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O Death, Where Is Your Sting? - The Power of Hoping on Heaven

‘Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.’

- Psalm 73:25 -


Do you dwell on heaven? Not just what or where it is, but how it effects our walk with God. In times of peace and prosperity, heaven easily slips from our minds. When we dine on delicacies and sleep on sheets that kings never dreamed of, our desire for heaven diminishes. We stumble into sin and, in times of trouble, we cling to a fallen world. But the remedy for this is Scripture. We must revisit God’s promises for our earthly end and renew our yearning for eternal life with Christ. Yes, death is painful. It is an enemy like no other. But for all who love Christ, death will be the last pain and final enemy (1 Cor. 15:26) on the road to never-ending joy!


 

Now, before we consider passing from this life to the next, let us gaze at our heavenly destination. Scripture is unequivocal that heaven is a real place. We read of three heavens in the Bible: the sky, outer space, and the abode of God: the focus of our study. When Paul is ‘caught up to the third heaven’ he ‘heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak’ (2 Cor. 12:2,4). Likewise, John is privileged to see and report on this third heaven, namely paradise, coming down to earth at the end of Revelation. While John is awestruck by its high walls, pearl gates, and streets of transparent gold, he marvels most of all that there is ‘no sanctuary in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its sanctuary’ (21:22).


In Scripture, heaven and our Lord Jesus Christ go together. To be in heaven is to be with Christ, and vice versa. This is why Jesus begins His ministry by preaching: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). The Son of God, the heart of heaven, is coming near to mankind to seek and save the lost, or as He puts it: “the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33). The Gospels preview heaven’s future renewing power via Christ’s miracles, much like the tabernacle was ‘a copy and shadow of the heavenly things’ (Heb. 8:5) to come. But despite Christ’s marvelous hints and images, it’s still hard to shake off or quiet our natural fear of death.



Nihilists like Woody Allen have no choice but to poke fun at their own inevitable demise, saying: “I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” And yet followers of Christ are called to reject such a hopeless view of death. Peter tells scared and scattered believers precisely why in his first epistle. He explains that our merciful, glorious God ‘has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and unfading, having been kept in heaven for you’ (1 Pet. 1:3-4). Even in times of pain and hardship, we ought to be encouraged by God’s heavenly promise!


Look at Peter’s verbs. We find that God not only ‘caused’ us to be believe, but He now ‘causes’ us to ‘hope’ in heaven. This leaves us as blessed bystanders and witnesses to God’s grace until the day of our death. Therefore, who are we to tell God that death is cruel and unfair? After all, as Peter says, our inheritance is ‘kept’ in heaven for us to ‘obtain’ when God calls us home. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul goes so far as to mock death as he now stands safe in the shadow of Christ’s saving cross. Ironically, Christ’s death deals a deathblow to death itself, and His resurrection secures our heavenly destiny. But while our future home is a settled fact, how, we ought to ask, do we actually get to heaven?



Imagine you’re taking a trip. You arrive at the airport check-in desk, but you’re the only passenger there. Security is a ghost town. So is your gate. You board an empty airplane and meet no one the entire flight. No captain. No stewardess. No one. In many ways, this is death. We enter this world alone and we leave just the same. But what if the person you loved most of all was eagerly waiting for you once you disembarked the flight? That ought to warm your heart and prevent the trip from feeling like a Twilight Zone episode, right? Well, thankfully, Jesus promises just this.


During the Last Supper, when Christ unnerves the apostles with talk of His departure, He quickly consoles them with this blessed truth: “if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself” (John 14:3). Our Savior’s promise is extended to all believers in the Book of Acts. After Stephen rebuffs blasphemy charges and condemns the corrupt Sanhedrin, his accusers resort to violence and begin ‘gnashing their teeth at him. But being full of the Holy Spirit, [Stephen] gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God”’ (7:54-56). Why, you may ask, does Stephen see Jesus standing? And why does Luke record it not once, but twice? Simple. So that we might see how Christ welcomes his own home; by stepping off His eternal throne and receiving us with open arms!



Even with a limited revelation at their disposal, Old Testament saints like Job say with faith: ‘I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will rise up over the dust of this world. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall behold God’ (19:25-26). They know without a shadow of a doubt that the Almighty eagerly waits to bring home those faithful to Him. As the one and only Creator, God is the fountainhead of life. Any and all who love Him can and will inherit that precious essence: life itself. Therefore, Jesus dashes the Sadducees’ attitude about death and heaven by informing them that the eternal Creator ‘“is not the God of the dead but of the living.” And when the crowds heard this, they were astonished at His teaching’ (Matt. 22:32-33). The Sadducees see death as the absence of life, but the opposite is true for those born again into Christ!


The crowds that Jesus preaches to here are being misled by errant shepherds who had taken their eyes off heaven to seek status and wealth in this fleeting life. Israel’s leaders were shrugging off the wisdom of Asaph, who says: ‘My flesh and my heart fail, but God is the rock of my heart and my portion forever. For, behold, those who are far from You will perish…but as for me, the nearness of God is my good’ (Ps. 73:26-28). Asaph sees the wonder of proximity to God, not just in death, but in this life also. He preempts the apostle John, who would remind his children in the faith: ‘we know that when [Christ] is manifested, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure’ (1 John 3:2-3). What a hope we have in heaven!



Throughout redemptive history, the joy of hoping on heaven has been its purifying effect on the lives of the redeemed. Therefore, Paul says: ‘if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God’ (Col. 3:1). In his ministry, the apostle to the Gentiles toils tirelessly for the Church’s sanctification because he knows heavenly eyes are the best shield against sin. None of us will ever achieve full righteousness on this side of heaven, so we must look ahead to the sweet hereafter. And when our day of inevitable departure comes, may we share Paul’s ‘desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better’ (Phil. 1:23). Amen and amen. Come Lord Jesus.

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