The Open Door Into Heaven
April 5th, 1996 @ 12:00 PM
THE OPEN DOOR TO HEAVEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-5-96 12:00 p.m.
It is always a time of deepest recognizance and humbling prayer when I prepare a message on Good Friday, reviewing all of those tragic and yet ultimately heavenly attendants that characterized the crucifixion of our dear Lord. And as a background text, reading from the Book of Hebrews, the last two verses in chapter 9: "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the resurrection: So Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many; and to those who dearly wait for Him, He will appear a second time apart from sin to salvation" [Hebrews 9:27-28].
The death of our Lord was in response to the universal sadness that characterizes all humanity. I have been down, as many of you know, for these last two months; and three of those weeks I was in Baylor Hospital. And about the last thing the doctor said to me, "Four different times during these days, you have been within a few minutes of death." I can hardly realize, even though I have been a pastor and a minister over sixty-nine years – I can hardly realize the presence and experience of death. How many times have I prayed by the bedside of one who is dying, and how many times, almost endlessly numbered, have I presided over a memorial service. And that lies back of the heavenly reason for the heavenly Son to come into this dark and dreary and dying earth.
There are two things that characterized the Friday death of our Savior. Number one: He took upon Him all of our burdens, and our iniquities, and our sins, and our shortcomings, and our ineptitudes, and our mistakes [Isaiah 53:6; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 10:5-14]. The sorrow that He bore in His heart [Isaiah 53:5] was caused by the tragedy that attends all of our lives. There is no one of us that has not fallen into error and mistake [Romans 3:23]; and there is not one of us but also faces the penalty of death [Ezekiel 18:4, 20; Romans 6:23]. And the Lord took upon Him our transgressions and our iniquities [Isaiah 53:6]. And He died our death for us in order that we might live His life in His goodness and grace [1 Corinthians 15:3].
And a second thing that our Lord accomplished in that tragedy of a Friday so long ago: He opened for us the gate and the door of heaven. In the fullness of His mercy and in the goodness of His grace [John 1:16], having paid the penalty for our sins [Romans 3:24-25], He brought us where we can look into the very presence of God, and we can walk in the Holy City created by His omnipotent hands [John 14:3; Revelation 21:2-3]. Our tomorrow lies in Him; in the goodness, and grace, and mercy, and preciousness of our Lord. If we die, we shall be raised from the dead. And if we are alive at His coming, we shall be transformed, transfigured, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. It’s a great passage in the fourth chapter of 1 Thessalonians, beginning at verse :
My brethren, I would not have you mourn without comfort concerning these who fall asleep. For if we believe that Christ died and is coming again, then these also who sleep in Jesus will be raised from the dead. And these who have been raised from the grave shall see Him first. Then we who are alive and remain at the coming of the Lord shall be caught up with them to meet our Savior in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
[1 Thessalonians 4:13-17]
In that final and triumphant day when our Lord comes for His own, the first ones who will see Him are these who have fallen asleep in His faith, in His mercy, in His name [1 Thessalonians 4:16], and then we shall – in our new transfigured and glorified bodies – be caught up; and with them, we’ll meet Jesus in the air and so be escorted by the Lord Himself into our glorious and heavenly home [1 Thessalonians 4:17]. I can hardly realize such a glorious destiny awaits us.
And what a home heaven must be; in the twenty-first and twenty-second chapters of the Book of the Revelation, it is described. He sees coming down from God in heaven a beautiful and glorious city [Revelation 21:2, 10]. We’re going to have our ultimate and final home in a great city [Revelation 21:3]. As John looked at it, he describes it as being twelve thousand furlongs this way, that way, and upward way; that’s one thousand five hundred miles; a great city one thousand five hundred miles high [Revelation 21:15-16]. And think of all of the platforms and all of the sections and all of the streets, big enough for billions of people. That will be our home. Our mansion will be in that beautiful city that comes down to this earth.
