Easter 5 April 28, 2013
The Old Testament Lesson--Daniel 7:9-14 Hymns: 551, 550, 417
The Epistle & Sermon Text--Revelation 21:1-6 Psalm: 133-134
The Gospel--Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43 Rev. Charles W. Papenfuss
What's heaven going to be like? That's a question we all ask. We naturally wonder what it's going to be like when we leave this earth and go to the next world. Little children love to ask that question, and adults have to give them some sort of answer. But it's hard to do that when you're not so sure yourself. Why is that? Why is it such a challenge to describe what heaven will be like?
Obviously it's because nobody's ever gone to heaven and come back to tell us about it. To be sure, some people have had near death experiences and they think they've gone to heaven and come back, but how can a person be sure it was the real thing? Studies have shown that some people have these near death experiences and think they've gone to hell and have come back. You just don't hear about them as much. The fact is, you can't depend on anything in your experience to know what heaven is like--nor should you.
The only sure and certain authority for what heaven will be like is the Word of God, the Bible. We have such a Word of God in front of us today. In beautiful, symbolic language the Apostle John describes what heaven will be like. Today we'll look at his words from two points of view: What won't be there in heaven, and what will be there in heaven. So let's ask this question as our sermon theme:
WHAT'S HEAVEN GOING TO BE LIKE?
1. All the effects of sin will be gone
2. Jesus will be with us forever
In order to appreciate heaven we need to understand what the Bible says about sin and its effects. We need to understand how bad sin, how terrible sin is, for one of the features of heaven is that there won't be any sin there or any effects of sin. Contrary to what our culture says, sin is not some minor thing that people do, some little mistake that people make. Sin is a horrible perversion of God's image, a total destruction of God's holiness. Sin affects how we act, how we talk and especially how we think. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, God damned the whole universe because of it, and the world is still reeling under that curse. This is why our world is groaning under God's anger, why storms and floods and earthquakes strike people and cause mass destruction. Sin is why our world is infected with all kinds of illnesses and diseases and sicknesses. Sin is why there's so much turmoil among the nations and rampant crime in the streets. Sin is why people die. It touches everything about life here on this earth, for sin is not so much what people do as it is something that people are--including and especially you and me!
Understanding what sin is and its effects will help us appreciate what heaven is going to be like, for no sin or any of its effects will be there. God says, "I am making everything new. The old order of things has passed away." So much of what life is here on this earth, so much of what makes us sad, so much of what causes people grief comes because people are sinners and sin is so evil--but all of that won't be there in heaven. Let's look at what our Scripture text tells us about some of these negative aspects of sin, these negative effects of sin are, that won't be there in heaven.
"There's no longer any sea," John writes. John wrote these words of Revelation from exile on the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. He was separated from his fellow Christians in Ephesus by the waters of the ocean. For him the sea was a symbol of being ripped away from his loved ones. None of that in heaven! In heaven you and I will no longer be separated from our family members or the family of believers, all those who love Jesus. Here on this earth we so often have to drive our loved ones to the airport and say, "Goodbye!" So often we have a son or a daughter who lives on the other side of the country or serves in the military in a faraway place. So often we long to see our Christian friends, but they're off on the other side of the world. So often we long to talk to a Mom or a Dad, but that person has now gone to God. Not in heaven! No more separations, no more sad farewells. "No longer any sea," in heaven. We'll be with God's people forever.
Here are some other effects of sin that won't be there in heaven: "God will wipe every tear from their eyes." No crying in heaven! Think of all the things that make us cry on this earth: Problems in getting along with people, children who drift away from the Lord, the threat of crimes and attacks on us as we live our daily lives, evil people around us who treat us badly, betrayals by friends and family alike, loss of jobs and disappointments with ourselves, and even physical pain can just make us cry at times. None of that in heaven! All gone!
John says about heaven: "No more death." Think of that. Nobody dies in heaven, and we don't have to watch somebody else die when we get to heaven. What a beautiful negative blessing that is! Here in this world we're overwhelmed by death all the time. Obituaries fill our lives. News comes to us again and again about who died. We go to one funeral after another. But not in heaven! No more funerals. No more wakes. No more tears to cry because Mom or Dad or Husband or Wife or Son or Daughter is now gone for good from this earth. No more checks to write for memorials, no more empty chairs at mealtime, no more burial plots to pick out, no more tears to shed months after our loved ones' death because we still miss them. "The old order of things has passed away." Hallelujah! None of that in heaven!
That's because Jesus Himself has prepared heaven for each one of us. He came into this world for that very purpose. He suffered our death when He died, and through His death He has conquered death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. Plus He rose from the dead on Easter Sunday to prove that heaven is ours, and He's alive right now to get each one of us to be with Him there. Our Jesus is coming back for us and will give us heaven as a gift, free of charge. He says in our text, "I am making everything new." Eternal life with God is not something we earn, but something God gives us because Jesus earned it for us. He dealt with our sins, and because of that all the effects of sin will be gone in heaven.
But heaven isn't just the absence of everything negative. It's not just the lack of sin's consequences there. Heaven is also positive, too. The positive effects of heaven are referred to in our text, and that's the second part of the answer to the question, "What's heaven going to be like?" Jesus will be with us forever.
John writes: "I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband." This is figurative language. Jerusalem is a picture of God's people being together in a perfect life. Christ is the Bridegroom, and the church is His bride. God compares His people to a bride in a wedding. When you go to a wedding, the bride is the center of attention. And she's gorgeous! She's wearing a beautiful wedding dress. Her hair is all done up. She's got special jewelry on her. The bride is the beautiful lady everybody has to look at. That's how we'll be in heaven--the gorgeous, beautiful bride of Jesus Christ. We'll be the focus of God's attention, the beautiful person that Jesus has made us to be with His precious gospel.
And just like a bride comes down the aisle and is given to her husband, so also the church--God's redeemed people--are given to Jesus to be with Him forever. Our text says, "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." That's what heaven is going to be like. We will be with God forever. We will be with Jesus forever. Yes it's true, God is with us right now; Jesus is with us right now. One of His names is "Immanuel," which means, "God is with us." And that is certainly true wherever we go in life.
But God is with us right now by faith and not by sight. God is with us right now, but we can't see Him and experience Him. That all changes when we leave this earth and go to heaven. Then we will see God face to face, we will stand in His presence and experience all His majesty and glory. We will share in all the shining goodness of God and we will be godly, not just because God says so, but in our very bodies. The ancient theologians said that we shall have the beatific vision, the blessed vision of seeing God for all He really is. No longer will God be, as He is on this earth, the great Hidden God--hidden in nature, hidden in His Word, hidden in the gospel. In heaven God will pull off all His masks and show Himself as the glorious God that He is.
To make all this possible, Jesus will raise our bodies from the grave and reunite them with our souls. In heaven we're going to have flesh and bodies again, only this time they won't be ravaged by the effects of sin. We'll serve God and one another with resurrected bodies and sinless souls. On Judgment Day God is going to raise up the ashes of our mortal bodies and give us new bodies that will be equipped to live in a whole new and different world. Just like Jesus received a glorified body when He rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, so God's going to give bodies like Jesus had to every Christian when he or she gets to heaven. We will be living in a whole new mode of existence, a new order of the way things operate. I don't know if there's going to be baseball in heaven or if you'll enjoy a round of golf there or whether there'll be art museums to go to or whether your favorite pets here on earth like your dog or your cat will be there. But I do know that life there will be perfect, a million times and more better than it was here on this earth, for God Himself will give us a whole new body to use and a whole new mode of existence in which to use it. Jesus is going to be there with us, and that makes heaven worth going to.
John ends our text with the words, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." What a comfort these words must have been for the church of John's day, a time the Christians were suffering persecution and suffering. What a comfort these words are for us as we suffer persecution and problems. When life on this earth gets tough, when it seems that God is so far away from us, when the world around us is spinning out of control, what a comfort it is to remember what heaven's going to be like--none of the rubbish of this life, and all of the joy of God. My dear Christian friends, keep your eyes focused on that vision. Hang on to these words that describe our eternal life. Hang on to God's promises no matter what happens to you. Because it won't be long and they'll be made true for us personally. We're going to heaven to be with Jesus!