Friday, December 23, 2016

Something to Think About the Day After Christmas

1Pe 1:3  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 1Pe 1:4  to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 1Pe 1:5  who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

I have just begun to preach through 1 Peter and the first thing I have noticed is that from the very beginning the epistle is packed with amazing and important truths that are being thrown at us almost like a machine gun fires bullets.  One that really caught my attention is in vs. 4 above.  There is a lot of speculation as to what Heaven and eternity will have in store for us but in reality we really are told very little.  The one thing we know is that it will involve being with and enjoying fellowship with God.  After all, Jesus taught us in John 17 that true life is to know the Father and the Son, Joh 17:3  And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Peter describes our future glory as a living hope that is an inheritance that is being kept in Heaven for us and he uses three adjectives that help us grasp the magnitude of whatever eternity will be like. 

First of all it will be imperishable which means it will never come to an end.  We would expect this since by definition eternal life doesn’t end.  Next he says that it is undefiled which suggests that there is nothing evil or harmful about it.  A lot of things in this world are physically or spiritually harmful to us but in the new heavens and earth everything will be good and good for us in every way.  That is mind-boggling in itself.  But it is the third description that really caught my attention.

Thirdly it will be unfading, it will never be less than it was at the beginning.  This is something in this fallen world that we simply can’t relate to.  Like the old saying goes, “Familiarity breeds contempt”.  As soon as we get something we want, it loses some of its luster.  If someone drove up with a lifetime supply of ice cream it would no doubt spoil before I could eat it all and it would be bad for me and I soon would probably be a diabetic.  But worse, after a gallon or two it wouldn’t really mean that much to me.

Peter is telling us that whatever eternity will be like, it will be fully satisfying from the start and it will never be less than it was that first instant; that is quite a concept to think about.  The value of this will be illustrated by many this Sunday when their kids open the presents they begged for and in a day or two they don’t seem to care about the gifts at all.  Even adults know that after a week or two of having something you wanted real badly, often you find yourself wishing you had something else instead.

It is just the nature of the fallen, ruined world we live in.  Nothing temporal can satisfy and even the good gifts of God don’t mean as much to us as they should.  We grow bored with things as we find they never can live up to the hype they promise or our sinful hearts won’t allow us to enjoy them as we ought.  When God made man he made him to find true happiness and fulfillment in God himself.  And sin has caused us to look everywhere else but to the Lord for these things; so it is no wonder we are restless and dissatisfied with things that try to take God’s place.  As Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

But once our hearts are made right and all traces of sin are eradicated, and once temporal things are replaced with the Lord himself, Peter tells us we will never be bored or dissatisfied with being with him from the first moment and forever!  And that my friends is truly mind-boggling.  Every moment in eternity will be as exhilarating as it will be the first instant we stand and gaze upon the unmitigated glory of the Triune God.  It will never end, it will only be good and fulfilling for us, and it will always be just as “fun and exciting” as it was from the start. 

So parents, when you see your children not being as thankful for their gifts as you would like or when you maybe are a little let down with what you got let that feeling remind you of why Christ had to come to earth to begin with; to save us from our sinfulness and give us a future hope that will never disappoint.  

In this life we tend to build up things with anticipation to the point that we are usually let down when we get it.  With Heaven we tend to be so caught up with the things of this life that we aren’t driven with anticipation for glory as we ought to be.  But at the same time opening the “present” of Heaven will be the one time when the gift is better than the buildup.  May the Lord grant us the ability to live as if we are anticipating something better in the next life than we have now.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Identifying Our Enemies?

Num 13:27  And they told him, "We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Num 13:28  However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there…
Num 13:30  But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, "Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it." Num 13:31  Then the men who had gone up with him said, "We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are."…
Num 13:32  So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, "The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. Num 13:33  And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them."

Someone well pointed out that Israel’s problem in refusing to enter into the Promised Land was that they didn’t realize who their real enemy was.  They didn’t need to fear giants they should have been more worried about being seduced by their gods and assimilated into the world.  Perhaps another way to say this is that they didn’t know who they should fear the most.  They feared what man could do to their bodies more than the God that redeemed them and would judge them.  If Israel had been worried about idolatry rather than physical danger their history would have been much different than it turned out to be. 

Misdirected fear and a misunderstanding of who our enemies really are have always plagued our sanctification.  For many Christians this same irrational fear of physical trials is seen in how they tend to identify their greatest enemies as communism or liberalism.  At least they seem to get much more excited over politics than doctrine and church, etc.  But we never read in the Bible where the early church identified Roman laws as the enemy.  This is the same mistake that Israel made because they are more worried about personal freedoms and the removal of persecution than they are in being godly in the “midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world”.

I mean if we are commanded to be good slaves if we find ourselves in that situation and to serve our masters as unto the Lord, then our enemy is not slavery or social injustice, it is allowing situations to defeat our ability to be godly no matter what, to demonstrate to all that Jesus is our love and life before all else.  If we can be an influence for good and justice in this world that is great, but man’s greatest need is not social justice it is getting right with God so that he will escape the just wrath of God.  Justice will be served for all someday and if we aren’t in Christ it will mean eternal condemnation.  Being more concerned with people’s comforts and freedoms than we are about their eternal souls just makes no sense.

