Making the Most of This Life

One criticism that gets launched at Christianity is that Christianity moves your focus to life after death and neglects this life. While individuals may do this, true disciples of Jesus know this is certainly not true. This relatively short period of our existence, that we give the misnomer “life”, is important for its own unique purpose; and you would do well to understand what it is all about. It is having eternal life as a promise from God that makes effort in this life meaningful. Without it we are just chasing the wind.

The most important thing to realize is that our purpose in life is not trying to earn a place in Heaven and the New Earth. All our efforts will be so feeble in comparison to the glory God wants to give us that trying to merit eternal life is a fool’s errand. Eternal life has to be a gift and Jesus is the giver. Once you are connected to Jesus then what? God doesn’t move Christians immediately to Heaven because there is work to do. Jesus wants to work primarily through us. Maximizing this relationship is making the most of our lives.

You could pick a different purpose for life. You could see life as a time to amass wealth or power. You could make your goal travel. You could even seek to make a scientific or technological breakthrough. These things will end up as meaningless. Solomon found that out. (Ecclesiastes) Don’t worry about what people will think of you when you are gone or if they even remember your name. Care about God’s evaluation. There are things that God does care about. If you work with God and do things His way, not only will your accomplishments leave a big positive impact on other people, they will be honored with some type of eternal reward by God. Again, it is important to stress that entry into eternal life is the work of Jesus and a gift to you; responding to that gift with a fruitful life pleases God and adds to your future existence in some way.

So, what matters to God? God wants to save people from a necessary eternal damnation and bring them to eternal life. He does this by the power of the Holy Spirit working through story of Jesus and its associated promise of forgiveness and eternal life (the Gospel). First on the list of what we can do is to disseminate information about Jesus. Only God can make a believer, but we are part of the process via words and example. Everybody can do this.

Next, God wants more than people who believe Him. He wants disciples. He wants people who will learn and multiply the process. You can maximize your life by teaching your children, teaching others, and by financially and prayerfully backing others who do so. These two things are the main thrust of what cares about but not all.

God also wants kindness and care for others to flow from His people. Visit and care for the sick. Feed the hungry. Encourage the imprisoned. Help them to reintegrate into society. Fight injustice. Propagate the truth. Provide whatever kind of care that love requires. There are millions of opportunities to do these things.

God also includes us in spiritual warfare. Satan and his associates are real and present. They influence the minds of sinful people. Counteract their actions when you see it. Pray against the power of the evil one.

God also cares about our “normal” vocations in life. You have a job? Do it as one who is working for God. As long as the job is not illicit, it can be done for God’s glory.

Being a spouse or a parent or grandparent can also be done in a godly way that benefits your own family. God cares about this.

Got neighbors? Be neighborly. Help them. Get to know them. Pray for them.

We are also stewards. God considers us to be managers of assets that He puts in our care. This includes our body, our time, money, abilities, the planet, knowledge, relationships and more. Take care of them well. Use these things in a way that honors God.

Your ongoing relationship with God matters too. Communicate through prayer as with a friend. Worship God in sincerity (spirit) and accurately (truth). God seeks this type of interaction.

When you have eternal life through Jesus, your life is heaped with purpose. You will have purpose in eternity as well, but work in this fallen world is unique. All of these things are important to God but it is also important how you do them.

10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

Luke 17:10 (ESV)

You can’t do these things with a sense of entitlement. We are saved by grace, so we are not entitled. Humble service gains undeserved rewards. While there are many motives for doing these things, the best is love. Don’t work for reward. Work because you love God and God’s love is in you.

I hope that you can see that our lives can be meaningful to the last moment. Through transition of purpose, suffering, illness, even dementia.

Being mindful of our God-given purpose and pursuing it is living wisely. Maximize your life.

