Summary: Our hope in heaven gives us the ability to endure the struggles of life.
Revelation 21: 1 - 4, 15 - 27
Three weeks ago we began a series of messages on hope. In the first we talked about the power of memory. Our hope for the future depends upon our memory of the past. When we recall God’s faithfulness through the ages we can face the future with hope. In the second message, we talked about the power of music. Hope usually expresses itself best in song. Hope remembers, hope sings. This morning we’re going to take the long view; hope waits. Specifically, hope waits for heaven.
There are a lot of misconceptions about Heaven. A little boy and his mother were walking along the beach one day when they happened upon a dead seagull. “What happened to the bird mommy?” the little boy asked. The mom wanting to soften the harsh reality of death said “well Honey, that little bird got real sick so God allowed it to die and go to heaven.” The boy thought about that for a moment and said, “So why did God throw him back down?”
The very word "heaven" is a powerful and persuasive word. It always has been for those who believe in such a place. In the late first century, Christians hid from their persecutors in the catacombs beneath the streets of Rome. Images of heaven are depicted on the walls -- banquet tables and playgrounds for children.
Early Christian descriptions of heaven were vivid and poetic and usually quite wrong. But they are interesting. For example, the third century Passion of Perpetua, records the visions of a young mother taken from her family and condemned to die because of her faith in Christ. " I saw a garden of immense extent, in the midst of which was sitting a white-haired man dressed as a shepherd; he was tall, and he was milking sheep. And he raised his head and looked at me and said, ’Welcome, child.’ And he called me and gave me a mouthful of cheese from the sheep he was milking; and I took it in my hands and ate of it, and all those who were standing about said, ’Amen. ’"
Now I’ll admit that I’m not sure I’m ready to take up my cross daily for the hope of eating cheese while a bunch of people stand around ,and say "Amen."
You know, if heaven ain’t a lot like Dixie, Well you know the rest.
Other, more thoughtful reflections of heaven are available, though.
The most satisfying, and I would argue, the most biblical descriptions from early Christianity come from Augustine. He envisioned not so much a place, but a condition in which each saved person retains his or her own unique personality, distinct from God and from each other. And yet in that state of being we enjoy God and we enjoy our fellow lovers of Christ forever. At the end of his classic work, The City of God, he writes that in heaven, "we shall rest and see, see and love, love and praise."
I’d take up my cross daily for rest and sight and love. Augustine’s speculations about heaven are rooted in Revelation 21. As we hear it today I would like for you not so much to focus on the imagery but on the relational conditions that characterize heaven. And I want you to remember that the physical imagery is just that; imagery. Heaven so defies description that John had to stretch his vocabulary to the breaking point.