Eternity: The Ultimate Comfort

My family visits at a nursing home each month. While we’re there I present a message, my teenage daughter dances, my first grade son reads a book or shares a poem, my wife keeps our youngest daughter from interrupting what everyone else is doing 🙂 and at the end we just visit with the residents. The last time we went Jasmine danced to the song “Tell My Heart to Beat Again,” by Danny Gokey to set up my message. If you’re not familiar with the song, take a minute to click the link and listen before you read this blog.

htpps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13wFGffg

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You may recognize that name Danny Gokey from American Idol. Gokey finished third place on season eight of American Idol. What you might not know is that just a few weeks before Gokey auditioned for “American Idol,” his wife died unexpectedly during a routine heart surgery.

Which then makes the story behind the inspiration for this song all the more amazing. Gokey tells the story of a pastor in Ohio who had a heart surgeon who went to his church. The pastor wanted to see a heart surgery actually take place. So, the surgeon pulled some strings and the pastor was there watching as they opened up the patient’s chest cavity and took the heart out to work on it. Now before they can close the patient’s chest back up, they need to restart it. But this time the heart wasn’t restarting.

And the surgeon did something completely out of the ordinary, that blew the pastor’s mind. He got down on his knees and said, “Mrs. Johnson, this is your doctor. We have fixed your heart. There is no longer anything wrong with it. Mrs. Johnson, if you can hear me, I need you to tell your heart to beat again.” And then, as if on cue, her her heart began to beat.

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We have all had our moments in life when it seems as if our heart has actually stopped beating.  When something is happening that is simply too great to bare and it feels like life may no longer be worth living.

As the powerful opening lyrics of the song put it:

Shattered, like you’ve never been before

The life you knew

In a thousand pieces on the floor

Words fall short in times like these

When this world drives you to your knees

You think you’re never gonna get back

To the you that used to be

 

It may be a cancer diagnosis. The loss of spouse or a child. Opening the mail and taking out a letter that explains your house is being foreclosed. Being let go at work and having no idea how you will support your family. Having your spouse walk out on you without warning. Driving home from the your office’s Christmas party and seeing the flashing lights poll up behind you when you know you’ve had too much to drink. Trying for years, but never being able to conceive. And the list could go on. I am sure each person in the room could certainly tell their own story.

For most of us, though, somehow or another, we all survive our most terrible moment. We find the strength to go on. We resolve to never be in that position again. We decide to allow our terrible moment to motivate us to do some sort of good with our life moving forward. Our heart does indeed beat again.

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Today, I want to talk about the moment for Jesus’ disciples when their world came crashing down around them; when it seemed like all they had been living for had been taken away. And I am of course referring to when Jesus was crucified. But, then we all know the rest of the story. Three days later, Jesus was raised again! And the disciples’ tragic moment quickly turned to joy and they were rejuvenated with the strength to press on. Yet, there was something more to their strength to move forward; something way beyond the way in which most of move on back into the ordinary day to day routines that we were accustomed to before our moment of tragedy. And this is what we need to pay close attention to today: what gave the disciples such a  more powerful rejuvenation?

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First though, we need to start by going way back, far before Jesus ever walked the earth. Because we need to remember something that is often forgotten in our modern American churches. Jesus was Jewish. He was born into the history and culture and religion and traditions of the Israelites.  So, we must take a moment and remember this history.

The Jewish nation since almost their earliest time had been in a pattern of being enslaved by foreign nations delivered to freedom by the Lord, enslaved or exiled, delivered, enslaved, delivered…you get the picture. Going all the way back to the book of Exodus and the most well-known example, when God delivered the Israelites from the Egyptians, but only after the Lord convinced the Pharaoh with 10 plagues that He really meant business and then for an encore parted the Red Sea for the Israelites to pass through on dry land before having the waters come crashing back down on top of the pursing Egyptian Army.

From there the was the exile to Assyria of the Northern Kingdom and then the Southern Kingdom to Babylon. Then, after Cyrus of Pers took Babylon, the Jews were allowed to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem and many were allowed to return. A couple hundred years letter it was the Greeks who gained control of Jerusalem and over the next several hundred years,depending on the ruler, the Jewish people had varying levels of independence to practice their religion and traditions.

Now as we near the time of Jesus’ birth, the Israelites had been under Roman rule for about 60 years. And at this point we start to see a change in the expectations of the Israelites. No longer did they think they would they reclaim their freedom through simply God’s intervention in giving some extra daylight to win a war or his knocking over a city wall at the sound of a trumpet blast, but God would now send a Messiah to lead the Israelite people to freedom. This Messiah would be a conquering Messiah who would lead the Israelite people victoriously in battle and regain their freedom as a people.

