NORTH, SOUTH, EAST, BUT NO WEST!
NORTH, SOUTH, EAST, BUT NO WEST Copyright Š 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright Š 973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
When discussing the Temple of God, the Prophet Ezekiel mentions the north, the south, the east, but not the west. Why is this?
NORTH, SOUTH, EAST, BUT NO WEST
He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was flowing from the south side. (Ezekiel 47:2)
The expression "the north gate" symbolizes the fiery trials that come upon us in order to bring us into the image of Christ and into untroubled rest in the center of Gods Person and will.
The "outer gate facing east" refers to the glorious morning of the eternal Day of the Lord, toward which the path of the righteous is leading.
The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. (Proverbs 4:18)
The "water flowing from the south side" speaks of the refreshing blessings that proceed from God that encourage us to continue on in our pilgrimage.
But there is no west gate. Why is this? It is because a west gate would portray the closing of the day, and there is no closing of Gods day. Everything in Gods creation is moving toward an eternal day so wonderful as to be beyond our comprehension in the present hour.
And this is why Paul maintained that he was "forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead" (Philippians 3:13)
God places each of us in relationships and situations whose purpose is to form us in the image of Christ. Even though these relationships and situations may be irritating and painful on numerous occasions, we become accustomed to them. They are "home."
When the relationships and situations God has placed us in have done as much as possible toward bringing us to the image of Christ, and to rest in Gods will, God may remove us from these and place us amid new relationships and situations. This change of relationships and situations can prove to be extremely painful for us. We want to cling to the familiar, to that which has been "home" to us.
Did you ever wish you could "go home," that you could live once again in the old days, the old places?
Perhaps we have been married for forty or fifty years. Our wife or husband dies. It is as though a part of our personality has been cut away. Nostalgia sets in, "memories that bless and burn." All that was hurtful to us is screened out and we think of the "good old days." "We wander alone through the hills." The old songs come back to us. It is almost more than we can bear.
Where is Harold, or Nancy, or George, or Sarah?
Perhaps it is a young child that has been taken from us.
"Where is Tommy?"
"Where is Bobby?"
"Where is little Michelle?"
We go out and look at the stars. Is he up there somewhere? Is she playing with other little golden-haired darlings? Is her kitty with her? (She loved her kitty!)
"Where is my little bright-eyed Teddy who used to run through the house with his friends. Is he still the same Teddy somewhere?"
"My wife was my best friend," we tell the doctor.
"I dont know how to do a thing without Sam. He took care of everything for me."
Perhaps we grew up in a church where there were older people who just never seemed to change. We assumed they would always be there. But one by one they died off, and then the pastor and his wife were gone. Where did all the happy hours go, the times we thought would last forever? Why did we have to do the mischievous things we did, causing grief to our parents? Why were we so sassy and rebellious toward our elders?
But change comes. This is life. How do we face it? We do not want to let go of the past. The early hours of the morning burden us with the memories of faces that no longer appear on earth until we cannot stand it any longer. Sometimes their personality is crystal clear to us. On other occasions we can hardly remember what they looked like. Yet the house may be full of memories of them: they way they came down the stairs to breakfast; the way they got in the car; a pose, a mannerism, even a remembered voice.
The world now is strange ashes. We cannot see what is at hand because of the vision of the past. We supposed it never would end, and now it is gone. Is it gone forever? That is the big question.
King David said, "The child will never come back to me. I will go to the child."
Because we are Christians we have a hope like no other hope. We know from the inerrant Scriptures that our loved one is alive in another world, another dimension. We know also that one day we will see him or her once again. O happy day on that sunlit shore!
We have only half a loaf today. We picture our loved one in a white sheet in a mystical spirit realm, playing a harp and singing with the angels. The bells tinkle while the spirits float about.
When we go there and see him or her we are not certain the object of our memories can be touched, or loved, or talked to, or even recognized. All is somewhat vague. Of course, this is better than never seeing him or her again.
The half of the loaf we do not have is the realization that no matter what takes place when we die and go to Heaven, we will see our beloved person on the Day of Resurrection, not as a disembodied spirit drifting around but as a flesh and bones person that can be recognized, touched, and talked toa real individual more intensely alive, more clearly defined, more radiant in personality, than we had known before.
And all this on the earth, not in Heaven! Not in a mystical realm of spirits!
