All through the story of the Bible two parallel and beautiful dramas unfold:
There is the Upper Story. God is real, He is present, and He is working on our behalf. Heaven is breaking into the world more than we recognize, and the story of God’s seeking love, perpetual grace, and longing for relationship with ordinary people is breathtaking.
There is also the Lower Story. We live on earth. We make mistakes, run from God, and resist His overtures of love. Sometimes we get so mired in the Lower Story that we fail to recognize God’s presence breaking into our world. We forget that the God of Heaven longs to have a growing relationship, a friendship, with us – and ultimately sent His Son, Jesus, who died for our sins and rose again to restore that relationship for all who will believe.
It is in The Story of Heaven that these two stories reach their glorious climax: when sin, death, and sorrow will be no more and God will be reunited with His people forever.
Today’s study comes from The Story of Heaven, which combines content from two well-loved pastors and authors – Max Lucado (God’s Story, Your Story) and Randy Frazee (The Story) – along with material to provide solid, biblical teaching on heaven and life after death.
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In life, the end is often exactly that, the end.
With Jesus, the end can become the beginning.
Ralls, Texas, was a weathered tumbleweed of a town in 1965. The city center consisted of a two-story courthouse framed by a weedy lawn and bricked roads. One drugstore had gone out of business, and the second was not far behind. The closest resemblance to a traffic jam occurred every morning when farmers left the diner parking lot after their sunrise coffee.
It was as if someone had pressed the pause button and forgotten to release it. Which was just fine with my grandparents, God bless ’em. Charles and Macey McDermott looked just like the farm couple in Grant Wood’s painting, only not nearly as energetic. Grandpa, lanky and long-faced; she, shorter and dark-eyed. Neither one smiled much. They shuffled about in a two-bedroom frame house, chewing Brown’s Mule tobacco, watching soap operas, and reading Zane Grey novels.
It was my mom’s idea for me to spend a week with them. Let ten-year-old Max get to know his grandparents’ and mom’s hometown. So she gave me a chocolate bar and a kiss, loaded me on a Greyhound bus, and waved goodbye.
The trip peaked with the candy bar. After one day I knew this was going to be the longest week of my life. My grandparents had no bicycles, baseballs, or basketball hoops. They knew no other ten-year-olds and lived too far out in the country for me to find any. Dullsville.
But then during lunch one day, I asked my grandmother about the photo that hung in her bedroom – the sepia-toned picture that was professionally taken and handsomely set in an oval-shaped walnut frame. Who was this mystery man who occupied prime real estate above my grandmother’s bed?
“That’s Levi Thornton,” Grandma told me. “Your grandfather.” I’d heard of this man. How he brought my mom to the farm country. How he died young. But where had he come from? How had he died? I didn’t know.
So Grandma set out to tell me. Within a couple of sentences, I was lost in the story, bouncing in the cab of the 1929 Chevy pickup with Grandpa Levi, Grandma, and an eight-year-old version of my mom. I was happy to listen, and Grandma was thrilled to talk. For the better part of that day, we shinnied up the family tree and explored branches I had never known existed. As we did, my black-and-white week exploded into a Monet of colors.
Why do you suppose, now forty years removed, that I still remember the day in such detail? I still see the kitchen in which we sat, its straight-backed chairs and Formica-topped table. I see Grandma spilling photos out of a box and details out of her heart as if neither had been taken off the shelf in quite some time.
I recall an emotion similar to the one you likely felt when you learned about your great-grandfather’s migration from Norway or a distant relation being one of the charter Royal Canadian Mounties. Perhaps you’ve traced your ancestry through the Apache hunting grounds, African slave ships, or Polynesian sailors.
We love to know where we came from. And we need to know where we came from. Knowing connects us, links us, bonds us to something greater than we are.
Knowing reminds us that we aren’t floating on isolated ponds but on a grand river.
That’s why God wants you to know His story. Framed photos hang in His house. Lively talks await you at His table. Stories about Bethlehem beginnings, enemy warfare in the wilderness, and fishermen friends in Galilee. The stumbles of Peter and the stubbornness of Paul. All a part of the story, but only subplots to the central message:
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16
This is the headline of the story: God saves His people!
