Heaven – being with Jesus
Lk.23:43 "And (Jesus) said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
One of the stories that will be repeated in theatres all over the country this winter is one that you are all familiar with. The story concerns a poor orphan boy who was enticed to go and make his fortune in London. He had heard a rumour, you see, that the streets of London were paved with gold. And the boy's name was, of course, Dick Whittington. When he got to London he found things to be very different from what he had imagined them to be – the streets were not actually paved with gold but were just as filthy and depressing as those from the town he had just left.
We smile at Dick's mistake. We know the expression "paved with gold" is not to be taken literally but instead speaks about the opportunity to make a fortune. Who could be so foolish to get it all so wrong?
Well, when it comes to trying to understand what heaven is like we need to be very careful that we don't make a similar' sort of mistake. Heaven is, after all, something that we have not yet really begun to experience and when you're trying to describe something that has yet to be experienced language has at times to be pushed to its very limits.
Some of the language used in the Bible to describe heaven is highly symbolic and while it may conjure up a set of impressions in our imagination it remains quite difficult to grasp. An example of such language can be found in Rev.21 with its description of the New Jerusalem. The picture of this city is evidently designed to impress us with its grandeur and preciousness being made out of gold and precious stones and having gates made out of pearls. But what are we to make of its dimensions when we are told that the city takes the form of a gigantic cube of almost 1,400 miles in each direction?! The height of the building would stretch way beyond the earth's atmosphere – no-
But just because some of the language the Bible uses to describe heaven is not easy to visualize this doesn't mean that we can say nothing whatsoever about heaven. Last week we considered that heaven is all bound up with the glory of God now this evening we want to focus upon the Bible's favourite way of describing heaven to us – it is all about "being with Jesus".
Being with Jesus
Jesus was the one who spoke of heaven as being the equivalent of being with himself and he did so on more than one occasion.
When speaking to his disciples about what lay ahead he told them:
Jn.14:3 "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also."
He was talking about preparing a place for his followers in his Father's home, heaven, but what he emphasised was that his followers would be with him.
A little later when he was praying his High Priestly prayer in Jn.17 Jesus addressed the Father with the following words:
Jn.17:24 "Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world."
Then the promise he made to the repentant criminal while experiencing the extreme distress of and suffering of the cross also focuses upon the blessing of being with him:
Lk.23:43 "And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.""
This repentant criminal was going to die soon but Jesus didn't speak to him of going to heaven but of going to be with him. This is in fact the normal way the NT speaks about what will happen to the believer when he dies.
The apostle Paul shared some of his thinking concerning his own future with the Christians at Philippi. Facing threats to his own life Paul thought about death and wasn't frightened by it at all. This is how he wrote about his future:
The departure Paul was talking about was his death and as he thinks about it he knows that he will be introduced at once into Christ's presence.
Nor was this a one-
2Cor.5:8 "Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord."
Heaven is, as we saw last week, so often synonymous with the glory of God. Now we find that heaven is also inextricably identified with the Son of God. The glory of God is revealed in heaven through the agency of the Son:
Rev.21:23 "And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb."
Christ is right at the very heart of what the Bible has to tell us about heaven. We know that:
Heaven is his home
He came from heaven
He returned to heaven
He will return in glory from heaven
But there are several other reasons why heaven is so closely associated with the Lord Jesus.
We will consider one of these reasons this evening.
Heaven is bound up with Jesus because he is the One who will bring us there
Writing in the Book of Revelation the apostle John stated this very clearly:
Rev.21:27 "But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life."
Heaven is a place of perfection and purity. It has always been like that and always will be. Left to our own devices we would never ever gain entry into heaven because of our sin and failure to come up to God's standards. Yet we need not be left like that – a Saviour has been set forth for all those who will repent of their sins and put their faith in him. And who are those who are written in the Lamb's book of life? Well they are those who have put their faith and trust in Jesus, the Saviour, whom John the Baptist had so clearly identified as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
There will not be anyone in heaven who has got there independently of Jesus. This is why heaven is so intimately identified with Jesus.
