Today is the second to last Sunday in the church year. We call it “Saints Triumphant” Sunday. Today we look forward to future home which Jesus bought for us by His suffering and death on the cross. Today we look forward to Heaven.
The text that helps us springboard into the topic of Heaven is from the Gospel of Luke. It takes place in the last week of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus has come to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of the Passover one last time before His crucifixion and death. It’s a busy week for Jesus, and for Jerusalem. Thousands are there for the Passover.
During this week Jesus is being watched. His enemies are looking for an opportunity to kidnap and murder Him. In addition to this, they are also watching for opportunities to make Jesus sound like a fool to the crowds of people. So far, whenever Jesus has been confronted, He has always won the argument. To their great annoyance, Jesus’ enemies have discovered that He has both a quick wit, and a deep understanding of God’s Word.
In our reading from Luke, Jesus is approached by men who belong to a seldom mentioned Jewish sect called the Sadducees. At this time in history, the Sadducees controlled the Jewish Supreme Court (the Sanhedrin). The High Priest himself was a Sadducee. Although the Sadducees held religious positions, they themselves were not actually followers of the God of the Bible. The Bible tells us that the Sadducees didn’t believe in angels, or in the resurrection of the dead.
On this occasion, the Sadducees tried to make Jesus look foolish by mocking His belief in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. They couched their mockery in a “question” about Heaven.
Luke 20:27-38 (NKJV)
27Then some of the Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, 28saying: “Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife, and he dies without children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. 29Now there were seven brothers. And the first took a wife, and died without children. 30And the second took her as wife, and he died childless. 31Then the third took her, and in like manner the seven also; and they left no children, and died. 32Last of all the woman died also. 33Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife does she become? For all seven had her as wife.”
34Jesus answered and said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; 36nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. 37But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ 38For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him.”
Prayer: Father above, send your Holy Spirit to enlighten our understanding about what is yet to come. Help us to build our conception of Heaven on your words, and on your words alone. Sweep away our misconceptions and mistaken conclusions. Paint in our hearts and minds as clear a picture as is possible of the glory of being with You. Amen.
To begin with, it helps to understand this whole thing about marrying your brother’s widow. In the Jewish culture, the firstborn son was considered special. He was seen as the first and greatest representation of his father’s strength. The firstborn received a double portion of the inheritance. If his father died early, the firstborn son became the head of the household.
In Deuteronomy, God set up a special rule for the Jews called the Levirate Law. Here’s how it worked.
“If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel” (Deuteronomy 25:5 NIV).The Sadducees thought they really had Jesus here. What would happen in this situation, eh? Would this woman have seven husbands in Heaven? Ha! Answer this one Jesus!
But here was the problem: the Sadducees didn’t believe in Heaven in the first place. If you don’t believe in Heaven, how can your perception of it possibly be correct? The Sadducees understanding of Heaven was doomed to fall short of the reality. In fact, Heaven is so beyond our current ability to understand, that even people who trust in God don’t come close to comprehending it.
In 1 Corinthians 13, verse 12, Paul writes...
“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12 NIV).Basically, Jesus says to the Sadducees: You guys. You think you know so much. With your mocking imagination you paint Heaven to look like this life, but it’s much different than that. All who reach that place will be like the angels of God in this way: they will not marry, they can no longer die.
The first thing we need to do if we’re going to picture Heaven correctly is to recognize what Heaven isn’t.
Last Sunday we talked about Hell, and how our culture has altered and redefined Hell to such a degree that the popular perception of Hell no longer matches what the Bible says. The same is true when it comes to Heaven. The world around us has painted Heaven in so many different ways, and all of those images are flawed when their source is the imagination of man.
For example, the world likes to describe Heaven as a boring place in the clouds. Gary Larson did a great “Farside” cartoon depicting this. In the cartoon there two people sitting on their own individual “heaven clouds”. One guy is looking at the other guy from his own empty cloud and thinking, “Man, I wish I brought a Frisbee”.
Other cartoons I’ve seen actually depict Hell as the place where all the fun happens. There you’re free to do all sorts of “fun” sinful things. Heaven is the place full of signs telling you all the stuff you’re not allowed to do.
The idea that heave could be a boring place, is about the most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard. God is the one who made all the stuff we enjoy. You know, the stuff that we enjoy that doesn’t mess us up or hurt us. Yeah, God made those things. The grand mountain views we marvel at – they’re painted with the colors that God authored. The foods that “oooh” and “aaah” over – they taste different and delicious because God designed them that way. Oh yeah, and then He went ahead and designed an organic machine in our mouth that has the ability to taste them. God’s the one who made cool air refreshing, crackling fires inviting and sex fun. I’m not going to make a huge list of all the good stuff that God gives us, I think you get the idea. God makes good stuff.
