When we store treasure for ourselves in this life, we are setting ourselves up for major disappointment. The relationships we cherish so much won’t ever be all that we want them to be. We are very unlikely to achieve the success and accolades we desire. Financial security escapes all but a few. Death takes every single person. We can’t count on our dreams here. Even those dreams which are fulfilled are still missing some indefinable thing that leaves us with lingering doubt and emptiness.
I think sometimes one reason we get so angry and disappointed with God is that we want to have it all in this life. But the Lord never promises we will have it all (or, necessarily any of “it”) here in this life.
The answer is not in this life. Our mistake is to seek it here. But the call for Christians is to keep our focus on real treasure.
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Matthew #20.5 Matthew 6:19-21
In our church last week, someone suggested that it would be a good idea to dwell a little bit more on what our treasure in Heaven will be. It’s hard to focus on something, to aim your life at something, when you only have a vague idea of what it is. So, I’m going to go back from where we are in the text, and re-visit Matthew 6:19-21. Jesus said:
“Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt 6:19-21, HCSB)
Prior to this, Jesus was talking about how our Heavenly Father will reward us, and we should seek that reward, rather than the praise of other people. So, what is heavenly treasure? What is heavenly reward?
So often, we don’t really believe that our real treasure is in Heaven. We are still looking for it on earth. So our eternal future does not figure very much in our day to day plans and decisions.
For Most Christians, heaven is a backup plan. Our primary work is finding a life we can at least get a little pleasure from here. Heaven is an investment we’ve made, like Treasury bonds, or a retirement account, which we we’re hoping will take care of us in the future sometime, but which we do not give much thought to at present. (John Eldredge, Desire, chapter 6).
Part of the difficulty about heaven is that we’ve never been there. Even those Christians who have had death-experiences and returned, have not really been to heaven, but only to the entrance of the afterlife, so to speak, and we cannot give their experiences the same kind of authority that we give to the Bible; and yet the Bible doesn’t seem to have very many specifics. However, the Bible does give us some big-picture ideas about eternity for those who are in Jesus.
First, when the bible talks about “eternal life” the Greek word for life is a special one: zoe. Jesus said that whoever trusts in Him will have zoe (John 3:15). It means much more than just “live forever.” Zoe means not only life that is indestructible, that lasts forever, but also a certain higher quality of life, better life. John says we have zoe when we trust Jesus:
The one who has the Son has zoe. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have zoe. I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal zoe. (1John 5:12-13, HCSB I have substituted the Greek word for the English, where it occurs)
This is important. If by eternal life we meant just a long life exactly as we have known it, that sounds a little daunting. This life leaves a lot to be desired, and extending it forever would not fix most of the problems we have. If eternal life was just more of this life, we would continue to struggle with broken relationships. We would still face unfulfilled desires (only now, for eternity). We would go on being disappointed by others, and ourselves, and not finding as much joy as we think we should from getting what we think we want. We might go on struggling with finances, and with worry, and with feeling insecure, and unattractive. Continuing to live this life forever sounds more like a punishment than a blessing.
Thankfully, the Bible promises not more of the same, but rather, something different; eternal zoe. Our eternal life will be of a different, better quality. In the first place, we will have new bodies. Many Christians don’t realize this. The promise of eternal life is not some ghost-existence where we float around like disembodied spirits. 1 Corinthians 15 tells us that we will have bodies, but that they will be different in important ways from our present bodies.
But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? What kind of body will they have when they come? ” Foolish one! 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. But God gives it a body as He wants, and to each of the seeds its own body. (1Cor 15:35-38, HCSB)
We are like seeds, sitting in a seed packet, wondering what happens after we are planted, but having no point of reference. Back when I thought I could grow a garden, I planted some zucchini squash. The seeds are smooth and flat, roughly the size of a fingernail, but oval shaped. There is kind of beveled border all around the edge of the seed. The seed is cream colored. Now, that seed is pure zucchini. There is nothing in the seed that is anything other than zucchini. It contains every part of the DNA of a full zucchini plant. And yet, the seed is nothing at all like the whole plant – in fact it isn’t even very much like the zucchini squash. The plant is green. It grows to over two feet tall, and more than four feet around of spreading green stalks and leaves. The flowers are long and yellow or orange. The zucchini “fruit” is a foot long or more, with white flesh and dark green skin.
The seeds do not change their essential nature, and yet they are destroyed in order for the plant to grow. The DNA of the grown plant is the same as the DNA of the seed that dies to produce the plant. Yet the plant is so much more than the seed. And no matter how long you took, you would never be able to imagine the plant merely from examining the seed.
