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?
It bothers many people that heaven is God’s free gift, offered to any who will take it regardless of their sins and failures. It offends us that Jeffrey Dahmer, the most horrific criminal most of us have ever heard of, could trust Christ in prison and go to heaven. And yet our honest neighbors and friends who have never committed any of Dahmer’s sins but have not trusted Christ as their Lord, will go to hell. How is this fair?
There are two facts to consider. One: if heaven were fair, none of us could occupy it. The last sin you committed was enough to keep you out of God’s perfect paradise. If God starts choosing which sins exempt us and which do not, he has no fair way to decide. Adultery keeps us out, perhaps—but Jesus said that lusting after a woman is adultery in the heart (Matthew 5:28). Murder surely exempts us—but Jesus said that hatred is as bad in the eyes of the Lord (Matthew 5:21-22). We want everyone’s sin to count but our own. Either everyone gets in by grace, or no one gets in by grace.
A second fact: there are most definitely rewards and loss of rewards in heaven.
In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul described some of our works as “gold, silver, costly stones,” but others as “wood, hay or straw” (v. 12). At the Judgment Day, we’ll know which was which: “the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (vs. 13-15).
Once we trust Christ as our Lord we become the children of God. Nothing can change that fact—my sons will always be my sons. But they can receive reward or lose reward from their father, based on their choices. So it is with our heavenly Father. He simply cannot be the holy God of the universe and reward disobedience. If we refuse to live in his word and will, we lose eternal reward.
This fact applies even to confessed sin. When we confess our sins, God forgives them and chooses not to punish us (1 John 1:9). But we lose reward for the obedience we refused to give. And that moment, that hour, that day of sin can never be recovered. That reward is lost forever.
What works lose reward?
Secret, unconfessed sins will be judged: “God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes. 12:14). Jesus confirms it: “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs” (Luke 12:2-3).
Our words will be judged: “I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken” (Matthew 12:36-37).
After listing all sorts of sin, Peter declared that those who do such things “will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5).
On the other hand, “gold, silver, costly stones” are rewarded. What kind of rewards?
There is the “crown of life”: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). Jesus said, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
There is the “soul-winner’s crown”: “What is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you/ Indeed, you are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).
There is the “crown of righteousness”: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
For Christian leaders there is the “crown of glory”: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 5:2-4).
Gold, silver, costly stones will be rewarded with everlasting crowns. For what? Enduring temptation; winning souls; staying faithful to God’s purpose; serving God’s people in love. Live for these. Jesus said, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20). These are rewards which last forever.
What will you give the people you love, this year? For guys you know, there’s a new watch on the market, with a strap made out of duct tape—waterproof, of course. For bird watchers on your list, there’s now a sound amplifier focused on birdcall frequencies; they can wear it as “binoculars for the ears.” For every husband I know, there’s a new remote control which connects through the Internet to control 255 operations at once. All gifts you can live without.
Here’s one you cannot, literally. Here’s the Christmas gift Jesus came to give you: if you have made him your Lord, your name is in his book of life and heaven is yours forever. His book of works will determine your reward or loss of rewards in eternity. Ungodly words, secret sins, immorality will be burned away and suffer loss; holiness, soul-winning, faithfulness, and loving service will be rewarded with eternal crowns. These are gifts you’ll never return.
Are you ready, today? Are you using your life to help others be ready tomorrow?