Season 4 - Week 4
“Glimpses of Heaven”
This article is also available in audio form. Listen or download it here.
When facing a question from her kids about God that she couldn’t answer, my Mum would often resort to, ‘Well, there’s going to be a whole load of surprises in heaven.’
I never quite knew if surprises would stretch to rainbow unicorns, but over time I got the message: God’s way of doing things is different to ours. His values are regularly in sharp contrast to the values of the prevailing culture. And it doesn’t always have to make sense to be good.
One of these ‘different-ways-of-doing-things’ pops up in Matthew.
‘But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.’
Jesus drops this bombshell as he’s watching a young man, unable to give up his great wealth, walk away from a chance to know life in all it’s fullness. The ‘first’ is so loaded up and weighed down by the stuff of success, status and significance, that he cannot take hold of the only thing that matters; Jesus.
Peter, who in the presence of guys like the Rich Young Ruler is used to feeling like the ‘last’, sees a moment to crow at his own brilliant self-sacrificing tendencies, and announces, ‘but we’ve given up everything to follow you, so what will we have?’
Jesus, knowing what was going on, reassures his friends that whether you are considered the ‘first’ or the ‘last’, those labels don’t matter anymore because you can’t out-give God.
‘...all those who have left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children, or farms to follow me will get much more than they left, and they will have life forever. Many who are first now will be last in the future. And many who are last now will be first in the future.’
Surely, this has to be one of the most mis-understood and mis-quoted scripture in history! It’s not about an automatic exchange that happens in God’s kingdom, where the last will automatically become first and the first will automatically become last. Swapping who’s at the top and who’s at the bottom doesn't change anything. Instead, this is an invitation to imagine what life could be like if our place in God’s kingdom was not because of our wealth or poverty, but because of our devotion.
What if devotion to Jesus was the great leveller?
What if submission to each other was the way to demonstrate devotion to the one who makes the impossible possible? What a great remedy to narcissism and self-importance.
But there’s also a sharp warning here too; find your fulfilment in Jesus, not in your acts of humility. Submission without love may look like humility, but it couldn’t be more different. Paul calls this empty pride and selfish ambition - and it stinks!
Jesus isn’t looking for a fluffy, ‘no, no, you take the last cream cake’ nice-ness that uses humility as a guise for being seen to do the ‘christian’ thing. He’s looking for disciples who take their humility- cues from him. Who don’t see devotion as a down payment on a big, fat reward in heaven (with or without unicorns!).Who don't impose boundaries on other people or coerce them into submission.
Jesus is seeking friends who love him above all else. Who choose to hold onto the stuff of status, success and significance in the eyes of the world, with a light touch.
And in doing so, catch glimpses of heaven, here and now.
Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
“Which ones?” he inquired.
Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor,and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
Jesus says that “many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” Elsewhere he tells his disciples that “if anyone would be first, they must become the very last, and the servant to all.” What does these words mean to you, practically, in your life and relationships today?
Identify someone today whose agenda you’d find it very difficult to put ahead of your own. Instead of reflecting on how difficult you find them, and perhaps your relationship with them, find practical ways to encourage them, serve them and put them first. You might just be amazed by how your heart changes as a result of practically serving someone else.
Lord Jesus, let me know myself and know You, and desire nothing save only You.
Let me hate myself and love You.
Let me do everything for the sake of You.
Let me humble myself and exalt You.
Let me think of nothing except You.
Let me die to myself and live in You.
Let me accept whatever happens as from You.
Let me banish self and follow You, and ever desire to follow You.
Let me fly from myself and take refuge in You,
That I may deserve to be defended by You.
Let me fear for myself.
Let me fear You, and let me be among those who are chosen by You.
Let me distrust myself and put my trust in You.
Let me be willing to obey for the sake of You.
Let me cling to nothing save only to You,
And let me be poor because of You.
Look upon me, that I may love You.
Call me that I may see You, and for ever enjoy You. Amen.