Wrestling with Isaiah 65

The information that we have about God creating a New Earth after Judgment Day is found in a few, large sections: Revelation 21 and 22, a bit in 2 Peter 3, and a rather confusing section of Isaiah 65, and a bit at the end of Isaiah 66. The teaching of a bodily resurrection is found in a couple of places in the Old Testament and is clearly understood by the Jewish people at the time of Jesus. After the death of Lazarus, Jesus tells Mary that her brother will live. She responds, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” They had no expectation of going to Heaven at this point. They knew about the resurrection; but what kind of understanding did they have about life after the resurrection? Isaiah 65 gives a description, but how is it to be understood in light of what further revelation would reveal?

Isaiah 65:17-25 is our particular focus. It starts this way:

“For behold, I create new heavens
    and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
    or come into mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
    in that which I create;
for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy,
    and her people to be a gladness.

Isaiah 65:17-18 (ESV)

This clearly states what the section is about. It is about the New Heavens and New Earth. That is a part of God’s creation after Judgment Day. Revelation establishes that. The description that follows is confusing because it doesn’t seem to correlate with other passages about eternal life.

I will rejoice in Jerusalem
    and be glad in my people;
no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping
    and the cry of distress.
20 No more shall there be in it
    an infant who lives but a few days,
    or an old man who does not fill out his days,
for the young man shall die a hundred years old,
    and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed.

Isaiah 65:19-20 (ESV)

At the time of Isaiah, people were lucky to reach their mid-fifties. Child mortality was likely sky high. The rest of the Bible speaks, however, about eternal life, not long life. This description leads some to interpret this verse as referring to a 1000-year, pre-Judgment Day period known as the Milennium. That does not jive with verse 17, however.

Critics of the Bible will say this disparity reflects that fact that people are making this up as they go. Future generations sweetened the pot by making it eternal. Neither really knows anything about life after death, if it exists.

It is a bad assumption to expect that God rolled out knowledge about everything all at once. While I am sure that God’s plans were known in detail before the creation of the world, the information He gave humans was in a “as you need to know” fashion. There may even have been elements of God’s plan that were contingent. God, being all-knowing, understood the outcome, but the results still were dependent on something happening successfully in time.

Isaiah’s revelation comes at a time where Jesus has yet to make atonement for sin. Theoretically, He could fail. God knows, however, that He won’t. Still, the Old Testament righteous must wait in Sheol for Jesus to complete atonement. The plan to include humanity in Heaven must wait for Jesus to complete atonement. And the full, glorious details of our post-Judgment Day life must wait for the same.

Isaiah 65 is a taste. It is a bit of a teaser. But it gives hope to those whose lives are pretty grim. So, what can we learn from it?

First of all, the people will be a joy. Today, people are not always a joy. In fact, some places have earned a reputation for being exactly, the opposite. But with sinful nature and the curse gone. People in the New Earth, including hopefully you, will be the opposite. It will be a pleasure to hang out with each other.

Death will not be an issue. No death in childbirth. At 100 years old we would be considered like a youth. This statement is hypothetical and stated only to make a point. Now it is possible, that we might go through cycle of aging in our resurrection bodies–moving from child to maturity and back. We will have to wait for the answer to that. But death won’t happen, because no one will be “accursed”.

They shall build houses and inhabit them;
    they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They shall not build and another inhabit;
    they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
    and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They shall not labor in vain
    or bear children for calamity,
for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord,
    and their descendants with them.

Isaiah 65:21-23

We will work, and we will eat, and things will not be frustrating or work against us like now. No pests or disease in your plants. No five trips to Home Depot because your project is not working. No raiding bands taking your stuff. These were all very relatable to the people of Isaiah’s time and mostly they still are to us.

Before they call I will answer;
    while they are yet speaking I will hear.

Isaiah 65:24

Our interaction with God will be immediate, unmistakable and wonderfully personal. This is the biggest deal of them all. Even true prayer-warriors hunger for a more tangible interaction with God. This will be accessible no matter where we are.

The wolf and the lamb shall graze together;
    the lion shall eat straw like the ox,
    and dust shall be the serpent’s food.
They shall not hurt or destroy
    in all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord

Isaiah 65:25

Some people want to make this into a metaphor. They struggle to believe that nature gets to be a part of eternity. This is no metaphor. Animals of all sorts will be a part of the New Earth and they will be like the fauna of the Garden of Eden. They will be at peace. It will be like a giant petting zoo.

