A Heavenly HeartErwin W. Lutzer | July 2, 2000
Selected highlights from this sermon
With a heart fixed on heaven, secured by trust in Christ, we can make it through anything thrown at us here on earth. We can turn off our anxiety if we stay focused on the way, the truth and the life—on Jesus Himself.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just turn off anxiety so that we could sleep well? Why not just simply say we’re going to be anxious from 9:30 in the evening to 10:00, and then we turn it off and have a good night’s sleep and then not be anxious again until tomorrow night at 9:30? I mean, give your anxieties a full half hour, but then shut them down so that you can rest well. Well, you and I know that anxiety isn’t that way, is it? Anxiety has a way of pushing itself upon us and stealing our thoughts and controlling our thoughts.
That’s the experience that the disciples were having in chapters 13 and 14 of the Gospel of John, and I invite you to turn there. In our series on the upper room discourse, some of the most marvelous words that Jesus ever spoke are given to his disciples before His death.
If you were with us last time, you know that Judas ended up betraying Christ, and after he leaves the last supper, Jesus has some words just for the disciples who are left. He says in verse 33 of chapter 13, “My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. You will look for me and, just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now, where I am going you cannot come.” Then He gives them a new commandment to love one another.
Well, you can imagine that the disciples were suffering from abandonment anxiety. Jesus, whom they loved...Jesus, whom they served, and the bonds that were formed–He is going to leave them and so their hearts seem to be wrung out from within them when they heard those words. There was another reason for their anxiety, and that is that they knew that troubled times lay ahead. When Jesus left them it was not going to be easy. In fact, He was going to go a very perilous route. You’ll notice that Peter has a word. Jesus said, “where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow after.” Verse 37: Peter said, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you!” Of course, Jesus was very impressed with that statement. Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows you will disown me three times.” Things were going to get hard.
We talk about persecution, we speak about the fact that Christians are sometimes ostracized or mistreated. Well, here you have it and it’s coming down to the wire. And so, in that context, Jesus has to give some word of comfort to His disciples and, basically, what He’s going to say is, “If you have a heavenly mind, you’re going to be able to endure what takes place here on earth.”
He begins in chapter 14 those famous words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God...trust in God? Trust in me!” Every Jew knew that trust in God was absolutely essential. It was the bottom line. This is what you did was to trust in God, and Jesus is saying, “You trust in God, and you have the same confidence and trust in me!” What an affirmation of the deity of Jesus Christ. And then he begins to talk to them about the future. He begins to speak about heaven. What I’d like to do is to remind us that the reason that we can make it–yes, on this earth–is because of the fact that we have a future that is secure and that gives us endurance.
On the Fourth of July, 1952, a woman by the name of Florence Chadwick was going to swim from Catalina Island, just off the coast of California, to the shore of California–21 miles. She had swum the English Channel, and she going to now swim those 21 miles, but it was a very foggy day. In fact, she could scarcely see the boats that were a part of her fleet. Fifteen hours later she asked to be taken out of the water. And some of those in the boats said, “Just continue–we don’t think it’s too far,” and she said, “I’ve had enough,” and so they took her out. And then they realized, as they went toward shore, that she was within a half mile, but they couldn’t see the shore because of the continuing fog. And she said these words, “I think I could have made it if only I had seen the shore.”
I speak to those of you who are troubled today, those of you going through very difficult situations in your home life. Difficult situations because of the weariness and the tiredness and the sickness of the body, because of financial distress, because of vocational problems...I have a word for you today: I think you can make it as long as you see the shore.
Well, today we’re going to see how Jesus helps the disciples see the shore. He’s going to talk to them about heaven and, first of all, He’s going to say that heaven is a very special destination. Notice the text: “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.” Heaven is the father’s house. Those of you brought up in a good home, you know what it’s like to go to Father’s house. This is our heavenly father, and what Jesus is saying is this special destination has many dwelling places, many rooms.
The King James says many mansions, and that’s where we get that song: “I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop.” Did you ever sing that, Jerry? And so, we think to ourselves, “I’ve got this place in heaven with all these limos parked in the front driveway, 40 acres of lawn all well-manicured. I’ve got this mansion!” Well, that’s not quite the imagery...it is, “I’ve got a room in heaven.” In fact, there’s only one other place in all the New Testament where that same word is used, where Jesus said that there are many rooms, and that’s in chapter 14–same chapter –verse 23. Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My father will love him, and we will come to him and we will make our home-our home-with him.” Same word. What Jesus is saying is that, “If you love the Father, God the Father and I the Son will come to you, and we’re going to make our home with you while you’re in this life. And then after you die you’re going to come and you’re going to make your home with us.” Is that a good deal, or what? The Father and the Son come to make themselves home with us.
