Intro:1 Death. It’s a terrible thing. It’s ugly and gross. It’s smelly and mysterious. And in our culture, it’s often too much for most of us. Not many of us have ever had to stare death in the face, and if you have, then it has impacted you in an unforgettable way. We don’t know what to do with death. But what we do know, is that it’s not something we want to be around much, so we make it more manageable by prettying it up at funerals, making gravesides beautiful, or just don’t go to these places at all, which aren’t bad things to do.
Either way, we all have death in common. We will all die (minus those humans who will be alive when Jesus returns & a few others). Death is unavoidable unlike taxes. Do you fear death? Do you know what will happen to you when you die? Do you even think about death, or do you just tuck that thought far away and pretend that if you just don’t think about, then everything will be okay. Well, we need not live in fear of death, nor with the need to make it seem less ugly than it is, because Christian doctrine teaches us that death is only like sleeping, for we have a hope that supersedes death. We have a living hope to look forward to (Rom. 5:2; 8:20-25; 1 Cor. 9:10; 2 Cor. 1:10; Gal. 5:5; Eph. 1:12; Col. 1:5; 1 Thess. 4:13; 1 Tim. 4:10; Titus 1:2; 2:13; 3:7; Heb. 3:6; 6:11; 6:19; 1 Pet. 1:3; 1:13; 1:21)
Most Americans have their own version of their own story of the universe and how things are going to go down. There’s no rhyme or reason why they believe what they believe other than it’s what they “want” to be true, but even my kids know that what they “want” to be true vs. what is “really” true are worlds apart sometimes. We must live in light of universal truth, and stop making up our own truths. We must stop devising personal versions of our way to “Utopia”, telling people that whatever they believe, as long as they are good, they will be fine. This is too big of a truth to decide for ourselves. So we must insert ourselves into God’s story and not try to have Him be inserted in your story, but let me tell you why this story that I’m about to share with you is so hard to hear and receive as universal truth, hindrances if you will:
In our culture, it often seems that most people believe that either: everything is relative (I can decide what truth is and isn’t); individualistic that drives our culture whereas this story is utterly cosmic in scope and communal ion nature, spirituality (we see ourselves so disconnected from this story of the physical world, and us Christians are the worst at this in thinking that the earth is a holding tank for us until Jesus comes back and takes us to his celestial beaches where we can sip on margarita’s sitting in beach chairs for the rest of our lives); dualistic (flesh is bad but spirit is good or spirit is scary and flesh is all we know or believe in); our faith is private while God’s story is thoroughly public and belief in the true story demands you that go public with it as well and we don’t like that… there’s just a few reasons why this story is so hard for many of us to receive and believe.
But we must delve into this story because in it, we learn about the solution of the state that we are in in this world; this war torn world, filled with suffering, death, destruction, fear and abuses that make us vomit; this world where the holocaust happened, along with many other grotesque historical memories of genocide; this world where babies die, murderers roam free, humans are abused and used for all different kinds of gratification. Because of all this we all wonder and question the goodness of God and think, “How could He sit back and let this happen?” Well, the good news is that He’s not sitting back, nor has He, but we will have to wait before I give you the reason why God isn’t sitting back. For now, let’s recap the story…
I. An Overview of Where We’ve Been:
Creation: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. It was perfect. The way things should be, which is where we get the Hebrew word “shalom”. God declared that all that He made was “good” or “very good”. Shalom reigned uninhibited!
Fall: Then we ruined it (rebellion, kicked out of garden, broken relationship with God). We were deceived into thinking that we’d be better off defining for ourselves what our purpose in life ought to be. But sadly, we didn’t know that by making that choice, we were pulling an imaginary lever that turned God’s shalomic Eden into our perfect hell. At that point, a couple things happened: 1) God sealed off our evil so that it couldn’t have it’s fully devastating impact, which will be removed in the end for those who choose hell. 2) He gave us a promise, that one day He would reverse all the damage we’ve done (Genesis 3:15). Essentially, God said, “This mess is all your fault, but I’ll take responsibility to make these things right. I’m taking you under my wing and making you guys my personal project of redemption.” Shalom was terribly broken!
