2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10
Michael Herbert (Cosham Baptist) introduced as usual, with a series of hymns: "Praise my soul the King of Heaven" (a modified, explicitly trinitarian version), "You're the word of God the Father," "Jesus, Hope of the Nations," "From the Breaking of the Dawn" and "Lord, I come before your Throne of Grace."
Jonathan kicked off with a chinese proverb: "To prophesy is extremely difficult - especially if you want to prophesy with regard to the future."
Most contemporary prophecy is pessimistic: commentators expect increasingly severe environmental and economic problems ahead.
Yet the more uncertain the times, the more we want to know the future. Recent article about young business people in Manhattan visiting a psychic. "Psychics are better than friends because they can tell you where you're going and give you hope for the future" one young businesswoman was quoted as saying.
Our generation is the first in over a hundred years to have lower hopes than our parents.
One common response is to fall into short-term hedonism - living for the weekend.
Hope shapes the present. Christian hope is not a fanciful hope as in "I hope I'll pass my exams" or "I hope the preacher won't go on to long this evening" - such hopes come with no guarantees of being true. It is based on what God has already done, which verifies and authenticates the promises he has made.
The more clearly we see the future, the more deliberately we can live now.
v16-18 Living in two worlds - 3 contrasts
v16 Outward decline and inward renewal. Living in this world while participating in the world to come. Our bodies inevitably decay, but our appreciation of the future should grow. We experience this world while anticipating the world to come.
v17 Present trouble and future glory. All our suffering is light and momentary when compared with weight of eternal glory.
Like climbing a mountain - struggling and wanting to give up - but knowing the vista at the top is worth effort.
We often speak of someone who has been ill as being a shadow of their former selves. We are now a shadow of our future selves.
v18 The seen and the unseen. Two ways to looking. Some believe that all religions are mocked by the hard white smile of the skull - that the immediately visible is all there is and therefore all that matters. Troubles, however, help us see the transient nature of this age.
The contrast here is not physical vs. spiritual - it is present vs. future.
At John Stott's 80th birthday party, someone quipped that is is hard to get someone a present at 80 because, by the time they are 80, most people have everything they need. Uncle John, on the other hand, has nothing. And we don't want to spoil that. He has invested in the age to come.
5:1-5 Anticipating the future
v1 What will it be like then? 'We know ... an eternal house in heaven.' v1 'Mortality swallowed up by life' v4.
Paul speaks as a tent maker who spent significant portions of his life travelling to spread the gospel. He looked forward to the day when he would pack his flimsy tent up for the last time and move into his the permanent house his Heavenly Father had prepared for him.
He has a robust vision of heaven - it's a solid house, not an ethereal experience wearing celestial negligee and hanging out on a cloud.
Death and decay will be overcome; life will consume them.
vv2,4 What do we feel now? We groan (cf Romans 8:19-23). We experience an inevitable restlessness and tension.
v5 How can we be sure? 1. God had this in mind all along. This is not a new plan, nor is it Plan B. God always intended it to end up this way.
2. God has given us a sign. The Holy Spirit is the first installment of what we will receive in the age to come. Like the way they used to serve coffee on British Rail trains in the dining car: the first waiter would give you the milk and sugar - an indication that the coffee was on its way.
Can be easy to talk glibly about this until it is staring us in the face. We must consider this deeply and soberly so that the experience does not catch us off guard.
v6-10 On our way home
Visions of the future are often given to those facing particular difficulty - like Jeremiah, Daniel, and the Apostle John on Patmos.
v7 We live by faith. We don't see Jesus, but we know his presence and we trust God more than we trust ourselves.
v9 We live to please him. This goal must reign supreme above every other ambition: we will see him. It is vital that we live in anticipation of that day.
We live in the light of eternity. We must see our life as it is: the prelude, the backstory, for eternity. Ironically, this actually makes life now more significant - it means our lives are more than a vapour that is forgotten. What we do now matters - our stewardship will be judged.
We should live with our eyes on the horizon and our boots on our feet.
The final hymn was "There is a higher throne."