“There Is Hope”
April 25, 2007
What is Heaven?
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to John, the Gospel of John. I think it’s appropriate for us to begin our thinking about heaven from Jesus’ own words as He speaks on the night of His betrayal, the night before His kangaroo-court trial and crucifixion. He speaks words of comfort to His disciples, and in the course of those words He speaks to them about heaven, and the way He speaks about heaven to them is important and instructive. We’re going to give it some attention. John, chapter fourteen, and we’re going to look at the first few verses.
Before we read God’s word, let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for the privilege of coming together over the last weeks and considering the last things. We ask that by Your Spirit You would prepare us for that great Day, and that by Your grace we would rest and trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel, that we might dwell in Your presence with joy forevermore. Now open our eyes to behold wonderful things from this Your word. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
John 14, beginning in verse 1:
“Let not your heart be troubled…”
(I cannot resist, but to remark that Jesus Christ is on the verge of the most troubling event in all of human history, and He is the focal point, and what is He thinking about? He’s thinking about your heart not being troubled. I think that tells you something about your Lord. And so when you face troubles and you wonder where God is, where Christ is, in the midst of your anguished cries in the middle of the night, I just want you to remember that our Lord Jesus Christ, when He was facing the single most troubled event in the history of the universe, in the history of humanity, in the history of His own life and ministry, is thinking about His disciples’ comfort and peace.)
“ ‘Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.’ Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we do not know where You are going; how do we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.’”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant word.
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus, on the night of His betrayal, when He Himself is facing the prospect of receiving in Himself all of the penalty of all His people’s sin for all time, that He’s thinking about heaven and that He wants His disciples to be thinking about heaven?
You know, Jonathan Edwards made it a practice to meditate on heaven at least twenty minutes every day, and he often said that it was that meditation upon heaven that gave him strength to live the Christian life. I wonder how many more of us would live more hopeful and fruitful lives if our thoughts, if our meditations were more often on heaven.
We often say ‘This person is too heavenly minded to be any earthly good,’ and someone was saying to me the last time that we spoke on this particular subject…he was saying to me this wonderful statement of John Stott, that God enables us to do spiritually what we could not do physically: that is, to live with one eye on the past, remembering what God has already done for us, and with one eye on the future. We literally couldn’t do that physically. We can’t look backwards and forwards physically at the same time. But what Stott says is that God enables us to do spiritually what we could not do physically — to have one eye on the past and one eye on the future; one eye on what God has already done for us, and one eye on what God is doing for us in the future.
And it’s so interesting, isn’t it, that as the disciples are themselves about to face a tremendous faith crisis–their whole world is going to collapse in the next 24 hours, and Jesus knows it–they don’t have a clue, but Jesus knows, and so He’s trying to prepare them for it. And what does He tell them that He wants them to do? He wants them to know what He is going to do.
You see, they’re going to look at the cross, and they’re going to think — what? Something’s gone wrong! This shouldn’t be happening! Jesus should be being crowned King. He should be running the Romans out of Israel and re-reestablishing the kingdom of David! Something’s gone wrong. And the whole message of the upper room to the disciples from Jesus is ‘Understand that what happens to Me tomorrow is not an accident. It is My Father’s design, and it is My choice what happens to Me tomorrow.’
It’s so important for you to understand that Jesus, though He was killed unlawfully, was not murdered in the way that we normally use the word murder. Usually when we speak about murder, we speak about a victim who was at the mercy of an evil perpetrator who did a wicked deed which that innocent victim was unprepared for, incapable of stopping, totally out of control in that circumstance. You understand that what Jesus is saying to His disciples is that ‘Nothing that happens to Me tomorrow has happened apart from My choice of it; and nothing that happens to Me tomorrow has happened apart from the Father’s own appointment of it. And furthermore,’ He says to them, ‘while the world may see Me defeated on that cross, you need to understand that the place that I’m going from that cross is to the Father’s house, and I’m going to the Father’s house to get things ready for you’–so that everything that Jesus is doing is filled with purpose for the disciples.
