PRACTICAL PREPARATIONS

Bible Reading:  Psalm 23:1-6

Hopefully we understand the spiritual preparation for eternity, of having our hearts right with God, allowing Jesus to be Lord of our life and being focused on the finishing line, but there are some practical issues that also need to be considered.

Today we will consider some of the other important practical aspects related to dying. I strongly recommend to you a book written by Dr. Billy Graham when he was ninety-two years old. It is entitled “Nearing Home – Life, Faith and Finishing Well.”

As far as you are able make it as easy as possible for the ones you leave behind. Of course they will mourn, but prepare your estate plans and make sure that your will is clear and honours God and your family. Make sure that your loved ones know your financial affairs. You might need to prepare a power of attorney so that someone you trust can handle your finances when you are no longer capable of handling them. Perhaps you need to have a funeral plan. Don’t leave a legacy of resentment or conflict or confusion behind you. This can so easily happen if we neglect the practical issues that press upon us, as we grow older. Remember that “a prudent man gives thought to his steps” [Proverbs 14:15]

Christians are not to be preoccupied with death, but neither are we to shrink from death or act as if we must fiercely resist it until the last breath. Until she was ninety-four years old my mother never confessed to being old, but at ninety-five she said, “I am ready to go.” I will never forget that last time with her, as she ate her favourite strawberries and cream, and then she and I lay together on that hospital bed and read Psalm 23. She joined me in speaking out the final verse of the psalm, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” She was ready.

Be prepared for heaven and to leave earth in every sense of the word, both spiritually and practically.

A Question:

Are there specific practical things that you need to do to prepare for the day when you die? Don’t procrastinate and leave these things until they are much more difficult. Don’t leave behind any resentment, conflict or confusion.

 

 

KEEP FOCUSED ON THE FINISHING LINE

Bible Reading: Hebrews 12:1-17

Billy Graham speaking at the funeral of Raymond V Edman said, “He lived in heaven on earth.” As he was dying at the age of twenty-nine, the saintly Scottish pastor, Murray McCheyne, said, “Farewell mortality, welcome eternity.” What a way to go! How can we finish our course like that?

Firstly, keep focused on the finishing line. The Bible says that Abraham looked for a city whose builder and maker is God. He was looking for His eternal home. The writer to Hebrews exhorts us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.

Secondly, lay aside every weight, and sin which so easily ensnare us. We must lay aside anything that hinders our walk with the Lord and spiritual progress. Sometimes we have to be drastic in dealing with ourselves.

Thirdly, spend time every day reading God’s Word and listening for the voice of the Holy Spirit. Live in obedience to Him. Do everything as for the Lord. The testimony of brother Lawrence is so helpful:

“Men invent means and methods of coming at God’s love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into the consciousness of God’s presence. Yet it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him? The sacredness or worldly status of a task mattered less than motivation behind it. Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do….we can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. I began to live as if there were no one save God and me in the world.” “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”

Finally, watch and pray. On two occasions Jesus said, “Watch and pray.” Watch and pray, firstly, that you don’t enter into temptation [Matthew 26:41]. Secondly, because you don’t know when Jesus will return [Mark 13:33].

Questions:

Are there things in your life that hinder you from really walking with God? Sometimes, even the good can be a hindrance to the best. As the Lord to show you anything that you are doing that is not helpful in your walk with Him.

What do you think is the meaning of “watch and pray”? How will you do that?

WHAT WILL HEAVEN BE LIKE?

Bible Reading:  1 Corinthians 2:6-16; Revelation 22:1-5

The Bible says that eye has not seen, nor ear heard, the things that God has prepared for those who love Him but He has revealed these things to us through His Spirit. Some people have the amazing privilege of seeing into heaven. It is recorded in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 that Paul had such an experience. For most us that is not the case, but the Holy Spirit reveals to us what heaven will be like. It is impossible to grasp the whole story or the full glory of heaven whilst here below but we do know that it is where God dwells and where Jesus is Lord. We know that it is a place of great praise and worship. We know that it is a place where there are no more tears, sin, sickness, pain, death, sorrow, weakness or failure. It is our final home and the place of complete peace and security and joy forever.

