Our Hope of Heaven

Last week we began our study of heaven. And in that beginning we talked about Jesus’ focus in his teachings, his parables and his life – not on this life, but the next – that there is more, much more to come.

And because of that focus, we should live this life in view of the next. And so, in Matthew 16:26, he told his followers just how important it is that we see beyond this temporary, transient life: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.” There is nothing in this world that can compare to the riches of the next. And if we choose this world – putting our hope and our heart in what this world has to offer – there are inevitable consequences to that choice.

But know this: God does not send people to hell – it is not and has never been his desire or will – he sent his only son to die so that we would not have to go to hell – though our sins demand it. God does not send innocent people to hell – he honors the choice of rebellious sinners to choose their eternity – in spite of his deepest desire – as Peter words it: “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

That is God’s desire and will for everyone. He created us for a relationship with him – not just for this life, but for all of eternity. And Jesus encouraged us over and over to put our hope and our hearts there.

If your hope is in heaven, it changes how you live in this life:

1) If our hope is in heaven, we will have different values and priorities.

Heaven should impact how we live in this world.
Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Peter 1:17-19)
urmanufacturingIt changes how we look at wealth and possessions. Jesus said, “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
It changes how we look at people: So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. (2 Cor. 5:17)
It changes how we look at happiness. Our culture has embraced and demanded instant gratification for our wants and desires. We want what we want and we want it right now. It was the downfall of Esau when he sold his birthright to Jacob because he was hungry. It was David’s downfall when he looked down on the rooftop and saw a beautiful woman bathing and told his servants, “Bring her to me now – I’ve got to have her.”
In Jesus’ story of the rich fool, the man wasn’t a fool because of his materialism, but because of his temporalism – he wanted what he wanted now without any thought for the needs of others or the will of God.

Jesus challenges us to have a bigger vision for life. Life isn’t just about what happens in the seventy or eighty years of this earthly existence, but what happens in eternity.

In a passage we read last week in John 5:24, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”
Did you hear the tense of those words? He has eternal life – not he will receive eternal life – it is here and now. The same in John 6:24, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” Eternal life is not synonymous with heaven – it encompasses heaven, but it begins on this side of the grave. When we believe in Jesus, we receive eternal life – as Jesus said, you have “crossed over from death to life.” That’s what we’re talking about. When you begin to think eternally – you will live with values and priorities that are consistent with the life you will one day live in heaven. Heaven changes everything.

2) When our hope is in heaven, we learn to live with a lot less stress.

We begin to recognize the trivial stuff for what it is – trivial – and most of the stuff we deal with in life is trivial. We get bent out of shape over things that won’t pass the eternity test – in other words, what will the significance of this be when viewed in the light of eternity (most of it won’t pass the ten hour test – it won’t even be that important tomorrow morning.) We live in a stressed out world – five of the top ten prescription medications are for anxiety. That says a lot about the level of stress a lot of us live under.

Listen to Paul’s perspective: For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So 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. (2 Cor. 4:17-18)

This culture needs to see people who genuinely experience a peace that passes all understanding. They need a beacon of hope – a witness to the power of a life that is focused on heaven.

3) When our hope is in heaven, it helps us persist in our trials and sufferings.

The fact is, most of our “light and momentary troubles” don’t seem so light or momentary. Some of you struggle with chronic pain, or family issues, or long-term health problems that aren’t going to go away any time soon. You are in deep and you live with an ever-present foe of discouragement taunting you to give up.

Discouragement is Satan’s most powerful weapon. When pride and jealousy and temptation and selfishness won’t bring a person down, discouragement will take you out at the knees – it will bury you so far under you won’t be able to see any way out.

Seeing heaven doesn’t erase the suffering and pain, but it helps us see our way through it. Immediately following those words we just read in 2 Cor. 4:17-18, Paul goes on to say: Now 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. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For 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. Now 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. Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. (2 Cor. 5:1-9)

In Romans 8:18, Paul wrote: I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Trials won’t last, but triumph will be eternal.

How do you see beyond the trials? Listen to the Hebrews writer: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:2) The secret to making it through difficult times? It is in those words, “who for the joy set before him…” That’s how Jesus endured the cross – the suffering, the pain, the heartbreak, the aloneness – he kept his focus on heaven – the joy that awaited him. And if you want to see beyond the suffering that you’re experiencing, “fix your eyes on Jesus.” Do what he did – keep your heart in heaven.

4) Keeping our hope in heaven helps us resist selling out to this world.

Listen to the apostle Peter: “Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul.” (1 Peter 2:11 – The Message)

Look in China, in Africa, in the Middle East, where Christianity comes under intense persecution and yet, the church isn’t just growing, it’s multiplying exponentially. That’s always been the case – when Christianity stands against culture it is healthy and growing, when it tries to blend with culture, it finds itself anemic and dying. The greatest threat to the church is not persecution, but accommodation.

How do we accommodate the world? The next time you’re in the grocery store, walk by the magazine rack. What do the covers depict? Thin, beautiful bodies; fast, expensive cars; large, beautiful houses filled with expensive furniture. That’s where the world’s heart is – those are the things the world tells us are essential for happiness.

And here’s Paul’s assessment of those pursuits: Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But then he says: But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ… (Phil. 3:19-20)

It takes great intention to pursue a life you can’t feature on a magazine cover. The things that bring real joy aren’t for sale – you can’t order them from Amazon.com; you won’t find them at Walmart or at Neimann-Marcus. You’re not going to achieve happiness with an upgrade on what you’ve got now. You’re not going to find it in the new car smell, or an address in a nicer part of town. You won’t find it when you finally lose that extra ten pounds, and you won’t find it in someone younger and prettier. Don’t miss heaven for anything in this world. It’s not worth it, it’s a terrible bargain.

God wants a people whose hearts are in heaven. He always has. In the book of Hebrews, the writer describes those people of faith, who stood against the culture of their day – who refused to be sucked into the values and the priorities of the world around them. And so he tells us: All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Heb. 11:13-16)

Heaven was the focus of those who made God proud. God loves to see his people live like heaven is their home, that their citizenship is in the kingdom of heaven. It makes him proud to see us make godly choices for our lives.

Jack Arnold had lived his life preaching the word of God. Then at the age of 69, he retired, but his retirement meant he started traveling around the world to go to those places where the church is young and struggling, and training preachers and strengthening churches. He was home briefly and the church in Florida where he had preached so many years invited him to come preach for them on a Sunday morning. He preached on his favorite text in Philippians 1:21-23 - For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If 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! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far… And he began to talk about heaven and the joy of looking forward to being united with his Savior. Then he said, “When I get to heaven…” and clutched his chest and fell to ground, dead from a heart attack. The last words on his lips were “When I get to heaven.” That was how he lived his life, and that was where his heart was.

I want to urge you to live with such a focus that heaven is never far from your thoughts – that your heart is already in the place you long to go.

(I want to acknowledge my dependence on two resources for some of the content in this sermon: Rick Atchley’s, Amazing Place, and N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope - both excellent studies on heaven.)