Life can sometimes feel like you’re living in the middle of a novel. In the middle of the story you don’t really understand the plot, the characters’ motivations, or how the story will end. Only in the final chapter do all the details make sense. I have a friend who reads the last chapter of a book first. Once she knows the ending she can sit back, relax, and enjoy the book no matter how crazy the plot becomes. God invites us to read the final chapter of the bible, so we can see how it all works out in the end.
‘If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied’ – 1 Corinthians 15:19
When our hope in Jesus is only related to the present we become easily confused about what is really important. We set our hearts on things we are convinced we cannot live without, and when they are taken away from us we panic. We hold on to physical things that the bible tells us are passing away. We allow our successes and failures to become our identity. We watch our heart soar when people compliment us and sink when people criticise us.
In Revelation 5:2-4, someone asks who will open the great scroll. The scroll contains God’s plan throughout history – it is the complete novel, the whole story. John, the writer of Revelation, sees this vision and weeps because there seems to be no one worthy to open the scroll. Picture the scene that John is seeing. There is the Holy Spirit, the one who opened people’s hearts to believe and who empowered them for a life of obedience. There is the Lamb, still carrying the scars of the crucifixion which he endured for the salvation of God’s children. There is God, the Father, who ever since sin entered the world has planned the redemption and restoration of his children. In addition to these three, there are all these creatures and all these people gathered around the throne of God. They are waiting for the scroll to be opened, waiting to understand the events of history and how God’s plan has been working throughout it all. Just at that moment, Jesus, the Lamb, walks over to the throne and takes the scroll from his Father’s hand. Those gathered around the throne burst into praise: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seal, because you were slain and with blood you purchased for God every tribe, and language and people and nation’ (Revelation 5:9).
The only reason these people can gather together in eternity is because of the blood of Jesus. Without Jesus’ blood they would have no future hope. Without the cross none of them could earn a place around God’s throne. None of their good deeds were good enough to satisfy the wrath of God. And here’s what we should notice. At the end of their life they don’t sing, ‘You are worthy, because you gave us nice houses, great jobs, perfect children and successful careers.’ God might give you some of these things in this life, and it is right to thank him. But in eternity, when everything is finished in this life, those are not the things you are going to be praising God for. No ones going to care if you were the principle of a kindergarten or the pastor of a church. No ones going to care about the size of your car or the college your child graduated from. What will matter is, “He won! He won! Jesus freed me from sin” In heaven there will be no obstacles to our praise and joy — no death, no sickness, no pain, no crying, no calamity, and best of all, no sin in our hearts and no sin out there in the world around us.
So how does this relate to our lives now? The author of the book of Hebrews is writing to a group of Christians who are beginning to question how great it is to be a Christian. They had become Christians, but their lives were going badly. Many had been persecuted, others were facing imprisonment and death. They began to wonder: ‘Where’s all the peace and joy and safety I hoped for when I became a Christian?’ So the writer of the book of Hebrews creates a list of great men and women. He speaks to the Christians and says, ‘You don’t understand, these great men and women of God have never had perfect lives. They’ve always been in situations where there has been uncertainty and suffering. Yet they still lived great lives.’
ABRAHAM – FACING UNCERTAINTY (HEBREWS 11:8-16)
The writer refers to the moment in Abraham’s life when God tells him to ‘get up and go’. Abraham was comfortable, he thought his future was secure, yet God appears to him and ’…not knowing where he should go, Abraham moves on’ (v.8). Many people say, ‘whether or not my life is going to be successful depends on what I possess, what I do, the circumstances of my life.’ They believe life will go well if they get this thing or achieve that thing. Others come to christianity asking: ‘Will christianity work for me? Will God do what I need him to do? If I please God enough, will God give me the things I want in life?’ Instead of trusting in God’s plan for the future, they want God to help fulfil their plans for the future.
Both Abraham and Jesus were called by God to face uncertianity. Jesus was about to be arrested, tortured and executed. Just before these things happened, Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane kneeling before God and asking: ‘Father, please save me from this.’ When everything was going wrong in Jesus’ life, he asked God to save him from his circumstances and God refused. So what made Jesus great? Was it because all the circumstances in his life went according to his wishes? No! What made Jesus great was that in those crucial moments he was able to trust his Father and say, ‘Not my will, but Your will be done.’
