Selected highlights from this sermon.
In three short verses in 2 Corinthians, Paul gives us three contrasts of the invisible versus the visible world.
1. Outer bodies and inner nature
2. Suffering and glory
3. Seen and unseen
He reminds us that the visible world is wasting away, and that our suffering can’t compare with the glory that awaits us in the invisible world. Therefore, we need to keep our focus on eternity.
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The message today is entitled The Invisible World, and actually Living in Two Worlds. I think it was in 1897 that H.G. Wells wrote his famous novel entitled The Invisible Man. In that novel through various experiments a man was able to make himself invisible but the problem was he could not reverse the process and that’s where the intrigue began.
I heard a story about a doctor and his receptionist said, “You know, Doctor, in the waiting room there is an invisible man,” and the doctor said, “Well, tell him I can’t see him right now.” (laughter)
Well, there is an invisible world. It’s the world of God and angels and demons and heaven and hell, and it’s the world that we’re going to be exploring in this series of messages. And rather than this simply being theology and an exploration that might become theoretical, what we’re going to do is to actually look into the Scriptures and see people who encountered the invisible world, and what they learned as a result of it. Whether it’s Jacob who is asleep outside in the wasteland and discovers that God is in that place, or whether it is John. Near the end of the series we’ll talk about his vision of heaven. We’re going to be exploring the invisible world through the experiences of people, and I hope that you make sure you are a part of this series. Today as we talk about life in both worlds, I’m going to begin with the problem of sorrow and affliction and unanswered questions because you and I know that in this world with all of its pain and suffering, unless we have a good vision of the invisible world, we are very hopeless indeed. But all of us, even though we believe God is good, and even though we believe His promises, we’ve got all kinds of issues and problems that we are seeking answers for, and many of those answers will not come to us in this life. How do we put up with that and how do we do it?
My wife and I have had the privilege of being in Paris, France, and we’ve been next to the Eiffel Tower. If you were to look at the Eiffel Tower say from three feet away, what you would see is rusty steel and all kinds of bolts and rivets. Quite frankly, it looks ugly. But if you back away, say, a half a mile and look at the Eiffel Tower, then you can see its symmetry and its beauty and you know that those ugly rusty bolts and the steel actually are a part of a much larger, much grander plan and picture. That’s what we’re going to do in this message. We’re going to look at matters up close, the visible world, and then we’re going to back up and we’re going to see the invisible world and see how the invisible world informs the visible, and we’re going to get the short perspective, the narrow perspective, but also the long-term perspective. That’s where we are going.
The passage of Scripture is 2 Corinthians 4, and I do hope that you brought your Bibles with you as you do all the time I am sure. In 2 Corinthians 4 the Apostle Paul reminds us that no matter how difficult life is we should not lose heart. As a matter of fact, he mentions that twice in chapter 4 that we should not lose heart. And he talks about his own struggles and his own trials, how there is so much opposition and yet he keeps going. And then he says in 2 Corinthians 4:16, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” What he has in this passage are three contrasts, the contrast between the material world and the immaterial world, the seen world and the unseen world, and those are the contrasts that we are going to look at today because we do live in both worlds.
The first contrast that Paul mentions there, and we’ve already read it, is the contrast between the outer nature that is wasting away, and the inner nature that is being renewed day by day. First of all, let’s talk about the outer nature. Let’s talk about our bodies. Old age, as you and I know, is irreversible, it is visible, and it is continuous. We’re told that the process of death happens as soon as you are born and there’s nothing that you can do to reverse it, and to reverse the final verdict of our mortality, and that is death. You can’t get out of it.
Today we live in a time that I would describe as the cult of the body. The cult of the body is that the only thing that really matters is the body–how you look and how you feel. And everybody wants to live real long, but nobody wants to grow old, so they’re in the midst of that dilemma. But when death comes, there will be nothing you can do to stop it. You can argue against it. You can steel your will against it. You can have all the optimism in the world, and when death comes there you will be, and there’s no way out of that event.
