Monday, August 19, 2013

Our Relationships in Heaven

Part 2 of the series Heavenly-Minded

You can listen to this sermon here.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev. 21:3). 

Heaven Is More About a Person Than a Place

Who do you want to meet first in heaven?

Jesus said to his disciples, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2-3).

Would you be happy in heaven if Christ were not there? Going to heaven without Christ being there would be like a bride going on her honeymoon without her groom. (This is a good analogy since the church is described as the bride of Christ, cf. Rev. 19:6-9.)

The Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” (In Desiring God, John Piper writes, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever,” )

Whether we realize it or not, what we really long for is God’s presence. (But most people try to satisfy this longing with other things.) Augustine called God “the end of our desires.” He prayed, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

The psalmists often wrote about their desire for God’s presence.

  • “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11). • “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple” (Ps. 27:4). 
  • “As the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (Ps. 42:1-2). 
  • “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Ps. 63:1).
  • “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Ps. 73:23).  

Heaven would not be heaven without God. Actually, heaven could be described as the place where God is. (Of course, God is omnipresent, but his full glory is displayed in heaven.)

Heavenly Relationships

Relationships are important in our earthly lives. Before God created Eve, he said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). In heaven, relationships will still be important.

1. In heaven, we will live with God. 

When John was given a vision of heaven, he “heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God’” (Rev. 21:3). John also writes that people in heaven will “see [God’s] face” (Rev. 22:4; cf. Ex. 33:17-23; Matt. 5:8).

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve walked and fellowshipped with God (Gen. 3:8). But after they sinned, they were banished from Eden (Gen. 3:24)—demonstrating man’s separation from God’s holy presence. The only way back into God’s presence is through Christ (John 14:6).

God dwelling with his people in heaven is the consummation of God’s plan for humanity.

  • God dwelled with his people in the tabernacle. “I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people” (Lev. 26:11-12).
  • God dwelled with his people in the person of Christ. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). 
  • Today, God dwells with his people by the Holy Spirit. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (1 Cor. 6:19; cf. 2 Cor. 6:16). 

We don’t know what it will be like to see God’s face (“God is spirit,” John 4:24). But it’s easier for us to imagine what it will be like to see Jesus, who will forever remain God and man. “When [Christ] appears…we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Imagine the joy of seeing face to face the one who died for you!

2. In heaven, we will be reunited with Christian loved ones.

When Christ returns, “we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with [the dead in Christ] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:17-18).

Will we remember one another in heaven? Yes. Paul’s words of comfort to the Thessalonians about their deceased loved ones lose their effect if we don’t remember one another in heaven. In heaven, are minds will be clearer, not foggier. Think of how your experience of heaven would be altered if your memory was erased.

How can we enjoy heaven if we know that some of our loved ones are in hell? In heaven, we will have a better understanding of God’s justice. Still, we will not be pleased (as God is not pleased, cf. Ezek. 33:11) about the judgment of the unsaved. But we must remember that our God is the “God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3). And we must rest in his promise that “He will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes” (Rev. 21:4).

3. In heaven, we will be one big happy family. 

Christians are “members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19). In heaven, there will be no conflict, and we will be able to fully obey the command to love one another.

Some married couples might be concerned about the lack of marriage relationships in heaven. Jesus said, “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Matt. 22:30). “This teaching might at first seem discouraging to married couples who are deeply in love with each other in this life, but surely people will know their loved ones in heaven, and the joy and love of close relationships in heaven will be more rather than less than it is here on earth” (ESV Study Bible, p. 1869).

We Will Never Be Alone 

On Thursday, a man named Martin Manley committed suicide on his 60th birthday. What made Manley’s suicide unusual was that, before his death, he created a detailed website documenting his life. The site’s homepage says, “Today is August 15, 2013. Today is my 60th birthday. Today is the last day of my life. Today, I committed suicide. Today, is the first day this site is active, but it will be here for years to come.” (The website has since been taken down, making Manley’s suicide even more tragic.)

Manley was afraid of old age. His parents were dead, he had no children, and he didn’t want to “die alone.” 

It’s painful to be alone. But, if you’re a Christian, you have God’s promise that in heaven you will never be lonely again. You will live with God forever. You will enjoy countless friendships with other followers of God. And you will be reunited with Christian loved ones—never to be separated again.

Contrary to what some people say, the more heavenly-minded you are, the more earthly good you will be. The hope of heaven should help us value our present relationships. “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10).

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