Monday, January 17, 2011

My Best Life...Later

“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ”  (Luke 16:19–31, ESV)

There is a famous Houston preacher who has written an enormously popular book entitled, Your Best Life Now.  The premise of this book is that if you come to God, He will give you health and prosperity like you’ve never imagined.  He smiles at his television camera showing his pearly whites declaring, “God bless you…”  Tens of thousands have been drawn to his message.  You may have even read his book and decided to follow his pattern for health and prosperity.  But is Joel Osteen’s prosperity gospel biblical?  There’s one certain way to tell.  We should search the scriptures, as the Bereans in Acts 17:11, to see if these things are so.  We will explore today what expectations a believer may have in this life.  Then we’ll take a look at what unbelievers can expect in this life.  Next we’ll look at what the future looks like for unbelievers.  Then we’ll wrap up with what the future holds for believers.

Our first step in deciding whether we are living our best life now is to examine what believers may expect out of this physical life that they are now living in the flesh.  If you remember our scripture passage at the beginning of this article, we get a glimpse of what life was like for the believer Lazarus during his time on Earth.  Lazarus was poor.  Regardless of how bad poor Americans have it, Lazarus was much worse off.  Lazarus was so poor and hungry that he longed for just a few crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table just to try and ease his hunger.  He had great sores over all his body.  To make matters worse, he was unable to stop the dogs from coming and licking his sores, adding infection to his already open wounds.  So maybe Lazarus was just a special case.  Surely this isn’t normal for Christians.  Is it?  Jesus gave warnings to His disciples in Matthew 10.

Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. ” (Matthew 10:17–18, ESV)

Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. ” (Matthew 10:21–22, ESV)

It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. ” (Matthew 10:25, ESV)

How about the great passage from Hebrews known as the “hall of faith?”  Everyone loves to quote verses 32 through the first part of 35.  But let me read the remainder of this passage and see if it gives us any clue as to what the early Christians endured.

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. ” (Hebrews 11:32–40, ESV)

How about the Apostle Paul?  If anyone should have lived the “victorious” life, surely he should have.  Correct?  We read the following in 2 Corithians 11:

Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. ” (2 Corinthians 11:23–31, ESV)

Last of all, consider our Great Shepherd Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Did He live a life of “abundance?”

And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” ” (Matthew 8:20, ESV)

And of course, I could elaborate on the great suffering the Lord Jesus endured on behalf of His church.  If there is one common thread I see throughout scripture it is that believers have absolutely no expectation of living a life of ease and pleasure.  Not at all.  In fact, speaking of life and pleasure, let’s turn our attention now to the expectations of unbelievers in this life.

Now, before we dig in too deeply and paint too rosy of a picture please know that I understand.  Life is not always peaches and cream for the unbelievers either.  We all live in a fallen world.  Disease, famine, sickness, and poverty afflict all of us, unbelievers included.  However, if you are a believer and you take a look at your unbelieving neighbors, do you ever notice that it seems God often allows them to revel in their luxuries quite often?  I believe we can see a scriptural pattern here as well.  To begin, remember back to our opening story.  The rich man is said to have “feasted sumptuously” every day.  We are also given an idea of what type of home he lived in.  He had a “gate,” indicating that his property was surrounded by a fence, no doubt put in place to offer security and to exclude the “riff-raff” from his presence.

The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends. ” (Proverbs 14:20, ESV)

A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his imagination. ” (Proverbs 18:11, ESV)

Think about this for a moment.  If you are an unbeliever and do not believe in a god, then it only makes sense to do all you can to “have your best life now.”  For all there is is this life.  Unbelievers have a false notion that once this life is over, it’s over.  So they may as well make the most of it now.  In fact, I can’t help but question the professed faith of those who over emphasize the “abundant life” of this world here and now.
As I transition into what unbelievers may expect after their deaths, I want to leave this section with another passage of scripture:

And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” ” (Luke 12:16–21, ESV)

So then, what does the future hold for unbelievers who die without faith in Christ alone?  Think back once again to the story of the rich man and Lazarus.  Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.  Yes, the fact of the matter is that after death we will all get new bodies.  While believers’ new bodies will be perfect in every sense and without disease and blemish, the bodies given to unbelievers are known best for their durability.  They will last an eternity without being burned up.  Yet they will allow the person to feel the pain of burning forever.  This is not reserved only to those who have openly cursed God.  It also includes a whole host of “well meaning” individuals who have done all sorts of works in the name of Christ.

"Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ ” (Matthew 7:21–23, ESV)

This should be especially sobering to those TV preachers who stand up there in their fancy clothes declaring an easy life for all who will just “pray this prayer.”

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ ” (Mark 9:42–48, ESV)

Friends, the fires of hell await those who’ve rejected Christ and made this life their all in all.  Those who would live their “best life now” certainly are, because the life to come will be so much misery that they will curse the day they were born.  And when they’ve been tormented in the flames of hell for 10,000 years, they’ll be crushed by the fact that 10,000 years is nothing compared to the whole of eternity.  We can’t even imagine infinity.  It blows the human mind.  How many of you when accidentally touching a hot stove will jerk your hand back after only encountering that heat for a split second?  Then we spend the next 20 minutes nursing our wound with ice cubes and ointment.  Now imagine the fire turned up thousands of times hotter, and the span of time that you are in contact with that fire an infinite amount of time compared to the split second you experienced on the hot stove.  Friends, please don’t reject my message because it is not comfortable.  Christ has not called us to a life of comfort.  I give you this warning because I care for you.  Throw yourself at the mercy of God and beg for His pardon.  Place your trust in Christ alone for your salvation.  For there is nothing else that can save you from the fires of hell.

Now for those who die having their faith solely in the Lord Jesus Christ, their life becomes so much better than it was before.  It is practically beyond comparison.  Return again to our opening story.  In responding to the rich man’s request for water Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.

Revelation 21:4 tells us:
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. ” (Revelation 21:4, AV)

In my best life later, there will be no more miscarried babies.  They’ll be no more auto accidents.  They’ll be no more dying grandparents, parents, or spouses.  There will be no more hunger, no poverty, no pain.  We will be in the presence of our Lord and King.  And just as the torment of the unbeliever will exist for all eternity, so also will the fellowship of the saints in this perfect home exist forever and ever and ever.  As the final verse of Amazing Grace reads, “When we’ve been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.”

So friend, which will it be?  Are you striving to have your best life now?  Please don’t.  For you very well may find your best life now and your misery later.  Rather join with me.

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. ” (2 Corinthians 4:17–18, ESV) 

1 comment:

covnitkepr1 said...

Mike...thanks for this post. I wish the entire world could read it.
Fact is...even a novice Christian should be able to see through the venom oozing through his "pearly whites" and see that the scriptures show there will be hardships for ...yes even the Christian.

Good post...thanks for sharing.