One of the most challenging questions any preacher ever has to deal with is this. “What is heaven like?” Two books have come out in the past few years that some of you have read. “Proof of Heaven” is one of them. “Heaven Is For Real” is another. And when books like those come out, they become instant best sellers – because – let’s face it. We all want to know what heaven is going to be like, right? I for one want to know what there’s going to be for us to do once we get there. I suspect there will be plenty to do. And since I love ice cream – and because I am hypoglycemic I really shouldn’t be eating ice cream – and a bunch of other stuff that you see me eating around here – but I for one hope there will be ice cream in heaven.
Now I suspect that we each have a vision of what heaven might be like – or what we hope heaven will be like – based upon those things that we enjoy here on earth.
But folks, I can’t tell you what heaven is going to be like. I can’t guarantee that there will be golf courses when we get there. I can’t guarantee that there will be cruise ships or white sandy beaches – or even ice cream for that matter. The Bible simply doesn’t give us any of those kinds of details. And quite frankly – I’m okay with that.
I like the Family Circus cartoon that had one of the kids in the strip walking out of church, shaking the pastor’s hand, and saying, “I don’t want to hear any more about heaven. I want it to be a total surprise.”
Let me be clear. The Bible doesn’t tell us much about heaven. There are no details about what heaven is – or is going to be – like. It is going to be a total surprise. You see, when I read and study the Bible, I don’t find Jesus saying much about it. I don’t find Paul, or any other of the biblical writers, spending a lot of time telling us what heaven is like. It’s going to be a surprise.
But I can tell you what Jesus did spend a lot of time talking about. I can tell you what the biblical writers wrote about. The resurrection. The resurrection from the dead.
In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus is confronted by a religious group known as the Sadducees. Now among other things, the Sadducees do not believe in the resurrection of the dead. And that is why they are sad, you see. Okay, so I’ve told that joke before. Some of you knew it was coming.
But here, in this 20th chapter of the book of Luke, we have the Sadducees confronting Jesus. They have – or so they have supposed – they have set a trap for Jesus with a question regarding life in the hereafter. Now remember, they don’t believe in resurrection. They do believe, however, that death is the end of one’s existence.
So they set a trap. And they ask Jesus a question.
“Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”
What a question! What were these Sadducees trying to prove? They were trying to prove that the resurrection of the dead is a ridiculous idea, and that Jesus is wrong to teach it.
But, listen! Much of what Jesus taught – much of what he had to say was based on this one thing – that there is indeed a resurrection from the dead. In just Luke’s Gospel alone, we find Jesus has these things to say about it:
• Believers have their names written in heaven (Luke 10:20)
• Believers will be among those who sit at table in the Kingdom of God (Luke 13:29)
• Believers have an unfailing treasure in heaven (Luke 12:33)
• Unbelievers, on the other hand – who will also be resurrected by the way – will find themselves facing judgment – outside of the Kingdom of God (Luke 13:24-28)
• Add to that, Jesus predicts several times his own death and resurrection (Luke 9:22; 18:33).
So how does Jesus answer these Sadducees? Well, here we see Jesus at his best. He meets the Sadducees head on. What He says is this:
“Marriage is for people here on earth. But when believers are raised from the dead – when they get to heaven –
1. they neither marry nor are given in marriage.
2. They never die again.
3. They are the children of God, for they are raised up in a new life from the dead.”
Folks, it should be clear that Jesus is telling us that there is a difference between this age and the age to come. In heaven, there is no need for marriage. Oh, we’ll know each other. We’ll recognize each other. We’ll be reunited with each other. But the issue of marriage won’t even be raised.
But if you want to know the truth, the Sadducees weren’t really concerned about marriage in the life to come. Their question was just a smoke screen. Their real concern – their real question – had to do with the resurrection. Listen to what Jesus says:
“Even Moses proves that the dead are raised. You remember the time when God appeared to him in the burning bush? You remember that? Do you remember what God said? God said, ‘I AM the God of Abraham. I AM the God of Isaac. I AM the God of Jacob.’”
In other words, if God IS – not was – but still IS the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Jesus is saying that Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob must still be alive. With God. In heaven.
And then Jesus says, “God is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living.”
Folks, there is indeed a resurrection. Unfortunately, the Sadducees didn’t believe it. And sadly, there are people today who don’t believe it either.
“Warren Buffett is a financial investment genius and the second-richest man in America. He has his doubts about life beyond the grave, and it worries him. Buffett admits, ‘There is one thing I am scared of. I am afraid to die.’
“His biographer writes, ‘Warren’s exploits were always based on numbers, which he trusted above all else. In contrast, he did not subscribe to his family’s religion. Even at a young age, he was too mathematical, and too logical, to make the leap of faith. He adopted his father’s ethical underpinnings, but not his belief in an unseen divinity.’ And thus, Warren Buffet, one of the most successful men in the world, is stricken with one terrifying fear – the fear of dying.
“On a lighter note, Buffet once said, ‘What I want people to say when they pass my casket is, ‘Boy, was he old!’’”
Folks – whether we live to be old or not – we don’t need to fear death. Even though we don’t know much about what heaven is like, Jesus promises a resurrection for all who believe in Him – for all who know Jesus as Savior and Lord – and knowing that – well, that’s enough.
The Bible doesn’t tell us much about heaven. And I want to suggest that there’s a very good reason why not. You see, God doesn’t want us occupying our time thinking about heaven – or what heaven is like – not while we’re here on earth.
Our reading today from Luke tells us that God is the God of the living. Therefore, the Christian faith is about the living. Living in the here. Living in the now. Oh yes, we do have the hope and the promise of eternal life with God in heaven forever. That is our hope. That is a yet to be fulfilled promise. That is what the resurrection of every true believer will bring us to.
But the focus for us right here and now is on the living. The Christian faith is about living – about living life to the fullest. To look at every day as a gift. No matter what your circumstances are – no matter how tough your days might be. Listen to me. Don’t give up. God is the God of the living. We don’t have to wait until the resurrection to experience God’s blessings – God’s healing – God’s presence – God’s power.
God is the God of the living. And as long as we have breath in our bodies– we are called to love God. To love our neighbor. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God. These are the things that Jesus talked about most often. And as His followers, these are the things Jesus wants us to be most concerned about too.
So let’s not worry about what heaven is like. It is enough to know that there is a heaven. It is enough to know that there is a resurrection. For you. For me. And Jesus paved the way.
I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of looking forward to the surprise.