Redemption: And then we have the fulfillment of the prophecy that God set in place in Gen. 3:15. Jesus, the God-man, came to redeem man from the mess he made by displacing his condition of sin, and restoring his broken relationship with God. Jesus gets what we deserve, so we could get what He deserves. The beautiful exchange! Shalom was unimaginably restored and began taking root in humans!
Re-creation: But redemption in this story is much more cosmic in scope than what we are often quick to believe. There is immeasurably more that God has planned for us which means the death and resurrection of Jesus is much greater than we ever imagined; the complete restoration of shalom; the way things should be (Eph. 2:7; Col. 1:19-20). Every nook and cranny that has been marred by sin will be renewed, remade. God has a greater plan than we could ever imagine. (1 Cor. 2:9) His kingdom is coming and so is His king! The resurrection ensures this and restored shalom!
II. The Nature of Our Hope: What does a glimpse of restored shalom look like?
Read Isaiah 65:17-20a: “The former things shall not remembered or come into mind”. Dream with me here. Cancer, what was that? What’s that word mean? Terrorism…Huh? Abuse, fear, anxiety, pain, tears, rejection, betrayal….We are going to have a whole new mind and vocab! (spend a little time to unpack this passage before we turn to Rev. 21)
To see a further understanding we need to turn back to our passage we started with today and learn a few things that are important for us to know right now. Read Rev. 21:1-3: new heaven and new earth (v. 1) (The word “new” here is kainós in Gk. meaning “new”, but derived from (or made from) something already existing; as compared to néos meaning “new” to existence, new idea, etc.)
The word “coming down out of heaven” in v. 2 is the key of the nature of our hope. Jesus is the first installment of this… heaven coming down to earth, a new earth, or we could say a renewed earth much like our renewed bodies. This is a picture of not only our souls being redeemed, but our bodies and the very earth we walk on today. In heaven, we will eat, hug, sing, kiss, and walk (not hover, although I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to fly) on the new earth (think Jesus’ new body w/ disciples).
v. 3: And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. The relationship with God is healed! Shalom has been restored. He will DWELL WITH US, and we will be His people. This is a picture of the re-creation of God’s creation on a new earth, with shalom, the way things should be!
If you look at the Jewish OT hope, it was not for a rapture of believers who will float away on a cloud and play a harp and wearing a loincloth diaper, while everything else is burned up. Restoration isn’t burning the whole earth and starting over. Scripture is very clear about making “all things new” and God restores things to shalom.
Consider what many theologians have been affirming from Scripture for years:
Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, The Drama of Scripture, 212: “…when God set out to deal with sin and it’s ruinous consequences his plan was to destroy the enemy of His good creation, not to destroy creation itself.”
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1160: “It is difficult to think that God would entirely annihilate His original creation, thereby seeming to give the devil the last word and scrapping the creation that was originally “very good”.
N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, 19: “God made heaven and earth; at the last He will remake both and join them together forever…(in Rev. 21-22) we find not ransomed souls making their way to a disembodied heaven, but rather the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth, uniting the two in a lasting embrace.”
Tim Chester, From Creation to New Creation, 1745-47 (kindle location): “The book of Revelation closes with a vision of a restored Eden, with a tree of life fed by the water that flows from the throne of the Lamb. “The leaves of the tree,” we discover, “are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22 v 2).”
Creation came from God, it belongs to God, and it will one day be restored by God in his Kingdom, in an Edenic like state. To be clear: This will devastate some of you, but heaven is not where believers will spend eternity. When Christians die, their spirit goes to heaven to be with Jesus, but when He returns on that last day, we (who have died previously) will come with Him to dwell and reign with Him on the new earth and heaven. Heaven will come to earth!
But the nature of our hope doesn’t stop there. Look at v. 4: He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” which is in line with: Is. 65:17b: the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.
