The Blessed Hope of Eternal Life in Christ

4468961057_5d9e507931_bPut in story form that a child can understand:

Then Aslan turned to them and said: “You do not yet look as happy as I mean you to be.” Lucy said, “we’re so afraid of being sent away, Aslan.” “No fear of that,” said Aslan. “Have you not guessed?” Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.

“There was a railway accident “ said Aslan softly. “…All of you are – as you used to call it in the Shadowlands – dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

And as he spoke he no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them… But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and title page: now at last they were beginning chapter One of the great story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

– C.S.Lewis, The Last Battle, p. 165.

Treasuring the Temporal or the Eternal – Luke 16:19-31

Here are three practical implications from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.

A.  DANGER: Treasuring the temporal blinds us to the eternal.

  • Money and wealth blind us. We see this danger of wealth in the life of the rich man.
  • He was not sent to hell because of his wealth, he was sent to hell because his obsession with wealth blinded him to two things: His need of a Savior and the needs of others.
  • We tend to go through life like the Pharisees thinking that wealth is a mark of God’s favor and that poverty is a mark of God’s displeasure. This parable pulverizes the wildly popular prosperity gospel… This parable dismantles the belief that wealth is a sign of God’s blessing and illness is a sign of His displeasure. The one who is saved in the end lived a life of abject poverty, sickness, disease, and lack of food and provision. The one who is lost in the end lived a life of unusual material prosperity, affluence, and ease.
  • J.C. Ryle writes: “Those whom God justifies and glorifies are seldom the rich of this world. If we would measure men as God measures them, we must value them according to their grace. ‘Let not the rich man boast in his riches. But let him that boasts boast in this, that he knows and understands Me'” (Jeremiah 9:24).

B.  DUTY (vv.24-28): There is a sphere of blessing to pursue and a place of torment to flee. Both of these spheres and places are the eternal, unchangeable conditions for the saved and for the lost.

  • The Bible insists that there are incredible benefits to trusting and walking with Christ now, but also there are wonderful blessings to trusting Christ in the world to come. There is a place of blessing to pursue and a place of torment to flee.
  • There is life after death. D.A. Carson declares that “if you are a philosophical materialist and you believe that matter, energy, space and time is all that there is, then you must abandon this philosophical belief to become a Christian.” When a person dies, you do not die like a dog. There is further existence. You are not done after your physical life on this earth.
  • Biblical Christianity is focused on how to flee the place of torment and gain the place of bliss talked about in our passage. New heavens and new earth is a place where there is no more sin, pain, and suffering. We will delight in God and love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We will love each another without fatigue or delay.
  • Here heaven is described as “Abraham’s side or bosom.” To be in Abraham’s bosom was a phrase used to describe the highest bliss of Paradise. This imagery is that of being the guest of honor at a banquet. See Matthew 13:28-29 for study purposes. Lazarus dines with Abraham at a table of sumptuous feasting.
  • Jesus paints a very graphic picture of hell. It is a place of torment… where the worm does not die… a place of unending weeping and gnashing of teeth. A place without repentance and a place without hope.
  • We don’t take glory in people suffering this fate. Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem. We need people who will ask the Lord to break our hearts over our own city and weep for it like Jesus did Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37ff). We do not believe this because we think we are any better than anybody else, but because we acknowledge that the only hope and help we have in eternity is Jesus.
  • This is why Fernando Ortega sings “and when I come to die… when I come to die… when I come to die… give me Jesus!”

C.  DELIGHT (vv.29-31): Let us find our delight in God’s Book because we find there a God who helps the spiritual bankrupt and destitute. 

  • Who are the ones whom God helps? God doesn’t help those who help themselves. He helps those who are utterly powerless and who willingly acknowledge their own helplessness.
  • What really justifies a man before God? The rich man was not condemned because he was rich, any more than the poor man was justified for being poor. The issue was whether or not these men were rich or poor, but whether or not these men believed the Scriptures and trusted in the Redeemer to which they testify.
  • How are you doing at stewarding your opportunities to hear, read, study, meditate and memorize the Word of God? What a treasure it is to have Moses and the Prophets. This parable highlights how easy it is to take for granted that we possess the written word of God.
  • May the Lord lead you to embrace the passion and commitment of John Wesley to the Word: “I am a spirit come from God and returning to God… I want to know one thing. The way to heaven… God Himself has condescended to teach me the way… He has written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri (a man of one book). Here then I am, far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone. Only God is here. In His presence I open, I read His book; for this end, to find the way to Heaven.”
  • In Moses (the Pentateuch), what are some of the things that we learn about our promised Redeemer who was to come?
  • God will provide for Himself the lamb (Gen. 22:8a). …When I see the blood [of the lamb] I will pass over you (Exodus 12:13b; 1 Corinthians 5:7). …It shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it [the serpent lifted up], he will live (Numbers 21:8b;John 3:14). The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him (Deuteronomy 18:15).
  • Jesus answered, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
  • Jesus died of thirst so that you could have living water.  He died in torment so that you could have the cool water of God’s favor. He was laid in the dust of death so that your thirst could be satisfied.

