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A Thing of Science Fiction: A New Heaven and Earth? April 24, 2016

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Revelation 21:1-7

Fifth Sunday after Easter

April 24th, 2016

 

Focus:  God is making all things new.

Function:  That the hearers trust in the Word of Christ given for them.

Structure:  Walking through the Text.

 

A Thing of Science Fiction: A New Heaven and Earth?

 

This is one of my favorite texts in all of Scripture.  And I’m so excited to have the opportunity to share it with you, to preach on this section of Revelation.  It holds glorious words of promise, what Christ has done for you, but also what Christ is still doing for you.  And, it lets me show my inner nerd self, and talk about science fiction, but, for real.  Like, actually happening.

But before we get there, let’s just take a step back and look at where we are.  During the season of Easter, we’re plowing through the book of Revelation.  For six consecutive weeks, this is the epistle focus of the lectionary system.  We started three weekends ago with Revelation chapter one.  Then we hit chapter 5, and last week chapter 7.  But now today, we jump all the way to Revelation chapter 21.  We lose the rest of 21 next week with confirmation, but Pastor Fritsch will wrap up the book two weekends from now with chapter 22.

But that means we skipped a lot.  From chapter 7 to 21.  That’s hopping over two-thirds of the letter.  We just flew by the censors and the trumpets.  We bypassed dragons and demons battling with angels.  We miss out on the epic warfare, that ends much faster than the devil thought it would.  We miss the end of the world.  Literally.  That’s chapter 20.  We’ve skipped past all of the images of what’s going on in the world, in your life, right now.

But that’s not the point of Revelation, to be an A to Z timeline of what happens in history.  Rather, we see the ongoing reality of man intertwined with the kingdom of God, the people who put their hope in the Second Coming of Christ.  That is, God’s victory for us.

1Then 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.

 

Wow!  What a verse!  The former things, the things of this world that we know and sadly that we still cling to, are no more.  Done, passed away.  People often ask if this is symbolism, it’s just prophecy right?  God isn’t actually going to destroy heaven and earth is He?  Why does heaven have to go?  Chapter 20 hints at this really happening.  Verse 11, “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them.”

As we sit before the judgment throne of God, even heaven and earth scatter.  Even they aren’t perfect, they can’t come into His kingdom.  Under the judgment of God, heaven and earth are seen for what they are: broken under us.  Just like we are corrupted by the sin of Adam and Eve, all of the earth is, all of creation is.  Broken.  They were stewards, it was entrusted to them, and they broke it.  We break it.  The heaven and earth of Genesis 1:1 are no longer suitable for the resurrected children of God.

It’s not just Revelation that tells of the new heaven and new earth.  Jesus said it.  Peter said it.  Isaiah in his 65th chapter says, “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.  The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”  This is where we get the imagery of the wolf and the lamb lying down together.  The lion eating straw for a meal.

This is where we can have all kinds of science fictiony fun.  We can explore, we can think, we can imagine.  We’ll probably be wrong, but it’s fun nonetheless.  What happens to the old, and where does the new come from?  Some have argued for terraforming, the recreating of a planet that it might be habitable for new life.  From H.G. Wells and Isaac Asimov, to Star Wars, Firefly, Titan A.E. and Doctor Who, terraforming isn’t a new concept, completely changing the surface and the atmosphere of a planet.  It’s also not just science fiction, as many are studying if we can do just that to the surface of the moon, or even Mars.

If God will cleanse the earth in this sense, or if He’ll completely wipe it out and build a new one, I don’t have the answer, but it’s an incredible promise when you think about what it takes.  But then again, He created the universe in six days.  He can handle it.

The sea has a unique place in this, but we’re going to talk about that in a couple minutes.

In who Jesus is and what He’s done, the end of the world, the judgment, already happened.  The new creation is already.  We won’t see it until the last day, but it’s already real.  John sees the cosmos, including the heavens, angels and demons, and declares they’re passing away.

