WORDS TO LIVE BY
THREE OF THE GREATEST VERSES OF THE BIBLE
“HAPPILY EVER AFTER: REVELATION 21:4”
PASTOR ED YOUNG
MARCH 28, 1993
Our six-year old daughter, Lee Beth, is like most children. Before Christmas rolls around, she has a long list of what she wants, and she gave us this list of Barbie dolls and other different books, The Berenstein Bears, and on and on. One thing though that she wanted and told us about day after day, “Mommy, Daddy, I want a Bible with soft pages.” We said, “Soft pages? What do you mean, Lee Beth?” “You know, kind of like you and Daddy have, that kind of move around with the wind and they’re real thin?” And she began to look through my wife’s Bible and she got back to the section that had the maps, Palestine, where Christ journeyed. She thumbed through about three maps and then she looked up at my wife with those big, brown eyes and she said, “Mommy, which one of these maps shows you how to get to heaven?” Eternity. Heaven. That’s what we’re going to talk about today.
Ecclesiastes 3:11, a very profound verse, a powerful verse. Ecclesiastes 3:11, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men, yet they cannot fathom what God has done from the beginning.” The Word of God tells us that the Lord has set eternity in your heart and in my heart. The Bible says we are created in the image of God. Thus, being in the image of God, being created by an eternal God, we have eternity set in our hearts. We know there’s life beyond the grave. Think about the books you grew up with, or the movies you see now, or the novels that you might thumb through. Usually, the basic plot is this, good against evil and they butt heads during the book. It looks like evil will win out, but suddenly, right at the last, the good side prevails and they live happily ever after or they ride off into the sunset or they get married and we go, “Ahhh!” We’re built, we’re designed, we’re fashioned to live happily ever after. Eternity.
Jesus talked about eternity throughout The New Testament. In fact, two-thirds of Christ’s teaching revolved around the after-life. The book of Acts, the apostles, two-thirds of their messages talked about eternity. In Mark 10, a man walks up to Christ one day. He is beautifully-dressed, jewels sewn into his clothing. I call him the man who had it all, and he wants to talk to Christ because he feels like something is beyond his grasp. If you look at this passage of Scripture, you see the theme of the conversation, eternal life. This man who had it all, as he talked to Jesus, realized he didn’t have enough because he didn’t have eternal life.
In John 3, another man cruised up to Christ. This man was a member of the Sanhedrin, one of the top religious groups of the day, a brilliant man, and I call him the man who knows it all. He talked to Jesus and what did the conversation revolve around? Eternal life. After he talked to Jesus about eternal life, this man who thought he knew it all, realized he didn’t know enough if his eternity was not secure.
In Luke 23, the thief on the cross was hanging there suspended between heaven and earth. He was the man I say who had done it all, and after he talked to Christ about eternity, he realized he hadn’t done enough.
A man who had it all and didn’t have enough. The man who knew it all, he didn’t know enough. The man who had done it all, he hadn’t done enough. Where are you in this situation? Do you know that Christ has set eternity in your hearts? How is it affecting the way you live? Do you have your eternal security sealed or is it still hanging in the balance?
People often ask me, “Ed, do you enjoy preaching? Do you enjoy teaching?” Not always, and especially today when I’m going to talk about some things that are very difficult for me to discuss with you. However, I’m under the authority of the Bible and the Holy Spirit has told me, not audibly, but in my spirit, to tell you these things. So I don’t always enjoy speaking, especially concerning hell, and we’re going to talk about that.
The Bible is very candid, folks. It says categorically, there is life after death. The Bible never mentions reincarnation. It never mentions purgatory. It never mentions some limbo state. It never mentions after we die we can wheel and deal or you can work out a special situation with God. The Scriptures tell us in no uncertain terms that we will all live forever in one of two places, in heaven or in hell.
Let’s talk a little bit about heaven and hell because there’s a lot of misconceptions, myths, and jokes floating around about the two subjects. Like the one I heard this week. A pastor and an airline pilot, they were best friends and miraculously, they died on the same day and they float up to heaven and there’s St. Peter at the gates getting ready to welcome the pastor and the airline pilot. St. Peter said, “Pastor, let me escort you to your new home,” and he takes the pastor to the back part of heaven, through a couple of pastures, down a dirt road, to this little, dilapidated shack. “Pastor, that’s your home for eternity.”
He’s thinking to himself, “Wow! I heard about there being mansions in heaven. What’s the deal?” “Mr. Pilot, let me show you your place. You’ve been with American Airlines for 15 years and here it is.” He escorts him to a mansion that would make Robin Leach drool. Beautiful home! An estate! As St. Peter is leaving this mansion, the airline pilot says, “St. Peter, excuse me. I have one question. Why is my pastor living in a shack and I am in this mansion?” St. Peter said, “That’s simple, Mr. Pilot. You put the fear of God much more into people’s lives through your landing than the pastor did through his messages, so you have the nice place.” (Laughter)
Most of what we know about heaven comes from the book of Revelation. The book of Revelation, not Revelations. The Apostle John had the task of describing something that was not human in humanistic terms. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, John had a glimpse of heaven and he was limited by language and had to explain it so we could get a little grasp on eternity. I believe if we really knew how magnificent heaven was, we would not want to live on this earth. We would be taking our lives in record numbers in order to get there. That’s how great it is.
John used, as most biblical scholars agree, a linguistic tool called anthropomorphism. That’s a fancy way of saying he describes something that was supernatural in natural terms. And let me cite a few of the anthropomorphistic terms and will explain them and what they mean in the original language and hopefully clear up some misconceptions about heaven. See the verse behind me, Revelation 21:4? In this series, we’re talking about three of the greatest verses in the Bible, and today we’re talking about living happily ever after.
Revelation 21:4, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow or crying, neither shall there be any more pain for the former things are passed away.” In heaven, we will have new bodies that will not be limited by the laws of nature. If you ever wanted to jump like Air Jordan and play golf like Freddie Couples, heaven might be the place. We’ll be able to recognize loved ones. It’s going to be a place that words cannot describe. Let’s cite a couple of terms, and write these down on your bulletin if you would like.
You hear heaven in the book of Revelation referred to as a city. You’ve heard that. A city. Most people, when they hear the word “city,” they think somewhere out there in space is a sign that says, “Heaven, Population 20.3 Billion,” and there’s skyscrapers, the heavenly Galleria, soccer fields and freeways. That’s not what the word “city” means. In the word “city,” John was getting at the word “community, fellowship, camaraderie with Christians, with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ like we’ve never, ever known before.” Think about the best friend you’ve ever had. When you’re together sometimes, time just flies. Multiply that by a billion and then do that to the billionth power and you have just a sliver of what it’s going to be like. We’ll have fellowship and intimacy with God that we can never have here on this earth because there are tears, because there is death, because there is sorrow as Revelation 21:4 tells us. Heaven is a city.
The book of Revelation also says heaven has walls around it. Is that talking about a security system? Iron gates? A guard saying (beeping sound) “Do you have a sticker on your car? Do you live in this particular neighborhood or complex? What’s your name?” The word “walls” means there will be sovereign security. We’ll be totally secure in heaven. We don’t have to worry about being violated, about feeling vulnerable. The book of Revelation also says there will be rivers of flowing water. I always say, “Lord, I hope it’s stacked with Florida bass in heaven.” What does that mean? Rivers flowing? It denotes eternity. It denotes that it will never be dry. It denotes new discoveries, excitement, purposes for your life and my life, continuing forever and ever; and forever and ever is one long time, isn’t it?
Mansions. You’ve heard that. I’ve heard some people say, “I’m not into mansions, Ed. I’m into cabins or condos or I’m into camping.” That’s what I like. Or “What type of wallpaper? How about the square footage? English Tudor? What’s the deal? Is this a custom home?” The word “mansions” in John 14:2, Jesus is telling us He is going to personally see to our accommodations. Personally, to your accommodations, to my accommodations. Christ would say, “That’s it.” So we have nothing to worry about.
Let me give you another one. In the book of Revelation, John describes white robes and that makes the most fashion-conscious here shudder. “White robes! I hope they’re designer. Are they tailored? My earrings don’t go with white.” White robes refer to being clothed in the righteousness of Christ. We’ll be pure. We’ll be holy. That’s what it means. Crowns are mentioned. That means rewards will be given out. We’ll be treated like royalty. How about harps? Someone told me a couple of weeks ago, “Ed, I’d rather spend a wet weekend in Waxahachie than a million years in a harp class. I’m not into harp music. I like country-western music and that’s not really me.” A teenager told me, “I wish instead of a harp it was an electric guitar or electronic drums, a synthesizer.” There will be music. There will be music like you’ve never known. Take Isaiah 6. It says right now the angels are singing, “Worthy, worthy, worthy is the Lamb.”
In 1979, the Pittsburgh Pirates won the World Series. The theme of their path to the world championship in baseball is this, “We are family. I’ve got all my sisters with me,” and the whole place would rock back and forth, 80,000 people in Pittsburgh. How about 80 million Christians singing “Amazing Grace”? How about 80 million Christians singing, “How Great Thou Art”? Think about it. Awesome.
That’s why the Apostle Paul said in Philippians 1:23, “I’m torn between the two. I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it’s more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” That’s why he also said in 1 Corinthians 15:55, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
Most of you are saying, “Great, Ed. I’m a Christian. I’ve accepted Christ. My destiny is heaven. How though, does that affect me right now? How should I then live?” Colossians 3:2 tells us. Remember Ecclesiastes 3:11, “God has set eternity in our hearts”? Colossians 3:2 says, “Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things,” because eternity has been set in our hearts, we should set our minds on things above, not on things below.
I have one question. If you believe this, raise your hand: Is it possible to be in two places at one time? Would you lift your hand. It is possible to be in two places at one time. I was in Algebra class in the 11th grade. I made a “D” in the class. I’m not proud of that, but the reason is that I would sit there in Algebra while the teacher was going over all these numbers and formulas and this and that, and my body was there, but my mind was on the lake catching about a four-pound bass. One day I was shocked back into reality when my teacher said, “Ed, where are you? Where’s your head?” I thought, “If she only knew.”
You’re driving to work this week on 635, 114, 121; you’re cruising. Hey, your body, it’s in the car. Your mind, though, “There he is approaching the 7th tee box. He’s pulling out Big Bertha. About a 434-yard par course. Dog leg right.” Whoosh! Oh, look at the ball go. Jim, he has such power off the tee box. It’s incredible. And suddenly, you’re shocked back into reality because someone behind you is talking about your mother and you’re going, “Why?” (Laughter)
Two places at one time. I see it happening right now (Laughter). I’ve been talking twelve minutes and I never like to go over 25 minutes because the attention span starts to drift, even mine drifts up here. I’m teasing. But I see that glazed look on your face. Right now we have people at the mall. Some are already at Luby’s. “I’ll have the carrots, thank you.” That’s what Jesus is telling us. He’s saying, “I want you to be a Christian in two places at one time.” Your body is here, but your mind, your heart is set on eternity. When we do that, it changes the entire perspective. How do we do that? How do we set our minds on eternity?
Number one. Put on the eternal lenses. That’s right. Put on the eternal lenses. If I take these lenses off, I see color. In fact, in the front row, I can even tell the expression from up here. I can. I really can. When I put these on, I see everyone in vivid color. The smiles. The nods. We don’t have very many wrinkles here in this crowd. When I put on the Lord Jesus Christ’s eternal lenses, when I look at things from an eternal perspective, it changes the way I look at individuals, the way I see the future, the way I treat you, because the decisions I make on this side of the grave affect where I will spend eternity on that side of the grave, and that’s why I became a Christian at a very young age. I came to the profound conclusion that I’m going to live a lot longer in eternity than I am here and I made a decision for Christ. Put on those eternal lenses.
Second, I’ve got to own the fact that I’m going to live happily ever after if I know Christ. It doesn’t matter what situation you are in, how much you’re suffering, whatever you’ve gone through, it’s going to get better. Say that with me. “It’s going to get better.” Did you hear me? If you know Christ, it’s going to get better. That’s right. It’s going to get better!
The third way to set our hearts and minds in heaven is with our bodies here. We’ve got to live each day like it’s the last day of our lives. We don’t know when we’re going to be called home. We don’t know when Christ is coming back. The Bible says He will come as a thief in the night. No one knows. Is there anything in your life that you would be embarrassed about if Christ were to come back while you were involved in this particular activity? Anything? If there is in your life or my life, we need to get rid of it and replace it with something good.
The sad thing about all this is this particular fact. So many men and women will become so wrapped up in trying to have it all, know it all and do it all, that they will dance around the bloodstained cross, and they will say, “I’ll deal with that later, God. I’ll deal with that at a more convenient time. I’ll have my security nailed in a couple of months.” However, they never really get around to it.
We’ve talked about heaven. Let’s look at the flip side. Let’s talk about hell. I don’t like to talk about hell, but Christ talked more about hell than any other person in the Bible, and the problem in a lot of our churches is we’ve “air-conditioned” hell. Hell is a real place. In heaven, it’s a city. We talked about that. Community. We are together. In hell, there’s no community. Isolation. A man named Jim said, “Ed, I’d rather spend eternity in hell because all my friends will be there.” If your friends are in hell, you won’t know it. Isolation.
We said in heaven, walls, security. In hell, vulnerability. Maybe a good explanation would be if you could live in South Central Los Angeles without any locks on your doors or windows. No security system whatsoever. I think you would feel a little violated.
No rivers in hell. New discoveries every day in heaven. In hell, vast wasteland. Garbage. Isolation. Nothingness. No roads. You will be your naked, ugly, sinful self. How about music? No music. There will be sounds though. The Bible says, “Weeping and gnashing of teeth.” I’ve been at the hospital before, late at night, when I’ve heard someone cry out through the corridors and it echoes back and forth, and that’s just a taste of what hell’s going to be like.
The Bible says when Christ comes back, many who have made bad decisions on this earth will run to the mountains and they will want the mountains to fall on them because they see what’s going to happen to them. It’s God’s desire that we all spend eternity with Him. Don’t ever say, “How can a good and holy, righteous God send someone to hell? If God’s going to send someone to hell, I don’t want any part of that.” How many times have you heard that?
Let me settle that issue right now. Take your Bibles and turn to 2 Peter 3:9. God doesn’t send anyone to hell. We have freedom of choice. We have an option and I want to place the responsibility of this message squarely on your lap today and let you deal with it. 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise as some understand slowness. He is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone (not some) to come to repentance.” 1 Timothy 2: 4, “God our Savior wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” John 3:16, a verse we’ll study next week, “For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish.”
What’s God’s desire? That we will not perish. What if God would have said, “Okay, here’s heaven and here’s hell; there’s a way to get to hell, but there’s no way you can get to heaven.” What if God had said that? God didn’t say that. God said, “I love you. I’ve made you with a purpose. I want you to spend eternity with me. In fact, I can’t even think about how terrible it’s going to be to spend eternity away from my children.” So God has provided a great place, a place we cannot even describe with words, called “heaven.” We’ll recognize loved ones who know Christ there, and He’s provided a way. He tells us it’s your responsibility to receive what I have done for you.
What did God do? He commissioned the second person of the Trinity, Jesus, to spill His blood on the cross for your sins and mine. If we accept that (it’s our choice) if we receive that, then we get to heaven; and heaven begins the moment you bow the knee to Christ. It begins right here. But we’ll be perfected—new bodies, a total package—once we graduate from this life to the next. Do you have that eternal perspective?
My grandfather was not a Christian until he was 52 years old and a couple of years after he became a Christian, he died on the operating table and they brought him back and he told my father, my uncle and his wife, “I was in heaven. In fact, I was a baby then and heaven was so great I didn’t want to come back.” They said, “You’ve got to go back, Homer,” and he said, “I don’t want to go back.” From that day forward (you know many people like this, just read some of the books) from that day forward, he lived with an eternal perspective.
What are you going to do? What are you going to do? Are you going to say, “I don’t want anything to do with Christ. I don’t want anything to do with His blood. I don’t want anything to do with church, with the Word of God. I don’t want anything to do with accepting what God did for me. I’ll do my own thing.” If you have that rationale, that thought, when you die, you’re going to face a holy God and God’s going to say to you, “You know I loved you and you mean so much to me and I tried to speak to your life, but you danced around, you put it off, you didn’t want any part of me on earth and you’ll have no part of me or my Son in eternity and I’ve designed a place for you.” It’s hell.
It’s our choice. It’s our choice. And it scares me to know that I’m talking to some people right here in this Arts Center, you’re on your way to hell. Now, I don’t like to say that, but that is fact. If you were to die right now, you would not spend eternity with Christ. You would spend eternity in isolation, a Christless eternity. We’re not talking about Tiddlywinks here, Monopoly, Candyland. We’re talking about life and death. So people’s eternity is hanging in the balance.
Also, there are some Christians here, and your mind, your heart, is on earthly things instead of on eternal things. Two groups of people struggling here, but especially those people who don’t know Christ. Where are you? Where are you?
You remember Lee Beth looking through the maps? “Where is the map to heaven? Where is it? Show me the map to heaven?” To conclude this message, I want to show you the directions to heaven. Four directions to heaven and there are four statements right out of God’s Word and I’m going to ask you to bow your heads right now with me. No one moving at all. Bow your heads and close your eyes just for a second. I’m going to ask you, this church to say these statements to God. For many people, it will be a reaffirmation, for others it might be the first time you ever meant business with God and sealed your eternity. God wants to meet you right where you are.
Repeat these statements right after me. First I’ll read it and then I’ll read it again and you say it with me as I read it the second time. Here’s the first statement, straight out of the Bible, “Lord, I admit to you now, that I am a sinner.” Here’s the second statement, “I humbly ask for your forgiveness.” Here’s the third statement, “I claim Christ as my Savior.” Hey, we all know Christ is the Savior. Is He your Savior? Here’s the fourth statement, and this is the toughest one. “I have placed myself under the authority of Christ and His Word.”