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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:God’s Beautiful Promise of the Life Everlasting
Text:LD 22 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:End Times
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-09-03
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 111:1,5                                                                                  

Ps 93:1,2,3,4  [after Nicene Creed]

Reading – Ecclesiastes 3:1-22

Ps 90:1,2,5,6

Sermon – Lord’s Day 22

Hy 73:1,2,3

Hy 74:1,2,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, we all like a happy ending. If we’re reading a novel or watching a film, we want everything to work out by the time we’re done: tensions resolved, bad guys in jail, main characters happy at last. Children’s stories will often end the same way: “and they lived happily ever after.” That’s what we hope for: a nice, satisfying finish.

Not to put it too simply, but that’s what God wants too. He wants a good end for this world that He’s made: all his and our enemies conquered, full glory for himself, and perfect peace for his people. It’s the “happy ending” that God desires, and that He’ll also bring about in his mercy and might. This is the high note on which we conclude our confession of faith. “I believe… the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”

Now, that’s a big concept—“everlasting” is way beyond our small minds to comprehend. We think strictly in terms of the hours that are available to us in a day, the open spots in our agenda, our plans for next year. It’s all time-bound, and it’s even beyond our ability to control. For us there might not even be a next year, or a next week.

But God promises a life without time, a glorious existence with only a beginning, but no middle, and no end. That’s eternity. And in the words of Ecclesiastes, the Lord has put this reality within our hearts. That is to say, God has planted inside of us a hunger for eternity, a longing for something more, something that will endure forever! And God fulfills this longing through his Son, our Saviour. I preach God’s Word to you on this theme from Lord’s Day 22,

We believe God’s beautiful promise of the life everlasting:

  1. our deep hunger for eternity
  2. our small taste of eternity
  3. the sweet fullness of eternity

 

1) the hunger for eternity: In one way or another, people look for purpose. It’s the question that doesn’t easily go away: “Why on earth am I here? What’s really the reason that I’m on this planet?” As an extension of that question, a person wonders: “What happens when I’m dead? Where does it all go?”

In the search for purpose, a person could join a religion, one that holds out an eternal reward. Or if you’re not the religious type, you could be deeply committed to some ideology or cause—maybe the environment, or social justice, or animal rights. Such pursuits give a person the sense of doing something good, being part of something that’ll continue after we die.

Not everyone worries about such things. Perhaps most people don’t give it a lot of thought. Every day there’s enough busyness and activity—enough good times and pleasures, but also troubles and anxieties—so that thoughts about eternity and the afterlife just don’t come up. Many people are content just to keep doing their thing: going to the office, watching TV, keeping up the yard. Still, they’ve still set a basic goal for themselves, decided on a purpose. If you asked, they might say: “I’m here to bring happiness to my family and friends.” Or, “I’m on this earth to work hard, then retire early.” Or, “Whatever I do, I want to have fun.”

But if you listen carefully, the hunger for eternity is there—it’s rumbling in the background. For God’s Word says that the LORD “has put eternity in [our] hearts” (3:11). It’s built into our hearts, part of the programming.

This means that you can distract yourself, pretend you don’t care, but the question doesn’t go away: “What’s the point? Out of this little life of mine, what’s going to endure? And where will I go after I die? What about eternity?” At certain passing moments of life, probably everyone sees that the things of this earth aren’t going to last. They know that “happily ever after” is just a myth, a fairy tale.

Let’s include ourselves in this. For we too can get trapped in the daily grind. Always running from one thing to the next, we have no time for the harder questions. Always tired, we have no energy for really thinking about what is our motivation and goal in all this.

And if you did reflect on it superficially, you’d conclude that things are fine: you’ve got some good times and nice things, you’re enjoying success at work, and blessings like health and family and friends. You might even admit that you don’t really want Christ to return yet, because you’ve got big plans for travel, or you’re looking forward to getting married, or because you’re so much enjoying your children or your grandchildren.

But then God helps us to see that there’s more to life than this life. It might take an accident. It might take a serious illness. It might take seeing heart-breaking footage of some disaster in a far away land. It might just take a cloudy day and a heavy heart. But then we see that this world is badly broken. Our minds and hearts are weak. This body isn’t going to last forever. And then that hunger for eternity starts to rumble a little louder. It’s not going to be satisfied by our light snacking on earthly delights.

Don’t we realize that there must be more, there has to be more to life? The Lord tells us about this in Ecclesiastes. We read that well-known passage in chapter 3: “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven” (v 1). Those statements that follow are memorable: there is “a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to pluck what is planted, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to break down and a time to build up” (vv 2-3). There’s a poetic power in how the author describes the many moments of life.

Yet we should realize what the author is teaching. Some conclude that he’s simply saying, “Whatever will be, will be. Get on that circle of life, and pursue your dreams as long as you can. Take the good with the bad. While times are good—enjoy!” Sounds agreeable.

But he’s saying something more troubling. He’s saying that all time, and every change and every moment, are completely out of our hands. Though we have our moments of joy, we’re also going to face sorrow, brokenness, loss, and finally death. The good times don’t roll forever, and we can’t change that. In short, we’re all going to see that this present life is futile—it’s futile, if this is all there is.

