Category Archives: Eternity

2 Thessalonians 1: Why Jesus Looks Forward to His Return

A few years ago Lachlan was playing cricket at school. And their fastest bowler decided to bowl him some bouncers. The first one hit him, the second one whizzed past his head, and shook him up. The third one Lachlan edged, and was caught behind.

I was disappointed, but Lachlan was okay. It was a learning experience!

Later that day, he came in to bat again. In between overs, I noticed the opposition coach took a water bottle out to their fast bowler, the one who’d got Lachlan out, and had a few words with him. Straight away, he came on to bowl, and started bowling bouncers again. Lachlan coped much better, and ended up hitting him for a couple of boundaries.

But the point of the story was MY REACTION. By this stage I was fuming. On one hand I was VERY PROUD of him. How well he was coping at the high level. But on the other hand, I was upset. First at the coach, then at the rest of the team, for picking on my boy. I wanted to defend him. Protect him. This wasn’t the way things were supposed to be.

I wanted to go over to their coach, and give him a piece of my mind. And have a word to the fast bowler as well. Lachlan was glad I didn’t. He probably would have died of embarrassment.

I want to suggest Jesus is in a similar position. As he looks out at HIS children on the field. The fallen and broken world we’re living in. (He’s not powerless like me. He’s KING. And he IS WORKING).

But He sees our struggles, sometimes getting hit, sometimes hitting a boundary. He’s proud of our achievements. But he ALSO JUST WANTS TO JUMP IN. To STAND UP FOR us. And fix things up. And make everything right.

And that’s what will happen when Jesus returns. That’s what we’re thinking about today. THE SECOND COMING OF JESUS. The day when God will bring an end to this world as we know it. To the suffering, and the pain and the sin. And call everyone to account. And every knee will bow before him. And when Jesus will, finally, reign as king over all.

In particular, we’re going to think about it FROM JESUS’ POINT OF VIEW. SIX REASONS why Jesus looks forward to his return.

Relationship – Jn 17:24; 1 Thess 4:17; 5:10; Revelation 21:2-3

The first reason is RELATIONSHIP. Jesus is looking forward to his return because it will mean A NEW DEPTH OF RELATIONSHIP WITH HIS PEOPLE.

In John 17 Jesus prays for all Christians. In v13, he prays to his heavenly Father, “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world. Then in v24 he says,

24 “Father, I WANT THOSE YOU HAVE GIVEN ME TO BE WITH ME WHERE I AM, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

Jesus wants to be WITH his people, and for them to be with HIM. For them to experience the glory of his character and power/ in a way they’ve never been able to on earth.

We get a TASTE of it now because Jesus lives in us by his Holy Spirit. But it’s going to be SO MUCH BETTER/ THEN.

We don’t normally think about it from Jesus’ point of view. But he’s looking forward to it TOO.

Listen to what some OTHER parts of the Bible say about that day. There’s lots where NOT sure about. (How we’ll be resurrected. Where and how judgement will happen. Where we’ll live). But what’s emphasised is, without any doubt, again and again, is that WE’LL BE WITH JESUS. 1 Thessalonians 4:17,

16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds TO MEET THE LORD IN THE AIR. AND SO WE WILL BE WITH THE LORD FOREVER. 18 Therefore encourage each other with these words.

In ch 5 v10, he says

10 Jesus died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we MAY LIVE TOGETHER WITH HIM.

Or what about the book of Revelation? It uses the image of a groom and a bride to talk about the intimate relationship we’ll share with Jesus when he returns. There’s no closer earthly relationship to use as a metaphor. Revelation 21:2.

2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband (Who, ch 19 tells us, is Jesus). 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and HE WILL LIVE WITH THEM. They will be his people, and God himself will be WITH them and be their God.

(One. Jesus looks forward to his return because it means A NEW DEPTH OF RELATIONSHIP WITH HIS PEOPLE.)

Reward – Mt 25:21; Lk 12:37

Second reason is REWARD. Those who live serving Jesus NOW, will be REWARDED when he returns. Matthew 25:21. It’s the parable of the talents. Jesus says to the servants who’ve worked hard and faithfully,

‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and SHARE YOUR MASTER’S HAPPINESS!’

Eternity will be the reward for faithful service HERE. And Jesus is HAPPY about it. And it will be a time for us to SHARE that joy.

And Lk 12:37 adds a different idea to the sort of reward Jesus has in store for us.

37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them.

Jesus is looking forward to serving us as the SERVANT KING / THEN / as reward for our service for HIM / NOW.

Repayment – 2 Thess 1:6 – Christian martyrs

Third, Jesus looks forward to his return because it will be a time of REPAYMENT. Of JUSTICE, and SETTING WRONGS TO RIGHT.

And, at the moment, there’s plenty wrong with the world.

North Korea is the worst country on earth to be a Christian. To OWN a Bible is punishable by death. It’s estimated that 25% of the Christian population live in prison camps.

2018 has seen a dramatic increase in persecution of Christians in China, with churches closed, foreign workers expelled, and greater conformity strictly enforced. Local Christians are punished, imprisoned and even killed.

Similar things are happening to Christians in Iraq and Sudan and Egypt and Indonesia, at the hands of Muslims.

Radical Hinduism in India is violently attacking and imprisoning Christians, and burning churches, all with official approval.

Persecution is the worst it’s even been. One recent estimate was that 70 million Christians have been martyred, and that 45 million of them were in the last hundred years. Terrible!

And, it’s not RIGHT. And we want it to STOP. And one day, Jesus WILL stop it. He WILL bring JUSTICE. He won’t let evil men get away with evil FOREVER.

2 Thessalonians 1. The passage we read earlier. Paul is comforting the church in Thessalonica, who are being persecuted. And here’s what he says. V4.

4 Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.5 All this is evidence that God’s judgment is RIGHT, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. 6 God is just: HE WILL PAY BACK TROUBLE TO THOSE WHO TROUBLE YOU

When we’ve been the victims of violence, or evil, or injustice. What we LONG for is JUSTICE. For things to be put right.

Which is exactly what Jesus will do. And no one will escape. Bribes won’t work.  No matter HOW wealthy or privileged you are. There’ll be no escaping justice. It won’t matter how well you hide the evidence. Won’t matter how good a lawyer you can afford. Everyone will get EXACTLY what they deserve.

There’ll be the perfect repayment for injustice and evil.

And Paul goes into more detail about the specifics down in v8.

8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power

See, it’s not just those who kill Christians who’ll be repaid. Because there’s more to sin than that. The ultimate sin is TO IGNORE GOD. And to live your life as if he’s not there.

There’ll be “punishment for those WHO DON’T KNOW GOD.” Which is more than just knowing ABOUT him. It means to know him. To have a relationship with him.

And what THAT means is explained in the next phrase. Those who don’t know God/ are those who DON’T OBEY THE GOSPEL OF OUR LORD JESUS.

God REVEALS himself in Jesus. Sent him to live, and die a criminal’s death. To win our freedom and forgiveness. So we can become God’s friends, rather than his enemies.

So to reject that offer. To think you can do better on your own. That you don’t NEED him. Is to reject Jesus. And to reject JESUS/ is to reject God himself.

And when someone makes THAT choice, then justice means giving them what they want. To be shut out from God’s presence, and the majesty of his power.

It’s fair and it’s just. And it’s reason number 3 why Jesus looks forward to his return. Repayment.

Relief – 2 Thess 1:7a

And side by side with the repayment of evil is reason number 4. The flip side of justice. RELIEF for the godly. There in the very next verse. V7.

He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 AND GIVE RELIEF TO YOU WHO ARE TROUBLED, AND TO US AS WELL.

Jesus longs to relieve the suffering of his people. We saw it in the story of Lazarus two weeks ago. Jesus saw the weeping of Mary and the crowd because Lazarus had died. And he was deeply moved, and he WEPT. And then he DID SOMETHING ABOUT IT. He RELIEVED their SUFFERING.

A number of years ago, at my previous church, the elders and I were praying with Diane for RELIEF from the terrible pain of gallstones. Because she was pregnant, she couldn’t be operated on to remove the gallstones. And she couldn’t even have strong painkillers.

We anointed her with oil, and prayed for God’s HEALING. It had been a terrible ordeal. And Jesus graciously gave her RELIEF until the surgery. No more attacks until after the birth!

A few weeks later Diane said, “Why didn’t we do this SOONER?”

But there’s ANOTHER sort of relief God gives AS WELL. During our prayer time, Di’s husband Dean also prayed for Di’s mum, Jan. She was a Christian, and a few years earlier had suffered a brain aneurism. She was completely incapacitated. And she needed RELIEF. And Dean prayed what I’m guessing they’ve prayed plenty of times in the last few years. For God to RELIEVE her suffering. And take her home. He finally DID that a couple of years later.

And Jesus longs to relieve the suffering of his people. Something he does every day as he answers prayer. Sometimes he does it through healing, or some other answer. Sometimes he does it by calling someone home. When they DIE.

But it’s also something he’ll do, FINALLY and DEFINITIVELY, at his second coming. When he relieves the suffering of ALL his people. Completely and permanently.

That’s the FOURTH reason.

Revelation – 2 Thess 1:7b –

And the FIFTH reason is right there in the same verse. Revelation. v7

(He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well.) THIS WILL HAPPEN WHEN THE LORD JESUS IS REVEALED FROM HEAVEN IN BLAZING FIRE WITH HIS POWERFUL ANGELS.

At the moment SOME people recognise Jesus. And others IGNORE him. (Either TREAT him as if he doesn’t exist, or don’t believe he does). But when Jesus returns, he’ll be REVEALED IN ALL HIS UNDILUTED POWER. And EVERY knee will bow.

EVERYONE will be forced to recognise his rule. Acknowledge his right to judge them, acknowledge that he is God, that he died to save them. That he deserves their allegiance.

The whole world, living or dead. Young or old. Black or white or yellow. First world, or third world. Kings, presidents, prime ministers or dictators. Chief executives or unemployed. Olympic athletes or cripples. Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, Christian or atheist. No one will be able to deny it.

It’s the picture of Revelation 5:13

13 Then I heard EVERY CREATURE IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”

It’s the FIFTH reason. Revelation.

Restoration – Rom 8 –

And the sixth reason Jesus is looking forward to his return in that it will be a time of RESTORATION. When everything will be returned to the way it SHOULD be. It’s part of what it means that he’ll provide relief.

In Romans 8, we read about how the world at the moment is groaning, frustrated that things are broken and ruined. There’s pollution and earthquakes and cancer and divorce and murder. And a hundred other terrible things.

But when Jesus returns, he’ll END all the pain. He’ll restore US. And he’ll restore THE WORLD. So that it will suit his new, restored PEOPLE. It will be the ULTIMATE extreme makeover. Or renovation rescue.

Listen to the description: Romans 8.18

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits IN EAGER EXPECTATION for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to FRUSTRATION, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be LIBERATED from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been GROANING as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved.

It’s the hope that Jesus will RESTORE everything. Creation and us, renewed and fresh. Restored to the way things were AT FIRST. Everything PERFECT. Which is the SIXTH reason Jesus can’t wait for his return.

So? 2 Thess 1:11-12

But what does it all mean for us? What does the certainty of Jesus’ second coming mean for how we live today?

Let’s finish with Paul’s prayer in 2 Thess 1.V11. What he DOESN’T want is that his readers become so focussed on the FUTURE that they’re no use NOW. He wants these Christians to be ACTIVE and FAITHFUL and CHRISTLIKE as they wait for Jesus’ return. V11.

11 With THIS IN MIND, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his POWER he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your FAITH. 12 We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

In other words, since this is the future for God’s world, may you be counted WORTHY of that future. Live up to it.

GET READY for it.

And PRE-EMPT it. Bring the realities of ETERNITY into TODAY. So that you, and me, and all God’s people might be WORTHY of that calling.

LIVE with Jesus as powerful, ruling, loving king in your life. TODAY. In every area. In thought and word and action. Make him number one in EVERYTHING.

Because that’s what will happen, for the whole world, when he returns.

So get in early!