Will it include your animal? You may miss a beloved pet. All I can say is that it might. The argument that animals have no soul because they were not created in the image of God would have an impact on their not being in Heaven. The text doesn’t say if these are resurrected animals or new creations, but they are certainly new in their behaviors. Sin impacted creation, not just people. Jesus reconciled all things, not just people.

Isaiah 65 gives us a few details to contemplate. They are exciting details. Don’t let the odd presentation put you off.

Family In Eternity

I have heard it many times. A person is dying but they are ready. Why? Because they want to see their spouse, child, mother or father. They are eager to see lost family. This is understandable. Our family are usually the people we are closest to and love the most during life. What do we know about the transition to eternal life and family?

One bit of information comes in Matthew 22. The Sadducees are trying to prove logically that the resurrection does not literally exist. They present a scenario where a woman loses her husband without having children. In Jewish law, the brother is to marry the woman and have children. The law served as a social, safety net as there was no government support for widows. In this scenario, the woman survives the death of seven brothers. Surely, the Sadducees argue, the resurrection would create massive family issues as people marry and re-marry during life.

Jesus answers their argument this way:

At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in Heaven.

Matthew 22:30 (ESV)

Some people seize on the wording to say that Jesus is only saying that there won’t be weddings in Heaven. But that loses the context. He is saying that marriages created in this life are only for this life. Other passages support that marriage is a contract that ends with death. That may make you sad or give you relief. No matter how you feel about it, it is a stated fact. That doesn’t mean you won’t know and love the people you know and love now.

We are left to imagine what Jesus means by “they will be like the angels in Heaven”. The implication is that the angels have a very different arrangement than what we have now. Jesus is also talking about “at the resurrection”, so this is post-Judgment Day information and may or may not apply to the period between your death and Judgment Day when you will be exclusively in Heaven.

Some worry that we won’t even recognize each other or remember our former relationships. Here I present you a mixed bag of evidence. The first is Jesus’ resurrected bodily appearances. Sometimes He is not recognizable. Other times He is readily recognizable. Again, this is a resurrected body (so post-JD for us). He is also the Son of God, so this may not even apply to us. Another weird piece of information comes from the story of the Witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28). In this story, Saul utilizes a woman, who knows occultic arts, to raise the Prophet Samuel from Sheol. It works, and Samuel is readily recognizable (and angry).

Near Death Experiences (NDE), for what they are worth, do include at times family who recognize each other and recognize their relationship.

I expect that not only will we recognize our families, but that we will know everyone else as well. Peter, James and John recognized Moses and Elijah without introduction, to our knowledge. I also expect that there will be closeness and relationship that rivals the best family relationships with everyone else. Because of this, the significance of family will fade without the blessing of those who are our family being lessened.

What about family who rejects Jesus? Jesus is not optional when it comes to receiving eternal life. I expect that we can have our losses. 1 Corinthians 7:14 says:

For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

1 Corinthians 7:14 (ESV)

While I would like to believe that this passage says that we are saved in groups, I don’t believe it says that. It only indicates that our unbelieving family have a special priority and source of the Gospel because of us. Jesus indicates that in many cases a person’s enemies because of the Gospel will come from within their family. This is often seen in conversions from other world religions.

So, would not Heaven be diminished if not ruined by a family member who has rejected salvation? We certainly grieve them while on Earth. It would not surprise me if we would briefly grieve them in Heaven. But I expect that loss and even the memory of it to fade in the midst of the glory and love that will envelope us in Heaven.

Will our grief not be re-opened on Judgment Day? Perhaps, but we have this brief description of being in the New Earth:

The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.

Isaiah 65:17b (ESV)

I cannot guarantee that everyone in my family will be saved. In fact, I would bet against some who have passed. I would love to be surprised on this matter. All I can do is to be sure to share the Gospel while I can. I don’t want to feel like I left critical matters of salvation unspoken. The rest is in God’s hands.

