December is a time when we reflect upon Christ’s birth and the many traditions we associate with that birth and the season. Two words seldom come into our reflection though they are very important in connection with the birth of Christ. They are eternity and heaven. We mistakenly make eternity a far off time and heaven a far off place. They are distant – something coming later in time and space. In two separate messages, I want to point out that the birth of Jesus brought both of them into our lives to be experienced NOW and HERE.
A scripture that should raise issues is Titus 1:1-3 where the inspired Apostle wrote that he wanted to further the faith of God’s people and their knowledge of the truth. Then he expressed that truth in words that should make us wonder when he refers to “the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light.” What is the relationship of eternity and time? How can our faith and knowledge be furthered by considering them more carefully? How can we draw closer to godliness in connection with them?
Two recent events in my life have prompted my own search for answers to these questions and the furtherance of my own faith and knowledge in the connection of time and eternity. They have influenced my December reflection on the birth of Christ.
- During our recent time in the USA, Ginny and I were speaking in churches that support us in prayer and financially. We found many changes among them and were challenged to present an influential message though our time with them would be limited to one day, a worship service, and maybe a 20-minute sermon. What could we do and say? Fortunately, God prompted a simple message: though our time with them was short, still that brief time was special. Then, I found an old poem that seemed to describe what was special about such short times:
I want to apply the last line to the birth and life of Jesus – and to our own Christian experience.
- Ginny and I have been slowly reading Jonathan Cahn’s book, The Book of Mysteries. Slowly, because this Messianic Jew sees things in scriptures (mysteries) that most of us miss because we don’t have his Jewish background. On one of those days he talked about the rarity of our earthly time, whether ten years or a hundred. “How rare,” he asked. Compare our time on earth to the years of earth’s existence and our earthly life can be seen as very rare indeed. Compare it to eternity and it is even more rare? Our lives become once in an eternity event. They become “one-eternieth” (his own word) – infinitely rare. Our days on earth come around only once in an eternity. Every moment we have comes around only once in an eternity … and never again. “Therefore, he said, make the most of every moment” (Cahn 2016:288).
Three Points to the Message
- Apply the Lessons of These Two Events to the Birth and Life of Jesus.
The moment of his emergence from the womb – just a moment but eternity was in it. Women will say, “it is always more than a moment” and we acknowledge that, but in the birth of Jesus, the time was special – eternity was in it. Consider the moment of his first little baby cry – eternity was in it.
Consider his 33 years on earth. They were times infused with eternity. When he was twelve, Mary and Joseph took him to the temple. The rituals over, it was time to leave. Two days later, they realized Jesus was not with them. They found him still in the temple and to their reminder to him of the time, he said to them, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my father’s house” (Luke 2:49). Even at twelve he was conscious of eternity beyond time. His preaching, teaching, miracles, wonders, relationships were all one-eternieth events. People around him, Mary and Joseph, even his disciples, went about their time, but he always recognized that eternity was in those times.
We like the song “Mary Did You Know” with its challenging verses:
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would one day walk on water?
that your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?
that your Baby Boy will give sight to a blind man?
that your Baby Boy will calm the storm with His hand?
that your Baby Boy is Lord of all creation?
that your Baby Boy would one day rule the nations?
that your Baby Boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
the sleeping Child you’re holding is the great “I Am.”
We can add some lines:
Mary, did you know
That the divine LIFE in you was eternal?
That Jesus brought eternity to us all?
But all that was then – at his birth and in his life. One man said, “The outrageously encouraging message of Christmas is that the eternal Creator of the universe, the eternal God of Love, entered human time and lived among us. The one who is before and beyond all things in eternity entered our human timeframes. He lived … at a particular time as part of a particular people but he bore the divine LIFE that was eternal – perfectly- and he bore it in a human life that was time-bound – perfectly. “ (adapted from Covey 2007:88).