Think how comforted they could have been if they had only understood what Jesus was saying to them. Think how comforted you can be if you will only understand what Jesus is saying to all who rest and trust in Him. Where is Jesus right now? He is preparing your home, if you trust in Him. That’s what He’s doing right now. Don’t think of Jesus indolently lazing around, eating grapes on some cloud in the sky. Jesus is at work right now. He is leading the greatest task force ever assembled in the history of the world, preparing your home. That’s what He tells you. That’s what He tells the disciples: “I am going to prepare a place for You.”
And then He says, ‘Disciples, understand that if this were not the truth, I wouldn’t have told you.’ In other words, Jesus is saying, ‘This is not some “pie in the sky by and by” scheme; this is not some “wish fulfillment” scheme; I am capable of looking into your eyes and telling you the truth, and I’m telling you the truth: that where I’m going, I’m going to prepare for you.’ And of course, in light of the fact that everything else that Jesus told His disciples turned out to be true, that adds a significant amount of credibility to this particular claim, doesn’t it? Jesus had told His disciples, ‘You tear this temple down, I’ll raise it up in three days.’ And He was crucified, dead, and buried. But on the third day He did, in fact, come alive. He was raised again from the dead. And so over and over Jesus demonstrated His words to the disciples, and these words, “I go to prepare a place for you, and I will come again and receive you to Myself,” have all the more credibility because everything else that He said to the disciples came true.
And then He says, ‘And you know the way where I’m going.’ And Thomas, on behalf of the other disciples, blurts out, ‘Lord, no, we don’t. We don’t have a clue! We don’t know where You’re going, we don’t know what You’re talking about, and so of course we don’t know how to get there!’ And Jesus’ response is, ‘Sure you do. I am the way.’ How similar that is to what He had just said three chapters earlier to Martha: ‘Martha, I am the resurrection and the life.’ He’s focusing all their faith on what? On Him. ‘Your hope for going to that place that I am preparing in the Father’s house for you is Me, and Me alone.’ And then He says those words: ‘No man comes to the Father except by the Son. But all who come by the Son come to the Father.’ And so He gives these tremendously encouraging words to the disciples. That’s where we need to start when we think about heaven–Jesus’ own words.
I. Where is Heaven?
Now, the word heaven, both in Greek and Hebrew, is a word that can be used different ways. Sometimes in the Bible it means the sky, and so you will hear phrases like this: “The birds of the heavens…” It’s just speaking of the birds that are in the sky. Sometimes in the Bible heaven or heavens refers to the starry hosts, and so sometimes the Bible will speak of “the stars of heaven.” Then, the Hebrews and the early Christians spoke of a third heaven. That third heaven, or the heaven of heavens, is the place of God’s abode, and the Apostle Paul talks about that. If you have Bibles, let me ask you to turn with me to II Corinthians 12. The Corinthians think pretty highly of themselves spiritually. They have seen some things and understood some things, and done some things that they think nobody else has seen and done and heard, and the Apostle Paul says, ‘OK, you’re going to do some boasting, I’m going to do some boasting. Try this on for size.’ [II Corinthians 12.]
“Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago–whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows–such a man was caught up into the third heaven.”
[Now, again, that phrase third heaven means not the sky, not outer space where the stars are, but the place where God is. He was caught up into the third heaven.]
“He was caught up into Paradise,” [the Apostle Paul says in verse 4] “and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. On behalf of such a man I will boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses.”
Well, there’s the Apostle Paul speaking of the third heaven, that heaven of heavens where God dwells.
