Summary: What happens to believers when they die.
As we saw last week, many of us have gotten some pretty distorted pictures of what heaven is like from the culture around us. I read this week about a young boy, caught in mischief by his mother. She asked, "How do you expect to get into heaven?" He thought for a moment and then said, "Well, I’ll just run in and out and keep slamming the door until they say, ’For heaven’s sake, either come in or stay out.’ Then I’ll go in."
Or then there was the Sunday school teacher who was teaching a group of kids about what it takes to get into heaven. "If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the church, would that get me into Heaven?" "NO!" the children all answered. "If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard, and kept everything neat and tidy, would that get me into Heaven?" Again, the answer was, "NO!" "Well, then, if I was kind to animals and gave candy to all the children, and loved my wife, would that get me into Heaven?" Again, they all answered, "NO!" "Well," the teacher continued, "then how can I get into Heaven?" A five-year-old boy shouted out, "You gotta be dead!"
Last week, we began our series on heaven by discussing our citizenship in heaven. We discovered that for those who are followers of Jesus Christ, our true citizenship is not here in the United States, or anywhere else on this earth, for that matter. That’s why the Bible refers to us as “aliens” while we are still on this earth. Our true home and our citizenship are in heaven. And all of us are on a journey that will one day result in us arriving at our true home.
But just as we have a lot of mistaken ideas about what heaven is like, I find that believers in general often don’t understand a whole lot about the process that happens in the life of a Christ-follower that ultimately results in our spending eternity in heaven in the presence of God. Some of us frankly don’t have a much better understanding than this group of nine year olds that were asked what heaven is like:
• Jim said, “When you die, they bury you in the ground and your souls goes to heaven, but your body can’t go to heaven because it’s too crowded up there already.”
• Judy said, “Only the good people go to heaven. The other people go where it’s hot all the time like in Florida.”
• John said, “Maybe I’ll die someday, but I hope I don’t die on my birthday because it’s no fun to celebrate your birthday if you’re dead.”
• Marsha commented, “When you die, you don’t have to do homework in heaven, unless your teacher is there too.”
So this morning, we’re going to see what the Bible has to teach us about our journey to heaven.
1. The journey begins by becoming a Christ-follower
Dana did a really great job in our “Connections” class last Sunday in helping us to understand the difference between a person who calls him or herself a “Christian” and one who is a devoted follower of Jesus Christ. And the Bible is clear that only those who are followers of Jesus are citizens of heaven and are therefore able to make that journey. The words of Jesus Himself certainly confirm that principle:
"Not everyone who says to me, ’Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ’Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ’I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)
If I travel to another country and I want to come back here to the United States, I have to have a passport to get back into the country. That passport is my proof that I am a citizen of the United States and that I am entitled to enter the country.
One day I will die and I am going to have to present evidence to God that I am a citizen of heaven and therefore entitled to enter. And the only acceptable passport will be the fact that I have trusted in Jesus Christ alone as the basis for my citizenship. There is nothing else I can do to earn that passport. I can’t do enough good deeds. I can’t claim that my church membership or attendance or giving is adequate. Even my position as a pastor won’t carry any weight whatsoever.