The Kind of Folks In Heaven
November 29th, 1987 @ 8:15 AM
THE KIND OF FOLKS IN HEAVEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-29-87 8:15 a.m.
Once again we welcome the multitudes of you who share this hour on radio. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, delivering the message. In our preaching through the Gospel of John, we are in chapter 10. And the sermon is a textual sermon on the sixteenth verse. John 10:16, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” The title of the message is The Folks Who Are in Heaven: what kind of people are in heaven?
In the Bible, there are many things that are said about our eternal home: we shall live in a great city; its gates are of pearl; its streets are of gold [Revelation 21:21]; through the midst of it flows a river of life [Revelation 22:1], and it is filled with all of the tenuous angels of God. But we are not thinking today of the city itself. We are thinking, rather, of the people who are in it: what kind of folks they are.
In my reading this week, I came across a crazy little doggerel entitled “Well, Look Who’s Here.”
I dreamed death came the other night,
And heaven’s gate swung wide.
With kindly grace an angel
Ushered me inside.
And there, to my astonishment
Stood folks I’d known on earth.
Some I judged unfit
And of very little worth.
Indignant words rose to my lips
But never were set free.
For every face showed surprise,
No one expected me.
[“Surprise, Surprise,” anonymous]
The Folks Who Are in Heaven.
From this wonderful passage from the lips of our Lord, there are three characterizations of the folks—the people—that are in glory. Number one: they all belong to one fold and to one flock. “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold,” aulē, the place where the sheep are kept. “They shall hear My voice; and there shall be”—and this is a different word—“one fold,” poimnē. Poimnē refers to the flock. And it’s so much like the word for shepherd—poimēn is the word for shepherd—flock poimnē, shepherd, flock. “There shall be one flock, and one shepherd” [John 10:16]. We shall all belong to the same fold and to the same flock. ‘Tis a beautiful thought. We’ll be together. We are social creatures here in this earth, very much so.
The scattered American Indians out on the plains would come together once a year for a pow-wow, just to be together. Those isolated Eskimos would come together for their Arctic games.
I was driving through Arizona one time in a most desolate part of it, passed by a cowboy’s cabin. And to my astonishment, the windows were covered with beautiful curtains; evidently he had a wife, a woman on the inside in that desolate house. And she put curtains up. Somebody might drive by, such as I, and look at them, or come inside and be a guest. We are much social creatures.
I asked one time an executive of a great mutual company, “Who will own or does own the assets of this tremendous mutual company like Metropolitan or Prudential or Equitable? Those billions and billions of dollars of investment? Who finally owns them?” And he replied to me, “The last living survivor.”
And I thought in my mind, “The last living survivor will own all of those billions and billions and billions of dollars of assets.” Then my mind thought of that somebody, the last living survivor walking through a great city and those tall buildings are his. Passing by the railroad station, those vast systems are his; going by the great real estate investments that make up a great city, they’re all his. But he’s by himself. He’s alone. There’s nobody there but he. How empty and worthless the vast empire that he possesses? We are social creatures here in this earth.
We are no less social creatures up there in heaven. We are to be together. And heaven is not heaven without you, if you’re not there.
A little girl was taken from her home because her mother had died. And after the passing of a few days, she was brought back to the home. And the little thing went from this room to that room to that room seeking her mother. And asked, “Where is she?”
And was told, “She’s gone and will not be back.”
And the little girl says, “Then take me away. I don’t wanna be here without Mother.”
Heaven is like that. Without your being there, it is empty and vacant and sterile. It is you that make heaven.
I one time heard of an old man giving his testimony at church. And he said, “When I was a youngster, when I was a teenager, I thought of heaven as,” then he described the golden streets and the gates of pearl and the river of life and full of strenuous white angels and strangers, none of whom he knew. Then as the days passed, his little brother died, and he said, “I thought of heaven as being gold streets, pearly gates, river of life, white tenuous angels, great throng of strangers and one little face I knew. Then,” he said, “the years have passed and the years have multiplied, and now as an old man, alone in the earth, I think of heaven, no longer golden streets, or gates of pearl, or rivers of life, or white tenuous angels, or strangers that I never knew. But,” he says, “I think of heaven, now, as all of those dear ones who have preceded me; more over there than here.”
