Episode 79: Heaven- Our Eternal Home as Believers, Part 1

Peace to Live By Episode 79: Heaven- Our Eternal Home as Believers, Part 1 - Daniel Litton
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[Transcript may not match broadcasted sermon word for word, and contains extra material that was cut from the broadcast due to time constraints]

       It’s been almost a year ago now but last Spring I had just finished the third season of Peace to Live By and had some spare time on my hands. I was deciding how to use it and I knew I wanted to dive into some American history of sorts, as from time to time when I get some free time I will study various topics and people from history, events and persons that interest me. I realized as I was thinking about what I wanted to learn that I had never considered the life of Jackie Kennedy before—at least, from her perspective. I love to learn about Presidents, and I have studied many of them over the years, some more than others. As pertains to understanding President John F. Kennedy, as many of us know there is no shortage of information—much of it good, and some of it not so good and things to be avoided. Nonetheless, it seemed to me also that a fresh way to perhaps see the life of President Kennedy would be to see it through Jackie’s eyes. So, that’s what I tried to do as I spent about six weeks during my free time seeing things through Jackie Kennedy’s perspective.

       Jackie is an interesting person to say the least. (By the way, I did see the new movie ‘Jackie’ which stars Natalie Portman, and it was a worthwhile experience that I would recommend to any grown up to see.) Whether you consider her younger years, either before she met John Kennedy or the time thereabouts, or whether you consider the White House years when she was First Lady, and you can review the years when she became Jackie Kennedy Onassis, or even the time after that when her two children were becoming adults and she would work in the literary field. And speaking of her literary interests, that is one thing you quickly learn about Jackie, and that is that she loved good literature, anything from Shakespeare to poetry—and even the Bible. One of her favorite passages from the Bible was Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 which talks about the fact that there is a time for everything under Heaven—a time for the different things people experience in life. Another favorite Scripture of hers was Matthew 5:1-10, which is The Beatitudes of course.

       Anyway, one of Jackie’s favorite poems of all time is the one titled ‘Death Be Not Proud’ by John Donne, and I think this poem captures what I want to talk about today and next week. On April 30, 1963, one day when Jackie was First Lady, she read this poem at the White House. This poem happens also to be one of my favorite English poems and the poem I selected as such when I was a senior in high school. Let’s go ahead and read the poem:

“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

I think this piece really captures what the ultimate focus of our lives should be, and certainly, that’s on eternity. It is there that we are going, and so I believe it’s good that we have an idea of what the destination is going to be like.

       What I want to talk about today and next week is Heaven. I don’t think a lot of people think much about what Heaven will be like for us, and when we do think about it we probably aren’t overly impressed with the image, the visualization, that we have in our minds. I think there is a an underlying concern among many Christians that Heaven is really going to be a boring place in the end—that there really isn’t going to be much to do but sit on a cloud and rest, and perhaps play a harp from time to time, as the famous image goes. But what I want us to consider today and next week is that Heaven is a real, physical place that is going to be much like what we have in our current world setup—in a sense—what we have on the earth right now. There is a Heaven right now, which is the third realm of existence (outside of the universe), but it’s also true that we still have the Millennial Kingdom to come, where Christ reigns on our current earth, and also the eternal state—the new Heaven and new earth which God is going to create in the future.

       Now, today, what I want to focus on is some basic facts that Heaven is a real place. I want to talk about the question, “How do we know Heaven is real?” Then we will move through the question about death—and why death occurs for us and why a Heaven has to exist in the first place. Lastly, today I will talk about our judgment after this life, and how that will relate to our ‘Heaven’ experience. Now, next week we will focus more on what Heaven is actually going to be like for us, and we will do that by considering varying subtopics and things toward the end of the Book of the Revelation, chapters 21 and 22 to be specific. So, I think we have a lot to consider here, and I believe we are going to realize that Heaven is definitely a place we want to be looking forward to, as Christians, and also a place that we want to be investing in for the future. My hope is that we will realize that Heaven is going to be a spectacularly grand place, a place where everyone is going to definitely want to be. We are going to see that it is certainly not going to be a boring place, a place where we just sit around doing nothing, or a place where all we do is worship God. Worshipping God is surely going to be part of it, and something that will be great, but there is going to be much, much more to it than that.

