Heaven

Original Date: 
Sunday, February 2, 2014
Series: 

2 Corinthians 4:8-5:10 Forever: Heaven

Two Final Destinations
The sense that we will live forever somewhere has shaped every civilization in human history. Australian aborigines believed Heaven was a distant island beyond the western horizon. The early Finns believed it was an island somewhere in the east. Mexicans, Peruvians and Polynesians believed they went to the sun or the moon when they died. Native Americans believed that in the afterlife their spirits would hunt buffalo. In the ancient epic of Gilgamesh there is talk of the resting place of heroes and references to a tree of life. The ancient Egyptians—at least the privileged ones—were buried in pyramids and provided with maps for the future world. The Romans believed the righteous would picnic in the Elysian fields while their horses grazed nearby.

Seneca, the Roman philosopher said, “The day thou fearest as the last is the birthday of eternity.” Though these depictions of the afterlife differ, the unifying testimony of the human heart throughout history is the belief in life after death. Anthropological evidence suggests that every culture has a God-given innate sense of the eternal—that this world is not all there is. (these first two paragraphs are taken nearly verbatim from the introduction to Randy Alcorn’s Heaven, pg. xvii.)

You are going to die. The mortality rate is pretty much 100%. And all of us are born with this little voice that whispers: there is more coming. The Bible teaches that we will all survive our own deaths, in a manner of speaking. That we all have souls that will live on forever, in one of two final destinations: either Heaven or Hell.

And both of these final destinations are eternal. They last for eternity. They are forever.

As my friend Matt says: “Endless, interminable, eternal, everlasting, unending, unceasing, perpetual, abiding, incessant, unstopping, forever and ever and ever and ever. Forever.” (Forever: Heaven, November 6, 2005; the inspiration for this series, and most of the sermon outlines, come from Matt’s work, found at www.hotorthodoxy.com)

Since we’re going to be spending so much time in our afterlife, it makes sense that we would take some time to study it and think about it. And so, today, we are starting a new series that I am calling “Forever.” We are going to talk about our two potential final destinations, heaven or hell. And we are going to talk about the difference knowing about them makes in our lives today.

My guess is that we don’t think enough about Forever. For one thing, to get there, you have to die. And nobody likes to think about dying.

For another thing, I’m not sure we really like the idea all that much. I mean, thinking about Hell is rather unpleasant. Who wants to think about suffering and eternal punishment? But for a lot of us, the idea of heaven doesn’t seem all that much more appealing. Forever and ever in a perfect world? Sounds kind of monotonous. We want to go there because it’s better than the alternative, but still…

More than that, I think there’s a pervasive belief that we really can’t know that much about heaven. It’s so different, so unknown, that the best we seem to be able to do is speculate, project our hopes and desires onto the afterlife, or read books by people who have near death experiences and get 5 to 10 minute glimpses into the next world.

But, in fact, the Bible does have rather a lot to say about both heaven and hell. We may not be able to learn every detail, but we can learn much more than we think. And the more we learn about eternity the more we will see that Hell is much worse than we usually think and Heaven is much more exciting than we give it credit for. In fact, there is much more in the Bible about our eternal existence after death than I am going to be able to cover in five weeks, but I hope this series will be enough to spark a hunger within you to learn more.

Ancient mariners used to write “momento mori” on the first page of their accounting books. It means “remember you will die.” Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, commissioned a servant to stand in his presence each day and say “Philip, you will die.” Louis XIV of France, by contrast, decreed that the word “death” could not be uttered in his presence. (Alcorn, pg. xix)

A lot of us are much more like Louis than Philip. We’d rather avoid thinking about death and what comes after.

But it is coming for us all, so we might as well have some idea of what it will be like.

Hard Pressed
We are going to start by talking about Heaven. This week and next. And the text we’re going to use is in 2 Corinthians. 2 Corinthians 4, verse 8; going through chapter 5, verse 10.

