Surprised by Hope: The Hope of Heaven

Below is the message from yesterday's gathering along with the discussion questions that took place following the message. Would love to hear your thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.....

Last week we began a six week series entitled Surprised by Hope, based off of the book of the same name by English Theological powerhouse N.T. Wright. Over the course of the 6 weeks we will be or have looked at issues like the Christian’s hope, the hope of heaven, the second coming of Jesus, salvation, the church, it’s mission and finally leading up to Easter Sunday with the Hope of Resurrection.

Last week Matt walked us through Surprised by Hope: Hope for the world. He looked at what the hope of the Christian really is. That the hope of the Christian isn’t about escaping this place and going to the next place. It is ultimately about the Kingdom of God and his rule and reign in our lives and in this world.

Today, I am going to follow that up, by talking about the Hope of Heaven. And I want to start our discussion with a question and than a statement that I want to make, that I want you to think deeply about before jumping to any conclusions about that statement.

The question that I want to pose this morning to you is this…what comes to mind when you think of heaven? (Short time of discussion)

And here is the statement. The point of Christianity isn’t “to go to heaven when you die.” Now let that sink in awhile. Let’s look at some Scripture and see what the NT says about the hope of heaven and what heaven is like. Hopefully we’ll come to the point and see that the gospel is not a story of taking earth to heaven when we die. But that it is about bringing heaven to earth as we live.

Let’s revisit a passage of Scripture that we talked about a few short weeks ago, when we were talking about the Lord’s Prayer, that being Matthew 6:10 which says, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” What does this Scripture say to us about the hope of heaven?

Before we get too much into that, we need to look at the 3 most prevailing understandings of how God and the world are related that will help us to see what the hope of heaven is really all about.

Option 1 is that God and the world are basically the same thing already overlapping more or less entirely. The Pantheist seeks to get in touch or in tune with the divine impulse present within the world and within oneself.

Option 2 is that God and the world are a long way apart from one another. This is best expressed by Deist who believe God doesn’t interact with the world, that the world is a closed system.

Option 3 and the biblical one (even though many American Christians essentially live their lives more under the option 2 reality) is that God and the world are different from one another but not far apart. There were and are ways in which, moments at which, and events through which heaven and earth overlap and interlock.

I believe, all too often, in our American and western mindset, we tend to box, separate, divide and keep things apart that aren’t really separated. We tend to think earth is here, and heaven is exclusively another reality, another place, and another time. But the early Christians didn’t think that way. Heaven is not a far away place we hope to go to some day. Through Christ it is very near, it is the control room of earth, and as we follow Jesus, the reality of heaven comes alive in us and is unleashed through us. Heaven and earth are overlapping realities and the resurrection of Jesus has connected these two spheres more closely than we know.

Just look at what the Apostle Paul says in Ephesians 1:7-10, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” What the Apostle Paul is getting at is that Jesus is the ultimate place where heaven and earth meet. Paul is telling us the story of the cross of Jesus in such a way that we can hear, underneath it, the ancient Jewish story of the Passover. Passover was the night when the angel of death came through the land of Egypt and the blood of the lamb sprinkled on the door posts rescued the Israelites from the judgment that would otherwise have fallen on them. True redemption has occurred. Forgiveness of sins is the real deliverance from the real slavemaster. And it’s been accomplished through the sacrificial blood of Jesus.

The last verse of Ephesians 1:7-10 continues the New Testament references which pick up from the Old Testament that God intends, in the end, to put the whole creation to rights. Earth and heaven were made to overlap with one another, not partially as they do at the moment (one only has to look at the newspaper each day to realize that earth and heaven don’t completely overlap yet), but completely. Jesus started the process of bringing the two realities of heaven and earth back into totally alignment, he calls for us to continue the process, and ultimately, as Ephesians 1:10 says, “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” Or as an old hymn says, “This is my Father's world, The battle is not done; Jesus who died shall be satisfied, And earth and heaven be one.”

Going back to the verse that we started with, Matthew 6:10, we can see this reality that heaven and earth are meant to overlap, even now, and more fully when all shall be resurrection, renewed, and redeemed. God who dwells in “heaven” and longs to see his sovereign and saving rule come to birth ‘on earth.” This is, in fact, a prayer for the Kingdom of God to become fully present and not for God’s people to be snatched away from earth to heaven, but for the glory and beauty of heaven to be turned into earthly reality as well.

Listen, I am not downplaying the reality of heaven after you die. I believe in a heaven that is outside our reality, but it isn’t just somewhere else, for sometime else, but that it is also for here, and now. Just like the Kingdom of God, there is a now and not yet part of heaven. Heaven is now and designed to be experiencing now, and at the same time not yet. Heaven is breaking into our present circumstance with each passing moment. And if we look and pay close attention we will see that heaven and earth are overlapping and 1 of the ways that that happens, is through God’s people who not only pray, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” but live out a heaven-infused reality right now, right where we live. So the hope of heaven is not something we are waiting for, but it is what we enter each day as we follow Jesus and let his heavenly plan unfold in and through each one of us, and through communities such as ours.

But what does this concretely look like? What does it mean that heaven and earth overlap and interlock? What does it look like when heaven and earth overlap and interlock? What does it mean for you and me and our community to live a heaven-infused reality right now? And what implications are there for us and communities of faith everywhere if heaven and earth truly overlap? These are the questions that we’ll be spending the rest of our time today talking about and unpacking together.

1. What thoughts, comments, questions, insights, etc.. do you have regarding the Scriptures and the message? 2. Share with us a story of a time where you saw or experienced heaven and earth overlapping and interlocking. 3. What does it look like for you and I to live a heaven-infused reality right now? What does it look like for our community to live a heaven-infused reality right now? 4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?