That’s how he arrives at his sobering question in verse 9, the verse that most people don’t bother to read: “What profit has the worker from that in which he toils?” And the implied answer is: “Nothing! We gain nothing!” It’s meaningless. We can work hard all week, earn our money, save and spend, go through all of life’s ups and downs trying to keep our balance. Yet without Christ, it’s meaningless—all of it!

Beautiful shiny things are purchased, used for a while, and then they’re discarded or sold. A child is born, lives, and then it dies. One worry disappears, but another quickly takes its place. So what do we gain from all this toil, all this trouble?

In Ecclesiastes 1 the author says that he had looked for happiness in the good things of life: the pleasures of laughter and wisdom and wine and women. He denied himself nothing! Yet he still had to conclude: “The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing” (1:8). His belly was stuffed, his mind was educated, his bank account full—and still, he wasn’t content. He still hadn’t found something eternal.

The pursuit of human happiness hasn’t changed much. We seek it by pouring ourselves into work and building a good career. We seek happiness through playing sports or enjoying great holidays. We chase satisfaction through eating lots and drinking even more. Maybe we try escape to reality by diving into entertainment, by getting lost in the screen in front of us. But is the eye ever satisfied with seeing, or the ear with hearing? Though we might have thrills and highs and accomplishments, we’ll never be able to say: “It’s enough; I’ve experienced it all; I’m content and I need nothing more.”

Our pleasure always hits a limit, reaches a maximum and then begins to fade. Think of something you really enjoyed recently, something you just loved doing—maybe you were in a great place, or with special people, and it lifted you way above “the normal.” Even then, wasn’t there imperfection? Wasn’t there still some flaw in your happiness? There probably was. And not only that, but all too soon the moment passed, and then it was gone. You wanted it back, but it already slipped out of your fingers.

There is lots of goodness and beauty in this life; the Spirit says, “God has made everything beautiful in its time” (3:11). We enjoy God’s good gifts, and we thank him for them. Yet even the beauty of his blessings is fading. So we know there has to be something else, something eternal—that’s what we must hope for: everlasting life.

For this is how God made us. He created man and woman in his own image, righteous and holy, able to love and worship him. That was our life’s mission, to glorify the Triune God—not just for a while, but to be with God forever! But we chose to sin, and instead of enjoying eternal life with God, we received the sentence of death. Now creation groans, and we groan too.

So when a person finally recognizes that no earthly thing is going to satisfy, God is gently tapping that person on the shoulder. If we’re listening, God is reminding us that He created us for something better. When we finally see that every human pursuit is empty without him, God is whispering that there’s a far greater goal—He has set eternity in our hearts.

Beloved, do you realize this? Are you still holding so tightly onto your earthly things? Are you still expecting to find happiness in the things that you acquire? If you had a bit more, would it finally be enough? Are you still living like true joy is going to come from what you can do, or where you can go, or what you can experience? You won’t be satisfied. The hunger for eternity won’t go away, because this is how God made us. And the hunger can only be fulfilled in Christ.

 

2) the taste of eternity: When something sounds too good to be true, we’ll often say, “It probably isn’t true. Don’t get your hopes up.” Only God follows through on all his promises. So also when God sets eternity in our hearts, we know He’s not just teasing us. He put that hunger there, and He provides a way to find satisfaction. For He promised to send someone to remove the curse and make all things right.

And in his mercy, two core things have remained the same in God’s plan: He made us for fellowship, and He made us for eternity. That was his original blueprint, and that’s still what God desires to come about: He wants us to live with him, and to live for him. Our basic calling as human beings didn’t change when we chose to sin—it just became a whole lot more difficult, even impossible without God’s help. The path became thorny and hard, and staying on it takes blood, sweat and tears. Yet God still desires that we be his loving and obedient servants.

We find the same truth in Ecclesiastes. Having said that the worker gains nothing from his toil, and that eternity has been fixed in our hearts, the author insists there is still something worthwhile for us to do on this groaning earth, “the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied” (3:10).

And this is what it is: “Nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labour—it is the gift of God” (3:12-13). The Holy Spirit is exhorting us there to do everything for heaven alone. Nothing is more important than to embrace our life as given by God, and lived for God. It’s this purpose alone that will bring lasting joy. Here’s the one cause with eternal worth: that we humbly worship the LORD God, our Creator and our Saviour, and that we glorify him in the place that He’s put us.

Beloved, we know where to find the one path that leads to eternity. We know it, because the Father has given his only Son. As Scripture says, “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” When we know Christ, life has meaning. When we know Christ, our days and opportunities and gifts can be directed toward a glorious goal. We can do the things that will last forever!

As one example, think about the task of parents. Parenting is hard work, but each week you can teach your children about the eternal ways of God. That’s a legacy that endures!

Consider our daily job. Work can be an oppressive and boring burden, but not if we’re consciously working for the Lord: not working for ourselves, or other people, but for God.

Most of us have money. Money doesn’t last, yet by generous giving, we can put money to work for things that are going to endure, like supporting the cause of the gospel and advancing the kingdom of Christ.

