Eternity? What’s that?
A survey published in the Times newspaper on 31 October 2007 found that 47% of people in Britain believe in life after death. If they are right, a timeless eternity awaits us when we die. But where are we going to spend it?
In his book Thirty days in Sydney, the Australian author Peter Carey tells the story of Arthur Stace, a one-time down-and-out who became a Christian and went around Sydney writing the word Eternity on the pavements. He wanted to remind people of the shortness of life in this world and of the need to prepare for the eternal world to come.
During the New Year Millennium celebrations of 2000, Sydney Harbour Bridge was illuminated with a dazzling display of lights. The word Eternity was at its centre in large brilliant letters. It was an appropriate way to remember Arthur Stace and to highlight his message.
Peter Carey wrote with candour of the terror he felt at the thought of dying and going out into an unknown eternity. He turned to the wine bottle to drown out the fear.
Looking forward to eternity
How different was the reaction of a man called Simeon who took a baby boy in his arms and spoke with eagerness of going into eternity. The place was the temple in Jerusalem; the baby was the infant Jesus.
Mary and Joseph had brought the child into the temple and Simeon had been sent there by God to see him. He had also been told that he would not die before he had seen the ‘Lord’s Christ’.
As he held the baby in his arms he realised that the child was none other than the Son of God whose coming had been promised for centuries in the Hebrew Scriptures. His joy was unbounded and he spoke of Jesus as ‘God’s salvation for all peoples … a light bringing revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel’. As a result he was ready to depart this life and enter a glorious life to come.
Beer or belief?
Bernard Shaw once said, ‘beer makes you feel as you ought to feel without it’. Faced with eternity many people turn to the bottle – or find some other way to blot out the thought of death and its sequel. But the reality remains. It is far better to turn to God, our Maker and Saviour.
Simon Peter, one of Jesus’ followers, said to him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’. Another of his disciples, John, wrote that whoever believes in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, will have eternal life.
That is what Jesus himself said. He declared himself to be the eternal Son of God who had come into the world to live, die and rise again to save unworthy people like us. Without him we will perish but with him we will have eternal life, starting right now and going on for ever. ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love him’ (1 Corinthians 2:9).
The evidence of Christ’s resurrection
Wishful thinking? Not at all. The proof that this is true is Christ’s resurrection. Jesus came from eternity into our world of space and time and died on the cross for our sins. But he conquered death, rising from the dead, and went back to that eternal world.
But he has not left us alone. He has sent his Holy Spirit to give eternal (that is, spiritual) life to those who believe in him. Here and now he receives all who trust in him for salvation and guarantees them a place in heaven when they die – or when he comes again, whichever happens first.
A few years ago my wife and I returned from New Zealand at Christmas time. In order to make the journey we had to board the aircraft and take our seats. We trusted the pilot and the aircraft to bring us safely home.
Becoming a Christian is not quite as simple as that, because being spiritually blind by nature we cannot trust in the unseen God the way we can trust in visible things like aeroplanes!
But God has an answer for that problem. He gives to those he graciously chooses something called ‘faith’ – a kind of spiritual sight that we do not possess by nature. Then we can ‘see’ the truth of the gospel and understand what Christ has done for us!
But you still have to get on board; Jesus said, ‘Repent and believe the gospel’, while the apostles declared, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved’ (Mark 1:14; Acts 16:31).
With God’s help you still have to believe – to put your trust in Jesus Christ and rely completely on him for forgiveness and acceptance with God. He said that he is the way, he is the truth, and the life. You can only come to God the Father through him (John 14:6).
No easy journey
The journey from Auckland to London was not an easy one. Delayed at Auckland airport for over twelve hours we were further delayed at Los Angeles. At Frankfurt we had to wait another six hours before flying to Heathrow which was fog-bound. We circled London for ages before a break in the fog enabled us to land. The journey had taken sixty-six hours with virtually no sleep. But we were home for Christmas!
Likewise, the journey to heaven is not always easy. For some it involves hardship and suffering, weakness and distress. But it is all worth while when you arrive home. Far better than being home for Christmas is being home with Christ in glory for ever.
Eternity! As we remember the birth of Jesus Christ may we be able to say with Simeon: ‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel’.