home > Pastor’s Desk > 2022 > APRIL 29th > ETERNAL LIFE IS NOT MERELY A MATTER OF TIME

Caleb was baptised a couple of weeks ago. Whenever we baptise a new believer we always ask them to share their testimony, and while each of our baptism candidates on the day Caleb was baptised gave inspirational testimonies, many people considered Caleb’s testimony one of the best they had ever heard.

Caleb is 11-years-old. He shared his story of being raised by a mum and dad who taught him the truth of God’s Word and to love God. He then shared that his testimony could be summed up by his favourite bible verse, John 3:16 — which is probably also the most favourite verse of most Christians today. In the years ahead, Caleb will come to increasingly understand more about the depth of his favourite verse—in deeper and richer ways. Of course, the beauty of John 3:16 is that it is plain and simple enough for even a young person to have their life changed by it. A child can well understand that in John 3:16 God is inviting all people to turn to His Son as their Saviour by simply trusting in Him and that this qualifies a person to avoid hell and to enjoy heaven for eternity

What Caleb will one day come to appreciate about John 3:16, is that when it refers to eternal life it is not just speaking about where a person goes after they die, or even for how long they will be there. Caleb will come to appreciate that eternal life is a part of the dimension where God dwells; it is where Christ ultimately dealt with all human sin, and that eternal life reflects each of God’s attributes.

The opening four words of this verse tell us something profound about God. It does not say, For the gods so loved. At the time John 3:16 was written, the Greco-Romans had already developed many mythical gods (some of which we find referred to in Acts 14:12-13). These man-made gods were selfish, capricious, vengeful, sexually immoral, and indifferent to the plight of humans. But the One and True God so loved. A few years after John had written John 3:16, he wrote to the Ephesian churches an echo of John 3:16 when he described this love of God and what it involved:

In this the love of God was made manifest among us,
that God sent His only Son into the world,
so that we might live through Him. In this is love,
not that we have loved God but that He loved us
and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
First John 4:9-10

While God is the subject of John 3:16, the world is the object of it. The pagan gods of the Greco-Roman world were largely territorial. But the God of John 3:16 is the God of the whole world. He alone is worthy and glory and the credit for creating everything. Unlike the territorial gods of the Apostle John’s gentile world, the True God actually cared for people—but just with mere sympathy—but with an unconditional practical love for all people: the world. While the pagan gods could be cajoled into assisting a human if the right sacrifice or ceremony was offered, the love that the True God has for everyone around the world (including those not yet born) even extends to those who despise Him and wilfully disobey Him!

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person
—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—
but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:7-8 

The false gods of the Greco-Roman world were not givers. They were takers. They demanded things of people. But the True God is a giver. The God of John 3:16 is not a minimalist giver. He is a generous, lavish, giver. All that anyone could rightly give Him is their thanks.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of lights,
with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
James 1:17

It was claimed that the Greco-Roman gods sired earthly children after having sex with human women. Allegedly, Caesar Augustus was sired by Zeus. This is why, just above Caesarea-Philippi, near the beginning of the assent up Mount Hermon, there was a temple to Caesar Augustus where he was worshiped as the son of Zeus. But the True Son of God was not sired as the result of fornication or lustful misadventure by a wayward deity. He took on the form of a physical human (“a zygote”) with the genetic material of Mary’s ovum. She was a virgin when she miraculously conceived Him, and importantly, she was also a descendant of King David.

¶ Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Matthew 1:18-21

Significantly, it was not this event which made God a father. John 3:16 states that God sent His Son –  that is, God the Father was eternally the Father and therefore must have always had an eternal Son. He was sending His Son, not someone who would become His Son. Early in the fourth century there was a monk, by the name of Arius, who taught that Jesus was a created being and was formally Michael the Archangel. The Church called its second ecumenical council to discuss whether this was a heresy (a false and dangerous teaching). Eventually, it a young north African bishop’s assistant, Athanasius, who convinced the council meeting at Nicaea that Arius was wrong and this doctrine (which “Jehovah’s Witnesses” today perpetuate) was heresy. His arguments for demonstrating this included pointing out that if God is the Eternal Father, He must have had an Eternal (uncreated, always existed, self-sufficient) Son. The result of the council’s decision was the Nicene Creed.  The fact that God the Father had always been in relationship with His Son, and that together they had also share am eternal relationship with the Holy Spirit 

Do you say of Him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world,
‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?
John 10:36

John 3:16 announces a remarkable offer. Whosoever may approach the throne of God and seek mercy, pardon, and forgiveness for their sins! It doesn’t matter what anyone has done, how many times they have done it, who knows what they’ve done, or how many they have hurt, they can still come humbly before God and accept that the punishment they deserve has been paid for by Christ. As a result, they will live beyond the grave when Christ raises from dead all those who have turned to Him for pardon. 

