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TEXT: I John 3:1-3
SUBJECT: String of Pearls #9
About three months ago, we began to study the Puritan classic, A String of Pearls by Thomas Brooks. The short book was first a long sermon, preached at the funeral of Mrs. Mary Blake. On that day, the pastor wanted his people to weep for themselves and to rejoice for the dear sister they had come to bury.
Why should they be happy about her death? Because for Mary Blake-and for all disciples of Christ-The Best Things are Reserved Till Last. What we have in Christ now is good; what we'll have then is better. Christians often say the day they were saved was the best day of their lives! It wasn't! Growing in grace means every day to come is better than that one-and the day of death the best of all (until the Resurrection). God has not given us the best things up front. Like a skillful movie director, he has saved the best for last.
This is what our study is about. Thus far, we've seen what heaven is and why the Lord makes us wait for it. Now, near the end of the sermon, we have some inferences. An "inference" is a conclusion of sorts; it follows from what has been said before. If I say, "Tom has red hair", you infer some other things about him: he has fair skin, for example, or he has freckles. These things follow from what you know about redheads. This is an inference.
Now, what do we know about heaven? We know it is a world of unimaginable happiness and a place every Christian is going to when he dies.
If this is true, what follows from it? What are the inferences drawn from the doctrine?
John says this hope for heaven will affect our lives here on earth. Thinking on the purity of heaven-he says-will make us purify ourselves now. Of course it does; how can it not do that? If I know I'm going to a wedding, I dress one way; if I know I'm going to the beach, I dress another way.
If my hope is in this world, I'm worldly minded; if my hope is in heaven, I'm.heavenly minded. That's what the Bible teaches and what the Puritan's inferences assume.
Thomas Brooks has drawn twelve conclusions from the doctrine that we are going to heaven. The inferences pretty much speak for themselves and so I'll just list them and keep my comments to a minimum. Here goes!
"First, if God has reserved the best things till last for believers, then the worst things are reserved for unbelievers till last".
This does not quite follow from the premise, but it's still true: if this is the worst time for believers, it is the best time for unbelievers. Our lives can only get better; their lives can only get worse.
This is a terrible thought for unbelievers: without Christ, their lives must end badly and stay that way.forever. The worst day on earth is a paradise compared to the best day in hell! Unbelievers have their portion now and this is as good as it gets. They have nothing to look forward to, nothing to dream of, nothing. Paul says they are "Without God and without hope".
Existential philosophers were loudly condemned by traditional people-including many Christians. But the fact is, they're right: Albert Camus said the only decision worth making was whether or not to commit suicide. Without Christ, he's right! But nice, conservative people couldn't stomach the truth: they tried to find "meaning" in other things: life, family, patriotism, doing good, and so on. But there's no meaning or hope in these things! If you haven't got Christ, you haven't got hope and without hope, why not kill yourself?
Is this all there is? Without Christ, it is. But with Christ, the best is yet to come!
"Secondly, if the best things are reserved till last, then patiently wait for the enjoyment of those great things in heaven".
It's never easy to be patient. The Bible word for "patience" literally means "to stand up under a heavy weight". The Greek mind thought of Atlas, holding the world on his shoulders or-if they didn't know the old stories-maybe a overloaded donkey, bending and falling under a load it cannot carry.
If patience is never easy, what makes it doubly hard is doubt. You tell me you're going to pick me up at 10:00, but you're not here yet. It's 10:15, 10:30, 10:45.It's hard to wait, especially if I know you're not reliable.
But God is reliable. Though no one here is in heaven yet, it is sure we will be (if we believe) because God has promised. Thus, we don't have to worry if God will keep His Word or if He'll come through as He said He would. He will. There is nothing inside of Him-or outside of Him-that can prevent Him from bringing every believer to glory.
And so, instead of pacing the floor, wondering when He'll come through for us, we can sit quietly and hope, because we know He will. God cannot lie.
"Thirdly, if the best things are reserved for believers till they come to heaven, then let no believer envy or be troubled with the prosperity and happiness of the men of the world".
It's hard to find a Christian who admits he envies the unsaved. In all my life, I've only known one who said he did-and why he did it. But whatever we say, we obviously do resent the happiness and success of the lost, and deep down, wonder why God hasn't done more for us than He has for them. This is what Psalms 37,73 are about.
If envy is caused by comparison, it can be cured by it too! In one way, the ungodly are happier and more successful than we are. But, in the end, what have they got? Money to leave their ungrateful children? A good looking corpse? Fun while it lasts, but it doesn't last, and leads to eternal misery? Are these things to pine for and envy?
The poorest, loneliest, and sickest believer has Christ and, having Christ, he has everything. If looking at beautiful people doing exciting things in expensive clothes on TV makes you envy them, turn off the TV and think of what they really have. And what you have.
"Fourthly, if the best things are reserved for believers till they come to heaven, oh then let all believers be content with what they have!"
