The Gift You’ll Never Return
Dr. Jim Denison
Once again, we flooded the stores on the day after Thanksgiving, a shopping day only to be rivaled by the day after Christmas (when we bring it all back and exchange it for other stuff). You could give the items listed in “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” but this year they will cost a total of $65,264.28 (up 18 percent from last year). Or you could sit it all out. I found a website which sells “Bah Humbug!” t-shirts, and another titled “xmasresistance.org,” whose home page blares, “Christmas Resistance: No Shopping, No Presents, No Guilt.” Somehow I think they’ve missed the reason for the season.
Today I want us to consider the best of all Christmas gifts: how we can receive ours, and give it to everyone on our shopping list. There is literally no subject we can discuss of greater significance, for today and for eternity.
What is heaven like?
Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection were intended for this central purpose: to make it possible for us to be in heaven with our Father. He was born so we could be born again. He came to earth so we could go to heaven. He died so we could live. He was raised so we will be raised. He exchanged a crown for a cross, angels for shepherds, his throne for our thorns. He was born in a stable, so we could be born again in glory.
Now let’s learn some facts about the heaven which Christmas offers us. First, it is a real place: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth” (v. 1).
John “saw” it. He didn’t feel it, or dream of it, or hear about it. He saw it, and we only see things which are. 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” (John 14.2; emphasis mine).
Second, heaven is the place where God dwells (v. 3).
John reveals, “Now the dwelling of God is with men.” When we get to heaven, we get to God.
Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven” (Matthew 6:9). Heaven is a real place, where God is. It’s being with God.
Third, 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 as we spend eternity in paradise.
It’s a place of incredible joy: “You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11).
Heaven is a celebration, a party: “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God” (Luke 14:15).
We reign in heaven: “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3.21). In heaven, we’re royalty!
We’ll have perfect understanding there: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
No wonder Jesus called heaven “paradise” (Luke 23:43). It is that, a place of blessing beyond all description: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what the Lord has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9; cf. Isaiah 64:4).
Who goes there?
I read about a man who died and went to heaven. Walking around, he was shocked at some of the people he saw there—people he never expected to find in heaven. Then he noticed the look on their faces—they were shocked to see him as well.
A woman woke up after surgery and looked around. She asked, “Is this heaven?” Then she saw her pastor standing beside her bed and said, “Oh, no, it can’t be—there’s Dr. Smith.”
Who goes to heaven?
We discovered the answer last week: “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15). But if your name is written there, you are with the Father forever: “He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels” (Revelation 3:5).
God keeps this promise, no matter what you’ve done or haven’t done.
The rich young ruler kept all the commandments, he thought. And yet he left Jesus sad. The Pharisees and priests were the religious Marine Corp of their day, zealous for the law in every detail. Yet they rejected the Messiah of God.
Conversely, David committed adultery with Bathsheba and arranged for the murder of her husband Uriah. And yet he knew that he would “dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6), despite his sin. And he was right.
We can all go to heaven, but only if we have asked Jesus to take us there: “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3).
He is driving the only car allowed through the front gate, and he’s stopped to pick you up. But he won’t kidnap you—you must choose to get in. He doesn’t care what you have done or haven’t, how religious you are or are not. He cares only that you trust him enough to get in his car and let him drive. Are you in the vehicle, or trying to walk there on your own?
Is heaven fair? (1 Corinthians 3)
After the worship service last week, a man asked me a very good question. A Christian breaks into someone’s home, and kills the man living there. Police then shoot and kill him before he has time to confess and repent of his sin. What happens to him?