5. The Place Where Everyone is WelcomeRelated Media
I have really enjoyed and appreciated the time with you through the series of the messages. You have welcomed me with open arms and open hearts and I have appreciated your words of encouragement on the messages. It has been a great blessing for Violet and I to be part of this fellowship. My special thanks to the class leadership for giving me these opportunities.
Finally we come to the last message in our Jesus the only way series. This is the good news story. This is the best news that we have.
By now you know the story of the three cheaters and the Hindu priest being cheated of his precious goat. And you know the moral of the story. A lie when repeated several times does not turn into a truth, but it does become convincing.
One of the lies we hear today is that all religions are the same. Follow your own path and you will find peace and fulfillment. In our first lesson we noted many drastic differences between Christianity and other religions. Not all religions are the same as we are often told. They do not worship the same God nor do they have the same concept of life after death and how to attain salvation. There is only one genuine way to receive eternal life and that is through Jesus Christ. The next three messages we explained why we must accept that as the truth. God is so high and exalted that no one can reach Him unless He comes down to us which He did in Jesus (Mountain too High to Climb). Then we saw that our sin nature separates us from God. There is such a wide chasm between God’s holiness and our sinfulness that we cannot cross except via the cross of Christ (The Valley Too Deep to Cross). Then we saw that God’s holiness demands that sin must be punished. Unless we accept the way provided by God we wind up in the place of eternal punishment (The Place Where No One Needs to Go).
Now in this our fifth and last message we come to the best news that Christianity has to offer, The Place Where Everyone is Welcome.
Bible Reading: Revelation 21:1-7
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He 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.”
5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. (NIV)
Heaven: Our Final Destination
In his book Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life, Pastor Chuck Swindoll tells a story about the 19th Century agnostic Thomas Huxley (1825-1895; It was Huxley who promoted Darwinism and Humanism in his attacks on Christianity). Huxley was in Dublin and was rushing to catch a train. He climbed aboard one of Dublin’s famous horse driven coaches and said to the coachman, “Hurry, I’m late … drive fast.” Off they went at a furious pace, and Huxley sat back in his seat and closed his eyes.
After a while, Huxley opened his eyes and glanced out the window to notice that they were going in the wrong direction. Realizing that he hadn’t told the driver where to take him, he called out, “Do you know where you’re going?”
The driver replied “No, your honor, but I am driving very fast as you told me to”.
Isn’t it strange and old and ironic habit of human beings to drive faster when we have lost our way?
Obviously this is the picture of the vast humanity today. In our fast paced life we are running around like a chicken with head cut off and have no idea where we are heading to. We have all kinds of plans for the life on this earth, but have no idea and no care about where we are going after this life.
Few weeks ago we were at a small party. We were sitting at the table with a young Chinese couple. I asked them, “Have you made long term plans?” He looked at me wide eyes and hesitantly said, yes. I said, “No, I mean, long, very long term plans? He was very polite and did not say anything, but his eyes told me he had no idea what I was talking about and may be thinking I was a nut!
In our last message we talked about one place; the place no one needs to go, but sadly most of the vast humanity will end up there. Most of the vast humanity will end up there because to go to that place you do not need to do anything. By not taking action to avoid that place you are automatically deciding to go there. Every human being born on the planet earth will wind up there unless he decides to take the way of escape provided by God in His grace that we have been talking about all along through the series.
A three-year old girl asked her dad, “Daddy, when I was born, how did you know that I was a girl?” Not a joke, a real life story! By now you know my favorite reading when I am resting in that corner of the house every morning is Reader’s Digest. A hard question to explain to a three-year old! Her dad started with some difficulty, “well, honey, you see, when you were born, you did not have any clothes…”
Before her dad goes any further, she exclaimed, “Oh, I know, the boys are born with clothes”! (Reader’s Digest, January 2013)
That little girl did not realize at her age that not only girls, boys too are born without clothes. Everybody is born naked not only physically, but spiritually. No matter how much we try to cover up our nakedness, it does not work, it is only fig leaves and you ultimately wind up at the place no one needs to go.
It is the grace of God that the Bible does not end with a curse, but with a blessing. Last time we talked about the book of Isaiah. A mini Bible with sixty six chapters. We talked about the last verse, “They will go out and see the dead bodies of those who rebelled against Me. Their worm does not die and their fire is not quenched and they will be loathsome to all mankind”.
