Now That You're Home
Now That You’re Home by Rev. L. John Gable
May 28, 2017
If you were with us last week you will remember, I hope, (although I have been teased that no one remembers what I say past Wednesday, so I am putting you to the test) that we talked about heaven, and you may recall that I ended with a story about a missionary who, at the turn of the century, was returning to the states after serving 40 years in Africa. On the same ship was President Teddy Roosevelt who was returning after a brief hunting expedition. While there were cheering throngs to greet the President there was no one there to greet the returning missionary. Years later in recounting that experience he tells of sitting that evening in a dank and dirty hotel room feeling rather sorry for himself when suddenly he felt a Presence in the room with him, a hand on his shoulder, and then an audible voice assuring him, “You’re not home yet!”
Friends, Scripture gives us a wonderful picture of the celebration which will take place when God welcomes each of His children home. This is the substance of our hope in the face of death and in the light of the promise of eternity, so despite your trials and tribulations on this side of the grave, do not be dismayed and do not lose heart, “You’re not home yet!”
But one day, sooner or later, we will be home. The testimony of Scripture is that one day God will draw history to completion and fulfillment. On that day God will usher in the promised Kingdom of Heaven in its fullness. I wouldn’t dare to try to predict when that day might be, and would caution us not to trust too fully in anyone who claims to know. As one has wisely said, “Never believe anyone who claims to know more that Jesus, and Jesus said He knew neither the day nor the hour!” So, while I do not claim to know when it will be, whether in a thousand days or a thousand years, I am absolutely confident that it will one day be. Jesus said, “I am going to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am you will be also.” That is assurance enough for me, such that I am going to live my life in anticipation of and preparation for the fulfillment of that promise, and I will continue to encourage you to do the same. We must live and prepare this day for that day, and then for eternity.
Which begs the question, what will life be like on that day, and for eternity? Eternity is an awfully long time, you know, so it might be best that we know what we are getting ourselves in to. As we talked last week, I hesitate to give much speculation about the attributes of heaven or the quality of life there, for as Paul writes in First Corinthians, “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him” (2:9). In this hope, I am confident that whatever heaven will be like it will be so much greater, so much grander than anything you or I could ever imagine, but let me offer these observations.
First, wherever, whenever and whatever heaven may be, it will be glorious because God will be at the center of it. One morning, during a children’s sermon, the pastor asked the children what they expected to see in heaven. He expected answers such as angels, pearly gates, and golden streets. One little boy raised his hand and answered, “I expect to see God.” And with that, no one had anything else to say, including the pastor! As I picture it, heaven is that condition in which God’s perfect rule will be fulfilled. Life will be as God intended it to be from the dawn of creation without the perversion or distortion of sin and disobedience. The challenge of life as we know it now is that we allow any number of competitors to occupy that place in our lives (and more importantly, in our hearts) that belongs only to God: work, family, pleasure, material possessions. But when God is at the center, then all of those other things are given their proper place of importance, and the promise of God’s Kingdom is fulfilled. Again, that is what Jesus meant when He said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.” He meant that we can get a glimpse of life as it will be then as we allow God to reshape and reorder our lives and priorities now.
A second observation I would make about what I anticipate in heaven is that there will be many delights, but no surprises. What I mean is, I believe God has revealed Himself fully in Jesus Christ. Again, Paul writes, “He is the image of the invisible God…for in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” (Col. 1:15,19). So, the more we know of Jesus, the more we can know of God. That is why I say, there will be many delights, but no surprises.
So what will heaven be like, and what will we do all day, every day, for an eternity? While speaking at a revival in Boston in 1950, a young Billy Graham described heaven in this way. “Heaven” he said “is as real as Los Angeles, London, Algiers or Boston. It is 1600 miles long, 1600 miles wide and 1600 miles high. Once there we are going to sit around the fireplace and have parties and the angels will wait on us, and we’ll drive down the golden streets in a yellow Cadillac convertible.” I’m not sure where he was getting his information and I trust he was being facetious, but he kind of made heaven out to sound like the 1950’s of the American dream. I don’t think so.
Somewhat along this same line, others have described heaven as getting to do what you most love to do. I think this is how golf has found its way in to so many jokes and stories about heaven. While there is no guarantee that there will be links courses or Colts games in the eternal city, I can imagine there will be experiences then which these experiences only begin to approximate now, not in the physical sense, but in the emotional sense. If heaven is a place of great enjoyment, which I believe it will be, then the kinds of experiences which bring us joy now will be sustained in heaven, only on a grander scale. Yet I must admit, I can’t imagine doing even those things I most enjoy doing, for an eternity.
Others have described heaven as being a place of eternal rest. I chuckled at this little piece.