III. Our Need For This Hope: (Why is this for everyone and not just some people?)
John gave the book of Revelation to the early church in the first century while Christians were being eaten by beast. They were singing hymns of the new heaven and new earth and it was their hope to face death with joy! It sustained them! It was their living hope! It was how the church grew over the years, by the blood of the martyrs. They knew something about their future hope in Christ that was real to them…
It may not be politically correct or acceptable to say this in our culture, but the truth of Christianity is that our lives are shaped by this reality of resurrection and new life on the new earth with God. It is so shaped by it that there’s no way around this discussion:
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36) // And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, (Heb 9:27) // 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Rev. 20:14-15)
Without this hope, then we just eat, laugh, sleep, fight, struggle and then die, apart from God. Remember the garden, the rebellion, the tree of life being guarded and Adam and Eve being thrown out of their shalomic home? Our relationship with God is broken and needs mending… this is precisely what Christ came to do. Rejecting Christ means rejecting shalom. Jesus is the only means by which shalom can be restored for us.
IV. The Missional Dimension of Our Hope: Before we get to the “How do we get this hope?”, let’s cover “How this hope drives everything that we do as Christians?”
When Jesus came He said the Kingdom of God is at hand which basically means, “Good news, the King is here and so is peace!” Think of the implications of the Kingdom of God being at hand: shalom, new life, goodness, beauty, redemption, reconciliation, etc… And then after this announcement, Jesus proceeded to move towards the cross and pay for (literally, take on himself) our sins so that God’s Kingdom could be realized in our lives.
But Jesus was not only satisfying the payment for sin… He was at that moment preparing a place for us (a new type of heaven). As well, Jesus began creating a new people who will be mediators of God’s redeeming power for other people, cultures, and creation itself. He’s building an army, not just laying out a plan of salvation.
“Atonement, redemption and salvation are what happen on the way (of God launching His kingdom, the cross) because engaging in this work demands that people themselves be rescued from the powers that enslave the world in order that they can in turn be rescuers.” N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, 204.
We are redeemed not just to receive what God has for us (although we desire what He has for us), but so that others may as well be delivered from the clutches of Satan, sin and death. We, having been called into God’s kingdom, are now summoned to advance this public truth about God’s kingdom (Matt. 11:12), and partake with Him in the gathering of His church (present and eternal). Let me unpack this thought a little further:
1 Cor. 15:58: Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
Paul’s “therefore” came on the heels of talking about the resurrection of Jesus, the resurrection of the dead, the resurrection of the body, and the great mystery of our work not being in vain. If our work is not in vain, then it is actually accomplishing something for God’s kingdom and glory.
God is using His army of redeemed people, not only to display His kingdom, but also to create and build the NH and the NE through every righteous deed done in the name of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, this is not our doing because we have died in Christ and live by the power of the Holy Spirit.
He’s been working on heaven for over 2000 years through redeemed lives here on earth (us!), sowing seeds of righteousness that will produce a thousandfold return! Oh how this changes our view of “mission”. Every act of love, gratitude and kindness done in the name of Jesus is us partnering with God in storing up treasures in heaven that will never pass away and will be for all of the redeemed to enjoy!! This is our mission!
So until the day that Rev. 21-22 speaks of is here, we will joyfully labor for His Kingdom’s sake, so that Gods’ will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. We are planting kingdom signposts, displaying the beauty, the relationships, the freedom, the love, the humility, the shalom, and the grace of God’s good and coming kingdom. What does this look like?: Announce. Demonstrate. Embody. Include the poor & marginalized. Pray. Suffer. Gather community. God’s kingdom comes the Spirit moves in response to prayer!