So, first of all we look at the visible world, our bodies. But then Paul says the inner world–the inner nature-is being renewed day by day. You know, for those of you who are investigating Christianity you should remember that Christianity is very unique because it teaches that God actually comes to dwell in the human heart and to give us a new nature. This is known as the new birth, and because of that new birth there is within us a transformation of our desires, our aptitudes, and who we are, because this change has been wrought in our hearts by God. It changes what we love, and it changes what we hate. And this new nature that is implanted in us by God, with all of the struggles still of the old nature, is being renewed day by day even as the outer world is wasting away, because your inner world is part of the invisible world. As a matter of fact, in this series I hope to preach a message just on the human soul because it’s part of the invisible world, but it also connects with the visible world. It is really part of both worlds.
So the Apostle Paul is saying here, “Though our outer man perishes, the inner is renewed.” You know, those who work with older people say that when some people become senile they’ll actually become very angry, very obstinate, very difficult to get along with, and maybe even vulgar. And it has been said, and it is probably true, though I don’t want to say too much about that and make heavy weather of it, but it’s probably true that that nature is the true person. It’s just that as they were living they were able because of social restraints to keep that all inside.
But there is another aspect and that is that there are Christians who have become old and their body has become weary and they have entered into even senility but it has been sweet senility. Their inner nature is still being renewed day by day, being prepared for heaven.
Something else about Christianity is it’s the only religion that has an answer to the problem of guilt. And the soul that you brought with you today, and the stain of sin and regret that we spend so much time denying because that inner nature, being renewed and being cleansed by God, day by day, is being fitted for its heavenly existence. So Paul says that the first contrast is between the inner nature that is being renewed day by day and the outer nature that is decaying.
There’s a second contrast and that is between the suffering of this present world and the glory. Now listen to this. He says in verse 17, “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” Wow! The imagery that I like to think of when I read this is of a scale. Now some of you teenagers need this explained to you. There used to be scales that I was aware of when I was growing up as a boy that really had weights on them, so you had this balance. Over here, you know, you could put a two-pound weight, for example, a two-pound weight of iron, and on this side then you’d put enough meat to balance it and so you’d know that you had two pounds of meat. I just want you to visualize it, and I see it very clearly in my mind because there was this grocer that my parents were at, and as a boy I looked at this scale. It had kind of a bowl on one side with a little hole in it, and I put my finger in there, and the store keeper was not at all pleased with me, and I therefore remember these scales with a clarity that I am trying to forget. (laughter)
Now what Paul is saying is, “Take one side of the scale (and let’s call it afflictions) and fill it up.” How would you fill it? Maybe cancer–maybe terminal cancer! Maybe heart problems! Maybe unemployment! Maybe a ruptured relationship! Maybe a divorce! Perhaps poverty! The abuse that you endured as a child! Just take all of your afflictions and put it on this side of the scale, every single affliction. And then on the other side of the scale what you do is you put the eternal weight of glory, which is the imagery here, which Paul is using. And Paul says that because of the comparison the scale would go plunk. It would be like putting a fly on one side and an elephant on the other. There is no comparison to the world to come-the invisible world in which we shall have an eternal weight of glory. And if you ask the question, “What is that eternal weight of glory?” I believe that it is not only the fact that we will have glorified bodies and be in the presence of God, when we finally know that we mean something to God, that He loves us, and that His attention is on us, and He enjoys our company and our fellowship with no sin to intervene, that will be our glory to His honor, to His praise, and it is an eternal weight beyond all comparison.
I think when I look at the text, Paul has a couple of other ideas in mind too, based especially on Romans 8. I think that Paul is saying that it is not just that we are going to enter into glory. But he would also I think agree that affliction makes us desire the glory. Affliction makes us desire the glory. You know, if you go to a refugee camp and you find Christians there, many of whom will perhaps starve to death, or die in terrible situations, they will be singing and thinking and praying about heaven all the time. Here in America if you are healthy and well and young, you think of heaven only as a concept. But when you are close to heaven and when your loved ones have gone on, you begin to think that affliction indeed breeds within you this wonderful desire for glory.
But I think there’s even more in the text, and that is this: What Paul is really saying is the more affliction, the more glory. That’s why he says in Romans 8, “The suffering of this present world is not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.”
