Well, this morning we’re going to take a break from our study through the book of Matthew. We just finished the first part of chapter 4, which took us 4 weeks, and next week is Easter, so rather than start a new section of Matthew, I decided that it might be good for us to look at something else this morning.
I don’t do this often, but this morning I’m going to be preaching on a topic, instead of a text. Now, that doesn’t mean that we’re going to look away from the Bible, it just means that, for this morning, we’re going to focus on what the Bible has to say on a particular topic, rather than moving verse by verse through a particular text.
And the topic that we’re going to be exploring this morning is “Heaven.”
Heaven is for Real
So let me take some time at the beginning of this message and explain to you why I feel it is important for us to talk about Heaven this morning.
On Wednesday, April 16th, a new movie will be released about Heaven. The title of the movie is, Heaven is for Real, and it’s based on a book by the same name. I haven’t seen the movie, but I have read the book. I read the book with a legal pad and a pen, and I filled 8 pages of notes as I read.
The book is about a boy – a pastor’s son – who has a near-death experience, and claims that he went to Heaven for an undetermined amount of time. Actually, he claims he went to Heaven for 3 minutes, but the things he remembers from this trip to Heaven couldn’t possibly have taken place in three earthly minutes…so there’s some confusion about how many minutes the boy was actually in Heaven.
(My money is on ZERO minutes.)
The book goes on to make a number of claims about Heaven, based on the boy’s experience. For instance, we learn from Colton that Jesus has a rainbow pony. The Holy Spirit is “kind of blue”. Everybody has wings, but Colton’s wings are too small. Lots of people have swords, but Colton doesn’t get one because he might hurt someone.
Apparently, Jesus shoots down power to preachers during their sermons, and when Colton’s dad is yelling at God in the hospital, Jesus decides to return Colton to Earth. I wouldn’t recommend yelling at God, by the way, and I won’t even address how cruel it would be for God to send someone back to Earth…from paradise…just because He’s getting yelled at.
Now, it’s worth mentioning that the boy was only 3 years old when he had this experience – three years old. To give you a little context, my son, Reggie, is 3 years old.
And let me suggest to you, that there’s a reason why I’m preaching the sermon, and he’s in the nursery. Three year olds are not qualified to teach or preach to anyone. One would think that this would just be common sense.
Let me cut to the chase. I could spend the next 45 minutes of this sermon blowing the claims of this book out of the water. And – just to be clear – there wouldn’t be anything wrong with that. This book is claiming to be an account of divine revelation. The aim of the book is to give us new information about Heaven, about Jesus, about Mary, the Holy Spirit, preaching, and life and death. This book makes claims about each and every one of these subjects.
And I take those subjects seriously, and so should you! So if you’re going to read a book like, Heaven is for Real, if you’re going to watch a movie about Heaven, then you should hold it up to God’s Word and see if it passes the test! Because John tells us that many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 Jo. 4:1).
And, as Christians, we can’t afford to swallow lies about Heaven.
And so, as I read the book, I wrote out each claim…more than 30 of them, as I read. And I could stand up here this morning and eviscerate this book. But I’m not going to do that, because at the end of the day, you would leave this building with nothing more than the knowledge that Todd Burpo is wrong.
And I want you to leave here with more than that this morning. I want you to leave here with truth, from the Bible, about Heaven.
Why Care About This Book?
Now, bear with me for a few more minutes because I want you to understand this fascination that people have with the afterlife.
You see, I didn’t give a sermon before the Noah movie released. And I didn’t give a sermon before the Son of God movie released. And I didn’t give a single sermon on The History Channel’s, The Bible, miniseries. All of that’s been within the last year or so.
The reason I didn’t address any of those things in a sermon is, hopefully, obvious to you: each of those presentations were based on stories that you can read for yourself in the Bible.
Do you want to know if the Noah movie is accurate? Turn to Genesis 6. Do you want to know if the Son of God movie is true? Read one of the gospels. I don’t see why in the world I need to say anything publicly about movies and TV shows that clearly deviate from the Bible stories they claim to represent.
My 8 year old could tell you the Noah movie is crazy because she knows what the Bible says about Noah…and, in this case, what it doesn’t say about Noah.
But when it comes to the topic of Heaven – the afterlife – there’s no one place in the Bible to turn and get ALL of the information that you need. Understanding Heaven in a detailed way requires study. It requires work. And that’s not easy for all of us. I know that. I know that in-depth Bible study isn’t easy. That’s why, as one of your pastors, it’s my job to help you here.
