What a difference eternity can make! That was the conclusion I came to after finishing one of the least exciting sounding books on my reading list at Bible college: “The Rise of Christianity” by sociologist Rodney Stark. According to the very un-catchy subtitle, Stark set out to explain “how the obscure, marginal Jesus movement became the dominant religious force in the western world in a few centuries.” Sounds like a great cure for insomnia, doesn’t it! As it turned out, this was actually one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read. And it was obviously an interesting project for Stark too, because by the end of his research (and the end of his book) he’d converted from a sceptical agnostic to confessing Christian. But I’m not telling you all this because this book is on the ‘recommended reading list’ for our Summer of Hope (although it is a genuinely interesting book!)
Rather, the reason I’m sharing this rather obscure book with you is because of the difference that eternity can make. Over and over again, as Stark analysed the sociological factors that contributed to the rise of Christianity in the Roman empire, the impact of an eternal hope was seen. Again and again and again. Christians willingly nursed neighbours through plague and epidemic because they didn’t fear death. Christians stood firm in the face of martyrdom because they had the hope of eternal life. Christians gladly shared their material possessions because they were convinced that they had treasures in heaven. Time and again the factors that led to the gradual but surprising growth of Christianity flowed out of the hope we have that extends beyond death. A hope for eternity. So, as we begin this new year reflecting on the hope we have in Jesus, I’d encourage you to pause and ponder for a moment: What difference does eternity make in your life? How does your hope for eternity shape your perspective and priorities and decisions? Because the difference eternity can make should be seen again and again and again. So I’m really looking forward to Sunday when Matt will help us reflect on some of this together.
(PS – for those who are interested to know what this week’s book recommendation actually is, it’s a classic: “Knowing God” by JI Packer is 50 years old this year, but it’s just as helpful today as it was when first published in 1973. Packer himself has gone to be with the Lord, but his book is an enduring legacy of solid gold biblical wisdom that unpacks the incredible privilege of knowing God as he has revealed himself – and the eternal hope that we have in light that.)