|The Other Side | Heaven|
|October 11, 2008|
Part 3 of 3 | October 12, 2008
Welcome to the last, and best, week of The Other Side series. In this series, we are exploring what happens after death. What happens when you reach the other side?
A couple of weeks ago, we started out by talking about the afterlife. The fact that we really do go on into eternity when our life here on earth is over. You are both a physical and a spiritual being. You have a temporary, physical body, but you also have an eternal soul that will live on after your body dies.
Then last week, it was really tough because we talked about the reality of hell. The Bible teaches very clearly that hell is an actual, eternal place. The pictures that the Bible paints of hell are terrifying to think about. In a lot of ways, last Sunday was a tough, tough day.
But today…oh yeah. Today we’re wrapping up this series by talking about heaven. I’m so excited I can barely stand still today. In fact, I can already tell you that I’m not going to stand still. I’m going run around, probably get really excited, maybe get a little loud at times…but we’re talking about heaven! If this doesn’t get the church pumped up, then something is really, really wrong.
Let’s pray, and then we’re going straight to God’s Word for some amazing, hopeful truth about heaven.
Your perspective of heaven is probably very wrong. Most people, including a majority of Christians, have some very wrong ideas of heaven…mostly because we’ve allowed our views to be dictated by our culture instead of by the Word of God.
For a lot of us, heaven really doesn’t sound all that exciting. In fact, it really sounds pretty boring. And the only reason people want to go to heaven is because it beats the alternative. In a very real sense, a lot of us don’t want to go to heaven near as much as we want to avoid hell. Hell is going to be bad, so we say we want to go heaven, even though we honestly don’t think heaven sounds all that good. In fact, it sounds rather boring.
Isaac Asimov said, “I don't believe in an afterlife, so I don't have to spend my whole life fearing hell, or fearing heaven even more. For whatever the tortures of hell, I think the boredom of heaven would be even worse.”
I doubt any of us would have the courage to say it out loud, but many of us actually agree with Asimov. Not that we don’t believe in an afterlife. But the part we would agree with is that we think that heaven really sounds like a humdrum borefest.
Anthony Hoekema asked, “Are we to spend eternity somewhere off in space, wearing white robes, plucking harps, singing songs, and flitting from cloud to cloud while doing so?”
If we were honest, this is a way a lot of us think about heaven. This is usually pop culture’s view of heaven. It’s how heaven is portrayed in Looney Tunes cartoons. But this is not heaven as it is pictured in the Bible. Honestly, it’s not even close. And aren’t you glad? I don’t know about you, but I’m really glad that I won’t have to sign up for harp lessons as soon as I get to heaven.
So what is it going to be like? Forget about the pictures of heaven we see in medieval art and in contemporary pop culture. What does the Bible tell us about this part of the other side? We’re going to explore it this morning, and I will bet that almost everyone in this room will leave with a radically different view of heaven than you had when you walked in today. Are you ready? Let’s go.
As we learned a couple of weeks ago, when we die, we don’t immediately go to our final, eternal destination. Don’t get me wrong…when a believer dies, they are immediately in the presence of Jesus.
The Bible says that, “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8b, ESV) If you are a Christ-follower, the moment you die, you will be at home in the presence of Jesus. But it’s not your eternal home. It’s a temporary place of comfort and joy for believers, but the eternal home God has planned for us hasn’t been created yet.
The Bible tells us definitively that Jesus is coming back again. The second coming of Christ is not some abstract concept or an imaginative illusion. Jesus will return to this earth in an actual moment in time. Everyone on earth will be aware of it in that moment. And when he comes back, two events will simultaneously happen.
The first will be God’s final judgment of man. This will take place in the spiritual universe.
But at the very same time, something big is happening in this physical universe. 2 Peter 3 describes it in great detail. “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?
You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.
But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. (2 Peter 3:10-13, NIV)
While the final judgment of God is being meted out in the spiritual realm, a fiery holocaust will be happening in the physical world. The physical universe, which will be empty because we’re all at the judgment seat of God, will be completely cleansed by the refining fire of God.
And then, the Bible says something very interesting. It says that we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth. The fiery judgment of God on this world will purge it of all evil.
I think we can easily agree that this world is a far cry from the perfection that God intended. Flip on the evening news for two minutes tonight and you’ll be reminded how messed up our world has become. When sin entered this world through Adam and Eve, it sent creation on a downward spiral that is still happening today. God created this world in perfection, but sin came on the scene and God’s perfect creation was ruined.
But at the final judgment, God will once again restore absolute perfection to his creation. Anything corrupt or sinful in this world will be completely and totally annihilated. And all the imperfections of this fallen world, like illness, pain, fear war, hunger, and grief, will be destroyed forever by the fire of God. This is how God will prepare the eternal residence of his people.
