BETWEEN HEAVEN AND EARTH
By Edgar Jone
The master of a great plantation had two sons. He loved them dearly and planned to share the plantation with them when they had completed their education. He therefore sent both away to the University and told them they would inherit the plantation after they returned.
They completed their schooling, both graduating with honors. Then the elder returned to the plantation where he committed himself to the work his Father gave him to do. But the younger did not return. Instead, he sent word that he had become very attached to life in the University and felt he could accomplish much more by pursuing a career there than by returning to the plantation.
Accordingly, the younger worked his way through graduate school and obtained a position on the faculty as a professor of Christian Ethics. He married and established a home and family. In time he advanced his career becoming, first the Chairman of the Department of Christian Ethics and finally, President of the University. Many marveled at his wonderful accomplishments and a whole generation of students and educators praised him for his contribution to their lives, to the University, to the State and to humanity. The new library was named for him and there was a great banquet in his honor.
About that time the father retired and placed the plantation in the possession of the elder son, who had served him well. When the younger heard of it, he was enraged. He then telephoned his father to express his displeasure.
"Father", he said, "You told me that I was to share in the inheritance. Now you have given everything to my brother who has never accomplished anything in the world, whereas I have made our name famous and have done much good for many. This is not right!
"Son," said the father, "I do you no wrong. Your inheritance was dependent upon your returning to me so we would together enjoy the fruits of our labors. Your brother fulfilled all my will for him, whereas you have done nothing of all the things I wanted you to do. The plantation is therefore his, whereas you have your life in the world for your consolation.
In like manner, our Father in heaven only wants us to come to him, that we may find fulfillment in his house and in his Glory. He has promised that we will inherit his kingdom when we do this. There is nothing we can accomplish here on this earth that will please him while he only wants us to return to him, except those things that contribute to the return of his children. Jesus set this forth in many ways, by parable and precept. It is a truth that is fundamental to his Parable of the Prodigal Son, wherein it is clearly shown that the son could do absolutely nothing in the far country that would please his father who wanted only one thing of him -- that he arise and come come. We will show, below, how this works out in the Word of Jesus, which is the Logos of God. The bottom line is simple: we must choose between heaven and earth!
Jesus teaches this by means of utterances that focus on different subjects and by his personal example. Here we will examine five of these subjects together with the related utterances to demonstrate the truth that, in the Word of Jesus, which is the Logos of God, one must make this radical choice. These are life, parentage, values, rewards and honors.
This little word, "life," standing alone and unqualified, has its equivalents in every language so that there is never any need to enter into an extended discussion as to what it means. It is what one loses when one is killed or otherwise dies through any means, natural or unnatural. Furthermore, it is the fundamental thing that gives meaning to everything, for apart from life everything of concern to human beings is non existent, including the human beings. So, when Jesus spoke of his anticipated death by crucifixion, he spoke of it as being "killed":Mark 8He also explained this event, and his submission to it, in terms of a choice concerning life:
31 And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.Mark 8As Jesus moved toward the consummation of his life on earth, prior to his death, the question that was ever before him is, would he save his life or give it up? Would he willingly lay it down? Lose it? This is the question with which he struggled throughout the night in Gethsemane. The result was that he did not save his life, so therefore according to the principle he gave it up for the sake of the gospel and in so doing he saved it. But is not this a conundrum? How could he save his life by losing it?
35 For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.
The Fourth Gospel expresses this principle in different terms that come to our aid in seeking the answer to this question:John 12Now we see! Whoever saves his life in this world will lose it because he loves it. But whoever hates his life in this world by giving it up for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, as Jesus himself did on the cross, will save it for a different kind of life -- for life that is eternal. Note that it is life "in this world" that one will lose if one saves, or loves it. It is eternal life that one keeps in its stead. But this eternal life is a life that one receive, not in this age, but in the age that is to come:
25 He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal lifeMark 10This "in this world" life is the life that we live out on the earth, as Jesus of Nazareth lived in Palestine two thousand years ago. This eternal life, to be received "in the age to come" is life with the Father who is in heaven, to whom Jesus went when he left the earth saying,
30 who will not receive a hundred fold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.John 17Therefore, like Jesus, all who would follow him must make a choice between heaven and earth in regard to life itself. If we choose to save the life on earth, we will lose the life in heaven, the life with Jesus and the Father in the age to come. It is a choice we all make, either to save our lives on earth or to give them up in some way for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, just as Jesus gave up his life on earth by going to the cross to "be killed."