2 Corinthians is all about ministry. It’s a letter from the Apostle Paul, whose ministry and leadership was under attack in many different ways. So one reason he wrote this letter was to explain and defend the way he does ministry. Our passage starts right in the middle of this explanation. Let’s read from verse 8 through verse 12:

8We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. 12So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

Maybe you can relate to Paul. Maybe life feels tough for you right now. It might not be because your ministry or leadership is under attack; but there are a lot of life situations these verses could apply to.

Is life difficult? Are you hurting? Are you in pain? Are you going through something? Are you suffering?

Look at some of the words Paul uses to describe his life: “(v.8) hard pressed on every side...perplexed..(v.9) persecuted...struck down...(v.10) carrying around in our body the death of Jesus...(v.11) given over to death for Jesus’ sake...(v.12) death is at work in us...”

Doesn’t sound like a party, does it? Paul’s life and ministry were almost devastatingly difficult. He was getting kicked in the teeth by people both inside and outside of the church. And it really hurt.

But he didn’t stop. He didn’t close up shop and get out of the gospel business, did he?

Look at what he says: He says that he was hard pressed on every side, but not crushed. He was perplexed but not in total despair. He was persecuted, but he wasn’t alone. He was struck down, but not destroyed. He was hurting, but he didn’t stop. He kept going in ministry for those people who needed to hear about Jesus.

Why? What can keep you going when life is dragging you down? The answer Paul gives is Heaven. He keeps going because he knows there is something better coming. Verses 13 through 15:

13It is written: "I believed; therefore I have spoken." With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak,

In other words, things are bad for Paul right now, but he’s not going to stop talking about Jesus. He’s not going to stop doing what God has called him to do. Why? Verse 14:

14because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.

That is to say: heaven. Raised with Jesus and in his presence. So, verse 15:

15All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

Heaven kept Paul going in the Christian life and in Christian ministry. And that’s the big idea for us today: Knowing about heaven can keep us going when life gets hard. Heaven is the promise of eternal joy that makes the difficulties of this life bearable. It is important for us to know about heaven because the joys of heaven are greater than the trials of this life.

Paul goes on to tell us three things about heaven:

The Weight of Glory
Point #1: heaven is the eternal enjoyment of a glory greater than that on earth. The good to come is so much better than the problems of today. This comes from verses 16 through 18:

16Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Paul doesn’t lose heart. He doesn’t give up. Why? Because even though on the outside he is wasting away, on the inside he is being renewed every day.

Do you ever feel like you are outwardly wasting away? Some of you are really young and you don’t know what this means. Some of you are a lot older and you feel it every second. Most of us feel it on some level.

We’re falling apart. We’re getting older. We’re suffering. We’re not what we used to be. Paul was hurting because of all the persecution and travel and unfriendly business that he was going through. And it wasn’t getting better as he got older.

But on the inside, God was at work. God was sanctifying him. God was preparing him. And in Heaven, God was preparing a place for him. And a glory for him.

Paul says, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” That’s quite a verse. Do you see the logic in it?

Do his troubles seem light and momentary? No. He’s hard-pressed. He’s perplexed. He’s persecuted. It seems like there is no end to his troubles. If his life were a scale, and on one side Paul piled up all his troubles and problems, and on the other side put all his current joys and successes, the trouble side would far outweigh the good side.

But, if he looks ahead… If he thinks about heaven...If he considers what is coming…then the good side completely outweighs the bad side. Compared to heaven, his problems seem light and momentary. There is a glory coming that is in a whole different category from anything this world has to offer!

Romans 8:18 puts it like this:

18I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Heaven is the eternal enjoyment of a glory far greater than that available on earth. And it’s worth it.

I’m not trying to belittle what you’re struggling with right now. Not at all. I’m sure the worst thing you are facing right now is pretty bad. So were the things Paul was dealing with.

But they are not as bad is heaven is good. That’s the point. Our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed.

So, application #1: Fix your eyes on Heaven. Back to verse 18 of our text:

So we fix our eyes [the eyes of our hearts] not on what is seen, but on what is unseen [not on what is felt, but on what is un-felt]. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

If heaven is going to be so much greater than what we experience on earth, then we need to fix our eyes on Heaven. Colossians 3 says we should: Set our minds on things above.

We need to think about our heavenly home.

Again, that’s kind of the point of this series: to help us think more about heaven. There’s a song—I think it is a great song—called “I can Only Imagine.” Before this series is over we’ll probably have someone sing it as special music. And in March the kids are going to do a musical with that same title. It’s a song about heaven.

But I think it is possible to take that song the wrong way. The way I understand it, when the song says “I can only imagine” it’s a way of saying “Heaven is going to be so great that words are not adequate to describe it.” “I can only imagine”=”It’s going to be beyond description.”

But it’s also possible for us to use that phrase: “I can only imagine” as a way of saying: “I’m not really sure what heaven will be like.” If you can only imagine what heaven is like, then maybe it’s not worth thinking about it very much. Maybe we can’t say much about it with certainty.

And the point of this series is to shake off that notion. The Bible DOES say a lot about heaven. We CAN study heaven. And with those facts as our foundation we can let our Scripture-enhanced imaginations run wild as we fix our eyes on what lies ahead.

Next week we’re going to set up a resource table in the library with some of the good, Biblical resources on Heaven that we have. And we’re going to give away some little booklets by Randy Alcorn that gives Biblical answers to common questions about heaven. And the point is to encourage you to spend more time thinking about things above.

Two billion years from now…I mean that… Two billion years from now nothing that seems to matter now will matter then except how much we have trusted and obeyed the Lord Jesus. Heaven is eternal!

And when my priorities line up with the unseen eternity, I can make it through just about anything.

A Building From God
Point #2. Heaven is the eternal enjoyment of life in a new body. Guaranteed. Heaven is a physical place, without the aches and pains of this life. Chapter 5, verse 1:

1Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

Paul is using tents and buildings to talk about our bodies present and future. He calls this body an “earthly tent,” and I think the point is that tents are temporary. Our earthly bodies are temporary. Flimsy. They might be destroyed. That’s what happened to Paul. He died.

But if his earthly tent is destroyed, he says, “we have a building from God.” Compared to a tent, a building is much more permanent. Much stronger. Especially one built by God, not by human hands. I think Paul is talking about a new body, a resurrection body that is on the way. Verses 2 through 4:

2Meanwhile [right now] we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, [right now, we suffer, we go through hard times, life is a “groaning” and we long for that day when we get our new bodies (v.3)]3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked [I think that means body-less (v.4)]. 3For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

He’s saying, I think, that he doesn’t want to die. He wants Christ to return and give him a new resurrection-style body. But, either way, whether he dies or Christ comes back first, he is looking forward to the new imperishable body that he will receive. That’s heaven. That’s what eternity will be for those who trust in Christ. The Eternal Enjoyment of Life in a New Body, Guaranteed.

Are you groaning right now?

The Bible says that the whole creation groans right now. Snowstorms, polar vortexes, hurricanes and Tsunamis. All are examples of creation groaning for something better.

And we believers groan, too. We are waiting for a New Body to enjoy forever. We are waiting for something better. We are not home, yet.

But it is coming. Heaven is not just a spiritual place where we float around as pale ghosts. “We will not be found naked.” We will be clothed in new, resurrected bodies. Heaven will be physical and real. What is mortal will be swallowed up by life. What is groaning and breaking down will be replaced with something eternal and permanent.

Guaranteed. Verse 5:

5Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Your relationship with Jesus Christ, marked by the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life, is the seal that marks your entrance into heaven. The Spirit is the down payment on the new life that is to come.

Heaven is the eternal enjoyment of life in a new body. Guaranteed. So, what is the application of this? Live by faith. Verses 6 and 7:

6Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body [I take this to mean in our non-resurrected bodies, our earthly tent] we are away from the Lord. [But, by implication, when we are with the Lord, then our new life begins. Therefore…] 7We live by faith, not by sight.”

