John 10: 27-30

2My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, 29 for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”

2 Corinthians 2: 14-16

But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. 15 Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing16 To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this?

The Story of Near East Relief (NER) is the story of the men and women who worked to save the Armenian people and other Christian minorities in the wake of the genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman government in Turkey, roughly spanning the years 1915-18.

As the Ottoman Empire began to crumble, its rulers consolidated their power around Turkey. A genocidal policy of “Turkification” was enacted. Many of the minority population, largely consisting of Christian Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians, were massacred. Those who were initially spared were deported in brutal death marches to the deserts of Syria and beyond.

A group of U.S. citizens was called into action by Henry Morgenthau, the U.S. Ambassador to Constantinople [Istanbul]. With the blessing of President Wilson, a meeting took place in the New York offices of Cleveland H. Dodge, a long-time supporter and Princeton classmate that set in motion a relief effort that galvanised the nation.

NER is credited with saving over a million lives, one hundred and thirty thousand of which were orphans.

The title given to this true story about Near East Relief is: They Shall Not Perish

The word ‘perish’ is used in a variety of ways. Here are some examples…

  • This tyre is so old that the rubber has perished.
  • You will perish from the cold if you go out without a coat!
  • I will reach the top of this mountain or perish in the attempt!
  • This nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that [being]: government of the people, by the people, for the people; [it] shall not perish from the earth
  • The soul does not perish like the body
  • Perish the lot of them!
  • Where there is no vision, the people perish

In each example, the use of “perish” indicates ‘no way back’… beyond repair or redemption… unusable… past the point of no return.

Of course, the opposite of “perish” is “not perish”. There are various words that we can use to express “not perish”. For example:

  • Appear (the opposite of disappear)
  • Arrive (the opposite of depart)
  • Live (the opposite of die)
  • Start (the opposite of stop)
  • Stay (the opposite of leave)
  • Begin (the opposite of end)

And here is a very famous use of “not perishing”… a famous verse from a poem by Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943) published in The Times newspaper on 21st September 1914 and often quoted at services to honour the fallen in battle…

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

The key message of this poem is that those who have fallen (died) “will not grow old” (i.e. not perish) and will be remembered forever.

When the Apostle John (or perhaps, Jesus Himself) uttered the immortal words, ‘Every one who believes in God [through the Son] will not perish but have eternal life’, he was expressing a simple but hugely significant truth: death is not the end!

You and I will physically die one day

  • I may go before you or you before me
  • When I die, my body will cease to function and I shall be buried or (more likely) cremated.
  • You will never see me again on this earth

Most of you have lost loved ones… We all lose our parents eventually and we all lose friends and acquaintances

  • Some lose close family members under tragic circumstances
  • And even the death of a celebrity can bring about a sense of bereavement
  • Older people sometimes comment that as you grow old, you get lonelier because your friends die off, one by one…

So each person’s body ‘perishes’ physically… but what about the “person they are/were”? What happens to their souls, their spirits?

  • Those without a belief in God speak of their life’s end as ‘blowing out the candle’ and that’s that!

But Jesus Christ said something completely different! Death is not the end

Recently, on a commuter train in London, a passenger stood up and began reading from John 11:

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?

Hearing these words, many of the passengers panicked and started to leave the (stationary) train by the emergency exits! Why?

  • Was it because they were convicted of sin and needed to repent? No way!
  • In fact, it was because they thought that he was a madman, who was about to kill them after he quoted these words: “Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying…
  • Yet these words are some of the most wonderful and reassuring ever written!

There have been numerous tragic cases of people committing suicide because they believed that it would shorten their earthly lives and hasten their eternity!

  • But God has a plan and purpose as to when our earthly lives will come to an end
  • He does not require our assistance through irresponsible behaviour, suicide or euthanasia…

 Christians can be assured that their own lives and (importantly) eternal destinies are in God’s hands…

 Peter Marshall, whose dynamic preaching attracted crowds of people, died suddenly on 25th January 1949, aged just 46. In one of his final sermons he said:

When the clock strikes for me, I shall go; not one minute early and not one minute late. Until then there is nothing to fear. I know that the promises of God are true, for they have been fulfilled in my life, time and time again. Jesus still teaches and guides and protects and heals and comforts; and still wins our complete trust and love.

Joyce Cary, Irish novelist, commented: “I look upon life as a gift from God. I did nothing to earn it. Now that the time is coming to give it back, I have no right to complain.

Tyron Edwards, American theologian, rightly said: “This world is the land of the dying; the next [world] is the land of the living

Contrast those words of hope and optimism with those of the atheistic philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980). As his life drew to an end Sartre wrote:

Despair returns to haunt me…The world seems ugly, bad and without hope. There, that’s the cry of despair of an old man who will die in despair. But that’s exactly what I resist. I know I shall die in hope. But that hope needs a foundation.

The trouble was that Sartre did not have any foundation other than his human wisdom and academic knowledge. Within a month of writing those chilling words he was dead… without hope, without certainty, without the security that comes from knowing that there is life eternal beyond the grave and a Saviour who waits to greet us. His body perished… but what of his soul, his spirit?

If you have a photograph of your deceased loved one, the picture is not a coffin or charred remains!

  • You have a picture of the living person… because in your heart and memory, the person lives on
  • These “living” photographs offer a glimpse into the way that God sees us in Christ… not as ‘dead’ but “made alive” … “imperishable

In John 5, we read that Jesus Christ promised that the day will come when all will be raised from the dead… some to their eternal reward (the ‘imperishable’); others to eternal oblivion (the ‘perishable’). Thus…

The time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgement.

  • And those whose lives witness to the saving grace of God in Christ Jesus shall be given new bodies in God’s heavenly abode. Thus, in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul writes:

While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life.

So even our bodies that perish are not gone for ever… They will be replaced by heavenly bodies that will never die… This is our hope and certainty in Christ

But while we live, we have a responsibility to live well, in a way that is pleasing to God

Billy Mills was a Sioux Indian who won a gold medal against all the odds in the 1964 Olympic Games. He once said:

Your life is a gift from the Creator. Your gift back to the Creator is what you do with your life

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

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