The concept of time is another fun thing of science fiction.  Time travel, whether forward or back.  Can we manipulate it, can we change it?  Or is history set in stone?  But regardless of all those theories, the simple reality is that God created time.  It is not master over Him, but He is master over it.  This is how Christ telling the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise,” fits.  No matter how literal we take it.  This is how God can look upon us and see Christ, because we’re already judged, judged righteous on account of Christ.  You may not have died, but you’ve already died.  It’s already the last day.  Mind-blowing stuff.  Fun stuff.

2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

 

When asked about going to heaven, I usually redirect, change the language.  Not heaven, Paradise.  A new creation, a new heaven and a new earth.  And Christ promised He was going to prepare a place for us.  This is it.  And whether this new Jerusalem is symbolic or not, we get a new creation to live on.  The only perfect thing we know of is the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve lived pre-sin.  They worked the ground, they cared for the animals.  Everything was bliss.  Paradise isn’t about getting your own cloud or your own planet.

A new heaven and a new earth.  A new Jerusalem.  The best analogy John’s gives for us here is the bride.  God is the foundation, the whole of His creation will be restored to splendor, and the imagery of the bride adorned for her groom on her wedding day is what he gives us.  I don’t really need to lay that image out.  You know it, you see the picture in your mind, your own wedding, your child’s wedding, another you’ve been to recently.  Much effort, care, and time has been put in to make it perfect.  To be presented to the groom as spotless.  That’s this new Jerusalem for us.  Spotless, uncorrupted by sin.  Perfect.  Paradise.

3And 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. 4He 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.”

 

Here God declares His intentions.  Jesus declares His intentions.  God will dwell in the new creation with His people, just like in the Garden.  King among us.  God incarnate with us.  Sharing our lives, sharing our joys.  There truly will be no more pain, no more suffering.  This is the reason why verse 1 said there would be no sea.  When we think of oceans, dread falls on many of us.  Drowning, storms, floods, destruction, devastation.  Noah and the ark.  Water eroding the land.  No more.  Will there be water? Probably.  But it will be a life-giving water, not life-taking.

This is the same thing we see in the chopped off verse.  See our text today ends at verse 7.  The text for next Sunday begins at verse 9.  Let’s spend a moment on verse 8.

8But 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.”

 

You can kind of see why the lectionary didn’t want to end on this verse today.  But it fits.  These things will be destroyed.  In Christ. Christ has overcome it.  And all who believe in Him, will enter into this Paradise where there is no more pain, suffering, or death.  There is no more sin.  And so all of those who seek not to cling to God, but to their own lives on this earth now, will lose it.  Hell, everlasting separation from God, the source of all good things, is the second death.  It is very much real.

5He 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.”

 

All of your suffering, gone.  Jesus Christ has declared it.  In who He is and what He’s done, the end of the world has already come, the judgment has already happened.  And in this Son of God, crucified for you on the cross and raised from the dead on Easter morning for you, you are His.  Sins forgiven.  Robe washed white.  An heir of Paradise.

And while the words of men are corrupt, while our desires are self-serving, while our ideas are nothing but the misleadings of our own hearts, this Word is true.  Write it down John.  These Words are true.  And He goes and roots it not in us or our works, but in Himself.  These words are true because:

6He 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.

 

Jesus quotes the Father.  The Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.  Nothing exists apart from Him.  This new creation, the new heaven, the new earth, the new Jerusalem, the place where God dwells with us, is rooted in Christ.  In His Word.  In what He has done for us, in words that sound like His final cry from the cross, “It is done.”  He has declared it.  These Words are trustworthy and true.

7He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

 

This is the beauty of all of this.  The beauty of the cross and the empty tomb.  The beauty of life and creation.  The beauty of a new heaven and a new earth.  You are conquerors.  Not of your own doing, but of His.  He has done it.  In the life-giving water of baptism, He has declared you an heir of Paradise.  In faith, in Christ’s work done for you, this Paradise is your promised home.  You live here.  And He is not some distant God.  But even better, He is your Father.  He has called you by name, adopted you as His child into His kingdom, His Paradise.  Amen.