       To get started, let’s think about some basic facts about our current day Heaven, and the arrangement that God has setup in our world and in his Word. Currently, we know that our world is setup with three realms. Realm one is the earth—it is were we are right now. We live our lives here. It’s our current day home. Realm two in our world is what we call outer-space. That is where we can look into a telescope and see a variety of planets and stars in the distance. The Bible tells us that this is where Satan’s demonic forces reside. It is their headquarters and residence. So, the third realm of existence—which is also a physical realm—though it be spiritual as well (just like outer-space), is Heaven. That’s where God resides. That’s where his angels are headquartered. That’s where Satan spends a lot of his time standing before God to accuse us of our sins. Really, there is a fourth area, though it is likely located in our current realm, perhaps in another dimension, or perhaps even under the earth we walk on. I am talking about Hell, the place where God has certain demons chained up, right now, and where he sends those who do not accept the truth, who do not believe in him, for constant torment. A great deal of people, then, reside there.

       Now, all the places I just talked about are temporary places, with the exception of Heaven—the place where God resides. For all the others, the Bible tells us that each of them is going to be destroyed. We know that God is going to destroy our current earth, and our current universe, and this is going to happen after the 1,000 year reign of Christ on this earth. God is going to create a new Heaven (which is a new universe) and a new earth, which will not be covered primarily with water as it is today. Even the current day Hell, where unbelievers reside, that is going to be dumped into a new place of torment—a new creation by God called the Lake of Fire. So, even Hell changes to a different place. And this would make sense if in fact Hell is in the center of the earth.

       However, I do want to note that just because God is going to destroy our current world setup, this doesn’t mean that it was not originally created as good, or is not even good today. Indeed, we see the goodness of God all around us. We see his creativity in nature, in the mountains and valleys, the fields and plains, the forests, and even the oceans. We see God’s glory in the animals he has created, and the vast variety of them. We see how God has created a large diversity of human beings, those who are created in his image, in his likeness. King Solomon has told us, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, ESV). So, we see from this verse that we as human individuals are not just physical beings, but we are spiritual beings as well. Each of us has a soul, and not only that, but we have eternity in our hearts. We know there is more than what we see around us, and we long to fill that God-shaped vacuum that is in our hearts. It just doesn’t feel right for us to believe that this is all there is—that life is meaningless, and that nothing really matters.

       All this being said, so how do we know that Heaven is real? To answer this question, let’s consider our Lord Jesus Christ. We know that he lived on the earth, some 2,000 years ago. And where did he come from before he was on the earth? I mean, after all, he is God, right? So, he had to be somewhere. Well, the Bible tells us that Jesus came from Heaven. He was born of the virgin Mary, and he lived on the earth for some 30 years. We know that he was crucified, and then the Bible makes it clear to us that he rose from the grave—he came back to life. So, the Bible says that Jesus left the comfort of Heaven, became a man, lived on the earth, died, and then rose back to life. And not only that, he went back to Heaven. Jesus then had a soul—for his soul had to be somewhere while he was in the grave. And his soul re-entered his body, and he experienced bodily resurrection. Therefore, because of Jesus’ existence and his return to the Father, that’s one reason we know that Heaven is real, and a physical place at that. But Jesus also said that Heaven was real while he lived on the earth, for he said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25, 26, ESV). Here, he tells us that not only will he live forever, but anyone who believes in him will live with him forever.

       Beyond our Lord Jesus Christ we know there are other examples in the Bible, instances that show that Heaven is real. We could consider Stephen’s martyrdom. Recall in Acts chapter 7 that after Stephen gave his sermon to the Israelites, and was about to be martyred for his faith, the Bible records, “But he [Stephen], full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55, 56, ESV). So, Stephen bore witness that he saw Christ in Heaven. Or, we could go over to Acts chapter 9 where Saul, who had taken part in Stephen’s execution, meets the Lord Jesus Christ from Heaven on the road to Damascus. The text says, “a light from heaven shone around him” (9:3, ESV). So, Saul who becomes Paul had an encounter with Jesus in Heaven. But really, it would also appear that Paul himself was caught up into Heaven later in his life, as he told the Corinthian church in 2 Corinthians 12. There, he said of the man caught up into Heaven, which was probably himself, that “he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (12:4, ESV). And, so, while we try to describe things about Heaven as best we can, the reality is that there is much about Heaven we cannot describe or explain to our finite minds.

       So, now that we’ve established that Heaven is real, let’s ask the question, “Why do all people have to physically die?” Why is it that when we become a Christian and we are forgiven of all of our sins, why is it that at that point we just don’t live forever in our current bodies? How come even though God has declared us not guilty for all accounts of sin do we still have to die in this life? Well, we know that when God says something, he always follows through, right? So, God told Adam in the day that he eat of the forbidden fruit, that he would in fact die. And Satan had deceived Eve in the Garden by countering God’s truth—by telling her she would not surely die when she ate it. And who turned out to be right? Well, God, of course. Both Adam and Eve perished. They died spiritually immediately at the point in which they sinned against God, and then they died physically later in time after living on the earth for many years. So, death, then, is the direct result of sin. And God has not ridded this world of sin yet, but it is still very present among us, even in us, whether we are a Christian or not a Christian. Every person born into this world is born with an inner sin-nature. And that’s because all stem from the seed of Adam. That’s why Christ didn’t have a sin-nature because he was born of the Holy Spirit, not from a man. Not until the Millennial Kingdom will both the world and people be sin-free, and even then sin will crop up, at least at the end when Satan is released from his chains. But the new heaven and new earth will not have sin.

       The good news is that even though we know as Christians that we are all going to die (unless the Rapture occurs while we are alive in this life), we know that we will always be with God as well. Romans 8:38, 39 tells us that death does not separate a believer in Jesus Christ from him. This is in contrast with the unbeliever, who is separated from God when he or she dies, and goes to the place of torment, Hell. The Apostle Paul also has told us, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23, ESV). And Paul wrestled with this eternal life, for he knew that it was far better than his current life. He told the Philippians, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” (Philippians 1:21-24, ESV). See, Paul knew that by staying on the earth he could help his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ—he wasn’t a selfish individual. He knew that would rack up more and more rewards for himself in Heaven (and we are going to talk about this shortly). He knew that Heaven was going to be a great place.

       So death then is a release from this life, from the burdens, pains, and troubles that come to us in our lives. Many folks look at death as a negative thing, and it certainly is in some aspects, especially for those who we leave behind here on the earth. However, for the person who is dying, it means he or she is no longer tied down by the cares and concerns of this life. This current life is over for the person. So, a person’s concerns pertaining to the salvation of family and friends, the need to make money, the need to do a good job at whatever it is that the person was doing, the maintenance of relationships, taking care of one’s body—all those cares are gone; they are done for. So, when the believer in Jesus Christ dies, he or she goes immediately to be with Christ in the current Heaven. There, he has supplied for us everything we need besides himself. And one day in the future after that, we will get our new, resurrection bodies whereby we will experience the rest of eternity.

       Speaking of our bodies, what happens to our earthly bodies? Well, the reason our earthly bodies are placed into a casket and put six feet into the ground is based on the belief that Jesus will raise our bodies and transform them into new bodies in the future. That’s why many people in America are buried in caskets. I think some people have never thought about this (I was speaking with a friend recently, who’s an unbeliever, and she didn’t know about this). Regardless, these bodies that are decaying in the caskets now will be raised in the future and transformed into new bodies. So, no matter what was wrong with the body that caused it to die, whether it was disease, old age, murder, an accident, whatever it was, those bodies will be alleviated of that ailment and be in perfect health. Only now, we will look a lot better and have supernatural abilities. We will also have perfect personalities and characters. And, of course, we will be sin-free.

       And before we dive into our judgments and corresponding rewards, I do want to take a moment here and talk about how developing fruit in our personalities and characters on earth benefits us for Heaven. I think a lot of of sometimes wonder why bettering ourselves in certain ways about things pertaining to our character is necessary. Like, for example, why is it important for us to develop patience in this life when perhaps we will not need patience in Heaven? I remember having this conversation with God one time in my own life. I asked him why I needed to develop my patience when I probably wasn’t going to need it in the next life. And I remember that, over time, he showed me that not only is our patience important for our success in this life, but it is also important because the better people we become here on the earth, the more responsibility we will be given in Heaven. If I can continue to develop my character here on the earth and make it better and better, not only will I be given more rewards in Heaven in the future but also I will perhaps have a better experience in Heaven if the Lord Jesus Christ entrusts me with more responsibility in the next life. So, then, developing my patience is pretty important. And, on a side note, I have found that I really like patience—it certainly increases your quality of life.

       Now, in Heaven, God has a book in which all the names of saved people are written down, and we have seen this book in Scripture to be called The Book of Life. When it comes to understanding this book, really, there are two different theories. One theory proposes that as God saves people in our world, that their names are added into the book. Another theory proposes that everyone’s name is originally in the book, but that God blots out the names of those who do not repent and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. Personally, I think I prefer the second approach here. Nevertheless, the Book of Life contains all the names of every person who has ever believed in him, both those who, during the times of the Old Testament, looked forward to Christ’s coming to the earth, and those, who during the times of the New Testament, Church Age, Tribulation Period, and perhaps the Millennial Kingdom, have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior. So then, non-Christians names are not written in The Book of Life, or they have been blotted out. As an aside, one could look at all the names of mankind being in the book versus only the elects names as the debate as to whether Christ died for everyone in the world or only the elect. But that’s getting off topic. Hebrews 4:13 tells us, “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (ESV). We also read in Revelation 20:15, “And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (ESV). Therefore, only believers in Jesus Christ get to go into Heaven.

