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History in Four Acts: The story of redemption we were created to know and experience

Easter 2001

Pastor Bob Stone

Christianity is supposed to speak to the deepest issues of our lives and to answer life’s most profound questions: "Why am I here?" Because some streams of modern Christianity have almost totally capitulated to our culture, however, what we have left is not the gospel or a true expression of Christianity. What we have left in many Christian churches today might be dubbed a "Christianity of tips and techniques," "feel good Christianity," or a Christianity with exterior trappings, but no heart!

 

Sadly, many presentations of Christianity do not answer questions or even take a person’s breath away, and if our relationship with God does not take our breath away, certainly something else will. If we do not hear the whole story, our hearts are not completely satisfied and there remains in us a deep vacuum nothing can completely satisfy. One author described the vacuum in many people's hearts as an inward angst—the echo from the cavern of the heart (Max Lucado—When God Whispers Your Name, p. 186.) .

 

To illustrate the need to have a Christianity that takes our breath away, let me ask you a couple of questions about the impact of our media.

  • Why are so many songs, epic novels, or even inspiring poetry being talked about today?
  • Why have movies such as Brave Heart, Titanic, and Gladiator been so popular?
  • Why are plays, rock stars, actors & sports stars gaining in popularity?
  • Why do millions flock to book stores and theatres like this to view or read the stories?
  • Why were we moved so deeply when we heard of the heroic efforts of the pilot of our American spy plane?

If we want to understand one of the most important shifts in our culture, we have to understand the answer to that question: Why are people almost hungry for such media sensations ?

 

I believe what we all long for is the story of real pursuit, of heroic love, courage, and sacrifice. We long to find something to help us explain our lives—their purpose and future. We want to know what cause we should live for and how we might make an impact for good, and we want it wrapped in a story we can identify with and even enter into.

 

Once upon a time the Western world had a story, but we have lost it. Where can we find that story? You'll expect me to say this, but I believe the story our culture/our world is longing to hear is the story of Jesus. Obviously, many would disagree that what they are looking for is the real Jesus. Many people are not even sure about what drives them or draws them. In the vacuum they substitute Gladiator, Titanic, Braveheart, a song or an epic novel. They look for the stories that restore heart to their lives or the causes that move them most deeply, wherever they can find them!

 

Well, on this Easter Sunday, the good news is that we have such a story in Jesus!

It is the story we were created to know and experience!

The story of Jesus is the story of real pursuit, of heroic love, courage and sacrifice. The story of God’s love for the world explains our life, its purpose and future. This is the story we all long for and for which our hearts are restless.

A little boy about 12 years old wrote to C. S. Lewis, the author of the Chronicles of Narnia (a series of children’s stories in which the hero, the Christ figure, is in the form of a lion named Aslan). The letter was really one of apology or confession in which the little boy confessed to Lewis, "I love Aslan more than Jesus." Lewis very wisely wrote back, "No, all that you love in Aslan is Jesus."

All that we are looking for and all we think we have found in literature and film or whatever, is in essence, the gospel; whether we know it or not, what we really long for is the story of God’s love for the world! Because we have lost the story (even history as His story), I want to attempt to retell it this morning; to try and recover some of what has been lost by telling the greatest story ever told.

 

I would like to tell the story in four acts. Here we will see why Easter is not only a fantastic event in history, but a necessary event in the story of all of our lives!

Act I: "In the Beginning..."

 

All good stories begin like that, don’t they? Do you know why? Because they borrow from the true story. That’s where they get their power. When I say the words, "In the beginning..." our thoughts as Christians probably go to Genesis 1, right? "Oh, I know where he’s going, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’"—Genesis 1:1.

But we can’t start there; that’s Act III, which shows us how much we’ve lost the larger story. To begin Act I, we’ve got to go to John 1—"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." 2] He was with God in the beginning. 3] Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made."

In other words, in the once upon a time before all time, there was perfect love. What was this love? Notice in that verse the single word "with." (Jesus was with God; Jesus was God.) The word "with" is referring to what is called the love of the trinity, real intimacy; the love and intimacy of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I want us to catch this very profound truth: the love the Father, Son and Holy Spirit experienced is the kind of love we all have been looking for all our lives.

 

I think many of us have thought of God as strong, sovereign, omniscient, omnipotent, all that—but definitely by Himself, maybe even lonely before He created man and woman. Maybe we've thought of Him as a pathetic individual looking for someone to love Him! We must understand, God has never been by Himself, nor did He create us so He might experience love. God has always been a community of persons in the trinity. The Scripture says, "God is love..." and for that to happen, there has to be someone else to love.