What about NOW? What does the Bible say about eternity, the eternal and eternal life? We can be surprised that the Old Testament refers a lotto the eternal and eternity, but it says nothing about eternal life. And the words eternal and eternity are nowhere connected to human life, just to a holy, distant God.
It is the New Testament where the words eternal, eternity and eternal life become part of a dynamic present. Eternal life, very much related to humanity, becomes prominent and it all started with the birth of Jesus. Even so, there are only scarce references to eternal life: in Matthew – three times; in Mark – two times, in Luke – three times, and in the rest of the New Testament – 33 times with greatest prominence by John – John – 21 times. Good examples are in John 4:13-14, 5:24, and 10:27-28 where eternal life is seen as a dynamic present.
As one author has said, “Jesus did not come to create a religion or a religious world so we might escape from the world of time. He came to be God entering our times, with all their craziness and pain and confusion. He came to show the way eternal LIFE interacts with human life in all our histories, all our sciences, and all our cultural pursuits (adapted from McLaren 2003:165).
Stop to think about what this means to you personally. The common thing we say is that Jesus came to save us from our sins. That’s true, but it is only one-half the gospel. We need the other half: he came to save us from our sins in order to give us his eternal LIFE – NOW. He came to save us from what we have done in time so that he could give us what we can be in his eternity beyond time – NOW. He came to challenge us to give up our times so that he can give us his eternity. When his divine LIFE comes into our lives, God’s eternity come’s with it.
There is a song that I truly love, but this morning, I realized it is more of an Old Testament song than a New Testament song:
We are a moment You are forever
Lord of the ages God before time
We are a vapor You are eternal
Love everlasting reigning on high.
Because of Jesus, because of his birth we may only be a moment but that moment is a part of God’s forever. We may be but a vapor, but Jesus he brings the glow of eternity to that vapor.
So, I hope the birth of Christ is the basis of the hope of eternity in our lives – NOW.
- II. A Few Things About Eternity and Time.
I think it’s because of misconceptions or misunderstandings we have of eternity. These misconceptions about eternity then lead to misconceptions about eternal life. Eternity wrongly seen as a far off time affects negatively on the way we understand eternal life. There are three common misconceptions. They have been evident in my life and they are probably evident in yoursbecause they might be yours.
1) When eternity is seen as a far off time, then eternal life begins beyond time as we know it. It comes at the end of our time at physical death. To overcome this misconception, eternal life and our experience of eternity must be seen as beginning IN time not BEYOND time. John 3:16 is about life with eternity in it from the very moment we believe. The day of our new birth in Christ is the first day of eternity for all who believe. So, for us as Christians, eternity is NOW. Our lives are lives with eternity in them from the time of our new birth in Christ.
2) When eternal life and eternity are seen as the extension of our earthly life, we again have problems. I don’t know about you, but I grew up in a Christian environment in which eternal life was seen as human life extended after death. Life was elongated, stretched out. I even found that Bible translators in Africa have portrayed eternal life in that (American and western) way. I was blessed with the Chiemba language of Zambia. For them, life was umweo. How could translators bring in the idea of eternal life? They latched on to the verb, “to go,” in ChiBemba, “ukuya.” Eternal life became Umweo wa muyayaya….Extended life…. after death.
To overcome this misconception, we must realize that eternal life and eternity are the experiences of God’s LIFE NOW, not the extension of our life when we die. As one aauthor has said, “Eternity is not a continuous future but a continuous present” (Peterson 2008:250). Why? Because it is the presence of God’s LIFE – now. Eternity is not simply endless existence of our human life at some future time but it is anointed existence NOW because God’s LIFE (which alone is eternal) is in us who believe.
3) A third mistaken notion about eternal life and eternity is to see them as a reward we get for being faithful to the end. I was even surprised this week to find a quotation from Rick Warren on What’s App: he could not wait until the day came that he would enter into eternal life and heaven. I was so surprised that his view was so contrary to what I am saying. But it is very common.
