REVELATION #44: THE CITY OF GOD

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The New Jerusalem is not a literal city. The description of it in Revelation 21 is a metaphor to help us envision God’s relationship with His people as a whole; his people’s relationships with each other; and also God’s relationship with each individual. Seen that way, we learn wonderful things about God, each other and us as individuals.

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REVELATION #44. THE CITY OF GOD. REVELATION 21:9-27

Let me be honest about this passage. At first glance, it doesn’t excite me very much. About the only thing that seems interesting to me is the size of the New Jerusalem. Most translations say that it is built in a square, 12,000 stadia per side. That means that each side is roughly 1,380 miles long, for a total area within of about just under 2 Million square miles, about 2/3 the size of Australia, and well over half the size of the continental U.S. That’s impressive. Next, take into account that the walls are as high as they are long (the 144 cubits refers to the width of the walls, not their height), and suddenly, it becomes unimaginable, since the walls would reach above the atmosphere. A massive cube, with well over half of it reaching six hundred miles higher than the space shuttle ever flew. OK, now, that just doesn’t make any sense. And that, I believe, is the point. We are not talking about a literal city, but instead, this is a picture of an important aspect of the New Creation.

Remember, the city is “The Bride, the Wife of the Lamb.” So, the New Jerusalem is a picture of God’s people, and of the kind of relationship that we have with Him. Again, it is clearly not meant to be understood literally. In short, the New Jerusalem is a kind of metaphor of God’s union with his people once they are made completely holy in the New Creation. It is a combination picture of God’s people, and also God’s relationship with his people.

Not coincidentally, there are seven major aspects of the New Jerusalem. Let’s start with the first:

10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12

This is an overall impression. God’s people, and God’s relationship with his people is filled with a glorious radiance, like a rare jewel, something very precious and beautiful. Today, God’s people get sucked into sin, bitterness, ugly moods and stupid distractions. But in the New Creation the people of God as a whole (and also individually) will be beautiful and precious. None of the things that make us less than beautiful will be a part of us at that time. We will not become God, but we will shine with the beauty, holiness and radiance of our perfect, glorious God. In the New Creation, people who follow Jesus will be gloriously beautiful.

It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— 13 on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates.

14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

Remember, this is not a literal city. So what do these things mean? There, among God’s people, we will understand the history and foundation of scripture. Jesus said “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (CSB, Matthew 24:35). Here, in the New Jerusalem, the people of God will shine with the fulness of God’s Word – both Old Testament (represented by the twelve tribes of Israel) and the New Testament (represented by the twelve apostles). If God’s people are a city, then the walls, gates and foundations of that city are God’s own words. God’s people are “built” out of, and on top of, God’s word. Our entire relationship with him, and our very beings, are shaped by, and based upon, God’s revealed word. The incredible thing is that we already have that word today, and we call it the Bible. I have said it before, and I will say it until I die: The Bible is God’s incalculably precious gift to humanity. It is vital to read it, to learn to understand it, to soak your soul in what it says. Who we are as eternal beings in the New Creation will be all wrapped up in God’s Word. There is almost nothing more important than learning the Bible, and letting it shape your life. Please, please, find some way to listen to audio versions, or find a good, readable translation, or have your spouse read it to you – something, anything,  that gets you into God’s Word.

15 And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. 16 The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. 17 He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement.

Now we come to that weird measurement. We know this is not supposed to be an actual measurement, so what do these things mean, metaphorically? Well, God’s people are impressively, magnificently, huge. Elsewhere in Revelation, John saw a great multitude, out of every tribe, tongue and nation. So, God’s people will be a great and diverse multitude. However, though incredibly large and impressive, God’s people are not infinite. Though the city is very large, it can be measured. There is a beginning and end to it. The largeness is positive. The fact that there are limits reminds us that not everyone who has ever lived will be there.

18 The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 19 The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. 21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.

By the way, obviously, this is where we get the idea of “the pearly gates” and “the streets of gold.” Again, however, I think this is all metaphorical, not literal. These precious stones and minerals communicate that God’s people, and their relationship with Him, will be beautiful, and unimaginably precious. Also, with all these different sorts of gems and metals, I get the sense that there will be great variety in God’s people – we won’t all be the same, or look the same. We will all be beautiful, but we also retain our precious individuality, as created by God. Our personalities will be a perfect blend between union with God and each other, and our individual selves. I think this also indicates a great variety in the ways that God interacts with us. He comes to us in many different ways, and life is full of beauty and variety with Him.

22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.

Once again, this is not literal, and I am glad. I love the night, and the sun, and the moon. But the point is this: God is interacting directly with his people, and we need nothing more. Our sin, and the things that get in the way of our perfect union with God will be gone. He is all we need, and it will no longer be a strain to remember that, or live like that. It will be easy to know that he is all we need, and easy to draw all that we need directly from God, without seeking it elsewhere.

24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.

This again reminds us that it is metaphor. We will be inhabiting the New Heavens and New Earth. But we will walk by the light of our relationship with God, perfect, precious, glorious, huge, individually beautiful, with God as all we need. And all human glory will be in perfect union with Godly glory. The absence of night is not literal, but it means no more pain, suffering, sorrow or evil. The people of God will diverse -the glory of the nations.

27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

This is a reminder that none of this is possible unless all sin, evil, and all rebellion against God is completely removed. God will do the removing through Jesus if we let him, but if not, we will never participate in this kind of relationship with God, nor have this eternal future. He must be finally and completely King in  order for this to take place. Right now, it is not too late to put your trust in Jesus, to allow him to be the King of your life. We like having God’s help when we need it, but we generally want to run things on our own when we aren’t in trouble. That is not salvation. A saving faith puts all trust in Jesus, which means, among other things, that Jesus is now the final and true leader of your life. Unless we are willing to let him make us holy, we cannot be a part of this unimaginably beautiful relationship with God, and with other believers.

