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(Chp 18) The right perspectives of Heaven and Hell

May 12, 2008, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee (Matthew 25:31-46) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: The Jesus Creed
Preached at a Bilingual (Mandarin-English, Sunday) service

Tags: Jesus Creed, Matthew

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Sermon based on Chapter 18 of Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed

Title: The right perspectives of Heaven and Hell (Matt 25:31-46)

Introduction
A mother is punishing her children for misbehaving. So the children cried out, “Mom, you are so strict and harsh with us!” The mother said, “Children, I’m doing this for your own good. When I was young, my own mother disciplined me ten times harder than this. And this is why I turned out to be who I am today.” So the children said, “Your mother? Are we talking about the same person? Gramma is the nicest person we know!” So the mother said, “Don’t believe it one bit. She didn’t used to be like this to me. But now she is just like all other nice, sweet and loving grandparents. You know why? She is yet another old person that is trying to get into heaven.”

This little account shows a simple truth, our perspective of our future has a direct impact on how we live our lives today. This is because we all understand the concept of cause and effect. For everything that you do, there is a result that happens because of what you do. How your future is like depends on what you do now. For Christians therefore, the perspective of heaven and hell therefore has a very profound influence on our living today, because that is how we see our future. There are the two prospects that are laid out in front of us, heaven and hell, and we all try to modify our behavior today to get to the future that is heaven, and avoid the path that leads to hell. Yet, this is my challenge today. Do you have the right perspective of heaven and hell? Because if the perspective is wrong, then all your Christian living goes haywire. But if the perspective is right, then you can take my word, your spiritual life will become very powerful.

From today’s passage about heaven and hell, I wish to introduce three correct perspectives that we must all have. Heaven and Hell is about the V.I.P. VIP of course stands for very important person, and that is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one that takes center stage in salvation and judgment, and he determines our fate in heaven and hell. But today I give you another meaning for VIP. It means Vindication, Inheritance and Present moment. These are the three correct perspectives of heaven and hell. Heaven and hell is about Vindication, Inheritance and Present moment. Let’s look at them in detail.

Point 1: Heaven and Hell is about Vindication
I have never liked to talk about heaven and hell. I know there are some pastors who like to bring out the scary part about the fire and brimstones horror of hell, and to terrify everybody into accepting Christ. But it is not my cup of tea. On the other hand, I love to talk about social justice, about helping the needy and about doing good deeds. I feel it is very practical and tangible to talk about how to live your life with love, compassion and respect for others. Yet, today’s passage has put both elements together. Heaven and hell is linked closely to social justice and living a good life. How am I to reconcile this?

I discovered that my dread to speak about heaven and hell has to do with my misconceptions about it. I often think of heaven and hell as a reward and penalty system. So it is very natural that it is not appealing to me because a relationship with God should not be about reward and penalty. We do what God wants us to do because of the relationship we have with God and that it is doing the right thing. It should not be about reward and penalty. Because if it is so, then there is no relationship, we are only doing the right things for the reward of heaven and avoiding the wrong things due to the penalty of hell. But this is a misconception.

Christians do not do the right things because of the reward of heaven. This would be like saying that a husband is only nice to his wife so that he can get lucky at night. Or a child is respectful to his parents to get more pocket money. Christians should do the right thing only and simply because it is the right thing for us to do. But heaven does come to the righteous one because it is a natural consequence. It is only right for the husband to be nice to his wife, or a child to be filial to his parents. The fact that the husband and the child receive love in return is not the reason for being nice or filial, it is only a natural consequence. Think about how God will feel, if the reason we do good deeds is because we want to go to heaven, and not because we believe in doing good deeds.

But is there a difference between a life of good deeds with a consequence, and a life of good deeds without consequence. Well, there is a major difference, and knowing this is the first correct perspective of heaven and hell I want to bring out. Heaven and hell is about the V – Vindication. We can do the right things simply because it is right, and the good things simply because they are good. But heaven and hell adds an important dimension to what we are doing. It tells us that for all that we do, one day they will be vindicated. There will come a judgment time, and heaven will show that the right actions were indeed right, and the good actions were indeed good, and hell will prove that the evil deeds were indeed evil. If it is a life of good deeds without any consequence, without any final judgment, it makes good deeds and evil deeds the same thing. Good and evil then has no meaning. Such a perspective of heaven and hell, that it is a time of vindication, is very important. It adds an element of hope and confidence, that we will know that all our deeds will not be in vain. We do the right things because it is the right thing to do, but with vindication, we have the full assurance that we will one day be proven right as well, and that makes the right deeds all the more meaningful.