Take that time in the Lord’s ministry when the rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life? (Mark 10:22). He was guilty of this mistaken notion. When you consider how Jesus responded, you see that Jesus held out the fact that eternal life is about how you live NOW. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come follow me – NOW.”
To overcome this misconception, we must view eternity and eternal life, not as rewards we get when we die but God’s gift of LIFE – NOW, when we die to sin (Romans 6:1-4) and when we rise in Christ to go on living the rest of our earthly years. Eternity and eternal life are not a pie in the sky by and by deal; this is God’s LIFE in our lives right now, eternity in our time – in every moment of that time.
Judy (my wife of 51 years) and I dwelt on these things as she was dying of cancer in 2015. We were sorry that the Bible says very little about life after death. But it made us to realize and appreciate that it says so much about life before death. And, life before death is blessed with God’s LIFE in our lives – NOW. Judy did not finally get eternal life when she died; she had it all along since the day of her salvation at the age of fourteen when God’s LIFE came into her life.
So, we need to go beyond these misconceptions. When eternity is seen as something beginning after we die, or as the extension of our life beyond death, or as a reward for good living, then we become concerned about life after death –our understanding of eternal life cannot help but become skewed and twisted to something we hear at funerals instead of something we live every day.
III. How Do We Live Eternity NOW?
It has to be very practical. This morning at 9:40am I was at Java House in Galleria eating breakfast. Right there, right at that time, eternity was in in it. I was having a once in an eternity moment never to be repeated.
Ginny and I married because we both wanted to finish up this earthly time with someone we loved. Some days are harder than others. We have those marital moments like everyone else. Some of those days can be like an eternity to Ginny. (Maybe that’s why she has told both Kenyan and American friends, “The more I get to know Larry, the more I realize that Judy was a saint”). But we need to be practical about living eternity NOW. We need to stop and let eternity be in those moments.
We need to let eternity enter the challenging times of our marriages, the conflictive times of our families, the abrasive times of our work place, the broken times of our relationships, the discouraging times of our careers, the limited times of our education and development. God wants his eternity to be in all those times. His LIFE brings eternity’s power to our times of frustration, eternity’s peace to our times of panic, eternity’s truth to our times of doubts, eternity’s goodness to our times of failures, and eternity’s joy to our times of sorrow.
We need to remember the words of Randy Alcorn (or maybe the words of Alcorn that I have changed just a little) – “Time has a beat, a rhythm, a pace, a cadence. Eternity another one. In our times, we hear eternity’s music, but it is elusive, like an echo. The clatter, competing sounds, media loudness and demands, ringing I-phones, droning traffic and mixed voices drown out eternity’s music. We dance to the wrong beat, march to the wrong anthem. Why? Because we weren’t made for time alone. We were made for eternity’s song” (Randy Alcorn in his book, Dominion, p.99).
I like the inspired words of Paul to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:12 – “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” Did you hear those words – ‘take hold of the eternal life to which you were called”? Some people cannot take hold of eternal life because they are encumbered with one or all of the common misconceptions we have considered this morning. “Take hold” is a good message for believers today. Some people cannot take hold of eternal life because they have never believed Jesus. “Take hold” is an essential message for them.
Go back to the poem God brought to my attention: “I have only just a minute, just sixty seconds in it, forced upon me, can’t refuse it, didn’t seek it, didn’t choose it. I must suffer if I lose it, give account if I abuse it, just a tiny little minute but eternity is in it.” May all your minutes be blessed with eternity in them. Go back to Jonathan’s Cahn challenge – live each moment as a once in an eternity event.
Take hold of eternal life.
Questions for Small Groups
- Which misconceptions about eternity and eternal life have been common to members of the group?
- How can a recognition of eternity NOW affect marriages, relationships, friendship, work experience, careers, etc.?
- Read and discuss John 4:13-14, 5:24, 10:27-28 and 2 Corinthians 6:1-2?
- How does the gift of eternal life in these New Testament times, change the circumstances described in Psalm 90:10-12?