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PAUL’S SPECIAL PRIVILEGE – A GLIMPSE OF HEAVEN

2 Cor.12:1-4

Thursday we received word that a dear friend of ours passed away after a seven-year battle with cancer. Yoli knew the Lord Jesus Christ as her Savior so there’s no question that when she died, she actually just transferred from this life to another glorious life forever in God’s presence. That’s the hope we just sang about… it’s a confidence that every believer can have. We know it’s true, not because she was religious… not because she was a good person… not even because she had been baptized… but it is because she received eternal life in heaven as a gift from God. The Bible says in Rom.6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

While better than 75% of Americans believe there is a place called heaven, most people think that to get there you have to live a good enough life to make it… one in which your good deeds outweigh the bad. Of course there are a variety of other opinions about heaven and how to get there but that is probably the most common belief… and unfortunately, it is an erroneous belief.

I heard about a mom who was trying to teach her children the truth about salvation while reading through their evening Bible story. To check if they understood she asked, “What do you have to do to get into heaven?” Her little four-year-old quickly replied, “Die!”

Then there’s Maggie and Eleanor who were sitting side by side in their rockers at a nursing home while talking about their age. Maggie said, “I can’t believe I’m almost one hundred years old.” Eleanor replied, “I still can’t believe I’ve already passed a hundred.” Then Eleanor said, “You know Maggie, we’re getting so old our friends in heaven are going to start thinking we didn’t make it.”

Well, I want to expound briefly on the topic of heaven this morning, first of all, because of where we are in 2 Corinthians… chapter 12, so please turn there in your Bibles. Secondly because I think there may be some questions about what it’s going to be like. I mean, we all know it is a beautiful place where God and His angels live, but what more do we know?

Perhaps today we can help answer a few questions you may have.

Look with me at 2 Cor.12:1-4… just the first four verses before we dig into the real meat of what Paul is actually teaching here… because he tells us that he had the unique privilege of being in heaven. Listen to what he said,

1 It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord:

2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago–whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows–such a one was caught up to the third heaven.

3 And I know such a man–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows–

4 how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
Paul is about to give an explanation of how God worked His power in and through his life and ministry… but we’ll get to that next Sunday. This morning I want to talk about heaven because in the last couple of weeks I have had several questions asked about it.

First of all, notice that

1. Paul was hesitant to talk about his experience. (vs.1)

Remember he was contrasting himself with the false teachers who apparently liked to brag a lot. But he has already made it abundantly clear how distasteful boasting was because he knew that men boasting in where they have come from or what they had done is, in fact, stealing glory that only God deserves. They were full of pride and arrogance and yet, ironically, none of them had the credentials to compare with Paul’s… and none of them had enjoyed the success of ministry that Paul had.

Unfortunately, they did have some measure of success in convincing the Corinthians that they were genuinely serving the Lord. So Paul believed it was necessary to list his credentials so they could see that they were really no better than Paul as they had claimed. Then rather than listing all of his accomplishments which so outshined theirs, he draws their attention to his experiences of suffering which actually weakened him, in order to show his commitment, passion and sincerity as Christ’s servant and that in spite of all the hardships he had endured, beyond all his pain he had a deep concern for all the churches, including them. So when Paul lines himself up with these guys, it was obvious who was the true servant of Christ. None of them could stack up to Paul and so as we come to chapter 12, Paul includes one more, almost unbelievable experience that should leave no question about who really speaks for the Lord.

He was saying in verse 1, “I’ve had visions and I’ve had revelations and I know these false apostles haven’t. But you know something? The only reason I’m talking about these things is because you’ve made it necessary for me to do this… but I want you to know it’s not really profitable.”

Now I want to say something here. Why is it not profitable to talk about his visions and revelations… especially this incredible one he’s getting ready to tell them about? We know of at least six visions that Paul had that are recorded in the book of Acts… and remember that’s Luke writing about them, not Paul.

It wasn’t profitable because first of all, to talk about them could make Paul prideful. It would have been a great temptation and we’ll have more to say about that next week. Secondly, the visions were for him… they weren’t meant for anyone else. And then thirdly, I think talking about the fantastic privilege of being caught up to heaven would probably stir up jealousy and envy against him. I mean, why Paul? Maybe God would do it for me too? Can you see how that could happen? I remember meeting a young man who had what he described as an incredible experience as he mat the Lord. He started out on fire for the Lord but he never had the experience again. Unfortunately, as time passed, he felt like the Lord had left him because he couldn’t experience what he had the first time. I can imagine that if someone wanted a vision of heaven like Paul but never had the privilege they could get discouraged or disillusioned and just give up on the Lord altogether… all because they didn’t receive the same blessing Paul had.

So there are three good reasons why Paul may have considered telling about his vision of heaven unprofitable. And yet, how many books are on the market telling about their experiences and visions and so called revelations? I saw one website called Insights of God: Experiences of Visions of Eternity. There were more than 50 links where you can download videos or books of people telling of their experiences of visitations, visions and revelations of themselves or of other people who had either seen heaven, hell, Jesus or angels. I’m curious, if Paul said that talking about his visions and revelations weren’t profitable, why do so many people who claim to have seen such things feel they need to tell the world through speaking engagements and books?

I only raise that question because again, all of us need to learn how to discern truth from error. Paul declared, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” That’s why when he was saying goodbye to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 he said he, “kept back nothing that was helpful” (Acts 20:20) and “I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32)

Please remember that the next time you hear someone telling about their visions or revelations from God… or the books they may have written to share their experiences. Paul says, “It’s not profitable… there is nothing to be gained by it.”.” That’s why he was hesitant to talk about his experiences. Do you want to profit spiritually? Read the Word of His grace! That’s where you will receive the greatest amount of spiritual profit.

The second observation is that

2. Paul explains what happened to him in the third person (vs.2,3)

In his contempt for boasting he tries to tell it like it was someone else who had t , “Hey man, you won’t believe what just happened to me!” Am I right? “God gave me a vision of heaven… I think I’ll write a book about it.” it goes? They’ll write their books and they start having speaking engagements just to tell people about what happened to them.

Not Paul… in fact, he’s just now decided to break fourteen years of silence! Now that’s self control because I can just imagine that if it happened to me I would want everyone to know. Paul exercised real humility because as you read through the whole text it becomes obvious that he is really talking about his own experience… because he ties it in with the thorn in the flesh that God gave him to keep him humble and God dependent. Fourteen years of silence, humility and self control and he still didn’t really want to tell them.

And then when he finally did, look at what he told them…

3. Paul described what he heard, not what he saw (vs.4)

He’s not sure how it happened, whether he was in his body or if it was an out of body experience. God knows… all Paul knows is that he was in heaven. He says, , “I went where God is… the third heaven… also called Paradise” My friend, Yoli is absent from the body but present with the Lord in heaven… and so is every other believer who has died. And I’m sure that what they are seeing now is absolutely spectacular. Paul was especially privileged to see it too… but isn’t it interesting that he didn’t describe what he saw but what he heard? He said it was “inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.”

He heard a language unlike any other on earth but he apparently understood it perfectly… only he wasn’t allowed to repeat what he heard… as though God placed a veil between heaven and earth, between this life and the next. It was one of God’s secrets as Deut.29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

Listen… what God wants us to know about heaven is revealed in the Bible. There were others in the Old Testament who were privileged to see the throne room of God. Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6 struck him with a painful sense of his own sinful heart. Ezekiel 1 gives us a pretty detailed description and Ezekiel fell on his face. John the apostle saw Jesus in Rev.1 and he fainted. Then the Lord Jesus told him to get up and write about what he had seen, what is and what will be.

I don’t think we need to hear about visions that people today claim to have had… because what God wants us to know about heaven is revealed in His Word.

Listen to this forward from a book by Mary Kathryn Baxter called “A Divine Revelation of Heaven.” She also wrote one called “A Divine Revelation of Hell.” In her book we read:

The inspired writings of Mary Kathryn Baxter are divinely anointed by God, and they have blessed hundreds of thousands of people. I believe it is of utmost importance to widely disseminate the message that God has given to her. She shares these experiences in hundreds of churches each year, and she has now put them down in book form.
I don’t know this woman’s heart but I have to tell you that just the forward of the book sounds pretty puffed up. Listen, if what’s in the Bible isn’t enough to bless you and excite you about what’s in store for us in heaven, then you really have a problem. Remember when Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus and he wanted Abraham to go warn his brothers about the place of torment he was in. Jesus said that Abraham told him,

“They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them.”
And he said, “No Father Abraham, but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”
But he said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.” (Luke 16:29-31)
Paul said in 1 Cor.2:9, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”

God has revealed through His Word everything He wants to excite us about heaven… but I believe that even with the Word and our wildest imaginations, we would still fall far short of reality! Paul was indeed privileged to see God’s heaven… but he didn’t really want to tell about it because it was something God did especially for him.

So now, before we wrap this up, let’s see if we can’t answer a few questions. These were compiled from what I’ve been asked recently with a couple others that I thought of.

1. What will heaven be like?

Many view heaven as a place that God created for us to live with Him but in fact it’s His home and He invites us to live there with Him. J. Oswald Sanders said, “The Westminster Catechism has as its first question, ‘What is the chief end of man?’ And the correct answer” ‘The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ The modern equivalent, however, appears to be, ‘The chief end of God is to gratify man.’”

He points out that we interpret heaven as though God made it to gratify us but long before He even created us there has always been heaven… because it can most simply be defined as God’s eternal home. And what makes heaven such a gloriously beautiful place that is beyond our ability to adequately describe is that God is there. What makes heaven heaven for us is the eternal presence of our precious Savior and Friend.

Rev.21:3,4 tells us, “And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

There are other descriptions you can find in the Bible about heaven. I mentioned already Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 1… but the best description of our eternal home is found in Revelation 21 & 22. However, I should add that human language probably is completely inadequate to accurately describe what it is like.

We’ll all have our own homes to live in because remember in John 14 Jesus said, “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:2,3) The word “mansions” is actually “dwelling places” ” but I don’t think you’ll be disappointed if you don’t get a monstrous mansion. Your “dwelling place” ” in heaven will be far better than any home built on earth. The classical use of the word for “mansions” is that it is a stopping place on a journey. But it will be a place where God also dwells. Jesus said in verse 23, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” One incredible fact is that no matter where your dwelling place in heaven is located, the eternal Trinity will be present there!

2. What will we be like in heaven?

We are going to have glorified bodies just like the Lord Jesus’ resurrection body. You can read about it in 1 Cor.15:35-58. We will be able to eat but we won’t have to. We won’t be sad, we won’t know pain, we won’t ever get tired… and we’ll never die. It will be a spiritual body according to 1 Corinthians 15. Remember how Jesus suddenly appeared in a room with His disciples and then just as quickly vanished. We’ll be able to do that too. And we will be busy but we will also be eternally rested. So the next question is

3. What will we do in heaven?

Some people think heaven will be boring where we’ll sit on clouds playing harps for all eternity or leisurely walking the golden streets. But we’re going to be very busy. In Matt.25:14-22 Jesus tells the parable of the talents and what he reveals in this parable is that depending on what we do with what he gives us on earth, we will be given responsibilities in heaven. So the idea of subduing the earth is apparently going to be carried over into heaven. We’ll have jobs and all kinds of things to do yet without sin. But even as it should be now, what we do should always be considered to be an act of worship… because it is in service to God. . “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor.10:31)“His servants shall serve Him(Rev.22:3)

And since God will always be with us worship will have to be one of our chief occupations. Heaven will be a worshipping community so you better start warming up now. Greg and the worship team give us just a small foretaste of singing praises to God. Some of you can’t carry a tune in a bucket but there you’ll have perfect, beautiful voices. While much of our worship now is imperfect, in heaven it will pure and unhindered. Right now many of us come to worship but we’re distracted by so many things. We can be singing glorious praise while we have problems or burdens on our heart. But in heaven it will be completely free of any distractions. We will be fully focused on the glory of God to give Him the worship He so rightly deserves!

I might add that right now we all have our opinions and likes of music. We can sing something and you’re thinking, “I don’t like this song.” Maybe one of you younger people are thinking, “This is boring.” I guarantee you there will be no boredom in heaven either. The worship will be more exciting than anything you can imagine… and we won’t have any differences of opinion about the music in heaven… it will all be glorious and we will all love it.

4. Will there be animals in heaven?

The Bible doesn’t really say one way or the other. We do know that when Jesus returns with us to set up His kingdom on earth He will be riding a white horse (Rev.19:11) As far as pets and other animals are concerned, I can’t really say. I have a suspicion that there will be because God will make all things new.

5. Will I still be married to my spouse?

No. Jesus made that clear in Matt.22 when the Pharisees were trying to trick Him with a question about a woman who was married seven times. “Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God.” (Matt.22:29,30) But I will say that we will be able to recognize each other and we will remember our earthly relationships. Paul expresses great joy over the prospect of seeing his Thessalonian converts in the Lord’s presence. (1 Thess.2:19,20) Last of all

6. What do we do until we get to heaven?

I would like to challenge you to do two things until we get to heaven.

1) Make glorifying Him your primary occupation. That’s what we were created for and that’s what we will continue to do in heaven. We do that through our worship… by our lifestyles… by our service. Remember your faithfulness to God’s work now will determine what you will do in heaven. When Paul talks about your resurrection bodies in 1 Cor.15 he concludes with, , “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Cor.15:58)

2) Share the hope of heaven with others. 1 Peter 3:15 says, , “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;”;” Peter is saying to put God first in your life and get yourself ready to tell others about the hope that is in you. What is that hope? The hope of heaven… eternal life… forgiveness of sins… deliverance from judgment. The Bible says that the vast majority of humanity won’t make it to heaven. What if someone doesn’t make it because you were too embarrassed to tell them? Start telling people today… before its eternally too late.

I love this quote from D.L. Moody

“Some day you will read in the papers that D.L. Moody of East Northfield, is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now; I shall have gone up higher, that is all, out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal- a body that death cannot touch, that sin cannot taint; a body fashioned like unto His glorious body. I was born of the flesh in 1837. I was born of the Spirit in 1856. That which is born of the flesh may die. That which is born of the Spirit will live forever.”

What an exciting future is in store for all that love the Lord Jesus! May we live in the light of our glorious future. And if you’re here today and you don’t know Jesus… you’re not sure about whether you’ll go to heaven when you die… would you trust Him today? You’ll never get to heaven without Him. He paid the price for all your sin, taking your judgment upon Himself on the cross so that you wouldn’t have to. And in turn He gives you His perfect righteousness as a gift. That’s what grace means. You don’t deserve it… you can’t earn it… all you can do is receive it by faith. I beg you, believe on the Lord Jesus today. Don’t delay because none of us is guaranteed tomorrow. And if you die without Him, there is no second chance. Without Jesus you will have to endure God’s judgment for all eternity. Please don’t turn Him away!