Demons and the War for Our Souls

Demons and the War for Our Souls

Revelation 12:10-17

Dr. Jim Denison

This Tuesday we will observe an ominous day, not to be repeated for a hundred years. It will be June 6 in the year 2006; by numeric identification, the date will be 6-6-6. The number brings back bad memories.

My junior year at Houston Baptist University, I was standing in line to receive my student ID card. I had been teaching the Book of Revelation where I was youth minister, and was aware that 666 is the “mark of the beast” in Revelation 13. I was struck by the amusing thought that someone at Houston Baptist University would that year receive the ID number 666. He or she would have to give that number at chapel for attendance, write it on multiple forms, and use it all year long. I paid no attention as the person in front of me was given the ID number 665. But I’ll not forget the shock on hearing “Denison: 666.” I wanted to run out to see if I’d grown horns and a tail. Going to chapel, I’d call out “mark of the beast,” the person would write down 666, and everyone would stare. This fact may confirm questions you’ve had about me all along.

It didn’t help that the movie “The Omen” came out that year. It was all about Damien, the Antichrist, and the 666 tattooed on his scalp. Now the movie has been remade and will be released this Tuesday, on 6-6-06. I don’t think I’ll go.

The movie is fiction, but the battle is real. We have rejoiced in worship that we will spend eternity in paradise. But we’re not there yet. We’re in that era between D-Day and V-Day. At Christmas, the One who brings victory landed on the shores of Normandy. This was the beginning of the end. But 15,000 soldiers died on the Western Front between D-Day and V-Day. Ironically, D-Day was June 6, 1944, observed this Tuesday. V-Day in Europe was May 8, 1945. If the Allies had not continued to fight for the eleven months between the two, the victory would not have been won.

Until we get to heaven, we must do battle on earth. You’re in the conflict this morning. There are Nazi spies all around you. At least one is assigned to you today. How are you being attacked? Are you battling discouragement, gossip, lust, anger, hatred, bitterness, guilt, despair? We all are. We’re all in the same conflict. How will you win the victory?

Understand your battle

An African proverb says, “When elephants fight, the grass always loses.” In the realm of spiritual warfare, Christians are the “grass”: “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

In our text we find this battle enacted through remarkable and powerful language. On one side of the battle stands our Heavenly Father, the Creator and Ruler of the universe, the Lord of all that is. Our God who so loved us that he sent his Son to give us eternal life with him in heaven.

On the other stands “the accuser of our brothers,” Satan himself (Revelation 12:10). His very name means “accuser.” He is “filled with fury” that he has been defeated in heaven, so he has brought his battle to “the earth and the sea” (v. 12), to you and me.

He “pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child” (v. 13), a reference to the believing community, or Mary and her persecution under Herod, or both. But she was protected from the serpent. So he “went off to make war against the rest of her offspring–those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (v. 17). That’s you and me. We are the “grass” in his battle against the Lord.

And so God warns us, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). His foot soldiers are his demons. We need to know about them, because they’re after us. They are the means by which the dragon has come to “make war” against you and me today.

According to the Bible, a “demon” is a created spirit being, a kind of angel. These beings sinned with Satan in heaven, and so are commonly called “fallen angels” or “unclean spirits.”

Satan is now their ruler (Matthew 12:24), and he has organized them into his army of evil (Ephesians 6:11-12). God created hell for them, where they will be with Satan forever: “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).

You are engaged in a battle with demons today. They are the soldiers of the enemy in the battle for our souls and world. They are attacking you and me right now.

Know your enemy

The Bible teaches five important facts about demons. First, demons are real. Most Americans don’t believe they exist. Most Americans are deceived.

Demons were real to Jesus. Six times in the gospels we find him casting them out of suffering, demon-possessed people. Mark 1:34 says that Jesus “drove out many demons.”

They were real to the early Christians. Acts 5:16 records this scene from their ministry: “Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.” Peter and Paul both exorcised demons personally.

Second, demons are evil and unclean. The Bible often calls them “evil” or “unclean” spirits. Demons are filthy, both physically and morally. Wherever you see demonism you find filth, rubbish, and sin. It’s no accident that with the rise of Satanism and the occult in America we also have the rise of drug abuse, pornography, child abuse, perversion, and obscenity.