Now Jesus said, “There are many rooms, many dwelling places.” You know, if you take literally the book of Revelation that 1,500 miles square of the New Jerusalem, that’s one half the size of the United States. And then 1,500 miles high–that’s hundreds of thousands of stories all one half size of the United States. Plenty of room! There’s enough room for the Old Testament saints; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Some of us want to talk with Abraham and ask him what it was like to be asked to sacrifice his son, and we’ve got some questions we need to ask. And if, Darrell, if you take a lot of time with Abraham, I’d say, “Hey, go, take all the time you need because we do have all of eternity. I am going to get my chance.” So, the Old Testament saints are going to be there. The New Testament saints are going to be there. Paul, John, Andrew, the disciples. Then you have the saints throughout all of history, and you have those of us who have trusted Christ as savior and all of our ancestors who have believed, until it is a multitude that no man can number. And they all have a room, because there are many rooms in the new Jerusalem.
Could I say that there’s enough room for you also, who have never trusted Christ as savior? If you were to believe on Him, there’d be a room also for you.
So, there are many rooms, and they are especially prepared. Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” You know, because Jesus was a carpenter here on earth, apparently working with His father who was a carpenter–Joseph–the idea arose that, you know, Jesus went to heaven, and isn’t it going to be a beautiful place because He, as a good carpenter, has been working on it for 2,000 years. Well, I’ve known some carpentry jobs that have taken almost that long. But Jesus, as God, could create that in a moment of time. What He means to say is this: “There are rooms that are being especially prepared for you.” There is a crown in heaven that only you can wear, and it’s waiting for you. There is a place in heaven, a dwelling place, that is just yours and nobody else is going to move in until you show up and you are the one that moves in. Jesus is saying “especially prepared.” The text of Scripture talks about this, that there is a place reserved in heaven for you. I love that terminology because we all know what it’s like to have a reserved place. When you go to a restaurant and you have a place that’s reserved, you just go past the line and you go directly to that which is reserved. There is a place in heaven reserved for you, and what Jesus is saying is don’t let your heart be troubled. Look at the shoreline. This is where you are going, and you can put up with almost anything if you know that your destination is secure and it’s a destination that is this wonderful.
So, heaven is a special destination. It is also a special reunion. Here are the words that the disciples really wanted to hear. You’ll notice the text: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may be where I am.” And that’s the beauty of heaven right there. The beauty of heaven is not the place, however wonderful it may be, but the fact that we will be with Christ, whom we love! The Scripture says, whom having not seen, ye loved!
Jonathan Edwards wrote a book on religious affections. He’s talking about the emotions and the responses of the human heart that are evidence of real grace, because there are many people who even get excited about the gospel who are not truly saved. And I remember in the first chapter what he speaks about is that the uniqueness is that, though we have seen Him not, yet we love Him. And so we desire to be with Him, and we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, because we know someday we’ll be with Him.
Jesus is speaking about His return. Scripture says that He will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and the dead in Christ shall rise. And those who are living at that time will be caught up together with the Lord, and so we shall forever be with the Lord in the air. That’s what makes heaven so wonderful and so beautiful. It’s that relationship of the one whom we have not seen yet we love, to be with Him forever and ever. The personal presence of Jesus in heaven. Heaven is a very special place indeed. It is a special destination, but it is also a very special reunion.
My wife and I just received yesterday a letter that I had with me, but I think I left there, but I don’t need it exactly, about a woman whom we knew who died and went to heaven just last month and her anticipation of heaven. She was not sure how she should be dressed in her coffin, and so the dress was prepared and she wore it ahead of time just to see what she was going to look like. She was so excited about heaven that when she told she had inoperable cancer on the 14th of February, she told the doctor, “this is the best valentine’s present I’ve ever had.” Here’s a lady itching, itching for heaven! It’s not unusual. Somewhat unusual, because most of us want to stay around here as long as we possibly can, but when you think of being with Christ, and you go to heaven, Johnny, and He calls you by name because the Bible says He knows His sheep by name, and to be welcomed by Christ.
Heaven is a wonderful reunion. Could I say also that it is also has a very special entrance? A very special entrance. Thomas is speaking: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” You know, the disciples were kind of slow to catch on to a lot of things. Sometimes we read it and we marvel at the fact that they didn’t really understand who Jesus was. They didn’t have a clear picture. But I want you to notice Jesus Christ’s answer. Jesus answered and said in one of the most famous verses in all the Bible, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except by me. Except through me!” That’s the entrance, a very special entrance into heaven.
