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.

Advertisements

Wage War on Weariness

It has been talked about and reported so often that Americans are too busy, too driven, and, as a result, chronically fatigued, that it’s not news any more.  But it is worth talking about, because it affects every aspect of our lives AND because God created us to rest.  Remember our discussion of Genesis 1.  From the beginning, before there were calendars and clocks, before businesses and bosses were even thought of, God commanded that one day of the week be set aside for rest, recreation, and renewal.

As I have thought about this topic the last three weeks, I decided a little context might help.  I went looking for some information that might objectify this sense that we are a nation of walking weary.  I found a couple items.  I’m not offering them as proof, but as numerical anecdotes that illustrate the pervasiveness of the problem of weariness.

            “Americans Are Tired Most Of The Week”by Niall McCarthy, Jun 8, 2015

“How many days of the week do you wake up feeling exhausted? If you really feel like a slave to your alarm clock, you aren’t alone. Only one in 7 Americans wake up feeling fresh every day of the week, according to a poll conducted by YouGov. Experts have recommended eight hours sleep, though seven hours should also be sufficient.
“45 percent of Americans sleeping 7 to 8 hours a night reported feeling tired or fatigued up to three times a week. 27 percent of people said they wake up tired on 4 or more days per week. Those only managing six hours sleep or less each night are, quite unsurprisingly, the most tired. 54 percent of people getting six or less hours sleep wake up tired 4 or more days a week.”

<Retrieved at https://www.statista.com/chart/3534/americans-are-tired-most-of-the-week/ on 2/16/17.>

            “The Enormous Cost Of Sleep Deprivation” by Niall McCarthy, Dec 2, 2016

“Are you getting enough sleep every night? According to a new study from Rand Europesleep deprivation is a serious and costly problem for the globe’s major economies. In the United States, 1.2 million working days are lost every year due to insufficient sleep, costing a whopping $411 billion. That equates to 2.28 percent of the country’s GDP. Japan is also suffering the effects of sleep deprivation, losing 600,000 days and $138.6 billion annually.”

<Retrieved at https://www.statista.com/chart/7052/the-enormous-cost-of-sleep-deprivation/ on 2/16/17.>

These statistical snapshots seem to support the general conclusion that we are weary and our weariness is costing us.  Fortunately, God has provided several things we can do to combat weariness.  We will continue that study today and learn another step faithful people can take when trials threaten to weigh us down.

What do we do when we are wearied?

REVIEW:

  1. Continue to do good anyway.
  2. Wait on the Lord.

NEW:

  1. Stand firm; hold tight; hang on to Jesus’ hand.

Do not take your eyes off the prize.  Please read Philippians 3:12-16 in your favorite Bible, I have used the NIV for these remarks.

In vs. 12-14 Paul admitted that he had more to learn and room for improvement. But he did not focus on his failures or the wearying parts of life. Instead, he oriented himself toward the future.  We clearly see that orientation in the following: I PRESS ON…FORGETTING WHAT IS BEHIND AND STRAINING TOWARD WHAT IS AHEAD, I PRESS ON TOWARD THE GOAL.

PRESS ON is a hunting term; “to pursue, chase, run down.”  This is an aggressive term, indicating the passion Paul had for knowing Jesus Christ and expressing His character in the way Paul lived.

FORGETTING WHAT IS BEHIND means whether we see the past through rose-colored glasses, exaggerating its good points, or through dark glasses, exaggerating its ills, the fact is that it is behind us and will always remain unchanged.  A concentration on the past contributes to weariness.  Looking to the future – with optimism or pessimism – gives us strength and excitement.

STRAINING TO WHAT IS AHEAD = STRAINING is an athletic word, picturing a runner giving everything he’s got to finish first.  Think of that final lunge across the finish line.  His emphasis was on the time frame over which we can exert the most influence: the future.  Human nature is such that we move in the direction we’re looking.  That is a physical truth and a spiritual one as well.

I PRESS ON TOWARD THE GOAL turns the hunting imagery to track and field.  In any case, “pressing on” is not necessarily easy and does not always feel like a success, but it is necessary, and it is a path toward healing weariness. The Greek word translated as “goal” pictures a physical marker that indicates where the finish line is located.  In spiritual terms, the GOAL is becoming more like Jesus as we move ahead toward eternal life.

In v. 15 Paul confidently asserts that all maturing believers will share this orientation toward the future.  There is no room for disagreement on this matter.  Well, he was an APOSTLE, after all!

In v. 16 we are told the bottom line is that we don’t regress.  We are committed to not moving backward.  When we are weary we may be truly incapable of moving forward, but we should at least not give up any ground.

Please read Hebrews 3:1-14; 4:14 in your favorite Bible.  I use the NIV.  Keep the faith you received.

