“Our Father, who art in heaven.” Thus begins the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer that we say often. It is directed toward the location of God our Father. He is in Heaven. He is where we want to be when we finish our time in this life.
Now, of course, we are not quite ready to make the trip from this life to that heavenly land and our mansion there. We are like little 9-year-old Patricia, who wrote her minister, “Dear Pastor, I hope to go to heaven someday, but later than sooner.”
We are not finished. We don’t want to leave that which we can touch and see and sense and know here. But, sooner or later, we will leave this world and, so far, I’ve never met anyone who did not want to go to heaven when he leaves.
What may we know about heaven? Which way is it? How far is it? Who is to be there? May we have assurance of our place there? How do we get there? In seeking to answer these questions, let us turn to the scripture, to the experience of others, and to our own experience.
Which way is heaven? The Scriptures give us guidance here.
If, then, we have the direction, how far is it? From God’s point of view, it is not so far but that He can hear us pray. Note this in
But God is thought of as something of a superman with better hearing, better vision, and longer, stronger arms than we have. What about us, from the human viewpoint? Can we see, or hear, or sense the events of heaven?
Jesus pointed out that He would not leave his followers alone or without help. His promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost when He returned through the coming of the Holy Spirit. From that time on he has come to all who would humbly seek his presence.
With the Apostle Paul I say in all humility that Jesus has appeared also to me. In a moment of surrender after a long and futile search for meaning in life, I did not find Him, but He found me. He drew aside the thin veil that separates this realm from that of the spirit and said to me, “I died to forgive your sins as well as those of the entire world.” Then, briefly, though I was here in this world, I was able to sense, to see, to hear, and thus to know that heaven is really not far away.
Each Christian in his own way could relate his personal encounter, his communion with the Living Word. The scripture for the day speaks of this as the earnest of the Spirit. How far is heaven? Is it off in the sky somewhere? Can we not see that heaven is but a breath away — near as a moment of complete dedication to the Lord who is there?
Who will be there? God, of course, will be there. It is his dwelling place. Jesus will be there. As the first Christian martyr Stephen was being stoned to death, he looked up and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God the Father. The Holy Spirit will be there, for he ever makes intercession for us in a language that humanity cannot speak. Angels will be there. The Gospel of Matthew tells about the children’s angels beholding the face of the father.
The dead in Christ will be there. It was Stephen’s dying prayer that God receive his soul. Paul said that to be absent from the body was to be present with the Lord. The words of Jesus in
What of our assurance of our place in heaven? May we have it? The degree to which we may is illustrated in a letter an elder saint wrote to a popular radio preacher some years ago. Here is a part of his letter: “Next Sunday you are to talk about heaven. I am interested in that land because I have held a clear title to a bit of property there for over 55 years. I did not buy it. It was given to me without money and without price. But the donor purchased it for me at a tremendous sacrifice. It is not a vacant lot. For more than one-half century I have been sending materials out of which the greatest architect and builder of the universe has been building a home for me which will never need remodeling nor repairing because it will suit me perfectly.
“It will never grow old. Termites can never undermine its foundations for they rest upon the rock of ages. Fire cannot destroy it. Floods cannot wash it away. I hope to hear your message next Sunday, but I have no assurance that I will do so. My ticket to heaven has no date marked for the journey, no return coupon, no baggage receipt. Yes, I am ready to go, and I may not be here when you talk next Sunday, but I will meet you there in heaven some day.”
The key to this sort of assurance is found in the phrase that he was “busy sending materials” through works of faith, out of which the great architect God was building his home. As we do this, the Lord validates our faith, expressed in works, by giving us the measure of faith and assurance that we need.
What is it that opens the door for the kind of assurance just described? Jesus promised to go and prepare a place for us, for those who are following in the way that he has provided — those who have made reservations for heaven.
You will recall how Jesus sent the 70 on a preaching and healing tour. They came back excited about their conquests. But Jesus chided them, saying, “Rejoice rather that your name is written in heaven.” Again, John, in the book of Revelation, speaks about a record in heaven called the Lamb’s Book of Life, the book in which is recorded the names of those who are following in the way.
The point is that somewhere in the mind of God there is a reservation book for the Kingdom of Heaven. It contains the names of those who have made reservations to go there. This Book of Life is not a church roll book; it is not a baptismal certificate; it is not a Bachelor of Arts in Religion; it is not a perfect attendance record in Sunday School; not even a Doctor of Divinity degree. This is a record in the mind of God of those who are accepting his way, the way that he has provided that men might be reconciled unto himself, even Jesus Christ.
You may protest that you know all of this, but you still may miss the boat as far as its implications for you personally are concerned. Pursuing that figure just a bit further, most of us believe that ships can take us to most of the far away places in the world where we might want to go: Honolulu, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Singapore, Calcutta, London. As a young man I, like most of you, wanted to go to faraway places with strange, wonderful-sounding names. I believed that ships could carry me to those places. A little later in my life, Uncle Sam gave me a marvelous education about ships and, at last, there was the possibility of the fulfillment of dreams to go to some of those far away places.
I found myself in New Orleans on a hot August day, signed on the S.S. Torres as an engineer. I took my gear aboard, looked around the ship and decided that it seemed to conform to the theory that I had learned in classroom. It was reported that we would not sail for three or four hours. So Jerry, the experienced oiler on my watch who knew the ship and area around the dock, journeyed a short distance with me to Audubon Park swimming pool to cool off a bit. Jerry and I were enjoying the sights, the food, and the swimming when over the din of the place sounded a boat whistle. We didn’t pay much attention, for the S.S. Torres wasn’t leaving for several hours and, besides, I was signed on as engineer. They wouldn’t leave without me.
Presently, however, there came a lull, as occasionally there does in the noise around a public place. This time both of us heard the whistle, loud and clear. Jerry was able to identify it as the whistle of the S.S. Torres and I was able to identify it as the signal for towboats to come alongside, meaning that the ship was leaving pronto. We did not stop to discuss the situation. We ran through the bathhouse, grabbed our clothes, jumped over the fence, and sprinted as hard as we could for four or five blocks down to the dock.
We found our ship with lines cast off and drifting away from the dock, guided by the towboats. It was not so far away from the dock but that a good strong running leap might get us on board. At that time I was fairly trim, young, and athletic, and I challenged Jerry to try to make the jump with me. I ran back and jumped as hard and as far as I could, just barely cleared the gunwale, and was caught by some of my shipmates. Jerry, on the other hand, was of medium height and quite heavy. He followed me, clearing the gunwale and hit the deck with a big plop five or six feet beyond where I had landed.
You know, we almost missed that boat! And, in spite of the fact that I had signed on that ship, I had inspected the ship, I believed that the ship could take me to its destination of Sagua LaGrande, Cuba, if I hadn’t gotten onto it and in it, I would have been left in New Orleans and I would not have gone to Cuba.
You may know all that we have said and more about Jesus and yet, literally, miss the boat when it comes to that heavenly trip. The important thing is to be in Jesus Christ, the way to God.
How is this accomplished? As we understand who we are, as we face our limitation in eternal matters, as we trust in Christ as a way to overcome the barrier that separates us from God, then God in Christ Jesus reveals Himself and draws us into Himself. Then, He gives us that measure of knowledge and assurance that we need through the Spirit as a guarantee. Then we can say with Paul “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.