Tag Archives: eternity

Life’s Three Most Important Questions

The Bible verses for LifeWay’s VBS this year are some of my favorites, Colossians 1:15-16. “He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, for by him all things were made, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities, all things were made in him and for him.”

Genesis tells us that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” In the New Testament we learn that Jesus, the eternal Son, was not only present at creation, but he was God’s agent of creation. And more than that, Jesus is the reason God created the heavens and the earth, the reason God created you and me.

The Colossians text goes on to affirm that Jesus is Savior as well as Creator. He is the head of the body, the church. In him the fullness of God dwells and through his blood on the cross God has reconciled his people to himself (Colossians 1:18-23).

Jesus also gives us power to live in victory here and now. As God’s people, reconciled to him by Jesus, we have his peace ruling in our hearts and his word dwelling in us richly (Colossians 3:15-16).

Jesus is also our eternity. In Colossians 3:4 we read that Christ will appear again and his people will appear with him in glory. So Jesus is our past, our present, and our future.

Jesus answers the three most important questions for us. First, “Where have we come from?” We are created by God through Jesus in the image of God. And Jesus is the image of God, revealing the fullness of God to us.

Second, “Why are we here?” Our lives encounter pain and sorrow, prompting us to wonder if our existence has any real meaning. In Christ, the answer is “Yes!” Jesus suffered, too, in order to bring about God’s great salvation. In Christ, even our suffering has a purpose.

But more than purpose in our pain, Jesus brings a vision of victory. We are reconciled to God and empowered by God’s Spirit to serve him and to enjoy his blessings even in this broken world.

God’s blessings now are only a foretaste of the eternal blessings that he is preparing for us in heaven. The third question is this: “Where are we going?” All those who belong to Christ eagerly await the final trumpet and the shout of the archangel which will signal Jesus’ Second Coming. And when he comes, he will take his people to be with him forever.

Only in Christ do we find satisfying answers to these vital questions: Where have we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? Only in Christ are we reconciled to God, saved from our sin. Only in Christ are we empowered to live the abundant life. And only in Christ do we have hope for eternity.

May Christ our Maker and Savior always enable us to serve him well and enjoy his blessings,

Brother Richard Foster

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Digging Deeper Into God’s Word: Lazarus and the Rich Man

Jesus pulls back the curtain and gives us a glimpse of eternity. He does so by speaking about a certain rich man and a poor beggar named Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). These two men experience a great reversal after death. The rich man, ostentatious in life, finds himself tormented in hell. Lazarus, pitiful in life, finds himself comforted after dying. More than the images Jesus paints, the words he reports unveil a vital truth.

The ensuing dialogue in this pericope is between the rich man and Abraham, the great patriarch of faith who is alive in eternity. In v. 29, Abraham is responding to the rich man’s request that someone be sent to warn his brothers, who have not yet died. In his eternal anguish, the rich man realizes that his brothers are in jeopardy and he has
compassion on them.

The remarks between the rich man and Abraham are always introduced by an aorist tense verb in the Greek text (εἶπεν in vv. 24, 25, 27, 30, 31) with the one exception of Abraham’s statement in v. 29. Here, Luke chooses to employ a so-called historical present tense (λέγει), which marks Abraham’s response to the rich man as emphatic and therefore critical for understanding the Author’s purpose in this text. Abraham’s grammatically marked statement is the key for properly interpreting Jesus’ teaching in this account.

A literal rendering of v. 29 is as follows: “Now Abraham says (vs. “said”), ‘They have Moses and the Prophets, they must listen to them.’” Moses and the Prophets, of course, is a first-century reference to Scripture. Abraham tells the rich man that nobody need go to his living brothers from the dead in order to warn them about hell because they have the Bible and they should read it and obey it.

The present-tense introduction, “Abraham says,” elevates the status of the patriarch’s statement from a simple response which is bound to the immediate context of the rich man’s request and instead places it on the level of an unchangeable truth (gnomic). They have God’s written word and they must listen and obey. So the idea of obeying God’s written word emerges as the crux of the matter for the rich man and for Jesus’ listeners (and Luke’s readers), and for us.

