Our Views of Earthly Paradise
Sabbath Day Sermon: Saturday 16 September 2000
I wonder if any of you -- and especially the youth here -- have ever wondered what life would be like if we suddenly scrapped the Sabbath Day and all that we termed Sabbath Day activities. There would no longer be any church assemblies, no sermons, no singing, no Bible discussions, and people could do what they normally do at other times of the week. What would you do? And why? Would the loss of the Sabbath day mean anything to you?
The answer that is given will very much depend on whether you are saved or not. If you are not a believer and are compelled to come to Church because you are a young teenager and that is expected of you, or if you are coming perhaps to be together with your family, or for fellowship, what would you do if the Church scrapped all Sabbath day meetings? Would you miss it? Or would you breathe a sigh of relief?
I remember well when I was at boarding school how going to chapel every Sunday was compulsory. Every boy was forced to go whether he wanted to or not. We were even given six pence from our pocket money to put into the collection. It was, quite simply, "expected" that we attend Church and "give" a contribution of 6d. Some years later chapel attendance was made voluntary and of the 600 or so boys who previously were forced to attend, no more than about six turned up thereafter. It was quite clear that no more than a tenth of 1% of those children were actually believers....and one of them, a boy from Syria, I remember as violently hating Israel.
When young people leave home, and especially a Christian home, they suddenly find themselves free to do whatever they please. Very many rebell against their Christian upbringing and, in an act of defiance, choose sometimes to go the exact opposite way of their parents, perhaps becoming militant atheists or going into the dark realms of the occult and even Satanism. Others ignore religion altogether and just live ordinary secular lives, using their "spare Sabbath time" to sleep, watch TV, engage in hobbies, or even do ordinary work. Before long they get into a new routine and quickly forget their previous life. It is as though there never was a home Christian life at all.
Finally, there are those who have committed themselves to Christ, have met the risen Lord personally, and who leave home as vibrant Christians, taking their Christianity with them into their new life. They continue to observe the Sabbath out of love for the Lord, understanding that God has given us this day, along with all the other commandments, for our peace and happiness.
I was one of those boys who stopped going to church when it became voluntary at school. For me it was always dull and uninteresting. I have no recollection of any religion in my home as I grew up (though I am told by my mother that I was taken to an Anglican Church on Wednesdays from when I was 3) so when I went out into the world at 19 years old I had nothing but some general Christian morals to live by. Saturday and Sunday were just days in which one did what one wanted to, though Saturday, as was typical in England, was a big shopping day usually. So when I left home for Oxford I had to start from scratch. It took me a long, painful and distressing 20 years to find the whole biblical truth. Twenty years. I often wonder what I could have done with those years which, though not entirely wasted to be sure, could have been used so much more fruitfully. Realising what I missed along the way has made me determined to share all I know with my own children so that when they leave home they will have all the keys they need to find eternal life if per chance they have not by that time personally received Christ. I am passionately concerned that my children should be spared as much suffering as possible in their journey through life, so that they can quickly discover what it means to be alive in Christ and to be actually doing what they were created to do and not to be following after whispy dreams whose end is disappointment and unhappiness. In short, I want them -- and indeed, all my friends and acquaintances -- to find that green Pasture which is the reward of those who follow the Messiah.
Everybody has their own personal concept of Paradise. For sheep, it is an endless field of succulent green grass. For a dog like our own I suppose Paradise would be to be able to roam free in the forest going wherever he wanted to. For our rabbit I suppose Paradise would be to be free to help himself to all the succulent carrots and vegetables in anybody's garden he chooses to wander into. For the pet budgrigar or parrot, I suppose their Paradise would be to be able to leave their cage prison and to fly free.
Everyone who leaves home has a poorly defined or incomplete picture in their minds of what their personal paradise ought to be. I think of all the silly boyish thoughts that went round my head when I left home and what would be Paradise for me: I could buy as many sweets as I wanetd to, stay up as late as I wanted, watch whatever TV I wanted, find a girl friend and do what I wanted with her without looking over my shoulders to see what my parents might think or say. But you soon discover that left to your own devices, without a clear moral guide-rail, that your private Paradise is an illusion. Remember that child in the supermarket I mentioned to you last Saturday? The one what ran off from mother and had a great time until he discovered that he was lost, and that running away wasn't such a fine thing after all?
As a parent I know that my calling is of limited duration. Once my sons and daughters settle down and marry, I have no further responsibility for them, though of course I will always be available for them if they need me. They are born into my care but must eventually leave it. I know and accept that. But when it comes to our Heavenly Father and our heavenly home, the pattern is the exact reverse. The moment we are born onto this earth we have just left home and we are fatherless and motherless. Leaving heaven for earth is to become a spiritual orphan. And that is why God gave us physical parents, to be foster parents for us, if you like, until we are able to find our way back home. The purpose of this life is (a) to be born into and taken care of in an earthly home; and (b) to leave our earthly home and find our way back to our Heavenly Family. And that is why so many people go seriously wrong when they leave their earthly homes and launch out into the world because they suppose that all they have to do now is go their own way and start their own homes, repeating the cycle. But what would be the point of repeating the cycle if there is no ultimate end or goal? Why bother to raise new families who in their turn leave your home to create new homes ad infinitum, overpopulating the earth and forcing some genocidal war to reduce numbers to enable everyone to eat?
