HILLS & VALLEYS: Going Home    2 Kings 2:1-18

Next week, we will be done with this series on Elijah; we’ve given seven messages in all.  This brings us to the conclusion of this life of the ancient prophet of Israel, Elijah.  We saw Elijah burst onto the scene, sort of came out of nowhere.  He stepped into the king’s palace and made a declaration about drought and a confident call that Yahweh was the King above all kings, the Lord above all lords, the God above all gods.  We’ve traced Elijah’s journey over the last few weeks and now we’re coming to the end of his journey.  The end of his journey is unique.  It’s not intended to be looked at as normative.  Elijah is one of only two people we have recorded in Scripture who didn’t die.  Enoch is his counterpart in Genesis 5, but Elijah’s ending is as strange as his life, in many ways.  It comes to an abrupt end where he’s taken—spoiler alert!—in a chariot of fire up to heaven.  As we read his story, his story conjures up all sorts of questions in our life, at least in my life….questions about what heaven is going to be like.

I think there’s this sort of transcendent human longing to figure out what’s next.  We have people who have these, supposed, experiences of heaven and they write books.  A guy named Don Piper wrote a book, 90 Minutes in Heaven, in which he was supposedly in a car accident and died and for ninety minutes spent some time in heaven, came back and made millions of dollars and wrote a book about it.  I’m not saying it didn’t happen.  He very well may have had that experience.  In Heaven is for Real, you have this four-year-old boy who dies and goes to heaven and experiences things and learns things he really shouldn’t have been able to learn in any other way.  His dad wrote a book.  90 Minutes in Heaven has sold over six million copies, Heaven is for Real has sold over twelve million copies since it came out in 2010.  I tell you this, not to say you should go buy one of these books to figure out what heaven’s like.  I’m not saying they’re wrong, but I’m just saying somebody’s experience is never a great foundation to build your theology off of.  I think, we should go to the Scriptures and see what the Scriptures have to say about heaven.  If you want to read an interesting book, pick up one of those, but then really hold it up to see what the Scriptures say.

We have questions about heaven, don’t we?  Which is why you can write a book about going there and sell millions and millions of copies of it.  We have this keen sense, don’t we, anytime a life ends, even if someone’s really old and they’ve lived decades and they’ve lived a full, good, beautiful life.  We go to their memorial….there’s this sort of transcendent feeling, isn’t there, that this was never suppose to happen.  Like it was never suppose to end; it was too sacred, too beautiful, too good to have an end.  There’s something inside every single one of us, even if we don’t believe in an afterlife, we hope that there is one.  There’s something about that that just calls to the human soul.  We were created….you were created to live forever.

I can remember being sitting in youth group, when I was a young student, and hearing our youth pastor describe heaven.  I don’t know if you’ve had a similar experience, but I was sitting there going, I’m not sure I want to go there.  He described heaven and it seemed way more boring than earth.  It was like….we’ll be sort of these angelic figures and we’ll be sitting on a cloud and playing the harp…   At that point in time, I was like, I really like Dave Matthews!  I’m not really a harp guy!  I still like Dave Matthews way more than I like the harp.

We have these questions, don’t we, what happens after we die?  Where do we go?  Do we turn into some sort of angelic being?  What are we going to do in heaven?  Are we just going to sing 24/7?  I like singing as much as the next guy, but I just don’t know if I want to do it 24/7 for all of eternity.  I’d like to mix it up a little bit.  Who’s with me?  Here’s another question people often have—Will I remember things or people in heaven?  Or will going to heaven just be like the great mind eraser, where I get there and it’s like starting over?  Have you ever wondered some of these questions?  When we’re in heaven, will we be able to see what’s going on on earth?  Then you have some well-intentioned people who pat you on the back and go, heaven’s going to be so great that you’re not going to care what’s going on on earth.  The only problem with that is the Bible.  Some of these questions we have the Bible actually speaks to, but—will you lean in for a moment—I sense, on a deep pastoral level, that this message today is far more than just a cognitive ascent to try to figure out what heaven’s going to be like.  So we can turn some cosmic-like key in and get it all figured out.  My guess is that you’ve said good-bye to somebody you love, or maybe you’ve gotten a diagnosis from a doctor that says it’s not looking good.  Or maybe you’re like the person who came up to me after last week’s service and gave me a hug and said, “I’m so glad you’re talking about heaven, because I’m getting older.”  I thought to myself, “I’d like to meet the Benjamin Button that’s getting younger!”  We’re all getting older; it’s all getting closer, for every single one of us.

