When Sleepers Wake

sleeper

Judgment follows this life, then eternity.

Please read Daniel 12:1-4 in your Bible.  I researched the NIV (1984) for this message.

In a poll taken in 2017, 69% of Americans said that death was a subject they generally avoided.  Not surprisingly, this means that the majority of Americans (72%) have no written plans.  Of the unprepared, the chief reason given for being unprepared is “Haven’t Got Around to It” (49%) with “Never Considered It” second at 27%.

(“Views and Experiences with End-of-Life Medical Care in the U.S.,”  https://www.kff.org/report-section/views-and-experiences-with-end-of-life-medical-care-in-the-us-findings/.)

The reality is that the mortality rate in America is 100%.  Everyone dies.  Death brings a lot of work for the survivors.  These are certainties.  So it certainly seems wise to be prepared and make surviving as easy as possible for our family members especially.

What is true in legal and social matters is also true in our spiritual life.  By faith we hope to be raised to eternal life after life in this world ends.  We take the first step of faith by accepting Jesus as our Savior and thereby gain heaven.  But our preparations for life after death do not stop there.  The way we live after that decision, the subsequent steps of faith (like baptism, for instance), and the life-long process of spiritual maturity also prepare us for eternal life.

Daniel received a vision of what lies beyond death and further, beyond the entire human race.  We’ll take a look at a small but essential part of that vision this morning.

Our passage begins with the words AT THAT TIME, referring back to 11:36-45, which describes a great war fought against the Kings of the North and South by an unnamed third king.  After a great conflict, this king will be defeated.  Our passage begins at the time following that conflict.

  1. What’s going to happen tomorrow? (1-2)

By “tomorrow” I refer to the end of time. In the Old Testament it is called the “Day of the Lord.”  In the New Testament it is called the “Second Coming of Jesus Christ.”  It will happen “tomorrow” in the sense that it is a future event, but the timing is uncertain.

Who is Michael?  Michael is also referred to as A GREAT PRINCE in 10:13+21 where an unidentified supernatural being (earlier visions – chapters 8+9 – name Gabriel as the messenger) said that Michael helped him resist THE PRINCE OF THE PERSIAN KINGDOM.  Daniel has two of four mentions of Michael in the entire Bible.  Here are the other two: in Jude 9 it is written that Michael was an ARCHANGEL who contended with the devil for the body of Moses.  In Revelation 12:7, Michael led angels in a heavenly battle against an ENORMOUS RED DRAGON.  In all four of these passages, Michael PROTECTS God’s people.  The word “protect” literally means “to stand beside.”  Picture a body guard or Secret Service agent who’s an angel!

After the great conflict of kings, the angel Michael WILL ARISE. ARISE is translated from the Hebrew word amad.  It meant to stand, be assigned, presented, or appointed.  It is almost exclusive to Daniel.

Michael’s appearance will be a signal event, beginning a time of greatest DISTRESS.  The word DISTRESS (Hebrew, sara) means “trouble, calamity, anguish, or hardship.”  The worst of times will precede the best of times.

This DISTRESS will be worse than anything experienced from THE BEGINNING OF NATIONS UNTIL THEN.  In terms of biblical history, the BEGINNING OF THE NATIONS can be traced back to Genesis 10, the accounting of nations composed of the three sons of Noah.  From that specific point in history until an undefined point in the future, Michael’s appearance will signal a stretch of unparalleled suffering.

Some interpreters want to harmonize this verse with the mention of a GREAT TRIBULATION in Revelation 7:14. Also; Jesus referred to a similar circumstance in MTW 24:21, using language very similar to Daniel’s.  These passages describe similar events but a linkage isn’t strictly necessary.  It’s enough for us at the moment to merely observe Daniel’s teaching.

The text doesn’t identify this DISTRESS as persecution.  Instead, it says only that Daniel’s PEOPLE will be DELIVERED from this time of DISTRESS.  It could be a world-wide problem.

This has been a lot of bad news, but here’s where the good news is found: in the promise of deliverance, made to EVERYONE WHOSE NAME IS FOUND WRITTEN IN THE BOOK.  This BOOK is linked to other Scriptures that mention a listing of persons who have eternal life (see EXS 32:33; PSS 69:28; MLI 3:16; LKE 10:20; PPS 4:3; HBS 12:22-23; RVN 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12+15; 21:27).  As you can see, the image of “The Book of Life” is one that enjoys solid biblical support.

The promise is that the enrolled WILL BE DELIVERED.  In this context, the deliverance is from the DISTRESS.  In Revelation 21:8, the promise goes further: those enlisted will be DELIVERED from the power of Satan and the “Second Death.”

As we have noted, the point of the passage is resurrection will precede judgment.  The angel said MULTITUDES will be involved.  In point of fact, all people will be resurrected to face God’s judgment; believers & unbelievers alike.

SLEEP is either a metaphor for death or for a period of unconsciousness between death and Judgment Day.  Take your pick of either interpretation; the biblical evidence is not as decisive as some want you to believe.  (In fact, in my experience, people who argue against an interim period of unconsciousness (aka “soul sleep”) do so with unnecessary vociferousness that makes me suspect their overreaction is based on their inner sense they are wrong.  Just saying.) Historically, we know Jews of this time believed in a period of unconsciousness between the moment of death and the Day of the Lord.

There will be a division of the sleepers when they awaken.  Jesus made this same prediction in John 5:28-29,

“DO NOT BE AMAZED AT THIS, FOR A TIME IS COMING WHEN ALL WHO ARE IN THEIR GRAVES WILL HEAR HIS VOICE AND COME OUT – THOSE WHO HAVE DONE GOOD WILL RISE TO LIVE, AND THOSE WHO HAVE DONE EVIL WILL RISE TO BE CONDEMNED.”

SOME of the sleepers will awaken to EVERLASTING LIFE.  This is a reference to heaven; living eternally with God and His people.

SOME will awaken to SHAME AND EVERLASTING CONTEMPT.  This is a reference to hell: final and complete separation from God.  In Revelation 20, the division is between those who are blessed with LIFE and those who suffer a SECOND DEATH.

The word EVERLASTING means exactly what you think it does – endless, even timeless.  God is forever in the present.  Those welcomed into His presence will join Him in that spiritual state.

  1. What do I need to do today? (3-4)

First, I need to BE WISE, because the reward for wisdom is shining LIKE THE BRIGHTNESS OF THE HEAVENS.  See Daniel 11:33-35, where this promise is described in more detail.  The word WISE meant to “observe carefully, instruct, act circumspectly.”

Second, I need to LEAD MANY TO RIGHTEOUSNESS, because the reward is to be LIKE THE STARS FOR EVER AND EVER.  The most important “fruit” or outcome or even proof a truly godly life is helping others to share our faith; making new disciples.  The angel even quantifies this fruit with the word MANY.  This word recommends ambition in our witness.  Counter to our unfortunate tendency to look after ourselves, Christianity is NOT a self-help group.  Like Jesus, we exist to serve, not to be served.

Note two important consistencies in these promises: They both elaborate on the eternal rewards given to those God judges to be true believers.  In both cases, the reward is to “shine brightly.”  This is a figure of speech for living praiseworthy lives.  We will shine with the reflected glory of God.

Daniel’s task was to CLOSE UP AND SEAL THE WORDS OF THE SCROLL.  (See also Daniel 8:26.)  What is on the SCROLL? Presumably, the words of this prophecy, even though at no time is Daniel commanded to write it down.  (This is contrary to Revelation 21:5 where John is told to write down God’s words and Revelation 22:10 where he is commanded to NOT seal up the words of the prophecy.)  It was to be closed and sealed UNTIL THE TIME OF THE END. Are we to connect this with the scroll in Revelation whose seven seals are broken open?

Why keep it closed and sealed?  We can make several observations here.

One,  in ancient times, the originals of all important documents were kept locked up.  Duplicates might be written out, but the originals were kept safely against the need to settle future disputes. The scribe who wrote out the record affixed his seal, as did the various witnesses.  These seals distinguished the original version from all copies.  Taking this into account, it seems most likely that the angel is commanding Daniel to keep the original version from all revision and corruption.  Only the revealed word of God in the words God inspired is sufficient information for our salvation.

Two, the cryptic phrase “MANY WILL GO HERE AND THERE TO INCREASE KNOWLEDGE” is offered as an explanation.  The phrase described repetitive motions, like a swimmer’s arms or harvesters gathering grain.  It is a figure of speech for people searching for knowledge of the future and spiritual things.  We might say, “They’re going to rush hither and yon to search for the truth.”  Closing and sealing the text prevents them from potentially misusing the message delivered to Daniel, as he holds the authorized copy safe.

Three, God’s purpose in closing and sealing may be found in vs. 9-10:

HE REPLIED, “GO YOUR WAY, DANIEL, BECAUSE THE WORDS ARE CLOSED UP AND SEALED UNTIL THE TIME OF THE END.  MANY WILL BE PURIFIED, SPOTLESS AND REFINED, BUT THE WICKED WILL CONTINUE TO BE WICKED.  NONE OF THE WICKED WILL UNDERSTAND, BUT THOSE WHO ARE WISE WILL UNDERSTAND.”

