The Palazzo Las Vegas
If you preach quite a bit or write bulletin articles, one of the best inspirations for topics are things posted by those you have friended or have followed. I'm not saying that they are a better source of wisdom than the Bible itself—quite the opposite. However, it's amazing how a quick social-media blurb can quickly point you to Scripture for further research.
In this case, a couple weeks back a former coworker of mine checked into The Palazzo Las Vegas and posted this:
":)) Heaven… I'm in heaven" with a little heart at the end.
Well, I thought about it a bit…is The Palazzo Las Vegas really heaven? Checking out their web site, it does seem like they have a lot to commend themselves:
- Based on the pictures the rooms seem opulent
- There is plenty of entertainment with the Blue Man Show, Phantom of the Opera, Tim Allen, Frank Caliendo [cal-ee-end-o], Robert Davi, David Spade, Rita Rudner, and Joan Rivers. (Of course, if they had Celine Dion then she'd know she was checking into the opposite of heaven.)
- They list 16 "fine dining" restaurants and 20 "casual dining"…along with in-suite and poolside options. Being someone who obviously likes food (based on my BMI), that does count for a lot…although I can't see how any location could really be heaven without a Del Taco. 🙂
- They have two nightclubs and ten lounges.
- And if that isn't enough they have Bags to Go, a pool deck, Azure Pool, gondola rides, the Canyon Ranch Spaclub, a floral shop, a bunch of shopping, Madame Tussauds, Golf, and Pink Jeep and Maverick sightseeing tours.
- Oh, and let's not forget…gambling!!!
Quite impressive…and clearly heaven to my Facebook friend.
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
What Is Heaven to You?
How about you? What would cause you to blurt out, "Heaven…I'm in heaven"? If you've gone to Las Vegas, would you agree with my former coworker? Have you ever listened to a classical masterpiece and been so caught up in it you felt you traveled to celestial paradise? Perhaps you took a Caribbean vacation and between the ideal sun, sand, and crystal blue water you couldn't have asked for anything more? Sitting alone with the one you love and watching a perfect sunset?
What is heaven to you?
Concepts of Heaven
After I decided on the topic for this sermon, I was visiting Half Price Books, and looked to see if I could find any that spoke to other religions' concepts of heaven. I lucked out and found three:
- The Pocket Guide to the Afterlife by Augusta Moore and Elizabeth Ripley
- Heaven and Hell: a Compulsively Readable Compendium of Myth, Legend, Wisdom, and Wit for Saints and Sinners by Mara Fuastino
- The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions edited by John Bowker
You can guess which two I found more interesting. 🙂
And, as you can imagine, views of heaven vary drastically. Per Heaven and Hell Islam teaches "Male martyrs will go to Paradise, where Allah will grant them seventy-two females, who remain perpetual virgins. Other argue the number is seventy."1 Now, I don't know about you, but my guess is that once you get above 50 virgins, a couple less won't matter a whole bunch since you have a few to spare. I will admit I haven't quite figured out how they remain perpetual virgins…the only logical way would kind of defeat the advantage the average male would see in having so many. 🙂 Personally, I like when Jeff Dunham's Achmed the Dead terrorist notes that when he got to paradise he found out "virgin" wasn't specific to just women. 🙂
Okay…women…eyes forward. No looking anywhere except right at me.
Now men, raise your hands if you would find 72 virgins heaven. 🙂
How about Ásatrú, which (per The Pocket Guide to the Afterlife) is a "modern manifestation of ancient Norse paganism [that] was resurrected in the late nineteenth century and granted official religious status in Iceland in 1972"?2 Apparently things don't work out so well for you if you aren't a virgin or don't die in a battle, but…
Those Ásatrúans lucky enough to be slain on the battlefield will be sorted through like fallen fruit by the Valkyries or "Choose of the Slain," lovely young lasses mounted on white horses. They choose only the bravest to carry off to Valhalla. Virgin women, and those soldiers who didn't quite make the A-team, are carted off to Folkvang, home of Freya, the goddess of love and fertility.3
As for Valhalla:
Valhalla, or the "Hall of the Slain," is Odin's hall. Sort of a haven for the baddest blonds, Valhalla features 540 doors, each large enough for 800 warriors to march through shoulder to shoulder. You will feast upon Saehrimnir, a most unfortunate pig slaughtered and resurrected daily by the cook of the gods… In Valhalla, the Valkyries morph into tough serving wenches, in charge of topping off your vessel with mead. All this while you await the battle of battles, Ragnarök.4
Women…eyes forward again.
Men…how about that…would that be heaven for you? How many Marines do we have here? 🙂
And we could go on…for instance in the topic index of The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions there are over a dozen entries for "Heavens, paradise" for Buddhism alone. Since I've likely used up at least a third of my sermon time at this point we won't, although I suppose the women-folk out there could argue they deserve at least one description of a heaven pointed at them. Would it be sexist of me to assume it would involve massages, manicures, and a color scheme based on Mary Kay? 🙂
Regardless, my guess is that a heaven for most women would exclude men who would find the previously two mentioned a great place to go…
The Biblical View of Heaven
Of course, being Christians we care most about the biblical view of heaven…and even if I had jumped right into it from the beginning we'd run out of time if we start talking about it's inhabitants, it's history, and so on.
Up to now, however, we've been focusing on what conditions people find heavenly, whether that is a casino, your own harem of perpetual virgins, or a place you get to drink to your heart's content thanks to attentive wenches.