Abraham is affirming that God’s primary method of revealing himself is his written word. This is not to deny the work of his Spirit (see Joel 2 and Acts 2) or the revelation of his Person through his handiwork in creation (Psalm 19:1-6), or through the testimony of his people (Psalm 9:11). Nevertheless, the revelation of God through creation, sometimes called general revelation, is incomplete without special revelation: God’s written word (see Psalm 19:7-11). In addition, God’s Spirit works through his written word by illuminating the Bible to the human heart (Luke 24:45). Moreover, the spoken word of the prophet/apostle (and the witness of every believer) is empowered by God’s Spirit to reflect the apostolic message with precision, that is, to express accurately in a given historical context the universal truth revealed by Scripture (Matthew 10:19; see also Romans 10:17).

The rich man in Jesus’ teaching erred when he discounted the critical importance of hearing and acting on God’s written word. His hard-hearted response toward the poor man (Lazarus) who was left begging at his gate every day was the visible manifestation of his rejection of God’s word (which repeatedly enjoins God’s people to be gracious toward the poor; see Exodus 23:11 and many more OT examples). The rich man ignored the poor man because he ignored God’s word. The rich man’s indifference toward the poor man was a symptom of his indifference toward Scripture, which reveals an indifference toward God himself. This understanding of the rich man’s error keeps us from missing Jesus’ real point in Luke 16.

Jesus’ presentation strongly implies that the rich man’s cavalier attitude toward the poor man at his gate contributed to his disappointing eternal destination. As a result, some readers of this text might conclude that one’s merciful attention to the poor is the desired end result, therefore, any who care for the poor have no real need for the Bible. After all, they are obeying God’s word on their own impetus. In fact, they might decide that they are morally superior to those who study the Bible because they have no such need for God and the Bible to inspire them to do the right thing, no need to be frightened into acting right by an eternal fiery hell. But this would be a grave mistake as surely as the rich man’s error.

In another place (Matthew 5:14-16), Jesus tells his disciples that they are the light of world, so they should let their light shine before people so that people will see their good deeds and glorify their Father in the heavens. Helping the poor is good. Glorifying God is the goal. Helping others without bringing glory to God will ultimately bring glory to the helper instead of the Maker. The Maker of the heavens and the earth who is the Giver of life is also the one who provides us with the resources to help the poor. To take his resources and help others without giving him credit is robbing God of the honor that he rightfully deserves. In other words, helping people without worshiping God is an eternal mistake.

The rich man emphatically denies the necessity of God’s word in his rejoinder to Abraham by beginning with a strengthened form of a Greek negative particle (οὐχί vs. οὐ): “No! Father Abraham, but if . . .” (see Luke 16:30). His personal conviction is that God must do more than merely provide his written word (at least for important people like the rich man; he and his five brothers deserve more from God!). He insists that someone return from the dead and convince his brothers to change their ways. And this is the rich man’s eternal miscalculation, insisting that a miracle is necessary to inspire belief and obedience, insisting that he can demand of God how God must do his business, and dismissing the power of God’s written word (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and Hebrews 4:12).

How many people today respond to the Bible by saying “No! God, but if . . .”? They reject the idea that God’s word is sufficient. They imply that their unbelief and disobedience is God’s fault for not doing more, for not giving them the obligatory miraculous sign. If only God would do right, then they would act right, so they imply.

Others assert that they have discovered a way to experience the Living God which circumvents or minimizes Scripture. But anyone who suggests that there is an avenue to God and to his truth which trivializes or ignores the Bible should be corrected quickly and rejected completely if they persist in promoting such a dangerously incorrect notion.

For instance, those who seem to elevate God’s Spirit above God’s word are apparently unaware that the Spirit of God is committed to the word of God. The primary revelation of Christ is the New Testament. Our choice is not between Spirit and word. The choice is between Spirit-word and confusion-ignorance (which leads to eternal disaster).

