Eternity

Sharp Contrast

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The Gospel explained in three verses.  Verses 16, 18 & 36 of chapter 3 of John’s gospel present a full and clear picture of the Gospel hope that we have in Jesus and the desperate situation of those who reject Jesus.

‘For God so loved the world(vs16)

The good news Jesus introduces here is news that would have been radical to the Jewish hearer – that God so loved, not just Israel but the whole world.   God had foretold of this widening of His blessing to encompass the whole world when He covenanted to bless Abraham and that Abraham in turn would bless all the familes of the earth.  The prophets had prophesied about this too like when Zechariah prophesied about the future incarnation of Christ and the impact this would have on the nations not just Israel;

Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the Lord.  And many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. (Zechariah 2:10-11)

‘that whoever believes in Him(vs16)

The offer is as wide as can be, it is to anyone, to whosoever.  But the offer is not without condition.  The condition for all people, whoever they are, is that they must believe.  They must have faith in or put their trust in Jesus Christ, God’s Son.

‘should not perish but have eternal life(vs16)

The result of believing in Jesus is that the believer can be assured that they will not be die/perish or be destroyed in the judgement to come but will enter into perpetual/eternal/everlasting/forever life!

‘Whoever believes in Him is not condemned(vs18)

All those who believe in Jesus are not and will not be condemned.  They will not be judged or damned by God the righteous judge.

‘but whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God’ (vs18)

In sharp contrast is the current and future position anyone is in who does not believe in Jesus.  There is no nuetral ground here.  Our post-modern pluralistic world likes to make space for and validate every perspective but that is not the teaching of Scripture.  As inclusive as the ‘whoever’ is positively in vs16, that same ‘whoever’ is now inclusive of all who do not believe.

All who do not believe are at this very moment condemned by God!  They are in the most dangerous position imaginable right now and will be into eternity if there is no change.  They will be damned by God because they rejected God’s only Son whom God lovingly sent to save them from their sinful condition and consequences.

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.’ (vs36)

Re-iterating what He has already said, Jesus repeats the wide offer that anyone may believe in Him and that those who believe already have in this life entered into the eternal life only He can give us.   The Christ follower is not waiting for something that is only future but enters into real life now in this present age already.

However, again in sharp contrast whoever disbelieves/not believes/is disobedient/obeys not/is unbelieving will not experience this life that’s possible now or into eternity because their position is that the justifiable righeous indignation of the Holy One remains on them now and forever.

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All are invited to believe, all who believe will be forgiven and be given life eternal now and forevermore all because of Jesus’ life, death & resurrection, because of the love of Father God.  And yet not all will believe, and those who reject Jesus are right now in this present moment condemned already and have the wrath of God focussed on them.

May we who have already believed, tirelessly take this kind offer God’s made to ALL so that whoever believes will be forgiven, saved & will receive everlasting life now and forever.

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The Rich Young Ruler & Jesus (Mark 10:17-31)

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Consider for a moment the interaction between the young ruler and Jesus and what God is saying to you from it.

Who is Jesus?

The young man addressed Jesus as “Good Teacher” as he asked his question.  Jesus, however, resisted.  Wouldn’t let the man limit to his own ‘little box’ he’d made for Jesus.    Jesus is the majestic Lord of all, almighty God, ruler & creator of the universe, Lion of the Tribe of Judah…  You can’t just choose yourself who He is in your life.

You see, Either Jesus really is God or He is not.  If He is God then it follows that we MUST SURELY obey Him explicitly in ALL of life.  However, if He isn’t God then really don’t bother with anything about him ever again.

Good news not good advice

The young man’s question exposed that he didn’t understand the gospel, he was  legalistic and religious.  He wanted to know what more he could DO to inherit eternal life.  He was focussed on his moral performance thinking that was what God required from Him.  He was looking for GOOD ADVICE from Jesus, ‘what more can I DO to please God enough to earn eternal life?’.

Jesus’ response was designed to expose the futility in that thinking.  Go and keep all the commandments, and then give away everything you have to the poor!  With man this is impossible, Jesus said later on.  It is impossible to obey all the commandments fully and to have the right heart that God requires – no one can do it (Romans 3:10-12), no one.  That’s why Jesus came to earth, to do what we can’t do!

