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What’s Forever For?

By Robert Smith Jr. | Professor of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. He is a Contributing Editor of Preaching.

Matthew 6:13; Exodus 15:1-21

Some of our favorite hymns ring with the melodious note of the foreverness of God. Martin Luther's "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" is an example. The last half of the last verse: "Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill: God's truth abideth still; his kingdom is forever." Reginald Heber's hymn, "Holy Holy Holy": "Holy, Holy, Holy! All the saints adore thee, casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea; cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee, which wert and art, and evermore shalt be." Isaac Watts' hymn "O God, Our Help in Ages Past": "Before the hills in order stood or earth received her frame, from everlasting you are God, to endless years the same."

Because we are so finite and because faith has not yet become sight, we cannot begin to think about the foreverness of God, the resultant state of those who love Him and will live in His glory. We are just specks of a dot on the timeline of life—not a full dot—just a speck. We would have to live at least the lifetime of Methuselah, 969 years, to be in preschool in terms of thinking about the foreverness of God.

We are just dust balls traveling down the corridors of time. So when we approach a text such as this, we are overwhelmed by its infiniteness because we are talking about eternity when we are time-conditioned beings.

This word forever is a sacred and secular word. I recall Michael Martin Murphy in the early 1980s raising the question in a popular song "What's Forever For?" He decried the fragility of relationships, fellowships, particularly marriages and asked, "What's the glory in living? Doesn't anybody ever stay together anymore? And if love doesn't last forever, tell me what's forever for?"

"For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever" (Matt. 6:13). In Hebrew, it implies continuity, perpetuity; endlessness in perpetual motion, essence which cannot be interrupted. "For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever."

The Lord's Prayer, according to Helmut Thielicke, is the prayer that spans the world. Chapters 5-7 of the Gospel of Matthew comprise what we know as the Sermon on the Mount. All the words in these chapters are Jesus' words except verses Matthew 5:1-2: "Seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain; and when He was set, His disciples came to Him and He taught them." In Matthew 7:28: "When He had ended all these sayings, the people were astonished at His teaching for He taught them not as one of the Scribes and Pharisees but as One who had authority."

Thielicke describes an event of a young pastor who had the task of eulogizing a young woman, a mother of three children and wife of a bereaved husband. The young woman had been killed in a traffic accident. Thielicke said the young pastor had at his disposal many verses of Scripture. He could have used John 14:1: "Let not your heart be troubled." Perhaps Psalms 23:1: "The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want." He could have referred to 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17: "The Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air."

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