This is similar to Revelation 22:11, another angelic message;

“LET HIM WHO DOES WRONG CONTINUE TO DO WRONG; LET HIM WHO DOES RIGHT CONTINUE TO DO RIGHT; AND LET HIM WHO IS HOLY CONTINUE TO BE HOLY.”

Verses like these emphasize the rule of God over human free will and His foreknowledge of who will be saved.  It is a warning to continue to be faithful, even though there are people who will stubbornly deny God all the way to hell.  As 1 John 3:9 says, NO ONE WHO IS BORN OF GOD WILL CONTINUE TO SIN.  It is by faith and by the Holy Spirit that God’s word is understood.  This prophecy would be CLOSED to those who lack the faith to understand it, sealed against those who would deny its truthfulness.

Fourth, this statement is typical to apocalyptic literature.  A  reason for that may be to protect the identity of the writer until after his death.

Fifth, CLOSED and SEALED are figures of speech similar to Paul’s use of the word “mystery” to refer to something that was previously unknown.

Whatever CLOSED and SEALED is supposed to mean, we should not lose sight of the lesson made in this prophecy:

Judgment follows this life, then eternity.

Some Bible scholars over-simplify the Old Testament.  They say, for example, that the doctrines of resurrection and eternal life are not to be found in the OT or are dimmed.  (Other examples: JOB 14:11-14; 19:26; PSS 16:10-11; 17:15; 49:15; 73:23-24; ISH 25:8; 26:19: HSA 13:14.)  To be sure, the picture of the afterlife is not as clear in the OT as i/t NT.  For example, some Scriptures refer to the abode of the dead as Sheol, a place where ghostly versions of deceased folk (2SL 12:23; JOB 7:9; ECS 9:5+10) exist, but don’t really live, awaiting the Day of the Lord.  But this is one of many reasons we talk about the Bible being a “progressive revelation.”  That means that God revealed more and more of the truth as time progressed and as we read from Genesis to Revelation.

Perhaps you’d agree our passage today is as clear a reference to resurrection and eternal life as a person would hope to find anywhere in the Bible.  That’s why I felt lead to this passage, to affirm these two truths on All Saints Sunday.  Today of all days we need to have our hope for eternal life undergirded by what God’s messenger told Daniel.

 

A video version of this message may be seen on YouTube at “EBCSF.”

 

RESOURCES:

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Gleason L. Archer, Jr.

More Hard Sayings of the OT, Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

The Daily Study Bible Series, D.S. Russell.

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The Answer is “No and Yes”

ambition

The question: “Is this as good as it gets?”

          Ambition can get you in a lot of trouble.  Too much is a problem, as is too little. If a person has ambitions that are selfish or materialistic, they’ll find the pursuit of God to be frustrating.  Ambition that creates competition can be divisive.

Pastors are not immune to this issue; there’s a surprising amount of literature on the subject.  For example, I read an article titled “The Ambition Engine” by Pastor Skye Jethani.  He wrote about how his seminary experience revealed a dark side to pastoral ambition. “On the first day in a small class, when asked to introduce ourselves and say why we had entered seminary, the first student said, ‘I’m here because I’m going to be the next Bill Hybels.’ Really, I thought. Hope that works out for you.

“The next said, ‘My grandfather was a pastor, my father was a pastor, and I’m supposed to be a pastor too.’ Daddy issues? The third student revealed his three-year plan to become senior pastor and then transform his congregation into a megachurch. ‘My denomination wants me to have an M.Div. degree,’ he said, ‘but once I’ve proven I can grow a big church, I don’t think they’ll make me finish the degree.’ Good grief, I thought.”

https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2010/fall/ambitionengine.html

Yes, ambition can cause some particularly stupid notions.  Achieving a balance requires deep knowledge of one’s self, obedience to the Holy Spirit, and a willingness to change to meet changing circumstances.

On way to promote a healthy balanced ambition is to keep asking yourself, “Is this as good as it gets?”  The answer will lead to maturing faith if your ambition sits squarely on God.  In Philippians, Paul evidences a good balance of ambition and contentment.  We’ll look at it this morning following the “thesis, antithesis, synthesis” method.

“Is this as good as it gets?”

  1. No way – God is not finished with you (Philippians 1:6).

CONFIDENT in the Greek meant “persuaded, convinced, trusting in the object.”  You might say this word refers to an earned trust.

Paul used this word five times in his letters, twice here in Philippians (see Galatians 5:10; Philippians 1:6; 2:24; Philemon 1:21; Hebrews 6:9).  Of these references, twice he was CONFIDENT IN THE LORD (Galatians 5:10 and Philippians 2:24).  The other three times his confidence was in the recipients of his letters.  Paul never expressed confidence based on himself, only on t LORD and His people.  The LORD had earned Paul’s trust and though church folk disappointed him, Paul knew t LORD would never abandon his people.

The phrase BEGAN…CARRY ON TO COMPLETION encompasses the scope of salvation.  God took the initiative with each of us; He BEGAN the process of salvation right after the sin of Adam and Eve.  God has not abandoned or forgotten any of His people; He will save everyone who calls on Him.  The beginning and the end are in God’s hands; let there be no doubt about that.  But we are all still in process; let there be no doubt about that either.

How long will the process last?  Paul’s answer here was UNTIL THE DAY OF CHRIST JESUS.  The DAY OF CHRIST JESUS occurs just six times in the New Testament; three of them here in Philippians.  This DAY is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, the event that signals the completion of God’s work of salvation.

The life we know right now cannot be as good as it gets because we are in process, and the process is not complete.  The Bible calls this process “sanctification,” a word that means becoming increasingly holy.

If we are convinced that some day in the past or the present life is as good as it gets, we must be frozen at a point in our maturing.  All of us need to cultivate a little “godly discontent” in this regard.  We should always acknowledge that the biggest room in our home is “room for improvement.”

“Is this as good as it gets?”

  1. Yes – be content (Philippians 4:12).

Paul has seen it all: times of NEED and times of PLENTY.  He did not exaggerate in the least.  On the PLENTY side, he grew up in a family wealthy enough to purchase Roman citizenship.  On the “needy” side, he suffered a great deal because he faithfully preached the Gospel (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 for a lengthy list of all Paul suffered for the sake of the Gospel).  This fact proved that Paul’s joy did not depend on his circumstances.  Even in all his sufferings he was CONTENT will all God provided.

Having seen it all, Paul learned the SECRET OF BEING CONTENT IN EACH AND EVERY SITUATION.  It was a “SECRET” in the sense that contentment is something learned by experience and by individual commitment.  No one can be content for you or teach it to you.  It must come from within your heart.  Again, Paul’s contentment was not limited to moments of ease; EACH AND EVERY SITUATION includes all the normal and extraordinary situations he faced.

Isn’t contentment the opposite of ambition?  On the surface, contentment can feel like saying “I don’t need or want any more.  I am fine with what I have/what I am right now.”  On the surface, ambition can feel like a hunger that cannot be satisfied, a dissatisfaction that motivates movement.

To me, it’s more helpful to see these emotional conditions as two ends of a balancing pole.  Wire-walkers sometimes perform with a pole in their hands, using it to achieve balance on the wire.  Similarly, contentment and ambition are two virtues we hold in balance to keep us steady as we make our way through life.  There will be circumstances where we need to be more content and others where more ambition is needed.  God supplies wisdom so we know the difference. Our final note on this passage narrows the issue down for us.

“Is this as good as it gets?”

  1. Yes and no – be content with God’s material provision;

be ambitious for godliness instead (Philippians 3:13-14).

In humility, Paul admitted he hadn’t TAKEN HOLD of all Jesus had done for him.  The phrase TAKEN HOLD means to “seize, grasp the meaning, understand.”

He hadn’t yet been raised to heaven.

He hadn’t been MADE PERFECT (12).

Those things happen on the other side of this life.  And yet, at that moment, Paul had as his ambition to take hold of as much of it as possible on this side of life.

Paul noted two steps in achieving this ambition.

One: FORGETTING WHAT IS BEHIND.  God gave me a series of one-liners to understand and apply this truth:

– Resist the urge to gold-plate the past.  The days behind held their share of sorrows too.

– Resist the urge to hold grudges.

– Forgive and forget the offense, but hold tight to the lessons learned.

– Seek forgiveness from people and God wherever offense and sin is unresolved.

– Reject the devil’s false guilt.

– Love unconditionally, as God has loved you.

– Remember people in the most positive light.

– Sentiment clouds our judgment; best avoid it.

– Discard limitations your past places on you.

Two: STRAINING TOWARD WHAT IS AHEAD.  Imagine the victory, then pour yourself into achieving it under God’s direction.

