“but have eternal life”
Dear Friends in Christ,
Two weeks ago I preached a sermon unlike any I have ever preached before. It dealt entirely with the darkest and dreariest subject that any preacher can speak on. Remember what it was? It was the subject of hell. We looked at hell’s location, its duration, its separation, its justification, and then its supreme surprise, which is that Jesus went to hell and through hell for us so that we would never have to know what that is like.
Well, today I have the great joy and privilege of switching gears completely and preaching on a subject that is definitely one of my personal favorites, as I’m sure it is yours as well. And that is the subject of heaven. The familiar verse of Scripture that we’ve been studying throughout much of this year and that we will bring to a conclusion today, John 3:16, says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Eternal life. What a stark contrast to the eternal punishment in hell that we looked at a couple of weeks ago. And yet there are many misconceptions and many questions that people have about this life that will last for all eternity.
For example, one misconception is that we become angels when we die. I used to think that when I was a little child based upon what I saw in cartoons. Anytime anyone died in a cartoon, they’d sprout wings, be given a harp and a halo, and ascend upward. But the Bible makes it clear that angels are an entirely separate created being than what we human beings are. And though we will live with the angels in heaven, though I’m confident we will meet our guardian angel or angels in heaven, we will not become angels in heaven.
One of the most common questions I get asked about heaven is “Will we know one another there?” And I believe, based upon everything God reveals to us in the Bible, that yes, we will. We will not shed our identity once we leave this world behind. For example, in the story that I alluded to several times in this sermon series, the story of the rich man and Lazarus, when Lazarus died, he was still Lazarus in heaven. And when the rich man died, he still maintained his earthly identity in hell.
But perhaps the most common question I get asked about heaven is this: What will we do there? And quite frankly, won’t heaven be boring? I mean, eternity is a long time and it’s hard for us to imagine what we will be doing during that time. In one of his Far Side cartoons, Gary Larson portrays a winged man sitting on a cloud all by himself. There’s no one near him and apparently there’s nothing to do. And the caption reveals his thoughts as he says, “I wish I’d brought a magazine.”
Isaac Asimov, the science fiction writer who wrote over 500 books, once said: “Whatever the tortures of hell, I think the boredom of heaven will be worse.” He along with many other people apparently envision heaven as consisting of fluffy white clouds in our midst, harps on our laps, and time – lots of time – on our hands. Others think of heaven as one endless time of worship. One song. Then another song. Then another and another and another. And as they think of how anxious they get when the Sunday morning service goes over an hour, they wonder to themselves, “Am I really supposed to feel good about an eternity of endless worship?”
Well, this morning I want to try to clear up any misconceptions or questions you might have about heaven by just taking a look at what God has to say about it in his Word. And the first of three points I want to make is that heaven is a perfect place. In John 14:2 Jesus tells his disciples: “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.” Just like hell is an actual place, as we talked about in my sermon 2 weeks ago, the same holds true for heaven. And while the term heaven is used in the Bible to describe the dwelling place of God, the angels, and all who are saved, I want you to know that that particular place will not be our final destination, our eternal dwelling place. I used to think it would be until I began to come across and study passages in Scripture that speak of a new heaven and a new earth. For example, in Isaiah 65:17 God says: “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.” In Rom. 8:19 the Apostle Paul writes: “For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.” That future day is the day that Christ returns to this earth, the day that all the dead are raised, the day that we sometimes refer to as Judgment Day. Then in v. 21 Paul says: “All creation anticipates the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.”
What those passages are telling us, my friends, is that following the fiery destruction of this world that is described elsewhere in Scripture and following the final judgment, God will bring about a renewal, a refashioning of this world and universe so that it will return to its original pristine state that it enjoyed before sin entered it and ruined it. And never again will it be tainted or touched by sin or evil. It truly will be Paradise restored. And we will be able to enjoy it in brand new resurrected, glorified bodies.
And part of that new heavens and new earth will be what the Book of Revelation calls the New Jerusalem. In Revelation 21:2-5 the Apostle John was given a glimpse of this holy city and he describes it this way: “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 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. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Now that’s pretty hard to wrap your mind around, isn’t it? A world free of tears and sorrow, suffering, pain, and death. A world where everything is brand new and where the effects of sin’s curse can no longer be felt. But it gets even better.