Jesus’ Resurrected Body

One of the promises the Bible makes to those whom God has saved is that we will one day receive a resurrected body. A resurrected body is not necessarily the same as a body that has been raised from the dead. Some of the people raised from the dead in the Bible account (Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, etc.) were merely repaired and revivified. Their bodies still would wear out. They would die again.

“Resurrected” is a nearly complete remake. There will be some retention of what makes us unique persons. Other than that, we are remade to be without sinful nature and many other genetic defects that have arisen along the way. Paul gives a description of a resurrected body:

42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is 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. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

1 Corinthians 15:42-44

Breaking this down, what can we learn? First, it is imperishable. Can a body of flesh and bone be imperishable? It is not too hard to imagine that our genetics could be modified to create systems that would not wear down and cell reproduction that could go on indefinitely. The people who lived before Noah’s flood apparently had genetics that allowed them to live nearly a millennia. God actually modified them down. We could also be given systems that would make us disease free. What about injury? The resurrected body might be self-repairing.

“It is sown in dishonor”, is likely a reference to sinful nature. The genetics that give us a proclivity to sin and resist God will be gone.

“It is raised in power.” This is an exciting description that would suggest higher limitations and new abilities for our resurrected body. How much fun would it be to run faster and farther, to jump and climb, lift and maybe even new stuff like teleport or use telepathy for communication. What will it do for our intellect? As many of us experience the decline of our physical and mental self, due to aging or disease, it is exciting to think or the 2.0 version of ourself that is coming.

“It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” This always baffled me. Now I think it means this. A natural body is one limited to this time-space dimension. A spiritual body is one that can be either here or in the time-space of Heaven or Hell. Paul doesn’t explain, but other places speak of or hint at a Heavenly body (1 Corinthians 15:40, 2 Corinthians 5:1).

The only example of a resurrected body is that of Jesus after His resurrection. Jesus is described as the “first-born of the dead”. This basically means that He is the first to be resurrected with more to come. What can we say of Jesus’ resurrected body? He eats. He is recognizable when He wants to be, and not recognizable when He doesn’t. He moves differently. He doesn’t have to use the door. He still retains the marks of His crucifixion as a badge of honor. That is about it. Do any of these things reflect Him as the Son of God versus a resurrected human? Maybe. Maybe not.

My interest in Jesus’ resurrected body is primarily out of curiosity about what God has planned for me. We have only a little information, but what we do know and the possibilities that flow from that information are exciting. If you are part of a church that says the Apostles’ or Nicene Creeds, I hope that you will think about these things when you say, “I believe in the resurrection of the body” or ” I look for the resurrection of dead and the life of the world to come.”

Scattered to the Wind

I very common way of disposing of somebody’s earthly remains is to have them cremated and then to dump their ashes in a place that had some significance to them while they were living. Maybe it was a trail on a mountain or at the seashore or just scattered to the wind.

This raises a practical question for one of the things revealed by the Bible–the resurrection of the body. If our remains are scattered or even if they are not, the molecules that made up that body end up as part of the soil and very likely a part of another living being, maybe even another person. Right now, your body could have in it carbon that was a part of an animal, a bug, or possibly several other people. At the resurrection of the dead do we fight for our original molecules?

This is part of a bigger question. What constitutes me? We are not just temporary chemistry with the illusion of having a consciousness. That idea, advanced by hardcore evolutionists, does not match the evidence at all. It feels more like the opposite. That I am a soul that is merely borrowing a body. That idea is common in Eastern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.) The Bible argues that we are a soul and an earthly body, and I would argue, even a heavenly body.

What is resurrected on Judgment Day, and how can it be me? Throughout our lives we are exchanging atoms with the environment around us. We should not assume personal possession down to the atomic level. What truly distinguishes our physical, earthly self is our DNA. Even our DNA is a flawed blueprint of our earthly being as it contains mutations passed on to us from our original distortion in the Garden of Eden, all our ancestors, and some we have suffered in our lifetime. We are truly not evolving but devolving.