No amount of effort will change the past.  Some of your efforts may immediately change the present.  Every effort will have an effect on the future.  That fact alone ought to dictate where we devote our attention.

For the believer, Jesus awaits us on the other side of the finish line.  We pour our heart and mind and strength into faithful obedience because we await His welcome on the other side of that line.  If our eyes are on anything other than the finish line, we tend to veer off course and/or slow down.

The Apostle Paul undertook one method in realizing his ambition: I PRESS ON.  The phrase PRESS ON pictures a runner stretching forward to cross the finish line.  The athlete is pouring every last bit of strength into finishing the race; his effort leaves everything on the field of competition.  Nothing needs to be reserved for after the race of life because there is nothing left to be done after this race.

For many of us, life is a marathon, not a sprint.  The effort required to be faithful does not relent until death comes to us.  Quitting is not even an option.  When weariness comes, we may have to change our pace, but we keep moving on toward our heavenly goal.

Paul had one goal in life: TO WIN THE PRIZE FOR WHICH GOD HAS CALLED ME HEAVENWARD IN CHRIST JESUS.  The PRIZE in this case is eternal life; a forever spent in God’s presence and in fellowship with the rest of His people.  We know that because verse eleven ends with a reference to THE RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD.

There is nothing this world can offer that compares with heaven.   Our problem is not so much having trouble believing that, but our problem is more often remembering that.  We don’t always behave like people who are headed for heaven, do we?  The world can easily distract us and our human nature can easily betray us so we don’t act as heaven-bound folk.  That’s called SIN and we need to avoid it and repent of it when we fail to avoid it.

The parts of us that survive the death of the body are the good and godly things.  Nothing evil or worldly makes it into heaven.  It’s upon us to partner with the Holy Spirit in filling our days with godly words and deeds.

“Is this as good as it gets?”

          A man became envious of his friends because they had larger and more luxurious homes. So he listed his house with a real estate firm, planning to sell it and to purchase a more impressive home. Shortly afterward, as he was reading the classified section of the newspaper, he saw an ad for a house that seemed just right. He promptly called the realtor and said, “A house described in today’s paper is exactly what I’m looking for. I would like to go through it as soon as possible!” The agent asked him several questions about it and then replied, “But sir, that’s your house your describing.”

https://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-illustrations/1126/house-for-sale/

God revealed to Paul that he should be continually ambitious for spiritual maturity but content with the material things God had already provided.  This allowed Paul to be undeterred by circumstances, numbers, or any other material signs of success or failure.  That is a worthy example for us to follow.

Here’s one way we can put this into practice.  The next time you feel compelled to upgrade to the bigger, faster, newer, or prettier version of something we already have, require yourself to make a matching contribution to church or charity.  Doubling the expense will cause you to think twice about buying the item at all and might just simplify your life.

Death Benefits

Please read Philippians 1:18-26 in your own Bible.  I’ve used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Death is the consummation of life: God is in both.

We so typically think of death as an enemy (and biblically, it is) that it sounds strange to talk about “death benefits.”  When I went looking for a definition of death benefits, I was surprised to find out there is actually a website called “Investopedia.”  It seems Wikipedia has really started something and has imitators.  Anyway, Investopedia defines “death benefits” as “the amount on a life insurance policy, annuity or pension that is payable to the beneficiary when the insured or annuitant passes away. A death benefit may be a percentage of the annuitant’s pension. For example, a beneficiary might be entitled to 65% of the annuitant’s monthly pension at the time the annuitant passes away. Alternatively, a death benefit may be a large lump-sum payment from a life insurance policy. The size and structure of the payment in either a pension or a life insurance policy is determined by the type of contract held by the annuitant at the time of death. It is also known as ‘survivor benefit’.”
<Retrieved from http://www.investopedia.com/terms/d/deathbenefit.asp on 10/06/17.>

So, once you can think of death as benefitting someone, perhaps it’s not too much of a stretch to think of death as benefitting YOU.  In this section of Philippians, Paul wrote about death as being a benefit to him, even something he desired.  Why might he think that?

When you read 2 Corinthians 11:16-33, you get a summary account of all the things the Apostle Paul suffered as he was persecuted for his faith in Christ.  He’d been through a lot and this might be a partial answer to the question of why Paul was entertaining these thoughts.  You could understand if he welcomed death as a release from suffering, which it certainly is.

However, when you read this passage you see something more profound than relief being sought.  Paul viewed death as a means of realizing complete fellowship with Jesus Christ.  Paul was eager for heaven, but not as a place of escape.  He was eager for heaven as a relationship with his Savior in all its fullness.  We who share Paul’s faith must also share his hope.  Let us be encouraged to learn that death is an enemy, but not one to be feared.  Jesus defeated death.  For people of faith, death is the consummation of life; a better life lies beyond this one.  Also, God is with us in both death and life.

  1. Historical context: Paul was in a life & death situation.

Philippians is one of the last letters written by the Apostle Paul.  It is part of a group of letters written while he was imprisoned in Rome awaiting trial by the emperor, AD 61-62.

The events that lead to his imprisonment have been preserved by Luke in the book of Acts.

Paul had been arrested under false charges in Jerusalem, the victim of a plot against him by the Jewish religious leaders (see Acts 21-22).

He endured trials under two Roman officials and a king (see Acts 23-26) until it came to Paul’s attention that the Jewish leaders had plotted to kill him.  To save his life, Paul appealed directly to Caesar, which was his right as a Roman citizen.

The last two chapters of Acts (27+28) record Paul’s journey to Rome.

Conditions in Rome were not good at all for Christians.  The ancient Roman historian Tacitus recorded some of the horrific persecution of Christians perpetrated at that time:

“Besides being put to death, the Christians were made to serve as objects of amusement. They were clothed in the hides of beasts and torn to death by dogs. Others were crucified. Others were set on fire to serve to illuminate the night when daylight failed. Nero had thrown open his grounds for the display and was putting on a show and a circus where he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer and drove about in his chariot. All this gave rise to a feeling of pity, for it was felt that they—the Christians—were being destroyed not for the public good but to gratify the cruelty of an individual.

Nero was the very man to whom Paul had appealed.  History tells us that Nero condemned Paul to death by beheading.

All that to say this – when Paul wrote to the Philippians about life and death it was because both of them were very real possibilities at that moment.  This was not an academic discussion, but the wrestling of his soul.

  1. Jesus Christ is our reason to live.

In our world, people want to live for various reasons.

Death is an unknown; they fear it.

We dread separation from loved ones and/or have anxiety about how our loss with affect them.

The things of this world hold our attention and we hate to lose them.

Our ambition to achieve can be so great that we fear death will thwart or undo all our achievements.  (This is the “legacy” talk we hear too often.)

Some fear God’s wrath on their sins.

Truth be told, we more often fear dying than we fear death.  Dying is one of those transitional times we typically hate.  We don’t like the thought that dying may involve pain and/or loss of our customary quality of life.

In faith, we have only one reason to live: to be of service to Christ His people: TO LIVE IS CHRIST.  Paul recognized this fact among his deliberations. He foresaw FRUITFUL LABOR (v. 22) if he were to be released.  Isn’t this the part missing in too many of our churches?  He also promised, I WILL CONTINUE WITH ALL OF YOU FOR YOUR PROGRESS AND JOY IN THE FAITH (v. 25) if this imprisonment ended with his release.  We long to experience progress and joy in church life but are so easily thwarted by sin and self-centered folk.

However, life – especially the Christian life – it is not just sorrowful obligation.  As depressing as it may seem, Paul brackets this passage with expressions of joy.  In the beginning (v. 18), he wrote I WILL CONTINUE TO REJOICE.  What brought joy to Paul was the fact that the Good News was still going out; Jesus Christ was being preached.  Would that make you rejoice? Toward the end of the passage (v. 25) he wrote, YOUR JOY IN THE FAITH.  Of all people on earth, followers of Jesus have the best reasons to be joyful.  What a shame when we aren’t!

Discussing death does not have to be doleful and dreary.  Death gives meaning to life and it affirms the things that have been important to us in life.  Paul saw life as ministry and ministry as joy.  If anyone are not characterized by joy, something is wrong at the base of their spiritual life.

  1. Jesus Christ is our hope for life after death.

Paul’s “death benefit” as expressed in Philippians 1:21 is the most important: we will be with Christ.  Jesus Christ is the focus of our hope and being with Christ is the summary of all our hopes for afterlife.  In v. 19 Paul attributed his hope to the PRAYERS and PROVISION offered by that church.  Because the Philippian church prayed, Paul had hope.

Paul predicted the result would be his DELIVERANCE.  Is he talking about DELIVERANCE from Nero or going to heaven?  Why not both?  The text itself does not allow us to make a definitive choice of either, so hanging our hat on both actually makes good sense.

For example, the Greek word for DELIVERANCE has a variety of meanings, but most typically meant to be saved from dying.  It is used in a phrase that is a quote from JOB 13:16.  Perhaps Paul thought he would, like Job, be delivered from his trials and his faith vindicated.

