Pastor’s Devotion #110

“Do You Go to Heaven Immediately Upon Death”

 

We all wonder what happens when we die. Eternity is shrouded in mystery. The Apostles’ John and Paul were both given an actual glimpse of God’s eternal Kingdom, but most of us are left wrestling with many questions.  I received a great question, in an email this morning. It originated this week in a small group discussion. The question was raised, “Do you go to heaven immediately upon death?” Eventually, this question crosses the mind of every believer. The non-believer might get stuck with the simple question of whether there is the existence of an after-life at all. But for the Christian, heaven is our ultimate, eternal home. We are only sojourners on this earth. Our time on earth is temporary and passes away as quickly as the blink of an eye. King David records his awareness of this truth, in Psalm 39. He writes, “Show me, O LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreath; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath.” (Psalm 39:4-5)

King David points to the brevity of life on earth. But David’s son, Solomon, known as the wisest of all Israel’s kings, points to life beyond the grave. Solomon wrestles within himself regarding the meaninglessness of life on earth yet he still declares in the book of Ecclesiastes that God has made everything beautiful in its time. He also states, “God has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

The book of Job, believed, by many, to be the first book written in the Bible, quickly acknowledges a life existence beyond the grave. In the midst of his suffering and turmoil, Job states, “I know my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh, I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes – I, and not another. How my heart years within me.”  (Job 19:25-27) Job mentions both “skin” and “flesh” as he declares this eternal reality. The “skin”, he refers to, represents that element of the body which is temporary, fragile, and will die. The “flesh” seems to point to that which will continue to live and is the first expression in scripture of bodily (spiritual?) resurrection.  

So, indeed, what happens when we die? Do we go into a sleep state and await the Second Coming? Or do we immediately enter the Kingdom that has been prepared for us?

Let us first look at the words of Jesus. When Jesus returned to Bethany and discovered that Lazarus, his dear friend, had already been dead for 4 days, he has a conversation with Lazarus’ sister, Martha. In that conversation, Jesus states, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die, and whoever lives and believes in me WILL NEVER DIE.” (John 11: 25-26) Jesus makes a radical, audacious claim that anyone who lives and believes in him, they will not die. Jesus brings comfort, security, and assurance that as believers, there is no death. As believers, life here, shifts to life there with God.

This reality is confirmed in a conversation Jesus has with a criminal as he suffers on the cross. One of the criminals crucified with Jesus, turns to him and pleads, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus responds, “I tell you the truth, TODAY you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43) There is no hesitation in Jesus’ reaction to the criminal. To this dying man, who is clearly suffering the consequences of his actions, Jesus extends the gift of grace and brings assurance that all will be well. Demonstrating heart-felt humility, Jesus declares the immediacy of being home with God.

The Bible also gives examples of Old Testament characters that are either immediately taken up to heaven, or come back to earth from heaven. Early in the book of Genesis, we are told that Enoch “walked with God”. Then the Bible states, “Then he (Enoch) was no more, because God took him away.” (Genesis 5:24)

Elijah is another Old Testament character that God “took away”. Elijah was a prophet, who confronted King Ahab and Jezebel with the Word of God. When his ministry was over and the baton was being passed to his apprentice, Elisha, the Bible reports that Elijah was taken up into heaven. 2 Kings 2:11 states, “As they (Elijah and Elisha) were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.”

So also, as Jesus was preparing to go to Jerusalem and suffer and die, he took his three close friends with him up a high mountain. There he was transfigured and his Father spoke encouraging words to his Son. In addition, God the Father sent, Moses and Elijah to speak to Jesus. These two pillars of the faith, descend from heaven to support, encourage and strength Jesus for the mission ahead. The Bible states, “As Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:29-31)

The Apostle Paul also speaks about the resurrection and eternity. Paul and the early believers understood that Jesus’ return, His Second Coming, was imminent. They believed that Jesus would return at any moment. Because of this, many early believers shed their normal daily activities and work. They believed that work was no longer necessary. But as time went on, and Jesus did not return, Paul had to address the Christian community and exhort them to continue their daily responsibilities while waiting. He finally addressed certain churches and members of the community saying that if anyone would not work, they also would not eat.  So also, during this waiting time, believers began to die. The question was raised, “What will happened to those believers who have already passed away (the Bible also uses the term – “fell asleep”).

1 Thessalonians is believed to be the first book written in the New Testament. Paul is writing to the church in Thessalonica and addressing many issues among the believers. One of those issues involves Jesus’ return and believers who have “fallen asleep”. Paul states, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men; who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own words, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

The people were discouraged that Jesus had not yet returned and that believers were dying. Paul expressed a pattern for what would take place when Jesus came back. The dead would rise first and then those who are still alive.

You also might be familiar with the phrase, “Away from the body. At home with the Lord.” This statement also comes from the Apostle Paul as he addresses the Corinthian church. He states, “Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body, we are away from the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6) Many Christians and denominations have used this scripture to support the belief that if one is “away from the body” then they are “with the Lord”. The key is the sense of immediacy, and that there is no delay in going to heaven once a person dies.

Coupled with that are all the countless examples of people experiencing Near Death Experiences (NDE). It is estimated that there are millions of people who have experienced an NDE during their lifetime. Dr. Mary Neal, is one example, describing herself as a “casual Christian”, drowned during a kayak trip in Chile. She has written two books about her experience, being taken to heaven, and then being sent back to earth. She confesses to having met Jesus and seeing some of the incredible glories of heaven. Countless confessions from recovering patients echo the same themes having experienced in heaven: Jesus, angels, family members, music, lights, love, peace and a clear, true sense of being home – and the removal of fear – are all consistent messages given from messengers returning from God’s glory. 

So, what do we make of all of this? Jesus has still not returned and billions of people have died since his resurrection. One of the challenges we are faced with is living in a chronological time continuum. God operates outside of time and space. He entered our world in the person of Jesus for 33 years, but he operates simultaneously, eternally in the past, present and future realities of our world. Therefore, our thoughts are not God’s thoughts and our ways are not God’s ways. (Isaiah 55:8) When we attempt to press our limited knowledge and understanding upon the plan and function of God’s omniscience – our conclusions will always be insufficient.

So then, let us return to where we began. Let us return to the words of Jesus himself. In the midst of death and mourning, Jesus brings words of comfort, hope, and love to his dear friends. More than that he makes a declarative statement of truth upon which we all, as believers, can stand and remain. Jesus declares, “WHOEVER LIVES AND BELIEVES IN ME – WILL NEVER DIE.”

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After saying this, Jesus then turns to Martha and asks the penetrating question, “Do you believe this?”

May we respond with the same child-like triumphant faith as Martha! She responded, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”

So, to answer your question: “Do you go to heaven immediately upon death?” Yes, indeed, you will never die. You go directly home to eternal glory and into the arms of your loving Savior! Safe and Secure! No more fears, no more doubts, no more need for questions – only Truth – that Jesus has certainly prepared the way for each of us to go home – whenever our TODAY comes.

God Bless You All, Pastor Mark  



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, June 25

“Infection”

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:8-9

 

Yesterday, it was reported that currently, there are over 120 vaccines in different developmental stages to combat the coronavirus. 13 human trials have already begun. 5 trials in China, 3 in the U.S., 2 in the U.K., and 1 in each of Australia, Germany and Russia. The report acknowledged that there would need to be vaccinations made available for more than 7 billion people. They are preparing for the need to inoculate every person on the planet. It finally hit me. This virus is just like Sin. The coronavirus infection rate has the potential to have a universal effect. One way or another, every single person is going to have to deal with the reality of this contamination. The spread will occur by human to human contact or by inoculation methods, but at the end of the day, everyone will carry the virus with them.

