The Expository Files


 

The Indescribable Glory: Heaven

“Christianity in 12 Words – New Testament Christianity”  Series


 

I am not sure there is anything as human beings we would more like to fully understand and comprehend than the place called Heaven.  Yet, the task of describing heaven… is impossible.  For it is an ultimately futile attempt to describe the indescribable.  No human experience can adequately describe its qualities of glory.  Words will always fall short of capturing the full glory of heaven.  But thankfully our task in life is not to fully, completely, and perfectly understand heaven, but merely to understand its significance… what it means to our lives.  That, we can do.  That, we should do.  That, we must do.

Never Going Back Home

On an incredible sunny spring day in 2001 I went to pick up my Granny from her home in The Woodlands, TX; an apartment complex for senior citizens.  Granny would often come stay with us for weeks at a time, and we loved every moment of it because of the bond of love we established when I was growing up.  She was one of the only relatives us kids would really stay with very much, in large part because she was the only Christian in our extended family.

My Granny was born September 1, 1915.  She was one of 6 children – 5 girls and one boy.  She lived her life with a servant’s heart.  For one of my school projects, she once helped me to write a report on what it was like to grow up during the Great Depression; a time in which she dropped out of school to help in taking care of the family. It was a hard life by comparison to today’s standard of living; but it did not keep her from being a gentle, kind, generous, compassionate soul.  She had a tender and honest heart about her; which was likely never magnified more than in her desire to know and serve God.

She once told me she was baptized three times.  Twice in denominational churches, before she was invited to attend a church of Christ by one of her neighbors.  She “visited”… for almost 10 years before she was baptized the “last” time; which to her, was the “first” time according to the true gospel of Jesus Christ.  Then, and only then, did she become a “true” Christian, and would live the rest of her life according to that faith.

In 2001, as I was helping my Granny get her bags ready to come visit us, I noticed something different about her.  She was tired… she was weak… she was worn.  As we walked to get her mail she had to stop several times to catch her breath.  I knew something was wrong, but little did I know, that when I would finally get her in the car, and drive her to our house, that it would be for the last time.  She would never go back home.  A few months later, on April 9th, 2001, she passed away from lung cancer.  She died a loving a mother, an amazing grandmother, a cherished sister; but above all, she died a Christian.

Why Does This Matter?

It matters to me, because at 22 years of age, I was speaking at her funeral; and as a preacher, and as her grandson, the promise of heaven to those who die in Christ is a comfort in times of such heart breaking loss. (I Thessalonians 4:13-18)  But again; why?  What does heaven mean to Christianity and those who comprise that body of faith?  There are perhaps many answers to this from scripture, but there are three main answers that are worth exploring and binding to our hearts.

Heaven Means: “Hallelujah!”

“Hallelujah” is a transliterated word from the Hebrew language meaning “to praise Jehovah”.  In the scriptures time and time again, it is an apt description of a heavenly scene: that the purpose of all God created things is to praise Him, and there is no place in existence this is more perfectly done… than in heaven.

One of the most famous images in the New Testament is that of the “Throne Scene” described in Revelation by the Apostle John.  John is welcomed into the throne room in heaven.  Though much is made about what it might have looked like, to me, the most telling thing for Christians to recognize, is what is said.  The four living creatures do not cease to say, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come.” (Revelation 4:8).  It then speaks of the 24 elders who say continually, “Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created.” (Revelation 4:11)

Heaven is illumined by the glory of God and there is nothing that can diminish that.  Everything in heaven is as it is… to praise Jehovah.  To give “glory and honor and thanks” (Revelation 4:9) as described in the text here, that is what it means, “to praise God”.  Hallelujah!

That is special for Christians, because as a Christian we have committed our lives to glorifying and praising God (Matthew 5:16; I Peter 2:12).  Death is not the end of our praise to God; for as we are received into heaven we are made more perfect, with the heavenly body of glory (I Corinthians 15:42-44, 51-53), to praise God as we never have before… and to praise Him in this way for all of eternity.

The Christian, is one who was once lost in sin (Ephesians 2:1).  Separate from the promises of God, and the glorious inheritance which is heaven. (I Peter 1:3-4)  We were dead in our trespasses and sin, lost in darkness and death; but through hearing the gospel of Christ, we through faith, give ourselves in obedience to the gospel message of truth.(John 8:24:Mark 16:15-16)  We confess that Christ is the only begotten son of God; not because we have seen Him raised, but because we believe the testimony of those who did (John 20:30-31; I Corinthians 15:1-8); and know that belief in that testimony leads us to eternal life. (I Peter 1:8-9)  In recognizing the love of our Savior Jesus Christ (I John 3:16), and our Father in heaven (John 3:16), our hearts are convicted of the sin that has so easily entangled us (Hebrews 12:1) and cut us off from our Creator (Isaiah 59:2).  Our hearts embrace the instruction of our Lord, to cast off the sinless worthless “self-praising” self in the watery grave of baptism, and be raised up pure in the newness of life, to no longer live to praise myself, but the God who has created me, and saved me. (Romans 6:3-10; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16)

My life, as a citizen, as a child, as spouse, as a parent, as a Christian… is to be about seeking the things that are above (heaven) (Colossians 3:1), where Christ my Lord and my Savior is seated at the right hand of the Father (Acts 1:11).  And as my life is swallowed up in the end by death… my Hallelujah… is never swallowed up; but instead, swells to only greater heights (heaven) as God gives me a body of heavenly immortal imperishable glory… a body to praise Him for eternity… and in eternal perfection.

To me, to sit in church next to my Granny and to hear her sing… I can still hear her voice; and in my heart I cannot imagine an angel that could sing more grand.  To know that she can stand before God and sing praises, and that one day I might stand next to her and do the same, hopefully with my wife and my children (whom she never had a chance to meet on this earth)… I can hardly think of anything greater.  Heaven holds the glory of God, it holds His praise, it holds His people; and heaven, truly holds all… to me.

Heaven Means: “Hope”

There are so many ways to describe hope, and I fought many moons to figure out how to express the best one form scripture as it relates to heaven.

Hope is what gives me the ability to laugh and smile at my Granny’s funeral.  It is what allows me to talk without breaking down into tears of inconsolable despair.  It is what fills my heart with joy… while my gut is simultaneously filled with loss.  But that is the hope of me as the survivor.  As the one still here on earth, walking about as a Christian – an alien and sojourner.

To my Granny, the day of death was a day of hope realized.  She was realizing; that is – receiving in reality as opposed to imagination or dreams – the promises of God.  It was the day she realized this place called heaven.  The day she realized the kingdom (rule) called heaven in a more perfect way.  The day she realized her body of heaven – a spiritual immortal body.  It was the day she realized this promised imperishable inheritance.  It was the day she realized this perfect glory.  It was the day she realized… the heavenly peace… the heavenly rest.

When my Granny would come visit us, she would always do our laundry.  She was big on helping with that: That, the dishes, and helping us watch MacGyver.  And if there is one thing that I remember above all else about my Granny, it is how she would be in the garage doing the laundry and whistling the tune “Mansions Over the Hilltop”.

Don’t think me poor or
Deserted or lonely
I’m not discouraged
I’m heaven bound
I’m just a pilgrim
In search of a city
I want a mansion
A robe and a crown
 
I’ve got a Mansion
Just over the Hilltop
In that bright land where
We’ll never grow old
And some day yonder
We will never more wander
But walk those streets that
Are purest gold

-          Ira Stanphill

 

There’s a lot to be said for a “mansion”, “streets of gold”, and “a robe and a crown”; but to me, the longer I live, and the more I study the Bible, it becomes clearer and clearer to me that it’s not what those things are; but instead… what they represent.

 

My Granny was born in Galveston and raised in Houston.  She, like most in that time, grew up impoverished.  She worked all her life.  She labored, and she labored, and she labored.  She was always provided for, by the grace of God, but she was never wealthy. Not even well off.  And even when she was older and retired, living in her apartment with her sister next door, she lived off of very little.

When I was a child I told my Granny many times, I wanted her to live to be 100 years old, even though she would always say she didn’t want to live that long.  Why?  Because getting old is a chore.  It is a labor.  It is a restless evil as the body and mind slip away. (Ecclesiastes 12:1-5)  For the last 3 months of her 85 years on this earth, as she was dying of lung cancer, I heard her labor for every, single, breath of life.  Every. Single. Breath.  On April 9th, 2001… she didn’t have to labor any more. 

Granny obtained her Sabbath rest.  As much as anything else, that’s what heaven is about to the Christian.  The Old Testament was a shadow of things that were to be in the Christian Dispensation – Christ’s rule after His death, burial, and resurrection. (Hebrews 8:5-7)  One of the major themes in the Old Testament is the Sabbath.  In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth in six days, it was the Sabbath day (the seventh day) that was a day of rest.  It was holy. (Genesis 2:1-3)  When God gave the Law of Moses to the Israelites, and established the 10 Commandments, God instituted the ordinance amongst the nation of Israel that Saturday would be a day of rest (and restoration), for His people. (Exodus 20:8-11)  The decree was for them to work 6 days, but on the seventh day, all work would “cease” (which is the literal meaning of “Sabbath”), all would rest.  Everyone!  Even the servants, the sojourners with them, and the livestock!

This particular Sabbath of the Old Law does not carry over to the new law of liberty which is Christianity; for a better Sabbath has taken its place.  One way in which the Holy Spirit conveys the promise and joy of heaven to us is through language associated with the Sabbath.  “There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” (Hebrews 4:9)  That’s you – as a Christian. (Acts 11:26; Matthew 28:19)   Christians are THE people of God (I Peter 2:10), and God has promised us this Sabbath rest.

But the text is clear, that heaven is this place of rest.  This place of “ceasing” from labor. “For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.” (Hebrews 4:10) Ceasing from the labor of life.  Ceasing from the labor of impoverishment. Ceasing from the labor of corruption.  Ceasing from the labor of a heavy heart or weary spirit.  Ceasing from the labor of disease.  Ceasing from the labor of growing old. Ceasing... from all of the frailties this earthly tent endures.

“For we know that if this earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not make with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven… For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” – II Corinthians 5:1-4 – What a heavenly description of how this fragile tent (our physical body), longs for the rest of that eternal building (our spiritual body) that is provided by God!

However, this is not joy for the Christian without warning; for the context back in Hebrews 4 is one of warning.  For just as the Israelites did not have faith to enter the promised land because their faith was not united with obedience; (Hebrews 4:2) so we too, can have the promise of the Sabbath rest of heaven, but “fall short of it” (Hebrews 4:1) because our faith shrinks back to destruction. (Hebrews 10:36-39)  And so the Holy Spirit admonishes us, “Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall through following the same example of disobedience”, as the short and carnal-sighted Israelites did. (Hebrews 4:11)

There is no death and decay in heaven.  In heaven, my spirit is not waxed by the deterioration of corruption and humanity as it is on earth.  In heaven, I do not toil in vain.  In heaven my spiritual body of glory does not fade away.  The streets are rust proof – they are gold.  The house is clean and spacious, not a shack of wood that is beaten and torn by the elements. The crown of life, is not to be removed, but is an eternal crown of glory that represents my sonship in God’s kingdom. (Galatians 4:7)

Heaven is the fulfillment of hope in Christ Jesus.  It is where we no longer dream of peace and rest, because we forever are in peace and rest.

Heaven Means: “Home”

Jesus was not at home on this earth.  Jesus gave up His home to come to earth, and He died here so that those who follow Him can be at home with Him. (John 17:3-5)

To the Christian, heaven is our home, and it is worth everything!  When Jesus was describing the kingdom of heaven he talked about its worth. “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44)

Heaven is worth everything.  All that the man had, he would gladly part with it; just as our heart should be willing to for heaven.  So many times Christians get caught up in the pursuit of trying to gain all the world.  Every last possible worldly possession, worldly desire, worldly experience, and create their own “heaven on earth”; but Jesus asks, “What profit is it to gain the whole world, but lose your own soul.” (Matthew 16:26) In other words; what have you gained… if you lost heaven?  (For your soul is not lost in existence, but in hell – Luke 16:19-26).  The world is not worth giving up heaven for, but heaven is definitely worth giving up the world for. (I John 2:15-17)

As though it wasn’t enough, Jesus told a second parable. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45-46)  Is the pearl (heaven) worth everything we have?  No.  It is worth more than we can ever give!  But thanks be to our gracious God and Savior, for our souls were bought with a greater price. (I Corinthians 6:20; Acts 20:28; I Peter 1:17-21)

I don’t know the value of heaven based upon the square footage of the mansions, the weight of gold in the streets, or the carat of gold, or number of costly gems, in that crown of life.  I know heaven by the price that was paid for my entrance in as a Christian… the life of Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:6-11)

And as the scriptures paint these pictures of heaven… they do so by painting the illustration of the most valuable place on this earth, to each and every one of us… our home.

If home is where the heart is, then for the Christian it should be clear that my heart belongs in heaven.  For that is where I lay up my treasure, where moth and rust do not destroy. (Matthew 6:20)  They cannot destroy my praise for God, my hope in God, or my home of God.  Home is where the heart is because that is where family is.  As Christians, that is where all of our spiritual family will be; those who have gone before us, those who will go after, and those who journey with us yet still. (I Thessalonians 4:13-18)  Home is where we should find peace and joy.  To a Christian, who is to hate corruption and deceit and sin, this world can simply not be that place.  In fact, as I mature as a Christian my soul grows more deeply offended by the despicable and treacherous sin that spreads and destroys like cancer, and I long for the purity and peace of the righteousness of heaven even more. (Psalm 141:4)  The earth is an exquisite creation of God, yet it is corrupted by man. (Genesis 1:31; 6:5-7)  It is a marvelous place to journey, but it is not my home.

If you have ever been on a long journey, no matter how fantastic the travels may have been, you long to be back home.  And that is the longing that I have for heaven the more and more I read about it.  My spirit is stirred to be like that of Abraham and others of great historical faith – “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed  that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own.  And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.  Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13-16)

As a Christian, God has not just prepared me for a home, He has prepared a home for me.  A home of eternal glory.  A heavenly home.  He has prepared it for me because I am not ashamed to be Christian, to believe in His gospel and to live in His gospel.  I am not ashamed because I desire the heavenly home, and I accept the ways of God to enter in.  A way which may be narrow, a way which may be difficult and challenging, a way which may cost me everything… but it is a way that is worth it. (Hebrews 11:25-26; 32-40)

To reach that home which is worth it, I must press on in the flesh. I have to press on toward my goal of Christ-likeness, “…for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14) – That is heaven.  I must look to these great characters of faith, and those in my life who have persevered in righteousness, like my Granny, to help me “lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”- That’s heaven. (Hebrews 12:1-3) Why do I press on?  Why do I look for inspiration in Christians who walk with me, and have gone before me?  Why do I look to Jesus to help me endure?  Because heaven is worth it.  It is worth everything.  Because heaven is my home.

Finally Going Home

I was wrong before.  When I went to pick my Granny up at her apartment and bring her back to our house, I didn’t know how sick she was.  I didn’t know she would never get better.  For so many years after her death, it kept coming back to me time and time again, “I picked her up for the last time, and she would never go back home.”  I was wrong.

Her tender heart kept searching until she found the way of Christ.  She lived her life praising Him in word and in deed.  She worked throughout her life in honoring the Lord.  And now I know. As her body lay in bed, wasting away in the frailty of life those last few months, working and struggling for every breath she could take… it wasn’t that she was never going back home… it’s that home… is where she was finally going! 

To the Christian; what does heaven mean?  It means everything!  Heaven means the eternal Hallelujah!  Heaven means hope realized!  Heaven means… I’m finally home.  Heaven means more than streets of gold… it means being with the One you love, and being with the ones you love.  I don’t have to go there to know I want to be there.  I know I want to be there, so I have made sure to know what I have to do… to go there. Have you? (Forgiveness of sins through obedience to the gospel - Romans 10:17; Acts 10:43; Luke 24:43; Romans 10:9-10; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:3-10; II Thessalonians 1:7-10)  You can… you should… you must!

“Be ye faithful until death, and you shall receive the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10)  Live your life by faith in Jesus Christ so that you can go to heaven.  For you can read about heaven all of your life; but in the end, it will still be like the glory of Solomon’s kingdom… the half of which has yet been revealed. (I Kings 10:7)  The only way to know the full glory… is to be there.  You can… you should… you must!

 

By David Osteen
From Expository Files 21.2;  February 2014

 

 

 

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