An Entrance Into Heaven

An Entrance Into Heaven

April 17th, 1987 @ 12:00 PM

Acts 7:54-60

When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
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Pre-Easter Services

AN ENTRANCE INTO HEAVEN

Dr. W. A. Criswell

Acts 7:54-60

4-17-87    12:00 p.m.

 

 

This is the last day, and how quickly do they go by, of our seventy-first year of pre-Easter services.  This year, as Dr. McLaughlin announced, they have been built around the theme of "The Golden Chain of Salvation": on Monday, A Turning in Repentance; on Tuesday, A Confession to Salvation; on Wednesday, A Baptism into the Family of God; yesterday, A Growing in the Grace of our Lord; and today, An Entrance into Heaven.

I have two passages in the Bible to read.  The first is in the twenty-third chapter of Luke.  It begins at verse 39 with our Lord on the cross, and one of the malefactors who was crucified with Him saying to Him, "Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.  And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today, semeron," the emphasis of the Greek sentence is on that first word, "Today, this day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise" [Luke 23:42-43].

The second passage is in the Book of Acts, chapter 7, beginning at verse [55].  In the martyrdom of Stephen, God’s first martyr, "He, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God."  Everywhere else in the Bible without exception when you have the picture of Jesus, the revelation of our Lord in heaven, He is always seated, always seated.  There is no exception to that.

In this one instance He is standing to receive the soul of that first disciple who laid down his life for the faith.  "I see the glory of God, and Jesus standing on His right hand.  And he said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God."  Verse 59,

 meron," the emphasis of the Greek sentence is on that first word, "Today, this day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise" [Luke 23:42-43].

The second passage is in the Book of Acts, chapter 7, beginning at verse [55].  In the martyrdom of Stephen, God’s first martyr, "He, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God."  Everywhere else in the Bible without exception when you have the picture of Jesus, the revelation of our Lord in heaven, He is always seated, always seated.  There is no exception to that.

In this one instance He is standing to receive the soul of that first disciple who laid down his life for the faith.  "I see the glory of God, and Jesus standing on His right hand.  And he said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God."  Verse 59,

And they stoned Stephen, as he called upon the name of God, saying, Lord Jesus, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.

And he kneeled down, and said, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.  And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

 

That’s one of the most unusual things of the Christian faith:  always referring to death as asleep; "he fell asleep."  He did not die.  He fell asleep.  That’s why the Christian people call the resting place of our beloved dead a koimeterion, a koimeterion.  When you take it and spell it out in English, it’s "cemetery."  A koimeterion, "a sleeping place."  These are not dead.  They are asleep.  As the Lord said of Lazarus, "He comes to awaken him" [John 11:11]; a picture, a promise, of that ultimate and final day when the Lord shall come and awaken these who have fallen asleep in Him; that great final resurrection, triumphant day [1 Thessalonians 4:13-17].

Now to begin the message, what follows after death?  The materialist, and the secularist, and the humanist, and the agnostic, and the infidel, and the existential philosopher unanimously answer, "Nothing, nothing.  We don’t go on.  We go out like a light."  Their answer to the world, the planet on which we live; its ultimate destiny is one of two.  Some of them say it will fall into the sun and return to its original vapor.  Others say the sun will cool and the planet will finally be turned into a solid round of ice; nothing.  What follows and awaits after death?  Nothing, a blank. 

What follows our lives after death?  The same destiny as the world, nothing.  Our life they say is like a jungle in which the strong strive to survive and the weak perish, and that’s all.  They say life is like a net in which we are caught in the cruel circumstances of existence; cannot liberate ourselves.  They say life is like a mill.  We are ground in the upper and nether millstones.  They say life is like a juggernaut in which we are crushed into the dust of the ground.  And there is no existence beyond the grave.

Such a view magnifies the king of terrors.  The dust, and the dirt, and the ground is the end of all existence.  Such a view of course nullifies the Christian faith.  All of us who believe like them fall into the purposelessness and nothingness of existence.  And everything that Jesus taught, everything that the Bible reveals, and every hope that every disciple of our Lord and every martyr entertained is dashed to the dust of the ground.

We cannot help no matter how we might try.  We cannot help but cry, "Is there not some other word?  Is there not some other message?  Is there not some other hope?  Is there not some other light?"  And the answer triumphantly, affirmatively, victoriously is, "Yes.  Yes!"

Our ancestors were converted, the Angles of Northumbria in about 600 AD.  From Canterbury down in the southeast of our native England, there was sent a missionary to the kingdom of Northumbria by the name of Paulinus.  The King of Northumbria was named Edwin.   And in the late evening, he is seated at his council table with his warriors.

And this is a page out of the story, the history of the Venerable Bede, and one of the most dramatic you will find in human literature.  The Venerable Bede writes that Paulinus stands there, an emissary from God, a representative of heaven, and he is making appeal to King Edwin and his warriors for the Christian faith.  The Venerable Bede writes it dramatically because it happened just before he was born in Northumbria.

