The words eternity and heaven are seldom mentioned in association with the birth of Jesus. One reason for that failure is that we mistakenly make eternity a far off time and heaven a far off place. They are distant – something coming later in time and space.
These two messages point out that Jesus, by his birth, brought both of them into our lives to be experienced HERE and NOW. Not in their entirety because both eternity and heaven are infinite. But that infinity includes everything we call past-present and future in our earthly time frameworks – everything we call up, down and around in our earthly orientations for space. Eternity exists beyond our time concepts of past, present and future. Heaven exists beyond our three-dimensions of length, width and height.
My scripture this morning is Matthew 6:9-11. It is a bit strange for a Christmas message, but I hope you will see its significance because this prayer talks about heaven in a special way and that’s what we want to take note of this morning.
Heaven – Our Usual Knowledge
We are familiar with many things about heaven. The common scripture is Revelation 21:4-23. There are many things that will be absent from heaven: no pain, sorrow, tears, hunger, thirst, bad people, impure things, temptation, sin, sickness, and death (Rev.21:4). There will be no darkness but no sun or moon either. There are other things that we expect: the very light of God, a city with houses (John 14:1-3), people who are numbered in the Book of Life (Rev.20:12), our loved ones (1 Thess. 4:13-17), new bodies (1 Cor. 15:50-54), great food – a feast (Rev.19:9), Bible characters with whom we can talk – Moses, etc., awesome worship (Rev.5:11-14, 7:9-12, 19:1-8), and most of all God Himself whom we will see.
Not so well-known to us is the size of the city described in Revelation 21:16. An angel measured it and when the measurements are translated into our more familiar measurements of today, we see a city that is roughly 2,500 kilometers long and wide – almost the distance north from Nairobi to Cairo, and west from Nairobi to Nigeria. That is a city covering all of North Africa. Then, the even more startling measurement: the city is also 2,500 kilometers high. The volume of this cube is over 15 times the combined surface of the entire earth, including both land and water area.
All of this makes us realize how hard it is to picture heaven. It is mysterious to the human mind because we can only think in three dimensions (length, width and depth) while heaven has no such limits. That was John’s challenge when he wrote what he saw in the Revelation. He had no vocabulary and no experience from which to write. Heaven defied John’s imagination. It defies ours. In 1 Corinthians 2:9, God tells us that “… no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” So, whatever we can imagine heaven to be like, it is more! It is vastly superior to anything our minds can dream up.
Now, it’s this ‘moreness’ of heaven that I want to call your attention to.
Heaven – HERE and NOW
Heaven is about many dimensions beyond our three. One man said, “Since God exists in a world with other dimensions, then heaven is closer than many would like to think. It could be all around us and we would have no way of knowing it.” I am interested in the ‘moreness’ of heaven and want to talk about Heaven HERE and NOW, not about heaven THERE and THEN.
We are not prepared to recognize the nearness of heaven. As children we learn that we can go to heaven, but we are seldom taught that heaven can come to us. We can somehow go there but heaven doesn’t come here. A popular tool for evangelism asks, “If you die today, will you go to heaven?” Why not ask, “Do you know how to live today so that heaven begins HERE and NOW? Why can’t our gospel be about heaven HERE and NOW as well as THERE and THEN?
My main point is that in Christ’s birth, heaven came to us. Heaven on earth began at that time. Heaven is HERE and NOW for believers. I remember a song we used to sing – “Heaven came down and glory filled my soul. When at the cross, the Saviour made me whole. My sins were washed away, and my night was turned to day. Heaven came down and glory filled my soul.” These words did not sink into my heart very well 45 years ago. Today, they have gotten to me. Heaven came down — came near — came HERE — came NOW. Elizabeth Browning wrote: “Earth is crammed with heaven, but only they who see, take off their shoes and worship.” I want to take my shoes off and worship at heaven HERE and NOW. Henry David Thoreau wrote: “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” I want to keep looking up but I also want to be looking around for a little bit of heaven HERE and NOW.
How can it happen? Because of Christ – his birth, life, death and resurrection. Because the Bible says we are citizens of heaven now (Ephesians 2:19-20, Phil.3:20-21, Colossians 3:1-2).
Relating heaven to the birth of Jesus changes our thinking in four ways and all these ways are prompted by the prayer Jesus gave us in Matthew 6. “Our Father . . . “. especially vs. 10 – “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s intent has always been that there would be evidence of heaven on earth.
Four Lessons from Matthew 6:10
First, Matthew 6:10 teaches us that heaven is always first. It is not to be the last thing, the final destination as we often think. It is not the end of things; it is actually the origin of everything because God is there. Life and blessing to not proceed from earth to heaven, but they proceed from heaven to earth.
This relates to the birth of Christ. Heaven was first for Jesus. Heaven defined what Jesus would be on earth at his birth – “on earth as it is in heaven.” He did not become holy, pure, good and loving because of what he did on earth. He was all this because of who he was from heaven. The first cell of his life in the womb of Mary bore heaven first.
The same is true of us – should be. When we are born again, we are born like Jesus – with divine LIFE in us. Heaven becomes first for us. The only way we can become holy is to live from the Holy – from heaven, God, God’s LIFE. The only way to become pure is to live from the Pure – heaven, God, God’s LIFE. The only way to become good is to live from the Good – heaven. The only way to become loving is to live from Love – heaven. The only way to become truly giving is to live from the source of all giving – heaven. And the only way to become godly is to live from God.
So, heaven is first and the birth of Christ demonstrates the reality of that priority. Keep that in mind.
Secondly, Matthew 6:10 reverses things in our thinking about heaven. In regard to heaven we usually wonder how we can get from here to there. Most of us live this way. We try to ensure we can get from earth to heaven – to become holier, more spiritual, more godly, more pure, righteous, loving, more heavenly – more religious. We seek to rise higher.
But another way to consider heaven is getting from there to here. That’s what Jesus did at his birth. He started from heaven, not the earth. And that’s what should happen when we become believers. We start from the finish line – heaven. You say, but that’s backwards. Yes, and that’s a reversal of our thinking.
Relate this to our athletes and runners. The winners are those who don’t concentrate on the starting line when they are about to begin. They picture in their minds their victory at the end of the event. A good coach teaches them to do that. Too many of us struggle at the starting line of our Christian lives because we have not looked up to the finishing line. Like good runners and athletes we need to run with that end IN our minds, hearts and souls. We need to begin our Christian lives with the end in mind.
Jesus challenged us to reverse our thinking when he taught us how to pray in Matthew 6:10: “On earth as it is in heaven”. Not from earth to heaven but from heaven to earth. The prayer he taught us was based on a heaven to earth principle not an earth to heaven principle. So to live from heaven to earth, we must learn the secret of living, not from the past, present, or even the future – but in heaven’s time that is HERE and NOW. Jesus came into the world to live this way. From heaven to earth, from there to here. He lived in heaven’s time while he walked in earth’s time. We, too, can live in heaven’s time as we walk our own earthly time. We can live from there to here.
How does that work? A Korean preacher taught his people to pray that way. He instructed them to visibly picture the answer to their prayers, the results, the outcomes. While at Daystar, I once met with a graduate student from Rwanda. He wanted to pray. He was about to graduate but his wife and three daughters were still in Rwanda and in much danger. He was Hutu by tribe but his wife was Tutsi. We prayed by visibly picturing them safe and well. A few days later, he snuck back into Rwanda and brought them out himself. He stepped into heaven’s time. He is now a Methodist preacher in Canada.