In 3:6 we read BUT CHRIST IS FAITHFUL AS THE SON OVER GOD’S HOUSE. AND WE ARE HIS HOUSE, IF INDEED WE HOLD FIRMLY TO OUR CONFIDENCE AND THE HOPE IN WHICH WE GLORY.  The object of this verse is to teach us about the essential role of Jesus Christ in our salvation.  Based on that fact, we have something substantial on which we can HOLD FIRMLY.  Our CONFIDENCE and HOPE are safe and secure as long as they are based on the truth about Jesus Christ.

When we dilute that truth by allowing modern culture to change our minds, then our CONFIDENCE and HOPE are less reliable.  Notice the phrase IN WHICH WE GLORY.  This means that our CONFIDENCE and HOPE is what gives us true joy, real strength.

In 3:14 it is written WE HAVE COME TO SHARE IN CHRIST, IF INDEED WE HOLD OUR ORIGINAL CONVICTION FIRMLY TO THE VERY END.  We tend to focus on beginnings, don’t we?  We get sentimental about firsts and that includes our Christian faith.  We also lump beginnings and endings into one, deleting the process in the middle.

These tendencies come back to bite us when we think that baptism or joining a church is the end of it.  This is why people sometimes disappear from church once they have achieved milestones like this.

However, Paul here reminds us of a central truth: how we begin our journey of faith is important, but it is of greater importance how we continue it and how we end it.  Commitments to Christ can be easily made in a moment, but professions of faith must be proven true by doing the hard work of living for Jesus each day, through the end of your life.  Our CONFIDENCE and HOPE are safe and secure as long as they are based on the truth about Jesus Christ.

For example, He is superior to any human priest because He is THE SON OF GOD.  Our faith asserts that He is fully God and fully human at the same time.  Any teaching that shrinks from this assertion is false.  The human side of Jesus’ nature assures us that He is sympathetic with our condition, having experienced it Himself.  The divine side of Jesus’ nature assures us of our salvation: because He is God He is able to save us.

In 4:14 we are told THEREFORE, SINCE WE HAVE A GREAT HIGH PRIEST WHO HAS ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN, JESUS THE SON OF GOD, LET US HOLD FIRMLY TO THE FAITH WE PROFESS.  The object of this verse is to teach us about the priestly role of Jesus Christ.  In the OT system, a PRIEST was a mediator between God and His people.  The HIGH PRIEST had an especially important role in that he offered the annual Day of Atonement sacrifice for the sins of the nation.  Jesus is superior because HE ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN, a greater feat.

Notice Jesus is our GREAT HIGH PRIEST, far superior to any person who ever held that office.  He offered Himself as a sacrifice for sins and that was done once and is effective to save all people in all places at all times.  Everyone who accepts this act of grace will be saved.

This is a question that pains me as a Minnesota Vikings football fan.  HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF WALTER PAYTON?  Walter Jerry Payton from the state of Mississippi. Payton lived from July 25,1954 until November 1, 1999. He was 45 years old when he died of a liver disease.

Mike Ditka was Payton’s coach and he said: “Walter was a great player, but he was even a greater man.”  Payton’s nick name was “SWEETNESS.”  Payton played for the Chicago Bears and so was constantly a thorn in the side of the Minnesota Vikings.  The worst was setting a single-game rushing record that I believe still stands.

Because it is too painful for me to recount and to avoid boring you good folks, I will spare you all the statistical evidence and just say it can be argued that Payton was the greatest running back of his time, perhaps of NFL history.

Someone once asked Walter, “Where did your greatness start?”  Walter said: “When I started playing my junior year the coach told us to run up and down the hill behind the school 25 times.”  Most of the players ran up and down the hill a few times and went to the locker room. I started to go with them and then I thought: “No, the coach said run the hill 25 times, so I went back and was the only one who would run the hill 25 times. That may have been a turning point for me.”

Payton’s Motto?  “NEVER DIE EASY — ALWAYS GET UP — NEVER QUIT — KEEP ON TRYING.”

<By Wade Martin Hughes, Sr. Kyfingers@aol.com, retrieved from https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-wade-m-stories-84249 on 02/17/17.>

“Never die easy;” that has a strange ring to it, doesn’t it?  But I think it has a great similarity to the words we’ve just studied in Hebrews.  Weariness is going to happen.  Discouragement sets in.  When these trials come against us, what are we to do?

One of the things we are to do is resist the urge to quit.  Instead of giving up as a way to try to ease our pain, we need to hang on more tightly to the truth.  Here is one essential truth to which we must cling: Because God is for us, it doesn’t matter who is against us.  If we remain in Him, the outcome is assured.  We will triumph.

PREVIEW:

  1. Focus on the basics: prayer and the Word.
  2. Rely on the Lord’s strength, not yours. (RMS 8:13)
  3. Share your burdens. (GLS 6:2)
  4. Spend your sorrow on service.
  5. Invest in wellness.