When you think of it, the claims that Jesus is making is staggering. He’s the way. The way to where? The way to the Father! He takes one hand and He puts it on us as sinners. He takes us from the city of destruction and He takes us to the city of light. He takes us in our sin and He takes us into the presence of the Father and leaves us there as perfect as He Himself is. He is the way.
My wife knows that I have a huge distrust of signs when we’re driving in places we’ve never been before. She trusts them explicitly and implicitly. I always think, “These guys...I don’t think that that’s the way.” And you can understand, we were in England recently–you know, where you have to drive on the left side of the road–I shall not say the “wrong side,” though I’m tempted to say that. We heard English spoken, finally, as God intended it to be spoken. But to trust those signs...one day a tourist said to a guide in the desert that they were supposed to walk, he said, “Where’s the path?” The guide said, “I am the path.” We say to Jesus, “Where is the gate? How do we get there?” “I am the way. I take you by your hand all the way to the Father.”
“I am the truth.” What a statement! Most of us would like to say that from time to time we’ve preached the truth, we’ve told people the truth, we’ve helped them find the truth. But to say “I am the truth, I am the embodiment of truth, truth is who I am”? What a statement! And today, in our postmodern age, people don’t want to hear about truth. In fact, it is believed that everyone has his own–catch this now–has his own absolute truth. So, my truth is absolute. It’s totally different from yours, but yours is absolute also. Is there any wonder why we’re in such confusion? Could I say that truth has universality? Two plus two is equal to four. You say, “well, would two plus two still be equal to four even if the moon turned to green cheese or the Cubs were to actually get into the World Series? I mean, would two plus two still be equal to four?” And the answer is yes. Is it true for all cultures? Yes.
If you ever have lunch with someone who says, “Well, you know, I want to give you my opinion...”. Frankly, I am tired of hearing about opinions, but what you need to do is to take your glasses off and look them square in the eye-without glasses, though I see you more clearly with them, I might add-and then you smile, and then you say this: “You know, you are entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own truth. If you find some truth, it applies to me too.” And Jesus said, “I am the truth.” Everything that He says is truth, everything that He is is truth.
“I am the way, the truth, I am the life.” Physical life? Absolutely. Just like the moon has to depend upon the sun for its light, so the universe has to depend upon Christ for its continued existence. He created it and by Him it continues to consist, the Scripture says. Spiritual life? Absolutely. “I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly.” You want to find the way to heaven? It is Christ, Christ, Christ, Christ, and none other. None other.
What Jesus does here is He defines the gate, He shows us the parameters, He shows us the way. And there’s one thing about truth that is so distasteful to this modern generation. Truth always excludes. If two plus two is equal to four, then there is almost an infinite number of wrong answers to that equation. And...and truth always excludes. People don’t want to be excluded today. Everybody’s right, everybody’s doing his own thing, everybody coming to God in his own way. Truth excludes. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” You get to the father...you get to the father through Him. Heaven has a very special entrance: Christ.
Well, also it is going to give us a very special revelation. A special revelation, and that is seen already here on earth in one of the most remarkable passages in all the new testament. Even though I have memorized this passage years ago, restudied it, thought about it often, I am still blown away by the words of Jesus in the next verses. You’ll notice that He says in verse seven, “if you really knew me, you would know my father as well, and from now on you know him and have seen him.” And Phillip said, “Lord, show us the father and that’ll be enough for us.” What a glorious statement, by the way. I think when we get to heaven, we’ll just simply say, “show us the Father, take us to the Father, and we shall be satisfied.” “Show us the Father; it’ll be enough for us.” Verse nine, Jesus answered, “Don’t you know me, Phillip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Phillip, put this together! Anyone who has seen me...” – here it comes now – “...anyone who has seen me has seen the father.” Wow. I can’t take it in. What an affirmation of who He is.
Of course, we can’t see God as God, but we can see God in the flesh. We sing at Christmas, “veiled in flesh, the Godhead see.” Yes, the Godhead see! “He that hath seen me hath seen the father.” To see Jesus is to see God.
You know, when it comes to the problem of evil and why God permits and, ultimately, even causes the things that happen in the world, whether they are earthquakes or the suffering that is so great upon this earth because of things like that, and why God would permit men to do evil things to others, such as the Holocaust. I’ve wrestled with that question, as I’m sure you have. For years, I took an entire course on it when I was studying philosophy in the university. I’ve read the atheists, I’ve read the believers, and I have to say to you today–and I’ve never said this before publicly, I don’t think, although I may have...I’m to the age where it’s possible for me to say something twice–I don’t think that there is really a rational, a fully satisfying rational answer, to these kinds of problems. We just need to grasp God in faith. But what Luther said is this (Luther, to be distinguished from Lutzer, by the way, we do get some mail here that says “Erwin Luther”): “When it comes to these questions,” he says, “God remains a mystery.” He says, “flee from the hidden God and flee to Christ.” Luther didn’t mean that there are two gods–“there’s the mysterious, hidden God and there’s Christ”– no! The reason that we can flee to Christ is because Jesus said, “this mysterious God whose ways are past finding out, if you see me, you have seen him!” “Show us the father and I will be satisfied”, and Jesus said, “Look at me and be satisfied, for if you see me you have seen the father.” Wow.
