November 18, 2022

The Real Joy of Heaven

By Skip Heitzig

Most people's view of the afterlife is that good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell. That's pretty straightforward, but it's not theologically correct.

According to the Bible, heaven is not where good people go but where saved people go—those who were at one time the worst people but who trusted in Jesus to save them. Only Christianity teaches that getting to heaven is by divine accomplishment only—God saving the lost.

We see this play out in Luke 15. In this chapter, the Jewish religious elite were shocked and disgusted that "all the tax collectors and the sinners" (v. 1)—whom they considered the worst of the worst—wanted to get close to Jesus, and that Jesus associated with them. So Jesus told them a parable: "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'" (vv. 4-6).

Every one of us is the lost sheep in this story (see Isaiah 53:6). But the good news is that God is the shepherd. He loves lost people. He loves wandering sheep. Jesus, in describing His mission on earth, said, "The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10).

And when God finds a lost sheep, He picks it up and places it on His shoulders, just like the shepherd. The shepherd in the story doesn't say to the sheep, "Okay, get up. You walked this far; you're walking back." Why? Because the sheep is tuckered out and probably has no strength. The shepherd feels pity for that weary creature and bears it lovingly back to the fold. This is so like God. "When we were still without strength," Romans 5 tells us, "in due time Christ died for the ungodly" (v. 6).

The takeaway from this parable is found in verse 7: "I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance." The joy in heaven is not going to be that the good people are in the good place. It will be that the worst people are there because they were found by the Shepherd, repented, and were saved by His grace.

God throws a party when a lost sheep is found. He doesn't save the broken and the helpless with disgust or reservation. It's with great delight, incredible happiness, and abundant joy (see Isaiah 65:19; Zephaniah 3:17). And God is inviting you into His joy zone today.

If you've ever prayed with another person for them to receive Christ, you know the incredible feeling that experience brings. When was the last time you joined the Lord in His great work of rescuing lost, battered sheep? I encourage you to pray for the filling of the Holy Spirit today that you would be even more concerned about the lost and would faithfully, joyfully keep bringing them to the Shepherd who loves them.

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