A Worship Service – Celebrating the Ascension of our Lord

PREPARATION FOR WORSHIP
Today is Ascension Day, and that means that it is a day of great joy for all who believe that Christ rules the world and our lives. —Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

Christ’s ascension means that in heaven there is one who, knowing firsthand the experience of suffering and temptation, prays for us and perfects our prayers. The ascension is a witness and guarantee of our own bodily resurrection, as well as an invitation for us to set our hearts and minds “on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” …

The Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have begun thinking less of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at heaven and you get earth thrown in; aim at earth and you get neither. – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Let me say with tears that as far as material possessions, time, energy and talents are concerned, all too many Bible-believing Christians live as though their entire existence is limited to this side of the grave.
— Francis Schaeffer, No Little People, “Ash Heap Lives”

CALL TO WORSHIP Hebrews 4:14-16
Leader: Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.
People: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.
Leader: Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence,
People: So that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

HYMNS OF PRAISE

COME, CHRISTIANS, JOIN TO SING – Trinity Hymnal (TH) #302

Come, Christians, join to sing–Alleluia! Amen!
Loud praise to Christ our King–Alleluia! Amen!
Let all, with heart and voice, before His throne rejoice;
Praise is His gracious choice–Alleluia! Amen!

Come, lift your hearts on high–Alleluia! Amen!
Let praises fill the sky–Alleluia! Amen!
He is our Guide and Friend; to us He’ll condescend;
His love shall never end–Alleluia! Amen!

Praise yet our Christ again–Alleluia! Amen!
Life shall not end the strain–Alleluia! Amen!
On heaven’s blissful shore His goodness we’ll adore,
Singing forevermore, “Alleluia! Amen!”

COME YE SINNERS, POOR AND NEEDY—HYMN #472
Come, ye sinners poor and needy, bruised and broken by the Fall
Jesus ready stands to save you full of pardoning love for all
He is able, He is able, He is willing, doubt no more
He is able, He is able, He is willing, doubt no more

Let not conscience make you linger, nor of fitness fondly dream
All the fitness he requires is to feel your need of Him
He will save you, He will save you ‘tis the gospel’s constant theme
He will save you, He will save you ‘tis the gospel’s constant theme

Come ye weary, heavy laden, lost and ruined by the fall
If you tarry ‘till you’re better, you will never come at all
He is waiting, He is waiting to embrace you in His arms
He is waiting, He is waiting to embrace you in His arms

Lo! th’incarnate God ascended pleads the merit of His blood
Venture on Him, venture wholly let no other trust intrude
None but Jesus, none but Jesus can do helpless sinners good
None but Jesus, none but Jesus can do helpless sinners good

[Repeat All]

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH Heidelberg Catechism (Qs 46 & 49, 1563 AD)
What do we mean by saying, “He ascended into heaven?”
That Christ, while his disciples watched, was lifted up from the earth to heaven and will be there for our good until he comes again to judge the living and the dead.
How does Christ’s ascension to heaven benefit us?
First, he pleads our cause in heaven in the presence of his Father. Second, we have our own flesh in heaven – a guarantee that Christ our head will take us, his members, to himself in heaven. Third, he sends his Spirit to us on earth as a further guarantee. By the Spirit’s power we make a goal of our lives, not earthly things, but the things above where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand.
CORPORATE CONFESSION OF SIN
Almighty Father, You raised Jesus from death to life and crowned him Lord of all. We confess that we have not bowed before him or acknowledged his rule in our lives. We have embraced and been led by the false values, priorities, and commitments of this present world that is hostile to you. We have failed to set our minds on heaven and give our ascended King the honor and homage that He deserves. Forgive us and free us from the bondage of sin so that we may live as your faithful people, obeying the commands of our King who rules the world and is head of the church, his body. Amen.

PERSONAL CONFESSION OF SIN

ASSURANCE OF PARDON 1 John 2:1-2
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

SONGS OF ASSURANCE

Before the Throne of God Above (Charitie Lees Bancroft and Vikki Cook)

1.  Before the throne of God above I have a strong and perfect plea,
A great High Priest whose name is Love, Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands, my name is written on His heart—
I know that while in heaven He stands, [no tongue can bid me thence depart.]