Third, demons are stronger than we are. In Mark 5 we meet a demon-possessed man, so strong that men could not bind him even with chains (vs. 3-4). Fragments of their attempts lay all around the tombs where he lived, stark reminders of the impotence of human ability against the forces of darkness. We cannot defeat their temptations in our ability. But we don’t have to.

Fourth, demons always seek to destroy. We read of the demoniac in Mark 5, “Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones” (v. 5). Imagine the scars running over his body, the blood caked on his filthy clothes and in his matted hair, the wild eyes and foaming mouth and shaking hands. This is what the demons did to him. Later they killed the herd of pigs they occupy as well. They ruin and corrupt whatever they touch. They are cancer of the soul.

Last, demons are after us. If you have not made Jesus your Savior, you belong not to God but to Satan. He doesn’t want you to know that, but it’s true. If you do belong to Jesus, Satan is doing all he can to keep you from winning the battle for the souls of others. He will try his best to minimize your ministry, to cripple your witness, to poison your spiritual life.

As the parable goes, a Christian and nonbeliever were walking down the road when Satan appeared before them. The non-Christian hid behind the believer and said, “Protect me! He’s after me!” But the Christian smiled and said, “No, it’s me he’s after. He’s already got you.” Demons want to tempt us to sin, ruin our witness, corrupt our lives.

Trust your General

Here’s the good news: we can defeat Satan and his foot soldiers in the power of the Holy Spirit. We can refuse their temptations and defeat their strategies each and every day. As we learn how, make this personal. Where is a demon attacking you?

Do impure thoughts sometimes appear out of nowhere in your mind? Do you find yourself accusing others of sin without proof, in your mind or even in your words? Do you harbor bitter thoughts toward someone else today? Are you tempted to use your position in the church or community for yourself, for power and pride?

Is there a temptation which just doesn’t seem to go away? A sin you cannot seem to conquer, at least for long? Do you carry feelings of guilt over your past or discouragement over your future? Do you find yourself thinking that you cannot succeed, that others won’t accept you or want you?

Not every wrong thought or motive comes from a demon attacking you, but more do than we know. You’re being attacked today in some way. So am I. What do we do?

First, receive Jesus. Make him your Savior and Lord. As he defeated the demons in Mark 5, so he has power over Satan and his temptations always. Make him your Lord, and he will help you win the battle over temptation and sin every day.

Next, recognize temptation. When sin knocks at your door, demons are hiding behind it. And that sin will always take you further than you wanted to go, keep you longer than you wanted to stay, and cost you more than you wanted to pay. Know that every sin is part of a demonic strategy to ruin your witness and life. Identify that sin which is tempting you. Put a name to it. Put it on the table, exposing it to the light of day. See it for what it is.

Now, run to the Spirit. Every time you are tempted, go immediately to the Spirit for his help. Don’t try to win this battle on your own, because you cannot. Our text tells us that those in heaven “overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11a).

James 4:7-8 is God’s antidote to temptation: “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.” Submit to God’s Spirit–be filled and empowered every day by him–then resist the devil with God’s strength and help.

As you do, pay the price of success. The victorious in heaven “did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (v. 11b). Neither can we. We must put obedience ahead of security, and fight this battle in the strength of the Lord.

If you care more about your friends’ opinion than your Father’s glory, you’ll probably lose this battle. If you want the temporal pleasures of sin more than the eternal rewards of heaven, you’ll probably lose this battle. If you put financial success ahead of spiritual success, you’ll probably lose this battle.

Decide that nothing matters as much as serving and glorifying Jesus. Pay the price of victory, and it is yours.

Last, rescue others–all who belong to the enemy. When Jesus healed the demoniac of Mark 5, he then sent him to be used to heal others. To his family, and to the ten Gentile cities along the eastern edge of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River. He became their first missionary, preaching the gospel of God’s love and power for their lives and souls. In a war, every soldier matters. Where are you stationed?


We will spend eternity in heaven, celebrating the victory of the Lamb over the enemy and his demons. But before we go there, we must fight here. Before we celebrate in paradise, we must defeat the enemy on earth. Not to fight is to lose, automatically.

What battle is yours? What demon is your enemy this morning?

In a poem entitled, “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters,” Portia Nelson writes:

Chapter I: I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost … I am helpless. It isn’t my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter II: I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I am in the same place,but it isn’t my fault.

Chapter III: I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.I see it is there. I still fall in … it’s a habit. My eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.

