Heaven Is Not What You Think It Is

I’m a 90s kid. That means I watched a lot of TV. And one scene from a cartoon (Looney Tunes maybe?) is forever etched in my mind.

I can’t remember the context of the episode but it’s a picture of heaven. It’s portrayed as an expanse filled with clouds. A chubby little baby in a diaper is an angel seated on a puffy cloud playing a harp.

Apparently this is paradise for all eternity.

This image shaped my theology of heaven more than anything when I was a kid. It made me not want to go to heaven. Ever. I’m going to be a fat, diapered baby sitting alone for all my days? No, thanks.

If we’re honest, most of us would think of heaven to be some version of this boring, awkward scene. Maybe not the diaper part. But an ethereal, vague, and serious place full of light fog.

This isn’t the picture painted by the Bible. Even the idea of heaven as a location “out there” that we “go to” is foreign to Jesus and his apostles.

In the end, Heaven comes down, as the New Jerusalem, the New Creation, the New Heavens and New Earth. It’s the place God lives and where his people live with him as they were meant to originally in the Garden. This time, without the possibility of rebellion.

The picture painted of heaven in the Scriptures has more continuity with this world than we might dare to think. Does it feel a tad bit unspiritual to consider “heaven” being like this earth? Remember, God made us for this world. It is our home. And it will be our home (see Romans 8:22-24).

This world simply isn’t the finished product yet. Neither are we.

In the the last two chapters of the Bible, Revelation 21-22, we see the finished product. And it’s glorious.

There’s no need for security at the city gates. The very best of human culture is ushered in and celebrated. There’s no off-season for harvesting crops. God and his people dwell together in sweet intimacy. They see each other face to face. There’s no more sun—God’s brilliance lights up the world. And his people will reign with him.

It’s the place where everyone looks out for everyone else. Where everyone is more concerned for their neighbor than themselves. Where there is always perfect joy and delight and laughter. Where there is no pain or tears or mess-ups or accidents or disease or disaster or devils or death.

It’s a world of love, because the God who is love is there and we will finally be with him in his presence.

In other words, “heaven” is the place and society “that we long for, [but] that we feel so far away” from, this side of Eden. It’s what this world was meant to be. And will be…someday.

It’s way better than what the cartoons told us. And it can’t come soon enough.

Come, Lord Jesus. Come.


This I Believe: The Revelation of God

The Revelation of God
I believe that God has graciously revealed himself in the created order. Furthermore, since human beings are created in the image of God, God has given them an inner sense of his existence. This general revelation is sufficient for God’s eternal power and divine nature to be known by human beings so that they are without excuse. This revelation is not sufficient, however, to know God’s will for salvation.

I believe that God has disclosed himself in human words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, found in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. This special revelation is verbally inspired and inerrant in the original manuscripts. Only it contains God’s will for salvation and his ultimate authority over all matters of faith and conduct.

I believe that God has supremely revealed himself in the person of his Son, the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. All Scripture is a testimony to Jesus Christ, who is the sum of God’s special revelation.

Gen. 1-2; Ps. 19:1; 12:6; 119:89, 105; Isa. 40:6-8; Luke 21:33; 24:27, 44-46; John 1:1-3; 5:39; 17:17; Rom. 1:19-21, 25; 2:11-16; 15:4; 16:25-26; Acts 14:15-17; 17:24-31; 2 Tim. 3:15-16; Heb. 1:1-3; 1 Pet. 1:24-25; 2 Pet. 1:19-21, 23


The Future Hope of Advent

For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. (Isaiah 65:17)

The Israelites were a people in-between the times. They had been given all the promises of God and a promised land in which to dwell (Rom. 9:4). But they were awaiting the advent of their Messiah. All those who truly loved and worshiped Yahweh and had faith in the Savior’s coming inherited salvation, but it was not final. 

The first advent of Jesus–his birth in a grungy manger in a village called Bethlehem–was the beginning of hope for God’s people. Jesus’ first coming was the fulfillment of the promise God made to Israel that a Messiah, an anointed King, would come to bring salvation to Israel. He accomplished this salvation through his death and resurrection. This salvation event was not just for Israel, however. Even at his dedication in the temple as an infant, Simeon recognized the baby Jesus as much more than an Israelite king: “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace…for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).

For all who believe (i.e. have faith) in Jesus, God gives them the right to become children of God (John 1:12-13). But life isn’t perfect at that point. Even Christians admit that the world and their own lives are broken, horrifically broken. Christians–Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, male or female, young or old–have inherited salvation, indeed; but it is not final.

Like the Israelites, Christians are people in-between the times. We have the promise of salvation through Jesus Christ. We have faith that his first advent brought about his death and resurrection which inaugurated a new covenant. We have the hope of eternal life. So we wait for his second advent when he will make our salvation final. Paul calls this our “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13). At his second advent, he will bring the new heavens and the new earth. There will be no more crying, no more pain, no more sin (Rev. 21:4). There will be nothing unclean in this new world (Rev. 21:27). We will be perfect. The world will be perfect.

The happiness and peace and music and joy and fun and laughter and good food and generosity you experience at Christmas ultimately points to a world where we will experience nothing but that and a million other charms we cannot begin to imagine. Christmas ultimately points to the fact that Jesus was born for one purpose: to shed his blood to create a new people for God so that they might worship him in glory for all eternity in a new world.

Do you rejoice in the future hope of Advent? Do you believe it will actually happen? Celebrate Christmas this year knowing and treasuring the fact that your Savior will return once more to meet you face-to-face, make your salvation final, and restore this world to be everything it was intended to be.


Making All the Sad Things Untrue

A message on John 11:17-27 and Rev. 21:1-4 given to the Brookside Church Senior High Ministry in Omaha, Nebraska.

Over the past two months, I have been surrounded by tragedy, yet curiously, I have not been directly affected.  Some of these tragedies have happened to close friends, and others of them have happened all over the world.

  • A third-cousin, who I am very close to, lost his wife to cancer which was so aggressive that she only had it for about 6 months.
  • My wife and I have friends in our small group who have not been able to get pregnant because of infertility.  They are now starting the adoption process.
  • The earthquake in Japan killed over 10,000 people within minutes.  The fifth most powerful earthquake in recorded history.
  • A tornado in Joplin, Missouri, killed 153 people—the 7th deadliest tornado ever recorded.
  • The Missouri River is having unprecedented flooding, and at one point, in Southeastern Nebraska, the River was measured at a record 44 feet deep.

These are sad things.  And as I reflected on these events, Luke 13 came to mind when Jesus responded to a few tragedies in his day.  Some Jews were murdered by a Roman governor named Pilate and others died because they were in a building when it collapsed, and people asked Jesus what he thought about these tragedies.  Jesus said, “Do you think that these people were worse sinners because they suffered in this way?  No!  But unless you repent, you will all perish.”  Jesus says, “Don’t be astonished that your friend died of cancer or 10,000 died in a minute in Japan. Be astonished that YOU don’t have cancer and that YOUR house didn’t fall on you in an earthquake, because you aren’t any better than those people who died.”  Jesus goes beyond that.  He says, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”  This means, “Final judgment will come to everyone, whether they died in a tragedy or lived a long life.  If you don’t repent, you will perish spiritually in hell.”

One reason I love the Bible is that it is the most brutally honest book you will ever read.  Your textbooks in school aren’t this honest.  But not only is the Bible honest.  The Bible gives us what we need to deal with the brutal honesty of life.  A pastor in New York named Tim Keller wrote, “Though Christianity does not provide the reason for each experience of pain, it provides deep resources for actually facing suffering with hope and courage rather than bitterness and despair.”