And yet men and women have come to imagine that they have some sort of inalienable right to heaven and eternal bliss regardless of their attitude towards Jesus Christ. The non-
But we know that it is Jesus who alone can bring us there:
It is our sin that would keep us out of heaven but Jesus is the one who redeems us by his death, Jesus and he alone!
He put it so clearly when he spoke his disciples, didn't he?
Jn.14:6 "Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
It is his righteousness that provides us with the "wedding garments" to wear at that great feast to which all are invited but to which by no means all respond. Do you remember that parable which Jesus told. There was one man there without the appropriate wedding garment but he was bound and cast out. It is a picture of those who would try to do things their way rather than humble themselves and to do it God's way. Men may be puffed up now as they advance their own ideas but they will be reduced to silence then with not a single excuse.
Jesus paid an immense cost to provide a way to glory, the only way to glory. Men only fool themselves when they imagine that they can ignore what Jesus has done and still gain access to a heaven that cost him so dear. Jesus opened up a new and living way by means of his sacrificial death when he substituted himself for his people bearing away their sins that they might wear his glorious robes of righteousness.
Richard Baxter put it starkly when he wrote:
"Heaven is the fruit of the blood of the Son of God...the chief fruit."
If Jesus brings us to heaven by redeeming us by his blood he also brings us there by making us holy.
Having giving us the requisite righteousness for heaven, Jesus in heaven continues to change our lives making them fit for heaven. How could a worlding ever be happy in heaven without first undergoing a dramatic makeover that transforms his attitudes and desires? Without holiness no-
Not only does he give us a right of access into heaven he makes sure that we are made fit for the enjoyment of life there.
Paul writes of this in his famous chapter on resurrection 1Cor.15. In talking about that final transformation that will be completed in the twinkling of an eye and when immortality replaces mortality he ascribes all to Jesus Christ:
1Cor.15:57 "But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
Jesus redeems us for heaven, he prepares us for heaven and he also preserves us for heaven!
One of the lovely things for Christians to know and appreciate is the ministry that Jesus exercises now on our behalf. As if it weren't enough that he leave heaven's glories to come to earth and to die in our place now that he has returned to heaven he continues to bear us upon his heart.
And because of his ongoing love and care for us we learn that:
Jesus prays and intercedes for us
Jesus upholds us by his Spirit
Jesus guards us
Jesus guides us
The writer to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus is able to help us when we are tempted to do wrong, he sympathizes with us and is ready to grant us his grace and mercy when we need it and when we ask for it.
How encouraging we should find this to be!
Jesus told his disciples that discipleship life would not be easy and that it would demand perseverance. Such perseverance was necessary because it is "the one who endures to the end will be saved." Mt.10:22. And there are times in our own experience when we know only too well just how tough it can be to keep on keeping on. There may even come times when we wonder whether we will be able to do that when simply to remain standing requires such a battle.
Well at such times what an encouragement to look away from our own feeble and failing efforts and to remind ourselves of our Lord's never-
Will he prove ultimately successful in preserving his people? Well it is omnipotence that has pledged itself to save us and nothing/no-
Listen to the confidence that the Psalmist could express in Psalm 73 and remember that we have more reasons for confidence than he ever did for we know so much more of what the Lord has done for us:
Heaven is the place where God's glory shines most brightly and this glory is revealed most perfectly and beautifully in our Lord Jesus. He is the lamp that shines so brightly there! Hymn writers have picked up on this, for example Ann Ross Cousin who wrote "The sands of time are sinking" included lines like these
The King there, in His beauty,
without a veil is seen
The Lamb is all the glory
of Immanuel’s land
If then when we think about heaven our thoughts don't put Jesus at the very centre of them then we are not thinking about the heaven that is spoken of in the Bible. Indeed we may well be thinking about our own version of Peter Pan's Never-
If your thoughts about heaven are not filled with Christ then is it because Christ himself doesn't mean that much to you? Should that be the case then you are not ready for heaven and certainly not in a fit state to die.
The Saviour came from heaven to destroy the works of the devil and to save sinners from everlasting destruction. So let us all take care that we ourselves are indeed reconciled to God through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.