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Duration:31 mins 54 secs

 

"How many want to go to heaven?" the Sunday School teacher asked her class.  And everyone held up his hand except one little boy.  "What's the matter, Johnnie," she asked, "Don't you want to go to heaven someday?"

"Someday?" Johnnie repeated, "Oh, sure!  I thought you were getting a group together to go right now!"

That story always reminds me of a Sunday School class I was a part of as a teenager.  We had been studying about heaven when one of the boys in the class voiced a very interesting opinion; one that all of us were thinking.  He said, "I'd certainly rather go to heaven than the other place.  But if I had a choice, I think I'd just as soon live forever right here on earth."  We all knew he was thinking of that stereotypical picture of heaven as either floating around on a cloud all day while playing a harp…or participating in one unendingly long church service.

Augustine thought heaven would be like a monastery; an eternal continuation of the ascetic life (i.e. a never-ending life of simplicity, austerity, and self-denial).  He believed the only activity of heaven will be "to stand, to see, to love, [and] to praise."

Well pardon me if I don’t get too excited about that view of heaven!  I mean, I like to sing as well as anybody.  And when I get to heaven I do expect to praise & worship God the Father and Jesus Christ His Son.  But if that's all we’re going to do there, then eternity sounds like it could get a bit long!

Evidently the Apostle Paul didn't share that limited view of heaven.  For in Phil 1:21-23 he wrote: "21For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.  Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far…"

Please note that Paul expected to be "with Jesus" upon his death, not put into some state of suspended animation for thousands of years until Jesus comes back to earth.  

It's true there are some who believe that at death the soul of a Christian goes into a dormant state or "sleeps" until Jesus returns.  But not me.

  • I remember how "Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away." (Ge. 5;24).  Heb. 11:5 says, "By faith Enoch was taken from this life so that he did not experience death; he  could not be found because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God."  Are we to believe God put him to sleep for thousands of years awaiting the rest of us?  I don't think so!
  • Elijah is another who was transported directly to heaven in a whirlwind and with a fiery chariot & horses. (2 Ki. 2:11f).  Again, are we to assume he arrived at his eternal home in a state of suspended animation?  Surely not!
  • The story Jesus told of Lazarus and the rich man (Lk. 16:19f) pictures Lazarus being "carried to Abraham's side" where he is "comforted."  Both he and Abraham are very conscious of what is going on around them.
  • To the repentant thief who was crucified beside him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." (Lk. 23:43).  Not "Several millennia from now when you wake up you will be with me in paradise."
  • Even Christian martyrs the Apostle John saw in his heavenly vision were fully aware of their surroundings.  They were given white robes and "told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed." (Re. 6:9-11).

In that passage quoted earlier--Phil. 1:21-23--it's difficult to see how the apostle Paul could think an early death was "gain" and "better by far" than fruitful ministry here on earth if he only expected to be put to sleep for hundreds or thousands of years.

But getting back to that overall picture of what to expect in heaven, the Apostle Peter wrote in 1 Pe. 1:3-4; "3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you…"  To me that sounds a lot more enticing than mere cloud sitting and harp playing!

What is it like there in heaven?  What will we do there? Of course, there are many things we cannot know until we get there.  But there is surprisingly much we can know from God's Word.  Today I want to share with you some of what we can know about heaven from what the Bible says or implies.

 

I.

Heaven will be a new world!

Look again at Rev. 21:1-5 and notice how many times the word "new" occurs in those few verses; "1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God...  5He 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.'"  

Don't you just love it when you get a new car, new shoes or clothes, or some new appliance?  New things are so much nicer and better than the old!  

Just think of a new world with none of the corruptions of this old world!  There won't be any night clubs, for there is "no more night!" (Re. 21:25).  No oil spills, garbage dumps, slums, or even ash trays for "nothing impure" will ever enter the city. (Re. 21:27).  No sweat-breaking, toilsome work, and not even any weeds, thorns, or thistles of any kind because "no longer will there be any curse." (Re. 22:3 with Ge. 3:17-19).  There will be no stinky, slimy, scummy, gunky, grody, yucky messes.  On the contrary, the Bible says "the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it," (Re. 21:24) and "the glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it." (Re. 21:26).

Why, it would be like the Garden of Eden, wouldn't it?  Yes! Very much so! In the beginning God created everything to be perfect, and when he finished, Gen. 1: 31 tells us "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good."  It was only because of mankind's sin that corruption entered into the picture.

My Sunday School classmate (who said he would just as soon live forever on earth as go to heaven) needed to realize that the same divine being who made this earth has also prepared a place for us that we might be where He is—a place with none of the corruptions & imperfections that presently infest this earth!  If He made this—our temporary home—with all of its awesome wonders, goodness, and variety, don't you think He's made our eternal home at least as marvelous, and probably better?

