A utopia is an imagined place on earth where everything is perfect. A place untouched by the reality of troubles. In the past, Monasteries were built, thinking isolation would create a greater environment where a person could find God more readily. That if they could get away from what takes them down, life would be better, more heaven-like.
Interesting that the original meaning of the word utopia is: no place or nowhere. It was a pun to say no place like this exists. And yet, man has always sought his Shangri-La.
Last week I quoted a Reformed Jewish Rabbi in his thoughts about heaven. He said: “The ultimate goal is that we will recreate paradise. We’re not in the business of getting to heaven. We’re in the business of bringing heaven down to earth. The Garden of Eden here in this world, that will be heaven on earth.”
Which raises the question: was that really God’s intention in His plan of redemption? An artificial world that doesn’t exist? To redeem people so they can better enjoy their stay on earth? Was God’s focus on the comfort and pleasure of His children in a temporary setting by making earth a better place to live or, as Jesus said, John 16:33 These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world."
It would seem Jesus had the greater insight. Until this world is finally transformed when God creates the New Heaven and New Earth, there will be tribulation. So, what would be the more important message? For us to learn how we can be at peace while living within tribulation or to hope for a trouble-free life where peace is only possible when there is no tribulation? Which is consistent with the total message of the Gospel? Which reflects best on the goodness of God?
The problem is: we live in a fallen world. As long as that problem remains, we will have tribulation: sickness, accidents, problems, trials, tests and temptations. None of that is going away. So, since we have a lifetime of 70, 80 or 90 years to consider, how do we live in a tribulation-based world?
Heb 13:9 Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace,
You’ll hear often in the Bible not to listen to false teaching, teaching that has departed from truth and is filled with man’s desire of what he wants to be true. It’s not just the Reformed Jewish Rabbi who wants Utopia. You’ll hear it every day by Christian Media. Preachers preaching a false message to people who want their tribulations to go away.
Tribulations are not going away. That’s why Jesus promised to give us what we need in our tribulations.
Don’t get caught up in the strange teaching of constant happiness, prosperity and plenty. The message that God wants you happy, healthy and prosperous isn’t consistent with Jesus’ message of tribulation. Teaching everyone has the right to be healed is a false hope for those God is using their illness to take them home. Thinking we must have no troubles will cause us to doubt God’s sufficiency in our lives. We are hoping to be supported by something that will not support us.
The number one lesson for new steel workers on high rise buildings is not to lean into the wind. You think it’s supporting you, but when it stops, you’re coming down. It’s putting faith in something temporary.
That’s like measuring our lives by our circumstances. Good circumstances don’t necessarily mean the favor of God, just like bad circumstances don’t mean He has withdrawn His favor. Both will change. We need a constant. That’s where grace comes in.
Grace – the work of God in us, not because of anything we do or deserve. It is His goodness on our behalf. God doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Him accomplishing in us what we are incapable of doing on our own.
The writer said we were to be strengthened by grace. How are we strengthened by Grace? By needing it. We look at our tribulations and cry out to God for help, and the strengthening comes.
1Pet 4:12-13 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.
We rejoice with exultation at the revelation of His glory as we experience fiery ordeals. The Revelation of the Glory of God is the moment when we are able to say: God is here. This is a God moment. Like when the Temple was filled with the glory of God, the presence of God was so thick the priests couldn’t operate. They just had to stand back and be amazed. Can we see the glory of God even in tribulation? Can we expect God’s grace to show up in the midst of fiery ordeals? That’s what Peter said.
Because we remain in this tribulation-based, fallen world, God promises to manifest His glory in our lives. We’ll experience the peace that passes our understanding. We’ll see His Grace sufficient for all we need. Why didn’t God remove Paul’s thorn? Needing the Lord kept Paul actively connected to Him.
The Lord knew what would happen to the people when they felt the struggle was over.
Deut 6:10-12 Then it shall come about when the LORD your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied, then watch yourself, that you do not forget the LORD who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
Believe it or not, willingness to honor the Lord is more of a struggle in good times than in bad times. Our tendency is to forget the goodness of God soon after we experience the goodness of God. That was God’s concern. Once the struggle was over, His people would forget how much they needed Him.
One day Jesus healed ten lepers. Only one came back to thank Him. Why not the other nine? They got what they wanted and moved on.
Can you imagine what would happen if heaven on earth was His goal? If He promised us a trouble-free live? It wouldn’t take long before His own people would lose their need and then their desire for Him altogether. If that happened, history proves they would then seek out different ways to satisfy their own desires without Him.
That’s the recurring theme in the Book of Judges: Judges 2:11-19 Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals, and they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the LORD to anger. So they forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtaroth. The anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and He gave them into the hands of plunderers who plundered them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies around them, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. Wherever they went, the hand of the LORD was against them for evil, as the LORD had spoken and as the LORD had sworn to them, so that they were severely distressed. Then the LORD raised up judges who delivered them from the hands of those who plundered them. Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they played the harlot after other gods and bowed themselves down to them. They turned aside quickly from the way in which their fathers had walked in obeying the commandments of the LORD; they did not do as their fathers. When the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge and delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed and afflicted them. But it came about when the judge died, that they would turn back and act more corruptly than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them and bow down to them; they did not abandon their practices or their stubborn ways.
