It was all the way back in July that we got the Word that Jesus “set His face to go to Jerusalem,” and we set our face to follow Him. We took a two week, side trip to visit the Reformation and commemorate All Saints. But now we’re back on the road with our Lord again.
BUT WAIT A MINUTE! HE’S ALREADY THERE. Not only is He already in Jerusalem, but it’s Holy Week and He’s only days away from that collision with the cross that He had been on from before the creation of the world. Wow! See what taking your eyes off the road even for just a moment can do?
Every stop on this journey with Jesus has been for our instruction in this faith so that we might know what it is that we believe and believe it more confidently – so that our doubts might become the thing that is called into question and proved to be false – rather than our faith.
Today’s stop on the journey is all about ‘eternal life.’ Do you believe that there is such a thing? And if you do, what is it that you believe about ‘eternal life’?
St. Luke writes, “There came to Jesus some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection…” The Sadducees represent that demographic of society who believe in God and in the Bible, at least parts of it, and believe that religion is a ‘good thing.’ If more people read the Bible and lived according to what it says, ‘this world’ would be a better place.
But ‘this world’ is as far as it goes. To go so far with ‘religion’ to claim that it offers a person ‘SALVATION’ and a ‘LIFE AFTER DEATH’ – is to go too far. There is no ‘after-life’ or ‘eternal life’ and therefore no such thing as ‘heaven’ or ‘hell’ for that matter. When you die, you’re dead. End of story. After death there is nothing – oblivion. This was the firmly held belief of the Sadducees of Jesus’ day. And it’s also the belief firmly held by many people in our own day – and maybe you know some of them.
But you are not one of them.
At least, not if you mean what you confess when you say – “And I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come,”
or “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting,”
or if you mean it when you pray “…for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever,”
or as breathe that sigh of relief when you receive the blessing at this railing that the body and blood of Christ that you just ate and drank would, “strengthen and preserve you unto life everlasting.”
So, what is this ‘eternal life’ that is SO MUCH MORE than a hypothetical curiosity or a theological fine point, that is the very foundation of our hope for the future and therefore for the present also, that determines how we live our life and how we face our death.
What is ‘eternal life’?
The two-word phrase itself requires a two part answer. First, let’s put the emphasis on the first word – ‘eternal.’ ‘Eternal’ is the opposite of ‘temporal.’ What is ‘temporal’ is ‘temporary’ – it doesn’t last forever. What is ‘eternal’ has no end. It goes, as we like to say not only ‘forever,’ but ‘forever and ever.’
In the beginning, God created man and His whole creation for ‘ETERNAL life.’ Adam and Eve were created to live ‘forever and ever.’ Paradise only had one rule – and the rule was, “You may surely eat of every tree in the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die.” (Gen.2:16-17). As long as Adam did not eat of that one tree, he would not die. He would live ‘forever.’ Life would be ‘eternal’ in ‘paradise.’
But as we know, not just from the historical record but from our daily life, THEY DID. And what was intended and created by God to be ‘eternal’ became ‘temporary.’ AND WHAT GRACE AND BLESSING THERE IS IN THAT – because really, who wants ‘eternal death’ that never ends? That would be hell.
And that leads us into the second part of the answer to the question, ‘what is eternal life?’ Now, we’re ready to put the emphasis on the second word in that phrase, ‘LIFE.’
We like to talk about ‘QUALITY OF LIFE’ and improving our ‘QUALITY OF LIFE’ by increasing those things that make life better and decreasing those things that make life worse.
So what if you could altogether remove ‘sin’ from your life? Would that improve your ‘quality of life’? NO, NOT REALLY. Even if you could completely remove ‘sin’ from your life, if you had complete power to resist every temptation to sin in your life, you still live in a ‘sinful’ and fallen world. THERE WAS ONE WHO HAD NO SIN AND OVERCAME EVERY TEMPTATION TO SIN AND WHO LIVED IN THIS FALLEN AND SINFUL WORLD, AND LOOK AT WHAT IT DID TO HIM.
But what if you could eliminate ‘sin’ not only from your own life – but also from everyone’s life and from the whole world – even from nature and the creation? Now THAT would produce a drastic improvement in your ‘quality of life.’ In fact, that would be the quality of ‘eternal LIFE.’