And do it TRUSTING in the STRENGTH God promises. As you work out his purposes. Our part is to TRUST. God is the one who gives the strength. That’s courage, it’s generosity, it’s goodness, it’s patience, it’s hope, it’s compassion, it’s perseverance. See it there in v11?

by HIS POWER he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by YOUR FAITH

Your faith in His power enables you to achieve every good purpose and every act.

Let THAT DAY influence how you live TODAY.

Be people who are growing in your RELATIONSHIP. Working on deepening a real friendship with Jesus/ that’s an entrée to the complete intimacy of eternity.

Be people working for Jesus’ REWARD. People not distracted by the shiny and deceptive rewards of this life. Money, success, fame mean NOTHING. Approval, power, possessions – NOTHING.

Build the PRIORITIES of eternity into TODAY. Because it’s Christ’s reward that matters.

Work at bringing JUSTICE / NOW.

And warn people of the REPAYMENT that’s hanging over their heads for ignoring God, and disobeying the gospel of Jesus. REVEAL the majesty of who Jesus is in your words, and your actions.

Look to RELIEVE the suffering of God’s people. Be generous and compassionate. Restore where you can. Pray intelligently for our brothers and sisters being martyred today.

And long for the PERFECT relief and restoration that Jesus longs to provide.

Jesus can’t wait for his return. How about you? What’s YOUR attitude to his return?

On the very last page of the Bible, we read this promise from Jesus to his people. Revelation 22 v12.

12 “Behold, I AM COMING SOON! My reward is WITH me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

To which the writer, John, sighs

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

 

Luke 23:34-43: Between Death and Resurrection

Daniel loves travelling. A couple of years ago it was Asia. This year, it was New Zealand in the middle of winter. In a campervan. On the icy roads. Walking and skiing on snow-covered mountains.

And he dropped his phone in water, and was out of contact for days at a time.

But he made it home safely. And now he’s thinking about Canada – ALSO in winter.

He LOVES it. But it’s a different matter for Caron. She can’t help imagining all the things that might go wrong.

But as long as she gets an Instagram post every couple of days with a photo of a mountain or a burger or a coffee, she’s happy.

It’s not unusual, is it? We just want to know that our family members are alright. We may not be able to SEE them, or TALK to them, but we want to know that they’re SAFE. Trusting that God’s looking after them.

And it’s this same concern that’s at the heart of the topic we’re thinking about today.

We started our series on ETERNITY last week. Looking at DEATH. This week, we’re looking at what comes NEXT. Answering the question, “What happens AFTER we die?

And it becomes important for people when a loved one dies. Suddenly the theology and the theories become a lot more significant. More REAL. “Where’s mum NOW? Right now? Is she alright? I just want to know she’s OKAY.”

We’re thinking about the time between death and judgment day. Most of us are a bit clearer about what will happen when Jesus returns. For those of us who are Christians, we’ll be resurrected and will live with Christ forever. BUT WHAT ABOUT IN-BETWEEN? Until then? What happens to a Christian THE MOMENT THEY DIE?

We’re going to focus on one passage. Jesus and the thief on the cross. And we’ll answer three questions about what happens to people who die. WHEN, WHO, and WHERE? And then we’ll consider ONE MORE QUESTION. What it all means for us now? SO?

We’re looking at Luke 23 v32. It’s the hours before Jesus’ death. The morning of Good Friday. And there are two criminals executed with him. One on his right, one on his left. And (v39)

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

(Joining in with the rest of the crowd. Ridiculing Jesus.) But the guy on the other side of Jesus was different.

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

It’s a request that offers nothing. There’s no, “get me out of this mess, and I’ll try harder next time.” “Help me out, and I promise to be a good boy.” There’s nothing he CAN contribute, beyond the plea, “Remember me!”

And Jesus’ response gets to the heart of the issue we’re considering today. It gave comfort to THE CRIMINAL. And it’s given comfort to COUNTLESS MILLIONS SINCE. Have a look at it. V43. A wonderful promise

43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

It’s an audacious (a bold) claim. The sort of claim a LUNATIC makes. Or else a RELIGIOUS CON ARTIST… Or there’s a THIRD option. That Jesus has been given authority by God himself. The authority over life and death that means that, within a few short hours, HE’LL be in paradise. But more than that, he has God’s authority to judge who ELSE is worthy of paradise. And then the authority to make sure it happens. “I tell you the truth, today YOU will be WITH ME in paradise.”

Let’s look at that promise in three parts: Today – which answers the question WHEN. You – which answers WHO. And with me in paradise – which answers “WHERE”.

When? “Today…”

Firstly, TODAY. Jesus promises that paradise begins for this thief TODAY. The moment he DIES.

Which speaks against the theory of SOUL SLEEP. Some Christians notice that the Bible sometimes talks about death as SLEEP. And so they say that between now and judgment, believers who die go into a state of UNCONSCIOUS EXISTENCE. Like sleeping, or anaesthesia. The next thing they’ll realise after dying will be waking up on judgment day.

But Jesus doesn’t say, “You’ll die, then 1000 years later, you’ll wake up in paradise, and it will SEEM like it’s today. No! He says, “TODAY you’ll be with me in paradise”.

And there are other parts of the Bible that talk about believers who’ve died who are CONSCIOUS of things happening on earth. Like the story Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus. It’s Luke 16 v19. A rich man dies and goes to hell. The word is Hades.

And there’s a poor beggar called Lazarus who ALSO dies, and goes to be WITH GOD. V22 describes it as going to Abraham’s side.

In v23 the rich man’s in torment. He can see Abraham and Lazarus a long way away. And he asks Abraham to send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool his tongue because he’s in agony in fire.

But Abraham replies that there’s no way to cross between the two places, between Hades and Heaven, because there’s a great chasm between them.

So the rich man, instead, begs Abraham to send Lazarus to at least warn his brothers about the torture of hell. But the answer is that they already HAVE all the warnings God intends.

There are a few things this story teaches. One, this is set BEFORE JUDGMENT DAY. Notice the rich man’s brothers are STILL LIVING. And he wants to warn them before it’s too late. Before judgment.

Second. The dead are CONSCIOUS. They’re not sleeping. The rich man can see heaven, and perhaps even see his brothers on earth. Even if he can’t communicate with them.

So, whatever happens to people when they die, it doesn’t seem to be DELAYED until judgment day. As soon as they die, they’re either with Christ in heaven (or by Abraham’s side in this story). Or they’re in hell, or Hades.

And third, there’s no way to move between Hades and Abraham’s side. There’s a great chasm between them. No way across. Which is NOT what the Catholic church teaches about PURGATORY.

Purgatory is like a holding bay. A waiting room. Neither heaven nor Hades. You can INFLUENCE the fate of your loved ones by winning indulgences for them. Or praying for them. They can get a shorter time in purgatory, and then move into heaven.

But there’s none of that here. And it’s nowhere else in the Bible either.

That’s the FIRST question. WHEN?

Who? “You…”

The second question Jesus answers is WHO. Today YOU will be with me in paradise. One thief WITH Jesus. The other, we presume, WASN’T. On the surface, they’d lived a similar life.

What had THIS ONE done to receive a promise like this?

This was the thief who, firstly, RECOGNISED HIS OWN STATE. He said, “We are being punished JUSTLY.” He saw he was a sinner with nothing to offer God. A sinner who’d lived ignoring him, doing his own thing.

Secondly, he recognised who JESUS was. He said, “This man has DONE NOTHING WRONG.” And “Remember me when you come in your KINGDOM.”

In the final hours of his life, he recognised who Jesus was. The perfect innocent king. The one who’d bring in a KINGDOM with POWER. A kingdom the thief wanted to be part of.

Nothing to do with having lived a good life. (Being nice to people). And with no chance of being able to do it in the future.

THIS is who Jesus makes that promise to. People who see THEMSELVES clearly. And JESUS clearly. And throw themselves at the MERCY of that perfect king. Is that something YOU’VE done?

But let’s get more specific. When we say THE THIEF would be in paradise with Jesus that day. What do we mean? Not his BODY. That would still be hanging on a cross, or in a tomb. No, we mean his SOUL, or his Spirit. Who he was.

Because a body is not who YOU are. Whatever it is that makes you, YOU, it’s not your body.

When you go to a funeral, it’s not your loved one in that coffin. It’s only their BODY. Your mum or your uncle or your wife, they’ve GONE. And it’s only the shell that’s left behind.

It’s spirits, or souls, that the Bible talks about. Like Hebrews 12:22-23. Talking about heaven, it says

22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, TO THE SPIRITS OF RIGHTEOUS MEN MADE PERFECT

And in Revelation 6:9-11, John describes a vision he has of something going on in heaven NOW.

9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the SOULS OF THOSE WHO HAD BEEN SLAIN because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “HOW LONG, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you JUDGE the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to WAIT A LITTLE LONGER, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as THEY had been/ was completed.

These are Christians who’ve been martyred. With God in heaven, but crying out for justice. It’s their SOULS, and they’re CONSCIOUS.

There’s one other passage we can look at as we think about exactly WHAT will be with Christ in paradise. It’s 2 Corinthians 5. Paul’s talking about his PHYSICAL body, and his eternal RESURRECTION body. One BEFORE he dies. And the OTHER after the resurrection. But he also talks about A THIRD state. In between the two bodies. 2 Corinthians 5 v1.

5:1 Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in (that’s our PHYSICAL BODY) is destroyed (in other words, we DIE), we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands (that’s our ETERNAL RESURRECTION BODY).

Two different bodies. Like the difference between a TENT and a HOUSE.

And notice that you LIVE in your body. It’s not that your body IS you. You INHABIT your body. Like a tent.

Then he switches to talking about bodies like CLOTHES. But it’s the same idea. V2.

2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found NAKED. 4 For while we are in THIS TENT, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be UNCLOTHED but to be CLOTHED WITH OUR HEAVENLY DWELLING, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

Did you NOTICE? You can be clothed with your EARTHLY clothes. (That’s in THIS life). And you can be clothed with your HEAVENLY clothes. (That’s at judgment day. At the resurrection.) But there’s an IN BETWEEN state. Being UNCLOTHED. Naked. Not having a body. Which I take to mean when you’re DEAD. In between death and judgment.

To be with Christ in Paradise NOW is GOOD. There’s rest and comfort and peace. But it’s like being NAKED. It’s your SOUL. Your Spirit. And not, yet, your resurrection body. The body you were DESIGNED for. V5

(I long to be clothed with my heavenly dwelling) 5 Now it is God who HAS MADE US FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

That’s our GOAL. Our FUTURE. With God, with our resurrection bodies. And God’s Spirit living with us is the down payment of that experience.

(pause) That’s the SECOND question. WHO? The Bible’s answer is for those who recognise Jesus, when they die, that very day, they’ll be in Paradise. But not in body – their soul or spirit.

Where? “…With me in paradise”

Third question. WHERE? Where will we be when we die? Jesus’ answer? With me, in paradise.

We can experience SOMETHING of the closeness and intimacy with Jesus NOW. Through his Spirit, we’re UNITED with Christ. But when we die, his promise is that we’ll be WITH him. No separation, no barriers, no sin. Paradise.

Paul goes on in 2 Corinthians 5 to describe what sort of attitude that reality produces in him NOW. V6.

6 Therefore we are always CONFIDENT and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 We live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would PREFER TO BE AWAY FROM THE BODY AND AT HOME WITH THE LORD.

Longing to be at home with the Lord. What you were MADE for. So, it’s no wonder Paul PREFERS to be AT HOME WITH THE LORD.

Which brings us back to the question we began with. When a loved one dies, we just want to know they’re alright. And the Bible’s answer is/ if they belong to Jesus then they’re AT HOME. With the Lord.

That’s the safest place to be. AT HOME.

The Westminster Confession has an answer for this question. And it sums up the Bible evidence nicely. And is very comforting as well.

  1. The BODIES of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption; but their SOULS (which neither die nor sleep), having an immortal subsistence, IMMEDIATELY return to God who gave them. The souls of the RIGHTEOUS, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their BODIES; and the souls of the WICKED are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day. Besides these two places for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledgeth none.

So? 2 Cor 5:5-10

That’s the WHO, and WHEN, and WHERE. The last question is SO? What difference should this make to you and me TODAY?