“Hear lies a woman who was always tired,
She lived in a house where help wasn’t hired.
The last words she said were:
Friends, I am going,
Where washing ain’t wanted, nor sweeping or sewing;
And everything there is exact to my wishes,
For where folks don’t eat there’s no washing of dishes,
In heaven loud anthems forever are ringing,
But having no voice I’ll keep clear of the singing.
Don’t mourn for me now; don’t mourn for me never;
I’m going to do nothing forever and ever.”
There are times, I must admit, when having absolutely nothing to do sounds rather appealing; but I also will admit that having nothing to do for eternity could get rather old.
So what will we do in heaven? The clearest picture we are given in Scripture is that we will worship…God. The book of Revelation is replete with pictures of the creatures of heaven and earth worshiping God. In the 4th chapter John describes the throne of God surrounded by the 24 elders and heavenly creatures called cherubim and seraphim, who “day and night, never stop saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” He goes on to say, “Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne (which he has already told us is continually), the elders fall down and worship Him.” At the center of life in the Kingdom of Heaven is worship, and that is as it should be, for God is at the center of life in the Kingdom of Heaven and He alone is worthy of our worship and praise.
Friends, this is why worship must have a place of priority in our lives now. This life is the valley of soul-making in which we prepare ourselves for life with God in eternity. If worship does not have a place of priority for us now then it means we have not yet understood our proper relationship to God. God is Creator and we are creatures, and creatures are intended to worship their Creator. Yet somehow as members of modern society we have gotten that relationship all mixed up. One has rightfully given this age a stinging criticism by saying, “We worship our work, we work at our play and we play at our worship.” Part of what it means to be a Christian and to live the Christian life is to undergo the transformation of our values and priorities to better align ourselves with God’s values and priorities. That is why worship is so important. In answer to the question, “What is our chief end?” the Westminster shorter catechism gives this answer, “Our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Establishing a relationship of worship and enjoyment with God is what we were designed and created to do because that is what will be at the center of life in the Kingdom of Heaven; which conversely means, if we aren’t much interested in having that kind of relationship with God now, we likely aren’t going to enjoy it much for eternity.
But is that really all we are going to do in heaven, worship God? I hope not! Don’t get me wrong, but as much as I love to worship, and I really do, I must admit that even that may become a little monotonous over time and eternity. Surely there must be something else, and I believe there is.
Scripture never out and out says it, but it gives some pretty substantial hints that there will be plenty to do in heaven, plenty of work to do. Now before you groan, hear me out. Many of Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom of Heaven involve the concept of manual labor, of tasks and activities which need to be done, such as the laborers in the vineyard, the farmer in the field who discovers a buried treasure, the merchant in search of fine pearls, or the parable we read this morning about the sower sowing seed. All of these stories involve action and activity, work to be done. Even more so, in John’s Revelation, he says he sees a “new heaven and a new earth coming down from God out of heaven.” This new creation is a re-creation of life as it once was, before the fall, life as it was intended to be. Certainly there was work to be done in the garden, anyone who has a garden knows that; but before the fall tending the garden was productive without being pains-taking. It was labor as God intended it to be, for we were created to be partners with God, co-creators working in the image of God.
I think we are already given glimpses of what work and activity might be like in the Kingdom of Heaven. Haven’t you ever found yourself so immersed in the enjoyment of your work that you lost total track of the time? Time suddenly had no meaning; that is eternity, right? Imagine your occupation, whatever it is or was, paid or volunteer. What is it about your work that you enjoyed the most? Making something, meeting people, closing a deal, supplying something to meet someone else’s need? Now as you consider that quality of your labor, take out of that equation the urgency you feel about having to close the deal by 5:00 or by month’s end to meet a quota because time in eternity has no relevance; take out the pressure you feel trying to satisfy an angry customer or a demanding boss because God alone is the One you serve and He delights in you; take out your concern about needing to make a sale in order to earn your salary or keep your job in order to feed your family and keep a roof over your head because all of your needs have already been met. Take away all of those worldly concerns and work almost begins to sound fun again, doesn’t it? And that is what I believe life will be like in the Kingdom of Heaven. We will have work to do: important work, meaningful work, God-honoring Kingdom work, for we will be the laborers in the building of God’s new heaven and new earth, and we can begin to do that kind of Kingdom work right now when we feed a neighbor, welcome a stranger, care for the least, the lost and the lonely among us, when we share the love of Jesus, when we pray “Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Scottish philosopher Thomas Chalmers writes, “The grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love and something to hope for.” Each of these will be fulfilled in their completeness on that day and for eternity in the Kingdom of Heaven. On that day there will be a grand celebration as God welcomes His children home. Yes, there will be singing and worship and praise, but when the party’s over, now that you’re home, there’s work to be done. Amen.