End Time 3: Saints Triumphant

Preached: November 18, 2007

Eagerly Anticipate the Real Heaven
Luke 20:27-38

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who pours out the Holy Spirit on us through his Word and Sacraments. That word for us to take to heart and practice in our lives is Luke 20

Now when the Sadducees (who deny that there is a resurrection) approached, they inquired of him, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us if a brother who has a wife dies and he's childless that his brother marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. So there were seven brothers. The first one, who had a wife, died childless. The second and third married her, and in this way also the seven did not leave a child behind and died. Finally the wife also died. Now then this woman at the resurrection -- whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”
Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who have been worthy to experience the next age and the resurrection from the dead neither marry or are given in marriage. For they are no longer able to die, for they are angel-like and sons of God since they are sons of the resurrection.
“But that the dead are raised, even Moses recorded this at the bush when he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. He is not a God of the dead but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

This is the word of the Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints of God:

What angel names can you think of? The Bible refers to Gabriel and Michael. Other literature imagines other names like Uriel and Raphael. But maybe the best known angelic name in modern America is Clarence. You remember Clarence Odbody, Angel Second Class, the guardian angel for George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life, don't you?

As enjoyable as that movie is, it reflects modern American mythology about angels and heaven. And even though we know better, our culture negatively affects our thoughts and feelings about heaven. Is heaven really that great of a place if you're not even human there, and you have to work your way up the ranks to get your wings? Think of how you've seen heaven pictured in movies and TV. Puffy clouds, sterile white, boring music. You get the idea that well maybe if you have to go someplace when you die, heaven is better than the other place, but nothing compares to the action right now. Nothing is quite as good as life on earth when your family and friends love you and care for you. Why bother about heaven? Rather enjoy life right now as much as you can. In this kind of view, heaven isn't really something for you to anticipate and hope for, is it? Here the Biblical, Christian mindset and life clash with our culture.

In God's Word today Jesus clashes against the mindset of the Sadducees. They did not have the right view of heaven. In fact, they didn't seem to think there was any heaven at all, at least not a heaven people go to when they die. Rather when you died, that was the end. No resurrection, no soul that lives on. The end. Maybe they thought like so many in America that you only live on, so to speak, in the hearts and minds of family and friends as they remember you. Not much to anticipate and hope for in this mindset either.

But you, who believe what the Bible says, you, whose faith and hope is built on Jesus, you have every reason to anticipate, long for, and eagerly await heaven. And we pray that through the word of Jesus today the Holy Spirit build in us that eager anticipation, that intent desire, as we focus on the theme: Eagerly anticipate the real heaven. Leave behind the false images and instead cherish the real life you have in Jesus. Eagerly anticipate the real heaven.

A. Leave behind the false images

1. What truths do we know about heaven?

As was mentioned earlier, the false images of heaven that bombard us affect the way we think and feel about heaven, even when we know better. We need to leave behind these false images and review the truth the Bible teaches.

People do not become angels when they die. God created all the angels during his work of creation. They don't get married and have babies. There are no cuddly baby angels and no angels trying to earn their wings. In fact, angels are spirits so they do not literally have bodies or wings. They are God's powerful servants to care for us, his people.

Now when one of God's people dies, the Lord's angels carry the soul to heaven. But we won't remain bodiless souls forever. When Jesus comes again on the Last Day, he will raise our bodies from the grave in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye. Our resurrected bodies won't be weak, decaying, sin-corrupted bodies. No, they will be immortal, incorruptible, glorious bodies like unto Jesus' own resurrected body. We will be with our Lord forever.

And what will heaven be like, the real heaven? It will be very different from our present life. In the text, Jesus makes that clear by saying, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels.” (Luke 20:34-36 NIV).

The normal activities of this life, marrying, raising a family, dying, will no longer be going on. In that sense even though we will not be angels, we will be like the angels, as Jesus says.

But now focus on these words:“They can no longer die” (Luke 20:36 NIV). What comfort is in these words! Every aspect of life on earth is held in death's grim grip. Even the most joyous occasions soon end, for death brings a cold, dark close to all gladness and mirth. How much of life is devoted to postponing death whether that's what we spend on medical bills or the life-styles we choose in order to stay healthy! And if we aren't trying to cheat death, we're at least trying to get the most out of life before death comes, living in denial of the inevitable. How true when the hymn writer, Martin Franzmann, described earthly life as “an aimless mote, A deathward drift from futile birth” (Christian Worship 400:1 “O God, O Lord of Heaven and Earth” © 1978 Lutheran Book of Worship)!

But not heaven! Death has no power there, no power at all. Revelation describes heaven like this: “[God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4 NIV). That's one way Scripture wants to bring home to us just how great the real heaven is. None of the bad things of this present age will be there -- not even death. Everything will be new, including you. How different from the false images of heaven our culture promotes!

And what replaces death and the evils surrounding it? The living God. That's why heaven is heaven. Because we will be with our Savior-God, our Lord, who ransomed us to be his very own people. “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God” (Revelation 21:3 NIV), Revelation 21 says.