One of the most profound Scriptures in the Bible says, "God so loved the world, that he gave His one and only son"—Jn. 3:16. (For the gift of God to be meaningful, it is obvious the Father also loved the Son He gave.) So when we read in Genesis 1:26 (the very first book of the Bible), "Then God said, ‘Let US make man in OUR image, in OUR likeness...’" the words are plural, and the image/ likeness includes the love experienced by the trinity.

fWe were created in the image of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the three in one who love each other. That is the kind of community every one of us has been searching for our whole lives. We live for the experience of Act I. Whether we know it or not, we were created relational, in the image of the relationship found in the trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

Obviously, we are not a perfect expression of that 3-in-1 relationship, but nonetheless we are relational at the core of our being, because God was relational in the beginning, in Act I. Since we were made to experience relationship, nothing will affect our hearts like relationship: either to thrill it or to break it.

 

Let’s zero in on our own experience: Have you felt that deep longing for love that no one seems to satisfy?

  • Some think the lack they feel is the need for a best friend.
  • Some people think it’s marriage ("If I can just get married, then I will have it.")
  • Married couples want the relationship of children, then they think their lives will be complete.
  • Some feel the need to get into the right club or church.
  • Maybe it’s a circle of friends or a small group.

I believe the Scripture makes it clear that all our lives we have been looking for the intimacy of Act I.

Some people have a hard time admitting their need for God. It reminds me of the man who took his horse and dog up in the mountains for a hike. They had a wonderful time, but sadly, on their trip home they had a horrible accident. The horse trailer was wrecked and everyone was severely injured. A state patrol came upon the scene. He first came to the horse and saw that the horse was almost dead. So he took out his gun and put the horse out of its misery. Next he came to the dog and it, too, was close to death as well. Again, he put the dog out of its misery.

Finally, he walked over to the man who was bruised, broken, bleeding, and he, too, was severely injured. The state patrolman, with great compassion in his eyes looked down at the injured man and said, "And how are you doing, sir?" The man looked up at the patrolman and said, "I’ve never felt better in my life."

Some of us feel that God really wants to put us out of our misery; we don’t trust Him and so we lie to Him and ourselves about how we’re really doing. The truth is, He is not a heavenly cop, he is our Savior. He is not out to shoot us, but to love us!

 

When I was a young boy we would often drive from Wenatchee to Tacoma, Washington, because that is where many of my dad’s and mom’s extended family were located. I really loved the Christmas times at my grandparents' house, where 10 family members would gather together. The next day we would visit my mom’s sisters and her family. I have so many wonderful memories of that extended family; the gifts, the games on Grandpa’s front yard, the food, the jokes, the laughter. I felt the security of family, of acceptance and love.

 

Now, many years later, I remember the feelings I had in my second and third years here at Hillcrest; I was 33 and 34. That Christmas Mom was in University Hospital in Seattle, in a coma. Gone were the family gatherings. My brother went into delayed stress syndrome, and for about 10 years was estranged from my dad and to an certain extent, from me. My dad sat by Mom's bed every day for months. He was very distant and in a deep quandary as to what was happening.

My mom’s relatives were angry at my dad, blaming her condition on him, so he was totally estranged from Mom’s side of the family, and I got caught unintentionally in the wake. My family was gone; what I had known growing up was gone, or in suspension. I remember how alone I felt, even in the midst of my immediate family. That distance from family and friends is not God’s plan, nor is any aloneness what God wants anyone here to experience.

 

We are created for relationship, to experience intimacy and deep friendship with God. In fact, Jesus said it this way in John 15:15—"I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you."

 

That’s the invitation of the gospel as well; the invitation we all have to be a part of God’s eternal family—a family that will never deteriorate, but will last forever.

 

 

Once upon a time there was true love, heroic intimacy. And the good news from Acts I is that the loving relationship present with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is open to us, too.

 

Act II

 

In Act II God begins to write other characters into the story. Somewhere in eternity past was a time He created angels. We’re not given a lot of insight into what it’s like to be an angel in Scripture, but we can notice this; Scripture never describes a bored angel. The angels are always having a great time and seem to be included in every major event.