       So, in order to supplement the salvation that we all are going to receive, as Christians, and the fact that we are with God forever, God himself is going to give most of us a variety of rewards that we have gained by doing right and being obedient in this life. It should also be noted that the longer we’ve worked for Christ, the more relationships we are going to have, both with those we worked alongside and those whom we partook in helping them come to Christ. Jesus will evaluate our works at what is called the Judgment Seat of Christ. These works will be evaluated on whether they were done with right motive, or whether we did them with an ulterior motive, like the praise of our fellow brothers and sisters or even just to be seen by others. God will evaluate our thoughts, our words, and our behaviors to see how they line up with what he has taught us in his Word. That’s one reason why it’s important for us to watch what we are doing even when no one else is around or no one else knows our thoughts. God sees everything that is going on internally besides externally. Our hope when we initially get to Heaven is to hear our Lord say, “‘Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21, ESV). And Jesus also said in Revelation 2:7, “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God’” (ESV). Think of the best food you’ve ever ate, and this will be a hundred times better. Now, as I said, next week we will focus more on what our Heaven experience is actually going to be like.

       In conclusion, I know there are many out there today who do not believe in Heaven—who are not following Jesus in their lives right now. Jesus said on one occasion to some people who didn’t believe in the afterlife, “And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong” (Mark 12:26, 27, ESV). You see, there really is an afterlife, and there really is a Heaven, and there really is a Hell. And people are going to both places. It is very important for you today to make sure you are going to go to the right place. It’s not worth spending an eternity forever in the future being tormented in every moment for the sake of holding onto sin and refusing to accept the truth—to accept Jesus as God. Yes, God sends people to Hell when the do not repent and turn to him, but didn’t you take part in that choice? God doesn’t want to send anyone to Hell. It is because a person does not believe and will not repent of his or her sin that the person ends up going there. That cannot be blamed on God.

       But the good news today is that anyone can escape from the torment of Hell by accepting Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross on their behalf for all sins. Anyone can be made right with God today through Jesus Christ. You see, Christ came to the earth quite a long time ago and died for the sins of the whole world. And God raised him from death to life again. Anyone who accepts Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for his or her sins is made right with God. Anyone can gain eternal life today. Any person at the sound of my voice can enter God’s peace and rest today, and gain all the benefits that God bestows upon those who will accept his offer. Heaven is open to everyone who will believe in Jesus. God wants everyone to enjoy being with him forever and the enormous benefits that Heaven has to offer. But people have to make that choice; God can’t do it for us.

       If you would like to come into personal relationship with God today through Jesus Christ, and gain eternal life, and peace with God forever, then please follow my lead in this prayer:

       God, I come to you today separated from you. But I have decided I believe Jesus died for my sins on the cross, and that he rose from the grave, and I want to accept his death and resurrection for me. I want to start following your way of doing things, and leave my old life behind. So, Father, please change me from the inside out, and help me to become more like you want to be, more like Jesus. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

       Let’s pray.

       Heavenly Father, I thank for the opportunity today to talk about Heaven, about our future home, and how it is a real place now, and how it is going to be our very home in the future. Thank you, Father, for this discussion. I pray for those who have just accepted your truth, who have believed in Jesus, that you will help them to grow in you, to develop their characters and lives so that they can have a better experience now, and a great experience in the future with you.

       Father, I also pray for those who still are refusing your offer of salvation, your gift of Heaven. I pray that they will rethink that decision, and that they will not be afraid to come to you. Help them to realize that you are not against them, but that you are for them. Help them to see that you want to be their God, and that they can find rest, peace, and trust in you—that you will never let them down. Please help them to choose you today, and to be bold enough to make that move in the right direction.

       I also pray, Father, for those of us who are in right relationship with you. I pray that we will continue to be renewing our minds in your truth, that we will be spending time with you in prayer, and that we will be taking the time to study your Word and better ourselves in you. Help us to keep the process of growing going, and not to be slack in our character development. Help us always to seek new ways we can better ourselves, and have a more enjoyable relationship with you, and with those you have placed around us.

       So, please bless us today Blessed Father, and continue to make us more like Jesus. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

-Daniel Litton