Robert Jeffress - What Difference Does A Future Heaven Make In My Life Today?
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. As a Christian, you clearly understand that God is preparing a place for you in heaven. But when I quiz people on what heaven is going be like, few are able to answer some very basic questions. Well today on Pathway to Victory, we're starting our series titled, a place called heaven. And over the next two months, I'll answer ten of the most frequently asked questions about our eternal home in heaven. We'll start with this one: "What difference does a future heaven make in my life today"?
Last year I went on an international trip. It was only going to be for about a week, and so even though it was a short trip, I was going to a somewhat unfamiliar place, and I needed to make certain preparations: needed to stop the newspaper and mail delivery, needed to make sure my cell phone would work in the country that I was going to, I needed to change some of my currency from dollars into pounds, and most of all I needed to make sure I had a passport so that once I arrived in this new country I would be allowed into the country. Now my trip was brief, but did you know the Bible tells us that every one of us one day is going to make a trip to a distant country. It's a one-way trip to a place that is mainly unfamiliar to us. And this destination is not just a one-week stay it is going to be an eternal destination for every one of us.
For those of us who are Christians and Christians only, that trip is to a place called heaven. And today we are beginning a 10-week study on this place called heaven. You know it's amazing to me how few Christians even think about heaven. I think I understand why. The overwhelming responsibilities of this life sometimes eclipse our thinking about the next life. Not only that, heaven seems remote. It seems irrelevant to those of us trying to rear a family, or keep a job, or make a living. Why should we be concerned about heaven? And yet even though we don't think about heaven that much, there are times in our life when we long for a better place than earth, isn't there? We all long for that home: that place called heaven. And contrary to what some people believe heaven is not just some fanciful creation of somebody to help dull the pain of the reality of this world. The Bible says heaven is a real place.
In fact Jesus assured us that heaven is a real place. In John 14 Jesus said to his disciples in verses 2 and 3, "In my Father's house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, I would have told you. For I go to prepare a place for you and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself that where I am there you may be also". As we're going to discover in the coming weeks, Jesus is right now in heaven, and he is overseeing the largest construction project in all of history. He is building our future home, this place he calls heaven.
Now the question is: why should we talk about heaven? Why should we spend 10 weeks studying about heaven? Well one reason is our departure for heaven is both certain and relatively soon. You know the Bible talks all the time about the inevitability of our journey to this new destination called heaven. Our departure is certain and it's soon. One wag said it this way, he said: the statistics on death are quite impressive: one out of every one dies. Have you come to grips with that? The fact that you are going to die? Writer of Ecclesiastes, Solomon, said it this way, "Man does not know his time. Like fish caught in a treacherous net and birds trapped in a snare, so the sons of men are ensnared at an evil time when it suddenly falls on them".
Death suddenly comes without any warning. Isaac, the patriarch said in Genesis 27:2, "Behold now I am old and I do not know the day of my death". And neither do you. Neither do I. Soldiers on a battlefield, cancer patients whose disease have been labeled "Terminal", they all understand the certainty of death, the reality of death, but it's just as real and uncertain for you and for me. And the fact that life is very brief here on earth should motivate us to use our time very, very wisely. In Psalm 90:12 Moses prayed, "Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are. Help us to spend them as we should". When we realize the brevity of our life we should live wisely. But you know recognizing how brief our time is on earth also ought to motivate us to think about heaven.
Many of you know the story of Joni Eareckson Tada. I just had the privilege of writing the foreword to a new study Bible she has produced. Joni's story is remarkable. When she was a teenager in 1967 a diving accident caused her to become a quadriplegic, and since that time Joni has spent a lot of time thinking about heaven. She writes, "Heaven may be as near as next year or next week, so it makes good sense to spend some time here on earth thinking candid thoughts about that marvelous future reserved for us".
As you look through history, great Christian writers, and thinkers, and philosophers have written a lot about heaven. C. S. Lewis said one time the problem with most Christians is not that they think too much about heaven, but they think too little about it. Lewis said, "If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think about the other world that they have become so ineffective in this world". And then his famous words, "Aim at heaven and you'll get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you'll get neither".
