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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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 reubenbredenhof.com
 
Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Who Wants to Live Forever?
Text:LD 22 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The Second Coming
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-02-06
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 8:1,3,4                                                                                     

Ps 90:1  [after Apostles’ Creed] 

Reading – John 5:16-30; 2 Peter 3:10-18

Ps 130:1,2,3,4

Sermon – Lord’s Day 22

Hy 72:1,2,3,4,5

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, God has given an amazing mind to human beings. The brain, with its great capacity to think and imagine and remember, is clear evidence of God’s awesome creative powers. Yet the mind, for all its wonders, is also limited. There’s only so much we can understand, and solve, and explain.

For example, think for a moment of space. ‘The final frontier,’ that vast expanse of stars and planets and galaxies and solar systems—it seems almost endless. There’s a new space telescope, the James Webb, which is intended to replace the Hubble. It’s in an orbit about a million kilometres from earth, where it will look into the far reaches of space, and search for as yet undiscovered galaxies and planets. The sizes, colours, and shapes of these handiworks of God are truly awe-inspiring.

And the distance! Everything is measured in light years, of course, the distance that light will travel in a year. Light travels at about 300,000 kilometres per second; so in a year, light is going to go a long way. And some of these heavenly bodies are estimated to be anywhere from 8000 to a million light years away. Think how far that is…

Maybe we wonder how accurate all these measurements are, but it’s mind-boggling all the same! Such is the human brain: soon boggled. It can do a lot, even figure out how to put a high-powered telescope into space—yet the very things we discover remain mysterious.

When we turn from space to time, we again face our limitations. For we always think in terms of fixed amounts of time. Life is made up of hours and days and years, and generally not much more than eighty or ninety years for a lifetime. And then sometimes even the smallest moments are scary! Those five minutes at the piano recital, the hour in the dentist chair, those three nights away from home—thinking about time can overwhelm us.

All the more so, when we consider eternity. Time, not in chunks we can easily manage, but time without limit. What does that mean? What is “forever?” What would it be like, to have a beginning, but no end—ever? We can’t imagine or understand it. But that is what God created us for: life everlasting in his presence. So this is our confession in Lord’s Day 22,

I will live forever! This eternal life is:

  1. granted by the Son
  2. experienced through the Spirit
  3. promised by the Father

 

1) granted by the Son: What is the default destination of mankind? If the world ended tomorrow, or if you died tonight—and there was no switching of the tracks or re-routing of the flight—where would you be going?

They took a survey in America not that long ago, a survey about what happens when we die. It revealed that for every one person who thought he was going to hell when he died, more than a hundred thought they were bound for heaven! Probably our neighbours would think the same thing: ‘I’m a good person, so I’m going to heaven.’

We need to question if that’s a proper expectation. Should people be so optimistic? And before we fix our gaze on the glories of life eternal, we need to glance in the opposite direction. We should consider something much less pleasant: eternal death. Where has that concept of everlasting punishment come from?

In short, it has arisen on account of human sin, and out of the necessity of God’s justice. Compare it to our legal system today, which has recommended punishments for certain crimes. Theft under $5000 will get you one length of time in jail; assault causing bodily harm will get you a longer sentence; first degree murder is punished with the most severe penalty, life in prison. These recommended penalties are meant to keep things consistent, across the board.

God is the source of all justice, so we expect him to be consistent. And God is! He set a punishment for sin, and He maintains it across the board. The penalty is death. From the very beginning, that’s what it was. I don’t need to remind you about what God said to Adam and Eve concerning that one tree, “When you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen 2:17). And God meant that ‘dying’ in the most comprehensive way: total death, in body and soul—spiritual death, completely apart from the God of life.

Eternal death is God’s curse upon human sin. So if you’re a sinner, heaven is not your default destination, but hell is. That’s the penalty we face. For our sins against God are almost infinite in number—if we could understand how much that is! This is why the Psalmist prays: “If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O LORD, who could stand?” (130:3). It’s an endless record, so who indeed, could stand in God’s judgment? 

Yet from the depths of sadness, the Psalmist climbs out to sing of a better day: “But with you there is forgiveness…The LORD himself will redeem Israel from all their sins” (vv 4,8). The Lord will redeem people from the bottomless pit of his curse. And the gospel of Jesus Christ shows us how He can!

Jesus speaks about this in John 5, where He says, “The Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son” (v 22). And the task of judging sinners at the last day will be the job of the ascended Christ. Like it says in 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.”