11 And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.
We must choose, we do choose, between heaven and earth. This is all in accord with the Word of Jesus that we designate The Great Principle.
When Jesus set forth a reason for keeping the most radical commandments of the Sermon on the Mount, it was with the following words:Matthew 5The reason his disciples must love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them is "so that you may be the sons of your Father who is in heaven." The connection is implicit, for the Father deals mercifully and without discrimination with all who are on the earth, both the evil and the good, the unjust and the just. His children are therefore those who do likewise. It is a small thing to love our friends and pray for those who care for us, so this does not qualify us to be children of Father in heaven. But to also pray for those who persecute us and to love our enemies, that is imitating the Father and it is that imitation in word, deed, and attitude that makes one a child of the Father. As Jesus immediately explained,
44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.Matthew 5We note how Jesus does not present this as optional for those who would be children of the Father in heaven. You, therefore, MUST be perfect (complete, mature), as your heavenly Father is perfect, if you would qualify to be his child.
46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
47 And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
48 You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
From this we can derive a definition of a child, or son, of the Father who is in heaven. A child of God is one who imitates God in his deed, attitudes, and words. Those who do not thus do the deeds, or works, of the Father is heaven are not his children.
This definition of sonship comes forth again most clearly in the Fourth Gospel confrontation of Jesus with "those Jews who had believed in him." Here is the utterance:John 8A son of Abraham is one who does what Abraham did. With this definition, we can see that it also applies to sonship to the Father in heaven. Those only are God's children who do what God does.
39 They answered him, "Abraham is our father." Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham's children, you would do what Abraham did, . . .
Jesus asserted the same association of deeds to establish his own relationship as a son of the Father who is in heaven:John 5But the merciful deeds of the Father towards his enemies on earth are a radical departure from any deeds that earthly parents do. One who conforms to the deeds of the Father does not, therefore, conform to the deeds of earthly parents. This means that such a one, who is shown by his deeds to be a son of the Father in heaven, also shows by his deeds that he is not or is no longer a son of that father who is on earth. The resulting alienation is described by Jesus as an absolute qualification for discipleship in the following words:
19 Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise.Luke 14Again, as above, a choice is mandated between heaven and earth! One must "hate his own father" (the one on the earth) to qualify as a disciple of Jesus and a child of the Father who is in heaven. Jesus put this together simply and precisely with this saying:
26 "If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.Matthew 23Never has it been heard that a child chose its earthly parents; yet here Jesus reveals that that is precisely what everyone must do who would be a child of the Father in heaven. We must choose Him in the place of the earthly parent. The evidence of our choice will show up in our deeds as acts of mercy, even toward our enemies..
9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.
Therefore, the parental choice is between heaven and earth and it is a choice that everyone makes, either for earth or heaven. Actually, most people in Christendom ignore the words of Jesus in this regard and claim both the earthly and heavenly parent, which is impossible to realize in truth.
What do we truly value in our hearts? Do we value the life that we have here on the earth, or do we value the eternal life that is the life of the children of the Father who is in heaven? We cannot value both, for that would result in an impossible division within our hearts. Jesus mandate this choice of values with the following words:Matthew 6When we look only at v. 19, we think of treasure on the earth in terms of substantive things such as fine clothing, jewelry, homes, money, and all the things money can buy. But v. 20 corrects our thinking immediately because it is in no case possible to lay these things up in heaven. So what are the heavenly treasures? Are they not eternal life in heaven together with the Father and all his children? Do they not consist of the rewards that Jesus has described, the rewards that are held in heaven for those that follow Jesus on the earth? The earthly treasure must then be extended to include the earthly father and the earthly family, must they not? Surely people on earth and of the earth treasure their families and other relatives, do they not?
19 "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal,
20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.
21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Again, Jesus is mandating a choice between heaven and earth. What we treasure, or value, determines where we have set our hearts. Everyone chooses where to set the heart and it is either in heaven or on earth. It absolutely cannot be both, for, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
The desire for rewards is near universal. Men, women and children love to receive praise, recognition, titles, honors and rewards of all kinds. There is nothing evil about that desire, and Jesus never said anything to condemn it. This desire seems to be an essential part of what we are as human beings on the earth. When we examine our past lives on the earth, beginning as children who were rewarded for good behavior with a favorite goodie, a birthday party or just a little money to spend in the candy store, and continuing with our adult aspirations for such things as wage increases and promotions as rewards for good performance -- and for public recognition of our achievements, we see how intimately our lives have been expended in the quest for various rewards.
