Waiting For The Promise
Is Heaven The Only Thing That's Important?
1. It seems like there are more than a few people who think that Christianity is a religion that produces a people who only care about heaven. I even used to feel that way. The responsibility for this probably lies with the church, I'd say, because Christians focused on heaven alone actually have been in existence in Christian history and still are today. Put plainly, this attitude of faith can be seen in the following: "While we live on this earth, there is so much suffering, but let's live patiently any way. After all since we're going to heaven we will wait for the good [to come]. Life on earth is no more than a transition point. The truly important things are not on earth; they are in heaven. Our ultimate purpose is in heaven." To such a person as that, for example, believing in Christ and receiving forgiveness of sin is nothing but a means for getting into heaven. Faith, which believes in Christ, is likened to a ticket to get into heaven. The top assignment that we should do on this earth turns out to be to deal out to as many people as possible tickets to get into heaven same as us. There are a surprising number of people who think that's what the definition of the [Christian] mission is.
2. However, life on earth is more than a transition point for simply going to heaven, isn't it? Or is life on earth, as some of the ancient church fathers thought, a place of punishment or just a place of purification? Is ordinary life on earth then, in which we cry and laugh, get mad and feel happy, that so insignificant? Do the societies that humans produce on earth and the various cultural camps have no essential meaning in them? Is there no meaning in the human history that has been developing on this earth? Is it [all] after all just temporary, going to be destroyed, going to vanish away?
3. No, it seems to me that the Bible itself does not speak in such a way by any means. Rather, it is diametrically opposite to that. When we read the Bible submissively, we'll see that the Bible is very very interested in the lives of people and what they do on this earth and in what goes on on earth. I would venture to say that there is not a religion around that takes life on earth as seriously as Christianity fundamentally does.
4. Please just take a look at the first sentence in the Bible. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth," (Genesis 1:1). This is the Bible's first statement. God did not just create heaven, but also created the earth. The Bible speaks of the world on this earth as a world that God created. In the creation stories the Bible repeats over and over that "God saw it and considered it good." This created world is a good world that God saw as good by its very nature.
5. God intended to have his people in precisely this kind of world on the earth. God didn't gather his angels together and make them his people. He made the Israelites as they appeared in history as his people. And he said that he will live with them as they live on the earth, (Exodus 25:8). God made his dwelling [with them] with a tabernacle made on earth. Thus God walked with Israel and lead them to the promised 'land.' God had a deep interest in how they made their living in the promised land. The law that God gave them did not have to do with what they would need when they went to heaven, but with everything pertaining to life on earth.
6. Soon after, God gave Christ on the earth through the history of these Israelites. God the Son took a body and made his living on earth just like we do. There is nothing like the incarnation of the son of God that illustrates how that God thoroughly holds life on this earth in high regard. And God's love was not revealed in heaven but on this earth. The cross for the redemption of sin was set up on this earth. And the risen Christ appeared to his disciples living on the earth. Christ "appeared to them for forty days and spoke to them concerning the kingdom of God," (verse three).
7. After that it continues some more with the ascension of Christ. The text has this written in it in verse nine: "When he finished his talk, Jesus went up into the heavens while they were watching, but being covered by a cloud he became invisible to their sight," (verse nine). - Whoa! Isn't "heaven" the important thing after all? Isn't heaven the place Christ ultimately went back to? Wasn't the life on earth that Christ took no more than a transition point when all is said and done? Aren't we too supposed to keep our eyes where Christ had finally gone back and live looking up to the heavens?
8. No, the message doesn't end there. Near the disciples who were looking up to heaven stood two persons (angels?) dressed in white clothing and they spoke as follows: "O men of Galilee, why do you stand their looking up into the heavens? Jesus, who is gone from you and gone up into heaven will come again in the same manner as you have seen him going to heaven," (verse eleven). He didn't just go for good. He will come again. The ascension of Christ is what you might as well just call "an intermission."
9. Of course, when you visualize Christ's ascension or second coming in your mind, it seems very hard to believe and to accept. A school child knows that if you keep ascending up like that, you won't go to heaven but out into the universe. But, it is quite clear and important that this simplistic picture is truly meaningful in that ultimately God's concern is not directed only on heaven, but on this earth. Put more definitely, it would be that God is directing his final concern right on a very specific target, that is on making the target of salvation the entire created world with heaven and earth joined together.