That makes heaven. You, God’s people, the family of the Lord, one fold and one Shepherd, all of us shall be there together. Do you notice He magnifies the diversity of the group; “And other sheep I have, who are not of this fold: them also I must bring”? [John 10:16]. “Other sheep I have”; the diversity of that group.
In Matthew 8, our Lord says, “They shall come from the east and from the west, and sit down in the kingdom with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” [Matthew 8:11], a great and diverse group from the ends of God’s created earth. That’s an unusual thing. We’re going to be together, though so greatly, vastly separated in this earth. Not only in distance, in place, but also in life and in heart; so different, yet together in the Lord, in the family of God.
I spent one time about a week in Oslo, Norway; went to the Baptist church there on Sunday and met a wonderful, godly deacon, a marvelous man. As the days passed, he took me around in his car and invited me into his home for dinner. As he visited and talked and described so many things that were so marvelously interesting to me, he began to talk about the Nazi occupation, the German occupation, of his country in the Second World War. For five years, his country, Norway, was in the grasp of the Nazi German soldier. He said, “Those Germans came and they took our church and made a warehouse of it, a storage place for it. And we met in a rented hall.”
“Well,” he said, “during those days, there came to our church services a Nazi soldier in his uniform, came into the service.” He said, “You could feel the bristling of the people. How deep and bitter our hatred. Nobody spoke to him. And the days passed and the months and that Nazi soldier came regularly to church.” Finally the wife of this godly deacon said to him, “Husband, that soldier, that German soldier, he’s a Baptist. And he belongs to a Baptist congregation in Western Germany. And husband, I think you ought to speak to him.”
He, at first, refused. “I will not,” but finally acquiesced saying, “I’ll speak to him in church but not outside that door!”
So he spoke to that Nazi soldier in church and not outside the door. But as the days passed and the Nazi soldier continued to attend the services and he spoke to him inside, then he began to speak to him outside.
And finally his wife said to him, she said, “Husband, he’s such a fine Baptist young man. Let’s invite him for dinner at our house.”
“No, under no condition!” But finally acquiesced and said, “If he’ll come, not in his Nazi uniform, he’ll be welcome.”
So the young fellow accepted and went to the deacon’s house for dinner. He was a wonderful young guest, and the children loved him. He played with the children so beautifully. And he came upon invitation again and again in those years.
You know that deacon said to me, “When the British fleet came, liberating our country, that Nazi soldier stood on the top of the hill, overlooking our city and wept for joy, glad for the liberation of our country and of our nation. Well,” the deacon said to me, “you know, after the war was over and that Nazi soldier went back home, I got an invitation from him, written in the beautiful Norse language. And he was announcing his wedding and was asking me and my family to attend the wedding. It was in the British zone of Western Germany.” And the deacon said to me, “We went. We went. We attended the wedding and had a beautiful and wonderful time together. And since then in these years that have passed, we have written to each other as friends in the Lord, belonging to the family of God.”
That is a wonderful thing, a glorious thing. However we may be divided in so many of the other areas of national and political and economic life, in Christ, we are one. “There shall be one fold, and one Shepherd” [John 10:16]. We’ll be together, always and forever.
A second thing: we shall all love our Lord, our Shepherd, and the flock. It is our choice. By choice, we, by commitment, by avowal, by public confession and affirmation, we choose to be with one another and with our Lord [Romans 10:9-10]. There’s not a more beautiful Word in God’s Book than that first chapter of Ruth where she says, “Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God” [Ruth 1:16]. We shall be like that, choosing to be with these who belong to the family of our Lord.
I one time heard the craziest story. There were two excursion boats on the pier in New York City. One of them was a Sunday school excursion boat, and the other was a bartender’s excursion weekend boat. Well, as the day came and the time arrived, the bartender’s boat moved out, and the Sunday school excursion boat was there. And there came a bartender who was a little late and he missed the bartender’s excursion boat and, not knowing, thought the Sunday school excursion boat was his bartender’s boat. So the Sunday school excursion boat was just beginning to move out, and that bartender ran and made a leap and landed on the prow of the ship.
And can you imagine his surprise, when he had planned a weekend of drinking and gambling and whore mongering and whatever else they plan to do on that, and there he was with a Sunday school picnic. Can you imagine? Dear me, dear me! What a difference the choice in your heart of the people you want to be with! What a difference it makes!
