I must admit, when I think of heaven, I have usually thought of same stereotypes discussed in Sunday’s sermon. I tend to think of everything being white. Maybe it’s because things are supposed to to glow in the light of God’s love. Or maybe it’s because I’ve seen too many pictures like this where everything is white.
But after spending yet another winter in east central Indiana where snow is on the ground for months on end, I must say that I’m kinda tired of white.
So I’m glad I had the opportunity to study up on heaven just a bit in preparation for Sunday’s message, What’s the Big Deal? about Heaven because it helped change my own perspective. And what we know and understand about heaven is highly important.
Some of this sermon was influenced by a sermon I delivered several years ago about heaven and hell. And I know some of that one was influenced by Max Lucado’s book, 3:16 – The Numbers of Hope. I’m not sure, however, if I quoted from that book or not in the original sermon.
What’s the Big Deal? about Heaven
April 18, 2010
A beautiful swan was walking along the banks of a pond when he came upon a crane wading about, looking for snails. The crane stopped his search for a few moments and gazed in bewilderment at this creature he’d never seen before.
“What are you?” he asked. “I’ve never seen anyone like you around here before.”
“Me? I’m a swan,” she replied.
“A swan, huh? Well…where do you come from?”
“I come from heaven,” replied the swan.
“And where is this…heaven?” the crane asked.
“Oh!” exclaimed the swan, “You’ve never heard of heaven?” And the beautiful bird went on to describe the grandeur of the Eternal City. She told him of the streets of gold and the gates and walls made of precious stones; and of water pure as crystal. In eloquent terms the swan sought to describe the hosts who dwell there, but the crane quickly lost interest in the discussion.
He turned his gaze back towards the water and the dinner he had pursued. After a few moments of silence, he finally asked, “Are there any snails there?”
“Snails?!?” repeated the swan, “No! Of course there are not!”
“Well,” the crane responded as he continued his search along the slimy banks of the pond, “You can have your heaven. I want snails!”
It seems that we have done a poor job describing heaven. So much so that many people are just like that crane in this old legend. They’d rather stay around the mud and the muck looking for snails instead of the glories of heaven.
A few years ago, the Starbucks coffee chain caused an uproar amongst some believers. If you’re not familiar with their coffee cups, Starbucks prints seemingly-random quotes on their disposable cups. The quotes, called “The Way I See It,” some are meant to inspire. Some are meant to encourage contemplation and conversation. Some, however, spark controversy. And that’s what happened when a quote from a columnist with the LA Times appeared on a cup. Here’s his quote:
“Heaven is totally overrated. It seems boring. Clouds, listening to people play the harp. It should be somewhere you can’t wait to go, like a luxury hotel. Maybe blue skies and soft music were enough to keep people in line in the 17th century, but heaven has to step it up a bit. They’re basically getting by because they only have to be better than hell.”
Unfortunately, I think he hits the nail on the head for many people. And I do agree with him on one point. Heaven should be somewhere you can’t wait to go. But because we’ve allowed this watered-down, comic book idea of heaven to be so popular, many people want nothing to do with it. It sounds too boring to them. You sit there strumming your harp waiting for the time to pass. Forever. And ever. Nonstop. We picture this endless sing-along where you sing all of the verses of Holy, Holy, Holy and then repeat the song. Over and over and over again. For the rest of time. You know, I absolutely love Holy, Holy, Holy, but the idea of singing that same song over and over for the rest of eternity isn’t exactly my idea of how I want to spend forever. Sounds rather monotonous and boring to me. It’s no wonder that science-fiction author Isaac Asimov once said, “Whatever the tortures of hell, I think the boredom of heaven would be even worse.” Is heaven really boring? If so, what’s the big deal?
We’re in the middle of a series called What’s the Big Deal? Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at some common questions that people ask both within Christianity and about Christianity. We started, of course, by asking “What’s the Big Deal about Easter?” And last week, we asked, “What’s the Big Deal about the Bible?” And if you missed those weeks, they’re always available online at http://www.CowanChristianChurch.info. We’ll also be answering questions like, What’s the Big Deal about the Church? And What’s the Big Deal about Adoption? And this morning, we’re answering the question, “What’s the big deal about Heaven?”