So, what does all this mean for us on Thursday afternoon? I can think of several applications. I don’t know how to urge you all strongly enough to find a way to connect with the Word of God (the Bible). This is our future: not Netflix, not our careers, not our next travel adventure, not our next relationship. Our future is in the Word of God. If at first, you can’t connect with it, please don’t give up. Pray for help. Ask for help. Find a good, readable translation like the Christian Standard Bible (CSB – it used to be the HCSB); or the ESV, or even the New Living Translation. Have someone else read it to you. Get it on audio. Talk about what you are reading (or listening to) with your spouse, your friends, your family. When you read, DO NOT just flip it open and start somewhere random. Start reading at the beginning of one of the books. If you are new, start reading in John, and keep going, however long it takes, until you finish the book of Jude. Maybe do a chapter a day, maybe a little more, maybe a little less. Then go back, and do it again. Then, maybe start mixing in some Old Testament books, like Genesis. For something different and refreshing, try reading a psalm each day. Please, just do it. Please contact me, if you want more help with this.

Another application, that strikes me, is that my fellow Christians will shine with this amazing beauty and glory – like precious gemstones. Right now, we are gemstones in the rough, covered in dirt, uncut, unpolished. But we are precious, and we ought to treat each other that way.

Perhaps some of you need to remember that Christianity is a global religion, and that there are far more Christians who do not look like you, or even speak your own earthly language, then there are people like yourself. God’s people will be glorious with all nations represented. Speaking specifically to Christians from European-based cultures, I want to say that most of us (“us” being those who follow Jesus) are not white, and don’t speak English. That should affect how we treat people who are different from us culturally and ethnically. Our glorious brothers and sisters in Christ will be from everywhere.

I also mentioned that we will need nothing more than the presence of God – we won’t need sun, moon, or anything but God himself. In a way, that is already true, but it is hard to grasp. If we have Jesus, everything else we have is from and through Him. It is good to trust him more and more, because this text tells us the reality that will be, and, in a way, already is: God is all we need.

With those thoughts, let the Holy Spirit continue to speak to you today.

 

REVELATION #42: THE NEW CREATION

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We are promised a new world that contains the beauty, but not the fragility. It contains the excitement and wonder, but not the mortal danger. In our perfect bodies, exploring the wilderness will be a joy. In Earth 2.0, humans will not corrupt or threaten the environment. The New Creation will hold the people of God, but not their garbage, because garbage will no longer exist. These promises, and the hope they bring should affect how we live here and now.

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SERMON NOTES

Revelation #42. Revelation 21:1-8

 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

We are in the second-to-last major section of the book of Revelation, which I call “The Seven-Part Victory of Jesus.” The first part of his victory was the destruction of the beast and his followers. Next, came the thousand-year reign. The third victory was the ultimate destruction of Satan. The fourth part of his victory was the judgment of all people who have ever lived, where those whose names are in the book of life are invited into eternal life, while those who rejected Jesus are sent to the lake of fire. Today, we consider the fifth part of the Victory of Jesus, which is the creation of the  New Heavens and the New Earth. We have taken a great deal of time in other parts of the book of Revelation, in order to understand it better. We have come to some areas that are less difficult to understand, but they are wonderful, delightful promises. I want us to feast our soul on these promises today.

Last time, I speculated that when we die, it is possible that our spirits (or souls?) go to be with Jesus for a temporary period. Some people call that “heaven.” But the real “heaven” is actually a physical place. John explains it:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

God’s plan is to destroy this mortal world, and then to remake it in perfection. Some scholars would say that God will not absolutely destroy it, but will transform it, much in the same way that our earthly bodies will be transformed into resurrection bodies. Either way, this idea of new Creation (brand new, or transformed) is found in many places in the bible.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:10-13, ESV)

17 “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered
or come into mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. 20 No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, (Isaiah 65:17-20, ESV)

22 “For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the Lord, so shall your offspring and your name remain. 23 From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the Lord. (Isaiah 66:22-23, ESV)

Our eternal future will be spent in physical bodies, living in a physical place – the New Creation. The New Creation, will be perfect, even as our new bodies will be perfect. It will not be subject to frustration because of our sin:

18 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. 19 For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility — not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it — in the hope 21 that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of God’s children. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. 23 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. 24 Now in this hope we were saved. (Romans 8:18-24, HCSB)

I love this world we live in. I love the ocean, and the mountains, the forests and the plains. Being in places with beautiful scenery moves me deeply and powerfully. But our amazing planet is indeed “subject to frustration” in various ways. Many of the most beautiful places on this world are also the most dangerous. A one-thousand-foot cliff is wonderful to look at, and to stand on top of one is awe-inspiring. But one miss-step, one ill-placed falling rock, and that beauty will end your life. The mountains are gorgeous. But it takes a great deal of physical effort and stamina to go into the mountains and explore, and if you go unprepared, there are seventy-three easy ways to die there. So, our beautiful world is also very harsh and difficult.

Not only that, but it is fragile. Human activity seems to be reducing the forests of the world in a significant way. In places like Europe, where humans have lived for many thousands of years, most of the wild animals are gone. Even the most remote shores of islands far from civilization contain garbage washed up from the sea, where millions upon millions of people throw it.

However, we are promised a new world that contains the beauty, but not the fragility. It contains the excitement and wonder, but not the mortal danger. In our perfect bodies, exploring the wilderness will be a joy. In Earth 2.0, humans will not corrupt or threaten the environment. The New Creation will hold the people of God, but not their garbage, because garbage will no longer exist.

Some of you may wonder about the fact that there will be no sea. That would disappoint me, because I love the ocean. Actually, if you remember, the beast came from “the sea” (Revelation 13:1). The prophet Daniel also had visions involving evil beasts, and these too, came from the sea (Daniel 7:3). So, here, “the sea” doesn’t mean “the ocean”  or anything like that. Instead, “the sea” represents the source of rebellion against God, the place from which comes chaos and evil. What John means to say is that the New Creation will have no place from which evil can come. It will not be threatened by rebellion or spiritual darkness.

