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What's It Like in Heaven
October 22, 1978

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

ISAIAH 65:17-25 REVELATION 21:1-7

How many of you want to go to heaven someday? Once when I was young, at an evangelistic meeting the evangelist was really laying it on heavy. And he asked, “Do you know you are going to heaven?” He scared me to death! How many of you want to go to heaven someday? What's it like? Some people spend a great deal of time thinking about heaven. Some people rarely ever think of heaven. What's it like? I think it's important to consider because in a very real sense, we live by our expectations. Our expectations direct our present. When you go to a party, if you expect to have a lousy time, chances are you'll have a lousy time. If you think the food's gonna be lousy in a restaurant, chances are it won't be much good. If you think that other people won't like you, chances are they won't. If you expect to be a failure, chances are you'll fail. Children who are taught by their parents to expect they never will amount to much probably can’t handle school, they probably can't handle life. That’s the way they live. We live by our expectations. 

Our expectations, our goals have a tremendous influence and impact on how we live our present. And not only can we look at our goal and see the influence our goal has upon the way we live, the way we think, the way we feel, our attitudes and our value systems, we can look at ourselves right now, and we can see what our expectations are. They are predictable. 

Therefore, what do you expect? What is your goal? What is that to which you are working? To what are you moving? Where are you going? Why are you working day by day? What are you thinking about? What are you feeling about? What are you making of your life? What do you expect heaven to be? Heaven is the ideal. Heaven is perfection. That's our dream. Heaven is our vision of what life is all about. Heaven is the vision to which we're going. It goes beyond death. It comes in its fulfillment, in its splendor beyond death. But, the Bible teaches that heaven begins right now. Heaven has very much to do with our day to day life and how we live it. So therefore, what you think heaven is like has a great deal to do with the way you live and act and plan now. 

So what is heaven like? When you think about heaven, you have to resort to imagery because no one has been there and returned to tell us about it, except Jesus. You have to resort to imagery because it's beyond our comprehension and beyond beyond our understanding.  Paul wrote, “What no person has conceived, what God has prepared.” So we resort to imagery. The Bible is full of images of what the kingdom of heaven is like, what life is all about, what the goals are. 

I've selected two passages this morning for us to look at. One is the familiar passage out of the book of Revelation, near the end of the Bible. John had a vision, “I see a new heaven and a new earth. I see new Jerusalem like a bride adorned for her husband.” Did you notice the similarity between that reading and the one from Isaiah? The one from Isaiah was written centuries before and John evidently used Isaiah’s image and Isaiah’s pictures to talk about heaven. 

Isaiah the prophet was writing to the people in exile. The people in Judah had been conquered, Jerusalem had been destroyed. The Babylonians carried off the leaders and most of the people out of their homes, away from their temple, away from their land to Babylon where they were exiles. Isaiah writes to these people, preaches to them. He talks to them about their dreams, their visions. He talks to them about the restoration of Jerusalem. When God will create a new heaven and a new earth, they will go home to Jerusalem. Isaiah is talking about the restoration of the actual city of Jerusalem. John picks up this imagery and applies it to heaven. Both are very appropriate for heaven has to do with us today, as much as it does with after death. Heaven has to do with visions, goals and dreams. 

From this passage, let's look at some of the things that Isaiah and John tell us what heaven is like. Heaven is a new creation and to have anything new means that something old has been disposed of. Both of these passages begin by saying, “I create a new heaven and a new earth.” Both are in the present tense, not the future. Not “I will create, but I am creating right now, a new heaven and a new earth.” And to make something new, to create new means something else has to end. 

As we read through this passage, we see several things that will end in heaven. The first, there will be no past. Both of the passages say the past will not be remembered. Both of these writers are speaking to an oppressed people, Isaiah to those who are imprisoned, and he's telling them the past will not be remembered. It'll be a new day. And John in Revelation is writing to Christians who are persecuted by the Romans, who are driven underground into the catacombs to hold their worship services. They are losing their lives, they are being martyred because of the name of Christ. And to these Christians, he writes the Book of Revelation to give them hope, to give them a vision for the future. He says the past will not be remembered. All that's troubling you, all that sorrow in you now will not be remembered. It'll be gone. The essential meaning is that there's always a chance for the new, there's always hope. There's always hope of redemption, there's always hope that people can be changed. No one is so bad, no one is in such a rut that they can't be changed. There's hope for everybody. There's hope for communities to change, there's hope for the nation to change, there's hope for the world to change. The past will be no more. There’ll be a new heaven and a new earth. That's our hope and that's a glorious hope. 

Secondly, what will end in heaven is that the sea will be no more. John wrote, “The first earth had passed away and the sea was no more.” The sea, the ocean was an enemy of ancient peoples. They didn’t have a compass. They didn’t dare go far from the shore. When the winds came up suddenly and the waves rocked and rolled, it was frightening. It's only been in modern times that people have actually loved to go sailing, to go on the ocean. There's a story told of a man back in the days when they used oars before sailing boats, when they paddled. He got so tired of the sea, he put the paddle on his shoulder and started to walk inland. They asked, “Where are you going?” He said, “I'm gonna walk. I'm gonna walk far. I'm gonna walk to the place where people ask me what that stick is on my shoulder.” 

