Scripture: John 14:23-29; Revelation 21:1-10
When I look back on my faith journey, the question “What do I believe as a Christian?” has led me through my faith journey. From a very young age I learned the love of Jesus through Sunday School Bible studies and children’s songs. When I was in Senior High I was very active in the youth group of my home church. One summer at a youth retreat, I felt God’s presence with me. We had prayer time and when I prayed I felt God heard me. I sobbed because I felt that God knows even me, though I am awfully small. I still remember that day’s experience. That summer I started to read the Bible by myself and finished the Old Testament during that summer. When I read the Bible I experienced the joy of understanding God’s word. That was the joy of understanding what I believed.
Though I have learned what I believe as a Christian, sometimes I also struggled with the question “Why do I believe those Christian beliefs” instead of “What do I believe as a Christian?” When I was in college in Korea there was a Shaman ritual on the campus during one of the spring festivals. We called it Gut, and it is a ritual for asking heavenly blessings from supernatural powers. At that time Korean college students were consciously trying to recover traditional culture and religions in response to Western culture and religion. I was there with friends, and we felt a strong sense of bonding, a cultural identity that bonded us together as a community. It was a joyful and exciting moment. After Gut people distributed food from the Shaman altar. During the food distribution I struggled in my heart with the conflict of whether I could eat the food or not. When the food came to me, I could not eat it because I learned Christians shouldn’t eat food from pagan rituals. I left that place in tears. I hated myself for not being able to join with my culture and community. That experience brought me to the question, “Why do I believe in Christianity instead of other Asian religions?”
One of our members of this church said, “In my small group one of the most frequent questions that comes up during discussion time is, ‘Why do we have to come to church?’ or ‘Why do we believe in God?’” He asked me, “You know what the most popular answer is? Because we can go to heaven only through Christian faith.”
Some of us may think it’s too selfish that we have faith in God only to go to heaven. I understand and agree with that opinion. But before we say anything about heaven, we need to think of what we know about heaven. To some of us heaven means some mystic place we go after we die. Or heaven is a beautiful mansion covered with gold and jewelry. But what does the Bible teach us about heaven? And why do we have our final hope in heaven as a Christian? Jesus teaches about the Kingdom of heaven through many parables in the gospel of Matthew chapter 13. Please take a pew Bible and open it to Matthew chapter 13 so you can see the following verses in the parables from which they come. Please find verse 24. It says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away.” Verse 31 says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree. Verse 33 says, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” Verse 44 says, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” Verse 45 says, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”
These parables teach us that the reality of the kingdom of heaven is hidden now to public, but it will be revealed later. Jesus revealed the nature of the kingdom of heaven to his disciples who listened to his teaching carefully. These parables of the kingdom of heaven contain the promise that, in the wisdom of God, the weeds and evil power will ultimately be destroyed. Evil is temporary; only the good endures. The parables lead finally, then, to a place of joy and hope. We live in the imperfect world, and no human effort can eradicate that fact. But that was never our job anyway. We are given the task of living as faithfully and as obediently as possible, confident that the harvest is sure.
On the basis of Jesus’s own teaching of the kingdom of heaven I want to look at John’s vision of it in the book of Revelation. All humans have limited understanding of God and heaven. In the book of revelation John describes his vision of the End Times with many allegories. We cannot fully interpret his vision with modern day language, but one thing is clear, that his vision has the promise of God. Let’s look at it closely in today’s reading. First, the End Times will be completed on the earth not in heaven. We think we will go to heaven to live with God. But the Bible teaches that God prepares the holy city, Jerusalem, for the End Times, and it is coming down out of heaven from God. In his vision John heard the voice saying, “See, the home of God is with men. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
As we believe that God created the whole universe in the beginning, we need to believe that the End is also coming in God’s plan and power. All of John’s visions in Revelation about the End are really statements about God. They are not about fearful and mystic events. Eschatology is an aspect of the doctrine of God. At the end of the historical road God will be all in all. God is not one item in the new Jerusalem; God himself is the eschatological reality who embraces all things.
In John’s vision, the one who was seated on the throne said, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” God declares, “It is done!” In this world we experience much happiness and joy but we are also suffering with all kinds of pains, poverty, illness and death. The evil power tries to use these human limitations to win us over from God. We were created as God’s children, but Satan tries hard to separate us from God and his love. To keep us under God’s saving love God gave messages through prophets and finally God sent his only Son to us. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus’s last words on the cross were, “It is finished,” and then he bowed his head and died. At the moment when Jesus cried, “It is finished,” God’s saving plan was completed on earth. Jesus’s crying out is echoed in today’s reading from Revelation that God said to John, “It is done.” The spiritual battle between God and Satan is done when Jesus achieved God’s plan on the cross.
I do not mean to trivialize the concept of spiritual warfare as sport, but I think it may be helpful to think of spiritual battles within a sports metaphor for a moment. I think many of you are football fans and basketball fans. When you have to miss an important game you may record it and watch it at a later time. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that when you watch the game later you already know who won. When you watch the recorded game you don’t have the same anxiety as when you watch a live game because you already know who the winner is. We should try to have the same perspective with our spiritual battles. We still see the spiritual battles with the evil power in our lives, but the war was already won by the power of Jesus’s love on the cross.
As God proclaimed in John’s vision, “It is done”- everything is done in God’s plan and God is the Alpha and Omega. We already live in the kingdom of heaven because we believe that everything is done in God. The kingdom of heaven is realized on earth among people who believe “It is done.” But the kingdom of heaven is not available to everyone yet. It is available to people who conquer it with confident faith. According to the New International Version, Revelation chapter 21, verse 7 says, “He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” But the New Revised Standard Version says, “Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.” Heaven is where and when we inherit all things from God. But we need to conquer or overcome the fear of this world with Christian courage and faith that everything is done.
A British rock star, Eric Clapton lost his four years old son in 1993 by a terrible accident. That year he wrote a song “Tears in heaven” for his beloved son and his song won the Grammy as the song of the year. Eric Clapton, however, would have given up all the success represented by the Grammy if he could just have had his son back. In this world we are suffering and struggling so much with pain, illness and death. But Jesus encourages us to conquer and enter heaven because he already overcame all these things for us.
Today’s gospel reading is Jesus’s encouragement for his disciples when he told them about his upcoming death. Jesus told them not to be afraid about his death. He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Jesus’s disciples learned that they will lose Jesus and they themselves might experience persecution. But Jesus promised them he would come with his Father and make their home with all his people.
As a very limited human being I still have many questions in my life and struggle with big problems. But if any one asks me, “Why do I believe in God?” I answer them, “I keep my Christian faith because God is the Alpha and the Omega and the beginning and the end. I believe everything is done in God’s plan and I have eternal peace in God.”