Similar way do you remember how the Old Testament ends? The last phrase of the Book of Malachi is, “…lest I come and strike the land with a curse” (NASB). The last word of the Old Testament is “curse”.
But the good news is that the Bible does not end with a curse, Bible ends with a blessing. At the end of the New Testament there is a promise, “Yes, I am coming quickly”. Then there is a prayer, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus”. And blessing, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with the saints”.
For the believer, that is our final destination. As Jesus told His disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled, you believe in God, also believe in Me. In My Father’s house there are many mansions. If that were not so, I would have told you. And I go prepare a place for you I will come back and take you to be with Me so you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-3).
Heaven: Our Fairytale Come True
Have you ever considered what the fairy tales teach us? Is there any moral behind all these imaginary made-up stories? Why do we like these tales and why do we read these to our children and grandchildren? Most of the fairy tales, not all, have similar endings; they all lived happily ever after! And that is the secret of the fairy tales. They assure us of the ultimate victory of good over evil. There is a cosmic struggle between good and evil, and evil, much of the time, seems to have an upper hand. But ultimately evil will be destroyed; good will triumph and we all will live happily ever after. Fairy tales are just the reflection of this longing of every human heart.
Think about the Bible as a fairy tale! You will find all the ingredients of a fairy tale in the Bible. Our first parents were living happily. Enjoying their beautiful garden and unhindered fellowship with God. Then the serpent appeared from nowhere and everything changed. There are heartaches and sorrows and every kind of problems we face in life. Constant struggle between the evil and the good and many times evil has the upper hand.
The serpent later becomes the fire breathing dragon in the last book of the Bible. Think of this story:
A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth.
The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. She gave birth to a son. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the wilderness.
Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven.
The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness out of the serpent’s reach. Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.
Finally the sky opened up with a loud thunder. The Prince appeared with all His splendor and grabbed the dragon and threw him in the fiery pit where he will suffer forever and ever. And the Bride will be with her prince and both together live happily ever after!
Did you see that? It is almost like a fast action thriller! Story with all the ingredients of a fairy tale!
But the major difference between the fairy tale and the Bible story, of course, is that the Bible story is not a fairy tale. And it is only through the Bible story that this longing of the human heart can be fulfilled. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life”, live happily ever after in the presence of God where there is fullness of joy (John 3:16; Psalm 16:11).
We still live in a world that is filled with evil and with hunger and sickness and all kind of frustrations and troubles that even believers are not immune to. The world is still under the grips of the evil one. And, as Paul says, “…the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth”, and we too, “who have the first fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23).
The Bible, on one hand, provides the way to fulfill the longing of the human heart. On the other hand, it creates a hunger and thirst that cannot be satisfied by even the best things this world has to offer. Just like the Old Testament saints, we too are looking forward to the day when our “faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll; the trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend” and everything will be well with our soul (From the hymn, “It is Well with My Soul”). The Prince will ultimately defeat the old dragon and take His princess (Bride) to be with Him. And the dwelling of God will be with His people, and He will live with them and wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:3-4), and His people will live with Him happily ever after! (Actually, I like the fairy tale ending in Guajarati which says, “They ate (the fruit of the tree of life), drank (from the river of life) and reigned (forever)!”
To live happily ever after is a God-inspired longing of every human heart. Fairy tales are just the reflection of this longing of every human heart. In eternal life all our longings will be fulfilled, all our expectations realized, all our hopes realized. It will be like nothing we have ever experienced or even expected. As C. S. Lewis said, we all long for “the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” Or as the Bible says, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered in the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him. For to us God revealed them through the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 2:9-10).
Heaven: Our Eternal Home
Psalm 23 is probably most loved and most familiar psalm for all of us. Do you remember how that psalm ends? “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will be in the house of the Lord forever”! As long as I live on this earth, Lord’s goodness and mercy are always with me. And when my life on this earth ends, I have eternal home, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever!!
Heaven is the Lord’s house and our eternal home. There we will enjoy our unhindered fellowship with the Lord. In His presence there is fullness of joy and at His right hand eternal pleasures! There we will be with our loved ones in the Lord and no death and no separation ever. There we will serve the Lord and worship Him forever and ever.