The point is this: because of his faith, Paul believed he was in a “win-win” situation: if he was released from jail, he would win as he would continue to preach the Gospel.  If he was executed, then that was a win, because he was released from the troubles of this life.

Its clear to me that this passage, Paul struggled for a clear sense of which he wants to happen, or which he thinks will happen.  Note the way he described his thought processes.  YET WHAT SHALL I CHOOSE?  I DO NOT KNOW! (22)  I AM TORN BETWEEN THE TWO. (23)

He is certain of one thing: in his life or death he wanted Jesus to be EXALTED.  In either case, his fondest desire is to have SUFFICIENT COURAGE to remain faithful.  His imprisonment was one of many trials Paul had to endure; each one was a temptation to call it quits.  I guess you could say Paul saw benefit for himself and for the Gospel in his life or his death, so whichever one happened was incidental.

He resolved the struggle in vs. 25-26 where he expressed a confidence in his survival and even his release, resulting in continued ministry to them.  Historically, we know that’s not what happened.  He was a martyr for his faith.  He never saw the Philippian believers again in this life.

Was Paul wrong?  Did he display a false confidence to comfort the Philippians?  I doubt it.  Paul’s confidence lay in the truth, so even well-intentioned falsehood was out of the question.

This holds meaning for us as we have faith and pray: we want God to do specific things for us and we faithfully pray about them.  But sometimes God has a different plan and those prayers are answered with a “no.”  It’s tempting to abandon one’s faith in that moment and conclude God is not real or He doesn’t love us after all.

Paul had no such reaction.  It’s clear in this passage he was prepared for whatever time would reveal as God’s will.  Paul had his priorities in order.

“Death Benefits” are also promised elsewhere in the New Testament.  (My thanks to John Piper, who identified four additional reasons that inform us of the biblical scope of Paul’s assertion TO DIE IS GAIN.  In the following Bible quotes, the emphasis in italics is Piper’s.)  (See http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/it-is-great-gain-to-die.)

Our spirits will be made perfect.  Hebrews 12:22–23 = But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and the church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the just which have been made perfect.

We will be relieved of the pain of this world. Revelation 21:4 = He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, f/t old order of things has passed away.

We will receive profound rest for our souls.  Revelation 6:9–11 = I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer.

We will experience a deep at-homeness.  2 Corinthians 5:8 = We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.

I read a wonderfully illustrative story recently.  “A bank in Binghamton, New York, had some flowers sent to a competitor who had recently moved into a new building. There was a mix-up at the flower shop, and the card sent with the arrangement read, ‘With our deepest sympathy.’

“The florist, who was greatly embarrassed, apologized. But he was even more embarrassed when he realized that the card intended for the bank was attached to a floral arrangement sent to a funeral home in honor of a deceased person. That card read, ‘Congratulations on your new location!’

“A sentiment like that is appropriate for Christians, because they move to a wonderful new location when they die. They go to be with Christ, and the sorrows and heartaches of this earthly existence are gone forever. Near the end of his life, Paul said that to be with Christ is ‘far better’ than to remain on earth (Philippians 1:23).”

<Retrieved from http://www.preceptaustin.org/philippians_illustrations_1 on 10-06-17.>

The point of Paul’s message is not to minimize the impact death has.  It is devastating to be suddenly and completely cut off from our loved ones.  The loss is real and we need to be gracious about it, assisting people in their individual expressions of grief.

However – contrary to those who refuse to have faith – we know that death does NOT have the last word.  The word of God reveals to us the great and grand hope that death is a doorway that opens but once and leads us into the eternal presence of God.  Beyond that doorway awaits Jesus and all our loved ones who trusted Him with their lives.

God gave Paul these words to comfort him and his church.  He gives them to us as a living hope and a firm foundation for our faith.

Death is the consummation of life: God is in both.

What’s It Good For?

stewardship

(Graphic retrieved from http://www.stjames-greater.com/councils/ on 7/19/16.)

(Please read Luke 16:1-13 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV for my remarks.)

The discipline of stewardship is one way to prove yourself a trustworthy disciple.

  1. The point of the parable (vs. 10-12).

The discipline of parables is to look for the one main point and be contented with that.  Don’t lose the forest by focusing on the trees.  The one main point of the parable: A good steward works at earning God’s trust.

As we mature in our faith, we prove that we are worthy of God’s trust and then He moves us on to a greater responsibility, and so on.  The most common resources God asks us to manage are our time and money.  They also receive the most attention in Scripture.  While we may regard either or both of these as terribly important in and of themselves, the truth is the really important thing is using them to God’s glory.  Time and money are means to an end, not an end in themselves.

The opposite is also true; being irresponsible means that God will trust us with less.  Why would He give His best gifts to someone who will not use them?

“Stewardship” is the Bible word for the spiritual discipline of our management of God’s resources according to God’s will.  Let’s unpack that definition.

– Because it is a “discipline,” it is something that requires thought and willpower; it can be learned and developed through practice.

– It is a “spiritual discipline” in the sense that stewardship is something we do for God’s sake and with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

– These are God’s resources. We like to think that we’ve earned or otherwise deserve the resources we have, but the simple fact of the matter is that everything is God’s and they are on loan to us.  Life itself is a gift from God and you can’t get any more basic than that.

– Finally, we want to manage our resources in a way that draws everyone’s attention to God. We want to manage in His wisdom, not our own because we know that leads to the best possible outcomes.

  1. The parable that proves the point (vs. 1-8a).

The parable begins with the rich man’s steward being given notice; he was to be sacked, given the pink slip, fired.  The word “manager” or steward refers to any servant entrusted with his master’s property.  The master warned the steward he would have to GIVE AN ACCOUNT; “Prepare the books for auditing.”

There are three ways in which the manager showed himself to be SHREWD.

First, he knew himself.  He says to himself, “I’M NOT STONG ENOUGH TO DIG, AND I’M ASHAMED TO BEG.”  I imagine Danny Devito in this role: how about you?  The obvious first step in being a godly manager is to know God.  The second is to know yourself.

Second he knew his master’s business.  As keeper of the master’s books, he knows his master’s clients and figures out how to use the ones who owe his master money to save himself.  He does what Jesus Himself commended in v. 9: he used money to make friends.  (The unethical part is that he used HIS MASTER’S MONEY to make friends.)

Third, he turned disadvantage into opportunity.  He secretly contacted people who were indebted to his master and forgave part of their debt.  One person’s debt he cut in half and another person’s he reduced by a fifth.  Interestingly, the amount of the value of the goods forgiven is nearly the same, about 500 denarii.  That is the equivalent of sixteen month’s wages for the average worker.  (This would be over $56,000 for an average American worker in 2016.)  This steward is burning through his master’s money!  I believe this is an example of Jesus’ sense of humor and use of exaggeration to make His point.

When the master sees how the steward has “cooked the books” and lost him a lot of money you’d expect him to be vengeful.  Instead, he approves.  Don’t be all warm-hearted about this: it’s just one crook congratulating another.  Actually, everyone in this parable is crooked; the master, the manager, and the debtors.  Which is one of the reasons the parable makes some interpreters scratch their heads.

Of course, Jesus is not offering these evildoers as examples of good behavior.  Instead, as Jesus explained in v. 8, worldly-minded people are more adept at worldly ways that are His followers, the PEOPLE OF THE LIGHT.  Jesus’ disapproval of the manager’s actions is implied in the fact that Jesus called him DISHONEST in v. 8.  Shrewdness is not a virtue any more than subtlety.  Jesus is in no way saying “Go therefore and do ye likewise.”  The fact is, not all the characters in Jesus’ parables are good people.

  1. Extra lessons at no additional charge (vs. 8b-13).

The first of these secondary lessons is that there is a worldly way and a heavenly way to manage our resources.  The worldly way may earn us praise, but the heavenly way earns God’s trust.  Verse nine is our key verse, answering the question posed in the title of this message.

To the best of my knowledge, this is the only place where Jesus tells us directly what WORLDLY WEALTH is good for. He cited two things:

One, to MAKE FRIENDS.  Jesus is not advocating that we copy the methods of the DISHONEST STEWARD, but that we share his objective.  We should not embezzle in order to make friends, but in every way we can do it ethically, we should use money to MAKE FRIENDS.  If we can be as generous with our own money as the DISHONEST STEWARD was generous with his master’s money, then we will MAKE FRIENDS for the sake of the Gospel

Two, to receive rewards in heaven: BE WELCOMED INTO ETERNAL DWELLINGS.  The idea is that we’re not just thinking about our WELCOME in heaven, but that we take as many friends with us as we can!  The ideal attitude toward money and every form of WORLDLY WEALTH takes an eternal perspective; seeing these resources as investments in eternity and using them in ways that honor God.

The other of these secondary lessons is that mixed motives and methods are not allowed (v. 13).  Loving money or any other kind of material goods is completely opposed to faith.  No matter how piously we may posture, sooner or later the truth will become known and people will see whether we love God or money.