In Isaiah 6 there is an instance when the curtain of heaven, to the throne room of God is opened. "In the year King Uzziah died I saw the Lord lifted up..." The curtains open just for a moment for Isaiah, and he sees the rest of reality. In this awesome scene he sees the glory of God in heaven, and the angels flying around the temple.

Isaiah 6:1—In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2] Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3] And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." 4] At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

 

These are winged creatures who are calling to each other. Notice they are saying, "holy, holy, holy," to each other, then "At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds (shake)." (These were powerful voices.) As the shaking goes on, "the temple (is) filled with smoke." The whole scene is breathtaking; it’s captivating, and they are in awe. The Scriptures indicate we all have contact (if not actual experiences) with angels, and we don’t know it.

For example, you’ll be walking, maybe up in the mountains, and you come through a break in the woods. Suddenly you are in a meadow full of wildflowers. Something in your heart says, "Ah, I wish my wife/ husband/friend was here; he/she would love this." Or, maybe you’re on an adventure, on vacation, and you say to yourself, "Ah, we should have brought the kids; they would love this;" because every moment of glory is meant to be shared. So the angels are created and invited into this tremendous intimacy with God, and they love it!

Well, most of them loved the experience.

 

Something else happens in Act II that’s absolutely crucial for us to understand why life is the way it is in Act III. The Bible alludes to a rebellion in heaven. One of the angels, called Lucifer, or son of the morning (whom Ezekiel says walked among the fiery stone) didn’t want to be best supporting actor; he wanted to be best actor, the center of the story.

 

He wanted the story to revolve around him, and as the book of Revelation seems to say, he convinced one-third of the angels in heaven to turn on this generous love, and there was war in heaven. Because of the rebellion, Scripture records that Satan fell from heaven.

Ezek. 28:12b—‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13] You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. 14] You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. 15] You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created...’

16] "Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, O guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. 17] Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings."

The highest created being wasn’t satisfied to be a created being, and that was the beginning of his downfall. What else corrupted Satan? Turn to a passage where Satan is being addressed through another—Isaiah14:12-14. Here we find Satan’s desire to exalt himself and to be like his Creator.

"How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! 13] You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. 14] I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’"

 

He slandered God. In vv. 12-14, the five "I wills" uttered by Satan constitute the very essence of sin:

  1. "I will ascend to heaven..."—v. 13a.
  2. "I will raise my throne above the stars of God..."—v. 13b.
  3. "I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly..."—v. 13c.
  4. "I will ascend above the tops of the clouds..."—v. 14a.
  5. "I will make myself like the Most High..."—v. 14b.

His sin culminates in that last boast.

 

This passage and others make clear the fall of Lucifer and his demons from the hallways, courtyards, and pastures of heaven, but we should notice two things about that fall:

 

First, they are left as characters in the story who have one mission, under their commander-and-chief Satan: to "kill, steal and destroy God’s creation and creatures."

 

Secondly, and more subtly, what Satan tries to bring into the universe is doubt. A doubt is introduced into the story that was never there before. Satan wants to suggest the question, "Can you really trust the heart of this God; is He really for you?" That’s one of the deepest doubts of the human heart, maybe the deepest. It lingers in the story now like smoke after the battle is long over, because in Act II God wins by power, and power is not the same as goodness. So the questions are there:

  • Is God just bigger, but not better?
  • Does God only win His battles by His power?
  • Does He just want to overpower us?
  • Does He want a relationship with us, or is He content with submission?

God answers those questions, for us and for all who might accuse Him of being unfair and unloving. The Scripture says something very important in Act I, that before the earth was created, God had each of us in mind; He knew us by name. Three crucial things were decided before anything was created.

 

  1. First, God would create mankind with the capacity to choose (apparently like the angels), whether to follow Satan, or God and His ways. God has never wanted robots, mindless praise, or forced friendship. God has given the angels and man a choice to follow Him, or reject Him. In order for a true love to occur, we had to be free to reject Him. This is so amazing, when God knows what free-willed beings can do; He has already suffered one massive betrayal. (By the way, our freedom is part of the explanation for the problem of evil. God is the author of some storms directly; but He is the author of the possibility of all storms in giving us freedom.)

     

  2. Secondly, God settled on us as the focus of His love, to be made whole and holy by His love. This larger story is so clear when we see how long God has been planning this! We are not merely the replacement for the angels He lost, the first date He can find on the rebound. The first chapter of Ephesians gives a look into God’s motives:

"Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift giving by the hand of his beloved Son…Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living." (The Message)

God chose us to be His family. What does that do to your sense of worth? God wants us to be His family!