Look at how Paul concludes in 2 Corinthians 5. v9. He’s confident that he belongs to Jesus. And he’s confident about the reality of eternity. V7 He lives by FAITH, not by SIGHT.

Then he gets to v9. What does this all mean for TODAY?

9 So we MAKE IT OUR GOAL TO PLEASE HIM, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

If that’s the REWARD for those who are in Christ. Then make it your goal to PLEASE HIM. Because JUDGMENT is waiting for everyone.

Your purpose in life? PLEASE Christ.

Number one priority? Please Christ.

Your major motivation? To please Christ.

And do it with the CONFIDENCE that comes because it’s CHRIST who’s EARNED your salvation FOR you.

Is that what YOUR life looks like?

And when someone asks you if their loved one who’s died is ALRIGHT? (If they’re SAFE.)

Explain what it means to be at home with the Lord. And who can GET there. But then ask them, “So… that’s your grandma. But what about YOU? Are you making it your GOAL to please Christ? That’s what REALLY matters.”

Philippians 1:12-30: What God wants us to know about death

Arthur Stace's "Eternity" lit up Sydney's Habour Bridge after a spectacular fireworks display welcomed in the year 2000 to Sydney January 1.

Most people, whatever their culture or religion, have a suspicion about ETERNITY. That there’s something MORE than this life. (MORE than what we can see and hear and touch.)

That we’ve been made for something MORE. Something ETERNAL. Something INFINITE.

Most people aren’t CERTAIN about it. But at the same time, there’s a LONGING for it. The writer of Ecclesiastes, in ch 3:11, puts it like this: “God has set eternity in the hearts of men.”

It’s there. Put there by GOD himself. That longing. That hunger. That suspicion.

And every culture and civilisation tries to SATISFY that hunger. To reach out to the eternal or the infinite in some way. That’s basically what RELIGION is. (Spirituality). Reaching out to a god, or gods, of various sorts in various ways. Trying to connect to whatever is OUTSIDE, or BEYOND our experience. To catch a glimpse of the ETERNAL.

It was this UNIVERSAL LONGING that slowly led the writer C S Lewis from Atheism to deism, and eventually to Christianity. In fact, as he wrote about it later in a book called Surprised By Joy, he said it was the HUNGER ITSELF that was a strong argument that there had to be something ETERNAL beyond this world.

Listen to what he said. It’s worth concentrating on.

“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. IF I FIND IN MYSELF A DESIRE THAT NO EXPERIENCE IN THIS WORLD CAN SATISFY, THE MOST PROBABLE EXPLANATION IS THAT I WAS MADE FOR ANOTHER WORLD. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that THE UNIVERSE is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never MEANT to satisfy it, but only to AROUSE it, to suggest THE REAL THING. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for something ELSE of which they are only a kind of a copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself THE DESIRE FOR MY TRUE COUNTRY, which I shall not find till after death;

 I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to THAT OTHER COUNTRY, and to help others to do the same.” CS Lewis, Surprised by joy

And that’s the position of Christianity. That this world is full of lots of good things. And we can find SOME joy and fulfilment here. But this world isn’t ALL THERE IS. And that we’ve been made for A TRUE COUNTRY. An eternal home with GOD.

We can’t see it. But we’ve got a feeling that it’s there. We HOPE for it. LONG for it. Long to be with GOD HIMSELF.

And that longing’s been placed there by God himself. Because that’s our TRUE home. HE’S our true home.

But we’re not there yet. So God’s given us THE ROAD MAP to get us there. To bring us home to GOD. It’s his word, the Bible. He shows us what to expect as we travel. As we pass through death and heaven. And judgment and the new creation. And all that comes in between.

All given to us by the one who INHABITS eternity. God himself. The one who made US for eternity. And the one who sent his Son FROM eternity / into time and space. To die a criminal’s death, then to defeat death. And to win eternity for all those who trust him.

And that’s the point of this series on “Eternity”. So that we can know what to expect. And, ultimately, enjoy the eternity we were designed for.

Today, we’re looking at the FIRST STEP along that road. The doorway EVERYONE has to pass through. Death.

When someone we love dies, it leaves a dull ache. There’s EMPTINESS and LOSS.

Death’s A DARK CLOUD. Blocking out light and joy and purpose. It’s A CRUEL THIEF who, unexpectedly and cruelly, robs you of hope and joy. The HEARTLESS BULLY who pins you down, helpless and despairing.

Wynsten Hugh Auden captures death’s impact beautifully in his poem, Funeral Blues. It describes the despair of losing someone he loves.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

That’s the devastating power death has over us.

(pause) But at the same time, being touched by death can FOCUS you. Clarify your priorities. Help you weigh up what matters, and what doesn’t.

I’ve seen it in the eyes of people attending a funeral. As I stand up the front, next to the coffin of their loved one. And I try to speak what God wants them to hear. You can see them listening carefully to every word. Desperate for some comfort. Some reassurance. Some certainty about where THEY stand when it comes to death. Some certainty about ETERNITY, and how they fit in.

So what DOES God want you to hear, today, about DEATH? What does the Bible say?

Not the way it was designed

The first thing to say is that DEATH ISN’T THE WAY GOD DESIGNED things. Right back in Genesis 2. When God set up Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, he gave them A TREE OF LIFE to eat from. And as long as they ate its fruit, they’d LIVE, and not DIE.

In a perfect relationship with each other, and with God, all in a perfect environment. Forever. That was God’s PLAN.

But God’s plan ALSO included the right for Adam and Eve to MAKE A CHOICE. Gen 2:16.

And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are FREE to eat from any tree in the garden but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely DIE.

And most of us know how THAT turned out. The snake tempted them, and they chose to EAT the fruit. And they DID receive the knowledge of good and evil. They knew sin by EXPERIENCE. Knew what it was to choose THEIR way over GOD’S way.

But the SECOND consequence, just like God WARNED, was that they DIED. Not straight away. But the process BEGAN. They were kicked out of the garden, so they couldn’t eat from the tree of life anymore. And so death began its relentless attack. Slowing up, wearing out, running down. Until it wins. Claims its prize. And people STOP. And return to the ground where they came from.

And it’s been the same for every one of Adam’s offspring since. Sometimes we go quickly, sometimes slowly. Sometimes confidently, sometimes kicking and screaming. Sometimes comfortably, sometimes painfully.

But everyone DIES.

Steve Turner, in his poem Death Lib talks about how Death is non-discriminatory.

The liberating thing about death

Is in its fairness to women

its acceptance of blacks,

its special consideration for the sick.

And I like the way

that children aren’t excluded,

homosexuals are welcomed,

and militants aren’t banned.

 Con men can’t con it

Thieves can’t nick it

Bullies can’t scare it

Magicians can’t trick it.

Boxers can’t punch it

Nor critics dismiss it…

The thing about dead

Is we’re all gonna be it.

So, you may not particularly LIKE my choice of topic this morning. But you can’t say it’s not RELEVANT. Because there’s no topic MORE relevant to MORE people. I’ve got complete confidence that this topic is relevant for 100% of people listening.

Jesus Defeats Death

And things were no different in Jesus’ time. People still died. And John chapter 11 tells the story of ONE of them. Lazarus, who we’re told was actually one of Jesus’ close friends.

Jesus finds out he’s sick, and even though everyone knows he COULD heal him, he deliberately stays away until Lazarus dies. Because he’s got a lesson to teach people. v11. They’re on their way to Lazarus.

“Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his DEATH, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.”

Jesus is raising the level of difficulty. Because he’s come to do more than just fix up illness or disability. He’s come to defeat the greatest enemy of all – DEATH. And what’s about to happen to Lazarus will be the ENTRÉE to something greater that’s coming.

Which is the SECOND thing I want to say about death. That “Jesus defeats death”.

But let’s look at the story. When Jesus arrives, Lazarus’ sister, Martha, says to him, v21, “Lord, if you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. Still, I know God will give you whatever you ask”. She’s still holding out hope.

And Jesus doesn’t disappoint. “Your brother will rise again,” he promises.

Sure, she says. In the resurrection on THE LAST DAY. When EVERYONE is raised to life for judgment and eternity.

But Jesus has something MORE IMMEDIATE in mind. Look at his wonderful words in v25.

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

It’s a wonderful promise. It’s not a promise to somehow escape physical death. It’s a promise that even though someone might DIE, death isn’t the END. He can live into ETERNITY if he trusts the one who conquers death.

That’s his CLAIM. And to PROVE it/ he’s got something incredible in mind for Lazarus. The test-case. The down-payment. The preview.

Lazarus’ OTHER sister, Mary, comes out to meet him with the whole parade of mourners. And the entire mob are sobbing and weeping at the loss and the pain.

And Jesus’ response in v33 is one of my favourite paragraphs in the Bible.

“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was DEEPLY MOVED IN SPIRIT AND TROUBLE. “Where have you laid him? He asked. Come and see Lord,” they replied. JESUS WEPT.

Such a short sentence. But so comforting. He feels our pain. He HATES what death does. How it’s impacted the world. It was never meant to BE like this. And ONE day, it won’t be AGAIN.

And so he’s going to do something about it. For Lazarus. For Mary and Martha. But also FOR OUR SAKE. For those of us eavesdropping in on the conversation centuries later.

Because what Jesus does for LAZARUS/ is a demonstration of what he promises for ALL who trust him. Remember what he promised?

He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and WHOEVER lives and believes in me will never die.”

And Lazarus is the PROOF. The proof of Jesus’ POWER. Just as his TEARS are the PROOF of his compassion.

They go to the tomb. “Take away the stone,” says Jesus. And when they do, Jesus prays, then calls out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

We’re not sure why it’s a loud voice, but I guess wherever Lazarus was/ it needed to be loud to get his attention. Then look in v44 at what happened.

“The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped in strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Wrapped up like an Egyptian mummy.

“Take off the grave clothes, says Jesus, and LET HIM GO.

LET HIM GO. Set him FREE from the hold of death. Jesus can SAY it because he’s got the authority. He’s the DELIVERER. And he says it for anyone who trusts in him.

Let him GO. This one trusts in me.

Let him GO. Death has no hold on this one.

Let him GO. The fear and the pain and the loss are finished.

Let him GO.

When to Die is Gain

And it’s this perspective ALL Christians can have. It’s what sets a Christian funeral apart. Of course there’s sadness and pain and loss. But there’s HOPE and JOY and FAITH.

And that’s the 3rd thing I want to say. When you’ve got THIS sort of perspective about death, it’s possible to say, with the Apostle Paul, that TO DIE IS GAIN.

We’re looking at his letter to the Philippians. Ch 1 v20. He’s writing from prison. And there’s every chance he’s going to be KILLED. And as he thinks about the future, he has THIS to say. V20.

20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have SUFFICIENT COURAGE so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, WHETHER BY LIFE OR BY DEATH.

He’s not FOOLHARDY. He’s SCARED about the prospect of dying. So he prays for COURAGE whatever the future holds. Whether it’s life or death. Whatever happens, he wants Jesus to be honoured in his responses.

How often do YOU pray that sort of thing? That Christ will be exalted in WHATEVER life brings. Even your death.

But here’s what’s DISTINCTIVE for the Christian. V21.

21 For to me, to live is Christ and TO DIE IS GAIN.

His whole life is summed up in exalting Christ. To live IS Christ. But that’s not all. To die is GAIN. Life is GOOD. But to DIE is BETTER.

It’s an extraordinary thing to say! He weighs up the two options.

22 If I am to go on LIVING in the body, this will mean FRUITFUL LABOR for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two:(he can’t decide) I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is BETTER BY FAR (for ME); 24 but it is more necessary for YOU that I remain in the body.

From his point of view, it’s only positives when he thinks about the chance of dying. Being with Christ. The end of pain. The start of eternity. Paradise.

But in the end he realises he can make more difference on earth for heaven’s sake. So, he’s content to remain on earth until God’s time is up.

Imagine that! Seriously weighing up the options of dying or living. It’s only Paul’s servant-heart that makes him content to stay.

Christians need not FEAR death.

But Paul’s not being blasé and flippant about death either. Some people think it’s almost sinful for a Christian to be SAD when another Christian dies. Like a Christian funeral should be a PARTY.