Chapter IV: I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.

Chapter V: I walk down another street.

Where in the poem are you?

Gifts Every Father Needs

Gifts Every Father Needs

Revelation 19:11-16

Dr. Jim Denison

Today, more collect calls will be placed than on any other day of the year. It wasn’t always that way. The year was 1909. Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington heard a Mother’s Day sermon in church and wondered why fathers didn’t have a day as well. Her father was a Civil War veteran who raised six children after his wife died. She thought he deserved better.

So she organized a church service the next June, her father’s birth month, and the idea caught on. Father’s Day was recognized by President Wilson in 1916, Calvin Coolidge in 1924, Congress in 1956, and President Johnson in 1966, but it still wasn’t an official holiday until Richard Nixon signed the day into law in 1972. 58 years after Mother’s Day, fathers finally had their day as well. And the collect calls which go with it.

To state the obvious, none of us would be here today without a father. That’s true physically, of course, but it’s also more true spiritually than you may know. When Mom goes to church but Dad does not, just five percent of kids become regular worshipers. When both worship regularly, 33 percent of kids do the same. Here’s the surprise: when Dad is faithful but Mom is not, 44 percent of the kids end up as regular worshipers. I’m not dismissing the mothers from today’s service, just commending fathers for being here.

This is a day for encouraging fathers and all of us who are their children. Fathers face unprecedented time and financial pressures these days. With modern technology, no place exempts us from work. The global economy is more unpredictable than ever before, as recent weeks have proven. Our children are busier than ever in human history. We’re raising them in a culture which disavows absolute truth and objective morality. We could use some encouragement. So could our families. Today our Father has some gifts to offer–gifts every father needs. And the rest of us as well.

Fight your battles in his strength

John’s vision begins, “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse” (v. 11a). In the ancient world, a white horse was always ridden by the conqueror in a triumphal march after the war was won. The Parthians, Rome’s most dreaded enemy, were especially known for riding white horses. For Jesus to ride such an animal into conquest was a clear signal to John’s readers that the Empire would be destroyed and Jesus would win the victory.

And so would they: “The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean ” (v. 14). In verse 8 we are told, “fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.” We are righteous, pure, holy, and victorious.

The One we worship and trust comes to triumph with total, global authority: “Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter'” (v. 15). The latter phrase is a direct quote from Psalm 2:9, a promise the Jewish rabbis all took to predict the coming Messiah. As he spoke the universe into existence with his words, so he will destroy this fallen world with his words. He needs no bow, arrow, shield or spear. His word is enough to win the day.

So it will be when Jesus returns. But remember that he is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Our Lord possesses this day all the power he will possess on that day. Here are a few examples of that promise:

“O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you” (2 Chronicles 20:6).

“I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” (Isaiah 46:10).

“Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17).

“I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27).

“Nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

“Jesus replied, ‘What is impossible with men is possible with God'” (Luke 18:27).

Where do you need his power and victory in your life this morning? Patrick Morley’s bestselling books on men document some of the issues we’re facing today. We struggle with identity: Are we what we do? How much we make? How well we succeed? How do we relate effectively to our wives and children? How do we handle money and time pressures? How do we deal with temperament problems: pride, fear, anger, guilt? How do we maintain integrity in our secret thoughts and private lives?

Name the battles you’re fighting today–the temptations, struggles, issues in your soul and life.

Now mount the white horse of Jesus’ power in your life. Put on the white linen of his presence and peace. Get out the sword of his mouth and word, and live by its truth. Give your trial or test to him, and ask him for the courage and character you need.

Refuse to be discouraged. Today is not the day you’ll quit the battle. As you work, God works. As you are obedient to his last word to you, his word wins the fight. Refuse the self-sufficiency of our culture, and fight your battles in his strength. This is his invitation and hope for you today.

A few years ago I invited Dr. Ron Scates, the senior pastor of Highland Park Presbyterian Church, to be the speaker for our Men’s Bible Study kick-off breakfast. I asked him to discuss “lessons learned the hard way.” I’ll never forget the first one he gave us. He told us about the day when his little girl drowned in a scuba diving tank at a sporting goods store. He looked at the gym filled with men and said, “Men, I’ve been to the bottom, and the bottom holds.” It still does.

