April 26, 2011

Urban Legends: Salvation is about going to heaven when I die

This morning we are going to begin by reading the Resurrection Story...

Matthew 28:1-15

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

The resurrection is the single most important event in the history of the world, and it is just as hard for some to believe now as it was almost 2,000 years ago. But for Jesus’ followers, the resurrection was more than an event; it was a beginning. These men and women saw something they couldn’t deny or turn away from. They were changed...transformed in such a way that they went out to transform the world in which they lived. They were willing to sacrifice their lives and suffer incredibly painful deaths because they dared believe God had raised Jesus from the dead.

The Apostle Paul understood the importance of the resurrection to Jesus’ followers, he says, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins...If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” 1 Corinthians 15:17-19

And it is this incredible event that leads us to debunk today’s myth. It is a very, VERY popular myth. The myth says...

Myth: Salvation is about going to heaven when I die.

It’s a myth...a lie. This is one of those myths that, if believe, can ruin our relationship with God because is can ruin the way we live out the Christian life in our world. And the resurrection blows this myth out of the water.

Many who believe this myth look for the day when they will get to leave this old world behind and go to heaven when they die...but N.T. Wright points, "Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of God's new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord's Prayer is about."

Salvation is about allowing the resurrection life of Jesus to flood into our lives so that God’s heavenly realm is brought into this world, and it looks toward the day when God’s Kingdom will finally be established here on earth.

When we reduce Salvation to simply “going to heaven when I die,” we strip the Gospel of its power and make it nothing more than a contract or ticketed-transaction where we get into heaven because we said the right prayer and did the right things.

But what good is a salvation that has no impact on the life we lead right here and now? What good is a salvation that forgets about the blood and bone world Jesus stepped into to save? What good is a salvation that rejects God’s investment into His creation? No, salvation is not about going to heaven when we die; it is about bringing the Kingdom of God to this earth, in our lives, right here and now and looking toward the day when God will establish His Kingdom on Earth.

This morning let’s look at three very important ways the Resurrection speaks against this myth.

The Resurrection means creation matters.

When people focus on salvation as going to heaven, many start talking about leaving this world behind. The old Gospel song says, “Some glad morning when this life is over...I’ll fly away!” They speak of it as souls somehow floating around in a heavenly realm.

But this world matters to God.

Genesis 1:1-2:3 is a Hebrew poem that shows a Creator who loves His creation. He has dreams and desires for what He has created. He cares for it. At the end of each creation-day activity, God looks at what He has done and declares, “This is awesome! Beautiful! It is good!”

The word we translate as “good” from Hebrew has two very important meanings. First, it means beautiful. God looked at all he had made and thought of how beautiful it all was. It is gorgeous, and when we look at the splendor of the Grand Canyon, the power of the crashing waves, the beauty of a hummingbird in flight...we see that God is right. His creation is beautiful!

The second meaning has to do with creation being fit for the purpose it was created. Much like looking at a hammer and saying, “That would be good to hit something with,” God’s statement of “It is good!” shows that His creation is good for its intended purpose.

But human sin sent creation on a detour. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, they drug all of creation with them into it’s captivity. Yet despite this detour, God still loves His creation. He still sees creation as good because He can see what it was supposed to be, and He plans to see it fulfil the purpose for which it was created.

When Lori and I planted the church in Kansas City, we met in several locations: our living room, a school band room, a school board meeting room, and a dance studio. We moved in and out of our locations for more than three years. But then we got an opportunity to rent a store front location where we could have our own space.

I went to look at it, and knew it wasn’t perfect, but it would meet our needs...Lori, though, took one look at it and said, “This is disgusting! We can’t meet here.” Do you know what the difference was? I was looking at what it could be after we tore out some walls, painted a few other walls, repaired some ceiling tiles, cleaned, and cleaned some more. Lori saw the disgusting mess that it was at the moment.

We tend to look at God’s world with those two sets of eyes. Some look and say, “This place is disgusting! I want out of here.” While others look around and say, “I can’t wait to see what God is going to do with this place.” It isn’t that people with the second view point don’t see the mess...it’s that they can see the potential.

