Greg Laurie - Will I Get To Heaven?
You know, I remember before I was a Christian, I thought when you died, you simply ceased to exist, and that freaked me out. Because I thought, "How can I simply no longer exist"? This is actually what I looked like at that stage. I don't have any photographs from my youth. It was done in a photo booth. Look at the other picture. It looks like a mugshot, okay? So that's what I looked like. But you can see the lostness on my face. Well, I didn't know where I was going. I didn't know what I was doing with my life, and I really was searching. And it was so scary to me that I would cease to exist.
Now, there's a scene in the movie "Jesus Revolution" where my character, Greg, is running down the street. That actually happened, but there are some scenes that didn't ever happen in real life. And it's disappointing because people come up to me and say, "We love the movie and we love this scene". And it seems like they always pick the scenes that actually never happened in real life. Like, they'll say, "I love it when you met Kathy and you looked through the fence. That's my favorite scene. What was that like"?
I have to say sorry, that didn't happen. That's not how we actually met. That's a little bit of movie mythology added to the story. Or they'll say, "Oh, I love that part when the hippies gave you the car. That's a great scene". How was that? Well, that didn't happen either. I actually bought the car for $225. Okay, but it was an old Corvair. And another one is, "Oh, I love it when Chuck gives you the keys to the church at the end of the movie". That didn't happen either. Okay, now there's many scenes that are actual scenes from my life. But I'll tell you this one, the scene where Greg is running down the street, flipping out, thinking he's going to die, is a real story.
And that's really what happened to me. And I did hear a voice say, "You're going to die". And that sent me on a search as a young person asking the big questions that every thinking person eventually gets around to asking, such as, "What happens after I die? Where will I go when I die"? And of course the biggest is, "Will I go to heaven"? In his biography on Steve Jobs, who created Apple and created a lot of the technology that we're using today, especially the iPhone, the author, Walter Isaacson, asked Steve Jobs whether or not he believed in God. Jobs said throughout his life there were seasons when he did believe in God, and then there were times when he did not.
But now as he was facing the prospect of his own death, he found himself believing in God more and more. So the author of the book, Isaacson, asked Steve Jobs, "Why, why do you believe this more and more"? Steve replied, quote, "Because I can't accept that the body just turns off one day and then it's all over and you're gone forever". Then Jobs uttered these words, "Incidentally, that's why we never put on/off switches on Apple products". Because Jobs didn't like the idea of just flipping a switch and turning something off. Isn't that interesting? That's how a lot of people view death, you just flip a switch and lights out, party is over, the end. Well, that's actually not true at all. We are eternal people.
If we're a believer or an non-believer, we have a soul that lives on in the afterlife. Yes, the body goes into the ground. Yes, the body ceases to function, but the soul lives on. This is something that we have to think about. I know it's not the most pleasant of subjects, but I believe as a Christian we can face it head on without fear and know that we have hope in the afterlife. We need to think biblically, not emotionally. Most Americans believe in an afterlife, 84%. Eighty two percent of Americans believe in heaven. Seventy percent believe in hell. That always makes me laugh that less people believe in hell than believe in heaven, but both are found in the Bible.
One thing is clear, we'll all die and enter the afterlife because Ecclesiastes 3 says, "There is a time for every purpose under heaven, a time to be born and a time to die". Hebrews 9:27 says, "It's appointed unto a man once to die and then comes the judgment". Statisticians tell us that three people die every second, a hundred and eighty every minute, eleven-thousand every hour. That means that every day 250,000 people enter into the afterlife. This is why the psalmist reminds us in Psalm 139, "Lord, teach us to number our days and realize how few they are and help us to spend them as we should".
The story is told from history that Philip of Macedon who was the father of Alexander the Great had someone follow him everywhere he went, and this was his job. He was to tell Philip every day, "Philip, you will die". Wow, what a job. But it was just something that kept Philip grounded, reminding him that eternity was waiting.
So let's read now the words of Jesus about the afterlife here in John chapter 5. I'm gonna read verses 25 to 29. Jesus says, "I assure you the time is coming, indeed it's here now when the dead will hear my voice, the voice of the Son of God, and those who listen will live. The Father has life in himself, and he has granted that same life-giving power to his Son. And he has given him authority to judge everyone because he is the Son of Man. Don't be surprised! Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God's Son, and they'll rise again. Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgment".