"A ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have," our resurrected Lord announced, thus giving us a most marvelous hope for the future.
Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have. (Luke 24:39)
When the Apostle Paul comforted Christians concerning their deceased loved ones he did not refer to their "being with Jesus," or our going to be with them in Heaven. Rather Paul gave them the true hope:
For if we believe Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. (I Thessalonians 4:14)
Think carefully about the above. Paul never, not one time, in his epistles suggested that our hope is to go to Heaven to be with our loved ones. The hope is, rather, that our loved ones will return with the Lord Jesus and we will see them again. King David did not have the hope of the child returning. But we do, for our Lord Jesus has abolished death and brought life and immortality to us.
But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel: (II Timothy 1:10)
Eternal life has to do with Gods Life formed in us and dwelling in us. Immortality has to do with our body being raised from the dead and clothed with incorruption.
We are speaking of a real world, a restoration of all that we have enjoyed and valued. This is why there is no west gate. The meek indeed will inherit the earth and delight themselves in the abundance of peace.
We will be "home" once again.
Perhaps some people never experience such heartbreaking change. But multitudes certainly do.
What attitude should a Christian take? How should he view such radical change when he is forced to experience it?
First of all, he has the assurance that nothing is lost. Every person who dies is very well known to God and is in His hands. Each of us has a unique personality. We may not realize it, because we are occupied with his or her fleshly appearance. But each individual has a distinct personality apart from his physical body.
The personality of our deceased loved one is well known to God and we will have the joy of meeting him or her again. We would know him or her instantly from the personality even if we did not see the body.
So our hope of seeing the person once again is established in the Scriptures. We do not have to worry about this. It is just a question of time before we are with him or her once again.
But now what? Now God has in mind to take us a step further into the image of Christ and into rest in Gods will. Such change would not have been possible under the previous relationships and situations. We had made some progress in Christs image, but now it is time to grow.
We should do our best to throw off the nostalgia, the bittersweet memories that cause us to cling to the past as though those were wonderful days. They were not. Life at all times is painful and challenging. We do not harm our deceased loved one in any manner by refusing to dwell on his or her memory. But we certainly do make it more pleasant for those around us by forgetting the past for now and becoming accustomed to new relationship and circumstances. I think God is pleased with such efforts on our part.
Remember, there is no west gate, no ending of the day, in the Kingdom of God. All relationships and conditions are moving toward perfect joy in Jesus Christ, if they have been found worthy of the Kingdom.
It all boils down to faith in Gods goodness. Either God is in control or He is not. Either His promises are true or they are not. Either He will raise the dead or He will not. Either whoever lives and believes in Him will never die, or else this is not true.
The fact that the body of the Lord Jesus came forth from the cave of Joseph of Arimathea is a guarantee of the continuance of life. The person who is serving the Lord Jesus need have no fear of physical death. In fact, for the true saint, physical death is one of the least significant of the experiences he has.
Let us look toward the east, toward the morning of the Day of the Lord. All that is worthy, all that will bring joy to us, shall indeed be restored to us.
Sometimes I think of life as being a play. We see on the television a play coming to an end in which people may die, or some other great tragedy occurs. Then the engineer says "cut." At this point the bodies get up on their feet and go out and eat lunch togetherthe murderer and his victim.
So it is in life. Great tragedies occur. People die. The Engineer says "cut." Then the dead get up and stand before God while He reviews their performance.
Life on earth is one great fabrication designed to make us into the image of God. Relationship and situations are put together for the purpose of testing our personality. We cannot perceive beyond our immediate circumstances, supposing these are uncontrolled events. In actuality, if we could see into the spirit realm we would observe that we are surrounded on the one side by happy, righteous faces who are encouraging us in the ways of righteousness. On the other side are the dark faces of evil who are plotting to deceive and corrupt us.
When we choose to do good, the righteous witnesses rejoice. When we choose to do evil, the righteous witnesses turn away in sorrow, thinking of the joys that could have been had we been faithful to God.
We cannot see any of this. We are trapped in this mockup that has been manufactured for our testing. All of this activity is preparation for the time when true life begins, that is, the time of the coming down to the new earth of the glorified Church, the new Jerusalem.
If we have been appointed to rule with Christ, we may suffer many periods of testing. The heart may have been torn out of us as we have experienced change after change, as we are poured from vessel to vessel so to speak. If we do not lose faith in God, continually trusting that what He is doing is for our betterment, we will find that a new creation is being brought forth. We keep forgetting what is behind. We keep pressing toward the future.