But, even more than this, the Messiah would establish a Kingdom on Earth for God Almighty to come down and be with His people on Earth. For God to directly reign on Earth. And in doing that, He would save not only the Israelites, but through Israel, God would then save all nations. And when the Lord came to reign, God would establish a Kingdom on Earth where all was made right. Peace and love would reign supreme.

The prophet Amos talked of this time when justice would roll on like a river and righteousness like a never-failing stream.

 

Isaiah spoke of the day when (Isaiah 40:4-5):

4 Every valley shall be raised up,

   every mountain and hill made low;

the rough ground shall become level,

   the rugged places a plain.

5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,

   and all people will see it together.

 

Also also of a time when (Isaiah 11:6-9);

6The wolf will live with the lamb,

   the leopard will lie down with the goat,

the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together;

   and a little child will lead them.

7 The cow will feed with the bear,

   their young will lie down together,

   and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den,

   and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.

9 They will neither harm nor destroy

   on all my holy mountain,

for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord

   as the waters cover the sea.

 

This is the world into which Jesus came in to. And the claim of Messiah was not unique to Jesus. There was a self proclaimed Messiah, Simon of Perea who came shortly before Jesus. He rebelled against the Romans and proved himself a false Messiah when he was killed by the Romans. A few decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection came the First Jewish revolt, which was ended by the Romans in AD 70 when they completely destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. But, in 132 AD, the Second Jewish Revolt was fought and led by Simon bar Kochba, who also claimed to be the Messiah. There was even a short-lived Jewish state founded, with Kochba hailed as the Messiah-king, before the Romans once again squashed the revolt, killing hundreds of thousands of Jews and selling many more as slaves.

Now, it would seem odd to someone who follows the Christian tradition that someone claiming to be Messiah would come after Jesus, since we believe Jesus is indeed the true Messiah,  and in fact, the Son of God. But most Jews, and for that matter, most of humanity ever since, did not and have not realized Jesus’ true identity, because they missed what happened 3 days after the cross. They missed what turned the disciples dejection to elation; they missed what caused the disciples’ heart to beat again.

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But, before we get to the good news at the end of the story, we must look at just how tragic, just how devastating, Jesus’ death on the cross would have been to his disciples. We start with when the disciples first began to follow Jesus. And we must remember they had lives of their own. We know that a number of the disciples were fisherman, including Peter, James, John and Andrew. We also know that Matthew had been a tax collector. In addition, Simon is referred to as Simon the Zealot and we can assume he would have already been involved in some nationalistic leanings before meeting Jesus. We also know Peter was married because we hear of his mother in law in the book of Matthew. In addition, in 1 Corinthians, Paul is asked whether he also did not have the right to take a believing wife as did the other apostle and the Lord’s brothers and Peter. So, we can assume other disciples also had wives.

So, when these guys decided to follow Jesus, they dropped everything, left all they knew behind and simply went where Jesus went.

And then they spent the next three years side by side with Jesus. Talking with him. Eating with him. Following him wherever he went. Jesus was the disciples’ friend. They had spent three years with this man. They knew him more intimately then they knew their own families at this point. But, he was not just their friend, but the friend who had all the answers. Jesus had settled their arguments, taught them as their Rabbi, and calmed the raging storm when they were afraid. Jesus was the friend who everyone turned to when they weren’t sure where else to turn. The friend who made everything all right when there seemed to be no way out.

And more than a friend, but a teacher and Rabbi.  The disciples had listened to Jesus’ teaching for the last three years. They had bought into what he was teaching. They had heard the sermon on the mount and believed in the almost unreal expectations to not only love your neighbor, but also your enemy. To not only stay clear of adultery, but of all lust. To not only keep blood off your hands, but to keep violence from your heart and mind and angry words from your lips. And not only had they heard his teachings, but they had witnessed his miracles. They had seen him heal diseases and physical deformities and even rebuke nature itself. They had seen Jesus do the impossible time and again.

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Now, put this together with the backdrop of Israel’s history that I shared and the time and place Jesus came into. Jesus’ disciples had come to truly believe he was the Messiah. Peter declares this when Jesus asked the disciples who other people said he is and then followed it up with who the disciples said he was. Peter tells Jesus,  “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

They believed they were following the one who would lead the nation of Israel to freedom. The one who would overthrow the Roman rule and usher in the coming of God Himself to reign in their midst! Their expectation was that they would be a part of, and not just any part, but a ruling part of, this new kingdom. In Mark chapter 10, when James and John ask Jesus that one of them may sit on his right hand and the other on his left when he comes to glory, they are not talking of heaven. They are talking of the very near future when they believed Jesus would rule as the Messiah-king on Earth!

