Heaven starts now. Our spirit-life with Jesus, our eternal, indestructible-life, starts when we trust him. It doesn’t start in our circumstances, or our material-life or even our soul-life. It starts in the new and holy spirit that we receive when we trust Jesus.
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Let’s talk about life.
Easter – Resurrection Sunday – is the day Christians celebrate life, more than any other. It hasn’t become as commercialized as Christmas. But then, it doesn’t seem to excite us as much, either. Why is that? Why do we celebrate a resurrection with chocolate, ham and a ho-hum attitude?
I suspect it is a symptom of three main things. First, sometimes, I wonder if we really understand the resurrection and what it means. Second, some people may not really believe it, not in a way that makes any real difference for life. Third, I think a lot of time, we are focused on the wrong kind of life, so the resurrection life doesn’t excite us that much.
I usually preach on the first two topics I just mentioned, on Resurrection Sunday each year. So this year, I thought I’d take a look at the third.
The New Testament uses three main words for “life.” The first one I want to talk about is the Greek word “bios.” This isn’t actually used that often in the New Testament, but the concept is important for people in Western culture today. Bios could be translated, “stuff of life,” or “physical things of life.” In the bible, this word is almost always used in the context of correcting people who are too focused on material livelihood. For instance:
As for the seed that fell among thorns, these are the ones who, when they have heard, go on their way and are choked with worries, riches, and pleasures of bios, and produce no mature fruit. (Luke 8:14, HCSB)
“Be on your guard, so that your minds are not dulled from carousing, drunkenness, and worries of bios, or that day will come on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come on all who live on the face of the whole earth. (Luke 21:34-35, HCSB)
Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For everything that belongs to the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s bios — is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever. (1John 2:15-17, HCSB)
Bios is about life in the here and now. It is about paying bills and owning houses and eating and drinking. Paul chided the Corinthians for engaging in lawsuits about bios. It is part of life, of course. We have to deal with bios to some extent, but it is not the essence of life. Mostly, it distracts us from the real thing. The consistent message of scripture is that bios-life is temporary, and it is spiritually dangerous to become too focused on it.
One of the most commonly used words for life in the New Testament is “psuche.” This is where we get our English word, “psyche.” Your psuche represents your personhood, including your personality and your existence as a unique individual. It is more than just physical existence. You might say it is your soul-life (and indeed, the New Testament often translates the word as “soul”).
Then He said to His disciples: “Therefore I tell you, don’t worry about your psuche, what you will eat; or about the body, what you will wear. For psuche is more than food and the body more than clothing. (Luke 12:22-23, HCSB)
So it is written: The first man Adam became a living psuche; the last Adam became a life-giving Spirit. (1Cor 15:45, HCSB)
Jesus came to earth as a psuche – a living, soul-man. All human beings have that kind of life. And while he was here, he had to deal with bios, just as we do. But Jesus had within him something more than psuche, more than bios. He had eternal indestructible, spirit-life. The Greek word for this kind of life is zoe (pronounced “dz-oh-ay”).
For just as the Father has zoe in Himself, so also He has granted to the Son to have zoe in Himself (John 5:26).
Zoe was in Him, and that zoe was the light of men. (John 1:4, HCSB)
Jesus came to earth to make possible a different kind of life. He didn’t come primarily to make bios-life easier for us to get. He did not even come to give us psuche-life. He came to give us eternal life. Jesus said,
A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come so that they may have zoe and have it in abundance. (John 10:10, HCSB)
Jesus didn’t come to give us abundant bios, or even psuche. He came first and foremost so that we could have zoe, spirit-life. In fact, he taught that you had to give up psuche to get zoe:
The one who loves his psuche will lose it, and the one who hates his psuche in this world will keep it for zoe. (John 12:25, HCSB)
Jesus himself came to die, to give up his psuche so that we could all have zoe:
just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His psuche — a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:28, HCSB)
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his psuche for the sheep. (John 10:11, HCSB)
This is why the Father loves Me, because I am laying down My psuche so I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down on My own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again. I have received this command from My Father.” (John 10:17-18, HCSB)
One reason we don’t get excited about resurrection is because we aren’t excited about zoe-life. We already have bios-life. We already have psuche-life. Too often, all we really want is for God to make that kind of life better and easier for us. If it doesn’t immediately help us deal with bills and rebellious children and difficult work situations, we aren’t that interested. Or maybe, we get beyond that, and what we want is personal fulfillment or happiness right here, right now. But we’re still looking at psuche, not zoe.
The other thing, is that we tend to think that zoe-life is just like psuche-life and bios-life, only longer, and with less hassle. Frankly, if that’s the case, I’d say, why not just give me less hassle right now? And so, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot to get excited about. We think it’s just more of the same, only easier.