To repeat, this is a part of being human and Jesus never said a word to condemn us for this desire. But he did most radically redirect it -- from earth to heaven. Further, he teaches that a choice is mandated, for those who get their rewards on earth will not get them in heaven! Let's look at a key utterance here.Luke 6We have here two subsets of individuals. On the one hand are those who are poor, hungering, and weeping now, and whom men are now hating, reviling, and excluding here on the earth. To them Jesus announced, "Your reward is great in heaven." We must recognize that this reward is not automatic because it does not apply to everyone who is poor, sorrowing and hated by men. These things qualify one for the reward in heaven only when they are "on account of the Son of man" as specified in v. 22.
20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 "Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. "Blessed are you that weepnow, for you shall laugh.
22 "Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man!
23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
24 "But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.
25 "Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger. "Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
26 "Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
Then there is this radically different subset, those individuals who are rich now, who are full now, who laugh now and of whom all men are now speaking well. These have received their reward here on the earth. This Jesus acknowledges by saying to them, "You have received your consolation."
We can safely conclude that we have here another mandated choice between heaven and earth. Where do you want your reward? If it is received on earth, it will not be received in heaven; indeed, for these there is only woe hereafter.
So, which will it be? Will it be heaven, or earth? Where and when do we want our reward? We decide, and we decide right now, here in the midst of our lives on the earth.
Jesus returned to this theme many times, for it is extremely important and he wants to leave us with no excuse for failing to understand. Here, for example, is yet another utterance, one related to those above:Matthew 6Does not this inform us clearly that our piety gets no reward from the Father who is in heaven , when we get a reward from men on the earth? Therefore he counseled us to do all our pious acts in secret. We certainly get no reward from our Father if we do them openly, specifically that men may see us doing them!
1 "Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
An example: Taking a moment, before eating in a public restaurant, to openly bow the head and offer thanks for food. Given that it is very acceptable to offer thanksgiving to God within our own minds and hearts without the open display, why does anyone do this if not to be seen by men?
Oh, I see. You do not do this for the reward of men's approval, but to be a witness to God's loving providence? Sounds great until we stop to recognize that what you are really witnessing too is your own disobedience to your Lord who said,Matthew 6Now do you see? When you do it openly, whatever your motivation, you will indeed be rewarded with an approving look from the other "Christians" who are in the restaurant. Were you lunching with your pastor? He not only approves, but demands it. You will enhance your reputation among men as a "godly person" or a person of faith. But you then have no reward from your Father who is in heaven, for you have already received it here on the earth.
5 "And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Jesus gave a very important teaching that the churchmen love to ignore. It goes as follows:Luke 14The "resurrection of the just" is the rising of the children of the Father to join him in his heavenly glory, in heaven itself. Don't we want our reward there? Then we must order our deeds and charities carefully to the end that we do not get rewarded on the earth. Only then will we receive a reward at the resurrection of the just.
12 He said also to the man who had invited him, "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid.
13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind,
14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just."
The choice is between heaven and earth. Where do we want to receive our rewards? It will be one or the other for it cannot be both.
To be called an honorable man or woman -- isn't that a worthy goal for all? Throughout our lives we are taught and encouraged to strive for good reputation and high esteem among men and women everywhere. We strive for a "good name" and are ashamed if we do anything that lowers us in the esteem of our friends and neighbors. We admire others who are highly honored at any level, and especially those who receive high honors at a national level. The nations make provisions for recognizing those who are most highly esteemed. There is, for example, the Congressional Gold Medal that the U. S. Congress awards to especially deserving individuals who are high in the esteem of the American people, and the Congressional Medal of Honor that is awarded for military valor.
These are the highest honors of the nation and they are rarely awarded, usually going to individuals who are widely known for either their civilian accomplishments or their military exploits. But honor at any level is highly prized. Charlie Jones was a poor farmer, unknown outside his small circle of friends and relatives, who prized his good name above all things. I forget the occasion, but I remember him drawing me to him when I was but a small boy and saying, "You are Charlie Jones' son and you can hold your head up with pride wherever you go!" And I did.
So, human beings value their good name, their reputations, the high esteem of their fellows perhaps more than any other thing. And the things that destroy a good name are all surely bad things: dishonesty, criminal action, infidelity, desertion of responsibilities, lack of patriotism and treason are all things that produce dishonor, and they are all surely bad things . . . aren't they?
