Contributed by Pastor Steve Ellison. See his bio at the end of the editorial.
Heaven is being in the presence of God, nothing more and nothing less. All the other descriptions of heaven are simply window dressing. Nothing we count as good would satisfy us in eternity unless we are in the presence of God. Nothing we count as bad can spoil eternity if we have the presence of God. The clear message of the Bible is that God is not good because He gives gifts but rather because He gives us Himself. When Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “Today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43 NASU) the emphasis is not on “today” neither is it on “Paradise”. Rather the emphasis is on “with Me”. It is far better to be on the cross with Jesus than to be any place else without Him. The record of Moses’ conversation with God at the foot of Mt. Sinai following the golden calf incident is very instructive (Exodus 33). God makes it very, very plain that His presence is the Israelites all-surpassing need. Moses capped the conversation by asking God to leave them in the wilderness if His presence was not going to go on with them to the Promised Land.
The Bible begins and ends with mankind in the presence of God. We were created to be in the presence of God. Some of the most tragic words of the Bible are found in Genesis 3:23-24. Verse 23 tells us that man is sent out of the presence of God. Verse 24 is explicit that God drove man out of His presence because of man’s rebellion. The great storyline of the Bible is God enabling man to be brought back into His presence. Revelation 21 and 22 describe those who have been saved living in the blessed, glorious, indescribable presence of God for the rest of eternity.
God’s good purpose was to send mankind a Redeemer to make a way for us to be brought back into the presence of God. Abraham heard these glorious words referring to his descendants, “I will be their God” (Genesis 17:8 NASU). Jeremiah heard these words referring to the nation birthed by Abraham, “’I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the Lord; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart” (Jeremiah 24:7 NASU). That same sentiment is repeated in Jeremiah 31, Jeremiah 32, Ezekiel 37 (twice), Zechariah 8, Second Corinthians 6, and Hebrews 8 with varying details and emphases but the recurring theme is: God with us.
The great Christmas announcement is given in Isaiah 7:14, Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: “Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” (NASU) Matthew 1:23 quotes this in reference to Jesus, Matthew 1:23, Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which translated means, “God with us.” (NASU) Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament promises and the New Testament prophecies about “God with us.” John 1:14 sheds some light on “God with us”, And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (NASU) The important Christmas truth is that Jesus is the Christ, God with us. Merry Christmas and happy eternity.
Pastor Steve Ellison is Camp Administrator at Ouachita Baptist Assembly near Mena and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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