  1. Third, the plan was made for the Son to leave His home (and the riches of His glory), and in the language of Scripture, "become the lamb of God to take away the sins of the world;" or, "...the Lamb who was killed before the world was made."—Rev. 13:8 (New Believers Bible). Nothing took our God by surprise—even our sinfulness or our rejection of Him! God planned a way for mankind to be holy in His sight. He knew that given the choice and the influence of Satan and his emissaries, man would walk away from God, so He planned before the earth was created that He Himself would provide a way for every human being to be bought and brought out of their sin.

    God planned to counteract Satan’s schemes by lowering Himself even below the angels (Heb. 2:9), so that we might have eternal life with Him; that we might be holy and blameless in His sight

With mankind’s capacity to choose whether to follow Satan or God; with God settled on us as the focus of His love, to be made holy in His sight; and with the plan made for the Son to leave His home as the perfect sacrifice for our sins, the drama is now set for Act III.

 

Act III

Here we have "In the beginning," but it isn’t the beginning of history. It is the beginning of Act III.

 

Act III begins in the heavens. When the curtain goes up on Act III, we see God in a flurry of breathtaking and dramatic actions that we rather blandly call, "the acts of creation." Here in Genesis 1 we see the wild goodness in the heart of this God as He creates:

  • "light"—v. 3
  • "day and night"—v. 5
  • "sky"—v. 8
  • "land and seas"—v. 10
  • "vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees"—v. 11
  • "two great lights" (the sun and moon)—v. 16.
  • "living creatures in the sea and the birds of the air"—vv. 20-21.
  • "wild animals, livestock, and creatures that move along the ground"—v. 25
  • And then for His crowning achievement: "...God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness..."—v. 26

And "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good"—v. 31. Let’s pause for a moment and think of all He created. Let’s feel God’s happiness with it all. Think about how with great joy He makes Maui, the French Alps and the African Savanna. He makes mangoes and peaches. He creates blackberries and cabernet grapes and kumquats (go figure). Then there is Yosemite and Yellowstone, horses and hummingbirds and rainbow trout, weasels, anteaters and even aardvarks!

 

Why is He doing all this? We know He already had the perfect relationship in the trinity and has already suffered a betrayal from Lucifer and one-third of the angels, yet God creates man and woman, sets them in Paradise and gives them creation, like a wedding gift. Taking the blindfold off and revealing His handmade wedding present He says, "Here, it’s yours. Enjoy yourselves. Do you like it? Take it for a spin."

 

So what is God up to? Why is He doing all this? Again, God doesn’t want cowering slaves. He has created us to be His intimate allies, His creative partners in the universe, His friends! The reason God didn’t make puppets is because He wanted lovers.

God is wooing our hearts with a world that is beautiful, and funny, and full of adventure. We were made for a far larger story than the little soap operas we call our lives! We were made to love God and to experience His love in return. God knew we would not truly love Him if He just overwhelmed us with His power! As Phil Yancey says in Disappointment with God,

"The powers of the Author aren’t sufficient to win our hearts. Power can do everything but the most important thing; it cannot control love. The guards in a concentration camp possess unlimited power over you; they can make you kill your mother, eat human excrement. (But) there’s one thing they cannot force you to do: love them. This fact may help explain why God sometimes seems shy to use his power [in Act III]. He created us to love him, but his most impressive displays of miracle—the kind we may secretly long for—do nothing to foster that love."

 

So God places Adam and Eve in the garden as a display of His love and goodness, but what does this first couple do? Can you imagine if on your honeymoon one of you sneaked off for a rendezvous with a perfect stranger? Well, that’s what happened in the garden. Adam and Eve kicked off the honeymoon by sleeping with the enemy.

Then God comes into the garden and in one of the most poignant verses of the entire Bible (to me) He says to Eve in Genesis 3:13—"What is this you have done?" You can almost hear the shock, the pain of betrayal in God’s voice. You see the fall of Adam and Eve isn’t a crime like theft, but it is as a betrayal of love. In love, God creates us for love, and we give Him the back of our hand. Why did this happen?

