John Bradshaw - The Choice
This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. You might not be especially amazed by this tree. It's an evergreen, a pine tree, and aside from its beauty, it looks, well, unremarkable. But this plain pine tree is, in fact, a Monterey pine, and there are just a couple of natural stands of these trees left in coastal central California. So it's a little rare. At least, it's rare in its native habitat. But in countries like New Zealand and Chile, Australia, Spain, and South Africa, the Monterey pine, or pinus radiata, is the most planted of all pines, creating an entire lumber industry around this one tree. And they can get tall, with the average being somewhere between 50 and 115 feet tall in the wild or around 150 feet, about 46 1/2 meters, when they're cultivated.
There's some debate among arborists about where the tallest Monterey pine is. Some say it's in New Zealand. Others say South Africa. But one thing's for sure: It's not here in Monterey, California, among the remaining natural forests. Now, there's something interesting about this tree. It can teach us a lot about the character of God, about the backstory of the Bible, the prequel of the Bible, if you will. It can even teach us something about the sequel of the Bible. In this series we've looked at the prequel of the Bible, the story of Satan's rebellion against God. We've investigated the war that began in heaven and continues here on this earth, a war that impacts everyone everywhere, all the time. What we know is that Satan's rebellion against God was a political rebellion.
This was a clash of ideas, a clash of, of governing philosophies. Satan campaigned against God to attract followers and displace God. He attacked God's character. He said that God was fundamentally selfish and unfair, stating that what God wanted to do was hold back the human family and keep the very best for Himself. As with any political campaign, Satan offered a platform, his way of running the universe. He rejected God's plan, God's plan based on lovingkindness and universal giving, where the objective is mutual benefit.
Satan's plan was based on selfishness and opportunistic taking, where the objectives are power and domination. And he had a surprising amount of success, attracting to his side, according to the Bible, one-third of all the angels in heaven. Once Satan usurped dominion of the world by conquering Adam and Eve, he got to work setting up his system for the world. He twisted and he perverted creation so that the amazing things that God had made were, to a great extent, obscured. And then he got about obliterating the evidence of the character of God as you once would have seen it in the natural world. Satan set in place for this earth a system based on selfishness.
So here we are, living on earth as Satan's system plays out, and the entire universe is able to see more and more clearly that Satan's system is a complete disaster. The problem for him, and for us, is that selfishness as a system collapses in on itself. Since the world we live on is organized around selfishness, we're observing in real time the accelerating decay of all the natural systems and living creatures of earth, as well as society itself. Now, this won't go on forever. Eventually Satan's rebellion will be universally seen as a complete failure, and Christ will return to the earth to redeem His followers. And judging by the prophecies we see being fulfilled around us, that tipping point is very, very close. That, in a nutshell, is the prequel of the Bible, the backstory of the Bible. So what, then, is the sequel of the Bible? Well, being a sequel, it's what comes after, and like the prequel, it's directly related to God's character, to who He is. Now, to try and explain a bit about the sequel and God's character, I'm going to use an interesting tree, a tree I'll tell you more about in just a moment.
Thanks for joining me on It Is Written. So far in this series, we've looked at examples of how Satan's system of selfishness, which reflects his character, are seen in the natural world. We've looked at rattlesnakes and beaded lizards, and we've looked at scorpions. It's not that they're not beautiful or impressive, they are both, but they show that sin and death have entered into the natural world, and that was not God's original plan. So thousands of years after the rise of sin, can we see in the world around us examples of God's character, remnants of His original model? Yes, we can. I'd like to show you one of them, a beautiful tree, the Monterey cypress, or macrocarpa. The Monterey cypress is an interesting tree. It absolutely loves being right next to the ocean. The windier and the foggier, the better. The trees that are exposed to constant winds take on bent and twisted shapes over the hundreds of years that they live.
And some of them are absolutely beautiful. The tree has been planted widely, especially in coastal California. But there are only two native stands, one here at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and one nearby at Pebble Beach. In fact, the trademark of the famed Pebble Beach Golf Course is a drawing of a Monterey cypress. But aside from being ruggedly beautiful and interesting, this tree can teach us about God. Not just this tree actually, but all trees. You see, God's character is one of giving, and God looks to bless with every interaction. Now, the system that He created is just the same and works on the same principles.
Now, we can't find any examples of trees as they were originally created, and it's not known to what extent they've changed over the millennia. But if we take them at face value, there's a lot that we can learn about God and His character and God's system...from trees. For instance, right now, the small leaves on this big tree are engaging in photosynthesis to produce sugars that nourish the tree. Through the same action, they're also producing oxygen and taking in carbon dioxide. They're performing a chemical exchange that makes our lives possible. At the same time, trees are home to an astonishing array of insects, birds, and small animals. And, of course, millions of trees are harvested to provide not only paper products but the building materials out of which we make our homes.