We have this unrealistic image of heaven burned into our collective consciousness. And part of the inaccuracy comes from the fact that we have limited resources explaining what heaven really is like. And the resources we do have, like John’s description of the New Heaven and the New Earth in the book of Revelation, are confined to a language that simply cannot describe the majesty and beauty and perfection that he witnessed. So in some ways, we’re left wanting more.
So, while we really have no idea what heaven is truly like, Jesus did leave us a few hints about what he has planned for us. If you have your Bibles with you, turn with me to the Gospel of John. We’ll be looking at the beginning of the 14th chapter. John is the fourth of the eye-witness accounts of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. It’s found between the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts in the New Testament. If you don’t have your Bible with you, you’re welcome to use the one found in the pew in front of you. John 14 is found on page 938 in that Bible.
This is the point in the Gospel where Jesus is preparing his disciples for the very near and very real future. He knew he was going to be betrayed, tried, and executed. And during the whole process, his closest friends were going to abandon and deny him. So he wanted his followers to be ready for the coming events. Peter has just spoken up, saying that he wouldn’t deny Jesus – he’d follow him anywhere he went…even to death. And right before the verses we’re going to look at this morning, Jesus tells Peter, “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” But, Jesus then gives them a beacon of hope in the midst of this very dark and troubling news…
Jesus returned to heaven and is preparing a place for us. The word that’s translated here in verse 3 as “place” is a very specific word that means a literal, geographic location. It’s not an idea or a concept. It’s not a metaphysical state of being or a state of mind. It’s a physical place occupied by physical beings.
And what a place it’s going to be! Think about it. In the book of Genesis, how many days, counting the day of rest, did God take to form creation? (pause) Right! 7! (you get an extra sticker on your chart and can take the rest of the day off J) And look around us. There’s wonder and majesty in God’s creation! If you’ve ever experienced the roar of Niagara Falls, peered over the edge of the Grand Canyon, watched the sun rise from atop a 10,000 foot mountain, watched the beauty of an eagle soaring overhead, stood in awe at the power of an evening lightning storm, or experienced the calmness of that first silent snow of the season, you know that this world can be a beautiful, inspiring place. And God created it in 7 days. Jesus Christ ascended into heaven almost 2,000 years ago. And he said he’s preparing a place for us. If all we see around us is the result of 7 days’ work, imagine what kind of place it will be after 2,000 years of work! Talk about a masterpiece! We will encounter things we can’t even begin to imagine! It stands to reason that we’ll see colors and color combinations that we’ve never seen. We’ll hear sounds and music and harmonies that we’ve never dreamed of. And the aromas will be like nothing we’ve experienced here. With all of that expressed creativity, it hardly sounds like a boring place, does it? It sounds to me like it’ll take all of eternity just to begin to uncover all of the wonders of the new creation – the new heaven and the new earth that God is forming.
And that’s really secondary to the ultimate joy of heaven. We will be in the loving presence of God. If you still have your Bibles open, keep your thumb here in John because we’re going to come back to the Gospel of John, but flip back to the book of Revelation, which is the last book in the New Testament. In Revelation 7:9, found on page 1076 in the Red Bibles, John uses these words to describe what he saw:
There will be a day when we see Jesus face to face. All of the sorrows, all of the pain, all of the fear, all of the illness, all of the tears…everything will fall away and we will be in the presence of Love. God is infinite. So are His attributes. In Lamentations 3:22, the prophet Jeremiah reminds us that God’s love and compassions are new every morning. New things about Him are revealed with each new day. Because of this, how could we ever think there would be an end to the discovery of the height, depth, and breadth of His saving love? We will constantly be more amazed with God and more in love with God. Our experience with God in heaven will never end with us finally “arriving” to some type of mountain peak where we find there is nothing to discover ahead of us.