That’s why the gospel is GOOD NEWS not GOOD ADVICE.  It is not information about something we should DO, or something more we should DO (which is what the young man was asking).  The gospel is the GOOD NEWS of what Jesus has already DONE for us in our place because with us this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

Thank you Jesus for the good news of the gospel!

Letting go to lay hold

Lastly from this passage we see that the young man sadly could not loosen his grasp on his possessions and money, couldn’t let go of what his security and pleasure was founded on and so went away – ‘disheartened’ (Mark 10:22).

You, can’t hold onto Jesus truly unless you let go of what you’re holding onto first!  We can’t simply add Jesus to the rest of our lives, following Jesus means laying down of everything in our lives at a heart level – giving it all up to lay hold of Jesus, trusting that Jesus is worthy of that level of devotion and trusting that Jesus is good and will reward those who do lay it all down for Him.

God is just (2 Thessalonians 1:1-12)

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Paul has been boasting about these Thessalonian believers to other churches.  He has been encouraged by their growing faith and love, and also by their steadfastness and faith in the midst of the persecution and the affliction they have had to endure because of their faith.

“Faith under fire becomes faith refined by the fire.”

But what comfort is there for those who are being treated unjustly, persecuted because of their faith in Christ?

“…indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven…” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-7)

What comfort is there?  Scripture answers that God is just.  Implied here is that our Father God who is the righteous all-knowing judge of all sees everything that is done and that which is not done that ought to have been done.  God is just, because God will afflict those who have afflicted His children.

And so the knowledge that God is just gives relief/rest to one who has been unjustly treated or who has seen their loved ones unjustly treated.

We are often tempted to make premature assessments, in this life.  It can and does sometimes look like the unjust go unpunished, seemingly unaffected by their sin and seemingly free from consequences despite the despicable things they have inflicted on others.  Our systems of justice often let people down as the justice they deserve slips away into the cracks of our sin-broken societal systems of justice.

But for those who call God ‘Father’ there will be justice.  Our Father will act on our behalf and knowing this relieves us of any need to attempt to ‘repay evil with evil’ (1 Thessalonians 5:15).

Rather, we can and should forgive people.  As we do, we are stopping that thing they did from continuing to rob or hurt us into the future.  Forgiving people sets the forgiver free, and leaves the forgiven before the God of all the earth – who is just.

Ask Father God right now.  Is there anyone I need to forgive?

Choose now to set yourself free, choose now to stop allowing that thing from continuing to impact your life.  Thank your Father that He is just.

When though?  You might say, well I haven’t seen God being just yet!

I believe there are times when we do see the justice of God in this lifetime come upon people, but this passage is very clear that the time everyone will know that God is just is on the day when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with attending angels and flames of fire (vs7-8).

On that day God the righteous judge will ‘inflict vengeance/retribution’ (vs8) on those  who wronged his children (implied by the context) and specifically on those who rejected Jesus Christ.

Note how God is the active agent here, God the righteous just judge is the One inflicting retribution.  This clear teaching in Scripture confronts the unbiblical popular notion that the God of Scripture is some wishy washy dispenser of ‘love’ or that it is loving  to the victim to let the wicked go unpunished for the sin done to them!

And yet on this same day that Jesus comes back in all His glory, on this day when the unrighteous who rejected Christ will face the punishment for their sin (vs9) and will be shut out from the presence of God forever and ever, on that same day those of us who believed in Jesus will be glorying in Jesus, will be marvelling at Jesus in all His revealed splendour and majesty (vs10)!

May, you believe, may you ask Jesus Himself to forgive you of the wrong you’ve done before that Day.  May you and I reach out to EVERYONE we can while we still can with the good news that anyone can join that happy crowd (vs10) if they will only bow the knee now and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour and ask Him to forgive them of their sin.

For if you do accept Jesus, God is just, and so will forgive you of your sin, you will not face any punishment for whatever you did, because God already punished that sin when Jesus died on the cross in your place for your sin, and so God will be just to save you and welcome you into a glorious eternity with Him.

Have you crossed the line of faith and put your faith in Jesus and asked Him to forgive you of all your sin?