Now, the Bible uses a lot of pictures and words to describe that third heaven, the place where God dwells. Let me just rifle through some of the examples. We’ve already seen, for instance, in John 14:2, the heaven of heavensё or the third heaven, or the place where God dwells, described as what? The Father’s house. Jesus says to His disciples, ‘You need to think of the third heaven, of the place where I am going, as your Father’s house.’ Now, my friends, there is so much in that we could spend the rest of our time just thinking about that, but I’m reminded of one of my favorite paraphrases of the twenty-third Psalm. It’s Isaac Watts’ paraphrase of the twenty-third Psalm, and when he gets down to the final stanza of a very short Psalm that we all know and love so well, this is how he paraphrases it:
“There would I find a settled rest,
While others go and come;
Not as a stranger, or a guest,
But like a child at home.”
Then see how he paraphrases:
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in Your house forever.”
[“There would I find a settled rest,
While others go and come;
Not as a stranger, or a guest,
But like a child at home.”]
And so heaven, the heaven of heavens, the place of God’s dwelling is called for the believer the Father’s house.
It’s also called Paradise. You’ve heard the Apostle Paul use that language for it in
II Corinthians 12, but you could also find that in Luke 23:43, and in Revelation 2:7. It is called the heavenly Jerusalem in Galatians 4:26 and in Revelation 3:12, and in Hebrews 12:22. The heaven of heavens, the place of God’s abode, is called the heavenly Jerusalem. It’s called the eternal kingdom by Peter, in II Peter 1:11. It’s called the eternal inheritance in I Peter 1:4, and in Hebrews 9:15. It’s called a better country in Hebrews 11:14 and 16.
We are said to ‘sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’; ‘to be in Abraham’s bosom’; and ‘to reign with Christ’ and to ‘rest in heaven’ in Luke 16:22, and Matthew 8:11, and II Timothy 2:12, and in Hebrews 4:10-11.
In heaven the blessedness that we enjoy will consist of the righteous possessing life everlasting, says Paul in II Corinthians 4:17, and in an exemption from all evils forever. We will never again be in the society of the wicked, Paul tells us in II Timothy 4:18, and there will be bliss without end, fullness of joy forever. And as we’ve already indicated, this heaven is not only a state of blessedness, it is a place which Christ has prepared for blessedness. And so to think of heaven as a place, though it could mislead us, is in fact a biblical way of thinking of heaven.
Heaven appears in the Bible as a spatial reality. It is a place. It can be located. You ask me ‘Where is heaven?’ and my answer is “It is where Christ is at the right hand of the Father.” And you say, ‘Where is that?’ And I say, “That’s where heaven is!”
Now, that obviously means that there are questions that I can’t answer, but the Big Question, I can. Heaven is where my Savior is. Heaven is where the One who has saved me and the One in whom I delight above everyone else is, and so I really don’t care where it is, as long as I’m there with Him and with all those who love Him.
II. What is Heaven like?
Now, Scripture teaches us to think about heaven in the following three ways.
First of all, the Bible asks us to extrapolate from our less than perfect relationship that we now have in this world with God our Father, and Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and with other Christians, and with this beautiful created world, and it asks us to extrapolate from that experience to a perfect relationship free from all limitations, frustrations, and failure.
For instance, let’s go back to the image that I was just talking about, the picture of the Father’s house. Now for many of you that very image will bring back some of the most precious treasured remembrances of your entire life–of being home with your father. My father died in 1992, and the world has never been the same for me. In some ways, I feel lost in this world, and the thought of being back in his house is one of the most delightful thoughts that I can conceive, and the Bible asks us to extrapolate from that less than perfect experience to the perfect experience of being in our Father’s house. But for some of you, your memories of your father’s house are not good. Well, I’ve got some good news for you. All you have to do is extrapolate in reverse. For in every way, your dwelling in your father’s house fell short of blessedness, your Father’s house in heaven will not. It will be everything that you always longed for, but never experienced. And so the Bible asks us to think about our earthly experience of fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and with believers in Christ, and with our experience in this beautiful created but fallen world, and extrapolate from that to our experience of God in heaven.