Satan gets us to side with him by sowing the seed of doubt in our first parents’ minds: "God’s heart really isn’t good; He’s holding out on you. You’ve got to take things into your own hands." And Paradise was lost. So God comes to them and says, Do you have any idea what you have just done? I made your hearts for freedom, for heroic intimacy, and you have just given them away in bondage to My worst enemy and yours. And I made the earth for beauty and for adventure, and you’ve just given it away to Satan as well. This is why when Satan comes to Jesus in Luke 4 (the temptation in the wilderness), he offers Jesus the kingdoms of the world because now they’re his.

 

So it looks like God’s plan has failed, but something about God’s plan and heart is soon to be revealed. At the lowest point in our relationship, God announces His intention never to abandon us, but to seek us out and win us back. In essence, God says to Adam and to Eve, "I’ll come for you. Your lives are going to be very hard now in very gender-specific ways, but I’ll come for you. I will come for you."

Genesis 3:15—"And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel."

A new element of God’s heart is introduced: grace! Up until this point we knew He was rich, famous, influential, even generous, but behind all that could still have hid a heart that was less than good. Grace removes all doubt.

And then the long story of God’s pursuit of humanity begins. Satan wanted center stage; he wanted to be the main character, he wanted to be the point. His plan now is to ruin our love relationship with God and to get us all caught up in our own little world by telling us that we are the point. As we read the Scripture, we see how humanity goes along with this.

 

  • Cain murders Abel;
  • Lamech threatens to murder everyone else.
  • Humanity grows worse and worse until God says in pain, "I’m sorry I ever made them."

 

But He doesn’t give up. First with Noah, then Abraham, then Israel, we see God pursuing a people with whom He can share His joy and plan. We see some great success and some colossal failures. But even faithfulness seems to last only a short while. How is God feeling by this point?

 

When we reach the prophets, we get a glimpse at what it feels like to be God. The relationship pretty much breaks down when we get to the prophets in the Old Testament. Reading the prophets, says Philip Yancey, is like hearing a lovers’ quarrel through the apartment wall. Eavesdrop on the argument and catch a glimpse of God’s heart:

From Isaiah:

"I long to be gracious to you. You are precious and honored in my sight, because I love you. But you—come here, you...you...offspring of adulterers. You have made your bed on a high and lofty hill, forsaking me, you uncovered your bed, you climbed into it and opened it wide. You have been false to me. Yet...I will take delight in you, as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will I rejoice over you."

From Jeremiah:

"I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me...What fault did you find in me that you strayed so far from me? You are a swift she-camel running here and there, sniffing the wind in her craving—in her heat, who can restrain her? Should I not punish them for this? Should I not avenge myself? I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with lovingkindness. What have I done to make you hate me so much?"

From Ezekiel:

"I will answer you according to your idols [your false lovers] in order to recapture your heart."

From Malachi:

"Return to me and I will return to you. Yet you have said harsh things about me. You have said, ‘There’s no payoff in this relationship. It’s not worth loving God.’"

 

Every one of us has other lovers—television, work, sports, romance novels, food—something that we give our hearts to, other than the heart of God.

 

After this there are 400 years of silence at the end of the Old Testament, and it looks like God’s plan has failed, but the story is about to take an unbelievable turn. Remember, God knew what would happen; He already has something up His sleeve. It’s called the incarnation by theologians. God comes through the doorway to our world, sneaking into the enemy camp disguised as a newborn.

The heart behind the whole story comes into our lives as a carpenter from Nazareth. To bridge the gap between estranged lovers, God shows His love again by putting into action the plan that had been waiting for just the right moment. Jesus doesn’t just speak from heaven, He comes to live among us, takes upon Himself the form of a servant, and begins to very personally woo us back to the Father by showing us what the Father is really like.

Then, in what seems to be an incredible tragedy, Jesus is nailed to a cross. At first, those present didn’t fully understand what was happening! They didn’t know God was coming through the doorway to our world by laying aside the prerogatives of His deity (Philippians 2) and taking upon Himself the clothes of a servant, in order to win us/woo us to Himself!

 

Because we have so wrecked our relationship with Him by our sin, we are subject to God's judgment of God; so He comes into our world, takes upon Himself His own judgment, and dies in our place.

 

Romans 5:6—"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7] Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8] But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

 

A paraphrase of Romans 5 might be, "Look here, at the cross. Here is the demonstration of God’s heart. At the point of our deepest betrayal, when we had run our farthest from him and gotten so lost in the woods we could never find our way home, God came and died to rescue us." We, of course, don’t have to wait for the Incarnation to see that God has the purest of all motives, but after the Incarnation there can be no doubt.

