HEAVEN ON EARTH
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
July 13, 2014
And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. The names of the twelve apostles are these:first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.”
— Matthew 10:1-15, ESV
Many times we use the expression “heaven on earth.” It describes our most ecstatic experiences. It is the feeling you get when you fall in love, enjoy great food, hear great music, or otherwise arrive at a place where everything is going your way. But is it really possible to experience a touch of heaven in this lowly earth?
I know of at least twelve men who did, and it lasted for the better part of three years. They were personally chosen to accompany the Lord Jesus Christ during His public ministry. The God of Heaven had come to earth in the person and work of His one-of-a-kind Son. The twelve were true witnesses of these heaven on earth times. Ironically, they were times of relative poverty and obscurity, times of ever increasing persecution, and times that seemed to end with crucifixion and resurrection.
In the record of their first commissioning service, we learn something about these unique men on their unique mission. We find that the heaven on earth they were experiencing was meant to be shared. At the same time, we discover a dividing line between heaven and earth behind which no one should want to be left behind.
Unique Men on a Unique Mission
It is important to understand that the twelve men mentioned here were unique, unusual, special. They were Apostles with a capital “A,” men who were eyewitnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. One, to be sure, was a phony. Later on, a few others, like the Lord’s half-brothers James and Jude, and Saul of Tarsus who became better known as Paul, were added to this historically limited and especially endowed group. They were unique people with unusual powers given to them to be used for a very special time, a time when heaven literally came to earth.
Simon Peter is always mentioned first, which is why Catholics consider him the first Pope and Protestants admit he was first among equals. The first four always includes him and his brother, Andrew, and the two Zebedee brothers James and John. Andrew may well have been the first fully committed follower of Jesus, but it was Peter, James, and John who became Jesus’ best friends.
The second team included Philip (not to be confused with the deacon and evangelist named Philip in Acts) and Bartholomew (his last name, most believe his first name was Nathaniel), then Thomas (famous, unfortunately, for his doubts) and Matthew (whose Jewish name was Levi, the author of this Gospel).
The muleskinners, which is what the third string was called back in my hometown in Georgia, consisted of another James, another Simon, and two Judases. One Judas was probably this other James’ brother or son, and for obvious reasons preferred to be called Thaddaeus or Lebbaeus. That obvious reason was the other Judas, Iscariot, who became the greatest traitor ever known to God or man. Even sinful, selfish people play a providential part in God’s sovereign plan of salvation.
This unique unit, even with their obvious imperfections and one’s unbelief, was chosen by God to carry out a unique mission. It was commissioned on the day described in this chapter of Scripture. The mission was to bring heaven to earth.
Bringing Heaven to Earth
Christians, let’s think about some of the things we will experience in Heaven that we don't necessarily see on earth. The greatest thing is that we will see Jesus, face to face. We will know who He is and He will call us by name. We will live with Him in a place where there will be no more sickness and death. Money won’t matter anymore, there will be no distinction between rich and poor, for all who are in Christ will have everything they could ever need or want. The devil won’t be welcome in Heaven, nor will any demons be present. We will share eternity with the Lord and with all who have called upon His name for forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Wow, this will be heaven in Heaven! But what about heaven on earth?
Look again at this commissioning service for the Apostles. Jesus was there, face to face, no doubt calling them by name. He ordained them to eradicate sickness, reverse death, cast out demons, and live without concern for money or material things. He promised they would find people to share their peace, while those who rejected them would actually be rejecting God. And as they went, inaugurating the New Covenant among the Old Covenant people (and later spreading the good news to all men), heaven came to earth.
Is it possible to enjoy this heaven on earth now, in our present lives, before we leave earth for Heaven, or before Heaven comes again to earth in the second coming of Jesus Christ? Yes, and no.
First of all, I do not believe that any living person has the power of an Apostle, with a capital “A.” All Christians are apostles, with a little “a,” in that we have been saved and sent by God to others with the message of salvation. And while God still does miracles, there have been no real miracle workers like the Apostles who heal sickness with their hands, raise dead people up from coffins, and various other gifts of miracles. But that does not mean we cannot enjoy some heaven on earth now.
When you become a Christian, it is because you have met God, only it is God the Spirit, not God the Son face to face. He chose you, called you by name, and gifted you with repentance, faith, and other spiritual gifts. You no longer have to live in fear of sickness or death, for, as the Apostle Paul wrote, “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (ref. Philippians1:21). Devils and people inspired by them cannot touch you, apart from the sovereign permission of God, in which He sometimes uses the devil’s knife to sculpt a masterpiece into your life. Money means very little to you as a believer, and you are content with whatever you have, because you know your real treasure is being laid up for you in the real Heaven. Every Sunday and on other days you walk into a house with fellow believers, and the grace and peace you share passes earthly understanding. There really is a bit of heaven on earth for the follower of Christ now, but the best is yet to come.
The kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, is indeed at hand. It is felt now and will be seen later. This is true for all who repent and believe the gospel. But good news inherently includes bad news, also.
Escaping Hell on Earth
The law of gravity dictates that what goes up, must come down. For every action there is a reaction. Every choice has a consequence. Even the good news has a bad side, at least for those who reject it.
Christ’s commission to His Apostles ends at this juncture with an ominous word about judgment. Those who receive heaven on earth will enjoy it, forever; however, those who do not will not, and the opposite of heaven on earth is, well, hell on earth.
Hell on earth, or God’s judgment, is exemplified by Christ in the historic reference to Sodom and Gomorrah. We read of this place and its inhabitants in the story of Abraham in the book of Genesis. It was a place well known for rampant homosexuality and adultery, though the former gets more press than the latter. I do not like the way homosexuals were singled out for so long as a special low-class of sinner in American society. But neither do I appreciate the virtual celebrity status they are being afforded today. Homosexuality, in my opinion, does far less damage to culture and the structure of the family than adultery. But sin is sin, and it is a shame that all three are basically championed and encouraged in our society. If God turned Sodom and Gomorrah into a hell on earth, what will He do to the United States of America, if we do not have revival and repentance?
Out of a heart of love, Christ gave His Apostles a full commission. He gave them the power to preach the message of the kingdom of God. He gave them the formula for heaven on earth. But He also gave them the warning to give to others, that there is no neutral ground near the kingdom of God. You are either in, with Christ as your King; or, you are out, your own king, on your own until the judgment. Then, it will be heaven on earth for some, hell on earth for others.
Our Mission Today
We are apostles, not Apostles, but we have the same basic commission. We are to bring heaven to earth so that people my escape hell on earth. And here’s how we are to do it:
Trust Christ. Make your calling and election sure (ref. 2 Peter 1:10). If God has chosen you and you have chosen to follow Christ, you are just as important and strategic to God as Peter, Andrew, James, and John. You won’t be as famous, but you can be as fabulous, if you are a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ.
Live for Christ. Live with no fear of sickness and death. Live with no fear of enemies. Live with no particular love for money. Live in the house of God, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, on the Lord’s Day and other opportunities. Live in your house with hospitality and grace towards believers and unbelievers.
Speak up for Christ. Speak openly about the kingdom of God with every family member and friend you have, and take advantage of any opportunities to speak to others outside those circles. Speak honestly about sin, without being hateful towards sinners. Do not judge anything beyond the parameters of Holy Scripture, but be unapologetic about the truths it contains. After all, we got it from the Apostles, and they got it from God, and God is in His Heaven. And to know Him, love Him, and serve Him, is heaven on earth.
HEAVEN ON EARTH
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org