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 6:40

To believe in is to put trust in. For a Hebrew trust resulted in action. All anyone has to do to become a follower of Christ is believe in Him. The action this produces is confession of guilt and a request for pardon. This was assurance that Jesus gave the penitent thief on the cross beside Him. This thief clearly did not have any opportunity to do anything particularly religious to deserve God’s pardon in his final hours of life.

The consequence of rejecting God’s offer of eternal pardon is to eternally perish. C.S. Lewis described this rejection of God’s offer of salvation as being eternally confined to perpetual loneliness surrounded by others who were also eternally isolated from others in the doom of eternal loneliness and abandonment. But this need not be the case. But it is the risk that anyone takes in rejecting God’s offer of eternal pardon which can only be accepted in this life.

And these will go away into eternal punishment,
but the righteous into eternal life.”
Matthew 25:46

The kind of new life that a forgiven, pardoned, adopted, newly-identified, follower of Christ receives is described as eternal life. It is the kind of life that God enjoys. It is a life of perfect contentment, perfect fulfilment, perfect happiness, perfect peace, and perfect bliss. It brings a child of God into the full expression of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) for eternity. It is not about time or place –  but relationship with God. It is a dimension that only God and those He authorises can move into and out of (which explains how some heavenly creatures can be sent from God’s presence into this dimension of time and space). It also explains how Christ’s death on the Cross meant that He could eternally atone for the sins of mankind (even those yet to be committed) because He could present His life as an atonement for sin in the eternal dimension and then return into His lifeless-body on Resurrection Sunday in this dimension all those years ago. Yes Caleb, there will be much more that you will come to appreciate about your favourite bible verse over the coming years.

The beauty of John 3:16 is that it is so simple it can be understood even by a child; and yet, as a believer’s knowledge of God and His Word grows, he or she will come to discover that there is a wealth of spiritually-satisfying treasure to be mined! In its simplest form, Jesus died so that all those who turn to Him in trust will go to heaven after leaving this life. Dig a little deeper though, and you also discover that the eternal life on offer is not merely about a location (‘heaven’) or a duration of time—but a quality of life and status of existence that elevates the believer into a glorified state with God Himself (Rom. 8:17; 1John 3:2). Our lives are now the training ground for our status as co-regents and co-rulers with Christ over all of His redeemed creation (1Cor. 6:2-3)! 

But, as it is written,“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him”
First Corinthians 2:9

Your pastor,

Andrew

Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.

1 Comment

  1. LYDIA

    It was the response to the last question, before Caleb was submerged into the baptismal water that touched my heart. A matter of fact expression of faith. You couldn’t have it shorter and you couldn’t have it sweeter.
    There is another little boy who I have met, a few years younger than Caleb, who loves Jesus so much too. He draws pictures of Him always. Not pictures of trucks but just Jesus and His life. He tells his classmates at school about Him too although he was surprised and shocked that none of them knew this Jesus when he first started school. I met him again a few months back and he is still at it, drawing pictures of the Jesus he loves totally. There is progression in the maturity, yet the love is still as real.
    To teach or not to teach about Jesus. Parents can do one thing or another but only one leads to life eternal.

    Reply

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JESUS ATE with SINNERS!

This confrontation of the All-Good meeting face-to-face with Serpent-breath in the wilderness didn’t go the way the Dragon had become accustomed to. Even more baffling to him was what the Eternal Son did next. Rather than going to the supposed ‘rulers of this world’ He went to the despised and inconsequential: the people of His hometown, Nazareth and those in the socio-economically challenged region of Galilee. 