Jesus’ incarnation, His coming into our realm as a human being, and His resurrection are the God’s biggest statements that He cares for and loves what He created and has not abandoned it. And not just human beings...all of creation. His salvation will eventually release all of creation from its captivity to sin.

Revelation 21:2-4 makes it abundantly clear that God is not taking us out of this world to a heavenly realm, but He will one day resurrect us to bring His heavenly realm here to earth.

It says,
“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

God will one day live and rule among us...He will dwell with us, as Revelation 21 says. And this world will be a different place, a transformed place, a place of peace and justice and filled with God’s presence. No death, no mourning, no tears, and the old order of things passed away.

God’s plan is to restore all things to what He created them to be in the first place.

Since Creation matters, and God plans to restore things to their original intent and purpose this leads us to our second point...

The Resurrection means the Kingdom of God is here.

Jesus’ ministry is founded on the message that, “The Kingdom of God is near.” As people heard Jesus, they were familiar with Kings and Kingdoms. They lived under the power one of history’s greatest Kingdoms.

The Roman Empire was the largest and most powerful force in the world. For the first time in history, there was a reasonable level of worldwide peace and security. Travelers could travel without constant fear of being beaten and robbed. It still happened, but the Romans had instituted a level of law and order unseen up to that time. Commerce and trade was booming! Koine Greek was a worldwide language that most everyone spoke. They had conquered more territory than any other culture.

These people knew about Kings and Kingdoms.

But Jesus’ Kingdom is different. It can’t be marked off by boundaries lines. It can’t be located on a map...it isn’t about geographic location. It doesn’t have a standardized language or money system. Jesus’ Kingdom consists of presence. Wherever God’s presence is...there is the Kingdom of God.

And Revelation 21 points to the day when that Kingdom will come and what it’s result will be, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Jesus’ resurrection says, “The end is in sight for the old order of things!”

We hear Jesus say this stuff, but when you and I look around, we still see a world that is crying, mourning, and hurting. If you are like me, you ask, “Where is this Kingdom?”

I read a great quote from Eugene Peterson the other day. He says the church is “a colony of heaven in the country of death.” That gives us an idea of how the Kingdom of God of where the Kingdom of God is...As you and I go into our world, we have the possibility of being the presence of the Kingdom of God. We are the presence of God in a world filled with death; a world that is not functioning the way God originally created it to function.

The heavenly realm of some day, that future Kingdom of God where things are as He intends them to be, is breaking into our world through the Church. When we pray, love, serve, forgive, heal, care, and create then the Kingdom is breaking into our world.

We don’t yet have it in its fullness. Things are not yet complete as God intends, but His Kingdom is here and active and moving in our world. We catch glimpses of God at work and spread His Kingdom by seeing what He is doing and getting involved.

I believe that God is at work through us here in Huber Heights establishing and building an outward focused church that loves and cares for people and therefore extend His Kingdom.

Several people came up to me yesterday just to say “Thank you for doing this for the kids!” They don’t have the words for it yet, but they experienced the Kingdom of God. For a few moments God’s love and joy was able to rush over them...there were probably people who resisted, they can’t let go of their pain even in the midst of God’s love...but it was there and available in Tom Cloud Park.

God also wants to work in you to extend His Kingdom in your neighborhoods, in your families, and in your jobs. He does this when we learn to hear His voice and respond in loving ways to the people around us. When we forgive the way the Bible tells us to forgive. When we live godly lives toward those around us. When we forgive our enemies and bless those who curse us. When they see us suffering and mourning and hurting...but with Hope because we know that God is at work.

Jesus resurrection means that God’s Kingdom is active in our world. And if the Kingdom of God is active then that leads to our third point...

The Resurrection means what we do has value.

If, as some say, we are evacuating this planet for a heavenly world like rats from a sinking ship...then there is no reason to serve, to love others, to do anything except to maybe get a few of them to get off it with us. But we are really making no impact on the world...because we don’t need to if we are going to get out of here. In this way of thinking our good deeds...serving the poor, caring for the broken, working toward justice...have no real purpose or end.

