On New Year’s Eve on the stroke of the 21st century the word Eternity lit up on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The back story is the personal story of Arthur Stace. Born in poverty to alcoholic parents, he had little education and became a petty criminal, an alcoholic and homeless. In the aftermath of World War II, he joined the lines outside St Barnabas’ Broadway, an Anglican Church in Sydney that provided food and shelter for the homeless. However to get a meal involved first hearing a sermon! Stace turned to Jesus Christ.
One night he heard a sermon on the text of Isaiah 57:15 which reads: For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits Eternity, whose name is Holy; “I dwell in the high and holy place, with also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”
The preacher stressed the point: “Eternity, Eternity, I wish that I could sound or shout that word to everyone in the streets of Sydney. We’ve got to meet it. Where will you spend Eternity?”
Challenged by these words, Stace, though almost illiterate, started chalking, in the early hours of the morning, the one word Eternity in a distinctive copperplate script on the streets of Downtown Sydney. It appeared over 500,000 times. I remember often seeing it myself. Eternity became the mystery and the fascination of Sydney.
Yet how important is this word for our world today – a world challenged by a novel coronavirus pandemic. Deep down most people hope there is life beyond the grave. But what will eternity look like?
A key to the answer is found in what the New Testament speaks about as the day when Jesus Christ will be revealed or, to use JRR Tolkein’s phrase, the day of ‘The Return of the King’. In Colossians 3:4 we read: When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
In today’s world of scientific progressivism God’s people are often mocked because they believe that Jesus of Nazareth not only died and rose again but that he will return one day as God’s king. Two millennia have ticked by and nothing has happened.
Certainly, the idea of Christ bursting through the skies in a blazing display of power and glory, is not an idea that anyone can easily accept. Jesus’ return isn’t just unlikely, people reckon, it is pure science fiction.
The Return of the King. But the Bible leaves us in no doubt about its reality. From cover to cover it tells us that the world is going somewhere and that the final outcome will be the return of God’s king in great power and glory. He will reveal God’s kingdom in all its fullness.
Furthermore, Jesus spoke very decidedly about a day of his return. For example, in Luke 17:26-30 we read his words: “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking, and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed all of them … It will be like that on the day that the Son of Man is revealed” (17:26-30).
In using the examples of eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage, Jesus is telling us of a final day coming unexpectedly in the midst of everyday life. People of Noah’s time were so taken up with their own lives that they ignored God. And because they reckoned that Noah was naive, they took no notice – until the day when they were overtaken by an enormous flood.
Furthermore, it is only some twenty-eight life spans ago (a life span being 70 years) that the events of the death and resurrection of God’s Son occurred. Jesus had clearly predicted them in the course of his public life. As these predictions were fulfilled, is it not conceivable that his third prediction – about his return – will also take place?
And when he returns what a day that will be! As Paul tells us in Colossians 3:4 with the return of the King in a blaze of awesome glory and power, God’s people will be vindicated. And, because Christ is not only the source of our spiritual life but also the dynamic presence in our life through his Spirit, the true nature of God’s people will be seen by everyone.
This present age will be seen for what it is – passing. But the pure joy and glory of God’s people will be manifest for what it is – an experience of life in all its fullness for all eternity.
Eternity awakens our minds to a larger picture of life and meaning – to ‘a time without end’; to ‘another world’; to ‘perfection’; to ‘God’s Country’.
It is nothing short of a miracle that Arthur Stace’s one word sermon on New Year’s Eve at the beginning of the new millennium was seen by an estimated four billion people around the world. How important it is that we heed what Colossians 3:4 tells us about the return of God’s King. Don’t miss out!
Reflect: So if you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are in earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4).
Prayer: O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: do not leave us desolate, but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to where our Savior Christ has gone before, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for evermore. Amen. (BCP, Sunday after Ascension – adapted)