Folks, that’s just the first verse! Here’s the next:

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

The city is “as a bride, adorned for her husband.” Many scholars take this to mean that Jerusalem represents the people of God, made perfect by Jesus, coming to meet him in the New Creation. That might indeed be the correct interpretation of this verse. It might also be that God’s people will have a new, wonderful, absolutely perfect home. I think, however, there are layers of meaning we might get from this.

Look at it this way: John was a Jew, who grew up thinking of Jerusalem as the spiritual center of the universe. Before he met Jesus, he probably believed that God made his home in the temple in Jerusalem. You might say that Jerusalem was the home of his heart, though he had never lived there permanently. In 70 A.D., the Romans brutally crushed a Jewish rebellion, and utterly destroyed both the temple, and the city, and caused the deaths of an estimated one million people. The Jewish historian Josephus, who was there at the time, records that the Romans left part of one wall standing, to provide  shelter for the soldiers, and to show how big were the other walls that they destroyed. But he records that the rest of the city was absolutely annihilated:

…But for all the rest of the wall [surrounding Jerusalem], it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it [Jerusalem] had ever been inhabited. This was the end which Jerusalem came to by the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind.

And truly, the very view itself was a melancholy thing; for those places which were adorned with trees and pleasant gardens, were now become desolate country every way, and its trees were all cut down. Nor could any foreigner that had formerly seen Judaea and the most beautiful suburbs of the city, and now saw it as a desert, but lament and mourn sadly at so great a change. For the war had laid all signs of beauty quite waste. Nor had anyone who had known the place before, had come on a sudden to it now, would he have known it again. But though he [a foreigner] were at the city itself, yet would he have inquired for it.

(Flavius Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, as quoted from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Jerusalem_(70_CE) Accessed, 3/23/19)

That was Jerusalem at the time John recorded the book of Revelation: unrecognizable even to those who had once lived there, not even recognizable as having once been a city. Jerusalem, as John knew it, was no more; it was lost forever. It was a mark on a map, and a pile of rubble in reality. But now, John sees the New Jerusalem, the city of God, coming down from heaven.

Here is what I hear from this verse today: Whatever is good that seems to have been lost forever will be made perfect, and restored to us. Something in your heart might seem utterly destroyed. You may have no hope of ever recovering it. Yet, in the New Creation, it will be made new, and even better than before. Just as the creation is made new; just as we ourselves remade, new and better; so our hopes and aspirations are renewed and fulfilled, but even better than before.

Now, you may be tempted to say, “But I want my hope to be fulfilled in this life. I want all this now.” I understand that sentiment. But, that is a bit like a child who wants to go to a McDonald’s playland area today, rather than waiting a week, and then going to Disneyland. Any hope that we have fulfilled in this life is temporary, and it is infected with that same corruption that sours everything in this life. If your hope is only for this life in the first place, then perhaps it needs to be refined and purified. If what you really want cannot be found in heaven, perhaps what you are hoping for is not good. Our hopes in the New Heavens and New Earth are far better than anything we could imagine here and now.

These promises, and this hope should affect how we live here and now. Peter says that, in the verses I quoted above (2 Peter 3:11-12). Because we have this hope, we can be patient here on earth. Because we have this coming treasure in heaven, we can give of ourselves to others here and now. We know that the best is yet to come, so we can endure suffering in the meantime. That’s what Paul meant when he said this present suffering is not worth mentioning compared to the glory that is coming. I am reminded again of one of my favorite verses:

Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is wasting away, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary, light, affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary. But what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Meditate on these two hopes right now: the New Creation, and the Great Restoration. Let the Holy Spirit speak to your heart.

CHILD-LIKE GREATNESS

toddler wide eyed

 

Only those who abandon control and learn to trust can truly let Jesus give them his grace. To the extent you do not trust, you cannot receive.

There is something else we need to get from all this. Jesus’ main point to his disciples about being great is that great Christians don’t look like “great Christians.”

 

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Matthew #61. Matthew 18:1-14

Thanks for making use of Clear Bible. We’ll be talking this time about true greatness, and the willingness to give up whatever we need to in order to enter the life that Jesus offers us. Before we get into all that, however, I’d like to remind you that we deeply appreciate your prayers for this ministry. Please pray that this ministry will continue to be a blessing to those who hear it. Ask God, if it is his will, to touch even more lives with these messages. Ask him to use this ministry in making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Please also pray for our finances. Pray for us to receive everything we need. Please pray for us in this way before you give anything. And then, as you pray, if the Lord leads you to give us a gift, please go ahead and do that. Click on the “Donate” at the top of the page for more information about how to give. But if the Lord doesn’t want you to give financially to us, that is absolutely fine. We don’t want you to feel bad about it. We want you to follow Jesus in this matter. But do continue to pray for our finances and the ministry as a whole.

Now, on to the main message.

This teaching of Jesus begins, as so many of his teaching do, with the disciples messing up. That’s a happy thought for me. I think when I mess up that I have, well, you know, messed things up. But Jesus sees the mistakes of his followers as opportunities to help them grow.

In this case, their way of messing up was to seek greatness for themselves. It is just possible that Matthew was slightly ashamed of this incident: he merely records that the disciples raised the issue with Jesus. Mark and Luke both record that in fact, the disciples were arguing about it while away from the presence Jesus, and Jesus, finding out, spoke with them.

It is also encouraging to see how gentle Jesus is with them in this particular instance. He brings a child into their midst, and says basically, “turn from your ambitions and become like this child.”

