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Sermon illustrations

Heaven

Awakening into the House and Gate of Heaven

This prayer, written by the great British pastor and poet John Donne, anticipates the new heaven and new earth that we will one day experience with our Lord:

Bring us, O Lord, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no ends nor beginning, but one equal eternity; in the habitation of thy glory and dominion, world without end.

Quoted in John Polkinghorne, The God of Hope and the End of the World (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002), 98.

Chapter One of the Great Story

In the epic conclusion to the Narnia Chronicles, C.S. Lewis attempts to express the absolute joy that will come as our earthly lives come to an end and we are reunited with our God for all of eternity:

The things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle (New York: Macmillan, 1956), p.165.

Getting to Do the Things She Loves

Chris Spielman was at one time a paragon of athletic performance. A two-time All-American Linebacker at Ohio State University, and later three-time all pro for the Detroit Lions, Spielman knew what it meant for a human body to function at its highest ability. Which may have made it all the more difficult as he watched his wife Stefanie battle breast cancer for twelve years.

As the cancer metastasized throughout her lungs, spine and spinal fluid, it became clear that the end was approaching. Chris was a trained professional athlete. He knew how to discipline himself to achieve greatness, but now he had to tell his four children that their mother would not be with them for much longer.

When the time had come to let them know that the end was near, these are the beautiful words that Chris shared with his children:

I put an arm around each one of them and said, “Mace, Aud, Mommy isn’t going to get any better.

They started crying. They weren’t inconsolable, but the news profoundly affected them. I think, in their hearts, they knew this was coming.

Then I said, “But there is one way she can get better. When she gets to heaven, she’s going to get a whole new body. She’s going to get to do the things that she loves to do. You know. Mom loves to run. She loves to dance. She loves to play. She’ll get to do those things she loves to do, and she won’t ever have to worry about being sick again. That’s something we should be very, very happy about.

Audrey asked, “Is her hair going to grow back? ”

Isn’t that what heaven is all about? Where we will be given new bodies. Where the consequences of injuries, of ageing, of disease will no longer have their way, but rather, where God’s resurrection power will give new life, new bodies, where we get to enjoy Him forever.

Taken from Chris Spielman, That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story, Zondervan.

The Glory Being Revealed To Us

In Romans 8:18, Paul describes the future of those who persevere in the faith: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” in The Lord of the Rings: J.R.R. Tolkein provides a stirring image of this glory at the death of the great king Aragorn (that is, after his life-long struggle against the evil forces in Middle Earth, and his own personal demons):

Then a great beauty was revealed in him, so that all who after came there looked on him in wonder; for they saw that the grace of his youth, and the valour of his manhood, and the wisdom and majesty of his age were blended together. And long there he lay, an image of the Kings of Men in glory undimmed before the breaking of the world.

The idea here is that the same thing will happen to those who place their faith in Jesus Christ. We are, in the words of C.S. Lewis, “no mere mortals.”

Stuart Strachan Jr. , Source material from J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King: Being the Third Part of the Lord of the Rings (New York: Ballantine, 1955), 378.

Grading on a Curve

After thirty years of being pastor, I am still amazed by the number of people who believe God is going to grade on a curve. They know they have done wrong, have mistreated others, particularly those closest to them. Yet when they watch the nightly news and see terrorists or child abductors, they conclude, I’m not as bad as those folks. I am a good person.

haven’t killed anybody. I pay most omy taxes. I volunteer from time to time at the local homeless shelter. I’m not perfect, but I try my best to be good. I don’t expect to twin the Mother Teresa award, but overall I think I will receive a passing grade.

Randy Frazee, What Happens After You Die: A Biblical Guide to Paradise, Hell, and Life after Death, Nelson Books.

A Grand Gesture

A man appears before the pearly gates. “Have you ever done anything of particular merit?” St. Peter asks.

“Well, I can think of one thing….” the man offers. “Once I came upon a gang of high-testosterone bikers who were threatening a young woman. I directed them to leave her alone, but they wouldn’t listen. So I approached the largest and most heavily tattooed biker. I smacked him on the head, kicked his bike over, ripped out his nose ring and threw it on the ground, and told him, ‘Leave her alone now or you’ll answer to me.'”

St. Peter was impressed. “When did this happen?”

