Summary: Eternal Life is largely ignored by Christians today, until they face death. Eternal life, though, is the life they live from the moment they receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Eternal life affects their lives today.
Luke 23:32-43 “Discover Eternity”
We draw near to the end of our month of Thanksgiving. We have celebrated God’s gifts of love, purpose, and peace. Today we will focus on God’s gift of eternity.
God’s gift of eternal life is at the center of the Christian gospel. John writes in his gospel, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (3:16). Even though eternal life is at the core of the Christian faith and is part of the creeds that we repeat frequently, we seldom give this gift much thought. It is commonly thought that eternal life is of concern only when we approach death, and that it has little to do with the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
In order to fully appreciate this gift, and give thanks for it, we need to recapture its importance in life and its value in Christian discipleship.
HEAVEN ON EARTH
Our lesson for today takes place on Good Friday on a hill outside the city gates of Jerusalem. There Jesus is hanging crucified along with two common criminals. One of the criminals recognizes not only Jesus’ innocence, but catches a glimpse of who Jesus is. He asks Jesus to remember him, and Jesus replies that the criminal will be with him in paradise that day.
We learn two key elements of eternal life in this scene. First we learn that eternal life is a gift. The criminal had done nothing to merit eternal life, and he had no possibility of turning his life around and living a life worthy of such a gift.
Secondly, we learn that eternal life is having Jesus present in one’s life. The promise given by Jesus to the criminal was “you will be with me.” Like so much in the Bible, God’s gifts are not places or conditions, they are relationships and the promise that such relationships will never be broken.
The gift of relationship is a life changing reality in the life of a Christian. Being in Christ and having Christ in us, enables us to literally experience heaven on earth. True, we will still are inflicted with sickness, fight against evil and struggle against death. In Biblical terms, though, heaven is wherever God is, and hell is wherever God is not. Though we long for a full experience of heaven, the gift of God’s presences enables us to live eternal life today.
FROM THE WATERS OF BAPTISM
Paul writes, in his letter to the Romans, that we are buried with Christ in our baptism so that we might live with him. Eternal life for the Christian comes from the moment we are baptized, or when we begin to live in the reality of God’s gift of salvation. Baptism is death and life; we die in order to live.
We die to the life of the world. There is a powerful scene in the book, Clan of the Cave Bear, where the death curse is place on the heroine. From that moment on, the people of her clan regard her as dead and do not respond to her. They consider her dead. Eventually she goes away from them and it is as if she truly died.
Alcoholics understand what it is to be dead to booze. They may still have the desire, but it is not a path they chose to walk. Smokers also understand. They may occasionally crave a cigarette, but they chose not to pick up that habit again, because they are dead to it.
We are dead to the things of this world. Yes, we may appreciate a powerful car, glamorous home, or expensive clothes, but we realize that we don’t need them. In fact, we know that they are nothing compared to living for Jesus and serving God. One day we will hear those cherished words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
Walking by faith in God’s love and forgiveness and trusting that God holds us in the palm of his hand, is what eternal life is all about.
JESUS LIVES WITHIN US
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul writes that, “We are crucified with Jesus, nevertheless we live, yet not us, but Christ lives within us. For we live not in the flesh, but live by faith in the Son of God.
Eternal life not only means that we have already “died and gone to heaven,” i.e., live in God’s presence, but it also means that Jesus lives within us.
This doesn’t mean that we can go around introducing ourselves as Jesus. It does mean that we realize that we are the Body of Christ. We are God’s hands and feet. Our purpose in life is now to use our gifts and talents to serve God by loving our neighbors and using our gifts and talents to meet the needs of others.