One of the failures of the modern church is that we have all but lost our imagination for the glory of Heaven. Perhaps I am being too kind - we have fully lost this imagination. No longer are we preaching on the merits of Heaven itself, but rather, as a contrast to Hell, we supposed that Heaven will do.
Recently, I attended a funeral where the pastor spoke a message more on Hell than on Heaven, even though the deceased had been a firm believer in the Lord. After a loud, booming note of rejoice that the dearly departed was now in Heaven with Jesus, in no more pain, fully healed, completely restored, the bulk of the message related to how the deceased had no fear of Hell because he was a believer and how others in room ought to become believers - not for the promise of Heaven, but to break the chains of Hell.
That's not what Jesus said.
Crucified, two thieves hung on the right and on the left of Jesus. While one mocked, the other humbled himself. Jesus turned to the thief, as much as either of them could, and declared, "Today, you will be with me in paradise." He did not say, "Nicely done. Now, you will not be going to Hell."
But this is where our limited imagination leaves us. This is the best, it seems, that we can do. It's not that we don't have grand ideas about Heaven; it's that we cannot see it. We cannot grasp it. We cannot take hold of the promises that Jesus has given us. And so we have settled on Heaven only because it stands in stark contrast to Hell. And whatever we may long for in the next life, we know for certain only that Hell doesn't have it.
This is no way to live. This is no way to worship. This is the cheap, shallow theology of the unbeliever, the wolf in sheep's clothing. This is the sinner on his death bed who wants no restoration of the heart, but does not want to pay the price for his life. It troubles us when we see men do this, when we see them turn to God with impure hearts, with insincere motives, and yet, it is the very thing that we preach.
Because sadly, even we have no better hold on it. Even we have no imagination for the promise to come.
There are a few reasons for our short-sightedness. First, we have lost our very concept of worship, and this has skewed our vision of Heaven. Second, we have taken too literally a handful of the descriptions of Heaven given to us in the Scriptures. And third, we have taken too literally, in an entirely different direction, the descriptions of Hell that we have. The former dulls our image of heaven; the latter intensifies our image of Hell. Neither is good.
This week, I want to look at some of these ideas and see where they have tainted our imaginations and see if, perhaps, we can't recapture the wonder of the glory of Heaven and the promise we have for eternity, which is far more than merely the promise of something other than eternal damnation. It is a promise today for paradise.
Let us recapture the image of Heaven....