Heaven Is Where Your Home Is
Lake Shore Assembly, Chicago, IL - 07/03/2005
Before we begin I would like to open with prayer.
Father, today I stand before you a weak vessel, unable to stand in my own right to preach your word. I come before you and this church to humbly accept your assignment to convey your Word, your truth, and your passion. I thank you for everybody who's here today, and I beg you to not let me or my attempt to communicate your word get in the way of your gospel. Today, Father, let the power and passion and promise of what you have prepared for us flow through this room, igniting hearts, and transforming lives. May it be so with me, as well. Please bless the reading of your Word father, and may its seeds of truth find ready soil in my heart and in the hearts of all who are here. Amen.
I want to thank you and for allowing me this opportunity to stand before you once again, to deliver a message from the Word. And I want to especially thank Pastor Larson for extending this invitation and trust to fill his pulpit once more. I just want to go on record saying, I take back everything I said about you in my previous sermons here. Really, it was all meant in fun.
Seriously, I am always grateful for the opportunity to teach or preach, and your pastor has been unfailingly gracious in giving me the gift of standing here at this pulpit, and I am always grateful. I consider it an honor and a privilege I do not deserve.
By the way, please don't me e-mails proving how and why I don't deserve to be here!
I have had my mind set on two opposite ends of spiritual destiny for the last few weeks. Soon, I will be teaching a single Wednesday night class at my home church on the topic titled, "Do Heaven and Hell really exist?" So, I began my reading and studies focusing on Hell, and that's where my mind had been at until your pastor asked me to preach today. So, I talked about possible topics with him, and shared what I've been studying, and we thought it would be good today if I can and gave you heaven.
Importance of this message
The subject, of course, is of eternal importance. This is where, if you are a Christian, you will be spending eternity. Now, that's an easy thing to say: I'll be in heaven for eternity. But it's a very, very hard thing to wrap your mind around. And that's one reason why, I think, many preachers avoid preaching on either heaven or hell. Eternity is really impossible to understand, and we can't help but get it wrong when we think about it. It's more than just a long time … it's so far beyond long, that there is nothing that could possibly measure it except maybe God's yardstick. And because it's such a long, long time, I think our minds fail when we think about it, and we just give up. It's like when you use a spreadsheet on a computer and you try to enter a formula where any number is divided by zero. You get an error. The spreadsheet doesn't even try to compute that number because it would take an infinite—never-ending—amount of zeros to go into any number, big or small. In fact, this kind of attempt to define the infinite will cause some software and some computers to crash and reboot. And I think our minds to the same thing.
Another reason, probably the main reason, we don't think much about heaven, or hear many sermons about heaven, is because we have become self-centered and blind to God's truth and eternal realities. This is one of Satan's greatest victories. He has successfully deluded us into thinking the best we'll ever get is within our grasp here on earth, and that if we're ever to get any joy, we've got to get it on our own. When we think about the future, we think about our savings accounts, our retirement accounts, buying a home, paying off our mortgages, getting out of debt, saving up for our children's education, buying nice things, driving nice cars, and on and on and on. But we don't spend much time thinking about the Good news of the Gospel. That the Kingdom of Heaven is now and how you live now determines your life in eternity.
But it's vitally important we think about eternity, because whatever happens to you after you die is of supreme importance. It is, in fact, far more important what happens after you die than what happens here and now, and for a whole lifetime. I remember in high school how everything seemed to be of such gigantic, monumental importance that every failure, every low mark, every difficult test, and hard to write paper, and boring teacher, and every encounter with a pretty girl was a potential disaster. It was very hard to see past graduation day to life beyond, but whether I liked it or not, whatever happened during my four short years in college was going to pale in comparison to my life after high school. I've been alive now longer than I was when I left high school. In high school, I could never have imagined where I'd be or what I'd be doing in 18 years. But now that 18 years have come and gone, it seems like just yesterday that I was walking the line and getting my diploma.
Whatever you think about eternity, know this: it is not possible for you to place too high a priority on preparing yourself for it, and living your life now in light of it's reality. Even more than how high school affected my life as an adult, I'm here to tell you that how you live your life now will have a deep and lasting—no, eternal—impact on what you experience after you die.