Leave vengeance to the Lord

The second invitation from God’s word to us today is just as simple and significant as the first. Fight your battles in God’s strength, and leave vengeance to the Lord (v. 11). Jesus is “Faithful,” absolutely trustworthy. And he is “True,” meaning that he speaks the truth but also that he is the Truth, the real thing, the only true God. Satan is the “father of lies” (John 8:44). Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). He always keeps his word and his promises.

“With justice he judges and makes war” against the enemies of God’s people (v. 12). “His eyes are like blazing fire,” symbolic of complete omniscience. “On his head are many crowns,” showing us his completely global authority. He always brings justice and judgment for us.

“It is mine to avenge; I will repay” (Deuteronomy 32:35).

“I will take vengeance on my adversaries” (Deuteronomy 32:41).

“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

Who has failed you lately? Where has life treated you unfairly? Who has lied about you? Slandered you? Spoken against you behind your back? Where have you been cheated? Manipulated? Passed over? Hurt? Tell Jesus on them. Leave them to his justice, and get on with your life. He will always do the right thing–always.

I was in a meeting years ago with the president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. We were discussing ways to handle criticism, and this individual told us that Dr. Graham never responds to his critics. He or his organization will set the record straight if misinformation is being disseminated. But if he is being attacked personally, he never responds. He leaves that to the Lord. He tries to live in such a way that people will not believe his critics. And he remembers that there is only one Judge of the universe. He trusts vengeance to him. Would you say God has taken care of Dr. Graham’s reputation? Let’s make the same decision today.

Claim the forgiveness he died to give

When you’re in a battle, fight in his power. When you’re hurt and opposed, trust his justice. But what do you do when the fault is yours? When the sin is on your side? What then?

Jesus is “dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God” (v. 13). He is the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). He died to pay for your sins and failures. Stop trying to pay the bill yourself. Guilt is never of God. He forgives your sins and remembers them no more. Every time guilt attacks you, give it to Jesus. Claim his forgiveness and his grace. You may have to do it a hundred times today, but it will be worth it.

Where do you need to be forgiven this morning? What words would you take back? What hurts have you caused those you love and others? What secret sins you hope no one knows? The best fathers are not perfect, just forgiven.

Decide today that you’ll fight your battles in God’s strength, trust vengeance to his justice, and give your failures to his grace. Whether you’re a father or not, you have a Father. We are all his children. These are the Father’s Day gifts he wants us to open.


Can our God do all this? “On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (v. 16). That’s his name. That’s who he is. He can win our battles and judge our enemies and forgive our sins, because he is the Lord of all that is. He’s your Father, and he’s your Maker, and he’s your King. Isn’t he?

S. M. Lockridge was pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in San Diego from 1953 to 1993. The 20th century had no greater orator in the service of Jesus Christ. Recently I found an essay from his mind and pen which so blessed me that I decided to make it my own. I invite you to join me:

“He’s the one who made you, it is He who made us and not we ourselves. The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork. No means or measure can define His limitless love and no farseeing telescope can bring into visibility the coastline of His shoreless supply. I’M TELLING YOU TODAY YOU CAN TRUST HIM.

“No barrier can hinder Him from pouring out His blessing. He’s enduringly strong and He’s entirely sincere. He’s eternally steadfast and He’s immortally graceful. He’s imperially powerful and He’s impartially merciful. He’s the greatest phenomenon that has ever crossed the horizon of this world. He’s God’s Son, He’s the sinner’s Savior, He’s the centerpiece of civilization. I’M TRYING TO TELL YOU CHURCH, YOU CAN TRUST HIM!

“He does not have to call for help and you can’t confuse Him. He doesn’t need you and He doesn’t need me. He stands alone in the solitude of Himself. He’s august and He’s unique. He’s unparalleled, He’s unprecedented, He’s supreme, He’s preeminent, He’s the loftiest idea in literature, He’s the highest personality in philosophy, He’s the supreme problem of higher criticism, He’s the fundamental doctrine of true theology, He’s the cardinal necessity of spiritual religion, He’s the miracle of the age, He’s the superlative of everything good you can call Him. I’M TRYING TO TELL YOU CHURCH, YOU CAN TRUST HIM!

