Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 97: Longing for Heaven
December 2, 2012
* Help us long for Heaven and yearn for your glory and may that change our lives. Help me express the inexpressible.
MOVE OUR HEARTS [Don’t read along, just listen]
Revelation 21:1-8 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars-- their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
As I reread this passage on Monday, I got just the slightest glimpse of “WOW.” It felt less like a thing to be EXEGETED and TAUGHT and a little more like a thing to be EXPERIENCED.
* My goal is for you to be MOVED by VISIONS of Heaven and to create in you a DEEP LONGING that changes how you LIVE.
There is almost a MYTHOLOGICAL ELEMENT in the symbolism that appeals to our HEARTS more than our heads.
* John describes FOUR THINGS that are RENEWED, then repeats them again several times in the rest to the chapters.
1. CREATION MADE NEW
Revelation 21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.
Q How many of you LOVE the sea? I do.
This “no more sea” thing sounds more like Kansas than Heaven, but again this is symbolic and in the ancient mind, the sea represents CHAOS and DISORDER, so John is promising God’s order.
* We are promised a NEW WORLD, GOD’S KINGDOM, where his WILL is done on earth as it is done in Heaven.
Q How many of you watched “WALL-E”?
A new Heaven and earth isn’t like that, where we trash this world so bad that God gives us a DO-OVER. Rather, Jesus clearly speaks of the RENEWAL of all things.
* This is universe is not God’s ROUGH DRAFT, but the first chapter of his great story.
PAUL says “...creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (ROMANS 8:21).
* What we do here MATTERS; what we do to our bodies matters.
* What we do to the EARTH and on the earth matter: The ENVIRONMENT, ART, and social JUSTICE all matter.
2. SPIRITUALLY MADE NEW
Revelation 21:2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
Later is the chapter, John makes is clear that the NEW JERUSALEM isn’t just where the saints live, it is the SAINTS.
Q What does that even mean?
First, I want you to see that we are COLLECTIVELY the Bribe of Christ. We have an INDIVIDUALISTIC view of Heaven (part of the American Cult). Part of it is KJV’s mistranslation of John 14:2:
NIV John 14:2 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.
We get a room in God’s house, not a mansion of our own. In Jesus’ culture, when you got married, you didn’t move out, you added a room to the family complex.
NO MORE INTERNAL WAR
But more than that, we are the HOLY City, the pure and righteous BRIDE of Christ.
Q Do you feel like this describes you? Does it feel like a CRUEL JOKE to call you “HOLY”?
There are many things that are not right in our world, pain and persecution. But the war I hate the most is the one inside me:
* We WANT to be HOLY, but fall short again and again.
I want to LOVE my wife but whenever I am hurt I RESPOND with CUTTING words.
You want to TRUST GOD and walk in peace, but every time you open your BILLS you are filled with ANXIETY.
We want to be PURE in THOUGHT and when our thoughts WONDER the go to DARK PLACES we hope NO ONE ever SEES.
In our short time here, the HOLY SPIRIT continually REFINES and refines us, but we long for the time that RIGHTEOUSNESS comes EASY and TEMPTATIONS are only a MEMORY.
John describes the city as being made of precious stones and gold that is SO PURE that it’s TRANSPARENT:
Revelation 21:11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.
* I LONG for the day that I will be as CLEAR as CRYSTAL, that I no longer fear you looking into the DEEPEST DEPTHS of me.
I long for the day God can truly call me HOLY.
3. DWELLING WITH GOD
This is the CORE, the CENTERPIECE of not the passage, but the ENTIRE BIBLE:
Revelation 21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
Throughout these last chapters, John draws heavily from EZEKIEL’S VISION of the New Jerusalem. But he DEPARTS from it in one very significant way:
* Ezekiel spends a lot of time MEASURING the TEMPLE, but in Revelation is the NEW JERUSALEM that is measured.
Revelation 21:22-23 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.
John is reaching all the way back, BEFORE TEMPLE was destroyed, before SOLOMON was given the highest privilege to build it, before GOD PROMISED to dwell with ISRAEL.
* It goes all the way back to EDEN when God walked with Adam.
This is the VERY CORE of the EPIC STORY of the Bible, the total RESTORATION of all that was LOST through our sin, RESTORED by God’s love and sacrifice.
* Did you watch “ACROSS the UNIVERSE,” where Jude is pulled apart from Lucy? This is like them seeing each other.
We think about these final chapters as being about “THE END,” but they are really more about “THE BEGINNING.”
* I said last week Revelation is filled with OT PICTURES, and in these chapters John alludes to the GARDEN of EDEN constantly.
The point isn’t that God is ENDING EVERYTHING, but he is RESTORING everything to better than before.
THE LIGHT OF HIS GLORY
In one of Revelation’s most POWERFUL IMAGE, John says there is no sun, for the GLORY of GOD is our LIGHT.
The idea of the GLORY of God is hard for us to UNDERSTAND, but this helps us picture it. It is so full and all ENCOMPASSING that there will be NO NIGHT (22:5), nothing is in the SHADOWS.
* The Ptolemaic System was not earth centered but GOD CENTERED; it’s coming INSIDE, out of the dark into WARMTH and SAFETY.
Reading OLD BOOKS like that have give me the tangible sense that I am on the outside, LOOKING INTO the GLORY of God, eagerly waiting to be allowed in.
* Cf. Dante, PARADISO, the eager anticipation of God’s presence.
* The more clearly I see this life as a LITTLE GHETTO beyond which God’s GLORY EXPANDS FOREVER, the less it is ABOUT ME.
I resent that I LACK the WORDS to COMMUNICATE this, but I know that the better I UNDERSTAND HEAVEN, the better I understand.
4. EMOTIONALLY AND PHYSICALLY MADE NEW
And in GOD’S PRESENCE, we are comforted and healed. SICKNESS, DESPAIR, and PAIN FLEE away; they cannot endure his presence.
Revelation 21:4-5 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Some of us have had a HARDER LIFE than others. Some have known more PHYSICAL pain, others more EMOTIONAL pain.
* Many of us are TOO YOUNG or HEALTHY to FULLY APPRECIATE the promise of a new body.
I read about a 17th century pastor named RICHARD BAXTER who was a well known preacher and writer. He was trouble be frequent sicknesses. He was called a “virtual MUSEUM of DISEASES.”
* He said as an adult he seldom had more than HOUR FREE of PAIN.
On one occasion he thought he would not recover from his sickness, so he spent his time MEDITATING on HEAVEN, in order to PREPARE to leave this life.
* He created the HABIT of spending 30 MINUTES every day meditating on Heaven, and encouraged all believers to do so.
MEDITATING ON HEAVEN
Q How OFTEN do you spend thinking about Heaven? Once a DAY? A WEEK? A MONTH?
I don’t think we all need to spend a 30 minutes a day, but keeping HEAVEN and the promise of GOD’S PRESENCE in our thoughts can be one of the more PRACTICAL things we can do.
Q Won’t that make us “too HEAVENLY MINDED for earthly good”?
It is possible, and we do have to guard against it, but I am more worried about us being too EARTHLY MINDED to be of any heavenly good.
* Done right, a clear picture of Heaven and a DESPERATE LONGING for God’s presence REFINES and makes us MORE EFFECTIVE here.
THE FINAL TRIP
As many of you know, my family and I are leaving today for VACATION, our first real vacation as a family. God has been incredibly gracious – we are getting a better vacation than a family who has little as we do should be able to.
* I have literally been PRAYING for God to provide for us to take Grace and Sarah for Disneyland for YEARS.
As I have been preparing for that trip and this sermon at the same time, I have seen many SIMILARITIES between our excitement for it and our longing for Heaven.
1. SWEET ANTICIPATION
* This vacation could be either be a worldly DISTRACTION or a God-given GLIMPSE of Heaven.
It is all a matter of PERSPECTIVE: See, I have never been to Heaven. All these descriptions are really cool, but still far off. My LONGING for Heaven is largely THEORETICAL.
* But I get my ANTICIPATION of this vacation; I am asking God to help me ASSOCIATE that with a longing for Heaven.
In the SAME WAY I eagerly look forward to this two week trip that I know and understand, I am learning to look forward to an ETERNITY that I cannot really understand.
TASTE OF HEAVEN
* I have learned that the JOYS of this LIFE are the HINTS and FORETASTES of what real, eternal joy taste like.
Our IMAGINATIONS are DEFECTIVE when it comes to imagining Heaven, so God gives us the joys of earth to help develop our expectations of Heaven.
* CS LEWIS enjoyed this life fully yet really got the realness of Heaven like few others (e.g. CAPITALIZING it).
I know feel ENVIOUS when I read about SAINTS who died – they now taste fully what we now only get hints of.
2. GREATER ENJOYMENT
In the same way I am now seeing HINTS everywhere of my VACATION (especially with DISNEY’S world domination), I see HINTS of HEAVEN all around me and lead me to enjoy this life more.
I think in a very real sense, a ROBUST HOPE of Heaven and the fullness of the glory of God allows us to ENJOY this LIFE MORE.
When an ATHEIST enjoys a SUNSET on the beach of Puerto Vallarta, all he sees is a sunset; I see a glimpse of God’s GLORY that I will enjoy without limit.
When unbeliever enjoys the THRILL of the SPACE MOUNTAIN, that as far as the thrill goes; I know it is a taste of the THRILL of seeing MY SAVIOR.
3. LOWER EXPECTATIONS
But, perhaps ironically, longing for Heaven helps me EXPECT LESS out of this world:
When a non-Christian ENJOYS EVERYTHING that he can enjoy but still feels EMPTY, he can only seek the NEXT THING; I know NOTHING here will satisfy me – it wasn’t supposed to.
* Far too often we ask the things of this world to do what they weren’t meant to – to FULFILL us.
Americans worship STUFF, buying more and more THINGS, because stuff buys as HAPPINESS and RELIEF from our troubles:
* “Money can’t buy happiness, but it can by jet skis and have you ever seen an unhappy person on JET SKIS?” (Daniel Tosh)
Taken properly, enjoying stuff as a TEMPORARY GIFT from God is FINE. But when we use it to FULFILL us, it becomes IDOLATRY. Again, stuff (including Disneyland) is fine, when used properly.
* This even goes for the “GOOD STUFF” – MARRIAGE, FAMILY, RELATIONSHIP, WORSHIP, CHURCH.
NOTHING here can truly satisfy us, so long as we are in this body we walk with a LIMP.
4. SUFFERINGS IN STRIDE
Cultivating our longing for Heaven also helps us keep our SUFFERINGS in perspective:
I have been CHECKING the WEATHER for the past week a couple times a day, Sunny and 70 in Anaheim. Sunny and 90 in Cofridia.
* The recent RAIN doesn’t bother me; I kind of hoped the weather would worse, just to make it more fun to head south.
A complete picture of Heaven, like Baxter had, helps us see the RELATIVE SMALLNESS of SUFFERING.
* I personally LACK the SUFFERING to speak to some of you, so I rely on Scripture:
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 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.
PAUL understood SUFFERING. He suffered deeply for the Gospel. This “light and momentary troubles” includes being beaten, shipwrecked, starving, stoning, and more.
Heaven doesn’t simply make the suffering TOLERABLE – Heaven is where they are TRANSFORMED into “an ETERNAL GLORY that far outweighs them all.”
* This and other Scriptures that NO PAIN needs to be WASTED.
5. LONGING PROMPTS PREPARATION
Finally, as we long for Heaven, we spend more time PREPARING for it. Scripture is clear that what we do HERE AFFECTS ETERNITY.
* About nine months ago we bought the tickets (we told the girls three months ago); we have had a LOT of TIME to PREPARE.
Just like I could go on vacation MORE and LESS PREPARED, so I can enter Heaven better prepared.
1 Corinthians 3:12-15 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
What you do here MATTERS, how you spend your time will have ETERNAL CONSEQUENCES.
* Please text “Sunday School Teacher” ; service is almost over
NOT GOOD NEWS FOR EVERYONE
Even as I try to create a longing for Heaven in each of you, that may be a MISPLACED HOPE for some of you:
Revelation 21:6-8 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars-- their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
To those who are THIRSTY and WILLING to ADMIT they are thirsty, Christ gives the water of life without cost.
* We cannot EARN or MERIT Heaven. It is a GENEROUS GIFT, but requires that Jesus be Lord.
For those who REFUSE, I have NOTHING for you. The best this life has to offer is the BEST you can HOPE for. As has been said, this is the CLOSEST to HEAVEN you will ever get.
Q Do you think this CRUEL?
Psalm 145:17 The LORD is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made.
* Hell is a STRANGE KINDNESS; if you want nothing to do with God, then he graciously grants it to you.
Q Do you worry about those who have NEVER HEARD of Jesus?
What is that to you? YOU HAVE heard of him. Again, God is GRACIOUS, LOVING, and MERCIFUL. I have no doubt that when I see his plan clearly I will PRAISE his MERCY to all.