This is our sure hope, to be judged by Christ. It doesn’t mean that the Son will be more lenient than the Father, that He’s a ‘softie’ while the Father is more harsh. Being judged by Christ means that everyone is judged by their response to the Saviour. Do we believe in Jesus? Have we put our trust fully in him, and rest ourselves in his precious blood?

If we do, there’s no fear in the final judgment. This is what Jesus says in John 5, “He who hears my word and believes him who sent me has everlasting life and shall not come into judgment; but has passed from death into life” (v 24). If we hear Christ’s Word, and we believe in him as Saviour, we are not condemned but we have eternal life.

It’s all because of what Christ endured in our place. Though innocent of sin, He became sin, and He suffered sin’s curse. Though He was the Light of the World, He was swallowed up by the deepest darkness. And there’s certainly more mystery surrounding what happened on the cross. If you had stood by the cross with a stopwatch, the whole thing would have taken most of an afternoon, but not much more. Yet for those three hours, time stood still. Because for those three hours, Jesus’s suffering was eternal in its force, hellish in its reality. God had cut him off.

It’s a terrible scene at the cross, but it means that things on this little blue planet have changed. We’re not stranded in time and floating in space. This life isn’t all there is. Death isn’t all there is. And we see the evidence of this already at Jesus’s crucifixion.

There were the two criminals beside him, receiving the earthly penalty for their sins. But the one knew enough to recognize Christ’s honour: “This man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:41). And not only that, he recognized his pressing need. He saw that in heaven’s judgment, there was no way he could ever stand on his own two feet. So he prayed, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (v 42). ‘Jesus, please speak up for me when you get there!’

Right then, Christ shows the truth of John 5. This criminal would die before the day was done, but his life was far from over. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus says, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (v 43). In the final hour, this sinner had crossed over from death to life.

As we said, that same hour of death is going to come for us all. It might be tomorrow, or next year, or it may not be for another fifty years. But it will come. And when it’s time for us to leave, those in Christ have an unshakable confidence: Our life in Christ will never end. Our bond with the Saviour will never be broken, not even by death. The Catechism puts it this way, “My soul after this life [will] immediately be taken up to Christ, my Head” (Q&A 57).

And that’s only just the beginning. For we’re not destined to be airy spirits, floating around on the clouds like so many phantoms. In the beginning, God gave us a body, fearfully and wonderfully made. Which is how God wants us to live forever! So the Bible looks beyond the grave to the full restoration of body and soul. And this is why Christ says, “The hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear [my] voice and come forth” (John 5:28).

That gives us a great hope. We long for Jesus to come back—we’d love for him to return during our lifetimes, to return soon! But even if we die before his return, we know it’s certain: “This my flesh, raised by the power of Christ, shall be reunited with my soul” (Q&A 57). Our Saviour will not forget us buried in the ground, returned to dust, lost to all human memory. For He wants us to experience his glory with all that we are: in spirit, mind, and body. And for this great salvation, there’s only way of access. Do you believe in what Christ has done? Do you look to him with a faith that is living?

 

2) experienced through the Spirit: I recently got an email saying that a wealthy widow in Nigeria had left me twenty million dollars in her will. I was skeptical, of course. And whenever something sounds too good to be true, we are dubious. We know not to get our hopes up. For we’re used to being disappointed. Yet when God speaks and promises great things, we know He’ll follow through. He always does! So we are absolutely certain of his promise of eternal life.

One of the reasons we’re certain is through our taste of eternal things already today. That’s right, eternity is something for now. Eternal life isn’t like a piece of jewelry that stays behind glass at the shopping centre, that ring or necklace you can’t touch until you can make a full payment. For the payment has already been made by Christ.

The Catechism puts it this way, “Since I now already feel in my heart the beginning of eternal joy…” (Q&A 58). Today we have a beginning. It’s a treasure that’s already ours. We get to ‘try it on for size’ before we enjoy it in fullness later on.

Now, whenever we think about eternal life, what Scripture says in 1 Corinthians 2:9 is important, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” The fact is, with our cognitive weaknesses, and our spiritual deficiencies, and even our physical limitations, heavenly glory is beyond us—it’s like those vast stretches of space that no one has seen the end of. ‘Everlasting’ is just too big for our small minds. “No eye has seen, nor mind conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him…”

So sometimes that’s where people stop all our discussions of heaven. ‘Can’t see it, can’t imagine it, can’t fathom it—it’s in the realm of mystery.’ But in 1 Corinthians 2, listen to what Paul says next: “But God has revealed it to us by his Spirit” (v 10). Through the Holy Spirit, God has disclosed something of what’s in store, given us a glimpse. And this encourages us.

In a way, you could say that the Spirit is just like that powerful telescope up in space. But instead of peering into deep places of the universe, the Spirit peers into the far reaches of eternity. Here on earth, He lets us have a real sense of the coming eternity.

For already in this life, we get to experience things that are profoundly true and meaningful. For instance, there is the joy you experience when you’re singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to the LORD during worship—isn’t that a taste of heaven? There is also the joy of God’s comfort in your sorrow and distress, knowing that God really is near. There is the joy of using your skills and talent faithfully: something you make with your hands, or develop in your mind—these things are for God, and they’re a true 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. It’s a beginning, we said. But it is something, because we start to realize that God has given our life an everlasting purpose. There’s a point to life, and a destination.

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

Cherish this life’s good things and rich experiences, knowing who they’re from. And that’s who we want to embrace, even more than anything material or earthly: 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.

And then there is the joy of serving him. 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 be teaching your children about the eternal ways of God. Every day you can be setting an example of godliness that shapes them. That’s a legacy that endures!

Or think about what you do with your money. Money doesn’t last—it’s one of those things that quickly fades and perishes. Yet by our generous giving, we can put money to work for a kingdom that endures—for God’s kingdom.

There’s another eternal project that you can be part of already today, and that’s the church. You can build up Christ’s body by your gifts. You can help a struggling believer. You can invite someone to learn more. Whenever we come close enough to a person to pray with them, to open Scripture with them, to speak words of grace to them, we are involved in things that are eternal.

Whenever we do our daily task with God’s strength, and 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!” His servants’ works weren’t flawless, but they were done for him!

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

In the joys and gifts of the present time, the Spirit grants us a peek at the coming eternity. It’s like a tantalizing trailer for an upcoming movie, like the faint vibrations of an approaching train. By the Spirit and his Word, we know that we stand on the edge of something more splendid than we can ever imagine. By faith, already now we taste and see that the Lord is good.

 

3) promised by the Father: Have you ever been to a fortune teller? Or read your horoscope, expecting it to direct your daily path? Probably you haven’t. But maybe you can understand the attraction, that people seek out some knowledge of what’s to come. Because the future can be terrifying! Who knows what will happen?

But we rest in the promise of the Father. For the future, God has a plan. God has a goal. When Peter speaks about this in his second letter, he calls it “the day of the Lord” (3:10). It’s the great day of God’s intervention.

Since the beginning, the Father has been making preparations for when times have reached their fullness and the appointed time for judgment arrives. As we said, Christ will judge all who ever lived. And those in Christ will go on to eternal life. We confess with the Catechism, “I shall after this life possess perfect blessedness, such as no eye has seen, or ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived—a blessedness in which to praise God forever” (Q&A 58).

There’s that idea again: eternal life is something we can’t imagine. The apostle John puts it this way: “Now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known” (1 John 3:2). Already now we belong to the Father and we enjoy his gracious care. Yet He’s got even more prepared for us, his children in Christ.

Compare it to an earthly father, who makes a good promise to his child. Dad might promise a special gift, or a fishing trip on Saturday. And because the child trusts his father, because the child hasn’t been let down too often, he believes the promise, he counts on it. The child looks forward to it with excitement, even counts down the sleeps until the day arrives!

In that child-like spirit, we can face our future. For we know what God can do. We know Father has never broken his Word. We face eternity with excitement. “What we will be has not yet been made known.” But God’s promise is sure! So we keep looking to that time when faith will turn to sight, and we’ll see our Saviour as He is, and we’ll shall be like him.

In the meantime, make yourselves ready for his return. This is what Peter says of Christ’s coming, “Since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him” (2 Pet 3:14). Get ready, because He’s on his way!

Beloved, there’s a real urgency in that command. ‘Make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace.’ Don’t leave any business unfinished before that day. Maybe there’s something in our family that we ought to resolve and should resolve soon: there is a conversation you need to have, an apology you need to make, wrong that should be put right. Maybe there’s a sin we should repent from—then we should do it, today. Don’t excuse it anymore. Don’t wait for your mood to be just right. Because tomorrow may be too late. Any day, every day, we ought to be ready: ready to be found at peace with God.

And if you’re looking forward to his return, be encouraged. Wait eagerly for that day! For now we know in part, then we shall know fully. Now we see but a poor reflection, as in a mirror dimly—but then we shall see face to face! We’ll see our Saviour forever. We’ll praise him forever. It will be a blessedness that never gets old, a blessedness that never fades, a blessedness that endures forever!  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 2022, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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