 

We have never been loved so fiercely.

 

Can you trust the heart of this God? It’s the question Jesus came to answer. He came for us, just as He promised He would. He’s calling us to be His intimate allies once more, but how do we know for sure that Jesus is God and He really does love us? The Lord demonstrated who He was by rising from the dead, showing Himself by many infallible proofs, and then by returning back to heaven.

That’s why we celebrate Easter. It’s because it is proof of Jesus’ love, His power and His deity. It is the center of the story. Without His resurrection the story ends, but because He is risen from the dead, we have all the proof we need that He has our best in mind; and that He really does love us!

 

What if we had a resurrection, but nothing after that? The Apostle Paul has something to say about Act III being the end. A paraphrase of I Corinthians 15 would have Paul saying, "If this is it... just living a Christian life with no hope for eternity, no hope of being risen with Christ... if this is as good as it gets, go home, bake a cake, and eat the whole thing." He goes on to say, "No, don’t even go home, stop at the store and get all the booze you can find, and then go home and get hammered."

 

1 Cor. 15:17—And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18] Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19] If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men...

32b] If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."

 

But praise God, He is risen and ascended to the right hand of the Father, and even that is not the end of the story. Do you know why many Christians live with a loss of heart? Do you know why many people have not made a commitment to follow Jesus?

 

They are unconvinced there is any more to their existence than this life, or that the doorway to heaven is death, and all they have to do is die and they're in. You'll remember, however, God doesn’t force His gifts on us. Unless we build a relationship with Him through Jesus, we have no eternity with God; we have an eternity with the enemy of God, Satan Himself!

Even for the believer it is important to remember why there was a resurrection. Why is Act III so important? What does this life have to do with eternity? It is so we will have the opportunity to be with our God for eternity.

If we don’t have Act IV in our minds and hearts, however, we will lose the larger story. If we don’t know what Act IV is all about, we will be caught up in our lives as the only thing that matters!

Act IV

 

In Act IV is the guarantee that something better is coming. Rev. 4:1—

"After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven and the voice I had first heard speaking to me... said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this."

 

What is the typical evangelical response to the question, "What are we doing in heaven for eternity?" We have all heard or surmised we will worship God, but maybe something in your heart says, "For how long?" Are we going to worship 10,000 years? Are we going to worship 100,000 years? Will it be worshipping forever? Will it be one chorus after another in heaven? Is heaven one big, unending church service?

(For some, that would be getting closer to my picture of the other place.)

 

Surely there will be more than that.

The worship will be continuous and glorious

but not because we sing round after round of some chorus or hymn; it will be because we will be so grateful for who God is and what He has done—1 Thess. 1:10.

We will have beauty to enjoy—Revelation 4:3, 6.

Rev. 4:3—"And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne." Rev. 4:6—"Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal." (See Revelation 21:1 - 22:5.)

 

We will also have activity, adventure and rewards.

Luke 19 and Matthew 25 foreshadow a day when we will exercise our real place in God’s economy.

  • We will have a kingdom to explore and enjoy: "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world"—Matthew 25:34.
  • We will have cities to take charge of: "Well done, my good servant!" his master replied. "Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities"—Luke 19:17.
  • We will have the joy of receiving rewards for our life here—Matt. 5:12; 6:4; 2 Cor. 5:10.

We will have new bodies to enjoy the activities—1 Cor 15:49.

 

We will also have the continued joy of knowing all the people in heaven.

Imagine having a conversation with God, Abraham, David—Heb. 12:22-24. Max Lucado says:

"The Hebrew writer gives to us a National Geographic piece on heaven. Listen to how he describes the mountaintop of Zion. He says, when we reach the mountain we will have come to

....the city of the living God...to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly...to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven....to God, the judge of all men (and) to the spirits of righteous men made perfect...to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel—Heb. 12:22-24.

"Imagine the meeting of the firstborn—a gathering of God’s people.

  • no jealousy
  • no competition
  • no division
  • no hurry

"We will be perfect...sinless.

  • no more stumbles
  • no more tripping.
  • lusting will cease
  • gossip will be silenced
  • grudges will be forever removed.

 

"Imagine seeing God. Finally, to gaze into the face of your heavenly Father; to feel the Father’s gaze upon you. Neither will cease. God will do what He promised.

