In a little less than 10 years as a pastor, I’ve officiated and/or participated in a few dozen funeral services. This can be one of the most daunting duties of pastoral ministry, but also one of the greatest honors and privileges. Just this past Thursday I led the funeral service for an 88 year old saint of the church. A few days before that I sat by his hospital bed and helped him follow the Good Shepherd’s lead as he exited this realm to enter into the realm of glory in the presence of God. I also helped prepare his family as best I could by the grace of God for his transition from this world into the inheritance that awaits all of God’s people.
All of us who die before Jesus comes again will have to cross that threshold. It can be a scary proposition, something we’d rather not think about, but it is one of life’s most certain certainties. For those who trust in Jesus and love him, it is not something to dread even though we will still be in awe of the mystery of it all. For believers it’s a moment when we’ll see face to face the one whom we’ve loved and committed our lives to even though, with the exception the earliest followers of Jesus, we have never seen him face to face. It will be one glorious occasion for sure!
It will also be a moment when we’ll receive a fuller glimpse and experience of the inheritance that Saint Peter tells us is being kept for us in heaven (1 Peter 1:4).
Followers of Jesus have much to look forward to. This is our hope, the inheritance of an earth once corrupted by sin fully healed by its grand reunion with heaven. Our ultimate inheritance is a new heaven and earth that we’ll enjoy after the resurrection of the body. But in the mean time, in the in-between time, at death we consciously enter into what is being kept for us in heaven awaiting to be revealed on earth in the last time when Jesus comes again.
Jesus taught that his followers should lay up for themselves treasures in heaven (Matt 6:19-21), but make no mistake, these are treasures for God’s people to ultimately enjoy after the resurrection of the body on earth. After all, Jesus did say, echoing Psalm 37:11, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (ESV). As believers our hope is an inheritance to be enjoyed in a renewed world, a new heaven and earth, where there is no more sorrow, because there will be no more sin. It is a place where the presence and glory of God will dwell fully among God’s people forever (Rev. 7:15-17; Rev. 21:1-8). The Lord’s prayer will have been answered in its totality as God’s will alone is done on earth as it is in heaven. Glory!!
Saint Peter tells us this inheritance that awaits us is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Peter 1:4).
Several years ago my wife made a special dinner and said she had a wonderful surprise to share with me afterwards. Once we finished eating she handed me an envelope. From it I pulled out what was the title of our 2002 Toyota Camry. The last payment had been made. We were now the proud outright owners of a used car, with about a 140,000 miles on the odometer! As good of a car as it was, it definitely had an expiration date. After an accident a few years ago (in which no one was hurt thankfully) it was deemed a total loss. Today it is probably rusting away in a junkyard somewhere.
The inheritance that Peter spoke of, the same inheritance that Jesus spoke of, has no expiration date. It is completely secure in a place where, Jesus said, neither moth nor rust can corrupt it. It is the only treasure, when it comes right down to it, that really matters at all (Matt 6:19-24). And it’s not something that we earn or pay for ourselves; it has been bought and paid for, not with gold, silver, or precious jewels, but with the precious blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. It is a gift only to be received by faith.
But, contrary to popular belief and a lot of wishful thinking, it is not for everyone. It is only for those who truly believe and trust Jesus enough to entrust him with their entire lives. By God’s grace and mercy, through faith we receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of the new birth whereby God gives us a new heart and a renewed spirt and fills us with his very own Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, Ephesians 1:13-14 tells us, is our “guarantee” or “down-payment” “of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” In Romans 8:16-17, Saint Paul there, also tells us that it is the Spirit that gives us the assurance that we are children of God and also “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” Forgiveness and the new birth are both gifts of God’s grace, and they come together. You can’t receive one without the other, although some seem to want the forgiveness without the transformation of life entailed by the new birth.
Nevertheless, it is the new birth, Peter tells us, that brings us into “a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, …” (1 Peter 1:3-4). And it is faith tested by the fire of trials in this fallen world that secures our share in that incorruptible, eternal inheritance (1 Peter 1:6-7; see also the last part of Romans 8:17). Our life in this world is the testing ground for the ultimate holy ground in the New Heaven and Earth.
So we all need to be prepared to die. When we are, then we’ll be truly prepared to live. In his grace God allows us to enjoy a portion and a foretaste of our greater inheritance to come now. “O what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of his Spirit, washed in his blood” (from “Blessed Assurance” by Fanny Crosby, 1873). Glory! Glory! Glory! Glory to God! Glory to the Lamb!
How awesome it must be when our work on earth is done to enter into God’s presence in heaven where our full inheritance is kept like the unfathomable precious treasure it is! How even more awesome it will be when we all get to enjoy it together on earth with all the saints in glory! When we all together get to see the one in whom we believe face to face! Come, Lord Jesus!
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
1 Peter 1:3-9 ESV