There is no west gate in front of us. There is no closing of the day. The whole creation is groaning in birth pangs as God develops His Kingdom, particularly the governmental structure, the personalities of those who will rule over the nations of saved people.
All things are working together for good for those who are called to be changed into the image of Christ, for those who are predestined to be His brothers. They are the heirs of all the works of Gods hands. Therefore they cannot become so attached to any set of relationships or conditions that they are unable to survive being transferred to a new area of growth. God has planned such marvels for them He cannot afford to have them settle down permanently in a lesser position.
But it can be so hard, so difficult to let go of that which we have known and loved.
We have several widowed ladies in our church, and it has been emotionally draining for them as they have had to learn how to get along without their husband to help and comfort them.
One of the widows whose husband died a few months ago says that he is very real to her as she goes about her daily chores in her house. We do not wish to dabble in mysticism or attempt to communicate with the dead, for this is displeasing to the Lord and can lead to serious spiritual problems. But it is a fact that there are numerous accounts given by stable Christians who have recited incidents in which a deceased loved one has been seen or his or her presence felt.
The point is, those dear ones who have passed on are not that far off, in many instances.
One young man who was overcome with grief had a vision of his wife who had recently died of cancer. The cancer had crippled her, but in the vision she was running and leaping. She had told a nurse, before she died, that she would see the nurse again in what would be to the nurse a long time, but to the girl who was to die a short time.
It seems it sometimes is true that a person who dies is present with the grieving survivor for a period of time, and then is drawn away to other duties in the spirit realm.
Catherine Marshall told in her book, "A Man Called Peter," how her husband was in the room with Jesus for a period of time, just after he died, and then Jesus and Peter withdrew. On a later occasion Mrs. Marshall had a vision of her husband working in a garden planting roses.
We who love the Lord realize the dead are only asleep and shall be awakened when the Lord returns. For this reason it is "goodbye for now"; it is not the end of our relationship.
Our youth pastor died suddenly while in his middle twenties. He was a remarkable young man, actually a saint. He was a disciple in the fullest sense of the word.
He died on a Saturday. The following Sunday was one long demonstration of grief over Bryans death.
Yet, in spite of his youth, and all the plans we had for this man of prayer and consecration, the elders of the church knew his death was of God.
One young person after another came forward at the church service and told what Bryan meant to him or her. I know while he was alive their behavior at times had caused him concern. Isnt it always the case? Yet when he was gone they realized what a treasure he had been, what a powerful influence for good on their lives.
A young lady during the time of remembrance said, "See, Im dancing in church, Bryan, just like you did."
Bryan goes down in history of one of those unusual people that somehow are more of Heaven than they are of earth. It is small wonder that the Lord took him.
Bryan passed away suddenly without being ill previously, and I am not certain the cause is known to the present hourperhaps a seizure of some sort.
At our last mens retreat Bryans brother, who was the first to discover Bryans body, had a vision of Bryan in a state of glory. His arms were like banners praising the Lord. While yet alive on earth Bryan always was praying and praising the Lord. I seldom arrived at the church (Audrey and I get there early) that Bryan was not walking up and down the isles praying.
We still miss you Bryan, but we know you will be restored to us as a real person, not as a wraith in a mystical cloud afar off somewhere. It will still be the same Bryan dancing and praising the Lord. We look forward with joy to that reunion, for he was like a son to Audrey and me.
How little we appreciate people until they are gone. Then we look back and see now what we wished we could have understood then. Have you had this experience.?
We have new youth leaders now. They are building on the excellent foundation Bryan laid. They will take the youth on to heights of service and understanding where they have not been before. Hopefully we will appreciate these new pastors while they yet are alive.
God always move from the lesser to the greater. We do not realize it, but the physical realm is a better realm than is true of the spiritual. God is coming back to earth, as we read in the last two chapters of the Bible. Then we will see that the Kingdom of God consists of Heaven clothed with flesh and bone. Truly God has kept the good wine until now.
The purpose of physical death is merely to give God a chance to perfect our spirit without the encumbrances presented by the physical body. When our spirit has been made right in Gods sight, then our body will be returned to us.