Very few people pause to think why we do what we do. Not many wonder what life is all about. They just do what their parents did before them, no doubt rebelling and going their way for a while, but usually ending up starting families of their own just as their parents did before them. And so life goes on. But is that all there is to life? Many - indeed, more and more - decide they don't want families at all. They end up murdering their unborn children (called b y that emotionally neutral word "foetuses") when "inconvenient" pregnancies occur (calling it by that immotive word "abortion" - remember how Hitler "cleansed" Europe of Jews?) or leaving unwanted children to be brought up by single parents. They don't even want to follow their biological instincts any more, except on the most coarse level. The trend in society is, quite simply, give me more of what I want, and less responsibility. The result is that family life is rapidly disappearing.
But what a difference it makes to understand that earth life isn't just about growing up in and leaving home to start new homes. It's actually a journey back to a home we have temporarily left. Life did not start here. We did not begin in our mother's womb. We started in another sphere called heaven, or Paradise, and our presence here in this world is a temporary absense from that Paradise. When we left heaven we left all that is ultimately meaningful for us. Heaven is a place of perfection, a place of unconditional love, of beauty, happiness, peace, and joy. Heaven is everything our soul deeply longs for. But we left that home in order to grow up. Life on earth is for growing up spiritually but it's an extremely risky one. Just as when leaving our earthly homes we can make seriously wrong choices and end up with ruined lives down here on earth, so when leaving our spiritual homes we can make even more seriously wrong choices and end up with ruined lives for eternity.
When you leave home you should have two goals: (a) To earn a living; and (b) Start your own family. Every single living creature in this world has these or similar goals. It is an impulse which God has put into life - feed yourself, find a mate and reproduce yourself. The moment people start letting lazy and feeding off others like parasites, like those who refuse to work and who live off the welfare state, and the moment they refuse to start famlies, they are in rebellion against an instinct that God has placed in them. We cannot actually find physical satisfaction in life until we are working for our daily bread, are settled down with a wife or husband, and are bringing children into the world. These three things are utimately absolutely essential to have a happy, fulfilling and harmonious physical life. But that's only the physical. What of the spiritual?
As I've said, our spiritual journey is, in a sense, the reverse of our physical one. As we discussed last week, we are like sheep, lost, not knowing what to do. We may, if not trained in our youth, just launch out trying to fulfil every carnal appetite we have. Most people do that and the result is nothing - a dead-end. God knew, of course, that this is what carnal mankind would do, and He paints a graphic picture of the pitiful state of rebellious man searching but never finding:
"The days are coming, says the Sovereign Lord, when I will send a famine through the land - not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. Men will stagger from sea to sea, and wander from north to east, searching for the Word of the Lord, but they will not find it. In that day, the lovely young women and the strong young men will faint because of thirst" (Amos 8:11-13, NIV).
Have you wondered why in our modern society people are so restless? People have this travel lust to see the world. They go from place to place in search of new jobs, new lovers, new experiences, new sensations, in search of the new...new....new...because the old doesn't give them satisfaction. Inside they are looking for something they can't see or touch - they don't know what it is, but they are compelled to search for it like a hungry animal looking for food and water.And what they are actually looking for is right under their noses, but because it isn't "new" they miss it altogether.
That lost boy in the supermarket went out in search of the new but in the end realised that what he needed was the old - his mother. Human beings like lost sheep are looking for new sex partners, new exciting careers, new homes, new this, new that, but can't - because they won't - hear that old voice of the Shepherd. And yet, the bitter irony of it all is, that that "old" voice is young and fresh because it comes from the Living God Himself, and those "new" fads are actually an old, old trick of the devil. Men and women have been in search of the "new" since the fall of Adam and Eve, but it's not actually so new. Oh yes, the outer forms are new to be sure - new forms of entertainment, new technology, new cars, new computers, new this, new that - but the spiritual core that drives sinners in search of these things is as old as the hills - it's the most old-fashion impulse there is, and it's called SIN. And that sin-core is old. putrid, and deadly.