But that’s not Paul’s position. Death is CRUEL. It’s PAINFUL. It’s AWFUL. There’s loneliness and separation. Down at the end of ch 2. He’s talking about his friend Epaphroditus. Who was so sick he nearly DIED. And look at Paul’s response. V27. He wasn’t throwing a PARTY at the prospect.

27 Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare ME SORROW UPON SORROW.

The loss of death is PAINFUL. It’s TRAGIC. Even for the Christian.

But at the same time, for the Christian who dies, it’s GAIN.

Not the way it WILL be.

That’s the third point. And the fourth and final thing I want to say is this. Death is not the way it WILL be. God’s plan is that ONE DAY death will finally be defeated. Not just by Jesus. Not just the hope and promise and expectation of defeat. Not just SPIRITUAL death – PHYSICAL death TOO. The complete and utter and eternal defeat of death. The final enemy.

I want to finish with a quick glance at a passage we’ll come back to more than once before the series is over. Revelation 21. Describing eternity. When the dividing wall between heaven and earth is gone. When God and his new humanity live together. In a new heaven and a new earth. And in v4 it says.

4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. THERE WILL BE NO MORE DEATH or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

At the MOMENT, we’re living in the OLD order. Where there IS crying and mourning and pain. And DEATH. Even for Christians.

But Christians long for that day. Trusting in Jesus who is the resurrection and the life. And so they hope for LIFE, even though they DIE.

As YOU think about death. Perhaps as you go to your next funeral. How will you approach it? Will you use it to reflect on your own mortality? On your own trust in Jesus, or lack of trust?

Or will you suffer from death attention deficit disorder (death A.D.D.)? Will you be like those people at the funerals I take. Death catches their attention for a moment, but then something else quickly distracts them.

And the moment is GONE.

Or will you consider death? And cling to JESUS? The one in whom there IS life and hope and joy. So that you can say that to DIE is GAIN. It’s BETTER by far to die and be with Christ.

From Here to Eternity: Death and Beyond

Eternity. There’s something about that word that makes us curious; that raises our interest. One of the ways human beings are unique is that we have a perception about eternity. It’s a sneaking suspicion, a feeling that we can’t quite pin down, that there has to be something more to reality than simply what we see. Ecclesiastes 3:11 puts it like this: “God has set eternity in the hearts of men.”

The Ancient Roman philosopher Cicero said, “There is, I know not how, in the minds of men, a certain presage, as it were, of a future existence; and this takes the deepest root, and is most discoverable, in the greatest geniuses and most exalted souls.”

Alexander Smith, a 19th century Scottish poet, caught a glimpse of something outside of the visible world when he wrote, “Eternity doth wear upon her face the veil of time. They only see the veil, and thus they know not what they stand so near!”

Recognising that d.eath could not be the end, William Penn, a 17th cent American politician, said, “For d.eath is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity.” While Woody Allen, in typical fashion, says, “Eternity is really long, especially near the end.”

Over 35 years Arthur Stace chalked the word “Eternity” on the pavements of Sydney an estimated half a million times. He was converted to Christianity on the night of 6 August 1930, after hearing an inspirational sermon by Rev. R. B. S. Hammond at St. Barnabas Church, Broadway. Two years later, on 14 November 1932, Arthur was further inspired by the preaching of Evangelist John G. Ridley on “The echoes of Eternity” from Isaiah 57:15: “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabits Eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” John Ridley’s words, “Eternity, Eternity, I wish that I could sound or shout that word to everyone in the streets of Sydney. You’ve got to meet it. Where will you spend Eternity?” would prove crucial in Stace’s decision to tell others about his faith.

In an interview, Arthur Stace said, “Eternity went ringing through my brain and suddenly I began crying and felt a powerful call from the Lord to write Eternity.” Even though he was illiterate and could hardly write his own name legibly, the word Eternity, “came out smoothly, in a beautiful copperplate script. I couldn’t understand it, and I still can’t.”

These talks look at the words of the One who inhabits eternity, and thus who is uniquely qualified to speak of eternity. They examine what God, in the Bible, has to say about d.eath, resurrection, the return of Jesus, judgment, heaven and hell.

1 Corinthians 15:32-58: Our Resurrection

This year at church has been one for RENOVATIONS. Here, and at Petersham. Buildings that are more than 100 years old are being stripped back, and re-built. Sometimes it’s a sand and a coat of paint. Sometimes, new foundations are added to support old foundations.

And SOMETIMES, the old is knocked down, and completely replaced with something fresh and strong and purpose-built. Old flickering electrical fittings, replaced with new, safe ones. Rotten bearers and joists replaced with new strong ones. Leaking tiles or rusting tin replaced with new, painted, waterproof roofing. Dirty old, smelly, leaking bathrooms replaced with clean, dry, shiny ones.

And, I don’t know whether you’re like me, but MY BODY is starting to feel a bit like our OLD BUILDINGS. A few more cracks appearing. Foundations sagging. Gravity taking its toll. Things not working as well as they used to. Bits breaking down, and having to be repaired. Other bits looking tired, and needing a freshen up.

And, unfortunately, it’s a sad fact of life. And nothing will change it… until Jesus returns. When he promises to do a knock-down rebuild on our broken down bodies, as well as on the whole creation. And give us brand new, perfected, glorious bodies.

It’s the distinctive Christian hope. That Jesus doesn’t just save our SOULS. But he’s redeemed our BODIES AS WELL.

Eternity won’t be about LEAVING BEHIND the physical world, and our bodies. And floating about like angels on clouds.

But there’ll be a RESTORATION. Jesus promises NEW ETERNAL BODIES. Still physical – made of STUFF. But with none of the pain and broken-ness we put up with NOW. And we’ll be part of a perfected PHYSICAL eternity. In the new heavens and earth. (We’ll think more about THAT in a couple of weeks).

And it’s a belief that says something unique about THIS WORLD, as well as the next. It says that God’s physical world, the world we live in NOW, is both GOOD, and BROKEN.

It’s GOOD, since that’s the way God made it to BEGIN with. He declared it all VERY GOOD. Full of physical things God wants us to enjoy. And so ETERNITY will be physical.

But it’s also BROKEN. Ravaged by sin. The physical world needs MENDING and TRANSFORMING and RESTORING.

This is the fourth week in the series. And we’re following the timeline towards Eternity. First, we DIE, then our souls will either be WITH CHRIST, or in a place of PUNISHMENT until Jesus’ return. Then Jesus will return, and set things RIGHT.

And ONE thing that means is that everyone will receive an eternal, resurrected body. Either for JUDGMENT and ETERNAL SEPARATION from God. Or for LIFE and an eternal HOME with God.

(We’re going to focus mostly on two passages 1 Corinthians 15, and 1 Thessalonians 4.)

The issue

We’ll start in 1 Thessalonians. And here was THE ISSUE for Paul’s readers. (Why he addresses the topic of what will happen when Jesus returns). Because when you’ve lost someone, what you want to know is that DEATH ISN’T THE END. It’s not all over. But that there’s HOPE. Knowledge and hope.

But the attitude we see so often in the face of death from people is DIFFERENT. For SOME, there’s HOPELESS DESPAIR. Death is just too big, and too dark, and too powerful and too final to be argued with. That’s the HONEST ones.

Then there’s THE OSTRICHES. (Those who want to put their heads in the sand). With some vague, uninformed, wishful thinking about death. “I’m just trying to think positive thoughts.” “I’d like to think he’s up there looking down on me.”

But Jesus offers neither of these. Neither reaction is right / to the promises of the One who defeats death. And who’s been RAISED FIRST as the guarantee of OUR resurrection.

Have a look at how Paul begins his teaching on Jesus’ return. THIS is his motivation. 1 Thessalonians 4:13

Brothers, we do not want you to be IGNORANT about those who fall asleep, or to GRIEVE like the rest of men, who have NO HOPE.

Christians can KNOW about what’s on the other side of death. So we don’t MOURN HOPELESSLY, like everyone else.

When you understand what Jesus PROMISES, then death doesn’t hold that mind-numbing threat anymore. You can move from ignorance to knowledge. And from hopeless grief. To CONFIDENT HOPE of a SURE FUTURE. For US, and for those we LOVE.

The grounds

But where does that come from? What is the BASIS for that hope? It’s THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS. V14. We believe that JESUS died and rose again and SO we believe that God will bring WITH Jesus those who have fallen asleep IN HIM.

A historical event. Testified to by hundreds of eyewitnesses. It might go against human reasoning. After all, we all know dead people don’t rise! But it’s just as provable as ANY historical event CAN be.

THAT’S where the Christian confidence comes from. The confidence that if JESUS has been raised, then he has the power to ALSO raise those who belong to him.

In the OTHER passage we’re focussing on, 1 Corinthians 15, Paul uses an image from FARMING to make the same point. FIRSTFRUITS.

When the first box of cherries hits the markets, it’s auctioned for charity. And there’s lots of attention. Media coverage. A huge crowd. It’s the first fruits. And it signals the start of summer fruit. Where there’s ONE box of cherries, there’s the expectation of many more to come.

And Jesus is the firstfruits of people who rise from the dead. Look at 1 Cor 15:20-23.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the FIRSTFRUITS of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD COMES ALSO THROUGH A MAN. 22 For as in Adam all die, SO IN CHRIST ALL WILL BE MADE ALIVE. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, THOSE WHO BELONG TO HIM.

One follows the other. Christ has been raised FIRST. He’s punched the way through from death to life. He’s broken down the door. And so, when he returns, those who belong to him can follow AFTER him. They’ll ALSO be raised. Guaranteed by Christ’s resurrection.

The day

Let’s think a little more about what the Bible says will happen on that day.  Last week we had a look at Christ’s return IN GENERAL. But this week we’re thinking IN PARTICULAR about OUR RESURRECTION.

Flip back over to the 1 Thessalonians 4 passage. Let’s look at some specifics about what will happen for Christians. There in v15. Talking about two groups of people – Christians who DIED before Christ came back. And Christians who happen to be ALIVE when he returns. And Jesus will bring resurrection to BOTH groups. V15.

15 According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that WE WHO ARE STILL ALIVE, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede THOSE WHO HAVE FALLEN ASLEEP.

That’s the two groups. And here’s what will happen to them.

16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.

That’s the DEAD. They’ll be RESURRECTED. Jesus will bring with him those who’ve fallen asleep. And their souls will be wrapped around with a perfected physical body.

And THEN those Christians who are still alive. V17.

17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage each other with these words.

That’s the ORDER. The DEAD first, then the LIVING. But what about what happens to that SECOND group? Those who are still alive? They don’t NEED to be raised. Flip over to 1 Cor 15 again.

V51. Listen, I tell you a mystery: WE WILL NOT ALL SLEEP, BUT WE WILL ALL BE CHANGED- 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable (that’s the FIRST group), and WE WILL BE CHANGED (that’s the SECOND group). 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 

We can SORT of get our heads around the idea of resurrection. Of God assembling, somehow, a perfected heavenly body for the Christian soul. But for those who are still LIVING, Paul says they’ll be CHANGED. Some sort of transformation. V53 seems to describe it something like putting on a new jacket over the top of the existing clothes you’re wearing. Mortality being CLOTHED in immortality.

Or perhaps like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon. Or one of those time lapse films of a plant growing. Changing from a seed to a full grown plant within a few seconds.

The resurrection body

And it’s THIS image of a seed changing to a plant that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 15. It helps us understand the difference between the body we have NOW, and the body we’ll have THEN.  He’s heard the question being asked, “What will the resurrected body be like?” (v35). And he answers (v36)

What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant THE BODY THAT WILL BE, but just a SEED, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.

In other words, a new plant GROWS only because the seed it CAME FROM / DIES. And the new plant’s nothing like the seed.

But at the same time, there’s a CONNECTION. They’re made from the same stuff. It’s SIMILAR and NOT similar. And it’s the same with our BODY. Our OLD body has to DIE / for the NEW body to come alive.

What will it be like? How will it compare to the OLD body? There’ll be SOME similarity, but also some DISSIMILARITY. If JESUS’ resurrected body is anything to go by, our new bodies will LOOK LIKE our old ones. But there’ll be DIFFERENCES as well. Paul goes on to talk about how there’s all different sorts of bodies. Even HEAVENLY bodies. And he says there’s all different sorts of SPLENDOUR with the different bodies. V41.

The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.

And it’s the same with OUR bodies. V42.

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

That will be ONE difference. A difference in SPLENDOUR. In MAGNIFICENCE. In GLORY. Like the difference between the splendour of the sun, and a tiny little speck of a star. Your NEW body will be imperishable, and glorious, and powerful. Not perishable, and dishonourable, and weak.

If the OLD body was like Adam, the first EARTHLY man. Then your NEW body will be like JESUS, the first HEAVENLY man. See there in v49?

And just as we HAVE borne the likeness of the EARTHLY MAN, so SHALL we bear the likeness of THE MAN FROM HEAVEN.

Our bodies NOW bear all the marks of ADAM. All the effects of his sin. Sickness, cancer, weaknesses, weak wills, corrupted desires, aging, heart attacks, strokes, knee replacements. Groaning to be set free. But our NEW bodies will bear the likeness of JESUS (the perfect human). Bearing God’s image perfectly. In mind, and speech and desires and priorities and attitudes. Without weaknesses or frailties and pain. Which is something to LONG for.

The motivation

That’s the promise. (The hope the Christian has for eternity. The promise guaranteed by Christ’s resurrection, to all who trust him.). So, what about the “so what?” question? What difference should that promise – that hope – make to you TODAY? What MOTIVATION does it give for how you live NOW?

Well, the most OBVIOUS motivation is to make sure you BELONG to Christ. So that his promise applies to YOU.

Have a listen to what Jesus himself says about our response to these things. John 5:24.

24 “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. 25 I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.

The first thing you should be motivated to do by all of this /is to make sure you HEAR what Jesus says, and BELIEVE it. That you TRUST Jesus. Trust that he has DEALT with sin and death. BEATEN them. And can beat them for all who follow him too. That’s how to make sure that when you die, and you hear the voice of the Son of God from the grave, you’ll be raised for an eternity with him.

Is that something you’re SURE ABOUT? You CAN be, if you’re trust is in the one who’s infinitely TRUSTWORTHY.

Second thing. Be COURAGEOUS. That’s how it worked for Paul. Look at 1 Corinthians 15 v30.

30 And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31 I die every day-I mean that, brothers-just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

Do you catch what he’s saying? The reason Paul puts his life at risk. The reason he counts it as nothing. That he dies to his own desires and comforts every day. Is because he has a GREATER prize. And nothing else compares. Nothing else matters.

What risk is there when you’re risking a poor and broken body for the sure hope of a better, pure, glorified one? None! There’s nothing to lose, and everything to gain. So be courageous.

What’s the worst that can happen? People tease you, or you lose a job, or a friend, or you do without a few things? Or even if you’re KILLED for following Jesus. So what?  We look forward to a much greater treasure, and much greater JOY.

Jim Elliot, the American missionary, believed those words. And he lived and DIED for them. Before he was martyred by Ecuadorian cannibals, he wrote in his diary, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

Thirdly, from the 1 Thessalonians 4 passage. BE ENCOURAGED. 1 Thess 4:18.

17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore ENCOURAGE each other with these words.

We, and Christians who’ve died, have a SURE and glorious future. So encourage each other.

And finally, STAND FIRM! Philippians 3:20 says

20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. 4:1 THEREFORE, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, THAT is how you should STAND FIRM IN THE LORD, dear friends!

THIS is how you should stand firm. Remembering where your TRUE citizenship lies. That everything that lures and distracts us HERE will fade, or rust, or break down, or grow old. NOTHING will last.  But our future, our destiny, our eternity, what we were DESIGNED for, will be glorious bodies. Like that of Jesus himself.

Transformed by Jesus, the King of the Universe, who controls everything by his power.

SO STAND FIRM IN THE LORD

Romans 1:18-2:15: Judgment

“What’s WRONG with the world today?” Ask that question 100 times on the streets of Blacktown, and I reckon you’d get a hundred different answers.

Fix the financial crisis. We need more jobs. We need more welfare. There’s TOO MANY immigrants. Or NOT ENOUGH. We’ve got to start with THE CHILDREN. Fix the education system.

Get the environment right. Fix the hospitals.

Get America out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Get TOUGHER on crime. Better rehabilitation of criminals.

The problem is globalisation. Or consumerism. Or preservatives. Or fossil fuels

The answer is religion. Or meditation. Or sport. Or solar energy.

All sorts of answers. From all sorts of assumptions and philosophies. But here in Romans 1 and 2 God spells out what the problem is. And it’s much more fundamental than our behaviour, or how we treat each other, or the world. Rom 1:18

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all THE GODLESSNESS AND WICKEDNESS OF MEN WHO SUPPRESS THE TRUTH BY THEIR WICKEDNESS,

GODLESSNESS AND WICKEDNESS. That’s what’s wrong with the world. And God’s wrath is being revealed from heaven against them.

And as we read on we find out what those two ideas mean. Godlessness is about AN ATTITUDE. An attitude of wanting to construct a world WITHOUT GOD. A desire for a GODLESS EXISTENCE. A decision to SUPPRESS the truth of God. To pretend he doesn’t exist. See it there from v19?

They suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is PLAIN to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine re-have been CLEARLY SEEN, being understood FROM WHAT HAS BEEN MADE, so that men are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, THEY NEITHER GLORIFIED HIM AS GOD NOR GAVE THANKS TO HIM, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

God is there to be seen. To be comprehended and understood. His fingerprints are all over his world. But people consciously choose to IGNORE him. To remake the world in THEIR image. With themselves at the centre.

That’s GODLESSNESS.

And it’s what plenty of Aussies do. Whatever their MORALS are like. No matter how law-abiding they are. And how well they treat their families.

Refusing to recognise God. They may have some vague belief he EXISTS. But it doesn’t make any DIFFERENCE IN THEIR LIVES. Refusing to glorify him and give him thanks – that’s GODLESSNESS.

And WICKEDNESS is similar. It’s literally unrighteousness. The OPPOSITE of righteousness. And in the previous verse, v17, we’ve seen how God offers a righteousness to people in the gospel. A right standing with him. An innocence that comes by faith. A righteousness from God because HE is righteous.

But in the very next verse we read about people who want the OPPOSITE. UNrighteousness. Behaviour and a status the REVERSE of what God desires.

That’s wickedness.

So both words carry the idea of an attitude about God, as well as the sorts of things you do. Godlessness and wickedness.

(pause) And when you’ve removed God from his world. Then you replace him with something ELSE to worship. Because we all worship SOMETHING. That’s the way we’re made. V22.

22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and EXCHANGED THE GLORY OF THE IMMORTAL GOD FOR IMAGES made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

In THOSE DAYS it might have been statues set up in shrines or temples. Saw it last night watching Gladiator. Russell Crowe as Maximus worshipping little statues of ancestors.

But that’s less likely to happen THESE days. But there’s still just as many IDOLS. Australian idols. Perhaps even MORE. Musicians and singers, sportsmen, houses, success, wealth, fashion, body image, pleasure, approval, leisure, intimacy, clothes, jewellery, equipment, cars, boats.

Images made to look like MORTAL THINGS. PERISHING things.

People exchange GIVING glory to the TRULY glorious God. (The one who DESERVES it). And instead, give glory, and honour, and attention and energy and time to FADING, RUSTING, fallible, insignificant things.

And v18 says it’s against THAT attitude and THAT behaviour that God’s WRATH is being revealed from heaven.

And that’s where we get to the topic of today’s talk. JUDGMENT. God’s wrath is his RIGHTEOUS JUSTICE. It’s not about an arbitrary meanness, or random display of bad temper.

When WE think of wrath, it’s the way HUMANS display it. We see a SELF-INTERESTED VENGEANCE. We see OUT-OF-CONTROL RETALIATION AND GETTING EVEN.

But that’s not God’s wrath. His justice flows out of his RIGHTEOUSNESS. His quality of always DOING right and BEING right. Of always acting in a way that’s consistent with his character, and true to his word.

It’s BECAUSE he’s righteous. It’s BECAUES he’s committed to the best for his people, that he’s INDIGNANT at the way his world’s been corrupted. And his JUDGMENT and WRATH is about SETTING THINGS RIGHT.

Rom 1:24-32 God’s wrath now

And in Ch 1, we see ONE aspect of how God’s wrath is displayed. NOW. God actually GIVES PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT.

From v24 there’s a phrase that’s repeated again and again. God HANDS PEOPLE OVER. He ALLOWS them to do what they want. And then they BEAR THE CONSEQUENCES of their wicked choices.

24 Therefore God GAVE THEM OVER in the sinful desires of their hearts to ual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.

Or v26.

26 Because of this, God GAVE THEM OVER to shameful lusts.

Or v28.

he GAVE THEM OVER to A DEPRAVED MIND, to do what ought not to be done.

Because they’re GODLESS, God HANDS THEM OVER to WICKEDNESS.

They WANTED to worship created things rather than God, so he LET THEM. He loosens the chains, and gives them free rein. Thoughts and desires led to ACTIONS. The desire for pleasure, self-satisfaction, greed. Leads to actions that are CORRUPT AND DEGENERATE AND INFECTIOUS AND DESTRUCTIVE AND POISONOUS AND DEFECTIVE. And that’s judgment enough.

impurity of thought. Becomes impurity in body. Which leads to the degrading of their bodies. Which leads to broken relationships and broken lives.

Greed and envy leads to , theft, lies, revenge.

The judgment of God, at least in THIS life, is that people BEAR THE CONSEQUENCES for their choices. It’s a big reason why the world IS the way it IS.

Following v28, we get a long, tragic list of the sorts of things people will ly do when they choose to worship created things rather than God.

(28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done). 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, , strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

And it’s not even the case that IGNORANCE might be an excuse. This is brazen, deliberate rejection of God. V32.

32 Although they KNOW God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve , they not only continue to DO these very things but also APPROVE of those who practice them.

People KNOW what God wants. But choose to do the OPPOSITE ANYWAY.

And they’re PROUD of it. Haven’t you heard something like this? “What a LIBERATED society we have! No restraints. There’s freedom of expression! Do what you like with whoever you like. Isn’t it GOOD how far we’ve moved from the prudish Victorian morality of generations past?”

The message of ch 1 is that God’s wrath against godlessness is seen in his HANDING PEOPLE OVER to the very wickedness they CHOOSE. Godlessness and wickedness that leads nowhere. Satisfies nothing. Achieves nothing. It’s pointless and futile and destructive.

It’s WRATH. But there’s also an aspect of GRACE to it. Because God’s handing over/ happens in THIS life. While there’s still the chance to CHANGE. It serves as A WARNING. It’s not a permanent state. At any time people can recognise where their life’s headed. And do a U-turn. Before it’s too late. Because if things are bad NOW, HOW MUCH WORSE will they be on the DAY of God’s wrath? When there’s NO chance to change.

Rom 2:1-15: God’s wrath then

That’s God’s wrath as it’s seen NOW. But perhaps you heard the list there in v29, and you were CHEERING. “Yes! That’s just the sort of stuff people out THERE get up to! No wonder they’re headed for judgment. No wonder their life’s a mess. Just getting their just desserts.

But not US. We’re DIFFERENT! WE’LL be safe! We haven’t rejected God. We’re MATES with God.” Our life doesn’t look like THAT.

It’s those complacent, confident words Paul imagines forming on the lips of THE JEWS listening to his letter. All the sorts of racial stereotypes they’ve put forward for centuries against the filthy Gentiles. Those without the law.

And, from their side, there was a SELF-CONFIDENCE that they were doing all right because of their HERITAGE. Because they knew the law. Israel was God’s nation. THEY weren’t in the firing line. The guns were pointed in ANOTHER direction.

But Paul has a message for them too. Those who are quick to judge others. And quick to assume that they’re safe. As we move into ch 2. v1.

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who PASS JUDGMENT ON SOMEONE ELSE, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment DO THE SAME THINGS.