My text will be John 14:1-7, and we will be talking about Heaven's reality, Heaven's Reward, and Heaven's Joy and Heaven's Door.
First, the text:
John 14:1-7 (NIV)
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going."
First I want to talk about Heaven's reality. I have a problem, and it's the same one the disciples had. How do I know Heaven exists? The only way to prove Heaven exists is to die, go there, and come back. And when you do come back, nobody will believe you because it would simply not be possible to convey the infinite realities of Heaven. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:9, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him." Even when Paul, himself, was shown heaven, he wrote that he heard "inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell." (2 Corinthians 12)
But what about people who have a near-death experience and later live to tell of their experiences? Well, Here's what I know about near-death experiences: They prove nothing. I found an article documenting some of the common themes to various reports of near-death experiences. Here's what I learned:
This article goes on to say:
"In many experiences, Christ appears; but he does not appear in all of them. … In Buddhist countries, people meet Buddha. In Hindu countries, the god of death may appear. Jews may meet the Messiah."
If this tells you anything, it must tell you that so-called eyewitness reports of life after death they do not prove anything about the reality of Heaven or Hell. They are inherently contradictory.
But what about science? Could science prove the existence or nonexistence of Heaven? I have read accounts of the words of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man ever to orbit the Earth, on April 12, 1961. On that day, he reportedly looked about him in the cold void of space, and said, "I don't see any god up here." For his sake, I am told that the verbatim transcript of Gagarin's radio transmissions don't actually record that statement. But the Russian media reported these words, and somehow this was supposed to prove that heaven and God did not exist. But short of finding the actual PO box where God collects his mail, there is little hope of scientists, cosmonauts, astronauts, astronomers actually proving anything. God and heaven transcend our world. His ways are not our ways and his reality is so far beyond our fallen world that, like Paul says, we only see through a foggy mirror. I am confident that if we stumbled upon real physical evidence for heaven, we'd never recognize it for what it is.
In the end, there are only two ways you can know something is true:
That's it. There is no other way. You can discover truth by making observations and measurements, comparing your studies against sets of other observations and measurements, and submitting your results to others for review. That's the foundation of the scientific method. We use this method or some variant of it every day.
I remember, as a kid, when mom would take me shopping I was always fascinated by the section of the department store where they sold new stoves. Whenever we walked by those stoves I would look for the electric ranges. You know the kind, with the spirally metal coils on top where you put your pots or skills to cook? We had one at home, and I knew that if you turned the range on, the metal coils would heat up, and if the lights were dim enough, you could actually see the coils glow this ominous orange color. Now, I wasn't any more stupid than the average kid, well maybe just a little more stupid, but whenever I saw those orange painted coils on the new stoves in the department store, I could never resist the horrible compulsion I had to touch those coils to see if they were actually hot. I am grateful I was never burned! But, you see, this is how we are all our lives. We need to have direct experiences to know the reality of a thing. Like Thomas who wondered whether Jesus was really resurrected, we need to see and feel and touch and grasp in order to say that we know the truth.
But there's another way to know the truth, and that's through faith. Now some will say that faith is underrated, and that you always have to have compelling physical evidence to stake your truth claims on. But, listen, you and I make decisions based on faith every single day of our lives. When you sat down in your chairs this morning, did you subject them to a rigorous physical examination? Did you conduct any load-bearing tests on them? Did you, maybe, have a toddler jump up and down on your seat to make sure it wouldn't fold under you right when I go to the most interesting part of this message?
I suspect not. And why? Because, based on previous experiences you've had with similar chairs, you made a judgment to trust this chair. And that's faith.
And the same goes for just about everything you do without thinking about it. When you drive your car, you're exercising trust, faith, that your wheels wont fall off, that your motor won't explode, that your steering wheel won't fall off in your hands, that if you are in an accident, your air-safety bags will deploy and that your seatbelts won't snap off.
When you pick up your cup of coffee in the morning you trust, have faith, that the handle on your mug won't just snap off. When you enter your home at night you trust, have faith, that the roof won't collapse on your. When you walk down Michigan Avenue you trust, have faith, that the bricks on the building's façade won't come flying down to land on you. Wait … scratch that. That's probably something not a lot of people have faith in today!
