Ben Jack, Head of Advance, shares the next of our Lent reflections on when heaven and earth intercede.
This, then, is how you should pray:
‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’
How do you imagine heaven? Some picture it as a cartoonish sky-realm where we all have our own cloud to eternally perch on, hoping that our closest cloud neighbour plays the harp better than we do. For others it’s the image of the restored Eden, a perfect garden where God, man and nature are in unbroken harmonious relationship, which surely includes pet kangaroos for all. Others imagine the golden paved streets of the new Jerusalem while wondering if we’ll have suitable heavenly footwear to avoid either slipping on or scuffing up the shiny surfaces.
I don’t wish to be irreverent but the truth is we can get easily sidetracked speculating on questions about what heaven will look like, where it is, or whether we’ll mainly be singing hymns or the latest Hillsong hits for the next ten thousand years. We end up missing the point of what the hundreds of references to heaven in the Bible are there to bring us to assurance of – the reality and character of the kingdom of heaven, its King, and the present and eternal hope of restored relationship with him.
The Lord’s prayer above reveals that heaven is indeed a place, and a place where God himself resides and rules to the perfect standard and outworking of his equally perfect will. It’s where Jesus came from (John 1:14), where he has gone to prepare a place for us (John 14:2), and where he will return from at the end of days when we will be with and worship him eternally (1 Thessalonians. 4:16-17). And yes, along the biblical way we are given tantalising glimpses of what heaven will be like (for example in Hebrews 11:10, 16 and Revelation 21), but we get our most solid grounding about heaven in relation to its essential character, rather than its aesthetics. The Bible reveals that the kingdom of heaven is everlasting (Psalms 145:13), righteous and joyful (Romans 14:17), full of love, peace, kindness and goodness (Galatians 5:22-23; see also Matthew 13). The wonderful descriptions go on, but we can sum it up in a word, perfect.
It would be easy to think that the greatest benefit of heaven is the eternal life part, but no, the Bible affirms that the greatest reward of heaven is Jesus himself (John 17:3; Philippians 3:8). The eternal hope that awaits those who trust in Jesus is to be with and worship him forever, made possible by his coming to be with us for a time – that he stepped out of the perfection of heaven, lived, died, rose again and ascended back to heaven, rescue mission accomplished. The gospel secures for us eternal personal relationship with Jesus, whose light will be the centre stage of eternal glory – there is no sun in heaven, only the Son (Revelation 21:23)! That relationship can begin today in the moment that I turn from my rebellion against heaven (sin) and trust in Jesus as Lord of all (Romans 10:9).
The kingdom of heaven is wrapped up in a dual reality. The kingdom is present now in the form of God at work in and through his people in this imperfect and temporary world, but the full reality is yet to come when the imperfection and finiteness of this world comes to an end, and the perfection of heaven takes hold forevermore (2 Peter 3:10).
The intersection of heaven and earth is Jesus. It is the reality of the gospel’s eternal power taking hold in a finite human life (Acts 7:55-56). We no longer feel at home in this fallen world having now become citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20), but we follow in the steps of our Lord by staying here for a time to be ambassadors of the perfect kingdom and bring its light to the world (2 Corinthians 5:20). Along the way we are daily transformed by God’s grace, renewed in preparation for the full glory of heaven, the new world that awaits (Philippians 1:6; 3:21).
Our credentials to be ambassadors of heaven are nothing more or less than the saving power of the gospel itself, its truth revealed in the transformation of our lives as we trust in Jesus as Lord. Our actions as ambassadors in this world are not self-motivated, self-empowered acts of kindness for arbitrary “positive” impact, but daily worship-motivated, spirit-empowered acts that announce to our perfect King, “Your will be done in and through my life and on this earth, as it is eternally in my true home of heaven”, and announce to the world that there is hope. We become peacemakers where we were once chaos-bringers. Life-givers where we once dealt in death. Hope carriers where we once only knew despair.
We become heavenly people revealing heaven on earth today – the light, love and eternal peace of God – to a world in need of his everlasting hope and glory.
Thank you God that we can become heavenly people by the power of your gospel. Thank you that this citizenship is not to be kept to ourselves but to be offered to the world in our ambassadorial words and deeds. Help us to live in a way which reveals heaven to those who do not know you until we have the joy of coming home, that they may worship you as King and know your peace today and forevermore.