That is why I am skeptical that our resurrection will involve our disposed of remains much or at all. The resurrected body will be raised perfected and indestructible. I expect it will retain many unique qualities that will reflect who we are, but none of the acquired weaknesses and flaws. God retains the design of what we are physically. As Adam was made from the earth, so will we be raised from it. Not necessarily, from the earth of our old bodies, or even in the location. For this reason, choosing a burial place is more a consideration for the living than the dead.

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is 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. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

1 Corinthians 15:42-44

Assuming that our dead body forms a literal starting point for the resurrected body may be true or may be pushing the biblical analogy of a seed too far. Either way God has the matter in control regardless of where our dead remains end up.

Is It Acceptable to be Cremated?

Cremation has become a very popular choice for dealing with our earthly remains. There are a variety of reasons why people choose cremation: cost, use of space, even environmental reasons. In the past, pastors spoke against cremation. Why? Is it a biblically acceptable choice?

The first thing to consider is the Bible’s teaching about the resurrection of our bodies. At Judgment Day all people, both saved and not, are to be raised in a physically imperishable form. (For one of many articles on this topic see the following) https://wordpress.com/post/afterdeathsite.com/825 This will be good news for those who have a part in God’s New Heaven and New Earth. It will not be so great for those who will be forsaken by God. (Use the search bar for more on all of these topics)

In the past, it was common for people to be cremated either in an attempt to stop their own resurrection or to make a statement that they didn’t believe in a resurrection. In such a context, cremation was unacceptable. That is typically not the motive today.

Another objection sometimes raised against cremation is that the Jews buried their dead and pagans burned their dead. In the case of paganism and Eastern religions, cremation did have a theological significance. These religions saw the body as something evil. Our goal was to be free of the body. Burning the body liberated the soul. Conversely, burying the body had a theological foundation that acknowledged that our body, even after death, was a part of us. We are not a soul renting a body. We are body and soul.

That said, there is no laws against cremation in the Bible. Having examples like that stated above do not create unwritten rules. God has no problem resurrecting a person regardless of how their body was disposed. It is not a given that He will use the very same molecules. You will get a body that is uniquely you that is appropriate for the New Earth or Gehenna.

Cremation sometimes can have a positive or negative psychological effect on a person before they die. Some are distressed by the thought of their bodies burning. Others are distressed at their bodies decaying or being eaten. Both are unnecessary concerns, because you will be unconnected and unaware at the time.

Scattering of ashes in a favorite place is a common practice. This too finds its origin in the idea being freed from the body. It is not the greatest witness but few think of the theological origins of such a practice.

There is nothing wrong with saving money. Nor is there anything wrong with being mindful of space or ecology. I would conclude that there is nothing wrong with cremation if that is your preference and not distressing for your relatives.

God is able to take you to the next step no matter what you do. He can even resurrect ashes flung to the wind.

Does Purgatory Exist?

The idea of Purgatory is something that most people associate with the Roman Catholic Church. It might surprise you that there are people outside of Catholicism that support the idea. The concept of Purgatory comes in two flavors: a purgatory where you work off your sins and a purgatory where you are purified to reach your final perfected state. From where do these ideas come? Let’s start with the first one.

The idea that you have to do something additional to what Jesus did for you on the cross is a particularly dangerous idea. It changes the way we are saved from being grace (a gift) to being something you at least partially do yourself. In the book of Galatians, the people of the Galatian church became convinced that they had to obey the law of circumcision in addition to their connection to Jesus’ death. This seemingly small error modifies grace and elevates human action to what Jesus did for us. Paul reacts strongly:

 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

Galatians 5:2-4

There is no such thing as hybrid grace. Believing that you add to Jesus in any way nullifies the promise of forgiveness through Christ. This would be likely true for anything–including Purgatory.

