by Johan du Preez
(Roodepoort, South Africa)
What Is Heaven?
Down deep inside of all of us I think, there is this great desire to believe that there is such a thing as heaven. We all want to go to heaven. We all expect to go to heaven, don't we?
Reinhold Niebuhr once said, "The Bible tells us very little about the temperature of hell, or the furniture of heaven."
I believe there are two reasons for that. Number one, there is just no way that human language can capture the majesty and the grandeur of heaven. Secondly, I think the Bible doesn't give us many of the details because if it did, you and I would quickly make an idol out of heaven.
The Bible does tell us though, everything you and I need to know. Turn with me to Paul's letter to the Philippians, the third chapter; and let's take a look this morning at verses 17-21. This is the Word of God. We all want to know what heaven is like, don't we? We want to know all about it. We want to know: Would we work, what are we going to do…. Eternity is a long time..
Like the two guys who were dying to know if there would be rugby in heaven. They made a pact with each other. The first one to die would try to come back and communicate to the other person whether or not there was rugby in heaven.
Well, one of them dies; and sure enough the remaining friend, one night hears a familiar voice, "Jan! Jan, it's Piet! I've come back to tell you whether or not there is rugby in heaven. I have some good news and some bad news for you. The good news, there is rugby in heaven. The bad news, you are the referee tomorrow night."
What is heaven like? Probably a better place to begin is to ask ourselves the question, "Will we be ready for what heaven is like?" In the third chapter of Philippians, Paul has spent a lot of time talking with those early Christians about what eternal life in Christ is like. In verses 17-19 of our text, he hones in on the fact that the reality of heaven ought to impact the way you and I live in the world as Christians. In fact, he urges those early Philippian Christians to model their lives after him, and after other Christians who are living godly lives.
Now remember that Paul is writing to Christians here. He is not saying that the way you and I live determines whether we merit heaven. No, not at all. You and I are saved solely, totally by grace alone, through faith in Christ.
Let's get back to the original question. What is heaven? In verses 20 and 21 of our text, Paul gives us some great insights into what heaven is really all about. In verse 20, the first thing he tells us, he reminds us to check our spiritual passports as Christians. He says, 'Our citizenship, is not in this world. Our true citizenship is in heaven.' This earth is not our real home. We are merely visiting here in Africa…
If you are a Christian, ask yourself this, 'Am I a pioneer, a ‘voortrekker”, a scout for Christ?' A pioneer is never settled. They are always moving on. They know that wherever they are is not their home. They are always heading toward a final destination. They are just passing through. But so many Christians have, in relationship to this world, become rooted. They have circled the wagons. They invest themselves so much in this world, that they have almost totally forgotten where their true home is.
Where is your true home? It is not here. If you are a Christian, you are at best a resident alien. You are a “Zimbabwean” or a Nigerian….. You and I need to remember that this world is not all there is.
Let me confess, I like this world. I am in no rush to get to heaven, but I need to be reminded that I am a resident alien.
I am a visitor. I am just passing through. This is not my home.
Heaven is the fulfilled kingdom of God, so the next thing Paul wants you and me to know about heaven, is also in verse 20. He says that Christ one day will return, and take you and me home to heaven to be with him. If you don't remember anything else about this sermon, remember this. This is the most important thing about heaven: that you and I will be with Christ.
Henry Durbanville in his book The Best Is Yet to Come, tells the story of a man who is a born-again believer. He was dying and he was scared to death. He was scared of the unknown. One night his doctor visited him at home, and the doctor was a Christian, and the doctor felt helpless to comfort this man.
He did not know what to tell him to ease his mind.
All of the sudden the doctor heard a scratching and a whining at the door. He opened the door and in bounded the doctor's dog, who had accompanied him on that house-call. And then the doctor thought, 'I now know what to say to this man.'
He went to the bedside and said, "My dog is here. I let him in. My dog has never been in your house before. He did not know what it was like in here at all. He just knew that I was here. And so he wanted to come.
I can tell you that I am looking forward to heaven. Not because I know a lot about it. But because my Saviour is there, and that is all that I need to know." That is all that you and I really need to know.
But Paul tells us some more. He goes on in verse 21 to tell us that when Christ does return and take us home, in heaven you and I will be re-embodied. In paradise, our soul is with Christ. But, we were not made to be disembodied spirits. We are only whole and complete when body and soul are together. We are told that Christ will give us new glorious bodies. Resurrection bodies. We are told that those bodies will be like Christ's glorious body.
Christ's body was no longer governed by the laws of this universe. He could appear, disappear. You and I will be given glorious resurrection bodies like Christ. We will be like Christ; We will no longer be susceptible to disease, death or sin. Our weakness will be traded in for strength. Death for life. Humility for glory.
It raises some questions though, doesn't it? What age will we be in heaven? Will I be 15, 25, 70? How will we identify each other? This is beyond human comprehension. This is part of the mystery of heaven. But it is sufficient to say that we know this: we will be with Christ, and we will be like Christ. And my friends, that is what makes heaven, heaven.
What is heaven? It is our one true home. It is our eternal destiny in Christ. It is being in Christ. It is being like Christ. It is a destiny that our lives here and now are preparing us for.
A woman was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The doctors told her that she had three months to live. She called her pastor and said, 'Please come over. I want to put things in order.' He came over, and they sat down and they planned her funeral. She tidied up all of the loose ends. He promised her that he would make sure that all of her wishes were carried out.
Everything was now in order, and he got up to leave. She stopped him before he walked out the door and she said, "I forgot. Two more things that are very important. When I am buried, I want to be buried with my favourite Bible in the casket with me." The pastor said, "No problem."
And then she said, "The second thing, is also very important. I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand." The pastor was kind of stunned. He did not know what to say. And then she said, "All my life I have gone to so many church suppers; and when the main course was over and they came to clear the table, inevitably someone would lean over and say to me, 'Keep your fork.' She said, "That was my favourite part of the meal. I knew there was something better coming. It might be a velvety chocolate cake, it might be a deep dish apple pie. I knew it would be wonderful, and that it would be of substance."
And she said, "I want to be laid out in my casket at the viewing with a fork in my right hand, because I want people to come by and look and wonder, 'What is with the fork?' And then pastor, you will have the opportunity to tell them, "Keep your fork because the best is yet to come."
And sure enough, she was laid out in the casket with her best dress, her favourite Bible, and a fork in her right hand. At the viewing people came by. The pastor overheard countless of them asking the question, 'What's with the fork?'
And then at the funeral he was able to preach, 'Keep your fork. The best is yet to come.'
This afternoon when you sit down to lunch. This evening at dinnertime when you pick up that fork, may it be a gentle reminder to you, that in Christ, with Christ, like Christ, the best is yet to come. That is what heaven is all about.
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