Others identify their greatest enemy as sickness or poverty.  But it should be obvious that this makes the same mistake as earlier.  It sees temporal things that will soon be taken away from us anyway as something to be avoided at all costs.  And so they try to twist Christianity into the idea that God saves us to remove such suffering in this life.  This causes us to spend more energy to remove these problems rather than to serve well in them which completely misses the point of sanctification and Christianity altogether.  James tells us that afflictions in life are part and parcel of living in the kingdom of God.

Jas 1:2  Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, Jas 1:3  for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. Jas 1:4  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  Being faithful in affliction is how we are perfected and complete in serving the Lord.  So if we tell people that God wants you to have health and wealth and personal and political freedom so you can do whatever you want with no one telling you otherwise then we are systematically removing the ways to grow strong in the Lord and to glorify his name among the nations. 

Our real enemy is first of all God if we are not justified in the cross of Christ.  After that a Christian must realize that his only real enemy is whatever would lure his heart away from putting Christ first in our affections.  As far as I can see, being sick or poor or a slave or oppressed should draw me closer to Christ.  On the other hand, being healthy and rich and free to do whatever I want can easily cause me to take Jesus for granted and work to make me less dependent on him.  Our enemies are spiritual, not physical, Eph 6:12  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Tree of Life

Rev 22:1  Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb
Rev 22:2  through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

It has been quite an experience preaching through the book of Revelation.  And one of the things that has been interesting is the way commentators deal with chapters 21-22:6.  Actually this composes one vision of the New Jerusalem and so there shouldn’t be a chapter division until perhaps 22:6.  Even though twice John is told that the New Jerusalem is the Bride of Christ or the church, it seems ingrained in us to want to interpret this as a picture of Heaven.  Some commentators keep insisting that there will be streets of gold even though the word street is always singular.  We won’t be walking on streets of gold because Heaven isn’t a city we dwell in, this city describes the community of the saints who dwell with God; we in him and he in us.  Some insist that Heaven will be full of parks of trees even though only one tree is ever mentioned; the Tree of Life. 

One old favorite hymn, “Shall We Gather at the River” paints a picture of the river that flows by the throne of God even though it says it flows from of the throne.  God is not part of eternity, he is eternity and eternal life comes from him.  God is always on the throne and always at the center of our existence and life flows from him not by him.

In each case such descriptions cause us to think of this as a photo of Heaven rather than the glorified state of the church.  In some of these cases such interpretations clearly do more harm than good.  Let me focus on the vision of the Tree of Life that John sees interestingly enough on both sides of the river.  He sees one street with one river running down the middle with one tree on both sides of the river.  We can try to imagine this literally and just be confused or we can try to understand the spiritual types of the Bible being brought to fulfillment in eternity.

If I can briefly sum up this we might say that true life flows from God and Jesus is the only way through which this life comes.  The tree is on both sides as it is accessible to all those who have been redeemed.  But the way that John refers to the Tree of Life helps us see that he isn’t describing a beautiful park that we will stroll through in eternity but instead the tree is our access to the life we lost in Adam that has been restored in Christ Jesus.

When the NT refers to the cross as a tree the word it uses is one that literally means a wooden pole or piece of timber.  It does not use a word that refers to a leafy tree like we might think of such as an oak tree or a maple tree.  Some examples are found in the book of Acts.  Act 5:30  The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree.  Act 10:39  And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.  And Gal 3:13  Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree"

In each case a literal translation would be that he was hanged on a wooden pole or piece of timber.  John uses the same word here so that it could be translated the timber of life or the wooden torture pole of life.  What he describes is a normal tree with healing leaves but he uses a word that can only mean the cross of Christ.  And so he is referring in one sense to the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden but explaining that the tree in the Garden was only a type of the true Tree of Life which is the cross of Christ. 

Adam and Eve were barred from eternal life, symbolized by the Tree of Life, when they sinned but in Christ we have access to eternal life by his work on the cross.  And so in one sense John’s vision is a vision of the church enjoying Christ, who is true life, as they will in eternity.  There is only one river of life (Joh 4:14  but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.") and one street or way of access and communion with God (Joh 14:6  Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.) and one Tree of Life (Joh_5:40  yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. Joh_11:25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live. 1Jn_5:12  Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.)  Well, you get the idea.  

I personally doubt Heaven will look like a city with streets and houses because they suggest separation with walled enclosures.  In the New Heavens and Earth we might well live in a literal Garden of Eden with trees and rivers and that will be fine by me.  But John isn’t painting a picture of where we will dwell in eternity; he is telling us who we will be dwelling with, the Lord Jesus Christ.  John, in the closing chapters of the Bible, is moving all the types of the Bible into their fulfillment.