  • "I will make all things new."
  • "I will restore what was taken."
  • "I will restore your years on crutches and trapped in wheelchairs."
  • "I will restore your smiles faded by hurt."
  • "I will replay symphonies unheard by deaf ears and the sunsets unseen by blind eyes."
  • "The mute will sing."
  • "The poor will feast."
  • "The wounds will be healed."
  • "Again, I will make all things new."
  • "I will restore all things."
  • "The child snatched by disease will run to your arms."
  • "The peace of a pure heart will be my gift to you."

"I will make all things new—new hope—new faith—and most of all, new love; the love of which all other loves speak; the love before which all others pale; this love of mine will be yours."

 

What a mountain! Jesus will be there. We will be united with Him for eternity."

(Max Lucado, When God Whispers Your Name, pp. 193-194.)

We will have a wonderful intimacy with God, for God kicks off Act IV with a wedding feast—Rev. 19:7-9; 22:7.

Now, you have to get the images of a typical American wedding out of your mind. You know, people standing around the fellowship hall holding styrofoam cups of punch, talking about what a lovely couple they are, and all that. We’ve got to get a Jewish wedding in mind: there they push back the tables, roll up the rugs... and there is feasting! There is dancing! There is drinking. Jesus says, "I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until I drink it again with you in the kingdom of heaven." And when we get there, He’s going to pop a cork.

 

This isn’t going to be just any kind of feast, this is a wedding feast. What goes on at wedding feasts?

 

Real intimacy, real adventure. In fact, at the end of the "Chronicles of Narnia," the last paragraph of the last book, The Last Battle, C. S. Lewis says this:

"But the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories that we can most truly say, "they all lived happily ever after." 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 a title page. Now, at last we are 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.

 


I once ran across a story about a honeymoon disaster.

The newlyweds arrived at the hotel in the wee hours with high hopes. They reserved a large room, with romantic amenities. That is not what they found. It seems the room was pretty skimpy. The tiny room had no view, no flowers; it had only a cramped bathroom and worst of all, no bed... just a fold out sofa with a lumpy mattress and sagging springs.

It was not what they had hoped for, consequently, neither was the night.

The next morning the sore-necked groom stormed down to the manager’s desk and vented his anger. After listening patiently for a few minutes the clerk asked, "Did you open the door in your room?" The groom admitted he hadn’t. He returned to the suite and opened the door he had thought was a closet.

There, complete with fruit baskets and chocolates was a spacious bedroom.

Can’t you see them standing at the doorway of the room they’d overlooked? Oh, it would have been so nice. A curtain-framed window rather than a blank wall. A fresh breeze in place of stuffy air. An elaborate restroom, not a tiny bathroom.

But they missed it. How sad. Cramped, cranky, and uncomfortable, while comfort was a door away. They missed it, because they thought the door was a closet.

"Why didn’t you try?" I was asking, as I read the piece. "Get curious. Check it out. Give it a shot. Take a look. Why did you just assume the door led nowhere?"

Good question. Not just for the couple, but for everyone. Not for the pair who thought the room was all there was, but for all who feel cramped and packed in the anteroom called earth. It’s not what we’d hoped. It may have its moments, but it is simply not what we think it should be. Something inside of us groans for more. We understand what Paul meant when he wrote: "We... groan inwardly as we wait eagerly our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies"—Rom. 8:23.

Or we are so eager, we demand. We demand in this world what only the next world can give—no sickness; no suffering; no struggle. We stomp our feet and shake our fists, forgetting it is only in heaven that such peace is found. We must be patient, but not so much that we don’t yearn. We must be eager, but not so much that we don’t wait. We’d be wise to do what the newlyweds never did. We’d be wise to open the door. Stand in the entryway. Gaze in the chambers. Gasp at the beauty.

And wait. Wait for the groom to come and carry us, his bride, over the threshold.

When God Whispers Your Name, Max Lucado, Word Publishing, 1994, pp. 185-189.

 

Let’s pray. "Father, save us. Rescue us from the small stories that we get caught up in, from the loss of heart that so many of us know. Capture us out of our relationships with all our other lovers and give us eyes to see what is really going on here. Help us to live from the heart as your intimate allies. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen."

I encourage you who have never asked Jesus into your life to ask Him in today! Jesus comes back to this service today in Revelations 3:20. We read, "Here I am. I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." Jesus asks us to open the door to our life and allow Him to come in.

God saw us all before the world was created. Please respond to His invitation today.