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TEXT: Psalm 16:11
SUBJECT: A String of Pearls #4: The Presence
About 350 years ago, a pastor conducted the funeral for a lad very dear to himself and everyone who knew her. Her name is Mrs. Mary Blake; the man who preached the sermon in her memory is the famous Puritan, Thomas Brooks.
The sermon is called A String of Pearls, with the subtitle explaining what it's about: The Best Things Reserved Till Last. Believers live in hope-not wishful thinking-but real hope. For us, the long-term future is a bright one, no matter how dark in may be in the short-run. A wise king once said,
"The day of one's death is better than the day of one's birth".
He was right. For the believer death holds no uncertainty and no terrors. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God" the Bible says: unless He's your Father who loves you enough to put His Son on the cross for you, to save you from your sin and misery. But that's the point: The Living God is our Father and He has offered up His Son for our salvation. An unsaved pop singer once described death as passing
"Out of the blue
and into the black".
That may be true for him, but for the disciples of Christ, death is more like crossing the Jordan-from the wilderness into a Land Flowing with Milk and Honey! Because of what Christ has done for us, the sting of death is no more: "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.which is far better".
This is what the long sermon is about: it's about heaven or the Best Things God has for us when we get there. What are the things He has for us? Thus far, we've named three of them: a big inheritance, a satisfying rest, and a wonderful knowledge of God and His grace.
I'm not sure you can set the blessings in order (as though some are better than the others). But-if you can-the one we'll look at tonight has got to be Number One. What is it? The Puritan says,
"The best and choicest presence of God and Christ is reserved till last".
Because I read the words and you only heard them, let me explain what he means by presence of God and Christ. He doesn't mean "presents"-like the gifts you open on your birthday. No, he means God and Christ will be with us in heaven-not just on the same planet (or city), but right there with us, alongside us, closer to us than the dearest parent or spouse or friend. What John the Apostle had on earth, we'll have in heaven-only better.
THE GREATEST AND FULLEST PRESENCE OF GOD
The preacher begins this part of his sermon with another comparison and contrast: both are between the presence of the Lord we enjoy in this life and the one we will enjoy in the Life to come.
"No man in this world has so complete and full a presence of God, but that he may have a fuller one. But in heaven the presence of God shall be so full and complete that nothing can be added to it to make it more complete. Sometimes sin, sometimes Satan, sometimes the world, sometimes resting in duties, sometimes the weakness of our graces hinder us from enjoying the full presence of God here, but in heaven there shall be nothing between God and us; nothing shall hinder our enjoyment of His presence".
In one way, the believer's life now and his life then are the same: in both, he enjoys the Presence of God. There are examples in the Bible of this. Think of Enoch who "walked with God and was not, for God took him". The Lord took him to heaven, but for three hundred years, He walked with him on earth. Think of Moses who, unlike his brother, his sister, and others, "talked with the Lord face to face-as a man talks with his friend". All believers are said to "walk in the Spirit"-that is, to have fellowship with God through the Holy Spirit.
Such people are not limited to the Bible, but are sitting here with us tonight. I'm no Mystic or fanatic, yet I have had close dealings with the Lord. I have both felt His Presence and known He was there! I never saw Him or touched Him or heard His voice-but so what? He was with me, to comfort, to reprove, to help. So help me, God, He has been with me, in times of close fellowship. I'm sure you've had the same experience to some degree or other.
But the closeness we have to God now is miles away from what we'll have with Him in heaven! Now things get between us. Some of them are positively sinful; when we sin willfully and won't repent, we grieve the Spirit and lose the closeness we had with Him. Other things are not sinful, but they still get in the way: the demands of life, physical weariness, mental dullness, and a weak spiritual life.
These things don't separate us from God or His love-nothing does that! But they do push us away from the warm fellowship we have had with Him.
In heaven, all these barriers will be taken away and will not be rebuilt! We will have a closeness to God and Christ that is something like a good marriage-only far, far, far better! Think of the closest, happiest, cuddliest couple you know. They're downright enemies compared to the closeness we'll have with the Lord when we meet Him in heaven.