You like the music in our church? It is outstanding! It is heavenly! When I attended the Dallas Theological Seminary (1974-1978) the seminary theme hymn was All hail the power of Jesus’ name. That time the seminary did not accept ladies, only men. The enrollment that time was around one thousand. We had chapel service every school day. When we sang that hymn with the top of our voices with full gusto the voices of thousand plus men filled the Chafer chapel and you can literally hear the rafters creaking. Even today as I think of that it gives me goose bumps.
But you ain’t seen nothing yet! Every time the door of heaven is cracked open and we have a glimpse of heaven we see it filled with loud sounds of praises and exuberant worship.
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”
The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped (Revelation 5:11-14, NIV)
If you are ever discouraged in this life, just read last two chapters of the Bible! There is so much about heaven in those two chapters. That is how the story ends. If we have come into the relationship with Christ we will certainly live happily ever after.
Heaven: Our Present Experience
Heaven is not only our future eternal home, it is our present experience. In a Sunday school a teacher carefully explained to the kids the plan of salvation, how to go to heaven. At the end of the lesson, to make sure the kids understood everything, she asked, “Okay, boys and girls, how do we go to heaven?” She expected answer something like you have to receive Jesus in your heart. But one girl raised her hand and answered, “You have to die”!
In a sense that girl was right. You cannot go to heaven until you die or the Lord comes to take His bride home. But that actually is our usual attitude toward heaven. When we die we will go to heaven and enjoy all the blessings of heaven. When a believer dies we use words like he went to be with the Lord! To be with the Lord has come to mean death!
Imagine this scenario. One morning after breakfast I tell Violet, okay I want to spend some time with the Lord and then I go to my room. Then she hears a knock at the door. She opens the door and sees two our very close friends. With a big smile she invites them in. Then the friend asks her, “Where is Imanuel?” Violet says, “He just went to be with the Lord!”
What do you think our friends would think? They would be shocked! And more than the news they would be shocked by the cavalier and casual way and with happy smile she conveyed the news. You want to live in a way that your wife, or husband, is at least somewhat sad when you die, not rejoicing.
And this actually happened. Once my wife and I went to attend a Christmas Eve service at our church. It was packed. I do not remember how it happened, but we got separated. May be I went to the rest room and she went in to find a spot. But when I came back I looked all around and I could not find her. She was not at our usual spot. You know how it is; we all have our own assigned seats. The service began and I just sat down where I found a spot.
My wife was feeling uneasy all the time during the service. A lady sitting next to her must have noticed that so she asked, “Are you alright?” My wife with a smile told her, “Yes, I am fine. I just lost my husband”. Again, can you imagine the shock the lady must have felt with the way my wife conveyed the news! Being very polite, as you have to be when you are in a church service, she began to express her sympathy. My wife told her what really had happened and I am sure they had a big laugh as we both had when she told me the story!
But my point is, we do not have to wait till we die to enjoy heaven. The moment we accept the Lord, we are already in heaven. Listen what the Bible says, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions… And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-6).
Eternal life for the believer is not pie in the sky that begins only after we die. As we continue to grow in our relationship with God through daily spending time in His Word and serving the Lord, we enjoy all the blessings of heaven here and now. When a person comes into a relationship with God he is assured of heaven. But as he continues to grow into that relationship heaven comes down to him and he experiences that joy of heaven increasingly. If we make knowing Him, loving Him and serving Him our priority, then the things of this world will grow strangely dim and we will be able not only to appreciate our spiritual blessings, but also be able to enjoy this life and the things of this world, and our life will be more and more filled with the joy and peace that God desires us to have.
Jesus said I have come so they may life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). Our life is, should be, filled with joy and peace, excitement and exuberance! We have the real joy; we have the real reason for celebration and to enjoy life. We do not have to go around sad as Sadducees or like a fasting Pharisee! Let others see your joy. Let others experience your joy. When we enter a room every face should light up with a smile!
We do not have to wait till we die to enjoy Heaven. “Heaven came down and glory filled my soul”. Not when I die. But “when at the cross my Savior made me whole”!!