Do you see how faith is coupled with confidence and knowledge here? We don’t see these new bodies. But we know by faith that they are coming. So we live with confidence that this new life is on its way.

“Live by faith, not by sight.” That doesn’t mean you thrash around life blindly. It means to follow God’s voice even when you can’t see where you are going to end up.

You have a new body on order that you will enjoy forever. But you don’t get it, yet. Right now, you have to groan. But don’t groan in unbelief. Groan in faith. Walk in faith. Fix your eyes on what is unseen. And live for that.

Do you see how this keeps Paul going in the Christian life and Christian ministry? Do you see how this makes the difficulties of this life bearable?

What’s the worst thing that could happen to Paul? They’d kill him, right? That would be bad. But Paul knew he’d be getting a new body, anyway. So, why worry? Paul could let “goods and kindred go, this mortal life also, the body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still, His Kingdom is FOREVER.” (A Mighty Fortress)

Live by faith, not by sight.

Home With the LORD
Point #3. Heaven is the eternal enjoyment of the presence of the Lord. The best thing about Heaven is that is in the presence of God. Verse 8:

8We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

We’d much rather have the return of Christ and our resurrection-style bodies. We’d rather not be body-less. But if Christ has not yet returned, then we would prefer please, to die, and be “away from the body and at home with the Lord.”

This is what happens right now when a believer dies.

He or she leaves their bodies and goes to be with the Lord in what we can call the “intermediate heaven” or the “present heaven.” It’s what Jesus called “paradise”, when on the cross He promised the believing thief that they would be together that very day (Luke23:43).

I’ll talk some more about this next week. There does appear to be a difference between what happens to believers when they die right now, and the eternal “new heavens and new earth” that we’ll occupy after Jesus comes again. But at the very least, we can say from this verse that when we depart our earthly bodies we go to be “at home with the Lord.”

There is no purgatory. There is no limbo. There is no “soul-sleep.”

There is just “home with the Lord.” Never to be parted for all eternity. Someday to have a new body. But never to be parted. Always to be with Him forever.

This is Paul’s preference. His greatest desire. And it should be ours. In Philippians chapter 1 he says:

20I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

“I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.” Why is dying better? Because of Jesus. Because it is going home to be with the Lord.

Jesus Christ is what makes Heaven Heaven. Heaven is the eternal enjoyment of the presence of the Lord.

Do you long to be with Jesus, forever? If that doesn’t sound good, then you either aren’t saved or haven’t grown much.

Heaven is not primarily about seeing our loved ones who have already died. Though we will.

Heaven is not primarily about escaping the punishment of Hell. Though we will.

Heaven is not even primarily about enjoying our New Bodies and living forever. Though we will, and the Bible makes a big deal out of it.

Heaven is primarily about being with the Lord Jesus forever.

So, application number three: Make It Your Goal to Please Him. Back to 2 Corinthians 5, verses 9 and 10:

9So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

Make it your goal to please Him. You are going to be with Him for all of eternity. Make your life goal to please Him now.

There is a judgment coming even for believers. It says “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” What we do with Jesus will determine if we get into heaven or not. That’s the judgment of faith.

But this verse is talking about another judgment, at the last day. At that time our works are going to be evaluated. They will be evaluated to measure out our rewards. “That each one may receive what is due him...”

You are going to be with the Lord Jesus for all eternity. Make it your goal right now to please Him and receive eternal rewards from His hand.

I see so many people who have such different goals for their lives! Make it your goal right now to please Jesus and receive eternal, forever rewards from His hand.

Seeing the Shore
Heaven is much more than what we’ve seen today. But it is not less.

Heaven is the eternal enjoyment of a glory greater than that on earth. Hold on. It’s worth it.

Heaven Is the Eternal Enjoyment of Life in a New Body, Guaranteed. Your new body is on the way. Live by faith.

And Heaven is the Eternal Enjoyment of the Presence of the Lord. You are going to be with Him forever. So make it your goal to please him now.

Heaven is the promise of eternal joy that makes the difficulties of this life bearable. So keep on going in the Christian life and Christian ministry.

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