James wasn’t kidding when he wrote:
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17 NIV).I don’t know where this idea came from, that the God who made our breathtaking current universe, is somehow going to really drop the ball when it comes to Heaven – but don’t believe it for a second. God is way to creative, and has far too many resources for that.
Sometimes Christians try to help their children understand how great Heaven is going to be, that it’s not going to be boring, by telling them that Heaven is a place that has everything that makes you happy. This way of envisioning Heaven is useful, but only to a point. Envisioning Heaven as your own personal fantasy land can morph Heaven into a place that is all about US. As if it were a great Carnival in the sky where we have unlimited tokens to play games and ride rides. A place where all we have to do is think of what we want, and POOF! It will be ours. Maybe we’ll be able to do that in Heaven, I don’t know. But the flaw that can work it’s way into this thinking is that Heaven is all about STUFF and ME. The truth is, Heaven is all about GOD and ME. United. Together. Nothing between us anymore.
The Bible uses a lot of different images and metaphors to help us understand what living with God will be like. When we take ONE of these metaphors and run with it, that’s how we end up with a skewed image of Heaven. For example, the Bible talks about Heaven as being UP. Not because it’s up on the other side of the moon, or in some other galaxy. God is all-powerful. (that’s up) We’re weak. (that’s down) God is sinless. (up) We’re sinful. (down) God watches over His people. (up) God’s followers look to Him for blessings. (down) God is above us in many different ways.
If you take this idea of “Heaven being up” and run with it, then you start getting off track. Hmmmm, where in the universe would God put Heaven? It must be physically located up there somewhere, right?
The single most defining characteristic of Heaven is this: Heaven is being with God. If we’re going to have a clear picture of Heaven in our hearts and minds, that’s where we have to start. Heaven is being with God.
Don’t take my word for it though. Listen to how God describes Heaven in the Bible.
Jesus told to His followers…
“1Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-3 NIV).The apostle John wrote…
“2Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2 NIV).The apostle Paul wrote…
“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12 NIV).Heaven is a place where there will no longer be anything separating us from our holy, powerful, sinless Creator. No sin of ours will separate us from Him then because His Son has taken our sin away already. Did it on the cross. Rose from the dead to prove it to us. God will no longer veil His visible presence from us either, but will shine out in glory before our very own eyes.
Job understood this. It was his confidence in the middle of his suffering. In Job 19, verse 25 he says…
“25I know that my Redeemer lives,In Revelation 7, God gave John a vision of the Saints in Heaven. In the vision there was a huge, uncountable crowd of people standing in front of God’s throne and praising Him. Then someone turned and spoke to John. From Revelation 7, verse 13…
and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
26And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
27I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25 NIV).
“…These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”The crowd in John’s vision are the Saints Triumphant that this Sunday is named for. They are Saints (Greek: Holy Ones) because the blood of Jesus has washed their sins away. They can stand in the presence of the almighty and sinless God ONLY because the Lamb of God was sacrificed in their place. And now that Lamb is their eternal Shepherd.
14I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15Therefore,
“they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.
16Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat upon them,
nor any scorching heat.
17For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd;
he will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:13-17 NIV).
They are called TRIUMPHANT because they are no longer on the earth where the Devil could turn them away from God and extinguish their faith in His Son. They’ve triumphed over sin and hell, over Satan and all the wicked, over disease and darkness, over sadness and pain – all because of the Champion that the Father sent to win the battle for them – Jesus Christ.
You and I aren’t Saints Triumphant yet. We ARE Saints through faith in Christ Jesus. God considers us sinless because we stand behind Jesus by Faith. But we’re not saints TRIUMPHANT now, because we’re still in enemy territory. We’re still walking the narrow path of faith in Christ. Still turning to God daily for forgiveness, and knowing we have it in His Son.
Our source of peace and confidence in this world, is Jesus. He is with us. He will never leave us. He has forgiven us by His cross. When we think about heaven, let’s remember – that’s what will give us peace there too. God will be with us, never to leave us, our Savior. And we’ll know Him better than we have here in this life. We’ll know HIM like He knows us. That’s what heaven is.
Prayer: Father, as a child I didn’t think I wanted to go to heaven yet. There were so many things I wanted to do. When we think like that, remind us of your glory. Remind us of your amazing creation. Remind us of your love. Teach us all to understand what being in Your presence will really be like. Bind us to Your Son in faith, until faith becomes sight, and prayer becomes praise. Amen.