The Resurrection of the Body and the Life Everlasting - Learning to Put Last Things First (Continued)
Sunday, June 7, 2009 -
“We believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hades; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen”
Believe it or not, after thirty-eight weeks, we have finally arrived at the end of our study of the Apostle’s creed. We studied the first of three points last week. Today we finish the last two:
2) OUR LIVES NEED TO FEEL THE WEIGHT - THE IMPRINT - OF THE LIFE EVERLASTING IN THIS PRESENT AGE
Paul starts to unfold this truth in the very next verse: 2 Corinthians 4:17 - “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison....”
You must read verses 16 and 17 together to get the whole thought:“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.  For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison....” Now, this doesn’t mean our affliction lasts only for five minutes or ten, or a week, or a single month. He means our trials last only a lifetime. And a lifetime is only a moment compared to eternity.
Not only are our afflictions momentary, Paul says they are slight. Again, this is only discovered when we live with our hearts set on the life everlasting. Trials will become unbearably heavy if all our hope and attention is fixed on this earthly life. But they’re light when we learn to live putting last things first.
The picture is that of a set of scales. On the one side you have the trials and burdens of this earthly life. They can be very heavy to bear. But Paul says we need to learn to put our earthly afflictions on one side of the balance and the glory of eternity on the other. The point is, while our afflictions look like a heavy burden, and many times feel like a heavy burden, they are actually light when eternity is placed on the balance against them: Romans 8:18 - “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
3) TO DERIVE STRENGTH FROM THE LIFE EVERLASTING RIGHT NOW REQUIRES MUCH PRAYER, STUDY AND CONCENTRATION
Notice how Paul finishes up his argument in the next verse: 2 Corinthians 4:18 - “....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.”
There’s an obvious question that comes out of those words: How do we look at things unseen? How do we look at things that are invisible? One of the constant challenges of serious discipleship lies precisely at this point. The most precious, heart-empowering realities lie beyond our physical senses right now. There is only one way to “see” them. You and I can only see eternal realities through the lens of God’s Word. We can only embrace them in the form of promises to be received in faith and hope.
So, God offers this revitalizing view of eternal realities through His Word. But we will never experience this revitalizing and renewing of the inner man if we don’t gaze upon our bright future - the life everlasting - in the Scriptures.
Here’s why all of this is so important: Only the habitual, disciplined gaze of the heart on the life everlasting will have the power to sustain and renew the inner man in hope and patience. There is no other source of renewal offered to the Christian. There is nothing else to displace despair with hope. There is nothing else that can make burdens seem light. There is nothing else to keep a person passionate in ministry. Let Paul’s words thunder in our soul - “....as we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen!”
Let me close with this final illustration. Have you ever noticed how energetic and happy people get on a Friday afternoon? Even atheists get religious as the weekend approaches - “Thank God it’s Friday!”
Why is that? It’s because we know that there is relaxation and rest and personal enjoyment right around the corner. I don’t have to punch the clock on Saturday. There is a zest for life that comes in anticipation of the weekend ahead.
The same thing happens in varying degrees, depending on your age, with holidays, Christmas, and perhaps even birthdays. Of course, this renewal of our spirits doesn’t go very deep. Weekends are short and imperfect. Christmas trees dry up and have to be taken down. Holidays cost too much money. And birthdays don’t just bring presents - they bring age.
The point is, these aren’t big enough counterweights to the trials and afflictions of life. That’s because the kind of hopeful renewal we all long for in this present life can’t be found in any other hope than the one Jesus has prepared for us - the life everlasting.
2 Corinthians 4:18 - “....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.”
What are you doing to limit the bite visible things take out of your heart? Notice that before Paul talks about what we do look at, he talks about what we don’t look at. You have to delete before you can emphasize.
This is the biggest battle of discipleship. We want more and more of our lives dedicated to visible things. We spend more and more of our money on visible things. We want more of our time - more of our Sundays - to dedicate to visible things. Our children, who aren’t stupid, see more and more of our time spent on visible things.
And visible things ravage the life of the Spirit in your soul. What steps do you take to hold back the gaping jaws of visible things in your life? The Devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking to devour. How else do you think he takes huge bites out of your spiritual life? Do we actually think the Devil has big fangs like a vampire, and like a cannibal gobbles people up in the dark?
He devours people’s lives bit by bit with visible things. Visible things are the devil’s teeth. That’s why Jesus said it was so difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom. Wealth can easily lead to the endless accumulation of visible things. And Paul says you can’t gaze on visible things and find spiritual life and power.
Once we learn this - really deeply learn this to the point of paying the price - we will find the divine power of putting last things first in all of life.