2 Corinthians 4:13-15
Pastor Ken’s series, Beyond the Faint Heart, is all about this challenge from the apostle Paul to live life to the fullest, in God’s will, being a part of the Lord’s calling and commission, and to not lose heart or become faint when life gets difficult. At times we feel that following Jesus ought to be rewarded by God and that life could be a little easier, with less struggle, after all, we are doing what God’s desires. We’re the one following Christ! We’re the ones who are seeking to please God in everything we do. We’re the ones trying to sin less. We’re the ones seeking to live in obedience. And because of this, life can be hard and we can easily get discouraged.
Hard times ought to be for those who refuse to follow Jesus. We totally understand the Proverb, “the way of the transgressor is hard.” (Proverbs 13:15). But in real life, it seems the transgressors have it easier than those who have been adopted into God’s forever family. There’s little wonder why many of God’s people might lose heart.
Down through the ages, God’s people have been persecuted, for nothing else than for just being God’s people. As it was for the Jews, so it is with the church throughout the centuries. In the grand scheme of things, it really has little to do with the church and more to do with sinful humanity rebelling against any authority that God has over their lives. If people want to eliminate an invisible God from the public square, the next best thing to do is to attack his visible representation, his church. People may attack us, but deep down, their hatred is for God more than it is for us. Remember the words of Jesus when he spoke to Paul of the road to Damascus, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4).
So, how do we NOT lose heart when life gets difficult? When the world seems to go against us at every turn? We all tend to get discouraged at times, but what are we supposed to do?
Ken has been addressing this topic over the past 6 weeks, but today, I want to challenge you to anticipate eternity. It really is amazing what people can endure when they have hope that something in the future will make our life experiences worth it. Remember our Savior, “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2). We ALSO can endure a lot when we have our eyes fixed on Jesus, fixed on eternity.
Let me tell you a story about hope…
When I was in college, I read a book written by Viktor Frankl called, Man’s Search for Meaning. I pulled it out again a few years ago and was reminded of its significance in my life.
Viktor Frankl was an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, author, and Holocaust survivor. He was the founder of logotherapy, a school of psychotherapy which describes “a search for a life meaning” as the central human motivational force.
I personally admit, as a high school student so long ago, it was this search for meaning in life that brought me to Jesus, but THAT is a story for another time.
Frankl’s book is about survival. Like so many prominent German and East European Jews who thought themselves secure in the 1930s, Frankl was cast into the Nazi network of concentration camps. Miraculously, he survived, but his story in this book is less about his own struggles, (what he suffered and lost), than it is about the sources of his strength to survive. Several times in the book, Frankl quotes the words of Nietzsche: “He who has a WHY TO LIVE FOR can bear almost any HOW.” He vividly describes fellow prisoners who gave up on life, who had lost all hope for a future, and were inevitably the first to die. They died less from lack of food or medicine than from lack of hope, lack of something to live for. By contrast, Frankl kept himself alive and kept hope alive by summoning up thoughts of his wife and the prospect of seeing her again, and by dreaming at one point of lecturing after the war about the psychological lessons to be learned from the Auschwitz experience. Clearly, many prisoners who desperately wanted to live did die, some from disease, some in the crematoria. But Frankl’s concern is less with the question of why most died than with the question of why anyone at all survived.
Now here we are. Ken has been teaching us over the past 6 weeks, Paul’s spiritual lessons on how to not lose heart, how to overcome discouragement, and today the lesson is on anticipating eternity.
For Christians, we are people of hope. When Jesus was born into this world through the incarnation (God becoming Man), the first Sunday of Advent is all about Hope. God’s people patiently waited for the promised Deliverer, the Messiah to come. He would be that person who would act like a great hinge on the door of history, finally making right all that had gone wrong in the world. God’s people would be set free forever, no longer in bondage to any other nation or power. Christians get this because we recognize that this world is not our home, as it says in Philippians 3:20, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;” Eagerly waiting for our Savior… that is anticipating eternity… knowing that heaven awaits us. This life is not all there is. The best, really is, yet to come.
So, what are a few ways in which we anticipate eternity? Our passage for today reminds us that, He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you. (2 Corinthians 4:14)
To help us remember what I talk about today, let’s use the acrostic HEAVEN. Let’s get to it…
H – is for Heaven itself. Heaven is a real place described in the Bible. The word “heaven” is found 276 times in the New Testament alone. Scripture refers to three heavens. The apostle Paul was “caught up to the third heaven,” but he was prohibited from revealing what he experienced there (2 Corinthians 12:1-9).
If a third heaven exists, there must also be two other heavens.
The first is most frequently referred to in the Old Testament as the “sky” or the “firmament.” This is the heaven that contains clouds, the area that birds fly through.
The second heaven is interstellar or outer space, which is the home of the stars, planets, and other celestial objects (Genesis 1:14-18).
The third heaven is apparently the dwelling place of God. Jesus promised to prepare a place for true believers in heaven (John 14:2). Heaven is also the destination of Old Testament saints who died trusting God’s promise of the Redeemer (Ephesians 4:8). Whoever believes in Christ will never perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
In heaven, the paradise of the Garden of Eden is restored: the river of the water of life flows freely and the tree of life is available once again, yielding fruit monthly with leaves that “heal the nations” (Revelation 22:1-2). However eloquent John was in his description of heaven, the reality of heaven is beyond the ability of finite human beings to describe it (1 Corinthians 2:9).
Heaven is also a place of “no mores.” There will be no more tears, no more pain, and no more sorrow, no more separation, because death will be conquered (Revelation 20:4, 6). The best thing about heaven is the presence of Jesus (1 John 3:2). We will eventually be face to face with the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and because of HIM, we can enjoy His presence in heaven for eternity.