But the "newness" and blessedness of heaven will go far beyond the place itself.  Even our very bodies will be "new & improved."  (The older I get, and the more aches & pains I experience, the more important & precious that thought becomes.)  Our text in Rev. 21 said, "There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain." (21:4).  Thomas Moore once said, "Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal."  

The Apostle Paul talks about our resurrection bodies in 1 Corinthians 15.  He says in part, "…the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another.  …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 Cor. 15:40, 43).

He wrote the Philippian Christians, "20…the Lord Jesus Christ, 22… will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body." (Phil. 3:20-21).  

And the Apostle John, likewise, wrote in his first epistle, "Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.  But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him…" (1 Jn. 3:2).

Someone asked me to talk a bit about cremation.  Listen, there is nothing that can be done to the physical body that will prevent God from bringing it back together again when the time comes.  Rev. 20:13 even talks about the sea giving up the dead that are in it at the time of the judgment.  It is God's will that our physical bodies decompose. He told Adam, "...dust you are, and to dust you will return." (Gen. 3:19).  We can delay it for a while through embalming or mummification, but it will still happen eventually.  But it doesn't matter. God can call our very molecules together from the four corners of the earth if need be.  And when He does so, our bodies will be transformed and glorified.

It's fun to speculate just a little.  Consider for example, our five senses.   God has provided us with multitudes of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures to experience and enjoy.  Which of these five senses do you suppose he might take away to make our heavenly bodies better? Why, none! Or to put it another way; when we get to heaven shall we expect less—or more—than the pleasures of this present world?  Why, more, of course!

The human tongue can recognize—and enjoy—literally thousands of different kinds of foods and flavors.  Yet did you know there are only four kinds of taste buds on the tongue? Every flavor we experience is merely a specific combination of these four taste buds working together.  Now, do you suppose that when God invented four kinds of taste buds he couldn't think of any more? And how many new delicacies will there be to taste at the marriage supper of the Lamb?

Or consider your sense of smell.  Smells have a wonderful way of bringing us pleasure.  I was watching a television program recently that suggested the human nose could distinguish about 3000 different smells!  But did you know all the different scents we smell are detected by just seven types of smell receptors inside our noses. Do you suppose God exhausted the possibilities when he invented these seven?  God has already put better noses on certain animals than on humans. Since God has already demonstrated that he is capable of building a better nose, shouldn't we expect a superior sense of smell in heaven?  And why shouldn't we expect heaven to have a greater variety of things to smell?

How about hearing?  Not only will there be no hearing impairments (and hence no need of hearing aids), but we can expect our hearing to be greatly increased!  A porpoise can hear as high as 150,000 hertz, while humans can hear only as high as 20,000 hertz. Human hearing is wonderful, but obviously limited.  Can you imagine a kind of hearing that is not only fully restored—but also improved? Can you imagine a broader range of hearing, and new kinds of music & sounds to hear and enjoy?  1 Cor. 2:9 = "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him."

Similar points could be made about our sense of sight or touch.  And who's to say that our resurrected bodies will be limited to just five senses?  God can not only increase the receptors of our present senses; he can create whole new senses for us to enjoy.  Too often, we are like people who are tone-deaf, color-blind, with taste and smell dulled by disease, and with a calloused sense of touch.  And then we are foolish enough to suppose we have already experienced all of God's reality!

One of the specifics about heaven I was asked to address was "how old" we will be when we get there.  With our bodies not only "restored" but vastly "improved" and even "glorified," does it really matter how old we'll be?  Nobody is going know your age, and you won't "feel" it either! I'm not even sure there will be such a thing a "time" to measure age.

After the Christian dies, he goes to heaven where life is even better than the best of living here on earth!  If you think planet earth is "a nice place to live," then "Man, you ain't seen nothin' yet."  Just wait till you get a load of that new world!

 

II.

Heaven will be a beautiful world!

I know that, because we're told, it has been "prepared as bride, beautifully dressed for her husband." (Re. 21:2).  John also says, "It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal." (Re. 21:11).  He went on to describe golden streets, pearly gates, jewel-encrusted walls and foundations.  It sounds to me like John was grasping for some way to adequately depict something indescribably gorgeous! (Re. 21:18-21).  

Think back to a description of God’s original paradise for another clue into what we can reasonably expect to find in heaven.  Gen. 2:8-14 speaks of  the garden of Eden with "all kinds of trees" growing out of the ground—"trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food."  In the middle of the garden was the "tree of life" and "a river watering the garden" flowing from Eden.  It speaks of  gold, and aromatic resin, and onyx.

Do you notice some similarities between that garden and what John describes in Revelation 21 & 22?  

There is a "river," like that of Eden, "flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city." (Re. 22:1-2).  And the tree of life is also there. (Re. 22:2)  "(Incidentally, our word 'paradise' comes from an old Persian word meaning 'garden.' … In many ways, then, the story of salvation is the story of paradise lost and paradise restored.  Heaven will be [even] more wonderful than the garden of Eden, of course, just as the glorified body is greater than the 'seed' body planted in the grave." (Boles, p. 29-30)

A little girl was out in the country walking with her father under a star-filled sky at night.  She looked up and said, "Oh Daddy, if heaven is so beautiful on the wrong side, what must it be like on the right side!"

Oh, don't you want to go to that beautiful world?

 

III.

Heaven  will be a world of divine fellowship!

"Fellowship" is basically just a churchy word that means "being with friends."  In the sermon topic requests, someone asked if we would know our loved ones in heaven.  Yes! I believe so. In heaven we can look forward to seeing many other faithful Christian friends and family members who have gone on ahead of the rest of us.  I have a mother, some grandparents, and many other friends who are there waiting for me.

How will we recognize them?  I don't know how we will identify each other, but I'm confident we will.  In several of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, there was something different about Him, but His disciples still recognized Him.  I wouldn't be surprised if my mother sees me as a little boy, but at the same time my grandchildren see me as I am today! And when I look at myself in the mirror, I'll probably see the same dashing & handsome guy I've always been.

I believe we will not only recognize loved ones, but we will instinctively "know" everyone else who is there as well, including the saints of all ages.  Think of all the fascinating Bible heroes we'll get to meet in heaven; Noah, Moses, David, & Daniel. Deborah, Esther, Mary the mother of Jesus.

  • I want to ask Adam if that "forbidden fruit" really was an apple, or something else.  
  • I want to ask Noah how they passed the time for months and weeks on board that ark.  
  • I want to ask David what those other four smooth stones were for when he went out to fight the giant Goliath.  
  • And I want to find out what Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was.

And how about visiting with some of those other heavenly inhabitants—the angels, the cherubim, seraphim, and the "four living creatures" of Revelation.  Do I really have a "guardian angel" assigned to me? If so, what is his name? How many times, and in how many ways has he preserved me from harm or danger?

But most of all I look forward to being with Jesus in the presence of God!  Notice the number of times Rev. 21:3 says that we will be "with" God: "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."

Have you ever thought about how many hymns mention the thrill of meeting Jesus?

  • "Oh I want to see Him, look upon His face…"
  • "We Shall Behold Him"
  • "When we all see Jesus, what a day of rejoicing that will be."
  • "Just to be there and to look on his face will through the ages be glory for me."

I understand that the hymn "Over the Sunset Mountains" by John W. Peterson was penned during the writer's meditation at the piano.  The words of the first verse & chorus are as follows:

"Over the sunset mountains

Someday I'll softly go

Into the arms of Jesus;

He who has loved me so.

 

Over the sunset mountains

Heaven awaits for me,

Over the sunset mountains

Jesus my savior I'll see."

 

When Mr. Peterson first approached a publisher with his hymn, the publisher said, "Can you take out this reference to Jesus and enlarge a little more on heaven?"  Peterson responded, "Heaven without Jesus?  Unthinkable!"  Clutching his manuscript he walked away. (Encycleopedia of 7700 Illustrations, #2182).

Whether we recognize it now or not, the greatest pleasure we could ever experience in this life or the next—greater than the enjoyment of an excellent meal, greater than the pleasure of a satisfying relationship with one's spouse & family, greater than the euphoria of having your team win the Super-Bowl, or World Series; will be the pure delight of being in the presence of Jesus.   

Don't you want to go there?  It will be a new world, a beautiful world, a world of divine fellowship, and finally…

 

IV.

Heaven  will be a busy world!

Earlier we noted that some picture heaven as floating along on clouds all day doing little more than plucking on a harp.  But that's not the picture I get from the Bible. Rev. 22:3 says, "his servants will serve him," and Rev. 14:13 indicates "their deeds will follow them."

I remember hearing Wilbur Fields speculate on the meaning of that statement, "their deeds will follow them."  He suggested that in eternity we will be able to build and improve upon what we learned and accomplished during this lifetime.  He said he had interests in photography, music, archaeology and many other areas, and He intended to devote a million years or more of eternity to each one of his special interests.  (I like to play the guitar. …But I figure it will take me at least two million years to perfect that skill.)

By the way, "Here's another exciting thought about intelligence in heaven.  Learning can be fun again when our memories and our patience are not flawed.  …in heaven our renewed bodies will have renewed minds, and learning will be a joy."  (Boles, p. 51).