When we were in England, we were in Trafalgar Square (That’s the way Americans pronounce it. Actually, I guess it’s “Trafalga.” you just kind of drop those last letters) and, you know, you see about 100 feet in the air that statue of Lord Nelson. It’s too high for me to see. I can only see him generally; I can’t see the features on his face. That statue is too high. But it is said that in London–I tried to find it and couldn’t–but it is said that there’s a statue of him, same representation, but on eye level so that the people can see what that statue up there looks like. Jesus is God at eye level.
I can’t handle the mysteries of God. I’m convinced that there’s much more about God that we do not know than that which we know. I can’t handle His mysterious purposes. All that I can do is trust Him. But I can look at Jesus. Ah, now, now I begin to understand! So this is what the Father is like! And imagine seeing Him. Someday we will see the Father directly, once we get to heaven.
To know Jesus is to know the Father. To listen to Jesus is to listen to the Father. We’ve all thought to ourselves, “You know, I wish I could have a conversation with God.” There’s a book written by that title which is not a conversation with God; it really should be entitled A Conversation with Me, the author, Walsh, who wrote that book. It’s pure blasphemy. It’s human thoughts. It’s the echo of this man’s own voice. But we all wish that we could really talk to God. Well, the disciples were able to, and you and I can read their dialogues. Because Jesus said, “Don’t you believe, Phillip, that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you are not my own. Rather it is the Father living in me who does the work.”
Do you think you can make it, you who are discouraged today? Can you/we make it because we realize that heaven is a special destination and that’s where we put our emphasis and our mind, and it is a special reunion because we’re going to be with Christ and with others? It has a very special entrance, so we keep our eyes focused on Jesus and we have confidence in Him that He’s going to lead us to the Father. And, ultimately, heaven is going to have a very special revelation where we understand God more fully and we begin to do that as we look at Jesus. Can you make it? Have you seen the shore?
Well, just think of stepping on shore and finding it heaven. Of taking a hand and finding it is God’s. Of breathing new air and finding it celestial. Of waking up in glory and finding it home. That’s our destination. That’s where we’re headed. That’s why you can make it through today. When Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled,” I almost have to interpret that to mean that your heart can’t be troubled without your permission. So you can let your heart stop being troubled. Jesus is saying if you understand these truths correctly, you have authority over your heart–you do not have to let your heart be troubled. Stop letting it do that and focus in on the shore. And then you can make it.
The bottom line, of course, is that if we have our eyes fixed on heaven, we can make it. We can make it on this earth. You can go through almost anything. You can read accounts of prisoners in concentration camps who suddenly burst out with applause and singing! Well, why would they do that? Here they are, almost ready to die, shriveled, emaciated, and they’re full of joy! Why? Well, the story is one of them had a transistor radio that he had smuggled into his cell and he heard that World War II was over. When you’ve got that private information, you can make it.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox learned what some of us need to since we’re not acquainted with sailing-at least I’m speaking for myself–that, actually, you can have a wind blowing in a certain direction on a given day and one boat can go west and the other boat can go east, because it’s not the direction of the wind, but it’s the set of the sail that determines where the boat goes. And so she wrote a poem:
One ship drives east and another west
With the self-same winds that blow
Tis the set of the sails and not the gales
Which tell us the way to go
Like the winds of the sea are the ways of fate
As we voyage along through life
Tis the set of the soul that decides it’s goal
And not the calm or strife
A heavenly heart enables us to keep going. Don’t-don’t!-let your heart be troubled. Don’t give it permission to do that. “Believe in me,” Jesus said, “and you’ll have rest for your souls.”
Let’s pray together: our Father, we want to thank You today for Your Word and for the comfort of Jesus. We thank you for His astounding claim that, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” We ask today, oh, Lord, give us confidence in this age of confusion that the one in whom we have believed is the one who is the anchor for our souls and will keep us all the way to the Father’s house.
And if you’re here today and have never trusted Christ as Savior, you’ve never believed on Him, this would be an opportunity for you to do that. Simply say, “I accept Christ as the way, the truth, and the life, the forgiver of my sins, and the one who leads me all the way home.” You talk to Him.
Grant us, oh, Lord God, your peace and your calm. In Jesus’ name, amen. Amen.