I know that the resource Christianity provides is Jesus himself.  Jesus was called the “man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3), yet unlike us he was without sin.  He suffered more than anyone in the world ever could. He was innocent, yet he was conspired against, betrayed, abandoned, arrested in the shadows of the night, falsely tried, unjustly condemned, mocked, beaten, and crucified.  Jesus also goes by another name—Immanuel—which means “God with us.”  Especially in our sufferings and hard times, God is with us.

The Problem
But if we think about death, disaster, and disease from the perspective of Jesus in Luke 13, we will see two very important issues with our heart: Because of our rebellion against God, 1) we deny the existence of brokenness within us, and 2) we isolate ourselves from the brokenness around us.

The Solution
The solution is found in Jesus, who took our brokenness to the cross and took judgment for us and who will deliver us from all suffering and judgment in eternity when he makes a new heavens and new earth.

The Beginning of the Story
In order to understand disaster, disease, suffering, forgiveness, and the hope of new life, you have to understand the beginning.  In Genesis 3, when sin came into the world, brokenness, pain, and death came with it.  Before Adam and Eve sinned, there was rhythm in the world.  After they sinned, there was no more rhythm.  All of the hurtful and broken stuff in this world started because of Adam and Eve’s sin.  And there is brokenness in my life and your life because we inherited sinful DNA from Adam and Eve.

Does that mean if you get cancer, it is because you had done some specific sin and God is punishing you?  No, not at all.  But it does mean that if sin had never entered the world, cancer and earthquakes wouldn’t have either.  The tragedy we see, and experience, in the world is a direct result of our rebellion against God.  We suffer because we are sinful, and so the world does not function the way it ought to function.  All sin results in some kind of suffering, but not all suffering is a direct result of specific sin.   You need to understand that.  Therefore, you need to understand that life is not hard simply because there are challenges that exist outside of you.  Life is hard, primarily because sin exists inside of you.

Well, we are going to be in a few passages tonight.  I want you to have your Bible in front of your eyes, get the big picture, and I want to help you see, Lord willing, what God wants you to see.  So let’s pray.

Read John 11:17-27, 38-44
One of my favorite moments in the Gospels is from John 11 when Jesus is about to raise Lazarus from the dead. So turn to John 11:17-27, 38-44.

Lazarus, the cousin of Jesus, just died.  Martha, Lazarus’ brother tells Jesus that if he would have been around, Lazarus wouldn’t have died. Well, Jesus wasn’t around and Lazarus did die.  So in verse 23, Jesus says to her, “Your brother will rise again.”  She replies, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

The resurrection was a doctrine in Jewish theology that said all people would rise from the dead and either go to eternal punishment or eternal life.  Not all Jews believed this, but Martha did.  She just lost her brother, and her only hope was that she would see him again in the new age–the resurrection, when Lazarus will rise from the dead and get a remodeled body.  Though Martha had the right theological belief, she was misguided.  She missed the point Jesus was making. Jesus made it clearer when he answered her hopeful (yet hopeless) confession.  In verse 25, he says:

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.

Jesus is the reason Lazarus would rise again, because he himself is the resurrection. Jesus will die and be raised—not by another’s power (as Lazarus was), but by his own Spirit’s power. He will die and be raised—not to die again (as Lazarus did), but to reign triumphantly over death.  Lazarus came out of the tomb still bound with linen (verse 46). Jesus came out of his tomb with his linens left behind (Jn. 20:7).  The resurrected Jesus will give life to all who believe in him so that even though they die physically, they will live spiritually and rise again to live forever with a new body that is not perishable like our fragile earthly bodies.  That is what Jesus says to Martha, “Whoever believes in me, even though he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”  One commentary said this, “Resurrection from the dead and genuine eternal life in fellowship with God are so closely tied to Jesus that they are embodied in him and can be found only in relationship to him.”

You might be saying right now, “Why is he talking about rising from the dead?  I thought he was going to talk about natural disasters and disease?”  Remember, the reason the world is messed up is due to sin.  The reason Lazarus died, was because he sinned.  Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death.”  The hope of resurrection is incredible–for everyone, because we are more sinful than we could ever imagine.  We all deserve hell.  The truth of the matter is that if you do not have hope in a new, resurrected life, you HAVE NO HOPE.  If you do not believe that Jesus died and rose from the dead to give life and BE YOUR LIFE, you have no hope.