So it will be with our new bodies. They will be fully us, and yet very different from how we are at the moment. They will not experience disease or pain or death.
Our new bodies will have a new creation to inhabit. Paul writes that all of creation was “subjected to futility.” That creation will be redeemed when we ourselves are finally resurrected into eternal zoe with our new bodies:
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. For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to futility — not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it — in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. And not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits — we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Now in this hope we were saved, yet hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience. (Rom 8:18-25, HCSB)
John writes about his vision of the end of the universe as we know it:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. (Rev 21:1, HCSB)
This world is a beautiful place still. As I type this, I can see three pictures on my wall, all of them taken by me while traveling. One is a sunset scene on the Gulf of Mexico.
Another is from a mountainside in Northern California, overlooking meadows, forests and the ocean. The third is a majestic and stunning view of Mount Hood in Oregon, clad in winter white, draped with dark green fir forests. I love these places, and many more equally beautiful, but different parts of the world. And yet, the beach on the Gulf was only recently threatened by a massive oil spill. Just a few miles from my Northern California scene, the city of San Francisco spreads asphalt over the beautiful land, and belches smog above the bay. The north side of Mount Hood has been artificially protected from fire, and the forests there are now filled with dead wood, and primed to go up in smoke across half the mountain. Even if they don’t, Hood is a volcano that could someday erupt, and turn the beautiful scenery into smoking slag rock.
And let’s be honest. In Gulf lurk bull sharks and stingrays that threaten our enjoyments, and at times even our lives. The mountainsides are gorgeous, but a fall, or an avalanche, or a falling tree, or a snake, or a cougar, or a bear, or just getting lost could kill us easily. Even if we don’t die, we can experience discomfort from insect-bites, illness from drinking untreated water and hunger if we can find no food. Our world is beautiful, but it is also still very imperfect and unsafe.
As beautiful as our world is, it is subject to futility. It is not eternal. It is not perfect. It is fragile, and even often unsafe for us. But the promise of the Bible is that we will get a new world, even more beautiful, one that is redeemed and perfected along with us. We can swim in beautiful waters with no fear of sharks. We can wander in the wilderness with no discomfort from mosquitoes, no fear of hunger or wildlife. This is indeed a treasure to look forward to.
John also says this about the new creation to come:
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 21:3-6, HCSB)
Our eternal zoe-life will be free from death, grief, and pain. Every time you experience grief, or emotional pain, or physical pain, or sorrow, use it to remind yourself of the treasure that awaits you in the New Creation.
In eternal life, we will be reunited with everyone else who has trusted in Jesus and died with faith in Him. A day will come when we see those who have gone before us. Death does not have to be forever. Pause for a minute, and think of those you have lost in this life who are waiting for you now in eternal life. These loved ones are a very great treasure for us. In Jesus, all goodbyes are temporary.
I think one of the clues to our treasure in heaven is the Garden of Eden, before Adam and Eve sinned. They lived in perfect health in a beautiful place, at harmony with nature. Most especially, Adam and Eve lived in complete vulnerability and intimacy with God and with each other. In their intimacy and vulnerability, there was no shame, no danger, no hurt or disappointment. In many ways, the Bible hints that the New Creation will be like the Garden of Eden – only better, and without the snake. Our relationships with God and with each other will be healed and whole and open and joyful and fun.
Sometimes we might think heaven will be boring. Isn’t it just one long worship service? I don’t think so. I think the worship takes place in many ways. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had work to do. It wasn’t toilsome – it was joyful. They found fulfillment in doing what they loved to do, and they found that it all came together as they lived according to their purpose. Here on earth, when you try to live for your purpose, it is usually a struggle. Others don’t care about your purpose. It’s hard to make a living doing what you were created to do. Many don’t appreciate the gifts and unique person that God made you to be. But in heaven, our yearning to be significant and our drive to do certain things we love will be fulfilled, not removed. Jesus, in the parable of the talents, describes the Master giving the faithful servants responsibilities and goals that are suited to them. You won’t be bored. You will finally get to do what you were created to do, with no hindrance or frustration.
John Eldredge writes about the eternal life to come for those who trust Jesus. He suggests that maybe one reason we don’t put our treasure in heaven is because we have incorrect expectations of it.
How can the church service that never ends be more desirable than the richest experiences of life here? It would be no small difference if you knew in your heart that the life you prize is just around the corner, that your deepest desires have been whispering to you all along about what’s coming. (John Eldredge, Desire, chapter 7 emphasis mine).
