TITLE: Experiencing Eternal Life NOW! SCRIPTURE: John 6:51-58
You are probably familiar with the story of the Exodus. The Israelites lived in Egypt four hundred years -- most of those years as slaves. God called Moses to lead them out of slavery and into the Promised Land. God enabled the Israelites to escape Pharaoh's grasp by the miracle of the ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea, which allowed the Israelites to cross the sea but trapped Egyptian soldiers when they tried to pursue.
Moses led the Israelites through the Red Sea into the wilderness -- not a lovely forest kind of wilderness, but a desert kind of wilderness. I understand that deserts can be lovely too, but deserts are a tough place to live -- hot during the day -- cold at night -- dry as a bone. A desert is a dangerous place to wander unless you really, really know what you are doing. Where can you find water? Where can you find food? How can you survive the heat of the day and the cold of the night? Those are major problems for people trying to live in a desert. How would you like to be responsible for the care and feeding of thousands of people in the desert?
But the story of the Exodus is the story of God leading his people into a desert wilderness and then taking care of them:
-- God sweetened the bitter water at Marah, so they could drink it (Exodus 15:22-26).
-- God gave the Israelites manna from heaven so they would have something to eat (Exodus 16). I wish that I could taste that manna. The Bible says that it "was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey" (Exodus 16:31). It sounds really good.
-- And then God gave the Israelites water from a rock at Meribah (Exodus 17:1-7).
Every Israelite knew these stories, and counted Moses as one of their greatest heroes. The Israelites wanted another Moses, and Jesus came to be another Moses -- another hero to give them freedom from oppressors -- another hero to give them food and drink -- a hero like Moses. But Jesus was a hero greater than Moses:
-- He came, not just for Israel's sake, but for also the world's sake.
-- He came to bring freedom, not just from an oppressor, but also from sin and death.
-- He came to give, not just bread and water, but also his body and blood.
-- Jesus came, not just to lead us to a land that we could call our own, but to an eternal kingdom where God is king -- a place where there is no oppression -- a place where there is grace for every sin and forgiveness for every shortcoming -- a place where there will be no weeping (Isaiah 65:19) -- a place where life no longer must end in death.
Think about that for a moment -- a place where life no longer must end in death. They say that there are only two things that are certain in this world -- death and taxes. In the Promised Land to which Jesus came to lead us, there will be neither death nor taxes --neither death nor taxes -- just imagine!
Furthermore, the eternal life which Jesus came to offer is something that we can begin to enjoy now -- that we have begun to enjoy already. Jesus says:
"Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood HAVE eternal life,
and I will raise them up on the last day" (6:54).
That's an interesting statement. Jesus says that we who eat his flesh and drink his blood HAVE eternal life -- present tense -- we HAVE eternal life now -- and Jesus WILL RAISE US UP on the last day -- future tense.
How is it possible that we HAVE eternal life now but WILL DIE and WILL NEED Jesus to raise us up on the last day?
In the Gospel of John, eternal life has as much to do with quality of life as with its endlessness -- although quality and quantity are both important parts of eternal life. Later in this Gospel, Jesus will pray for his disciples -- saying that he has come to give them eternal life. Then he will say:
"And this is eternal life,
that they may know you, the only true God,
and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3)
Eternal life has an endless dimension to it, but the essence of eternal life is something other than endlessness. The essence of eternal life is life lived in the presence of God -- life lived under the protection of God's love -- life lived with the promise of God's forgiveness -- life in which God will turn our Good Fridays into Easters.
The promise for those of us who eat Jesus' flesh and drink Jesus' blood is that eternal life, for us, has already begun:
-- We have already begun to experience life in the presence of God.
-- We already have God's Holy Spirit living within us.
-- We have already entered God's kingdom.
-- We have already begun to live life under God's love.
-- We have already begun to learn how to live according to God's will.
That is not to say that we live in a perfect world now -- or that we live perfectly in this world now -- far from it! If I were to tell you that this is a perfect world or that you are living a perfect life, you would laugh me out of the pulpit -- and rightly so.
But I will tell you this -- that God's light has begun to penetrate the darkness to illumine our hearts -- to light our pathway -- to show us the direction where we can find life and happiness. We live in two worlds -- a dark world and a light world. We have one foot in this world and the other foot in the next -- and that can be an uncomfortable way to live.
But the promise is not that we will be comfortable but that God abides with us here and there and everywhere -- that God is with us every moment of the day and every step of the way. And that is at least part of what it means to enjoy eternal life.
Izaak Walton put it this way. He said:
God has two dwellings --
one in heaven
and the other in a thankful heart.
I thought that was interesting. Izaak Walton wasn't a theologian, but a fisherman and writer. He best known work is a book on fishing, The Compleat Angler -- the granddaddy of all fishing guides. Izaak Walton wrote The Compleat Angler in 1653, and I was surprised to see that it is still available on Amazon.com. That's a pretty good run for a fishing book!
But if Walton knew fishing, he also knew theology. One of his fishing companions was George Herbert, the Christian author, and Walton wrote a biography of John Donne, the famous preacher. I am sure that, on his many fishing trips, Walton learned lots of good theology from his preacher friends. And he said a lot in a few words when he said:
God has two dwellings -- one in heaven and the other in a thankful heart.
That pretty well sums up what Jesus meant by eternal life. Eternal life begins now with God dwelling in our thankful hearts -- and eternal life will take us into heavenly places too wonderful even to imagine. Eternal life will last forever, but it has already started.
In his book, Getting Through the Going Through Stage, Robert Schuller tells about a conversation between Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel and President Ronald Reagan. When Begin visited the White House, he questioned Reagan about the platinum, red, and gold phones in the Oval Office. "Tell me. What are they really for?" he asked.
"Well, the platinum phone goes to Republican headquarters so I can keep track of political affairs. The red phone is a hot line to Russia so I can keep track of what's happening there. My gold phone is a direct line to God."
"How much does it cost to call God?" Begin asked.
"Ten thousand dollars," Reagan replied, "but it's worth every penny."
Later when the president was visiting Prime Minister Begin in Israel, he asked the same question of Begin. "What are your three phones for?" Begin replied, "One's a hot line to Egypt, another's a hot line to Parliament, and the third is a hot line to God."
"How much does it cost to call God from here?" Reagan asked the prime minister.
"Ten cents," Begin replied. "It's a local call."
I hope that I am not being superficial here, but when I saw that story, I thought that Jesus might be suggesting that for those who believe in him -- for those who eat his flesh and drink his blood -- heaven is a local call.