It’s been amazing how all the world’s major powers are working to combat this virus. Every nation understands the implications of this disease. Death and destruction could reach every corner of the globe. Never in human history has there been such a worldwide concerted effort to solve an infectious disease crisis like this. Simultaneously, nations are working on multiple vaccines, knowing that there will need to be a multi-level attack to fight the virus.

In my mind, it’s raised the question; “Why has it been so difficult for nations to work together to fight other crises?” Climate change, pollution, drought, and famine, just to name a few, are also issues that arguably are stretching out across the globe. Yet the world does not earnestly unify against these threats. Why? Because nations, as a whole, do not feel the universal effect, at least not yet. And if an individual person or nation is not influenced or affected by a particular threat, the innate, natural response is to brush it aside. Self-interest and self-preservation take over. And the reason for this self-interest and self-preservation can be traced back through human history and discover its beginning in a Garden. From two human beings, who were created to be in complete communion with God, a universal spiritual infection entered into the world. Through disobedience and self-centeredness, the virus has spread across every continent and touched every corner. The name for this novel virus is called, Sin.

No one really likes to talk about this infectious disease. All the world suffers from a wide array of its symptoms, yet this virus flies under the radar. This Sin full contagious infection causes people to act and operate out of a purely selfish pursuit without regard to another individual or consequence. Sin keeps the world from working with one another and/or trusting each other. Sin, when fully infectious, will cause the complete destruction to anyone or anything that lies in its path. And in its diabolical way, in the end, will be the cause for the self-destruction of its host. But often this wiley virus appears asymptomatic. It hides under the breath of unknowing and unsuspecting carriers, waiting to express its vile effects later on.   

What would happen if the world acknowledged the universal infection of Sin across the human race? What if the nations recognized the recycled symptoms and signs of this virus throughout history and unilaterally declared war against this destroyer? Can you imagine a world that has conquered Sin? Literally, it would be heaven on earth! No more death, or mourning or crying or pain. The old order of things would pass away and EVERYTHING would be new. We would understand stewardship, dominion and rule in a completely new way. We would no longer be contaminated with solely selfish pursuits but our souls would pursue selfless Godly priorities. Unity, wholeness, community and shalom would be the common denominator and common experience in every household. Love, hope, peace and joy would be the strongholds in every single heart.

What if the world’s major powers concentrated every ounce of effort and focused every resource available, as they are with the coronavirus, to discover a vaccine for Sin? The unfortunate reality is that they will never do this. Sin has completely corrupted the human heart and mind. And Satan is working hard to distract the world from recognizing this true culprit. To the world, this effort would be absolute foolishness. Yet, in reality, a vaccine has already been provided. Even though the world will not receive it, the blood of Jesus Christ contains the antibodies that will inoculate the entire world. Sin has so corrupted the human heart that no one, in and of themselves, will call out for this vaccine. But still the vaccine remains available. And to all who receive him, who receive his blood and believe in his name, all are given the power, authority and right to be healed and given new life. If you have faith in Jesus Christ, consider yourself to be one of the fortunate ones. You did not come to this faith on your own. Your faith in Jesus Christ, means that by the grace of God, you have been inoculated and this is through no effort of your own. Faith is the result of being injected with the Holy Spirit. By God’s grace you have been injected and have been given the ability to receive and believe in the blood.

Even though nations will not join together. Let us continue to come together in earnest and confess our sickness to Sin. Let us confront Satan and acknowledge our helplessness in overcoming this virus. But with the same breath, let us also boldly confess that we are not looking to heal ourselves. Our healing is based upon another One’s blood that contains the ultimate antibodies. Jesus Christ has conquered sin, death and the power of the devil by his blood.  And what the world considers foolishness, we know to be our life, hope and salvation.

Now is the time for us to share the Good News of this vaccine that has already been provided. His name is Jesus. And He can save every sinner from Sin.

God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. May God give you more and more grace and peace.” 1 Peter 1:2

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark