3rd Sunday after Pentecost

3rd Sunday after Pentecost (B)

June 14, 2015

Mark 4:26-34

“Stuff I Always Wanted to Know but Never Asked – Part II”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon this morning is the Gospel lesson from Mark 4.

My dear friends,

Today I want to continue our sermon series that I am calling “Stuff I Always Wanted to Know but Never Asked.” Last week I answered 2 questions asked about the book of Genesis involving the Creation narrative and the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. Today I am going to try and answer THREE questions (you guys are keeping me on my toes!): what are the differences between heaven and hell, paradise and Hades, and the new heavens and new earth? When people of faith die today, do we go to paradise, heaven, or new heaven/new earth?; How will people who never heard the Gospel message before be judged?: and finally, does “tithing” also include 10% of your time?

Let’s start first with our Gospel lesson for today. Mark 4 is the great Parable chapter of Mark’s Gospel and today we heard two parables: the Parable of the Seed Growing, and the Parable of the Mustard Seed. The truth pointed out in these parables is that God’s kingdom grows incredibly large from humble, unassuming beginnings through the power of the Word of God according to His divine plan and timetable.   Our questions for today are linked to that truth. As we remain on this earth we are good stewards of all that God gives us longing for the day when the Kingdom of God comes and brings about a brand-new eternal reality.

So, we now turn to our first question: “What are the differences between heaven and hell, paradise and Hades, and the new heavens and new earth?” Let’s start with the easy ones. Heaven can mean either the vaulted expanse of the sky with all things in and under it or the dwelling place of God with the holy angels and saints where Christ ascended to. The exact opposite of that is hell, or in the Bible “Sheol.” Sheol was the realm of the dead in direct opposition to the realm of the living in heaven with God. Souls in heaven are alive in and with God; souls in hell or Sheol are eternally dead. Everything that heaven isn’t, hell is.

Related terms are Paradise and Hades (Greek word/concept for hell). The word paradise only appears in the Bible 3 times: Jesus speaks of paradise to the thief on the cross in Luke 24:43, Paul references paradise in 2 Corinthians 12:3, and John uses the word paradise in Revelation chapter 2. The English word “paradise” comes from the Greek word paradeisoV, which is a loanword from a Persian term meaning “enclosure” or “park.”  The intent of the word paradise was to draw one’s thinking towards the ancient Garden of Eden when and where humanity had fellowship with God. Restoration of that fellowship – being with God where God is – is paradise. The same word was “borrowed” by Islam to describe the garden place where true believers drink in the presence of beautiful women. What do women do in Muslim paradise? According to an Islamic website: “Women should not preoccupy themselves with inquiring about the details of their entering Paradise, what they will be doing there, where they will go, and so on. It is enough for every Muslim woman to know that once she enters Paradise, she will forget all the misery and hardships she ever faced, because her life in Paradise will be one of endless happiness.” So, in other words, don’t ask.

Paradise and Hades/Sheol are terms we don’t use as often as heaven and hell. Regardless, the New Heavens and New Earth are completely different. This reality is only spoken of in Revelation 21 at the completion of this age: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I 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 the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” When we die, our souls go to heaven to await the coming of the promised new heavens and new earth.

But, what about those who have never heard the Gospel? Okay…this is a tough one because the answer impacts US. In Mark 16:16 we read “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” The apostle Peter put it another way: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Here’s the thing. Even though people have not heard the Gospel, they are without excuse (Rom. 1:19-23 and 2:12). God has not left Himself without witness (Acts 14:17), but He has revealed His existence by the works of nature and through His revealed will – His Word. God truly wants humanity to seek Him, to know the saving truth of Jesus Christ. The reality is – those who’ve never heard the Gospel and lack faith in Christ will be condemned. Those who reject the Gospel or replace it with something else will be condemned.

Because of the horrible doom awaiting all those who do not believe in Jesus, we should seek to reach as many as possible with our own fearless witness and ardently support the missionary endeavors of our church on behalf of those whom we cannot reach with our own voice! Now, your first thought might be “But that’s not FAIR!” Fair? 20th century theologian Paul Tillich once wrote “(people) always wish to teach God the path of justice…but God accepts no counsel concerning the course of history” (from We Live in Two Orders).

Lastly, “does tithing also include 10% of your time? Tithing, which specifically means giving 10% of one’s income, is a term used in the Scriptures especially throughout the Old Testament.  In the New Testament, tithing is not mentioned nearly as much, but such expressions as cheerful, firstfruit, and proportionate are used repeatedly. This leads us to conclude that while tithing may be a good spiritual discipline and a good starting point for a mature Christian, it may not be the best way to present biblical giving since it can easily become a legalistic requirement of the law rather than a cheerful offering motivated by the love of God shown toward us in Christ.

What God gives us as a gift, we take as a task from Him. As God’s stewards we are managers, not owners. This means God’s stewards have been entrusted with life and life’s resources – which DOES include our time – and given the privilege of responsibly and joyfully managing our resources for Him. Thus, as children of God through faith in Jesus Christ, and with the Holy Spirit’s help, we will encourage cheerful, first-fruit, proportionate living and giving in all areas of life by Christian stewards.

May God richly bless us as we grow in our own faith in order to be good stewards and to ensure that all people become wise unto salvation in Christ Jesus and may we be good managers and stewards of all the resources God has entrusted to us until He comes to permanently establish the glory of the new heaven and new earth.

Amen.