And that’s also why movies like this are particularly dangerous. Because you can watch a movie in less than two hours, and you can be entertained, and you can feel good about life, feel good about God, feel good about family and hope, and – without meaning to – swallow a dozen, well-disguised lies.
In two hours, watching a movie, your perception and understanding about Heaven can be totally altered…totally changed.
Movies and books like this are often cloaked in an element of truth. Even the title of this movie, Heaven is for Real, is something that every Christian would immediately agree with. Of course we believe that Heaven is for real!
And there are Bible verses to go along with a lot of what Todd Burpo has written, and who wants to be the one who stands up and says a cute little toddler is either lying, or wrong?
I don’t want to call anyone a liar. I’m sure you don’t want to call anyone a liar, either. And so we find ourselves caught between a rock and a hard place: we can either accept what Todd Burpo says about Heaven, or we can take a stand on God’s Word and look like jerks to a lot of people.
I don’t want to choose either of those things, frankly, and yet, here I am, as a pastor. When it comes to stories about Heaven – the eternal destination of all believers – I can’t afford to keep quiet.
Heaven is Big Business
Now, give me just a few more minutes here because, before we look at what the Bible says about Heaven, I want you to see the seedy underbelly of movies and books like this.
You need to know that Heaven is big business. We’re talking LOTS OF MONEY. Books about Heaven are big business. Movies about Heaven are big business. Spiritual things, in general, are at a premium, but Heaven, specifically, has always been big business.
And I’m not going to spend time this morning giving you a detailed history of all the ways that Heaven has been used to exploit people over the centuries, but let me just say, a lot of people have made a lot of money in the name of Heaven.
Think about that for a second.
You would think that people who have been to Heaven, who have been to a place where money means nothing, you would think that they – of ALL the people who live in our world –would be the least concerned with making money. And yet, for people who should be unconcerned with making money, they sure seem to make a lot of cash selling stories about Heaven.
I don’t see the prophet Isaiah, or Ezekiel, or John selling tickets to hear their stories about heavenly visions in the Bible. But modern-day tourists of Heaven are getting rich on their stories.
Let me read to you something that Tim Challies wrote when he reviewed the book, Heaven is for Real. Tim Challies wrote this:
“Travelling to heaven and back is where it’s at today. Don Piper [not John Piper…but DON PIPER] spent ninety minutes there and sold four million copies of his account. Colton Burpo doesn’t know how long he was there, but his travel diary has surpassed 6 million copies sold, with a kids’ edition accounting for another half million. Bill Wiese obviously booked his trip on the wrong web site and found himself in hell, which did, well, hellish things to his sales figures. Still, 23 Minutes in Hell sold better than if he had described a journey to, say, Detroit, and he even saw his book hit the bestseller lists for a few weeks. There have been others as well, and together they have established afterlife travel journals as a whole new genre in Christian publishing – a genre that is selling like hotcakes...”
Here’s how John MacArthur feels in a sentence: “Contemporary evangelicals simply have a too-low view of Scripture and a too-high regard for trendy things.”
The Problem is not our Fascination with Heaven
Now, let me begin by showing you in the Bible that the main problem here is NOT a fascination with Heaven. There’s nothing wrong with being fascinated with Heaven. In fact, as a pastor, I think that every person should have a healthy regard for what’s going to happen to them when they die.
Solomon, in Ecclesiastes 3:11 wrote that God has put eternity into man’s heart. Paul, in Romans 1, describes the way that God has revealed Himself to all human beings. And Jesus spends sermon after sermon talking about the Kingdom of Heaven in the gospel of Matthew.
So there’s nothing wrong with being fascinated about Heaven! When you see a book on a shelf, or a movie trailer, there’s nothing wrong with the part of you that gets interested or even excited. Having a hunger to learn and understand heavenly things is God-given!
The Problem is Moving Beyond what God has Said!
The problem that we have to be on-guard against is the desire to find out EXTRA information about Heaven, that doesn’t come from God.
God’s Word – the Bible – is sufficient. In the Bible, we have everything we need to know about Heaven. In fact, we could also say that, in the Bible, we have everything that God chose to reveal about Heaven.
And I want to go through some of the things that we know about Heaven this morning. So here they are…these are things that are waiting for us in Heaven. I’m just going to give these to you quickly:
1. We know that The Father is there. In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus begins by addressing His Father “who is in Heaven.” (Matthew 6:9) Throughout the gospels, Jesus refers to His “Heavenly Father”. We know from the Bible that God the Father is there.