And isn’t that just what our Lord has done. He has taken away the sin of the world. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have ETERNAL LIFE.” (John 3:16) “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is ETERNAL LIFE through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” (Romans 5:21).
“Eternal life” is not simply a never ending existence. Even now, science has the ability to keep someone alive in a never ending existence. But who would call that ‘LIFE’ let alone a ‘LIFE’ to fix your hope on?
Only God can give ‘eternal LIFE’- not mere ‘existence’ – but His own holy and sinless life in you, and your life in Him. And this is the greatest ‘QUALITY OF LIFE’ there is! This is ‘eternal life.’
To go further than this to describe ‘ETERNAL LIFE’ is a tricky business since we have nothing in our realm of experience to compare it to. What will we be like? If there’s no end, is there such a thing as ‘time?’ If there is no death, what kind of bodies will we have?
The only honest answer to these and so many other questions about what ‘eternal life’ is like is, ‘we’re not sure.’ We’ll know one day soon. But not one day sooner than God has determined – which is just fine, really. Because to spend too much time dwelling on these things is a distraction to the work that our Lord has given us to do while there is still time, while we are still in this body which will not live forever, and in this sinful and fallen world – for which there is a “LAST DAY.”
In the midst of all that is incomprehensible about what ‘eternal life’ is like, what is entirely sensible is that an ‘eternal life’ will require a “new creation” that is eternal as well. It will require a “new heaven and a new earth” in which “the former things do not come to mind, in which righteousness, AND ONLY RIGHTEOUSNESS dwells.’ (Is. 65:17; 2 Peter 3:13) It will require a place which the bible calls, ‘heaven.’
So what is entirely incomprehensible and can only be grasped by faith – is that even NOW, this ‘eternal life’ is in you. The MYSTERY that God delights to deal your mortal body contains your immortality.
In your baptism, you were united to Christ, who IS ‘ETERNAL LIFE.’ He who is ‘eternal life’ lives in you and you live in Him. Granted, as St. Paul puts it, “for now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part… that is, only by faith in what you have been told is Word. But one day when ‘temporal’ runs out of time… when what is ‘immortal puts off the mortal’… then the MYSTERY becomes the reality and we shall know fully, even as we have been fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12)
In his letter to the church, the apostle John writes, “And this is the testimony – that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son… I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:11,13)
This ‘divine mystery’ of ‘eternal life’ IN ME, is the basis and reason for the HOPE of the believer. Even in this DYING BODY and in this DYING WORLD, we fix our heart and eyes on our ‘ETERNAL LIFE’ in an Eternal World with our ‘ETERNAL LORD’ who took on our ‘MORTALITY’ that we might have His ‘IMMORTALITY.’
And this hope that is in us has a significant impact on the way in which we live our life in a dying world. Or at least it should.
With the hope of eternal life set before us, we ought to diligently strive to remain steadfast in this one, true faith. When many of His disciples were turning back and leaving Him, Jesus said to the 12, do you want to leave me too? And Peter responded for the other 11 and for all of us, “Lord, to whom shall we go, You have the words of eternal life.”
Do not trade your ‘eternal life’ for a pot of stew as Esau did – or for that which moth and rust consume. Every temptation and distraction that threatens to separate us from this ‘eternal life’ that is ours in Christ, ought to be painted in bright red with a stern warning, “the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
We ought to be reading our bible every day. It is the ‘burning bush’ where God Himself speaks to us just as He did Moses – sending us into this world with the assurance that He is WITH US – giving us His name – the name that is above every name – at which the Devil himself runs in fear.
Fortified by the power of the Holy Spirit, confident that even death has no power over us, we are glad to risk everything, even life itself, which we knows he cannot lose, to love our neighbor – even to the point of sharing this ‘good news’ with them, that they too may have the same ‘hope’ that we have.
We set our hearts NOT on the things of this world that are only temporal and passing away – but we “set our minds on things that are above…” For that is our destiny. We fix our eyes on Jesus, so that when the Last Day comes, and “Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Col. 3:2-4)