While helping her mother with the household chores, a little girl once asked her mother, "When I get to heaven, will I be dusting God's chair?"

Puzzled, her mother said, "Why do you ask, honey?"

"You know," said the child, "…like the hymn says; '…and dust a-round the throne, and dust around the throne.'"  She had misunderstood the last line of the hymn "Marching to Zion" that says, "And thus surround the throne, and thus surround the throne."

We won't have to "dust" or do any other "cleaning" in heaven.  After all, we've already pointed out that "nothing impure will ever enter it." (Rev. 21:27).  And I seriously doubt that our "service" to God will be wearisome or boring.  I'm quite sure, however, that we will be busy and active.  

Think of all there is to do in this world—the great variety of places to go and things to see and do.  And God made this entire world in only 6 days!  

One more time let's think back to God’s original creation.  Gen. 1:26-27 indicates that man was made "in the image of God."  I am not sure of all the traits and characteristics that truth entails, but one probability would be creativity.  It is God's nature to create. And thus, we too are inherently creative and inventive. God made us this way…for heaven!  Surely then, He doesn't intend to stifle our creativity once we get there.

In his book, Heaven; What a Wonderful Place, Kenny Boles observes; "We [humans] are dreamers and builders, always looking for new ways to do things.  Variety is the spice of life, we say, and set out to design houses and cars and electronic gear that are better than anything previous.  Given enough money [and time], each of us could design and build our perfect dream house—and no two houses would be exactly alike.

"By contrast, animals operate by instinct and do predictable things.  A barn swallow will build a barn swallow nest—every time. A beaver, a wasp, a termite, an eagle—all will build the same kind of house that others of their species always build.  They have no creativity; they have instinct. And they are perfectly happy, I suppose, doing the things they were created to do. …

"But people are designed to create.  God made us this way. [Set a pile of building blocks in front of a cat, and he will ignore it.  Set them in front of a puppy, and he will …mark it as his territory. But set them in front of a child, and he will build with them …even if only so he can knock them back down and start over.]  Why then should we think that God would make us creative, but put us in the kind of heaven where all we do is sing?  I think the reason we resist the idea of an eternity-long song service is that it stifles our inner drive to be what God meant us to be.  (Why give a bird wings if you never mean for it to fly?) Moreover, we were not designed 'in the image of God' in order to live in a fallen world.  We were designed this way to live in paradise.

"Heaven will be a place where people exercise their creativity for the glory of God.  Poets will write; musicians will compose; artists will paint. Builders and artisans will make an ever improving array of structures.  In a thousand different ways we will be free to use our creativity to honor our Creator. 'Be all you can be' will be the motto of heaven." (Boles, pp. 49-50).

 

Here's another clue as to our heavenly activities.  In the beginning, man was told to "Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." (Ge. 1:28).  He was created to have dominion.  Consequently, Jesus speaks of believers—those who overcome—ruling and reigning with Him. (Re. 2:26-27; 3:21; 22:5).  In Jesus' Parable of the Talents the faithful servant was told, "You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master's happiness!"

I would also have you note from Rev. 21:25 that the gates of heaven are always open.  Why so, do you suppose? Could it be so that those who are citizens of heaven may go in and out to explore God's new universe?  Will each of us be assigned our own galaxy to rule and oversee?

And for those who are more into hobbies and pastimes, I would point out that Ezekiel, too, had a vision of the celestial country.  He talks about that same "river" that John evidently saw.  And in Ezek. 47:9-10 he writes, "Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows.  There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live.  Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets.  The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of the Great Sea."  (How about that?  Any fishermen in the house?  There will be fishing and fishermen in heaven!  There's something for everybody! You’ll never be bored.)

 

Conclusion:

What a wealth of things we will have to do, and see, and be, and enjoy in heaven!  We will be free to express creativity, to learn endlessly, to travel & socialize broadly, and to love intensely.  We will be surrounded by a host of other people who will be thrilled with their freedom to do the same.  At the center of it all will be God, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Each part of our growth in the divine image will be to His glory and His eternal pleasure. (Boles, p.  54).

This is the Christian's hope—heaven!  It will be a new,  beautiful, busy world of divine fellowship.  It is available to all who commit themselves to Jesus in faith and obedience.  

I want to go there.  Don't you?

 

Sources for this sermon include: 

  • Kenny Boles, Heaven; What a Wonderful Place!, College Press, 1999
  • Wilbur Fields, “What is Heaven Like?” Revival sermon preached at Mt. Grove Christian Church, Mar. 1983
  • My own previous sermons on  1 Pe. 1:3-4 titled “Heaven; the Christians Hope” and Jn. 14:1-6 titled “Heaven”
  • Jack Holland, Notes on Heaven

 

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