It’s your choice whether you’ll spend eternity in heaven, eternally discovering the new mercies of God and worshiping Him face to face in joy and peace and love. Place your trust in Jesus Christ by relying fully on Him, and you’ll receive eternal life. Choose to ignore the invitation, and you’ll find eternal death. I know that’s an intolerant statement. I know that’s rather blunt. And my purpose isn’t to scare hell out of you. In fact, this is probably the closest you’ll ever hear me come to a hellfire and brimstone-type of message. I believe we need to choose to follow Christ based on a decision made out of love. But the reality is this – there are two destinations, heaven and hell. And who you choose to follow now will ultimately decide your destination. It’s all up to you. Jesus Christ came to take on the punishment that we deserved. He came so that we might not perish. But it’s up to you to decide whether you’ll choose to follow or go your own separate way. So which do you choose – eternal life or eternal death? If you haven’t placed your trust in Christ already, you can begin doing so today. You can symbolically put your old self to death and bury it in the watery grave of baptism, arising out of the symbolic tomb alive as a new creation. You can do that today! What are you waiting for?
What if you’ve already chosen life? You’ve chosen to place your trust in Christ…you’ve followed him in obedience of baptism and are placing your trust in him daily. You’ve secured your eternal destination. Does that mean that we just sit around and twiddle our thumbs, waiting for our heavenly reward? Absolutely not! We cannot keep our focus so much on the eternal reward that we’re of no earthly good here today. If you still have your Bibles open to the Gospel of John, flip over to the 10th chapter, 10th verse.
Christ came so we may have an abundant life. Some translations say he came so we may have a full life. That’s something we receive right here, right now. If your destination is eternal life, then you have it right now. And that life is one of completion and fulfillment. There are too many people who look at what Jesus calls a full or abundant life and assume that means good health and lots of riches and wealth. That’s not the promise that is given here. This verse reminds us that there’s an enemy out to destroy us. There’s nothing Satan would like to do more than to convince one of God’s children that he or she is of no value here on earth. There’s nothing Satan would like to do more than to bring down one of God’s children. Even with all of the attacks that come upon us on a daily basis, Jesus tells us that He is still here to give us life. The life we are promised for eternity is a life we have been called to live right here, right now. With that eternal destination in our focus, we can approach this life with confidence and boldness.
The life we have now is a gift from God. God has called you to use the gift you’ve been given for His service. That’s what He created you for. Yes, there’s an eternity for us to enjoy in the presence of the Father, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have work to do. The life we’ve been given was meant to be one of fullness and completion. And that begins today.
Yes, there will be a time when Jesus Christ will reign and we will no longer have to deal with death or aging and illness and all of the accompanying aches and pains and that come with death. We won’t have to worry about increasing waistlines or receding hairlines. And every tear will be wiped away. And so we can echo the words of the Apostle Paul saying, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?…Thanks be to God! He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:54-55, 57). I look forward to that day. I long for that day. And you should, too.
But we now live in a world that has been tainted by sin. This world is a beautiful place, but like an ugly scar across everything lies the stain of sin and the stain of death. That’s why there are ambulances, hospitals, tears, funerals, cemeteries, and heartaches. And in the midst of this broken world tainted by sin, there are people whose destination is hell. And it’s our job to share the good news of the life-changing message of Jesus Christ with everyone around us. It’s our job, as it says in Jude 23, to “snatch others from the fire and save them.” We can long for the time in eternity where we will see God face to face and have a wonderful family reunion, but we have work to do right here, right now.
I want to close this morning with a quote from a leader in the early church, Augustine of Hippo. Here’s what he said:
“Let us sing alleluia here on earth, while we still live in anxiety, so that we may sing it one day in heaven in full security…We shall have no enemies in heaven, we shall never lose a friend, God’s praises are sung both there and here, but here they are sung in anxiety, there in security; here they are sung by those destined to die, there, by those destined to live forever; here they are sung in hope, there in hope’s fulfillment; here, they are sung by wayfarers, there, by those living in their own country. So then…let us sing now, not in order to enjoy a life of leisure, but in order to lighten our labors. You should sing as wayfarers do – sing, but continue your journey…Sing then, but keep going.”
 Moody’s Anecdotes. p 125-126. Found online here: http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/h/heaven.htm
 Joel Stein, The Way I See It #230 http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-stein21dec21,0,7680698.column?track=rss
 Quoted in Amazing Grace, Kathleen Norris, p. 368