“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. John 17:24
The best news of the Christian gospel is that the supremely glorious Creator of the universe has acted in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection to remove every obstacle between us and himself so that we may find everlasting joy in seeing and savoring his infinite beauty. The saving love of God is his doing whatever must be done, at great cost to himself, and for the least deserving, so that he might enthrall them with what will make them supremely happy forever, namely himself. Therefore, the gospel of God and the love of God are expressed finally and fully in God’s gift of himself for our everlasting pleasure. [John Piper- God is the Gospel, p.147]
There is the story of a preacher who was extolling the blessings of going to heaven. After his best efforts at displaying the awesome rewards that await the believer, he asked the congregation, “How many of you want to go to heaven?” Everybody enthusiastically raised their hands except one little girl sitting in the front row. Thinking she must not have understood the question and wanting unanimity, he asked again, “How many want to go to heaven?” Again everybody raised their hands except the little girl. Confused the Preacher asked the little girl, “Honey, don’t you want to go to heaven when you die?” “Oh sure when I die!” she replied. “I thought you were getting up a load to go now.”
I think if we were honest, we would have to admit that we would respond the same way. We know what we have here and we still think it is “better than the alternative.” There is still enough pleasure here to want to put off our passing. When we have to die then we will try to find comfort in the hope of an eternal resting place.
But, if we get our truth from the scriptures we will find that kind of thinking is not only unbiblical but tragic. Wanting to go to heaven is not escapism as some would suggest. It is the essence of Christianity. It is the hope that gives strength to our lives. This world is not our home. We are pilgrims on our way home. It was the reward of heaven which made the apostle Paul a radical follower of Jesus Christ. It kept him focused and going on in the midst of great persecution and pain. Here is how he expressed it: “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” [Phil 3:13-14]
What was the goal that kept Paul going in one direction? What was the prize of heaven that he left all things to win? Was it lounging on fluffy clouds strumming harps forever? Was it golden streets? Bill Gates sized mansions? Lush golf courses and a driver that hits four hundred yards? I don’t think so. If those are the kind of thoughts that shape your thinking of heaven you don’t have a clue. Paul did not give up all things and die a martyr to retire on a celestial cruise ship. Here is how he summed up his view: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” [Phil 1:21] What was Paul’s passion both here and heaven? Why did he describe dying as gain? To understand this, let us look again at Jesus’ prayer for us in John 17.
If you would recall, Jesus was only a few hours away from going to the cross. His first concern was for his disciples who would not have his physical presence to guide and protect them after he was ascended to the Father. His second concern was for us who would be brought into the kingdom of God through the spread of the gospel unto the last day. He prayed for himself, that the Father would restore him to the glory he had “before the world began.” [17:5] He prayed that his disciples would be protected from the evil one and that they would be sanctified by the Word [17:13-18]. He prayed for us, that we would be brought into the same unity that exists between the Father and the Son so that we would be able to point to the glory of Jesus’ by his power working in and through our lives.
Then, in verse 24, he speaks not of this world, but the next. He prays, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” [John 17:24] In that request the door is cracked open and we see the reason for Paul’s radical discipleship. It is all about seeing and savoring the glory of Jesus Christ. It is not about golden streets, mansions, golf courses or fluffy clouds but about the enjoyment of the infinite perfections and treasures that are found in Jesus our Lord.
Before our eyes were opened we lived in a darkness that confined us to living off the husks and scraps that come from following the “gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” [Eph 2:3] But, thank God, as Paul reminds us, “because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions. [Eph 2:4-5] Our dead hearts were made alive and our blind eyes received sight. God, “made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” [2 Cor 4:6]
We suddenly saw in Jesus a glory, a beauty, a satisfying treasure that made all other earthly attractions or accomplishments seem as rubbish. [Phil. 3:8] Through faith and by grace, we were enabled to experience the love of God and the joy that is only found in Christ. The worth we found in Jesus far out shone the glitz of this world. In us was birthed a passion: To know more of Jesus and to experience more of the treasures that are found in Him.
But there is a problem. In our present existence we are greatly limited. One of the great frustrations of this life is that even when we get a glimpse of the glory of God, our capacity to fully enjoy that glory is minimized by our humanness and our sin. The great hope that we find in this prayer is that we will be given by God in heaven the ability to enjoy that glory with infinite satisfaction. So, Jesus prays that we might be with him in heaven, so that we may see Him in all his glory, the glory was his before the creation of the world.
In heaven we will not be restricted by sin or sight or be limited by tests or time. The pathway to heaven will result in winning the prize of joy in his presence and eternal pleasures at his right hand. [Ps 16:11] We will be able to experience the fullness of Christ’s beauty forever. Every celestial day will be filled with “oohs” and “ahs” as we discover new reasons to delight in our glorious God. We will be caught up into the same delight and the same love that the Father has eternally experienced in the glory of his Son. Is anybody in the congregation still hoping for a mansion or golf courses? No wonder we don’t want to go.
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