People often wonder about the after life. Questions such as “what’s heaven is like?” and equally important, “how do you get there?”
I hope that this talk I gave at Wood Lane Baptist Church Dagenham on 24th June 2007 will help with these questions:
John 14 v 1 – 14
“1 Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 In 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. 3 And 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.
4 You know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” 6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” 8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” 9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.
12 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”
The last two weeks we have looked at family life and at fathers. Firstly we looked the commandment to “honour your father and your mother” and last week we heard about Joseph as a role model for fathers. And in the mysterious way things work out I am talking about “In my father’s house”.
We have just heard from our young people what they think heaven is going to be like and equally important “how do you get there?”
There are many descriptions of heaven in the Bible and quite often we find that words fail us, as God and heaven are beyond our language to describe properly.
There are many myths and old wives tales about heaven. Often people belittle the idea and think of humans with wings on, wearing roman style togas sitting on fluffy clouds playing harps. Doesn’t sound very wonderful to me. I’ve even heard a church going man at a previous church categorically assure people that on death they go to heaven as angels. I am not sure where he got that from as I haven’t found it in my Bible.
Or perhaps you remember Rohan Atkinson’s character “Blackadder” when as Archbishop of Canterbury he assured a dying man that heaven was only for those who liked talking to God and watering pot plants!
Here in our Bible passage, Jesus calls heaven his father’s house. It’s a family home.
I don’t know how many of you grew up in a happy family home?
Somewhere warm, welcoming and secure?
I have the privilege of visiting many families over the course of a year and it is very interesting being welcomed into people’s homes. A great variety of styles of decorating and furnishing from the stark minimalist where you are lucky to find a chair, to the cluttered where piles of books are moved for you sit down. People often apologise for the state of the house but I always tell them that I have come to meet them rather than look at the decor. It’s the people who turn a house into a home.
Many people have happy memories of home, the meals, the fun, the love given and received. I’ve heard stories of lone parents either widowed or divorced struggling to bring up the family and provide for them and how despite the hardship and the shortages there was never a want of love or security. My mum always talked fondly of her childhood home even though my nan brought up six children on an army widow’s pension in the depression. Yes it was a struggle, yet there was always a welcome for whoever walked through the door and always something to eat. My father’s family home by contrast may have been more affluent but was a cold place for children to grew up.
Maybe you have a sense of excitement and anticipation about going to your family home, the welcome you’ll get and that sense of being at home.
For some their parents’ home was not a place of safety. One man I visited recently told me that he and his sister called their home “The Somme” as it was like trench warfare some days. They never knew what they would face when they came home from school – crockery, cutlery and other objects flying through the air as the parents argued and fought. The curious thing was that the parents were part of the leadership in a small Brethren chapel!
For those of us fortunate to be blessed with a good loving family such things seem hardly credible.
Jesus assures his disciples that heaven is his father’s house and there’s plenty of rooms there. Heaven is not limited to just a few good people as the Jehovah Witnesses would have you believe. Just listen to what John saw in his vision of heaven from the Revelation 7 v9 “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
So how then do we get into heaven?
If we look back at our passage Jesus tells his disciples that they know where he is going. But in one of what could be called the blondest moments in the bible Thomas says: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” and this is from a man who has been with Jesus for three years, had heard him preach, seen him heal the sick, raise the dead and perform all sorts of miracles. But he just hasn’t a clue.
Fortunately Jesus doesn’t belittle Thomas or berate him for his lack of understanding. Instead he simply gives him the answer that he and indeed we need to hear: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Some people think that you get to heaven by being good person or they reduce Christianity to a philosophy or a mere life style. Or just going to church will do the trick. You know bravely sit through 100 boring sermons and your in. But as Dr Billy Graham once observed “you can sit for as long as you like in a garage but you’ll never turn into an automobile”. I once heard pastor Matthew Ashemololo from KICC put it this way “You can’t rely on God’s promises simply by resting in his premises”.
Others think that Jesus is just one of many ways to heaven. Indeed there are those in church circles today who ignore the truth of the Bible and say that all religions are equally valid. You may have heard the argument “They are such sincere people, so I’m sure God will let them into heaven”.
But here we have it. Jesus is the only way to heaven. In Jesus’ day visitors to Jerusalem and other cities would be met by guides at the city gates offering to guide the visitor to their destinations. The guide would tell the visitors “I am the way”.
Better than a map book or even Sat Nav, Jesus is not only the way to follow but he is also our guide and will accompany us on the journey. We don’t have to go alone.
But a home is only your home if you have a right to be there. There are no squatters and no gate crashers in heaven. And it clearly lists in 1 Corinthians 9 – 10 those who aren’t going to get in:
“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God..”
And I suspect that at one time or another we would have found ourselves in that list. It would be pretty hopeless if that is how it will always be. But that is not the end of the story as we find our reading the next verse:
“And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
There are several word pictures in the bible like this, emphasising the fresh start, the new life we can have. One is to say that we have to be, as the Bible puts it, born again – a spiritual rebirth to become part of God’s family. Jesus made this clear when speaking to Nicodemus in John 3. That by the way is another of those amazing moments when the poor man’s understanding fails him: “In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, `You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
Once we accept that we can’t get right with God on our own and we come to Jesus asking him to forgive us for the wrong way we have lived and then invite him to take charge of our lives we can become a child of God and part of his family. As a child of God we have a right to go to our father’s house when our days on earth are over. But in the meantime we can through prayer talk to Him and be in his presence and like any good Father he delights in spending time with us.
Whilst I am sure that we all think of the good things that await us in heaven and the reunions we shall have with believers we have known and loved on earth, the greatest joy will be to be with God our Heavenly Father and with Jesus. Here in our Father’s house we will find healing and wholeness for all the hurts and injuries we have had here on earth, as we assured in Revelations 21 v4 “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” .
Given how wonderful heaven is going to be, isn’t it something we should tell others about? Don’t we want others to become part of God’s family so that they too can call heaven their father’s home?
Loving Lord Jesus you are the way to the Father: help us to follow you. You are the truth: bring us to know you. You are the life: give us that life, to live with you now and for ever, and also Lord give us the courage and the opportunities to share this good news with others that they too can become part of your family. Amen.