The Bible says so. Scripture assures us of heaven.
Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven – and the future starts now! – 1 Peter 1:3-4
Jesus says so.
He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things’. – Luke 24:46-48
The angel says so.
The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; He has risen, just as He said. Come and see the place where He lay’. – Matthew 28:5-6
Witnesses say so.
He was seen by Peter and then by the twelve apostles. After that, Jesus was seen by more than five hundred of the believers at the same time. – 1 Corinthians 15:5-6
Even the rolled-away stone testifies to Christ’s rising from the dead (Matthew 28:1-7). No barrier will keep us locked inside the grave. Christ was the first example that we will all follow.
We all have a start date and an end date, known only by God before we were born. The clock began ticking the moment we were conceived in the womb. But as God’s story of heaven reveals, we also have an exit strategy.
Watch the Session One Video
Video Teaching Notes
As you watch the video teaching segment for session 1, featuring Max Lucado, use the following outline to record anything that stands out to you.
- The folly of not having an exit strategy
- No dream of a Sunday morning miracle
- Plans to embalm Jesus, not talk to Him
- Cadaver turned King: He is risen!
- The bodily resurrection of Jesus means everything
- Promise about our grave
- Death is not the final chapter
1. In the video, Max said, “We all have a start date and an end date, known only by God before we were born. The clock began ticking the moment we were conceived in the womb.” Despite this undeniable truth, why do you think so many people walk through this life failing to plan for their ultimate departure? What do Christians have to share with others that will help them get ready for the end of life on this planet?
2. Satan would love to keep every man, woman, and child so distracted and busy that they never face their own mortality and the reality that death looms in front of us all. What are some of the Enemy’s distractions that keep people from asking important spiritual and eternal questions?
3. If a non-Christian friend or family member asked you, “What do you believe will happen to you when this life ends?” how would you explain eternity and your faith and confidence in God in a way that would make sense to them?
4. If a nonbelieving family member or friend was drawing near the end of their life and they asked you, “How can I prepare for eternity and to meet God?” what would you say to them? How would you help them prepare?
5. Read: Luke 18:31-33; 24:45-47. Imagine you were one of the disciples who walked with Jesus and heard him declare things like this with crystal clarity. How could they have heard these words and still not have realized that Jesus was actually going to rise again from the dead? Give examples of ways that we hear Jesus declare things with clarity and conviction but still don’t fully embrace the truth of what He says.
6. In the video, Max talked about how the disciples got stuck on Saturday (Jesus’ body in the tomb), but they needed to move into Sunday (Christ risen and alive!). How can Christians today get stuck on Saturday and forget that we live in the glorious victory of Resurrection Sunday? What can we do to inspire ourselves, and others, to live in the hope and reality of Easter Sunday?
7. Read: 1 Corinthians 15:12-18. Why is absolute confidence in the bodily resurrection of Jesus so critical to the Christian faith? According to the apostle Paul, what are the implications for us if Christ has not risen from the dead?
8. Read: 1 Corinthians 15:51-58. How does the resurrection of Jesus and our assurance of eternal life, through faith in His name, impact our lives today and forever?
9. Read: John 11:17-27. How does Jesus connect His resurrection and the eternal condition of those who have faith in Him? If we believe these words of Jesus, how should our assurance of eternal life impact the way we live today?
10. When we are assured of Jesus’ resurrection and confident that Heaven is our home, everything changes. What transformation have you experienced in one of these areas as you have grown more and more confident that the final chapter of your life is really just a preface to eternity with God?
- How you view this life and the way you invest your time
- How you share God’s love and message of grace with others
- How you use your resources and the way you view material things
- How you view and treat people who have not yet entered a saving relationship with Jesus
- Some other area of your life
What Jesus did with His own grave, He promises to do with yours: empty it. ~ Max Lucado
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What are your answers to question 10? Have you reached that place of confidence that Heaven is your home? How has that changed your life and how you interact with others? Join the conversation on our blog! We would love to hear from you about the hope of Heaven!