Now, like any of Jesus’ parables or analogies, he has just a few main points in mind. If you can remember your own childhood, or if you can remember being the parent of young children, you know that children come with their own sets of issues. They can be selfish, angry, easily upset, stubborn, rebellious and so on. But Jesus didn’t mean that his followers should become like children in every possible way. Other places in the New Testament tell Jesus-followers not to be like children – at least not in our thinking:

Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. Ephesians 4:14 (HCSB)

I think probably Jesus had three or four characteristics of children in mind. First, I believe, is humility. A young child does not usually have ambitions to rule the world, or to be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Particularly in the presence of adults, a child knows his limitations and accepts them humbly. Jesus is telling these men who are jockeying for position in the kingdom of heaven: “Forget all that. Instead, be humble, like a child.” In fact, he mentions humility specifically in verse 4. Psalm 131 portrays this childlike humility:

1LORD, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty. I do not get involved with things too great or too difficult for me.2Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself like a little weaned child with its mother; I am like a little child.3Israel, put your hope in the LORD, both now and forever. (Ps 131:1-3, HCSB)

Another characteristic of children that Jesus might have had in mind is innocence. I don’t mean children don’t sin – obviously, they do. But they usually haven’t been exposed to the full depth of evil in the world. So Paul writes:

Brothers, don’t be childish in your thinking, but be infants in regard to evil and adult in your thinking. 1 Corinthians 14:20 (HCSB)

A third possibility that Jesus might have meant us to understand is that a child’s main job is to learn. A child has not mastered any subject, but humbly learns from others, and in fact, at least until we ruin it with school, most children are naturally inclined to learn. Peter puts it this way:

Like newborn infants, desire the pure spiritual milk, so that you may grow by it for your salvation, 1 Peter 2:2 (HCSB)

So, the followers of Jesus should regard themselves as learners.

Finally, I think one thing Jesus definitely meant by “become like children” was to learn to trust. Children know how to trust – they have to. Unless a child has been very unfortunate, trusting is the one thing that very young children are better at than anyone else. They are dependent upon adults for their entire survival. I think this is precisely what Jesus means when he says, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Only those who abandon control and learn to trust can truly let Jesus give them his grace. To the extent you do not trust, you cannot receive. Psalm 131(quoted above) connects childlike humility to trust.

There is something very important we need to get from all this. Jesus’ main point to his disciples about being great is that great Christians don’t look like “great Christians.” I don’t mean they look like bad Christians, but what Jesus does mean is that He judges greatness based upon entirely different criteria than the world.

I think this is very relevant. We live in a culture that is obsessed with celebrity. The world reveres people who have managed to become famous, no matter how they achieved it. A large number of famous people today, regardless of their notoriety, have achieved almost nothing worthwhile. Think about it: the people we most admire and talk about either play games for a living (athletes), or pretend to be other people for a living (actors). Their lasting contributions to the human race are almost worthless. It would be hard to argue that the world will be a better place one-hundred years from now because of Leonardo DiCaprio or Anne Hathaway or Jennifer Anniston.

It’s almost impossible to over-emphasize how backwards our culture’s view of greatness has become. Recently Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner won an award for courage. What did he to do to merit the award? Rather than face his own brokenness with the courage to pursue healing, instead of learning to accept himself how he was, he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to physically change the body he was born with, all the while knowing that the media would be eager to praise him for it. That’s not courage. That’s not greatness – but we have called it such.

Unfortunately, many Christians have bought into society’s model for greatness. We don’t necessarily honor the same people as great, but we honor “Christian Celebrities” as great, and often they have done just as little or less than secular celebrities. We merely replace the Kardashians with the Robertsons (of Duck Dynasty fame). Or instead of admiring One Direction, we admire Hillsong (or, more probably, both). In fact, recently I saw an ad for a movie about the success and fame of the musicians at Hillsong. It looked like any other movie about a bunch of celebrities; these just happen to be Christian ones.

You know what I am talking about. You know that the Christian celebrity culture is alive and well. Chris Tomlin and Matt Redmond are celebrity worship leaders. Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer are celebrity preachers. David Platt is a celebrity author. Christian culture in America thrives on this stuff, because “Christian culture” is not very different from secular culture in how it judges greatness.

But Jesus said, “this is not how greatness looks in the kingdom of heaven.” In heaven, greatness looks like a child: humble, willing to learn, not caught up in the entanglements of what the world has to offer, and above all, trusting the Lord for everything. I doubt we will know who the real celebrities in God’s kingdom are until we are resurrected in the new heavens and new earth. If we could somehow see it truly, I think we would be surprised at who the great ones are in our present generation. I doubt it is anyone we have heard about from our Christian Celebrity culture.

I am not judging the ministries of the people I have named. I am merely saying that even we Christians have lost sight of how Jesus defines true greatness.

After this, Jesus turns the conversation slightly. He was telling the disciples to be like children, and now he goes on to talk about “little ones.” I think Jesus is probably referring both to actual children, and also to those who enter the Kingdom of Heaven like a child.

First he warns against causing the downfall of one of the little ones. I have said before that all sins are equal in that no matter what sin we commit, it separates us from God. However, not all sins have the same earthly consequences. Jesus now says something that is as close as he ever gets to “There is a special place in hell for sinners like that.”

6 “But whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me — it would be better for him if a heavy millstone4 were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea!

It seems that when someone corrupts a child, or a naïve disciple, this makes Jesus especially angry. People are going to sin, but if you are the one who leads another person into sin, you have done something particularly contemptible. That sin – corrupting others, seducing them into sin – can be forgiven, of course. It isn’t the unforgiveable sin. If you think you have done this, repent now, quit corrupting others and trust that Jesus has forgiven and changed you. If not, you’d be better off swimming with the giant stone necklace than facing the wrath of Jesus.

Next, Jesus reiterates something he said earlier in his ministry, during the sermon on the mount:

8 If your hand or your foot causes your downfall, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes your downfall, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, rather than to have two eyes and be thrown into hellfire!