So we have these questions.  These questions that, ever since the dawn of creation, people have been asking.  What’s it like?  What’s it like on the other side?  What’s it like in the afterlife?  Every culture, every religion, every civilization has in some way tried to answer that question.   We’re going to do our best to answer it today.  I want you to hear me, I’m standing up here today, I’m preaching, my goal is to open the Scriptures to say, to the best of my ability, here’s what the Scriptures seem to say.  But if anybody tells you they have this subject nailed, run the other way! I’m doing my best.  If you think this is a terrible message, fine.  I’m doing my best.  And Elijah’s going to be our guide along the way.

If you have your Bible, turn to 2 Kings 2, and you’ll need it this morning, because we’re looking at two chunks of text and neither are going to be on the screen, they’re too long.  Elijah’s coming to the end of his life.  Like I said, the end of his life is sort of as strange as the rest of his life.  He’s going to be our guide to show us a little of what heaven is like.  2 Kings 2:1-8 — When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.  Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.”  But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.”  So they went down to Bethel.  The company of prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”  “Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.”  {Quick timeout. I’m not sure why he says “Be quiet.”  I’m not exactly sure what’s going on.  It may be he wants Elijah to keep teaching and keep talking, so he’s like, you guys need to shut your mouth.  We want to hear from him, not you.  It might also be that he’s gotten so close to Elijah that, for them, this is just something that’s going to happen, but for him, it’s pain.  We don’t know.  But either way, he says, “Shhhh!  In the name of God, shut your mouth!”}  Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho.”  And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.”  So they went to Jericho.  The company of prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”  “Yes, I know,” he replied, “so be quiet.”  Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.”  And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.”  So the two of them walked on.  Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan.  Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it.  The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.  

The passage goes on to say that these schools of prophets, these prophets who were there, the same prophets who said, “Hey Elisha, do you know Elijah’s getting taken to heaven today?” and he said, “Yes,” they beg Elisha, after Elijah is taken to heaven, let’s go look for him.  He’s gotta be around somewhere.  Isn’t it interesting that it was shocking to them that God actually did what He said He was going to do.  They were just dumbfounded by it—-Let’s go look for him—-and Elisha finally says, “Fine, go look for him.  You’re not going to find him, but if it’ll make you feel better, go for it!”  And they do.  They come back and say they couldn’t find him.  And Elisha is like, really? I’m shocked!   I think that’s how we feel about heaven sometimes is it’s just so good we go, there’s no way!  We sort of believe it, but in the back of our mind we go, it’s not going to be that good.  We can’t hope that much in it.  It’s going to be illusive.

This passage is fascinating to me because we could do a message about Elijah passing on the faith and about how important it is to train up the people in your life, whether it’s in a ministry that you’re involved in or a business that you’re involved in or in a family, to train up somebody to hand the torch to, to carry it when you’re no longer here.  We could do a message on that, but I think there’s something else going on.  I think there’s another reason that Elijah travels to these specific places.  If you were to draw a map, here’s the way it would look.  He begins in Gilgal, then he heads west, away from where he’s actually going to end up, in order to go to Bethel.  Then he comes back—just a short distance, 15 miles or so—where he came from in Jericho.  Then he finally crosses the Jordan, which was pretty close to where he started.

Why in the world is Elijah taking this little walking tour before he leaves this earth?  As you might have guessed, each one of these places is of massive importance in the history of Israel.  Gilgal was the place, after wandering in the desert for forty years, that the nation of Israel comes to.  They first come to the brink of the Jordan River, it’s parted miraculously, they cross over the Jordan and they stop in Gilgal.  Gilgal is the place where they reinstate circumcision and where they re-say to God, God, we want to be your people and we’re entering back into covenant relationship with you, and God welcomes them back.   Gilgal is a place of new beginnings, Gilgal is a place of grace.  Gilgal’s a place of God’s mercy.