Secondly, the Bible asks us to think about our life, and eliminate from it all forms of pain, evil, conflict, and distress like we experience on earth, and then think ‘That’s what heaven is going to be like.’ Now, John does this explicitly, doesn’t he, in the Book of Revelation. He says things like “…There will be no more tears, or sorrow, or death, or pain, or night.” What’s John asking you to do? Think of a world with no sin, no tears, no sorrow, no betrayal, no disappointment, no failure, no rebellion, no death. That’s what heaven is going to be like. And you’ll find as you begin to meditate on these that as much light as you have, you will continually come back and say to the Lord, ‘Lord, I can’t imagine me without sin, because I’ve never known me without sin.’ And the Scripture simply comes back to us and says, ‘Believe it, because you’re going to know a world where there is no sin in you or anyone else. You’re going to know a world where there is no suffering in you or anyone else. You’re going to know a world where there is no sorrow in you or anyone else. You’re going to know a world in which there is no death in you or anyone else.’ And so the Bible asks us to think about our life now lived for God, but with all forms of pain and evil and conflict and distress as we experience here on earth removed.
Thirdly, the Bible asks us to enrich our thoughts of heaven by adding every conception of excellence and God-given enjoyment that we know. And think of how John does this in Revelation. Turn with me there. Turn with me to Revelation, chapter seven, and take a look at verse thirteen:
“One of the elders answered, saying to me, ‘These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and from where have they come?’ And I said to him, ‘My lord, you know.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne shall spread His tabernacle over them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall guide them to springs of the water of life; and God shall wipe every tear from their eyes.”
Those verses appear on the bottom of a monument in a graveyard in Edinburgh, Scotland. They are at the bottom of a monument that was erected to honor 18,000 Presbyterians who were killed by the government in Scotland from 1660 to 1688, because of their quest for religious freedom. Eighteen thousand…many of them, their bodies were dumped into this common grave over which this monument was erected…and think of it…for each of them, this reality…the monument is affirming this hope and promise for all who rest and trust in Jesus Christ.
Another example of this, if you’ll turn back with me to the Gospel of Luke and the twelfth chapter, as we think about the excellencies and the greatest God-given enjoyments that we know, let me zero in on four aspects of the constant joy of heaven’s life for the redeemed.
III. In Heaven the redeemed will have no pain…only joy.
First of all, in heaven our greatest joy will be that we have a vision of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Peter talks about the fact that though we have not seen Him, yet we love Him. Though you and I have not seen the Lord Jesus Christ, yet we love Him, and we will see Him face to face. One day we will behold what He is like. We will see Him. And this is the greatest joy of heaven. John speaks of this in Revelation 22:4.
Second, there there is also this great joy that we will have in heaven when we benefit from the on-going experience of Christ’s love as He ministers to His people.
One of my professors was reading the Gospel of Luke, and he came to Luke 12:37, and as he was reading it, he couldn’t believe what he was reading. And so he went to his dear friend, Wilbur Wallace, the father of Grace Marsh, who was a professor of New Testament there at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, and he said, “Wilbur, does this verse mean that at the marriage supper of the Lamb in heaven that Jesus Christ is going to serve me at that marriage feast?”
“Blessed are those slaves whom the master shall find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at table, and will come up and wait on them.”
Now when was the last time that happened? It was in the upper room, and Jesus took off His outer garments and He girded Himself as a slave, and He washed His disciples’ feet. And Luke is saying that at the marriage supper of the Lamb, your Lord and Savior is going to gird Himself and have you recline at His table and He is going to serve you.]
And my professor said to Dr. Wallace, “Dr. Wallace! Does this mean that Jesus is going to serve you and me?” And Dr. Wallace simply said, “Bob, did you ever think that there would be a time when you didn’t need Jesus to serve you?”
So for all of you who have known the ministry of Christ in this world in your deepest hour of need, you need only to think beyond that excellency to the greatness of the excellency of your Savior in perfection serving you again at His wedding feast. It’s not my word; it’s His word to you that assures you of that. This is not me speculating; these are the words of Jesus Christ to you, His disciples: ‘Trust in Me, and I will serve you. You will recline at My table, and I will give you everything that you need.’
