Have you ever been on a long trip? It may have been a wonderful time, perhaps seeing new things or relaxing in a beautiful location, or it might have been difficult and emotionally or physically exhausting. It doesn’t seem to matter the nature of the trip, as it approaches its conclusion and the closer you get to home, the more urgently you long to be home.
My wife was returning from an extended visit with her parents. Unfortunately, the only way to get from there to here is to go through Chicago. As any seasoned traveler knows, avoid flying through Chicago, at all costs. This was one of those trips that proved the rule.
Weather closed in on the airport, and all flights were delayed. And delayed. And delayed again. After many hours, a young child lay down on the floor and kicked her feet, screaming “I. Just. Want. To. Go. Home!” Everyone in the terminal identified with her.
And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead changed everything. While he made it clear during his earthly ministry that he was not seeking to establish an earthly kingdom, his disciples were steeped in Jewish prophecies and tradition about the Messiah sitting on the throne of David. It is my personal belief that his disciples followed him in a continual state of bewilderment, not entirely knowing what he was doing, but wanting to be in the middle of it, whatever it was.
When he rose from the dead, the pieces started to click into place. Their dashed hopes were renewed, and again they looked towards David’s throne (Acts 1:6-7), but instead of meeting their expectations, he sent them to Jerusalem and ascended to heaven. Instead, angels gave them a new hope (Acts 1:11), one of his return.
From the very beginning, the church lived in eager anticipation of the return of Jesus. Especially as persecution increased, there was little about the present age that could attract them more than a returning, triumphant, reigning Christ. Their hearts and minds were eagerly set upon the imminent return of Jesus (Revelation 22:20).
In the centuries since that time, however, the urgency of Jesus’ return has waned. Christians still hold it as a doctrinal tenet, but it does not occupy the forefront of our thinking, like it did in the early church. Especially in the United States, where life is prosperous and filled with various delights to occupy our time and dull our affections, few give more than a passing thought to what comes after this life. We say we believe in heaven, but live as if it isn’t real.
“Belief” can have an interesting dichotomy. There are the things that I hold to be true in my mind, my “objective” belief, and there is the way I live day to day, my “practical” belief. It is strange how easily we accommodate incongruity in these two perspectives.
Most Christians will profess a belief in the resurrection from the dead into eternal glory and communion with God through Jesus. The Bible teaches that in heaven there will be no more mourning, crying, or pain (Revelation 21:4). That sounds pretty appealing right now.
Practically, though, we live as if that is not true. I was a young teen in the wake of the Jesus Movement. Youth groups were focused on the rapture of the church, and I remember thinking “Jesus could come again any day… but please God, not before …” [some not-yet experience]. In wanting to delay the coming of Christ, I was implicitly asserting that the temporal experience to which I was looking forward was of greater value than the experience of eternity in the presence of God.
What about death? For the Christian, death is understood to be nothing more than passing through a doorway from temporal life to eternal life (2 Corinthians 5:8). It is my observation that most people have a visceral dread of dying; many refuse even to talk about it, even when it is a near-term practical consideration. Some insist in using euphemisms, such as “passing” rather than face the starkness of saying someone “died”.
I am not at all saying we should do anything to hasten it along; God has numbered my days, and as long as my heart still beats and my lungs draw air, I will live for him. I am saying that we should actually believe that what comes after this life is better than anything we have ever known (for those who are in Christ), and not face death with fear. To be clear, death is an enemy, but one who Jesus has vanquished. In rising from the dead, he demonstrated that the power of death was broken.
At this point, I should emphasize that if you are not in Christ, you have no such hope; you should fear death and eternity because you are dead in your sins. The good news, though, is that by ending your rebellion to God and surrendering to his love, forgiveness, and sovereignty you can be “transferred to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13).
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.
1 Peter 2:11
More practically, what occupies your attention? Are you building for yourself an earthly kingdom, pursuing wealth, power, status? Are you driven to obtain comfort and entertainment? When Peter says “passions of the flesh” he is describing a focus on temporal, material satisfaction. While to some extent, these things are a necessary aspect of temporal, material existence, the desire for them is at odds with having an eternal perspective. As Paul writes, being focused on these things is being hostile to God (Romans 8:7).
Can I invite you to a change of perspective, “fixing our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2)? Remember this is a journey, whose destination has not been reached yet. The end (purpose) of this journey is the glory of God (Ephesians 1:13-15).
Your objective should not be to improve your seat on the journey; rather it should be to make sure the journey itself is successful. That is, that whatever you do, do it for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).