He goes on from there and travels to Bethel (house of God).  It’s the place where Jacob, one of the great patriarchs of the faith, who later becomes known as Israel, encounters God.  Angels ascending and descending on a ladder.  Where he realizes this whole world is bathed in God’s presence.  Bethel is a place of prayer, it’s a place of God’s presence with his people.

He goes back to Jericho.  Jericho, you may know, is the place of the first battle that Israel fights in the Promised Land.  It’s the place where they go straight at the enemy.  It’s the place where they look evil in the face.  It’s also the place where they see that God is giving them victory.  They finally have to put their faith to the test after forty years of wandering, to see, God, are you going to be faithful and are you going to be good to us, even in this place?

Finally, he gets to the Jordan River.  The Jordan is this place of promise.  Think of the nation of Israel, millions of them, looking west to the other side as they look to the land that God had promised to give to them.  But as you look in the way that Elijah’s looking, it’s the place of destiny.  It’s the place where God promised He would take him, and eventually take him home.

Before he gets taken to heaven—it’s fascinating—Elijah gets this tour of God’s faithfulness on earth.  God’s grace—new beginnings.  God’s presence—this whole world bathed in His glory.  The battle we often face in life—the victory that God will be good on His word.  The promise that you and I hold onto.  Elijah is physically recounting the faithfulness of Yahweh throughout the history of His people.  Before God takes Elijah into his destiny, he wants to recount history.  He’s saying to Elijah, you’ve seen glimpses, you’ve seen shadows, you’ve seen winks and hints and nods of what you’re stepping into.  My faithfulness, Elijah, is laying a foundation that you’re going to experience face-to-face in just a few moments, but, Elijah, before you part the stream, I want you to step back into the story.  I want you to remember where you’re heading.  I’ve been gracious.  I’ve been present.  I’ve been good.  I’ve given victory.  I’ve been with you the whole way.

The reality is, friends, that for Elijah, and for you and I, confidence in our destiny is grounded in God’s faithfulness throughout history.  The God that Elijah is getting prepared to meet face to face is no different than the God that’s carried this nation throughout the generations.  It’s the same God.  There’s continuity—catch this—there’s continuity between heaven and earth.  We often get the story wrong.  If you hear somebody talk about what it means to follow Jesus, or maybe you hear people give a gospel presentation….here’s the way they tell the story we’re in.  They tell story we’re in like…..we’re sinful.  God’s holy.  You want to go to heaven.  You don’t want to go to hell.  Oftentimes, the juxtaposition between is hell; the counterpart of heaven is hell in a lot of people’s stories.  Do you know where the counterpart to heaven being hell isn’t found?  In the Bible.  Start on page one…..In the beginning God created heaven and hell.  That’s not what he says.  That’s not what the story’s about.  In the beginning God created heaven and earth.  Juxtaposed all throughout the Scriptures is heaven and earth.  Originally, in Genesis 1 and 2, God creates heaven and earth to be overlapping, interlocking places where God walks with Adam and Eve and His presence is with them in the garden.  Sin fractures that, where God’s presence is now here but we have a hard time encountering Him, yes?

The narrative of Scripture is not about whether or not you go to heaven or whether or not you go to hell, the narrative of Scripture is ultimately about God reuniting heaven and earth and to do so He needs to get the hell out of it!  The mission of God is to reconcile heaven and earth from the destructive power of hell that’s tearing it apart.  People only end up in hell if they’re unwilling to let go of their evil, of their pride, of their violence.  You need to let go of that in order to enter God’s kingdom.

So before Elijah goes to heaven—to God’s space—God reminds him of the way He’s been at work all throughout history.  Here’s the image that came to mind:  It’s sort of like playing the band’s album as you’re on the way to see them in concert.  You’re going, we’re about to step into it—grace, presence, battle, victory, promise, and destiny.  It’s exactly where God leads Elijah to.

2 Kings 2:9-18 — When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”  “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.  “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.” {How’s that for an answer?  He’s basically saying, I don’t get to decide that, but here’s how you can know if God’s going to give it to you—if you see me taken away, He said yes. Verse 11.}  As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.  Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!”  And Elisha saw him no more.  Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.  Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.  He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it.  “Where now is the Lord, the God Elijah?” he asked.  When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, {My insertion — He went “Yes! Yes!”} and he crossed over.

