We’re finishing a series on the world to come. Heaven. Resurrection. New earth. Judgment. God.
What’s the best part of the world to come? What are you longing for the most? New bodies? No harsh winters? Being reunited with families members who knew Jesus but have already died?
All those things are good and wonderful and worthy longing for. That’s why the Lord has told us so much about them.
Without wanting to diminish any of those longings, there is one greater longing: God Himself.
2 Timothy 4:8 NIV Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
It’s good and holy and healthy to Long for the things and people in heaven. But our highest desire is for the Lord. To see Him. To be with Him.
In 2007 I went with my daughter Jenna to Africa. We went on sort of a mission trip, but with a group of Ames High School kids. A wonderful trip. But we were gone for 3 weeks. And by the end of the trip I was homesick. I desperately wanted to go home. I wanted to be in Ames, in my own home, sleeping in my own bed.
But it was much more than that. Ultimately it was about being with my wife and my other kids. It was about the relationships. Now those relationships are all grounded in our home. In our neighborhood. In our town. In this church. I can’t really separate the two. But the key was my wife and my kids.
So it is when we think about Heaven. It’s great to think about new bodies and a resurrected earth and seeing deceased family and friends who knew Jesus. And we should long for those things. But the ultimate thing is God Himself.
Today we wrap up our series on the Kingdom of Heaven. And I want to end it focusing on the Ultimate Thing: being with God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Being with the Lord. Knowing him. Embracing him. Talking to him. Serving him. We have before us the lofty challenge of knowing the Lord so well that we long to see him and be with him.
Lord, show us who you are. As we know you truly, we will long for you. You are so beautiful, powerful, holy, glorious, tender, eternal, and wise, that as we truly grasp that….our hearts will ache and long to see you. Open our eyes.
Seeing God Means Death!
For us as mortal, sinful people, seeing God is no simple thing. It is not a natural thing. And I might say, “It is not a healthy thing.” Meaning, it’s a deadly thing. For a human being in his sinful state to see God in all his glory means one thing: Death. God is so glorious, so powerful, so holy, that if any man or woman saw the Lord, he would die.
It all started in Genesis 3 when Man first sinned and God brought Judgment down. A curse. God separated himself from us.
Randy Alcorn in his book Heaven said,
“The greatest tragedy of sin and the Curse was that God no longer dwelt with his people.”
Distance was placed between God and man. His presence came back in a small but real way in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle and the Temple.
In a very intimate conversation with God, Moses boldly asked, “Show me your glory.” But the Lord responded:
Exodus 33:19–20 ESV “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”
No one can see the Lord in all his glory and holiness and live. His glory is too intense. Too brilliant. His holiness is so beyond us we would die if we saw him.
700 years before Christ, the prophet Isaiah records this:
Isaiah 6:1–5 ESV In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
In this vision, Isaiah saw the Lord in his glory and holiness. And so he was sure he was a dead man. It is a deadly thing to see the Lord in his glory.
Jesus Christ Changed Everything
But when we get to the NT, we find a remarkable truth: Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, we are now able to approach God Almighty with confidence.
God, who is transcendent, became near in Jesus Christ, who is Immanuel, which means “God with us.” (Matt 1:23)
And then his presence became ever nearer in the Gospel of Christ.
Hebrews 4:16 ESV “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are granted forgiveness and the righteousness of God. We are made Holy. Pure. Clean.
If we know the history of man and God from the Old Testament, the gospel is shocking. To be told we can come before Almighty God with confidence is shocking.
The gospel brings a nearness and a holiness that ought to blow our minds.
Jude 24 ESV “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy…”
In the Kingdom of Heaven, the person and work of Jesus so cleanses us from our sin and darkness that we are able to stand in the presence of God in all his brilliant, blazing glory, blameless and with great joy!! So happy, so overjoyed that we might feel like we’ll explode!
This holy, awesome, powerful, eternal, glorious God can now be freely approached because the work of Jesus cleanses us down to the core and makes us holy. Never again will we experience guilt and shame. That is the outcome of the work of Jesus Christ, and our faith in him.
We will see the Lord and be with him
One of the greatest and most common promises given in the Scriptures is, “I will be with you.”
He said it to Joshua and Israel before entering the Promised land.
He said it to the prophets.
He said it to his disciples just before ascending into heaven.
Over 50 times, to my count.
Then that nearness of God gets even better in Revelation 21:
Revelation 21:4 ESV “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”
On that final day, the nearness of God will come true to the highest degree. The one who made us….and the One for whom we are made….will dwell right there with us. God himself will dwell with us to the highest, most intimate level. And we will see him and know him and worship him and serve him. All of our unspoken, deepest desires will be fulfilled on that day. Fulfilled in goodness and joy and glory and holiness.
And it gets more astonishing.
Revelation 22:3–4 ESV “No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.”
“They will see his face!!!”
In our sinful state, if we saw the Lord in all his glory we would die. But in the end, we will see him. That is how Holy and Righteous we are through Jesus Christ.
Longing To Be With Him
So do we want to be with him? Not just to have new bodies and a new earth, but to be with him? Do we see him as worthy of our greatest longings? Do we have clear and correct views and beliefs of him?
Let’s go back to my story from 2007 returning from Africa. What if all I cared about was the benefits of being home: The house, my bed, my refrigerator, my desk, chair…but I didn’t care about being with my wife or daughters? What would you say to me? What should you say to me? “Umm, Brad, something is wrong. You have a good wife and wonderful children. Why don’t you long to be with them? Why are you longing only for the THINGS at home?”
One Christian author recently said this: “Natural man’s sin is precisely this: he wants the benefits of God without God Himself.” We want Heaven, but we don’t want the God of Heaven.
Something is wrong. We need to know the Lord so well that we have HIM as our greatest desire.
Honestly, I’ve wrestled with this teaching. I wonder, “Do I really, truly see God in all his magnificence and glory and love and beauty that I can’t wait to see him?” Can I even teach on this topic? I don’t want to be a hypocrite. This teaching and this topic challenge me.
Who is this God that we will see?
The more we deeply and truly know the Lord, the more we will want to be with him. There is no one more worthy of being known and being with than our great God.
So who is he? What is he like? Who is this God of beauty and wonder that King David and Apostle Paul longed for? Who is this God whom we are to love and long for with all our hearts?
Let’s look at some attributes.
King David of Israel, who lived 1000 years before Jesus Christ, had one of the most intimate, vibrant walks with God of any man or woman in the Bible, and probably in history since.
Psalm 27:4 ESV One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.
The beauty of the Lord. I read this and I wonder, “Is the Lord beautiful?” Powerful, yes. Majestic, yes. But beautiful? David says YES!!
Think of the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen. Think of the best-looking man you’ve ever seen. Think of the sweetest baby ever. The cutest puppy. The furriest kitten. The most spectacular jaw-dropping mountain. The most breath-taking sunset. The sweetest, most fragrant flowers. The most flavorful Christmas meal.
All of those things only give you a taste of the beauty and pleasure of God. God created beautiful things because he is beautiful. When you give thanks for those beautiful things, you should give thanks to God for those same qualities.
Revelation 4:2-3 ESV “At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.”
God the Father is described in terms of great beauty, like that of stunning, gorgeous jewels, and his throne is likewise of great beauty, like an emerald.
The new city of Jerusalem will have such beauty, as well, per Rev 21:10-11. The Lord's surroundings are frequently described in such terms, per Exod 24:10; Ezek 1:26, 28:13.
It is no wonder then that we look at the beauty in this world, though tarnished by the Curse, and we marvel and find peace and joy, for it gives us a taste of the Lord himself. The warm, soothing beach at the ocean. The massive, majestic Colorado Rockies. The birds whistling while we sit by the edge of the lake.
The Lord is beautiful and wonderful.
Tender and merciful
God certainly is vast, holy, and therefore intimidating. Yet shockingly, he is tender and merciful.
Psalm 103:13–14 ESV As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
Maybe your earthly father was not compassionate, but your heavenly Father is. The Lord, though he is vast and awesome and Creator, has compassion on us. Why? He knows how fragile and frail we are.
Isaiah 40:11 ESV He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.
A shepherd tenderly caring for his little lambs.
Why wouldn’t we want to be with someone like this? If we view him as harsh and uncaring, we have to get that corrected, for it will significantly hurt the quality of our lives now. If you want the highest quality of life, search for the TRUTH about God, not what our ignorant minds and corrupted hearts believe.
In my early Christian years, I had little problem seeing him as a just, powerful, holy God, but I simply didn’t get the tender side. But very slowly over my first 15 years as a Christian, the Lord began opening my eyes to see him as a tender, loving father. And I’m still going deeper and deeper in my grasp of his Goodness and Tenderness.
At the dedication of the temple that was built under command of God—the temple where the Lord would regularly descend and reveal his presence to the high priest—Solomon offered up a prayer of dedication.
1 Kings 8:27 ESV “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!”
Gaze up at the stars tonight. Be overwhelmed by the vastness of the universe. Then realize that even all of that cannot contain the Lord.
In one of the most remarkable descriptions of the Lord anywhere in Scripture, Isaiah gives us a taste of the Vastness and Immensity of God. He asks the question: “Who is like the Lord? Can anyone compare to him?”
Isaiah 40:12–15 ESV "Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord, or what man shows him his counsel? Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding? Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.
This vast, infinite, mind-boggling huge God is the one every human being will stand before. Hitler, Mother Teresa, Osama bin Laden, the Pope, your neighbor, President Obama, and you!! Everyone will stand before this vast, infinite God.
Creation can help us see the Lord. Solomon gazes into the heavens and realizes God can’t be contained within that. Do you want to know better the Lord’s love for you?? Gaze into the heavens. Have wonder at the depths of the oceans.
Psalm 36:5–6 ESV "Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O Lord.
The beauty and majesty and vastness of God’s creation gives us a picture of him.
The wonderful things in this world are not an end in themselves, for that would be idolatry. Instead they ought to make us long more for God.
The majestic mountains should compel us to worship God for his greatness and majesty.
