This is post 8 of 12 in the series “WHY I BELIEVE"
- Why I Believe In The Incarnation
- Why I Believe In Angels
- Why I Believe In The Virgin Birth
- Why I Believe In Jesus Christ
- Why I Believe In God
- Why I Believe The Bible
- Why I Believe In The Church
- Why I Believe In Heaven
- Why I Believe In The Atonement
- Why I Believe In The Resurrection
- Why I Believe In The Holy Spirit
- Why I Believe In The Trinity
Why I Believe In Heaven
He was an older man. He was a good friend. It was my privilege as well to serve as his pastor. One day we were visiting together and suddenly he fell silent for a moment. Then he said, “Preacher, can I ask you something? Do you really believe in Heaven?” I said to him, “Yes, I believe in Heaven. I believe in Heaven with every fiber of my being.” I then proceeded to tell him why, and today I wish to do the same with you.
Now you might be inclined to think that I have no right to tackle the subject of Heaven for, after all, I have never been there. That is true. However, I do have an infallible guide, a source of truth, a standard of direction. It is this Bible. I have learned in my own life that when I do what this Book says, I find myself at peace with God, with myself, and with those about me. On the other hand, when I disobey the directives of this Book, I find myself at odds with God, at war with myself, and in conflict with my neighbor. Therefore, just as this Book leads me aright in this life, so I trust it completely to lead me aright in the life which comes after this life. So I wish to speak with you now about the words of Jesus recorded for us in John 14.
The first thing Jesus says is this, “In my Father’s house are many rooms.”
Understand, please, that Heaven is not a place of physical reality, but rather a place of spiritual reality. The key word is the word “reality.” So many people, when they hear the word “spiritual,” think only of wisps of smoke and shadowy unreal shapes having neither form nor substance. But, you see, the world of the spirit is every bit as real as the world of the physical. Isn’t love as real as a rock? Isn’t peace as real as this pulpit? Aren’t justice and injustice realities—spiritual realities to be sure—but realities nonetheless. Do you get the point? Heaven is an experience which will be different from the experience we know in this life, but it is nonetheless real. I think that’s why Jesus chose to describe Heaven in such easily understood terms. He wanted us to know that Heaven is real, and so He called it “My Father’s house.” Think of it. When we are in Heaven, we are in our heavenly Father’s house. Nothing could be more real or more beautiful than that. C. S. Lewis understood what Jesus meant. C. S. Lewis was fond of saying, “Christians never have to say, ‘Goodbye’.” C. S. Lewis knew that while our journey through this world of time and space will come to an end, that should not trouble us as Christians, for we know that, according to the word of Jesus Christ, at death, we simply take up residence in the Father’s house. And Jesus says that it has many rooms — plenty of room for all of us.
I must tell you that sometimes at the time of death, I encounter a kind of selfishness. It’s understandable, I suppose, that we would be reluctant to be separated from those we love, even if only temporarily. But there is another sense in which it is not understandable. For if Heaven is what Jesus says it is—if it is being in the Father’s house, if it is being joined together with all those whom we love, if it is being surrounded by the presence and the protection of the Lord Himself—if that’s what Heaven is, then how in the name of that Heaven, would we ever consider for a moment withdrawing someone we love from the magnificence that they know there? I so well remember being in a hospital room standing next to a very lovely Christian lady. The now lifeless body of her husband was on the bed. She leaned over kissed him and said, “As much as I love you, I would not wish you back again, for I have some idea of what it is now like for you. So take care, my love, I will see you soon.” That’s the true Christian spirit inspired by these marvelous words of Jesus. When death comes, we simply take up residence, permanent residence, in the Father’s house. Oh yes, C. S. Lewis was absolutely right. “Christians never have to say ‘Goodbye’.”
The second thing Jesus says is this, “I go to prepare a place for you.”
In the book of Hebrews, Jesus is described as, “The one who goes before.” Now the word used there was a military term. It referred to those soldiers who were sent out on reconnaissance missions. They were sent ahead to survey the territory and to make the necessary arrangements and preparations for the main army which was soon to follow. That’s the picture Jesus paints for us here. He is the One who goes ahead, who prepares the way, who makes the arrangements for our arrival, and who gathers our loved ones there to welcome us.
Some people ask, “Will I recognize my loved ones when I get to Heaven?” Yes, absolutely, we will. How do I know? I know because Jesus’ disciples recognized Him in His resurrected form. Oh, His body was different after His resurrection. He could enter a room through doors that were locked. He could move from one spot to another at amazing speed. Yes, there were aspects of His resurrection existence which we cannot define, measure, analyze, or comprehend. And yet still Jesus was clearly visible to His disciples and recognizable by them. He was both different and the same. That means that we, too, shall be recognized by our loved ones who have preceded us into Heaven, and we shall recognize them. So imagine, if you can, what that first moment in Heaven will be like. In that first moment, when you see your mom, your dad, your husband, your wife, your child, your grandparents—what do you think your reaction will be? The moment you see them, you will walk into their waiting arms to embrace them and kiss them. You will cry with joy as you hug them. You will hear their voices—voices that you haven’t heard in so long. You will have a conversation with them and tell them all that’s happened in your life since last you saw them. You will hear them laugh again, see them smile again. You will hold their hands and squeeze them tight. You will put your head on their shoulders. Oh, yes, you will be able to be with them again. That’s what the resurrection means.
