Today I preached at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church. As it is Fathers’ Day, the Children’s Talk explored the idea of family and how as Christians we become of God’s family. The main talk persued the idea of being part of the Household of God as well as thoughts of our eternal home – Heaven.
Our Bible reading is John 14:1 – 6
Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 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. 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. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
If you speak to people about heaven you will find that there are numerous thoughts about what it is like, and who will be there.
Even some people who claim to be atheists will talk about heaven and how they wish that Mum and Dad are united again there with all the family.
Some want heaven to be like an “East End Knees Up” with all the family there even the dodgy ones who mysteriously will be lovely people.
If you challenge them about the presence of the evil nasty family members being in their version of heaven, it all goes a bit mushy as if they haven’t thought this through. A sort of “it will all be alright in the end” approach.
If heaven is where God lives, how do you get to heaven if you don’t believe in God?
People will maintain that their loved ones have been good people and so deserve to be in heaven. I am never quite sure how they define “good” but it will ensure their loved ones fit the bill.
Sometimes I will be told that Mum or Dad weren’t regular “church goers” but they believed in God. Well, anyone can be a “church goer”, you just walk through the doors. Indeed I have come across church goers and the best thing that can be said about some of them is that it gives them an alibi for where they were on a Sunday morning!
Being a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ is so much more that merely turning up in church on a Sunday morning. It is also more than just believing in the existence of God. Even the devil believes in the existence of God.
It is believing that we need a saviour, some one to get us out of the mess we are in. Its having faith that Jesus is the Son of God and that he through his death on the cross has paid the price for our sins, and that He has put us right with God.
We cannot earn our way to heaven, we can’t work our way into God’s good books. The only was is God’s way, through faith in Jesus.
In John 14:6 Jesus proclaims “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Its as simple as that.
There are some wonderful descriptions of Heaven throughout the Bible. I realise that all the descriptions of heaven fall short of what it is actually like, because human language cannot do it justice. It will be far more wonderful and awesome than we can ever imagine.
To quote the worship band Mercy Me’s song “I can only imagine”:
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 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 to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine.
You can hear the whole song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xwzItqYmII
All I can truthfully say is it is going to be so wonderful that words will fail us.
Perhaps my favourite description of heaven is here in this passage from John 14: 2 “In my Father’s house are many rooms”.
This makes heaven sound more personal and less institutional.
Its as if Jesus is telling people “There’s plenty of room in my Dad’s home”.
Heaven is a home not a hotel or hostel. Some translations say “dwelling places” instead of “rooms” to give the idea of permanency rather than just a stopping place.
Perhaps when we were younger we were invited to a friend’s home to play or to have a meal and we wondered what the place would be like. Will the family be welcoming? Will there be a large savage dog the other side of the front door? Will we be well fed or will it be butter or jam with your bread but not both. Will the house be warm and welcoming or will our friends own up that they are so cold that they sit in bed under the duvet to do their homework. Until we walk into the house we can only imagine.
But there are snap shots of heaven in the Bible to give us hints as to the welcome we will receive.
In the parable of the lost sheep Luke 15: 4 – 7 Jesus tells us of the shepherd who leaves his flock to find and rescue a missing sheep and how the shepherd rejoices when he finds the sheep. At the end of the parable Jesus says” I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
If the angels throw a party when we come to faith, how much more welcome are we going to be when we get to heaven?
Heaven is where God lives. Its also where his family live. It’s a family home and whilst we can only imagine what it looks like, we can be certain from our own experiences of what a good family home is like, that it will be a place where we are safe, secure, loved, valued and cherished.
If we look at the book of the Revelation we find more wonderful and awesome visions of heaven and what goes on there, but one passage in particular shows us just how loving our God is. Revelation 21: 4 ‘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.”
Just as a loving parent would sit a child on the lap and see to the scratches and cuts as well as hold the child safe and sooth the tears and the upset away, so God cares for each one of us, his children. Whatever may have hurt and wounded us on earth will have gone forever. And lets face it, everyone of us carries physical, emotional, mental or spiritual scars from what we have been through on earth. We all need God’s healing. And we are assured that we will get that healing in Heaven if we didn’t get it here on earth.
God has a big family.
But the Bible makes it clear that not every human is a child of God. They are certainly created in God’s image and some may be good people but if they are not “born again” then they are not God’s children. And clearly those who follow beliefs that include the murder of those who do not agree with them and their view point, are not heading towards an eternity with God.
Everyone who has put their trust in Jesus Christ as their saviour is a son or daughter of God. We are adopted into his family and we have his Holy Spirit in us to remind us that we are now his children.
This is what Paul wrote in Romans 8:14 – 17 “ For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”
An adopted child not only bears the family name but is entitled to share in the inheritance due to the children of the family.
And as children of God, we will have our place in heaven which will be our eternal home.
As I said God has a big family. Some interpret the Bible to think that only 144,000 men and women will be in heaven with everyone else on a newly recreated earth.
But the Bible tells us in Revelation 7:9 – 12 “ 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 before 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.” All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”
God has many sons and daughters. He does not have grandchildren. Just because your parents were or are believers does not automatically make you a believer. There is no “family ticket” into heaven. I recall a woman at a previous church who was a believer and was upset when it was explained to her that her father would not be assured a place in heaven without him having a faith in Jesus.
Just as I said in our children’s talk about the little boy who was adopted into a new family not being able to make his own way to his new family home, so we need someone to show us the way to our new family home, heaven. I am sure that Thomas’ words ring true for us before we came to faith in Jesus “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
And that is just what Jesus promises to do, to show us the way home.
In declaring that he is the way, Jesus is saying that he is our guide and will lead us through life into heaven. He doesn’t say it will be an easy journey but he will be with us ever step of the way.