"You trust in God, now trust me." And, later, "If it were not so, I would have told you."
If Jesus is who he said he is, then we know Heaven exists because he came from Heaven, and was going back. He was in a place to know. But if we do not trust Jesus, then based on his words here, "trust me … if it weren't so, I would've told you…" we could only conclude that he was either deranged, deluded, or a dangerous liar.
But the reality of Christ is inescapable. We have more historical evidence for Jesus and his life than for any other single historical figure of antiquity. But more than the fact of Jesus' historical life, we can also trust that Christ died, and was raised from the dead. We have the disciples' own testimony and teaching to that effect. We have nine different sources for followers and skeptics who saw Christ on multiple occasions after his death, and some who even ate with him after death—and not all those sources are from the Bible. Paul was an independent eyewitness to the disciples and their testimony, and his own personal testimony of his revelation of the risen Christ. Early oral tradition, circulating before the Gospels were written, confirms that Christ rose from the dead. His tomb stood empty, and there was never a corpse produced to prove any of this wrong. The Roman and Jewish authorities of the day were never able to counter the claim that Christ rose from the dead. And early followers of Christ were so persuaded of his resurrection that they willingly followed him to death, themselves, as martyrs.
In 1 Corinthians 15:14-19 Paul addresses this issue. He says,
"[I]f Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. … [I]f Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men."
Friends, Heaven is real, and I have it on the best authority. I have placed my faith and trust in Christ. I know that he died for me, rose from the dead, and now waits to welcome us in heaven. He said it, I believe it.
But so what? Heaven exists, Jesus lives there, what's the big deal right? How many times have you heard heaven described like one really long, boring church service where all we'll do is sit around the throne and sing endless stanzas of "Holy, Holy, Holy?" To most people, Heaven does not sound like a very interesting place. But let's look at something Jesus tells us that clues us in to a key idea of what life in Heaven will be like.
"In my Father's house are many rooms." and "I am going there to prepare a place for you."
Perhaps you've heard the song written by Ira Stamphill, made famous by Elvis Presley, "Mansion over the Hilltop." This is the verse where the unfortunate idea of a mansion in heaven comes from. Christ's idea, here, is not to talk about mansions, palaces or estates. The point of what Christ wants us to know about heaven here is not materialistic. It's not meant to inflame our greed, and make us eager to get to heaven so we can enjoy it's wealth. No. Christ tells us that his main focus in heaven is to prepare a home for us. The resurrected and glorified Christ will spend his days in heaven, before his return, creating a home where we can live in fellowship and community with all the other believers with us, and with Christ himself.
What's that saying, "Home is where the heart is?" That's the big idea here about heaven. I don't know about you, but I honestly can't think of any place more dreary to live in than a big castle, or a giant mansion. It doesn't do it for me. What I want, whether here on Earth of up in heaven, is a home, where my family can rest, friends can visit, guests can party, and deep intimate relationships can be built. We get the term "mansion" from the Latin version of the bible, where the Latin word for "mansion" made it's way into our English translations. But the better translations don't refer to mansions any longer. It's more like home, a room in God's house.
And this is what's so compelling about Heaven, to me. It's home. It's home like I've never been home before. It's home like nobody in the human race has experience ever since that tragic day when Adam and Eve were barred from the Garden of Eden. We've never been home since, and I think there's an eternal hunger in our hearts that will never be fulfilled until we return home again, to be with Christ.
You know, there are degrees of being "home." I remember when I visited Mexico on a missions trip to help a missionary build a new church and to witness to folks in Guadalajara, Mexico. After two weeks trudging through the crowded, dusty streets there, I was sore, tired and sick for home. I remember when that bus drove past the gate at Customs, it felt like I was coming home. I was. I was home. But I wasn't fully there yet.
And then, on the airplane coming in to Albuquerque, New Mexico, as the plan began to descend for its final approach to the airport, I felt an easing of tension, not only in me, but in almost everybody else on the airplane that day. We were coming home. It was time to relax.
And then, after getting on the church van to thread our way down the familiar city streets, I once again saw the comfortable familiar places I recognized and which had become a part of the fabric of my life. I was even more home than before.
And, before long, I was lugging my suitcase through the door to the smell of a good home-cooked meal on the stove, the dogs leaping for joy at my appearance, my dad yelling, "Hey son!" My mom wiping her hands on a towel, hugging me and asking me if I was hungry. I was even more home than before.
And, finally, after telling my stories, putting away my luggage, and brushing my teeth, I lay down on my bed, closed my eyes, and sighed: home. I was finally home.
And this is heaven.
If you have a good home, then you may be catching a glimpse of what I'm talking about here. If you've had a bad day at the office, where do you want to go to rest? Home. After a good day at the office, where do you want to go to share the news? Home. After a football game where the winning team took the trophy home, where do you want to go for post-game recaps? Home. Especially if there's pie! When you meet the man or woman of your dreams, what do you want to do? Marry him or her and build a home together!
At the end of the day, just as at the end of life, there is always home to go to, and God is personally preparing a special home, with all the attention to detail that God can bring to the task, and he's preparing them for you, and for me.
But there's more, there's something beyond even this. Say we accept that Heaven is real because we know Christ rose from the dead and is preparing a home for us, is that all there is? Suppose you had a horrible family life growing up, and you never really enjoyed being at home. Maybe you spent every waking moment plotting ways to get away from home? The promise of Heaven's reward being more like home than your Earthly home may not hold much in store for you. How about this? Heaven promises joy, comfort, and love like none you've ever known before.
Jay Adams tells the story of a guy who was a terrible worrier. His reputation preceded him for the burden of worries he carried every day. He walked around with his head bowed, his brow furrowed, his feet shuffling. He was joyless and everybody pitied him. One day Bill saw his worrying friend bouncing along as happy as a man could be, whistling and humming and wearing a huge smile; he looked as if he did not have a care in the world. Bill could hardly believe his eyes, so he had to find out what had happened.
Jesus told his disciples:
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me." And "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." This passage reminds me of something Paul wrote to the Philippians 4:4-9
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Focus for a moment on the words Paul uses: "Rejoice! Rejoice! … The lord is near." Then remember the words Jesus used: "Do not let your hearts be troubled … I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am."
Have you ever had a friend, a loved one, or a family member who was just good to be around? Think of the kinds of people you know who are a joy. These are the people who, when you are around them, make you a better person. Maybe it's their perspective on life that gives you comfort, or helps you see life in a different light. Maybe it's their inner peace that somehow also brings you comfort when you are troubled. Maybe it's their sense of fun, their ability to find something humorous in almost any context. Maybe it's their integrity and devotion to God, and their example is inspiring to you, and the more you're around them, the more you want to be near them.
Now, imagine, if there's anybody even remotely like that in your life, and that person is a sinful fallen creature like you or me, imagine what kind of a person Jesus is! Jesus is God's love in the flesh. Every disciple who met Jesus, the moment he met him, dropped what he was doing, changed their careers, changed their professions, left their home towns, and followed him for the rest of their lives. Even the Apostle Paul, who hated Jesus and everything he stood for, who persecuted and caused the deaths of many believers, the moment he came face to face with Christ, could do nothing but follow him, and long to be with him in heaven.
Just as heaven is more like home than any home we've ever known, Jesus is more like a friend than any friend we've ever known. Paul says that in the Lord's presence there is no need to worry, or be anxious. Jesus promises the same thing. In his presence there are no worries. No anxieties. No troubles.
In Christ's transfigured, resurrected, eternal presence is joy never-ending. There will be no sorrow. There will be no tears. There will be no anxiety. The difficulty is, now, when we are still muddling through this vale of tears, how do we realize that joy? Later on is this same chapter, in verse 16, Christ promised that he would send the Holy Spirit to live within us. The NIV translates Christ's word for the Holy Spirit, here, as Counselor, but the King James used the word "Comforter." And both are true. Christ said, "But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you." Until we stand side by side and face to face with Christ, and he comes into our new homes to eat with us, we have the Comforter who, as Paul says in Romans 8:26, "helps us in our weakness [and] intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express."
So, Heaven is real, and it's more like home than any I'll ever know, and when I get there, there'll no sorrow but only joy and growing in fellowship with Christ and other believers. But how do I get there?