In Galatians 6:9, Paul tells the Church, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” What gives him the ability to say this? He knows that just because our lives may end with a death...death is not the end. He knows there will be a resurrection, and that God intends to establish His Kingdom in its fullness here on earth and restore all of creation.

Since God is doing this...all our actions matter. That means everything we do...the cup of cold water, the clothing of the naked, the visiting of the prisoner, the caring for the hurting, the dressing up in Easter Bunny costumes...it will not be in vain. It is planting seeds God will grow into something greater than we could ever imagine.

Almost every night for the past 10 years Lori, Bri, and I have prayed the Lord’s Prayer. There is one line that ALWAYS stands out to me. “Your Kingdom come, you will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We are working toward a time when God will establish His kingdom in its fullness, when His Kingdom will come, and everything will be done on earth as it is in the heavenly realm. And all our actions are part of bringing His Kingdom into a world of death.

N.T. Wright says,
"The point of the resurrection…is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die…What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it…What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God's future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether (as the hymn so mistakenly puts it…). They are part of what we may call building for God's kingdom."

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church
This one thought alone should fill us with such joy and hope that we can hardly contain ourselves. When we care for that person who is hurting....when we create a beautiful piece of art...when we love our neighbor or care for the needy...they will not be in vain because God will use them to extend His Kingdom of peace and justice. He will use them in restoring this creation to its former and intended glory!

Conclusion

Jesus’ resurrection changed everything. A world that many had given up on...people that no one in their right mind would care for...Jesus’ resurrection shows us that it all matters. And this resurrection life can be ours. We can live out of it. It isn’t just the power for us to be forgiven for our sins...it is the power for us to live the life God has called us to live.

Tom and I were talking this week, and I forget the circumstances, but I said, “It is unbelievably difficult to be a Christian Businessman or politician because of the nature of the system they have to be part of.” And Tom said, “It is difficult to be a Christian period.”

And He is right...but luckily that is not the end. When we die to the patters of our old way of life and turn to Jesus and live in the power of the resurrection...we can live the life God has called us to live. It isn’t easy because it requires us to sacrifice some of the things we thought we knew about life. Paul calls it a transformation of the mind. Jesus referring to the radical nature of what takes place called it a new birth.

Too many of us live weak, lifeless lives because we “accept Jesus” as our Savior but don’t really believe that we can live the life He has set before us...but we can! We can because His resurrection says we can. And this morning I want to invite you to lay down those old patterns of this life and accept the power of Jesus’ resurrection.

I want to invite you to bow your heads with me this morning.

Maybe you have never taken that step of trusting Jesus in the first place. Today, I invite you to say, “I want to follow you Jesus and live in the power of your resurrection! I need your forgiveness.”

Or maybe you have accepted Christ, you have been following...but you have need for the resurrection power of Jesus to fill your life and renew you...to revive your heart for God and enable you to live as He has called you to live. “Father, I need something else. I through down the myths and lies I have believed and I accept the power of Jesus’ resurrection to live my life according to your principles.”

This morning we are starting a new tradition here at Crossroads. Every Sunday following the morning service we members of our prayer team available to pray for you. If you need prayer for healing, you need some encouragement, anything...our prayer team is here to pray with you.

This morning we are adding the opportunity for you to take communion every Sunday. Up here with our prayer team members will be someone to serve you communion. It is the Sacrament that Jesus gave us that reminds us of our participation not just in His death but in the resurrected life of God’s Kingdom. So this morning I invite you to come take part in communion or receive prayer following the closing prayer.
Father,

Thank you for your Son; for His sacrifice on our behalf, but also for His resurrection. We know we will receive the promised Kingdom because you brought Him back from the dead. You resurrected Him...just as you resurrect our lives from the ashes of this world. Be with us this week as we serve you and extend your Kingdom in our jobs, our families, and our neighborhoods. And we rest secure that you will grow all the seeds we are planting for your Kingdom.

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