10. In this way then, the life we lead on this earth matters to God as his business concern. Our very lives are God's business. In the eyes of God our day to day lives while on this earth completely and thoroughly have great significance, whether we have a long time left to live, a short time to live, whether we run around the whole world or are bedridden in a bed. Everything that happens on earth is God's business. Even the societies that humans have made, or their cultural enterprises, or the world's history woven upon this earth are all serious concerns of God.
Waiting In Hope For The Holy Spirit
11. Because of that therefore, we pray, like Christ taught us to, "May your kingdom come. May your will be done on earth as it is being done in heaven," (Matthew 6:10). Make no mistake. We are not praying "That I might go to heaven. That I might be allowed into heaven." We are seeking in prayer that the kingdom of God would "come" to earth. We are seeking in prayer that the rule of God's grace would be completely established on this earth. If I were to ask what that means it would be that God's will be done "on earth too" like it is being done in heaven. We are seeking that God's will in salvation be fulfilled and that the rule of God's love and grace be truly established in this world where the power of sin and death rule, in this earth so filled with bitter cries and groaning due to the control of sin and death on it. We are not seeking in prayer to be saved from this miserable world, but that this entire created world, which includes us too, be saved from sin and death.
12. As we pray in such a way and live in deep acceptance of our day to day lives on this earth, the words Jesus commanded his disciples have great significance for us too. This is what the Lord commanded his disciples, "Don't leave Jerusalem, but wait for what has been promised by the Father, which you have heard about from me. For, though John baptized with water, in any instant you will be baptized according to the Holy Spirit," (Acts 1:4-5).
13. "What has been promised by the Father" means the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit of God. It is the Spirit of God alive and at work on earth. It is the Spirit of God dwelling within us as we live on this earth, making us God's palace, making us who are alive in this world the body of Christ, making use of us and fulfilling his will on this earth.
14. If it makes no sense to take life on earth as important, if this world is senselessly bound for destruction alone, there is no sense in waiting on the Holy Spirit. If heaven is our final purpose, if there is no need to think about the Holy Spirit at work in the world, there is no need to seek [the Holy Spirit] either. But, since we ask in a true way that "Your will be done, on earth too, as it is in heaven," we can't help but seek for the work of the Holy Spirit. If we didn't then, we'd be fools, so utterly conceited thinking that we can fulfill God's will on our own power.
15. The Lord said, "Wait for what has been promised by the Father." It is extremely important here where it says "wait." First, "to wait" means the same as to believe. A person who doesn't believe cannot wait. Because what we're supposed to wait for comes from outside ourselves. We don't need to wait if we get things through our own effort and it comes by us. In order to wait for what comes from Beyond, we must have faith. We must trust in the one who has made his promises to us. Jesus showed his disciples that the filling of the Holy Spirit comes purely by faith. Thus, the disciples also did not wait aimlessly. As we see later, they assemble together and wait in hope and prayer. Trust in God is shown taking on the specific form of prayer.
16. Second, "waiting" means to become completely passive. We are recipients of a visitation of God, the Holy Spirit. We are not the master, the Holy Spirit is the master and Lord. Even though it is translated as "what is promised by the Father," we should not think that the Holy Spirit is some mere impersonal power or an energy force of some kind. Since the Holy Spirit is a being of a one of a kind power, we probably think of putting that [power] to use some how. But, it comes down to this, since the Holy Spirit is God, it is not up to us to use [this power], but to be used. It is not up to us to be in control and rule but to be under His control and rule. What we're supposed to be doing is praying, hoping, and waiting that we would be under the complete control of the Holy Spirit and his governance. When we wish for God's rule to be established here on earth, we must first of all be controlled by God's Spirit. When we hope for God's will to be realized in fact, we must first of all hope and seek for God's will to be realized within ourselves.
17. Well, from now till September we hope to read The Book Of Acts together. We might come to see how the early Christians lived on this earth and how they formed the church and advanced the work of preaching. However, what is written here in a real sense is really about how the "Holy Spirit" reveals his rule on this earth and has been fulfilling God's will. And that's the same as what the Holy Spirit is seeking to do even among us alive in this day and age.