“He can satisfy all your needs, and He can do it simultaneously. He supplies strength for the weak and He’s available for the tempted and the tried. He sympathizes and He sees. He guards and He guides, He heals the sick, He cleansed the Leper, He forgives sinners, He discharges debtors, He delivers the captives, He defends the feeble, He blesses the young, He regards the aged, He rewards the diligent, He beautifies the meek, I’M TRYING TO TELL YOU CHURCH, YOU CAN TRUST HIM!

“He’s the key to knowledge, He’s the well spring of wisdom, He’s the doorway of deliverance, He’s the pathway of peace, He’s the roadway of righteousness, He’s the highway of holiness, He’s the gateway to glory, YOU CAN TRUST IN HIM!

“He’s the master of the mighty, He’s the captain of the conquers, He’s the head of heroes, He’s the leader of legislators, He’s the overseer of the overcomers, He’s the governor of the governors, He’s the prince of princes, He’s the king of kings, He’s the Lord of lords, YOU… CAN… TRUST… HIM!!!

“His office is manifold, His promise is sure, His life is matchless, His goodness is limitless, His mercy is everlasting, His love never changes, His word is enough, His grace is sufficient, His reign is righteous, His yoke is easy, His burden is light, I wish I could describe Him to you, He’s indescribable because He’s incomprehensible, He’s irresistible because He’s invincible. You can’t get Him off your hands, you can’t get Him off your mind, you can’t outlive Him and you can’t live without Him. Pilate couldn’t stand it when he found he couldn’t stop Him, and Pilate couldn’t find any fault in Him. And the witnesses couldn’t get their testimonies to agree and Herod couldn’t kill Him, and death couldn’t handle Him and thank God the grave couldn’t hold Him.

“There was nobody before Him and there will be nobody after Him. He has no predecessor, He’ll have no successor, you can’t impeach Him and He’s not going to resign. YOU CAN TRUST HIM!!!”


The Most Important Questions on Earth

The Most Important Question on Earth

Revelation 21:1-5

Dr. Jim Denison

A dear friend sent me this story. A man says, “I’ve been married 25 years. I took a look at my wife one day and said, ‘Honey, 25 years ago we had a cheap apartment, a cheap car, slept on a sofa bed and watched a 10-inch black and white TV, but I got to live with a hot 25 year old blonde. Now we have a nice house, nice car, big bed and plasma screen TV, but I’m living with a 50 year old woman. It seems to me that you are not holding up your side of things.’

“My wife is a very reasonable woman. She told me to go out and find a hot 25 year old blonde, and she would make sure that I would once again be living in a cheap apartment.”

Some discussions are just not worth having. We should declare victory and go home, because we’re going to lose, anyway. Other discussions are crucial to our lives, families, and future.

We learned this week that North Korea is close to testing a long-range ballistic missile launch. South Dakota voters this fall will decide the fate of a law which would ban most abortions in the state; other states will be watching closely. Iran is being urged to suspend its uranium enrichment program. We could go on.

But none of these issues, as vital as they are, is as significant as the discussion we need to have this morning. We’re going to talk today about the most important question on earth. I need to ask it with you, and show you why it is so vital to your life today.

What is heaven like?

Let’s set out the context and parameters for our discussion. Our text talks about heaven. We’ve been watching Jesus reveal himself to us through the Revelation, not as The DaVinci Code’s human prophet but as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Today he wants to show us his home.

First, his word says that heaven is a real place. John said, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1). He didn’t feel it, or dream of it, or hear about it. He saw it, and we only see things which are. 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” (John 14.2).

Heaven is a real place.

Second, heaven is a blessed place (v. 4). Because God is there, all that is perfect is there as well. There will be no death in heaven, thus no mourning or crying or pain. Our greatest enemy will trouble us no more. You’ll be glad you’re there.

Third, heaven is a place of great reward. Jesus told us to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20). The psalmist testified, “You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11). Our reward is forever, “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4).

Is heaven real?

Now, let’s see if we believe everything we’ve learned thus far. Raise your hand if you believe in heaven. But I’m afraid there’s a “but.” In the back of your mind, is there ever a glimmer of doubt that maybe it’s not really true? That those you love who have died are really just dead? That this is all there is, and heaven is what we hope for but aren’t sure really exists?

I was in Houston a few months ago, and stopped at my father’s grave. The greatest tragedy of my life is that my father never met my sons. My spiritual side is sure he’s in heaven. My human side hopes so. I want there to be more than this. I want to see him again. I want him to meet my sons one day. I hope it’s true.

I’ve spoken with several people in recent weeks who tell me that they do not believe in an afterlife. Most of us are sophisticated, scientific people. It’s hard for many of us to believe what we cannot understand or verify through our experience, science, or logic. It’s hard to believe what we cannot prove.

Freud said that God is a projection of our need for an ideal father. By extension, heaven is a projection of our need to live forever. We conjure up the concept to make ourselves feel better about our finite time on earth.

Marx called religion the “opiate of the people.” Unfortunately, he’s sometimes right. During the horrific days of slavery, a slaveowner was happy for his slaves to believe that they would be rewarded in heaven if they were obedient on earth.

When I’ve thought about this issue in the past, it’s always comforted me to remember that every culture known to history has a sense of something beyond this world.

It’s impossible to find a civilization which doesn’t believe in life beyond this life. Pascal said that there’s a “God-shaped emptiness” inside us all; Augustine observed that our hearts are restless until they rest in him.

But what if that’s because we all share the same need to believe that there’s something more, the same horror at the idea that this is all there is? When we stand at the grave of someone we love, our hearts break at the thought that we’ll never see them again. So we believe in heaven because we need to believe in heaven, the same way we believe in peace even though our world is always at war. What if that’s all it is–a belief?

We can say that even if heaven isn’t real, believing in it is a good thing. It gives us hope, something to look forward to, a way to be comforted. The people I know who don’t believe in heaven don’t mind if I do. “Whatever gets you through the day.” Believe what you need to believe. So let’s move on, hoping that heaven is real. If we’re right, we’ll rejoice forever. If we’re wrong, we’ll never know it. What have we got to lose?

Here’s the problem: if heaven isn’t real, Jesus was wrong. His word was wrong. Heaven isn’t a peripheral subject in Scripture. The NIV uses the word “heaven” 427 times. If it isn’t real, God’s word isn’t true. And everything I believe based on his word is in doubt this morning.

How do we know?

I gave myself permission to wrestle with this issue in preparing for this message, and go wherever it takes me. I’ve landed on two reasons to believe that heaven is real, two reasons to have absolute assurance that heaven is a real, blessed place of reward. And one reason why this fact matters so much today, why the question of heaven is the most important question on earth.

Why do I believe in heaven this morning? First, because Jesus believed in heaven, and I believe in him.

I know from the ancient historian Thallus the Samaritan that Jesus existed, from Tacitus that he was crucified by Pontius Pilate, from Josephus that his followers thought him raised from the dead, and from Pliny the Younger that they worshiped him as God.

I know that his followers would not steal the body and then die for a lie. They didn’t go to the wrong tomb, for the authorities were guarding the right tomb. Jesus didn’t swoon on the cross, then convince 500 people he had heavenly powers and ascend back into heaven. I know from first-century records that opponents of the resurrection had no answer to the claim that he was risen from the grave.

If he is resurrected, he is God. If he is God, his word is true. And his word says that “he who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26). He promised us, “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.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3).

I cannot go to heaven, and cannot meet those who have. By definition it is a realm which transcends my earthly ability to verify its existence. But Jesus came from there, and returned there. I know that he walked my planet, breathed my air, faced my sin, died on my cross, rose from my grave. I believe in heaven because Jesus believed in heaven. And because I believe in him.

Second, I believe in heaven because I’ve learned to trust what I cannot prove. Of course I cannot prove that heaven exists. By definition, the “supernatural” transcends the “natural.” Heaven transcends earth. I cannot use earthly experience to verify its existence. But I believe much which I cannot verify empirically. So do you.

Is there more beyond this present world of our senses and experience? Of course there is. Solipsism is the philosophical belief that reality exists only when you experience it. This sanctuary exists only when you enter it. You exist only when I preach to you.

It’s an appealing thought. The NBA Finals didn’t exist, because I refuse to think about them. I don’t have to pay for Ryan’s tuition at Baylor because Baylor doesn’t exist while I’m in Dallas. I bet they’ll find a way to change my mind.

The problem with the philosophy is that it doesn’t work. Start a fire in your fireplace, then leave the room for several hours. You’ll return to discover that the logs burned down. How is that possible? We all know that solipsism is silly. Of course things exist beyond our experience of them. Of course television and radio waves exist in this room, whether we can see them or not. I assume the choir is still behind me, that they didn’t sneak out during the sermon. And that my car’s still in the garage where I left it. And that someone is cooking lunch at the restaurant we’ll choose after church.

Just because we cannot see heaven makes it no less real. I cannot see the walls behind me, but I assume they’re still there. I cannot see into the next room, but that makes the people there no less present. If I could use earthly experience to verify heaven, by definition it wouldn’t really be heaven. If I could use physical methods to measure the God who is Spirit (John 4:24), by definition he wouldn’t be God.

So I’m going to believe in what I cannot prove, because nothing worth proving can be proven. I cannot prove that my family loves me. I cannot prove that the Bible is true, or that God is love, or that I will go to heaven when I die. I cannot prove that they are not, either.

All relationships transcend the evidence and are self-validating. If I were to wait until I could prove I could be a good pastor, I would never have become a pastor. If I were to wait until I could prove that I would be a good husband and father, I’d still be single. You could not prove the validity of a single relationship in your life to me. You may say that your spouse loves you, or your friends appreciate you, or your employees are loyal to you, but they may be lying or you may be deceived. I couldn’t know that you were right unless I experienced what you have experienced.

So we examine the evidence: Jesus is real and he said heaven is real. Then we take a step into relationship with him. And that relationship becomes self-validating. I’m willing to stake my eternity on him, not on me. On his truth, not my doubts. On his power, not my limitations. Because I believe in Jesus, I believe in heaven. I invite you to join me.


Let’s close with this question: why does any of this matter to your soul today? What about the problems and fears you’re facing this morning? What about the North Korean missile launch test, or the battle over abortion, or the Iranian nuclear program? What about the economy, and the time and money pressures you’re facing? What about your guilt over the past and fear over the future? One day there will be a new heaven and a new earth; but what about the earth you inhabit this morning? Why is heaven the only question which matters on earth?

Let’s think about that question for a moment. It’s a fact that future reward makes present obedience worthwhile. You go to class, or the office, or whatever you’ll do this week, because you believe the future reward is worth the present cost.

It’s the same way in living passionately and fully for Jesus, in seeking first the Kingdom of God, in being crucified with Christ, in presenting our bodies a living sacrifice, in selling out for God. I read a quote this week which stopped me in my tracks: “Your job is the passionate pursuit of who God made you to be. Anything else is sin.” My problem is the “anything else.” It’s hard for me to obey God beyond what this world rewards now.

We live in the Bible belt, where church attendance is socially accepted and often rewarded. We live in a culture which rewards those who are faithful to their spouses and love their children, those who live with a basically accepted morality.

But why go beyond that standard? Why refuse sexual immorality on a date when your culture affirms it? Why refuse personal, private sins no one knows about? Secret anger and bitterness toward those who have hurt you, online pornography, private alcohol abuse, personal agendas and pride you hide from the rest of us?

Why serve God beyond the socially acceptable? Why share your faith at the risk of offending others? Why give more than you can spare of your money and time? Why seek the “passionate pursuit of who God made you to be,” whatever it costs?

Because heaven guarantees that earthly obedience is the best investment of your life.

Long after this planet is gone and those who made fun of your faith and misunderstood your sacrifice don’t matter, your reward in paradise is sure. God never wastes a hurt.

Everything you do for him during these few years on earth is noted in heaven and will be rewarded forever. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make.

And because living for heaven is the best way to live on earth. The future rewards only that which is best in the present. Being godly with your secret thoughts is the healthiest way to live now, for your happiness depends on the quality of your thoughts. What you think is what you become. Being sacrificial with your witness, time and money is the most satisfying, significant, joyful way to live today.

Living for heaven is the best way to live on earth.

So I’m going to live for heaven from now on. I’m going to care more for people’s eternal souls than their temporal approval. I’m going to use my gifts and resources to build God’s Kingdom more than my own. I’m going to ask God to use my suffering more than solve it. I’m going to remember that this life is the car and not the house, the road and not the destination. I’m going to make sure every day that I’m ready to die, because one day I will. I’m going to live for heaven while I’m on earth. I invite you to do the same.

The payoff is for now. A life well lived is its own reward. But the payoff is also for eternity. On the day when I take the Lord’s Supper from nail-scarred hands, and step into the heaven of the One I love and serve on earth, whatever it costs me today to live for heaven will be worth it forever. I want that for my soul and for yours. So let’s live for heaven together. Will you join me?