January 23, 2011

Heaven: My Eternal Joy - Part One

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: Heaven Scripture: Hebrews 11:8–16


Heaven: My Eternal Joy-Part One

Hebrews 11:8-16
Sunday, January 23, 2011
Pastor Randy Smith

What a frigid morning! Shane learned that he has breath today as he was fascinated with the vapor that was being exhaled from his lungs. I am sure we all saw our breath this morning - a visible demonstration of James 4:14 which says, "[Our life is] just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away." Like one breath on a cold winter's day, we make ourselves known, and then, in comparison with eternity almost instantly we disappear with virtually no trace left of our existence to the vast majority of mankind.

It is just another example demonstrating that this world is not our own. We must be less consumed with this temporary home and fix our sights on our eternal home. We must, as we learned two weeks ago, "Set our [our] mind on the things above" (Col. 3:2). We must as we heard in the reading this morning, follow the example of the great patriarch, Abraham who did exactly that.

Hebrews 11:10 said, "[Abraham] was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God."

When Abraham was called by God, he left his pagan roots (Ac. 7:2-3), he abandoned his idolatry (Jos. 24:2), and by faith went where God instructed. He overcame tremendous adversity by holding fast to this ultimate promise of heaven. As one who dwelt in tents, he longed for that city without foundations build on the firm rock of Jesus Christ. And because of the belief that his future would be bright, he was strengthened in his present life and forever upheld in Scripture as the greatest human example of faith.

Hebrews 11, verse 13 even says he "died in faith." It was hundreds of years after his death that the Israelites finally possessed Canaan. Abraham lived as a refugee in his own Promised Land. Yet he looked for that better country. He trusted the promises of God. That was enough for him and that was the strength he needed to persevere in faithful service. He accepted the fact that he was a "stranger and exile on earth" as verse 13 teaches.

Verse 16 tells us his sights were on a "better country, the ultimate Promised Land, the land of eternal blessedness that God promises to all His children. And what was God's response to people like Abraham who walk by faith and live in light of the world to come? Verse 16, "Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them." Abraham glorified God in his faith, renouncing worldly prospects and trusting God to fulfill His promises. And God honored Abraham in the greatest way possible (1 Sam. 2:30). He was not ashamed to say, "I am the God of Abraham."

This is our second lesson in a topical series on a study of heaven.

This morning I would like to ask you if you have the same passion for heaven as Abraham? Is the promise of heaven, if you are in Christ Jesus, something that invigorates your life to serve King Jesus? Does an understanding of heaven inspire you to live in accordance with your future home? Does the thought of heaven bring present joy to your soul? That is where we are going this morning.

Listen to a few heroes of the faith: C.H. Spurgeon, "The very happiest persons I have ever met with have been departing believers. The only people for whom I have felt any envy have been dying members of this very church, whose hands I have grasped in their passing away. Almost without exception I have seen in them holy delight and triumph. And in the exceptions to this exceeding joy I have seen deep peace, exhibited in a calm and deliberate readiness to enter into the presence of their God." Martin Luther, "I would not give one moment of heaven for all the joy and riches of the world, even if it lasted for thousands and thousands of years." John MacArthur, "Christians whose faith does not extend to heaven will have their eyes on the things of this world and will wonder why they are not happier in the Lord. Nothing in this life, including God's most abundant earthly blessings, will give a believer the satisfaction and joy that come with absolute assurance of future glory" (Hebrews Commentary, p. 334).

Let's spend our time this morning learning why heaven is the abode of infinite joy. And why a proper understanding of what is in heaven will increase your joy here and now. We have three points today, and if the Lord permits, we will conclude the sermon with three additional points next week.


So why is heaven so great? Why is heaven a place of unspeakable joy? First and foremost, God is in heaven.

Now we know that God is omnipresent. He is here with us right now. But when God's abode is described in the Bible, heaven is always mentioned as His home. Matthew 6:9, "Our Father who is in heaven." I believe the greatest name for heaven is found in Ezekiel 48:35: "The Lord is there." In a unique way, God manifests Himself in heaven. The fullness of His glory is on display. In heaven, the invisible God (1 Tim. 1:17) makes Himself visible.

Perhaps the greatest temptation toward idolatry is to satisfy the cravings of our eyes for a god we can see, a god we can touch. Even the disciples struggled with this lust. Remember Philip comment to Jesus in John 14:8? "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us." How about Moses? "I pray You, show me Your glory!" (Ex. 33:18). To which God said, "You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live" (Ex. 33:20). God has appeared to us with His glory veiled in Jesus Christ (Mt. 1:23). But to see God in all His glory right now would incinerate us on the spot.