I find church people are rarely guilty of “loving” money; we’re too subtle for that.  But we are too often guilty of trusting money instead of God.  We need to be reminded:

– Disciples of Jesus draw their assurance from God’s promises, not from a bank account.

– Idle money is just as likely to be a vice as a virtue.

– Sometimes people fail to see the difference between purse strings and reins. Financial officers are servants, not rulers.

Notice Jesus’ use of the word SERVE.  Service is mandatory; our attitude toward material wealth will serve the Money Master or God as our Master.  We choose our master, but not our service; in fact, Jesus said, we will LOVE one and HATE the other.  There’s no fence to ride in this matter!

Why’d He Do It? Our Salvation (Part One)

(Please read Colossians 1:13-23 in your Bible.  I have cited the NIV below.)

Jesus surrendered His life on the cross so we might live eternally.

One of the errors that threatened the first century Church, one of the reasons Paul wrote this letter, sounds very familiar to our ears as it is a growing error of our age as well.  It is the failure to understand who Jesus Christ is.  The understanding that is part of true and saving faith is that Jesus Christ is both God and Man.  Anything else is false.

One of the oft-repeated things said about our youngest generation especially is that they want Jesus but they don’t want the Church.  That’s error enough, but what really matters is the Jesus they want is one who’s been watered down to the level of political correctness, a Jesus that avoids offense at all costs.  Anything other than the biblical view of Jesus is a false, worldly creation, impotent to save and not worth worshiping.  Easter is robbed of its meaning and is a superstitious celebration of Spring.

I’ve learned a new word this week: “glurge.”  Dictionary.com defines glurge as “stories, often sent by email, that are supposed to be true and uplifting, but which are often fabricated and sentimental.”

(Retrieved at http://www.dictionary.com/browse/glurge on 3/24/16.)

I learned this word because I almost shared a glurge with you to introduce this morning’s message.  It seems that a story has been circulating around the Internet since 2001 that tells how Dr. Robert Schuller’s teenage daughter Carol (NOT Cindy), was in a motorcycle accident having a leg amputated. As the story goes this accident lead to an exchange of letters between Carol and actor John Wayne. Allegedly, Carol’s letter lead to “the Duke” receiving Jesus as his Savior three weeks before his death.

(To see this used as a sermon illustration by Jimmy Haile, (“Hope for the Hopeless,” 7/16/2011), go to http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-sermon-central-staff-stories-christianwitness-79891.asp to see it largely refuted, go to http://www.snopes.com/glurge/duke.asp or https://www.truthorfiction.com/johnwayne-schuller/.)

Unfortunately, the only parts of the story that can be confirmed as true are Carol’s accident and John Wayne’s death.  If the rest of the story were true, you’d assume that Dr. Schuller would have told such an inspiring story in his own pulpit, but he never did.             Too many people have decided that the Bible and the view of Jesus it presents are a “glurge.”  They deny the truth of Easter and some go so far as to deny that Jesus existed.

And with these denials, they forfeit their only hope for life.  Only the true Jesus offers any hope for a life of meaning in this world and eternal life after death.

You may not have known it before now, but part of the reason we’re here this morning is to celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ is NOT a glurge and that just as He lives, so shall all who – by faith – put their complete trust in Him.

  1. Jesus is supreme (15-19).

Verse fifteen states that He is the IMAGE OF THE INVISIBLE GOD.  The word IMAGE has two meanings in the biblical Greek language.

The first is “likeness.”  As you might expect, this refers to a reproduction of appearance such in a mirror or other reflective surface, or a portrait intended to be as realistic a depiction as possible.  One way the ancients honored their rulers and heroes was to put their eikon, their portrait, on a coin.  Wait.  We do the same thing, don’t we?  On a physical, scientific level, this sounds like nonsense: how do you reflect someone who is invisible?

The second is “Manifestation.”  This is not a physical reproduction, but an emotional/personal/spiritual one.  It can truly be said that Jesus reflected God the Father in thinking, feeling, morality, and spirituality.  This is the meaning Paul intended.

The Greek word in question is eikon, from which we get an English word familiar to computer users and Orthodox Christians: “icon.”  In computer usage, an icon is not a program, file, or website, but a picture that you associate with a program, file, or website, and the means of accessing them.

According to Genesis 1:26-27, God created humanity in his IMAGE; to be an “icon” that points back to him.  A problem arose when our parents Adam and Eve sinned against God.  The stopped being an accurate representation of God.  Sin marred them and they were no longer a manifestation of God’s presence.

William Barclay commented on this word, “’Look at this Jesus.  He shows you not only what God is; he also shows you what man was meant to be.  Here is manhood as God designed it.  Jesus is the perfect manifestation of God and the perfect manifestation of man.’” (The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 118.)

Also in verse fifteen, He is the FIRSTBORN OVER ALL CREATION.  In their culture, the firstborn son enjoyed privileges and rights that none of the other offspring held.  He was his father’s representative and primary heir.  In the Old Testament, this title is reserved for the Messiah.  But here FIRSTBORN is a title of honor and rank more than a statement of birth order.  Paul’s use of the term is not to imply that Jesus was created, but that He existed before creation and holds authority over creation.

That is why Paul wrote OVER ALL CREATION. God the Son played an active role in creation, as Paul makes clear in vs. 16+17: it is stated so plainly and forcefully, no comment is needed.

We need to appreciate this point because it makes the Incarnation so much more powerful; it gauges the depth of His sacrifice.  Think of it: the Creator made Himself subject to creation!

In verse eighteen it is written that He is the HEAD OF THE BODY, THE CHURCH.  In this Greek, the word HEAD has these two meanings.

The first is what we’d expect from our own use of the English term.  A person who is “head” of an organization is its leader, its chief executive officer.

The second is unfamiliar to us; Greek scientists considered the head to be the source of the body.  In intercourse, the man supplied the head and in gestation, the limbs and body descended from the head.  So they thought of Jesus as the source of the Church’s existence.

In Hebrews 12:2, Paul identifies Jesus as the AUTHOR of our FAITH.  Jesus is the Writer, the Originator of the story of the Church.  Whether or not we’ve taken the story in the direction the Author intended, well, that’s a discussion for another day.

One of Paul’s frequently used metaphors for the Church is THE human BODY.  In this physical life, the head guides the body.  The function of all the organs and life itself depends on the brain inside the head.  The Church is called the Body of Christ so that we never forget from whom we came and always maintain the greatest possible reflection and imitation of the life of our HEAD, Jesus Christ.

Also in verse eighteen, He is THE BEGINNING, THE FIRSTBORN FROM THE DEAD.  These phrases sound like repeats or restatements of what we’ve already learned.  But the details of the Bible are important, so we know this is not just repetition.  Instead, it reveals a new truth and looks ahead to the resurrection of the faithful to eternal life.

By virtue of His death and resurrection, Jesus is the BEGINNING of the resurrection that puts God’s people in heaven.  The Resurrection of Jesus set into motion a series of events that have been playing out in human history ever since, events that will culminate in His Second Coming and our being raised to eternal life.

Here the word FIRSTBORN does mean first in the sense of order.  Jesus is the first person to be resurrected from death to life.  This means our resurrection will be similar to His.

In vs. 19 we read that IN HIM ALL THE FULLNESS OF GOD WAS PLEASED TO DWELL.  The focus here is on the word FULLNESS.  It means that the entirety of what it means to be God could be found in Jesus.  He is not a “second rate” version of God, but God in flesh.  Picking up the picture of an “icon” again, we can say that Jesus is not just a sketch of God, but he is a full and personal testimony to all that God is.

I like the part that says THE FULLNESS OF GOD WAS PLEASED TO DWELL in Jesus.  Remember that on more than one occasion in His ministry years, God the Father expressed His pleasure with Jesus by means of a supernatural voice that came from heaven itself!  In the Greek the word DWELL suggests a permanent residence, not a temporary one.  The divine side of Jesus’ nature is permanent; He always has been God and He always will be God.

In verse nineteen Paul wrote that He has FIRST PLACE IN EVERYTHING.  The phrase FIRST PLACE is a description of authority.  Having a divine nature, Jesus also exerts divine authority over EVERYTHING.

This is what Paul wrote to the Philippian believers; in response to Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice, God the Father recognized His ultimate authority: THEREFORE GOD ALSO HIGHLY EXALTED HIM AND GAVE HIM THE NAME THAT IS ABOVE EVERY NAME, SO THAT AT THE NAME OF JESUS EVERY KNEE SHOULD BEND, IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH AND UNDER THE EARTH, AND EVERY TONGUE CONFESS THAT JESUS CHRIST IS LORD, TO THE GLORY OF GOD THE FATHER. (Philippians 2:9-11)

Let’s look one last time at that Greek word eikon which is so important to our understanding of why Jesus was born into the human family in the first place; why He ministered, then was killed and raised to life.  Jesus is the means by which God became personal to His people, a revelation of man’s ideal and God’s eternal nature.