Murder and Grief

(Please read Matthew 2:13-18 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

BOB SMIETANA (Bob.Smietana@LifeWay.comis senior writer for Facts & Trends.

“Check into a hotel room this holiday season and you’ll likely get a Wi-Fi password along with your room key. You’ll also probably find a copy of Gideon’s Bible.  More than three quarters of hotels (79 percent) say their rooms feature religious material, according to a new survey from research firm STR, which focuses on the hospitality industry.

That’s up slightly from 2015, when 77 percent of hotels had religious material.

“Hotel Bibles made headlines this week, after Marriott decided to drop Bibles from the amenities offered at several new high-end hotel brands.

‘It’s because the religious books don’t fit the personality of the brands,’ a Marriott spokeswoman told the LA Times.

“The more expensive a hotel, the less likely they are to stock Bibles in their rooms. According to STR’s research, 57 percent of luxury hotel rooms have religious material.

“By contrast, 89 percent of economy hotel rooms have religious material. Small hotels (69 percent) and big hotels (70 percent) are less likely to have religious material than mid-sized hotels (86 percent).  Hotels in small towns (83 percent), off the Interstate (89 percent), or in the suburbs (83 percent) are more likely to have religious material than those at resorts (61 percent), in urban areas (67 percent), or by the airport (74 percent).

“Bibles have been a staple at hotels for more than a century, with many placed by the Gideons International, a Nashville-based Christian nonprofit, since 1908.  Founded by traveling businessmen, the Gideons placed their first Bible at the Superior Hotel in Montana in 1908.

“Hotel Bibles make up only 2 percent of the Bibles the Gideons distribute, according to the group’s annual report. More than a billion Bibles have been distributed worldwide since 1908—and almost 100 million were handed out in 2015.

“Craig Warner, executive director of The Gideons International, says a Bible offers comfort for travelers who may be far from home.

‘Travel can be stressful. And life can be stressful when travelling,’ says Warner. ‘It’s in their hour of need that people find a Bible in a hotel room. They may not be a person of faith but they still recognize other people find hope and purpose in God’s Word. For hoteliers, Bibles remain a service for their customers.’”

That is an appropriate item of good news on this Sunday when we look at Joseph’s second act of obedience in traveling and taking his family to Egypt.

<Retrieved from http://factsandtrends.net/2016/12/09/despite-worries-hotel-bible-remain-almost-as-popular-as-wi-fi/#.WFQC71UrLcu on 12/16/16.>

  1. This event fulfilled prophecies.

Hosea’s prophecy is quoted by Mathew in verse fifteen.  Compare Matthew 2:15 with Hosea 11:1; “WHEN ISRAEL WAS A CHILD, I LOVED HIM, AND OUT OF EGYPT I CALLED MY SON.”

What the prophecy meant in Hosea’s time.  Israel became a nation after they left Egypt.  On the most immediate level, this verse looks back to that time.  For example, in Exodus 4:22-23 God instructed Moses to refer to Israel as His SON.  Israel enjoyed this relationship with God because God chose them.  We see this emphasis repeated in the NT, where the Church consists of the ones God has chosen and called out of the world.  In Hosea’s prophecy, this is the first part of God’s promise that after a time of experiencing His wrath, His people will be restored.

What it meant in Jesus’ time.  In the history of God’s people there was more than one occasion when they fled to Egypt for safety.  (Even a king, Jeroboam, did this.)  God condemned them for a lack of faith.  They put more trust in the chariots of Egypt than in Him.  This happened so often that there was a sizeable collection of Jews in Alexandria and other parts of Egypt.  This means Joseph would have had no problem finding a place to stay.

What’s interesting is that Jewish historians of the time accepted the account of Jesus’ family living in Egypt as historical fact.  They went a step further and claimed He learned magic there and His miracles were practices of that magic.

What we’ve said repeatedly about Matthew is his intent to show Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy.  Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, Matthew picked up this verse from Hosea and recognized it as a prophecy that referred to the Messiah, though there was nothing there to indicate that before Jesus was born.

Matthew quoted Jeremiah’s prophecy in verse eighteen.  Here’s what we found in Jeremiah wrote in 31:15: THIS IS WHAT THE LORD SAYS: “A VOICE IS HEARD IN RAMAH, MOURNING AND GREAT WEEPING, RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN AND REFUSING TO BE COMFORTED, BECAUSE HER CHILDREN ARE NO MORE.”

What it meant in Jeremiah’s time.  RAMAH was a city 5 miles NORTH of Jerusalem.  BETHLEHEM was 6 miles to the SOUTH.  Perhaps the point is that the anguish of the grief in Bethlehem and the infamy of the crime against her would be so great that people on the opposite side of the city would be aware of it.  According to Jeremiah 40:1, RAMAH was also the staging area where the people of Judah were assembled and then deported to Babylon.  I’m sure that was an unpleasant association for the Jews.