2.  When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there who made an end to all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died my sinful soul is counted free—
For God the just, is satisfied, [to look on Him and pardon me.]

3.  Behold Him there!  The Risen Lamb, my perfect, spotless Righteousness!
The great unchangeable I AM, the King of glory and of grace.
One with Himself I cannot die, my soul is purchased with His blood—
My life is hid with Christ on high, [with Christ my Savior and my God.]

GREETING & ANNOUNCEMENTS

GIVING OUR TITHES AND OFFERINGS
OFFERTORY
SCRIPTURE READING Philippians 2:9-11; 3:17-21

2:9 – Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is
above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in
heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus
Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
3:17 – Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk
according to the example you have in us. 18For many, of whom I have often told
you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19
Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame,
with minds set on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it
we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21who will transform our lowly body to
be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things
to himself.

THE SERMON Longing for Heaven: Our Heart’s True Home
#1 in the series – Jesus Ascended into Heaven

I. The ascension of Jesus galvanizes us to resist accommodation to our culture (3:17-19).

II. The ascension of Jesus prompts a change in our citizenship. This prompts us to long for heaven  (3:30-21).

III. The ascension of Jesus guarantees our own bodily resurrection. This enables us to affirm the goodness of this world
and of our bodies (3:21).

PRAYER OF COMMITMENT

SENDING HYMN

WHO SHALL ASCEND THE MOUNTAIN OF THE LORD – TH #292
Who shall ascend the mountain of the Lord,
To search the mystery in heaven stored,
The knowledge of the Holy One adored? Alleluia! Alleluia!

One King alone, whose hands and heart are pure,
One servant of the Lord with purpose sure,
Can enter in that glory to endure. Alleluia! Alleluia!

He only can ascend to God’s right hand
Who first came down as His high mercy planned,
True God and man has earth and heaven spanned. Alleluia! Alleluia!

Before the clouds receive the King on high,
A cross lifts up His form against the sky;
The Framer of the worlds has come to die. Alleluia! Alleluia!

He shall ascend the mountain of the Lord,
The King of glory, whose own blood outpoured
Paid that dear price that mercy did afford. Alleluia! Alleluia!
BENEDICTION Ephesians 1:18-19

May you know the hope to which God has called you, experience the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
and trust his incomparably great power for us who believe. Amen.

Receiving the Riches of Glory – 2 Corinthians 8:9

Dr. James Montgomery Boice, the late pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, captures the essence of Advent: “Jesus descended from the peak of glory to this lowly position in order that He might raise us from our lowly position to His glory.” The significance of the incarnation is not only that we know the grace of Christ now, but that we will share His glory in the hereafter. Jesus was made lower than the angels and tasted death for everyone in order to bring “many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:9-10).

Of what do the riches of Jesus’ glory consist? Hear how the Apostle Paul describes the riches of His glory from 2 Corinthians 5:

First of all, it involves receiving an eternal house. 2 Corinthians 5:1 says, “For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”

The picture of a tent suggests a lack of permanence and insecurity and is a common symbol of earthly life and its setting in the body. Our earthly house is compared to a tent, which serves as a temporary dwelling. Our eternal house is compared to a permanent building constructed by God Himself. Many people wager their lives on death being
the end, but a Christian knows he will live forever with a glorified body in perfect communion with his Lord.

Secondly, it involves receiving an eternal home. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:8: “We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”

As believers, we enjoy a most wonderful relationship with our Lord that will never end. We will be perfectly known and perfectly loved forever and ever. The phrase “with the Lord” suggests a dynamic, intimate communion with Jesus Christ. The riches of His glory consist in having an eternal home to go to at the end of our days. What a comfort this is! Jesus assures His followers in the Upper Room: “In my Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2).

Finally, it involves receiving an eternal weight. 2 Corinthians 4:17 is a reminder of what suffering and affliction produce in the life of a Christian: “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.”

We ought to commit ourselves to read at least once a year C.S. Lewis’ essay, The Weight of Glory. It can lift us from the harsh and stark realities of this world and renew our vision for what is ultimately in store for us in the coming kingdom of our Lord.

“Apparently, then,” Lewis concludes, “our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honor beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.”

Ultimately, what we all are truly longing for is GLORY – inexpressible glory. We want
to be welcomed, received, acknowledged by, and taken in by God into His dwelling
place. This is exactly our future because the only-begotten Son of God became a man to take upon Himself our rags of sin, condemnation, rejection, guilt, shame, brokenness, isolation, and insecurity. He has granted us His favor, smile, and righteousness. The words of the prophet Isaiah summarize how we should respond this Advent:

“I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10).