It’s like we think a piece of painted plastic jewelry is prettier than the tarnished silver ring, at least for now. We want God to improve the tents we live in at the edge of the garbage dump, while we remain barely interested in the Spirit’s description of a permanent log-home set on a lake in the mountains.
I’ve heard people say something much like this: “Oh, I’ll enjoy heaven when I get there. But for now, I want to enjoy earth.”
But our spirit-life with Jesus, our eternal, indestructible-life, starts when we trust him. Heaven starts now. It doesn’t start in our circumstances, or our bios-life or even our psuche life. It starts in the new and holy spirit that we receive when we trust Jesus.That zoe-life can begin to grow and shape your soul-life and your material-life. And we can’t really get it, as Jesus points out, until we are willing to let go of our psuche life:
Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to make his psuche secure will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. (Luke 17:32-33, HCSB)
Imagine you found out that in a foreign country, you are descended from the Royal Family. The Monarchy still exists and rules in that country. The king and all the people have told you that you will be welcomed there as princes and princesses. You are to travel there soon. But before you do, in the meantime, the king wants you to do some things for him where you are.
Think about this. Would you learn the language of the country where you are a princess? Would you familiarize yourself with the customs of the place where you are a prince? Would you be interested to know the geography and culture? Would you correspond with anyone there, or call them on the phone? Would you be interested to know what it’s like there? Could you get excited about being a member of the royal family? Would you be more interested in improving your life in the garbage heap, or in preparing for your life as a royal?
Too many Christians could care less. It is as if they are saying, “I won’t care about that stupid old place until I get there. Who needs to know the language? They’ll teach me when I get there, I expect. Who cares what the place is like? I don’t have time for anyone else in my life right now. Let them wait until I get there. Time enough to learn all about it then. Right now, what I really need is a bigger tent that is a little farther away from the smelly part of the garbage dump.”
What does zoe-life mean right now?
First, it means that your circumstances, whatever they may be, are not the most important thing. Sometimes you have to deal with things, for sure, but what you are going through is temporary. It is weak in power, compared to zoe-life. So Paul, who was beaten by mobs, arrested, threatened, attacked by bandits and wild animals, shipwrecked, snake-bitten can say:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. (Rom 8:18, HCSB)
Paul didn’t just have a good attitude. He was drawing upon the zoe-life of Jesus in himself. He also wrote:
We are pressured in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed. We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. (2Cor 4:8-11, HCSB)
The “life” of Jesus, is of course, the “zoe” of Jesus, in Greek.
I used to scuba dive. I learned that at thirty-three feet under water, the pressure upon you doubles. At thirty-three feet, everything is under twice as much pressure – weight – pushing on it from all sides, as at the surface. At 66 feet, the pressure is three times as great as it is at the surface. It continues on like this. Several hundred feet below the water, the pressure is so great that even if a human being could breathe, she would be killed. The pressure would compress her body like a steam-roller.
Now, picture a paper-cup, the kind of thing you might get take-out coffee in. You can turn that cup upside down and push it under water so that there is a pocket of air inside. If you maintain the size of that air pocket, and also maintain the pressure of the air in the cup, you could take that flimsy paper cup all the way down to the bottom of the deepest part of the ocean, and the pressure would not crush it. The material of the cup doesn’t matter. What matters is the strength of what is inside the cup.
If we let it, the zoe life of Jesus inside of us can be stronger than anything we encounter in bios-life or psuche-life. Jesus said it could become a well of fresh water, flowing from inside us. It is a quality of life that depends upon the strength, grace and joy of God, rather than anything in us, or in this mortal world.
Zoe-life is now is a down-payment of the full zoe-life that we will have later. The New Testament tells us that our bodies will be changed. Paul says, along with Jesus, that our psuche and bios life dies so that we can be raised in complete zoe life.
What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow — you are not sowing the future body, but only a seed, perhaps of wheat or another grain. (1Cor 15:36-37, HCSB)
Jesus, in his zoe-life after the resurrection had a physical body. He was able to enjoy the pleasures of food. He was recognizable to those who had known him before He had pusche-life again – in other words, he was still Jesus, the person his disciples had known. But his body was immortal. He could pass from place to place instantly. Locked doors were not a barrier to him. Let me close with a few more words from the bible about what our zoe-life will eventually be like:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea no longer existed. I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away. Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new.” He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.” And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give water as a gift to the thirsty from the spring of life. (Rev 21:1-6, HCSB)
Then he showed me the river of living water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the broad street of the city. The tree of life was on both sides of the river, bearing 12 kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations, and there will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His slaves will serve Him. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. Night will no longer exist, and people will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever. Then he said to me, “These words are faithful and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent His angel to show His slaves what must quickly take place.” “Look, I am coming quickly! The one who keeps the prophetic words of this book is blessed.” (Rev 22:1-7, HCSB)