The Lord’s Prayer 2 - Heaven
Sermon by Pastor Eric Chang, November 7, 1976
We are studying together Mt. 6:9, in the Lord’s teaching on what is normally called the Lord’s Prayer. On the last occasion, we studied together about “Our Father”, and what it means that God is called “Father”. Today we study then together the Lord’s teaching concerning heaven. What is heaven? Where is heaven? How are we to think about heaven? What is the whole meaning of heaven in the New Testament? Now this is an aspect of the Lord’s teaching which is very important. There is no passage here we need to read, since we know the Lord’s Prayer very well, “Our Father which art in heaven” [KJV], or in more modern English, “who is in heaven”.
What Is Our Concept of Heaven?
We need to ask this question: Where is heaven? Where do you think heaven is? How do you think about heaven? When you read or sing the Christian hymns, they say vague things about “beyond the blue”, the ‘blue’ being the sky, the sky being blue in most parts of the world, except England. It is normally blue, [but in] England it is normally gray. “Beyond the blue!” You strain your eyes in the direction of the blue and hope that somehow, if you could get binoculars, you might somehow look “beyond the blue”. And you think, “How happy are those people doing astronomy with this great powerful things!” So, if you can look “beyond the blue” [you might get a glimpse of heaven]. But where is “beyond the blue”?
There are evensongs, which say, “way beyond the blue”. It gets further and further away all the time. By the time you are finished, you wonder how you are ever going to get to heaven, and how, if God is so far away, He can ever hear your prayer, because “way beyond the blue” must be a long way off. Now all this is extremely vague. The danger of this kind of talk about heaven is that heaven somehow begins to get very far away for us. Since God is in heaven - “way beyond the blue” - [then] God is an awful long way off. And if He is that far off, perhaps we do not need to concern ourselves too much with Him, assuming that He is very concerned with us, since He is so far away. He is presumably looking down at this world with powerful binoculars.
This kind of concept of heaven, you can see, brings with it all kind of dangers. We have to ask, “Is this the kind of teaching that comes from the Bible?” “Is this Biblical teaching?” And so, we search the Word of God. I have searched through the Word of God and have found always something very remarkable about the Word of God, and it is this: that human ideas, wherever it comes from, presumably from [man’s] own imagination, has a way of always diverging away from the Word of God. It has very little to do with the teaching of the Word of God.
The Jews had a concept very similar to this. I was looking up the Jewish teaching on this matter just yesterday and I was not a little amused to find here a section [what] one of the rabbis was saying. How he ever figured it out, I have no idea! It is too bad he is not around that we can ask him. He says this: “From the earth to the firmament above is a journey of 500 years. The thickness of the firmament is 500-years’ journey. And then there are 7 heavens on top of that, each of 500 years’ journey.” Wow! By the time you get to the top of the topmost heaven, by my reckoning, it will take you 4,500 years. By what means of travel is intended of these 500 years, I have no way of figuring out. Does he mean walking for 500 years, or riding a horse, or sailing a ship? Whatever it is, I have no clue. But the rabbis gave this kind of a notion so that heaven is a long way off. And according to them, there are seven heavens. Where they got that from, I also do not know. There are seven heavens - each 500 years between each layer of heaven. It is sort of like a layer cake, an angel cake, or some kind of cake. Now this kind of notion is bound to carry with it all sorts of serious dangers, above all, the concept that God is exceedingly remote.
Problems and Dangers of Erroneous Concept of Heaven
When we think of this kind of erroneous teaching concerning heaven, if heaven is somewhere there “beyond the blue,” wherever that is, then Jesus is also way, way off from us. He is very far from us because He is seated at the right hand of the Father. His Father is in heaven and heaven is a long, long way off. God is out there and Jesus is out there. Well, Jesus is a long way off! It is little wonder that when you try to pray. You wonder whether He can hear. Your prayer is down here and He is so far up. Unless He has super-electronic equipment by which He can listen to your feeble muttering, how ever is this 4,500-year distance going to be covered? And so, because Jesus is so far away and God is so far away, prayer becomes almost pointless. It is like sending up a prayer by a rocket, and you hope that the rocket would be powerful to cover that vast distance up to this 7th heaven, according to the Jews anyway. The Bible nowhere mentions 7th heaven. And so, anyway, never mind which heaven - even the 1st heaven seems so far away - if you could send up your prayer with a powerful rocket, [it would be fine]. But since you do not have powerful rockets, spiritually speaking, then you wonder if your prayers ever get there. Thus, you are overcome, in the matter of prayer, with a sense of futility. We wonder whether God ever listens to our prayers.