Anybody else wish there was a few more details?  Yeah.  The people there were just as confused.  The prophets go and they run after Elijah to try to find them.  We don’t get a lot of information, here’s a few things you can take away from it.  There’s the word ‘suddenly’ that’s in there.  Like it happens really quickly, right before their eyes.  Suddenly he’s gone in an instant.  Second, there was this separation between Elijah and Elisha, as if to say they were both on their own journeys and God had the timing that was right for both of them.  They weren’t going at this together, nobody does.  Finally, you see that Elijah is escorted there.  His journey to heaven isn’t a journey he makes on his own.  None of our journeys to heaven will be a journey that we make on our own.  We will ALL get an escort there.  Our escort’s name is Jesus.  He’s also our advocate.  He’ll say, “He’s with Me” or “She’s with Me.”  He’s escorted there, he doesn’t go there alone.

Some might think we don’t get a lot of information about heaven, and certainly there’s no one passage we can go to and say, “Now, THIS, this really explains it!”  But there are things that pop up, all throughout the Scriptures, that help us understand a little bit better what this place that we call heaven is going to be like.  Before we go there, I need to dispel one myth that I think haunts us a little bit and actually clouds our ability to see what heaven is actually going to be like.  Most of us think of heaven as just sort of one phase or one place that we go.  It’s actually TWO.  The first phase is what we would call Heaven.  The place where people who’ve died in the Lord are RIGHT NOW.  The place Elijah is RIGHT NOW.  It’s a very real place that exists in a spiritual realm.  The people there have spiritual bodies.  But not physical bodies, not like the ones you and I have.  That’s phase one.

But there will be a day, friends, when Jesus comes back to judge and resurrect all people.  You and I will live for all of eternity, not in heaven.  As N.T. Wright, a famous New Testament theologian, quipped one time:  “Heaven is great, but it’s not the end of the world.”  Your destiny is not heaven.  Your destiny is resurrection!  That’s your destiny.  You go and you read through the ancient creeds…none of them talk about heaven.  They all talk about resurrection.  Let me be as clear as I can, resurrection was THE HOPE of the early church.  When they’re giving evangelistic sermons in the book of Acts, do you know how many times Heaven is brought up?  It’s not!  Every single sermon, though, they talk about resurrection.  Resurrection is when you and I will one day hear our name, and Jesus will raise us from the grave on this renewed earth, in a physical body, like the body He had when He was resurrected.  He’s simply the “first fruits” of what you and I will eventually step into.  You will get a physical body.  You will be YOU.  There will be things about YOU that are recognizable.  {Maybe the things you don’t like will be negotiable.  I’m not sure!} But you’ll have a very real, resurrected body.  Jesus eats.  Jesus high fives his disciples.  Jesus walks through walls.  You figure it out, I don’t know.  But it’s a physical body.  That is the hope of followers of Jesus.  It’s why Jesus’s followers have been accused of being materialistic—we believe that ‘matter’ lasts forever.  That God looks on his creation and goes, “It’s so good, I refuse to let it go.”

So…what happens after we die?  I’m going to focus mostly on Phase 1, but if you want to read about Phase 2, you can read Revelation 21 and 22.  You can read the last portion of the book of Isaiah (60-66).  These are “new heaven/new earth” passages.  For those of us who have lost loved ones recently….what are they doing?  Where are they?  The Apostle Paul gives us this hint in 2 Corinthians 5:8 — We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.  He says this again, in writing to the church at Philippi (1:23) — I am torn between the two: {Between living and ministering to you and this church and dying and going home to be with Jesus.} I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far. 

Here’s the truth, friends, we don’t know a lot, but we do know this: Heaven will be defined by God’s presence.  And in His presence will be joy unspeakable.  God is THE most joyful being ever, in all of creation!  We will be in His presence.  Heaven will not be boring.  Heaven will not be depressing.  Heaven’s the absence of everything bad, everything painful, everything evil.  It’s the presence of everything good, and of everything holy, and everything glorious.  {Look up at me for a second.}  That is wonderful news…..IF…..and only if, we want what’s beautiful, what’s holy, what’s glorious, what’s pure, what’s true, what’s righteous.  Here’s the way Gary Moon says it.  It’s a really fascinating idea:  “Not only will death not separate us from God, it will usher us into his presence.  Some have suggested that the fires of heaven are twice as hot as the fires of hell — because we will be in the inescapable presence of God and the immanence of truth as an all-permeating, falsehood undermining, fear-eradicating and evil obliterating actuality.”  OH! Come on, Gary!  Here’s what he’s saying:  If we want to hold onto our evil, if we want to hold onto our violence, if we want to hold onto our unjustness, then heaven might feel a little bit like hell…because the glory and beauty and perfection of God will shine on us in heaven.