We'll stop there. Three big truths pop out of these verses. Number one, there is a final judgment. Number two, there are two destinations beyond the grave. And number three, the destination we enter into depends on our relationship with God. Let's start with point number one, there is a final judgment. In Acts 17:30, Peter says, "In these times of ignorance, God has overlooked but now he commands men everywhere to repent because he's appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness". So the fact that there is a future judgment reminds us that God is fair because life is filled with injustices, isn't it? You just read a newsfeed and the horrible things that happen every single day, and it breaks your heart.
People seem to get away with the worst crimes imaginable, and we think, "How can that happen"? Well, they're not gonna get away with it. They may escape the long arm of the law, but they will not escape the long arm of the Lord. And God is in control, and he keeps very accurate records. Colossians 3:25 says, "The wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there's no partiality". Listen to this, every wrong in the universe will ultimately be paid for. It will either be paid for by Jesus Christ when he died on the cross and the offender repents and puts their faith in him, or it will be paid for by the offender at the final judgment for those who do not put their faith in Jesus for salvation.
Point number two, there are two destinations beyond the grave, heaven and hell. There's no purgatory, there's no stopovers. Aren't you glad of that? When I fly, I hate stopovers 'cause things happen, you get delayed. However, I did stopover in Chicago on the way back from DC, and I was very excited because I wanted to get a Chicago dog. You know what I'm talking about? The hotdog. They have a very unusual way of doing hotdogs in Chicago. So that was the one highlight. I have a stopover, but I'm going to get a Chicago hotdog. But generally, I don't like stopovers, I like to just get to where I'm going.
Well, when we die as Christians, there's no stopovers. "Do not pass, go, do not collect $200," Monopoly reference. You go straight into the presence of the Lord, isn't that good to know? Right into God's presence. The moment you close your eyes on earth, you open them in heaven. When you take your last breath on earth, you take your first breath in heaven. It's so fast you can hardly even measure it. Paul writes in Philippians 1:23, "I'm hard pressed between the two. I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. But it's important for me to stay here with you".
Why is heaven better than earth? Well, number one, because I'm moving from a tent to a mansion, and we're gonna move from this broken down shack of a body to a mansion that's far better than Beverly Hills, right? Heaven is better than earth because all of my questions will be answered. We all have questions in life. I do, I'll admit. Things that have happened to me in life that didn't really make sense. Some of those things have been sorted out. As I've gotten older, I'll look back and say, "Oh, now I understand maybe why God allowed that because this came out of it and this other thing came out of it".
But then there are other things that have happened to me that make no sense to me at all. And we all have those questions. It reminds me of a mother who invited a bunch of people over to our house for a dinner party. And so it was a lot of work, more than she expected, and so it was time to have the food, and she turned to her little daughter and said, "Honey, why don't you give thanks for the meal"? And the little girl says, "Well, mommy, I don't know what to say". And the mom said, "Well, just pray what you hear mommy say". And the little girl said, "Okay, dear God, why on earth did I invite all of these people over to my house for dinner"?
You know, so, but we have serious questions we wanna ask God, and we'll know. One day, we'll know. 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, "Now we see things imperfectly like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely just as God knows me completely". But the greatest thing of all, the reason that heaven is better than earth, it's not just because I'm upgrading my dwelling place, not just because my questions will be answered, but I'll be with Christ. I'll be with Christ. That's it. Again, as Paul says, "I want to desire and be with Christ, which is far better".
The Bible uses different words or pictures to describe heaven. It's described as a paradise. You remember when Jesus was hanging on the cross, it was a thief crucified next to him who said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom". And Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, today you will be with me" in what? "Paradise". Yeah, paradise. So he was reminding that man of the glory ahead. Paul writes of his own experience where he died and went to heaven in 2 Corinthians 12 and he says, "I know a man 14 years ago was seized by Christ and swept into ecstasy to the heights of heaven. I know that this man was hijacked into paradise, and he heard the unspeakable spoken, but was forbidden to tell what he heard".
