Heaven – restful service!
Text: Rev.7:15 "Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple;"
I imagine that if I asked you you’d all reply the same way. You’d all say that you want to go to heaven. I’m not suggesting that you all want to go immediately but when your time comes that’s where you hope to spend eternity.
But I wonder have you ever thought about what it is you are going to do in heaven?
When I plan a holiday I like to know something about the place I’m going. I want to know what there is to do there. Perhaps there are castles or museums to visit. Maybe it’s by the sea and there is plenty of scope for walking and enjoying the beach and the neighbouring countryside. I generally don’t want to go somewhere where there is "nothing to do" or at least nothing to do that interests me. I want to go to a place where the things I like are to be found and preferably to be spoilt by choice too!
So what about heaven? Do I have clear ideas? Does the Bible have anything to say about this?
So this is our subject this evening: what we will do in heaven.
Two Strands of Teaching
The first thing I want to say is that the Bible contains a couple of strands of teaching that might appear at first sight to supply us with conflicting information.
On the one hand there is undoubtedly an emphasis upon the notion of "rest". The writer to the Hebrews referred to the "rest" of God into which we are called. In fact he referred to various different rests: firstly he referred to the "rest" of the Sabbath Day when God had finished his six days of Creation work; he spoke too about a "rest" to be enjoyed in the Promised Land, Canaan. He spoke also about a "rest" that is still to be entered by the people of God.
Now the writer of the letter to the Hebrews was drawing upon different Bible pictures for a reason. These different pictures are in fact functioning as types of heaven. Now a type is a model or a picture of some greater spiritual reality – it points us in the direction of that greater reality without itself being that reality. Thus the weekly Sabbath is meant to give us an idea of heaven. Here is how Charles Wesley expressed this in one of his hymns:
This is the day that God has blessed,
the brightest of the seven,
type of that everlasting rest
the saints enjoy in heaven.
Canaan too is type of heaven. Do you remember the last verse of the hymn "Guide me O Thou Great Jehovah"? It reads like this:
When I tread the verge of Jordan,
bid my anxious fears subside;
death of death, and hell’s destruction,
land me safe on Canaan’s side;
Along with these types or pictures there are a number of other verses that speak to us of heaven being a place where the weary are granted rest from their labour:
Rev.14:13 "And I heard a voice from heaven saying, "Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Blessed indeed," says the Spirit, "that they may rest from their labours, for their deeds follow them!"
This is a wonderful prospect to look forward to; it will be the complete fulfilment of that lovely generous invitation issued by our Lord when he said:
Rest appeals to us when we are run down or worn out. Lack of rest and a general state of restlessness are conditions we prefer to avoid. Sometimes we need rest for physical reasons but sometimes the cause can’t simply be put down to over-
2Cor.7:5 "For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within.
2Cor.2:13 "my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there."
But what exactly do we mean by rest? What will the rest in heaven consist of?
We can often refer to rest and relaxation as if it meant sitting down and doing nothing at all and here on earth there may well be occasions when just such rest is necessary to enable us to recharge our batteries. But even here on earth we can quickly become bored and finding ourselves wanting to get on and do something as soon as even a little bit of energy returns to our tired limbs. If such is the case can we really envisage a never-
The Sabbath Day when the LORD rested from his creative work didn’t mean that he did nothing – he went on holding everything together. In one of those confrontations that Jesus had with the leaders over his healing activity on the Sabbath Jesus responded justifying his behaviour by showing it to be based upon the Father’s example:
Jn.5:17 "But Jesus answered them, "My Father is working until now, and I am working.""
Similarly our Lord’s Day’s are not empty, idle days. Our Sabbaths are occasions when we can turn from mundane matters to serve the Lord. Our Sundays can indeed be very busy days as we meet with others for the purposes of worship and other forms of service of Almighty God.
So, we must not explain our "rest" in heaven in terms of a complete cessation of everything but rather as rest from:
And above all else, sin
The promise we have concerning heaven is very much along these lines:
Rev.21:4 "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."
The second strand of the Bible’s teaching concerning what we will do in heaven focuses upon service.
Rev.7:15 "Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple;"
This same truth is taught at the end of the same book:
Rev.22:3 "No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him."
The word that is translated "worship" is the same word that is translated elsewhere as "service".
The Message in its paraphrase of this verse brings out the fundamental idea rather well:
Rev.22:3 MSG "Never again will anything be cursed. The Throne of God and of the Lamb is at the centre. His servants will offer God service—worshiping,"
The believer who is brought safely to heaven will not be idle but will be involved in serving his God and this service will be full of worship! This will involve the singing of praise and the ascribing of glory to God as we join in with those great crowds that no man can number declaring the praises of our God and Saviour. But we shouldn’t imagine that heavenly living is just like one long choir practice there are indications that our "work" will be intensely varied.
Do you remember the parable Jesus told about the talents? In it Jesus promised great reward to those who had faithfully served with the relatively small amounts they had initially been entrusted with:
Mt.25:21 (23) "His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’"
The version of the parable that Luke recorded explained what this meant – in being set "over much" the faithful servant would be given the responsibility and privilege of governing entire cities.
When we turn to the Book of Revelation we find this idea of exercising authority is brought to the fore again. We are not to think of this as somehow exercising our own independent authority but of participating in the perfect work of Christ:
Rev.3:21 "The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne."
We should not be surprised or dismayed by the fact that heaven involves such service. Work in and of itself is not evil -
Gen.2:15 "The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it."
Adam’s privilege was to function as Head Gardener, as Estate Manager. It was his task to act as God’s steward and representative in organising, maintaining and developing God’s wonderful creation. It would have been a fulfilling, rewarding task demanding and employing all of Adam’s skills and abilities.
Nor was this the only task given to Adam in the Garden. He had the responsibility of naming the animals and that involved far more than merely choosing a verbal label. A name in the Bible has significance – it properly reflects the true nature or character of the one bearing it. So the task for Adam in naming the animals involved understanding and classifying the animals in an orderly and if you like, a scientific manner. Not only was Adam the first gardener, the first estate manager, the first steward he was also the first zoologist, the first taxonomist.
In heaven then we will have tasks to carry out – not of the mind-
Sometimes here and now, we have to drag ourselves to work, to fulfil our responsibilities. There are times when we’d rather be somewhere else doing something else or simply doing nothing at all. There are other times when we go about our work with a spring in our steps – heaven will be like those latter times only more so!!
In heaven we will have the time to do a good job too! How often do we find ourselves having to work against the clock: a lesson has to be prepared, some documents are demanded, a client wants the job done yesterday (or so it can feel). We run out of time and sometimes have to cut corners and simply say "that’ll have to do". We know deep down inside we could do a better job but we have to stop and move onto something else.
Perhaps we have an inkling that we have some skills and abilities but while we’d like to pursue their development other demands press in upon us and our potential goes untapped. But there will be no shortage of time in heaven – there will be no shortage of opportunity there either! And made in the image of God restored to that original image what creative abilities will be ours, what possibilities of expression! What pictures we might be able to paint, what music we might be able to make, what wonders we may be able to make!
How happy heaven will be!
Yes, there will be a rest from labour there but what joy to serve the Lord in worship and in creatively reflecting his image! No more sweat, no more calluses, no more cuts or bruises, no more frustration, no more feelings of pointlessness – but never-
Are you sure that you are going to be there?
The day stands open and that door is Christ -
Have you come to Christ? Are you going on day by day trusting him? Renew your vows, repent and turn again to the Lord that he might send you those promised times of refreshing that will help keep you going.
Remind yourself that our labours and our toil here on earth are just for a short while – how quickly those 70, 80 years have flown by and will fly by. Don’t spend all your efforts for that which won’t last rather invest yourself in the things of God, be heavenly minded, train yourself to value:
"whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, (and) if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Phil.4:8).
In this way you will lay up for yourself treasures in heaven.
How little we understand about these matters of eternity! How difficult our poor minds find it to think or speak about these things! But may the Lord himself be our teacher and give us light.