Such a doctrine is easily believed because people doubt the Gospel. It seems too good to be true. It also puts all sinners on the same level, which surprises and offends some people. Belief in a purgatory that earns you salvation is clearly the product of someone who is not connected to Christ and could be the cause of someone falling away from grace.

How about the other type? The doctrine of purgatory does not get formulated within the Catholic Church until the 11th century. That seems like a long time ago, but it was already a millennium into the history of the Church. The idea of being purged of sin by some process or place existed long before this in Greek religion. An attraction to Greek thinking and a misunderstanding of a couple passages in Scripture could easily produce this thinking.

One passage that could be misconstrued is what I call the “Three Little Pigs” passage after the children’s story:

 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

1 Corinthians 3:10-15 (ESV)

The purifying Purgatory is seen as a place where fire purifies you of your evil over time. This passage has fire but it is evaluating your deeds in life for the purpose of reward. This happens rapidly at Judgment Day. Verses 10 and 15 show that a person is still saved by grace. This is not a reference to a purgatory.

Another passage that could be misconstrued is Mark 9:47-49:

And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ 49 For everyone will be salted with fire.

Mark 9:47-49 (ESV)

The word translated properly as “Hell” (though it should be capitalized as a proper noun) is the word “Gehenna” which Jesus uses to describe the final post-Judgment Day place of punishment. It is a place of fire. Verse 49 is referring to the passage and process we just read about in 1 Corinthians 3. Again, it is a Judgment Day experience and not a purgatory. This is also what John the Baptist is referring to in Matthew 3:11, “(Jesus) will baptize you with fire.”

The final place of confusion is the nature of Sheol (Hebrew)/Hades (Greek). In the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, we get a peek inside Sheol:

2The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 

Luke 16:22-24 (ESV)

Hades/Sheol is also a place of fire. No one is being purified or saved by it. In fact, the rich man is being punished. It is a place of waiting. Lazarus (not to be confused with the Lazarus Jesus raised from the dead) and all of the Old Testament period righteous are waiting for Jesus to accomplish the atonement for their sins. The rich man and all who are damned are awaiting Judgment Day.

The Bible may hold out some vague hope that the Gospel can reach and save those who are damned and in Sheol.

For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.

1 Peter 4:6 (ESV)

This passage stands alone in Scripture. It is in the context of Jesus’ “descent into hell” (For more on this topic, Sheol, or other after death topics; use the search box in the right column to find other articles.) Do the fires of Sheol somehow purge a person so that they can receive the Gospel posthumously? There is not enough information to conclusively know this. The one passage often cited against this, Hebrews 9:27, really is misapplied in this case. These passages do not support Purgatory as a place.

While there is plenty of fire fulfilling various purposes in Bible, there is no Purgatory.

The Mystery of Faith

It is an encouraging and exciting thing to know something about what God promises can be our life beyond the grave. It is also an easy thing to assume that everybody will get to enjoy it. Thinking that someone could be banished from God and spend endless years in hopelessness and agony is too much for many to even consider. We don’t want to believe this, so we just won’t. Still, Jesus said this:

13 Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Matthew 7:13-14

It is the worst news in the Bible. I would love to ignore it, but I can’t.

If you only knew this one passage you would think that getting into Heaven was by some difficult form of self-effort. It isn’t. Oddly, the way that people are forgiven of their sins and given a place with God is a gift. To top it off, it is God’s desire to give this gift to all. The whole process of making this gift ours is a mixture of easy to impossible.

Life with God is so valuable that to earn it one must be completely sinless (impossible). Since no human is, God created a plan where the Son of God would become a human and be sinless for us. (Easy for us) He would also fulfill a legal requirement that sins be punished by “eternal death”–being forsaken by God (Easy for us, miserable for Jesus). Jesus’ voluntary, sacrificial death is sufficient to cover any sin by anybody. But it doesn’t.

