Monday, August 26, 2013

The Resurrection

Part 3 of the series Heavenly-Minded

You can listen to this sermon here.

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed (1 Cor. 15:51-52). 

Body Problems 

When the first man and woman sinned, a curse came upon God’s creation. And the human body was affected by this curse. To Eve, God said, “In pain you shall bring forth children” (Gen. 3:16). To Adam, he said, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (v. 19). Adam and Eve (and all of their descendents) would experience three physical problems: pain, weariness, and death.

Some of our body problems are very serious; others are simply annoying. lists twenty-five annoying body problems. Here are a few: waterlogged ears, hiccups (a man named Charles Osborne hiccupped for 68 years! ), stiff neck, chapped lips, sleeping foot, dry skin, mosquito bites, and heartburn. 

God promises that one day believers will receive new bodies—bodies that will be free from all of the body problems we experience now.

The Hope of Our Resurrection

Jesus repeatedly promised that there would be a future resurrection.

  • “An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Son of Man’s] voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29; cf. v. 25). 
  • “This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that [the Father] has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:39-40; cf. vv. 44, 54). 
  • “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:24). 

In 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul gives us three truths about the resurrection of believers.

1. The hope of our resurrection is connected to the reality of Christ's resurrection. 

Apparently many of the Corinthian believers didn’t believe that the dead in Christ would be raised: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (v. 12). In verses 13-19, Paul stresses how crucial the resurrection of the dead really is.

  • “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised” (v. 13). 
  • “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (v. 14). 
  • We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised” (vv. 15-16). 
  • “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and your are still in your sins” (v. 17). 
  • “Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (v. 18). 
  • “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (v. 19). 

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (v. 20). “Firstfruits” is an agricultural term. The firstfruits were the first crops harvested; at the end of the growing season would come a bigger harvest. Christ’s resurrection is the firstfruits, and our resurrection is the bigger harvest to come.

“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (vv. 21-23). Because of Christ’s resurrection, we will be able to experience life apart from the curse. Death (the “last enemy,” v. 26) will be destroyed.

2. The resurrection body is a transformed body. 

“But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body to they come?’ You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body” (vv. 35-38). The seed and plant analogy suggests both continuity and change. In other words, our bodies won’t be replaced, but they will be changed.

“So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body” (vv. 42-44).

Joni Eareckson Tada (who is paralyzed from the shoulders down) writes, “Somewhere in my broken, paralyzed body is the seed of what I shall become. The paralysis makes what I am to become all the more grand when you contrast atrophied, useless legs against splendorous resurrected legs. I’m convinced that if there are mirrors in heaven (and why not?), the image I’ll see will be unmistakably ‘Joni,’ although a much better, brighter Joni” (Heaven: Your Real Home, p. 37).

Why is it important that we have new resurrection bodies? God created us as humans. Having a physical body is part of what it meant to be human. And it is God’s plan to redeem us completely—spirit and body. Resurrection is the final step of redemption.

  • “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:20-21). Paul longed for his resurrection body (2 Cor. 5:1-2). 
  • “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). 
  • “Those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:29-30). To be “glorified” means to receive resurrection bodies. God’s plan is for us to be like Christ—not just in character but also in resurrection.

“Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (v. 49). Since we will “bear the image” of Christ, perhaps the accounts of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances give us clues about what our new bodies will be like. However, as Millard Erickson writes, “It should be borne in mind that Jesus’ exaltation was not yet complete. The ascension, involving a transition from this space-time universe to the spiritual realm of heaven, may well have produced yet another transformation” (Christian Theology, p. 1205).

3. The resurrection will happen when Christ returns. 

“I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (v. 50). In other words, our bodies as they are right now (“perishable”) aren’t suited for eternity.

“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall all be changed” (vv. 51-52; cf. vv. 53-57). The return of Christ was previously a “mystery” (not revealed by God to man). On that day, dead Christians will be “raised imperishable” and living Christians will be “changed.”

Your Labor Is Not in Vain 

Paul ends with a practical application: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, im-movable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (v. 58; vv. 30-32). 

What we do now matters. 

