I want to begin this morning with a typical joke about heaven. The joke illustrates some common perspectives I want you to consider.

A man and his wife were killed in an automobile accident and awoke in heaven. As he and his wife were welcomed to heaven, he was asked, "Are you glad to be here?"

He replied, "To tell you the truth, I don't know. You see, when I lived on earth, I played golf every day. I love to play golf! I don't know how much I can enjoy living in a place where I can't play golf."

"That is no problem. You can play golf here." Upon that statement, the man was shown a golf course more magnificent than any course on earth. He was told that he could play a different course just as nice as this one every day if he wanted to. And they were all free. And he would never hit a bad shot.

The man began sobbing uncontrollably. His wife asked, "What is wrong with you? You are in heaven. You can play golf every day free on the best golf courses that you have ever seen. Why are you sobbing?"

Through his sobs, he replied, "If you had not put me on that horrible oat bran diet after my heart attack, I could have been here ten years ago."

  1. There are hundreds of versions of that joke, but many of the jokes about heaven share some common perspectives.
    1. First, heaven is commonly portrayed as a physical place.
      1. That is certainly understandable since we are physical beings living in a physical world.
      2. We simply cannot grasp that which is real but is not physical.
        1. We struggle to grasp many physical realities.
        2. Most spiritual realities are simply beyond our comprehension.
    2. Second, heaven is commonly portrayed as a place where time exists.
      1. It is a place where you never get old and do not die.
      2. But it is also a place that marks the passing of time with days and nights.
    3. Third, heaven is a place for having fun.
      1. One of our highest priorities in the American society is having fun.
      2. That can be a high priority because we live in a prosperous society that has the money for recreation and vacations.
      3. Having fun is not a high priority with people that are poor, starving, and burdened with disease.

  2. Given our common view of the heavenly existence, if you had to choose, would you choose to live in Hawaii or heaven?
    1. First, let's remove hell from the equation.
      1. Hell is real and is a valid consideration.
      2. But in my understanding of the Bible, the primary reason for going to heaven is not to escape hell.
    2. Hawaii offers astounding circumstances:
      1. Fabulous sunsets and beautiful scenery.
      2. The opportunity for easy living.
      3. Incredible opportunities for having fun.
      4. An unbelievable climate.
    3. The picture of heaven that commonly draws our images is found in Revelation 21 through 22:5.
      1. Nobody has reason to cry; nobody dies; there is no sadness; there is no grief; and there is no pain.
      2. This square city is surrounded by an enormous, high wall with three gates into the city on each side, but the gates never close.
      3. It is a city of incredible wealth--the walls are covered with jewels, the gates are made of pearl, and the streets are paved with such pure gold that they are crystal clear. Have you ever seen transparent gold?
      4. The city is like a cube: 1500 miles wide, 1500 miles long; 1500 miles high.
      5. The whole city is made of pure gold that is transparent.
      6. There are no temples, no church buildings because God lives there--everyone can see Him and Christ.
      7. Nothing influenced by evil is there; there is no deceit there.
      8. It has a river that flows from under God's throne.
      9. It has a main street that runs through the center of the city.
      10. On each side of the river there are trees; each tree bears twelve kinds of fruit; and there is ripe fruit to eat every month.
      11. There is no night because the glory of God and Christ constantly illuminate the city.
    4. Where would you like to live, Hawaii or heaven?
      1. "Well, to be truthful, the thoughts of living in a walled city with gold buildings does not sound inviting or comfortable."
        1. "Having a river flowing through the city and having fruit trees might be pretty, but it does not sound exciting."
        2. "Walking on streets of gold has never been a big deal to me."
        3. "Certainly, the absence of sorrow, pain, and death sound wonderful."
      2. "But Hawaii sounds very appealing!"

  3. I want to call your attention to two things.
    1. First, the picture of heaven drawn in Revelation 21 and 22 is a symbolic picture that had special meaning to the people in the first century.
      1. Do you remember what Paul told the Corinthian Christians in 1 Corinthians 15:50?
        1. Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        2. The physical does not exist in the spiritual realm.
        3. Life in heaven is as real as life on earth, but heaven is not physical.
      2. There is no flesh and blood, no physical gold, no physical river; no physical food, no physical necessities.
    2. Second, then what does that picture in Revelation mean?
      1. Remember the rest of the book.
        1. The church in Ephesus struggled with evil men (2:2).
        2. The church in Smyrna knew great suffering and poverty (2:8).
        3. The church in Pergamum existed where Satan's throne was and saw a member killed for his faith (2:13).
        4. The church in Thyatira had an immoral woman of great influence in the congregation (2:20).
        5. The church in Philadelphia was in severe conflict with people who belonged to Satan (3:10).
        6. The church at Laodicea was wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked (3:17).
      2. In a number of places Revelation describes an enormous, destructive conflict that caused pain, suffering, and death to Christians.
      3. The suffering and deaths of Christians are so terrible that in Revelation 6:10 Christian martyrs are pictured as crying out to God from beneath God's throne, "How long are You going to wait until You avenge our deaths?"
    3. Then what did the picture of heaven mean to Christians of the late first century?
      1. It is a place of total, absolute safety where no one can be harmed.
        1. Then the safest cities were walled cities build on hill tops.
        2. With no gun power or bombs, gates and walls kept enemies out.
      2. The best way to attack a walled city was by a siege that let no one go in and no one come out.
        1. Because the city was built on a hill, the water supply was outside the city.
        2. Cut the people off from water and food, and in time they would surrender.
      3. For everyone, inside the walls or out, darkness was the time of greatest danger.
        1. Thieves, robbers, and evil people came at night.
        2. Since there was little artificial lighting, if there were enough of them, you were helpless.
      4. Where God lives there is nothing to fear because there are no dangers.
        1. The gates are never closed because there are no enemies.
        2. It is never dark, so you are never vulnerable.
        3. There are no evil people there; there is no one to harm you.
      5. Even if an enemy did exist, the enemy could not hurt the people in that city.
        1. There is a river that gives life right in the middle of the city.
        2. You can't starve there; there are trees that never stop bearing fruit.
      6. There is no poverty there.
        1. The city is made out of gold.
        2. No one who lives in this city is in need.
    4. Do you see the point God made to these suffering Christians?
      1. God's place is a secure place of peace where there is no suffering.
      2. Where God lives there is no fear, no dying, no sorrow.
      3. No one can hurt you there, and you are never vulnerable.
      4. There are no enemies, there are no dangers, there is no need.

  4. I have no idea what physical symbols God would use today to try to explain what life with Him is like, but I know some realities He would emphasize.
    1. All pain and rejection would cease to exist including those produced by broken relationships, divorce, insecure children, abuse, lovelessness, hate, anger, bitterness, and sorrow.
      1. He heals all those who live with Him of such wounds.
      2. Wounds created by pain and rejection never exist again.
    2. There is no death or sorrow where God lives.
      1. No death of a child, no death of a loved spouse, no death of a mom or dad or best friend.
      2. Never is there reason to grieve about anything in God's world.
    3. There is no evil where God lives.
      1. God will destroy any evil in you and me through His forgiveness and grace so that you and I will never hurt anybody.
      2. In the same manner, God will destroy the evil in everyone else so no one will ever hurt us again.
      3. No people who are controlled or ruled by Satan live with God.
    4. There is no insecurity where God lives.
      1. Those who live with God will never experience being afraid again.
      2. There is nothing to fear.
      3. There are no terrors or anxieties real or imagined.
    5. Where God lives there is love, acceptance, joy, and peace.
      1. Absolutely nothing can interrupt them.
      2. And that situation never ends.
      3. And you will never be old or disabled, and you will never die.
[Song of reflection: 867 To Canaan's Land I'm On My Way]

There are some realities I cannot imagine. Amazingly, we earnestly try to produce these realities our physical world, yet none of us can imagine the world with them.

I cannot imagine: a world with zero hate; a world with zero anger; a world with zero deceit; a world with zero abuse; a world with zero violence; a world with zero fear.

I cannot image: a world with 100% love; a world with 100% kindness; a world that accepts every person for who he or she is; a world that sees only good, that encourages only good, that nurtures only good because it is a world totally free from every form of evil. I cannot imagine a world of perfect recovery for all who repent.

Such a world exists. God invites every one of us to live in it. I hope that you would rather live in heaven than Hawaii. You may never make it to Hawaii, but you can live with God.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 23 May 1999

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