I think most who have spent time in the Bible would agree our Christian perceptions of heaven are mainly from Revelation. It has so much that we can't touch on it all right now, but let's read one part together:
9 Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, "Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb." 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— 13 on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
15 And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. 16 The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. 17 He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel's measurement. 18 The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 19 The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. 21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.
22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there (Revelation 21:9-25).
Wow! That is wild, isn't it? Sure…it's short a few personal virgins and a daily resurrected pig…but can anyone here question that it'll be amazing? Streets of "pure gold, like transparent glass" would cement it as an incredible place for me…and clearly it's so much more.
But a couple quick notes. First, technically it is talking about the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven instead of heaven itself. I figure, however, it's pretty indicative of where our God lives.
Second, it almost definitely has to be symbolic. Remember where it said that "its length and width and height are equal" and that that is 12,000 stadia? Does anyone know how long 12,000 stadia is? The English Standard Version Study Bible says that is 1,380 miles. Considering our atmosphere isn't likely even 100 miles high, having a city sitting on earth that is 1,380 miles high would be a bit odd. Yes, everything is possible with God, but since it is part of a book that is ripe with symbols…it would make more sense to take a description like that as one unless the natural reading would indicate it is literal.
Personally I take those and other descriptions of heaven in Revelation as God saying, "Imagine the most incredible place you can. Got it? Heaven is better!"
Having said that, I do think there is one description of conditions in heaven in Revelation that isn't near as symbolic (although it also has symbolism in it):
"Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
The sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Revelation 7:15-17).
Now…transparent gold streets or no transparent gold streets…I can tell you that heaven is where tears are no more. It only takes the loss of one loved one to agree with that, doesn't it?
To make my second to last point, I'm going to turn to Ronald Reagan. In one speech he gave he related this story:
You know on the way over I remembered something that happened a long time ago when teachers could talk about things like religion in the classroom. And a very lovely teacher was talking to her class of young boys and she asked, “How many of you would like to go to heaven?”
And all the hands instantly shot into the air at once, except one. And she was astounded and she said, “Charlie, you mean you don't want to go to heaven?” He said, “Sure, I want to go to heaven, but not with that bunch.”5
After the laughter died down a bit, he went on to say, "Maybe…maybe there is a little bit of Charlie in each of us."
Because Jesus is There…
Personally, I do think that you all would be great neighbors in heaven…but it does bring up something very, very important. If you remember back in that very long quote from Revelation that we read, it said:
22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb (Revelation 21:22-23).
When it comes to heaven…what makes it heaven more than anything else…is the Who…Who with a capital "W"…the who that is there. God and Jesus. The glory of the former gives it its light, and its lamp is the latter.
My question for everyone is…would that be heaven to you? Just being with God and Jesus?
My personal answer is in a painting that I have hanging over the couch in my office back in my house in Antrim, New Hampshire. It is called "Road to Emmaus" and was painted by Robert Zund:6
I'm sure you won't be able to see it well from up here, but it show Jesus chatting with two of his followers who (a) did not know it was Him and (b) were scratching their heads over His death and the reports of His resurrection (see Luke 25:13-27).
Although I really would like to know I'm speaking to Jesus when it happens…ever since I first saw a copy of the painting in Christian bookstore decades ago…that was heaven to me. First, I love being in the woods…the beautiful creation that our Lord gave us…
But…more than that…the chance to be able to be with Jesus…to talk with Him.
At least in my book, there is no greater heaven than being with the Lamb.
You Get the Heaven You Want
Although I really prefer to have a sermon include a bunch of scriptures, I'm going to wrap up with only one more. Let's open up Romans 1:24-28:
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.
Now, that may seem like an odd set of verses to use in a talk about heaven…but it shows something very important. Ultimately, God gives people what they really, really want. In those 5 verses it talks about Him giving people up…first "in the lusts of their hearts to impurity"…then "to dishonorable passions"…then "to a debased mind."
When we die God will "give us up" to what we want.
He will give us the heaven we want.
And no…that doesn't mean we'll get to instead spend it in luxurious casinos, rotating through 72 virgins, or eating a perpetually resurrected pig. There are only two eternal options when we pass over to the other side.
As for how heavenly a casino is…have you noticed casinos have no windows or clocks to let you know just how long you've been playing…and that, for instance, you probably have to go through the casino floor to get to something like the all-you-can-eat buffet? I don't know about you, but that sounds more like a trap for hell than a location for heaven.
If our heaven truly is The Palazzo Las Vegas instead of being with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…then we will not spend eternity with the Godhead.
Only two options…
God's version of heaven or not God's version of heaven…and we all know what the Bible says the latter is.
I end asking you two simple questions.
Is Jesus enough? Would being with Him, the Father, and the Holy Spirit be heaven for you?
1Faustino, M. (2004). Heaven and Hell: a Compulsively Readable Compendium of Myth, Legend, Wisdom, and Wit for Saints and Sinner (82). New York: Atlantic Monthly Press.
2Moore, A., & Ripley, E. (2009). The Pocket Guide to the Afterlife (6). New York: Bloomsbury.
5From the two CD set, Well…There You Go Again: The Humor that Shaped America. Available at Amazon.com: http://amzn.com/B0030BF6JQ
6Robert Zund Art Reproductions- Road to Emmaus. (n.d.).Art Reproductions Gallery. Retrieved April 14, 2012, from http://www.reproductionsart.com/subj_art_reproductions.php?number=ZUR010&stt=9