Heaven – a happy family!
"Jesus said to them, "Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life."
A famous French writer once wrote some lines that: "Hell is other people". It’s not my intention to investigate just what the author meant when he made such a claim but it does highlight something important for us. Others can and do have a profound influence upon our lives. Do you remember the song Lee Marvin’s song that topped the charts in 1970? It was called "Wand’rin’ Star" and contained these lines:
"Life can make you prisoner and the plains can bake you dry
Snow can burn your eyes, but only people make you cry"
And yet we know that while people do have such power to hurt us we also know that people are incredibly important to us for our joy. We like to tell others what we’ve done or show them what we’ve made or give them what we’ve thought they might like. We prefer to go to a restaurant with a friend than to go and eat alone. We’d rather go on holiday with others we know than book a place where we fear we might experience a few days living in splendid isolation. When we travel somewhere we usually like to recognise people we know and most of us enjoy meeting up with family members or old friends again.
In short we have been social creatures – I know that some are better at being sociable than others but none of us has been designed to function best without any meaningful contact at all with others. And we recognise that those who have extreme problems in relating to others are suffering from some sort of personality disorder. We may label such folk as sociopaths or psychopaths because the way they their lives doesn’t fall within the parameters of what society considers normal.
And what, you might be asking yourself, has this to do with heaven?
Well heaven is a very sociable place and some of the Bible’s greatest images of heaven are corporate in nature. This happy emphasis upon the convivial company of heaven will be our focus this evening.
Heaven’s Life to be experienced and enjoyed in community
In the book of Revelation one of the celebrated pictures of heaven is as a holy city:
Rev.21:2 "And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband."
I know that we have probably all seen Westerns where part of the action took place in a "ghost town", a town which had once been occupied but now is abandoned, but when we think of cities we do not usually think about them as empty places, far rather we think about them as crowed if not overcrowded with people. The comparison John introduces of a bride adorned for her husband also directs us to consider a very human and companionable picture.
In Hebrews ch.12 reference is made to heaven as the Kingdom of God and once again our attention is drawn to the presence of many others who are there:
The writer of the Book of Proverbs had centuries earlier established a clear link between the honour of a King and the number of his subjects:
Pr.14:28 "In a multitude of people is the glory of a king, but without people a prince is ruined."
Heaven will be filled with many, many people! And all those people will be celebrating – for that’s what you do when you attend a wedding. And we know that another picture used in the Book of Revelation to describe heaven is a wedding banquet:
The various pictures are clear: although our ultimate communion will be with the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – that communion will not be a private, highly individualised affair but one to be shared and enjoyed in the company of many others. That great company in heaven will include myriads of angels (Rev.5:11) and so many men and women from every nation under the sun that no-
While there will be huge numbers of people in heaven making up God’s family there, the Bible does not teach universalism and that means that there will be people who do not go to heaven and that number may include some of friends who remain unconverted. Some may wonder whether the knowledge that some are excluded from heaven will in some way diminish our enjoyment of heaven. Will there be an eternal shadow cast over heavens joys?
To put the question that way makes such a notion seem somewhat silly. The Christian in heaven will have passed by that transformation that takes place in the twinkling of an eye and so will be perfectly conformed to God. In this condition the Christian will love what and who God loves and nothing/no-
A Christian’s love for his unconverted friends/family members will not be expressed in a sentimental rejection of the ideas of judgment and eternal lostness but will properly express itself in prayer and effort to secure our friend’s salvation.
God’s Family in Heaven
It will be a Large Family
Well we’ve already said that God’s family is large, very large. What an encouragement that should be to us all and in various ways.
Firstly, if the family is to be so large then there will be many, many conversions. Let us pray with eager anticipation that God bless the proclamation of the gospel throughout the world so that all the elect are brought safely in. Let us expect to hear of reports of conversions from the missionaries we support and pray for and let us expect to see conversions here at home too.
Secondly, when our own numbers are currently not great and attendance here at Sunnyhill is not what it has been in years gone by what a joy to know that heaven will be full with happy holy saints! What an encouragement to the individual who has trusted Christ, who has become a believer, only to find that the way of discipleship is hard and lonely. How many of our brothers and sisters in the world today live much of their lives in lonely and vulnerable isolation as they have been ostracised for the name of Christ. Their/our loneliness will forever be brought to an end because as Jesus told his followers "there are many rooms in (his) Father’s house".
It will be a Varied Family
Not only will the members of God’s family be very numerous they will be very varied too. There will be all kinds of people, from all kinds of backgrounds, with all kinds of personalities in God’s family. There will be some people like you in the family and there will some folk who are radically different from you in just about every way imaginable. And yet each one will have a genuine experience of God’s grace, each one will have their own special and unique story to tell about how Jesus found them when they were lost sheep wandering far from the fold and how he brought them safely home!
What joys we will have in discovering the" full extent of God’s love and of God’s grace as he worked to bring sinners from so many and such diverse backgrounds to faith in Jesus Christ.
There will no boredom in heaven in this company as each one’s story will tell us more and more of the varied or multi-
It will be a United Family
Some of the family gatherings that take place on earth in our current fallen state don’t end well, do they? We read of families falling out with each other and tensions and disputes prevent some families even being able to enjoy a happy Christmas Day together.
God’s family in heaven will have no such problems. There will be no squabbles there, no quarrels, no flaming rows. There will be no unkind expressions, no deceitful friendships, no hypocrisy. The unity of God’s people that Jesus prayed for "that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you," (Jn.17:21) will be brought to its final and complete fulfilment in heaven. In heaven the blessings alluded to in Ps.133 will be fully and lastingly experienced:
Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the LORD has commanded the blessing,
It will be an Attractive Family
You probably all know some Christians whose company, if truth be told, you would rather avoid. In our earthly experience we meet plenty of awkward, difficult and ornery Christians – hard though we might find it there are probably others who would include us in that description!
It’s not always easy to love other Christians is it? But it’ll not be like that in heaven.
By the time we all get to heaven God will have completed his work in us all. All the frailties, blemishes, insecurities of our characters will have been forever corrected. Odd and peculiar senses of humour which cause consternation and distress at times here will be cleansed and purified there. We’ll be surrounded by lovely people who reflect each in their own sanctified manner something special of the Lord’s own goodness and grace.
In heaven then it won’t be difficult for us to love one another – misunderstandings, suspicions and disappointments will be entirely banished – it won’t be a duty which requires you to love your brother there – it’ll be your joy and delight. To be in such company won’t be at all irksome, we won’t be fretting thinking we’d rather be somewhere with a different group of people doing something different we’ll consider it to be our enormous, wonderful privilege to be in such company!
It will be a Satisfying Family
Have you ever felt lonely as a Christian? Perhaps friends seem to be in short supply in your life.
Perhaps you’ve never been married and feel as though you’ve missed out on the close relationship that you’ve seen others enjoying. Perhaps you’ve been married but your spouse has dies and is no longer there and their absence has left a painful void.
Well in heaven there will no room for loneliness. It will be full of people who will be to us better friends than any of our friends on earth have ever been.
Ongoing yet changed relationships
The fact that we will have millions of great new friends to get to know should not be taken to mean that we have to forget all the good friendships we have previously enjoyed with other believers during our earthly pilgrimage. We have good reason to believe that we will know one another in heaven.
King David experienced the loss of the first baby that Bathsheba bore him but he expressed his confidence of a future reunion with this child:
1Sam.12:23 "But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me."
The next thing we read of David was that he comforted his wife.
The apostle Paul too spoke of the grief of separation at death but was quick to add that such grieving was not permanent:
And yet although there will some continuity in relationship there will also be some changes brought about in the nature of those relationships too.
Marriage for example will no longer exist for example as Jesus told some of his contemporaries:
Mt.22:30 "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven."
In the perfections of a fully populated and perfect heaven man will no longer need a special helpmeet. In this wonderful new environment woman will no longer need the cherishing protection of a husband. This implies there will be no reproduction in heaven and consequently there will be no children who stand in need of the protective care of parents.
Does this imply that heaven will put an end to these special friendships? Unlikely as heaven represents a progress on everything we have ever known or experienced before. Rather, then, the implication is that these very real and special friendships will remain special and precious with existing friendships becoming closer and better than they ever were.
What a blessing heaven will be!