The Prophet Isaiah gets this.  You just have to read through Isaiah 6:3-7 and he has this vision into the heavenly realm.  The angels are singing holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, the whole earth (everything) is bathed in your glory.  Then he goes, “Oh crud! What am I doing here?!”  For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.  Catch this:  An angel comes and takes this coal, flies over and sears his lips.  Heaven is a place where evil is exposed and eradicated, in the presence of God.

Heaven is a place where, if we haven’t grown to love Jesus’s way and cherish his love, life in his presence might feel a little bit like hell.  Dallas Willard used to say, “I’m quite sure that God will allow everyone into heaven who can possibly stand it.”  Because it’s about being with God—holy, pure.  It’s the surrender that allows us to enter into His presence.   You want to prepare for heaven?  You should want to, if you plan on being there FOREVER.  The main way you prepare for heaven is by beginning to live in his kingdom now.  Learning to cultivate life with Jesus.  Prepare for heaven by saying, “God, I don’t like that I’m an angry person.”  Prepare for heaven by saying:  This lust needs to get out of my life.  Prepare for heaven by praying for those who persecute you, and loving even your enemies.  Prepare for heaven by seeking the heart and way of Jesus.  Because as Jesus says:  Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3)   That’s eternal life!  GOD.

So what will we do in heaven? We get a number of pictures in Revelation 4 and 5.  This isn’t resurrection yet — current heaven, “temporary heaven,” heaven right now.   Revelation 5:13 says — Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”   We have some scenes where it says that people sing in heaven, and others, if you don’t like singing, this should give you a little bit of solace, a little bit of encouragement, some people just “say” it.  They’re declaring praise.  We have other passages that say….on repeat is this anthem:  Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come. (Rev. 4:8)   Timeout!  Let’s just break out of sermon-mode for a second and let your imagination just go there.  That scene is happening RIGHT. THIS. MOMENT.  They’re gathered!  They’re worshiping!

I don’t think it’s going to be like some cosmic, divine, unending church service.  Some of you might be going, “Praise God!”  Ryan, your sermons are long, but an eternal sermon?  Dear Lord!  We need to break worship out of what just happens here, if we’re going to have a view of heaven.  Have you ever climbed a 14-er for sunrise?  As the sun crept over the horizon, you just got chills that just went down over your whole body.  You had this realization like God, we were created for beauty and for moments like this.  Or maybe you dug your toes into the sand, looking over at the Pacific Ocean, as the sun took a dive down over the horizon and was an explosion of color, and you went, oh God, thank you!  Maybe you gathered around a long table with really good food and really good drinks and you had a conversation with people….and there wasn’t any bickering or arguing—I know it sounds weird and impossible.  You got done with dinner and said, “God, it’s moments like that that we were created for.”  You know what we call that when we respond by saying God, thank you?  That’s called worship.

Heaven is a place of worship. It’s a place where we get to experience things like sunrises on mountains, and things like beaches, and things like great meals with good friends and good conversation.  It places where we get to experience the things in this earth where we go, man, that’s beautiful and that’s amazing.  God says that’s just a shadow of what’s to come.  Heaven’s not less real than earth, heaven is MORE real.  We’ll just have the awareness that God is the giver of it all.  Everything we do and everything we enjoy will be worship.  It’s not one cosmic, unending worship service, it’s LIFE, with the Giver of it at the center and our hearts recognizing this is GIFT.  Heaven will be a place that is filled with worship.