It's not possible, really. You can forget about it. The truth is, heaven is closed to sinners. God's holiness is toxic to sin. It is impossible to stand in God's presence and survive if there is even a hint of sin within you. Nobody has ever seen the face of God and lived. Even Moses, who asked to see God's face, could not be exposed to more than just the back of God and even that reflection of God's glory had to be veiled from the people for its radiance. (Exodus 33, 34). The sad truth is, we were created for heaven. We were created for fellowship with God. But once sin entered creation at our invitation, we and all of creation have become targets of God's wrath. At some point, some day, God will open the doors of heaven and his wrath against sin will come pouring out, and everything will be burned up in the presence of his holiness. It's inescapable. All have sinned, and everything in creation is tainted. And there's no way our sinful lives would survive exposure to God's perfect holiness, his perfect justice and his perfect wrath.
But, here's the good news. Here's the really good news. While it's impossible for a man to enter heaven on his own merit, we can gain entrance through the one relationship that makes it possible. Through friendship with Jesus.
"You know the way to the place where I am going." And, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
Without Christ, we truly are doomed. But with Christ there's the promise of life, joy, happiness, an eternal home, and all the good things that come with it. There's much much more that Christ said about the after life, and much more throughout the rest of the testimony of Scripture, but none of it matters at all without Christ as Lord of your life.
You remember I said there are two ways to know truth? One is to have firsthand experience, and another is to trust, or have faith? In Christ, both avenues of knowing truth are combined, and both are necessary to enjoy this Heaven. You cannot just know the truth of Christ. As Jesus' brother, James, reminds us (James 2:19), the devils believe. They tremble in their belief, for they know the power and reign and holiness and the wrath of God against evil. When demons recognized Christ, they shouted, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won't torture me!" (Mark 5:7, Luke 8:28)
No, belief in Christ as an objective way to heaven is a start, but it's not enough. Christ also said he's the way. If you're going to drive to Springfield and you go to Mapquest or your trusty Rand McNally atlas and get directions on the way to get there, what good does it do you? You know the directions are reliable. I looked up my home address on Mapquest and, sure enough, there's a little X right where my house is supposed to be on the map. So, objectively, I know the truth of Mapquest, the truth of Rand McNally. I know they will get mere where I want to go. But unless I put my foot to the road. Unless I point my car in the right direction and press the pedal to the floor, I … will … never … arrive.
You must submit to Christ's direction as the way, and assent to the Christ's reality as the truth, and only then will you experience the fullness of Christ as life. But here's the promise for hear and now … when you believe and follow Christ, you enter into that life now. You don't have to wait for heaven to enjoy life. You don't have to wait for heaven to have your sorrows comforted. That begins now. But the access is only through Christ. There's no other way.
I stand here in weakness knowing that I cannot adequately communicate the glory and joys of heaven. I know this because it's hard for me to fathom it myself, much less communicate it. But if there's anything I beg you not to ignore to day it's this. Listen: If heaven is not your hope … if heaven seems dull and uninteresting compared to the life you have now …. If the home and joy Christ has for you in eternity seem weak and lifeless then know this: Your experience of Christ is too shallow. You must know Christ in his fullness. You must turn your attention to him for it's only in knowing and following Christ that you shall enjoy not only eternal life, but this life, here, and now.
For the last few days I actually wrote this sermon, the refrain from an old song has been running through my mind. I hadn't chosen my text yet, but I knew my topic would be heaven, and every time this song came to mind, I wondered, why am I singing this song? It doesn't really have anything to do with heaven, does it? Then I'd shrug and go on with whatever I was doing. Usually, driving.
But then, as I wrote the conclusion to this message, the Lord reminded me of the hymn, and I want to reflect on it with me because I think it will illuminate this passage we've read, maybe better than anything I've said so far:
O soul, are you weary and troubled?
Dear Father. If there are any here today who have not made a decision to trust in and follow Christ, I beg you to pierce their hearts, and bring them to repentance soon. Break our hearts father, for the sacrifices you made in giving up your son to die for our sins so that we could be restored to heaven with you. Help us keep our eyes always focused on Jesus, help us see the realities of heaven become more substantial even as the temporary things of this Earth begin to fade away. Help us be more heavenly minded, Father, so that we can be the evidence of the Good News of the your Kingdom on Earth. Amen.