By Annie Yorty, Crosswalk.com
I recently read in ET Online part of the obituary for a model who died at the tender age of twenty-four. I was not familiar with her work, but the author extolled her incredible sense of style.
"The angels in heaven will certainly benefit from her [Mary-Brian Clarke's] sense of style and fashion," the obit read. "Arriving at the gates of heaven in one of many pairs of unique sunglasses, more rings than her fingers could hold, and either a furry jacket or hat and a one-of-a-kind pair of trendy sneakers, and that magnificent smile that was a magnet for all."
I imagine many of Clarke's fans may honestly believe her star-quality fashion would enhance the beauty of heaven.
Serious-minded Christians may be inclined to dismiss such a fanciful notion as the ignorance of someone presumably so far from God they cannot possibly understand heaven. But I suspect some of these false ideas about heaven hit closer to home.
All humans are born with the sin of pride well-etched into the heart, mind, and spirit. The tendency to self-aggrandize doesn't lessen unless and until God installs a new spirit within us. Even then, we must struggle, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to quell the monster of pride that seeks to elevate self above God.
In other words, we all naturally vie to be the star of heaven.
Perceptions of Heaven
According to Pew Research, nearly three-quarters of Americans believe in the existence of heaven—however they define the term. And why not? Despite joy-filled moments, life on Earth holds the capacity for intense agony. People search for meaning, for something beyond and better than this existence.
The same poll from Pew indicates the vast majority express nebulous views on what happens in the afterlife. Regardless of religious affiliation, nearly all respondents believe heaven is the absence of suffering. Most expect to see their loved ones who have previously died—approximately half hope to reunite with pets. Forty percent also claim they will be able to watch events on Earth and perhaps even interact with people. Not surprisingly, almost half think they can become angels.
Only sixty-two percent mentioned meeting God in heaven.
The Real Star of Heaven
God granted John, one of Jesus' apostles, a vision of the heavenly realm. His vocabulary could scarcely describe the scene.
I saw a throne in heaven and someone sitting on it. The one sitting on the throne was as brilliant as gemstones—like jasper and carnelian. And the glow of an emerald circled his throne like a rainbow. Twenty-four thrones surrounded him, and twenty-four elders sat on them. They were all clothed in white and had gold crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning and the rumble of thunder. (Revelation 4:2-5a NLT)
He went on to describe beings who continually filled the air with worship of the One sitting on the throne. Following their lead, others joined in. The elders in John's vision wore crowns. As they bowed to the ground in worship, they realized only God was worthy to wear the crowns. In unison, they seize the gold from their heads and cast them before the throne of God, declaring, "You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased" (Revelation 4:11 NLT).
When we understand the magnificence of that scene, how can we imagine a young model's human glamor would add anything of value?
What We Bring to Heaven
Jesus told us our purpose for life on Earth. "Seek first His [God's] kingdom and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33 NASB). God's righteousness in our lives begins when we accept Christ as our Savior. From then on, we discard earthly fashion and wear His robe of purity. That robe is our ticket into heaven. The filthy garments of our own efforts must be left at the door (Isaiah 64:6).
Once we are garbed in Jesus' righteousness, His Spirit helps us to seek God's kingdom. Deeds done for God under the power of the Holy Spirit will transfer into eternity. These may include humbly serving others in Jesus' name, sacrificial giving to God's work, sharing the gospel, and patiently enduring persecution for your faith.
For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body. (2 Corinthians 5:10 NLT)
The crowns worn by the elders in the passage from Revelation may be a reward for their deeds God deemed worthy for eternity. What is the purpose of those glittering diadems? To offer in worship of the One who made everything possible (Revelation 4:11).
The Privilege of Heaven
John was not the only one in the Bible who saw a glimpse of heaven. Others, including Jacob, Isaiah, Ezekiel, John the Baptist, Elijah, Elisha, Paul, and Stephen, beheld part of the glory of the heavenly realm. Despite their utter unworthiness, they all responded similarly with awe, reverence, and worship because they perceived their extreme privilege granted by God.
The King of Kings grants undeserved mercy to bring you into a magnificent dwelling place with Him.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God." (Revelation 21:3 NLT)
Have you humbled yourself and admitted your need for God to save you from the eternal punishment of your sins? The Bible reminds us there is also a place of eternal suffering for those who reject the robe of Jesus' righteousness. If you haven't explicitly repented of your sins and confessed Jesus as your Savior, you will not experience heaven at the end of this life on Earth. Instead, you will live in eternal anguish.
Paul explained salvation this way. "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9 NLT). If you're unsure of your eternal destination, I pray you will learn more about Steps to Peace with God.
Even with all the vivid, dazzling images of heaven, I've heard some wonder if they will grow bored in eternity. Their lack of understanding of the depths of God's riches prompts this question. Apostle Peter said what God has prepared in heaven is "imperishable, undefiled, and unfading (1 Peter 1:4 NLT). Every day in eternity with God will be a new adventure filled with worship and purpose.
The writer of Ms. Clarke's obituary considered heaven as a continuation of Earth's runway to strut and preen before a fawning audience of spirit beings.
I cannot know if Ms. Clarke submitted her heart and life to Jesus. If she went to heaven as the article suggests, all the trappings of Earth—her rings, furs, hats, sunglasses, and even the trendy sneakers—would be burned up on entry by God's fire of holiness. The angels might only gasp in wonder about one thing—her pristine garment of Jesus' righteousness.
God the Father, Son, and Spirit is the real star of heaven. And He is the only star.
Annie Yorty writes and speaks to encourage others to perceive God’s person, presence, provision, and purpose in the unexpected twists and turns of life. Married to her high school sweetheart and living in Pennsylvania, she mothers a teen, two adult children (one with intellectual disabilities), and a furry beast labradoodle. She has written From Ignorance to Bliss: God’s Heart Revealed through Down Syndrome. Please connect with her at http://annieyorty.com/, Facebook, and Instagram.
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