So here’s a question many people ask:  Will we do anything other than sing?  {Sorry, Aaron.}  Yes! We will.  Worship is always more than singing, it’s rarely less, but it’s always more.  What will we do in addition to sing?  Revelation 6:9-11 has this short stanza that gives us this picture of what’s happening in the heavenly realm.  Have you wondered what’s going on up there, other than worship?  Here’s a little bit of a hint:  When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God {Just a quick timeout.  So these people carry the identity that they had on earth into heaven.  They are who they were.  You are who you will be.  The only thing you take into heaven is the person that you’re becoming.  Which should make our formation all the more important, should it not?  The only thing we take into heaven is who we are becoming.} and the testimony they had maintained. {So people are looking at them in heaven and going their faith is unbelievable, unreal!}  They called out in a loud voice, {So, they gave their life for the gospel and now they’ve been healed.  So there’s healing in heaven.  They’re raising their voice again in heaven.  But then they’re doing this…}  “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 

Some people picture heaven like, you die and God sort of wipes out your brain, puts some sort of heaven-chip in you and you’re like, I get it all now.  Wonderful!  Great!  I understand everything!  For those of us who are learners, for those of us who love books and love growing, I’m going, that doesn’t sound like heaven to me.  I want to explore.  I want to learn.  I want to grow!  Good news!  You will!  These folks, these martyrs, are looking on at God and they’re saying, God, I don’t get it.  I don’t understand.  Why aren’t you avenging the evil that’s being done?  Which is also an interesting statement because one of the main questions we have for God now is why do you allow evil to continue to exist?  You know what one of the main questions for God in heaven is?  Why do you allow evil to continue to exist?  We don’t get it.  So when you get to heaven—catch this—you will be sinless, covered by the blood of Jesus, redeemed to step into his presence, BUT you WILL be incomplete.  Jesus was sinless, yes?  The Scriptures say really clearly in Hebrews 5:8 — …he learned obedience from what he suffered….   He’s perfect and sinless, yet he’s learning.  He’s learning his entire life.  In heaven, you’ll be learning, you’ll be exploring, you will be growing, you will be changing, you’ll be developing more and more into the image of God.

{Revelation 6:11}  These people have desires —  Then each of them was given a white robe, {So they have some sort of physicality, or this is just a picture, a metaphor, that’s being painted.} and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.  How many of you have been told heaven is outside the realm of time?  I was told that.  Turns out, not the case.  They are told to wait in heaven.  If there’s no time, what are they waiting for?  Not only that—but catch this—but these martyrs, these people that have lost their lives, are in heaven and they’re able to look down on what’s going on on earth. They’re able to see it and go, God, we don’t get it!  And he tells them to trust him and wait.  That’s his answer.  But they can see what’s going on.  They’re healed.  They have desire and longing.

Eventually, one day, in the new heaven and new earth, in the resurrected bodies, we will get to participate with God in the ruling and sort of caring of his creation in the way that Adam and Eve and you and I were always designed to do.  We’ll be caretakers that move forward the glory and name and beauty of God for all of eternity.  We will WORK, one day, in new heaven and new earth. We will take the gifts that God’s planted inside of us and surrender them to his glory and his name and he will use those to beautify and accentuate his creation.  YES!  I don’t know if that happens in temporary heaven……I sort of picture my mom, who was this crafter and she just loved making stuff.  I just wonder….December 1, she will have been in heaven for five years….I wonder if she’s been working on quilts or blankets to give to her family when they get there.  She collected junk and made beautiful things out of it down here.  I’m not sure if she can find junk in heaven, but I’m pretty sure she’s creating, because that’s who she was.  And who she was is who she IS.  If I could summarize what heaven would be like in one word, it’ll be…..we will LIVE.  Heaven will be enriched through our participation.  Dallas Willard said, “When we each enter eternity, we will only take one thing with us, and it’s the most valuable asset we ever possess: the sum of our life.”  Who we are becoming.

{I’m running out of time.}  One of the questions I get often is will we remember things in heaven?  Here’s the deal:  You and I—2 Corinthians 5:10—will stand before the judgment seat of God to give an account of our life, to give an account with what we did with the gift that we call life. You will have to remember things at that point.  I will submit to you, our memory in heaven is way better than our memory is now.  It will not be worse, it will actually be better.  But the other question we often wrestle with is will we remember people in heaven?  Will there be reunions?  Just read 1 Thessalonians 4.  It says that together we will be called up to meet with God, where we will together worship him.  Heaven is the place of togetherness.  It’s enriched through participation and it’s deepened through relationships.