Then the whole creation is to be renewed. There’ll be no more deserts, there’ll be no more blasted planets, there’ll be no more spheres and sidereal creations that are vacant; the whole creation, all of it, these vast starry heavens will be remade. Matter is eternal; it cannot and will not be destroyed. God is going to recreate the entire universe; and that’s going to be our home [Revelation 21:1-5].
Our rewards are going to be given us from the gracious, precious hands of Jesus Himself [1 Corinthians 3:11-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10]. And some of us are going to be rulers over ten cities and some of us are going to be rulers over six cities; but all of us will be given a heavenly reward. And what a marvelous time we’ll have! I believe that in that new creation we can go from place to place, from planet to planet, from sidereal sphere to sidereal sphere; we can do it in the same length of time that it takes us to think of it. I can think of my being here. I can think of my being now on Jupiter. I can think of my being now in the farthest planet in the starry universe. The whole creation is going to be ours; we’ll be ruler over it. We’ll be assigned to its administration. Ah, what a glorious future awaits the child of God!
So, having been placed where we can walk into that beautiful city, our heavenly home, let’s do it. Come with me; let’s be a part of that great throng beyond those pearly gates and walking up and down those golden streets [Revelation 21:21]. And the first thing that I’m aware of, introduced to when I walk into heaven is the vast number of angels. In the twelfth chapter of the Book of the Hebrews, the author says, "He is come to Mount Zion, and to a vast innumerable host of angels" [Hebrews 12:22]. In the fifth chapter of the Apocalypse, he calls them, as he sees them, chiliades chiliadōn, translated in the King James Version of the Bible, "ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands" [Revelation 5:11]. Can you conceive what a vast illimitable throng of angels that is? Dear me! Our Lord said, when Simon Peter drew out his sword to defend Him, our Lord said, "Put up your sword. If I asked My heavenly Father, He would send Me twelve legions of angels," that’s seventy-two thousand angels [Matthew 26:52-53]. Think of that. Just one angel, just one in the days of King Hezekiah, God sent to go over the Assyrian army of Sennacherib; and the next morning they counted one hundred eighty-five thousand corpses; one angel [2 Kings 19:35; Isaiah 37:36]. And think of the thousands and thousands and multitudinous thousands of angels that are going to be there to welcome us and to escort us into glory.
"Well preacher, do you think these angels are going to be yours to address, and to command, and to employ, and to use?" I certainly do. I believe this Book. And the first chapter of the Hebrews says that these angels are "ministering spirits sent forth to minister to those who shall inherit salvation" [Hebrews 1:14]. All of those angels, multiplied millions and millions of them, are going to be our servants. When I walk into heaven, I may be assigned one hundred twenty-five thousand of them, just to do what I want done.
[from audience] "And it will take that many."
He says, "It’ll take that many." Oh dear, I just can’t imagine such a thing!
Down here where we are, they are our ministering spirits. Several times have I read sermons on guardian angels. Jesus says that every little child that is born has a guardian angel [Matthew 18:10]; and these ministers who expound upon those Scriptures say that all of us have attendant angels that guard and direct our lives [Psalm 91:11-21]. There in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, in that story about the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus says, "When Lazarus died, the angels," plural, "took him to heaven" [Luke 16:22]. Isn’t that just unthinkable? These that have died in the Lord, angels have accompanied them into heaven. An angel came and rolled the stone away where our Lord was buried [Matthew 28:2]; and two angels said to the women, "Come and see" [Matthew 28:6; John 20:12]. O dear God, what a prospect awaits us! Hundreds of thousands of angels, all of them our ministering spirits and servants [Hebrews 1:14].
Then when I think of heaven and our entrance into glory, I think of the saints who have preceded us. Dear me! And I am convinced that the Bible teaches us that intuitively – we don’t have to be taught – intuitively we’ll recognize all of them. On the top of Mount Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appeared to Peter, James, and John, and they knew them [Mark 9:2-5]. How did they know them? Intuitively, they just knew it. That’s the way we’re going to be in heaven: intuitively, just by being there we’re going to recognize the saints of glory. And you know, crazy me, I think of the questions I’d like to ask some of them.