If what we do matters, we need to be doing what really matters.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Our Relationships in Heaven

Part 2 of the series Heavenly-Minded

You can listen to this sermon here.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev. 21:3). 

Heaven Is More About a Person Than a Place

Who do you want to meet first in heaven?

Jesus said to his disciples, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2-3).

Would you be happy in heaven if Christ were not there? Going to heaven without Christ being there would be like a bride going on her honeymoon without her groom. (This is a good analogy since the church is described as the bride of Christ, cf. Rev. 19:6-9.)

The Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” (In Desiring God, John Piper writes, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever,” )

Whether we realize it or not, what we really long for is God’s presence. (But most people try to satisfy this longing with other things.) Augustine called God “the end of our desires.” He prayed, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

The psalmists often wrote about their desire for God’s presence.

  • “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11). • “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple” (Ps. 27:4). 
  • “As the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (Ps. 42:1-2). 
  • “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Ps. 63:1).
  • “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Ps. 73:23).  

Heaven would not be heaven without God. Actually, heaven could be described as the place where God is. (Of course, God is omnipresent, but his full glory is displayed in heaven.)

Heavenly Relationships

Relationships are important in our earthly lives. Before God created Eve, he said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). In heaven, relationships will still be important.

1. In heaven, we will live with God. 

When John was given a vision of heaven, he “heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God’” (Rev. 21:3). John also writes that people in heaven will “see [God’s] face” (Rev. 22:4; cf. Ex. 33:17-23; Matt. 5:8).

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve walked and fellowshipped with God (Gen. 3:8). But after they sinned, they were banished from Eden (Gen. 3:24)—demonstrating man’s separation from God’s holy presence. The only way back into God’s presence is through Christ (John 14:6).

God dwelling with his people in heaven is the consummation of God’s plan for humanity.

  • God dwelled with his people in the tabernacle. “I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people” (Lev. 26:11-12).
  • God dwelled with his people in the person of Christ. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). 
  • Today, God dwells with his people by the Holy Spirit. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (1 Cor. 6:19; cf. 2 Cor. 6:16). 

We don’t know what it will be like to see God’s face (“God is spirit,” John 4:24). But it’s easier for us to imagine what it will be like to see Jesus, who will forever remain God and man. “When [Christ] appears…we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Imagine the joy of seeing face to face the one who died for you!

2. In heaven, we will be reunited with Christian loved ones.

When Christ returns, “we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with [the dead in Christ] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:17-18).

Will we remember one another in heaven? Yes. Paul’s words of comfort to the Thessalonians about their deceased loved ones lose their effect if we don’t remember one another in heaven. In heaven, are minds will be clearer, not foggier. Think of how your experience of heaven would be altered if your memory was erased.

How can we enjoy heaven if we know that some of our loved ones are in hell? In heaven, we will have a better understanding of God’s justice. Still, we will not be pleased (as God is not pleased, cf. Ezek. 33:11) about the judgment of the unsaved. But we must remember that our God is the “God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3). And we must rest in his promise that “He will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes” (Rev. 21:4).

3. In heaven, we will be one big happy family. 

Christians are “members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19). In heaven, there will be no conflict, and we will be able to fully obey the command to love one another.

Some married couples might be concerned about the lack of marriage relationships in heaven. Jesus said, “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Matt. 22:30). “This teaching might at first seem discouraging to married couples who are deeply in love with each other in this life, but surely people will know their loved ones in heaven, and the joy and love of close relationships in heaven will be more rather than less than it is here on earth” (ESV Study Bible, p. 1869).

We Will Never Be Alone 

On Thursday, a man named Martin Manley committed suicide on his 60th birthday. What made Manley’s suicide unusual was that, before his death, he created a detailed website documenting his life. The site’s homepage says, “Today is August 15, 2013. Today is my 60th birthday. Today is the last day of my life. Today, I committed suicide. Today, is the first day this site is active, but it will be here for years to come.” (The website has since been taken down, making Manley’s suicide even more tragic.)

Manley was afraid of old age. His parents were dead, he had no children, and he didn’t want to “die alone.” 

It’s painful to be alone. But, if you’re a Christian, you have God’s promise that in heaven you will never be lonely again. You will live with God forever. You will enjoy countless friendships with other followers of God. And you will be reunited with Christian loved ones—never to be separated again.