This also raises for us serious Biblical problems. If heaven, according to human reasoning and thinking, is like this, what do you do with those Scriptures? For example, in Acts 7, it says there that Stephen looked up into heaven and he saw the heavens open and Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. Wow! Stephen must have super-eyes. Wow, just think of this! His eyes can look through a million miles. Now, if you were standing 20 miles away, I doubt that even with my very good glasses, I could be able to see you 20 miles off. I am not sure I could even see you 10 miles away. And Jesus is 4,500 travelling years away! What kind of eyes do you need to be able to see Jesus up there? Or is it that somehow, by some miracle, Jesus is magnified by millions and billions of times so that Stephen could be able to see Him? Look! The sun, we are told, is a million times bigger than the earth, or whatever it is. If so vast a sun in the sky looks only the size of a football - and that is not yet “beyond the blue”; it is within this firmament; it is within this planetary system, i.e., it is not even as far as the Milky Way by any means; the Milky Way is millions of miles further off - if the sun is that small, how are you going to see Jesus beyond the sun, beyond the stars? Or, as I say, is it then Jesus is being magnified for us? A great problem with this kind of thinking is that it brings in all sorts of difficulties and confusions when you study the Word of God.
A Soviet astronaut once went out there, and said, “Well, I went up to heaven and I didn’t see God!” You say, “What a stupid question! Well, God is not a person up there for you to see.” But his point is this: “You said that God is in heaven. I went up there into heaven and I didn’t see Him.” Now you say, “This is ridiculous!” Well, not so ridiculous, because sometimes it is the Christians who give the non-Christians the wrong impression. You said He is up in heaven, so they went up there to have a look, and they could not see Him. Now you may say, “Well, my dear friend, you didn’t go far enough. You travel a few more billion miles out there and you will see God.” Well, in this case he can never win because if he travels a billion miles, you will say, “No, you haven’t got to the 7th heaven yet; you have got to go further.” At this rate, he can never win that race against you. But I am not sure that he will be very impressed with what you have to say about God.
Now all this, how does this measure up with the teaching of the Bible? There is still a further problem. If you say heaven is up there - up where? If you say, “Well, up here”, the person in Australia is pointing the opposite direction. Now that is fair enough, isn’t it? If you say that heaven is this way, the Australian who stands on the other side of the earth is pointing the opposite direction. Now you make up your mind which way heaven is. I mean this is perfectly fair. And it is in such matters that Christians are often ridiculed by the non-Christians, “Heaven is up there? Where?” You find yourself pointing in two opposite directions. You decide where heaven is. Have you got one particular direction? Because if everybody points upward, where then is heaven? Are you going to say that heaven is some kind of a space outside the universe? Or surrounding the universe? What kind of a theory are you going to produce now to handle this problem? So, you can see that we must really come to an accurate, Biblical understanding of heaven because of its spiritual dangers, because of the dangers of the wrong impressions that it gives to the non-Christian. In talking about the “Who art in heaven”, the Chinese have the ‘shang 上’, you see, up there. At least the English has not got the ‘shang 上’, the ‘up’. So if it is up there, up where?
Heaven Is Not a Material Place, But a Spiritual Type of Existence
When we look at the Scriptural teaching, what do we find? Is God then in a kind of heaven that is out there that can be located in a certain place? Is heaven a place that we can put on a map of the universe? What is your answer to these questions, I wonder? Where is the error? Where is the error of human thinking? The error of human thinking, like so much of human error, of which the Bible in its perfection as the Word of God never falls into that pit, is to think of heaven as a semi-material place, a place that you can pinpoint on a map. If a place is material, you can locate it on a map. But the error of Christian thinking is to think of heaven as material, or at least semi-material, or some material, or some type of diluted material, if you like. Now, if you think like this, then you see the error of your thinking, that after all, your thinking is still far from being spiritual. Heaven, in the Scriptural teaching, is not a place. It is not a material position that you can locate on a map of the universe. If you say it is not a place, what is it then? The Biblical teaching is that heaven is a state of being. It is not a place; it is a state of being. It is a way, a type of existence - a spiritual type of existence. It is not some place to be located on a map, but it is a completely different and spiritual way of existence.
Thus, all this business of travelling a long distance, or “if you die, you go to heaven”, [presumes] you have some kind of rocket ship that is going to take you year after year, through endless light years, until you arrive at heaven. That is not the Scriptural teaching at all. We do not have a great long journey to travel to heaven. No! Heaven, in the Biblical teaching, is a totally different spiritual type of existence. That you must clearly understand. Never again, when you come to Biblical thinking, think of heaven as some kind of a material existence, or sub-material existence, or diluted material existence. So when we know the Biblical teaching, we do not make this kind of mistakes, such as the Jews made, and such as Christians make, too, of trying to measure the distance to heaven, or speculating on what direction it is or how far away it is. All this is nonsensical. The Scripture has nothing to say about the distances of heaven and on which direction it goes. What the Scripture has to say is that heaven is a spiritual type of existence.
The Spiritual Heaven - The Spiritually ‘Above’
You may say, “Well, I read in the Bible that Jesus ascended upwards” and that would seem to locate heaven somewhere upwards, doesn’t it, and say something about heaven being above. In the Scripture, you have to distinguish between two things: whether it is speaking of the literal physical heaven or whether it is speaking of the spiritual heaven. But when the Bible speaks of ‘above’, when you study the Scripture carefully, you will realize at once that the ‘above’ the Scripture speaks about is spiritually ‘above’, not physically ‘above’. This we must distinguish very carefully. An example of this comes out very, very clearly in the Lord’s teaching. Jesus is from above. What does that mean? That is, from that spiritual life, that spiritual way of life, which is far above the physical way of life. He said this so clearly in Jn. 3:31, to show you that He is not speaking in terms of a physical ‘above’-ness, but a spiritual ‘above’-ness. Let me read this verse to you: “He who comes from above is above all”. Notice this? He is above all. Well, he is not above all physically; He is now down on the earth when He has come down upon the earth. But Jesus is speaking spiritually, of course: “He who is from above is above all” - spiritually ‘above all’. Of course, in no other way is He speaking about this. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth, and of the earth he speaks. He who comes from heaven is above all. I hope that you notice clearly this, that the whole point of speaking of heaven being above is meant to teach us the spiritual fact of the spiritual superiority of heaven over earth because ‘above’ always indicates superiority. Here the Lord Jesus uses exactly this to indicate the meaning of ‘above’.
All this is again brought out very clearly by Paul, for example, in 1 Corinthians Chapter 15. In this passage in 1 Cor. 15:42f, Paul is speaking about the life to come, about what you would call ‘heaven’. Here is what Paul says:
So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. (Notice again ‘raised’ - going above, up.) It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven (that is, we who are of heaven). Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
Now, to avoid going through a lengthy exposition, let me just show you how Paul is contrasting heaven and earth. If you have two columns, you could use this passage to fill in the two different columns: one column headed ‘Heaven’; the other headed ‘Earth’. Then you will find that you can list a lot of things: one is in ‘dishonor’, the other ‘honor’; one in ‘weakness’, the other in ‘power’. You would put ‘power’, ‘honor’, ‘glory’ all under ‘Heaven’; ‘weakness’, ‘dishonor’, ‘corruption’, ‘perishable’ all under ‘Earth’. And then you will find that on the one side, he uses the word ‘spiritual’ in reference to heaven, ‘physical’ in reference to earth. Then the ‘man of heaven’ and the ‘man of dust’ again [are] contrasted, and ‘perishable’ and ‘imperishable’ contrasted. So that if you took [this] verse by verse, you could list them out on two sides, giving you the full definition of heaven on one side and the full definition of earth on the other side. When you study the Bible in this way, you will see that it is not a jumble of difficult-to-understand phrases, but a very clearly discernible meaning emerges from it all.
So we must once and for all understand the Scriptural teaching that heaven is spiritual, and what is spiritual cannot be measured in terms of distance; it cannot be pointed out in terms of direction. Now if a thing is spiritual, how can you measure whether it is 21” long or 500 years’ journey? The moment you say that, you immediately show that you are thinking of heaven in terms of material. Spiritual things cannot be measured in this kind of way. Remember, too, that everything that is material is going to be destroyed. 2 Pet. 3:12&13 tells us this: “The heavens shall melt with fervent heat and be dissolved.” The heavens will be dissolved. That is Biblical teaching. You say, “Hey! What am I going to do when I get to heaven?” Well, the Bible is not talking about heaven. It is talking about the physical heavens in 2 Pet. 3:12&13. You see, even the physical heavens will be destroyed, so that it tells us there that there will be a new heaven and a new earth. So, let us, brothers and sisters, once and for all, not fall into the error of thinking of heaven in material terms because it just shows how carnal we are.
God is Spirit and We Worship Him in Spirit and Truth
This teaching is made even more clear for us in the Lord’s teaching in Jn. 4:21,23&24 in His discussion with the Samaritan woman. You remember that the Samaritan woman was saying, “Well, you see, we worship God in this mountain and you worship God in that mountain”, and Jesus says, “We are not going to worship God in any one place. We are going to worship God in spirit and truth.” What is Jesus teaching the Samaritan woman? You see, her thinking, like so many Christians’, is [that of] thinking of God in semi-physical terms, that you can locate God in this place, we worship God in this place, and that is the holy place. Today when you go to Israel, you will still see many holy places. This place is holy. That place is holy. When I was in Israel, in Jerusalem, I was shown a place which I was told was the Upper Room, where the Lord Jesus broke bread with His disciples. Well, I am no great architect, but I think I know enough about buildings to be able to tell that that building was nowhere near 2,000 years old. I would have been surprised if it were anywhere near 500 years old. But that is what tourists are being told all the time, “You see, this is the room where Jesus broke bread. And this was the place where Jesus lived” and so on and so forth. Thus, these places become holy. God’s presence is somehow thought to be there.
Now, we must understand that that is why the woman said, “We worship God in this mountain and you worship God in Jerusalem.” And Jesus said, “Not so. I tell you that the day is coming that we shall neither worship God in this mountain nor in Jerusalem. We shall worship God in no particular place. We are going to understand that God is spiritual, for God is spirit and we are going to worship Him in spirit and in truth. And God seeks people to worship Him in this way. This shows that prayer is worship. And if you want to bring acceptable worship, you must worship Him spiritually - in spirit - and in truth. If your worship is not spiritual, it will not be acceptable. It becomes superstition. Superstition is belief that is tied up in a confused manner with erroneous and materialistic notions, and Scripture does not want us to be mixed up with superstition. And so, take for example objects that began to get a special holiness about them. We are told that you can wear a special charm around you. That is characteristic of superstition: localizing spiritual power into a material object and alleging that there is spiritual power in this material object, so that if you wear this charm around you, nothing will hurt you, and the like. That is characteristic of superstition. And when we start localizing it also that this place is more holy than another place, [then we become superstitious]. If we mean it spiritually, in a spiritual way, that this is holy to me - not the place is holy, but it is holy to me - because I have met with God in this place, that is a different meaning. That means it brings back memories to me. But once we say that the place itself is holy, then we become superstitious.
Thus, now we find we must understand the Word of God very accurately. I am not saying, of course, that God’s presence does not appear in some particular place. When God truly appears in a particular place, which He does, then that place is holy because of His presence. But once His presence is gone, it is no more holy, of course. It is holy only in the moment that He is there. That is why the temple was regarded as holy, and rightly so, because God’s presence was there. But now Mount Zion is no more holy than any other place because God’s presence is no more there. So we must not go on thinking in these superstitious ways, and because, as we have seen, all superstition is marked by the fact that the material and the spiritual is confused. So much confusion there is in the minds and the thinking of Christians, and that hinders our worship. [We are] to worship God in spirit and in truth, [but] we are enslaved by superstitions. Once we understand these things, we begin to see that Jesus is not introducing us to a new place of worship, as He was saying to the Samaritan woman, but to a new type of worship. This we must clearly understand. And this type of worship is one in which we enter spiritually into fellowship and worship with God.
God Is Near, Since the Spiritual and the Material Can Be Co-Extensive
There is another danger and we must tackle the other aspect, and that is the notion that if heaven is up there, as we saw the error of it, then God is far away. But when we realize that heaven is a spiritual state of existence, immediately everything changes about our understanding of God. What changes? We realize that heaven is not far away. Heaven, being spiritual, can be co-extensive with the material world, and that means it is very near. For example, we have a spirit and we have a body. But the spirit is co-extensive with the body. I cannot measure the size of my spirit. I may be such and such a height, but that is not the length and breadth of my spirit. So, the spirit is co-extensive because it is not material. Materials cannot be co-extensive with each other in the same way. But now we can realize that we do not have to think of heaven as being far off. The Bible does not teach us that at all. The Bible tells us that heaven is near at hand. Otherwise, we have again a conflict of understanding. What conflict? We are told, on the one hand, that God is far away, and the next time we are told that God is very near. And we are utterly confused. How can God be far and be near. First, you tell me He is 4,500 years of travel away, and now you tell me that God is here. Thus, we have a contradictory statement again, which theologians like to call ‘paradox’. It is a very interesting word, ‘paradox’. Everything that is contradictory or conflicting is described as paradox, when in fact, of course, this is a travesty of the word ‘paradox’.
Thus, we find, for example, that Paul says in Acts 17:28 that in God, “we live and move and have our being”. How can God be far away and still be near? How are we going to reconcile all these? It is covered by the statement that God is omnipresent, and it is further covered by these two aspects: that God is transcendent and that He is immanent. These words may mean absolutely nothing to you. ‘Transcendent’ is the aspect which says that God is far and away and beyond, and ‘immanent’ means that God is near. So God is both far and near. And that means that God is omnipresent.
Now Scripturally speaking, God is certainly omnipresent. God is certainly in every place, no matter how vast the universe is. But we are talking about heaven. We must understand that Scripture does not locate heaven in any particular direction. Once we realize this, that heaven being spiritual is co-extensive and can be easily co-extensive with the physical universe, then we realize that God is always near. It is just a different mode of existence, just as my body and my spirit are co-extensive. That means to say if I could pass beyond the physical at this stage right away, I would find that right this moment, I would be in heaven. I would have to travel no distance at all. Do you realize that? Do you see the Scriptural teaching? It is that God is right here all the time, that heaven is just the other side of the physical existence. Can you see what difference that will make to your whole spiritual life, that you are not travelling vast different distances, that God is right close, that when I whisper, He hears me right away?
All this is much easier for us to understand nowadays in terms of high-energy physics, I am told. Many times when I talk to my friends, the physicists, they tell me, “How is it that people say the Lord Jesus could pass through a physical wall? The disciples were closed in a room, the doors were shut tight, and Jesus comes in through the wall. There He is standing among them!” Many people found this very difficult to understand. And my friends, the physicists, tell me that that is very easy to understand. It is just a question of frequency. You could change the person’s frequency and he can pass through a wall. You see, for a nuclear physicist, material things are in fact all empty space. It is not the solid things that we see; we are told that it is all empty space. And if you could change the frequency of one material thing, you could pass right through the other. Thus, it is a matter of difference of frequency. Well, that helps us to understand spiritual things a lot. It shows that our friends, the physicists, seem to have some advantage over us here.
This being so, we find that it is much easier for us to understand how the spiritual and the physical can be co-extensive. It is just a different mode of existence. [They] do not have to be located in different places. That mode of existence can be so utterly and unimaginably different. Imagine: if a physicist had some means of changing your frequency and you could suddenly be passing through walls, appearing and disappearing, wow! That is a new type of existence, to be sure, even if it is just a change of frequency. Now just think about that! You change the frequency a bit more and you enter into spiritual existence. And then you really begin to understand that you have a wonderful and amazing type of existence without having to travel to some remote place in some spiritual rocket ship or something of this kind. Thus, we see the wonder of Jesus’ teaching, that somehow it takes us 20th century physics even to begin to understand the amazing depth and reality of Jesus’ teachings. From all these things then, we come to realize that God is very close. When it says that God is in heaven, He is not far away. God is very close, as the spirit is to the body. He is closer than our own breath. That is what Paul is saying in Acts Chapter 17: “In him we live and move and have our being.” [v28]
The Attraction of Heaven to Us
We have to ask one more thing once we come to realize these things. Is heaven attractive to us? When you study the Bible, you will find another strange thing. You find that there is never a description of heaven in physical terms. We are never told that, say, heaven is rather like the South Pacific, where there are palm trees waving in the wind and there are beaches [with] beautiful sand that you can laze in the sun. Funny! Nowhere we are told anything like this. No description of heaven in these picture terms occurs for us. Sometimes in Revelation, we are told of the beings in heaven, the kind of persons who are there. But we are never told what heaven looks like, what there is in heaven, what is the furniture, what is the landscape. That again shows you the vast difference of the Bible in its spiritual depth from human thinking. If you turn to the Koran, to Islam, you will find that heaven is often pictured in terms of an earthly paradise, where there are exactly the things that I mentioned: palm trees, softly flowing brooks, beautiful girls, and things of this kind. That is heaven. You have great big dates that you can chew on and you have all the food you want to eat. Well, I am not so sure that I find that kind of heaven very attractive. I might find the South Pacific more attractive than that. And if that is all there is to heaven - I might as well go buy myself a house in the South Pacific. For a few years work hard and buy myself a house because heaven seems to be no different from the South Pacific, or from wherever it is. You can have a nice place you can think of.
The Bible never goes into that kind of error that Islam and others fall into. There is no description of heaven in those terms whatsoever. Precisely why? It is precisely because the Bible never makes the mistake of describing heaven as a material place. Therefore you never have a picture of the landscape of heaven. Nowhere in the Bible can you find this whatsoever. Isn’t that remarkable? Has it never crossed your mind, “If I am going to go to heaven, you had better tell me what heaven is like. I’d like to know what is up there; what kind of a nice place it is”? But in vain do you search the Bible for anything like it. Why? Why is that so? Well, first of all, it is because as we have seen already, that heaven is spiritual, and once it is spiritual, you cannot describe of it in terms of palm trees and flowing waters and pretty girls and the like.
But secondly, heaven is nothing without God. For me, heaven would be utterly uninteresting if God is not there. The whole attraction about heaven is God. He is the whole wonder, the center of heaven. In fact, in the Bible, sometimes heaven is simply an allonym, i.e., another name for God. For example, in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, what does the prodigal son say in Luke Chapter 15? He said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven.” Well, how can you sin against heaven? He means, of course, “I have sinned against God.” God is the whole center and meaning of heaven. He is the whole attraction of heaven. If you do not care for God, you will not care for heaven. You are not going to like heaven very much. In spite of all the wonderful attractions, that when you have the new body you can pass through walls, you can eat or do not eat as you choose - that may be very interesting existence - but then, God is the center of attraction. Thus, we find that unless you love God, you will not care for heaven. So, the attraction of heaven is simply in the person of God. And the more attractive God becomes, the more attractive heaven becomes. This is something we find again in the Scriptural teaching.
Take, for example this: if I tell you that Norway is a beautiful place with wonderful fjords, changing scenery - oh, it is marvelous! You might get a little bit interested in Norway. But you think it is so far away. It is not yet 4,500 years of travel to Norway, but it is so far away. I am not sure it is worth the effort of getting there. But wait till one day that somebody you really love moves to Norway, wow! Norway becomes interesting now. You want to get to Norway. At all costs you have to get to Norway. Now suddenly Norway is interesting. You see, that is the thing with heaven. You may tell me that heaven is very nice, very beautiful. It means nothing to me. I am not sure if it is worth the effort to get there. But suddenly if there is somebody you love - like Jesus, and He is in heaven - now it gets interesting. Now you want to get there. And this is the reason you will find that nowhere in the New Testament, or in the Old, for that matter, do you once hear the statement that when you die, you go to heaven. Did you realize that? I ask you to quote me one verse in the whole Bible which says, “When you die, you go to heaven.” I give you 2 weeks or 3 weeks to search out the Scriptures. Use your concordance, look through every reference, and you show me one reference somewhere in the Bible where it says that, “I’m looking forward to go to heaven when I die” or anything that even remotely resembles that. You bring me one verse; I would like to look at it. Do you know why? The attraction is never the place or the type of existence. It is always the Person!
That is why Paul, for example, says, “As for me, to be with Christ is far better.” In Phil. 1:23, he says that for [him], “to depart and to be with Christ... is far better.” Why does he not say, “For me, to go to heaven is far better”? He says nothing of the kind. He says that to be with Christ is far better. Again, in 2 Cor. 5:8 he says, “that I may be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” He does not say a word about heaven. It is remarkable, isn’t it? That is why, again, understand this whole Scriptural teaching, so that you know also where you are going, if you are just thinking about it as a place.
How Do We Inherit Heaven?
Finally, let us also ask a question: How then do I inherit heaven? Inherit heaven? Can you show me a verse which says something about “inherit heaven”? Inherit eternal life, yes. Notice that eternal life and heaven are, again, the same thing. It is a new type of existence, a new way of life. Eternal life is what we inherit. We inherit not heaven, but the kingdom of God, which, again, is eternal life. Now, how am I going to inherit eternal life? That is also the question we need to ask.
Now, we must ask the question: How do we inherit heaven? First, the Scripture tells us that we cannot both have this world and the next, the other one, the spiritual world. We cannot have both mammon and God. We have to decide between one or the other. That is a hard choice, isn’t it? The English saying is that: “A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush.” And if heaven is so far away, we had better settle for this one. Which one are you going to decide for? That is a tough choice. You are not going to have this life and the life to come - both! You are not going to have your cake and eat it, in other words, spiritually speaking. We are faced with a difficult and important choice. Now if you are like Demas, who we saw for example in 2 Tim. 4:10 that he loved the world - although he was a Christian, he loved the world and he left God - you can make that choice. But you cannot both love the world and have God. You will find that it does not work like this. You have got to make your choice.