“A couple of minutes ago.”

Source Unknown

Holding on to Earth

There once lived a peasant in Crete who deeply loved his life. He enjoyed tilling the soil, feeling the warm sun on his naked back as he worked the fields, and feeling the soil under his feet. He loved the planting, the harvesting, and the very smell of nature. He loved his wife and his family and his friends, and he enjoyed being with them. Eating together, drinking wine, talking, and making love. And he loved especially Crete, his, beautiful island! The earth, the sky, the sea, it was his! This was his home.

One day he sensed that death was near. What he feared was not what lay beyond, for he knew God’s goodness and had lived a good life. No, he feared leaving Crete, his wife, his children, his friends, his home, and his land. Thus, as he prepared to die, he grasped in his right hand a few grains of soil from his beloved Crete and he told his loved ones to bury him with it.

He died, awoke, and found himself at heaven’s gates, the soil still in his hand, and heaven’s gate firmly barred against him. Eventually St Peter emerged through the gates and spoke to him: ‘You’ve lived a good life, and we’ve a place for you inside, but you cannot enter unless you drop that handful of soil. You cannot enter as you are now!’ The man was reluctant to drop the soil and protested: ‘Why? Why must I let go of this soil? Indeed, I cannot! What ever is inside those gates I have no knowledge of. But this soil, I know . . . it’s my life, my work, my wife and kids, it’s what I know and love, it’s Crete! Why should I let it go for something I know nothing about?’

Peter answered: ‘When you get to heaven you will know why. It’s too difficult to explain. I am asking you to trust, trust that God can give you something better than a few grains of soil.’ But the man refused. In the end, silent and seemingly defeated, Peter left him, closing the large gates behind.

Several minutes later, the gates opened a second time and this time, from them, emerged a young child. She did not try to coax the man into letting go of the soil in his hand. She simply took his hand and, as she did, it opened and the soil of Crete spilled to the ground. She then led him through the gates. A shock awaited him as he entered heaven . . . ………….there, before him, lay all of Crete!

John Shea

“I’m Going Home, I’m Going Home”

A prominent citizen in town was dying. As he lay in his lovely home, the best doctors surrounding him, he whispered, with a note of despair, ‘I’m leaving home, I’m leaving home.’

Across town there lay a solitary figure in surroundings bare. Her modest home contained only the most threadbare of life’s essentials. In her eye was a gleam. Before she died she was heard to say, ‘I’m going home, I’m going home.’

James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited, p. 174.

Is Heaven for Girls Like Me?

I have a friend named joy who teaches underprivileged children in an inner city church. Her class is a lively group of nine-year-olds year-olds who love life and aren’t afraid of God. There is one exception, however-a timid girl by the name of Barbara. Her difficult home life had left her afraid and insecure.

For the weeks that my friend was teaching the class, Barbara never spoke. Never. While the other children talked, she sat. While the others sang, she was silent. While the others giggled, she was quiet. Always present. Always listening. Always speechless. Until the day joy gave a class on heaven. Joy talked about seeing God.

She talked about tearless eyes and deathless lives. Barbara was fascinated. She wouldn’t release joy from her stare. She listened with hunger. Then she raised her hand. “Mrs. Joy?” Joy was stunned. Barbara had never asked a question. “Yes, Barbara?” “Is heaven for girls like me?”

Max Lucado, Six Hours One Friday: Living in the Power of the Cross (Chronicles of the Cross), Thomas Nelson.

Jesus’ Body Is the First Body Made for Heaven

In Jesus’ resurrection we are face to face with the first body made for heaven. Jesus’ resurrection body shows us what our bodies will be like, and therefore what haven will be like. Maybe I need to emphasize this point: what we see in the body of the raised Jesus is what all resurrection bodies will be like.

So we ask, “what was his body like?” Here are a few of the facts from the New Testament:

First, a body in heaven will be an ordinary, physical body, not some kind of luminescent glowing light.When the disciples met Jesus on the path to Emmaus, they did not observe anything weird about his body. He seemed ordinary.

Second, it will bea body that needs food. Yes, that’s what Jesus’ heavenly body “did” after his resurrection, so that is what our bodies will need to do.

Third, it will be a body with marks from our life now. One of my favorite moments about the resurrection body of Jesus is found in Luke’s gospel: “Look,” Jesus said to those who wondered if it really was Jesus, “at my hands and my feet.” Why there? Because the wounds from the crucifixion were visible.

Fourth, our bodies will have powers we would classify today as supernatural. Further, ourbodies may at times glow with the glory of God. Jesus, we are told, suddenly appeared in rooms without opening doors.

Taken from Scot McKnight, The Heaven Promise: Engaging The Bible’s Truth About Life to Come, Waterbrook Press.

He’s A Shoo-In

In an interesting interview on CNN, Jane Fonda, at the time married to Multi-Millionaire Ted Turner, believes he will ultimately get to heaven, even if he isn’t religious. Fonda’s words [to me] represent a strong naivete regarding heaven and hell. Fonda describes some of Turner’s charitable work saving endangered animals, which, according to her, is part of the reason why he is a “shoo-in” for heaven. The interview also exposes a long-held western belief about heaven, that it consists of sitting on clouds playing harps. There’s a lot to chew on here from a preaching perspective. Enjoy:

Fonda said she believes Turners childhood traumas left him so protective of himself that he had trouble opening up emotionally. But, she said, he does want to get into heaven. And, she said, he’s a shoo-in.

Finally, with our 23 minutes with Turner ticking down, we’ve gotten his full attention. We let [Ted] in on what Fonda has told CNN about his heavenly prospects:

“Given his childhood,” Fonda said, “A man who will go to heaven, and there’ll be a lot of animals up there welcoming him, animals that have been brought back from the edge of extinction because of Ted. He’s turned out to be a good guy. And he says he’s not religious. But he, the whole time I was with him, every speech—and he likes to give speeches—he always ends his speech with ‘God bless. And he’ll get into heaven. He’s a miracle.” Turner listened intently. There was a long pause. Was he tearing up?

Finally, he spoke. “She said that? Another long pause. “Well, I sure don’t want to go to hell ” [Ted] has said he “can’t see myself sitting on a cloud and playing the harp day in and day out.” So what is Ted Turner’s notion of heaven? “Montana in the summer.”

Taken from Ann O’Neill, “The Reinvention of Ted Turner,” CNN, November 17, 2013, www.cnn.com/2013/11/17/us/ted-turner-profile/.

Looking Forward to Heaven

When a father tucked his eight-year-old daughter into bed, he asked her a serious question: “What’s the one thing you’re looking forward to the most about heaven?” Immediately, the girl’s eyes lit up and she exclaimed, “I can’t wait for big roller coasters with no waiting lines!” It was apparent she’d already thought long and hard about the prospect. “I also want to slide down rainbows and have picnics on the clouds,” she said. “Do you want any pets?” the father asked. She nodded emphatically. “I want my own dinosaur.”

Hal Donaldson, Disruptive Compassion: Becoming the Revolutionary You Were Born to Be, Zondervan, 2019.

Meals in Heaven and Hell

I once heard a description of what meals are like in heaven. The saints are seated on either side of a four-foot-wide banquet table. The table is set with delicious foods on every plate. The only thing that appears out of the ordinary is the silverware. All the utensils have three-foot-long handles. The dinnertime rule is that everyone must eat using the long forks and spoons.

Amazingly, the dining room in hell is designed exactly  the same. What makes heaven heavenly and hell hellish? In heaven, the diners immediately set about feeding their brothers and sisters across the table using the perfectly proportioned utensils, while in hell each person rages at the ill-fitting utensils as they attempt the impossible task of feeding themselves.

Matthew Sleeth, Serve God, Save the Planet, Zondervan.

On Heaven and Hell

There’s a story of a young girl on a plane who was reading her Bible, and there was a businessman sitting next to her. He looked over to her and he said, you don’t really believe that do you?” And she said, why yes I do”. And the businessmen than said, you really believe that Jonah was swallowed up by a whale. “Well it was actually a big fish” she responded. Okay, a big fish. You don’t really believe he’s in heaven do you? And the young girl responds “well yes of course I do, and I plan on meeting him there some day. Well what if he isn’t there? The business man replied. “Well then you can meet him” she replied.

Source Unknown

Representatives in Heaven

I grew up in a Baptist church, and we looked forward to the day when we would be in heaven and there would be no more divisions. Some Lutherans would be there, represented by Martin Luther. Methodists would be there represented by John Wesley. Some Catholics would be there (though this idea was a little more controversial), represented by the pope. And we Baptists would be there, represented by…Jesus.

John Ortberg, Faith and Doubt, Zondervan.

Sending Materials to the Master Architect

Henry Rimmer wrote a letter to Charles Fuller when he heard that Fuller was going to preach on the subject of heaven on Sunday night at church. Rimmer was an old man about to die.

He wrote to Fuller & he said, “I would like so much to be in church Sunday night to hear your sermon on the subject of heaven. But my physical impairment will not allow me to be there. The reason I would like to be there is because I have great interest in that place.

“I own a piece of land with clear deed & title in that wonderful place that you are going to be talking about. I didn’t buy it,” he said. “It was given to me without price & without money, although the One who gave it to me purchased it at great cost.

“I don’t have it as an idle investment,” he continued. “I have been busy sending materials to the master architect for more than 50 years, & He is building for me a house of my dreams. It will never have to be painted or remodeled because it is being made just for me. Termites will never eat away at its foundation because it is built on the Rock of Ages.

“Fire will never destroy it. Winds will never blow it away. There will be no locks on its doors because no evil people will ever live in that blessed land. Between me & my home there is a valley, a dark valley. And I must cross it. I am not afraid,” he said, “because One has gone before. And He will lead the way. I am ready to take His hand. My house is almost finished. I would like to hear your sermon on heaven because I have a great interest in that land.”

Melvin M. Newland

That Future Life

As he reflected on his life’s work, the famed author of Les Miserables, The Count of Monte Cristo, and many others, Victor Hugo describes what he believed about life after death, that heaven would actually entail a continuation of his life’s work:

I feel within me that future life. I am like a forest that has been razed; the new shoots are stronger and brighter. I shall most certainly rise toward the heavens the nearer my approach to the end, the plainer is the sound of immortal symphonies of worlds which invite me.

For half a century I have been translating my thoughts into prose and verse: history, drama, philosophy, romance, tradition, satire, ode, and song; all of these I have tried. But I feel I haven’t given utterance to the thousandth part of what lies within me. When I go to the grave I can say, as others have said, “My day’s work is done.” But I cannot say, “My life is done.” My work will recommence the next morning. The tomb is not a blind alley; it is a thoroughfare. It closes upon the twilight, but opens upon the dawn..

Quoted in Randy Alcorn, The Law of Rewards: Giving what you can’t keep to gain what you can’t lose, Tyndale Momentum, 2003.

The Two Ladders

In her short story, Revelation, Flannery O’Connor describes a woman sitting in a Doctor’s office, gossiping away without concern for who hears her questionable commentary:

This woman says to herself and to anyone who will listen, “I thank you God that you didn’t make me and my husband Claude black. But if the choice was between making me black and making me white trash, God, I would rather you make me black. I couldn’t bear to be white trash.” And at about that time a young woman also in the waiting room whacks her over the head with a book.

As a result of the impact she becomes dizzy and is carried off to the hospital. At the end of the story she has a dream, a revelation, that there is a great band of folk dancing their way up the ladder to heaven—prostitutes and thieves and blacks and white trash and there, at the end, are she and her husband Claude.

Flannery O’Connor, The Complete Stories, Straus and Giroux, 1972.

Within Four Days of Seeing Jesus

In December 1666, Hugh MacHale, the youngest and most gallant of the Covenanters (a 17th century pro-Presbyterian group in Scotland), was brought to his trial in Edinburgh. He was given four days to live and then marched back to the prison. And in the crowd on the street, many were weeping that one so young and so gallant should have only four days more to see the sun shine.

But there were no tears in the eyes of this young Gallahad of the faith. “Trust in God!” he cried to the crowd as he marched past. “Trust in God.” And then suddenly he saw a friend of his own standing on the edge of the crowd, and he shouted to him, “Good news; wonderful good news! I am within four days of enjoying the sight of Jesus, my Savior!”

James S. Stewart, “The Rending of the Veil,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 57.

See also Illustrations on Death, HellLife After DeathRescue, Salvation 

Still Looking for inspiration?

Consider checking out our quotes page on Heaven. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

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