The last step in the necessary process is that God connects a person to Jesus in some mysterious way. The Bible states (1 Corinthians 2:14) people in their natural state (messed up by our sinful nature) cannot create or accept this connection. The Holy Spirit has to be able to create this connection for us. On the surface, creating this connection looks like an intellectual process. You tell a person about their sinful condition, share what Jesus did and why, proclaim to them God’s promise of forgiveness, and baptize them in the name of Jesus. They in turn believe it and are saved. While our intellect is engaged in the process, in the end believing isn’t a choice we make. It is the Holy Spirit doing something.

This is the mysterious part. What exactly does the Holy Spirit do? Why doesn’t this work for everyone? Why can’t the Holy Spirit create this connection all the time? Is it that people hold intellectual objections to this narrative? Might it be something else like genetics or brain structure? It is not for a lack of love on God’s part.

Whatever the barrier is, it can break at a time that you would never expect. Super-intellectuals, who were committed atheists, have come to faith and even they can’t really explain it. Hardened criminals have been moved to repentance and saved. People committed to other world religions have had dreams of Jesus, or miraculous healings, or just heard the Gospel and become believers. And yet others, who seem to be on the brink, just can’t believe.

For instance, Thomas Nagel, a renown professor of philosophy from New York University, in his book Mind and Cosmos, argues convincingly against the materialist, Neo-Darwinian worldview. He even states that he wished he could believe the Christian worldview of friends, but in the end, he can’t do it. It is a mystery why not. The fact that people do come to faith unexpectedly is both hopeful and aggravating. As somebody who wants others to have eternal life, you don’t always know what to do or expect.

If you are an unbeliever and somehow are reading this article, I would tell you that there is a lot at stake for you. You can’t change who you are. I can’t force you to believe in Jesus. But I would challenge you to read Jesus’ story in one of the four Gospels in the Bible (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John). It doesn’t take that long. It’s a worthwhile exercise even for cultural awareness. I would further challenge you to think about why you don’t believe this story and why you do believe whatever you do believe about this universe, life and death. It is my hope that God himself would work in this process and surprise us both in the best way possible.

You’re Invited to a Wedding Feast

As a pastor I would estimate that I have done around 200 weddings in my career. Here is a bit of a confession. I don’t usually enjoy weddings that much. I’m not much of a dancer, I shouldn’t drink to excess, the food is usually OK no better, and the room is often loud, so conversation is hard. That said, maybe a wedding feast isn’t the best metaphor for conveying the joy that awaits me in Heaven and the New Earth. Probably a Packer football game would be a better metaphor for me, except this week.

For many people in many cultures, however, weddings are a blast. Probably the most anticipated social event of the year. For this reason, Jesus uses a wedding feast to convey not only the joy to be expected but several other aspects. Let’s take a look at them.

We will start with Jesus’ first miracle at Cana (John 2). While this is not obviously a statement about eternal life, the significance of Jesus making this His first public miracle suggests that it is more than a miraculous favor for the wedding hosts. Jesus creates the “best of wines” and in an overflowing abundance (120-180 gallons). The message? God is preparing the best for last for His people. It will not only be quality, it will be quantity.

In Matthew 22, Jesus tells a parable about a wedding banquet. Again, the banquet is unmistakably speaking about eternal life with God and a wedding is used as a metaphor to convey the party nature of eternal life. The point of the parable is different, however. In this case, it is about the snubbing that the initial set of guests give to the invitation. This is about the Jewish rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. The invitation then goes to everybody else:

Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 10 And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

Matthew 22:8-10

Notice that the invitation is to both “good” and “bad”. It speaks of the time of evangelization in which we are currently living. Behavior or character is not a pre-condition. Obviously, many non-Jews reject the Gospel as well, but the end result is still a “wedding hall filled with guests.” Jesus’ death and God’s promise could save so many more than will be saved. People foolishly reject it as fiction or choose other priorities.

A problem exists with one guest:

11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Matthew 22:11-13

The wedding garment is representative of the righteousness that Jesus provides for us. We don’t do anything ourselves. It is a gift, but absolutely necessary. Though invited, this guest also rejects the Gospel and consequently finds himself in Hell which is described as “outer darkness..(where) there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

This is wedding that you don’t want to miss, and don’t have to. The invitation is extended to you. The necessary righteousness is given to you. Why would people reject it and face the only alternative? You tell me.