God used tribulation to accomplish a greater work. James 1:2-3 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
There are some things God cannot work out in our lives without trials.
Mule and the 2x4. He’s great to obey. You just have to get his attention first.
The way God designed the earth to work is with a dynamic tension between the upward call and the downward bent. You hear it in the comparisons: light/darkness, life/death, good/evil, righteous/unrighteous. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
On earth there is a continuous, downward tug to life. Even in the People of God. A bent toward submitting to our lower desires rather than surrendering to the call of God for an uplifted life. That bent is working with our self-serving desires against God’s greater good.
Hos 11:7 So My people are bent on turning from Me. Though they call them to the One on high, none at all exalts Him.
Ps 78:57 But they turned back and acted treacherously like their fathers; They turned aside like a treacherous bow.
Hos 7:16 They turn, but not upward, They are like a deceitful bow;
Treacherous and deceitful bows are both the same: a bow bent or twisted cannot be trusted. It will not shoot straight. Using it will cause you to miss the target every time. It’s the wording behind Rom 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
It is the picture of an archer missing a target. What causes him to miss? He’s using a bow that won’t shoot straight. Sin has bent or twisted his bow. No matter how often he shoots, he can never hit the target.
Paul is saying the target is the intention of God. Because of sin, we’ll miss it every time. Man by his own strength, intellect or will cannot bring about the glory of God, the presence of God to produce His work in us.
There is a recurrent word in Scripture – should. It’s usually combined with the word do or go or be. It carries an expected action. We should do something or should go somewhere or we should be someone who reflects something. The implication is: the should is the right thing to do. But the should is always in competition with the bent.
The should eyes the target but the bent because of the tug of worldliness pulls the arrow away from it. So, unless there is an overwhelming change to the power of worldliness, we will continue to miss. But, we can’t blame the bow as much as we have to blame ourselves for trusting in something bent toward missing.
Gravity existed before Newton made his discovery with the apple. Once he gave the force a name, he understood things he had never imagined before. Suddenly aspects of life made sense.
Learning we have a bent toward worldliness, is an important discovery. We now know why we do certain things, act a certain way and enjoy inappropriate pleasures, even as Christians. Something within us leans in the direction of a fallen world. It is our inner desire to seek fulfillment from a source that cannot supply us with what we need.
A tribe in South America was discovered that had great deficiencies in their health. Their primary diet came from a particular plant that grew well in the jungle yet it had no nutritional value to them. They were full and temporarily satisfied, but not nourished and suffered because of it.
Jesus was clear. The world cannot satisfy the longing in the heart for peace. In the world you can expect tribulation, only He could promise peace. Within God’s plan, He chose that instead of removing the tribulation, He would provide us the means to be at peace within the tribulation.
Heb 12:1 Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
Encumbrance – something bulging or bending from a load weighing us down.
Entangle – being interfered with in a race, something or someone is getting in our way.
These are the effects of the fallen world and our bent toward it. Unless we lay aside what’s in the way, by denying the bent the right to dictate our response to our fallen desires, it will interfere with how we live and enjoy our lives.
That’s what Jesus knew would happen.
So, if living out our Christian life can be encumbered or entangled by an inner bent toward worldly desires getting in our way, and the world has no intention of getting out of our way and leaving us alone, how can we ever expect the paradise of God to be on earth?
Pull back the curtain and look at what’s really behind this. The earth is the domain of the prince of the power of the air. His mission is to steal, kill and destroy. Until he is removed at the end of time, tribulation will continue.
Which is the purpose of Jesus’ prayer: John 17:15-16 I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil [within the world]. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
Scripture never teaches that God intends to make the world a Utopia. But it does promise we can live in the world with joy and peace. The promises, provisions and purposes of God far exceed what a fallen world can take away. Therefore, God must have more in mind than heaven on earth.
Here it is: Rom 14:17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
If we’re looking for Utopia – Heaven on earth – we’ll miss the greater privilege of what God has promised.
This world isn’t designed for our happiness, pleasure or well-being. We cannot expect it to satisfy all our needs. It’s full of tribulation, which is designed to show us Jesus is our only answer for life to have meaning and purpose. In the world we will experience tribulation but in Him we can have peace. We will find happiness, pleasure and well-being in our lives, but never as an end in themselves. They will show up as we desire to honor the Lord who reigns in, over and through our lives.
- Heaven on earth is a pitiful limitation to the scope of God’s ultimate plan through redemption.
- It is a self-centered desire for pleasure instead of peace.
- Because Jesus knew what life would be like, the provisions for that life were included in our salvation.
- Scripture guarantees we have everything we need for whatever we face.
- That beats Heaven on earth any day.