Heaven is a place of perfect glory, where there is no artificial light. But neither is there the light of the sun, because the Lord Himself will give His people light [Rev. 22:5]. Heaven is a place of perfect service where God’s people serve Him with joy [Rev. 22:3]. Heaven is a prepared place and the home of God’s children. Perhaps most wonderful of all, heaven is where we shall see God face to face, be like Jesus and have perfect communion with Him [Rev. 22:4]

In the Middle Ages it was reported that a king gave to his clown a walking stick in honour of his being the best clown, the biggest fool. It was to be given only to the one who was the greatest fool. One day, as the king was dying, the clown came to visit him. The clown asked the king what preparations he had made for heaven. “None,” he answered. Then solemnly the clown gave the king the walking stick remarking, “You are the greatest fool!”

Questions:

Late in his life King Saul said, “I have played the fool.” Jesus called the rich farmer, who only thought of earthly gain a fool. The person who does not prepare for heaven is a fool. Are you ready for heaven?

Now is the time to prepare for heaven! We cannot boast of what we will do tomorrow. Jesus commanded us to “lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven” [Matthew 6:19-21]. What do you think that this means and what treasures have you laid up in heaven?

 

ALL THINGS MADE NEW

Bible Reading:  Revelation 21:1-27

In this series I have not wanted to get into some of the controversial areas of teaching concerning the events of the last days and the order of events. There are various opinions on these issues but there are certain things that are very clear.

Jesus will reign on the earth for a thousand years [Revelation 20:4-6]. Satan will be released for a short season and then be sent to the lake of fire where he will be tormented forever [Revelation 20:7-10]. Then comes the judgment and the giving of rewards for good works [Revelation 20:11-15], and after this the New Jerusalem will come down from heaven and all things will be made new. There will be a new heaven, a new earth and a New Jerusalem. We will inhabit the new earth. It will be Eden restored as God originally intended. When the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven it will be where the Lord God and the Lamb dwell [see Revelation 21:22]. It will have twelve gates like the old Jerusalem but the gates will never be shut [Revelation 21:12-13, 25]. God will come down to the new earth and dwell among men.

Now we need to return to God’s original intention that has never changed, and look back to the Book of Genesis. In the beginning man was made to have fellowship with God. He was placed in the Garden of Eden and given both responsibility and work. It was man who was given the responsibility to name all the living creatures, and to have dominion over them. Man was given the job of cultivating the garden. All this happened before the fall and the curse of sin. In the new earth we will have responsibilities and we will work. There will be trees to be cultivated – remember the tree of life bearing fruit every month [Rev. 22:4], and there will also be different levels of responsibility. For example, there will be kings on the new earth [Revelation 21:24]. Literally, in the words of John Milton, the paradise that was lost will be restored, and at its heart will be the Lamb who was slain. He will receive and glory and power and dominion forever and ever.

Questions:

Does this picture of our eternal destination differ from that which you previously understood? In what way does it differ?

Do you think that the different responsibilities and positions on the new earth will be directly connected to the rewards that Jesus will give for the works that people have done?

THE MARRIAGE FEAST OF THE LAMB

Bible Reading:  Revelation 19:7-9; Luke 14:12-24; Matthew 25:1-13

I once attend the most amazing wedding and had the privilege of speaking at the ceremony. Following the ceremony one thousand five hundred guests sat at one hundred and fifty tables in the most lavish wedding reception I have ever been privileged to attend, but this cannot possibly compare with a marriage feast that is to come, when Jesus and His Church celebrate.

In Ephesians 5:21-32 Paul writing about marriage, uses the picture of Christ and His church, washed, cleansed and presented to Himself as a bride, totally holy and without blemish. Can you imagine what it is going to be like when Jesus and His children, clothed in glory, the Church triumphant dressed as a bride, spotless and without wrinkle celebrate together?

Jesus told two parables that hint of this heavenly marriage. The first, in Luke, is the parable of the Great Supper. Those invited made excuses and could not come. The master was so angry and commanded his servants to go the highways and byways and compel the poor, crippled, blind and lame to come to the great feast. Broken people accepted by the Master and made whole will attend the Marriage Feast of the Lamb.