Here’s what William Barclay wrote, “Eikon…was the word which was used for portrait in Greek.  But this word had still another use.  When a legal document was drawn up, such as a receipt or IOU, it always included a description of the chief characteristics and distinguishing marks of the contracting parties, so that there could be no mistake.” (The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 118.)

One of God’s purposes in this text is to remove all doubt about the person and nature of Jesus Christ.  He was and is God.  It’s mind-boggling to think that God would choose to become part of His creation; that He would suffer insult, pain, and death at the hands of people He created.

What grand motive would compel such a choice?  We’ve spent the last seven weeks examining several motives.  Today we’ve begun to look at the effect of Jesus’ choice:  our salvation.  Jesus did it to save us.

Primarily, this was to save us from eternal death, to bring us to life just as He had been brought to life.  Jesus wants to share His life with us.

But it isn’t just eternal life Jesus wants to share.  It is, secondarily, abundant life in this world.  Abundant life is found in choosing to be like Jesus.  It is experienced when we act as icons of Jesus, personal manifestations of His character, acting in obedience to His will.

A Heavenly View (Part Three)

(Please read Revelation 21 & 22 in your favorite version of the Bible.  I prepared this message using the NIV.)

Perhaps you’ve read about the tizzy people are in about the “Nones,” the growing statistic of Americans who self-identify as having no religious affiliation.  Depending on who is commenting on the trend, it is either the death-knell of denominational Christianity or a call to reformation of the Church.  I recently read a Bible study by Rick Ezell that addressed this subject.

“William Hendrix’s book Exit Interviews is about why today’s generation is leaving the church. He summarizes the views of many worship dropouts: ‘Perhaps the most common complaint was that worship services were boring. It was not just that these gatherings were not interesting; they were not worshipful. They did little to help people meet God.’ (p. 260)

“Sally Morgenthaler writing in Worship Evangelism says ‘[When] Worship services that are not worshipful, people not meeting God, people not being allowed to participate in a worship relationship with God – it is as if the very essence of worship has been quietly removed. . . . The most significant benefit of a worship service is connecting with God. It does not matter how chatty and interesting the celebrity interviews, how captivating the drama, how stunning the soloist, or how relevant the message. When personal interaction with God is absent, church loses much of its appeal.’ (p. 23)

“George Barna surveyed thousands of churchgoing Christians. The question was asked: ‘Have you ever experienced God in a worship service?’ Only one-third said that they regularly experience God in church.”

(Retrieved from http://www.lifeway.com/Article/sermon-presence-of-worship-exodus-33 on 10/30/15.)

Of all the things that we’ve learned about our eternal home these last three weeks the most wonderful thing is that we will enjoy the presence of God.  Simply put, God’s presence is what makes heaven “heavenly.”

MESSAGE: If we live today with a view toward heaven, today will be a better day as we will be better people.

  1. God is at the center of the Holy City.

First and foremost, it is the presence of God that makes heaven heavenly.  Ezekiel’s vision of the Holy City bears a lot of similarity to the account of John’s vision which we’ve studied.  He wrote that the SANCTUARY stood at the center of the city he envisioned (48:8, 10 21).  This is another way of saying what John said; God is present at the center of the city. Ezekiel’s vision ends with the name of the city: “AND THE NAME OF THE CITY FROM THAT TIME ON WILL BE: THE LORD IS THERE.” (Ezekiel 48:35)

This is the most obvious and most important fact about our eternal home and it is mentioned often in these chapters.  The presence of God is developed in four different ways:

DWELLING: In 21:3 the angel announces, “NOW THE DWELLING OF GOD IS WITH MEN, AND HE WILL LIVE WITH THEM.  THEY WILL BE HIS PEOPLE AND GOD HIMSELF WILL BE WITH THEM AND BE THEIR GOD.”  DWELLING is used only by John in the New Testament.  It literally means “tabernacle” and refers to the “Tent of Meeting” that was the place for worship of God before the temple was built.  This is one of many places in Revelation that employs Old Testament images to communicate John’s vision.  The tabernacle, as the original meeting-place with God, was dear to the heart of John’s Jewish readers.  However, unlike the tabernacle – which was a temporary structure – God will permanently dwell with His people.  This is the future fulfillment of the promise made in Ezekiel 37:27: “MY DWELLING PLACE WILL BE WITH THEM; I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY WILL BE MY PEOPLE.  The word PEOPLE is actually plural in the Greek; a fact which demonstrates the multinationality of the Church on earth and in our eternal home.

THE ABSENCE OF A TEMPLE: In 21:22 we read I DID NOT SEE A TEMPLE IN THE CITY, BECAUSE THE LORD GOD ALMIGHTY AND THE LAMB ARE ITS TEMPLE.  The city itself is the temple!  The entire structure is the place of God’s dwelling so no separate structure is needed.

– As we’ve observed, every detail in the construction of the New Jerusalem points to God, just as a temple would. In his vision, Ezekiel saw a perfected temple.  Here, John sees a better vision: God and His people dwell together in the same building.

THE GLORY OF THE LORD is manifest visually as a bright light.  God is present in brilliant light (21:23-24; 22:5).  1 John 1:5 describes God’s nature as being light: THIS IS THE MESSAGE WE HAVE HEARD FROM HIM AND DECLARE TO YOU: GOD IS LIGHT; IN HIM THERE IS NO DARKNESS AT ALL.  In the Bible, LIGHT is the symbol of knowledge and holiness. Light is also comforting; it dispels the threatening darkness.  Imagine the LIGHT of God’s presence being so strong that it makes the sun redundant!  The SUN and the MOON, the two most luminescent bodies in our sky, will not be missed.  22:5 essentially reiterates 21:23, but adds that even artificial light – a LAMP – will be unnecessary in the unfading illumination provided by God Himself.

This promise was first made to the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 60:19; THE SUN WILL NO MORE BE YOUR LIGHT BY DAY, NOR WILL THE RIGHTNESS OF THE MOON SHINE ON YOU, FOR THE LORD WILL BE YOUR EVERLASTING LIGHT, AND YOUR GOD WILL BE YOUR GLORY.  The reference to KINGS in 21:24 is a symbol of trivial glory of the worldly kingdoms coming to an end in the new age.  It too was anticipated by Isaiah; NATIONS WILL COME TO YOUR LIGHT, AND KINGS TO THE BRIGHTNESS OF YOUR DAWN. (ISH 60:3)

THE THRONE OF GOD (22:1+3 and 7:17) is  in the HOLY CITY. The presence of God will be immediate; there will be no intermediates like priests or a temple.  God will be – for all eternity – right before His people.

It is called THE THRONE OF GOD AND THE LAMB because God the Father has placed everything under the authority of Jesus.  It is as Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:22-23 = AND GOD HAS PLACED ALL THINGS UNDER [Christ’s] FEET & APPOINTED HIM TO BE HEAD OVER EVERYTHING FOR THE CHURCH, WHICH IS HIS BODY, THE FULLNESS OF HIM WHO FILLS EVERYTHING IN EVERY WAY.  After His Ascension, the Bible tells us that Jesus was at the right hand of God the Father.  That was a place of honor, but now in Revelation we see the greater honor of God the Son sharing the throne with God the Father.

A second indicator of God’s presence is the promise that God will remove the grief-causing things of this age.  21:4 develops this thought…HE WILL WIPE EVERY TEAR FROM THEIR EYES and remove the things that cause us to shed tears: THE OLD ORDER OF THINGS HAS PASSED AWAY.  Here are found four causes of grief.

– DEATH. According to 1 Corinthians 15:26, THE LAST ENEMY TO BE DEFEATED IS DEATH.  In Revelation 20:14 we read, DEATH AND HADES WERE THROWN INTO THE LAKE OF FIRE for their destruction.  GOOD NEWS!  We will never again be separated from our loved ones, but joined with them for eternity.

– MOURNING can be translated as “wailing.” It is a degree of grief that is so extreme it cannot be contained or controlled, it must be released.

– CRYING covers everything in this life that causes us to despair.

– PAIN covers suffering & weariness in body and/or spirit. There will be nothing to regret.

Using words echoed in both John and Paul’s writings, this promise occurred first in Isaiah 25:8; HE WILL SWALLOW UP DEATH FOREVER.  THE SOVEREIGN LORD WILL WIPE AWAY THE TEARS FROM ALL FACES; HE WILL REMOVE THE DISGRACE OF HIS PEOPLE FROM ALL THE EARTH.  THE LORD HAS SPOKEN.

Revelation 22:12 reads, “BEHOLD, I AM COMING SOON!  MY REWARD IS WITH ME AND I WILL GIVE TO EVERYONE ACCORDING TO WHAT HE HAS DONE.” For the inhabitants of the Holy City, Jesus not only takes away everything that hurts, but He bestows honors on those who chose to obey His commands in this life.  This is good news compounded!  We can learn the meaning of this verse from Elliot’s commentary on this passage: “The warning has been given that men by continuing in sin (Revelation 22:11) are inviting against themselves the law by which act ripens to habit, and habit makes character, and character forms destiny.” (Retrieved from http://biblehub.com/commentaries/revelation/22-13.htm on 10/29/15.)

