This is for the people of Southern Hills. This is my sermon today. Since most of you had the good sense to stay home, I decided not to start my new series. Next week, Lord willing and weather permitting, we’ll get into Colossians 3:1-17. but today I went back and pulled out this from long ago (2006) on the glory of heaven. Since we don’t do podcasts or simulcasts or any of the fancy stuff, here’s your sermon, folks. The rest of you can follow along if you wish.
One of the odd parts of my trip to Senegal was how little I knew about it before I left. Since Bart Barber was in charge, he made all the plans and I just followed along behind him. That is so different from how I usually travel. I’m obsessive compulsive when I plan a trip. I get maps and plan everything out. My kids have long made fun of my little notebook that I have in the car with printouts of hotel invoices, maps, and other plans along the way. But that is how I like to travel. I want to know exactly what I’m doing, where I’m going and how I’m getting there.
But, one of these days, I am going on a long trip, a trip to heaven. It may be sooner if I don’t stick to my diet and exercise program, but the plans are made and the destination is fixed. Because God punished Jesus Christ for my sins, because I have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, I know that I am going to heaven.
I know where I am going, but I know very little about the trip. As little as I knew about Senegal and what I would do there, as strange as that trip was, I actually know less about the eternal trip I will be taking. It is shrouded in mystery. .
Revelation 21-22 tells us about heaven, but it is short on details. Most of the information we have tells us what is not in heaven. No tears, no pain, no death, no sorrow, no sin, no sinners, no darkness. We know what isn’t there, but what is there? I can only imagine.
I loved that song from several years ago, “I Can Only Imagine.” I can only imagine the glory that will be ours in heaven. We take the hints the Bible gives us and imagine what heaven will be like. That’s what I want to do today, imagine – imagine the joys of heaven.
There are a few things we know about heaven. These facts are fixed and we do not need to imagine them.
Three Facts about Heaven
First, Romans 8:18 says that our present sufferings are nothing compared to the glory that will be revealed in us. The sufferings you have experienced here on earth are nothing compared to the glories of heaven. I am not trying to make light of your sufferings. Some of you have suffered horribly. This area has been through something I cannot even imagine. But the Bible never belittles your suffering. What this verse tells us is not about our sufferings, but about the glories of heaven. Heaven is so wonderful that when you have been there a few seconds, the sufferings of this world will seem like nothing in comparison. Heaven is so wonderful – whatever you go through here on earth, whatever sufferings you endure, “it will be worth it, when you see Jesus. One glimpse of his dear face, all sorrow will erase, so bravely run the race, till you see God.”
Second, we know that there is only one way to heaven. You do not get there by going to church or by being a good person. We are sinners who can never get to heaven because of who we are or what we have done. Our sin has a price – that price is death. But the Bible tells us that Jesus Christ bore our sin on the cross and paid the price for it. We can go to heaven, that wonderful place, by the grace of God. We turn away from our sins and trust Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and we are saved. That is the only way to heaven.
There is one more thing we know for sure about heaven. Heaven is about worshiping God. Every biblical depiction of heaven has the same geography. God is seated on the throne with Jesus at his right hand. Angelic creatures and the redeemed surround the throne and declare his praises. In heaven, everything is about God, about worshiping and glorifying Him. Here, we get focused on our own things – my needs, my ambitions, my problems. Heaven is about God. About worship. About Him.
So, my fellow Christians, here is the greatest good news anyone can give you. Whether life on earth is easy or hard, here’s the fact. One day, this life will be over, and when it is, you get to go to heaven – to worship God forever, to have every hurt and pain you have ever had fade into the deep recesses of your memory as you see your Savior face to face.
Imagining What Heaven Is
Those are the fixed truths, but I am very short on specifics. Imagine trying to describe the color red to a man born blind. Color is completely outside his experience, so it is impossible. In the same way, heaven is outside our mortal experience. Our existence in heaven will be so different from our existence here. We are not able to understand heaven because it is outside our experience.
I believe that is why most descriptions of heaven are negative. Revelation 21-22 describes heaven mostly by what will be missing there. There will be no tears. There will be no death. It is easier to express what it will not be in heaven that to describe what will be. Human language is inadequate.
So, that which we cannot understand or describe, we can imagine. I invite you to walk through some of the highlights of Revelation 21-22 to imagine the glories of heaven. I would also encourage you to read Isaiah 6, passages in Ezekiel, and Revelation 4 and 5.
