Later on this morning we are all going to say together some very familiar words. We are going to say, “Thy kingdom come“. But I want to ask you to stop and think. Do we really mean it? Do YOU really mean it? I was recently talking to a friend I’ll call Tina who confessed to having said something very embarrassing at a funeral. What Tina blurted out, without stopping to think how people would take it, was “I really envy her. I can`t wait to see the Lord face to face.“ Now not only did the grieving family think this was totally insensitive, most of the rest of the mourners thought she was just plain nuts. Because most people, even the ones who say they believe in heaven, really aren’t sure they want to go there.
How many of you have heard people say something to the effect that all the fun people ore going to the other place? Or that they’re not sure about harps and clouds and sitting around singing Bach and Handel all day long? Especially when each day in eternity is more like a thousand. Or they don’t want to go if they can’t have chocolate or their favorite pet or hobby or video games or - you fill in the blanks. What is your view of heaven?
There’s a wonderful story making its rounds on the internet of a man who can’t imagine leaving earth without at least SOME of the possessions he’s worked all his life to amass. So finally he gets permission to bring one suitcase full. After debating for some time about what would hold its value no matter what things were like on the other side, he filled a suitcase with gold coins and bars. When the time came, off he went, dragging the suitcase behind him - with some difficulty, since of course as you know gold is very heavy - and soon he arrives at the pearly gates. St. Peter stops him at the metal detector saying, “You can’t bring that in here, didn’t you read the regulations?“ The man replied “Well, yes, but I got a waiver.“ Peter checks the paperwork and begins to wave him on
through, but then stops him and says, “I’ve got to see what you thought was so important you couldn’t bring yourself to leave it behind.“ So the man obligingly opens the lid and shows Peter the stacks of gold. Instead of being impressed, Peter just shakes his head and says, “You went to all that trouble just to bring in a load of paving stones?“
So think again. Think about the things in your life that you don’t like. Think about rude salespeople and unfair bosses and inadequate paychecks. Think about trips to the dentist and the heating bill, washing the dishes and taking out the garbage. Think about broken relationships and hurtful words and lost opportunities. Think about hungry children and broken promises and unfulfilled dreams. And then imagine a place where none of that exists.
The Bible is full of promises, but perhaps the most wonderful of all is this: "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived ... God has prepared for those who love him." [1 Cor 2:9]
Obviously we cannot know what heaven will be like, because our eyes haven’t seen the beauty, our ears haven’t heard the music, our hearts haven’t felt the joy. But one thing we can be sure of is that heaven will dazzle our senses and fulfill all our longings. And probably the first thing to point out is that heaven won’t be boring. It is not going to be some ethereal existence where we float about as spirits without bodies. Why would God take the trouble to create a new earth if there wasn’t going to be anyone to live on it? Why would we be given new bodies if we were not going to live in a material world? We were originally created to live in bodies on a material world. In the Old Testament, the perfect place was imagined as garden... in the NT it is imagined as a dazzling city. And so whether heaven will be Eden restored or a new Jerusalem, it is not going to be
a sort of fuzzy floating dream, but vividly alive, vibrantly real, vital and challenging existence. We know this not only from this passage of Revelation but from other passages as well. "For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God." [Rom 8:19-21]
Heaven will be a real place with real, meaningful and rewarding work for us to do. The English poet Rudyard Kipling imagines it this way,
“When Earth’s last picture is painted
and the tubes are twisted and dried,
When the oldest colors have faded,
and the youngest critic has died,
We shall rest, and, faith! We shall need it -
lie down for an eon or two,
Till the Master of all Good Workmen
shall put us to work anew.
And those that were good shall be happy:
they shall sit on a golden chair;
They shall splash at a ten-league canvas
with brushes of comets hair.
They shall find real saints to draw from,
Magdalene, Peter and Paul;
They shall work for an age at a sitting
and never be tired at all!
And only the Master shall praise us,
and only the Master shall blame;
And no one shall work for money,
and no one shall work for fame,
But each for the joy of the working,
and each, in his separate star,
Shall draw the Thing as he sees It
for the God of Things as They Are!
The earth has fought against us in every possible way since God tossed Adam and Eve out of the Garden. We plant crops, we get weeds and drought and erosion. We take iron and coal and gold from the ground to make beautiful or useful things - and leave behind toxic dumps and acid rain and smog. We build houses that are swept away in mud slides and forest fires and hurricanes. We conquer malaria with DDT that destroys link after link in the chain of life that sustains us, we cure diseases with drugs that breed organisms nothing can
kill.... But in the new earth, we will be reconciled not only to God and to each other, but to creation itself. But that’s not all.