Ask the Holy Spirit now to put people on your heart who don’t yet believe in Jesus, pray for them and DO ANYTHING the Holy Spirit leads you to do…

That Day: Great & Terrible (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)

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‘The day of the Lord’ – (vs2) is the great and the terrible day spoken of all through the Old Testament when Yahweh will come to save His faithful ones and will come to punish the those who rejected His kind offer of forgiveness through His Son.

It is a day with two distinct perspectives depending on one’s faith trajectory.  For some, it’s a great day, a day to be longed for and anticipated, and yet for those who rejected God’s Son as their Lord & Saviour, its a terrible day.

This day will come suddenly, will come when people aren’t expecting it (vs3).  To some the suddenness is negative & not welcomed – ‘like a thief’.  Yet for others the suddenness is positive & welcomed like a pregnant woman suddenly going into labor. (vs3)

These contrasting ‘suddenly’s’ refer to the contrasting experience on ‘the day of the Lord’ depending on ones state of faith.

But this coming day in all our futures isn’t to be feared for those who are God’s children, ‘children of the light’ (vs4-5), for we have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into Jesus’ kingdom (Colossians 1:13) which is the kingdom of light as Jesus is Himself, the light of the world (John 8:12).

Knowing these things, believing these things helps us to be at peace with our future, and helps us to stay alert, awake, sober ready for Jesus’ return. (Vs6)

Knowing these things, believing these things helps us to choose to keep putting on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of the hope of our salvation to protect us until that day (vs8).

We who have believed in Jesus Christ, we are not destined for wrath but for salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who died in our place for our sin so that we might live forever with Him (vs9).

So let’s encourage one another and build one another up!

And let’s reach out to all we know with the good news that those who put their trust in Jesus, those who ask Him to forgive them of their sins, will be forgiven and then this THAT DAY will be the first of an eternity of GREAT DAYS.

Re-Uniting Day… (1 Thessalonians 4:14-18)

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There is a day when the temporary separation brought about by all death in this life will be overturned by the greatest day of re-unification ever!

I find airports very interesting spaces. Going to an airport one can observe a whole range of contrasting emotions on display.

On the side of departures there are last hugs, last kisses and last looks – endings, separations, increasing distance, tears & questions of when we will see one another next.

Yet, on the side of arrivals its the opposite. There are first hugs, kisses & words of joy and love. Decreasing distance, intimacy and re-unification, the resumption of relationships…

Death is like the departure section of the airport. The second coming of Jesus, however, is like the arrivals section! There is a day when the wait will be over, the distance between us and Jesus will evaporate forever, and a day when the separation we have endured from loved ones who died as believers will be over forever and ever.

These Thessalonians had questions about loved ones who had died, here in these verses Scripture describes the amazing day to come when King Jesus will return as King. The underlying Greek word (‘parousia) used here and translated as ‘the coming of the’ Lord is a word that has special meaning. It’s not just like a friend ‘coming’ round to your house but the picture the Thessalonians would have had when that word was used would have been that of a victorious king leading his armies and his captives in a victory parade through the streets, to be received with cheers and celebration from his home city/kingdom.

We get hints of this incredible scene when this passage describes the picture of Jesus’ return with three sounds;

  1. Jesus declaring loudly with a shout/command ,
    The voice of an archangel (chief angel) saying something about Jesus no doubt
  2. And God sounding a heavenly trumpet!
  3. In this moment there will be the greatest day of re-unification ever! It seems from vs15-16 that those who had already died, believing in Jesus will be raised and then they will join Jesus in His ‘parousia’, in His victory procession as ‘God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep’ (vs14).

I can imagine Jesus in all His glory out front, and the host of believers behind Him singing glorying in Him and yet at the same time looking out for, finding in the crowd and waving with joy and excitement at those who are still alive who believed in Jesus. What a day of re-unification, joy unspeakable! This is comforting for us who just feel the loss of separation in the present time, this sadness will be overcome with everlasting joy.

Lastly, the result of what I’m calling Re-uniting Day will be an intimate proximity to Jesus that will never be undone again; “and so we will always be with the Lord” (vs17).

These truths should encourage us, and should be used by us to encourage one another (vs18).

Who can you encourage with these words today?
Have you done it yet?

To follow or not to follow…

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Our congregation has the vision to help people become followers of Jesus. This is not just a nice sentiment, but carries the weight of true conviction for those who turned their life around from out of the kingdom of darkness into God’s kingdom. It implies a change in lifestyle, however gradual.