I can only imagine walking in the indescribable beauty of heaven. I suspect that the biblical depictions of heaven – streets of gold, brilliant jewels, clear as crystal, shining with the glory of God – are the weak attempts of John to describe the beauty he saw. Human words fail to adequately capture the beauty of heaven. I have explored the beauty of the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, skied the Rocky Mountains, driven the Blue Ridge Parkway at the peak of fall colors, explored an African game preserve, but I have never seen beauty like the beauty of heaven. It would overload my senses.
I can only imagine a place free from sin. Sioux City is, by and large, a clean and decent community. But scratch the surface of this quiet Midwestern city and you will find every form of vile behavior known to man. Go to the most modern planned community or the most primitive tribe in the Amazon and you will find the same thing. Sin. Wickedness. Immorality. Violence. It is the human condition.
But not in heaven. Only one kind of person will be in heaven. Those who have been washed in the blood, their sins not only forgiven, but done away with, those who have been given the righteousness of Christ and been made like him – a world without sin.
It is hard to imagine a world without crime, without fear. Think of how much time and effort we spend to protect ourselves; locks and alarms and insurance. Recently, someone came into my office at the church and stole credit cards I had placed there. That’s the kind of world we live in. In heaven, there are no locks. No one needs them.
Heaven is a world without injustice, and oppression. It is a world without gossip. I can only imagine a world where no one makes phone calls to whisper, “Did you hear what Peter did the other day,” or to whisper “I don’t like the way Gabriel blows his trumpet.” I can only imagine a world without South Park, HBO, and email tempting you to do stuff you know isn’t right.
My world is filled with sin, and with sinners. I can only imagine a world where every trace of sin is removed, where fear is vanquished and righteousness reigns supreme.
Free of Satan. 20:15
I can only imagine a world free of Satan and his lies, where the cosmic war will be over once and for all. Satan has sown our world with lies which gullible people believe to their own destruction. In heaven, truth reigns supreme. Satan is cast into the lake of fire, and with him, all deceit.
What a joy it will be to stand one day with my Savior as the serpent, the dragon, the roaring lion is brought before him whimpering. There is no lie that can save him now. Having been defeated at the cross of Christ, Satan is cast forever into the lake of fire. He will never bother us again.
I can only imagine how great that will be.
Freedom from War, political intrigue. 22:1-2
I can only imagine living in a universe without politics, without war, without national or ethnic strife. The American political system is genius, and with all its faults, our justice system is the best in the world. But they are intentionally adversarial. Democrats and Republicans; prosecution and defense; us against them. We live in a world of strife.
But Revelation 22 tells us about a river that flows from the throne of God to nourish heaven. It is a powerful symbol. The water of life flows from the throne of God. Earthly pleasure does not give the water of life. Self-esteem cannot give the water of life. Neither money nor the things money buys can give the water of life. Life flows from God’s throne. Everything else is a mirage in the desert.
The passage goes on to say that the river nourishes the tree of life, and the tree of life bears fruit that brings the healing of the nations. Heaven is a world in which there is no political intrigue, no war, no racial or national divisions. There is one throne and God is seated there. There is only one will; the will of the heavenly Father. He does not rule through repression; in heaven we are united in devotion to him and we all willingly yield to his Lordship. There is no strife, no war, no politics. There is only one voice lifted up in praise.
No Religion 21:22
I can only imagine a world without churches and preachers.
John Lennon wished for a world without religion. Heaven is just such a world. There is no temple in heaven, no preachers, no churches. There is no need for them. The dwelling of God is with men, and there is no need for churches which seek his presence. There is no need for preachers in heaven. We preach sermons to exhort people to walk in Christ and not to give in to the desires of the flesh. Who needs sermons when everyone is sinlessly perfect?
The whole of heaven is a temple of praise. Imagine that.
No More Night 21:25
I can only imagine a world without darkness, but that is exactly what John tells us heaven will be: no more night. We won’t need the sun, the moon and the stars to give us light because God’s glory will shine so bright that not even a shadow can hide in heaven.
I am so used to a world of cycles. This morning, I woke up around 6. Tonight, it will get dark and I will go to bed. Life is a cycle of night and day.
It is bitterly cold today – so cold that we canceled most of our services and I pulled out this old sermon instead of starting the series I’d intended to preach. Soon, though, I’ll be opening the pool and pulling out the shorts and t-shirts! Then, before long, the cycle will start once again – the leaves will turn, the air will chill and the snow will fall.
Even my walk with Christ has this ebb and flow. You know how it goes. A few weeks ago my heart was so passionate about Jesus, and every moment I spent with him was blessed. But today, it felt like heaven was closed and no one was listening. Then, tomorrow, the passion will return. Up and down. Hot and cold. Strong and weak. I am so used to riding the roller coaster of life.
