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Archive for the ‘Heaven’ Category

From my sermon yesterday on Luke 12:31-34 …

Look, Jesus is not against investing. He’s against bad investing.

So, an Armani-suited, rolex-wearing, slick-haired man comes up to you and says, “I have an investment opportunity for you. Listen to this. Take all you have and I’ll invest it for you and you will lose every penny of it … and your house … and your car … and your clothes … and your beauty. All of it.” Now the Bible says this: “16 Be not afraid when a man becomes rich, when the glory of his house increases. 17 For when he dies he will carry nothing away; his glory will not go down after him.” (Psalm 49:16-17)

And another man dressed in rags with bleeding hands and a bleeding side with a crown of thorns comes up to you and says, “I have an investment opportunity for you. Give me all you have and I’ll invest it for you and you will receive 100 times back what you gave me. 100 Times.” Now the Bible says this: “29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)

Now, which one of those men do we believe?

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A couple of blog posts from Ray Ortlund, Jr.:

The first one on heaven:

“Now suppose both death and hell were utterly defeated.  Suppose the fight was fixed.  Suppose God took you on a crystal ball trip into your future and you saw with indubitable certainty that despite everything — your sin, your smallness, your stupidity — you could have free for the asking your whole crazy heart’s deepest desire: heaven, eternal joy.  Would you not return fearless and singing?  What can earth do to you, if you are guaranteed heaven?  To fear the worst earthly loss would be like a millionaire fearing the loss of a penny — less, a scratch on a penny.”

Peter Kreeft, Heaven (San Francisco, 1989), page 183.

The Second one on Christian living (balance):

To this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.  1 Peter 2:21

Christ is our substitute.  He suffered for us, in our place.  We can only receive his substitutionary sufferings with the empty hands of faith.

But Christ is also our example.  His sufferings charted a path for us to follow.  He suffered in a way we must also suffer.

In the gospel resurgence of our times, many of us are seeing with new clarity how Christ is our substitute.  We are learning to read the Bible not primarily to define how we must obey but primarily to see how Christ obeyed for us.  This is wonderful.

But let’s not turn a biblical both/and into our own either/or.  Christ is both our substitute and our example, according to Scripture.  And in that order.  First our substitute, then our example: “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example.”

If Christ is, to us, only our substitute to admire and not also our example to follow, we will not rouse ourselves to do hard things in obedience to him.  That will be spiritually deadening in the long run.  If Christ is, to us, only our example to follow and not first our substitute to admire, we will not lean on him as our savior and be freed from ourselves.  That too is spiritually deadening in the long run.  We can get it wrong and still thrive for a while.  But in the long run, only a well-proportioned theology can keep us spiritually alive.

A reviving gospel is always a biblical gospel, rejoicing in all that Christ is.  If we will embrace him fully, in the right order of all that he is, we will thrive and keep on thriving.  But to the extent that we distort or diminish the biblical witness to his true magnitude, to that extent we will start deadening ourselves and our capacities both to trust him and to suffer for him.

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Driving down Old Frankfurt Pike today, through Midway, KY, after eating at Wallace Station Cafe … was captivated by God’s glory. Even found myself asking, “Is this what heaven will be like?” I thought of this poem by Gerald Manly Hopkins:

Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                Praise him.

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In light of my not-so-glorified thoughts on heaven from this past Sunday’s sermon, I offer you these thoughts from Russell Moore, VP at Southern Seminary (it’s good reading and as always thought-provoking; oh yeah, the first part of the title is from a Train song):

I have long suspected that many Christians dread not just death but heaven. We won’t admit that, of course. Our hymnody, of whatever era, is filled with songs about the joy of the afterlife, and “what a day of rejoicing that will be.” We’re glad we’re not going to hell or to oblivion. But most of our songs and sermon mentions are about that first few moments in heaven: when we see Jesus, when we’re reunited with our loved ones, and so on. It’s like the happy ending of the story. And that’s the problem.

The gospel tells us that Satan keeps unbelievers bound by fear of death (Heb. 2:14-15). Believers, too often, dread death also, though not as much from fear as from boredom. We see the story of our lives as encompassing this span of seventy or eighty or a hundred years. The life to come is our “great reward” in “the afterlife.”