2. We know that Jesus is there. Hebrews 9:24 tells says, “For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” Jesus is in Heaven….preparing to return for us.
3. We know that God’s people are in Heaven, as well as the angels. Hebrews 12:22-23 tells the Christian reader, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven…” God’s people are in Heaven, with His angels.
4. The Bible tells us that our names – if we are Christians – are written in Heaven. This is from Luke 10, where Jesus says, “…rejoice because your names are written in Heaven.” Every Christian’s name is already on the attendance sheet. God has our names written down, as He patiently waits for us to join Him there.
5. The Christian’s inheritance is in Heaven. 1 Peter 1:4 points to the hope that we have for “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled….reserved in heaven…”
6. The Christian’s citizenship is in Heaven. That’s from Philippians 3:20. This world is not my home…I belong to another country…another kingdom.
7. The Rewards for All Christians are in Heaven. That’s from Matthew 5:12, repeated in various other places in the Bible. All of my Christian service may never win me a medal, or a trophy here on earth…but my reward is coming in a far better place, where rewards will matter FAR MORE than they do down here on this earth.
8. And our Eternal Bodies will be in Heaven. Philippians 3:21 says that Jesus “…will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body…” We will be like Him…changed…in the twinkling of an eye. All the weaknesses of mortal humanity will be finished…and I will put on my eternal body.
All of these things await us in Heaven, and beyond these things, God had given us visions through His prophets with some detailed descriptions of Heaven. I believe that God has given us just about everything that we can truly understand with human minds, through the prophets…through His word.
In Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1, and the book of Revelation God has given us striking pictures of what Heaven looks like to mortal minds, and in each case, the prophets who see these visions fall down terrified. There is only so much of Heaven that our mortal bodies can take right now.
And besides these visions Heaven, we have many, many accounts of divine experiences given to us in the Bible. Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua – they all recount heavenly visitations. Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah – they all describe their encounters. In the New Testament Mary, Joseph, Peter, James, John, Paul – they all have encounters with heavenly beings. And there are others in the Bible. There’s enough material for a Christian to feast on for years!
The Bible is far from silent about Heaven, about angels, or about God. The Bible is not some haphazardly assembled book of mystical writings. The Bible is God’s divinely inspired Word, delivered to you and I so that we can know the truth that He has revealed to us.
The Bible is enough! It’s plenty! You will not exhaust it as a resource!
Consulting with the Dead
Now let me switch gears for a minute.
In the Bible, we are clearly told that God does not want people attempting to communicate with the dead. We see that in the Law of Moses.
We’re not supposed to be talking with mediums or witches or warlocks. We’re not supposed to be messing around with all that stuff. It’s forbidden.
Now – I know that all of these trips to Heaven are told by people who have, supposedly, COME BACK from the dead, or else, were really close to dying but never actually died.
So I KNOW that these books and movies aren’t the same thing as séances and quasi-spiritual, hocus-pocus.
But, here’s what fascinating to me! Do you know WHY God doesn’t want us attempting to communicate with spirits or dead people? Do you know the reason WHY God doesn’t want us messing around in all that stuff?
Here’s what Isaiah 8:19 says: And when they say to you, “Seek those who are mediums and wizards, those who whisper and mutter,” …should not a people seek their God?
Isaiah says, “Listen…I know there are lots of people out there telling you to go talk to fortune tellers and mystics…to necromancers and witches…I know there’s lots of people out there who do that kind of stuff. But let me ask you something…rather than talking to witches and warlocks…rather than talking to dead people or spirits…wouldn’t it be better, to just seek out God? Wouldn’t it be better to ask God your questions?”
That’s what Isaiah is asking in chapter 8, verse 19: “Should not a people seek their God?” Shouldn’t you just ask your God?
Why in the world would you try to talk to wizards and necromancers and witches and dead people about all your spiritual questions? Shouldn’t you just look to God for answers to those questions? Shouldn’t you just look to God’s Word for answers to those questions?
And I would ask the same question about all of these self-proclaimed “tourists” of Heaven…people who have made millions of dollars selling their stories… I would ask you the same question about going to these people for information about Heaven…”Shouldn’t you rather seek God? Shouldn’t you rather go to God? Shouldn’t you rather take your questions to Him?”