Back in the early seventies, I was invited to speak to the troops at Fort Benning, Georgia. At the time we were still involved in the Viet Nam war. The military plane that carried me from Texas to Georgia was also carrying a number of young soldiers home from the war. The plane landed and, as the ramp was wheeled up to the plane, and as those young soldiers began to make their way down the ramp, I saw a sight I shall never forget. Gathered out on the tarmac of the airfield were the families of those young soldier boys—their arms thrown wide open, their faces flaming with smiles, their eyes flooded with tears of joy. As those soldiers stepped into that crowd, they were swallowed up in a tidal wave of love and emotion. It was an incredibly moving scene. Well, I want you to know that that is precisely the scene we shall encounter when we enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus, our Christ, has gone to prepare the way. He has gone ahead to make the arrangements. He will gather our loved ones together. He, and they, will be waiting for us there. As we step into Heaven, they will cry out, “The race is over! The course is finished! The battle is won! Welcome home!” And then we shall be swallowed up in oceans of emotion and love. That, dear friends, is the way it is going to be. I know that’s true because Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you.”
The third thing Jesus says is this, “I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am.”
Now let me tell you exactly what the resurrection is going to be like for you and for me. There is a wonderful scene in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus raises a twelve-year-old girl from the dead. In the home where this tragedy has occurred, family and friends are wailing and crying in unrelieved grief. The girl’s mother and father are understandably distraught. Amidst all of this confusion, Jesus very calmly tells the parents not to be upset. Well, that provokes anger in the people gathered around. They start to yell at Him. How dare He act as if this terrible tragedy were nothing at all. Jesus’ response then was simply to order everyone to leave except the mother and father and His own disciples. Very quietly then, Jesus sat down next to the little girl who was lying there dead. He gently took her hand into His own and then very softly He said to her, “Talitha cumi”—“little girl, arise.” Instantly, the Bible says, the little girl opened her eyes and began to move. That’s the way our resurrection is going to be. The experience is going to be soft and gentle and instantaneous just like that scene in Mark. There is no reason to fear it. Jesus is going to come back for us. He is going to take our hand in His own. He is going to whisper into our ear a single word, “Arise.” And in the twinkling of an eye, we will come back to life with our bodies fully intact and brand new. When we open our eyes at that moment and look around, there won’t be a tombstone in sight for there are no cemeteries in Heaven.
Now I know to some extent that may be hard for us to grasp. It reminds me of what happened once when Albert Einstein was working at Princeton University. On one occasion a reporter asked Einstein’s wife, “Do you understand your husband’s theory of relativity?” She responded, “No, I do not understand Albert’s theory, but I do understand Albert.” Well, we may not know and understand all that Heaven is or means, but we do know Jesus. We know Him in such a way and to such a degree that when He tells us that He is going to come back for us, that we are going to be where He is, that we are going to see Him and be like Him, we know that we can count on what He says.
A number of years ago I had as a member of my congregation in Columbia, South Carolina, a man named Bill Roberts. He was the son of a Presbyterian minister. He went into banking and rapidly climbed the ladder of success. But he told me that at one time in his life he had felt called to the ministry, but had not pursued that call. I asked him why. His answer surprised me. He said that he had a deep fear of hospitals. He couldn’t bear to enter one, and he knew that as a pastor, he would have to go to the hospitals regularly. So he turned away from the ministry and decided instead to become the best lay Christian he could be—and, oh, he was a great one! Tragically, at a relatively early age, Bill Roberts was stricken with bone cancer. And wouldn’t you know, he had to go to the hospital, and he had to spend a long time there. As the disease progressed, his bones became so brittle that any movement might cause them to break. So Bill Roberts spent the last days of his life in the place he feared the most, with his once strong body now completely encased in soft sponges and pillows to prevent any movement at all. And yet even in that dreadful circumstance, his faith continued to shine. One day his family and I were there in the hospital room; his eyes were closed and he was quiet. Then suddenly, he opened his eyes. He raised his arms—yes, he raised his arms and he said, “My Jesus,” with that, he was gone.
Dear friends, death is not always so beautiful and dramatic, but what is always true is that we shall be welcomed by Jesus. He promised that when the time is right, He will come back and He will take us to be where He is forever. I know that’s true because Jesus always keeps His promises.
Once I said to an older man, “This is what I believe about Heaven.” I then shared with him what I have shared with you now. When I finished, he said, “Preacher, do you really believe that?” I said to him then what I say to you now, “There are many things on earth of which I am not certain, but of these things about Heaven, I am now and forever sure.”
Soli Deo Gloria—to God alone be the glory. Amen