THE HOPE LAID UP IN HEAVEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-14-57 7:30 p. m.
Now, turn with me in the Bible to the first chapter of Colossians, and we shall read together the first seven verses. The letter of Paul – the epistle of Paul the apostle to the Colossians – we’ll read the first seven verses. We have it? Colossians 1:1-7. All of us? Now, let’s read it together. Colossians 1:1-7:
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,
Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love which ye have to all the saints;
For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel,
Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world, and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you since the day ye heard of it and knew the grace of God in truth;
As ye also learned of Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ,
And you stopped, as you see, in the middle of the sentence. And that sentence goes on and on and on and down and down and down and finally closes at the seventeenth verse. Now, I don’t try to hide from you that this is no easy book through which I have now set myself to preach going through the Bible. So as I studied and asked God to help me, why, the only way that I could find was to take it ad seriatim, verbatim et literatim; just piece at a time, word at a time, going through it. So that’s what we’re going to do.
Now, this morning, I started off: "Paul, an apostle of Jesus to the church at Colosse" [Colossians 1:1-2]. Now, we begin: "We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love which ye have to all the saints; for the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel" [Colossians 1:3-5].
Now, Paul says that he is grateful to God [Colossians 1:3]. He is filled with thanksgiving to God for three graces, for three tokens, for three seals of their conversion that he has found there in the church at Colossae: "your faith, we heard of your faith; of the love ye have to the saints; and the hope which is laid up for you in heaven" [Colossians 1:4-5]. He heard of that church, of their faith, of their love, and of their hope, and it made his heart glad he says. And he gives thanks to God for those three seals of their conversion, those three tokens of their steadfast purpose in Christ.
Those are the three graces, the three seals, that ought to be in every church and in every Christian heart:
"Faith" – faith in Christ Jesus [Colossians 1:4]. That’s the root of all other graces and looks to the past believing the promises of God.
"And of the love which ye have to all the saints" [Colossians 1:4] – that’s a working grace in the present. That’s now.
"And the hope which is laid up for you in heaven" [Colossians 1:5] – and that is the eternal future.
Now, of these, tonight, I’m going to preach on that fifth verse – the third grace, the third seal, the third token: "For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel" [Colossians 1:5]. That is a Christian grace – that he has a hope for the eternity to come – and that is a thing that sets aside and designates, delineates, marks out a Christian from a worldly. A worldly has no interest and no persuasion of the life that is to come. He’s not interested in immortality. He’s not interested in heaven. He’s not interested in the world to come. How true is it when Paul describes an unbeliever as a man without God and then adds, "and without hope in the world" [Ephesians 2:12]. The man without God is also a man without hope [1 Thessalonians 4:13].
I talked to a university student one time; and being not a Christian and being not interested in the Lord, I tried to get at his heart through the life to come. What should he do when he was dead? What was going to become of his soul in the world to come? And he said, "I’m just not interested in my soul." He said, "I don’t believe in any world to come. I don’t believe in immortality," he said, "and I don’t believe in heaven."
Well I said, "Do you think that when we die, we die like animals?"
He said, "That’s right."
"Well," I said, "do you think that is a worthy destiny for all of the faith and hopes and loves and prayers in our lives?"
And he said, "I do." He said, "I think this life is all, and I think this life is enough." And he said, "I don’t look forward to any other life much less to any other heaven or any other world that is yet to come."
Well, it is easy to see that the hope of a worldly, of an unbeliever, is in the vision, in the orbit of what he can see. His whole soul and life and destiny are included in the horizon of his own eyes. What he could hope for is for fame, for fortune, for affluence, for prosperity, for long life, for pleasures, but he can’t hope beyond for his hope is circumscribed by what he sees with his own eyes.
And there is something devastating about a hope like that [Matthew 16:26; Mark 8:36]. It paints the far off hills with beautiful colors of purple and gold, but when you get there, it’s just barren rock or cold snow [Jeremiah 2:13]. So it is when a man’s hope is in this life and in this world, when his horizon and all that he can see is contained just what he can hope for down here [Luke 12:15-21].
Disraeli [Benjamin Disraeli, 1804-1881] said, "Youth is a mistake, manhood is a struggle, and old age is a regret." For a man to believe that he could toil and suffer and have vision and all of it be included – just what he might gain and win down here – is of all lives to be filled with ultimate despair and disappointment and disillusionment [Ecclesiastes 2:1-11].
But the hope of a Christian, the hope of God’s people, the hope of our people, you, the hope of our church, the hope of God’s Christians here tonight, our hope is beyond what the eye can see. Paul said it beautifully and wonderfully in the eighth chapter of Romans: "For we are saved," he said, "by hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for it? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it" [Romans 8:24-25].
Our hope is in heaven. Our hope is in glory. Our hope is in a world that is yet to come [1 Peter 1:13]. Our hope is beyond death. It is beyond the grave. It is beyond this life. Our hope is an eternal hope:"for the hope which is laid up for you in heaven" [Colossians 1:5].
Now, look what Paul says about it. There are several things here of that incomparable, blessed Christian hope. First, it gives rise to that grace that he mentions here in the love to all the saints. Look at that. "Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love which ye have to all the saints; for the hope which is laid up for you in heaven" [Colossians 1:4-5]. Now, that word "for" – translated there "for," dia, "for" – that’s the simple Greek word for "because of" or "on account of." So Paul says here, "This love that ye have to all the saints is on account of – it’s because of – the hope that you have in heaven" [Colossians 1:4-5].
Well, I got to thinking about that, and the more I thought about it, the more I could see that. The thing that makes God’s people love one another is, Paul says here, the hope that we commonly share as God’s people for heaven. We have a common Lord. And where is He? He’s in heaven [Romans 8:34]. We have a common home. And where is our home? Here? No. Our home is in heaven [John 14:1-3; Hebrews 11:14-16]. And we have a common pilgrimage, all of us together marching to Zion, and we have a common expectation. We have a common love, and these things draw us together [John 13:35].
"Then they that feared the Lord," that loved the Lord, "spake oft one to another, and the Lord hearkened and heard it" [Malachi 3:16]. Again: "And there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness," in heaven, "which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that Day, and not to me only but unto all them also that love His appearing" [2 Timothy 4:8].
God’s people are bound together in a great common hope. Our faces are lifted upward. That’s our Lord at the right hand of God [1 Peter 3:22], and that’s our home in heaven and that’s our great expectation for this future [Philippians 3:20]. And when your heart is lifted up and your eyes are lifted up and your heart is filled with great expectations – why, you look around you, and you’re not by yourself. There’s somebody else who loves that same Lord, and there’s another, and his home in is heaven. And there’s another, and he has great expectations for the world to come. And you’re bound together by a cord that the world knows nothing of.
I see men who are associated because of money. They’re down there in a business together. I see people who are associated together because of politics. They belong to the same Democratic or Republican party. And I see people who are associated together by many other economic or fraternal ties. But there are no bonds and there are no ties that put people together like a common hope: that hope of ours in Jesus Christ which is in heaven. So that’s one thing he says here: "The love which we have to all the saints; because of the hope which is laid up for us in heaven" [Colossians 1:4-5].
All right, I know another thing. I see another thing Paul says here in the text: "For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven" [Colossians 1:5]. That hope is associated up there in glory. It’s tied up with somebody in heaven. In Titus 2:13, Paul said: "That blessed hope" – that blessed hope – "looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ." That blessed hope which is in heaven.
In Philippians 3:20 – when I preached on that, remember? "For our citizenship is in heaven, from whence we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ." Our hope is associated in glory [Colossians 1:27]. Our hope is in heaven, and our hope is in Jesus who’s at the right hand of the throne of God. And oh, what a blessed hope that is to a Christian!
Down here in this life, Satan has us, and he crushes us into the dust. He destroys our body, and we die. He withers these whom we love, and they fade like flowers before our eyes. He makes us dig the grave for these whom we have loved and lost. He does that. He lays hands upon us. He says, ‘"The soul that sins shall die’ [Ezekiel 18:20], and this is sin." And he says, ‘"The wages of sin is death’ [Romans 6:23], and this man is mine." And we face an inevitable defeat down here. There’s nothing for a man to look forward to in this satanic world except to die and to go back to the dust of the ground [Genesis 3:19]. And beyond that, what can a man hope for without God, without Christ, without salvation? All he can look for is, some say, the fires of purgatory and others say and the fires of damnation and the fires of hell.
Oh, what a prospect! Down here in this world, nothing to look forward to but to die! Down here in this world, just to buy a grave. Just to get a cemetery lot. Just to make arrangement for an undertaker to put you away. And then, according to some, the fires of purgatory or the fires and flames of damnation.
That’s not our prospect. That’s not our hope. We have a hope in glory. We have a hope in heaven. We have a hope in Jesus. And some of these days, God says that He is going to descend in majesty and in power [Revelation 1:7], and He’s going to lay hold upon that old serpent, the devil, and cast him into the abyss there where the false prophet and there where the beast are, and He’s going to chain Satan [Revelation 20:1-3, 7-10]. And there’s not going to be any more death, and there’s no more sorrow nor crying. Neither will there be any more pain for all of these things are all passed away [Revelation 21:4].
And we – you sinner, you; I sinner, I; we, sinner, we – we are going to inherit all of the glorious palaces of heaven! Can you imagine that? Can you imagine that? We are. As trifling and no account, as sorry and good for nothing, as weak and feeble, as full of sin and mistake as we are, we are going to inherit all of the palaces and the glories and the treasures of heaven [John 14:2-3]. We’re not going to just be there barely. We’re not going to just sit on the doorstep of heaven and just hear a stray note of the singing of the choir within. We’re not going to just barely be at the gate and once in a while get a glance on the inside through those pearly portals.
We’re not going to be like that fellow who was singing about – oh, oh, last year, every time I turned on the radio, he was at the green door wondering what’s on the inside. No, sir. We’re going to walk in those gates. We’re going to be in that throng [Revelation 21:24-26, 22:14]. We’re going to see the King in His beauty [Revelation 22:3-4]. We’re going to inherit one of the great palaces [John 14:2-3]. We’re going to live and reign with Christ! [Romans 5:17; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 5:9-10] That’s our hope which is laid up for you in heaven.
Do you know what Paul says here about the security of that promise? "For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven" [Colossians 1:5]. How steadfast and secure is it? This hope we have in heaven is "laid up for you." That’s Paul’s way of saying it is secure. It is eternally certain. It is yours by the prerogative and the might and the title deed’s guaranteed by God Himself. It’s yours. It’s yours – this hope which is laid up for you in heaven.
I don’t think there’s a more beautiful passage in the Bible than that in 1 Peter, the first chapter: "Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who . . . hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God unto a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" [1 Peter 1:3-5].
Jesus said it like this: "Fear not, little flock; fear not, little flock; it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom" [Luke 12:32]. That’s what God has in store for those who love Him: this hope in heaven which is laid up – reserved, secured – for you [Colossians 1:5]. Down here a thief may steal our treasure, or a moth may eat it, or rust may corrupt it [Matthew 6:19], but I couldn’t conceive a moth or rust or Satan himself getting at the bastions of heaven and tearing out of God’s hands what God hath ordained for our eternal inheritance: "This hope which is laid up for you in heaven" [Colossians 1:5].
Now, look what Paul says here in this text about how you possess it, how you obtain it, how you get it, how you lay hold on it. Look at it: "For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which is come unto you . . . as you heard it, as you learned it of Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is for you a faithful preacher, a minister of Christ" [Colossians 1:5-7].
How did they obtain that hope? How did they get it? They got it by hearing: "Which ye heard in the word of the truth of the gospel" [Colossians 1:5]. How does a man get on the road to glory? How does a man get saved? How does a man possess himself of that eternal hope in glory? He does it by listening. He does it by opening the ears of his soul and of his heart. In the tenth chapter of the Book of Romans: "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing the word of God" [Romans 10:17]. In the fifty-fifth chapter of Isaiah and the third verse: "Incline thine ear, and come unto Me. Hear, and your soul shall live" [Isaiah 55:3].
A man seizes that hope not by deserving it, not by working, not by sacrifice, not by penance, not by a thousand things that he might do himself, but a man seizes this hope, and he possesses this hope of glory by listening, by hearkening, by inclining his ear. And if you don’t stop to listen, if you don’t hear, if you don’t open your heart, if you don’t pay attention, you can never have it. You can never possess it. For that hope is laid on, that hope is seized, that hope is apprehended, that hope is seized by the hearing of the ear.
"Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing the word of God" [Romans 10:17]. You must listen. You must listen. You must stop and listen. You must hear. You must listen to the voice of Jesus:"Which ye heard in the word of the truth of the gospel" [Colossians 1:5]. You must pay attention.
One of my deacons told me this story. He said that a preacher had a mule, and he sold the mule to a buyer. And he said to the buyer – he said, "Now, you treat this mule real kind, and he’ll do anything for you. He’ll really work." So it wasn’t long until the buyer was back, and he said to the preacher – he said, "Listen here. You said treat that mule kindly and he’d do anything. I never saw such a stubborn, no account mule in my life. He’s there in thirty feet of the barn right now, and I can’t budge him an inch, and I’ve been treating him kind."
"Well," said the preacher, "I’ll just go see about that."
