Today I preached at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church.
Often the talks are recorded at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church, so this may be available on the website for a few weeks as an “mp3” that you can download and save to your computer. The Morning Service Message Library is the place to look.
I chose two readings from the Bible which are given below:
Revelation 4:1 – 11
1 After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2 At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. 3 And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. 4 Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. 5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. 6 Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. In the centre, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. 8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” 9 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honour and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: 11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”
Hebrews 4:14 – 16
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Do you ever think of heaven?
If so what are your ideas of Heaven?
Is it the traditional wearing a white robe, sitting on a cloud and strumming a harp?
Here are some children’s thoughts on heaven that I found through a search of the internet:
☺ “There will be no sin in heaven. You can ask Jesus all you want to, and he won’t get annoyed,” says Abby, 8.
☺ “I think heaven will be peaceful,” says Mackenzie, 8. “We will never see darkness again. Also, we will never fight, and everybody will be happy. Nobody will be weak or tired, not even the grandparents. We will see Jesus!”
☺ “Heaven is a place that is so beautiful, you would think it was make-believe. It’s perfect,” says Molly, 9.
☺ “You will be beautiful. Clouds are floating. Kids are laughing and praying with Jesus. You get everything you want, and you have beautiful voices to sing for God’s glory. Sunflowers are everywhere. Streets are made of gold! And it smells heavenly.”
☺ What is heaven? “It’s where girls get turned into angels . . . and then God tries to do the best he can with the boys.”
Its interesting, to listen to people at large and their thoughts on heaven.
Firstly they assure you that all the family will be there, regardless of their belief and trust in Jesus Christ. Often I am assured a vague belief in God is enough to gain you entry into heaven.
And what do they think it will be like?For some it will be a non stop knees up. For others it will be like Sunday tea with Granny, complete with Aunty Ethel playing the piano and Uncle Ernie singing popular songs of his youth. Even the nasty viscous dog everyone hated will be there, apparently.
The entrance criteria are so flexible that all their loved ones are admitted but not nasty people. It reminds me of the paintings you see inside the pyramids of the pharaoh’s heart being weighed on a set of scales to see if he is good enough for heaven and surprise, surprise even though he was a murderous, cruel, adulterous man he passes the test!
Some folk will tell you that everyone gets into heaven. After all, they argue if God loves everyone, he’ll turn a blind eye to all our bad behaviour and like an indulgent parent just open the doors of heaven and let us in. So it really doesn’t matter, according to them, what sort of life we live or how we treat our fellow human beings. It will be alright on the night.
One dyed in the wool atheist told me that God would understand the way he had written off Christianity and bad mouthed Christians as he had been trying to find his own way to God.
And yet the Bible tells us this is not so.
We have to remember that God is Holy. He cannot abide sin and as we can read in Genesis 3, God had no choice but to evict Adam and Eve from his presence once sin had infected mankind.
In the New Testament, Paul writing to the early church in Corinth lists the types of people who won’t get into heaven. That’s in 1 Corinthians 6:9 & 10 But the next verse gives us the good news of how we can be put right with God.
God in his character is Holy and pure. He is just and his integrity is beyond doubt. He will not compromise with sin. You can’t as Kate Bush sung many years ago “Make a deal with God”. You can’t bribe your way into heaven. Its not like greasing the wheels of commerce as people do in some third world countries. God cannot be bought or bribed. After all what can you possibly give the creator of all things. He owns it all. Job 41:11 reminds us: “No one has ever given me anything that I must pay back, because everything under the sky belongs to me.”
However God has not left us out in the cold. The Bible clearly tells us that if we have faith in Jesus Christ then when we die we will get into heaven. John 11:25 & 26 Jesus tells us: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will have life even if they die. And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
A vague belief will not do. Even the devil believes in the existence of God. Its about trusting in Jesus Christ and accepting that our sins have been forgiven through his death on the cross. Its about being born again made spiritually alive through the work of God’s Holy Spirit.