The second truth about heaven is that things will be right. Not only will things work right, but people will do right. All the wrongs of the world will be turned around. Remember that everything good has been made by God: Satan has created nothing, but takes and twists and corrupts and destroys the things God has made: including language, and labor, and love. But in heaven, words will not be used to sting or belittle or deceive. Labor will be filled with joyful creativity, not deadly drudgery. Love will be liberating and life-giving, rather than fraught with risk, and misunderstanding, and selfishness. “I will appoint Peace as your overseer and Righteousness as your taskmaster. Violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders.“ [Is 60:17b-18] “...Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."” [v.4]
The third thing to note about heaven is that it will be relational. In 1991 Eric Clapton’s five-year-old son Conner was killed falling from the window of their 49th floor Manhattan apartment. Clapton wrote “Tears in Heaven” in an attempt to make sense out of the pain and loss. He asks the question:
“Would you know my name If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same If I saw you in heaven?“
This is a question a lot of people would like to have answered. I am convinced that we will be with all those who belong to Christ. Our relationships will not be lost, they will be regained and renewed. We will experience these relationships at a level we have never known before. Deep, rewarding and fulfilling relationships will be the hallmark of heaven. On this earth, in this present broken world, there is deliberate cruelty and oppression, deceit and injustice everywhere we turn. And of course we understand that people who enjoy that sort of thing aren’t welcome in the Kingdom of God. But as you know, you and I hurt and disappoint one another even without meaning to, often without even knowing it. But there, “we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. [1 Cor 15:51-52] You may ask, changed into what? The apostle John writes, “Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet
been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” [1 Jo 3:2]. Our very natures will be healed. We will be capable of intimacy, of closeness, of mutual understanding and enjoyment in relationships that we cannot even imagine now.
Our relationship with God will be healed as well. No more will our love for God be compromised by a selfish love for ourselves and an enchantment with the things of the world. There will be nothing standing between us, no separation caused by lingering guilt or doubt or weakness.
The fourth thing about heaven is that it will be rewarding. Have you ever striven as hard, as faithfully, as conscientiously as possible and found, at the end, that it wasn’t what you wanted it to be? Imagine the writer who spends her whole life writing the great American novel, and finds that not only will no editor buy it, when she goes back and reads it she understands why. She missed her goal. Or the man who watches the business that he has built up over a lifetime frittered away by ungrateful or incompetent children. Its all for nothing. Or perhaps you’ve worked very hard all your life and have done your best to be faithful to God, but have never gotten anywhere. Nothing has gone right for you. Your health is poor, your finances are worse, your children are worthless layabouts who never call, and your spouse has just walked out. You want to say with the Psalmist: ”All in vain I have kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.” [Ps 73:13] It all seems so unfair.
Well, I’m sure you all found out at a very early age that life isn’t fair. As much as we long for it, justice doesn’t always happen in this world. Probably a good thing actually, though, when you stop to consider. We want justice for others, but mercy for ourselves! At any rate, the accounts are settled in another place and another time. Heaven may promise delayed gratification, but it is real gratification, complete and satisfying. C. S. Lewis’ book The Problem of Pain, he
writes, “Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.” Christians are not at home in this world, because ”our citizenship is in heaven.” [Phil 3:20] We know where we belong, because what we long for cannot be found here and now. We have to wait for things to be made new, but everything will be made new, and if we long for the right things, the things that matter, the things that last, we will not be
disappointed. ” Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” [Mt 5:6]
So Heaven will be real. It will be righteous. It will be relational. It will be rewarding. But all of those features pale into nothing when you consider that we will actually be present with God. The greatest reward of heaven will be God himself. You may have heard people say that its not fair for God to keep people out of heaven just because they haven’t accepted Jesus. Well, Jesus is ” the image of the invisible God,” [Col 1:15] so why on earth do people who don’t like Jesus want to be in heaven when the chief characteristic of heaven is to bask in the presence of God? C.S. Lewis also said, ”The point is not that God will refuse you admission to his eternal world if you have not got certain qualities of character; the point is that if people have not got at least the beginnings of those qualities inside them, no possible external conditions will make a ”heaven” for them.”
One of the chief purposes of our lives on earth is to make us ready to say yes to God. For most of us, heavenly pleasures are an acquired taste, something we have to grow into. The apostle Paul put it this way: ” I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready.” [1 Cor 3:1-2] Or to use another metaphor, we may have to start with nursery rhymes, but God wants us spouting Shakespeare. Have you been doing your homework? Once again, C.S. Lewis has it right when he says, ” it is safe to tell the pure in heart that they will see God, for only the pure in heart will want to.” The only way to become pure in heart is to invite Jesus and the Holy
Spirit to take up residence inside us, give him the keys to all the closets and permission to throw out the junk. Jesus said to the disciples, "The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going.
While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light." ]Jn 12:35-36] It is in spending time with Jesus that we become like him, and it is only as we become like him that we become not only ready for heaven, but eager for it.
Heaven is real... but do we really want reality? How many of us prefer our dreams and illusions and self-deceptions?
Heaven is right... but righteousness can be very uncomfortable. How many of us cling to our familiar small sins and weaknesses, our comforting self-justifications?
Heaven is relational... but how willing are we to take the risk of being that open, that vulnerable, that close? Can we really handle having others see us as we really are?
Heaven is rewarding... but can you take a compliment or receive a gift without looking over your shoulder to see what the catch is? Can you live every day in simple gratitude? Do we - do you - do I - really want to live in the light of the risen
The 16th century English pastor Richard Baxter wrote of heaven,
My knowledge of that life is small, The eye of faith is dim,
But it’s enough that Christ knows all, And I shall be with him.
Is it enough? Is just being with Jesus enough for you? Do you really mean it when you say, “Thy kingdom come?