Every new year brings with it some measure of hope for a better future. We all find ourselves feeling trapped in bad patterns and seemingly dead end pursuits. As the calendar moves from the old year to the next, we regroup, fresh from a brief holiday rest, and try to mark out better ways of living. Just look at all the fitness products at the front of stores! It’s bitter cold now, but the spring is coming, and after that the summer’s heat. The cadence of the seasons reminds us that all of history marches toward its divinely-ordained goal.
Sometimes the weight of current burdens and the fear of looming threats sap our strength and take away our courage to carry on. You may feel you are there this morning.
Like the hobbit Frodo, in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of Rings, who has the heavy task of taking a ring of unearthly power back to the dark land of Mordor, where it is to be destroyed in the fire. The ring not only empowers its wearer, but enslaves him and opens his life up to the evil eye of Sauron, who rules Mordor and seeks the ring so that He can bring all the earth under His power. The further Frodo and his friend Sam travel toward the destination, the more dangerous and difficult bearing the ring becomes.
Toward the end of the second book in the trilogy, Frodo says: “I can't do this, Sam.”
Sam replies, “I know. It’s all wrong. By rights, we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really matter. Full of darkness and danger they are. And sometimes you don't even want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened? But in the end it's only a passing thing, a passing shadow. Even the darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those are the stories that stayed with you, that meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folks in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding onto something.”
“What are we holding onto, Sam?”
“That there's some good in this world, and it's worth fighting for.”
From The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
“Even the darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.”
Tolkien is writing fantasy, but he taps into the essence of human hope, the sense that something far better is coming, if we can just make it through the present darkness.
This morning I want us to fix our hearts not on fantasy or wishful thinking, but on certainty, that a new day is coming when the darkness will be utterly past. And for that reason we have every reason to “be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord forasmuch as we know our labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58). The apostle John writes about it here in Revelation 21:1-8 with words that echo promises in Isaiah 65 and 66.
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 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. 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.”
5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And 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 from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
All Things New
· Perfect Habitation (Revelation 21:1-4)
· Sovereign Confirmation (Revelation 21:5-6a)
· Gracious Invitation (Revelation 21:6b-7)
· Righteous Condemnation (Revelation 21:8)
I. Perfect Habitation (Revelation 21:1-4)
Consider first that this new day involves a perfect habitation. We often refer to the American dream—the dream of home ownership, the security of having something that belongs to you. The reality is that this world can't ultimately satisfy this dream of having a secure home. There is a hunger for something that is more than this. No place here can be our home. The trials, difficulties, disappointments and the ebb and flow of life teach us that this is not a steady place, not a permanent home. We are foreigners here. We live by customs that do not fit--the customs of heaven. We are Pilgrims here. Our names are in the registry of heaven and we find ourselves passing through this land of sorrow and of death. In fact, even Moses would say in Psalm 90: God is our dwelling place throughout all generations.
This perfect habitation requires a new heaven—no more threatening storms and ominous omens, hail, lightning bolts. It is no longer infested by the prince of the power of the air. It is a new heaven, absolutely perfect.
A new earth—no more earthquakes and floods, forest fires, thorns and thistles, venomous snakes and vicious beasts, no more law of club and fang, no more tearing the soil with hooks and blades to force it to yield fruit by the sweat of our brow. There will be no more cities of death in myriad churchyards, grave covered hills, tombs hewn into caves, markers of death along every highway. A new earth that has no sea, which now covers ¾ of the earth’s surface, mysterious, menacing, separating (John wrote when exiled on the island of Patmos) him from everyone and everything he loved, powerful, unstable. There will be some kind of water but it will be remade in a way that earth will not be so threatened by the sea.
There will be a new city of Jerusalem—an actual city, the largest city ever—1500 miles cubed (Revelation 21:16). It is described in chapter 22, beautiful beyond imagination. It is not like the old Jerusalem (in ruins for 25 years when John wrote), and full of sin and strife. The fact is, wherever there are cities, there you find collected not just the best of man’s efforts but the worst of his sins. This is, by contrast, the holy city, prepared as a bride adorned (cosmetics) for her husband (not just the structure, but also the people who are to live in it).
