Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Imagining Heaven

Part 1 of the series Heavenly-Minded

You can listen to this sermon here.

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain…. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better (Phil. 1:21, 23). 

Is Heaven Beyond Our Imagination? 

Randy Alcorn, in his book Heaven, writes, “I’ve collected more than 150 books on Heaven, many of them very old and out of print, and I’ve ready nearly all of them. One thing I’ve found is that books about Heaven are notorious for saying we can’t know what Heaven is like, but it will be more wonderful than we can imagine. However, the moment we say that we can’t imagine Heaven, we dump cold water on all that God has revealed to us about our eternal home. If we can’t envision it, we can’t look forward to it. If Heaven is unimaginable, why even try?” (p. 17).

People often use 1 Corinthians 2:9 to claim that heaven is beyond our imagination: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (KJV). But the next verse says, “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit” (KJV). Also, these verses aren’t even talking about heaven!

What about 2 Corinthians 12:2-4? In that passage Paul says that fourteen years earlier he was “caught up to the third heaven,” where he “heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.” In this case, God didn’t want Paul to reveal what he saw and heard in heaven. In contrast, God commanded John to write about his visit to heaven, which he did in the book of Revelation.

So is heaven beyond our imagination? Yes and no. Heaven is beyond our imagination in the sense that heaven will be better than we can imagine right now. But it’s also true that, based on what God has revealed in the Bible about heaven, we can imagine what it will be like.

Misconceptions About Heaven 

There are many misconceptions about heaven. Jesus said that Satan is “the father of lies” (John 8:44). Satan wants people (both believers and unbelievers) to accept his lies about heaven. These lies include: (1) heaven isn't real; (2) heaven is boring; (3) heaven is the destination of most.

Our New Home 

Going to heaven is sort of like going to live in a country you’ve never visited before. If you were going to live in a foreign country for a year, how would you prepare? You would probably do some research on the country (search online, borrow a library book, etc.). As Christians, we should not neglect learning about heaven.

Believers immediately go to heaven when they die. 

  •  “We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord…. we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:6-8). 
  • “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain…. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Phil. 1:21, 23). 
  • “And [Jesus] said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). 

D. L. Moody once said, “Soon you will read in the newspaper that I am dead. Don’t believe it for a moment. I will be more alive than ever before.”

In the Bible, there is a present heaven (the place where believers go when they die) and an eternal heaven (the place where believers will live forever after the final resurrection). Wayne Grudem writes, “…Christians often talk about living with God ‘in heaven’ forever. But in fact the biblical teaching is richer than that: it tells us that there will be new heavens and a new earth—an entirely renewed creation—and we will live with God there…. There will also be a new kind of unification of heaven and earth…. There will be a joining of heaven and earth in this new creation” (Systematic Theology, p. 1158).

Based on Revelation 6:9-11, Randy Alcorn lists 21 observations about the present heaven. Here are a few of his observations.

  • When these people died on earth, they relocated to heaven (v. 9). 
  • The martyrs are fully conscious, rational, and aware of each other, God, and the situation on earth. 
  • Those in heaven are free to ask God questions, which means they have an audience with God. It also means they need to learn. In heaven, people desire understanding and pursue it. 
  • The martyrs clearly remember their lives on earth (v. 10). They even remember that they were murdered
  • Those in heaven see God’s attributes (“Sovereign…holy and true,” v. 10) in a way that makes his judgment of sin more understandable. 
  • God promises to fulfill the martyr’s requests, but says they will have to “rest a little longer” (v. 11). Those in the present heaven live in anticipation of the future fulfillment of God’s promises. Unlike the eternal heaven—where there will be no more sin, curse, or suffering on the new earth (Rev. 21:4)—the present heaven coexists with and watches over an earth under sin, the curse, and suffering. 

Heavenly-Minded and Earthly Good

There’s an old expression that says, “Don’t be so heavenly-minded that you are of no earthly good.” Actually, the Bible says the opposite: the more heavenly-minded you are, the more earthly good you will be. For example, Paul was a heavenly-minded man, but he did lots of earthly good.

  • Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1). 
  • “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven…” (Phil. 3:19-20). 
  • “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth…. But as it is, they desire a better county, that is, a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:13, 16).
  • We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). 

1. Being heavenly minded helps you persevere during difficult times. 

In 1952, Florence Chadwick attempted to swim from Catalina Island to California. Unfortunately, she decided to quit when she was less than half a mile from the shore. At a news conference the next day Chadwick said, “All I could see was the fog…. I think if I could have seen the shore, I would have made it.” Being heavenly-minded is like seeing the shore.

2. Being heavenly minded encourages you to devote your life to what really matters. 

When people are at a funeral—when they are forced to think about life and death—their perspective on life often changes (though usually only for a little while). Thinking about eternity helps us better evaluate our lives and set better priorities.

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