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And this thought of Jesus’ Messiahship had built to a crescendo as Jesus had come riding into Jerusalem on a colt for the Passover Celebration. This festival commemorated God’s deliverance of the Israelite people from Egypt. The religious fervor that was already a part of this weekend was incredible. And as the people laid down their cloaks in the street, shouting Hosannah and waving palm branches, the nationalistic zeal was palpable. This Jesus, the people had heard about, he might just be the one. And this might just be the time. And no one in Jerusalem believed this more than the disciples.

But, a short time after this triumphal entry, Jesus does something odd. Instead of claiming his throne and making a public declaration of being the Messiah, he washes the disciples feet and talks about a master being a servant and how to truly be great you must humble yourself as a servant to all. He then shares a passover meal with disciples. And during, it he breaks bread and drinks wine with the disciples, referring to it as his body that would be broken and his blood that would be shed. But the disciples just don’t get it! For Luke’s account tells how just after the bread is broken and the wine is drank, the disciples are back to arguing over who will be the greatest.

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And then comes the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus lays down his own will in order to take up God the Father’s. Yet, the disciples, even at this moment are still not yet willing to see what is destined to take place. They are unable to comprehend that Jesus will not rule as a conquering king, but instead will save humanity as a suffering servant.

As a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees came with lanterns and torches and weapons to arrest Jesus, Peter, still not understanding Jesus’ true mission, took his sword and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. At this point, if the disciples could not make it any more clear they had no clue, all fled and deserted Jesus. As a trial that was a mockery to justice took place, as Jesus was scourged and beaten, and eventually nailed to the cross, it would seem from scripture that except for  Peter who watched from afar and denied Jesus three times, and Jon who stood at the foot of the cross in Jesus’ last moments, the disciples where nowhere to be find.

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The disciples were utterly hopeless. They were lost. Their best friend, their teacher, their Messiah was dead and gone. They were grieving over the loss of one they loved and also mourning over finding out all they had believed was soon to take place, the promise of the prophets and the scriptures being fulfilled through Jesus as the long awaited Messiah, was not going to happen. And now what? Would the authorities come after them next? There was certainly a fear that gripped the disciples. We already heard of how all fled at his arrest. Then in the book of John, we hear how the disciples were meeting together behind locked doors in fear of the Jews. And once a bit of the fear had worn off, the overwhelming emptiness  set in of having what you believed to be truth completely and undeniably shown to be a lie. And with no thought of what else to do, the disciples simply went back to the lives they knew before Jesus, as John records that a group of disciples were back out fishing.

You see, the disciples were having a moment to make their hearts stop, without any reason to think that it would beat again. There was nothing to make them believe that they would see the promise of the Messiah fulfilled. Nothing to dull the pain of losing their best friend. Nothing to ease the sense of loss they felt of having chased a lie for three years.

But then, in the greatest comeback story of all time, in the  single most important moment in human history, the disciples hearts are jolted to life once more. As if the paddles where placed on their chests and the electric shock of the defibrillator put life is put back into their bodies. Or maybe, it was more like Jesus getting down on his knees and whispered to the disciples, “I am alive again. I have come back. I am no longer dead. I need you to tell your hearts to beat again.”

And once Jesus spoke these words, once they realized the resurrection was for real, the disciples hearts didn’t start to beat, but they pulsed with an energy they had never known before. When the women tell the apostles of the empty tomb, Peter and John race there to see for themselves. And when Jesus appears to seven of the disciples on the shore while they are fishing, as soon as they realize it is him they get their boat full of fish back to land as fast as they can, except for Peter who jumps out and swims! For the disciples cannot wait to hear what Jesus has to tell them next.

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You see, when that life is put back into us, when God takes us out of that dark place where we just don’t believe we can go on and we realize there is something greater to live for; we don’t just putter along, we hit the ground running. We find new purpose, new focus, new desire. And this is what happened for the disciples. For each of them went out after hearing Jesus’ great commission and began to tell others about Jesus’ death and resurrection with a fervor. And the only thing that could stop them from sharing this message was death. Tradition tells us that all of the disciples but John, who lived out his last years exiled alone to the island of Patmos,  all the other disciples, were martyred for their faith.

What changed for the disciples? What took them from hiding behind locked doors to boldly proclaiming the gospel? I think it is that after the resurrection, when Jesus restarted their hearts; the disciples realized that what they were now living for was not simply a better life on this earth, but for eternal life. What their heart now beat for was not taking up arms to be a part of a kingdom of this world, but to be a part of an eternal Kingdom where all will be made right through the redemption found in the sacrifice Christ made on the cross and the victory over death that came through His victorious resurrection from the grave!