E – is for Evangelism. This is how we secure our ticket into heaven. Paul tells us in Romans 10:13-15, for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved. 14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent?” Evangelism is nothing more that telling others about the good news of God’s salvation. As believers, we all have a story to tell of what Jesus has done for us. We are his witnesses (Acts 1:8) and have the awesome responsibility and privilege of telling others how to find the life that we have experienced.
A – is for Anticipation. It’s not that we are ready to pack our bags and head off to heaven right now, after all, we have a life to live here and now. The Bible has many references to “eagerly waiting” for the Lord’s return. A few moments ago, I mentioned Philippians 3:20, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;” Did you catch that? Eagerly waiting.
The return of Jesus Christ will be like the coming of a thief in the night. Two passages use the wording “a thief in the night”:
Matthew 24:43, “Understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into,” and
1 Thessalonians 5:2, “You know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”
How is the second coming going to be like a thief in the night? Just as a thief catches a household by surprise, Jesus will catch the unbelieving world by surprise when He returns. Before they know it, Judgment Day will be upon them, and then, it will be too late.
As believers we don’t fear, but rather anticipate his coming, so it should not catch us by surprise. Christians are in a separate category: (1 Thessalonians 5:4) – “But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.”
These who are unsaved should listen to Jesus’ warning: “Be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:44). How can you be ready? Well, God has provided the way for you to escape the coming judgment. The way to the Father and everlasting life in heaven … is Jesus. In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father but by me.” By accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you are guaranteed forgiveness of sins, mercy, and salvation.
V – is for Victory. If we plan to overcome discouragement, the Bible tells us point blank how to be an overcomer… in Revelation 12:11, “And they overcame him (the devil, Satan, the accuser) because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony …” We have victory through the blood of Jesus, by what he did on the cross to provide salvation. We also have victory by the word of our testimony. When the accuser comes after us, we SPEAK UP to remind him of OUR salvation, and the devil’s ultimate destination. As we share our testimony with other people, we also remind ourselves what God has done for us, and that we have made the conscious decision to follow Jesus. The enemy really has no power that we don’t give him.
E – is for Entreaties. I know, that’s a weird word. But take a look at 1 Timothy 2:1, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men,” King James translates this word “entreaties” as supplications. It’s an old-school word meaning “asking God for stuff” but I’m seeing this point in the outline as communicating with God. When we communicate with God through prayer, we are developing our relationship with him, and because of THAT, we are preparing ourselves to spend eternity with our Lord and Savior.
We need to “be a praying people,” more than just “people who pray.” Let me explain the difference. We can easily become people who pray. We pray at mealtimes, during church services, and when we find ourselves in a jam needing God to bail us out. Christians pray. But we know plenty of people who are NOT Christians, they also pray. The next level for believers is to “be a praying people.” This is when we stop and pray for those who ask for prayer. Right then and there. I’ve been with people who hear my prayer concern and the next thing I know this other person is talking to Jesus! I want to be that person. We need people who will spend the hour of 9am and 11am each Sunday praying for our pastor, his message, for the congregation as we engage (or for some, disengage) with the service; let’s pray for the Holy Spirit to move among us. May we be a praying people, and not just people who pray. Finally…
N – is for New Birth. If you really want to anticipate eternity, you have to be born again. This new birth is not automatic simply because of John 3:16 (that God so loved the world that he gave us his only begotten Son) or because of Romans 5:8 (that God demonstrated his love for us that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us). At our physical birth, we are all born with a sin nature that separates us from our Creator. We were designed in His image (Genesis 1:27), but that image was tarnished when mankind fell into sin. As sinners, we cannot fellowship with a holy God the way we are. We cannot be repaired, restored, or rehabilitated. We need to be reborn. No one makes it to heaven without this new birth through Jesus. Paul reminds us that we are saved by grace through faith, it’s not about any good works that we might do. We cannot earn our salvation but must receive his grace and the gift of salvation by faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. The shed blood of Jesus brings forgiveness from sin and reconciliation with God.
Maybe you just today have come to understand that in order to overcome discouragement and move beyond the faint heart, is to anticipate eternity, but you realize that you are in no way prepared. Let’s talk about how you might respond to the message you’ve heard today.
It may be that you’re responding to God’s offer of salvation.
You may be making a decision to change and allow God to transform your life into what he desires.
Maybe you sense God leading you toward membership in this church. Let God have this time as we consider what he has to say to each of us today.
Let’s pray about it…
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, this time is yours. Many of us have entered this place with heavy hearts, ready to give up in discouragement. Through your word you have reminded us that our best life is yet ahead of us. The joy we have in this life is that we do not go through this life alone. Thank you for walking with us, giving us meaning in life, giving us a community of faith, and preparing us to one day spend eternity with you in heaven. Help us to keep our vows of transforming into the image of Christ. Forgive us when we have failed you. Help us to repent of our desire to go in our own direction rather than allow you to lead us through life. May we submit to your lordship and the mission to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a lost and dying world around us. Forgive us for not keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. It is in his holy name we pray, AMEN
Thank you for joining us today. If you’ve made a commitment to Jesus, we’d love to hear about it. Check out this website and use our digital connection card or prayer request form. We’d love to hear from you. Ken is back next week to finish this series “beyond the faint heart” – don’t miss it.
If you have not yet done so, maybe consider joining us for live worship on Sundays at 9am or 11am. We’d love to see you in the house.
If you’ve not found a small group, I can help you find one, after all, life change happens in small groups.