But just think about that word “afterlife.” It assumes eternity is an endless postlude to where the action really happens. It’s “after.” Our “reward” happens after we’ve lived our lives. Here’s why this language matters.

Imagine a couple referring to their marriage as their “after-love.” They explain to you that years ago they met, fell in love, and married. The years since are their “after-love” years, since they follow their falling in love with each other. You would, no doubt, ask whether they still loved each other and, if so, why they would relegate their lives together now as “after” anything, and why they seem to put their “love” in the past tense.  You would think they were downgrading marriage and missing out on joy by talking like that.

And you’d be right.

Too many Christians see the hope of resurrection life as a capstone on their lives now. We implicitly assume that our focus in the new creation is a backward focus on our lives as they are now.

We talk about all the questions we’ll ask about why this or that happened. We never think about whether we’ll be too busy to care about that, just like we’re too busy in the prime of our careers to ask our kindergarten teacher why she had snack time after recess rather than before. We talk about our reunion with loved ones, but even they often implicitly have a past focus.

A high school reunion can be fun. You catch up with old friends, and remember good and bad times. But the focus is usually on “remember when” and “whatever happened to” conversations. That’s great for an hour or four, but four trillion years of that would be hell. That’s not what Jesus promised us. He promised us life.

If we miss this, then we become just like those with no hope. We talk about our “bucket lists” of what we have to do before we’re gone since “you only live once.” We worry about our future and we nurse grudges because we fear our lives can be ruined by circumstances instead of by sin. We essentially move into the same old “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you shall die” except that we cap it with “…and then you’ll stand around with your loved ones singing songs and staring at a light for a quadrillion years and then some.”

God forbid.

Your eternity is no more about looking back to this span of time than your life now is about reflecting on kindergarten. The moment you burst through the mud above your grave, you will begin an exciting new mission—one you couldn’t comprehend if someone told you. And those things that seem so important now—whether you’re attractive or wealthy or famous or cancer-free—will be utterly irrelevant in the face of an exhilarating new purpose, one that you were prepared for in this era but one that is far more than a mere sequel to your best life now.

Let’s talk about eternity. But it’s no mere “afterlife.” Instead let’s start thinking of this little puff of time, the next eighty or so years, as what it is: the pre-life.

For more on why I think our vision of the future life is important, see my article “A Purpose-Driven Cosmos” in the February 2012 issue of Christianity Today.

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Luke 9:28-31 [28] Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. [29] And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. [30] And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, [31] who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

Do you see that word departure? In the Greek, it’s the word “exodus.” Did that word mean anything to Moses? Does that word mean anything to us? It referred to the redemption of God’s people, when God used Moses to free the Israelites who were enslaved to Egypt and delivered them into a Promised Land. And here’s God saying, “Look Peter, James, and John … and Brandon, and Richard, and Janet, Jesus is going to accomplish a far greater exodus for you, a far greater redemption, a far greater deliverance. He’s going to free you from sin and death and hell, not just working for no money in harsh conditions. And he’s not just taking you to a land flowing with milk and honey where you will still die and cry and hurt, but a new heavens and a new earth where there will be no more suffering and death and sorrow.”

Beloved, think how encouraging this is. Look what God is doing in this transfiguration. I don’t know that the disciples caught on to this, but we know the whole story. But we can see right here our hope. Think about Moses and Elijah. Do you see that they appeared in glory as well? And is this not a taste of what we will be? Is this not the redemption that is ours? Is this not a glimpse of our inheritance? Is this not what the Bible tells us that “When Christ, who is our life shall appear, then shall we also appear with him in glory.” (Col. 3:4) Do you see how God is motivating us to follow Jesus? He’s telling them, you will be like this if you will just keep on going.

Friends, consider your destination. If you are in Christ Jesus, if you are following him (v23), think about what you will be. David Powlinson notes these things about our destination as believers, one day:

You will be alive, strong, and healthy forever. You will never suffer from a cold, cancer, diabetes, back pain, eye-problems, dementia, fever, arthritis, hearing loss, heart disease, headaches, joint pain, scratches, cuts, bruises, cavities, or any ailment at all.