But heaven will have no cycles. There is no night and day, no hot and cold. The brightness of the Savior’s glory never fades. Our hearts will be captured by his love and drawn into eternal praise. Here on earth we always have to come down from the mountaintop, no matter how great it is. In heaven, we live on the mountain in the never-ending joy of his presence.
No More Tears 21:4
I can only imagine a world without sorrow.
Life is full of tears; but not heaven. It is not that tears are outlawed in heaven. It is just that in heaven, there is no reason to cry. The joy of Christ’s presence renders them obsolete. Compared to heaven, our deepest trials are “light and momentary.”
I can only imagine a world without funeral homes. Remember the bully from the fourth grade? Sure, but he is only a distant memory now. In heaven, death will be no more than a distant memory. Jesus triumphed over death and hell on the cross, and they will have no place in glory.
I can only imagine a world without hospitals. When we receive our glorified bodies, all traces of sickness and disease, infirmity and handicap will be gone. Our resurrected bodies will not be subject to decay, to death, or to weakness. (Can anybody say amen?)
I can only imagine a world without police stations. There will be no crime, no one to rob you, or molest you, or injure you, or assault you.
I can only imagine a world without psychologists. There will be no mental health problems there, no psychological or emotional problems. Our “issues” will fade away when we see Jesus face to face.
Heaven is a wonderful place, filled with glory and grace. When sin is removed, all sources of sorrow, of pain, of tears, are gone. Stress and tension and disease and fear and hurt are banished, replaced by unconditional love, incomprehensible joy and unending peace.
What is there to cry about in heaven?
You have to remember that the glories of Heaven are only for those who have been born again by the grace of God. Only those who have trusted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord have this hope of heaven.
There is another place as awful as heaven is wonderful. As all evil is banished from heaven, all goodness is absent from hell. Only God’s wrath remains. Anyone who rejects Jesus as Savior and Lord faces that destiny. Anyone who trusts in his own good character, or good works, as his hope of salvation faces hell. Anyone who thinks his religion, his charity work, or his church involvement will earn him the favor of God is destined for disaster.
We must remember what Revelation 22 says. Heaven is not the place good people go. Heaven is the place that only perfect people can go – people without any trace of sin in their heart. That’s why we need Jesus. We are sinners. I might be able to work to make myself a better person. But I cannot make myself sinless or perfect. Only Jesus can do that. But, my friends, Jesus CAN do that. He can wash away your sin, grant you complete forgiveness today, and one day, when this life is over, wipe away every trace of sin from your life – body, soul or spirit.
There are only two ways to respond when you consider heaven. If you have been saved, you must remember the wonderful future you have in front of you. Today may be hard, but “it will be worth it all, when we see Jesus.” “One glimpse of his dear face, all sorrow will erase.” So, thinking of future glory, do not become weary in doing good. There is a place of rest. Glory awaits you, dear saint. Don’t give up. Don’t be discouraged. Whatever your problems, Jesus is victorious over all. Your present suffering pales in comparison and your present sacrifices will be worth it.
If you have never trusted Christ as your Savior, if you are trying to make it to heaven by your own good works, know this: Jesus died to save sinners. You have a wonderful opportunity today. As the Spirit convicts you of sin and calls you to Christ, respond in faith. Repent of your sins and give your life to Jesus. He will save you. Then, all this, all that I have described – it becomes your destiny.
I was eating at Chili’s with my daughter and had a grilled shrimp Caesar Salad. She asked me why I separate the shrimp out and eat them last. I like to save the best for last. That is what I have done here. I have saved the best for last.
I can only imagine being sinless. Sin is such a part of my life. Even when I am walking in the victory given me by Christ, sin is right there. It clouds my thinking, woos my heart, beckons for my attention, fans the flames of greed and lust. It is an ever-present reality in my life, a daily struggle.
But not there. I was pardoned from the penalty of sin the day I was saved. The Spirit is working to give me daily victory over the power of sin. But one day I will be freed from the very presence of sin. My mind will be filled with pure worship at all times. There will be no little voice whispering the lies of Satan. I will not have to struggle against lust, or pride, or greed, because my heart will be purified completely. The work Jesus began the day he saved me will be miraculously and gloriously finished that day. We will be righteous in Christ, fully redeemed, glorified in body, soul and spirit.
Can you imagine that? Perfect! Sinless! Righteous! Lord, hasten the day.
In His Presence
I can only imagine being with Jesus. That is the ultimate glory of heaven. No tears – that’s great. No sin – even better. But the experience of the full presence of our Savior – that’s what heaven is all about.