Trees also produce large amounts of leaves or needles that enrich the soil. And many produce fruit or nuts, which become food for humans, animals, insects, and bacteria. Fundamentally, trees give to everything else in the world with every interaction, and they don't take anything that's not given to them. So they're a good example of how things were when God first created the earth. They're also a good example of the sequel, how things are going to be in heaven and in the earth made new. So what we see is that in order to get a clear picture of the prequel to the Bible, we've got to go throughout the Bible and get the various pieces and, and put them together, a little bit like a puzzle, and then we see clearly this, this backstory of the Word of God. The same is basically true for the sequel of the Bible, where we deal with heaven and the earth made new.
Here's what we know for sure: One day, God is going to completely destroy this sin-twisted earth and then remake it. In 2 Peter 3:10 we read that "the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up". Then God will create a new earth. The Apostle John, writing in Revelation 21:1-4, gives us a vivid description: "Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. And there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.'"
We're told in Romans 8 and verse 22 that all of creation groans under the weight of sin. Romans 6:23 says the consequences of sin is death. So you can know that in heaven, in an earth made new, there won't be any sickness. There'll be no suffering, no pain. There'll be no death. Satan, his old order of things, his system of selfishness, will be completely gone. Now, while that talks to us something about heaven, it tells us mostly what heaven won't be like, which leaves hanging, of course, the question of what heaven will be like. So, in a moment, we'll go looking into the Bible, and we'll piece together as much of that as we can.
Consider for a moment the character of God. The Bible says that God is love. He's the very essence of love. And 'way back in the beginning, He created a world especially designed to thrill us, to bless us, to please us, to satisfy us, always. In fact, you read Job 38, verse 7, and it indicates that at creation angels sang, and "the sons of God shouted for joy". It was that good. Now, when the earth is re-created, it's going to be that good and more. It will be even better. So throughout eternity we will dwell in a place that has been calculated by God to completely delight us. We also know that we'll be part of God's administration of the universe. When the earth was created, humans were given dominion. We were in charge of overseeing the earth. Satan usurped our dominion when he conquered Adam and Eve. It's reasonable to expect that with the re-creation of the earth, our dominion will be restored.
So one thing we'll be doing is overseeing the earth. We'll also be doing a whole lot more than that. In 2 Timothy 2:12 it says that those who endured and remain true to God will "reign with Him". What that means exactly, we can't really be sure, but we know that we'll join in some aspect of Christ's reign. But all that will likely take up just a slice of our time. For what we'll do with the rest of our time, let's look again at creation. We're told in Genesis 1:27 that we were created in the image of God. God gave us the ability to think, to reason, to create, to do. He created us to constantly accrue or develop abilities and have joy in using them. He created us as social creatures. We love talking to others, exchanging thoughts and ideas, hearing stories, telling stories.
So it would seem that a significant part of the delight God designed for us in the eternity of heaven is being us, being the inquisitive, social, creative, learning creatures that He made us to be. God designed us to joyfully create things. Maybe what we'll want to do is make an amazing country home for ourselves. We'll be deliberate about designing it, looking at what others are doing, discussing their ideas with them. After all, there's no shortage of time in heaven. So we'll want to find the exact spot where we'd like to build, then find and cut the exact stone we want for the foundation, or the interior or the exterior. Maybe we'll want to use massive beams. Maybe we'll want to grow our beautiful beams from seed. Who knows.
Isaiah said in Isaiah 65 that we'll build homes and inhabit them. And then, of course, there's the travel. We'll be able to go anywhere in the entire universe and see sights and meet new people. Distance won't matter. Everything you read in the Bible suggests heaven and the new earth will be a fantastic, amazing, social, creative experience that will constantly amaze and delight us. Now, as strange as it may seem, I've actually met people who have said they don't want to go to heaven. They don't like the idea of living forever. That they are, oddly enough, almost scared of the idea of everlasting life. Now, I want to challenge that thinking. It would seem to me, in fact, I'd almost be willing to guarantee you, that your view on what heaven will be like will match up pretty well with your view of what Jesus is like.
If you think that Jesus is intimidating and distant and scary, then heaven isn't going to hold much appeal for you. If you think that Jesus is boring and stuffy and tedious, well, you're probably going to think about heaven in the same way. But Jesus is amazing. Jesus is wonderful. There's no one ever been more friendly, more loving, more kind, more gracious, and so you can know that heaven is going to be that sort of place. In fact, the Bible tells us as much. In 1 Corinthians chapter 2, verse 9: "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him". Jesus and the Bible are far, far better than anything that you could imagine. If your opinion of heaven isn't very high, if you don't have a great view of the hereafter, what I want to recommend to you is that you get to know Jesus. And it's not a hard thing to do. It's our privilege. It's your privilege to have a vibrant two-way relationship with God. That's what He wants.
