because forever is a long, long time
First, the guy I introduced in my last morning briefing has a name . . . it is Robert. Remember we were chatting at a coffee shop in San Juan Capistrano, when he told me he knew his wife hoped he would go on the Footsteps of Jesus trip (Israel) so that he would “find God.” Now that was a good piece of information! Asking questions about his thoughts on God, his thoughts on faith, I learned I was not speaking to any dumb bunny, his professional life had been spent as a financial analyst. (key word: analyst) Not surprising then that he did not think he would go to heaven just because he was a ‘good person’ as so many folks say, but rather held himself to a higher standard—to keep the Ten Commandments.1
While I do not have a transcript of our exact conversation, it rolled like this—‘So Robert, I’m curious—if keeping the 10 commandments would make us good enough to get to Heaven (that is, if we could keep them perfectly), then why was Jesus born? And more to the point, why did he have to be crucified in a brutal death?’
Not knowing, I continued. ‘After all, historical sources beyond the gospel writers tell us there was a man named Jesus who was born in Nazareth, taught around the Galilee region and did miraculous signs and wonders, so I guess you would agree on that, right?’
‘Oh my goodness, and then there are five dozen exact prophecies about Jesus Christ that were written down 500 to 700 years before Jesus—where he would born, that he would ride into town on a donkey, be put to death on a cross2 (the prophecy written before the Persians had invented crucifixion—the Romans borrowed the execution style from them)
And then, ‘you know in some of my reading, it seems that all but one of the disciples died as martyrs… I mean their deaths were brutal, Robert. They could have been spared if they just denounced Jesus, but they would not. Not only did they know him personally, see him die, but then those men saw Jesus after he rose from the dead. Well, and of course, word spread from there…’
‘I’m wondering what you think happens when we die . . . do you think there is a heaven, a hell? ‘Yeah, I kinda think there is.’
Friends, there is no richer conversation to be had than the one on life and death, heaven and hell, and the choice we can make while we yet live.
As for heaven and/or hell, there are so many published stories of people with near death experiences—those who have ‘died’ and crossed over, then were medically revived. And there will be more and more as medical science continues to advance and the dissemination of information continues at warp speed.
‘And well, Robert, we all base live our on some sort of standard, whether we realize it or not. I have found the Bible to be trustworthy, its claims true.’ There is the archaeological evidence that has been unearthed, naming people and places mentioned in Scripture—things I have seen with my own eyes!’ ‘That must be pretty amazing,’ he said. ‘Well yes, it is. You will see some of these things on our trip to Israel, but I don’t think this conversation was really meant to be about Israel after all.’ ‘No, maybe not,’ he quietly said.
I mentioned the corroborating historical sources—in whose best interest it would have been to keep quiet about Jesus, but they could not and did not. And the more time goes by, the more compatible even science and the Bible are proving to be. And certainly, the Bible tells us that, in brief, God sent Jesus to die to pay the price we could not—that is, because he was perfect and we are not. But if we place our trust in him and ask forgiveness for our sins, he will forgive us and welcome us to heaven when we die.’ And then I was quiet.
After a bit, I asked what he thought about that decision people can make to follow Jesus.
‘I think I might like to do that some time,’ he said, but he teared up as he said it.
By this time, it was close to Noon and the coffee shop was buzzing. ‘Robert, I know there are a lot of people here, but who cares? We’ll likely never see these people again. Why wouldn’t you make that decision today?’ Now tears were running down his wife’s face.
And so he did. I prayed, then he prayed. And three people cried in the middle of the coffee shop. And my coffee shop guy did indeed go to Israel with his wife and granddaughter and daughter-in-law and me. I had the humbling awesome privilege of baptizing all four of them in the Jordan River.
Does it get any better than that? I submit to you it does not.
With so much love,
Listen to this: There's Nothing--https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkK3_6SY1qY
1 – Somebody reading this is thinking, I cannot even remember what all of the commandments include—you can find them here: Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. A link: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Exodus+20%3A2-17%3B+Deuteronomy+5%3A6-21&version=NIV
2 – Psalms 22.16