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.
Here is the reason this is all possible and that it is so beautiful. Streets of gold and gates of pearl mean nothing if God is not there. The greatest human experience is to feel the presence of God and to feel the surging power of His Spirit. To know that you are guilt-free and have communion with your Creator. On earth there is no greater thrill than that. In this city that will be what makes life so beautiful--no distance between God and man. They are together at last in perfect harmony and security. God is dwelling with them. John uses a term which means to tabernacle, tent; the shekinah glory (dwelling place glory); Jesus dwelt—pitched his tent—among us. We closely observed this is God in the flesh. All those who are part of this city will know God in that way. Walk into any church and if God is not there it is an empty place--full of form and ceremony, but has no power. Walk among any people of God where Jesus dwells and there you have joy, power, truth and love that pervades. This city is pervaded by the character of God. It is paradise regained forever.
John further describes that with no sin to mar the fellowship:
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.”
This new existence is so unlike what we know now that it must be described in terms of what is not there.
No tears—compassion for every individual and every tear a person sheds on account of any and every sorrow or pain; for any of the thousand of reasons we shed tears in this life—sins, calamities, frustrations, sufferings
No death—death itself cast into the lake of fire (chapter 20); despite the hundreds of thousands of medical professionals, we cannot stop the inevitable victory of death
No bereavement—because no one dies anymore, no more parting, no more wasting away, no more sudden death
No crying—the outcry of grief, anxiety, shout of war or anger
No pain—physical, emotional, or spiritual; there is hardly a day that passes that we don’t feel some kind of pain, some of it deep down like a bleeding river that you cannot stop
Former things are passed away. The original, fallen existence is gone forever. Jesus took our sin and our sorrow and banished them forever. He bore our diseases and our pain away. He died our death and killed it.
If you doubt He has the power or the will to do such a thing, look at what He did even during His humiliation on earth. Every disease, demons, storms, and death had to yield to His power. It is a new habitation.
Where are you looking to find a secure home? Where do you seek your security? Here? Then you will be disappointed. This is not home. You are traveling through the wilderness of this world. Your sense of security comes from the fact that God is with you till the end of the age. Your home is with God in the new heaven and new earth. That's where you set your bearings. That helps you direct your step and know what path you should take today. Our secure home does not exist apart from God. The way, the truth, the life--Jesus Christ, is the only way to Him. What is your relationship to Jesus Christ? That will tell the story of whether this perfect habitation is yours, and if it is yours, live in light of it. Don't live for short-term goals.
II. Sovereign Confirmation (Revelation 21:5-6a)
5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
He is seated on the throne of the universe—He rules over all. He has the power and authority to make it happen. There are so many promises that we make and we have neither. We have hopes, wishes, intentions, plans and so often what we most want we can't reach. He has the authority and power to make it happen.
He uses the word "behold"—look, attention, this is actually happening. He is not talking poetry or using metaphor. This is real history. He wants John to see what is coming. This will happen just as sure as this day has happened. I am making all things new—a task only God can do.
He says Write this down—put it on record. This is not just for you, John, it’s for all who will read it in the future, it’s for the members of Hampton Park Baptist Church. This is the Word of God to you. This is trustworthy and true, it will not deviate. Then He says: It is done—it has come to pass, it has happened. When God makes promises, they are so sure that he speaks of them as already done. He says I am the Alpha and Omega—first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. It is another way of saying I am the beginning and the end. God cannot die. There is many a task we begin and never finish. With God the task will not be left incomplete.
There is no history outside of God. If you have His guarantee, you have all you need. He has signed on it--all things new. These things are so wonderful that they seem like fantasy. That is why God keeps underscoring that these things will happen. This is what the Bible is all about. This is the Good News. Isn't it obvious there is not one of us here who could deserve this kind of habitation or sovereign guarantee?