I never walked with Jesus on earth. He has been so good to me, and I have known the joy of his presence so many times, but never face to face. It is easy to get caught up in the things of this world and to drift from that intimacy with Christ. “Now we see through a glass, darkly,” Paul said. But in heaven, we see Jesus face to face – in all his splendor and glory.
I can only imagine unending joy. In this world, all things end. A couple may be married 50, 60 years, but eventually, death will them part. Your new car wears out.
But it is not the way of heaven. Perhaps this is the hardest thing to understand – a world without end. “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing his praise than when we first began.
I can only imagine a place like heaven. But one day, “my faith becomes sight.” One day the “clouds will be rolled back as a scroll. The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend.” His glory will be fully revealed in us. The veil will be lifted and we will see “face to face.” All the promises will become reality.
A Journey to Heaven
I want you to take a few minutes and imagine that moment with me I know that what I am about to do is an exercise in imagination, but I think it is a sanctified imagination, I think it is in line with what the scripture says.
Maybe it will be tonight, or next week, or 75 years from now. But each of us has an appointment to die once. Since only those who have done it know what happens, I can only imagine. My eyes are closed, my breath slows. Suddenly that last moment comes. My body’s functions cease, and my spirit is suddenly transported in that glorious place, the dwelling of God. As I slip away from my body, I notice that infirmity and frailty are suddenly gone. I am young and strong again.
I find myself in a place of indescribable beauty – a song of joy fills my ears. I see before me a small group of people who have come to welcome me. There is my Grandpa Pratt, a great man of God I barely got to know before he went there many years ago. It is so good to see him. There are my other grandparents. There is my little brother, the one I never knew, the one who died before he even got to draw his first breath. Other loved ones are gathered there. It is so good to see them, to be reunited, but my spirit is not satisfied. There is someone else I must see.
I walk on a few steps, and see some dear friends who have gone before me, people I ministered to; people at whose funerals I officiated. Bill Ulmer is there, Luke Robenalt. There’s Jo Craft and Ashley Spinks. I can recognize them, but they look nothing like the folks I knew. Relieved of the burden of sin and sickness, they are transformed. But these are not the people I want to see. My spirit drives me forward. There is someone I have to see.
Then, I see the Apostle Paul. I always had so many questions to ask him, but now none of them seem very important. I pass by Noah, and Abraham, and Moses, and Joshua, and David, and Elijah, and so many of the heroes of scripture. But now, I have no desire to talk with them. I brush past them, my spirit groaning to see that One.
I enter a room, vast as the universe, filled with a brilliant white light. Moments ago it would have blinded my eyes to look at it, but now it fills my soul. My senses purified, I drink it all in. I notice the source of the light, a throne in the center of the room. There is one seated on that throne, glorious beyond words.
Then, I see the one my spirit yearns for. There he is, seated at the right hand of the throne. His brilliance takes me back for a moment. But then, I look at his face. He smiles and opens his arms, welcoming me to my eternal home. I know I was so unworthy of his grace, but still he bids me enter.
I rush to him, but I am overwhelmed. I fall to my face before him, enraptured in a joy I have never known. It is then that I hear the song that all are singing. Angelic beings swirl around me crying out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come. Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.” He bids me stand and I hear the song of the redeemed swelling. “Worthy is the Lamb to received power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise.”
Tears of joy stream down my face, the last tears I will ever shed as I join in the song. “To him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever.”
I lift my hands to him, and sing with a beauty and strength I never knew on earth.
But then, Jesus draws near me. It is the most amazing moment of my existence as the Savior himself stands before me. Then, he speaks two words. I cannot believe what I am hearing. When he speaks them, all hardship is done and I am at eternal rest. Two truths flood my mind. I know I am not worthy of the words He says; I could never be. But now, I realize that I am – the work of grace has been complete, and now, I AM WORTHY. By the blood of Christ my sins are gone and I have been perfected. Jesus has finished the work he began in me, and I have now been made pure and sinless, fit for heaven.
The Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the World, crucified for the sins of world and risen again as King of kings and Lord of lords looks down at me and says, “Well done.” And finally, I am home.
Oh, I don’t know what it will really be like. It will probably be so much more glorious than what I just described that my words will seem empty – black and white in a world of living color. God is able to do immeasurably more than we can imagine. His heaven will be immeasurably more glorious than anything we can imagine.
How much greater will it be? I wish I knew. I know two things today. You want to go there. The alternative is unthinkable. You want to be with the redeemed in glory, not the condemned in the lake of fire. Second, Heaven still has room – a room for you. Trust Jesus as Savior and Lord today and what I have said today can be the reality of your life. How great will it be?
I don’t know. I can only imagine.