The second parable of Jesus that hints of the great marriage feast is in Matthew’s gospel. It is directly linked to Jesus speaking about the last days. Five wise virgins had their lamps filled with oil and were ready for the bridegroom’s coming. Five foolish virgins were not prepared for His coming and missed his coming because they were looking for oil.

The Marriage Feast of the Lamb will be a wonderful event. Don’t miss it because of wrong priorities and feeble excuses. Be prepared and ready when Jesus, the Bridegroom comes.

Questions:

What kind of excuses prevented the people invited to the Great Supper from attending? What are the excuses that people have today for not being ready for the Marriage Feast of the Lamb?

Something to Do:

Will you take a few moments today to praise God for His amazing grace, that you, despite having been unworthy and spiritually poor, have been washed, made clean, accepted and are privileged to attend the greatest Marriage Feast in history?

OUR NEW BODY

Bible Reading:  1 Corinthians 15:35-58; Philippians 3:21

Because of sin our old bodies were perishable, limited, prone to decay and subject to the laws of nature, but our new bodies will be very different. Our old bodies were discarded at death, when our spirit and soul returned to God. Some people get anxious about what happens to their old bodies. What if they are burned or disintegrate in an accident? Is burial a must and cremation wrong? It doesn’t really matter because that body has been discarded forever!

We will have a new body. The resurrection will take place when Jesus comes back. Jesus has conquered death. He is the first to rise from the dead and at His coming the dead in Christ shall be raised with their new resurrection body.

What will our new bodies be like? Paul raised the same question when he wrote to the Corinthians [1 Cor.15:35]. Our new body will not be able to perish. Our new body will be like Jesus’ glorious body [Philippians 3:21; see also 1 Cor.15:49]. After the resurrection Jesus was different and sometimes was not recognized but he was also recognizable. Our body will be different from our present body but we will also be recognizable and we will still have our own personalities and individualities, but these will be perfected through Christ’s work.

The laws of nature will not limit our new body. Those who struggle with pain, physical limitations, or disabilities can have a wonderful hope in the resurrection. Our new body will be spiritual and thus not subject to the laws of nature. They will be permanent, not be weak, never get sick and never die.

In the Garden of Eden Adam was clothed with glory and honor [Psalm 8:5; Hebrews 2:7]. When Adam sinned the glory left him and he was naked. In our new body we shall be clothed with glory. We shall have a glorious body like Christ’s body.

This will be for all who belong to Jesus. Those who died in the Lord and those who are still alive when he comes and are caught up to meet with Him in the air. Catch something of the wonder and triumph of these words: “We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” [1 Corinthians 15:51-52]

AWAITING THE RESURRECTION

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Welcome to an extended daily devotional on a subject that causes a lot of misunderstanding. I trust this will be helpful to you.

There has been a lot of confusion in Christian circles over the issue of what happens when we die. One of the responsibilities of the Bible teacher is to present truth and not sentiment. Nowhere does sentiment cloud the truth more than in the emotional subject of death and the loss of loved ones.

The key words in understanding this issue are Hades [or Sheol in Hebrew] and Paradise. We need to define these two words: Firstly, “Hades.” Sadly, Hades has been translated as hell in some versions of the Bible. This is incorrect. In Jewish understanding Hades was the place where the soul and spirit went at death. The Jewish belief at the time of Christ was that the soul and spirit of all who died went to Hades into one of two compartments, either Abraham’s side or Torments. When Jesus spoke to the dying thief and told him, “You will be with Me in Paradise,” the man would have understood this as going to the believers’ section of Hades.

Secondly, “Paradise.” It is clear that Paradise is in the third heaven [Paul stated that in 2 Corinthians 12:3]. Jesus said to the dying thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise” [Luke 23:43]. Jesus promised the Ephesian Christians to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God [Revelation 2:7]. It is in the heavenly realm where those who died in the Lord await their resurrection body.

On the cross Jesus defeated death and the grave – literally Hades. There are different views as to what happened next, but it is clear from 1 Peter 3:18-19 that after His death and before His resurrection Jesus preached to the spirits in prison. One of the traditional views is that this was Hades and that Jesus announced salvation to God’s faithful followers who had been waiting for their salvation during the whole Old Testament period. Jesus literally, “led captivity captive.” The spirits of these righteous ones could now be made perfect [see Hebrews 12:23 & 11:39-40] and like those who died in Christ could now go to Paradise and await their resurrection body.