Then how can we accept these words of Jesus, spoken to the Pharisees?
15 But he said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts; for what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
The simple fact is that people do not accept these words. They ignore them. This applies especially to the churchmen, most of whom receive or give honors to one another and who honor those who are further honored outside the church, among the people of the world. They tend to ignore them because they don't know what to do with them. This is all the more trying because the words are so simple and easy to understand!
"What is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God."
No matter how hard we try, we just cannot make a mystery of this statement. It says what it says! Even the "what" finds a clear definition in the context, for it applies to those persons, the Pharisees, who "justify yourselves before men." Then, when they have justified themselves before men, they will be exalted among men, honored, persons of high repute -- and they are by that become abominations in the sight of God.
The scribes, another subset of the Jewish religious leadership, came in for their share of the anger of Jesus because of this very thing. He once addressed his disciples, in the hearing of all the people, as follows:Luke 20These characteristics of the scribes reveal individuals who are also greatly concerned with justifying themselves before men. They dress and look important and seek out the places of honor. It is interesting to observe that every one of these characteristics is widely manifested, in general, by modern clergymen. They go about in long robes, love to be greeted by their special titles when on the street and they are usually found seated in the most honored seats in the churches. They often find a special place at the church dinners and . . . yes, they devour widows houses because their salaries consist, in part, of the contributions of the poor widows in their congregations.
46 "Beware of the scribes, who like to go about in long robes, and love salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts,
47 who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."
"What is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God."
It follows that what is exalted on the earth is an abomination in heaven. Jesus also told a parable to illustrate the principles at work here:Luke 14If follows, does it not, that everyone who exalts himself on earth will be humbled hereafter, and whoever humbles himself on earth (for the sake of the gospel) will be exalted in heaven. Like many churchmen, the disciples of Jesus were not immune to seeking honors, even among themselves. Jesus noted this and scolded them accordingly:
8 "When you are invited by any one to a marriage feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest a more eminent man than you be invited by him;
9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, 'Give place to this man,' and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place.
10 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, 'Friend, go up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.
11 For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."Mark 9They were slow to get the message. Shortly afterwards we find two of them involved in the following effort to exalt themselves:
33 And they came to Caper'na-um; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you discussing on the way?"
34 But they were silent; for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest.
35 And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, "If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all."Mark 10Luke recalls another of Jesus' stories that adds more weight to all of this:
35 And James and John, the sons of Zeb'edee, came forward to him, and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you."
36 And he said to them, "What do you want me to do for you?"
37 And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory."
38 But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?"
39 And they said to him, "We are able." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;
40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared."
41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John.
42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.
43 But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant,
44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.
45 For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
"What is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God."Luke 18Jesus consistently set the example for his disciples throughout the world and throughout the ages. There were times when men sought to honor him, but he turned away from them each time, as in the following event:
10 "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
12 I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.'
13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'
14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."
"What is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God."John 6He had already given this explanatory statement:
14 When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!"
15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.John 5In the same context, he then proceeded to rebuke his Jewish enemies:
41 I do not receive glory from men.John 5We see that the quest for glory and honor are not condemned within themselves, but what is condemned is the quest of these things "from one another" on the earth, rather than from the Father in heaven. And Jesus has assured us that we will indeed be honored by the Father when we follow him in the way of the cross:
44 How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?John 12:The way of the cross is on the earth, and it is the way of humiliation before men and rejection by men. But we have his assurance that all who follow him in this way will receive honor from the Father himself, and it is to be fulfilled in heaven where Jesus, the ultimate example of humiliation on earth, now sits at the right hand of the Father. He is the most highly exalted and honored of all persons for his honor and glory comes from the Father himself.
26 If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him.
James, the brother of the Lord, confirmed this with his firm assertion:James 4So also, the foremost apostle in his epistles said the same:
10 Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.1 Peter 5What men honor, God abhors!
6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you.
"What is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God."
The Inversion Maxim rules. Whoever loves life on the earth will not receive the eternal life that is in the age to come, in heaven.
Whoever subscribes to the earthly parent and to the earthly heritage will have no Father in heaven and no heavenly inheritance.
Whoever loves wealth and lays up treasure on the earth will find none in heaven.
Whoever receive his rewards from men on the earth will find no reward from the Father in heaven.
Whoever receives honors from men on the earth will receive no honor from the Father in heaven.
It is earth or heaven! Ours the choice.
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