The new earth that will be created after God’s cleansing fire will be our eternal destination. In one sense of the word, we will not spend eternity in heaven when we die. At least not the way most of us think of heaven. Our eternal destination will be the new earth that will emerge after God purges this world with his holy fire.
God first revealed his plan for a new universe in the book of Isaiah. In Isaiah 65, God said, “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create…” (Isaiah 65:17-18a, NIV)
There are some beautiful promises to unpack here. After God’s final judgment against this world, the Bible says that the former things will not be remembered. They won’t even come to mind. We’re not going to recall all the pain and evil we experienced here in this world. Maybe that means that the new earth will be so good that we won’t even think about the old one. Maybe it means that God will actually purge our minds of all our painful memories. I don’t know exactly how it will happen, but I do know that the Bible promises that our new world will, in ever way, dwarf the one we have now. We’ll be so overcome with joy in our new world that whatever pain and hurt we suffered on the old earth won’t make a dime’s worth of difference anymore.
And then God tells us to “rejoice forever” in this new world. “Forever” being the key word. Everything about our current world is temporary. You can’t slap the “forever” label on anything here, good or bad. The worst things in your current life are temporary. The best things in your current life are temporary. But on the new earth that God will create for us, everything will be good and everything will be forever.
But, before we get ahead of ourselves, the Bible says that something else must happen before we begin life on the new earth. When Jesus returns, we will be given new bodies.
The Bible says in Philippians 3:20-21, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:20-21, NIV)
This is another misconception most people have about heaven. Most people believe that heaven is this abstract spiritual world where you just float around playing a harp, and singing Kumbaya for all eternity. They don’t understand that our eternity will be spent on the perfected new earth.
And this misconception of heaven leads to another misconception: most people believe we’ll just be floating spirits. Maybe we’ll fly around on angel’s wings. We’ll just be this spirit thing that floats around, here, there, and everywhere.
This is not what the Bible says. God’s Word clearly teaches that you will have a body on the new earth. You’re not just going to be this spiritual, ghost-type thing. And you’re not going to fly around on angel’s wings. You’re going to have a body.
Now, your new body is going to be a significant upgrade from the one you currently have. Most of us are pretty glad about that, aren’t we? Most people don’t have to look in a mirror for long before they see all the flaws and shortcomings of their current body. When I look in a mirror, it takes me about two seconds to see all the different ways my body is flawed. I know you can’t believe that because you look at me and see this Greek god-like physique, but trust me. There are flaws. Many flaws.
All of us have imperfect bodies. Some of us are getting older and our bodies don’t work the way they used to. Others of us were born with different handicaps, where a portion of our body never worked properly. Every one of us has a very imperfect body in this world.
But Philippians 3 tells us that when Jesus returns, we’ll receive a new body…a body that is patterned after the glorious body of the risen Christ.
Now, check out these verses from 1 Corinthians 15. This is gold. “But someone may ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?"
The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (1 Corinthians 15:35, 42-44, NIV)
Your new body will be imperishable. It will never tire, never ache, never grow feeble, and never die.
Your new body will be a glorious, powerful body.
Your new body will be a spiritual body. Now, don’t take that to mean that you’ll be like a ghost or an apparition. Your spiritual body will still be a body. It will still have form and substance. But it will be spiritual in that it will be perfectly designed to live for all eternity in the perfection of God’s new creation.
Later in 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul writes what I think are some of the most amazing words in the entire New Testament. Every time I read these words, I get a shot of adrenaline.
“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. [At the second coming of Christ, we will receive our new bodies in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye. The Bible promises that we will be changed.]
For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true:
"Death has been swallowed up in victory." "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:51-55, NIV)
Death has no victory. No sting. Because Jesus is coming back and he will give his people new bodies, flawless bodies, eternal bodies that are perfectly suited to live in God’s wonderful new creation forever.
How does that sound to you, church? Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
Now, we’ve learned that we’re going to live in new bodies on the new earth, but what is our new life going to be like? If it’s not going to be like the heaven stereotypes we’ve all seen and heard, then what will it be like? The Bible doesn’t answer the question entirely. There is still some mystery about exactly what our life in eternity will be like. But the Bible does give us some awesome glimpses into what our eternal life will be like.
Let’s go back to Isaiah 65. God says, “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create…
the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more. Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years…” (Isaiah 65:17-18a, 19b-20a, NIV)
Those of you have experienced a miscarriage or lost a child, let this word from the Lord invade your heart. The pain you experienced will not last. Once you enter eternity, it will never happen again. Death is forever banished.
The prophet goes on. On the new earth, God says, “They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat…my chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands.