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Now, when I started out this afternoon, I talked about the fact that we all have those moments when we wonder if our heart will beat again; when our world comes crashing down around us and we wonder if life is even worth living. And yet in these situations, we find a way to make it through; to press on and continue with our lives. Maybe even to turn our tragedy into triumph by making something good from our misfortune.

But, I also mentioned when I began that there was something different about the way the disciples bounced back then the way we typically do. And I think this difference was shown clearly in their willingness to follow Jesus even to death after they saw him resurrected. So, what was it? What was it that caused the disciples to not just press on with the day to day, but to boldly declare Jesus to all those they encountered.

I believe it was that when they saw Jesus after His resurrection, their focus changed. It changed from an earthly focus, to an eternal focus. You see, when we come back from our tragedies it is with a focus of moving forward with our lives. Making the most of the years we will walk this earth. Which is wonderful. And we should make the very most of every moment we have. However, the disciples had a different focus after seeing the resurrected Jesus. It was a focus to live the rest of their earthly lives to do something that would matter for eternity. The disciples no longer worried about what would happen to them as they walked this earth, because they knew where they were going when their time on earth ended. And they wanted as many people as possible to come with them.

And when we have our times when the worst seems to have happened, sometimes the only thing that can truly make it right is if this eternal promise is real. Think of the loss of a child. Sure, you may go onto have more children and raise a beautiful family. But, every Christmas, every birthday, every anniversary of your child’s death, the ache is there. But, what about in the eternal perspective? That child has been made new and whole and one day you will be reunited forevermore.

Your spouse has walked out on you. And sure you heart has stared to heal. And you may have even met someone new. But the scar is deep. And the trust issues are real. And you can never love quite as fully as you did before. Yet, in the eternal perspective, you are the bride of Christ. And he loves you more deeply then any spouse ever could. And he reaches out his hand and says I will heal you in part now, as much as earthly possible, but just you wait until one day after you have breathed your last and real life begins. You will hurt no more. You will will weep no more. And you will be blown away by a love that makes all loves you knew on earth seem like mere weeds in a garden of roses.

Or the terminal cancer diagnosis. You can come to terms with it. You can get get going on your bucket list. You can get your will in order. You can say all your goodbyes. But, then there is that thought, I’m really going to die. I am really going to close my eyes for the last time and no longer exist.  However, the eternal perspective says something much different. The eternal perspective says that when you close your eyes for the last time here on earth it is not a period, but simply a comma. And what comes after that comma is true life. What happened here on earth was just a mere shadow of the real thing. The real thing that is beyond our wildest dreams and imaginations that we can not even begin to comprehend.

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And so, I ask you today, do you have the eternal perspective? Do you believe its real? Are you able to have peace in life when the moments come that make you feel like you heart has stopped beating? Not because you simply push on with a new determination to live this life to its fullest, but beaus you know there is something so much greater than this life waiting for you. Are you sure of where you will go when you breathe your last?

The Bible says being sure of this is very simple. Romans 10:9-10 tells us, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in you heart that God raised Him from the dead you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified and with your mouth that you confessed and are saved.”

In order to have the eternal perspective you must have faith in the one who holds eternity in His hands. You must tell God that you understand he is God and you are not. That you know that you have sinned against him. Done things that you knew where wrong. Chose to be your own god and make your own choices instead of allowing him his rightful position as God and letting him lead your life.

And you must understand that these choices you made were sinful. And that a Holy God cannot be in relationship with sinners. And there IS no way that on your own you could earn your way back to God or cleanse yourself of your sins.

But, this eternal God is not only Holy, but also loving. And he sent Jesus, God’s son, to this earth. Jesus came and lived a blameless life.He died and rose again. And in his death, he took all of the sins of the world upon him. And in his rising, he conquered death once and forevermore, so that all people may have the chance to spend eternity with the Lord.

But, God is not a God who forces. No, in his love he gives us the freedom to choose. And in order to have the promise of eternity we must choose to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. We must choose to willingly lay down the agenda we had for our lives and take up his agenda. And in doing this, we are taken in by the Lord as a son or daughter. And he will be with all of the days of life; but even greater than that, when the days of our life are over, we will go to be with him for all of eternity.

 

 

 

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One thought on “Eternity: The Ultimate Comfort

  1. Oh the anticipation!!!! The wonderful promise! The great hope!!

    On Sat, Mar 25, 2017 at 10:48 AM, Victor Halitzka’s Blog wrote:

    > vichazinc posted: “My family visits at a nursing home each month. While > we’re there I present a message, my teenage daughter dances, my first grade > son reads a book or shares a poem, my wife keeps our youngest daughter from > interrupting what everyone else is doing 🙂 and at” >

    Like

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