John 14:1-4 (NKJV)
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.”
What is paradise? What does it look like? What does it sound like? How will I know when I find it? My husband and I have been blessed with a wonderful trip to Cancun, Mexico. His company rewarding his efforts in business has given us an all-expense paid excursion to this loving place. To God be all the glory for being such an excellent provider. It has come at a good time for us. Two or three years ago, we would have declined fully engaged in our son’s battle against cancer. Last year, I would not have been ready to travel so far from home and our children. But now, as we take a deep breath, preparing for our new life and new season – the timing is good! We have been on these trips before to beautiful locations like Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. All wonderful vacations to lavish locations with every need and whim catered to at no expense to us. This time was different. My life was not consumed in preparation. I did not need a new wardrobe or fancy accessories. There was no stress in getting ready just leaving home. It has occurred to me in the midst of all this beauty that I have found paradise. It is not a place. It is not a feeling or emotion that can change as quickly as the oceanic breezes here. It is a state of mind and condition of one’s heart.
The resort is lush and tropical. It is a beautiful and well-kept property. Surrounded by pools and open to the white sands and blue green waves of a private beach, it is quite nice. Enclosed in a compound, it is clear that it is a well-contained and manmade environment. Just outside the gates are impoverished homes with litter filled streets. The road coming in like a paved country road with bumps and dips along the way. If you walk the perimeter, you can see between the rustic fence designed to blend with the trees and the “real world” right outside the gate. It is not paradise here. This is not perfection. It is just the world’s idea of it bought at a human price. Paid in cash with no boundaries of opulence if you have enough money. I would not have come here if it was not a paid vacation. I do not live on that kind of budget at home. I am enjoying my time here, away from routine and schedule, alone with my true love.
People were created to live in paradise. Not to toil and suffer over their life just to produce enough money to maintain some level of comfort. We were designed to rule and reign taking dominion over all creation. We were not content with being Children of God and His People. Somewhere in the short time in Eden – humanity decided that it wanted to be God. Paradise was lost in that moment.
Genesis 3:22-24 (NKJV)
Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the Garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.
I have heard it said many times that if money were not an issue, I would (blank) or if I were independently wealthy I could (blank). Well, I hate to point out the obvious but we were born into such a life. The Garden of Eden provided everything humanity needed. It was paradise. Literally. It was like Heaven. When mankind decided to have something different, Adam and Eve were sent from the garden not as punishment but for human preservation. See it is an awesome thing to be the Everlasting Sovereign God. To be completely perfect in all of your ways. To map out each life with a plan, purpose and destiny with so many variable factors, wavering hearts and human tendencies. Yet God did just that. He made it possible that despite all our sin and rebellion – righteousness could still be attained. He paid the ultimate price that no other parent would pay. To give the life of His Innocent Son to be abused, tortured and put to death so we could reclaim paradise. I wouldn’t do that for you. You wouldn’t do that for anyone else most likely. No one is innocent so it is impossible from the start.
People were sent from the garden so sin would not be eternal ending in violent death caused by Judgment. They were banished from a life of torture due to sin when death is not possible. We think God was mad. But it was His Never-Ending Love and Overflowing Love for us that made Him push us from His Presence. He wanted to live with us forever even in our rejection and rebellion so He sent us on our way to find Him again. To be with Him in Heaven. Paradise was lost to be regained because this is grace. God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense. We have been offered another shot to live in paradise with God forever. Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” He did. It is called paradise. It is no place on earth but the eternity in our heart. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
Luke 23:38-43 (NKJV)
And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
What does paradise look like to you? I asked before. Did you envision something? Has your idea or image changed over the course of your lifetime? When I was a child, I dreamed of certain things in life. In the quiet moments alone with my firstborn, sitting in the sunlight of my first day of motherhood, that idea changed. In my life, I have made many mistakes, experienced failures, and things I am not proud of. I wanted to create a perfect life from an imperfect childhood but replicated many of the same things as an adult. The church I grew up in talked about God’s Grace but religion said that once I messed up that I could never have God’s Perfect Will again. All I could do was call on Jesus and hope for the best. If you’re not first, you’re last as Ricky Bobby fictional racer once said.