Thirdly, our hope is founded on who Jesus is.  Jesus is the very definition of creation; the brackets of human history: THE ALPHA AND OMEGA, THE FIRST AND LAST, THE BEGINNING AND END (21:6; 22:13).  The importance of this fact underscored by the fact that it is repeated in each chapter, the only difference being the words FIRST AND LAST added in 22:13.  (Jesus referred to Himself as the ALPHA AND OMEGA in 1:11.)  Salvation is entirely the work of Jesus Christ.

By now it will not surprise you to learn that the prophet Isaiah testified to this truth centuries before John: “THIS IS WHAT THE LORD SAYS – ISRAEL’S KING AND REDEEMER, THE LORD ALMIGHTY: I AM THE FIRST AND I AM THE LAST; APART FROM ME THERE IS NO GOD.” (Isaiah 44:6).  Because He has all authority (see Matthew 28:18), we can rely upon and utterly trust the promises of Jesus.

Jesus is depicted as the LAMB in 21:9, 22-23, 27; 22:1, 3 and in Revelation 5:6; 19:7. This symbol is appropriate because His sacrifice for our sins has made heaven available to us. The first mention of the LAMB in revelation is a strange and pathetic but pivotal figure in 7:6, THEN I SAW A LAMB, LOOKING AS IF IT HAD BEEN SLAIN, STANDING IN THE CENTER OF THE THRONE, ENCIRCLED BY THE FOUR LIVING CREATURES AND THE ELDERS.  HE HAD SEVEN HORNS AND SEVEN EYES, WHICH ARE THE SEVEN SPIRITS OF GOD SENT OUT INTO ALL THE EARTH.

– I say “pathetic” because the lamb looked as if it had been SLAIN. This is a reference to Jesus’ death on the cross.

– I say “strange” because of its seven horns and eyes. The number seven symbolizes perfection.  Horns symbolize power and eyes are a symbol of knowledge.  This refers to the perfect power and knowledge of God the Son.

– I say “pivotal” because the LAMB is the only being who could open the seven seals on the scroll and thereby begin the series of events leading up to the end of this creation and the New Heaven, New Earth, and New Jerusalem.

In the Greek, there are three words translated as “lamb” and they offer three slightly different views.

Amnos looks to the sacrificial use of the animal.

Aren refers to the harmless nature of a lamb.

Arnion is the word used in Revelation, where it is entirely symbolic of the paradoxical nature of Christ, who is both Sacrifice and Savior, God and Human, Judge and Mediator.

Revelation 22:16 confers two more titles on Jesus.  Taken together, these titles focus on Jesus as the fulfillment of OT prophecy.

– THE ROOT AND OFFSPRING OF DAVID. God promised King David that his descendants would rule forever.  As a descendant of David, Jesus fulfills this promise.  In their Gospels both Matthew and Luke give genealogies for Jesus that establish this as fact.  In Isaiah 4, the BRANCH OF THE LORD is promised, and in Isaiah 11, a SHOOT OF JESSE (David’s father) is foretold.  Jeremiah 23 also uses this title, as does Zechariah 3 and 6. These promises were part of what the Jews of Jesus’ day expected as they looked forward to the Messiah.  In Revelation 5:5 He is referred to as THE ROOT OF DAVID.

– THE BRIGHT MORNING STAR. This is the most noticeable light in the sky near the horizon just prior to dawn. As such, it is a symbol of hope.  As the dark night of this present age will soon end, the light of Jesus shines as a preview of the glorious light that will soon follow and shine brightly, as we’ve already noted.  Way back in Numbers 24:17, Moses predicted the rising of a STAR OUT OF JACOB.  In Revelaion 2:28, THE MORNING STAR is promised to the overcomer.

Lastly, we will see God in all His glory; face to face (22:4).  In Exodus 33:20, God told Moses, “YOU CANNOT SEE MY FACE AND LIVE.”  With only a few exceptions, this has been the rule ever since.  The reason behind this rule was to reinforce the holiness of God as indicated by His separation from this sinful world.  However, in the next world – where is sin no more and grace has eliminated guilt, this reason will cease to exist.

In the New Creation, as 22:4 promises, all God’s people WILL SEE HIS FACE.  These words offer a word picture of the new closeness between God and His people.  It’s heart-warming to think of being face to face with our Creator, the One who loves us so much.  Jesus made a similarly heart-warming statement in Matthew 18:10: He said, “SEE THAT YOU DO NOT LOOK DOWN ON ONE OF THESE LITTLE ONES.  FOR I TELL YOU THAT THEIR ANGELS IN HEAVEN ALWAYS SEE THE FACE OF MY FATHER IN HEAVEN.”  In the “Love Chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul expressed this hope in the wonderfully poetic language of that chapter; NOW WE SEE BUT A POOR REFLECTION AS IN A MIRROR; THEN WE SHALL SEE FACE TO FACE.  NOW I KNOW IN PART; THEN I SHALL KNOW FULLY, EVEN AS I AM FULLY KNOWN. (1CT 13:12)  In the OT, Job (JOB 19:26) and Isaiah (ISH 52:8) expressed this hope; that they should see God.

Theologian A.W. Tozer wrote a short but influential book called The Pursuit of God. In it, he wrote a couple of things that should sharpen our appetite for an experience of God’s presence.

– “The world is perishing for lack of the knowledge of God, and the church is famishing for want of HIS PRESENCE.” (P. 38) – “Let us say it again: The universal Presence is a fact. God is here. The whole universe is alive with His life. And He is no strange or foreign God, but the familiar Father of our Lord Jesus Christ whose love has for these thousands of years enfolded the sinful race of men. And always He is trying to get our attention, to reveal Himself to us, to communicate with us. We have within us the ability to know Him if we will but respond to His overtures. (And this we call pursuing God!) We will know Him in increasing degree as our receptivity becomes more perfect by faith and love and practice.” (P. 71)

So it comes down to this.  All we’ve noted about our life to come, all we can hope for in this life, it all hangs on wanting to experience God’s presence.  The things of this world that try to captivate our attention or cause us to worry, all of that needs to fade and vanish.

How do we do that?  Let me give you some simple advice.  Experiencing God happens only in the context of a real relationship with Jesus Christ.  That must come first.

Second, it won’t happen while your attention is trained on this world or yourself.  We must make time to be quiet.  Prayer is the key that opens the door to let God in.  No amount of Bible knowledge, no number of attendance pins, no variety of church service will do for us what prayer will accomplish.

A Heavenly View (Part One)

(Please read Revelation 21 & 22 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I use the NIV.)

The old mountaineer had lived a full but not exactly saintly life and now was on his deathbed. He summoned his weeping wife. “Sara,” he said, “go to the fireplace and take out the third stone from the top.” She did as instructed. “Reach in there,” said her husband, “and bring out what you find.”

Her fingers touched a large Mason jar, and with some effort she pulled it up. The jar was full of cash.

“Sara,” said the old man, “when I go, I’m going to take all that money with me. I want you to put that jar up in the attic by the window. I’ll get it as I go by on my way to heaven.”

His wife followed his instructions. That night the old mountaineer died. After the funeral his wife remembered the Mason jar and went to the attic. There was the jar still full of money and by the window.

“Oh,” the widow sighed. “I knew I should have put it in the basement.”

https://bible.org/node/10329

A Christian publisher will stop selling The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven now that the young subject paralyzed in a car crash says the story of going to heaven is not true. Tyndale House withdrew the best-selling 2010 book by Alex Malarkey and his father, Kevin Malarkey.

The publisher made the decision after Alex wrote an “open letter” to the retailer LifeWay which said, “I did not die. I did not go to Heaven.” It was posted on the Pulpit and Pen website.

The Malarkey book is one of a spate of best sellers about and by those who say they have gone to heaven and returned. The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven peaked at No. 46 on USA TODAY’s list.

According to the publisher’s description of the book, “in 2004, Kevin Malarkey and his 6-year-old son, Alex, suffered a horrific car accident. The impact from the crash paralyzed Alex – and medically speaking, it was unlikely that he could survive. ‘I think Alex has gone to be with Jesus,’ a friend told the stricken dad. But two months later, Alex awoke from a coma with an incredible story to share. ”

But in his open letter, Alex wrote: “I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.”

http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/books/2015/01/16/the-boy-who-came-back-from-heaven-untrue-alex-malarkey/21855709/

MESSAGE: If we live today with a view toward heaven, today will be a better day because we will be more godly people.

  1. The HOLY CITY.

Location: on the New Earth (see 21:2+10), where the New Jerusalem comes DOWN OUT OF HEAVEN FROM GOD.  As we will see repeatedly, John did not create these details, but used language and imagery familiar to himself and his readers in an effort to describe the indescribable.  For example, there are two references to NEW HEAVENS AND NEW EARTH in the writings of the prophet Isaiah.