¶ And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as was His custom, He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and He stood up to read…When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.
¶ Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to Him, and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them. And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But He rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that He was the Christ.
Luke 4:16, 28-29, 40-41

Even more baffling to the Satan was that instead whipping up the mobs and leading a rebellion, the Christ went to the shunned, the despised, the broken, the humiliated, as their dinner Guest! It seemed like an odd strategy, especially to those who had been longing for so long for the arrival of the Promised One…

CHRISTIANITY IS A PROPOSAL NOT AN IMPOSAL

I do not want to give anyone the impression that Christian is just a set of intellectually propositions. It is much more but it is certainly not less. One of the propositions that we Christians make is that Christianity is a spiritual transformation of a soul. While its propositions are true, they are not just true, they invoke a miraculous transformation in a human being. Jesus described this as being “born again” (John 3:3). The New Testament describes the moment this happens as being a transaction with God where we surrender our life and our sin to Him and He gives us His life and His pardon (1Jn. 1:8-9)! This transaction includes a hope that goes beyond the grave. God the Father adopts all those who turn to Him. It results a new way of seeing life and the world. The things that once troubled us no longer do, because we have a growing confidence that God has a plan and is currently outworking that plan. If you have never surrendered your life in a transaction with God, you can now. You are just one prayer away from peace with God and purpose for your life – both now and beyond the grave! The choice is yours. We can’t impose this offer from God on you, but I do have a proposition for you.

DIVINELY PRECIOUS TRIPLETS

Some of the profound truths in the Bible are expressed in just three words. The late J.I. Packer, one of the world’s most respected modern theologians, was asked to sum up the gospel message. He did so in just three words: “God saves sinners.” Many of the most eloquent prayers ever uttered have consisted of no more than three words: “Help me Lord”, “Thank You God”, “God save me”, “Please heal her.” One of the greatest royal invitations only consisted of three words: “Come unto Me.” Three words is all it takes to start an exciting journey: “Come and see.” Many of these three words statements, prayers, and invitations, have become divinely precious triplets that have rescued a lost soul, repaired a broken relationship, and replenished the worn-out.  

WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU FOUND A NEWBORN BABY AT YOUR DOORSTEP?

What would you do if you found a newborn baby that someone had left at your door? Hopefully your answer sounds similar to “I’d take care him or her.” What if it wasn’t a baby? What if it was a young child or a teenager, or an adult, who turned up at your door requesting to be helped? I hope that each of us would also be prepared to help whoever it was. What if it was not an abandoned child, a youth, or an adult? And what if it was not your front door? Instead, how might we each respond if it was a spiritually abandoned, and spiritually hungry, person who turned up at our church seeking help to know how to be saved? While you might feel a similar compassion as you might have felt for the child at your door, you may not be as confident in how you would spiritually help this person seeking a spiritual connection for God through Jesus Christ. “Where would I begin?” “How could I be an effective discipler of a new believer?” you might ask. Well, I’m glad you’ve asked. For any Christian to effectively disciple a new believer it must involve an individual, a small group, and a congregation.

A DECREASING VISION

There is one sin that is worse than all others. It is the worst because it is insidious and imperceptibly deceptive. It is always at the root of all other sins. It was the original sin. In C.S. Lewis’s classic book, Mere Christianity, it warranted an entire chapter (“The Great Sin”) and Lewis claims that it is the greatest threat to any person – including the Christian – and their standing before God. Thus, to be truly spiritual, Spirit-led, Spirit-empowered, and spiritual, demands that the man or woman of God be on guard against what Lewis called “spiritual cancer” — pride. To have any chance of guarding against the spread of this deadly spiritual and character blighting ‘cancer’ requires that we adopt a decreasing vision of ‘greatness’.

THE WIND BLOWS WHERE IT WISHES – SO IT IS WITH THE SPIRIT

This week I have heard of yet more stories of people who had no knowledge of Christianity as they grew up, yet had an almost sudden conversion to Christ. This has included the stories of several Muslims (now ‘former Muslims’) who knew nothing to very little about Christianity, and had always been taught that Islam was the one true religion, who then heard a Christian explain the gospel and were then supernaturally converted to follow Christ. (Several of these Islamic converts to Christ also had supernatural dreams where they claimed that Jesus appeared to them!) I also heard of an atheist scientist who been taught that science could explain away the need for believing in a God, who then heard the gospel and was resoundingly converted to Christ. The other story I heard was closer to home and involved a young lady who had grown up in an atheist home where her parents were actually hostile to religion and forbad her from anything to do with Christianity. Years later, she ventured into a church one Sunday morning, heard the gospel, and was converted to Christ. Each of these stories confirm what Jesus taught about the work of the Holy Spirit and His mysterious and surprising dealings with people to undergird the church’s preaching of the gospel.