This promise of resurrection is particularly appealing if you are ill, poor, downcast, crippled, homeless, stricken by disaster, hungry, addicted to drugs, or destitute.  Most of you aren’t those things, but you have your own problems, just like me.

Read Revelation 21:1-4
Think about this: One day, this world and all who believe in Jesus will be restored. Changed. You and I will be made new.

No cancer. No bankruptcy. No tornadoes. No earthquakes. No floods. No car accidents. No murders. No rape. No blindness. No deafness. No speech impediments. No Downs Syndrome. No miscarriages. No infertility. No firings. No hunger. No thirst. No paralysis. No stock market crashes. No divorce. No lust. No pornography. No orphans. No widows. No selfishness. No addiction. No drunkenness. No suicide. No child abuse. No pride. No exploitation. No fraud. No greed.

Try to wrap your mind around that. I can’t.  The world as we know it (including you and me) is out of whack. There is no rhythm; shalom has been disrupted. It is not operating the way it was designed to operate. It must be restored, and it will be, at the resurrection.  There is a kid’s Bible called, “The Jesus Story Book Bible,” and the author, speaking of Jesus, wrote, “He will make all the sad things untrue.”  In this life, the sad things exist inside of you and outside of you.  If you deny the sad things inside of you, you will never come to Jesus as the only one who can forgive your sin.  And if you isolate yourself from the sad things outside of you, you will either become coldhearted to tragedy or you will become angry at God for all of the chaos you see in the world.

Remember in Luke 13, when Jesus said to those people that unless they repent, they will perish?  He meant what he said.  Listen to his words in the Gospel of John:

Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live…Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment (John 5:25, 28-29).

Everyone dies physically.  And everyone will rise from the dead to face Jesus.  Michael Jordan, Lady Gaga, Katie Perry, Justin Bieber, Barack Obama, Adolf Hitler, Abraham Lincoln, Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare, Tiger Woods…and you and me…will all rise and face Jesus.  If Jesus has taken the judgment for you on the cross—the judgment you deserved—you will rise to life.  You receive this gift through trusting Jesus, confessing your sin, and hoping in him, not your good works or your girlfriend or your money or your Xbox. If you reject Jesus, and trust in anything other than him, you will rise, but you will rise to judgment, and Jesus’ death and resurrection will mean nothing for you.

Well, perhaps you are wondering when the “practical application” is coming. The truth is, this whole talk is practical application. This is all very intensely practical for three HUGE reasons: 1) There is brokenness inside you; 2) There is brokenness all around you; and 3) You will die.  What is your hope for after death?  Is it to be remembered?  Is it to be the best Call of Duty player? Is it to be the prettiest or smartest or most athletic person in school?

The answer to the sin inside of you and the suffering around you is found in Jesus.  Jesus took all the sad things to the cross.

He took our brokenness to the cross by dying for our sin and taking the punishment from God that we deserved.  We get forgiveness.  In his death he took judgment for us, suffering more than anyone could ever imagine, and promised us deliverance from all suffering and judgment in eternity when he makes a new heavens and new earth. We get a pain free eternity.

There is no glory without suffering.  Think about this.  The greatest tragedy this world has ever seen was this: the only innocent man who ever lived was hated and murdered by bad people.  God could have stopped that.  But he didn’t.  He did something infinitely greater than that: He raised that innocent man from the dead. And if you believe in this man Jesus, he will raise you from the dead someday and take you into his new heavens and new earth to enjoy a pain- and tear-free life with him forever.


Making All the Sad Things Untrue Wordle

Last month I gave a message to our high school ministry titled “Making All the Sad Things Untrue.” Here is a Wordle of that talk for you visual learners.

Wordle: Making All the Sad Things Untrue