I don't know what you call that place, but it is a fun place to be. A place of anticipation, celebration, rejoicing, reunion. Do you know what they call it? Greeting area, maybe? Receiving area? Welcome Center?
You know-most airports have one-that place where friends and family members wait. In the Atlanta airport, the one I'm most familiar with, it's at the top of the escalator, that long escalator that's several stories long. At the top of that escalator people wait-friends and family-for their loved ones to arrive from the gates.
The escalator turns. One by one folks get off, and they're met by people holding signs with eager looks, big eyes, anticipation on their faces, some holding balloons, some holding flowers, limo drivers with name cards-Hunt, Johnson, Smith-waiting for that grandmother to arrive from Ft. Wayne, for that son coming home from Afghanistan, for the husband returning from the Madrid business trip, for the friend in town for the weekend. That unnamed area is teeming with excited folks waiting for the newest arrivals. I love that place! I love to watch, and I love to listen. The squeals of joy, the roars of laughter, the hugs and embraces, the twirling arounds. It's a happy reunion place, where everybody is waiting for the newest arrivals.
That's kind of how I imagine heaven. Max Lucado calls heaven a maternity ward. I like that-angels passing out cigars, horns rejoicing each time a new arrival pops onto the scene. I'm not sure if I get to pick the people who will greet me there; but if I did, I'd probably want Moses and Rahab, Mary, Paul, John Wesley, Thomas Aquinas and his big old bad self, and Martin Luther King Jr. to greet me. That's who I'd pick. And my dad. My grandmother, who loved me unconditionally, and my dear friend Paul. Oh, imagine the joy, to arrive at the top of the escalator to be met by that team, led by Jesus with his arms outstretched saying, "Welcome home!"
Just thinking about that is like Easter on any day of the year. You know, Easter is the centerpiece of our faith. It really needs more than one Sunday a year, doesn't it? I mean, Jesus is raised from the dead, and He will raise us too. He promises. "I go to prepare a place for you." Now that is a marvelous promise!
"I go to prepare a place for you." Wow! That means you and I know the future. And when you know the future, it sure changes the way you live right now. Now is merely the time to get ready, to get prepared, to practice for what is yet to come.
Because you know at least three things:
1) You know, we have a home. (John 14:2) We have a home. Jesus has prepared a place for you and for me. "In my Father's house are many rooms, many mansions, many homes."
It's a wonderful feeling to have a place prepared just for you, isn't it? I was dating Anita, and I had begun to realize that this was it. She was the one for me. So on our first Thanksgiving together, I decided to take her to meet my grandmother, the one who had loved me unconditionally. I kind of surprised my parents that I would take Anita to meet grandmother before she met my parents, but that was where I loved to spend Thanksgiving. So we drove the eight hours to that little town of about 500 or 1,000 on the Ohio River where she had lived her whole life to the house where she had been for over 50 years. And when we arrived, it was clear that she had prepared a place for us, just for us. When we pulled up, the door opened and a tiny little 95-pound woman hugged and kissed Anita, whom she had never met before. It was clear that my grandmother had made up her mind to love my Anita before she ever met her. As we entered the tiny, little four-room house, I could smell supper from the kitchen. The table was set. Everything that I like was on the table. She had prepared it just for me.
Minutes later my mom's cousin (her only other living relative) and her husband arrived. Surprise! We hadn't known they were coming either. They had driven four hours just to be with us and to meet Anita. Grandmother had done everything imaginable to prepare a place for us. The house was ready, the table was set, dinner was prepared, friends were invited, her countenance was set and waiting for our arrival, she stood at the door and waited, looking for us to come. She had prepared a place for us. That, my friends, is a terrific feeling.
And Jesus promises to do that for you. That's the fourth promise of God: "I prepare a place for you." (John 14:1-3) Because we have a home prepared just for us. The table is set, the home is ready, he is anticipating your arrival. He has a place for you-a home.
2) We also know that we need to RSVP.