They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them.” (Isaiah 65:21-23, NIV)
This is not the picture of heaven most of us would expect to find in the Bible. You know what we just learned in these three verses? You’re going to work in heaven! These verses talked about building houses and planting vineyards. That’s work. Some of you are really depressed now. But hang with me.
We usually think of heaven as a place of rest. And it is. It is a place of rest from stress and fatigue and deadlines and injuries and rush hour traffic. Any of the negative aspects of work will not be found in heaven. In that sense, it will be a place of rest.
But that doesn’t mean that there will be no activity in heaven. Honestly, if you never got to do anything, heaven would be really boring. We will have fulfilling work to do in heaven, but we’ll never get tired. We’ll never stress out.
John Gilmore writes, “Heaven, if anything, is perfected action: doing more, doing it better; and having more space to do it.” (Cottrell, Jack. The Faith Once for All. City: College Press Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 570)
Listen to how Jack Cottrell describes it. We shouldn’t “expect to be bored with our heavenly activities, even though we’ll be engaged in them forever. A main reason for this is that our new life will be one of endless challenges to grow in our knowledge and understanding, not only of God, but of our new universe. There will be a new universe to probe and explore.” (Cottrell, Jack. The Faith Once for All. City: College Press Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 570)
In heaven, which we know means the new earth that God will create, the possibilities will be limitless. There will be unlimited potential for science. We’ll be able to take the arts to levels never before experienced. Think of what kind of athletic competition there can be with our new bodies. You mean there will be sports in heaven? Why not? Except golf. There won’t be golf in heaven. How do I know that? Because there won’t be any lying or swearing in heaven. And Jesus said that there would be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” in hell, not in heaven. That pretty much describes most golfers I know. Seriously, think of the activity that we’ll be able to do. Think of the kind of work that can be done with bodies that never tire or wear out.
This is a lot closer to the Biblical picture of heaven than floating on some cloud playing a harp forever and ever.
Here’s a great word to accurately describe what heaven will be like: adventure. Forget boring. Heaven will be a constant adventure.
But this isn’t the best part of life in eternity. Look at the next verse from Isaiah 65. God says, “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.” (Isaiah 65:24, NIV)
You know why God will hear us while we’re still speaking?
Because he will be with us.
In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John was given a glimpse into eternity. Here’s what he saw in Revelation 21.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” (Revelation 21:1, 3, NIV)
This is the eternity that awaits you if you are in Christ. God will make his dwelling with us. It doesn’t say that we’ll go live with God. God will come to live with us.
Jack Cottrell said, “Since God’s presence is what makes the new earth a true heaven, we can say that, as far as our eternal state is concerned, we do not “go to heaven,” but heaven comes to us.” (Cottrell, Jack. The Faith Once for All. City: College Press Publishing Company, 2002, pg 571)
The idea that God will live with us on the new earth fits perfectly with his original plan. In the book of Genesis, the Bible says that God walked with Adam & Eve. He came to them. He walked with them. He dwelled with them. But sin destroyed that kind of community with God. But in eternity, this is how things will be again. God will not call us to live in a realm made for him. He will come and live in a realm made for us.
You will get to see Jesus Christ face to face. Recently, Nicki was having a conversation with our four-year-old son, Ryan, about heaven. She told Ryan that he would get to meet Jesus in heaven. And Ryan’s eyes got as big as dinner plates. “Jesus is going to be there? I get to meet Jesus?”
“Yes you do.”
Then Ryan said, “Let’s go to heaven right now!”
Nicki said, “Well, we have to die first.”
I’m not lying. Ryan started jumping up and down on the bed, saying, “I want to die! I want to die! I want to die! Mommy, can we make a dying machine? I want to die!”
Now, I’m not thrilled that my son apparently has a death wish. But I’m ecstatic that he is so pumped about meeting Jesus. It really gave me a glimpse into why Jesus told us to have the faith of a child.
Listen up, church…the Bible tells us in Revelation 7 that the throne of Jesus will be on the new earth. We will literally get to worship him around his throne. Think about this. You are going to worship, you are going to experience, you are going to see Jesus. The one who gave his life to forgive you, cleanse you, restore you. And not only are we going to see him, but he is going to live with us for all eternity. This is what will make our home on the new earth…heaven.
To be honest, I know that I have failed today. Whenever you preach on heaven, you are doomed to fail because there’s no way you can accurately describe it. It’s beyond description. You can’t comprehend it. It’s beyond comprehension.
The Bible says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9, NIV)
I can’t paint a full picture of heaven for you. What I can tell you is this…in heaven, I am going to meet my Lord, my Savior, my Healer, and my Redeemer face to face. That is our hope. That is our peace. That is our joy. That is heaven. And that’s what awaits anybody who is in Christ.
I agree with Ryan. Let’s go.
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