Here's the great irony: the more we think about the next life, the more effective we become for God in this life. The fact is we're all leaving here. Our departure is certain. It's not going to be very long till we go to that place called heaven, but knowing that our future is secure ought to be a motivation for us to live the most effective lives for God that we can right now. That was certainly true of the Old Testament saints where they were talking about Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah. In Hebrews 11 there is that roll-call of faith, these heroes of the faith and notice what Hebrews 11:13 said about all of these men and women of 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 earth".
They never received the blessing until they died, but that didn't stop them from thinking about it. They were fixated on that future country God had planned for them and that future country is what motivated them to live obedient lives. The same was true for the apostle Paul. He was living in two worlds at the same time. His citizenship was in heaven and yet he was on earth to fulfill God's will. And that caused a conflict in Paul. In Philippians 1:21 he said, "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain". He said, you know, it works out for me either way. As long as I'm living, I'm living for God doing what he wants me to do, but if he decides to take me, guess what? It's going to be better for me. That's why he said in verse 23, "I'm hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ for that is very much better, and yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake".
Paul said: I'm conflicted. I'd really like to go on to heaven and be with God, but at the same time I want to be here and fulfill the ministry God has for me. That's the kind of life God wants us to have - focused on our future home, but being effective in this world until God calls us home. Well, of course, the fact is for all of us here today God has left us in this world at least for now. So here is the question: since we are here and we're not there, why should we be thinking about there while we're still here? Over these next 10 weeks we're going to answer 10 of the most often asked questions about heaven, but in the few minutes we have left today I want to answer the most foundational question, and that is: what difference does a future heaven make in my life today?
And on your outlines I want you to jot down four benefits of being heavenly-minded, of focusing on that place called heaven. First of all, focusing on heaven reminds us of the brevity of our earthly life. Focusing on heaven reminds us of the brevity of our earthly life. As many of you know both of my parents died at a relatively young age, and while I certainly miss my parents one of the benefits of their early departure was reminding me constantly of how brief our time here on earth is. It's over in a moment.
I was talking to a police officer Friday night in Houston. He said: you know, it's like God has hit the fast forward button, things are going so quickly. Have you ever felt that way before? James said it this way about the brevity of life, James 4:14 he said, "You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor". That Greek word atmos means "A mist". You are just a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Focusing on heaven reminds us of the brevity of our earthly life. Secondly, focusing on heaven prepares us for the certainty of judgment. The popular song "Everybody is going to heaven" couldn't be more wrong. Everybody is not going to heaven.
I want you to turn over in your New Testament to Matthew 7, and I want you to look at Jesus' words in verses 13 and 14. Jesus said, "Enter by the narrow gate for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. But the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life and few are those who find it". Jesus said: there is not one way, one road that leads everybody to the same destination. He said there are two roads or ways that lead to two very different destinations. Will you notice three observations about these two verses? Number one: there is a way that leads to eternal death. There is a road that leads to eternal death and Jesus said most people are on that road. What is that road? That way?
Isaiah 53:6 says, "All of us like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way". Do you know how you can make certain you go to hell when you die? Just do nothing. Just do nothing. Keep living like you're living, keep going the way you're going, and you are absolutely guaranteed to end up in hell. The moment we are born, we are born on the road leading away from God. We are born on that pathway to hell. You say: how do I ever get off that road? Well you have to make a U-turn. You have to make a U-turn, a spiritual U-turn. Get off that road and get on the more narrow road that leads to heaven.
I don't use that term U-turn by accident. That's a biblical term. Did you know that? The word is "Repent". Metanoia. The word "Repent" means "A change of mind that leads to a change of direction". And the Bible says the only way you'll go to heaven is to get off the road you're on right now, have a change of mind about who Jesus is that leads to a change of direction, and put your faith and trust in him to lead you to heaven. Jesus made that very clear in John 14:6. Jesus said, "I am the Way", I am the road, I'm the path, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No man comes to the Father except by me".