So it's paradise. But then the Bible describes heaven as a city. It doesn't say it's like a city, it says it is a city. Hebrews 13:14 says, "We're looking for a city that is to come". Hebrews 11:10 tells us that "This city has God as both the architect and the builder". So I want you to think for a moment of cities you've been to, and what do you have in a city? Well, you have things to do. You have restaurants to go to, you have maybe a show to go see or you have other things that you plan on doing while you're there. Maybe you'll visit a museum or some other things.
So instead of thinking about a weird city of clouds with fat babies and wings, just think about cities you've been to. Certain cities have unique qualities to them. There's Jerusalem, there's Paris, there's Norco. But in this city that we're gonna go to, there's no crying, no one's gonna mug you on the street, you don't have to dodge cars, you don't have to look at urban decay, it'll be like a perfect city. So when you go to a city, maybe you love to go to this restaurant or you love this coffee place.
One of the first things I do when I go into a city is I Google for a good coffee 'cause I'm gonna have a proper cup of coffee. So I'll find the good coffee, maybe talk to someone who's been there before. However, I do know people who if they recommend food or coffee, it's always great, and I know other people who if they recommended it, it's literally the worst I've ever had. And it takes a while to figure that out because I'll say, "Where should I eat"? "Eat here". And I'll go eat there and say, "That was a horrible meal. What else"? "Well, go to this other place," and that's horrible too. So I know, avoid the places they tell me to go to, but then there's other people. They'll give me a recommendation, and it's legit, and it's always good.
So we're gonna be enjoying ourselves in heaven. Is that so hard to understand? Will we go to concerts in heaven? Well, there's a lot of godly men and women that did concerts on earth that maybe we'll do them in heaven. Maybe you'll be out with some friends and someone says, "We're gonna go see Handel's 'Messiah' tonight. In fact, Handel will be there directing it". "We're not gonna go to that". "Why"? "We're gonna go see Johnny Cash". "Really"? "Oh yeah, he's doing a concert". "The man in black"? "Well, he's the man in white now, but still". Think of it as a real place with real people where you do real things. It's a happy place. I think that's hard for some people to understand, but heaven is a happy place.
The Bible says, "In his presence there is fullness of joy and in his right hand there are pleasures forevermore". The Bible says there's joy in heaven over one sinner that repents. That's heaven. Quick glimpse of heaven. What's the other destination? That would be hell. Here's what Jesus says, John 5:28, "The time is coming when the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God's Son, they'll rise again. Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life. Those who have continued evil, and evil will rise to experience judgment".
Now, just as there is a distorted view of heaven, there is also a distorted view of hell. Starting with the devil, we think the devil rules from hell. He sits on a throne, he has red skin, pointed ears, a pointed tail, a pitchfork, and a goatee. He always has a goatee, right? He has hooves too. Kind of a weird looking guy. Well, there's no biblical basis for any of that. That's a caricature of Satan that is not found in the pages of scripture. "Oh, hell's gonna be a big party. We'll be there and we'll party with all of our friends". No, hell is not gonna be a big party unless you'd like to have parties in a blast furnace. Hell is a real place. And the Bible speaks of it using different pictures of outer darkness and flames, and this is something that is a horrible thing to consider.
And it is worth noting that Jesus spoke of hell more than all the other preachers of the Bible put together. And we might say, "Wow, well, why would he do that? I thought Jesus was loving". Well, yeah, he speaks about it because he's loving. He alone has seen it. He knows what hell looks like. And the last thing he wants is any man or any woman created in his image to end up for all eternity in this place called hell. We think heaven is for good people, hell is for bad people, wrong. Heaven is for forgiven people. In fact, hell was not created for bad people, hell was created for the devil and his angels or demons according to Jesus. And God doesn't want any person to spend eternity separated from him in this place called hell. Just as surely as heaven is a real place for real people, hell too is a real place for real people.
In Luke 16, Jesus gives us a behind the scenes look at hell. He tells the story of two men who died the same day. One was named Lazarus and he was a beggar, and he was impoverished, and he was starving to death. And he spent his time outside of the palatial estate of a very wealthy man who flaunted his wealth. And one day they both died and, according to Jesus, Lazarus went into Abraham's bosom, he went into this place of comfort, and the rich man went into a place of fire and judgment. Now understand, the rich man didn't go to hell because he was a rich man, he went there because he had no place for God in his life. He worshiped his possessions instead of the Lord. And there he was suffering and he was conscious.