I think Eldredge is on to something. It is true, we can have sinful desires, and these will not find fulfillment in heaven. But our longing for closeness with God and with other people, our desire to be significant and to accomplish something worthwhile, our yearning for beauty and refreshment – all these are little signposts here on earth, pointing toward the eternal treasure that is waiting for us when God renews the heavens and the earth.
Let me give you one surprising example. Many people love the experience of sexual intimacy. At times, it feels almost necessary. That desire is really much more than physical. It is a desire to be close to another person, to be almost “immersed” in the one you love. Sexual desire is a pull to experience the beauty of another person fully, and to be known yourself fully. Of course, on earth, it gets distorted and twisted into all sorts of lesser things, sometimes very ugly and sinful things. But the desire itself is not wrong, and I believe that desire for intimacy and beauty and safe vulnerability will be fulfilled in heaven in a far greater way than it ever can be on earth. If you died without ever having sex in this life, you have not missed out – the real thing, the thing that sex is merely a shadow of – that is waiting for us in heaven, and it is better than what we call sex.
All of the things we love here on earth, and the things that desire most deeply are mere copies and shadows of the reality that is to come.
Therefore, don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is the Messiah. (Col 2:16-17, HCSB)
These serve as a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was warned when he was about to complete the tabernacle. (Heb 8:5, HCSB)
Even our sinful desires are often just a distortion and deception of something that began as a righteous desire for the heavenly reality. The point is this: one of the great treasures of heaven is that the true deep desires of our soul will be fulfilled. God created us with yearning for heaven. Sin and the devil have distorted and confused the yearning, but they haven’t eliminated it. To put it another way, in heaven is what you truly want. Heaven contains what you’ve been trying to find, trying to achieve all these years, and even more. If that is not something to treasure, I don’t know what is.
When I was in High School, some of the kids acted as if High School was all there was. They immersed themselves in becoming sports stars and prom queens and part of the “in” clique. These folks didn’t want to be “losers,” but they were quite free in calling others by that name. Many of them achieved their High School dreams. But when they graduated, and High School was over, it was almost as if they were surprised. They were lost, and it took some of them a long time to realize that High School is only one very short part of life, and not the most important part, either. Some of these “popular” ended up as “losers” in real life.
Brothers and sisters, this is High School. This isn’t real life. What we have here, what we treasure, is just a shadow of the real thing. What everyone seems to chase after is shallow and it doesn’t last – it isn’t real treasure. You’ve heard the saying “there are no dress-rehearsals; this is real life.” I beg to differ. This is the dress rehearsal. Real life hasn’t even started yet.
So many of us don’t want to acknowledge this. We keep pursuing things that don’t last, things that don’t matter. We keep storing up treasure that we can’t take with us and focusing on what is meaningless. Isaiah wrote about such people:
You were wearied by all your ways, but you would not say ‘it is hopeless.’ You found renewal of your strength, so that you would not faint. (Isaiah 57:10).
He was talking to people who would not give up trying to get what they wanted in this life, people who wouldn’t trust that God had something better for them in eternity.
When we store treasure for ourselves in this life, we are setting ourselves up for major disappointment. The relationships we cherish so much won’t ever be all that we want them to be. We are very unlikely to achieve the success and accolades we desire. Financial security escapes all but a few. Death takes every single person. Some die too young, and others wish they could die sooner, but it comes to every single human being. We can’t count on our dreams here. Even those dreams which are fulfilled are still missing some indefinable thing that leaves us with lingering doubt and emptiness.
I think sometimes one reason we get so angry and disappointed with God is that we want to have it all in this life. But the Lord never promises we will have it all (or, necessarily any of “it”) here in this life. What Jesus said about this life was this:
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, ESV2011)
David writes it like this:
Our lives last seventy years or, if we are strong, eighty years. Even the best of them are struggle and sorrow; indeed, they pass quickly and we fly away. (Ps 90:10, HCSB)
The answer is not in this life. Our mistake is to seek it here. But the call for Christians is to keep our focus on real treasure, real zoe-life:
Therefore, with your minds ready for action, be serious and set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1Pet 1:13, HCSB)
So if you have been raised with the Messiah, seek what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God. When the Messiah, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (Col 3:1-4, HCSB)
Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth. Put your treasure in heaven. Keep your life aimed toward real life, eternal life, not this temporary thing. Let your hope be not for this life, but for heaven. Don’t seek just for a comfortable eighty years passing the time on earth, but for an eternity of abundant better life. Store up your hope and treasure for heaven.
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