Jack Graham - The Reality of Heaven
Good morning everyone and let me ask that you take your Bibles and turn to John's Gospel, the fourteenth chapter. And we begin our series on HEAVEN: five weeks on heaven. Today the "Reality of Heaven". We'll be talking going forward, about "The Community of Heaven" - who's there? What's there? What's it like? "The Activity of Heaven" - Have you ever wondered what you'll be doing for a bazillion years, in eternity? "The Activity of Heaven". Will we be perpetually bored, sitting on a fluffy cloud for the rest of eternity? What's going to happen? So we'll talk about "The Activity of Heaven". We'll talk about "The Beauty of Heaven" - Just the colors themselves described in scriptures are worth a conversation. And we're going to have that conversation in the message that day. And then "The Glory of Heaven" - Just the glorious reality of the presence of God, the presence of Christ.
Now one of my concerns in preaching a message series on heaven is that you would think, "Oh boy, here come five weeks of funeral sermons"! Unfortunately sometimes the only time we hear about heaven is at funeral services. And I've been noticing an unusually trend even at some funeral services. Heaven barely gets a mention! We talk about the deceased, we talk about life and what happened, but we don't talk about what's next. And we're going to take these five weeks and we're going to explore the reality and the priority of heaven in our lives. I want to help you as a believer, or perhaps, an unbeliever, to envision heaven through the lens of Scripture. It begins in the upper room with Jesus.
If you could put your head on the heart of God you would hear His heartbeat of love for the world, and be close enough to hear what Jesus says in the upper room. He is facing the cross, on His way to the cross. These are turbulent and troubling times for Jesus Himself who was, it was weighing heavy on Him. He was about to lay down His life in sacrifice for the sins of the world, your sins and mine. And so in the darkness of that room, in the darkness of that night when the disciples were crushed by the news that Jesus was going away, our Lord spoke these words. Verse 1, John 14: "'Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, (and watch this) that where I am (underscore that in your Bible) where I am there you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.' And Thomas said to him (ever the skeptic) Thomas said, 'Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?'"
I'm grateful that Thomas was willing to raise his hand and ask a question at this point, because Jesus said one of the most important things recorded in God's Word in all of history. He said, in verse 6: "I am the way, the truth, the life. And no one comes to the Father except by me". Jesus is not a way to heaven, He is "the way, the truth and the life. And no one comes to the Father" or the Father's house apart from Him. Now what do you think about when you think about heaven? Maybe it's a nebulous afterlife, maybe a happiness on the other side, or perfection, or just forever land, or never-never land. There's a lot of sketchy information out there about heaven. Of course, we have a lot of opinions if you ask people about heaven, 81 percent of Americans believe in heaven. A smaller share in this Gallup poll said, 69 percent said they believe in hell.
So less people believe in hell than those who believe in heaven. But what I found interesting in this particular survey, that among the nones, Not N-U-N-S, not the sisters, but the N-O-N-E-S, the nones describing those who have no real faith, those who do not practice religion, those who would not identify themselves as a Christian or anything else. They're just none; they got nothing. Of these, 37 percent, I don't know why, but 37 percent said they believe in heaven. Now how could that be? Well, God has instinctively put within us, we instinctively believe in a life beyond, because the Scripture says in the book of Ecclesiastes 3:11: "He has set eternity in our hearts".
So intuitively, instinctively, people think, "There must be something else. There must be something more than this life and beyond my years on earth. What's next"? We know we have a now life, but what is the next life? And it is this desire for eternal life that sets us apart from all the animals. Our two Beagle dogs, don't get up thinking every day about heaven. They just want to know "Where's the dog bowl"? and "Please, let me outside". But animals, you know, don't think about these things! But we do! Now some, of course, have shut out the whole idea of heaven. Steven Hawking, a professed atheist and a very brilliant man in many ways, of course. He said heaven doesn't exist; he said heaven is a fairy story. He said humans are but, "Our brain is but a computer. And when the computer starts breaking down computers don't go to heaven; they go to the junk yard".
And so some people have apparently decided that heaven doesn't exist. That it's just a fairy story. So we're answering the question: Is it real? Again, there are a lot of opinions. There are mysteries and there are question regarding eternity, and so the media may try to answer that question. We've all seen movies about heaven and read books. There are even people who report trips to heaven and coming back. What are we to think about those kinds of experiences? So in music there's so much music, even secular music about heaven and the life that is to come. But let me remind you, the only authority we have and the only real truth that we have that we can count on about heaven is God's inerrant and infallible word.