V. Receiving this Hope: “How is it that we can live in and receive this hope?”
Here’s how we get this hope. We have to understand and believe in the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which will make us slaves to Jesus, the King. When we read the account of the woman at the well, we read about Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman and He begins to explain to her the way to life with an analogy of drinking water from a well. But He also refers to this analogy elsewhere. Let’s look at it briefly and see how they help us make sense of this:
John 4:13-14: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Jesus also refers to this water in John 7:37-38: On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ”
Then, Jesus, at the end of the book of John, just before He breathes his last breath on the cross, says, “I thirst.” (John 19:28). Was Jesus really thirsty in the way that you and I get thirsty, or was he experiencing a different kind of thirst? A cosmic kind of thirst, a hopelessness type of thirst? I think it was a cosmic type of thirst.
On the cross, Jesus lost everything that He had, because He took all the punishment that we deserved for our sin. He experienced the cosmic hopelessness that you and I deserve, so that we can have the hope of drinking the living water, that He gave up at this moment, for you and I. He got the cosmic thirst that we deserve, so we could have the river of life. And when we understand that He did that for us, that’s the first and most foundational step in receiving this hope that is birthed at the cross. Our hope is that all our deepest desires would be fulfilled in the NHNE from the Living Water that will be flowing from the tree of life and the throne of God. (Rev. 22:1-3).
But Jesus didn’t just die, He was raised from the dead. In Rev. 21:5 it says: And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” He’s making all things new because Jesus was made new. Jesus is the first fruits; the first installment of many more installments to follow (you and I and all those around you who are already called by God but not yet worshiping Him will be made new with creation).
If you receive this good news and become a slave to King Jesus, then whatever suffering you face in this life, if you face it with this hope, only two things can happen now. Are you ready for this: it’ll either make you better or it’ll kill you, then you’ll really be made better.
Your faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus is your assurance of being made new like Jesus was, along with sharing in the renewed creation. How one responds to Jesus is the difference between those who are redeemed and those who aren’t!
For those who reject Jesus today, and are screaming “Renewal and justice!”… are actually spreading destruction with their lives. But, as the Bible closes in Revelation 22, the Spirit of God and the Church (God’s army) says, “Come!” (v. 17) as an invitation for all who want to receive God’s free and saving gift, even those enemies of his today.
So I’m going to bring this all full circle this morning: The new creation that is promised at the return of Christ, when God dwells with man and reunites heaven and earth, means today that your life is made for more than you ever dreamt of. Today!
It means your life today was meant to blossom. To be fruitful. To be faithful. To be full of hope. To be beautiful. To be free. To be just. To be restored in your relationships. To be healed in more ways than you can imagine. To be connected to Christ. These are all signposts of the kingdom of God that you will display if indeed you become a slave. You must be yoked to the King. You must surrender. You must acknowledge that this life isn’t about you, but God and His kingdom, and His plan of renewal and resurrection.
You may be saying, “No way! I wont be that kind of slave. That’s abusive. That’s absurd. That’s not freedom that you speak of!” But that’s only what the majority of our culture is saying. The reality is you are already a slave but a slave to things that won’t produce those Kingdom sign posts, but more emptiness, not to mention the majority usually have it wrong historically in every culture. Don’t listen to the majority…listen to Jesus!
Think about olympic athletes for a moment. They are yoked to training. Slaves to their schedule to be world champs for a moment. Slaves for years, to have beauty and glory for a moment. All those signposts for a moment. If they were not enslaved to training, then they would never receive the joy and glory of winning. But if they do, joy comes!
But the joy of the yoke of slavery to King Jesus works out to be eternal glory, eternal beauty, eternal freedom, eternal healing. Olympic athletes walk out on to the streets of London after being hailed as the king in their sport and instantly get absorbed into the thousands of people who are sharing the same streets with them…they’re nobody’s!
A moment ago they were applauded among thousands. The next they were just another person among millions. That is not so in God’s Kingdom with His economy. That is not so with those who are slaves to King Jesus. We want this for you this morning. Do not leave here today without responding to God’s free offer to you to “Come!”. Just as you are, no need to try and make things right first. You can’t, so Jesus did. Trust Him this morning and allow Him to make you new!
Revelation 22:17: The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.