Adam and Eve are still very much alive in the spirit realm. But the day will come when they stand once more on the earth in physical bodies, like Brother Job.
I know my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; (Job 19:25,26)
"In my flesh I will see God." "My Redeemer "will stand upon the earth." Think of it? Truly we need to be looking forward toward the Day of Resurrection as being our blessed hope.
We shall see our loved ones again, and they will be real people in flesh and bone bodies, now energized and maintained by the Spirit of God rather than by blooda much superior metabolism. Probably, if we desire to do so, God will permit us to reconstruct the former conditions: the old house with its familiar veranda, the oak tree with the swing made from rope and a tire, our family dog loping over the grass with his tongue hanging out, the familiar street, the houses of friends. I do not doubt this at all.
But I think we will discover we have outgrown many things. We will see people and situations in a new light. Maybe we will have by that time experienced some circumstances we enjoy more than the old. Another change will be that there will be no abrasiveness between friend and friend, nothing that irritates. The former undesirable things and circumstances will have passed away, all will have been made new and all will be part of Christ. God is not making all new things but all things new. All will be familiar, and yet new.
There will be no more tears, no more death, no more separations. Our relationships with people will be pure and peaceful. Still it will be life as it now is, full of challenges and opportunities but without fear and dread. There would be no joy in life if there were not interesting problems to solve, discoveries to be made, people to teach and love.
One thing is certainour joy will be full. Whatever we desire in our heart will be given to us, and this is why our heart must be changed so what we desire will bring us love, peace, and joy rather than misery. The only truly joyous and peaceful individual is he whose will is one with Gods will. What he desires most intensely is what God desires most intensely for him. This is the rest of God.
So there is nothing to fear! It really makes sense to forget what is behind and to press forward to whatever God is going to require of us. We are not to cling to the past or to be living in sorrow or grief. This shows our lack of faith in God and accomplishes nothing of value.
So often we think of life after death, or the world of righteousness that Peter mentions, as being filled with new and strange creatures and experiences. I dont believe this is the case at all. If we search our heart we will discover we are not anxious for new and strange things. When we imagine Paradise it is a glorified earth. There are flowers, grass, clouds, mountains, children playing, perhaps little animals or even some large ones. We wouldnt mind a lion or two provided it was harmless.
I think when Revelation says there will be no more sea it means there will be no more masses of people who can be driven back and forth by the winds issuing from self-seeking demagogues. Every individual will have a portion of Christ and every individual will be known of God and will know Godsome more than others, no doubt, just like today.
No, most of us probably do not want to enter strange experiences where we stand on a sea of glass mixed with fire, holding a harp and singing the song of Moses and the Lamb. This is what we are doing today if we are in a fervent church, even though we do not recognize it.
What we truly desire is to be reunited with our loved ones and friends in an environment much like our earth, but without the curse; without fear and dread; without sickness, pain, or death.
But what does God promise? First of all, to restore everything spoken by the prophets.
He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. (Acts 3:21)
Notice that God does not intend to invent new things but to restore what mankind lost through disobedience.
But what did God promise through His holy prophets?
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the vipers nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9)
Will there be wolves in the new world? It seems so, doesnt it?
Will there be lambs? I guess so.
Will there be leopards? I hope so. I admire leopards. Do you?
Will there be goats? Yes, for those who enjoy goats.
Will there be calves? Yes, and these are fun.
Will there be lions? The Bible says so. They too will be restored according to the Prophets.
Will there be yearlings (young animals, such as colts)? These will make the children happy.
Will there be little children? Absolutely! Yes!
Will there be cows? Yes, and milk undoubtedly.
Will there be bears? A world without bears would certainly be lacking something.
Will there be infants? Yes, and probably mothers to take care of them, I would imagine.
Will there be cobras and vipers? Yes, but they will add their graceful beauty to the landscape and remain absolutely harmless.
Are we speaking of Heaven? No, we are speaking of the earth when it has been filled with the knowledge of the Lord.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." (Revelation 21:3-5)
We understand, therefore, that there is no west gate. There is no permanent termination of life, relationships, or situations. The whole creation, including us and our loved ones, is moving toward the perfect day in which all is glorious and every chapter is more wonderful than the previous, as C. S. Lewis has put it.
Let us then put the past behind us and press toward the Lord Jesus Christ and all He has promised, for Gods words are trustworthy and true.
And the people said, "Amen."