Category Archives: Sermon Reflection

Commenting on sermons–usually delivered at New Horizons.

Looking Down on Deathbed Confessions

We think the wrong way about the thief on the cross, Pastor Mark Welch explained this weekend.

Someone He Could Trust Forever

You remember the story: as Jesus behaved in a gracious and forgiving way to people who were hurting and killing Him for no good reason, one thief being crucified beside Him had a change of heart. “Remember me when you come into your Kingdom,” he requested. And Jesus promised He would.

Graham Maxwell wrote that maybe that thief thought that if this Man was going to have a Kingdom, he wanted to be there. He would be a great King! He’d be Someone you could trust.

Pastor Welch stated that we normally think of this thief as a “deathbed confession,” someone who sees death approaching and only decides to repent because of it. And we think it’s great that God is able to save someone like that, but we think it must take a special effort to do so and that we are better because we repented earlier in our lives, not on our deathbeds.

How I’m Like a Pharisee

But that’s similar to the attitude that the Pharisee had in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. A tax collector and a religious leader are both praying out loud in the temple. The religious leader loudly thanks God for not making him like this sinner standing beside him. But the tax collector just sinks to his knees and pleads with God to have mercy on him, because he knows how bad he is.

And maybe we’re like the Pharisee when we look down on deathbed confessions. The fact is that God uses just as much grace to save me as to save someone who confesses on her deathbed. We both required the infinite sacrifice of His Son.

I was an enemy of God when He saved me. Up to that moment, I had wasted my life just as much as everyone else — even a deathbed confession person. I had no chance to save myself.

Grace is never based on our good works, the Bible says, so that no one can boast. So repenting a little earlier than someone else can’t make me better than them.

The Greatest Need in the World

Finally, the person who thinks he has the least need for grace needs it most.

We all need God’s grace throughout our whole lives, every day. It’s the universal human desire. People all over the world want to be let off the hook, to be treated with mercy, with leniency. We want a judge at the moment of sentencing or a police officer standing at the window to take a deep breath and say, “You know what? You’re free to go, get out of here.”

Someone who knows they’re helpless and lost and humbly asks God for help makes Heaven ring with shouts of joy, no matter when they ask.

So don’t worry about when someone else repents or is born again. We’re all nothing without God. Instead, realize that all people, from the deathbed confession person to you, need grace every single day.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)

God’s Investment School in One Lesson

Our guest speaker on January 19 was an estate planner from the SDA Iowa-Missouri conference. He explained that Jesus said (in Mark 10:29–30) that when we get to Heaven, we will receive back 100-fold of anything that we give to others while we’re here on Earth. Jesus often talked about storing up treasures in Heaven, not because treasures are bad here on Earth but because wealth here can vanish at any moment.

So when we give to others, that has eternal value stored in Heaven. Imagine if there was an investment, the pastor said, that gave you that much. A 100-fold return means a 10,000% return on investment. If you got that much on an investment, you’d want to put everything into it. That’s the “pearl of great price” that the Bible talks about, something so valuable that you will give everything you have to get it.

He read that there are four characteristics of a get-rich-quick scheme. Number one: it’s too good to be true. Number two: you have to make a decision right away without consulting anyone else. Number three: you have to use money that you can’t afford to lose. Number four: you don’t understand it the investment.

And then he said that those are also the characteristics of our investment in Heaven. Number one: it’s too good to be true, getting a 10,000% return on any good deeds or charity we do and give. Number two: you have to make a decision right away, because when do people need your help and charity? If they’re stuck, if they’re starving? They need it right away, not later.

Number three, you have to use something you can’t afford to lose. We feel like we can’t give away our material things, like the rich young ruler who didn’t want to give up his possessions after talking to Jesus. But think of it this way: Martin Luther said that he had had many things in his life and lost them all except the things that he gave to God, because those things are still his. And then the fourth one is great, which is that we really don’t understand how we can have infinite riches and eternal life because of the death of one Man. We’ll study it forever. The Bible says that even angels long to study the plan of salvation.

One thing that stood out about the sermon is that it made me think that maybe there was something literal about the idea of getting a 10,000% return on investment in Heaven; maybe it’s not just a general saying. What if there were an actual storehouse or bank in Heaven that gave out a specific reward for our giving here on Earth? That seems almost wrong to have any kind of literal rewards in Heaven. It must be figurative, right?

That’s what I always assumed, and I don’t know. But if it were literal, that wouldn’t be so bad, because not everyone has to be equal in Heaven. Some people will be totally new in the knowledge of God when they get there, whereas some will be famous saints and martyrs and even kings. But because no one will envy or covet, everyone will simply give glory to God for any gift that He gives, even when gifts are going to someone else.

So maybe it wouldn’t be wrong for literal investment returns to go to certain people. It reminds me of the Christian author Chris Blake in his book Searching for a God to Love. He wrote that God doesn’t have us practice something that we’re not going to keep doing later; in other words, we’re not going to practice charity and patience and temperance and then suddenly not use them any more in Heaven. Blake wrote that that would be like a swimming coach telling his team they were going to practice crocheting in order to get ready for the swim meet; you have to practice what you’re actually going to be performing.

So there might be a real continuity between what we do in this life and what we do and receive in Heaven. I usually have imagined that we get done with this life and then, boom, everything is different when we get to Heaven–a clean start. But if there were more of a connection between what we do here and what happens there, that would make a lot of sense. It would seem to be in keeping with the character of the Creator who makes so many cause-and-effect connections in Nature. It also reminds me of the C.S. Lewis book The Last Battle in which the main characters travel to Paradise and find a talking mouse who, because of his valor and love, is living inside an estate that actually contains a whole country inside of it–it’s bigger on the inside than the outside.

Of course, everyone in Heaven will ultimately have infinite wealth because of knowing God and being taken care of for all eternity. The scientist Dr. Buckminster Fuller wrote that wealth is not money; wealth is the ability to extend and enhance life–to travel, to learn, to contribute meaningfully, to have shelter, food, friends, and the like. So we’ll all really have infinite wealth in Heaven and the New Earth, even if people have different specific rewards when we first arrive. Not everyone has to be the same! God loves variety. And with no envy or pride, we will, too.

The pastor also stated that the saddest story in the Bible, to him, as an estate planner, is the story of Achan. Achan stole from God when God told the Israelites to give all the treasures of Jericho to the temple. Achan kept some for himself. He was discovered and stoned (along with his whole family). What’s so sad about this, the pastor said, was that if he had waited a few weeks, he would have been rich beyond his wildest dreams: the children of Israel were simply given all the lands of the Canaanites. Achan would have had vineyards and houses and more. So stealing from God was really also destroying his own wealth and inheritance.

It’s not easy to give; we want to be sure we’re safe and we can provide for those close to us. That’s prudent. But we’re also building a great inheritance for ourselves on the New Earth when we take care of others, following the example of Jesus’ perfect life.

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)