Blessed are the dead: Part #4
Jesus made this promise to his followers, “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going” (John 14:1-4; RSV). Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, was inspired to recall these words, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (I Corinthians 2:9; RSV).
Eighteen years ago, I had my first bout with cancer. Of course, I was troubled because I felt unprepared. My greatest concern was for my wife and our children. My task, itself, was incomplete. Something was missing in my life. I did not feel that I had fully grown in my faith. Cancer, with the help of so many fellow travelers, stabilized my faith and gave me a new way to serve my fellow men and women through writing on the Internet. God has given me this extra time to share my experience and understanding with those who are uncertain about their destiny as I was. I did not have that longing to go home, as I do now. Cancer prepared me to take on this changed attitude toward heaven. Now, that cancer has come back, I no longer regard it as an enemy, but as a friend. If it is allowed to destroy my earthly housing, then it only sets my soul or spirit free from the limits and troubles of the flesh. It is the end of a long journey, of a life that has succeeded against many odds. This life has witnessed one of the greatest technological advances in human history. At the same time, man because of his material success, has distanced himself from his eternal home and his Creator. Cancer, again, is reminding me that this world, regardless of what pleasure and pain man faces, is only temporary. That is why I invited you to build up some security that is accepted in the “eternal world” were no changes will occur.
Jesus has given us an idea to what we must do to build up a “security nest” in heaven. Jesus said, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal” (John 6:27; RSV). In His “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus said this, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21; RSV). I would like to add one more statement that Jesus said, “Do not give to dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pears before swine, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matthew 7:6; RSV).
These three references speak to me in a very personal and special way. Salvation is work! Salvation is not rest! I must choose the kind of food, which prepares my soul or my spirit for eternity. It is what I do for others, regardless how small or insignificant it may be in the eyes of the world, Jesus will bless me with in the hereafter. And the most precious and valuable thing I can do in this life is to help others become better and more productive people. The “human soul” is the most valued treasure man has and to save the “human soul” earns the highest reward. James, the half–brother of Jesus, left us this important task, “My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20; RSV). Daniel received this message from the angel Michael, “And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever” (Daniel 12:3; RSV).
To God and to Jesus, your soul and my soul is worth more than the whole world. Our souls are the precious pearls Jesus has come into the world to find. And when Jesus found the soul of men, Jesus gave up heaven and His life, on earth, for you and for me. How dare I do with my life as I please, disgrace and dishonor my life by throwing it into the world for sinners to trample on my life, and destroy my relationship to Christ and to my heavenly Father! The writer to the Hebrews had this sobering question, “For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries. A man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:26-29).
The same Hebrew writer did not hold any hope for such sinners to come back from their fall, “For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have been once enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt” (Hebrews 6:4-6; RSV). Jesus gave us this answer, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16; RSV). We have to do more than just “tiptoe” through the world carrying candles, which throw light on how we behave and what we are doing.
Jesus, in addition to promising his followers a home. Jesus promised something much more important. Here is the key promise of all promises Jesus made, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24; RSV). Jesus was not talking about the first death when the soul separates from the body and sleeps in Hades or Paradise until the resurrection and the judgment. The second death is the one that stands in the way of eternal separation from God and from the New World. Those of us, who die in Christ, have with Him passed over the second death and will not face judgment. Revelation, chapter twenty, has two distinct resurrections. The first resurrection is for those who died for Christ and they shall reigns with Christ for a millennium. The second resurrection is for all the other dead, good or bad. They all will appear before the judge. Those who are not in the “Book of Life” will remain spiritually dead. The vision of confirmation is the second seating in Revelation (20:11-15) when the final sentence is passed on those that had no part in the first resurrection in Revelation, “Then I saw a great white throne and him who sat upon it; from his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, is the lake of fire; and if any one’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11-15; RSV). To avoid that death, one’s name must be written in heaven. Two specific ways are mentioned. One is to die physically for Christ here on earth. Secondly, one has to perform deeds of mercy to Christ’s followers. Jesus left us an example in the seventy disciples, that were sent out to represent Him and they returned bubbling over with joy over their success. And what Jesus said to them applies to us, “Do not rejoice that the evil spirits obeyed you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
The first time cancer demoralized me, my wife found an angel doll with a short tape recording. She laid it next to me while I was asleep. When I awoke and stretched my arms outward, I heard this sweet angelic voice, “I am your guarding angel, I am your special friend.” For a moment, I was stunned and thought I was in paradise. But when I stretched my arms again, I became aware of the doll. About the same time, I did think of leaving this world and wondered what the other side would be like. I was fully awake when my left eye appeared to pop out in front of me and instantly returned back into its socket. During that split second, I had a glimpse of a beautiful large garden, with a familiar Roman Catholic priest, talking to a young man with his back towards me. I have treasured that second and I do believe that the dead are not dead, but that they rest from their labors because they have heard the voice of Jesus while they were following Him here on earth. Abraham Lincoln left this nugget, “Die when I may, I want it said of me by those who knew me best, that I always plugged a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.” Please, plant the flowers while we are living and while we are still alive! The “makarioi” do not take chances with their lives on earth nor do they let sin trample on them. This concludes my study of those whom Christ called, “The blessed of my Father.”