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Heaven is better than earth

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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Scripture Topic: Psalm 16

Wynter Pitts died recently in her sleep at the age of thirty-eight. She left a husband and four daughters.

Her uncle is Dr. Tony Evans, the brilliant pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship and an international speaker and author. At a service last weekend, he and his family discussed Wynter’s sudden death. One of his sons asked him why he keeps going in the face of such tragedy.

Dr. Evans responded: “Because I believe what I preach. I do believe she’s in a better place. I do believe in the sovereignty of God. I do believe in the goodness of God. I do believe. And because I believe, I do keep going.”

Where do you need to “keep going”? Let’s find hope for hard times in a surprising place.

“My flesh also dwells secure”

As Psalm 16 begins, David has “taken refuge” in his Lord (v. 1). The Hebrew could be translated, “fled for shelter.” The verse depicts a person facing an approaching storm or army and running into a refuge he knows will protect him.

He trusted in the Lord as his shelter because he knew, “I have no good apart from you” (v. 2). This despite the fact that he was king of the nation and one of the most powerful people on earth.

As a result, he treasures the “saints in the land,” the people of God, more than any of his other possessions (v. 3). He knows that they, not his wealth or fame, are eternal. And he knows that the “sorrows” of those who trust in other gods “shall multiply,” so he refuses to worship or trust in them (v. 4).

Instead, he has made the Lord his “chosen portion” and his “cup,” the one who holds his “lot” (v. 5). These terms refer to his personal possessions in life. He knows that he has a “beautiful inheritance” from the Lord (v. 6).

And he knows that all of this comes from the One who gives him counsel and instructs his heart in the night (v. 7). He has set the Lord at his “right hand”—a warrior typically carried a shield in his left hand and his spear or sword in his right. David trusts in God as his sword for victory and life.

Now we come to the climax of his praise: “Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure” (v. 9). Why? “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption” (v. 10). “Sheol” is an Old Testament term referring to “death” or the “grave.”

As a result, David can say: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (v. 10). He knows the “path of life” and the “fullness of joy” today. And best of all, he knows that he will experience “pleasures forevermore” when he is at the “right hand” of God in heaven.

When I was in high school, my youth minister gave me the best single piece of advice I’ve ever received: Always remember the source of your personal worth.

Because Jesus rose, we will rise

Psalm 16 is one of the most frequently quoted psalms in the New Testament.

Preaching to the massive crowds at Pentecost, the apostle Peter quoted David’s testimony, then explained:

Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses (Acts 2:29–32).

Paul also cited Psalm 16:10 to declare the resurrection of Jesus. Speaking at Pisidian Antioch during his first missionary journey, he quoted David’s statement from a thousand years earlier. Then he made this statement:

For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, but he whom God raised up did not see corruption (Acts 13:36–37).

So, we see that David’s statement was fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus. The New Testament adds that Jesus’ resurrection is God’s promise of our resurrection as well:

  • “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die'” (John 11:25–26).
  • “Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:14).
  • “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11).
  • “God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power” (1 Corinthians 6:14).

Because Jesus would not “see corruption” (Psalm 16:10), neither will we.

Streets of “pure gold”

So far, we’ve explored the interesting fact that David made a statement about his future resurrection that was fulfilled by Jesus a thousand years later and guarantees us that we will be raised from the dead as well. But you already knew that Christians live forever with God in heaven. You already knew that because of Easter, you will be raised from the grave into his perfect paradise.

Here’s why this fact is so relevant and urgent for us today: It turns the cultural values of our day upside-down.

You and I live in the most prosperous era in human history. Consider some examples:

  • Life expectancy at birth in 1800 was 39 years; it is 79 years today.
  • In 1949, Popular Mechanics made the bold prediction that someday a computer could weigh less than a ton. An iPad weighs 0.73 pounds.
  • Median income has nearly doubled since the 1950s. The size of median houses has risen 34 percent.
  • In 1960, 10 percent of American homes had air conditioning. Today it’s 89 percent; the 11 percent that don’t are mostly in cold climates.
  • Almost no one had a refrigerator in 1900. Today they sell cars with refrigerators in them.
  • The average new home now has more bathrooms than occupants.

Our world has become so prosperous that it’s hard to want to leave. By contrast, we’ve grown up picturing heaven as a boring place where we play harps on clouds or sit in church for eternity. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There’s an entire sermon series here, but let’s be brief:

  • David stated, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
  • In heaven, “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
  • Jesus said, “Blessed is everyone who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God” (Luke 14:15 NIV).
  • We have perfect understanding in heaven: “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
  • You and I have “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4).
  • In short, “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9 NLT).
  • The Bible says that the streets of heaven are made of “pure gold” (Revelation 21:21). The precious commodity that is the basis for our entire monetary system is like concrete in paradise.

“These are the things that make it hard to die”

What does the fact that we will not “see corruption” mean for us today? In short, death is not an enemy but an invitation.

When earth seems more attractive than heaven, it can be hard to live for heaven on earth. It can be hard to make earthly sacrifices for the sake of heavenly results and rewards. It can be hard to see death as victory and the grave as the path to glory.

A pastor was asked by a wealthy church member to say a prayer of blessing over his new mansion. He said to the man, “These are the things that make it hard to die.”

Soledad Alamino passed away last Monday. You did not have the privilege of meeting Soledad unless you’ve been to Cespedes, Cuba, or happened to meet her on one of her trips to the US. Because our ministry partners with her husband and family and I’ve been to Cuba so many times, it was my privilege to know her well.

And to know that she was one of the most powerful intercessors, courageous believers, and empowering leaders I’ve ever met, anywhere in the world.

She died Monday after a three-year battle with cancer, a malignancy that would probably have been cured if she had not been in Cuba. When I got the news Monday night and told Janet, her immediate response was profound: “We are grieving only because we don’t see what she sees.”

When Soledad took her last breath here, she took her first breath there. She stepped from pain and suffering into reward and glory. She exchanged this broken planet for God’s perfect paradise. She has been completely healed. And for her, it will only be a moment before she sees us again.

Soledad Alamino could live so courageously on earth because she wasn’t living for earth.

Conclusion

I have been privileged to travel several times to Oxford University to teach a doctoral seminar for Dallas Baptist University. Each time, our group stands at a painted gold cross in the middle of a road. In my opinion, it is one of the holiest sites in all of England.

It was the mid-sixteenth century. Queen Mary was attempting to take England back to the Catholic Church. Protestants by the hundreds were martyred, among them two men named Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer.

On October 16, 1555, Ridley and Latimer were lashed to the stake in the center of Oxford University and set afire. The gold cross in the road marks the spot where they were executed.

As the flames rose, Latimer shouted to Ridley, “Be of good comfort, Mr. Ridley, and play the man! We shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace, in England, as I trust never shall be put out.”

On my last trip, we also visited the church Nicholas Ridley pastored before he was martyred. There we were shown a candle that stays lit every hour of every day of every year. It never goes out. They call it “Ridley’s candle.”

What candle will you light today?