I think there are two helpful thoughts here. First, sin is serious. Jesus isn’t messing around here. Sin is the cancer of the soul. If your foot has cancer in it, you have an operation to get the cancer removed. If you can’t remove the cancer without amputating, you amputate, because otherwise the cancer will spread, and your whole body will eventually die. When dealing with cancer, we understand, this is life or death. We do what is necessary to get rid of the cancer, including removing major body parts.

Jesus is telling us that sin is just as serious as cancer. If alcohol is causing you to sin, quit drinking. If watching certain TV shows or movies is getting your head into a bad place, quit watching. If friends are influencing you to sin, maybe you aren’t strong enough to keep those friendships at this time. I don’t mean you should never have non-Christian friends. But I do mean that if it becomes a choice between following Jesus faithfully, or having a certain person in your life, you would be better off to choose Jesus. Jesus is telling us that this is serious business. Do what it takes to keep on following him.

There is a second piece to what Jesus is saying here. He says: “It is better for you to enter life maimed or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into the eternal fire.” The eternal fire is the serious, scary thing. But there is a serious, good thing too: Life. The promise is that we can indeed enter life. There is something good up ahead – a life waiting for us. This life now is temporary. What’s ahead is the real thing.

Would you give up a thousand dollars right now if you knew it would get you a million dollars when you retire? Of course. A temporary sacrifice is worth a long-term reward.

So, what if you’re never allowed to get drunk and party again in this temporary life – the life is coming that will be better than any party you’ve been to, and you can enjoy it fully without the aid of alcohol, and remember the whole thing clearly, too.

Is it worth giving up a few temporary pleasures (which don’t bring lasting fulfilment anyway) in order to enter eternal life? The answer should be obvious.

There’s an old song written by Rich Mullins, that wasn’t well known, called Heaven is waiting. Perhaps fittingly considering the message today, it is one of his least-known songs, and was only ever recorded once. I strongly encourage you to go listen to the song, and reflect on all these things as you do. Unfortunately the best recording I could find was here, and there is a little bit of distortion; even so, it’s a great song:

Heaven is Waiting (You Tube Music Video)

HEAVEN IS WAITING

By Rich Mullins and Mitch McVicker

“I don’t need no woman to kiss me
And I don’t need no man to stand by my side
I don’t need to slake my thirst with whiskey
Don’t need to shuffle cards to pass the time
‘Cause the stars are bright and silvery
And with the dry ache of a lone coyote’s whine
My Savior’s calling and I’m listening
Time to saddle up my pony and ride
‘Cause heaven is waiting
Just past the horizon
Just over the mesas
Across the great divide
And faith is blazing
This trail that I ride on up this mountain
I’m prayin’ I have the strength to climb
I ain’t looking for no seven golden cities
But I know there’s a fortune somewhere to find
There’s a peace that I hear whisperin’ through the
pinyons
And a love that’s taller than the ponderosa pines
And heaven is waiting
Just past the horizon
Just over the mesas
Across the great divide
And faith is blazing
This trail that I ride on up this mountain
I’m prayin’ I have the strength to climb
So don’t ask for no lengthy explanation
When there ain’t no reason quite wild enough
No words could be as tender
It’s greater than the fears that we imagine
More than the warmth that we remember
It’s always just beyond the pass
And I must go
‘Cause heaven is waiting
Just past the horizon
Just over the mesas
Across the great divide
And faith is blazing
This trail that I ride on up this mountain
I’m prayin’ I have the strength to climb
Oh heaven is waiting
Oh heaven is waiting
Heaven is waiting”

ARE THERE “EXTRA” REWARDS IN HEAVEN?

IRS Treasure in heaven

The concept of rewards in addition to simply being in heaven is one of the least-taught, least understood aspects of the New Testament. Too often we look at the subject as though in heaven we will still struggle with resentment, pride and envy.

 

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Matthew Part 57

 

Matthew #57 . Matthew 16:27-28

My wife recently told me that I’m still trying to pack too much into one sermon. So this time, I’ll attempt to cover only the next verse in Matthew:

For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will reward each according to what he has done. (Matt 16:27 HCSB)

If we just stop and think about this for a moment, it could be problematic. I mean, I have always taught that we are judged based on our response to Jesus, not on the good works we have done (or failed to do). But here, it sounds like we will be rewarded based not on our faith in Jesus, but on our behavior. If we investigate, we find something puzzling: The New Testament appears to teach both things.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul brings up the issue of rewards in heaven:

Now the one who plants and the one who waters are equal, and each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. (1 Cor 3:8-9)

According to God’s grace that was given to me, I have laid a foundation as a skilled master builder, and another builds on it. But each one must be careful how he builds on it. For no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on that foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, each one’s work will become obvious, for the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, it will be lost, but he will be saved; yet it will be like an escape through fire. (1Cor 3:10-15, HCSB)

This is one of the least understood and taught doctrines in the New Testament. Paul says the foundation is Jesus Christ. But then he talks about the quality of what we build on that foundation, and receiving rewards for what our work. But Paul makes sure we understand that it starts with the foundation of Jesus Christ; in fact, the foundation that was revealed by Peter’s confession. Let’s begin by making sure of it.

The Bible teaches in numerous places, over and over again, that we are saved only through God’s grace, which comes to us through a faith-based relationship with Jesus Christ.

Here are just a few of many, many, many verses that affirm we are not justified before God by what we do, but by God’s grace given to us when we trust Him. I’ll italicize a few parts for emphasis:

We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens, so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast. (Eph 2:3-9, HCSB)

Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By one of works? No, on the contrary, by a law of faith. For we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. (Rom 3:27-28, HCSB)

He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began. This has now been made evident through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who has abolished death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2Tim 1:9-10, HCSB)

He saved us — not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. He poured out this Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by His grace, we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:5-7, HCSB)

Yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will be justified. (Gal 2:16-17)

Clear enough for you? Over and over again, the New Testament teaches that we are saved when we trust Jesus Christ, and our own “good works” have nothing to do with it. So we know that our eternal destiny – whether we go to heaven or hell – is determined not by us being good enough, but by trusting Jesus. That is the foundation. Paul says, you can’t build on any other basis (1 Corinthians 3:11). If we have that foundation, we will spend eternity with Jesus and our loved ones in the New Heavens and New Earth. The whole Bible is crystal clear on that.