If I show you a British Bank Note you’ll be able to tell me who’s picture is on the note. We may recognise the Queen’s picture but how many of us know her as a personal friend? Many people have heard about Jesus, but that is different to knowing him and acknowledging him as our Lord and Saviour.
And so to our reading from Revelation 4. It gives us a word picture of heaven. I am sure that if any of us had been in John’s place that day when he received this vision of heaven we would find words completely inadequate to describe the amazing scene portrayed for us here. He uses words to describe the wonderfully indescribable.
This is just one of the pictures of Heaven in the Book of Revelation. In others we read about the vast number of people who are in Heaven, who have put their faith in Jesus Christ. Revelation 7:9 – 12 tells us: “9 After the vision of these things I looked, and there was a great number of people, so many that no one could count them. They were from every nation, tribe, people, and language of the earth. They were all standing before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. 10 They were shouting in a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’ 11 All the angels were standing around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures. They all bowed down on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, 12 saying, ‘Amen! Praise, glory, wisdom, thanks, honour, power, and strength belong to our God forever and ever. Amen!’ “
There is no limit on the number of people who can get into heaven. Its not just 144,000 as the Jehovah Witnesses will tell you. Its everyone who wants to be saved and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Those who have known and loved the Lord Jesus for many years or those who have come to faith almost at their last breath. All are welcome.
I have assured folk that you have to your last earthly moments to come to Jesus. Its only too late when you have died without taking that step of faith. Luke 23:42 & 43 records a conversation between a criminal and Jesus both dying on a cross “ Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. ” 43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
I don’t think that Heaven is going to be boring, or the worship tedious. Its not going to be as Rowan Atkinson’s character Blackadder described heaven as a place for those who like talking to God and watering pot plants.
When we see God as he really is, I think our natural reaction will be to fall down before him in worship and adoration.
The worship leader Tim Hughes wrote the following song:
I can only imagine what it will be like
When I walk by your side
I can only imagine what my eyes will see
When your face is before me
I can only imagine
Surrounded by your glory what will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still
Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine
I can only imagine when that day comes
And I find myself standing in the Son
I can only imagine when all I will do
Is forever, forever worship you
I can only imagine
You can hear the song on YouTube.
The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 2:9 “”No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” so what we find in heaven is just going to be too wonderful for us ever to describe.
A few weeks ago Gaynor and I went to visit Kensington Palace or at least the part that is open to the public. We went up a very grand staircase and through an ante chamber into King William’s audience chamber. The guide book told us that the guards would have prevented people coming into the King’s presence if they were not properly dressed. To go further into the royal apartments you would have to be known to the King, perhaps a member of the royal family or a friend or one of the King’s advisors. The public, the great unwashed, certainly wouldn’t get in.
And this is how it used to be for people approaching God. The layout of the Temple in Jerusalem gave an idea of the difficulty of mankind getting into God’s presence. The high priest was allowed into the Holy of Holies once a year. Everyone else was outside.
But we read in Matthew 27: 50 & 51 “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” Jesus’ death on the cross, that one perfect sacrifice, paid the price for our sins and the barrier between man and God was opened.
And this is where our second reading (Hebrews 4: 14 – 16) comes in. Jesus was not only the sacrifice but also the High Priest involved in the sacrifice and now he is our friend in heaven who vouches for us and intercedes for us.
We are urged to approach the throne of grace with confidence. We can easily come into God’s presence knowing that we are accepted by God, our sins are forgiven and we are adopted into his family. Jesus, the son of God, is not only someone who understands all the trials and temptations of human life but in effect says to God “its okay they are with me”.
But, and this has to be said, if you have not come to faith is Jesus, then the throne in heaven is one of judgement, not of grace.
So through faith in Jesus, not only can we come to God in prayer, secure in the knowledge that we will be heard and indeed answered, but we know that when our lives on earth are over we too can join that great crowd worshipping God in Heaven. Amen.