All around us are constant reminders that our world needs renewal. Terrorist attacks, security concerns, civil war, the refugee crisis, and a political process gone haywire. Our own lives are far from perfect either. Sickness is a reminder that the world is not as it should be. I picked up a tropical fever on a recent trip to India and Nepal. It’s pronounced deng-ee fever (Dengue Fever), but my wife and I call it the Dang Fever. My wife has been recovering from surgery and that has been a long process. My compassion for the sick and suffering has soared in recent weeks! Physical suffering is only a small part of the pain we feel though. There is all the broken stuff in our lives too. Discouragement, depression, and disappointment. The hurting of family and friends. The reminders of grief and mourning.
The hurt and suffering and brokenness of this world is why Easter is such a powerful day for the Christian community. On Easter Sunday, we celebrate the promise that someday our God will make all things new! There is hope for our future, and there is hope for our lives right now!
The text for this sermon is found in the last book of the Bible toward the very end. One of the Lord’s apostles, John, had a vision of the future and wrote down as best he could what he witnessed. In Revelation 21, he describes something new.
Revelation 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.
That language “new heaven and new earth” is not accident. It’s reminiscent of how the whole biblical story began, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). In fact, the Greek translations of Scripture that the early church used had Revelation 21:1 and Genesis 1:1 as identical except for the word “new” in Revelation. This is the “book end.” Only it’s not an end at all. It is a new beginning.
Someday the entire world will be made new
God has not given up on his dream of this world being the beautiful place he always hoped it would be. Someday he will make this world new! In the meantime, we are in the mess we’re in because we have tried to do things our own way. That’s the story of the world from Adam and Eve to today. God gave Adam and Eve a few rules, not to keep them from having fun but for their good, and they decided they knew best. From there, the world turned into a Jerry Springer show (as one theologian put it).
The problem is that we are like kids who think our Father gets up every morning looking for ways to make us miserable. But God’s rules aren’t meant to limit us; they’re meant to ensure we have fun without getting hurt. Think of the rules for a rollercoaster. You follow those rules to stay safe while having a good time. God has given us truth for our good. We misunderstand this at considerable risk, as Dallas Willard explains in The Allure of Gentleness: "Truth reveals reality, and reality can be described as what we humans run into when we are wrong, a collision in which we always lose. Being mistaken about life, the things of God, and the human soul is a deadly serious matter."
We are running up against reality trying to do life our way. That’s why the world is so messed up. And yet God is on a mission to rescue and renew what he started. He started small with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, eventually creating a community of people and giving them prophets, poets, and proverbs to show them how to live. But they struggled. God lets them learn what he already knows: they cannot save themselves. So he sends a hero whose name is Jesus (which means Savior) Christ (which means “anointed one”). He died in our place for our sins, not only to forgive us but also to be raised to life again and reverse the curse of death.
“Death reveals that the world is not as it should be but that it stands in need of redemption. Christ alone is the conquering of death.”
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
While we wait for the renewal of all things, Gad has called us, the church, to get the word out to as many people as we can. God so loved the world he sent his son for us so that we might be forgiven and have everlasting life.
No More Sea?
The concept of doing away with the sea has puzzled biblical commentators because elsewhere the new world is described as including rivers and bodies of water with large sailing ships. It's clear that there will be water (and beaches, which makes my wife happy). But ancient peoples knew the sea as a place of danger and death. Modern seafaring is relatively safe so its hard for us to relate, but if you’ve ever been on a small boat during high winds, you can imagine what it must have been like to fling your future, your livelihood, and/or your family to the mercy of the winds and waves. Sons and fathers could be lost and fortunes could be too. The seas were necessary to livelihood, but they were a terrifying necessity.
Now let us get our theology straight here. Often I hear people talk of the future as some otherworldly existence, some place in the clouds where we will pluck harps with chubby cherubs. I don’t know about you, but that just doesn’t sound fun to me. But here we are told that God’s plan is actually the restoration of all creation.
“On the new earth we may experience adventures that make our current mountain climbs, surfing, skydiving, and upside-down roller coaster rides seem tame. Why do I say this? It’s more than wishful thinking. It’s an argument for design. We take pleasure in exhilarating experiences not because of sin but because God wired us this way.”
