When I was much younger, on a trip back from Bible school, my best friend and I were still basking in the glow of what had been, I must assume, a great series of classes and activities that sparked our interest in the truth. I assume as much, because I really don’t remember.
What I do remember is a question that my friend asked. Or rather a question we asked each other:
Who is the FIRST person you want to meet in the Kingdom, and why?
And we couldn’t say Jesus, that was our rule, he couldn’t be the first person we wanted to meet with, because we figured everyone should say Jesus and as we were youths we wanted to have different answers.
So we set about choosing our favorite characters from our favorite stories. I believe my first choice was Joseph, mainly because his story is one of my favorites. I have always wanted to interview him about how he felt when he recognized his brothers after so many years: how he handled the disappointment when the butler forgot to remind Pharaoh of how he, the butler, had been saved in the prison. My friend chose Jonathan. He wanted to see how he felt when he was heading off to his final battle with his brothers and father, if he knew this was the end.
The cool thing was, those weren’t the only people we wanted to meet. We quickly decided that we would also like to meet folks like David, Noah, Esther, and Daniel. The list went on for a few hours, as we added more and more names, together with the questions we wanted to ask those names. And, of course, before we finished, we assured each other that we did want to meet Christ.
It was perhaps silly, but constructive fun, and we, or at least I, never thought of it too much beyond a really cool conversation.
As time has passed, my thoughts about the Kingdom have changed. Where once I dreamed of being able to fly, or hang out with animals, now I look forward to serving in the Kingdom. I think of being able to teach those who haven’t yet been granted eternal life. So I guess, my priorities have changed a bit.
And sometimes, when looking back at the desires I had for the Kingdom as a child, I feel they were a bit selfish. I wanted them for me. For my benefit. I remind myself that my desire should be to serve God.
In recent exhortations, I have focused a lot on a particular set of verses:
“And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me” (Matt 18 3-5).
And I constantly wonder how can I, how can we, retain such a mentality? What aspects of children should we try to exhibit? The last time we looked at this set of verses, the focus was on the curiosity of a child, the constant quest for understanding and the innocence displayed. But today, I want to focus on the desire, that same desire that many of us showed as children, and that is a desire to speak with Biblical heroes. If we think about it, the mere statement: “I can’t wait to meet…” insert your choice here “…in the Kingdom.” This brings to light a couple of important facts about our faith as children:
We know, in our hearts, that this individual WILL be in the Kingdom:
As children, we never had any doubt in our mind who we would see in the Kingdom. We KNEW that David would be present, as would Daniel, and Jonah, and all our favorite heroes. They would all be there and it would be glorious.
Which we could certainly ask as adults, are you sure? Are you sure that Jonah will be present in the Kingdom? What about Solomon? As we grow older, and gain knowledge and understanding, we question things we once KNEW as children. After all, Jonah’s story ends with a swift word of reproof for his selfish nature towards Nineveh. We do not hear whether or not he turned his heart and followed God. The same could be said of Solomon, whose final years are a subject of study and debate for another time (although we must admit the verdict of the Old Testament is quite favorable!)
And indeed, it can be considered presumptuous to assume anyone, in Scripture or not, has already had their name written in the Book of Life unless we are so informed.
But there are certain brothers and sisters of old of whom Scripture seems to indicate that they WILL make it, that they already have found favor in God’s sight.
Daniel, for example in the final moments of his vision:
“But go thou thy way till the end be: for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days” (Dan 12:13).
Or perhaps the thief on the cross:
“And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee Today, you shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:39-43).
Which is clearly an indication that he will stand and be found worthy.
The same could be said of many individuals:
“And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephathae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect” (Heb 11:32-40).
So even now, we can be assured that many of our childhood/Sunday school heroes will indeed be found waiting in the Kingdom. No, not all that we were sure we would see will be there. As we have previously stated, many of the individuals’ fates are left ambiguous. But some, if not most, of them will be.
We must be in the Kingdom to meet!
Which leads us to consider the second part of the statement:
“I can’t wait to meet…” insert your choice here “…in the Kingdom.”
If we are to meet them in the Kingdom, not only must they be there, but so must we.
It seems obvious: we can’t meet someone if we aren’t there, but think on that. WE haven’t yet been judged. We haven’t had books informing the world that we have made it, or Christ tell us that we WILL be there. WE still have to work towards it.
We want to meet with these individuals, but sometimes, we must ask the question: would they want to meet us? Would David, Joseph, or Paul WANT to sit down with us for a metaphorical cup of coffee?
There is a reason that these individuals are confirmed to be allowed entry. They found grace with God, walked in his ways, and obtained a good report. They did something right. So it makes total sense for us to wish to see them, to want to spend time getting to know them in person:
“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he” (Prov 29:18).
If we want to meet with those we called heroes as children, we should absolutely follow in their footsteps.
I think one of the aspects of children we should never lose as we grow older is that excitement. True, as we grow and develop we see the world and the word in different lights. We begin to understand that our heroes had flaws and failures, that though we may have idolized them as children, we now see them for what they really are. Human.
But that is the point of growing up. We develop. This does not mean that all that we thought as children was wrong and should be thrown out, but that it should be built upon. And the fact that such brothers and sisters of old WERE human, and WERE flawed, and DID fail makes the fact that they are confirmed even more hopeful for us. And if we are to ever meet our brothers and sisters of old in the Kingdom, we would do well to learn from them.
That is the beauty of these men and women’s stories. We are blessed because we can see what they did right. We see that Daniel, despite the law placed down on him, continued to pray to the only God that mattered. So should we, when persecuted or mocked, fully rely on our God to deliver us from the den of lions (or whatever we are facing). When we read of David vs. Goliath, or Gideon vs. the Midianites, we know that the armies of man are nothing compared to the strength of God.
But the flaws of our heroes are written down and recorded for a reason. We have the blessing to learn from their mistakes, to see what worked, and why, when they went astray, it was a poor decision. We know that David’s infidelity would haunt him for much of the rest of his life. Peter’s denial of his Lord makes us question how we would handle questions regarding our loyalty. These mistakes in the lives of the faithful can help us to see what mistakes we are to avoid. They should not lessen our desire to be like them.
Because one, if not the one most important reason they were found to be of good report, is because of what they strove to do: emulate God. To be one with him in purpose and doctrine, to represent his will upon the earth.
To be Christ-like
Because, if we are honest, none of our heroes comes close to the level that Christ achieved in being one with our God. Christ’s entire existence was devoted to God, and never once did he waiver. He achieved what no other brother or sister had before or has since.
If we are to be honest, we should want to meet Christ more than anyone else, because no one else can compare.
Which is why were are gathered here today. This is not just a gathering to remember Christ’s sacrifice, though that is a huge aspect of our memorial. It is a promise:
“But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt 26:29).
Christ knew that he would be in his Father’s Kingdom. And his message of assurance didn’t stop with his disciples. We too can find ourselves in that day alongside all our brothers and sisters of old. WE have to want it, and we have to strive for it. To be like Christ. Christ-like.
It wasn’t that when my friend and I said we couldn’t pick Christ first because we didn’t want to meet him, or that choosing him was cheating in some way. It was because of all the people in Scripture, of all the people we SHOULD want to meet, it should be Christ.
This, this moment of breaking bread, and drinking of wine is more than just a reminder of things that once were: they are the closest that we can truly get to the coming Kingdom. The closest we can get to breaking bread and drinking wine with David, and Moses, and Daniel.
We should, today, and every day after, pray for that day to come soon. That day when all those found of good report are gathered together. Let us pray that the next time we gather together it will be in the Kingdom of God.
Ethan Bearden (Austin Leander, TX)