However, we do find many places in the New Testament, including several places in Matthew, which talk about rewards for doing good works. Now, we have just reiterated that heaven itself is not a reward for doing good. So when the New Testament talks about some kind of reward in the afterlife based upon what we do here, it cannot mean salvation. Well then, what kind of reward does Jesus mean here?

This is actually very important for how we interpret the Bible. When we read any other book, we assume that the author will not deliberately contradict herself. It should be the same with the Bible. So if the Bible says clearly (as it does) that salvation is not a reward for good behavior, but only the result of faith in Jesus; and then it says there is a reward for good works, we have to assume that the reward for good works is something other than salvation. As it turns out, there are many Bible verses that talk about these rewards. Just a few of them are Revelation 22:12; Matthew 5:11-2, 6:1-6, 17-18, 10:41-42; Luke 6:35; and this one:

7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. (Ephesians 6:7-8)

James writes that not many should presume to be Bible teachers, because they will be judged more strictly (James 3:1). Well, as a Bible teacher I know that my salvation will be judged based on whether or not I trust Jesus. So in what way will I be judged more strictly? The logical answer is: in the matter of my work, and any reward I might get for it.

Now, for many people, the idea of reward in heaven presents some problems. First, some people feel that it implies that there might be inequality in heaven. Second, some people feel it implies unhappiness there also.

Scripture is clear that in heaven, God wipes every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more grief or suffering or pain (Revelation 21:3-5). So rest assured, reward or not, your joy will be complete.

In addition, when we think this way, we forget that jealousy and resentment are the product of sin, the flesh and the devil. In eternity, all these things will be defeated and destroyed. We will be able to fully rejoice at the triumph of another, and bear in humble joy our own situation, unmarred by sin, bitterness, resentment or envy. Seeing someone else rewarded more than you will lead only to praise to God for his goodness, mercy and justice.

What Paul says in the Corinthians passage I quoted above is that those who have no reward will still be saved, but it will be like an escape through a fire. If we really imagine that, we get a sense for what it is like. Ultimately we will be safe, and will find joy in that. But as we initially enter heaven, if we have built poorly on the foundation of Jesus, we might find the judgment day to be harrowing.

Consider it this way: do you think it would be fair if Mother Theresa, with all her self-sacrifice, receives nothing more than me, with all my self-centeredness? We are both saved entirely by God’s grace. But shouldn’t she be rewarded somehow for the fact that in Jesus Christ, she used her life more faithfully than I used mine? Shouldn’t heaven celebrate and appreciate those who have done good things for the Lord on earth? Again, I think what we know of the kingdom of God is such that there will be no resentment involved.

Now, I want to speculate a bit on what the rewards mean. I do have some scripture that suggests what I think about this, but I can’t nail this down for sure. In other words, what I am going to share next falls more into the realm of conjecture than solid biblical teaching. In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus tells the parable of the Talents. In it, three servants were given different resources to use on behalf of the Master. They were rewarded according to how they made use of those resources. The reward is that they were given additional resources to use, according the ability they had demonstrated.

This makes me think of rewards in heaven in terms of capacity. Picture two buckets. One bucket can hold one gallon of fresh, clear water. The other bucket can hold five gallons of beautiful clean water. Now imagine both buckets, filled to the brim. Which bucket has more water? Obviously, the one that can hold more. But they are both full. The one gallon bucket has as much water as it can possibly hold. It doesn’t have as much as the five gallon bucket, but then, it can’t. It is still completely full. I think maybe heaven will be like that. We will all be as full as we can be. But some people will be able to contain more of God’s fullness and joy than others. The ones with smaller capacity will still be completely full and satisfied – but the ones with greater capacity will experience their joy to level that the others can’t.

Here’s another way to look at it. In my left eye, my vision is about 20/100. It cannot be corrected, and so I am considered legally blind in that eye. Now, my right eye is basically fine, and it does most of the seeing work for me. I can drive, and watch movies, appreciate visual art and generally enjoy life. Where my half-blindness affects me most is in depth perception. I have a horrible time shooting a basketball. Things that are far away look equally distant from me. If I see man standing 100 yards away, and another man 200 yards away, the only way I can tell they are not next to each other is because one looks smaller than the other. I can get some experience of 3-D movies, but not the same as other people. Binoculars only work for me if I close my left eye. But I was born this way, I have never seen correctly out of my left eye, and so I’m perfectly happy with my vision: I don’t really know what I’m missing, except the basketball hoop. I don’t feel sorry for myself and I enjoy my vision fully, and I feel no lack. But if there was something I could do to get true binocular vision, I would be a fool not to do it. Though I enjoy the visual aspects of life as much as I can, wouldn’t it be great if I could somehow exercise my eyes to get full range of vision?

One more analogy. When I was younger, I could eat all day long, and it did not affect my weight, my health or even how I felt. Now that I am older, I can’t eat so much, and certainly, what I eat has greater consequences for my body. I even get full faster. Sometimes I find myself at an event a party where there are all kinds of delicious food. At such times, I wish I could eat like I did when I was younger. I could enjoy more of that delicious food, if my metabolism was still young. I have a close friend who has aged differently than me. He can’t eat like he’s twenty, but he can still eat more than I can, with fewer consequences. Sometimes I envy him. I wonder if I had made different choices, if I might still have been able to enjoy as much food as he does. Now, what if I had the chance to get that metabolism back, so I could enjoy delicious food all the time without feeling too full, gaining weight or negatively affecting my health? There’s a billion dollar industry trying to sell people exactly that: everyone wants that.