The other wedding metaphor used to describe eternal life is in Matthew 25:1-13. Here a common wedding week game is used to teach. In Jesus’ culture the bridegroom would go away and build a room for he and his wife at his parents’ home. Then he would sneak back to the bride’s town where the wedding was held. The game was that the bridesmaids had to catch him returning. In this parable the bridegroom comes at night, and lamps that represent a person’s faith in Jesus as their Savior have to remain lit. The problem is that the bridegroom and Jesus’ return is a long time in coming. Some of the lamps run out of oil just as some people’s faith, when unfed, dies out.

When the festivities kick off the following happens:

10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’

Matthew 25:10-12

The promise of eternal life through Jesus is out there now. It has to create faith in a person now. It is too late after you die or when Jesus is visibly returning. It is a disaster to be shut out.

These comparisons of eternal life with God to a wedding feast are definitely double-edged. First, it will be great to be a part of it–a party, a joy. The invitation is extended. The requirements for entrance covered by God. But the other edge is a warning of disaster. To reject it or to be shut out due to neglect is the worst thing that can happen to a person. May it not happen to you.

Does Eternal Life Get Monotonous?

They call Disney World “the happiest place on Earth”, but do you know what, after a while I have had enough of it. I enjoy Disney World, but I couldn’t go there every day. I don’t care to go there every vacation. Comedian Jim Gaffigan put it this way: “Do you know what my favorite ride at Disney World was? The ride back to the airport.”

My point is not to bash Disney World. It is to ask a question. Doesn’t even the best place get monotonous? If so, won’t Heaven and the New Earth become monotonous as well? Do I really want eternal life?

There are many ways to address this question. I would like to start with the idea of boredom. We experience boredom because we are damaged creatures. Sinful nature has left us diminished. Our attention wanes, our energy drops and we get bored. Some of us more easily than others. With a Heavenly body and/or a resurrected body the modifications that sin made to us will no longer exist. I expect that it will be fundamentally impossible to be bored. That is hard to imagine. Which points to another problem in understanding eternal life– our limited imagination.

Many people who ask our theme question imagine Heaven to be one unending worship service, and they get bored in worship services. First, if one truly understands what they are doing, is engaged in interaction with God, and understands why God deserves their praise; then even worship services here are not boring. If you fail to have these three things, of course worship is boring. Surgery is boring for me, because I don’t know how to do it. A surgeon, on the other hand, is engaged–at least I hope so.

Heaven will no doubt have periods of group worship. They will be what we look forward to the most. God will be seen in all His glory and beauty. We will praise with heightened senses and abilities. It will be a transcendent experience, but it will not be the only experience.

New experiences, new people and endless new places will fill our lives in a very positive way. The details are limited in the Bible, but what words could you use? God is the creator of all good things, and His creativity is unlimited.

Another thing that cripples our understanding is how we find entertainment and exhilaration now. Much of it tied to what stimulates the brain that our sinful nature has created. We enjoy things more because they are forbidden. For many, fun is not possible without being altered by alcohol or drugs. Don’t expect that to be necessary in Heaven.

Jesus subtly conveys the fun aspect of Heaven and the New Earth by relating to how we use alcohol now. In His first miracle, at the wedding in Cana, He changes water into wine. First, it is at a party. Weddings were the biggest events of his time. Next Jesus creates not just wine, but the finest wine. The best is saved for last. Finally, it was not just a gift bottle. It was between 120-180 gallons–a super-abundance. This little miracle is a prophesy in the form of an action (theologians call them “types”) It is a prophesy of the great party that Jesus will make possible through His self-sacrifice for our sins.

I guess the final thing to say is that we don’t get to pick our own eternal destiny. If we are afraid boredom in Heaven, we don’t get to pick non-existence instead. We have been created to be eternal creatures. Where will we spend that eternity? You have been invited to a party, don’t throw away the invitation.

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