III. Gracious Invitation (Revelation 21:6b-7)
To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.
This reminds me of the Appalachian song:
Let not conscience make you linger
Nor of fitness fondly dream.
All the fitness he requireth
Is to feel your need of him.
Do you thirst for the water of life in this dry land of death? Are you tired of the sinning, of the pain, of the dying, of the promises never fulfilled? That's all He requires. You cannot buy it. It is springing up in an endless supply. It is yours if you want it, but only if you want it. Jesus offers it to you freely, but you must thirst for it enough to take it. If your thirst can be quenched with hordes of money, then this cannot be yours. If your thirst can be quenched with attainments in this life, this cannot be yours. But if your thirst is for something deeper, greater, longer, and perfect, Jesus says whoever thirsts, I will give.
Over the centuries God has extended His gracious invitation.
Isaiah 55:1 Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!
Matthew 5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
John 4:14 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.
John 7:37-39a 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. Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive.
This day you can come and drink to the fill of everlasting life found in Jesus alone.
In verse 7 He describes those who will enjoy this heritage another way:
7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.
This is the closing promise of each letter from Jesus to the seven churches of Asia. Trouble, affliction, persecution, disappointment have turned many people aside. He says do not be shaken. Hold fast. Once you have Jesus, never let go. Will you fight to persevere, leaning on the strength of the Lord and His promises? Are you determined to hang on to your faith in Him? Your faith is what overcomes the world for the sake of an eternal inheritance which is yours if you thirst.
He is their God; they are His sons. They have His nature. His divine life is in them, making them like Him. Peter says: You have become partakers of the divine nature—born again. That starts now and guarantees the future inheritance.
What do you thirst for? What do you count worth fighting for?
IV. Righteous Condemnation (Revelation 21:8)
8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.
Cowardly- those afraid to hold on to Jesus for fear of the cost
Faithless—those who will not trust in Him
Detestable—those polluted by submerging themselves into the corrupt vices common in the pagan world and in our age in love with self-indulgence and self-expression
Murderers—the action that hatred, the opposite of love, produces
Sexually immoral—lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God; taking a beautiful gift God gave to marriage and spoiling it by pursuing it beyond the sacred boundaries God has set.
Sorcerers—seeking power on the dark side of Satan
Idolaters—worshiping something or someone besides God
All liars—refusing the truth, living a lie
These are the qualities of the devil and are natural to fallen human beings. These are qualities that are natural to us apart from Jesus. Here is their inheritance—their everlasting portion—the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, where Satan and his demons are cast, where the beast and false prophet end up, the smoke of their torment going up forever, where all those whose names are not in the lamb’s book of life are consigned—the second death.
This is what we all deserve. This is where we all end up, but for the God who makes all things new through Jesus. Not just a new heaven, a new earth, a new city, but a new you, born again by the power of the Spirit through the sacrifice of His Son.
We have crossed over into a new year. We are one step closer to this glorious future. We live in light of it. We believe that the darkness will pass and when it does that the Sun of Righteousness will shine all the clearer. That is what makes living for Jesus this year worth fighting for. The church has a mission to fulfill. “Have done with lesser things.” Don’t quit. Keep going. The new day is coming when God makes all things new.
I'm going to finish by reading from The Jesus Storybook Bible, pages 342-50, the summary of Revelation 1, 5, 21, and 22.
1. In what ways does God’s sure promise to make all things new affect your view of the good times and the bad in this life?
2. How does this passage’s description of the eternal state make you feel about living in such an environment compared to the way people commonly refer to heaven?
3. What does verse 4 tell you about God’s estimate of what is bad about this life? Does God’s view surprise you? Why or why not?
4. The way God describes those to whom He gives the water of life and the heritage of sons tells you what about those who turn away?
5. Would you describe the sins mentioned in verse 8 as common or not? How does the gospel change people in these areas?
Pastor Drew Conley
Hampton Park Baptist Church
January 5, 2014