What does it say about our appreciation for the Lord when, rather than read our Bibles, we would prefer to watch a movie, or read a book, or buy a ticket to some lecture in order to learn about Heaven? What does that say about our respect for God and His Word?
Don’t we know, Christians, that God has chosen to reveal what He will reveal and to keep secret what He will keep secret? Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us…” What God has given us in His Word, that belongs to us. What God has kept secret to Himself, that belongs to Him.
What is Heaven Like?
Now – let me describe Heaven to you in the language of Jonathan Edwards, perhaps the greatest American preacher of all time. Jonathan Edwards was a man most famous for preaching about Hell in a message titled, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” But when Jonathan Edwards preached about Heaven, he titled his sermon: “Heaven is a World of Love.”
And I would repeat that same sentiment to you this morning to meditate on: Heaven is a world of love.
No one goes to Heaven – no man, woman, or child – unless God has put His love in his heart. The love of God is not something that you can conjure up for yourself. It must be put there by the Spirit of the living God.
The kind of love that people have WITHOUT the Spirit of God, is not even worthy to be compared to the kind of love we experience when the Spirit of God pours the love of God into our lives.
Deuteronomy 30:6 says, “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD with all your heart and with all your soul, [so] that you may live.”
Unless God circumcises, cuts, performs SURGERY on our hearts, we will never be able to the love God as we should, and without a genuine, Spirit-given love for God, we will not see Heaven. Because Heaven is a land of love, a place for those who truly love God, designed for them by the God of love, so that those who LOVE GOD can enjoy God forever.
Understanding Spiritual Gifts
You understand, I hope, that there is a spiritual gift, a gift from the Holy Spirit, to all Christians, by which we KNOW that we are destined for Heaven: and that gift is the love of God. For Heaven is a land of love, and the Spirit of God does not withhold the love of God from us, but pours out His love into our hearts, that we might KNOW that we belong to Him who loves us.
Romans 5:5 says, “Now hope does not disappoint BECAUSE the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit…”
1 John 4:7-13 says this…listen to the emphasis on love:
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we LOVED GOD, but that He LOVES US and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.
Then John writes this:
And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment.
Do you want to have boldness in the day of judgment? When the time comes when you’ll be sent to Heaven or Hell for all eternity, would you like to know the boldness, the assurance given to you by the Holy Spirit? That assurance is the love of God written on the heart of every Christian.
That’s why faith without works is dead. If your faith is real, if it’s alive, then it’s accompanied by the love of God in your heart. And if the love of God is in your heart, it will produce, in your life, good works. But it’s not the GOOD WORKS that the Holy Spirit gives you. It’s love, love for God, love for God preeminent above all else in your life. That kind of love produces works. That kind of love accompanies REAL FAITH.
This is Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians. You see, the Corinthians were looking to other spiritual gifts, things like “speaking in tongues” or “prophesying” or “special knowledge”, and they were amazed at how great those gifts were, but Paul tells them at the end of 1 Corinthians 12, “I will show you a better way…”
And then, in the next chapter, the next series of verses, he writes the chapter of the Bible known as “The Love Chapter”: 1 Corinthians 13 – The Love Chapter – a Better Way.
And why is love better? Why is it the best of all spiritual gifts?
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:8-10: “Love never fails!” It never ends! Where there are prophecies, they will end! Where there are tongues, they will stop! Where there is spiritual knowledge, it will end! You see, when Heaven comes, all of these things will be finished because we will be with the Lord!
But love, LOVE will never be finished. When Heaven comes, love will still be going strong! Eternal life, face to face with our Father, with our Lord, will just be getting started. Love, Paul says, will never end! And so, it is the best and most essential of all gifts – the one that every believer MUST have.
Heaven, is a land of love. And when we get to heaven, all my knowledge, all my prophesying, every sermon ever preached will be overshadowed by the presence of the Living God. But love…love will not be overshadowed. Love will be on full display, forever and ever.
Here is a song from Heaven: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain! To receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing!”
That’s the song in Heaven! Why? Why is He worthy? What did Jesus do in order to be worthy of so much?!
And they sing: “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for you were SLAIN!” (Rev 5:9) That’s why Jesus is worthy, that’s why people are singing, because Jesus was slain.
Now, understand the connection of God’s love to this song that we’ll hear in Heaven. Understand how God loved you and was willing to send His Son to die for you:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life!” -FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD, He sent Jesus to be slain.