Point 2: Heaven and Hell is about the Inheritance
There is a second reason why I don’t like to talk about heaven and hell. I don’t know what it is like. Some say that it is a time of worship. Some say it is a time of bliss. I don’t know about you, but spending all of eternity, wearing boring white robes, with a halo over my head, and playing harps and singing all day long isn’t terribly appealing to me. The only thing I know for certain is that it is much better than hell. But that is as useful as saying drinking soup is better than drinking poison. But again this is a misconception. The key factor about heaven is not what is at that place, but rather who is at that place. So once again it is about getting the right perspectives of heaven and hell. We have already learned that Heaven and Hell is about V – Vindication. Heaven and Hell is also about I – Inheritance.

What is inheritance? Inheritance is given to those who are the children of God. As a child of God, you are an heir to the inheritance. But what is this inheritance? Matt 25: 34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. The inheritance is the kingdom of God. But the kingdom of God is more than just a place, it is more than the kingship of Christ. The kingdom of God is also the people of God. So it is no coincidence that the judgment criteria for Vindication is this: Matt 25: 40 "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' Who are the least of these brothers of Jesus? They are the followers of Christ, the people of God.
Matt 12: 46 While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you." 48 He replied to him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."

So Heaven and Hell is about I – Inheritance. We will inherit the kingdom of God, and that means that we will spend eternity with the people of God. These are the people who have done the will of God the Father and hence been vindicated of their righteous deeds. We must do the right things to end up with the right people. This is the perspective we need to have. Such a perspective naturally has a mighty impact on us. God’s will for us is to create this kingdom of people that lives truly as brothers and sisters. We help one another in times of need. We take care, support and protect one another. Why? Because if you do that, we will inherit one another. This is what heaven is all about. It is not what is there, it is who is there. The people of God who have truly treated one another as brothers and sisters are there. So needless to say, it is imperative that this is the perspective we the Christian community should see one another, we are the people that will spend an eternity together.

Point 3: Heaven and Hell is about the Present moment
The final reason why I dislike to talk about Heaven and Hell is because it often seems too otherworldly for me. Like all the stuff about heaven and hell is about what happens after I die. Once again, this is a misconception. There is an important perspective that we have to learn. I have explained that Heaven and Hell is about V – Vindication. It is also about I – Inheritance. The final point is that Heaven and Hell is also about P – the Present moment. Heaven and Hell is about your daily living today. It is not the future, it is now. Let me show you the context, to show you how Matthew presented this beautiful picture to us.
Matthew 24 starts by telling us that there will come the end times. But it will also be the times of false prophets and many fake Christs. Matthew then goes on to say that nobody knows the day or the hour when it will happen. Matthew 25 then talks about the parable of the ten virgins which tells us to be vigilant and be ever ready. He follows that with the parable of the talents which basically means that we must put what God has given us to good use, and not bury and waste it. In summary, what it tells us about the end times is that we don’t know when it will come and we cannot recognize easily who Christ is. Yet at the same time, we are told to be ready and to use our talent. Isn’t that mission impossible? How do we get ready for a time we do not know and use our talent for a person we do not recognize?

The answer lies in our passage today. We do not have to recognize Christ, it is Christ who will recognize us. We do not have to serve Christ, it is Christ who will come to us to be served. Yet the moment for this recognition is not a faraway unknown future. The target of service is not a distant unknown figure. Heaven and Hell is about P – the Present moment. We are to serve and help those who are in need. And these are the ones who have come to us now, in our present moment. The brother in need who comes to us is Christ. He is the one who is hungry and thirsty. He is the one who needs shelter and comfort. The ones in need in our community today represent Jesus. If we offer our help, Christ will recognize us when the end times come. Heaven and Hell is about what we do in the Present moment. The present moment is when we have to be ever ready, and when the one in need comes to us, we have to use our talents that God has entrusted to us. But let me give an important warning here. Use your talents wisely. There are some with genuine need that we must help, but to those who deliberately aim to cheat kind-hearted Christians, you must use the God given talents of discipline and wisdom to rebuke and enlighten them.

Conclusion
I know it is not easy for us to think about heaven and hell. They seem like outdated fantasy scenarios compared to our modern world. But proper perspectives about heaven and hell directly influence our actual lives today. Knowing that there will be a time of vindication adds great meaning and value to the good deeds that we do. We know that even if the whole world is not watching, God is watching, and it matters to him. I sincerely hope that caring and sharing become part and parcel of our community life. Because that would be what we will inherit for all of eternity. Our church should be a reflection of the heavenly place where there is no one in need. That should not be something far away for us to speculate. It should be happening now, because Jesus is with us now, in the forms of the least of our brothers and sisters among us. Let's all do the right thing, to the right people, in the right time. Amen.

Matthew 25:31–46 (Listen)

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

(ESV)