The vastness of the ocean should prompt us to thank God for his pleasure and comfort and Power.
The delicious Christmas meal should compel us to give thanks to our Heavenly Father for always meeting our needs, and doing it so generously.
My marriage to a good woman ought to prompt me to lift up my eyes to heaven and say, “Lord, this is just a taste of the intimate relationship I can have with you.”
Desiring God Above All
We could go on for hours and hours considering the attributes of our God. His knowledge. Eternality. Power. Authority
The Lord is the best desire we will ever have. Better than marriage. Better than children or grandchildren. Better than a new house. A different job. Better than a Thanksgiving feast. Better than getting 100% on a Exam. Better than the most beautiful sunset. Better than our favorite movie. Better than sitting on a warm beach at the ocean.
Abraham was so intimate with God, the Lord himself called Abraham his friend. (James 2:23)
Moses longed to see him. He said, “Show me your glory.” (Exod 33:18)
David’s greatest desire was to know and walk with the Lord. And he said, “Your steadfast love is better than life.” (Psalm 63:3)
Jesus calls us his friends. (John 15:15)
Paul yearned to know Christ. (Phil 3:13)
Once the believer in Christ is in glory with God, the Lord will be his greatest desire. Let’s get started with that desire now. Let’s begin yearning for him more and more. Let’s start asking, “Lord, I want to know you now. Today.”
To look into God’s eyes will be to see what we’ve always longed to see: the person who made us for his own good pleasure.
Psalm 73:25 ESV Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
The psalmist is affirming that the central desires of our heart are for God.
Augustine in the 4th century called God “the end of our desires.” He prayed, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Yes, we desire many other things— but in desiring them, it is really God we desire.
I’m going to give you four things. Write them down. Do one or two of them today. Don’t put this off.
Put some effort into the relationship.
Read the Bible. No, I mean it: Read this book. Read the OT and NT. Read the Psalms. Pray for help to see him. Study God.
Also, read A.W. Tozer’s book, “The Knowledge of the Holy.” If you want a good marriage, you have to put lots of effort into it. If you want to Long more and more for the God who saved you, you will have to put lots of effort into it.
Rejoice in the good things and good people in your life. And give thanks to God.
Thanksgiving is one of the best ways not to make the things of this world become the “Ultimate Thing.” God is the Ultimate Thing. Yet all the other Lesser Things can lead us to Him, the Ultimate Thing if we are thankful people.
Last winter, Annette was quite sick. Many of you brought in meals. Over 40 times. I lost count.
We were and still are SO GRATEFUL. For what are we grateful? The meals? Absolutely. They were delicious and helpful. But not only for the meals. We are grateful for the people who brought them. They were kind and generous and supportive. But not only for them.
We are ultimately thankful for God himself. He sent those people to us. He sustained us through the food and the friendships.
Jump in the car and spend a day in Colorado gazing at the mountains and worshiping God for his majesty. Stop your busy life and watch a beautiful sunset. And Thank God for his beauty and for the beautiful New Heaven and New Earth.
Thank God for his goodness in giving you a job to meet your needs, a good wife, a loving church.
Don’t waste your trials.
In your trials you will learn more about him. This is a lesson my wife has been learning this year through her health problems.
I was reading Psalm 142 the other day, and I noticed David wrote it when he was hiding in a cave, running for his life when King Saul had murder on his heart. David discovered more of God during those dark days. Don’t waste your trials. Stop complaining and begin seeking the Lord. He wants you to draw closer to him.
Do all this in community.
We don’t have good marriages in a vacuum. We learn and grow while we’re doing life with other people, especially God’s people. So it is with your walk with God.
Worship and serve and learn on Sunday mornings.
Give and receive in a Life Group.
Study and pray with others.
The apostle John was Christ’s dearest friend on Earth. But when John saw Jesus in Heaven, he “fell at his feet as though dead” (Revelation 1:17). We will see Christ in his glory, and we will be stunned and amazed and overwhelmed and thrilled.
The most exhilarating experiences on Earth, such as white-water rafting, skydiving, or extreme sports, will seem tame compared to the thrill of seeing Jesus. Being with him. Gazing at him. Talking with him. Worshiping him. Embracing him. Eating with him. Walking with him. Laughing with him. Imagine it!
Are you growing in your relationship with Christ so much that you long to see him and be with him?
Can you pray….do you pray…like John said at the end of Revelation:
Revelation 22:17 ESV The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.”
And a few verses later:
Revelation 22:20 ESV He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
May this be our longing and our prayer.
Let’s pray. Lord, I admit that I don’t know you as well as I want to. And I don’t know you as intimately as you deserve. And I don’t long for your return as much as is fitting. By faith this morning, we acknowledge you are Great. And Wonderful. Powerful. Beautiful. Holy. Majestic. Tender. Loving. Gracious. Compassionate.
Help us today and each day this coming week to know you a little better. And to love you a little more. Each day this week. Lord, whether we know it or not….and whether we believe it or not…you ARE coming back to this earth to rescue your people and to bring judgment on the earth. Help us to know you. And be ready for you.