Thirdly, the Bible makes it clear that our fellowship with loved ones and the whole body of the redeemed will be without reservation. So many of you have asked over the course of the last five weeks, “Will I know my loved ones?” Emphatically, yes! Is there any way I can say it any stronger than that? Emphatically, yes! You understand that it’s you who is being redeemed. Yes, you will be given a glorified body, but we are given every indication by God in the Scripture that whatever the shape of that glorified body–I mean, you know we ask the questions, ‘Will I be 30? Will I still have my double chin? And be about eight suit sizes too large? You know, am I finally going to be svelte, like I always wanted to be?’ Well, I have no idea as to the answer to those questions! You know, little children that go to be with the Lord…how old are they going to be in heaven? Aged saints, who go to be with the Lord, what’s their glorified body going to be like? All I know is this: it’s going to be better than you could possibly imagine. It’s the only thing that I can assure you. It’s going to be better than anything that you imagine.
Question: But will you recognize one another?
Answer: Yes. Think of this picture. Jesus, on the Mount of Transfiguration…Peter, the other disciples…and who shows up? Moses and Elijah. Now let me ask you a question. How many people there on the Mountain of Transfiguration had ever seen Moses and Elijah before? One! Jesus! OK. But Peter and the rest of them immediately know who’s there. That will be how it is for all the saints. You will know saints that you’ve never known before, in heaven. You’ll have never laid eyes on them, and you’ll love them like brothers and sisters in Christ. You’ll delight in the things that they’ve done for the Lord. You’ll spend eternity finding out the things that they have done for the glory of the kingdom of God, and you will be proud like they are your own kin, because you know what? They are. All your brothers and sisters that you’ve never met before.
Mothers, you’re going to get to heaven and you’re going to find out about children that you never met. Never met…your womb was their earthly grave, but in heaven you will know them in all their potentiality, in all their God-glorifying uniqueness. You’ll know them. You’ve never known them here, but you’ll be able to call them by name, and they’ll be able to call you by name.
Our fellowship with our loved ones in the whole body of the redeemed will be part of that incomparable excellency of heaven.
Finally, there is the continued growth and maturing and learning, and enrichment of abilities, and enlargement of powers that God has in store for you. Heaven will not be a place of indolence, but of industry.
You know, work was not one of the curses of the fall, but the toil and frustration of work was. Now you will work and you will never be frustrated. Now you will work in a perfect setting and condition. Now every ounce of effort that you expend in your labor will come to fruition. It will not be a place where we’re floating around on clouds eating grapes. Will we be taking over the cosmos as it’s regenerated by God’s refining fire? I don’t know, but we will be at work, loving it! And our work will be to us as rest, it will be so blessed.
There will be no unfulfilled desires in heaven.
Question: Will there be degrees of blessedness and reward in heaven?
Answer: Yes. Yes. Paul assures us of this, but two things need to be understood about these rewards.
First of all, when God rewards us, He is rewarding us for His gifts to us, in us. In that sense you understand that not only heaven but the rewards of heaven are unfair. Hell–that’s fair. But heaven–that’s unfair. So I’ll take it! Don’t give me fair; give me grace. And here’s the blessing: Those rewards are God’s crowning of His own gifts in us and to us. Nothing that we do for God in this world can we really ultimately take credit for, but He’s going to reward us anyway. Pretty good deal!
Secondly, the essence of every reward that every Christian receives will be more of what we desire. And what is that? The glorifying and enjoying of God. The result of every gift will be more of what we desire above everything else, and what is that? The glorifying and enjoying of God in Christ Jesus.
So the life of heavenly glory is a compound of seeing God in and through Christ; of being loved by the Father and the Son, through the Spirit; of rest and work of praise and worship; of fellowship with the Lamb and with all His people; and it will never end. John stresses this. Jesus stresses this. John, in Revelation 22:5 — It will never, ever end.
Are there a handful of things and times in your experience when you can remember saying to yourself, “I wish this would never end”? Maybe it was a Sunday afternoon, watching your little children play in the back yard…just being with them. And all the heartaches of life to come were a distant, distant thought, and you’re just relishing that moment, and you thought to yourself, “I wish that this would never end.” Well, in heaven, it won’t. You know, the one thing about those moments in this life is when we think “I wish that this would never end” it invariably does.
But in heaven the heart of the redeemed will say “I wish that this could go on forever” and it will.
IV. In Heaven there is a Mediator…In Hell there is no Mediator.
Now there’s one last thing. We’ve already spoken of the horrors of the alternative to heaven, but there is perhaps one more thing we need to say about hell. And it’s surprising, because so often we speak of hell as a place where God is not. But let me say something provocative. Hell is eternity in the presence of God. Heaven is eternity in the presence of God, with a Mediator. Hell is eternity in the presence of God, being fully conscious of the just and holy and righteous and good and kind and loving heavenly Father’s disapproval of your rebellion and your wickedness and your sin. Heaven is dwelling in the conscious awareness of the holy and righteous and just and good heavenly Father, but doing so through a Mediator who died in your place, Who absorbed the fullness of the penalty of your sin, Who totally eradicated sin from your life and stood you before God with great glory, and knowing that you are fully accepted by that God and that He fully delights in you because of Jesus Christ.
Hell is eternity in the presence of God. Heaven is eternity in the presence of God with a Mediator. As Paul would say, “The Man, Christ Jesus…Jesus the Messiah.”
Now we have time for a few questions.
Question: I wonder, I want to know if as a Christian you go to heaven, and people will be recognized, you say; and you have someone that you had in Sunday School…you tried to help become a Christian, and you know, never did accept Christ…will you feel that void…?
Answer: Oh, that’s so good! Let me repeat that question, because, oh! is this on our minds! You know, we go to heaven, and there’s someone that we so deeply loved in this world, and we faithfully bore witness to Christ to this person. It was our great desire that they would come to
know Jesus Christ savingly. What happens if we go to heaven and we don’t find them there?
I’ve got to tell you two stories in answer to this great question. One is a story of one of my great heroes, Douglas MacMillan. Douglas grew up in a Christian home in Scotland. He grew up in Ardnamurchan in the west of Scotland, near Mull, and he rejected Christ as a teenager. He had a communist teacher in his secondary school, a Marxist that convinced him to reject Christianity, and he did so. And his mother and his father faithfully prayed for him And finally, his mother was diagnosed with cancer; and during her last weeks of life, Douglas tells the story of how he would be out late drinking and dancing and carousing, and would come in at one or two or three in the morning. And the pain of her cancer was so great that for the last few months of her life, she really couldn’t sleep, and so she would stay up at night downstairs in their home, and she would sing to herself, or read, or do something to take her mind off of the pain. And he would often come in late at night and hear his mother singing Psalms downstairs, so that it didn’t disturb her husband and the rest of the household. And every once in a while she would ask Douglas to read the Bible to her. Now, she liked to hear the Bible read to her, but she had an agenda! She would pick the passages: “Douglas, I want you to read such and such to me.” And a week before she died, she said, “Douglas, I want you to come read John 14:1-6 for me.” And he read. He got down to verse 6, and she said, “That’s enough, Douglas.” And he said, “Well, Mom, I could read more.” And she said, “No, that’s enough, Douglas.” And she said, “Douglas, I just have one thing I want to tell you. Very soon I am going to be in that place that Jesus has prepared for me. And I just have one question for you, son. Will you meet me there?”
Now, Douglas…let me tell you, Douglas said he hardened his heart against that call, that tender call from his mother. It was not until several years later, after she died, that the Lord got a hold of him, so she never knew in this life that the Lord had done a work in his heart. Now, they’re together now, because Douglas died of a heart attack just a few years ago.