But why then do we make the choice for heaven, for that spiritual life? It is because if you are wise, you will realize that this life is passing away. You will realize that this life is temporal. You will realize the list we were talking about in 1 Corinthians Chapter 15, when you have looked through that list, if you have any wisdom, you would know which side you are going to choose. The world is passing away. Why [do] we [have to] choose one or the other? Why can we not have both? It is because what you love, your heart will be there. Your whole way of life will be governed by what you love. And your way of life must commence now. Heaven is going to start now. It is something you have to inherit now. Eternal life is something that we get now, not just when we die. That is the Scriptural teaching. It is either you have eternal life now or you are not going to have it. It is either you are going to be children of heaven now - which is what 1 Corinthians Chapter 15 said, “we are of heaven”, not “we shall be of heaven”; notice those words: “but we who are of heaven” 1 Cor. 15:48 - or you are never going to get to heaven. You have got to make your choice right now. That is something you have to decide. But that decision should not be so difficult when we realize that this earth, this world, is passing away.
Now I tell you something. When you begin to get a bit sick like I do, you suddenly realize how transitory life is. You realize it with a force you have never seen before. You suddenly realize that this physical life is passing away very, very quickly. Once or twice, when this trouble has attacked me very severely, I have suddenly come to realize that I was only one breath away from death. One more breath is the difference between life and death. You do not get that breath and you are gone! That is as close as death that we are in this life. Life is passing away. And if you cling to this life, as so many do, you see the importance of this life but exaggerate its importance, then you are going to live for this world and not for heaven. You are not going to be a son of heaven.
Secondly, we saw in 1 Corinthians Chapter 15 that Paul says also this in v50 - understand these things - “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven.” “Oh, but,” you say, “We are flesh and blood. How can we inherit the kingdom of heaven then?” There is only one-way: by being born again. That is what the Lord Jesus says in Jn. 3:6, “Whatsoever is born of the flesh is flesh.” We are born of the flesh, so we are flesh. But He goes on to say, “Whatsoever is born of the Spirit is spirit.” That is how we can be called sons of heaven right now, because we are born of the Spirit. Therefore, we are spirit as well. The flesh and blood cannot inherit heaven; they cannot inherit that way of life. But spirit can! And since I am born of the Spirit, I am spirit. Because I am spirit, I can inherit the kingdom of God. That kind of understanding and its logic is perfectly clear and easy to understand.
We Experience Heaven in Doing God’s Will
Now, one final point and we have to close. We are told in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done, On earth as... in heaven.” We shall not, of course, study that now, but it tells us something about heaven, does it not? It tells us that God’s will is done perfectly in heaven. And the prayer is that: “Your will be done on earth as in heaven.” Heaven is a place, then, of perfect bliss, of perfect happiness, of perfect joy! For what reason? For this reason: that God’s will is done perfectly in heaven. Let me tell you something, brothers and sisters. If God’s will is perfectly being done in our lives, you are going to experience heaven here and now. [That is,] if God’s will is done perfectly in your life. There is nothing so miserable as to be a spiritual schizophrenic, in which you are split apart inside. You are trying to live for God; trying to live for the world; trying on both sides to do something. That kind of an existence is absolute misery. It is not worth it. Even if the Bible did not tell you to choose between one or the other, you would be wise just to choose one or the other. Just choose the world and forget about the other side. It is because you will just live a dual hypocritical schizophrenic existence, with no joy, no peace, no power. You have not got the experience of heaven here and now. Why do I believe in heaven? It is because I experience it now. I know what heaven is like - when I live in total obedience to God. There you experience joy and peace and power. If a family lived 100% in total obedience to God, that family would be heaven on earth: when wife and husband do not quarrel with each other, when they do not put their conflicting characters against each other, when they cease to strive and to bicker and to bargain and to conflict with each other. I tell you, your family would be heaven on earth when each person in the family is totally obedient to God. Now we may not be able to achieve that in a family, let alone in society, which does not want to obey God in any case - they want to go their own way - but we can achieve it in our own lives. I can resolve, by the grace of God, that God’s way is going to be done in my life, as in heaven. He is going to have His way totally and absolutely, and then you will experience the joy, the peace and the power. Have you experienced heaven in your life? Sometimes you experience it very literally, sometimes less literally.
