If I had the funds and the free time, my dream would be to take my wife Lindsay on an around the world cruise (sorry kids!). I’m talking a Queen Mary II, one hundred twenty day voyage, from England, all the way to the Orient and back with all the stops in between. Sights and sounds and smells not even comprehended would soon be ours. Exotic foods and astonishing sights, new faces and strange customs would be set in front of us while we enjoyed the comforts of a twenty first century vessel and twenty four hour service. Imagine the anticipation on the eve of such a journey.
And there is a journey that is so much more spectacular than that that we all are assured of taking at some point. And yet which of us anticipates it in the slightest? When do we hear talk of the heavenbound glories when a loved one is on its doorstep. Rarely? Never?
For me, it’s something that I’m eagerly anticipating. Having reached middle age I’m ready to be done with the pain and frustrations and sin of this life that are really piling up on my weary shoulders. The regret and the sorrows, the tears and the pain, I’m very eager to leave behind. I might be the only one at my death bed with a smile on my face.
I do realize that there is some selfishness in this perspective. There will be teary loved ones left behind and the good fight might miss my sword skills (such as they are) and a few other friends might miss my pretty face.
Clearly we all tend to fall on one side of this or the other and I think we need to have a more balanced understanding of death and the afterlife. We need to somehow straddle the line because, after all, Jesus wept (John 11:35).
Besides being the shortest verse in the Bible and the one we all leapt upon when asked during Sunday School to recite a verse by memory, it is a profound description of our Lord.
In John 11 we have this amazing story of the death and resurrection of Lazarus, a friend of Jesus and the brother of Mary and Martha. Lazarus has been dead a full four days before Jesus comes to the tomb. And when he arrived on the scene and encountered Mary weeping, He wept too.
Has this ever struck you as strange? Jesus was about to raise the man from the dead in about eight verses, Lazarus would be stunned, the mourners would be elated and the only loser would be the guy who sold them the gravesite; what was there to weep about?
A few things I think. First, He was being a good friend and entering into the suffering of Mary and Martha and the others. After all:
“As a father pities his children,
So the Lord pities those who fear Him.
For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13–14).
He probably, in His humanness felt deeply for Lazarus for certainly there was some pain and suffering involved in the dying process. And in His holiness He knew the horror of the reality of death. That death was the ultimate violation and that He too would have to suffer and die.
Adam and Eve were not supposed to die. That animal that was slain to provide them a cover for their nakedness was not supposed to die. The trees and plants and bugs and blossoms in the Garden were not supposed to die. Death is an evil intrusion into the paradise that God created. The whole of human existence is God’s working out His plan to return His people to the Garden and to rid the universe of death forever.
So Jesus didn’t give Mary a short sermon about the great journey that Lazarus was embarking on, nor did He chide the assembled mourners for not embracing the beauty of the afterlife. He wept. Our Lord was fully God and fully man. Who would know better than He about heaven, about the bright future of a sanctified man who died in faith?
Tension Between Heaven & Earth
Certainly, heaven will be amazing:
The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:6–9).
This is a place that we should look forward to inhabiting. And we will. Forever and ever.
The tension? We are to live here fully in all the tears and sin and misery and death; we are to join the church militant and fight the good fight; we are not to look away from our duties in the here and now. And yet we are also to fully embrace the reality of the new heavens and new earth, to look forward with confidence to singing with the church triumphant, to allow those amazing images to place a spring in our steps as we work to fulfill our mission down here.
We can do it because Jesus did it. Jesus knew the full realities of all that we are to inherit and all that is to be and still He wept and so should we. But just a bit, for dawn is coming.
Do you look forward to the reality of heaven? Talk to us in the comments below.