So the true believer longs for the day that the curtain will be lifted, the day when we too will be gloried and equipped to gaze upon God in all His fullness. No burning bush (Ex. 3:2), no angel of Yahweh (Gen. 22:11), but the Triune God in all His glory. This is a promise from God. Matthew 5:8, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." 1 John 3:2, "We will see Him just as He is." This was David's heart: "One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple" (Psm. 27:4). Job said similar: "As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God " (Job 19:25-26).

Yet it is more than just seeing God. It is being with the One who has loved us throughout all of eternity. It is being in His presence. It is acknowledging that despite the pearly gates and streets of gold (Rev. 21:21), heaven would not be heaven without God's presence. I like the way Martin Luther expressed it: "I had rather be in hell with Christ, than be in heaven without Him." Death is now viewed as the blessed ticket that ushers us immediately into His presence (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:21). As Jesus said to the thief on the cross, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise" (Lk. 23:43).

Most everybody thinks they are going to heaven, but I can assure you that the only people in heaven will be those people who want to be around Jesus Christ more than anything else. Being a Christian means desiring Christ. All of heaven will be about meeting that desire.

And understanding that we will have perfect fellowship with our Savior for an eternity has to bring much excitement to our hearts here and now. Our lives may be a dying vapor now, but our future will be illuminated in the Light of the World.


Another reason that the promise of heaven should bring us joy now is because heaven, for the believer, is our true home.

Please do not misunderstand me. Life is a wonderful gift from God, but this world is not an easy place in which to live. And even when we experience the finest things it has to offer, we understand that they are only temporary, and we know deep down inside that something better must be out there. It was this hunger for greater fulfillment (not more of this world, but the reality of another world) that God used in my life twenty-one years ago to draw me to Himself. C.S. Lewis had the same experience: "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world (Mere Christianity, p. 119).

Didn't God say He has set eternity in our hearts (Ecc. 3:11)? Don't we hear about the biblical writers referring to themselves as strangers and exiles and aliens (Heb. 11:13; 1 Pet. 2:11) in this world? And the more we grow in Christ, the more we just feel out of sync with all the stuff going on down here. I suppose if God permitted maximum joy to be achieved here, we would not long for a better world to come.

That is why the Bible repeatedly emphasizes the fact that this world is not our home. Philippians 3:20, "Our citizenship is in heaven" (Eph. 2:19). Luke 10:20, "[Our] names are recorded in heaven." 1 Peter 1:4, "[Our] inheritancep …[is] reserved in heaven for [us]" (Eph. 1:18). And Colossians 1:5, "[Our] hope [is] laid up for [us] in heaven."

The story is told about a missionary named Henry Morrison who was retuning to America after faithfully serving Christ for forty years in Africa. The same boat also bore home the wildly popular President Theodore Roosevelt who was in Africa on a safari. As they entered New York harbor, the President was greeted with a huge fanfare. Morrison felt rather dejected. After all, he had spent four decades completely denying himself in the Lord's service while Roosevelt only went there to hunt some animals. The crowds were cheering and the bands were playing. There were signs, banners and billboards everywhere for the President saying, "Welcome Home." The dear missionary and his wife with their luggage in hand quietly made their way to the deck of the ship to exit. No one had come to welcome them back home. There were no bands playing or banners flying in their honor. Henry Morrison went to his hotel room with a rather heavy heart. As he sat there on the bed, he asked his wife, "Honey, for forty years we poured our lives into ministry and service. And yet we come back to America and not a single soul comes to welcome us home!" His wife came and sat down next to her husband. She put her hand on his shoulder, and said to him, "Henry, you have forgotten something, you're not home yet!"

This world is not my home,

I'm just a passing through.

My treasures are laid up

Somewhere beyond the blue.

The angels beckon me

From heaven's open door.

And I can't feel at home

In this world anymore.

We will never have joy until we realize we are pilgrims here on the journey to our home up there.


The third reason for joy, heaven is the place where our eternal rewards are waiting for us.

There has been much confusion on this one so give me a moment to explain. It is sub Christian to give in order to get something for ourselves (Ac. 20:35). The heart of our faith is to glorify God by loving Him and loving others as ourselves (Mt. 22:37-39). But God in His gracious character has chosen to bless us for the things that we do in His name. Some of those blessings come now. Many of them are waiting for us in heaven.

