.

3.Third, we are commissioned and commanded to be His witnesses. In what we call His Great Commission, Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all the nations.” Mark records Jesus saying, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” John reminds us that Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” As contrary as it may be to human logic, as inadequate as we may feel for the task, scripture makes it incandescently clear that God’s word is to be spread by believers. In Psalm 105:1 we are told to “Make known among the nations what He has done,” as a witness to His mighty power and promise. The wag has said, “Everyone is good for something; you can always be a pitiful example.” In truth, we are all witnesses to something. The question for a Christian is: What kind of witness will I be?

The omnipotent God of Creation is alive this morning and is acting in history and in each of our lives. Do we realize fully the significance of that truth? At this very moment, Almighty God is actively engaged as a participant in history — in the circumstances which surround us — and in the conditions and events of my life and your life. God is with us! And we are commissioned and commanded to be His witnesses.

4.Fourth, having sent us, He will empower us in the fullness of His time. He will not send you where His grace cannot sustain you. How could a tiny band of ragged Christians meet and master the power of the Roman Empire? Luke gives us the answer in Acts 1:8 — “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” This empowering comes to those who wait on the Lord. God has promised His grace when we need it, but we cannot run ahead of Him nor can we store it away for a time of need. Many times we plunge blithely ahead with some project without waiting for, without asking for, God’s guidance. John Calvin wrote, “I have not so great a struggle with my vices, numerous as they are, as I have with my impatience. I have never been able to conquer this wild beast.”

One of the last instructions Jesus gave the apostles was to wait — to wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them. The Prophet Isaiah reminds us that the everlasting God is never weary and “He gives power to the weak and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

5. Fifth, while we labor, Jesus Christ is our advocate at the throne of the Father. The Scriptures teach us that after Christ’s ascension to heaven, his disciples worshiped him and “returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” Great joy? Why “great joy” as His parting? At last they understood the man, the Messiah and the mission which had been their life for three precious years. They understood that the reigning Lord intercedes for His people. In Romans 8, Paul tells us “Christ Jesus — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”  As a king He now lavishes on us the blessings that His suffering won for us. From His throne He sends the Holy Spirit to enrich His people and to empower them for service. Jesus Christ is our Advocate with God.

When I was forced to learn Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life” in high school English, I did not suspect that it was for the purpose of summarizing a lesson like this 50 year later.

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,

Life is but an empty dream!

For the soul is dead that slumbers,

And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!

And the grave is not its goal;

Dust thou art, to dust returnest,

Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,

Is our destined end or way;

But to act, that each tomorrow

Find us farther than today.

Let us then be up and doing,

With a heart for any fate;

Still achieving, still pursuing,

Learn to labor and to wait.

Thomas concluded his lesson with this prayer: Dear Lord, we thank you and praise you for your reality and your presence in history. After the miracle of creation, You continued to direct, correct and sustain your universe and your people. You provided life and the covenant of your law to those whom you had chosen and you spared not your precious Son to cleanse and forgive the disobedience of sinful man. Dear Father, we thank you and praise you for your presence in our lives — that we may claim your comfort in times of trouble, your strength in times of trial and your wisdom in times of doubt. We thank you that we may witness to your mercy as we worship you and proclaim your word —  and that we may find joy, fulfillment and protection in the shadow of your wings. And Lord, we thank you and praise you for your promise that in all things you work for our good as we go through the trials of life. We thank you for loving each of us so much that through our belief in your only Son we may have eternal life with you. Strengthen and guide us in the days to come. In the name of the Christ, Amen.

Thanks be to God for His servant and my friend still, Thomas Samford.

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