Jesus’ Ultimate Desire for You – John 17:24

Before the final conflict of the cross is engaged, one final ministry remains for Jesus to perform: the vital work of prayer. In John 17, He prays first for himself, secondly for his original band of disciples, and lastly he prays for us (those who believe in him through their word).

This is the most wonderful prayer that ever rose from this earth to the throne of God, and this petition is the most wonderful in Jesus’ entire prayer. It is impossible that this prayer should go unanswered. If the sheep are in Christ’s hand and in the father’s hand, they shall never perish.

Jesus opens the window of his heart in this prayer to his Father. We see an ardent yearning for our presence as he prays: “Father, I desire that they also whom you gave me may be with me where I am.”

One of the strongest instincts of the human soul is the longing to be with those you love. How gut wrenching when death comes and tears away from your embrace those whom you have dearly loved! Well, our divine Redeemer is our Elder Brother, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh; and there in the heavens He feels the pulse of those human affections of which we are so distinctly conscious, and breaks out — “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am.”

Prayer is the language of desire. Prayer reveals the deepest longings and desires of a person’s heart. This prayer reveals what is truly most near and dear to Jesus.

What is Jesus’ ultimate desire for you? Jesus desires for you to be with Him. “With me” is the language of love. The beloved longing for his lover’s presence. There is nothing that can equal the indescribable tenderness of Jesus’ final request. It is the foundation to Jesus’ promise in John 14:3 – “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

As Jesus comes to the climax of the cross in referring to himself, Jesus prays “not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36), but now, when referring to his followers, he prays “I will (desire) that …” His concern for us is greater than his concern for himself.

What does this prayer mean? When are earthly journey is done, we shall go to be with Jesus forever. It is a certain reality that you shall one day soon be with Jesus Christ. You may have many enemies opposing you on your way to glory. Satan desires to have you, like he did Peter, that he may sift you like wheat. Your worldly friends will do all they can to hinder you. Still you shall be with Christ.

He does not ask for you to be with him merely because that is what is best for you, or simply because it is the right thing to do, but because that is his heart’s aspiration. This is what he longs for! And so he asks his Father for it!

For whom does Jesus desire this? Look at verse 20 – “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.” According to verse 24a, those who believe in Christ are those whom the Father has given to the Son.

One of the sure marks of all that were given to Christ is that they come to Jesus and believe. Have you come to Christ? Has your heart been opened to receive him? Has Jesus Christ been made precious to you?

Let the words of Robert Murray M’Cheyne dissolve your heart with thankfulness:

In truth, Christ cannot lack you. Heaven would be no heaven to him, if you were not there.” You are his crown of beauty (Isaiah 62:3). You are the apple of his eye (Deuteronomy 32:10), his treasured possession (Exodus 19:5), his portion (Deuteronomy 32:9), and his bride (Revelation 21:9).

Reflections on Jesus’ Ultimate Desire for You from John 17:24

 

Can anything equal the breath-taking tenderness of Jesus’ final request – “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).
– Adapted from William Hendriksen

While he was on his deathbed, the Scottish Reformer John Knox had John 17 read to him every day. In the closing moments of his life, he testified that these verses continued to be a great comfort and a source of strength for him.
James Montgomery Boice

In truth, Christ cannot lack you. Heaven would be no heaven to him, if you were not there.
You are his crown of beauty (Isaiah 62:4). You are the apple of his eye (Deuteronomy 32:10),
his treasured possession (Exodus 19:5), his portion (Deut. 32:9), and his bride (Rev. 21:9).
– Adapted from Robert Murray M’Cheyne

The Father has eternally enjoyed ‘the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature’ (Hebrews 1:3) in the Person of his Son. Seeing and savoring this glory is the goal of our salvation (John 17:24). To feast on this forever is the aim of our being created
and of our being redeemed.
John Piper

Take me to you, imprison me, for I, Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
John Donne

 

Fearless and Singing

Now suppose both death and hell were utterly defeated. Suppose the fight was fixed. Suppose God took you on a crystal ball trip into your future and you saw with indubitable certainty that despite everything – your sin, your smallness, your stupidity — you could have free for the asking… your whole crazy heart’s deepest desire: heaven, eternal joy. Would you not return fearless and singing? What can earth do to you if you are guaranteed heaven? To fear the worst earthly loss would be like a millionaire fearing the loss of a penny — less a scratch on a penny. This is the gospel, the scandalously good news. We are guaranteed heaven by sheer gift.
Peter Kreeft, Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing, p. 183