Did you ever think about Adam and Eve? They were naked, and it was only after they had sinned that they covered themselves with fig leaves [Genesis 3:7]. I want to ask Adam and Eve, "What was the difference living with that woman in nakedness and then having to cover yourself with fig leaves after you fell into aberration?" [Genesis 3:1-6]. I just, I just wonder what in the earth was the difference? I just can’t imagine it. Oh dear!
[from audience] "You ought to know by now, preacher."
He thinks I ought to already know. Oh dear!
And I’d like to ask Noah, when Noah lived there was a beautiful canopy over the whole earth, there was no such thing as a desert, there was no such thing as a cold Arctic or Antarctica; the whole earth was like a beautiful paradise, and it was watered by the dew [Genesis 2:5-6]. Then, when that awful judgment came, God punctured that canopy, and for the first time in the history of creation, it rained. They had never seen rain in the earth before. And for the first time it rained. And I’d like to ask Noah, "Noah, how did you feel when you were in that ark, stuck your head out the window, and saw for the first time in history rain?" [Genesis 7:11-12]. Think of that. And it rained.
I’d like to ask Gideon, "Gideon, how did you feel when you had three hundred against one hundred thousand? How did you come along?" [Judges 7:7]. I’d just love to ask Elijah, "Elijah, how was it when just suddenly there appeared out of heaven horseman and chariot and took you up to glory? [2 Kings 2:11]. I’d just like to ask you." I’d like to ask David, "David how did you feel as a little boy, with just a slingshot facing that giant Goliath?" [1 Samuel 17:48-]. And you may think I’ve lost my mind, but when I see Solomon – the Book says he had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines [1 Kings 11:3] – I’d like to ask Solomon, "Solomon, what did you do when you went to bed at night?" I’d just like for him to tell me. With seven hundred wives, and you tell me all you can handle is just one, just one! Oh dear! Ah, what a day that’s going to be when we are up there in glory.
And our families, our families, oh, oh! I never read a testimony that was sweeter to my heart than this one. There’s an old, old, aged man who is giving his testimony in the house of the Lord, before the congregation of God’s sweet people. And he says in that testimony, "When I was a little boy and I thought about heaven, it was a place of pearly gates, golden streets, and filled with people, not one of whom I knew, not one." Then he said, "As the days passed, my little brother died. And I thought about heaven as a place with pearly gates, and golden streets, and a great throng, and one little face that I knew." Then he said, "As the years passed and multiplied, all of my family have gone, all of them. And I’m here alone by myself." And he said, "Now when I think of heaven, I never think of it with pearly gates, or golden streets, or a vast throng, none of whom I know. Now," he says, "when I think of heaven, I think of my sweet family and my dear friends and these that I’ve loved and lost for just a while." That is one of the truest testimonies you could ever hear.
Heaven is going to be heaven because you are there. And these that we’ve loved and lost for a while are there. You know, I could never, ever forget the first funeral I ever held. It was in the days of the Depression, way back yonder. And there was a tenant farmer in a shack. Their little baby boy was sick unto death, and I visited in the cottage and knelt down and prayed by the side of that sick little boy. And the little thing died, and that was my first funeral. I had a Chevrolet coupe, a one-seated car. They took the body of the little baby and put it in a box of a coffin. And somebody loaned a flatbed truck, and they put that little box on the bed of that truck. And I took the couple in my little car and followed the truck to the cemetery. And as we followed that flatbed truck and that little box of a coffin, she, seated next to me, began to sob. And he on the other side put his arm around her, and said, "There, there, sweetheart, don’t you cry. Our baby is in the arms of Jesus, and He will take care."
