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  • Writer's picturePaul Cottington

Our Glorious Inheritance



My aim this week is to post a short message based on an account that I read recently. It was an account of a man's life. Actually, it was more about his death and the subsequent events. As believers this is a subject that we have a great interest in – life and death. We claim that our lives, how we think and act, how we desire to be, the very hopes and expectations that are ours, are all based on the life and death of one man, and influenced by the events that unfolded after he died. That man is Jesus, the Son of God and our Saviour.


The account that I recently read was about a man named Eugene Brown. He lived in a small house in Corning, a town of around 7500 people, in California, USA. Every day, this now retired man would be sat in a chair by his door waiting for the local post-lady to bring his mail, and they would exchange pleasantries. The post-lady had become concerned. Eugene appeared to be a man of modest means, living an isolated life. He never went away on holiday. But for five days she had not seen him and informed the local police. They entered the house and found Eugene's body. It was later determined that he had died of a stroke.


A public administrator was called. One of their roles is to investigate a person's life after that life has ended. They need to determine what money and property and valuables belonged to that person. They assess the worth of that person. They also try to locate a will, to find out who the deceased's property will pass to. If the person has died 'intestate', or died without having a will recorded, then they will try to unearth contact details of relatives, so that the process of determining who is entitled to the inheritance can begin.


Eugene Brown had died intestate. In this he was not unusual, as this is the case in 56% of deaths in the USA. However, there were other things in this case that were unusual. In the vast majority of cases that are passed to the public administrator, the houses entered are in severe disrepair. They often have to wade through the detritus of a life that began decomposing years, if not decades, before. Eugune's house was tidy, well maintained and meticulously organised, and evidenced a life lived very frugally. There was only one electronic device, a defunct, old-fashioned radio, perched on the mantlepiece. They discovered a small box with a few index cards with contact details on, including someone listed as an emergency contact. This was a distant cousin of Eugene's, called Delaine Evans, who it was later determined was one of only two people who had regular contact with him and really knew him, and would have considered him as their friend. The other contact was Mr Brown's investment advisor. Eugene was a meticulous man, and this was also evident in the way that he managed his income over the years, and this had continued during his retirement.


The investment advisor was called Richard Mazur. When the administrator telephoned him, his first question was, 'are you calling me about Eugene Brown?' He also was worried. He hadn't heard from Eugene for days and this was extremely unusual. He said that Eugene phoned him every week day, once in the morning, before the New York Stock Exchange opened, and once when it had closed. 'We’ve been doing it for years and years,' he said of their daily communication. When he was informed of Eugene's death, Richard cried so hard he had to hang up.


Why did Eugene need an investment advisor? Well, it was soon uncovered that, despite outward appearances, he was a wealthy man. His investment portfolio was worth close to 3 million dollars.


The case was passed on to what are called 'heir hunters'. They belong to a huge industry that tries to locate beneficiaries when there are intestate deaths. They take a percentage of the money that is claimed by relatives that they find. In California, as in most places, there is a set line of succession. This is the order in which relatives are placed, so spouses come first, followed by children, parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and finally nieces and nephews. Those living relatives who are in the closest level of succession get the lot!


The legal protocol raises some important philosophical questions. Why should a family member who never knew Great-Aunt Ethel be able to lay claim to her assets over a relative who’s emotionally more connected, if genetically less so? This framework is probably close to being the best method that a human system can achieve. But it is far from being a perfect plan. This was illustrated in Eugene's case. He had two genuine friends, Delaine and Richard. They received nothing of his estate. In fact, after being diligently hunted down, the estate was split between four people, a niece and three nephews. The inheritance was received by people who, although they were his closest living relatives, didn't have a care or thought regarding him. They'd had no contact in 50 years. One even stated that he thought that Uncle Eugene had died years ago. In reality, it had not been of any consequence to their lives whether Eugene was alive or dead. But now they split his fortune. They became rich because of someone they did not know.


I hope that the story of Eugene Brown has been of some interest. The story of Jesus Christ is better, much better. The inheritance passed down from Eugene, was divided according to a compromised set of rules. Not so with Jesus. Why? Because, as Psalm 30: 18 tells us, 'as for God, his way is perfect'. God's plan is a gloriously perfect plan. Let us compare and contrast these two lives and two deaths.


Eugene appeared to be a man of modest means. Jesus Christ, when he walked this earth, was even more so. He had no house. He had no bed, not even a pillow to call his own (Matthew 8: 20). Jesus owned no more than the clothes that he wore.


Behind Eugene's modest appearance a fortune was hidden. Only after his death did people really begin to understand his true worth. How much more so with Jesus. 'He was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 1: 4 NLT).


After Eugene's death, events unfolded that greatly affected the lives of others. We can have no doubt that this was so with Jesus, as we read the resurrection accounts in the Gospels, and then read the first two chapters of Acts, and breath in the air of that wonderful scene in Jerusalem, as the name of Jesus Christ was preached by Peter and the other disciples, during the Pentecost celebrations.