I WAS IN THE SPIRIT ON THE LORD’S DAY

A year earlier all hell had broken loose when the tyrant emperor Caesar Nero had outlawed Christianity; and now, the last surviving apostle of Christ had been banished to Patmos Island. All looked bleak. The youngest of Christ’s apostles, John was just a teenager when he witnessed the brutal and protracted execution of Jesus. John, now in his fifties, had many reasons to feel disappointed and even disillusioned with God. His apostolic colleagues had each been martyred – having been put to death in often gruesome ways including: crucifixion, flaying, and beheading. On this barren rocky island, separated from the woman he had pledged to her crucified Son that he would look after, and away from the people that Christ had shed His blood for, John was alone. Ever since Jesus had risen bodily from dead, these life-time faithful sabbath-keeping Jews now recognised that Christ had sanctified the first day of the week, Sunday, as His day. It was also on this sanctified day that Christ poured out Holy Spirit on his gathered disciples. Ever since that day, no matter how he felt or the circumstances he was in, John had made it his custom to be in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. And his first Sunday on this island of banishment was no exception. He was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. While some weak Christians find disappointment with God an excuse to forsake God, John did not. While some weak Christians allow their excuses for disappointment with God to walk away from their church family, John did not. John’s example has something to teach us. 
¶ I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day…
Revelation 1:9-10a

NEVER BE AFRAID AGAIN

Fear can be crippling. Being afraid is often the result of not what is happening, but what we fear might happen. Such fears make each of us vulnerable to withdraw, give-up, hide, or excuse ourselves from ever trying something new. The result of this happening is that we each become less than who God has created us to be and in the process we deny the world the benefit of what God can do through us. In the Bible there are many stories of many heroes who learned the secret of overcoming their fears by trusting God and learning how to ‘fear’ Him despite their circumstances or fearful expectations. We read of how Kings led their vastly outnumbered army to defeat immensely more powerful and ruthless enemy armies by fearing the Lord. We read how previously unsure, uncertain, unable people became fearless, decisive, and confident and able to solve previously insurmountable problems by simply fearing the Lord. We read how the arrogant were humbled and transformed into gentle and caring souls when they experienced the fear of the Lord. Then in the early chapters of the Book of Acts when becoming a Christian could cost you your life, we read of the numbers of Christians exploded across the Empire because they also no longer had a reason to be afraid because they learned what it meant to fear the Lord.

THE FRUIT DIET WORTH MORE THAN MONEY

How different would your life be if you were filled continually with the Holy Spirit? This seems to have been the experience of at least the first Christians. We know that Jesus told His disciples after His resurrection to “receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn. 20:22) which may have been the moment that they were “regenerated” which is a fancy way of saying that they were born again (Jn. 3:3). But then Jesus told His disciples to wait for the outpouring of the Spirit (Lk. 24:39; Acts 1:4) which was yet to come. The effect on the disciples when this happened was dramatic — especially in the Simon Peter (Acts 2:14). He went from being a cowering timid fearful backslider to being a bold courageous fearless leader of the Christ’s Church (Acts 2:15-39). Then some days later, as Peter was about to bear witness before the rulers of Judaism, he was filled afresh with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8). When Peter met again with the other believers to pray, all of them were filled with Holy Spirit again (Acts 4:31). Thus, being filled continually with the Holy Spirit seems to have been the usually experience of the early believers. As the Church grew and spread, the early Christians’ understanding of who the Holy Spirit was and what He wanted to do in each believer and church also grew. They discovered that the Spirit didn’t just fill them to be bold proclaiming witnesses, He also enabled them to bear witness to the power of Christ by how they lived. The apostle Paul called this, the fruit of the Spirit. 

HOW TO MAKE SENSE OF IT ALL

One of the emotional/intellectual problems that people who accept that there must be a God that resembles closely or exactly the God described in the Bible have had over the years is the problem ow Why would an all good and all powerful God allow suffering, evil, and tragedy in His world? Either He is not really all good and doesn’t care — or He is not really all powerful and is unable to do anything about it. Theologians refer to this problem as Theodicy (the problem of evil). This problem is resolved by asking a greater question: Does God ever ordain or allow what we perceive to be “wrong” because He has a morally good reason for doing so? This greater question is answered when we reflect on Christ’s passion and crucifixion. By working through these questions we may be able to understand why God might allow or ordain natural evil (floods, fires, disastrous weather events) and committed evil (such as wars, violence, crimes against people, brutal oppression of others). Especially when we view the world from the perspective of there being an eternal Judge who redeems those who turn to Him, and holds to account those who don’t. This is why answering the question of destiny is so important to making sense of life and the world we live in.