24/4/05 Evensong Revelation 21:1-14
Rev. 21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." 5 He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." 6 He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars - their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death." 9 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb." 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. 13 There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. 14 The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
A millionaire Christian was sleeping in his bedroom when an angel comes to him and wakes him up. "It's time for you to go to heaven", says the angel.
"Oh, I'm not ready, what should I bring ?", says the millionaire.
"Nothing, just yourself", replies the angel.
But the millionaire pulls a large suitcase from under his bed and opens it up. It is full of gold bars. "Can I just bring this along ?", he pleads with the angel.
The angels thinks for a while, gets on his mobile 'phone speaks some divine language. Then he turn to the man and says , "OK, but nothing else".
So the millionaire is taken up to the pearly gates where St. Peter is waiting to welcome him. Looking at the suitcase St. Peter says, "I'm sorry but we don't allow any earthly possessions here, you'll have to leave the suitcase behind."
The angel whispers into St. Peter's ears and he seems to understand. "But what could be so important that God would allow you to take it through ?", ponders St. Peter, "Let me take a look".
He opens the suitcase to see all the gold bars inside and immediately falls to the floor rolling around with ecstatic laughter!
The millionaire is amazed at St. Peter's antics. Why is he laughing ?
After a while St. Peter is able to stop laughing and manages to let out a solitary question, "Why do you want to bring PAVEMENT into heaven ?"
In today's New Testament reading we have a complete reversal of the created order that was spoiled by sin. "Heaven and earth" refers to the created order and not where God resides and earth.
In the beginning God created heaven and earth and all that was in them. He declared that his creation was good. He lived alongside Adam and Eve who had an idyllic existence until they decided they wanted to be like God and went against his revealed will. They ate from the only tree in the garden that they were forbidden to eat from. This spoiled their relationship with God and, since then people have been separated from God and sin has been rife. Creating suspicion, hostility, selfishness, murder, immorality, sickness and death.
We only have to look at the world around us, to read our newspapers, watch our televisions or open our eyes and ears to see that the world was not as God intended it to be.
God has taken the first step in restoring the created order to it's original, perfect state. He sent Jesus to undo the effects of sin and to call a new people into his kingdom. At the moment believers experience an interim existence, that shows some signs of God's perfection and rule yet is only a foretaste, a dim reflection of what is to come.
The picture that we have in Revelation 21 is tied up with imagery from the Old Testament ( Isa. 60, 65. Ezek. 40-48 ). It does, however, convey something of the perfection and beauty of the new created order.
We can observe some of the features of this.
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
Some people will imagine heaven as an individual, exalted existence. But this is a very social picture. God and humankind are no longer separated by sin but live together. Millions of believers from history, and God. Heaven is a corporate existence. Whereas relationships in this life can be difficult, God and all believers will be together in perfect harmony.
The New Jerusalem 11... shone with the glory of God . It is secure, yet open to many. The
12 tribes and 12 apostles suggest a unity in God's purpose of the Israel of old and the Christian church.
The other aspect of the new existence will be the absence of some things. We also read of God's compassion and proximity in wiping away tears. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
God will meet the deepest need of those who are with Him. 6b. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.
Who will qualify for this, new wonderful life?
7 He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.
This is talking about those who believe and trust in Jesus and who keep going in their faith. Who are committed to following Jesus and relying on God's word. This will result in spiritual opposition from those who are not committed to Jesus. Many will be threatened by Biblical teaching and persecute those who teach and follow the ways of God.
The picture of fellowship with God and other believers is an inspiration for true believers to continue, undeterred by opposition.
8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars - their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death."
The cowardly are in contrast to those who have bravely stood up for Jesus The unbelieving with those who have radically followed Jesus. These people's disregard of God will be apparent by their sinful behaviour.
Today it is not politically correct to speak of judgement. The New Testament clearly teaches that after the first, physical death everyone will be judged according to their response to Jesus. Those who have not accepted Jesus will be expelled from God's presence, the agony of which is illustrated by being in a fiery, sulphurous lake.
There is a list of behaviour that is unacceptable to God and which is symptomatic of people's sin. For example, murder is wrong because people take the place of God by terminating lives. We see this in our society in the lives of those not yet born, and those who are old or ill or handicapped. Recently an American woman who had brain damage but was unlikely to die was starved and dehydrated so she would die. Those who are weak and helpless who God calls us to respect and protect are regarded as worthless.
People's sin in wanting their own way, sometimes conveniently and politely called "choice" is shown by them now being able to choose the sex of their child. Before long it will be other features, hair and eye colour, intelligence and so on. This reflects the superficial values of our society and the way people want to take the place of God.
Our response to these things should be to pray against them and oppose what is against God's revealed will. We can pray for people who live this way, that they would turn from their sin to Jesus.
We should do this rejoicing in the certain hope of spending eternity with God, determined that we should persevere in our relationship with God and overcome the fallen world and all it stands for.
James Packer, Your Father Loves You, Harold Shaw Publishers, 1986 "We cannot visualize heaven's life and the wise man will not try to do so. Instead he will dwell on the doctrine of heaven, where the redeemed will find all their heart's desire: joy with their Lord, joy with his people, and joy in the ending of all frustration and distress and in the supply of all wants. What was said to the child -- "If you want sweets and hamsters in heaven, they'll be there" -- was not an evasion but a witness to the truth that in heaven no felt needs or longings go unsatisfied. What our wants will actually be, however, we hardly know, except the first and foremost: we shall want to be "always...with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:17).
What shall we do in heaven? Not lounge around but worship, work, think, and communicate, enjoying activity, beauty, people, and God. First and foremost, however, we shall see and love Jesus, our Saviour, Master, and Friend."