When Eugene died, the public administrator expressed her surprise at Eugene's neat and tidy life. Unusually, for people in his position, his life was not surrounded by 'detritus' and 'decomposing'. Here is a contrast. Jesus was surrounded by detritus. One definition of detritus is 'dead organic material', so, something that was living that has died. This may lead our thoughts to man's fall in Eden, and a relationship between mankind and his God that died in that place. It should make us think of sin, and the reward of sin, which is death (Romans 6: 23). Jesus came to deal with sin. It surrounded him when he died. It was the reason he died such a cruel death. And while he was alive he surrounded himself with life's detritus, in the shape of the people that he met with, and those he chose to be his friends. Jesus did not come to serve the good and the great. Jesus came to minister to the needy. He brought blessing to the weak and powerless. He comforted those in the gutter of society. Jesus did not live a neat and tidy life. His life was messy. His hands got dirty. He did not avoid detritus. Dealing with detritus was his life's mission.


There are other contrasts between the life of Eugene Brown and the life of Jesus Christ. Eugene Brown died intestate. Jesus Christ did not. We often talk of the New Covenant (or Testament), that the Lord has made with his people, as being an agreement. It is that. But it is more than that. A diamond is considered a very precious stone. The best diamonds are most impressive. They are cut so as to have many faces, or surfaces at different angles. As we move around them to view them they reflect light in different ways, and the more we look, the more we can be in awe of their beauty. The Lord's New Covenant is better than a diamond. It, too, is multi-faceted. We can look at it as an agreement. We can also consider it as a 'will'. Hebrews chapter 9 considers it in this way. It's as if we are reading the last will and testament of Jesus. At his last meal with his disciples, before being lead to his death, Jesus said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you'. Jesus had to shed his blood, Jesus had to die, for this covenant to come into force.


And, what is the 'will' of Jesus? That people should be brought back into relationship with the Father. Imagine a person's life. They have run up huge debts. They are bankrupt, with no hope of escaping their ruin. And then someone dies and leaves them a fortune. It is so vast, that their debts are paid off instantly. Those they owed are no longer angry with them. They no longer feel the need to hide when their creditor comes knocking at the door demanding payment. They can look them in the eye. They wouldn't be ashamed to seek them out. And there is so much money left over that they will never be in need again. The gospel, as revealed in God's holy word, is just like that. By the dying of Jesus our debt to God is wiped out. We don't need to hide or be afraid of him.


Now we are in restored relationship with God and Philippians 4: 19 tells us that 'God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.' The life, the death, the resurrection of Jesus, has unearthed a store of inexhaustible riches. Is there enough to cover my needs for the rest of my life? No, there's more than that. The next verse in Philippians (v.20) says, 'to our God and Father be glory for ever and ever.' These are the kind of riches that are 'for ever and ever'. They are eternal riches, to the glory of our God.


Eugene Brown's legacy went to people who didn't know him and, frankly, didn't want to know him. His legacy went to people that probably looked a little bit like Eugene, but had no other connection with his life. Many people mistakenly think that the legacy of Jesus is the same. They rightly perceive that Jesus was a righteous, upright man. They think that Christianity is something that can only be entered into by those whose lives are sorted and who appear to be upright people. They think that there is no place for them to worship God. How could I go to church when my life looks the way that it does? As Christians, we can reinforce this type of thinking in others when we make demands of non-Christians who are gather with us. How sad it is when Churches sing the message of 'Just as I am', but then look down on those who aren't dressed in 'Sunday best'.


Jesus did not come to create a legacy that would go to people who were inherently righteous. He said, 'I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance' (Luke 5: 32). It isn't our own supposed qualities, or qualifications, that recommend us to the Lord. It is God himself who qualifies us. Colossians 1 12 instructs us as believers to give 'joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.'


Eugene's fortune passed to those who actually wanted nothing to do with him. They were happy to receive his legacy, but they had no real desire towards Eugene as a person. The inheritance that comes from Jesus goes only to those that desire him, those that need him, those that delight in him, those that love him. Eugene didn't pass his fortune to his friends, but Jesus did. James 2: 23 tells us that ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend.' God's friend! What an extra-ordinary thing. And why was Abraham called God's friend? Simply because he believed him. He trusted in God's word and believed that it was true. And this is the same for us. Do we want God to be our friend? Do we want an everlasting inheritance to be ours? Then we must also believe the word of God and what it promises to those who put their trust in Christ alone.


Those that ultimately benefited from the life of Eugene Brown, could have continued to live in blissful ignorance of their unknown Uncle's riches. But they were sought out and found by the 'heir hunters'. These people informed them about their relative's life and death and resulting fortune and told them that it could be theirs. The bible teaches Christians that we must become 'heir hunters'. We must witness to the truth of Jesus Christ. We are given this commission in various places in scripture, including John 15: 27, Acts 1: 8 and Luke 24: 47-48. The words of Jesus, that are recorded by Luke, mention the foretelling in scripture of Jesus' coming, and about his death, and about his resulting legacy. He said (NLT), 'Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’ You are witnesses of all these things.'


We must be 'Jesus Witnesses'. There is an inheritance and we must endeavour to publish it, that others may hear of it and make their claim to its riches. After Eugene Brown's death, those heir hunters eventually received a percentage cut for finding Eugene's lost relatives. Christians won't reap a financial reward for making the truth of the riches of Christ known to the otherwise lost. But they'll find joy. In Luke 15: 7, Jesus says, 'there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who do not need to repent.' And this heavenly mind must be that of the Lord's people on earth. What joy we will have over each and every sinner who repents, and claims the inheritance that comes from the death of Christ. And, as 1 Peter 1: 4 tells us, it is 'an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you.'

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