So the preacher went over there to the fellow’s house. And he looked at him, and there he was: that stubborn mule in thirty feet of the barn – wouldn’t budge an inch. And the preacher got him a two-by-four and laid back and hit him between the eyes so hard that his knees buckled. And then he laid back, bust him again.
And when the preacher started to do that, the fellow came up to him and said, "Wait a minute. Wait a minute. I thought you said treat him kind."
And the preacher said, "You do. You got to treat him kind, but first you got to get his attention."
You know, when I heard that story, I thought, "That’s our people!" How many times does God have to knock a man down, have to lay him out, have to do some crushing thing to get his attention? Here a man:"You’re going to hell." Here a man: "You in damnation." Here a man: "You’re throwing your life away." And God knocks a man down just to get his attention [Jonah 1:10-17].
Why, I read the other day where a fellow went to the hospital to cut off his leg, but while he was in the hospital cutting off his leg, while he was there, he became a Christian. And when he got well and came back to the church one-legged, he stood up and said, "I thank God for my operation, my amputation – that my leg’s gone." And he said, "Had I kept my two legs, I’d gone to hell. But," he says, "as it is now, with one of my legs gone, I’m going to heaven."
And I think the Lord would agree on that. It’s better to go to heaven with one leg than two-legged to go to hell! Isn’t that right? Didn’t He say that? It’s better for a man to enter heaven with one eye than with two eyes to fall into the pit. It’s better for a man to enter heaven with one hand than with both hands to go to damnation [Matthew 18:8-9].
God has to do that a lot of times to people. He has to knock them down. Disease comes. Illness comes. Paralysis comes. Disasters come. Destruction comes. Despair and disappointment come. That’s God’s note to you: "Man, stop. Stop! And is it well with your soul?"
You seize this hope by listening, opening the ears of your heart, opening the ears of your soul. "This hope which is laid up for you in heaven whereof ye heard before . . . from Epaphras" [Colossians 1:5, 7] – the preacher who poured out his heart to them. They heard it, and through the hearing of the ear, faith was born, and they were saved in the trust of Jesus. I hasten. "Whereof ye heard before" – look at this triad here – "in the word of the truth of the gospel" [Colossians 1:5].
"In the word" – "the word" – whose word? Man’s word? No. If I stand here and promise you anything, I’m just speaking. Wouldn’t amount whether I said yea or nay, described it or didn’t describe it, offer it or did not – wouldn’t matter at all. It’s God’s Word. I’m nothing but an echo; and more and more and more, I like to think that God would let me be just that. I don’t tell you anything but just as I read it in that Book. I don’t think these things up. I don’t manufacture. These are not products of my imagination. I’m just saying this is the Word; that’s all. God said it. "The flower fadeth, the grass withereth, but the word of God endureth forever" [Isaiah 40:8]. "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My word shall never pass away" [Matthew 24:35].
Listen again to that first chapter of 1 Peter which I say is one of the great chapters of this whole Bible. Listen to it: "Ye are born again . . . by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever . . . And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you" [1 Peter 1:23, 25]. "Whereof ye heard before in the word" [Colossians 1:5]. Ye are saved. Ye are sanctified by the washing of water by the word of God [Ephesians 5:26]. "Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you" [John 15:3]. "Of His own will begat He us by the word of truth" [James 1:18].
This hearing in the word of the truth, it’s not fiction. These are great substantial realities, and you can hang a world on them as well as your soul. The word and promise of God whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel which is the story of Jesus Christ: came into the world to die for our sins, was buried and raised the third day for our justification [1 Corinthians 15:3-4]. And to them who look for Him will He come again with glory and power [1 Thessalonians 4:17].
Our hope laid up in heaven. Oh, what a glorious thing! What a blessed thing! What a happy thing! What an incomparably meaningful thing – this thing of opening your heart to the truth of the word of the gospel of God in Christ Jesus.
While we sing our song, while we make this appeal, in that great throng in the balcony around, would you come down those stairwells? Take this pastor by the hand:"Preacher, tonight, tonight, I open my heart to the truth of the gospel of the Son of God,and here I am, and here I come." In this great throng of people on this lower floor, somebody, you – somebody, you: "Pastor, tonight I will open my heart to the message of the gospel of the Son of God. I will lift up my eyes to heaven. My hope will be this hope of God’s people – not in this world but the hope that we don’t see with mortal eyes, the hope in glory." Will you?
Or a family of you, or one of you, coming into the fellowship of the church: into that aisle and down here to the front, on the first note of the first stanza, would you come? Would you make it now? God’s here. The Lord calls. The Spirit speaks. And while we sing this song, won’t you come? Make it now while we stand and while we sing.