But he, through …well, it’s a really interesting story how he became a Christian. A pastor came to his village who looked like Douglas’ hero, a man named Freddie Patterson, who was the boxing champion of Britain. Douglas was a big strapping man. He was a shepherd. He could probably have picked up about four sheep, you know, just in his arms! So this pastor came to town and looked just like his boxing hero, and Douglas wanted to fight him. And the pastor took no guff off of Douglas, and just stayed after him. One day he was driving down the street and Douglas was walking back to his cottage at the farm land, and the pastor stopped and offered him a ride. Douglas got in the car, and the pastor said, “Haven’t seen you at church lately, Douglas.” And Douglas made up some story. And the pastor just said, “You’re a liar.” And that really got through to Douglas! He needed somebody to just be blunt! And the Lord used this guy to bring him to faith in Christ.
But I was so struck by the fact that Douglas could say that even with his mother giving as tender and an importunate call to faith in Christ, he hardened his heart to that. We face this in life all the time.
Here’s the second story. I’ve told you, I think, before…maybe even in this group…the story of Sam Rowan, Professor of Missions at Reformed Theological Seminary, whose father… Sam had grown up in an unbelieving home, and his father was a nominal Roman Catholic, never cared about going to church, didn’t take the family to church. Sam grew up “nothing,” but grew up on the streets in Philadelphia, and he was a tough kid, and came to faith in college or shortly thereafter, and eventually entered into the ministry and spent much of his life witnessing to his dad. And finally, in the last six months of his dad’s life, his dad started showing some interest in the gospel but died before ever giving any indication to Sam of whether he had embraced Christ or not. And Sam, in the very first sermon that he preached at Reformed Theological Seminary…[I did tell you this story, and I’m going to tell you the rest of the story.] The very first sermon that he preached, he said, “I don’t know where my father is, but I do know that wherever he is, whatever God has done is right.”
Now that will in fact be the heart of everyone in heaven, because God’s judgment will result (and we talked a little bit about this last time)…God’s judgment will result in everybody in the world, in heaven and in hell, having to assent to the fact that God has done everything justly and rightly. There’s been nothing unjust, unfair, unkind, unworthy, or immoral. Everything in God’s judgment will be confessed by everyone to be perfect.
And so for those of us in heaven, even the things that break our heart now to think of–a loved one not being there with us–we will recognize in the words of the song for the first time fully, that “Whatever My God Ordains is Right.”
For one thing, we will be able to look back on the grand sweep of everything that God has done, and we will, from a vantage point that we’ve never had before, be able to say, “Oh! That’s what God was doing! Oh! Now I understand.” That’s not to say that we’ll understand everything, but we’ll understand more. [I mean, nobody understands everything but God, so we’ll spend eternity in heaven and we won’t know everything that God knows. You understand that. You’ll get smarter and smarter and you’ll know more and more every day in heaven, and you’ll still never be even remotely close to being as smart or knowing as much as God, OK? But you’ll know more than you’ve ever known before.] And so many of these things, we’ll look, and we’ll go, “Oh! That’s what God was doing. Now I understand that.”
Question: I’ve always thought of hell as totally being apart from God.
Answer: Paige is responding to my provocative remark that hell is eternity in the presence of God, and that heaven is eternity in the presence of God with a Mediator.
The key is the term presence. And there are two ways that the Bible uses the term presence. One is the idea of God being everywhere. That’s what we call His omnipresence. That’s because God is a spirit, He is everywhere. There is no place where He is not. Theologians sometimes call that the immensity of God. The other sense of presence, which the Bible especially uses to talk about in relation to God’s own people, is to refer to His nearness to us in our time of need.
Now, that second presence will not be enjoyed in hell. There will be no nearness in the sense of blessedness and comfort, and watch care and provision, and pouring out of grace. That will be wholly absent from hell. But there will be fires of awakened consciousness in those in hell forever, that they have been justly rejected by an almighty and perfect and loving and good and holy and righteous God. And in that sense, they will be before the Tribunal forever. OK?
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