RACHEL was Jacob/Israel’s favored wife, the mother to Joseph and Benjamin.  According to Genesis 35:19, Rachel was buried in Bethlehem where she died in childbirth.  (Her tomb is a holy site revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims to this day.)  This is akin to saying that Rachel would weep in her grave, sharing the grief of the people.

But if you read further in Jeremiah 31, to v. 17, God comforted Rachel with the promise that the people would be restored to Judah and He would make a new covenant with them at that time (see vs. 31-34).  In spite of all this unpleasantness, these verses are part of a promise of comfort.

What the prophecy meant in Jesus’ time.  The death of the male children in Bethlehem was another grief-stricken event in a history of having suffered cruelty at the hand of Herod.  It must’ve reminded people like Matthew of the grief suffered by their ancestors.  This verse was an emotional and spiritual connection between those who suffered tragic loss at Herod’s hand and their forebears, who suffered loss at the hands of the Babylonians.

  1. This event contrasted Jesus and Herod.

Herod is the vicious king who stopped at nothing to protect his throne from all perceived threats.  Herod’s character flaws are well attested in the Bible and by non-biblical ancient historians.  For example, Josephus wrote whole volumes about Herod’s ruthlessness.

From these verses we learn Herod…

– Intended to kill the newborn King of the Jews (13).

– Was furious at the Magi for not returning to him as ordered (16).

– He ordered the death of the male children (16).

He may have seen this as a measured response.  After all, it was only boys, only boys aged two years or younger, and only in Bethlehem (a very small village).   The actual death count may have been low, not enough to justify emotionally-charged words like “slaughter” and “massacre.”

But these facts only make it more chilling, don’t they?  That Herod struck at this specific group in this ways is cold-hearted and calculated.  It was carefully measured, enough to eliminate the new king, but not so much to arouse the population of Jerusalem to wrath.  Verse seven told us that Herod met with the MAGI secretly to inquire about THE EXACT TIME THE STAR HAD APPEARED.   His purpose was to be able estimate the age of the newborn king.  Herod was crafty – he was preparing to meet the threat on his own if the MAGI failed.  Combine that with verse sixteen where Herod targeted all Bethlehem boys up to two years old and you can estimate Jesus’ age when these events took place.

Jesus was the Prince of Peace, an innocent child.  This fact doesn’t need any more explanation does it?  The contrast between these two historical figures could not be greater.

            This week I read an interview Bible Gateway held with popular Christian author Max Lucado about his book, Because of Bethlehem: Love Is Born, Hope Is Here (Thomas Nelson, 2016).  A couple of their questions and his answers apply to our study of Matthew 2:13-18.  (By the way, Max Lucado is the author we’re quoting in our Advent candle-lighting devotions.)

ON THE SUBJECT OF KING HEROD:

            “While the Christmas story is full of beauty and wonder, there’s a bad guy. Describe the message his life offers.

            “Max Lucado: We can learn a lesson from the sad life of King Herod. It’s always better to step down from the pedestal than to be pulled off of it. Like the innkeeper, Herod missed an opportunity to see Jesus. God did everything necessary to get Herod’s attention. He sent messengers from the East and a message from the Torah. He sent wonders from the sky and words from Scripture. He sent the testimony of the heavens and the teaching of the prophets. But Herod refused to listen. He chose his puny dynasty over Christ. He died a miserable old man. The path marked Pride will lead you over a cliff. The path marked Humility will take you to the manger of the Messiah.”

ON THE SUBJECT OF JESUS, GOD INCARNATE:

Why did God decide to be become a human and go through everything he did?

            “Max Lucado: A chief reason is this: he wants you to know that he gets you. He understands how you feel and has faced what you face. Jesus is not “out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help” (Heb. 4:15–16 MSG). Since you know he understands, you can boldly go to him. Because of Bethlehem’s miracle, you can answer these fundamental questions:

– Does God care if I’m sad? Look at the tear-streaked face of Jesus as he stands near Lazarus’s tomb.

– Does God notice when I’m afraid? Note the resolve in the eyes of Jesus as he marches through the storm to rescue his friends.

– Does God know if I am ignored or rejected? Find the answer in the compassionate eyes of Christ as he stands to defend the adulterous woman.

– Does God understand you? Find the answer in Bethlehem.”

This is why we return to these Bible passages year after year.  We need to be reminded that God revealed the full extent of His love in Jesus Christ.  During Advent, it is our job to do the same.

(Should you like to see the video version of this message, please look up “EBCSF” on YouTube.)

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

(Please read Colossians 1:13-23 in your Bible.  I’ve prepared these remarks using the NIV.)

Jesus gave up His life so we might live eternally.