I don’t know of anything sweeter than that kind of a faith and that kind of a hope. Jesus will take care of these whom we have loved and have gone before. And we’ll see them and know them. I think that intuitive knowing, if the one that left was a child and you knew as a child, you’ll recognize that one. Then if you are left behind and the one that has gone is a teenager, you’ll recognize the child as a teenager, or as an old man or an old woman. It will be intuitive knowledge; we’ll just know each other in heaven. What a precious hope and what a darling persuasion!
So when we get to glory, I’ll look for you; and we’ll rejoice in each other. And best of all, we’ll see Jesus [1 Thessalonians 4:17; Revelation 22:3-5]. Oh, think of that! Like the little boy asked to recite the twenty-third Psalm, "The Lord is my Shepherd. He is all that I want" [Psalm 23:1]. We’ll see Jesus. I just can’t imagine, just coming up to the Lord and talking with Him and visiting with Him. But that’s where He is, and that’s where we shall be. And we’ll just have an eternity to talk to Jesus.
Do you remember the two on the way to Emmaus? [Luke 24:13]. Didn’t know who the stranger was, just walking by their side [Luke 24:14-16], invited to come in, broke bread, and was revealed in the breaking of bread [Luke 24:28-31]. And they said one to another, "Did not our hearts burn within us when we walked with Him by the way" [Luke 24:32]? That’s going to be the way it is with us. Oh, the heart that will beat in us in indescribable glory when we can see Jesus, and just talk to Him, and visit with Him!
Precious people, in my preparation for this precious moment, I copied two poems about our Lord in heaven.
O Christ, He is the fountain,
And the deep, sweet well of love!
The streams of earth I’ve tasted,
But more deep I’ll drink up above:
There is an ocean of fullness,
His mercy doth [expand],
And glory, glory dwelleth
In that beautiful home above.
The Bride eyes not her garment,
But her dear Bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory
But on my Lord’s dear face.
Not at the crown He giveth
But on His pierced hand;
For the Lamb is all the glory
In Immanuel’s land.
[from "The Sands of Time are Sinking"; Anne R. Cousin]
And this other one, "’Tis Heaven at Last":
Christ will be the living splendor,
Christ the sunlight mild and tender,
Praises to the Lamb we render,
Ah, ’tis heaven at last!
Broken death’s dread bands that bound us,
Life and victory gloriously surround us,
Christ the King Himself hath crowned us,
Ah, ’tis heaven at last!
["Heaven"; Rev. Theodore L. Cuyler]
We could not pray for more than, Lord, just to be up there where You are; to talk with You, to visit with You, to tell You how much we love You, and to praise Your name forever. That will be heaven.
THE OPEN DOOR INTO HEAVEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Friday – the death of Christ
A. The heavenly reason for Him to come into this dark and dying earth
B. Two things characterized the Friday death of our Savior
1. He took upon Him our transgressions and iniquities
2. He opened for us the gate and door to heaven
II. Our tomorrow with Christ
A. Bodily resurrection, entrance into heaven(1 Thessalonians 4:13-17)
1. If we die, we shall be raised from the dead
2. If we are alive at his coming, we shall be transformed in a moment
B. Heaven our eternal home(Revelation 21, 22)
1. A place(John 14:2-3)
2. A city(Revelation 21:16)
3. The whole creation renewed
4. Our rewards given from hands of Jesus Himself
III. Whom we meet in heaven
1. Innumerable(Hebrews 12:22, Revelation 5:11, Matthew 26:52-53, 2 Kings 19:35)
2. Our ministers(Hebrews 1:14)
a. In this life(Luke 16:22, Matthew 28:6)
b. In the life to come
B. The saints(Mark 9:2-5, Genesis 3:7, 8:6, Judges 7:7, 2 Kings 2:11, 1 Samuel 17:48-, 1 Kings 11:3)
D. Jesus(Psalm 23, Luke 24:32)