I onetime heard the crazy thing of a Dallas dowager who died and went to heaven. And St. Peter met her and wanted to know her credentials. And she opened her purse and showed him a Neiman Marcus charger plate and a season ticket to the Dallas Symphony and a pass to the Dallas Country Club and a broken ticket for the Dallas Cowboy game. And the gatekeeper, St. Peter, looked at all that and said, “Well, madam, come on in. But I’m telling you now, you ain’t gonna like it.”
Ah! By choice, by conviction and affirmation, these are the people we want to be with: God’s people, loving our Lord the Shepherd, and loving His people, the flock [John 10:16]. How beautiful. This is where we belong. These are my people.
One time attending a service in our Baptist church in Leningrad, I sat there for more than three hours, just weeping. Dear me, the way they knelt, the way they raised their hands to God in prayer, the way they just poured out their souls to the Lord; couldn’t understand a word. And in one section of one piece of their service there in that Baptist church in Leningrad, they just openly, just wept and wept and wept. And the man, the pastor of the church, was reading letters, reading letters. I finally turned to the interpreter and said, the Intourist guide, and said, “Could you tell me why they are so moved?”
And she said, “I don’t understand.” She, being an atheist, you know and a Intourist guide, “I don’t understand.”
“Well,” I said—this godly deacon and I gave him; I had brought a Bible in Russian and I’d given it to him—I said, “would you ask that deacon there what they are doing and why they are so moved and so weeping?”
So she talked to the deacon. And after she’d conversed with him, why, she turned to me and said, “What they’re doing now is, they’re reading letters of members of the church who had defected. They had gone back into atheism and into communism, and had forsaken the Lord, and had forsaken the church, and had forsaken the faith. And what they’re doing now, is, they’re saying, ‘We want to come back home. We want to be restored. We want to belong to the family of God.’ And as they read the letters, there is such illimitable, immeasurable rejoicing in having them back again, that they cry for gladness.” That’s God’s people.
Could I make an aside here? If you have ever been converted, if you have ever loved the Lord, if you have ever been a disciple of the precious Savior, you will never be happy out there in the world, never, ever. You belong to the Lord; you belong to God. And that will stay in your heart as long as you live.
I must close. Time’s already passed. A third: who are these folks in heaven? They are the redeemed, blood-bought children of God, washed in the blood of the Lamb, His sacrifice [Revelation 1:5-6, 5:9].
Let me make an avowal here. As you know, I am a Calvinist. I am a predestinarian. I believe in election. May I make an aside here, a doctrinal statement? When the Lord Jesus volunteered to die for our sins, as it is written in the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, “Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of Me) to do Thy will, O God” [Hebrews 10:7]; when Jesus said to God the Father, “I will take on Me the frame of flesh, and I will die for their sins,” when Jesus did that, the Lord God in heaven said to Jesus, “If You die, if You suffer, if You pay the penalty on the cross for their sins [Matthew 27:26-50], I will give You a people. You will not die in vain. I will give You a people.” And that is what you call election or predestination [Romans 8:29]. God says to you as He said to me, “Jesus died for you, and you are one of His. You belong with Him.” God does that [Ephesians 2:8]. God moves your heart; He speaks to your soul [John 16:8]. God does that. He chooses you. That’s why you are here, that’s why you are in the kingdom. “You die, and I will give You a people.”
Who are these in heaven? They are blood-bought. They belong to the Lord. They’re His [1 Peter 1:18-19]. “O Christ, O Jesus, how could I ever thank Thee enough for what You have done for me, dying in my stead, paying the penalty of my iniquity and transgressions [Ephesians 5:2, Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 1:7; 1 Timothy 2:6], writing my name in the Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27], speaking to my heart, calling me into the faith. O Jesus, how could I ever frame the words to say it, the depths of my soul’s gratitude to Thee.”
And if you feel that way, while we sing this hymn of appeal, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and I’m standing in the presence of His people and in the presence of God Himself, owning and confessing and affirming my love for the Lord for what He has done for me” [Romans 10:9-10]. Bring your family, all of you coming into the fellowship of our wonderful church, or answering a call of the Spirit in your heart, make the decision now. And in this moment that we sing our appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, come. And as the angels attend you in the way, with them we shall rejoice together [Luke 15:10], welcome, while we stand and while we sing.