Just as marriage is not evil, but a reward for two who love one another, eternal rewards to be enjoyed in heaven are one of God's ways to motivate us and remind us that anything we do in His name is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). So we serve not expecting the praise of man, but knowing full well that His eyes are upon all of our actions and the culmination of those actions will be eternal rewards given by Him. Now if one is not living for Christ, this promise is meaningless. But for the man or woman all out for Jesus, this promise brings tremendous joy and eager longing for heaven.

When we return good for evil, the world walks over us, but God is taking notice. When we serve in the church, our efforts are often unappreciated, but God is taking notice. When we share the gospel, we often receive rejection, but God is taking notice. When we contribute financially, no one but a couple deacons see it, but again, God is taking notice.

You see, if we live for ourselves we will get our rewards here on earth. But if we live according to the Scriptures, earth is never faithful to repay. Apart from the promise of eternal rewards, in the weakness of our flesh we can quickly walk away discouraged. Yet we have hope that God takes note and God will reward our efforts in a much greater way in the life to come. So, are your rewards here (only to be lost) or there (to ne enjoyed forever)?

This is our Lord's plan. This theme is throughout the Bible. Jesus Himself said, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Mt. 6:19-21). Jesus commanded us to give and thereby store up for ourselves an "unfailing treasure in heaven" (Lk. 12:33). It is not easy to be persecuted for our faith, but when we are persecuted Jesus said, "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Mt. 5:12). When the Philippians made a financial contribution to Paul's ministry, he expressed his gratitude, but moreover was excited that their givings profited their heavenly bank account (Phil. 4:17). And then when Paul was on his deathbed, knowing his execution was imminent, he declared, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing" (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

So much of our Christian faith is to be done in secret. We fast and pray and give for God's honor alone. As Jesus said, blowing the trumpet on these things will guarantee rewards now from man, but doing them solely for the approval of God will result in God's reward in the life to come (Mt. 6:4, 6, 18).

The great theologian Charles Hodge said, "The Scriptures teach that the happiness or blessedness of believers in a future life will be greater or less in proportion to the service of Christ in this life. Those who love little, do little; and those who do little, enjoy less." Someone else once remarked, "What we weave in life will be worn in eternity."

We are commanded to store up for ourselves rewards in heaven (Mt. 6:20). The rewards in heaven are greater than the rewards on earth. The rewards in heaven will be enjoyed for an eternity. God expects His children to take this seriously. And when we do, we begin to make investments in eternity. As Jesus said, our hearts will follow our treasures (Mt. 6:20). So we will naturally long for the day when our service is acknowledged and our Savior says, "Well done good and faithful [servant]" (Mt. 25:23).

Each day brings us one day closer to our death. If our treasures are in heaven, it brings us one day closer to our treasures. If our treasures are on earth, it brings us one day closer to losing our treasures. Do you see why Christians can face death with peace? They are not so much "leaving behind" as much as "going to."

And when it is all said and done, we will realize that all that we have was given to us by God. And anything good we accomplished on this earth was completely a result of His grace (1 Cor. 4:7). Our rewards will be the crowns of God's gifts (Augustine) and whatever crowns He gives us we will cast them before His throne in worship. I suppose that might be the greatest fulfillment, knowing we lived a life on this earth as a vessel He used to accomplish His purposes sold-out not for our own worldly pleasures, but for His glory.

It is interesting how the events we will face in the future have a tremendous capacity to influence our present joy. As a teacher I did not see a whole lot of students skip out of my class in joy because they had a meeting with the principal. I have not seen many people "Whistling Dixie" as they were preparing themselves for a root canal. And an upcoming trip to the DMV can suck from us every last drop of joy. But ask someone about a long awaited vacation or a successful sports team in the playoffs or the days left before Christmas and the happiness is always present. Think about it: the anticipation of a joyous event in the future can oftentimes be as good as experiencing the actual event itself.

So the future prospect has a direct influence on our present joy. So I ask you, Is there any greater joy than being in heaven - to see your God and be at your home and receive your eternal rewards?

Next week I will give you three more reasons why the promise of heaven should bring you joy, but for now I'll leave you with the words of Christ.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy. Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you" (Jn. 16:20-22).

If Jesus promised you His joy (Jn. 15:11), then living for anything less is the epitome of foolishness! Do you have the faith of Abraham that lives this life (which is but a vapor-Jas. 4:14) in light of a better one to come (Heb. 11:16)?

other sermons in this series

Mar 6


Heaven: My Everlasting Companions

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Revelation 21:1–9 Series: Heaven

Feb 27


Heaven: My True Home - Part Two

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:35–44 Series: Heaven

Feb 20


Heaven: My True Home - Part One

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Revelation 21:10–27 Series: Heaven