I have shared with brothers and sisters in Liverpool how I literally experienced heaven on earth, about as literally as you can get. One Sunday morning, I got up; I knelt down before God in prayer and worshipped before Him and prayed, opening my life as I was accustomed to doing, yielding my life again totally day by day to Him: “Your will be done in my life, as in heaven.” And you know what I experienced? I experienced heaven that very day, in such a literal fashion, that as Paul said in 2 Corinthians Chapter 12, I was not too sure whether I was in the world or not in the world, whether I was in the body or not in the body. Paradise! That is it. Oh, it was an experience I will never forget. And the experience went on not for 5 minutes, not for 10 minutes, but for hours. Hour after hour! It was so wonderful - to be in that sweet fellowship with God, filled with inexpressible joy! Have you ever experienced anything like this? We are meant to be sons of heaven now, not at some future date only. If you do not experience spiritual reality now, how do you know you are ever going to experience it? Do you know why some Christians are so uncertain about heaven? It is because they do not know whether it is real. They do not know whether it is real because, well, they have never even had a foretaste of it. But the Bible tells us that we can have a foretaste of those things. In Hebrews it says, “We have tasted the powers of the world to come.” [Heb. 6:5] Have you tasted it?
Now, to live in this way is our heritage here and now. Then we will be Christians of a kind that really radiate because heaven becomes, for us, a present reality. Oh, I plead with you, brothers and sisters, do not live in sin, because sin brings misery and futility and waste and suffering. It achieves absolutely nothing! Why live in sin? I do not understand. It destroys you physically; it destroys you mentally; it destroys you spiritually. Why enjoy the pleasure of sin for a season? Five minutes of enjoyable sin - it is so enjoyable; it is really enjoyable - and the damage is done physically, mentally, and spiritually. Everything is damaged. Why do that? And why not enter into the joy of heaven now, and then you have the certainty of heaven. People say, “Why do you have such confidence on the things you speak?” It is because I experience them. If I do not experience them, I would not talk about them with such confidence. I would be dealing with theories and philosophies and ideas. But I deal with the things that Paul says that: “I know.” I speak about things that I know are true. As Paul said in Timothy, “I know whom I have believed”. [2 Tim. 1:12] I am not speculating. I am not imagining. I am not philosophizing. I know whom I am talking about.
Thus, I say, brothers and sisters, we can experience heaven here, if only we learn to live in what is the situation of heaven - in total obedience, in total commitment to Him. That is the normal Christian life, which it should be. So, may God grant to us that kind of experience! As I told you, I will never forget that morning in London. Oh, what amazing experience of fellowship with God! And remember this: I do not look for the experience. I look only, I sought only, to be totally yielded to my Lord. Do not start out just by looking for an experience. That is where so many Christians have gone wrong. They pursued experience, not the right state of mind. The reason why, i.e., the error of pursuing experience is this: that once you have experience, then you can forget about the requirement again. You can go back to where you were before, and say, “Yeah, I have experienced it. It was very interesting.” God is not going to be there just to give you experiences to play around with, that you can boast to others about. Only if you are prepared consistently to live in this way, [then] one day you are going to be, to use the words of C. S. Lewis, “surprised by joy”! Just as I was surprised. I got up and prayed as I did every morning. There was nothing exceptional about it. But that morning, God determined to bring to me an experience of heaven, such as I have never had before. Thus, we find then, when we speak in the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father which art in heaven” [Mt. 6:9-KJV], heaven - and this was the last point we had made - should be something no longer strange, or distant, or foreign, but something that we know in our experience, the place of perfect fellowship with God because of total obedience to Him.
We know that God has prepared wonderful things in terms of a spiritual future for us. I often think of those words in 1 Cor. 2:9 where Paul says, “Eye have not seen, nor ear heard, nor has the mind been able to imagine the things that God has prepared for those who love Him.” Oh, brothers and sisters, if we say we have experienced wonderful things now, and Paul is saying, “You have not even started yet, by any measure or means; there is still a long way to go. God has prepared things that eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor even has it entered into the mind of man, the things that God has prepared for those who love Him.” Thus, we can see the joy, the prospect that is ahead. The Christian is a man who has a wonderful prospect. He has a future, which no man in the world has, who does not know God. What a future we have! And so, we thank God for His Word and for His goodness to us.
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church