All physical things age - they do not remain new. Cars, computers, and even lovers wear out. But that which appears "old" to the carnal eyes is actually eternally new - it never wears out. That spiritual home to which we are called, and which we can begin to experience here and now, is a source of eternal youthfulness and freshness. When young people look at old people through carnal eyes they find it hard to believe that there are old people who are the fountain of youth within themselves because they assume, quite erroneously, that the experience of vitality and youthfulness is something that only belongs to the young in years. They are quite wrong! To be sure, there are old people who are spiritually old and dead, but there are young people who are exactly the same. I meet them all the time. When this summer I wandered around town looking at the youth assembled for a Rock Festival I was saddened at just how spiritually dead and old they seemed to be. There was an emptiness about them, like the depths of outer space. They are a lost generation, and their ranks are swelling more and more every year.
So why is the world reacklessly heading for the spiritual precipice away from the heavenly home. Instead of crying out for mother like that lost boy in the supermarket, they continue wandering further and further away. They are consumed by a blindness which is fed to them by their false father. They live an illusion, as the Book of Revelation tells us: "You say, I am rich, I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing. But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, blind and naked" (Rev.3:17, NIV). You see, to cry out for mother - or for our Heavenly Father - means first having to acknowledge that you are lost in the first place, and some people are just too proud to admit that. But sooner or later they will be forced to, because we are all lost sheep until we have put our hand in the hand of the Master. There is simply no escaping.
I think it is a wonderful thing when people place their lives into the hands of the Master when they are young. They make life so much easier for themselves. They spare themselves so much unnecessary misery later on, and save so much time which might otherwise be wasted looking for the impossible - a happy life without God.They don't need to go to the four corners of the world in search of the truth because it is right there within them. As sheep, we have our beautiful green, luscious pastureland in our Bibles. Every chapter is a field of rich grass. Some of these fields at first seem bare and sterile but even in the barest field there is enough pasture to feed a hungry soul. Then there are the pasture-fields of prayer which lie close to the border of heaven, that place we have left and yearn to return to. They are always up in the quiet valleys among the mountains. The Good Shepherd leads us to them through the gates of prayer. We bow down in low humility, and enter with Him into the green pastures, and feed our souls until their hunger is satisfied. And then there is the Church - the assembly of believers - which is another of the Shepherd's pasture-fields, and the Sabbath Day of rest. We find our pasture in the sermons, in the prayers, in the togetherness, and in the ordinances.
If we are faithfully following Christ, we are continually in fields of rich pasture. Christ never leads us into any places in which there is nothing to feed us. Even in the hot plains of trial and sorrow there is food. We sometimes think that there is only barrenness in our toilsome life, filled with temptations, cares and sacrifices; but the Good Shepherd is ever with us, and there is always pasture.
One day you young ones will look back on the Sabbath day in a completely different way to the way you may perhaps be seeing it now. Right now there are likely carnal impulses to "escape" and be "free", as the fallen nature supposes. Amos spoke of such people - those who couldn't wait for the Sabbath to end (Amos 8:5). But here there is real rest, real spiritual food, and you will look back and, I hope, be thankful for it - not because it is I who is speaking to you, but because you were in the heavenly Pasture, even if perhaps you refused to eat and went away hungry after the meetings. If you are not well fed - if you are bored and restless - it is because you will not feed. The problem is that you are not hungering for spiritual food. The saddest thing in this world is not the passionate cry for bread in some famine-stricken Third World country, but a soul that has no hunger for the truth. Many souls die in the midst of provision made by the Good Shepherd, not for want of food, but for want of appetite.
This truth was made real to me when I was a young man in my 20's. In fact, I had a vision of a group of believers gathered around a long table stacked with the most delicious food you could ever imagine. They were talking and laughing but they would not eat. And when I pointed out to them what they were missing, they just stared at me blankly, and went on talking...and staying hungry.
You may think that what you are looking for is "out there" in the wider world but I tell you this is the biggest illusion of all that has shipwrecked so many souls. What you are looking for - what you are yearning for in your soul - is right here in front of you. Will you waste your life hungering after it, following your carnal instincts, ignoring the feast that the Good Shepherd has laid before you, right here on this Sabbath Day? Will you ignore the Bible, and prayer, and sacred fellowship? I expect all my family to gather together on the Sabbath because this is a family affair but we have daily meetings which they are free to attend if they wish, where more food is dished out, and where they can partake 100% in freedom. But the carnal man - the soul dead in sin - is not interested, because it can't even see that food. If they see anything, it is dull, stuffy and lifeless. But that is only a trick of the carnal light, and what Satan wants you to see. It is anything but that, as those of us who have accepted the free gift of eteral life have discovered for ourselves. And this discovery is not one that can only be made when you are older - it can be made by a small child. It's for every age group and for every generation because it is eternally new and fresh.
The wanderlust I once had disappeared years ago after I found the Master. Now I find that I have everything I have right before me. Sometimes I wander out of the light and want to just "get away" but I soon discover it is an illusion. Work, marriage and family - both our earthly family and the Family of Christ - provide me with everything I need and want.
So I invite you to the Green Pasture and to a feast you will always enjoy to the full. Amen.
This page was created on 16 February 2001
Last updated on 16 February 2001
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