Now I know the question that comes to our mind immediately is how could a God of love send people to hell? Is that not an in consistency on the part of God? No, not at all. He, again, as I said earlier, he did not create hell for people, he created it for Satan. Listen to this, if a person ends up in hell, they're getting what they actually wanted. One person put it this way, and I quote, "People only get in the afterlife what they most wanted, either to have God as Savior and Master, or to be their own saviors and masters. Hell is simply one's freely chosen path going on forever". C.S. Lewis put it this way, and I quote, "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done.' And those to whom God says in the end, 'Thy will be done.' All who are in hell choose it, without that self-choice, there could be no hell".
So literally if a person ends up in this place called hell, they have no one to blame but themselves. They have to effectively climb over Jesus to get there. He's done everything he can to get you into heaven. He's died on the cross, he's suffered and died in your place, he's paid the price for the sins we've committed. He literally faced hell on earth so we could be with him in heaven. He entered the darkness so we could walk in the light. So it's our choice if we end up there. So that brings us to an interesting thing I read about the most commonly asked questions from people who are in hospice care and know they're going to die soon. They always ask these questions, "What's gonna happen to me after I die? Is there really a God, and will I be going to heaven"?
Let me answer those questions. "What's gonna happen to me after I die"? Your body will go into the ground, your soul will enter the afterlife. Heard about a pastor that was doing a funeral service for a man, and there was a casket in front of the pulpit, and the pastor gestured toward the casket, and he says, "What we have here is a shell". And then he said, "But the nut is gone". Not the way he meant it to come out, but actually technically right. The shell is there, the body is there, but the nut, if you will, the soul goes on, and God will give us new bodies that will never wear out or age. One of my granddaughters asked me a while ago, "Papa, why do we have to die? Why can't we just float up to heaven"? I thought, that's a good question, isn't it? The answer is because our first parents sinned, Adam and Eve.
Sin entered the world and it infected the whole planet but Jesus died on the cross for our sin and rose again from the dead, and we no longer have to be afraid because he said, "I'm the resurrection and the life. He that believes in me, though he were dead yet shall he live, and whosoever lives and believes in me shall never die". I reminded her of a time when I was walking down the beach with her and some of the other kids, and I stepped on a bee, and I cried like a little girl. It hurt. And so I reminded her that when Jesus died on the cross, he effectively took the sting of death away. He absorbed it in our place. The Bible says, "Oh, death, where is your sting? Oh, grave, where is your victory"?
Question number two ask the people who are in hospice care and are facing death, is there really a God? Well, you're gonna find out, and you need to answer that question now. Heard about a Russian cosmonaut who actually went to space. He was an atheist, and he actually said after he came back, "When I went into space, I didn't encounter God". If he would've taken this helmet off in space, he would've encountered God, I'll tell you that. But you don't wanna wait until the afterlife to find out if there's a God, you can find that out right here, right now, because obviously he loves you, and he has a plan for your life, and that is why Jesus came.
Now the big question, "Will I go to heaven"? Well, that's up to you. "Really"? Oh, yeah. The invitations in the Bible are clear, God wants you in heaven. "Whosoever will, let him come. Whoever is thirsty, let him come and drink of the water of life freely". Invitation after invitation. Jesus says, "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest". Revelation says, "And the Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come let him that is thirsty, come, come, come,'" the Lord says to us, but we don't have to come, we don't have to go to him. We can say no, and then that will determine where we will spend the afterlife. You need to admit you're a sinner and ask Christ to come into your life, and he will forgive you of your sin, and you can know you'll go to heaven.
Let me close by asking this. Am I talking to somebody right now that is wondering, "Will I go to heaven when I die"? If you don't have the answer to that, if you can't say with certainty, "I know I will," don't you think that's the most important issue in all of life? I think so, and I believe you can have that question answered right here, right now. Jesus who died on that cross and rose again from the dead stands at the door of your life and he knocks and says, "If you'll hear his voice and open the door, he will come in". And he can come into your life right now.