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain! To receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing! And you have REDEEMED US TO GOD by YOUR BLOOD!” That’s the song in Heaven. We are redeemed, by the blood of Jesus – because He loves us.
“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him, might be saved”.
Romans 5:8-10 – “But God demonstrates His own LOVE toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us….Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For i…when we were enemies…we were RECONCILED to God through the death of His Son, much more, having BEEN reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”
Friends, Heaven is a land of love! It is a land created and designed by the God of love, for the people whom He loves, to magnify the love that He has for them forever and ever! And He has sent Jesus to die for our sins, because He loves us, and He wants to enjoy us, in His love, forever! That’s Heaven!
A land of perfect love: God’s love.
And this is what I want you to understand this morning: When all of our imaginative ideas about Heaven, when all of our thoughts and opinions and speculations about Heaven, when they all seem quaint, and cushy, and insubstantial, insufficient…
When all of our ideas about Heaven seem to leave a lot to be desired, when they seem boring, when they seem strange and undesirable…
When Heaven seems bland and plain to our minds…the PROBLEM is NOT HEAVEN! The PROBLEM is US!
The PROBLEM is our inability, in all of our human, fleshly weakness, to appreciate a place where the FULL, UNDIMINISHED GLORY OF GOD’S LOVE is CONSTANTLY RUSHING OVER US. We struggle to even think about what that might be like: the constant enjoyment of God’s love for all eternity!
I love my wife! I love her! If I’m gone from home, gone from her, for even a short time – a few days…a few weeks – there is a longing for her in my heart. And I don’t think about all the flaws in our relationship, all the burdens of our home, all the petty squabbling. All of those things are overwhelmed by my love for her, and my desire to be with her.
I just want to be with her! I just want to see her, to hold her, to sit next to her for a little while. That’s how I miss my wife when I’m removed from her.
And if I could somehow understand the longing that God has for me, how He waited for me all of the years when I cared nothing for Him, how He waited like the Father of the prodigal son…
If I could understand how He longed to send Jesus to pay for my sins so that I could be brought into His house, if I could truly understand the way that the Father loves me, then Heaven would mean SO MUCH MORE to my heart than all of the other preoccupations of my mind.
And God wants us to love Him, and He wants us to long for Him, and He knows that the only way we, as fallen human beings, will ever long for Him the way that He longs for us, is if He sends His Spirit into our hearts to place His love inside our broken bodies.
When I read all of these fantasies about Heaven, and when I read about “angel wings” and “rainbow ponies” and “coloring book pictures” that people claim to have seen, I can’t help but be depressed.
Is this what people think Heaven is like? Is this what gets people excited about Heaven? Flying around with wings and petting rainbow ponies? Is this what gets people excited about Heaven? It must be, because little stories like that are selling for millions of dollars.
Let me tell you what’s missing in all of these accounts of Heaven: the glory of experiencing the unobstructed presence of God.
Did you know that, time and time again, the biblical writers who come into contact with God and angels are constantly obstructed by their own sin?
Time and time again, Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, the disciples, they all fall down like dead men, terrified, when they meet heavenly beings. Immediately, they feel unworthy, unclean, sinful. Time and again, they are obstructed by their own sin.
But when I get to heaven, when my sin is gone, I will know the love and glory of God – UNOBSTRUCTED. No sin, no shame, no tears, no evil, nothing in the way of my God who loves me forever.
Heaven is a land of love. The God of love is there. He has created it for those whom He loves. And there – in Heaven – He will love us forever.
Movies and Books
I won’t judge you if you go watch a movie or read a book about heaven. Enjoy your Christian liberty, so long as you’re doing it without sin. If you want to give Todd Burpo or T.D. Jakes your money, then do what seems best to you!
But know this: these visions of Heaven aren’t the ones that God has given us.
If you want to know what Heaven is really like, meditate on the love of God. Meditate on the love of God, because that’s as close to Heaven as you’re going to get on this earth.
The closer you come to the glory of God’s love, the better you will understand and appreciate Heaven.
Let me close with these words from Paul:
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man…the things which God has prepared for those who LOVE Him.” And then Paul said, “But…God has revealed them to us…through His Spirit.”
You want to understand Heaven? You don’t need a book or a movie. You need the Spirit of God, pouring God’s love out into your heart. And then you will love Heaven and long for Heaven, because Heaven is a land of love: God’s love for us, and our love for Him, forever enjoying each other.