But then I met Jesus, face-to-face, for real, on my own. No one had to tell me when it was the Lord speaking to me. It has never been openly and audibly in a church building but in my deepest despair and desperate longing that He has answered. When I cried out to Him in absolute and total weakness holding nothing back ready to accept Him completely at His Word – He always responds. Whispering to my heart, comforting my mind, and deciding for my soul that I will have more than what life has to offer. See this is Jesus. It doesn’t matter how you get to Him, if you come to Him with your heart – He always responds the same – you will be with me in paradise.
There were two different people represented on crosses with Jesus that day. Two individuals pursuing different things – one desired Jesus to make this life better and the other wanted Him forever. Who are you today? There are many churches in these modern times that speak of God making this life better but remember this is paradise lost. The point of Jesus death, burial and resurrection to give us keys to His Kingdom so we can claim paradise once again. It will never be found in this imperfect world or superficial things. There is only one way to enter forever. It is to give our life back to God. To accept His Word, Will and Way over own again. Righteousness with God is faith in God and belief in His Word and Way. Surrendering our life of sin and rebellion to obey Him at all cost to enter His Kingdom forever. Grace is not an excuse or get-outta-hell-free card. It is the opportunity to regain entry to paradise.
Paradise is found in Jesus Christ. Not in what He does, but Who He is. When He lives in our heart and we become rooted and grounded in His Love, paradise fills us with beauty, delight and happiness that becomes inexpressible joy and overwhelming peace not shaken by situations. It is to be content with what we have or have not. It is to be completing engaged in pursuing the Lord day by day and minute by minute no matter where you are – He is with us. This is paradise. It is when Jesus lives in us and His Spirit overtakes us. It is a mind set on pursing God at all costs. Holding nothing back.
Sin separated us from paradise. (Genesis 3:22-24) Sin is the thing that keeps us from re-entry. Sin will never be allowed in paradise for it corrupts perfection and therefore cannot and will not be tolerated by God which would make Him likewise imperfect. He is perfect. Always perfect. Jesus paid the price for our sin so we could be clothed in righteousness and reclaim paradise. You will never have paradise as long as you love sin more than goodness. Thomas Howard said that “Hell is where everyone is doing their own thing. Paradise is where everyone is doing God’s Thing.” So simple yet so true. When we decide that we want to do God’s Thing again, it produces paradise-like conditions bringing heavenly outcomes to ordinary lives. The surrender of sin always allows our soul to prosper. His Intentions for His People has always been a perfect life. He promise to take every detail of our life and make it good. (Romans 8:28) What are you waiting for paradise awaits?
Revelation 2:4-7 (NKJV)
“Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent. But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”
Paradise is a passionate pursuit. The man on the cross next to Jesus gained paradise in humility. He could not get down and go preach to people, serve in church, give to the pour or do anything but accept God’s Love in all humility offering nothing in return. We must come to the Cross like that if paradise is what we seek knowing and understanding that if we live the “perfect” Christian life from that day forward there will never be anything we can or will do to gain the Gift that we have received. Paradise must be our passion. The Church of Ephesus is warned in Revelation 2 that in the midst of their zealous and radical obedience, they lost their first love. Paradise was provided according to God’s Love and is accepted only in God’s Love. Everything we do and say must be wrapped tightly and completely in His Love and born of our love for Jesus to be beneficial to the Kingdom of God and worthy of paradise. I chose sin. I decided to rebel. Yet knowing all these things, Christ loved me and died for me so that after this life is over, I can experience paradise forever.
Today I will probably go to the beach, lay by the pool and enjoy some rest and relaxation in a tropical destination. Tomorrow, I will sightsee and gather some trinkets for the kids. But when our day to head home rolls around in a few days, it will be with complete exhilaration as I navigate customs and immigration to wait on a plane crushed with strangers to make our connection and finally be home with our family and friends. See paradise is not a place I go or an adventure but rather paradise exists, lives and breathes in me thanks to Jesus. I live in it wherever I am as long as I pursue only Him. Paradise is the lifestyle of righteousness and obedience to my God. I live in paradise and He lives in me.
Song of Solomon 7:10 (NKJV) I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me.