So where do you start? Get to know God. The Bible was given to us so that we could read that story, or that collection of stories, and get to know the God of heaven. To know Him is to love Him. Read the Word of God and find out what God is truly like, what Jesus is really like. And take time to pray. Communicate with God. Have that two-way relationship with Him where you talk to Him, listen for the sound of His voice, and He'll talk back to you. It's interesting, isn't it, that there's so much ahead of us, and yet so many people are ignoring it. As Shakespeare wrote in "Hamlet," "All that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity".
Everyone agrees with the first part of that statement: "All that lives must die". But it's the nature of the second part where there's some disagreement: "Passing through nature to eternity". For centuries, even for millennia, there wasn't much debate about that. The Egyptians prepared for it. The magnificent pyramids were tombs for kings and queens. Ancient Babylon: an afterlife was anticipated. The ancient Greek view of the afterlife ebbed and flowed a little bit as times changed. The ferryman would transport the souls of the dead across the River Styx into Hades. It was the Greeks that taught that at death the soul separated from the dead body and went on living in another plane. So if there's life after life, and there is, then you'd want to be part of that. Except life today is intoxicating, and we can be distracted easily, and it's not difficult to be confused, led astray, influenced by competing voices.
If you haven't learned for yourself that God is good, you might be inclined to listen to the voices that say He isn't. If you haven't read the Bible and learned for yourself what Jesus is like, you might be open to the idea that He's irrelevant or out of touch. And if you don't take the time to stop and read the Bible for yourself, then other things are going to fill that space in your heart, in your mind. You'll end up chasing all the wrong things in this world. It isn't that God offers you a choice between Him and nothing. It's God's plan to fill your life with all of the best blessings. But there's a spiritual war raging right at this moment, as we speak, right now.
A war we are caught right in the middle of. The stakes are high: eternity. The reason Jesus came to this world was to demonstrate to us that there's something bigger than what we see in the world around us, something enduring, something more important. The trouble is we often see what's around us as more important or even more meaningful than that which is around us but we cannot actually see. Pays to remember Shakespeare again, this time from "The Merchant of Venice": "All that glisters is not gold". The truth is we live in a world that increasingly reflects the character of Satan. He's made a mess of this world, a world that is now characterized by pain, suffering, and death. But even though this world is in terrible shape, most of the people in it are caught up in chasing the selfishness-based goal Satan has set up, the gods of money, pleasure, status, fame, and power. They're on a road to nowhere.
In this distracted world, steeped in selfishness, it's the privilege of everyone who has taken the name of Jesus to demonstrate through their lives, words, and actions that there's another way, a way that's based on lovingkindness. It's the Christian's role to demonstrate the character of Jesus to others in words and actions. Like the trees, we're to witness to the character of Christ and pass on blessings to others in our interactions. And here's the thing; if we don't do this, how are people going to know? How will people know that God's kingdom of lovingkindness opposes Satan's kingdom of selfishness? It's a big responsibility, and a great opportunity. There are some interesting implications arising out of this great privilege that God has given us.
Think about this: It's impossible, really, to be an island of lovingkindness in a world that's drowning in selfishness. You can't constantly give, give, give in a world that takes and takes and takes. At least not of yourself. So in order to, in order to carry out that role that God has placed upon our hearts, what we need is something special. We need the person of Jesus dwelling in us. What God's plan is, is to show Himself through you, for Jesus to live His life in you, and then shine out of you and let others see Jesus in your life. It can be done. It's a fantastic privilege. That's the kind of relationship that God wants to have with you.
And there's another implication. We can't show the world what a different system is like unless we are...different. Jesus doesn't call on us to compete in the world on the world's terms, fully immersed in selfishness, then go to church to gloss it over. Jesus calls on us to be His disciples, His witnesses. He calls on us to reject selfishness, to live out lovingkindness and proclaim Jesus and His character through our words and actions. This call that Jesus is giving us makes many people uncomfortable because in order to do this, you've got to embrace the gospel of Jesus, where selfishness is put to death and Jesus lives His life in you.
Less of us, less of our will; more of Jesus, more of God's will. And yet we can't be part of two systems. Either we're followers of Christ, dedicated to lovingkindness and passing blessings to those around us, or we're followers of the world, and we are dedicated to selfishness. Where are you with that? You don't want to be a mixture of the two. In the end, everyone's going to be one or the other. Beginning the transformation to being fully a follower of Jesus isn't hard. Jesus is waiting to walk with us and support us through each step so that we have an amazing sequel with Him after our lives on this earth. The process begins when you give your life to Jesus, when you tell Him you want to follow Him, when you invite Him in to guide you and live His life in you and dwell in your heart.