Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Heaven

On the last Sunday at our old church, the sermon gave me an understanding of "heaven" and a longing for it that I have never experienced before.  I wanted to record some of the things that have been brought to my attention over the last few weeks before life causes me to forget them.

The Mechanic has, ever since I have known him, always said that heaven is overemphasized in Christian culture.  The focus in the Bible, he's said, is not heaven but the "new heavens and new earth."  I didn't disagree with him, but I didn't really understand it either.  Now, though, it makes sense.  And it's beautiful. 

The sermon that initially had me thinking about this talked of how we all want to be "home."  We want a permanent place that we can return to and feel at peace, feel loved, a safe place.  This was so real to me because at the time, I felt homeless.  I felt like a vagrant, a transient, traveling back and forth with my children and a tote of clothes and toys, never spending more than 3 nights in any one place.  It was exhausting. 

The sermon didn't leave me there, though.  It went on to explain that there is no such place on earth.  This world is full of change.  Births and deaths, moving, new jobs, everything changes.  This too has been real recently.  Since having children, I've thought many times how I wish things would just stay the same for a few months.  But, I no sooner figure out the schedule and routine then something changes and we go from two naps to one, or from a late bedtime to an earlier one.  As a mom, I feel like I'm in catch-up mode; by the time I figure things out everyone's moved on to the next stage. 

For a Christian, though, there is a home.  And this is where the light bulbs started coming on for me.  While the disciples were gathered around Jesus at the Last Supper, Jesus was talking to them.  He told them He was going away and they could not go with Him.  This confused the disciples.  They were looking for the Messiah, the one who would save the nation of the Jews.  They were looking for a leader, a warrior, a king.  They still didn't get it.  Peter asked Him, "Where are you going?"  He was wanting a physical location.  He wanted an answer like "Bethlehem" or "Rome" or some other city or region.  Jesus was born on earth, and they expected Him to stay on earth and fix things on earth.  They wanted the actual land of Canaan they had been promised.  So Jesus told him that where He was going they could not follow, but that they would follow later.  And Peter, being the blunt, full-force ahead guy that he was, asked "but wwhhhhhyyyyyy?"  I can just hear him whine.  And then bang his fist on the table and say "I would lay down my life for You!"  He was passionate.  But, passion without understanding the truth is ineffective.

So Jesus tells him that Peter will deny that he even knows Him, that very night.  And can you just imagine the faces of the disciples?  Judas just left, so there had to have been tension in the room.  They just got told that their friend, the one they have followed all over the country for the last 3 years and thought was going to rise up politically and fix everything, is going to go away.  And He won't tell them where.  And He says they can't come with Him.  And then He says that not only is Judas going to betray Him, but Peter, one of the most vocal and strong of them all, is going to deny Him.  They're confused.  They're stressed.  It's written all over their faces.  They may be looking at each other questioningly, shaking their heads, trying to understand.  Their world has been rocked.  Jesus has told them over and over what is going to happen, but it is just now sinking in.  And they still don't get it.  And they know they're missing something.

And what does Jesus do?  Knowing that He is going to go through the most intense, excruciating suffering any human has ever experienced, does He think of Himself?  No.  He tells them, "Don't let your hearts be troubled."  He tells them that just like they believe in God, they should also believe in Him.  And then, He says "In my father's house are many mansions.  If it were not so, I would have told you so.  And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come and take you to myself, that where I am, you will be also."  So He's going to prepare a place for His followers.  A mansion.  A really nice house.  And He will be there.  Which makes it a home.  So He's going to prepare a home for us.  I think it's interesting He was born a carpenter's son in light of this thought.

Here's where I jump to Revelation. (I've been in John 14.)    Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

And perhaps I'm being too literal here.  Like Thomas, if you keep reading in John 14, I am a very literal person, and that's not always the correct interpretation.  But, this is the first understanding of the end times that has ever made sense to me.  Jesus went to heaven to prepare a new heaven and new earth for us.  A home.  And then, when He returns, He's bringing that new earth and heaven with Him.  Except God won't be in "heaven."  Perhaps the heaven just means the stars and things like galaxies.  God will dwell with us, will be our light.  And this new earth will be where the lion can lay down with the lamb, and little children will lead them in safety.  We will no longer move.  We will no longer pack up and leave.  We will no longer struggle with the stages of life.  Somehow, we will be content in whatever state we're in at that point.  We'll never be bored.  We'll never want to grow up, or grow young, or change anything.  

While I can't express this eloquently enough, it is beautiful.  I can't seem to get the words to say just how beautiful and wonderful this is.  It's beyond description.  It is truly something that I can now say I long for.  I want to watch my children grow up, I want to meet my grandchildren, I want to grow old with my husband, I want to continue to learn.  But, finally, I'm grasping that there's something better.  Paul's statement "for me to live is Christ and to die is gain" is finally making sense.  This life, right here, right now, is good.  But there's more than this.  Jesus is preparing something better than this.  More beautiful than this current world, and without all the bad.  The drywall won't be cracked in that new home.  The uneven floors won't trip me.  There will be peace.  There will be order.  There will be calm.  It will be like the most beautiful bed and breakfast that you never have to leave, with the nicest people.  There will be incredible worship.  

And it's beautiful.

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