The truth must be faced. It is unavoidable, whether it's comfortable or not. You must let Jesus know that you are coming. The Scriptures are clear. The home is prepared, the invitation has been issued, people are waiting, the table is set, the home is ready-all you do is let Jesus know. "Jesus, you are Lord. Make me yours so that I may live with you in my new home forever."
The message is clear; it's time to prepare, right now. The time to RSVP is now. There is no admission without it.
3) And we also know that we will see God. (Rev. 21:2-22)
I mean, the Book of Revelation describes it wonderfully. The coolest thing won't be the greeting team who awaits your arrival, as wonderful as that will be, nor the splendor you will behold, although Scripture paints a delightful picture. The great high wall with 12 gates and 12 angels, gates composed of large pearls. A city that lies four-square with a wall of jasper, a city of pure gold, clear as glass. Foundations of the wall being adorned with jewels: jasper, sapphire, agate, emerald, onyx, carnelian, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, jacinth, chrysoprase, amethyst.
Notice that there is no sun or moon because God is the light. His radiance, his beauty, covers all that is. The gates are never shut. There are no guards needed. If you look over there, you'll see the river of the water of life that flows from the throne of God, right through the middle of the street of the city.
Over there is the throne. Around it is a rainbow. And around that throne are 24 more thrones, 24 elders seated with white garments and golden crowns. Surrounding the throne are four more living creatures, the lion, the ox, the face of man, and the eagle. And if you listen carefully, you can hear their unending song, "Holy, holy, holy."
Near the One seated on the throne is the Lamb, standing as though he's been slain. And around them all stand the countless angels and the multitude from every nation and tribe wearing white robes, waving palms. Hear their sweet melody as they sing, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the Throne and unto the Lamb- to you be blessing and honor and glory and might."
As wonderful as that is, the best is yet to come. You will see God. You will see him in his 3-in-1ness self-Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is worthy to be praised and that is exactly what we will do in heaven. He who made heaven and earth will be praised. The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the Holy Spirit that was poured out on all of God's Creation. We will praise God-that is what we will do in heaven. And when we practice now, that's what we're doing. We're getting ready to be in the presence of God, to move into that new home where we will see God.
Eileen moved down to Georgia from Minnesota to be with her daughter and family. Her health had deteriorated where she wasn't able to live by herself anymore. She dreaded the move. She had lived her whole life in Minnesota, but one of the things that excited her about moving to Georgia was being able to come to our church with her family. She loved to worship in our church each time she was in town. So she joyfully made our church her church home. I still remember the day when Eileen in her wheelchair came down front to join our church family. And as I introduced her to the church family, there in her little wheelchair, Eileen raised her arms, almost like Rocky after the battle, shaking her arms in victory that she was a part of this family of God.
Her health decline continued, and one day not so long ago she had a vision. Her daughter, who I'll call Jenny, captured that vision for me in an e-mail. She said:
"Last April 11, I went in to wake mom for church, and she told me she wouldn't be going. When I asked her what was wrong and if she felt OK, she said she felt fine, but that the Lord was there to take her. She said she didn't hurt at all, and actually hadn't felt that good in a while. She described a mist that she could feel on her skin. She said she saw a light but not as bright as some described. Fifteen minutes later, she saw my dad and her best friend. She said, "There's dad and Joanne. They don't see each other or know why they're there, but they're there to greet me." She would point off to a corner and tell me Jesus was there waiting. She told me she would miss the girls and me, but not to be sad because she would always be watching and would see all of us again someday. She had her eyes closed through most of this. When I asked her to look at me, she told me she could feel me and hear me, but her eyes were only for God now…"
Jenny sent me the e-mail the day her Mom, Eileen, my good friend, moved into her new home. They often wondered over the last six months why she did not die that Sunday morning. I don't know the answer to that. But I do know where she is now. In her new home, prepared just for her, prepared just for you.
"I prepare a place for you."
Jesus said it and that is God's sure promise. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Please pray with me.
Eternal God, we love you and we honor you. We look forward to that day when we will see you face to face. You are our God, we are your people, now and forever, world without end. Amen.