My opinion must always be subjective to the reality and the authority of Scripture. And while there are many questions unanswered, there are many questions that are answered regarding heaven. Over 600 specific references to heaven in the Bible. And if you add in the references to the skies, the spacious skies, the heavenly bodies around us in our atmosphere then it's up to 900; but 600 plus references to the heaven that is to come. If you started deleting all the references to heaven in the Bible, you would remove the weight of eternity from the Scriptures. You would take out some of the most important passages of scripture and you would have nothing left of eternal significance.
Now God's word said in 1 Corinthians 2:9, that "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for those who love Him". There's some things we can only imagine. But that next verse goes on to say, verse 10, that "God has revealed these things by His Spirit". And so the Spirit of God has given us the Word of God, the Scriptures so that we can answer these important questions. And it's so very important that we ask and answer these questions. Why? Well, for one, we all have a shelf life. One hundred years from now hardly anyone, if anyone in this room will still be here on this side of eternity. The fact is, 100 percent everybody's going to die, unless Jesus comes in our generation. But 100 percent!
If you live long enough, you're going to die. We're living longer and we're living better, but we're still dying. Three people every second. Three people every second. One hundred and eighty every minute step into eternity. One hundred and eighty. That means in the 5 or 6 minutes that I've been talking then over a thousand people have stepped into eternity. That makes it real, doesn't it? Eleven thousand every hour. That's why it's so very important, the urgency of our times, because people are crying and people are dying. In the hour and fifteen minutes that we will be in this service another 11- 12,000 people will stand before God. And the Bible says, "Prepare to meet your God". A quarter of a million people every year.
I give you those startling numbers just to remind you how important it is, because the three score and ten that we have here, the seventy plus some, if God gives you life longer, than a lifespan, yet we're all going to be standing before God! Because the soul, the spirit, while the body is dying, the soul and the spirit lives forever! No, we're not just a computer. We're not animals who live and die and disintegrate! We are made in the image of God! We have eternal souls! And your soul will never cease to exist! And you, the real you, the part of you that was made by God forever will live in eternity either in heaven, and yes, there is a hell according to Jesus and according to the Bible.
Now everyone seemingly wants to go heaven, they just don't want to have to die to go there. It's like the pastor was speaking to kids, a group of kids and vacation Bible school and said, "Okay, kids, okay, kids, how many of you want to go to heaven"? All the kids were raising their hands: me, me, me! Except one little boy on the front row. And the pastor looked at him and said, "Son, do you not want to go to heaven when you die"? The little boy said, "Oh, when you die! I thought you were getting up a group to go right now"! The fact is we ought to be ready to go right now, if God calls us home. I know you've got things to do and plans and all the rest, but we ought to live embracing eternity now!
Now! Paul said, "To live is Christ, and to die is (what?) gain". And he went on to say, "I have a desire to depart, to leave here and be with Christ (there's the key), and to be with Christ which is far better". Not a little bit better, not somewhat better, but way better! Far, far better! Much more! You best life is not now! Oh, God's given us a wonderful life. God has promised in Christ an abundant life and we ought to live it to the fullest, and yet, it's the prospect and the promise of heaven that gives life meaning, that gives us purpose, that gets us up and even in troubling times, in times of tribulation, like the disciples were going through when they were facing death and sorrow and loss, there is this pledge, this promise that comes from Jesus Himself who said, "I go to prepare a place for you".
Stop letting your heart be troubled. And so while our life in the here and now is important, this is the before-life! The afterlife, our life with Christ, is coming. He said, "I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go, I will come again, receive you to myself that where I am there you may be also", it's personal, "where I am, you may be also". Heaven is relevant to your life. What's real is the things that will last forever, because 2 Corinthians 4:18 says, that "the unseen world is what last forever". The things that are seen are transitory, they're temporary. Our body is breaking down. Right? This old tent ain't what it used to be. The bodies in which we are living and our memories are fading.
I heard about a couple of old couples that were going out for dinner. They couldn't remember where they were going. So one of the guys said to his buddy, said, "I know, I know, what's the name of that flower that's got a long green stem, and it's got thorns, and it has petals? What's the name of that"? "You mean a rose"? "Yeah, yeah, a rose. Hey, Rose, what's the name of that restaurant that we used to go"? Well, then "we will know even as we are known". And there will be precious memories of life and eternity that we will share together forever. I'm telling you, start making your memories now! Start preparing for your life that is to come, because it's the best life and it's the promise of Christ. Don't let your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe in Jesus. And He said not only is heaven relevant, but heaven is real! He said, "I go to prepare a place for you"!