No doubt the rich man had concluded before he died that his apparent success in life, which came without serious attention to Scripture, meant that God’s written word was of little or no consequence, at least for him and people of his privileged status (or his intellectual superiority). He was assuming an elite position, either not knowing or not considering seriously enough the truth revealed in God’s word that the Lord opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (Proverbs 3:34; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5).

The rich man exemplifies the proud. Lazarus exemplifies the humble. The rich man, pampered in life, finds himself in hell after death. Lazarus, poor and pathetic in life, finds himself carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom in death (a place of honor at the heavenly feast). Jesus’ teaching in this text shatters the rich man’s deadly illusion that Scripture is somehow insufficient or optional. The Bible is more important than the most impressive miracle: even someone rising from the dead.

The statement about rising from the dead is ironic because Jesus would be resurrected and show himself to eyewitnesses with many proofs of his conquest over the grave. After a cruel and shameful execution on a cross at Calvary, in fulfillment of God’s written word, Jesus was raised alive by God from his tomb, also fulfilling God’s written promise. But despite the magnitude of Jesus’ greatest miracle, his resurrection, some would still refuse to believe (Matthew 28:17). So this teaching about the rich man and Lazarus is prophetic, predicting with accuracy that his own resurrection would be insufficient to inspire faith for some who were eyewitnesses.

Miracles cannot take the place of the Bible. We must accept the reality that God’s word is sufficient for saving faith. And the written words of the Prophet, in this case the Lord Jesus Christ himself, are worthy of our greatest and most careful attention. Eternity demands it.

Brother Richard Foster

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Our Promise for Eternity

Jesus went to many of the same places that we go to in life. He attended at least one wedding, went to many worship services, accepted dinner invitations, visited at friends’ homes, and also showed up at some funerals. Marvelous things often happened when Jesus went to these events. Water turned to wine at the wedding. Demons were cast out of people at worship services. Arrogant rulers were humbled at dinner parties. Physically ill folks were healed at friends’ houses.

Nobody could ever forget what happened when Jesus appeared at funerals. One time a little girl had died and the house was full of mourners wailing and crying (Mark 5). Her parents were devastated at the loss. Jesus went into the room where the dead girl’s body had been placed. He gently took her hand and spoke to her. “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” And she did.

Another time Jesus and his followers came to a town where they were having a funeral (Luke 7). A widow had lost her only son. A large crowd from town was with her, carrying his body out for burial. Jesus’ heart went out to the woman. “Don’t cry,” he told her. He touched the coffin and spoke, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” He sat up and began to talk, no longer dead.

Perhaps Jesus’ most dramatic and memorable funeral appearance was when Lazarus died (John 11). Lazarus and his sisters were friends of Jesus. When he arrived they had already buried Lazarus but his sisters and many of their friends were still mourning. The sisters, Mary and Martha, each told Jesus that if he had come sooner, their brother would be alive. After hearing this the second time, Jesus wept. But he went on to the tomb where they had buried Lazarus and after praying he cried out to the dead man, “Lazarus, come out!” And he did.

Jesus told Martha, Lazarus’ sister, that he is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25). On another occasion he said that he had God’s power and authority to lay down his own life for God’s people and then to take it up again (John 10:17-18). He also said that a day is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out (John 5:28). Some will rise up to a resurrection of life, others to a resurrection of judgment.

Jesus is the resurrected Lord who is the source of resurrection power for all his people. This great truth is our promise for eternity. We can face living and dying with confidence because Jesus is our resurrection and our life. The proof is his own resurrection, the foundation of our faith. We remember Jesus’ resurrection power always, but we turn our hearts and minds toward his empty tomb in a special way each Easter. Let us prepare our hearts to do so once again.

May God’s Spirit fill us with the power and the joy of Christ’s resurrection,

Brother Richard Foster

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion