|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||Our Hope of Glory|
|Text||Psalm 17 v.15 |
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"As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness" (Psalm 17, 15).
The subject being spoken about here is heaven. What will heaven be like and what sort of people have we got to be if we hope to be in heaven at last? That is what is being talked about in these words.
Let me say just a little to introduce them to you. You realise that before Jesus Christ came there were true saints who had faith, just as today in the world there are true Christians who have faith. You realise that in the Old Testament those who were believers looked forward to going to heaven, just as Christians do today. God shows us in many places of the Old Testament that His people have the same hope of going to glory and to heaven as Christians have today. We must not suppose that Old Testament saints went to some sort of second-class heaven and the Christians would go to a first-class heaven. No, no! The Old Testament and the New Testament saints formed one people of God, one true Church. Believers from the Old Testament will be in the same heaven as Christians will be in the New Testament age. I say that because there have been some people who wrongly have taught the opposite. I want to make it very clear. The Bible tells us that there is one heaven for all the people of God. I may have time to give you some reasons for saying and believing that in just a moment.
What is talked about here in this verse of the Psalm 17 which we are looking at is our hope of heaven. Let me give you some reasons why it is very important that we should know about this hope of heaven and who has a right to enjoy this hope. One reason why it is a seasonable subject is that very recently, as you know, a member of the royal family has died. Everybody would like to say the nicest and the kindest things possible; indeed it is our duty to believe the kindest things possible of everybody. We should never say that we know that somebody has not gone to heaven. We don't have that knowledge. God alone knows those who do not go to heaven and those who do. We can say this - that those who are counted worthy to go to heaven show some signs of their worthiness here in this life. The hope of heaven is something which is given to Christians and not to others, to believers and not to everyone. Those who love and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ are the ones who have the right to hope to go to heaven. It is made very clear in the Bible that no one else has any right whatever to hope to go to heaven.
The second reason why this is a timely theme is because we live in an age of many troubles. Not only are Christians troubled about the state of the world today but even all thinking people are. There's something about this modern world which has gone out of joint. It's like a great machine that has gone wrong. It is a very difficult and very hard time for people to live in - both Christians and non-Christians. There are many sad things in families, many sad things in society, many troubles amongst old people and young people; troubles that people have in their married lives; troubles that they have at every level: their work, their recreation, their health and all other forms and aspects of life. All these troubles should make us desire to go to heaven because, of course, there are no troubles in heaven. There are no sadnesses there. There are no trials or sicknesses in heaven. It is a perfect place and it is a perfect state. The Bible calls it "everlasting life". If we are wise we should really look at this life as being short and our great desire should be to prepare for the world after death and to desire to be counted worthy to enter in to God's eternal rest: the saint's everlasting rest.
I give these as reasons why this is an important theme for us to consider at this time: the hope of heaven. What then will heaven be like? Let me point out in verse 15 several things which are being told us about heaven. The first thing is that heaven is a place where we shall see God. "As for me, I will behold thy face"; he's talking to God, 'Your' face or 'Thy' face. 'Thy' is simply the same as 'Your' - it's an old word meaning 'Your'. "I will behold your face oh God", is what he is saying. So he's looking forward to being in heaven and he's saying here that when he gets to heaven he will see His face. That's the first thing. Then we are told that heaven is a place where people see the very face of God. You can't see God's face in this world, can you? The Bible is the nearest thing we have to seeing God in this life. We see a little bit of God in the universe He has created. If we are spiritually minded people we should look up to the heaven and see the beauty of the world that God has made and the beauty of the earth. These things tell us something about God; they tell us that He is wise and powerful and good. When we turn to the Bible we learn more about God. We discover there that He is ready to save our souls, ready to forgive our sins and He tells us the way of faith and shows us the way to heaven. Therefore, the Bible is the nearest way we have of seeing the face of God in this life. But those who are counted worthy to enter into heaven will actually see the very face of God Himself. And they will see His face forever. That's the first thing.
Now, the second thing we are told about heaven is that we shall see God's face in righteousness. That is to say, heaven is a place where people can only go if they are righteous. Not everyone can go there because they will not be counted fit or worthy or deserving. But those who are righteous will see God.
The third thing we are told about heaven is that we shall be perfectly satisfied when we get there - perfectly satisfied! Notice the way he puts that - "I shall be satisfied," he said. You know very well that nothing fully satisfies us in this life. We have many things which give us happiness, pleasure, comfort and satisfaction up to a point, but nothing does it completely. We are like children. We would say to our mothers and fathers, "If you would only buy me that game, then I'll never ask for anything else as long as I live." Then for about a week we played the game, and then we got very tired of it and laid the thing aside. We said to our parents, "If you buy me that ball or that bat, I'll never ask for another thing. I'll be satisfied for the rest of my life" - that lasted for another week. That's the way we are as children; we quickly get bored. Everything in this life is a bit like that, more or less. All earthly pleasures soon come to an end - they are quickly exhausted. We quickly get bored and we must have something else. It's true of almost everything in this life. Nothing completely fills our hearts with satisfaction all the time. Heaven will be a state where we shall be fully and completely satisfied. Our hearts will be overflowing with gladness and with contentment. That's why he puts it this way - "I shall be satisfied."
The fourth thing he tells us here is that we shall be satisfied when we awake. He's referring there to the day of the resurrection when the body comes back from the grave - that is called the general resurrection. The end of the world will be the time when the trumpet of God is blown in heaven by the angels. The angel will blow the trumpet - what's called the 'last trumpet' - and the dead in Christ shall rise. We shall rise to meet the Lord in the air - as we had it in 1 Thessalonians 4, 17 - those wonderful words, "...so shall we ever be with the Lord". The reference then to waking here is waking from the grave.
The fifth thing he tells us about heaven is that we shall bear God's likeness. "I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness". That is to say that in heaven Christians will be like God - not of course in every sense, but in this sense - that they will be perfectly holy, absolutely pure; they will never do any wrong thing any more, as we do sadly so often in this life.
There are five things then said there about heaven and I want speak about some of them and take them up this morning. Will you notice the first thing? That heaven is a state of complete and total satisfaction, "I shall be satisfied, when I awake..." he says. There are all sorts of people who have the hope of getting to heaven. Not only Christians hope to be in heaven of course, but all other people do, more or less, as well. God has put an instinct into man's heart; we all know intuitively and instinctively, that after this life there is something to come and there is something good to come. All sorts of people therefore, have the hope of heaven.
I want to explain to you my friends, something of tremendous importance - it is the difference between the Christian's way of thinking about heaven and the non-Christian's way of thinking about heaven. There is a great difference between these two and this is the difference. Worldly people look forward to their idea of heaven as a place where they will have happiness and fulfilment without God. They want happiness without God. They want a sort of everlasting party in which the drinks are ever flowing and the food is ever being brought to the table and they are everlastingly eating and drinking, and everlastingly making merry with laughter. That's not entirely wrong. The Bible does tell us that heaven will be like a feast but we must be careful how we understand that. The Christian's desire for heaven is not that he might be for everlastingly eating and drinking and laughing; the Christian desires to enjoy God. That's the Christian's idea of heaven! It is a place where forever and forever he will enjoy God and enjoy being with God, and near God, and able to talk to God face-to-face, and able to enjoy gazing upon God and being like God. You see the difference? It's the difference between wanting happiness without God and wanting happiness in God, and with God and from God. That is the great difference between the two. The real Christian looks upon heaven as the place where he is going to enjoy God forever and he will have an eternal satisfaction in that place to come.
Let me stop and make a comment. My friends, this is why a Christian is living a different kind of life in this world from other people. The Christian does not want to do what is wrong, he does not want to displease God, he doesn't want to sin against God. This is the reason why - he wants to get to heaven. He realises that not everybody will get to heaven. He remembers the words of Jesus Christ, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day (Day of Judgement), Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Mat. 7, 21-23). The door will be shut in their faces and they will be shut out of heaven and the Christian knows that. He knows that heaven is not something automatic. We're not going to get there without first of all striving to enter in. We don't get to heaven without a new heart and a new nature. We don't get to heaven laden with worldliness and with sin. That's why the Christian therefore, lays aside swearing and cursing and Sabbath breaking; that's why he doesn't live a worldly profane life. God has shown us that the way to heaven is a narrow way; we have to deny ourselves and to behave in a manner different from the rest of the world. We have to be prepared for people to scoff at us and to mock us and to speak evil about us. To say that we are narrow, narrow-minded, that we are old fashioned and that we are living a queer sort of life - the Christian doesn't care. His only concern is to get to heaven and he knows that the way there is a way which is narrow and afflicted. If you are not living that kind of life then you might as well give up all hope of ever entering into heaven because no one ever got into heaven but those who were treading along the narrow path.
The way to heaven, I say, is a way of righteousness, a way of holiness, a way of pleasing God, a way of striving to keep His Commandments, a way of following the Lord Jesus Christ; denying ourselves and taking up our cross. My dear friends, if you meet people who tell you that everybody is going to go to heaven, you know they are telling you a lie. The Bible denies it. If you meet people who say that worldly folk who have lived for the pleasures of this life - drinking and wickedness - that they are all going to get to heaven the same as the rest, you know it's not true. Don't you believe it! They may be great people and rich people - it doesn't make any difference. God is no respecter of persons. We must live the narrow, circumspect, holy, godly, God-fearing life if we hope to get there. But when we get there, says the Psalmist, we shall be fully satisfied.
My friends, don't look for too much satisfaction in this world from anything. Don't look for it. Don't look for it in your job; don't look for it in your own family; don't look for it in your pleasures; don't look for it in your companions; don't look for it in the Government; don't look for it in the church even, here below. All things here below are very imperfect and you and I are very imperfect. There is a place however, where we will be fully satisfied and that place is heaven. There, the Psalmist says, "I SHALL BE SATISFIED." All who get to heaven, when they sit down there, they WILL be satisfied eternally. I am preaching this message so that you will want to go there, every one of you, young and old. Pray to God that He will make you fit and worthy to go there and that He will give you a new heart and a new soul and cause you to walk in His way. If you do, you will reach that happy place.
The next thing I have time to say about heaven is that it is a seeing of God's face. Heaven is a seeing of God's face. I've said it before - I want to dwell on it just a little bit longer just now. Man was made originally for fellowship with God. Man was not made for endless sport and endless eating and things of this world. God created man in the beginning for the soul which dwells in the body. This soul was made to have fellowship with God our Maker. Our first father, Adam, used to have fellowship with God in the beginning. God walked with Adam, our first father. God used to talk to man. God used to appear in the Garden of Eden and He would talk to man in the cool of the day when the work was over. Man's greatest pleasure originally was God - talking to God and sharing his life with God. That was all changed when Adam disobeyed his Maker and hid from Him. God drove him out of the Garden of Eden. Of course, all the troubles in life you understand, are the result of that sin of Adam. You all understand that - because Adam sinned all these troubles have come upon us, like sickness, death and disappointment. All these things are the evil fruits of Adam's disobedience.
We have to learn to live with that but all through history there has been amongst the people of God this hope of glory and this hope of heaven. God has given us wonderful testimonies in the Bible of the way in which His people have hoped for heaven. Let me mention one or two.
Very early on in the history of the world, there was a great Christian saint or - perhaps you don't like the word Christian in that sense - a great godly man, let me put it that way, whose name was Enoch. Enoch walked with God. He walked in fellowship with God in this world. We are told something astonishing about Enoch - when he was three hundred and sixty five years of age - because people lived to be a great age before the flood - God took his body and lifted Him right out of this world and took him to heaven in his body. The Bible says he was 'translated'. He never died, he was taken straight into glory. He, Enoch, was translated that he should not see death. He honoured God and God honoured him. God did that to remind people that there is a heaven and there is a heaven for those who honour Him in this life and who live for Him.
Another of these testimonies to the reality of heaven is found in the book of Job - in the nineteenth chapter. Job was a great saint in the Old Testament and he said, "...I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God." (Job 19, 25-26) You see the hope that he had - it was to see the glory of God in heaven. You have the same thing when King David died - wonderful words, David's last words, you should read them and study them again and again. David says this, "Although my house be not so with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure" (2nd Sam. 23, 5). David is referring there to the fact that there were many things that were wrong in his own family; some of his children had done evil things; he himself, had come far short of the glory of God. "Although my house be not so with God"; he had unconverted sons and unconverted daughters and there were sins enough in the family but he said, in spite of that, in spite of the fact I have not been the man I should have been, "God has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure." That is another way of saying - "I know I'm going to go to heaven. God will take me there. He knows the way. He will conduct me there. He will guide me there and show me His glory. I shall see the glory of God in the end of my journey."
There are many other texts like that. But will you notice, the only way in which a person can get to glory is when he has this righteousness mentioned in the verse we are looking at - "I will behold thy face in righteousness" (Psalm 17, 15). There are at least three things, I believe, which are referred to here by this word 'righteousness'. Righteousness: what is he talking about? The first thing, I believe, is this: we have certainly got to have the righteousness of Jesus Christ clothing our nakedness otherwise we will never come to heaven. We have got to believe in Christ for ourselves, personally. We must have the imputation of Christ's righteousness to us. We call this justification. It's in the Old Testament, very clearly, that this is what the saints believe. They believed in Christ: unto righteousness, unto justification and we have got to have that first of all. If we don't believe in Christ then we cannot possibly have this righteousness reckoned to us, or counted to us, or accounted to us, or imputed to us. This is the beginning; we must have this righteousness of Christ.
The second thing that is meant by this righteousness is that we've got to live a righteous life. That doesn't mean the same thing as a perfect life - we will certainly never do that in this world. But the Christian must not only believe in Christ but he must strive in his own personal life to be righteous. That is to say, he must keep the Commandments of God. That is righteousness. That is the standard of righteousness - to keep the law of God, which is simply another way of saying we are to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Love is simply another word for the Law of God being fulfilled. Love is the fulfilling of the Moral Law and we must therefore, have that.
The third thing to be said here of righteousness is that we must study the life of the Lord Jesus Christ. We must walk in His steps. Christ is the only perfect man who ever lived and indeed, to follow in His steps is to live a righteous life. He says here, if we have this righteousness then when we come to heaven we shall see the glory of God. I'm going to read you some words which I find very helpful. I'm going to quote them to you. These words come from what we call the Westminster Larger Catechism. It's the answer to question number ninety; they're wonderful words and they are full of Bible truth, and they tell us exactly what the hope of the Christian is when he thinks of heaven. Here are the words which are written in the Catechism. "At the day of judgement, the righteous, being caught (raised) up to Christ in the clouds, shall be set on his (God's) right hand, and there openly acknowledged and acquitted, shall join with him (Christ) in the judging of reprobate (wicked) angels and men, and shall be received into heaven, where they shall be fully and forever freed from all sin and misery; filled with inconceivable joys, made perfectly holy and happy both in body and soul, in the company of innumerable saints and holy angels, but especially in the immediate vision and fruition (enjoyment) of God the Father, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, to all eternity. And this is the perfect and full communion, which the members of the invisible church shall enjoy with Christ in glory, at the resurrection and day of judgement." I have changed the words a little bit to simplify them here and there but that is the essence of what they are saying.
I do draw attention to the fact that they clearly state that the vision of God which believers are to have in heaven is to see all three Persons of the Holy Trinity: to see the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That's an amazing thing because, of course, many Christians take the view that all we shall see of God is in Christ alone. They can quote Scripture of course, to appear to prove that point. They quote the text, "he that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14, 9). This of course, is perfectly true because those who saw Christ in this world saw someone who was the very image of God. But the view which our Catechism takes in understanding the Bible is that we shall see Christ and the Father and the Spirit and we shall recognise these Persons as distinct, the one from the other; one God but three unspeakably glorious and wondrous Persons. The presence of God which we shall have and the vision of God we shall have, will be of all Three. You may find that surprising but let me give you a text of Scripture that helped me. In (1 John 3, 2) you have these words "...but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." Very often we interpret those words to mean the Lord Jesus Christ - when we shall see the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be like Him. Professor John Murray points out in his sermons and writings that the context in 1 John 3 is not in reference to the Lord Jesus Christ but is in reference to God the Father. "Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." The reference here is to God the Father and he claims very strongly in his writing that he thinks that is one of the proofs - in glory when we are satisfied with the image of God we shall behold the face of the Father as well as of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
I add a little argument of my own for what it's worth. It is that the Bible is given to us to prepare us all for heaven if we are believers. The Bible in this present world tells us very clearly that God is threefold - that there are three Persons. It seems to me impossible but that having told us that He is three in Person that we should not also enjoy the vision of that in heaven because the Bible is given to prepare us for all that we are to enjoy in glory. If in this life we are told that God is three in Person then surely in heaven we are to enjoy that fact. Whereas to us in this life it is a great mystery - who can pretend to understand it - God is one in essence and three in Persons. We can say these things and we can't understand them but in glory, we shall both more fully understand and more completely enjoy. There is to be according to our own Confessional Standard - which we believe to be a true reflection of the Word of God - this vision of the Father, Son and the Spirit. This is what the Psalmist refers to, "I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness." "I will behold thy face." We refer to this by the expression 'The Beatific Vision' - that's the phrase or technical term we give it. What believers will see in heaven when they gaze upon God we refer to as 'The Beatific Vision'. 'Beatific' is not a very common word, it needs to be explained; what does it mean? 'Beatific' is connected with Latin words, which mean 'making you blessed'. To gaze upon God is what will make heaven 'blessed' above everything else. To see God must be the very pinnacle of all the ambition of Christians. I could put it like this. Imagine a Christian being shown heaven and he is told, "Here are the angels, Oh that's wonderful! And here is the throne of God, Oh that's wonderful! And here are these glories that belong to the heavenly home, the city of God and the streets of gold and all that's there," and the Christian would say that's wonderful. But when all of this was over, "Where's my Father? Where's my Saviour? Where's the Holy Spirit? I crave to see them." You see that's what makes heaven heaven. That is the quintessence of heaven - God Himself.
What sort of marriage would it be where the bride on the wedding day was only interested in her beautiful new ring? "What a lovely diamond is in this ring. What a lovely dress I've got on," and so on. She wasn't really interested in the man she was marrying. What sort of bride would that be? And so it is with us. The bride eyes not her garment but here, her dear Saviour's face. Christ and God and the Holy Spirit is what makes heaven heaven. That is what we are referring to in these words of our text.
One thing further just in a word and it is this. When we come to glory in heaven, we shall be sinlessly perfect. When I wake, I shall bear thy likeness, he said. That's the desire of a Christian - to be like God in holiness, in purity, in perfection. In this life, the best Christian has indwelling sin and grieves over it but in heaven the Christian will be saved to sin no more.
Adam in the Garden of Eden was perfect at first but he could sin and he did sin. In heaven, the Christian will be at such a happy state that it will be impossible ever to sin again. No wonder therefore my friends, the Psalmist was happy when he wrote these words. "As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness" (text). As I close I say to you my friends, is this your personal hope? If it is, happy you are! If not, when will you wake up to your need of Christ?
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