Oh, I say to you today, if you are out of fellowship with Jesus because life is hard, if you are walking distantly because you feel that you have been dealt such a wrong card, and you see everybody else prosper and you’ve been overlooked, and because of your background and circumstances, life is tough, I urge you today to draw near to Jesus because God will make it up to you a thousand times in the invisible world to come. Can you believe that?
Paul is saying that no matter how much we go through in this life, this is not the end. There is glory coming and the greater the affliction, the greater the glory. That should make even the most defeated, angry Christian smile. It is going to get better.
Now there’s a third contrast. The first is the inner versus the outer. The second is the suffering versus the glory that is to come in the invisible world, and by the way, this invisible world that we are talking about is going to become very, very visible. I was going to point this out at the beginning. Just because we are talking about the invisible world does not mean it is somehow an unreal world. It is as real as this world and someday we shall become a part of it and experience it.
And there’s a final contrast and that is, Paul says, that the difference is between what is seen and unseen. We pick it up again here in the text in verse 18: “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, they are temporal, but the things that are unseen, they are eternal.” Imagine that! You see that the Apostle Paul says that this world is targeted for destruction. It is transient.
Over in New York they have a new World Trade Center building, and I am sure that it has been built very well, especially considering what happened at 9/11, but that building, and all the buildings of the world, are actually scheduled for ultimate destruction. This world and all that is in it will be destroyed. What a tragedy to look only at the things that are seen. If you are not a Christian today, I feel sorry for you because your life basically is limited to that, to whatever it is that you can see–cars, computers, houses, money in the bank, gold reserved for a rainy day. I mean, you know, that’s it.
Listen to what the Bible predicts, and if it’s in the Bible we know that it’s going to happen. Listen! This is in 2 Peter 3:10: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God because of which the heavens will be set on fire, and dissolved and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn?”
Wow! But according to his promise we are waiting for a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. This earth is going to be destroyed. It will be recreated as part of the new earth. But just imagine it. I have to read the next verse too: “Therefore beloved, since you are waiting for these (and I hope you are), be diligent to be found in him without spot or blemish and be at peace.” And then he says, “Don’t consider the Lord and count the patience of our Lord as salvation.” In other words, just because it hasn’t happened doesn’t mean it isn’t going to.
Perhaps I already explained this to you in another context but I’ll say it again. How sure are we that this is going to happen? How sure are you that Jesus died and rose again? “Well,” you say, “I’m very sure about that.” Well at that time that was just prophesy. Now it’s history. The day is coming when this also that I have just read will be history. It will happen, and all that will remain is the invisible world of God, angels, demons and you and me as eternal beings.
What’s the bottom line here, and what’s the take-home as we manage between these two worlds in this introductory message?
The first is this, that eternity actually gives meaning to time. I don’t know how you can just live in time unless you also live in light of eternity. I grew up with people saying things like this. They said, “You know, So-and-So is so heavenly minded he’s not of any earthly good.” I’ve never met a person like that. That’s a myth. The more heavenly minded you are, and C.S. Lewis points this out in an awesome quote that I don’t have before me, but the more heavenly minded you are, the more likely you are to do good on earth because you know that this life has meaning because eternity has meaning, and our works and our deeds, though the physical world is burned, will be represented in heaven and will be part of our record forever.
You know, the Bible talks about us living with hope. What is hope? Hope is the interval between the promises of God and the fulfillment that God has for us. That’s what hope is–the interval. This past week I was reading some of Billy Graham’s book, Just as I Am, and he talked about his time with Winston Churchill. This was in about 1954 when Billy was having that famous crusade in London, and Winston was quizzing him and asking him, “Why the crowds and what’s the deal?” and so forth. And the 20-minute interview ended up being much, much longer, but Winston said to Billy, “I am a man without hope. Give me hope.” So Billy explained the Gospel to him.
If all that you have is this life, you are without hope, but it is because of the eternal world and the coming of that eternal world that you and I today can be inspired to come to Christ even if our questions are not answered in this life. God has all of eternity to do it.
Now there’s something else in this text. It is not just that eternity gives meaning to time, but we should focus, it says, on eternity, that which is invisible. Now I’m going to give you an example actually from this life, from the visible world, and then we’ll transfer it to the invisible world.