We spend the first half of our lives sure that this thing or that circumstance will make our life a success. We become busy trying to bring together all the right circumstances: the right career, the right spouse, the right amount of wealth, the right church, and the right kind of children. Then, let’s say around the middle of our lives, we realise the right circumstances will never come together the way we want. We come to realise that what we really need is the kind of heart that can trust in God’s plan, despite our circumstances.
MOSES – FORSAKING WORLDLY PLEASURE (HEBREWS 11:24-26)
The writer goes on to talk about Moses. He writes, ’By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward’ (vv.24-26). Moses was able to chose a path of suffering, to regard disgrace for Jesus’ sake as more important than worldly treasure, because he was looking ahead to his heavenly reward (v.25).
If someone steals ¥10,000 from you, but you know you have billions of yen stored in a Swiss bank, how upset are you going to be? If all you have in the world is ¥10,000, and someone steals that ¥10,000 from you, how upset are you going to be? Both times you lose the same amount of money, but when you know you have billions of yen stored elsewhere you’re not devastated. What are you looking ahead to as your reward? Are you looking to your reputation, your approval rating, your finances, your beauty – or are your eyes looking ahead to your eternal reward?
You can recognise when someone has put their hope in something other than Jesus, because when it is taken away from them they crash. However, when their hope is in their eternal destination and not their current circumstances, they view their reputation, money, achievements and comfort, as loose change in their pocket. When we are hoping in God’s plan and not our own, we know the real gold is secure in heaven. If we lose sight of God’s eternal plan, and this life becomes our only focus, we will quickly ignore God and do whatever we can to feel comfortable, secure, peaceful and appreciated.
Could it be that you are trying to escape the struggles of this life by filling your life with momentary pleasures? Are you anxiously trying to keep your youthful appearance? Are you chasing after the acceptance and approval of others? Are you grasping at positions and power to help you feel important? Are you demanding good exam results from your children so you don’t feel you’ve failed as a parent? If you are deceived into putting all your happiness and hope into the present, today’s suffering will hit you hard. If your joy is attached to a lack of difficultly in this life, you are going to struggle when difficulties come your way. When the struggles come you will try to fix them yourself.
JESUS – ENDURING SUFFERING (HEBREWS 12:1-3)
The writer of the book of Hebrews starts the next chapter by saying: ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart’ (vv.1-3).
If the writer had said, ‘Fix your eyes on Jesus as your example. He went first, now you follow him’ – I would have to say I can never live like Jesus, because he was perfect in every way. But fortunately this isn’t what the writer says. He says Jesus is ‘the pioneer and perfecter of faith’. Jesus perfectly obeyed his Father, to the point of dying on a cross, not just as our example but also as our substitute. He didn’t just live as our example. He lived for us. He obeyed for us. He satisfied God’s wrath, so that we don’t have to. The gospel is not that we give God this great performance and then God blesses us, but that Jesus gave a perfect performance which we receive by faith.
When you know you are fully accepted by God, and that this acceptance isn’t brought about because of anything you have done, you can rest and not grow weary. When you know in your heart you are fully known and yet still fully loved, you don’t need to be afraid to confess sin, you don’t need to be afraid of failure, you don’t need to chase after other peoples approval, and you no longer need to fill your life with momentary pleasures in order to make you feel good. When you make a mistake, instead of running away from God and hiding like Adam and Eve, you can run to God. Unless you accept that it is Jesus who perfects your faith, and not you or your actions, your life will always be a struggle. You will end up striving to please God, hiding when you fail God, and drawing attention to all your good deeds in an attempt to impress God.
Luke, the apostle, records a moment when the disciples asked Jesus how to grow their faith. Jesus responded by explaining that even with faith as small as a mustard seed you can still move a mountain. Jesus was pointing out that it doesn’t matter how much faith you have, the important thing is what you have faith in. Once you are resting in Jesus’ perfection and not your own, you no longer need to try to score points with God. You can love others, whether they love you back or not, because you have all the love and security you need in Jesus Christ. You can serve in church with a heart that wants to give back, rather than a heart that’s desperately trying to get God’s attention. As we put our hope in God’s eternal plan and Jesus’ perfection, so our current circumstances don’t overwhelm us, and we are less likely to find our greatest comfort and fulfilment in the pleasures and temptations of this world.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith!