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What Makes Heaven Heavenly?

Why should we live with passionate expectation of heaven? What is it about the eternal state that makes it such an alluring and overwhelmingly joyful prospect? Many answers could be given, but none that surpasses the simple fact that God will be there. Continue reading . . .

Why should we live with passionate expectation of heaven? What is it about the eternal state that makes it such an alluring and overwhelmingly joyful prospect? Many answers could be given, but none that surpasses the simple fact that God will be there.

In his famous sermon, “Heaven is a World of Love” (it is the fifteenth sermon in the series known as Charity and its Fruits), Jonathan Edwards reminds us that heaven will be heavenly because “there dwells God the Father, and so the Son, who are united in infinitely dear and incomprehensible mutual love. There dwells God the Father who is the Father of mercies, and so the Father of love, who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life [John 3:16]” (Yale, 8:369).

But where the Father is, so too is the Son. They are inseparable both in their being and in their love one for another. So, heaven is heavenly because “there dwells Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, the Prince of peace and love, who so loved the world that he shed his blood, and poured out his soul unto death for it. There dwells the Mediator, by whom all God’s love is expressed to the saints, by whom the fruits of it have been purchased, and through whom they are communicated, and through whom love is imparted to the hearts of all the church. There Christ dwells in both his natures, his human divine, sitting with the Father in the same throne” (369-70).

The Holy Spirit, whom Edwards conceives as the person in whom the power and energy of love between the Father and Son subsists, is also there. He is “the spirit of divine love, in whom the very essence of God, as it were, all flows out or is breathed forth in love, and by whose immediate influence all holy love is shed abroad in the hearts of all the church” (370).

If our longing for heaven is primarily for the relief from pain that it will bring, it is deficient desire. If our longing for heaven is tied to the reunion with family and friends, or in anticipating of walking the streets of gold, or in the experience of a resurrected and glorified body, we have not yet grasped what truly makes heaven heavenly. These things are, of course, perfectly glorious realities that will in fact be ours for eternity. But heaven is not heaven if the Triune God of our salvation is not there for our enjoyment and amazement.

Thus, Edwards insists that “there in heaven this fountain of love, this eternal three in one, is set open without any obstacle to hinder access to it” (370). Think about the many hindrances we encounter on earth that retard and resist our experience of God. Our sin, for one. Our fallen and dying bodies, for another. Other sinners, to say the least. But in heaven we will drink incessantly and for our eternal satisfaction from this “fountain of love” which is nothing other than God himself in his Triune beauty and glory. No obstacles will “hinder access to it.”

There, in heaven, “this glorious God is manifested and shines forth in full glory, in beams of love; there the fountain overflows in streams and rivers of love and delight, enough for all to drink at, and to swim in, yea, so as to overflow the world as it were with a deluge of love” (370).

What makes heaven heavenly, therefore, isn’t so much the absence of evil but the presence of God. This indeed is the gospel itself. What makes the good news “good” is that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we get God!

Here is how John Piper put it in his excellent little book, “Fifty Reasons Jesus Came to Die.”

But what is the ultimate good in the good news? It all ends in one thing: God himself. All the words of the gospel lead to him, or they are not gospel. For example, salvation is not good news if it only saves from hell and not for God. Forgiveness is not good news if it only gives relief from guilt and doesn’t open the way to God. Justification is not good news if it only makes us legally acceptable to God but doesn’t bring fellowship with God. Redemption is not good news if it only liberates us from bondage but doesn’t bring us to God. Adoption is not good news if it only puts us in the Father’s family but not in his arms.

This is crucial. Many people seem to embrace the good news without embracing God. There is no sure evidence that we have a new heart just because we want to escape hell. That’s a perfectly natural desire, not a supernatural one. It doesn’t take a new heart to want the psychological relief of forgiveness, or the removal of God’s wrath, or the inheritance of God’s world. All these things are understandable without any spiritual change. You don’t need to be born again to want these things. The devils want them. It is not wrong to want them. Indeed it is folly not to. But the evidence that we have been changed is that we want these things because they bring us to the enjoyment of God. This is the greatest thing Christ died for. “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).

Why is this the essence of the good news? Because we were made to experience full and lasting happiness from seeing and savoring the glory of God. If our best joy comes from something less, we are idolaters and God is dishonored. He created us in such a way that his glory is displayed through our joy in it. The gospel of Christ is the good news that at the cost of his Son’s life, God has done everything necessary to enthrall us with what will make us eternally and ever-increasingly happy, namely, himself. Long before Christ came, God revealed himself as the source of full and lasting pleasure. “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). Then he sent Christ to suffer “that he might bring us to God.” This means he sent Christ to bring us to the deepest, longest joy a human can have. Hear then the invitation: Turn from “the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25) and come to “pleasures forevermore.” Come to Christ.

Even so, come Lord Jesus!

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