The dimensions of the New Jerusalem are absolutely jaw-dropping. According to Rev. 21:16, it is a perfect cube, as high and wide as it is long. And how high and wide and long is it? Well, that verse says 12,000 stadia, which according to our system of measurement would equal about 1400 miles. So we’re talking about a city large enough to contain all the land mass from the eastern part of Kansas to the California coast and from Canada to Mexico. Forty times the size of England. Ten times the size of France. You could place India inside the New Jerusalem. And that’s just the bottom floor. Remember, this city is a cube. It goes as high as it is long and wide. If God were to stack floors in this heavenly metropolis, one source I came across said it would have the potential of having over 600,000 stories. More than ample space for all of God’s people to come and go. And come and go they will for Rev. 21:25 says: “On no day will its gates ever be shut.” There is no reason for its gates to ever be shut because there will be no enemies to worry about anymore. Satan and all of his hosts will be consigned to the lake of fire, banished from God’s presence and our presence for all eternity, leaving a perfect place of perfected people.
I can’t wait to see you in heaven because you will be you at your best. You will be you as God has always intended you to be. Here on this earth you have your good moments, but even our best moments according to the Bible are far from perfect because they are tainted by sin. Isaiah 64:6 says “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” And what about our worst moments? Those times of high anxiety and doubt, the sharp tongue, the harsh temper, the me-centered selfishness. We can all recall far too easily times like that, right? But in heaven, the new and improved you will bid farewell forever to the sinful you. Rev. 21:27 says of the New Jerusalem: “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful.” You know what that means, my friends? Not only will you be at your best in heaven, but everyone else who is there will be at their best. Imagine that! No more gossiping neighbors. No more competing co-workers. No more jealous classmates. No more resentful associates. No more family squabbles. God’s sinless society will bring an end to all the strife and conflict that we have known all too well this side of heaven.
Because of that, I want you to dare to imagine with me for just a moment some of the dramatic reunions that will take place in heaven. A Confederate soldier embracing the very Union sniper who shot him. A daughter seeing her abusive yet repentant father and hugging him. An aborted baby encountering the mother who ended her life before she had a chance at life and letting that mother know that she had forgiven her. I think it’s these types of reunions that the Bible may very well be referring to in our Old Testament reading before, where it says in Isaiah 11:6: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together.” Those who were natural enemies in this life, those who once found themselves at odds with one another, will know no such conflict in heaven. Instead, perfect peace and harmony will prevail.
And as perfected people we will have jobs to do – assignments, if you will. When God placed Adam and Eve in the original paradise, he did not tell them to lounge around all day and do nothing. Rather, we’re told in Gen. 2:15 that he “put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Rev. 7:15 tells us that those who are in heaven will serve God day and night in his temple. Now exactly what that service will consist of, I don’t know. But I do know that it will be an eternal delight coupled with eternal fulfillment to be able to serve in the presence of the One who is the very essence and embodiment of love and kindness and goodness.
And that really leads right in to our final point which is by far the best part of heaven. Heaven is a perfect place of perfected people who will live forever with their perfect God. Friends, let’s not assume that we will ever exhaust our study or understanding of God. He is an infinite being whose attributes and characteristics can never be fully grasped by finite beings like us. So I suspect it will take all of eternity for us to plumb the depths of his love, his wisdom, his holiness, his power, his glory, and all his other qualities. Rom. 11:33 says: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” Dare we imagine a God so wrapped with wonders that the viewing of those wonders requires an eternity? Dare we envision a God with ever-increasing beauty that never fades or dulls? This is the God we serve, my friends. This is the God we worship. This is the God who anxiously awaits our arrival in heaven. This is the God who has done everything possible and everything necessary to make that arrival not just a slim possibility for us but a sure and definite reality through his Son Jesus Christ.
So you tell me, after all we’ve talked about today, do you think heaven is going to be boring? A perfect place of perfected people living forever with their perfect God? I don’t think so. In fact, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that heaven will be anything but boring. For listen to what Paul says in I Cor. 2:9: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” So if you love the Lord, if you believe and trust in his Son Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin, then you will have all of eternity to enjoy something so wonderful, so spectacular, so incredible and unboring that human words cannot begin to describe it. Amen.