A special place in heaven

Recently the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, told journalists there was “a special place in hell” for those who promoted Brexit in the UK without having even a sketch plan for how to carry it out safely. It is very unusual to hear politicians talking about eternal issues, but Mr Tusk, who was the Prime Minister of Poland, grew up in the Roman Catholic Church where he would have been taught to fear God. However, the strange idea that people who disagree with our personal political vision will be punished by God for ever is entirely without basis.

The Bible does teach that our actions have consequences. We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due to us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. People who escape being called to account in this life do not “get away with it” because God will judge them. Death does not pay all debts. Men like Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot and Jimmy Saville have been judged justly by God. He is the judge of all the earth, and he does what is right.

It is not only notoriously wicked people who are judged; we will all stand before God. The solemn truth is that we all sin every day of our lives. We do and say things we know are wrong. The Bible teaches that throughout all human history, there is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, we have together become worthless; there is no one who does good. Even our best actions are stained by pride and self-righteousness.

However, God has graciously intervened through his Son, Jesus Christ, to offer hope to all people. One of the best-known verses in the Bible says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” When he died on the Cross Jesus took the punishment we deserve and paid the price of our sins. All who put their trust in him receive the gift of eternal life. The night before he died Jesus told his disciples he was going to his Father’s house in heaven to prepare a place for them. How wonderful to know that Jesus has prepared a special place in heaven for unworthy people like us!

Riches that last forever

The Sunday Times Rich List 2014 has been published. It profiles the 1,000 richest individuals and families in Britain. A fortune of at least £85 million is needed to be included on the list. In the past year the total wealth of those on the list has increased by 15%, with a combined fortune of almost £520 billion. Britain has more billionaires per head of population than any other country in the world. The business tycoon brothers who top the list are worth £11.9 billion. The Queen is ranked 285th in the list with £330 million, just £30 million more than Simon Cowell.

The Bible doesn’t condemn rich people, but it does warn against the dangers of being rich. It’s easy to trust in our riches and not to acknowledge God’s goodness to us. When Israel entered the Promised Land, God warned his people against pride and complacency. When they enjoyed the abundance of the Promised Land and became very rich, they might say to themselves, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ Instead he encouraged them to be thankful and to remember his kindness in giving them the ability to produce wealth.

It is also important to think of the future and the uncertainty of life. Jesus told a parable about a rich farmer who had a bumper harvest. He built new barns to store all his crops. Then he said to himself, “You have plenty of things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” Jesus said, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself, but is not rich towards God.”

The riches that really matter are eternal and within the reach of us all. Paul wrote, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that through his poverty you might become rich.” Jesus did not seek to enrich himself but to enrich people like us. He laid aside the amazing riches of heaven, which he had every right to enjoy, and came to this earth to die on the Cross for our sins. He did this so that, through his self-sacrifice we, who are poor and needy, might receive riches that last forever.

When we say, “I’m sorry.”

It is never easy for any of us to say, “I’m sorry.” We don’t like to admit that we have done wrong and need to seek forgiveness. Recently Rupert Murdoch has apologised to the family of Milly Dowler for things done by a News of the World employee in the hours immediately following Milly’s disappearance. A private investigator employed by the paper hacked into Milly’s phone and even deleted some messages to make room for more recordings, giving false hope to the family that the 13 year old was still alive. Mr Murdoch has personally apologised to Milly’s family and offered to donate a very large sum of money to a charity of their choice.

There is something very powerful in a heartfelt and genuine apology. It is creative and offers the possibility of a new beginning. So why do we find it so hard to say we are sorry? One reason is our pride. We don’t like to admit our mistakes to anyone; we prefer to make excuses or to blame somebody else. In some parts of the world there are shame cultures which encourage people to go to great lengths to avoid any loss of face. So it is a significant thing when a very rich and powerful man publically says, “I’m sorry”, and shows his sorrow by his actions. Perhaps you need to put right a relationship with someone by going to them and saying, “I’m sorry.”

Jesus once met a man named Zacchaeus and went to his house for a meal. Zacchaeus was a very rich tax collector. The Jewish people hated tax collectors because they had betrayed their own people by working for the Romans, who occupied their country. Many tax collectors were dishonest and collected far more tax than the Romans required. Because of this they became social outcasts.

This encounter with Jesus brought about a great change in Zacchaeus’s life. He said to Jesus, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house.” Do you need to make peace with God by asking for his forgiveness? Why not do it today? God promises forgiveness and salvation to all who confess their sins. He promises to forgive our sins and to remember them no more.

The God Who is There

On 12 April 1961, 50 years ago this week, Yuri Gagarin, the Russian cosmonaut became the first man in space. He made a 108 minute orbital flight around the earth in his Vostok 1 spacecraft. Russia won the space race to be first to put a man into space. It was a great achievement. In the following years many people have travelled in space and some have landed on the moon. Gagarin became an international celebrity, and was made Hero of the Soviet Union. Vostok 1 was his only space flight. He died in 1968 when a training jet he was piloting crashed.

After his space flight, some people claimed that Gagarin had made the comment, “I don’t see any God up here.” It seems, however, that it was the Russian President, Nikita Krushchev, who said, in promoting anti-religious propaganda, “Gagarin flew into space, but didn’t see any god there.” Just 10 years later, in September 1981, Mr Krushchev died and stood before the living God.

The wonderful message of the Bible is that God has revealed himself to all people in his Son, Jesus Christ. In John’s Gospel we read, “No-one has ever seen God, but the One and only Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known. “ When Jesus was here on earth, and ever since, human pride has been the greatest barrier to recognising who he really is. That was the problem for Mr Krushchev and the Russian state, they were so proud of their achievements that they claimed they had disproved God’s existence. In the 1st century it was the Roman and Jewish leaders who rejected Jesus precisely because of his claim to be God’s Son. In the 21st century some prominent academics proudly proclaim their atheism.

While they were at Caesarea Philippi Peter, who was one of his disciples, confessed to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you Simon, son of John, this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” On another occasion Jesus prayed, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and have revealed them to little children.” Only a few people have had the opportunity to go into space, but here on earth we can all humbly recognise and know the living God who revealed himself in Jesus Christ.