Passing judgment on someone else won’t guarantee your own acquittal. It’s no defence to say “But I’m not as bad as HE is”. You can’t deflect God’s gaze by pointing the finger in another direction. Because YOU DO THE SAME THINGS. V3 repeats it.

You see, the Jews thought the fact they had THE LAW was their get-out-of-jail-free card. But Paul says it’s not like that. They thought God’s delay in sending judgment meant everything was fine. That God’s wrath wasn’t directed at them.

But they’d got it the wrong way around. God’s delay was designed to lead them to CHANGE. To turn their life around. Not to make them complacent. They DID deserve punishment, but God was holding off, so they’d recognise it. See there in v4?

4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward REPENTANCE?

Yes, God is righteous and just. Yes, he demands that people recognise and honour him. Yes, he demands their obedience and allegiance. Yes, rebels rightly deserve judgment.

And one day it WILL HAPPEN.

But, at the moment, he’s holding back his hand. Delaying his righteous JUDGMENT. Because of his righteous MERCY, LOVE AND PATIENCE.

And we need to make sure we keep hold of THAT side of God’s character when we think about this topic of JUDGMENT. Too often people focus on the punishment and wrath. But forget that God is holding back his hand, giving people as much time as he can, because he LONGS to save people, to declare them innocent. To win them back through the of Jesus.

1 Tim 2:4 says this

God our Savior, 4 WANTS ALL MEN TO BE SAVED and to come to a knowledge of the truth . 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all men

And 2 Peter 3:9. Puts it the other way around

9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, NOT WANTING ANYONE TO PERISH, BUT EVERYONE TO COME TO REPENTANCE.

That’s what God WANTS. Everyone to recognise him and turn to him. But for those who PRESUME on God’s patience, and who REFUSE to turn around. Judgment is sure and certain. V5 of Rom 2.

5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are STORING UP WRATH AGAINST YOURSELF FOR THE DAY OF GOD’S WRATH, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.

Doesn’t matter whether you’re someone who DOESN’T know God’s law. Someone who’s exchanged knowledge of the true God for false Gods. Or whether you’re someone who KNOWS God’s law, and PRESUMES you’re ok. God’s judgment will find you GUILTY.

Unless you REPENT. And trust in God’s forgiveness through Jesus.

God’s judgment will be

And from v5 we find out what God’s judgment will be LIKE.

First up, v5, it will be PERFECTLY JUST. “the day of God’s wrath, when his RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENT will be revealed.” No mistakes, no miscarriages of justice. Everything carried out according to TRUTH and consistency.

Secondly, it will be PERSONAL. V6

6 God “will give to EACH PERSON according to what he has done.”

No one will be able to sneak through behind someone else. It won’t matter who you’re related to, or who you’re connected to. EACH person will have to stand on their own.

And third, it will be ACCORDING TO WHAT THEY’VE DONE. The FRUIT OF ONE’S LIFE will be the criteria. The Jews won’t be able to trust in their heritage, or their knowledge of the law. Notice IN PARTICULAR what fruit God will notice. V7.

7 To those who BY PERSISTENCE IN DOING GOOD SEEK GLORY, HONOR AND IMMORTALITY, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are SELF-seeking and who REJECT the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.

God will look for those who persistently DO GOOD, and give them eternal life.

Which, on the surface, sounds like THE OPPOSITE of what we NORMALLY say salvation is about. That we’re not saved because of the things we do, but by God’s grace, by trusting in what Jesus has done FOR us. Like Eph 2:8-9

8 For it is by GRACE you have been saved, through FAITH-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- 9 NOT BY WORKS, so that no one can boast.

So what’s going on? Is the Bible contradictory? Is Paul confused?

No, Paul’s consistent. Go back to the start of Romans. Ch 1 v5. Talking about Jesus.

5 Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to THE OBEDIENCE THAT COMES FROM FAITH.

Faith is the BEGINNING. In v17 of Rom 1 we see that the gospel is about a righteousness that comes from God to everyone who BELIEVES. Trusting is how you’re saved.

But Obedience is the FRUIT THAT COMES FROM FAITH. From a commitment to honouring and serving God. That sort of DESIRE will be SEEN in the things you do.

Not that you’ll be PERFECT. But the GENERAL DIRECTION AND TREND in your life will be a commitment to doing good. See it there in Ch 2 v7? What is it God’s looking for? What evidence will result in eternal life? A PERSISTENCE in doing good. SEEKING glory, honour and immortality. Not perfection, but a fundamental and consistent orientation to the good. That COMES FROM FAITH.

We get that idea when we look at what people like that SEEK. V7. They SEEK glory, honour and immortality. Which are the very characteristics of GOD HIMSELF. Ch 1:20 God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine re – are clearly seen in creation. And v21, people refuse to GLORIFY him or give THANKS to him.

So, seeking glory, honour and immortality is about seeking God himself. And the things to do with him. Or as Jesus put it SEEKING FIRST THE KOINGDOM OF GOD. And THAT ATTITUDE is what God looks for.

And the opposite of seeking that is there in v8.

8 But for those who are SELF-seeking and who REJECT the truth and follow evil, there will be WRATH AND ANGER.

Seeking self, instead of God. Rejecting the truth, and replacing it with lies. Replacing the glory of God with the glory of created things. Seeking THOSE things will result in God’s wrath and anger.

So the things we’ll be judged according to/ will be the FRUIT of our faith. Or LACK of it. The things we DO are the EVIDENCE – the PROOF – of belonging to God. Not what MAKES us God’s. That’s FAITH.

(pause) That’s the THIRD thing we see about God’s judgment. That it will be according to what people have DONE.

Fourth, God’s judgment will be COMPLETE. All-encompassing. V9.

9 There will be trouble and distress for EVERY human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for EVERYONE who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.

EVERY human will be called to account. From every corner of the world. From every age. And every culture. Big countries can’t escape. Small ones won’t be overlooked.

What’s more, FIVE, it will be IMPARTIAL. V11.

11 For God does not show favoritism.

Unlike the way WE decide things. There’ll be no special deals, or back door passes. ANYONE is eligible. And NO ONE is guaranteed.

Six. No exceptions. That’s in v12-15. In v13, Paul answers some who might argue that KNOWING the law is enough. That’s the Jewish complacency. No WAY! He says.

It’s no good saying when you’re accused of a speeding ticket, but I’m a judge, I know the law!” It’s irrelevant. You’ve got to OBEY it, to be found innocent. That’s the key.

And v14-15 talk about how NOT KNOWING won’t excuse you either. The argument’s a bit complicated. But Paul’s answering the objection that since Gentiles don’t have the law to reject, perhaps God will go easier on them. “But officer, I didn’t KNOW it was a 40 zone!”

But THAT’S no excuse EITHER.  Gentiles may not have God’s law spelled out to them. But they still have a conscience that tells them what’s right and wrong. Sometimes they FOLLOW their conscience. Sometimes they DON’T. But they’re still GUILTY. They’ve done what THEY KNOW isn’t right.

That’s SIX. There’ll be NO EXCEPTIONS with God’s judgment.

And finally, v16, it will be THOROUGH.

16 This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s SECRETS through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

There’ll be nothing hidden. Every corner of your life will be examined. You can hide SOME things from SOME people SOME of the time. But it will ALL be there for God to see. Every thought. Every secret deed. Every opportunity to do good you IGNORED.

So?

(pause) That’s pretty daunting isn’t it? So what do you DO with all that information?

The obvious thing is to let the full weight of its significance SINK IN. And make sure you AVOID it. Make sure you’re on Jesus’ side. That by persistence in doing good, you seek glory, honor and immortality.

Listen to how Jesus himself puts it in Jn 3:16-18

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

God’s IS going to judge. But he’s also done everything to provide a WAY OUT. To ESCAPE that. For our good, and for his glory.

Believe in the Son. Trust him for your life. He was punished so we could be set free. Found guilty so we could be acquitted.

(pause) But perhaps you KNOW Jesus. Perhaps you’re a Christian, but still there’s a nagging doubt. An uneasiness about whether you’ve done the RIGHT things. Or whether God can be TRUSTED. Whether you really WILL escape his wrath on that day.

Then listen carefully to the logic of Rom 5:9-10

9 Since we have now been justified by his , how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

If you’re worried about the judgment seat, remember the cross.

If you’ve turned from your sin. If you’ve accepted God’s offer of forgiveness through Jesus, then God has changed you from being his ENEMY to being his FRIEND.

That’s the difficult thing. Now that you’re HIS FRIEND, then SAVING you on judgment day is the SMALL thing.

If you’re worried about the judgment seat, remember the cross. That’s the key.

Matthew 13:24-52: Hell

What’s the greatest DANGER people face today? There’s the tsunamidestruction of THE ENVIRONMENT. (Global warming. Rising sea levels.) There’s the danger of TERRORIST ATTACK. Or environmental disaster, like earthquakes or tsunamis. Or bushfires, if you live in Australia.

But as Jesus looks out at the world. He sees a danger much greater than any of these things. It’s hidden and seems irrelevant and distant. It’s a danger you never hear preached on too much. It’s not PLEASANT. We don’t like to talk about it. Or even to THINK about it. But the reality is Jesus spoke about it over and over again. Warning people to FLEE it. Not to RISK it. It’s the danger of HELL. God’s just, eternal punishment of sinful rebels.

Jesus spoke about hell more than anyone else in the Bible. Nearly half of his 40 parables TEACH about it. And someone’s calculated that 13% of Jesus’ recorded words are to do with JUDGMENT and HELL. Like Matthew 5:29. He said, “Better to lose an eye or a hand than your whole body be thrown into hell.” In Matthew 7:19. He warned, “Every tree that doesn’t PRODUCE GOOD FRUIT will be cut down and THROWN INTO THE FIRE.” And in Mt 10:28 He warns us to be afraid of God, who can destroy both body and soul in hell. And Mt 25:41 He describes what he’ll say to the goats on judgment day, ‘DEPART FROM ME, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

In Mark 9:48 He describes hell as a place where the worm doesn’t die, and the fire isn’t quenched. Probably metaphors of SOMETHING WORSE. In other words, pain that keeps going forever. And in Matthew 8:12, it’s a place of DARKNESS, where there’s weeping and gnashing of teeth. Where people are BANISHED in LONELINESS.

So, according to Jesus, hell is a place of ETERNAL, CONSCIOUS PUNISHMENT, BANISHMENT, and DESTRUCTION.  We may not LIKE it. We may not UNDERSTAND it. We may not be sure whether the images are LITERAL or SYMBOLIC. But, if Jesus can be TRUSTED, then hell is REAL, and we need to LISTEN to his WARNINGS. We need to FLEE it. And be MOTIVATED by it to WARN OTHERS, TOO.

The most famous sermon ever preached in the history of America was delivered by Jonathan Edwards, in Enfield, Connecticut on July 8, 1741. More than 250 years ago. It was titled, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God.” And its theme was THE DANGER OF HELL. We’ll hear a little of that sermon soon. And the effect it had on the people of Enfield.

In the 250 years since, some have, unfairly, criticised the sermon as focussing on THE PUNISHMENT OF NON-CHRISTIANS in the fires of hell. But Edward’s focus is exactly where God WANTS the focus to be. The DANGER people are under. And the sermon is all about WARNING people.

  1. God’s mercy warns us about it.

You see, that’s what God WANTS. The sinner to be SAVED. It’s entirely by God’s MERCY that we KNOW about hell. Which is the first thing I want to say about the subject. God’s MERCY WARNS us about it. He WARNS us about it, in the Bible, so we’ll TURN from it. It’s why JESUS spent so much of his time telling people about it. So we’re SAVED from it. If God WANTED people in hell, he wouldn’t WARN us. He’d set a trap, and not tell ANYONE. But we saw it last week. 2 Peter 3:9 “God is patient with you, NOT WANTING ANYONE TO PERISH, but EVERYONE TO COME TO REPENTANCE.” God wants EVERYONE with him. And NO ONE in hell. So let’s be THANKFUL for the clear, consistent warnings in the Bible. And for the sermons of people like Jonathan Edwards.

