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Notes from Steve:
January 29, 2023
“Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”
(Isaiah 65:17-25, Revelation 21:1-5, John 14:1-9)
What is heaven like? Wow…that’s a topic that has produced enough books to fill a library. Let’s handle the subject this way this morning, recognizing that we can’t cover the subject in one sermon (produced by a person with limited understanding himself!)
First, heaven is referred to over 600 times in the Biblical text, more than 60 times in the gospels alone. Yet, often the expression “Kingdom of God” is used, while other times “Kingdom of Heaven” is spoken. Are they the same? Yes, it appears they are. For example, Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience; since they were reluctant to speak the name of God (due to the 3rd Commandment) they would substitute the name God with Heaven. Luke, not writing specifically to a Jewish audience, was more inclined to use the name of God in his writing. Jesus himself used both Kingdom of Heaven and Kingdom of God interchangeably (see Matthew 19:23-24.)
Second, is the Kingdom of God/Heaven a future or present reality? It is both. Many times Jesus declared that he had come to bring God’s kingdom to earth. Note Jesus’ declarative statement at the beginning of his public ministry (Luke 4): “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…proclaim release to the captives…recovery of sight to the blind.” Jesus was speaking of bringing God’s kingdom to earth through teaching and healing people, and calls us to do the same. When we love God and neighbor by sharing love, peace and grace with others, we become part of the kingdom building Jesus spoke of. Yet clearly, Jesus also spoke of a future kingdom. Recall some of his final words to the disciples just before his arrest (from John 14:2-3) which speaks of God’s house including many rooms, and that Jesus is going to his Father to prepare a place for us. This passage refers to a future heaven/kingdom of God. The three scripture passages shared this morning from Isaiah, Revelation and John speak to a future heaven/Kingdom of God.
Thirdly, can we know what heaven is actually like? Not in our limited ability to understand such concepts. We can’t define or describe heaven like we can define a place on earth, such as our homes, churches or neighborhoods; we simply don’t have the capacity to do so. There is no place in the scriptures that define heaven in this way…..and yet, there are clues. Our passage from Revelation describes a future heaven as a place where there will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain; all things will be renewed and reconciled (Revelation 21:4-5.) Sounds like an awesome place to me.
And fourth, who will be in heaven? Jesus says in John 14:6 “I am the way, truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” I find this verse quite liberating. Our faith teaches us that the way to the Father is through the teachings, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus; this is quite clear. But this verse also teaches me that it is not my place to determine who goes to heaven; what this verse says to me is that Jesus is the gatekeeper as far as entrance to heaven goes. It’s not my job to determine who will and who will not step into heaven, that job belongs to Jesus. We are called by Jesus not to be the gate keepers; that is his position. Instead, we are called to carry-out the Great Commission declared by Jesus at the end of Matthew: to “go into the world and make disciples of all people, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
Again, answering the question “What is heaven like?” is a huge topic that takes us in many directions. I’m looking forward to sharing more with you on future Sundays regarding heaven. In the meantime, I hope and pray our time together this morning has provided helpful insights.