Many years ago there was a friend of mine who had a boat and he said, “Come out on the boat and we will be watching Venetian Night here in Chicago, maybe a half mile or a mile offshore.” So I went there and you know his boat was just jostling there in Lake Michigan and I became seasick. This was not a very happy experience if you’ve ever had that kind of thing happen to you. And I remember he said, “What you need to do is to fasten your eyes on something that isn’t moving.” He said, “As long as you are looking at the boat and the waves, it confuses your balance system because it has no reference point.” He said, “Choose a building.” Well I chose the John Hancock Building, thinking it could never move (and of course 9-11 changed that perception a little bit, but the John Hancock Building is still here), and I began to just stare at it. And you know within time everything became okay because no matter how much the boat jostled it didn’t matter because my eyes and my body had a fixed reference point by which it could handle the jostling of life and the jostling of the boat.
What Paul is saying is this: “Life is hard.” The whole fourth chapter is devoted to how hard it is. We didn’t have time to look at it but you can read it on your own. Life is hard. “We’re struck down,” he says, “but we’re not destroyed.” He says, “We are given over to death but we’re still alive.” It’s hard, but if we want to be able to navigate this life, we look at that which is unseen. We look to Jesus. And how do we do that? I said to a friend of mine who died from cancer a number of years ago, “How do you handle the knowledge that you are about to die?” And he pulled from his shelf a list of about 120 verses that he had read and basically memorized. He said, “Whenever I become fearful with all the uncertainty, I go to these verses and I focus on Christ.” That’s the way to handle the material world, knowing that the immaterial world is on its way, and we look not at the things that are–not the doctor’s report, not your unemployment issues as such, however important they may be. We know that eternity with Christ is coming. What a terrible thing to not prepare for eternity.
I’ve been to bookstores looking at travel books before we go somewhere, and, you know, you see people browsing through the books, and they want to learn a little bit of French, and maybe with God’s help a little bit of German, and they want to learn it because they are going to Germany–some place like that. And they are spending more time considering where they are going on vacation for two weeks than they are considering eternity, but eternity is what we should focus on.
It’s interesting that when the Apostle Paul is finished with this, and you know that there are no chapter divisions in the original manuscripts. These were added to help us find passages of Scripture. Immediately when Paul says that we should focus on the things that are eternal, he says in chapter 5 verse 1, “For we know that if the tent which is our earthly home is destroyed (he’s talking about our body), no big deal (that’s a footnote), we have a building from God, a house not made with hands eternal in the heavens.” And then he goes on to discuss the intermediate body, what happens between the death of a person and the eventual resurrection of their bodies. And so Paul says, “You know, we are eternal beings. We are headed into eternity, and we can endure death because we’re focusing on that which is eternal.”
Back in the year 1683 a man by the name of Lord William Russell was put to death (hanged) in England. He was accused of treason, though later on he was absolved and all that. We don’t have to go into those details but it is said that before he died he took out his watch piece (his timepiece–whatever they had back then) from his pocket, gave it to a friend and said, “I will not need this any longer because I am now substituting time for eternity.”
Well, if you were called by God to die today to substitute time for eternity, what would your destination be? When Jesus was here on this earth He died on the cross for our sins. He shed his blood as a sacrifice and then he was raised again from the dead so that we might be freely forgiven of our sins, that we might know that we can have a personal relationship with God. And then Jesus said to His disciples later as a memorial feast, “Take, eat. This is my body which was broken for you, and drink this, for this represents my blood which was shed for you.” And then He said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” And you can receive Christ today, not through the elements, not through receiving the bread and the cup, but rather through personal faith in Him. You will become fitted for eternity because, as I have said many times, eternity is long, time is short, and someday you will have to substitute eternity for time. Life in two worlds!
Would you join me now as we pray together?
Father, only You know the spiritual journey of all those who have come here today, and all those who are listening by whatever means. And we’re all in a different stage of the journey, but some perhaps have not begun the journey. Show them today the beauty of Jesus who prepares us for the life to come, and who assured His disciples that “I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place I’ll come again and receive you.” Help us to know, Lord, that eternity can transform time for us. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen
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