You can get that, in heaven. You’ll have all the delicious food you can handle. But maybe some people will be able to handle more. I think this is probably how rewards in heaven will work. Everyone will be happy. They will get as much joy as they can handle. But if they had made different choices while they were living on this earth, they might have been able to experience much more in heaven. C.S. Lewis explores some of these ideas a little bit in his excellent and entertaining book, The Great Divorce, which is all about Heaven (it has nothing to do with divorce; the title was not well chosen). He speculates that perhaps even after we get there, we can still increase our capacity to experience more joy and fullness.

I used to say that heaven itself was enough reward for me, and so it should be – it is, in fact, far more than I deserve. Even so, what a fool I would be to waste any opportunity to enjoy heaven to the fullest possible capacity! Think of it like this: Do you really want to make a deliberate choice to enter heaven by the skin of your teeth, with the minimum possible capacity to enjoy it? That is an attitude that comes not from the Spirit, but from the flesh. And it is ridiculous, when you think about it. It’s like a teenager saying, “I don’t care about my future after High School. As long as I’m alive and can work a minimum wage job, I’ll be fine. So right now I’m not going to study or learn or prepare for the future. What is important is not life after graduation, but only life right now.” Some people have that attitude, but it is a very short-sighted one, and most people who do take that approach end up regretting it within a few years.

Jesus’ words should encourage us to take a more spiritual approach to the future, and to the here and now. It should be helpful to know that we do or endure here and now does not go unnoticed. It should motivating to think of the joy that awaits all of us who trust Jesus.

Thanks again for making use of Clear Bible.

I want to remind you again that we are a listener-supported ministry, and that means, first and foremost, that we are supported by your prayers. We need and value your prayers for us.

Please pray that this ministry will continue to be a blessing to those who hear it. Ask God, if it is his will, to touch even more lives with these messages. Ask him to use this ministry in making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Please also pray for our finances. Pray for us to receive what we need. Please pray for us in this way before you give anything. And then, as you pray, if the Lord leads you to give us a gift, please go ahead and do that. But if he doesn’t want you to give to us, that is absolutely fine. We don’t want you to feel bad about it. We want you to follow Jesus in this matter. But do continue to pray for our finances.

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Thank for your prayers, and your support!

WHY DOES JESUS HEAL?

healing

Healing in this life, or making this life better somehow, is ultimately meaningless unless we respond to Jesus in faith. Jesus is focused on the eternal person, the spiritual person. That’s where his priority is, and I think that is where our priorities should be also.

 

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Matthew Part 30

 Matthew #30 . Matthew 9:1-8

This time, we will take the incident with the paralyzed man and his friends. Mark and Luke include the detail that the paralytic man’s friends couldn’t get him through the crowd, so they lowered him from the roof to set him in front of Jesus. Once again, there is no reason to assume that this contradicts Matthew. Matthew often omits details supplied by Luke and Mark. Again, I think it is the result of the fact that Matthew is relying primarily upon his own memory of these events, whereas Mark and Luke had to do research before writing, thus turning up details that Matthew either forgot, or did not think were important. Matthew is usually concerned most of all with focusing on what Jesus said and did, rather than giving extraneous details.

What Jesus says first is quite surprising. These men had brought their paralyzed friend and laid him in front of Jesus. What would you say? I might say something like:

“You are blessed to have such friends – take comfort from them!” Or maybe “See how many people love you!” If I had healing in mind, I might have said, “Do you believe you can be healed?”

But Jesus looks at him and says: “Have courage, son, your sins are forgiven.”

Matthew records that this caused a murmur among some of the onlookers; they called it blasphemy. Luke and Mark explain why:

“Why does He speak like this? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone? ” (Mark 2:7, HCSB)

We need to be clear here. This is one more answer to the question: “When did Jesus claim to be God?” By telling this man his sins were forgiven, Jesus was claiming to speak as God, and many of the people at the time understood that was exactly what he was implying; that’s why they called it blasphemy.

So, I do think that one reason Jesus says this is to let people know who he is, and to set up the opportunity with this paralytic to more or less prove it. But I think there is something else here. I think Jesus also says it for the sake of the paralyzed man. John records an incident where Jesus’ disciples encountered a blind beggar:

As He was passing by, He saw a man blind from birth. His disciples questioned Him: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? ” (John 9:1-2, HCSB)

In that culture, it was common to think that if someone had a great physical disability, it was the result of some sort of sin. It was considered punishment from God. It is very likely that this man felt not only the misery of his condition, but also the misery of knowing that he had caused it by his sin, and public shame that everyone else knew what a bad sinner he must be.

Into this situation, Jesus spoke in front of large group of people, publicly removing his sin and shame. Now, everyone sins, and there is no doubt that this man, like every other human being, committed sins. Jesus did not say, “you didn’t sin.” That would have been a lie, and the man would have known it was a lie. But Jesus says, in front of a big crowd: “You are forgiven. You sin isn’t on you anymore.”

There is an old debate among Christians about whether it is more important to care for a person’s physical need, or address her spiritual condition. One argument says that you should start with caring for the physical need, and only then, once that need is addressed, will she be able to really hear the gospel and respond appropriately to it. I want to point out that Jesus did not take that approach here. To Jesus, the most important thing to do for this paralyzed man was to free him from the paralysis of sin and shame. Of course, he did eventually address the physical need also, but he started with the spiritual problem, which goes against a lot of today’s conventional Christian practice.