And the word there in the original language, place means, place, topos, topography comes from that word. So heaven is not a dream state, it's not an ethereal existence, nebulous eternity. It's not never-never land or a distant planet far, far away. Jesus said, "I'm going to prepare a place for you". And then He said, "In My Father's house are many mansions". Now I know the ESV that we read and saw earlier says there are many rooms, and that's because many believe the idea of rooms here is because in the patriarchal society a man had a big tent or a big house, and when the kids would move in, the kids would typically come in and move in with the grandkids. That's still happens today sometimes, right? You send your kids off and they keep coming back like boomerangs and that's a good thing! But anyway they would build this house and they would just add on rooms.
So if a wealthy father had a big house he'd just keep adding on rooms to house everybody. The point is that the Father's house is big enough for everybody! Well, as I've been thinking about it, I still like that King James. Give me those mansions, all right? What would be your dream house in heaven? Anne Graham Lotz thought about that and she asked the question: Would it be a Château on the lake? Would it be a cabin in the woods? Would it be a cottage by the sea? Would it be a penthouse in the city? Would it be a tent in the desert? Would it be a farm in the country? Would it be a palace in a garden? What would it be?
There are many descriptions of heaven in the Bible. Heaven is called a garden, a paradise, "Today," He said to the thief, "you will be with Me in paradise". It's called a Mount Zion. Heaven is called a country, a better country. Heaven is called a city, the New Jerusalem. We are bound for the city of joy. Heaven is called a kingdom. We're to "Seek first the kingdom of God", the kingdom of heaven "and His righteousness". Heaven is called a throne, heaven is called a tabernacle, heaven is called a temple. And yet the most endearing and I believe the most comforting description of all is what Jesus said heaven is like. He said, it's "the Father's house". It's home for the family.
When I think about home I think about security, identity at home where we are accepted and loved. I think about peace, place of rest, home. You say, "that's not my house! My house is chaos"! Work with me here, all right? No, seriously, heaven is the Father's house where you are welcomed. You know, your house, your home, if you've got a really good thing, that's that place that they take you in anytime. It's the Father's house. We all have this homing instinct, this desire for home and heaven. And Jesus said there's going to be a place prepared just for you. We're just on a journey now. This world is not our home.
As the old song says, "we're just passing through". And it is our home in heaven that is so appealing and so attractive, that we will be forever with the Father and with the family of faith, including our own family members who know and love the Lord. No wonder a Christian can say with the apostle, "To live is Christ; to die is gain". No wonder we can say heaven is way better, much better. And the reason that we can say that is because that's what motivates us and moves us everyday. Heaven is not only a destination, it is a motivation.
Count Bismarck of Germany was reported to have said, "Without the hope of eternal life, this life is not worth the effort of getting up in the morning"! That's a pessimistic way to live, but it's true. Why would you get up in the morning if you had no hope for heaven? If you lived your whole life in despair with no future? Yes, heaven is relevant! Heaven is real! And one more thing: heaven is revealing. Heaven is real; it's not surreal! But it's also revealing. And here's what heaven reveals: the preoccupation, the praise of all of heaven is to the One who is upon the throne. God is everywhere. He is omnipresent, meaning He is everywhere. But having said that, the Bible says that He is the Lord of heaven and earth. That our God, His very presence, think about it, His very presence is in heaven!
The Bible puts it this way in Revelation 21:3: "God will dwell with them and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God". And who is this God? He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Lion and the Lamb who sits upon the throne. Worthy is the Lamb! He is the one that is glorified and magnified. All the praise and all the preoccupation of heaven goes to Him. And we'll get the streets of gold and gates of pearl and beautiful and gorgeous colors beyond imagination. We'll talk about that. But what makes heaven heaven is Jesus! Heaven is all about Him! The Father's house!
The shepherd put it this way in the shepherd's Psalm 23: "Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell, I will live in the house of the Lord forever". It's His house! We're headed home. And when it comes time to leave here, we'll not be leaving home, we'll be going home to be with Him. And that's what is exciting about heaven. That's why we're not here to talk in terms of funerals and death and dying, but in terms of life and our future, the glorious future that God has planned and prepared for each one of us who know and love Him! Heaven reveals, not only Jesus Himself and who's on the throne, but who's in the house. Because there will be a separation between those who know and trust Christ and those who don't. Jesus said there's a broad road and there's a narrow road. "There's a broad road that leads to destruction and there's a narrow road that leads to life".
The narrow road is Jesus. And if you want to know how to get to heaven, Jesus tells us plainly in 14:6 of John, and that is: "I am the way, the truth, the life; no one comes to the Father but by Me". Most of us can quote that verse, but I want you to bore down in your brain on that today, that Christ and Christ alone takes us to the Father's house. If you were to Google heaven, try to get the map; Google heaven, you get Jesus. It's going to point to Jesus. It's all about Him and going home to be with Him. And regardless of your religion or your religious expression, it's a relationship with Jesus Christ that will take you there. "That where I am, there you may be also".