  1. God’s justice demands it

God doesn’t WANT people in hell, but his JUSTICE demands it. That’s the SECOND point. At the moment, wicked people get away with things. Injustice rules. And wickedness and ungodliness. And suffering. But that will only go on for so long. Eventually God will bring justice. The final, ultimate JUDGMENT. He HAS to. That’s his CHARACTER – perfectly HOLY AND RIGHTEOUS AND JUST.

The life of everyone laid bare before God who sees EVERYTHING. And judges with PERFECT JUSTICE and PERFECT WISDOM. And everyone who doesn’t belong to Christ is cast into HELL. Eternal punishment, and separation from God.

Many Christians have a hard time understanding it. How LIMITED AND FINITE sin, for ONE LIFETIME / can be justly punished for ETERNITY. It seems too severe. The punishment seems worse than the crime.

Let me say three things about that:

  1. We can’t possibly see sin the way God sees it. So we just have to trust his measurement of how SERIOUS it is.
  2. There’s no indication that people will repent of their sin once there in hell. People will certainly recognise who Jesus is – they’ll HAVE to. But it seems likely that their rebellion will continue. They WON’T be sorry. Their anger at God for sending them to such a place WILL CONTINUE. Their pride, refusing to submit their will to God’s, WILL CONTINUE. So, if the REBELLION continues into eternity, then it’s appropriate for the PUNISHMENT to be eternal too.

And 3. The fact that we STRUGGLE with this idea of eternal punishment. That we VALUE people, and don’t WANT to see them in hell. REFLECTS THE DESIRE OF GOD HIMSELF. He LONGS for all men to repent and come to a knowledge of the truth (That’s 1 Timothy 2:4).

You see, we bear God’s IMAGE. And so, we reflect something of his love for his valuable creatures. So, it’s RIGHT for us to grieve that people go to hell. Just like GOD does. But the response to that is to WARN people, and point them to Jesus. Like God does. Not to doubt God’s justice. And question the fairness of hell.

  1. God’s patience preserves us from it.

The third point I want to make about hell is that God’s patience PRESERVES us from it. You can see that in the parable of the wheat and weeds we read earlier. Matthew 13:24. The kingdom of heaven is like a field where a man sowed good seed. But during the night, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat. Industrial sabotage!  Both types of plants sprouted and grew. The servants came and told the owner. There’s weeds all through the field. What should we do? Should we try and pull them all out? Separate the weeds NOW?

But the owner says (v29) “‘NO,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30 LET BOTH GROW TOGETHER until THE HARVEST. At THAT time I will tell the harvesters: First collect THE WEEDS and tie them in bundles to be BURNED; then gather THE WHEAT and bring it into my barn.'”

This is a parable about TWO SORTS of PEOPLE, and about JUDGMENT AND HELL. A bit further on Jesus EXPLAINS the parable. Down in v37. Jesus is the owner. The field is THE WORLD. The weeds are the sons of the evil one – those who AREN’T Christians. And the wheat stands for the sons of the kingdom. And the world at the moment is a MIX of BOTH sorts of people. And harvest time is judgment day. And he gets a bit MORE specific in v40. “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, LET HIM HEAR.

And the point I want to make is from verse 30. The angels suggest punishing the wicked NOW. But Jesus WITHHOLDS his angels from heading out into the field, and pulling out all the weeds. “Wait until judgment day,” he says. “Then it will be EVEN CLEARER who belongs to me.” More GOOD will be done by MY people. And more EVIL by those who AREN’T.  People deserve judgment and hell TODAY. But Jesus is holding back.

2 Peter 3:9 explains THE REASON. God’s delay in judgment is not because he’s SLOW, (or LAZY or DISORGANIESD). But because he’s PATIENT. It’s not because people don’t DESERVE it – they DO. It’s just that he wants AS MANY AS POSSIBLE to come to him. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. HE IS PATIENT WITH YOU, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

God, this very minute, could send people to an eternity without him. They’d DESERVE it. And there’s nothing they can do to AVOID it, apart from turn to Jesus. It’s purely God’s PATIENCE that preserves people from it.

Let me quote you a bit from Jonathan Edwards’ sermon at this point. It describes a couple of things. What DANGER people are in. And what PATIENCE God shows in keeping them from it.

“There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God… his arbitrary will… There is NO LACK OF POWER in God to cast wicked men into hell at any moment. … The strongest have no power to resist him, nor can any deliver out of his hands. We find it easy to tread on and crush a worm that we see crawling on the earth; … THUS EASY IS IT FOR GOD, WHEN HE PLEASES, TO CAST HIS ENEMIES DOWN TO HELL. The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready,… The devils watch them; they are ever by them at their right hand; they stand waiting for them, like greedy hungry lions that see their prey, and expect to have it, BUT ARE FOR THE PRESENT KEPT BACK. If God should WITHDRAW his hand, BY WHICH THEY ARE RESTRAINED, THEY WOULD IN ONE MOMENT FLY UPON THEIR POOR SOULS.

That’s the DANGER. And God, for the MOMENT, is protecting us from it. And Edwards wants to warn people who CAN’T SEE the danger. Who think they’re SAFE. He goes on.

It is NO security to wicked men for one moment, that there are no visible means of death at hand. It is no security to a man, that he is now in HEALTH, and that he does not see which way he should now immediately go out of the world by any accident, and that there is NO VISIBLE DANGER in any respect in his circumstances. The manifold and continual experience of the world in all ages, shows THIS IS NO EVIDENCE, that a man is NOT on the VERY BRINK OF ETERNITY, and that the next step will not be into another world.  The unseen, unthought-of ways and means of persons going suddenly out of the world are innumerable and inconceivable.

In other words, just because everything LOOKS safe, doesn’t mean you’re not a heartbeat away from death. Listen to this description.

God has so many different unsearchable ways of taking wicked men out of the world and sending them to hell, … All the means that there are of sinners going out of the world, are so in God’s hands, and so universally and absolutely subject to his power and determination,.

God is in control of all of our destinies. Every beat of our hearts, every breath of our lungs. Every accident avoided. Every natural disaster and faulty appliance. Is under his control.

God’s PATIENCE / PRESERVES people from hell.

  1. Hell is self-chosen

The fourth thing I want to say about hell flows out of the first three things. If God WARNS us about hell, and if he’s PATIENT, not wanting anyone to GO there. Then hell is SELF-CHOSEN. It’s what people CHOOSE. People may not want to BE in hell. But they spend their lives choosing to ignore God, and doing their own thing. And so hell is just the logical consequence of that. 2 Thessalonians 2:10 says “The work of Satan (is) displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, 10 and in every sort of evil that deceives THOSE WHO ARE PERISHING. THEY PERISH BECAUSE THEY REFUSED TO LOVE THE TRUTH AND SO BE SAVED. … all will be condemned who HAVE NOT BELIEVED THE TRUTH but have DELIGHTED IN WICKEDNESS.” People CHOOSE NOT to love the truth, or believe it.

Jesus backs that up in John 3. But he gets MORE SPECIFIC. Talking about HIMSELF, he says (v18) 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but WHOEVER DOES NOT BELIEVE STANDS CONDEMNED ALREADY because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.  19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but MEN LOVED DARKNESS instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 EVERYONE WHO DOES EVIL HATES THE LIGHT, AND WILL NOT COME INTO THE LIGHT for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

The key to people’s fate is the attitude they have TOWARDS JESUS. Choosing JESUS means choosing eternal life. REFUSING to choose Jesus means choosing condemnation. Hell, and rejecting Jesus, is SELF-CHOSEN.

Dominic Steele, the Anglican minister at Annandale, tells the story about trying to meet up with a family member who’d cut off contact over a misunderstanding. No one remembered what the original fight had been about. But it had been YEARS since anyone from the family had spoken to him. And Dominic was going on holidays to the town where this guy lived. So when he arrived, he phoned him up. “Hi, Jack, it’s Dominic Steele. Just wondering if you’d like to meet up for coffee. I know it’s been a long time since we’ve spoken. But I’d really like to try to mend some fences. What do you think? “No I’m not interested. Please don’t call again”. And he hung up. Dominic looked at the screen on his mobile phone. Call time: 23 seconds. After years not speaking, that was the limit of the conversation.

That probably would have been enough for ME, but Dominic stewed over things for the rest of the day. And later he phoned back. “I know you said you weren’t interested, but perhaps I can just leave you my phone number. I’ll be in town for the rest of the week. If you change your mind, I’ll meet you. Anywhere, anytime.” “No. I don’t want your phone number. No I won’t change my mind.” And he hung up again. Call duration: 18 seconds. Not getting better.

I think perhaps Dominic is a slow learner. But he said he had the most miserable holiday. He spent the whole time thinking about those two conversations. What he could have said differently. Whether he should ring back. And as he drove down the freeway on the way home, he came to the exit that would take him to Jack’s place. And he said it took ALL THE SELF-CONTROL HE COULD MUSTER to keep driving, and not take the exit to Jack’s place.  But he KEPT DRIVING. Because Jack had made it perfectly clear what he wanted. And Dominic was respecting his choice by leaving him alone.

And that’s what it’s like with GOD. Hell is God’s ultimate display of respect for man’s choice NOT to want a relationship with him. CS Lewis, in his book The Problem Of Pain, (127-28.) says “Sin is man’s saying to God throughout life, ‘Go away and leave me alone.’ Hell is God’s finally saying to man, ‘You may have your wish.’ It is God’s leaving man to himself, as man has chosen.”

That’s the fourth thing to say about hell. It’s SELF-CHOSEN.

So what?

Probably lots of other things we COULD say. But I want to leave it there. And finish with the question we’ve been asking each week through this series. So what? Fairly obvious I think. It’s 100% relevant to 100% of people here today. If you’re NOT a Christian, you’re in danger of hell! Turn from your rebellion. Turn to Jesus and trust him for your salvation. If you ARE a Christian, then let the awfulness and reality of hell MOTIVATE you to warn people. Your family. Your workmates, Your children. Or your parents.

God LOVES the world so much, he sent his only son to SAVE people from hell. That whoever BELIEVES in him will not PERISH, but have ETERNAL LIFE. That’s our message. That’s our motivation.

Here’s how Edwards summed up. His APPLICATION.

THE USE OF THIS AWFUL SUBJECT MAY BE FOR AWAKENING UNCONVERTED PERSONS IN THIS CONGREGATION (That’s God’s mercy WARNING us).

This that you have heard is the case of every one of you that are out of Christ. — That world of misery, that lake of burning brimstone, is extended abroad under you. There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell’s wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor any thing to take hold of; there is nothing between you and hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up.

In other words, Hear that warning. And DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Turn to Jesus, repent, and trust HIM. And God will WELCOME you HOME. Let me finish by describing the EFFECT that sermon had as Edwards preached it. Before the sermon had finished, people were moaning, and crying out, “What shall I do to be saved?” An eyewitness account from another minister reported that “there was such a breathing of distress, and weeping, that the preacher was obliged to speak to the people and desire silence that he might be heard.”

Another eyewitness wrote in his diary, “Prayer was made, and after that we descended from the pulpit and discoursed with the people – some in one place and some in another – and amazing and astonishing was the power of God that was seen – and several souls were hopefully wrought on that night. And oh the cheerfulness and pleasantness of their countenances that received comfort – oh that God would strengthen and confirm. We sung a hymn and prayed, and dismissed the Assembly.” Which is what we’ll do NOW. Let’s pray.

Revelation 21-22: A Fresh Start

It’s that time of year. December. When you look back over the last 12 months, and wonder, FIRSTLY, what happened to THE YEAR, and SECONDLY, what happened to ALL THOSE GOOD INTENTIONS. “This year was going to be different. This was going to be the year of FRESH STARTS. This year you were going to…

Read more books, work less, exercise more, paint the house, spend more time with the kids, save for a house, work on the marriage.”

All sorts of FRESH STARTS.

Let me ask you a question? How did it GO? If you’re anything like me, about the same as you do EVERY year. The fresh start lasts until about the end of January!

And it seems to me, as A GENERAL RULE, we don’t seem to have the will power, or the desire or the strength to REALLY make a FRESH START. Self-improvement only seems to be something for TV shows.

Is that sort of change really possible? Can someone actually turn their life around in significant ways? Or is it just tinkering around the edges?