You will be freed from all your fears. Your fears about money, about your grades, about the opinions of others, about what the doctors will discover, never being intimidated, never worrying about your kids or anyone you care deeply for, never worrying about whether you have any friends, never comparing yourself to anyone else, no fear of being alone, no fear of dying, no fear at all.

You will have no more sorrows and you will never, ever, again experience loss. Every tear will be wiped from your eye. There will never be a spouse or child left behind and hurt. Friends, in this life there are tears that never seem to be completely wiped away but one day every tear will be dried. Some of you have wounds, like the loss of a spouse, that never completely heal. They will be healed one day. No more injustice or disillusionment or disappointment.

You will be blessed, radiantly happy with deep joy. [C. S. Lewis spoke of this … ] No shadows or gloom. No regrets and no “if-onlys” and no “what-ifs” … Nothing but sheer happiness. Think now about the physical pleasures we have now. Think about a good steak dinner. It’s good but we are fallen and in a fallen world. What will it be like when we feast in perfection? Right now we drink from stream. We enjoy the end of the stream that is polluted. One day we will drink from the fountain head.

You will be beautiful. You will be recreated and made spectacular. And it will be effortless.

You will be truly good without sin. Not goody-two shoes or Pollyanna. No more duplicity, no more hypocrisy, no more lust, no more malice, no more unrighteous anger, no more impatience, no more losing your temper, no more manipulating people, no more … You will never have a selfish thought or motive or action in your life. You will never turn in on yourself. The endless vortex of being the center of your world will be over. You will be truly good without sin.

You will be like Jesus when you see him.

Now, Moses couldn’t make you like that. Jesus can. Elijah couldn’t make you like that. Jesus can. And basketball, or golf, or a hottie or hunk, or a paycheck, or a new toy, or a new gadget, or a job, or whatever the “world” has to offer can’t do that either. Jesus can. And he can because of the greater exodus he gives us. And he will, if you follow him.

So, there’s the question, is Jesus greater than everything you could possibly want? Is his redemption, his salvation big enough for you, so that you will let go of your life and give it to Jesus? Is being glorified with him great enough for you to let go of the world? Is the crown that awaits you big enough to move you to take your cross and give your life to Jesus?

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But only the hope that comes from the gospel …

Revelation 21:1-4 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

“A man’s physical hunger does not prove that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist. In the same way, though I do not believe (I wish I did) that my desire for Paradise proves that I shall enjoy it, I think it a pretty good indication that such a thing exists and that some men will.” [C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory]

“I have a childlike conviction that the sufferings will be healed and smoothed over, that the whole offensive comedy of human contradictions will disappear like a pitiful mirage, … and that ultimately, at the world’s finale, in the moment of eternal harmony, there will occur and be revealed something so precious that it will suffice for all hearts, to allay all indignation, to redeem all human villainy, all bloodshed; it will suffice not only to make forgiveness possible, but also to justify everything that has happened with men.” [Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov]


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Luke 22:14-20 14 And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

This thought came to me as I chewed on this text this morning. The Lord “earnestly desired to eat” the Passover with his disciples. He desired to commemorate the rescue of Israel from Egypt. He desired to tell them that the lamb slain at the first Passover meal was a shadow of the Lamb of God who would be slain for sin. I don’t think he earnestly desired to suffer and die, paying the penalty for their sins. But he earnestly desired to in order that he might do something else. As Christ ate this meal with them he kept mentioning another table, another meal that he would eat, when the kingdom of God was consummated. And that is a meal he earnestly desires to eat with his bride. That is a meal he will eat without the cross looming over his cup of wine. And that is a meal he will eat without the specter of betrayal haunting his thoughts. There will be no betrayers at that meal. In fact, the fellowship he experienced with them in that room that night will not compare to the table of fellowship he will share with saints dressed in his glory when sin is no longer the 800 pound gorilla in the room that he felt so sharply but the disciples so dully. Oh how he earnestly desires to eat that meal with us! And that is why he gave his body and poured out his blood. For the joy set before Him he gave himself, the joy of broken bread that did not smell like death and a cup that did not taste like wrath. The joy of unhindered fellowship around the table of eternal life, not death by betrayal. Beloved, you just think you will enjoy that meal (and you will). But the Lord earnestly desires to eat that meal with us as well.

 

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