A comment on 1 Peter 3:18-19 in the margin of Life Application is helpful:

“In any case, this passage shows that Christ’s Good News of salvation and victory is not limited. It has been preached in the past as well as in the present; it has gone to the dead as well as to the living. God has given everyone the opportunity to come to Him, but this does not imply a second chance for those who reject Christ in this life.”

At the resurrection all those who belong to the Lord will receive their new resurrection body. Tomorrow we will continue with our devotional series and consider the new resurrection body.

OUR EARTHLY BODY

Bible Reading: Romans 8:18-25; 2 Corinthians 5:1-5

I was going from door to door at a time of special evangelistic meetings many years ago, inviting people to come to the meetings. Several people apologized and said that they could not be there, but would be there in spirit! I was getting rather discouraged and wished that they would come with their bodies as well as their spirit.

Our bodies are important! They are an amazing creation. The Bible says that we are fearfully and wonderfully made [Psalm 139:14]. Our bodies were made as a house for our soul and spirit. When a person is born again their spirit is quickened and made alive by the Holy Spirit. He then lives inside of them. For this reason the Bible calls our body a temple of the Holy Spirit. It is right that we surrender our will to God, but equally important that we surrender our body to Him. Paul says, I appeal to you brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies to God as a living sacrifice, wholly acceptable to God” [Romans 12:1]

Sadly, when Adam sinned not only did man’s spirit die, but also his body became subject to death and decay. In the Garden of Eden God told Adam that he would return to the ground, and because he is dust he will return to dust! Literally, our bodies became perishable, limited, prone to decay, and subject to the laws of nature [1 Cor. 15:42-44]. When we die our body decays [the Bible uses the term “corruptible” or “perishable”] and our soul and spirit go to Hades to await the resurrection.

We need a new body to house our soul and spirit in eternity and as God’s children we long for the new body that God has promised to us.

HOW CAN YOU CALL IT SACRIFICE?

Bible Reading:  Romans 8:18-25

When you consider some of the struggles and difficulties as you serve Jesus fix your eyes on the prize, Jesus Himself, and realize that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.”

On 4th December 1857 David Livingstone visited Cambridge University and spoke to the students at the Senate House. One of the students asked him a question about his sacrifice. He asked, “Is the sacrifice that you have made too great?” Here is Livingstone’s response:

“For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice, which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice that brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink, but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing compared with the glory that shall hereafter be revealed in us and for us. I never made a sacrifice.”

What an amazing response – a little hardship and struggle here below compared with glory that is to come. Like Livingstone, serve Jesus and fix your eyes on the prize that is ahead.

Questions:

Livingstone was passionate in serving Jesus, knowing that there is an eternal reward coming. What is Jesus asking you to do?

Will you fix your eyes on the glory that is to come and not let that be dulled by the struggles and difficulties that you face in this present time?

THE REWARDS GOD GIVES

Bible Reading:  Revelation 2:8-11

Many years ago I was in China and met with one of the great leaders of the House Church. He had gone through tremendous tribulation that included more than twenty years in prison and ten further years under house arrest. From the age of seventy six to eighty six God had used him to plant ten churches in Beijing. I asked him if he had a word for myself and he gave me a promise from God’s Word, “Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life” [Revelation 2:10]. Here is a reward – a crown for faithfulness!

Paul clearly implied degrees of reward when he wrote, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” [2 Corinth. 5:10]

Writing to Timothy Paul speaks of a “crown of righteousness” for all who love Christ’s appearing [2 Timothy 4:8], whilst James writes about a crown of life for those who endure temptation, overcome evil, remain faithful and who love Jesus [James 1:12].

The elders worshipped God and cast their crowns before His throne. Their greatest prize was the presence of God, and whilst there are degrees of reward the ultimate happiness will not be to do with status. In heaven happiness will not be dependent upon status but will be the joy of being with the Lord. There will be no sadness there and the joy of each person will be full and complete for eternity.

Questions:

What do you think is the meaning of “Be faithful unto death and I will give you a crown of life”?

How do you understand that there will be no sorrow in heaven but that there will be rewards given for faithful service on earth?