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Hope for a Great Forever

Heaven, the home of every heart’s desire, is open only to those who answer God’s call to salvation through Jesus Christ.

The word "home" has a deep nostalgia for our hearts. Some of us have sad memories of home, but most of us have a deep longing to be home. Usually when our team holds a crusade, we're away from home. As we near the end of a crusade, we can hardly wait for the day when we'll get off the airplane here at the home airport. Jeannie and Marilyn will be there. We'll be back home againhome where we belong.

Animals also have a homing instinct. Did you read about the dog that walked all the way from Colorado to California to find his family? He crossed mountains and rivers and somehow smelled his way home over thousands of miles. Even more remarkable is a cow in Florida that went 30 miles to get home.

We also have within us a homing instinct of the soul. The heart's deepest longing is to come home where we belong. That's why I want to speak about heaven. Some people say, "Why talk about heaven? There are so many problems here on earthexploding population, nuclear warfare, and poverty." As Christians we need to be deeply involved in these things. But there's one thing we all face.

George Bernard Shaw once said, "The ultimate statistic is this. One out of every one dies." We all face death. "It is appointed unto a man once to die." Are we ready for that?

A little boy got on the elevator in the Empire State Building in New York City. He and his daddy started to the top. The boy watched the signs flashing as they went by the floors: 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70. They kept going, and he got nervous. He took his daddy's hand and said, "Daddy, does God know we're coming?"

In my life and experience, I've reacted against those who present the gospel as if it only brings salvation in the future. In my ministry I've tried to put a strong emphasis on what the Bible teaches about Christ making a difference now in our lives and our relationships. I believe in the message of the eternal dimension, but when someone close to youlike a son in our familygoes home so young, it makes you stop suddenly and realize how urgent it is that we know where we're going and that those in our family know that.

Do you know that tonight? Are you ready to go home?

What is heaven?

What is heaven? What do we know about it? First of all, we know from what the Bible tells us that heaven is a place. Jesus said, "In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you." Isn't that wonderful that God has a place for you? When Jesus said this, he was gathered with his disciples. In a few hours their world was going to cave in. The sun was going to come down at midnight. The Lord they loved was going to be taken from them, and Jesus said to them, "Don't let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God." Sometimes we have to accept and trust when we can't understand. Jesus went on to say, "Trust also in me. In my father's house are many rooms. ... I am going there to prepare a place for you."

Heaven is a real place. That doesn't mean heaven is up in the sense that we say, "Well, heaven is up beyond the stars some place." Heaven isn't a place that you can see with a telescope, if you had one strong enough. Heaven isn't a place where you could arrive on a space ship even if you had one that could fly far enough. Heaven is not contained in time and in space. It's another realm of existence and another dimension entirely.

You might wonder why I believe in heaven in an age like this. One of the Russian cosmonauts came back and said, "Some people say God lives out there. I looked around, and I didn't see any God out there." Billy Graham's wife, Ruth, says he looked in the wrong place. If he'd stepped outside the space ship without his space suit, he would have seen God very quickly.

In this age we wonder if we should believe in that any more. We hear stories of people who seem to die for a short time and are resuscitated. When they come back, they say, "I saw a great figure of light out there." Other people say they go through a tunnel, and then see this being of light. Jerry Lewis, the comedian, said, "I was on the other side not long ago when my heart stopped. It was like a television screen where the picture goes down, and there's a point, and then there's nothing." Other people say, "I saw an image of hell, and it scared me."

Four reasons to believe in heaven:

What are we to believe? I believe in heaven for four reasons. First because Jesus taught it. Jesus said, "I go to prepare a place for you." And notice what he said. "If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place?" Jesus says, "You can believe me."

And all Christians believe in the word of Jesus Christ. Jesus said "If it were not so, I wouldn't fool you. I wouldn't give you an illusion. which is not true. If it were not true, I would have told you." David Livingston said this about Jesus' word, "It's the word of a perfect gentleman. He never lies." I say it's more than that. It's also the Word of God. Jesus taught it.

I believe in heaven also because our hearts call for it. Our hearts long for it because there's something within our human experience that cannot be satisfied with anything on this earth. After King Solomon had tried pleasure, money entertainment, wisdom, and culture, he said "I tried it all, and it was vanity." Then he said, "God has put eternity in our hearts."

Have you tried the waters of earth? You've run after them and they've trickled away. You've tried pleasure, money, and success, maybe even the good pleasures of this life. If you're honest with yourself tonight, you know they haven't satisfied. We long for more.

I read about two teenagers in Chicago who wanted to prove their love for each other. They went to the top of a six story building, kissed each other, and jumped off. They left a note saying, "We're looking for a better place." The girl was killed. The boy was seriously injured. I thought, I wish someone had told them there is a better place. Earth is a better place when Christ comes and lives within. Heaven is a better place. You don't have to jump off the roof of a building.

Dostoyevsky, the great Russian novelist said, "Surely I haven't suffered simply that I may manure the soil of the future for someone else.'"

I want to be there when everyone suddenly understands what it's all about. You look at this world of ours and see a lot of unfairness and incompleteness. Life doesn't balance out neatly. Unless there's another world where things will be equalized, the longing of our hearts is not satisfied.

Why do we long for something more? A fish in the water doesn't long for oxygen because it's made for the water. You and I are not made just for this earth, and that's why we have a deep longing to come home where you and I belong.

I also believe in heaven because science by no means rules it out. Somehow we have the idea that our generation has learned so much scientifically that it has exploded the idea of heaven and God. I remember talking to the director of the space laboratory in Huntsville Alabama, where we held a crusade. He said, "Dr. Ford, the more I learn about space, the greater my understanding of God is."

Dr. Irwin Moon of the Moody Institute of Science was talking to a very famous scientist who said to him, "Dr. Moon, I don't understand how you as an intelligent scientist can say you believe in heaven. According to the Bible, the first man to die was Abel when Cain killed him. If Abel had traveled at the speed of light for six thousand years he wouldn't have reached the edge of the universe, which we can see with our telescope. He'd have thousands of years to go before he could get to heaven."

Dr. Moon replied, "Am I not correct? Are you not the scientist who has put forward the notion that matter is really porous and that it's possible to have a solid wall which really is mostly space?" The scientist said, "Of course that's true. I believe that."

Then Dr. Moon said, "Would it not be possible to have two different worlds occupying the same space provided they were synchronized so they were on different frequencies?" After a moment, the scientist said, "Of course it would. You could have thousands of worlds." Then Dr. Moon said, "Sir, to go to heaven, I may not have to move an inch. All I'll have to do is change frequencies."

Most of all, I believe in heaven because the resurrection of Jesus Christ confirms it. Jesus said, "Because I live, you shall live also." Jesus' disciples said they saw him crucified, but God raised him. They said, "We ate with him after the resurrection. We drank with him. We talked with him. We saw him. We had breakfast by the lake with him. We touched him. He was alive again."

He was the same Jesus, and yet they said he was different. He could suddenly appear in a locked room, then suddenly he was gone. They would see him, and then they wouldn't see him. He was the same, and yet he was different. In I Corinthians 15 Paul says those who are in Christ bear the image of the earthly and will bear the image of the heavenly. We are to have a new forma new body. You put seeds into the ground in one form, and they come up in the beautiful form of these flowers. It's identical, and it's different.

Heaven is our eternal address.

In Christ we are going to have a new body for that new home where we're going. Yes, heaven is a place. Heaven is your eternal address. I want to say to every person here tonight: you may have lost your way, and some of you have, but don't lose your address. Concerned with the things of earth, you've forgotten the things of God. Maybe at some point you disobeyed and sinned and wandered off. Maybe in the acids of modern skepticism, you've lost your way. Don't lose your address, Friend. Your address is in the heart of God. Don't deny that hunger in your soul. Don't say, "This is all I need in this earth." Don't say heaven isn't there. Homesickness is a gift from God to remind us we are all pilgrims and strangers. Even though we live in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, this is a temporary place. Yes, heaven is a place. God is saying tonight, "Come home. Come home where you belong."

Are you thinking of that? Tonight you can begin. The most important step you'll ever take is not the first step you took as a child or the first steps you took to school. I can remember when our children took those first walks off to first grade and kindergarten. It's not the step you take when you get married. The most important step you'll ever take is the step you take in response to the grace of God when you walk in your heart to the cross and start home where you belong. Take that step tonight. I'm going to ask you to do that. Are you ready to do that tonight?

Heaven is also a prepared place. Jesus said, "I go to prepare a place for you." In the Bible Jesus is called the forerunner. That's like the advance party in the army. Some of you men out here were probably scouts in the army. You'd go ahead of the rest of the troops to see that the way was safe and to blaze a trail. Jesus was the scout. He's the advance party, the forerunner. He says, "I've gone to open the way into heaven and into the presence of God. I've gone to prepare a place for you."

Heaven is a prepared place. When little Graham was born last evening (8 pounds 4 ounces, and inches, and feet almost as long as Bobby Jones's) there was a place prepared for him. His daddy, Craig, held him. They're going to go home in a few days to their little duplex, and there's a crib, a little silver rattle, pillows, stuffed animals, and pictures. They prepared a place for little Graham. If earthly parents would do that, how much more would our heavenly father prepare a place for us?

What's heaven like?

What's heaven like? I've heard some people say, "I don't think I want to go to heaven. I think it's going to be very boring up there, all these bald business men playing harps forever." What's it like? 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him."

I don't think we can understand very much about heaven yet because we're so , so . Our activities in this world are so . In heaven there is no time; there are no limitations of space; everything is centered around God. To talk about heaven is like telling pygmies in a rain forest in Africa about a space trip. It's difficult for us to understand. Scripture says we cannot comprehend it, but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.

What has God revealed to us about heaven? First, he's told us what will not be there. Revelation 21:4: "There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." All of those things that bring misery heregrief, hurt, sickness, deathwill be gone.

Second, he's told us what will be there. Love will be there. Love never fails. Heaven will be a community of love. People will be therethose who have been redeemed. In many ways we will be the same but differentjust as Jesus was different and yet the same Jesus. We'll recognize and know each other and take much of our uniqueness into that new life.

Third, heaven will be a place of dynamic activity. We're not going to sit around twiddling our thumbs on a cloud forever. The Scripture says in heaven we will serve God. Revelation 22:3: "And his servants will serve him." We're going to rest from sin in heaven but not from service .

When our son Sandy died at the age of 21, a missionary who had overseen his work as a summer missionary in France wrote us a letter, and he said, "I was stunned21. So many gifts to use. I thought, What a waste." Then he said, "Leighton, I realize we are so earthbound. Sandy's highest service has only begun."

Nothing is wasted because God will have ways for us to serve him. I don't know what that might be. I don't know how that works, but the Bible does say we will serve him.

It says we will see God. His servants will see him. We shall see him as he is. Far from being boring, can you imagine how your mind will expand with the vision of the greatness of God? Talk about intellectual stimulation. There's nothing you've ever studied that will be like that.

And it says we will worship him. "I heard every creature in heaven and on earth singing praise and honor and glory to him who sits on the throne." Every creative power we have will be used. Some of you would like to sing, but you can't. You'd like to write. You'd like to paint. You've never been able to do that. In that new dimension, I believe those creative powers will be unleashed to the glory of God to worship him.

I saw that scene on the campus at North Carolina State when the team won at Albuquerque. Thousands of students poured out, and some people even drove all the way up here from UNC, Charlotte. They had a huge bonfire and a tremendous celebration. If you could freeze a moment like that of triumph, of victory, of joy, not just over a basketball game but over the triumph of God, and if you could have that forever in praise to God, is there anything more dynamic than that?

How do we get to heaven?

How do we get there? Heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people. It's not automatic. Don't just say, "Oh, isn't it nice? We'll all just sort of happily wander up there." Oh no! The Bible says there is another prepared place. A place is prepared for the devil and his angels. A place Jesus called hell. And the word he used, Gehenna, was the dump heap outside Jerusalem, where they took the trash and burned the garbage. Jesus says there is an eternal, universal junkyard. No garbage goes into God's presence. If we insist on giving our lives to the garbage and trash of sin and will not let God remove it, then we will not come into his presence because no unclean thing will come in there. Just as heaven means to be in the presence of God now and forever, hell means to be separated from him now and forever. "This is eternal life, to know thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. He who has the son has life. He who does not have the son of God does not have life."

Do you know Christ tonight, really? Oh, you may know about him. You may have heard about him. You may have sung about him, but do you know him tonight?

Billy Graham said on an interview on Australian television, "I know I'm going to heaven, not because of what I've done but because of what Christ has done for me." And the agnostic master of ceremonies of the program was so stunned by this, he went out in the streets and started asking people, "Do you know that you're going to heaven?" This agnostic became a street evangelist by just asking the question and making people think about it.

Now what was Billy Graham saying? He wasn't saying, "I know I'm going there because I'm good enough." No, it was because he said, "I'm a sinner." He's saying, "I know it because of what Christ has done for me."

How do we know that we know him? It's not just the little inner feeling: "I know he lives within my heart." It's something outside ourselves. We know because of what he did on the cross, and we know because of what he says in his Word. That's where we get our assurance. It's not what you and I have done, but what Christ did for us. Is that what you're depending upon tonight?

So prepare now. Now is the day of salvation. God does not promise tomorrow. And the Scripture says, "I tell you the truth. Whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life now and will not be condemned." He has crossed over, crossed over from death to life.

Eternal life begins not when you die but when Christ comes to live within your life. Come home where you belong. Be a prepared person. Meet Christ now as he's speaking to you. Will you do that? Will you come to him tonight?

Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, told a story about a goose who was wounded and who landed in a barnyard with some chickens. He played with the chickens and ate with the chickens. After a while that goose thought he was a chicken. One day a flight of geese came over, migrating to their home. They gave a honk up there in the sky, and he heard it.

Kierkegaard said, "Something stirred within the breast of this goose. Something called him to the skies. He began to flap the wings he hadn't used, and he rose a few feet into the air. Then he stopped, and he settled back again into the mud of the barnyard. He heard the cry, but he settled for less."

Don't settle for less. If God is calling you tonight, come home. Begin now. Heed that call and tonight come home where you belong.

Leighton Ford is president of Leighton Ford Ministries, which focuses on raising up younger leaders to spread the message of Christ worldwide.

(c) Leighton Ford

Preaching Today Tape #96


A resource of Christianity Today International

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Sermon Outline:


I. What is heaven?

II. Four reasons to believe in heaven

III. Heaven is our eternal address

IV. What's heaven like?

V. How do we get to heaven?