There’s another eternal project you can be part of: building up the church by your gifts and service. Maybe you’re in office, maybe not, but you can be busy with Christ’s people.

Whenever we serve God—doing our daily task with the strength that we prayed for, and then doing it for God’s glory—we’re not doing something insignificant, but something great. Our works done in faith bring delight to Christ. This is why He will say to his servants on the last day, “Well done!” Their works certainly weren’t flawless, but they were done for him!

That’s a challenge then, that we devote ourselves and our labours and everything we do to the glory of Christ. May it be part of your thinking every day: “This is for the Lord. This is for the kingdom. This is for eternity.”

In this way we get a small taste of life everlasting. For to his hungering people God gives “the beginning of eternal joy” (Q&A 58). Think about that phrase. Already in this life, we get to experience things that are profoundly true and meaningful.

For instance, it’s the joy you experience when you’re singing psalms and hymns during public worship. It’s the joy of God’s comfort even in your sorrow and distress. It’s the joy of consciously using your skills to serve God: something you make with your hands, something you develop in your mind, something you manage to a good outcome—it’s for God, and it’s a joy.

We don’t have delight in such things all the time. Public worship isn’t always a joy, and neither is prayer, and sometimes we find work miserable, and church life difficult. It’s a beginning, we said. But it is something, because we start to realize that our life has a purpose that is everlasting. That’s a joy.

We find pointers to eternal joy also in the good gifts of God. It happens when you take grateful pleasure in food and drink, when you experience the delight of love, the satisfaction of hard work. It happens when you stand in awe at the sheer beauty of creation and music. You start to understand that these gifts have a source in God alone. These too are bright clues about the Creator—God, who once made everything perfect, and who will soon make all things new. His gifts too, point us toward eternity.

Cherish the good things and rich experiences of this life, knowing who they’re from. And that’s who we want to embrace, more than anything: the Lord, who is our God in Christ! As Paul wrote, “We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor 4:18). God desires that our greatest delight will be not in his gifts, but in himself.

Scripture says in 1 Corinthians 2:9, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him…” As we’ve said before, heavenly glory is beyond our understanding. “Everlasting” is too big for our small minds. “No eye has seen what God has prepared for those who love him…” Yet listen to what Paul says next: “But God has revealed it to us by his Spirit” (v 10). Through the Holy Spirit, God gives a glimpse.

In life’s joys and comforts, in life’s blessings and gifts, the Spirit grants us a peek at the coming eternity—they’re kind of like fuzzy snapshots of something much greater beyond. These things tell us we stand on the brink of glory, on the edge of something far more splendid than we can imagine. By faith, already now we taste and see that the Lord is good.

 

3) the fullness of eternity: If you’re putting an offer on a house, and you want to show you’re serious, you’ll make a down payment. It’s our pledge that we’ll give the rest. That’s what God has given us today, through his Spirit (see Eph 1:13-14). God has made an initial payment, a payment which stands as a 100% guarantee that the fullness is still coming. God has affirmed that outside everything you see right now, there awaits eternal glory.

Reading Ecclesiastes 3, we might wonder whether this is true. For the author seems to take a low view of what happens after death: “What happens to the sons of men also happens to animals; one thing befalls them: as one dies, so dies the other… All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust” (vv 19-20). Is there really no difference? Do we really have nothing to look forward to, after all?

And it’s true: death will come to all, humans and animals, rich and poor, great and small. All will return to the earth. Maybe you’ll die in a plane crash, maybe in a hospital bed, maybe at home or out on the highway. But we’ll all die. And the Spirit wants us to consider: What’s going to take place after your life is done? Where will your eternity be spent?

And that question about eternity is answered in Christ—it’s answered only in Christ! As the Catechism explains: It is to Christ that the souls of believers go immediately after death. It is by Christ that our bodies are raised at the last day. And it is like Christ that his believers will become, in glory and perfection.

Christ is the bridge, the one who restores the broken connection between man and God. Underneath, there’s a great and bottomless pit. Straight ahead, there’s the blessed destination. And the only bridge to glory, the one path to eternity, is the person and work of Christ. “This is eternal life, that they may know only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He sent.”

Some will not take that way. Those who don’t believe in Christ will also live forever—they won’t be living in peace but in torment. But to those who confess Jesus as Lord, God will grant the sweet fullness of eternity. He’ll give his believers a flawless delight in him, a perfect satisfaction without end. It’ll be like “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived” (Q&A 58). And finally we’ll do what God always wanted us to: we’ll live with him, enjoying “a blessedness in which to praise God forever.”

That’s the happy ending which God has promised. If you’re looking forward to that in faith, then you can be at peace, whatever your circumstance—you can be at rest, because you already know the end of the story.

Whatever else might happen in this life, your great enemy Satan will be defeated.

Whatever else might happen in this life, your mighty Saviour will return in glory.

Whatever troubles and joys are in your future, soon you will be blessed beyond measure.

However your body weakens and fails, one day it will be raised and perfected.

And most importantly, God will be glorified forever, as we are wholly satisfied in him.

When we finally come to the end of the story, we’ll see that there really is no end after all. But rather, there’s a life that is everlasting!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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