So, as Christians, we live not from the answer to our prayer, but we live before the answer. That’s why Jesus said, “whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24) We don’t just wait for the answer; we live IN the answer – HERE and NOW – heaven on earth. We not from our problems now, but from the problems solved – in heavens time. We live not from our present crisis, but from its future resolution – heaven’s time. We live not from our present obstacles but from our victory over those obstacles – heaven HERE and NOW. When we follow Christ, we begin at his birth where heaven came down. We live from that heaven HERE and NOW. We can even see ourselves, not as we are but as we are yet to be.
Our thinking about heaven needs to be changed. We need to think heaven first and then reverse our thinking from there to here, not from here to there.
Thirdly, Matthew 6:10 helps us see that our salvation is about heaven HERE and NOW. The birth of Jesus fulfilled God desire that the heavenly would be found in the earthly, that his LIFE would dwell in human life. God didn’t depend on religious stuff to accomplish this. He did it himself. All the so-called religious ways to be saved are earthly hands reaching up to heaven. But the heavenly way is radically different. It’s a hand reaching down to earth. The earthly can never attain the heavenly. But the heavenly can attain the earthly –and it has in Christ’s birth.
Now our common talk is that we must be saved to get to heaven. But our salvation doesn’t begin from earth so that we can get to heaven. Our salvation begins from heaven and it permits us to be IN heaven HERE and NOW. We are not saved just so we can end up in heaven someday; we are saved so that we can begin with heaven HERE and NOW. In Christ, heaven comes down to us (John 6:51). In Christ, the heavenly visits the earthly. In Christ, the heavenly One becomes earthly, so that we, the earthly ones, might become heavenly. Where does this happen? – HERE . When? – NOW.
We don’t achieve heaven but heaven can achieve us. We don’t gain it or get into it. We let heaven gain us, get into us when we accept Christ and the Holy Spirit into our lives. We start living a heaven-to-earth-life, where everything we do begins first from heaven and proceeds to earth. “We let heaven, through our life, touch the earth, touch every part of our world… On earth as it is in heaven.” (Jonathan Cahn, The Book of Mysteries 2016,p.213).
- Finally, the prayer of Matthew 6 ends with the words, “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.” We think of heaven as a place of wonderful glory. It is. But God’s will is to come down to earth to dwell with us NOW in his glory.”
This goes all the way back to Moses who saw God’s glory on Mount Sinai (Exodus 25:80). But it was also on that mountain that God told Moses to go down to the plains and build a tabernacle for his glory. God’s glory that appeared on the mountaintop now descended to the plain. Heaven came down. Everywhere they went, God’s glory was with them.
In John 1:1-3, 14 it says that the God became flesh and dwelt among us. In the Greek it says that the God tabernacled with us, he dwelt among us. The birth of Jesus brought heaven’s glory to earth. We look at the cross and sing, “Heaven came down.” We need to look at the birth of Christ and sing that song. Because of Christ’s birth we can dwell in the glory of God every day of our lives. The mountaintop has come down to the plains. The tabernacle and temple, the former dwelling places of God, have been replaced by our hearts. In our earthly experience, life is a series of ups and downs, the ups and downs of circumstances, and the ups and downs of emotion. But in God, the up has come down. Heaven has come to earth. Even in the lowest places of our life, we can still dwell on the heights of God’s glory.
I would change the lyrics of the song: “Heaven came down…” Not, “When at the cross, the Savior made me whole,” BUT. “When at his birth, Christ came to make me whole.” Not as one of the verses says: “Now I’ve a home up in heaven above, there in those mansions sublime” but, “Now I’m a citizen of heaven right now, here in my earthly home.”
Let the four points I have extracted from Matthew 6:10 raise four questions in your life:
- Is heaven first in your life like it was for Jesus? Jesus was born from heaven; have you been born again from heaven?
- Are you living in heaven’s time HERE and NOW or are you bogged down with your past, present and future?
- Is your salvation about how heaven has gained you HERE and NOW or how you think you will gain heaven THERE and THEN?
- Has heaven come down into your life and filled you with the glory of God?
Think about your answers and repeat the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-11.