Heaven: Our Blessed Assurance
From the beginning of this series our main theme has been “Blessed assurance Jesus is mine, O what a foretaste of glory divine”! Do not let anyone rob you of your goat! Do not let all the lies we hear around us rob you of your assurance of eternal life, rob you of your joy of salvation, When doubt arise, think of the things we have talked about. Christianity is only religion that makes sense. It is the logical religion, common sense religion. If you have any common sense you have no choice but to accept this as the only truth. As Peter said, this Book has the words of eternal life, where else can we go? Or, there is no other name given under heaven among man by which we can be saved. If you have not yet accepted that truth, right now is the time to do that. And if you already have, be assured of the truth and bask in the light of the truth.
Heaven: Our Excitement Of It
When you are really excited about something what do you do? I can tell you one thing; you cannot keep quiet about it! One Sunday after the church service parents picked up their four year old girl from her Sunday school class. She was beaming. As soon as she got in the car she told her parents, “Mom, Daddy, did you know, my Sunday school teacher is Jesus’ grandma”. The parents were really surprised to hear that and asked, “Honey, how do you know that?” She replied, “All the time she keeps talking about Jesus and keeps showing His pictures”.
That is the kind of Sunday school teacher you want for your children and grand children! Check all the ladies’ purses here, and you will find photos of their grandkids. We are so excited about our grandkids. We have eight, ranging from sixteen to two. But the girl has a point. If you are excited about something or someone, you cannot keep quiet.
How excited are you about heaven? When was the last time that you shared about heaven to someone?
Heaven: Our Foremost Priority
My friends, this is not our home. We will be gone, sooner or later, sooner than we can think or imagine. Everything we do here is in the context of heaven. Like Paul said, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
You may have heard the phrase, he is so heavenly minded that no earthly good! That certainly is not true. As C. S. Lewis said those who made the most contribution for the advancement of the culture and betterment of the humanity were people who lived by eternal values. That certainly is true. Otherwise you would be most selfish, self centered and living with under the sun outlook and most miserable and everything meaningless. We have to make the most of the short life we are here on the earth and only Christianity provides you the way to make your life most meaningful, for this life on earth as well as life after death. If you are not heavenly minded you are no earthly good.
There was an old wise man lived simple life in a secluded place. He was known all around for his wisdom and many people paid him visit to learn from him. Once upon a time a tourist from America came to visit him. The tourist was really taken aback seeing the simplicity of the old man. He asked, “Teacher, how can you live like this? You have no bed, no piece of furniture, no utensils.”
The teacher in response asked the tourist, “My friend, you ask me where is my furniture or other things. But I have to ask you where is your furniture, your bed, your utensils?” The tourist was taken by surprise. He said, “Teacher, I am just a tourist, I am here for a short time, I am just passing through”.
“So am I, my friend, so am I”, replied the teacher.
My friends, if you have not made sure about heaven, it is still not too late. If you are not excited about heaven now you will never be.
There are only two purposes that the Lord has allowed us continue to live on earth. One is getting us ready for heaven. Daily we are not going closer to the grave, we are going closer to the Lord and daily we are becoming more and more like Jesus. And two, we are being blessing to people around us by sharing the Joy of the Lord with them. The greatest blessing of the believer’s life on earth not that he is blessed, but that he is a blessing.
My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine;
For Thee all the follies of sin I resign
My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now
I love Thee because Thou has first loved me
And purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree
I love Thee for wearing the thorns on Thy brow;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now
I’ll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death,
And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath;
And say when the death dew lies cold on my brow,
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.
In mansions of glory and endless delight
I’ll ever adore Thee in heaven so bright;
I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.
William Ralph Featherston, 1864
Our heavenly Father, thank you that your story does not end with the bad news of the place where no one needs to go, but with the good news of the place where everyone is welcome. Thank you that in your grace and love for us, for the whole humanity, you have provided the way to enter this place. Thank you for this truth revealed to us through your written Word and made possible through your Living Word, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Our prayer is that we would be excited about this place you have prepared for us, we would share it with those who have not yet accepted the way, we would live in great hope and expectation of that place daily getting ready for it and prepared to meet our Savior with whom we will spend the eternity. In your presence there is fullness of joy and eternal pleasures at your right hand. Thank you for