– 65:17 = BEHOLD, I WILL CREATE NEW HEAVENS AND A NEW EARTH. THE FORMER THINGS WILL NOT BE REMEMBERED, NOR WILL THEY COME TO MIND.

– 66:22 = “AS THE NEW HEAVENS AND THE NEW EARTH THAT I MAKE WILL ENDURE BEFORE ME,” DECLARES THE LORD, “SO WILL YOUR NAME & DESCENDANTS ENDURE.”

God’s Purpose: primarily, to display his glory.  Remember, as the highest good, God can do no greater favor than to direct attention to Himself.  In any of us, this would be rightly condemned as egotism. But in God, it is the greatest kindness.  His secondary purpose is to provide an eternal home for his people.  Because of our self-centered nature, we typically get those two mixed up.

Construction: These details are meant to inspire and encourage our hope for heaven.

The jewels (PRECIOUS STONE) are symbols of grandeur and value.  In Isaiah 54:11-12, God promised to rebuild Jerusalem with TURQUOISE, SAPPHIRES, RUBIES, SPARKLING JEWELS and PRECIOUS STONES.  It can be argued that John’s organization of stones is according to color, but what really matters is the glory, grandeur, and value of these decorations as testimonies to God’s glory.

The HOLY CITY will be surrounded by A GREAT, HIGH WALL that will be 216’ thick! This is meant to give us a feeling of security that we want to associate with home.  In Isaiah 26:1-2 we read, IN THAT DAY THIS SONG WILL BE SUNG IN THE LAND OF JUDAH: WE HAVE A STRONG CITY; GOD MAKES SALVATION ITS WALLS AND RAMPARTS.  OPEN THE GATES THAT THE NATIONS MAY ENTER, THE NATION THAT KEEPS FAITH.  Ezekiel 48 details the measurements of a four-sided city and the allotments of land to the 12 tribes.

In that WALL there will be 12 GATES & 12 ANGELS.  The gates symbolize accessibility but the angelic guards imply that it is accessible only for those whom God has recognized as His own and has welcomed into His presence.  Ezekiel 48:30-35 also names the twelve gates with

the names of the 12 tribes of Israel.

In 21:25 it says ON NO DAY WILL ITS GATES EVER BE SHUT, FOR THERE WILL BE NO NIGHT THERE.  With sin, death, and Satan defeated, there will be no threats to bar the door against.  This aspect was also predicted by the prophet Isaiah in 60:11; “YOUR GATES WILL ALWAYS STAND OPEN, THEY WILL NEVER BE SHUT, DAY OR NIGHT, SO THAT MEN MAY BRING YOU THE WEALTH OF THE NATIONS – THE KINGS LED IN TRIUMPHAL PROCESSION.”

Elsewhere in the Bible, ANGELS guard the entrance to Eden and the empty tomb of Jesus.  God sets forth an angel honor guard at the most important places.  This aspect is also promised to us directly in Psalms 91:11 = FOR HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU TO GUARD YOU IN ALL YOUR WAYS;

Each gate is a SINGLE PEARL.  Of all precious stones, the ancients held pearls as the most valuable. Jesus illustrated the Kingdom of Heaven with the parable of “The Pearl of Great Price” (see Matthew 13:45-46).

The Holy City is situated on 12 FOUNDATIONS which bear the names of the Apostles.  This is obviously a special recognition, like the names of the 12 tribes of Israel above the gates.  Thus, the “Big Twelve” of both testaments are honored.  Why name the foundational levels of the city with the names of the Apostles?  It is because they preached the Gospel, the foundation of faith.  In 1 Corinthians 3:11, the Apostle Paul identified Jesus as the FOUNDATION of the Church.  But, as Jesus and the Apostles are inseparable, there is no contradiction.  (Jesus is the Word – the logos – of God after all.  The subject of FOUNDATIONS is an important one in the Bible: the word is used 77 times.

Immense measurements are given in describing the size of the New Jerusalem.   They are staggering! A cube measuring 1500 miles on each side has an interior volume of 3,375,000,000 miles.  We are to understand from these difficult-to-imagine numbers that here is room for everyone!  In John 14:1-3, Jesus promised, “DO NOT LET YOUR HEARTS BE TROUBLED.  TRUST IN GOD, TRUST ALSO IN ME.  IN MY FATHER’S HOUSE ARE MANY ROOMS; IF IT WERE NOT SO, I WOULD HAVE TOLD YOU.  I AM GOING THERE TO PREPARE A PLACE FOR YOU.  AND IF I GO AND PREPARE A PLACE FOR YOU, I WILL COME BACK AND TAKE YOU TO BE WITH ME THAT YOU ALSO MAY BE WHERE I AM.”  Though the details are not the same, the measuring of t NEW JERUSALEM is very much like the vision God gave the prophet Ezekiel, in chapters 40-42 where an angel with a golden measuring rod measured the dimensions of a heavenly city and its temple.

In ancient cultures, a cube was considered the perfect shape.   In the Jewish faith, the Holy of Holies in the temple was a cube.  Some of the temple furnishing and the high priest’s ephod were described as cubic.  This may be John’s way of reinforcing the perfection of the New Jerusalem.

THE CITY [and] THE GREAT STREET was OF PURE GOLD, LIKE TRANSPARENT AS GLASS. This is a level of the purity of gold in terms that could be imagined in the natural world, but impossible to achieve.  Thus, it describes a supernatural quality of refinement that would only be possible with God.  It is a quality of gold that is so shiny it reflects light to the same degree as crystal (GLASS).  Revelation 21:23-24 says that the glory (the bright light of God’s presence) will be in that place.  Try to imagine that bright light reflected by every single surface inside and outside this city.  WOW!

THE WATER OF LIFE is a symbol that occurs in both chapters.  In 21:6, Jesus offers the WATER OF LIFE to all who are THIRSTY.  This is an image of desiring God in a similar way to thirsting for water.  Trust in God through faith is way to be saved, to receive LIFE.  (See Isaiah 55:1-2 for this imagery applied to the Messiah.)

22:1-2 describes the RIVER that carries the WATER OF LIFE through the New Jerusalem.  As we’ve just observed w/t GOLD, the WATER OF LIFE is also CRYSTAL clear.  This is a measure of its purity.  FLOWING FROM THE THRONE implies that it comes from God, which makes perfect sense as God is t Creator of all life.  The river flows THROUGH THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET, a detail that implies that life is at the center of the entire city.

Jesus identified Himself as life-giving water to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:14.  Genesis 2:10 tells us that a river ran through the Garden of Eden; that it was the headwaters of all the great rivers of the ancient world.  This is another way of saying that LIFE flows from God; He is Creator and Preserver of creation.  The OT prophets Ezekiel, Joel, and Zechariah all had visions of a river of life that flowed from the presence of God.

THE TREE OF LIFE is another symbol that effectively makes the same point as the WATER OF LIFE; eternal life is a gift of God.  The RIVER satisfies our thirst for God, the TREE our hunger.

The TREE OF LIFE is also a symbol that is originally found in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:9).  Ezekiel saw several trees on each bank of the river in his vision (47:7-12), but he and John agree on the pertinent detail, that eternal LIFE is imparted as we are healed from all the hurts of this life.

Jesus promised to be the source of all life.  His words recorded in John 6:37-40 are particularly appropriate here: “ALL THAT THE FATHER GIVES TO ME WILL COME TO ME, AND WHOEVER COMES TO ME I WILL NEVER DRIVE AWAY.  FOR I HAVE COME DOWN FROM HEAVEN NOT TO DO MY WILL BUT TO DO THE WILL OF HIM WHO SENT ME. AND THIS IS THE WILL OF HIM WHO SENT ME, THAT I SHALL LOSE NONE OF ALL THAT HE HAS GIVEN ME, BUT RAISE THEM UP AT THE LAST DAY.

The TREE will have TWELVE KINDS OF FRUIT, yielded twelve times a year.  It’s clear that God will meet all our needs. The LEAVES of the TREE are also useful; they will heal the NATIONS.  The kind of healing is spiritual – as verse 3 makes clear – there is no more CURSE.

One day after Albert Einstein had moved to his home at the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, the telephone rang in the office of the dean of the Princeton Graduate  School and the voice at the other end asked: “May I speak with Dr. Einstein, please?”

\          Advised he was not in, the voice continued: “Perhaps then you will tell me where Dr. Einstein lives.”

The secretary replied that she could not do this, as Dr. Einstein wished to have is privacy respected.

The voice on the telephone dropped to a whisper: “Please don’t tell anyone, but I am Dr. Einstein. I am on my way home and forgotten where my house is.”

http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-stories-heaven-forgetfulness-60326.asp

God’s message to us this morning is, “Don’t forget where your home is.”  Having heaven as your eternal home changes the way you live today.  It changes what you see as important, how you act & what you say.

(Main Points #2 and 3 will appear in next week’s post.)