Jesus said:

If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. (Matt 16:24)

We have probably all read this verse many times – and scan over it as easily as we sing the songs proclaiming we will lay down everything for Jesus’ sake… Is it really that easy? Do we truly understand what it means?

I was startled this morning to read an Afrikaans translation where three options for the Greek word “aparnesastho” was given: “jouself verloen/afsweer/ontken”.  These are strong terms!  It can be translated with words like “renounce”, “disavow”, “contradict”. Denying yourself means to NOT do as you please, to NOT make your own wants/needs/dreams/desires the most important thing in life.

I don’t know about you, but to me it seems that the modern Christian mantra has become more and more focused on our own desires and working to make them reality, because that is what God wants for us… I don’t necessarily agree… And maybe I’m missing the point, but allow me to continue this train of thought, however unpopular.

Am I willing to lay down everything, even my own life, to follow Jesus? We live in a country where we still have a great amount of religious freedom.  We are not generally confronted with the choice between being killed for following Jesus, or staying alive by renouncing Him.  Losing our lives in the context of this passage, to us, has a more subtle meaning.

We live in a world inundated by media that urges us to believe we need very many things to be happy and fulfilled.  A nice house, nice care, nice clothes, the best in technology, phones, computers, entertainment media… Maybe you are strong enough to say, alright, I can give that up, and live with only what I need to survive…

But what if it comes to having a husband/wife, a family, a wonderful fulfilling career, the best education for myself or my children…  What if the cross we take up means a life devoid of those things that we feel makes us happy?  What if taking up my cross means allowing God to take me in a whole different direction than where I was wanting to go?

I am not saying we should all dive into an ascetic lifestyle! But what if all of that is taken away from you?  Will you still follow Jesus with your whole heart?  Will you still trust that the Father is working it all out for your benefit?

So, really, I’m inviting you to think it through with me, today.  I’ve had to think it through for myself many times.  And its hard to imagine what life would be like without all the stuff and people we love, without the hope of realising our dreams and desires, but maybe it is a good way to establish where your heart really is.

Our life on this earth is not a game played to gain as much as we can from it. It is an opportunity to live a life that acknowledges God’s sovereign rule, a life that pleases HIM, that gives His Word, His instruction, His direction first place.

It helps us correct our perspective when we set our minds on eternity.  I would offer up everything here, however painful I’m sure it must be, to know that my eternal reward is to sit at the feet of my Lord, and behold His beautiful face forever:

For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father and then He will repay each person according to what he has done. (verse 27)

by Lise Oosthuizen

Have you seen it?

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The magnitude of our response reveals the extent of our comprehension.

Jesus tells two parables in Matthew 13:44-46, that both have something of great worth which is hidden. The treasure was hidden in the field, the pearl is hidden within an oyster’s shell in the ocean.

In both parables the object of great worth is found, is discovered, is uncovered and it’s true revealed value then dictates what happens next…

The value of the discovery of the treasure/pearl is so great that it is worth selling everything in both instances!  More than this it is worthy of great joy even in the sale of everything in the case of the treasure in the field.

So, the two individuals who sell everything when they discover the item of great value are not being sacrificial they are being prudent and wise because they have truly comprehended the value of the item in question.

Imagine you somehow knew with absolute certainty that if you bought a certain numbered ticket in a very very prestigious competition in which the tickets cost R500 000 each but the prize was 5 Billion rands, you would not be unwise to sell your house to afford the ticket, you’d be unwise to not act on the certain information you had at your disposal.

Similarly, the magnitude of our response reveals the true extent of our comprehension regarding God and His kingdom.

Those who have not seen the infinite value of following Jesus wholeheartedly will not lay down all other things, will not prioritise the church and God’s mission, will not relinquish their own agendas in this present and temporary life so as to lay hold of God’s greater and eternal plan for their lives!

The degree to which we wholeheartedly unreservedly give our lives for the cause of Christ through His church reveals the degree to which we have truly seen or not seen the infinite value and treasure of Jesus and living for His kingdom and His will in and through our lives.

May I, may we, keep seeing with greater and greater clarity the inexpressible value of our relationship with Jesus Christ and may we therefore live lives that are worthy of what we have seen! Amen.

By Gareth Bowley