That's the way, secondly, that leads to eternal life. There is a way that leads to eternal death. Most people are on that way, that road. There is a more narrow way that leads to eternal life: but notice, thirdly, there are gates that open to both eternal death and eternal life. Understand we don't earn God's salvation, that's a gift, but what we do after we're saved makes an eternal difference in the kind of eternity we experience. And you know that's the great irony, folks, as brief as this life is the choices we make in this life, as brief as it is, the choices we make now impact our eternity forever. That's why it's so important that we the few years we have live obedient lives for God. Focusing on heaven reminds us of the judgment we must all face.
Number three, focusing on heaven motivates us to live pure lives. Let's face it: it's hard to keep our lives clean in a polluted world like this one, isn't it? What the Bible is saying is one of the best motivations for keeping your life clean before God is focusing on heaven and that future reunion with Christ. Peter said it this way in 2 Peter 3:10-11, "But the day of the Lord will come like a thief in which the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up". He's talking about the end times, but then in verse 11 he draws the application, "Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and Godliness". Realizing everything we see around us is wrapping up to a conclusion, realizing Christ is coming back again, what better motivation is there to live clean lives in holy conduct and Godliness? Focusing on heaven is a great motivation to live pure lives.
Number four, focusing on heaven places suffering in perspective. Focusing on heaven places suffering in perspective. One of the questions I keep being asked as pastor is: why did God allow... And then fill in the blank. Many times it's some great national tragedy like 9/11, or a terrorist attack of some other variety. Why did God allow this if God is sovereign? Many times when people say: why does God allow evil in the world, they're really talking about why does God allow suffering in my life. Why did God allow me to be fired unfairly from this job? Why does he allow me to suffer the loss of a loved one? Why does God allow suffering especially for those who are his people? You know interestingly the Bible never answers the "Why" question of suffering. Never does. But it does help us put suffering in perspective. In 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 Paul who certainly had his share of suffering wrote, "For momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal way to glory far beyond all comprehension. While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen, for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal".
I want you to notice the two words here Paul uses to describe the suffering of his own life. First of all, he said his suffering is momentary. You think: Paul, how could you say that? For years you suffered every kind of tragedy known to man. How could you say it was just momentary? Well, circle the word "Momentary" and draw a line to the word "Eternal". He said: my suffering is momentary compared to the eternity of blessing God has planned for me. You know we can't get our heads around eternity, can we? We have no idea how long eternity is. One writer said it this way: imagine a little bird that comes once every million years to sharpen its beak on the top of mount everest. Comes once every million years, does its thing, flies away, comes back a million years from then: does the same thing again. By the time that bird has worn down the entirety of mount everest, by the time it's accomplished that, eternity will have only begun.
What you're going through is real right now: the suffering you experience may seem like it's endless, but it really is momentary when compared to eternity. And then notice he also described his suffering as light. Light. How could you say that, Paul? Have you developed spiritual amnesia? I mean think about it, you were shipwrecked. You were left for dead. You were beaten five times within the inch of your life. You would ultimately be beheaded. How could you say your suffering is light? Well, again, as compared to what? As compared to what? Draw a circle around that word "Light" and then draw an arrow to the word "Weight of glory". He said: my suffering is real, but it's really relatively light when I think about all that God has planned for me, the weight of his future blessing.
You see weight is a matter of perspective. I mean if I showed you a 2.000-pound block of concrete and asked you: is this light or heavy? The answer is: compared to what? Whatever problem you're facing is real, it's heavy to you, but what Paul is saying is compared to the weight of the blessing God has planned for you for all eternity, it's light. One person said it this way: when compared to the glories of heaven, the worst suffering of this world will one day be seen to be nothing more than a one night stay in an inconvenient motel. That's what Paul is saying to us. Focusing on heaven doesn't eliminate suffering, but it does put that suffering in perspective. Although God's promise for heaven is yet still future, it really should impact the way we live every day, for what we do in this life echoes in the halls of heaven forever.