“The actor who played Jesus in Mel Gibson’s 2004 blockbuster The Passion of the Christ says he has been shunned by Hollywood since taking the role.

“Jim Caviezel was a regular name on cinema hoardings before agreeing to take the lead in the controversial, bloody retelling of Christ’s final days. He headlined the 2002 remake of The Count of Monte Cristo and starred opposite Jennifer Lopez in the 2001 romantic drama Angel Eyes. However, Caviezel told an audience of churchgoers in Orlando, Florida on Saturday that he had ‘been rejected by my own industry’ after choosing to join Gibson’s cast.

“Gibson, he said, had initially offered him the role, only to call him back 20 minutes later and beg him not to take it. ‘He said, ‘You’ll never work in this town again.’ I told him, ‘We all have to embrace our crosses,’’ said Caviezel. He added: ‘Jesus is as controversial now as he has ever been. Not much has changed in 2,000 years.’

“A passionate Christian, Caviezel told the audience at the First Baptist Church of Orlando he had learned to accept that the destruction of his acting career was a price worth paying. “We have to give up our names, our reputations, our lives to speak the truth,” he said.

“The Passion of the Christ was an enormous box office hit in 2004, taking more than $600m worldwide after attracting huge numbers of religious filmgoers.”

<Ben Child, writing for the Guardian, in 2011. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/film/2011/may/03/jim-caviezel-passion-of-the-christ on 4/1/16.>

I did a little follow-up research and found that his acting career moved from the big screen to the small screen where he has worked steadily since making these comments in 2011.  While I was there, I also found out some interesting facts about Caviezel and the filming of The Passion of the Christ.

  • Dislocated his shoulder during the filming of The Passion of the Christ (2004).
  • Was struck by lightning during the filming of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004). Assistant director Jan Michelini was also hit (for the second time during the shoot). A crew member said “I’m about a hundred feet away from them when I glance over and see smoke coming out of Caviezel’s ears.”
  • Shortly after accepting the role of Jesus Christ in the Mel Gibson film, The Passion of the Christ (2004), he realized his initials were the same as that of Jesus (J.C.) and that he was the same age most religious scholars claim Jesus was when he was killed (33).
  • While filming the whipping scene in The Passion of the Christ (2004), one of the whips missed the steel board on Jim’s back and cut a 13-inch gash into his back.
  • Portrayed Jesus Christ a second time in the Word of Promise audio bible.
  • Republican.
  • During the filming he had pneumonia and suffered hypothermia.

<Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001029/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm on 4/1/16.>

As tempting as it is to comment on “Jesus” being a Republican, I believe I’ll just let it pass.  Instead, I want to remind you what we learned in part one.  Jesus Christ is the icon (“image”) revealing God the Father to us.  We who believe are, in turn, to be the icon of Jesus.  You’ve just read about how difficult it was for Jim Caviezel to be the on-screen icon of Jesus.  Do you imagine that your day-to-day walk of faith should be easy?  Have you heard Jesus describe the life of faith as taking up your own cross, enduring suffering in order to portray Jesus where you are?  The vast majority of us will never see our portrayal of Jesus on the “silver screen,” but that’s not why we’re doing it anyway.  We’re not acting.  We are the reality of Jesus in the world around us.  Relish your part.  Realize you’re part of an ensemble.  Make your portrayal of Jesus as real as the Spirit gives you grace to make it.

<Review: 1. Jesus is supreme (15-19).>

<NEW>

  1. What Jesus has done for us (13-14, 20).

First, as indicated in verse thirteen, He has RESCUED US.  The Greek word for RESCUE means just what you’d expect: “to liberate, save, or deliver someone or something.”

In this case, Jesus liberated, saved, and delivered us FROM THE DOMINION OF DARKNESS.  In the Bible, DARKNESS is symbolic of ignorance, falsehood, sin, and evil.  To be rescued, then, means that Jesus has informed us of the truth and forgiven our sins.  He’s done everything needed for us to start over.

The second thing is also revealed in verse thirteen: He has transferred our citizenship from this world to heaven; He BROUGHT us from the DOMINION OF DARKNESS to the KINGDOM OF THE SON.  The word translated as BROUGHT refers to people who are “reestablished” in a new place.  In civil documents of the day, this word was used to refer to transfer of citizenship from one country to another.  A military strategy of the time was to take away as captive members of a conquered nation; they would serve their conquerors as slaves.  In either case – civil or military – the word pictures a large group of people migrating from one place to another.

Paul is using it in the military sense in verse thirteen; we were captives to sin.  But Jesus conquered sin and has taken us back from our place of slavery.  He

has BROUGHT us to our true home. The DOMINION OF DARKNESS is in sharp contrast to the KINGDOM OF LIGHT which all SAINTS inherit, according to verse twelve.