The sea was also identified in ancient times with monsters and chaos. The first chapter of Genesis says the Lord created the earth out of the waters of chaos. God put order in the midst of chaos, in the midst of enemies, monsters, demons and devils. The sea was identified with destructive forces, and heaven, the goal of our labors, the goal of our attitudes and our value systems does away with all destructive, terrifying forces that hurt and trouble people. A vision of heaven is where all destructive forces are destroyed. 

The third thing that ends in heaven is weeping. John wrote, “God will wipe away all tears from their eyes, no more mourning, no more sadness.” Isaiah said, “No longer will the sound of weeping be heard.” All hurts, sorrows, anguish, and pain will be gone—all sickness, no illness. Banishment of pain is the goal. 

The last thing that will be banished is death. John wrote,  “No more death.” Death itself is thrown into the lake of fire. Death is banished—no more time, no more beginnings, no more endings, no more growing old, no more decaying, no more deterioration. Death, time, weeping and destructive forces will be banished. 

Not only is heaven an end of something, but in heaven living is good. Good living is for everyone. Remember those Negro spirituals? “Heaven is where I got shoes, and you've got shoes, everybody's got shoes, I’ve got clothes, you've got clothes, and all God's children got clothes.” Isaiah really elaborates on this because he's talking about the restoration of Jerusalem. He's talking to people who were taken out of their homes, taken away from their work, and his vision, his dream is a place where everyone builds their own houses and gets to live in them, where everyone plants their own vineyards and can eat their own fruits, where everyone has work, and where everyone can enjoy their work. His vision is where they will live together in peace and harmony. The wolf and the lamb will feed together, the lion will eat straw like the ox. 

A vision of what life should be is where everyone has quality of life, where everyone has their own place, where everyone has their own work, where everyone can enjoy their own work, where babies will no longer die in infancy, where people will live out their life span and live in harmony with the wolf and the lamb together. A vision of heaven is where Egypt and Israel will get along, where Syria and Jordan will live together, where the black and whites of South Africa will live together, where the communists and capitalists will live together, where we all live together in peace and harmony in brotherhood and sisterhood as a family. That's a vision of what God has created this world to be. That's what it will be like in the new heaven and the new earth where living is good for everyone. 

And lastly, in heaven God will be in the midst. God will dwell with people. God will be our God, we will be his people, and worship will be uninhibited. This is especially true in the book of Revelation. It's filled with hymns. We've lost the music, but the words are filled with worship. They had to worship in catacombs. They were forced underground, they were slaughtered, they were killed because they worshipped. And so their vision, their hope, their idea of heaven was where the ban would be lifted, and God can be worshipped in the open. They said, “There will be no darkness there. We won't need the sun because God is shining upon us in all God's glory and all God's splendor.” We don't know what it's like not to have freedom of worship, but they knew. They knew that there's something in the hearts of all of us that cries out for a relationship with our Maker, that there's a spirit within us that can only be satisfied when we relate to God in gratitude, thanksgiving and worship. They knew that to stifle that spirit is to make us something less than human. There's something in all of us that's restless until it finds rest in God, that expresses itself in worship and singing in heaven. A lot of people may be uncomfortable in heaven with all that singing. A lot of people may be uncomfortable because they've never learned to worship. People will be uncomfortable who have not learned without inhibition to let themselves go into the arms of God. People will be uncomfortable who do not know what it's like to have a few moments with God, to know that relationship, that sustaining, strengthening relationship with Christ where we walk as with a friend. People who have never had that relationship will be very uncomfortable in heaven because that's what heaven is like. God is in our midst, we sing, we worship, we know the joy of God's presence. 

So one of our tasks is to learn how to relate to God in this life. Heaven will be an uncomfortable place if we haven't learned how to worship. Remember what Jesus said about heaven, “In my Father's house there are many rooms and I go to prepare a place for you.” There’s a place for you, all prepared for you. Jesus went ahead. Jesus picked out the room. He's got it all decorated. All the rugs are picked out, it’s all painted. Whatever you want in your room, put it in your image. Jesus prepared the place. He bought it, paid for it. It's waiting for you and me. And he invites us to use it. There's a place in heaven for us, bought and paid for by Jesus, welcomed and invited by Jesus. 

Heaven is filled with singing and joy in God's presence. Heaven is where life is good for everyone. Heaven is where there's no death, no weeping, no pain. Heaven is where the past has been forgotten. All destructive forces are banished. Heaven gives us our goal for day to day living. Heaven gives us our struggles of what to do with our lives. What we work for, is the bringing of heaven to this earth.

© 1978 Douglas I. Norris