Summary: Seven answers to seven questions about what heaven is really like.
Today, I’m going to be talking about Heaven. A man died and went to Heaven. St. Peter asked him, “Why should I let you into Heaven?” The guy said, “Well, I tried to help other people.” “Can you give me an example?” “Sure. Once I was in a roadside diner and a group of Hell’s Angels were bothering a little old lady. They had knives and guns and were scaring everyone in the place. So I stepped up the leader and spun him around and said, ‘Hey! Why don’t you pick on somebody your own size? Leave her alone. And while you’re at it, you and your filthy friends clear out of here and get on your bikes and ride away.”
St. Peter said, “Wow, that was pretty brave, when did that happen?” The man said, “About five minutes ago!”
There are a lot of jokes about Heaven but most of them are certainly not based on reality, and they can be misleading. For instance, there’s nothing in the Bible that teaches St. Peter is going to meet people at the Pearly Gates and admit them into Heaven. Peter can’t get you into Heaven— only Jesus can—and that’s no joke.
Jesus had a lot to say about Heaven. In our passage today, Jesus reveals some information about Heaven to some people who didn’t even believe in Heaven.
Matthew 22:23-33. “That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and have children for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?’ Jesus replied, ‘You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in Heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ He is not the God of the dead but of the living.’ When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.”
The Sadducees were a small but influential group in Jerusalem. They were the aristocrats, the high priest was always a Sadducee. They were much more liberal than the Pharisees. The Sadducees didn’t believe in angels, or demons, or miracles, or an afterlife; that’s why they were sad-you-see.
Last August when I taught on the book of Ruth we examined the law of Levirate marriage found in Deuteronomy 25. If a married man died without a son, his next oldest brother received all his property—including his wife. The brother of the deceased was obligated to marry his sister-in-law and try to have children. If her husband’s brother refused to marry her, she could spit in his face and take his sandals and he would be publicly shamed. So most brothers obliged by marrying their brother’s widow. Then if the wife had a son by her new husband, the son would carry on her dead husband’s name and claim his property.
The Sadducees took the Levirate marriage law and extrapolated it to a worst-case scenario: seven brothers marrying the same woman and each of them dying. This is a fabricated example, but if it really happened can’t you imagine husbands numbers five, six, and seven weren’t too happy about marrying her? They would have probably been thinking, “What’s wrong with her meatloaf?”
In our passage, after the Sadducee finished the ridiculous case study, I can imagine he smiled, and glanced at the other Sadducees before he delivered his preposterous question: “Now, then (giggle) at the Resurrection (laugh) whose wife will she be? The Sadducees didn’t even believe there would be an afterlife!
Actually, if you’ve ever been married more than once, it’s a valid question. If you’ve remarried due to death or divorce, you may be wondering which mate will be yours in Heaven. Relax. Jesus indicates that it doesn’t matter in Heaven.
I love to talk about Heaven. We ought to get excited whenever we talk about Heaven. I like what the great English Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon told young preachers about speaking on Heaven. He said, “When you speak of Heaven let your face light up...When you speak of hell—well, then your everyday face will do.”
Most Americans believe in Heaven, but frankly, you don’t find much excitement about Heaven. I’ve often wondered why people aren’t more excited about it. It could be because they don’t understand what Heaven will be like. I agree with John Eldridge who wrote: “Nearly every Christian I have spoken with has some idea that eternity is an unending church service...We have settled on an image of the never-ending sing-along in the sky, one great hymn after another, forever and ever, amen. And our hearts sink. Singing forever and ever? That’s it? That’s the good news? And then we sigh and feel guilty that we aren’t more ‘spiritual.’ We lose heart, and we turn once more to the present to find what life we can.” (The Journey of Desire, p. 111) But Heaven won’t be boring!