This point is similar to the last one: if unbelievers have less than we do, we shouldn't envy them; and if we have everything, we should be content. Samuel Gompers was the first great union leader in America. When asked what his men wanted, he answered, "More". That's pretty much how everyone feels, but no Christian should because there is no more than heaven--and we have it.
"Fifthly, if the best and greatest things are reserved for believers till they come to heaven, pass no judgment on the saints' condition in their present state".
We often judge people by how they look or how they speak or how they hold themselves. A man in rags is thought poor and probably lazy. A girl who says, "Then I go, then she goes, it's like, you know, like." is taken for stupid. Even posture will indicate one place in life.
But for believers, these things are temporary. One day the poorest Christian will be dressed in a way an angel would envy (if an angel could sin). One day, the most illiterate believer will have more knowledge than the deepest thinker on earth. One day, the man who stands like a flunky, will hold himself like a king!
We have no idea how awesome the saints will be in heaven! But splendid they will be. And so, why not judge them on what they will be forever, rather than on what they are at the moment?
"Sixthly, if the choicest things are reserved for believers till the come to heaven, then let believers meditate on those great things that are laid up for them".
Well said! The Bible could say, "heaven" and leave it at that. But it doesn't. It describes heaven for us in the most lavish terms. Read the last couple of chapters in the Bible to get some inkling of what heaven is.
It's a city decorated for a Royal Wedding. It also looks like a mammoth jewel of a quality no one has ever seen before. The gates are high and wide and made of separate pearls. The city is made of gold, but gold you can see through! The foundation stones are gigantic emeralds, topazes and so on. The whole thing is lighted by the Face of God. A river of life runs through the town as clear as crystal. A tree of life bears twelve fruits and its leaves heal cancer and broken bones and AIDS. On and on it goes.
Expositors are always quick to point out the figurative language used here. But it may well be less figurative and more literal than they say it is. But even if it is all a figure of speech, the real thing is better than the words that describe it!
Why would God describe heaven for us in such rich detail? Because He wants us to think about it!
"Seventhly, if there be such great and glorious things laid up for you in heaven, then do nothing unworthy of your dignity, nor of that glory that is reserved for us".
If we are kings and queens, let us behave like royalty. Not be pompous, of course, but noble in what we say and in how we act. There's an old term that needs a resurrection: noblesse oblige. It was once believed that the noble had an obligation to maintain the dignity of their place. They don't any more-think of the British Royal family, for example. But God's Royalty must.
If we are the heirs of heaven, let's behave like it now.
"Eighthly, if the best and greatest things are reserved for the saints till they come to heaven, then let them desire and long to be possessed of those things which are reserved in heaven for them".
The wording is a bit awkward, but you can figure it out if you try. If the unsaved long to have what they're hoping for, let us long even more for what's coming to us. In other words, let's long for heaven the way a weary traveler longs for home, the way a soldier longs for his wife and kids, the way a glutton longs for a big meal!
C.S. Lewis once said Our problem is not that our desires are too strong, but that they are too weak. He's right. We ought to dream about heaven, long for heaven, and not fear the day we go to heaven!
"Ninthly, if the best things are reserved for the saints till they come to heaven, then, oh, let not the men of the world envy the saints while they are in the world".
Brooks is not at his clearest here. Some believers have the good things of this life and the unsaved envy them for it. But they shouldn't crave things like the Christian's money or home or car or profession. For these things-though good-are not nearly the best of what he has. The believer's true riches are in heaven and let the unbeliever crave that. And he'll get it!
"Tenthly, if the best things are reserved till last, then let not any outward loss trouble you nor deject you".
On this heading, the Puritan has overstated his case for effect. Of course believers are grieved with outward losses-losing jobs or health or a loved one-of course we are.
But our losses don't crush us for even when we lose our best friend in the world, we have a Friend Even Better. Outward losses are real and they hurt us, but they don't destroy us for, even if God takes everything else away from us, He doesn't take heaven away and that's more than all the rest put together.
"Eleventhly, if the best things are reserved till last, let believers walk cheerfully in this world".
On this point, the Puritan chides believers for walking through life with long faces as though they have nothing but heaven! Nothing but heaven! Nothing but heaven! Surely that will make us cheerful in this world-and without putting on-it will make us good witnesses to the lost who have nothing but a world that is slipping away from them every second of the day!
"Lastly, if the best and greatest things are reserved for believers till they come to heaven, let them not be unwilling to die".
Eastern Religion teaches there is no difference between death and life-but it's wrong, there is a difference. Life is good and death is bad. God says so. But under the Lordship of Grace, death is not only bad. Believers don't have to fear it; we don't have to make jokes at funerals or play happy music or pretend it isn't coming for us all. We can accept death because-for us-it's the road to glory.
There you have it: a dozen inferences drawn from the fact that we're going to heaven. What was said of another Puritan, should be said of us: "Heaven got into him before he got into heaven". How different life would be if only we believed the Promise of God. God give us the faith. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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