There’s another thing about Jesus’ approach that I think is very important for Christians in America and other well-off countries. We put so much focus on this life, and what we can get out of living on earth. Many American Christians have even come to see Christianity as a means to attaining a safe and comfortable life here on earth, and many of them abandon God when that doesn’t seem to work out. In fact, I believe that Christianity as a whole has never been more focused on this life, and making things comfortable here on earth; and I believe that is a huge mistake. The truth is, that paralyzed man’s body has been dead for two-thousand years now. The healing he received back then is meaningless to him right now. What Jesus really wanted to give him was something eternal – forgiveness, leading to reconciliation with God and the promise of a body that will never die or become ill. Suppose Jesus had not healed the man. He would have had a hard life, lasting maybe 80 years, and he would have experienced a high level of suffering, for sure. Even so, presuming he did respond to Jesus in faith, for the last 2,000 years he has been in glorious grace and joy, and he still has an eternal, imperishable body to look forward to, one that will be forever healthy. The eternal, spiritual gift is much greater than the gift that lasts only for one mortal life. Healing in this life, or making this life better somehow, is ultimately meaningless unless we respond to Jesus in faith. Jesus is focused on the eternal person, the spiritual person. That’s where his priority is, and I think that is where our priorities should be also.

But of course, some of the people in the crowd doubted that Jesus could provide the eternal gift. The healing miracle wasn’t primarily about making life easier for the paralytic. It was to prove to the people – and to the paralyzed man himself – that the forgiveness and eternal life Jesus offers is real. In fact, Jesus himself tells us that this is the reason for the miracle:

But so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — then He told the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your mat, and go home.” And he got up and went home. (Matt 9:6-7, HCSB)

What Jesus said was basically this: “You think I don’t have the authority to say this man’s sins are forgiven? Well let me show you what kind of authority I have: get up, son, and walk.”

Think about what a gift this was to the paralyzed man. Of course, it is huge that he has the full use of his body. But imagine him a year or two later, feeling aware of his failings, wondering if he is truly forgiven. All he has to do is think: “Can I walk? All right then, as sure as I can walk, I am forgiven.”

Pause for a moment and internalize this message. We all have things that we want changed in our lives. That’s normal and natural. We don’t have to feel badly for wishing that we were healthier, or had better opportunities, or that our marriage would be better, or any number of things. But we need to take our cue from Jesus – the eternal is greater and more important than our temporary struggles and trials.

The apostle Paul understood this. He wrote:

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)

If you know anything about Paul, you know he had a lot of suffering in his life. But he didn’t consider that his sufferings had any comparison to the eternal joy and grace that were waiting for him. The difference between the suffering and the glory is so vast that the suffering doesn’t even deserve mention.

Fixing our lives here and now is pointless if we are not made right with God by trusting in Jesus. And even just one hundred years from now, it won’t matter to us one bit whether or not we had a better house, or a healthier body or an easier time paying our bills. However, everything will hinge upon whether or not we trusted and followed Jesus and received the grace and forgiveness he offers us.

I don’t mean it is wrong to try to relieve suffering on earth. I don’t even think it is wrong to try and better your own life. But I think both things are pointless if we don’t start out by receiving Jesus, and continue by trusting and obeying him. If your struggles and aspirations for this life here and now are getting in the way of Jesus in your life, listen to what Jesus says. “My child, let’s start with the eternal issue. Let me start by getting you in right relationship with me. We can deal with the other stuff – or not – later, as I see fit. Only trust me.”

Let Jesus speak to you first about the important issues, the eternal ones. Forgiveness and reconciliation with God are central to all our needs. These are more important than your immediate problem with this life. Jesus thought this was true, even for a man who was paralyzed.

We can’t pretend we don’t sin. And the excuse “everybody sins, anyway” doesn’t get us anywhere either. We may repeat that to ourselves, but if we’re honest, we know it isn’t good enough. What we need is true forgiveness, true acceptance. It starts with realizing that we are as helpless as a paralyzed man lying on a mat. True acceptance means that someone knows us truly for who we are, and yet forgives us anyway, and that is exactly what we have through the sacrifice of Jesus.

Pause and listen to Jesus for minute. Hear him say to you: “Take courage, my child. You are forgiven. Your shame is removed. Yes it is – it really is. I have the power to make a paralyzed man walk, of course I have the power to forgive you and remove your shame.”

Can we get it through our heads that what Jesus offers us is infinitely more valuable than the ability to walk is to a paralyzed man? He offers us something that will continue to bless and impact us through the infinite corridors of eternity, while we ask for shiny toys we will play with today and break tomorrow.

There is one other thing here. The way the paralyzed man’s friends acted is a great example for us. The man himself was helpless. They were helpless in that there was nothing they could do for him either. But they did the one thing they could – they simply brought him, and laid him in front of Jesus. This is a tremendous and encouraging picture of what we do when we pray. We take our friends and our own burdens, and set them down in front of Jesus. Jesus did what he wanted to with the man. He started out by addressing a need that none of them even thought about – the spiritual need.

Next time you pray, think about these friends of the paralytic. Picture yourself taking your loved ones and your own personal burdens and setting them down in front of Jesus. Be sure and bring them to him, but let Jesus decide what to do with them, and trust that what he will do is best for all eternity.

Let the Holy Spirit speak to you today.

Thanks again for making use of Clear Bible.

I want to remind you again that we are a listener-supported ministry, and that means, first and foremost, that we are supported by your prayers. We need and value your prayers for us.

Please pray that this ministry will continue to be a blessing to those who hear it. Ask God, if it is his will, to touch even more lives with these messages. Ask him to use this ministry in making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Please also pray for our finances. Pray for us to receive what we need. Please pray for us in this way before you give anything. And then, as you pray, if the Lord leads you to give us a gift, please go ahead and do that. But if he doesn’t want you to give to us, that is absolutely fine. We don’t want you to feel bad about it. We want you to follow Jesus in this matter. But do continue to pray for our finances.

If the Lord does lead you to give, just use the Paypal Donate button on the right hand side of the page. You don’t have to have a Paypal account – you can use a credit card, if you prefer. You can also set up a recurring donation through Paypal.

You could also send a check to:

New Joy Fellowship

625 Spring Creek Road

Lebanon, TN 37087

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Thank for your prayers, and your support!

TREASURING WHAT IS MOST VALUABLE

treasure

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.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Matthew Part 20.5

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.

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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 MtnViewplaces, 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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