Contrary to what some people say, the more heavenly-minded you are, the more earthly good you will be. The hope of heaven should help us value our present relationships. “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10).

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Imagining Heaven

Part 1 of the series Heavenly-Minded

You can listen to this sermon here.

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain…. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better (Phil. 1:21, 23). 

Is Heaven Beyond Our Imagination? 

Randy Alcorn, in his book Heaven, writes, “I’ve collected more than 150 books on Heaven, many of them very old and out of print, and I’ve ready nearly all of them. One thing I’ve found is that books about Heaven are notorious for saying we can’t know what Heaven is like, but it will be more wonderful than we can imagine. However, the moment we say that we can’t imagine Heaven, we dump cold water on all that God has revealed to us about our eternal home. If we can’t envision it, we can’t look forward to it. If Heaven is unimaginable, why even try?” (p. 17).

People often use 1 Corinthians 2:9 to claim that heaven is beyond our imagination: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (KJV). But the next verse says, “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit” (KJV). Also, these verses aren’t even talking about heaven!

What about 2 Corinthians 12:2-4? In that passage Paul says that fourteen years earlier he was “caught up to the third heaven,” where he “heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.” In this case, God didn’t want Paul to reveal what he saw and heard in heaven. In contrast, God commanded John to write about his visit to heaven, which he did in the book of Revelation.

So is heaven beyond our imagination? Yes and no. Heaven is beyond our imagination in the sense that heaven will be better than we can imagine right now. But it’s also true that, based on what God has revealed in the Bible about heaven, we can imagine what it will be like.

Misconceptions About Heaven 

There are many misconceptions about heaven. Jesus said that Satan is “the father of lies” (John 8:44). Satan wants people (both believers and unbelievers) to accept his lies about heaven. These lies include: (1) heaven isn't real; (2) heaven is boring; (3) heaven is the destination of most.

Our New Home 

Going to heaven is sort of like going to live in a country you’ve never visited before. If you were going to live in a foreign country for a year, how would you prepare? You would probably do some research on the country (search online, borrow a library book, etc.). As Christians, we should not neglect learning about heaven.

Believers immediately go to heaven when they die. 

  •  “We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord…. we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:6-8). 
  • “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain…. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Phil. 1:21, 23). 
  • “And [Jesus] said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). 

D. L. Moody once said, “Soon you will read in the newspaper that I am dead. Don’t believe it for a moment. I will be more alive than ever before.”

In the Bible, there is a present heaven (the place where believers go when they die) and an eternal heaven (the place where believers will live forever after the final resurrection). Wayne Grudem writes, “…Christians often talk about living with God ‘in heaven’ forever. But in fact the biblical teaching is richer than that: it tells us that there will be new heavens and a new earth—an entirely renewed creation—and we will live with God there…. There will also be a new kind of unification of heaven and earth…. There will be a joining of heaven and earth in this new creation” (Systematic Theology, p. 1158).

Based on Revelation 6:9-11, Randy Alcorn lists 21 observations about the present heaven. Here are a few of his observations.

  • When these people died on earth, they relocated to heaven (v. 9). 
  • The martyrs are fully conscious, rational, and aware of each other, God, and the situation on earth. 
  • Those in heaven are free to ask God questions, which means they have an audience with God. It also means they need to learn. In heaven, people desire understanding and pursue it. 
  • The martyrs clearly remember their lives on earth (v. 10). They even remember that they were murdered
  • Those in heaven see God’s attributes (“Sovereign…holy and true,” v. 10) in a way that makes his judgment of sin more understandable. 
  • God promises to fulfill the martyr’s requests, but says they will have to “rest a little longer” (v. 11). Those in the present heaven live in anticipation of the future fulfillment of God’s promises. Unlike the eternal heaven—where there will be no more sin, curse, or suffering on the new earth (Rev. 21:4)—the present heaven coexists with and watches over an earth under sin, the curse, and suffering. 

Heavenly-Minded and Earthly Good

There’s an old expression that says, “Don’t be so heavenly-minded that you are of no earthly good.” Actually, the Bible says the opposite: the more heavenly-minded you are, the more earthly good you will be. For example, Paul was a heavenly-minded man, but he did lots of earthly good.

  • Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1). 
  • “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven…” (Phil. 3:19-20). 
  • “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth…. But as it is, they desire a better county, that is, a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:13, 16).
  • We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). 

1. Being heavenly minded helps you persevere during difficult times. 

In 1952, Florence Chadwick attempted to swim from Catalina Island to California. Unfortunately, she decided to quit when she was less than half a mile from the shore. At a news conference the next day Chadwick said, “All I could see was the fog…. I think if I could have seen the shore, I would have made it.” Being heavenly-minded is like seeing the shore.

2. Being heavenly minded encourages you to devote your life to what really matters. 

When people are at a funeral—when they are forced to think about life and death—their perspective on life often changes (though usually only for a little while). Thinking about eternity helps us better evaluate our lives and set better priorities.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Doing God's Will When You Don't Have All the Answers

Part 3 of the series The Will of God

You can listen to this sermon here.

And [Paul and his companions] went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them (Acts 16:6-10). 

Strange Methods for Discovering God's Will 

People try all sorts of strange methods in their attempts to discover God’s will for their lives.

  • There is the “Random Bible Verse Method.” Close your eyes, open your Bible, and point to a random verse. This verse will contain a clue about God’s will for your life. 
  • There is the “Ask-God-for-a-Sign Method.” You might pray, “God, if you really want me to become a doctor, please let there be an empty parking spot right in front of the coffee shop this morning.” 
  • There is the “Guidance Through a Seemingly Accidental Experience Method.” You’re walking down a city sidewalk and you slip on a banana peel. Lying on your back, you look up and see above you an Italian restaurant sign. You think, “Maybe God wants me to be a missionary in Italy…or maybe I’m supposed to open a restaurant…or perhaps I should just go buy a slice of pizza.” 
  • There is the “King Saul Method.” Saul visited a medium when God wouldn’t answer his prayers for direction (1 Sam. 28:3-25). 

I don’t recommend any of these methods for discovering God’s will (especially the last one).

Walking by Faith

The Bible gives us clear direction for moral decisions, but the Bible is silent on the morally neutral decisions we face (e.g., what kind of car you should buy). When there is no clear direction from God, what should we do?

  • Pray for wisdom. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). 
  • Spend time reading and studying the revealed will of God (found in the Bible). 
  • Offer your life to God as a “living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1). 
  • Use the brain God gave you. For example, if you are wondering how you can best serve God, ask yourself, “What natural talents and spiritual gifts has God given me to use for his glory?” 
  • Ask for advice from people you trust and respect. 
  • Don’t expect to be 100% sure of the right decision.

God will never reveal to you every step you should take. 

God is not going to give us all of the answers we’d like to have. We have to believe that he will guide and help us as we take each step.

  • “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). 
  • “A man’s steps are from the LORD” (Prov. 20:24).
  • “Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold” (Job 23:8-10). 

Closed Doors, Open Doors 

Paul and his companions were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia” (Acts 16: 6). Then “they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” (v. 7). (The following two points about closed doors are taken from Charles Swindoll's book The Mystery of God's Will, p. 196).

1. The closing of a good opportunity occurs in order to lead you to a better one. 

Can you think of a closed door in your life that you are now thankful for?

2. Not until you walk through the open door will you realize the necessity of the previously closed one. 

Life is sort of like a funhouse maze. You may bounce off a lot of closed doors, but that is God’s way of forcing you into his open one. Just keep moving. When Paul encountered a closed door, he didn’t stop and give up. Throughout the book of Acts, Paul is constantly moving from place to place (see Acts 16:11-34). 

Removing the Mystery

Before we become concerned with the morally neutral decisions of life, we must first follow God’s moral will.

If you are following God’s revealed will for your life, do whatever you want! 

Of course, if you're seeking to obey God's revealed will, "whatever you want" will be things you believe will glorify God. John MacArthur writes, “The will of God is not, first of all, for you to go there or work here. The will of God concerns you as a person. If you are the right you, you can follow your desires and you will fulfill His will”(Found: God's Will, p. 75).