Experience has its rewards.
If you are a seasoned carpenter, you can tell the wood and the nails what to do and you know what the result will be. If you are a seasoned gardener, you know what the planted seeds will look like in a few weeks.
And though you may enjoy the carpentry, or enjoy the gardening, to a certain extent you may take it for granted. The wonder of seeing that first woodworking project or that first batch of tomatoes is easy to lose in the repetition and what we call experience.
There is a sense in which as Christians we have experience in knowing Jesus, in knowing God, and in knowing His Word, through our Bible reading or hearing sermons. And there is a sweetness to that experience in many ways.
But like the carpenter or gardener, there is also the possibility of losing the wonder that we may have had when the Lord and the Bible were new to us.
Even Grace itself can be taken for granted.
We build our projects in the Kingdom of God, or we plant and water and watch the Lord’s increase. But sometimes we think it’s not like it used to be.
Southern Gospel Heaven
I grew up mostly in Michigan, in the Northern part of the United States. And after I became a Christian in 1976, I came to love Christian music.
I came to love a lot of the old hymns, and a lot of the newer Contemporary music.
But it wasn’t until I moved to Tennessee in 1986 that I heard much of what is called Southern Gospel. And I noticed something about Southern Gospel music. It tends to talk a lot about heaven.
[You know, like...] I’m looking forward to heaven. Don’t worry, heaven is coming. Can’t you just imagine what heaven will be like? Don’t let the family circle be broken, let’s make sure we all meet again in heaven. What a great day it will be when we meet Jesus face to face. How great it will be to spend eternity with Jesus in heaven. And on and on.
No Earthly Good?
And you’ve all heard the saying, “He’s so heavenly minded he’s no earthly good”?
I’ve come to think that what that phrase really means is, “He’s so caught up in religion that he’s not really heavenly minded at all. And if he’s not heavenly minded he’s no earthly good.”
Do you see the difference?
I’m not a seasoned flyer, but I’ve flown in passenger planes several times. And I’ve always noticed something.
Now if you’re a seasoned flyer, a “frequent flyer”, you may not even notice this anymore. You may have lost the wonder of what I’m going to describe about my few airplane trips.
But here’s what I’ve noticed:
On every flight there are people waiting for people. And they’re waiting with anticipation, and joy and love on their faces. It’s beautiful.
And when the person on the plane gets off the plane, and the person waiting for them at the gate sees them, when they see each other, the shining face of anticipation becomes a shining face of recognition.
And the faces shine even brighter, and they speed up their steps and they put their arms around each other and give each other a big hug.
As I think about the picture of those people eagerly waiting for their loves ones, I can imagine the joy of believers in Christ when they will see Jesus face to face, and I “get” Southern Gospel music. It’s still not my favorite music, but I “get” it.
From Anticipation To Family Reunion
Can you imagine the joy of the family reunion we will have with those who have gone on before us? Those who have “fallen asleep in Christ” (1 Thess. 4:14)?
I can think of my grandma on my dad’s side who would never stop talking to me about Jesus, and finally got to see me saved at the age of 26.
Twenty-six years of bugging me.
And my mother who passed away from leukemia, after becoming one of the most loving examples of a praying Christian that I’ve known.
And a family friend named Wilbourne. [He passed away several months ago at a ripe old age.] He was an army buddy of my wife’s dad. And he prayed for my wife Michele’s family from maybe 1944 until Michele became a Christian in 1979.
And his prayers were combined with gospel tracts at Christmas time, even though he never saw Michele’s dad again after WWII, and never met his family.
Michele and I visited him in Texas in 1981, because Michele wanted to meet this guy who had impacted her family and her eternity. He let me preach in the little church he pastored, and we’ve exchanged greeting cards and letters ever since.
I look forward to seeing Wilbourne.
And I look forward to seeing my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, face to face.
The batch of blessings promised to believers are aspects of this final grace.
Present And Final Grace
I try to teach Christians to dwell on the grace they have ALREADY, which is wonderful to contemplate.
As the John Newton song puts it, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me; I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see”. For by grace are you saved, through faith, not by works lest anyone should boast. (Eph. 2:8,9)
As we grow spiritually, we see that grace is important in the PRESENT time for living the Christian life. As we humble ourselves and admit our need, God gives more grace.