The world cannot understand why that is so great, because the world does not love God. But you who know the love of Jesus, you who know the sacrifice his love made, you say with the Psalm writer, “As a dear pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My souls thirsts for God, for the living God. Where can I go and meet with God” (Psalm 42:1, 2). Only in heaven will we see him face to face. Only in heaven will we be before his throne of glory. Only in heaven will we bathe in the sunlight of his majesty. Only in heaven. That's what makes heaven, heaven. One of our hymns says, “Earth has no pleasure I would share; Heaven itself were void and bare If you, Lord, were not near me” (Christian Worship 434:1 “Lord, You I Love with All My Heart”)

2) How have we failed to leave behind the false images and instead have let our hearts and minds be shaped by them?

Here is where you and I must confess our sin. The Sadducees had wrong ideas about heaven, so it's no wonder they were earthly minded. Why should they eagerly anticipate something they didn't think existed? But what about you and me? What excuse do we have? We know what the Bible says of the greatness of heaven. Yet we are still so earthly minded! We fail to eagerly anticipate the real heaven.

Consider what we are willing to go through anticipating earthly treasures at the end. Just watch reality TV shows like “Survivor” or “The Amazing Race,” and it's amazing what people willingly endure, eager for fame and riches. But when the journey to heaven becomes difficult, when living our faith brings ridicule or hardship, when doing what God wants is the rough path that yields our rights and gives up our earthly treasures, we're not willing to endure half as much as they are even though the treasure ahead of us is infinitely greater. What kind of anticipation is that!

Now living our daily life, providing for our earthly needs, enjoying the Lord's physical blessings -- those are all good things for us to be doing. But are we doing them with our minds set on things above or on earthly things? You and God are the only ones that know your heart and mind. But when I look at my heart, I so often use earthly blessings forgetful of my heavenly Father's open hands that generously provided them. I get caught up in the worries of life, forgetting that nothing can snatch me out of my Shepherd's hands. And how often I end up looking to things of this life to lift my spirit and make my heart glad, forgetting what Asaph wrote in Psalm 73, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25 NIV). As you examine your heart, you, too, can come up with a list of earthly things that worry your heart or that become your source of joy overshadowing your Savior-God. We have failed to eagerly anticipate the real heaven, substituting some sort of earthly goodness instead.

What deplorable people we are! God's Son came into our stinking world to rescue us for the indescribable glory of heaven, sacrificing himself on the bloody, god-forsaken cross. And we prefer to wallow in the filth that this world parades, as if those heavenly riches may not really be worth it. Why doesn't God just leave us in our own filth, fit only for hell? That's what we deserve.

B. Cherish the real life you have in Jesus

1)What's the life that Jesus brings to you?

But Jesus points us to the living God. “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive” (Luke 20:38). For you see, the true God is life himself. He came to bring life to unworthy, undeserving sinners like you and me. Listen to what the Apostle John says, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men . . . [He] became flesh and made his dwelling among us. ” (John 1:4, 14 NIV). Remember what Jesus himself said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10 NIV). “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25, 26 NIV). “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6 NIV).

In Jesus you have real life. When the Bible talks about real life, eternal life, it's talking about being connected to God in fellowship with him. Jesus took flesh and blood to bring you close to God, the true God, the one whom our souls pant for. For our sins that separated us from God, those sins of earthly-mindedness, those sins of worry or taking God's blessings for granted, those sins of failing to eagerly anticipate heaven -- all those sins Jesus nailed to the cross, your sins and mine. They no longer separate you, for you have died to sin and have been buried with Christ.

He has brought you and me that were once foreigners and aliens into God's family. For in Baptism when you were buried with Christ, you were also raised to a new life, just as Jesus was raised from the dead. You were reborn into God's family. You became a citizen of heaven.

2) Why does this life eagerly anticipate the real heaven?

Through faith you have this life, eternal life, right now. You have that special relationship with the Father through the Son Jesus Christ. But faith knows that now we see but through a glass darkly, like looking through a clouded window. We are strangers, pilgrims in a foreign land, eager to be home. We long to be in our Father's house to see him face to face, to be welcomed into his open arms. We eagerly anticipate the real heaven, the home Jesus has prepared for you.

So leave behind those images of heaven that the world parades before us. They just dull our eagerness. Rather cherish the real life you have in Jesus, the life you have by faith, the life that is in fellowship with the Father, for in Jesus you are the Father's child.

We were like a little child lost in an evil world. We can look at the shelves of toys and think that this is not all that bad. But those toys bring us no closer to home. And what danger lurks, especially from those who offer sweet tasting candy and want to take us with them! How easy to fall into the hands of Satan, like a lost child abducted.

But your big Brother, Jesus Christ, has come and found you. He wants to take you home. Don't be a foolish child treasuring the toys you can't take with you. Don't believe the sweet lies of a stranger. Your big Brother is holding on to you.

For when we see this world as the evil place it is, when we see ourselves as the sinners we were born as, then our big Brother's hand holding ours and leading us home is great comfort -- like a child that was lost in the cold and the dark, crying and terrified, but now is found and his brother is taking him home. How eager he is to get home. How eager to see his parents face to face. How eager is his anticipation. So also eagerly anticipate the real heaven. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313