It was an astounding discovery to me, in reading through Genesis 1 and 2……you have this rhythm in Genesis 1.  God creates and it’s good, God creates and it’s good, and at the end of his creation, he creates and it’s very good.  Then we read in Genesis 2, whoa, whoa, whoa…..it’s not good.  Before sin enters the world, He goes, it’s not good.  What’s not good?  That Adam (or human) would be alone.  Now, if it’s not good for human beings to be alone on earth, is it good for them to be alone in heaven?  No!  You are who you are and you will be who you will be.  It’s not good here and it’s not good there.  Heaven will not be solitary confinement.  Heaven will be relationship, restored and whole and beautiful and new.  For some of us, we might get there and we might see people we thought, “I didn’t think you were going to be here…and I owe you an apology.”  I’m serious.  It’s not that there won’t be baggage that we carry in, it’s just that we will see God in a way that will allow us to receive His forgiveness and also extend it to others.  There will be reconciliation because there will be justice.

Finally, what will heaven feel like?  I don’t know exactly, but Jesus says this:  Do not let your hearts be troubled.  {Jesus, that’s easy for you to say.  He says back to you, “Actually, I’m walking to the cross.  It’s not as easy as you think.”}  You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:1-3)  Heaven will feel like that pair of jeans that you put on and go, that fits just right!  {Pre-Thanksgiving jeans!}  Heaven will feel like finally coming home. That’s what it will feel like.  The comfort, the welcome, the place that you can be yourself.  Ideally, home is the place where you come just as you are, and you are loved extravagantly, and beautifully.  That’s what heaven will be.  It’ll be the place that shines on all of our imperfections and refines them and reshapes them.  Where we let go of all the things that prevented us from walking with God.  Heaven will be great meals, good friends, amazing conversations, all based around God’s presence with us.  I love the way that Donald Bloesch put it:  “Our greatest affliction is not anxiety, or even guilt, but rather homesickness—a nostalgia or ineradicable yearning to be at home with God.”  If you’ve ever desire…..like after a long trip or vacation, I just can’t wait to be home.  To sleep in my own bed.  To eat my own food.  To just have our own place.  That’s what heaven will be like.  We’ve tasted shadows here, but there we will experience it fully.  The world says you can never go home again.  God says you never have to leave home!

I read this quote this week that grabbed my heart:  I’ve never been to Heaven, but I miss it.  Eden is in our bones.  Heaven is in our bones.  I believe that every person in this room—lean in with me for just one more moment—was created for this.  That as we talk about heaven, even if you don’t believe it, you want to.  There’s something transcendent about being human that recognizes that we were never meant to die; we were meant for life eternal and life with God.  But just like in the Garden, God gives Adam and Eve the choice:  Are you going to choose to live in relationship with me, or are you going to choose to reject me and go your own way and do your own thing?  God has not changed; He still gives you and I the choice.  The choice now is based on Jesus’s life, death, burial and resurrection, where He, through His own body and blood, is reuniting heaven and earth, bringing the two back together.  I think if He were here today and He was giving a message on heaven, here’s what He’d say — Repent.  Turn.  You don’t have to live with your hell, now or in eternity.  Repent.  The kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, is at hand.  I’ve done everything you need to usher you into my presence.  Will you let go of your hells and enter into my kingdom?

I love the way C.S. Lewis said it:  “I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”  My prayer is you’ve been encouraged to press on and that you’d encourage others to do the same.  Home, friends, is waiting, and his name is Jesus.  Let’s pray.

So Jesus, we can’t wrap our minds around what that experience and life will be like.  We only know that it will be life more abundant, more full, and more real than anything we’ve ever dreamed of tasting here and now.  We just want to say thank you for creating us for that glory and for redeeming us and for making it possible through your life, death, burial, resurrection, that this new world is now crashing into existence and we want to let go of everything that will hinder us from walking into your kingdom, both now and forever.  We want you, Jesus.  We want life.  We want love.  We want peace.  We want goodness.  We want wholeness.  We want joy unending, unspeakable in your presence.  We want it!  Stir our hearts to want it more.  In Jesus’s name, we pray.  Amen.