- Randy Alcorn, Heaven
God’s restoration of this world will not be the end of adventure but rather the beginning! If you think this world is fascinating and beautiful, wait until you see what God has planned for us in the future. Everything will be renewed, even those things that we fear or which have been broken.
It is best then to understand John as saying that the sea will be transformed into something people no longer need to fear. It will be for our enjoyment just like everything else.
Revelation 21:2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
I love beautiful cities! I love Valparaiso. I love Chicago. When I travel to see our global partners or to speak or teach somewhere, I always try to go through a city I haven’t visited yet. I love the history of new places, and I’m always excited to see some of God’s beauty. In this verse, John describes the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down from heaven and being settled into place on this earth. (The wedding language welcomes us to anticipate what is to come!) It is beyond our imagination, this city, but it’s worth thinking about anyway just to look forward to the wonder and majesty of such a place. We humans have come up with and created some pretty amazing things: towering skyscrapers, ornate cathedrals, complex machines, gargantuan cruise ships. The new Jerusalem, the City of Peace, will surpass them all. And that’s something to look forward to!
But…what about right now? Sure the future for Christians is looking awesome, but we have to livehere now. And that too is covered in God’s plan. Restoration begins with salvation because Jesus came to bring us life more abundantly (John 10:10)! That abundance starts now and lasts forever.
I don’t have to tell you that life in this world is not easy, but I can tell you that following Christ in this world is the most joy-filled, satisfying way to live. And I don’t say that lightly. I have been affected deeply by the pain of this world and afflicted by personal suffering. As a pastor, I help carry the burdens of others. It’s because of this that I can say with certainty that Christ is the only way to live. I didn’t say it was always easy, but neither is climbing Mount Everest. And yet climbers scale the mountain to experience how awesome it is!
The Oxford thinker, C. S. Lewis, encourages looking ahead and living in the now in Mere Christianity.
“Hope is one of the theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.”
- C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
He anticipates the silly argument that looking forward to the world to come means that we will become so heavenly minded we are of no earthly good. Which makes about as much sense as saying that a couple focused on their wedding day can’t be of much use during all the days between now and then. In fact, days are brighter and hope more real because of anticipation and hope. Scripture and Christian history teaches us that living with the great hope of future restoration inspires us to live with all of our might right now, seeking to do all the good we can.
Someday the God-man will live on this earth with us
Revelation 21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
This may not sound like such a great thing if you have wrong views of God. And many of you do! You think God is on a mission to make life miserable for you when, in fact, all that he tell us TO do and NOT to do is intended for our joy. God has revealed truth to us because he is all in for our joy! He created pleasure, fun, and laughter. When he comes to this earth, his presence will mean complete joy and happiness and pleasure in the great City of Peace, on the new earth, and everywhere under the new heavens. He will be our ours and we will be his.
Someday God will make everything new!
Revelation 21:4-5 ‘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.” 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.”
God is going to make the heavens new (imagine gazing up at a universe made new), and make the earth new (I can’t wait to explore and go hiking in the new world), and bring a new city to this earth that will be more beautiful than anything you have ever seen. He is going to do all of that and make our life new as well. The old order of things in which there are so many causes for pain and tears will pass away. There will be no more death. Christ’s resurrection was God’s declaration that we could and would make all things new—bodies, souls, creation, the human experience.
“The resurrection of the body…declares that God will make good and bring to perfection the human project he began in the Garden of Eden.”
- Timothy George, Heavenly Bodies
It’s not very Easter-like to mention what happens to those who reject Christ, but the passages that surround today’s text in Revelation 21 pull no punches on this point. Not everyone will be part of God’s kingdom. Those who reject Jesus won’t be because God does not want a repeat of this world. He will deal firmly with those who would come in and destroy the peace.
Revelation 21:6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.
The future is so sure that Jesus Christ can say, “It is done.” It’s like asking a trusted friend for a favor and hearing him says, “Consider it done.” Jesus started this world and he will see it come to its end by remaking it. A new beginning. And everyone who is thirsty for this new life will be given it. Drink deeply and find renewal while you wait for the day when all things will be made new.