THE SOUL-SATISFYING PRESENCE OF GOD
Being very close to the Father and His Son is not an entirely pleasant thought. What is God? God is light and in Him is no darkness at all! God is a consuming fire! God is the Judge of the Living and the Dead. Our Lord Jesus fully shares in His Divinity. John knew Him well in this life, but seeing Him in heaven, the Lord's old friend, "Fell at His feet as a dead man".
A star may be a wondrous thing from twelve billion light years away, but you don't want to be in the same room with it! I've always admired lions, but I never felt like snuggling up to one in bed!
God is something like a Star or a Lion or some other awesome and terrifying thing! His nature will not change in heaven, but not to worry, ours will and we will be suited to be with Him-and like it.
"They shall have a soul-satisfying Presence of God in heaven. They shall be so satisfied that they will say, `We have all' because they have God. Though the spiritual and gracious presence of God with the saints in this world cheers and comforts them, yet it does not fully satisfy them, for they are still crying out, `More of this blessed presence! Oh, more of this Presence!"
Again he draws a fine contrast: the Presence of God in this life is real and wonderful, but it is not satisfying, for if it were, we would need more of it. But we do need more of it. For now.
But in heaven, we won't need more of His Presence for we'll have all we can handle-and maybe more (after all, "My cup runs over" is in the Bible!).
Some people are restless, never content, always after something new or different or maybe the same old thing over and over again! I hope you're not this way; I hope you have found rest in life-but not too much of it!
For we ought to have a streak of dissatisfaction in this life! This is a holy thing. Psalm 17 says,
"As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness".
The satisfactions of this life can be real and deep. To put in a good day's work is satisfying. To come home to a wife who loves you is satisfying. To have dinner with good friends is satisfying. To pray well or to read the Bible with understanding is satisfying. Many things in life are satisfying.
But the satisfactions of this life cannot be compared to the ones awaiting us in heaven! Today, no satisfaction is complete or final. Looking back over a day's work, you know you did an honest day's labor, but you could have done a little bit better. Dinner with friends has always got a word or two that you wish hadn't been spoken. The satisfaction you feel is true, but not perfect.
But the satisfactions of glory are perfect. What St. Augustine said of his conversion applies doubly to heaven:
"Lord, Thou hast made us for Thyself and our souls are restless till they find their rest in Thee".
That's what heaven is: the satisfaction of being with God and in His full favor forever. It is a soul-satisfying Presence we look forward to!
THE CONSTANT, PERMANENT PRESENCE OF GOD
The deep satisfaction we will know on the day we die, will never be lost or diminished in any way. Not the thing itself and not our appreciation of it. What the hymn says of God's peace can also be said of His Presence,
Perfect, yet it floweth fuller every day;
Perfect, yet it groweth deeper all the way.
Thomas Brooks says of God's unmoving Presence in heaven,
"Here God comes and goes, He is often a removing court, but in heaven the King of Glory will be always present.No saint enjoys the gracious presence of God at all times alike. Oh, we feel that the Presence of God is not with us as before. But in heaven the saints shall enjoy a constant presence of God; there shall not be one moment in all of eternity when they do not feel His glorious Presence".
Brooks compares the Lord with a mere human king. Kings-in those days-often served as judges, and they worked a circuit: London, Oxford, Cambridge, Liverpool, back to London, and so on. They were often on the move. In this life, God seems to do the same thing. He seems so near one day only to be very remote the next. Some of this is only our perception, of course, but not all of it: the Lord does draw nearer to His people at times and less near at others.
But in heaven, the King and His People are together all the time and world without end. Then we'll fee the truth of James who says of God, there is
"No variation or shadow of turning".
We may pray the Psalms in heaven, but we sure won't pray the one that cries,
"Cast me not away from Your Presence and take not Your Holy Spirit from me".
There is no danger of that. The Family Reunion never ends; the picnic goes on forever.
Alone, holidays are no different than any other day; they're worse, in fact, because you're alone. What makes Thanksgiving a happy dayis the Presence of your loved ones-some who live with you and maybe others you haven't seen since last year.
I have a friend whom I love very dearly, but because of his health I can't see him very often nowadays, and it grieves me. But one day, all such things will be no more and we'll be with our best friends-and the One who is a better friend than they are-forever!
That's the hope of heaven. That's the reason you ought to live for heaven now. God help you to do it-and me too-for Christ's sake. Amen.
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