That’s the topic we’re thinking about TODAY. FRESH STARTS.

In particular, the fresh start God’s promised to make with THIS WORLD. This messed-up, broken-down, pale imitation of the world God designed and created. A world on its last legs. A world that needs to be put down – EUTHANISED.

And one he’s going to replace with a NEW world. A new CREATION. A world where heaven and earth are ONE. Where God and human beings dwell TOGETHER. A world WITHOUT the barriers and limitations. Without in-built expiry dates. A world of peace and perfection. Of rejoicing and rest.

A start

But let’s begin with the world TODAY. Yes, it’s messed up. Wars, , and divorce.

Separation, sorrow, and shame.

Poverty, disease, and starvation.

Inequality, hatred, and intolerance.

Earthquakes, floods, and tsunamis

Cancer, stroke, and .

It’s certainly in A CRITICAL CONDITION. Hooked up to life-support. It’s a wonder God didn’t turned off the machines YEARS AGO.

But it didn’t BEGIN that way. The world God CREATED was PERFECT. Back at THE START. Everything in harmony. All relationships intimate and undefiled. Between humanity and creation – perfect. Between humans themselves – perfect. And between humanity and God – perfect.

That’s the way things were in the garden of Eden. With Adam and Eve.

A Fresh Start

That was the START. But it wasn’t long until God made A FRESH START. Because right from the moment the SNAKE started whispering in Eve’s ear, and then Eve into Adam’s ear. Things went downhill quickly.

They disobeyed God and ate the fruit. They chose rebellion and autonomy. Rather than walking with God. And he expelled them from the garden. Into a world of pain and sweat and isolation and CURSE. All consequences of that choice of independence.

The first of many FRESH STARTS. But it doesn’t fix things up. As we read on, we find things go from bad to worse. Until we get to the time of NOAH, where we read THIS (p4 – Gen 6:5).

Gen 6:5 The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. 6 The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. 7 So the LORD said, “I WILL WIPE MANKIND, WHOM I HAVE CREATED, FROM THE FACE OF THE EARTH–men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air–for I am grieved that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.

God decides to make a COMPLETE FRESH START. To wipe out all signs of life. Remove all the wickedness and sin and rebellion. Everything tainted and polluted by SIN.

Except for Noah. The only one who walked with God. And so God’s going to make his FRESH START based around NOAH.

Most of us know the story. He tells Noah to build a big boat, then to put a pair of every kind of animal inside. Then he sends torrential rain that floods the whole earth, and every living creature drowns. Except for Noah, and his family, and the animals on the ark.

And when the waters disappear, it really is A FRESH START. The slate’s wiped CLEAN. It’s a chance to do things PROPERLY. Right from the beginning. And God promises never to destroy the world again with a flood.

But even as drastic a clean-up as THAT/ still doesn’t work. Within a few months of coming out of the Ark, Noah and his family have stuffed things up again. It’s a sordid little story in Gen 9 about drunkenness and ness (p6). About betrayal and shame. Right up there with a plot from the Bold and the Beautiful.

And it just goes to show, that even with the best of the best – Noah the man who walked with God. Even with a complete fresh start – an extreme makeover like the flood. That REAL CHANGE isn’t possible. As long as we look for the solution INSIDE OURSELVES, a fresh start will never work. Will never produce LASTING and PERMANENT and REAL CHANGE.

Which God knows. God knows that Genuine change is only possible when it comes from OUTSIDE HUMANITY. From beyond creation.

It’s a lesson he gives HINTS about as we work through the Old Testament. Where God makes OTHER fresh starts, and the people mess things up again. Incapable of living the way God designed them. Incapable of following him, and living for him.

Jump forward to Egypt. And the book of Exodus. God’s people are slaves there. So he miraculously brings them out. Redeems and rescues them. Gives them the chance of A FRESH START. But within days they’re complaining about the menu. Then they’re making idols to worship.

They make it to the border of the Promised Land – God’s fresh start. For Israel to be God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.

But they can’t trust him. And they have to practice it in the desert for another 40 years.

When they finally make it into the land. It’s an ongoing cycle of sin and rebellion. Of God’s patience and punishment. God providing the fresh start the people NEED, but then they don’t have the ABILITY to make a change.

And finally God sends them to exile. Foreign nations drive them out. They’re AWAY from God, punished for their failures. AGAIN. The hope of a fresh start FAILS AGAIN.

And it’s time for God to introduce his SOLUTION to the problem. THE KEY to the dilemma.

Remember, you can’t find it WITHIN HUMANITY. It’s got to come FROM OUTSIDE. From BEYOND CREATION. And so God sends a promise to Isaiah the prophet. In about 500 BC. Isa 53 (p523). The promise of A SERVANT. A servant who’ll CARRY our sorrows, who’ll be smitten by God, pierced for our transgressions, who’s punishment will bring us PEACE, and by whose wounds we’ll be HEALED. The promise of a servant who’ll DEAL with our sin. Who’ll provide a GENUINE and LASTING FRESH START.

He’s talking about Jesus. 500 years before his birth.

A few chapters on, Ch 59, he explains the problem. It’s human re. (p527) Ch 59 v2.

2 But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. 3 For your hands are stained with , your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken lies, and your tongue mutters wicked things.

And he goes on, about how INCAPABLE mankind is of turning over a new leaf. Of empowering REAL CHANGE. Like down in v9.

9 So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. 10 Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like men without eyes….

12 For our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: 13 rebellion and treachery against the LORD,

turning our backs on our God,

What’s the use of God continuing to make FRESH STARTS if we can never do anything WITH them? If we keep making the SAME MISTAKES over and over and over again?

Sounds a lot like my new year’s resolutions!

The solution’s got to come from GOD HIMSELF. V16 (over the page).

The LORD looked and was displeased that there was no justice. 16 He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so HIS OWN ARM WORKED SALVATION for him, and his OWN RIGHTEOUSNESS sustained him. 17 He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.

If you want a job done properly, do it yourself! God promises that HE’LL bring salvation and righteousness to people who CAN’T DO IT THEMSELVES.

And over in Ch 65 v17 (p532), he fleshes out what that’s going to look like. Not just a new re for people, and a new way of relating to him. But God’s going to provide a WHOLE NEW PLACE for that to happen. It’s the promise of a COMPLETE fresh start. Ch 65 v17.

17 “Behold, I will create NEW HEAVENS AND A NEW EARTH. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. 19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people;

And look what WON’T be there.

the sound of WEEPING AND OF CRYING will be heard in it no more. 20 “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives BUT A FEW DAYS, or an old man who DOES NOT LIVE OUT HIS YEARS; he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.

No more PAIN OR . And down to v23

23 They will not TOIL IN VAIN or bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them. 24 Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. 25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the LORD.

Frustration and disaster. Warfare and enemies. All of it will be GONE. All the things that have been in THIS world ever since Adam and Eve ate the fruit. Ever since the world was CURSED.

And replaced instead with BLESSING. The opposite of curse.

And PEACE, the opposite of warfare and frustration.

And LIFE, the opposite of decay and .

That’s the PROMISE. And God hasn’t DELIVERED on that promise. Not YET. But he HAS sent his servant. The one who makes a fresh start POSSIBLE.

Jesus came from heaven. God’s only Son. Fully God, and fully human. Sinless. The only person who never NEEDED a fresh start.

The only one ABLE to offer a genuine fresh start to people.

Which is pretty GOOD NEWS. Turn over to 2 Cor 5:17 (p819). Have a look at the message the Apostle Paul preached about Jesus, and the offer of a fresh start. 2 Cor 5:17 (p819).

17 Therefore, if ANYONE IS IN CHRIST, he is A NEW CREATION; THE OLD HAS GONE, THE NEW HAS COME!

In other words, genuine change is possible. And the key is to be IN CHRIST. Which means something like BELONGING to Christ, or attaching yourself to Christ, claiming the benefits that Christ OFFERS.

You can’t be rescued from a sinking ship, unless you’re IN THE LIFE RAFT.

You can’t win a cricket match, unless you’re IN THE TEAM.

You can’t receive the brand new treatment for your cancer unless you’re IN THE MEDICAL TRIAL.

“If ANYONE IS IN CHRIST, he is A NEW CREATION”

But the message of Christianity is about more than just self-improvement. Like Jesus as simply the BEST and LATEST TOOL to turn your life around. The good news message is that Jesus achieves RECONCILIATION. He RESTORES our connection to God. Look at how Paul goes on.

18 All this is from God, who RECONCILED US TO HIMSELF THROUGH CHRIST and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, NOT COUNTING MEN’S SINS AGAINST THEM.

God offers us a fresh start through Jesus of forgiving our sins. Of wiping out our mistakes and rebellion. He wipes the slate clean, so we can stand before him restored and forgiven. The way we were DESIGNED and CREATED. In a way we could never do on our own.

But it’s not simply that God OVERLOOKS our rejection of him. He CAN’T. Justice demands PUNISHMENT. And God both DEMANDS payment, and PROVIDES the payment. Look there in v21.

21 God made HIM WHO HAD NO SIN to BE sin FOR US, so that IN HIM / WE might become the RIGHTEOUSNESS of God.

We sinned, Jesus didn’t.

We deserve judgment, Jesus doesn’t.

But God, in his mercy, transfers our guilt to Jesus, and Jesus’ innocence to us. Forgiven, clean and restored.

And that’s a FRESH START we ALL NEED. To recognise before God our rejection and rebellion against him. To admit our guilt. And to turn from that. And to trust that Jesus’ has dealt with that. To cling to him. That’s what it means to be IN Christ.

And when we do that / God promises to make us NEW. Forgive us. Change us from his enemies into his friends. And then to give us his Spirit who enables us to make all sorts of OTHER changes that flow from that. All about letting Jesus be the KING in every PART of life.

King over our thoughts, and our actions. King over our jobs and possessions. King over our ambition and goals. Over our weeks and our years. Over our marriages and families. King over our priorities and plans. Our wallets, our stomachs, our eyes and our ears.

And it’s a FRESH START that LASTS. That’s GENUINE. It’s often not change that’s IMMEDIATE, or Easy. But it’s REAL.

(pause) And God’s promise is that he’s got A NEW CREATION that will fit perfectly this NEW PEOPLE he’s building. He’s going to give one FINAL AND ULTIMATE fresh start to his world. And Romans 8 (p800) describes the world as HANGING OUT for that day. Rom 8:19

19 The creation waits in EAGER EXPECTATION for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to FRUSTRATION, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the CREATION ITSELF will be liberated from its TO DECAY and brought into THE GLORIOUS FREEDOM OF THE CHILDREN OF GOD.

Eternity will be about God’s children, fresh and renewed, with restored perfect bodies. Living in a restored new CREATION. A home that MEASURES UP to the glory of God’s new people. It’s the goal and the target THIS world’s been headed towards since the day God first created it.

We can’t be sure exactly WHAT it will be. But we get some PICTURES about what it will be LIKE. In Revelation 21 (p878). And it’s a vision Jesus gives to ANOTHER prophet, called John. And listen to how HE describes what he saw. V1.

21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth (just like God promised to Isaiah), for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

That’s ONE image of what it will be like. We’ll be like a BRIDE beautifully dressed for her husband. Fresh, new, pure. Everything – mind, body, conscience, desires, memories.

And John continuesV3.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.

And we’ll have the same sort of closeness to God that a bride and husband have. The same joy and intimacy and acceptance and openness.

And everything that’s WRONG and ROTTEN about THIS world will be gone.

4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

And here’s the promise from God himself. He’s working on the ULTIMATE FRESH START.

5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I AM MAKING EVERYTHING NEW!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are TRUSTWORTHY AND TRUE.”

That’s the Christian hope. Our CONFIDENCE. Our dream and our goal. It’s the fuel in our tank, the fire in our belly, the target we aim for. It’s what gets us out of bed each morning, and what keeps us following Jesus.

The promise of a FRESH START. A fresh start that BEGINS with each person. Turning over their life to Jesus, turning away from rebellion and rejection, and turning toward the king who died in your place.

And will reach its completion in God’s ULTIMATE fresh start. In the new creation.