Here are some items from church last Sunday:
A. The theme of the service was God’s persistent love. The main text was Luke 15:1-10. The Pharisees are criticizing Jesus for receiving sinners and eating with them, so Jesus tells them the stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin. In those parables, a person searches intently for a lost sheep or a lost coin and rejoices after finding it. Similarly, angels rejoice over one sinner who repents. The pastor commented that Ezekiel 34 may have been in Jesus’s mind. Ezekiel 34 lambastes the shepherds of Israel for neglecting the sheep and for being more concerned about their own luxury. Ezekiel prophesies that God himself will come and be Israel’s shepherd, searching for them and tending to them. Not only was Jesus implying that he was God in his role as shepherd, but Jesus was also criticizing the Pharisees for neglecting the lost sheep who were right in front of them. Instead, they looked down on those who were not as ritually meticulous or spiritual as they were.
The pastor told some stories. First, he knew a couple in high school who broke up and married other people. Those marriages fell apart and they reconnected with each other years later on Facebook. They concluded that they still loved each other and got married. Second, a man the pastor knew in seminary had difficulty adjusting to seminary life, remarking that he felt like he was trapped inside a garbage bag. When a fellow seminarian died, however, the struggling man came face to face with death and found hope in the message about Jesus’s resurrection. Similarly, Jesus’s incarnation, death, and resurrection can open us up to God by reminding us of God’s love. Third, a lady had been so abused and broken by life and people that she felt hurt by anything anyone said to her, seeing it as an insult. The first story was an example of persistent love, and the second and third stories illustrate how we may be deaf to God’s love, yet God still chases us.
The youth pastor showed pictures of trees. They look like ordinary, run-of-the-mill trees, but they mattered to the photographer. Similarly, we may look like average, run-of-the-mill people, but we may become special and beloved to those who get to know us better. God already knows and loves us.
B. The Sunday school class continued its series on death. Specifically, it focused on hell. We saw a video that commented on Jesus’s parable about Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31). The rich man did not go to hell because he was rich, and Lazarus did not go to Abraham’s bosom because he was poor. The rich man went to hell because he did not listen to Moses and the prophets and instead pursued his own agenda. Lazarus, however, trusted Moses and the prophets, particularly (according to the video) their prophecy about the coming redeemer. How much of God’s plan Lazarus knew is a good question; indeed, Luke-Acts does present Jesus as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets (Luke 24:44, Acts 28:23, etc.).
The video was trying to refute soul sleep, the idea that people are unconscious until the resurrection at the last day, by appealing to Luke 23:43, in which Jesus tells the thief beside him on the cross, “today you will be with me in paradise.” I was raised on soul sleep, and its response to the Luke 23:43 argument was that Jesus himself was not in paradise on that day, so how could the thief be with him in paradise on that day? Jesus was not in paradise on that day because he was in the grave. Some believers in soul sleep ask how adherents to the Luke 23:43 argument could say that Jesus was in heaven on that day, yet also maintain that Jesus was in hell, preaching to the spirits who were there. Believers in soul sleep said that Luke 23:43 should be re-punctuated: “Truly I tell you today, you shall be with me in paradise.” Jesus was telling the thief on that day, not saying the thief on that very day would be with him in paradise.
The teacher seemed to be trying to get around that objection by saying that heaven is a timeless and eternal realm. Here on earth, things take place sequentially. In heaven, all time—-past, present, and future—-is present to God. That is why Jesus could tell the thief, “Today, you shall be with me in paradise.” The absence of sequence anywhere does not make sense to me.
A lady was sharing that she believes in two heavens. Our souls will go to heaven immediately after our death. When the resurrection occurs in the future, however, we will be reunited with our bodies and go to a second heaven. She raises an interesting point. If the souls of believers are with God immediately after they die (II Corinthians 5:8), why have a resurrection after that? They have already arrived at the highest they can go, right? They are with God. But there is higher one can go, and that entails reunion with one’s body and the stewardship of the new heavens and the new earth.