And after Paulinus makes his earnest and dramatic appeal for the truth of the gospel of Christ, seated there is a long, long silence and King Edwin, King Edwin sits there at the head of the council table in deepest deciding meditation.  Finally, the long silence is broken by one of his old warriors.  And that Angle, standing up, describes the darkness of their life without a God, without a Savior, without hope.  Then he turns to the missionary, Paulinus, and says:

 

But if this Paulinus have somewhat more to tell,

Some word of whence and whither, and where the soul may dwell,

If on that outer darkness the sun of hope doth shine,

He brings life to the despairing, and I take his God for mine.

 

That is the Venerable Bede’s story of the conversion of our forefathers.  What a great embracement, and commitment, and acceptance, and affirmation.  Out of the darkness, light; and out of death, life; and out of despair, hope.  That is the Christian faith.  Outside, and over, and beyond there is nothing else.

What lies beyond the hour of our death?  Our Lord used a word to describe our heavenly home.  The word is topos.  "I go to prepare a topos for you," translated, "place" [John 14:3].

I read all the time, and I have no particular objection to it but in my reading, all the time, these Christian commentators – I’m not talking about infidels now – they say that all of those beautiful descriptions of heaven in the Revelation are figurative.  They are spiritualizing fancies.  You know the beautiful streets, and the pearly gates, and the glorious mansions, and all of the things that pertain to the beautiful city of God that they’re figurative.

As you know, I am a Biblical literalist.  I think we shall live in a city that has streets of gold, that has gates of pearl, where Jesus will walk in and out before us.  I believe that.  But the point I am making is whether that commentator is right or not, that the beautiful description of heaven is nothing but a spiritualizing fancy, what I do know is this, heaven is a place, a place.  Jesus said it was.  We are going to a place.

A body demands a place, and we shall be raised from the dead.  We shall live in a glorified, immortalized, resurrected body, and a body has to have a place.  And Jesus said, "I am going to prepare a place for you.  And if I go," which He did, "I will come again" [John 14:2-3], which He shall.

One other thing in the brief moment that I have, we go to that place immediately upon our translation from this world.  That is the emphasis of the word of our Lord to this dying thief; Semeion, the emphatic word in the sentence, "semeion, this day, today thou shalt be with Me in Paradise" [Luke 23:43].  We go immediately to our home in heaven when we die.

Paul expatiates upon that and out of the many instances in the revelations God gave to the sainted apostle, I choose one.  In the fifth chapter of 2 Corinthians, speaking of our tabernacle, which he calls "This body, If it be dissolved," which he calls death, "we have a house, a tabernacle, a body, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" [2 Corinthians 5:1].  Finally he says, "We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord" [2 Corinthians 5:8].

Those words are a play upon two Greek words that he uses:  ekdémeó away from home, endemeo, being at home; translated here "absent from the body and present with the Lord."  To be ekdémeó, here is to be endémeó, there.  Immediately, upon our death, we are in the presence of the Lord.  We are at home with Him awaiting just one final apocalyptic intervention when death is forever destroyed and its prey, our body is given up into the hands of God.  And we are raised, immortalized, glorified [1 Corinthians 15:51-55].  But immediately, ekdémeó upon our leaving this body, we are endémeó.  We’re in the presence of the Lord.  We’re at home with Him.

Like Robert Louis Stevenson wrote for his death:

 

Under the wide and starry sky,

Dig the grave and let me lie:

Glad did I live, and gladly die,

And I lay me down with a will.

This be the verse ye grave for me: 

Here he lies, where he long’d to be;

Home is the sailor, home from the sea;

And the hunter home from the hill.

["Requiem"; Robert Louis Stevenson]

 

To die is to be with our Lord, ekdémeó, from this house; endémeó, with our Lord, and in our house eternal in the heavens.

Oh what a beautiful and precious prospect!  "O Death, where is thy sting?  O Grave, where is thy victory?  Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" [1 Corinthians 15:55, 57], at home with Him.

 

I will sing you a song of that beautiful land, the far away home of the soul

Where no storms ever beat on the glittering strand, while the years of eternity roll

O how sweet it will be in that beautiful land, so free from all sorrow and pain

With songs on our lips, and with harps in our hands, to greet one another again

 

Absent from the body, and at home with the Lord [2 Corinthians 5:8].

And our Lord in that deep commitment to the truth of the Gospel of Christ, may we live our lives victoriously.  May we die in the hope, and in the faith, and in the assurance of the ableness of the Lord Jesus to save us.  And when we enter heaven, may it be with songs and shouts of rejoicing.  O praise God for His wonderful goodnesses to us, in His saving and keeping name, amen.

THE WORLD BEYOND DEATH

Dr. W. A. Criswell

Acts 7:55-60

4-17-87

 

I.          Materialist, atheist, infidel, unbeliever say nothing

A.  Our planet faces extinction

B.  Our lives face extinction

C.  The hopeless view

      1.  Magnifies the grave

2.  Reduces Christian faith to indescribable uselessness and hopelessness (1 Corinthians 15:19)

 

II.         Is there some other word?

A.  There is

      1.  Venerable Bede

 

III.        The Christian revelation (2 Timothy 1:10)

A.  A place (John 14:1-3, Revelation 21:2)

B.  Immediately there after death (Luke 16:22, 23:43, 2 Corinthians 5:8)

C.  We shall have a new body (1 Corinthians 15:50-52)

D.  We shall be real persons (1 Corinthians 13:12; 15)