Third, in verse fourteen we read that He has redeemed us from slavery to sin (IN WHOM WE HAVE REDEMPTION).  In their legal system, slaves could be released from bondage in two ways.  One: if they were purchased and set free by their new owner.  That would be called REDEMPTION.  Two: if they were won as prizes in a war or offered as tribute by a conquered nation, the conqueror could set them free.  This was called EMANCIPATION.  Again, I think Paul prefers the military imagery in this passage.  Jesus emancipated us by conquering our enemies of sin, Satan, and death.

A fourth saving act is found in verse fourteen; Jesus has forgiven our sins. The word translated as FORGIVENESS literally means “to send away.” When God forgives our sins, He sends them away.  He forgives and forgets. We are to do t same; forgive as we have been forgiven.

The fifth act mentioned in this passage is that He has reconciled us to God (v. 20).  The word RECONCILE means “to change.”  This passage is full of changes by Jesus.  Notice the scope of this: ALL THINGS are reconciled to God the Father.  The salvation Jesus provided has universal scope, but of course, not all persons will receive it..

From DARKNESS to light (13).

From slave to free (14).

From guilty to forgiven (14).

From God’s enemies who are alien to His purpose, to His family who prove useful for His kingdom (21).

From unholy to holy (22).

There is no middle ground here. We were utterly hopeless and He saved us to the uttermost.

  1. How Jesus did it (21-23).

In verse twenty-two we learn that  He did it IN HIS FLESHLY BODY THROUGH DEATH.  It sounds morbid, but the shadow of the cross extends all the way back to the baby in the manger.  Christmas is not worth celebrating without observing Good Friday.  Jesus was born to die.  God’s plan called for a human body because the sacrifice of a human life, the shedding of human blood was the only way to reconcile God and man.

But not any human life would do.  Jesus lived as the only and ever God and Man in one.  We must always defend the dual nature of Jesus as if our lives depended on it, for that is literally true.  If Jesus is not who the Bible says He is then we are not saved.

Look again at verse twenty-two.  There it states that He did it TO PRESENT YOU HOLY AND BLAMELESS AND IRREPROACHABLE BEFORE HIM.  HOLY means separate from the godless aspects of the world in which we live and morally pure. BLAMELESS means that we are no longer guilty of sin.  Only our God who forgives and forgets can make His children BLAMELESS.  IRREPROACHABLE is a legal term referring to a person who cannot be charged with a crime.

In other words, this is a moral, emotional, and spiritual state which we have no means of achieving on our own.  It is a state of grace.  In His grace God the Father chooses to clean us up, to mend our ways, and make us an acceptable “bride” for God the Son.  It is God the Spirit who lives in us and with us and accomplishes this transformation.  It is a metamorphosis that makes a caterpillar flush with envy.

And finally, in verse twenty-three we learn that He did it FROM THE HOPE HELD OUT IN THE GOSPEL…PROCLAIMED TO EVERY CREATURE UNDER HEAVEN. HOPE is a biblical term for a thing God has promised.  Because God has promised it, the thing is certain; it will come to pass.  Though you do not hold it fully in your hand now, you can be certain that one day you will.  It is not the same as a wish or a desire.

That is the basis for the Good News – the GOSPEL to which the Apostle Paul and every breathing believer gives a life of service.  That is the basis for a message that deserves to be taken TO EVERY CREATURE UNDER HEAVEN.  This is another nod to the universal nature of the Gospel

Don’t miss the condition on which our receipt of the Good News is based: IF YOU CONTINUE IN YOUR FAITH, ESTABLISHED AND FIRM.  Genuine faith, the kind that allows us to participate in the glorious Resurrection, is a life-long commitment.  It is real when it lasts.

I want to conclude with a quote from John Maxwell’s book, Think on These Things –What Does Hope Do For Mankind?

Hope shines brightest when the hour is darkest. Hope motivates when discouragement comes. Hope energizes when the body is tired. Hope sweetens while bitterness bites. Hope sings when all melodies are gone. Hope believes when evidence is eliminated. Hope listens for answers when no one is talking. Hope climbs over obstacles when no one is helping. Hope endures hardship when no one is caring. Hope smiles confidently when no one is laughing. Hope reaches for answers when no one is asking. Hope presses toward victory when no one is encouraging. Hope dares to give when no one is sharing. Hope brings the victory when no one is winning.
<Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-david-dewitt-quotes-encouragement-victory-livinghope-845.asp on 4/1/.16.>

May your most endearing hope be to accurately reveal Jesus by living as He lived.

 

A Heavenly View (Part Two)

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

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

(Part One was covered in last week’s post. Part Three will be covered in next week’s post.)

  1. The inhabitants of the HOLY CITY.

In 21:7 the inhabitants of the New Jerusalem are called the CHILDREN OF GOD. Adoption into God’s family helps us to overcome all of the challenges of life, including persecution by the world, and the shame of the enemy.  That’s why the CHILDREN OF GOD are also called OVERCOMERS.  (Several promises are made to the OVERCOMERS in chapters 2+3.)

This wonderful promise was first made in Jeremiah 24:7; I WILL GIVE THEM A HEART TO KNOW ME, THAT I AM THE LORD. THEY WILL BE MY PEOPLE, AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, FOR THEY WILL RETURN TO ME WITH ALL THEIR HEART.

In 21:9 and 22:17 the residents of the Holy City are called the BRIDE and THE WIFE OF THE LAMB.  These are both names for the Church.  This marital language is used because this is the union of God and His people in the fullest and most personal sense.  Ideally, the union of husband and wife is an example, an insight, or sample by personal experience, of the profound relationship between Jesus and His Church.

As you might expect, this symbol is not unique to John’s Revelation: Isaiah 62:5 says, “As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.”  Throughout the Bible, the joining of husband and wife is a symbol of great celebration; it is an emblem of joy.  In fact, a wedding feast is referred to in 19:6-9 as a means of describing the celebration of the victory of the Lamb.

In Revelation there is a great contrast between the Bride of Christ and Babylon, the seducer of nations, in chapter 17.  She is a picture of the glossy side of evil, the lure of temptation.  She is destroyed and her downfall is part of the final defeat of evil.  The BRIDE OF CHRIST is here polar opposite.

Both chapters refer to the NATIONS gathered within the walls of the New Jerusalem: this points to the multinational make-up of the Church.  In 21:24 we read, THE NATIONS WILL WALK IN ITS LIGHT.  This is a spiritual truth: salvation will be by faith, not ethnicity.  God has made it available to all.  This is not a political truth.  As 21:4 clearly states, THE OLD ORDER OF THINGS HAS PASSED AWAY.  The OLD ORDER of politics and power has had its day and will be no more.  All of the redeemed will be rulers (and PRIESTS) according to Revelation 20:6, a further indication that the old creation ways of power and politics are no more.

The triumph of God over the worldly systems that arrayed themselves against Him and His people was anticipated in the Old Testament as well.  Psalms 72:11 describes a very similar scene to what we read in these chapters: ALL KINGS WILL BOW DOWN TO HIM AND ALL NATIONS WILL SERVE HIM.

What is the real GLORY OF THE NATIONS John saw paraded into the Holy city in 21:26?  In John’s time this would be a military parade, the conquering army bringing back its spoil and captives and parading down the main street for the home crowd to see.  In a spiritual sense, this is exactly what’s intended.  The forces of evil have been destroyed and the vanquished enemies of God and His people are being put on display in a victory parade.  This imagery may have been in Paul’s mind when he wrote, AND HAVING DISARMED THE POWERS AND AUTHORITIES, HE MADE A PUBLIC SPECTACLE OF THEM, TRIUMPHING OVER THEM BY THE CROSS in Colossians 2:15.  Of course there will be no military parade down the GREAT STREET of the New Jerusalem, for the enemies of God have been destroyed.  Further, of what use would be treasures in a city made of pure gold and precious stones?

NO, in this case, it’s the people!  It’s not a procession of vanquished foes and captives, but a procession of God’s people who have come out of the NATIONS.  It is a parade of victory, but only the victors are present, none of the vanquished.  Indeed, they have completely faded from memory by this time.  This is a description of the innumerable multitudes mentioned in chapter 7 coming into the NEW JERUSALEM to bring glory to God.  It also made me think of Revelation 4:10, where 24 ELDERS worship God and offer their CROWNS – their tokens of victory – to Him.

In 22:2, the LEAVES of the TREE OF LIFE provide healing for the NATIONS.  This is another way of saying – as we read in 21:4 – that God will WIPE EVERY TEAR from our eyes.  All the hurts of the old order will be healed and will vanish from memory!

Nothing UNCLEAN or ACCURSED – including people – will be admitted to the New Jerusalem.  21:8 gives us a list of specific examples.  We need to remember that biblical lists are meant to be examples, not exhaustive list.  It would be silly say, for example, that because “gossip” does not appear on the list, the sin of gossip will not keep someone from heaven.  Let’s don’t be legalistic here.  It would be more appropriate, following through with this example, to say LIARS represents all sins of the tongue.

Even though the Gates of the NEW JERUSALEM will never be closed, no evil will enter through them.  The reason is simple; no evil thing will exist!  21:27 substantiates this truth in with a more general statement then 21:8. Here IMPURE things are excluded from the Holy City, as well as all persons characterized by their SHAMEFUL or DECEITFUL lives.

More exciting is the description of those admitted: ONLY THOSE WHOSE NAMES ARE WRITTEN IN THE LAMB’S BOOK OF LIFE.  This is a subject fit for a message all its own.  It is sufficient for our purposes to note that it is an image found in Old and New Testaments and to observe that God knows His people by name and not by reputation alone.  God knows us and loves us anyway, calling us by name out of the world and into His eternal presence!  Wow!!

22:15 is essentially a reiteration of 21:8.  There is only one thing on this list of conspicuous sinners that had not already been mentioned: DOGS.  As dogs were more scavengers at that time (think “hyena” or “dingo” or “wolf” instead) – less pets – I assume this is John’s way of describing people who prey on the vulnerable members of society.  This word was used in the culture of John’s time to refer to people who had fully degraded themselves in sin.  We’d call them “gangsters.”

In 22:18-19 John issues two warnings regarding the prophecy; do not add to it or take away from it.  This is serious; do not make it say what it clearly does not say.  Adding to the WORDS will result in God ironically adding to their life the PLAGUES DESCRIBED IN THIS BOOK (described in the seven trumpets and bowls in chapters 8-18).  People add their own rules, traditions, and false notions.  Taking away from the WORDS will result in God ironically taking away their SHARE IN THE TREE OF LIFE AND IN THE HOLY CITY.  People take away from God’s Word when they want to excuse sin and make easier to sin.

Because the Revelation is written with so much symbolism, it is a bit easier to twist the meaning.  Because the subject matter is so important – it exerts an influence on our imaginations and our faith and thereby has power to influence others – it is tempting to misuse it.  However, those who attempt to manipulate the Revelation to suit their own agenda are warned with the most severe penalties.  Resist the temptation.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can understand Revelation.  This will happen as we allow the words to speak for themselves, not as we impose our meanings on them.  Those who ADD TO or TAKE AWAY from God’s Word reveal themselves to be unbelievers.  This warning sounds a lot like the one Moses gave His people after giving God’s Law to them; “DO NOT ADD TO WHAT I COMMAND YOU AND DO NOT SUBTRACT FROM IT, BUT KEEP THE COMMANDS OF THE LORD YOUR GOD THAT I GIVE YOU.” (Deuteronomy 4:2)

The primary activity of the citizens of the Holy City will be worshipping God (22:3+5).

Worship of God appears throughout Revelation. Every scene of heaven is a scene where God is honored and glorified.  He is the hero of every Bible passage and as the highest possible good; it is to our blessing to worship Him.

There are a couple of verses that show what we might call “secondary” activities for the citizens of the Holy City.

– In 22:3, it says that HIS SERVANTS WILL SERVE HIM. From this brief remark we see that we will serve God in eternity as we have served Him in our brief time here on earth.  We do not have enough information to know what kinds of activity will be included with this service.  But the word translated as SERVE is used to describe religious activity.  While you may find work to be a “four letter word,” I believe we are promised that there will be work in heaven.  However, unlike earthly work, our eternal jobs will be meaningful and satisfying!

– In 22:5 we are promised we WILL REIGN FOR EVER AND EVER. Who or what will we rule over?  Is this more of a status than an activity?  There simply is not enough information to be specific.  What’s important is that the disciples of the One whom the world rejected will be, like Him, raised to rule.

Finally, the eternal residents of the Holy City fully committed themselves to God during their life in this world.  One way in which this commitment is symbolized is in 22:4: HIS NAME WILL BE ON THEIR foreheads.   (See also Revelation 7:3; 9:4; 13:16; 14:1+9; 17:5; 20:4 for the ways in which a mark on the forehead separates God’s people from the devil’s people.  This is clearly important.)  In Exodus 28:36, God commanded that the headdress worn by the high priest be decorated with a thin gold plate inscribed with the words, HOLINESS TO THE LORD. The connection here is that Revelation 1:6; 5:10; and 20:6 all promise that all the citizens of the New Jerusalem will be priests, wearing the NAME OF THE LORD on their foreheads.

Why the forehead?  When God commanded the Israelites to observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Moses said, “THIS OBSERVANCE WILL BE FOR YOU LIKE A SIGN ON YOUR HAND AND A REMINDER ON YOUR FOREHEAD THAT THE LAW OF THE LORD IS TO BE ON YOUR LIPS.  FOR THE LORD BROUGHT YOU OUT OF EGYPT WITH HIS MIGHTY HAND.” (Exodus 13:9)  The answer to the question is simply “Because God said so.”  We can sentimentalize about head and hand representing thought and action, but there’s no textual evidence to support that extent of detail.  It is intended as a symbol of allegiance, a demonstration and reminder of whose we are.

The second way the citizens of the city demonstrated their loyalty was by keeping this prophecy, receiving the blessing mentioned in 22:7.  We can be confident about this promise of blessing because, as 22:6 points out, “THESE WORDS ARE TRUSTWORTHY AND TRUE.” The words of this prophecy bless us when we…

… rely on them as a guide to moral living.

… receive hope for salvation.

… learn to love & show grace as God has been gracious to us.

… are drawn into communion with God.

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.)