From Everlasting to Everlasting
Have you ever been lost? I don’t mean the times when you refuse to ask for directions and your wife has to go into the gas station and figure it out. I don’t mean that. Maybe you got lost in a store as a little kid. We lost our son for a couple of minutes at Knott’s Berry Farm when he was about seven years old. I still don’t think he has forgiven us for our parental incompetence. Those experiences are fairly common. I’m talking about being disoriented in an unknown place with no idea of how to return home.
People get lost in blizzards and in the wilderness. Some of them don’t survive. But I think the absolute worst would be being lost at sea with no means of movement and no hope of discovery. Imagine the horror of being alone in a small raft floating on an expanse of water that extends in every direction beyond what your eye can see. There are no landmarks – no guiding lights to help you on your journey over which you have not control. The loneliness would be terrifying. The absence of hope would be devastating.
The Book of Ecclesiastes is a cynical book that you can’t quite fully appreciate until after you’ve reached the age of forty – after life has beaten you up a bit and you’ve become a little bit wiser. In chapter three, verse eleven, the Preacher writes, “he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” All of us, if we will be honest, can confess to feeling somewhat like the guy adrift in the middle of the ocean. We know that there is something or someone out there. And we feel an incessant twinge of desperation to reach to the safe harbor of actually knowing that eternal something that keeps pulsating in our inner consciousness.
Another wise man, Moses, who had known God more intimately than any other person in the Old Testament, wrote of that endless sea called the Eternity of God,
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.
Psalm 90:2-4 (ESV)
Prayer (The Knowledge of the Holy, Tozer, p. 38)
We worship You, Father Everlasting, whose years shall have no end; and You, the love-begotten Son whose goings forth have been ever of old; we also acknowledged and adore You, Eternal Spirit, who before the foundation of the world did live and love in coequal glory the Father and Son.
Enlarge and purify the mansion of our souls that they may be fit habitations for Your Spirit, who prefers before all temples the upright heart and pure. Amen.
The Eternity of God
When we speak of the eternity of God, we say that he has no beginning and no end. The theme of eternity runs like a leitmotif – the composer’s little incessant melody - through the symphony of Scripture. It is behind every promise. It is before the beginning and extends beyond the end of time. But as people who have a beginning, it is hard for us to comprehend.
C.S. Lewis tries to illustrate it this way: imagine a large sheet of paper extending infinitely into every direction. Then draw a single line on the paper. The line represents time. The paper is eternity. Time had a beginning and it will have an end. God is eternal. He exists before and beyond time. God does not exist in time. Time exists in God.
God is the God of history and of the future. He dwells in the past as much as he dwells in the future. He is an “everlasting now.” He was there when the earth was created and he is already at the end of time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Ponder this: he was there when you were born and he is already there at your deathbed. God is not bound by time. He is both the Creator and Lord of time.
Imprisoned by Time
Men and women have always had a fascination for and an obligation to time. Science fiction writers have reveled in the fantastic possibilities of time travel. Prisoners or castaways who hold on to any sliver of hope mark each day with a stroke on a wall or the floor. Neurotics like me are always in a hurry – chasing our next obligation and being dogged by the clock. I sometimes feel like Mr. Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland.
We all know: time is short. Make the most of every day.
The brutal honesty of Ecclesiastes sheds light on our frantic search for meaning. God is eternal and his image, implanted in us, is eternal as well. We instinctively know that there is more to life than the 70, 80, or 90 years we may have in these mortal bodies. The atheist or the agnostic, who denies life after death, has put up a hopeless, yet determined intellectual front to try and silence the relentless eternal ringing that echoes deep in their soul. Deep down, we all know that we were made for eternity.
God, who is unbounded by time or space, has made us for himself. And, St. Augustine adds, “Our hearts are restless until we find our rest in [him].” That is the burden we bear as creatures made in the image of God. We see the search for eternal life throughout the world in all times and in all religions. The Hindus, the Buddhists, the Muslims, the religions of the ancient world – all believe in the afterlife. This is the divine spark of eternity set in our hearts. We all long to live forever because our Creator is eternal.
The Bible is clear that there are only two eternal destines for people after they die. One is eternal punishment: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’….and these will go away into eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:41, 46). The New Testament often refers to Hell. It is a real place of eternal punishment for those who refuse God’s grace. We don’t speak much of it these days; such preaching seems to have fallen out of style. But Hell is real and it is the unfortunate destiny of those who refuse to believe.
St. Augustine is right. There is a rest – a home to be found in God. Let’s be honest. In our quiet moments of reflection, when we wonder about life, about life after life and about God, we are like that guy adrift in a small raft on an eternal sea of doubt and questions. There remains for us, however, a passing ship that extends the lifeline to all who will believe. That ship of salvation is Jesus Christ.
…God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
John 3:17-18 (ESV)
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
God has revealed salvation through Jesus Christ alone. He has done his part to give you the eternal life that your spirit longs for. It is for you to respond in belief.
The Table is an Eternal Mystery of Time
Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ died on the cross and conquered sin and death by rising from the grave three days later. Through his death and resurrection, he has purchased eternal salvation for all who will believe. Before he died, Christ gave his followers a way to actively remember, and in so doing, participate in the saving events of his death and resurrection.
We live in time. But time is irrelevant to God. Christ’s death and resurrection is as fresh in this moment as it was two thousand years ago. At the Lord’s Table, time is irrelevant. When Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me,” he invited his disciples in every generation and in every time to enter into the saving acts of his death and resurrection. That’s what remembrance at the Table is. Biblical remembering makes the past present when you participate by faith.
For nearly five hundred years, the church has fought over what happens at the Table. It is a great loss. This is to be a Table of fellowship: that all believers in all places at all times share together. We fight over whether or not this bread is actually Christ’s body or whether or not this juice is his blood. The argument misses the point. It is not a question of substance. At the Table, we enter into the eternal and participate in a mystery of time. It’s kind of like stepping off the timeline and onto the “sheet of eternity” to participate with Christ in his victorious death and resurrection.
In our participation with Christ, we engage in a celebration of salvation – of being delivered from the power of sin and death. The Table is open to all who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior so that they, as John 3:16 says, “might have eternal life.” If you have believed in Christ for your salvation, you are welcome here.
The bread and the cup are here. God is here. Let’s worship beyond the limitations of time, through the power of the Holy Spirit, at the God’s timeless Table of grace.