Grace didn’t end with salvation, and I can’t ever stop emphasizing the fact that there is nothing we can do to make God love us more, and nothing we can do to make God love us less. He set His love on us, and there is nothing we can do to diminish that. He loves us and showers us with His grace every day.
But we also need to understand the Final Grace. The end of this age, or what the theologians call the eschaton. The end. Or what is sometimes called Future Grace.
This Final Grace gripped the heart of the Apostle Peter. Do you remember what was promised for his future? Jesus promised him in John 21:18, “Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish”.
Jesus was telling Peter that he would one day be crucified himself. He would die as a martyr.
This Apostle wrote to the early church about soon-to-be martyrdom. He wrote, “I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent [referring to his body], to stir you up by reminding you, knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me” (2 Peter 1:13,14).
How would you feel if you knew that this was shortly going to happen to you?
Could you maintain a joyful and fruitful life?
Peter did, and he mentioned an important thing that strengthened him. Peter was assured of his future in heaven and he learned to focus his hope on this final grace.
He encouraged those who faced persecution under the evil emperor Nero to, “Gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the GRACE that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13).
This means literally to pull up your drawers and put a belt on. But this speech picture really means “prepare your minds for action” (NIV). Having done so, we are to “be sober”–clearly grasp the implications of God’s truth. The truth we are to focus on is this final grace–”grace that is to be brought to you” (as a child of God). And when will this grace be distributed?–”at the revelation of Jesus Christ”–His Second Coming.
What are some of the dimensions of this final grace?
1. First, we will see the glory of heaven.
Those who die in Christ are “absent from the body and present with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:7).
Our Lord reassured the disciples the night before His crucifixion: “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I GO TO PREPARE A PLACE FOR YOU. . . I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).
This hope sustained believers in the Old Testament era who saw this life as a pilgrimage en route to the future glorious kingdom: “But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (Heb 11:16; cf.13:14).
2. Second, we will see Christ in His glory!
“Looking for the blessed hope and GLORIOUS APPEARING of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). Peter had affirmed the importance of faith; by faith the Christian loves Jesus, although He is not now visible on earth (1 Pet 1:8).
Yet, as one of my favorite hymns puts it, “And Lord, haste the day, when the faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll, the trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend, ‘even so’ it is well with my soul.”
3. Third, believers who are living on earth at the moment of Christ’s return will bypass physical death!
Paul spoke of this mystery that was revealed through him:
“We shall not all sleep, but WE SHALL ALL BE CHANGED–in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible [that’s our body] must put on incorruption [the resurrected body], and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’” (1 Cor 15:51-54; cf. 1 Thes 4:17).
4. Fourth, as the previous passage declared, we will be given a new glorified body.
“Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, WE SHALL BE LIKE HIM, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2,3).
Notice that this hope is not just a matter of escapism. The “I’m outa here, I don’t care what God thinks” idea.
Rather, it is a purifying hope.
It’s also a practical hope.
Listen to Paul’s word in 1 Cor 15:58,
“Therefore [he had just spoke of this final grace], my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”
It’s also a sanctifying hope.
Listen to Titus 2:11-14:
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.”
The Vision Of A Future Reality
This vision of the final grace should grip our hearts.
It’s a vision of a future reality, the final grace upon grace.
J. F. Strombeck noted the vital importance of vision:
“Vision plays a great role in the lives of men.
“A vision will keep a man in a straight course until it is realized. It will bear him up during days of severe trial and hardships. It will cause him to deny himself things that might interfere with the fullest accomplishment of his vision.
“A vision is a great disciplinarian. . . It is because of this power of vision to transform the very life of a person that grace teaches the believer to look for the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“This being true it is hardly to be expected that the proper outlook on life will be found among believers who do not look for this great event and are not aware of its importance to them. It is unthinkable that when this truth has gripped a person it will not leave a deep and lasting impression on his life.”
No wonder hope is included in 1 Cor 13:13 – faith, HOPE and love.
This final grace sustained the apostle Peter in the days leading up to his martyrdom; it can sustain us in our difficulties as well.
Where have you set your hope?
How about setting it on the blessings of this final grace, when we see Him face to face?