 

 

Tribulation and a Future April 17, 2016

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Revelation 7:1-17

Fourth Sunday of Easter

April 17, 2016

 

Focus:  God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

Function:  That the hearers rejoice in the promises of God.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

Tribulation and a Future

 

For the past two weeks we’ve opened up our Bibles and turned to Revelation.  We’re doing so again today.  So go ahead and open your Bible to Revelation 7.  Chapters 4-7 form one vision, one prophetic piece, and should really be considered as a whole, so do forgive me as we break this down.  While Pastor Fritsch covered chapters 4 and 5 last week, there’s simply no way to talk about all of chapter 6 and 7 in a 10 or 15 minute sermon.

We’ve got good stuff throughout these chapters, no doubt.  We have the seven seals to be opened.  The seals are a parallel.  One of three.  John records three visions, back to back to back, that all mean the same thing.  They’re the same, they reinforce each other.  The seals are the first, followed by the trumpets and then the censors.  And from the broken seals we see the four horsemen of the apocalypse, which in pop culture have been described in comic books and songs, but to no avail.  These are altogether different.

We also have the martyrs crying out from under the throne, the sky falling to the earth, the sealing of the 144,000 saints, the multitude of the people of God dressed in robes of white, and last of all, the lamb.  Each of these things is a Bible study in itself.  And a good one.  And since we can’t do that justice here this morning, we’ve thrown a link up on our website to Pastor Fritsch’s Bible class from last weekend, half of which he spent talking about chapter six, the seals and the horsemen.  So please do check it out if you weren’t able to be there last week.

I want to give you a framework for looking at chapter seven.  So take my preaching and compare your notes.  See how this unfolds and comes together.  Let’s read the first view verses:

1After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. 2Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: 3“Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”

 

Peer pressure has long been a thing, probably goes back to the Garden of Eden.  Parents ever since have trying to figure out ways to say no.  To say no to the daughter who insists that she “needs” the newest iPhone 7 when it comes out this year.  To the son who “needs” the NX when it launches around Thanksgiving.  Be happy if you have no clue what I’m talking about!  ‘But, we won’t be cool if we don’t have them.  We won’t be happy, we won’t have any friends, nobody will want to spend time with us.’  So they say.

And the parents respond, “If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?”  Well, jump off something, right?  That phrase has been around a long time.  Maybe you heard it, maybe you used it.  I guess my mom used to just tell us to go play in traffic instead.  But you get the picture.  You can do without.  You’ll live, you’ll be fine, you don’t need it.

But it’s not just a problem for our kids.  Look at the world of political correctness, the fight over tolerance, the legal squabbles in our culture.  How much do we desire to fit in?  What do we say, or maybe, what don’t we say, so we can fit in?

The idea of being a part of the crowd appeals to us.  We want to fit in.  We want to be liked.  But this is the tribulation.  The world around us is not in line with the will of God, but the will of Satan.  It should tell you something when a porn website has blocked all IP addresses from the state of North Carolina over their recent legislative bill.

We must resist.  Don’t jump off the bridge.  This is the temptation, guilty by association.  One small step at a time, trying to make yourself part of the popular crowd.

And as Pastor Fritsch warned in Bible class, the challenge isn’t only external.  It comes from within.  The sinful self, the old Adam in our flesh wrestles against the will of God.  The struggle that it is to even come to His gathering on Sunday morning, to receive Word and sacrament, to receive forgiveness.  The struggle that we face to not give in to our own desires, which are only evil.  To water down our faith to make it more appealing, which ironically does just the opposite.

We are filthy, we are caked in the mud and the gore of our own selves and our own flesh.  As I opened my fortune cookie at New Hunan this week, it told me, “You have been focusing too much on yourself lately…”  That’s some fortune when you think about it.  That little piece of paper called me a sinner.  It reminded me of the garbage my surrounding culture tries to sell me candy, but also of my own turning inward, focusing only myself, and yet all the while doing nothing but falling and failing.

Let’s read the rest of our text:

4Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.
5From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed,
from the tribe of Reuben 12,000,
from the tribe of Gad 12,000,
6from the tribe of Asher 12,000,
from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000,
from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000,
7from the tribe of Simeon 12,000,
from the tribe of Levi 12,000,
from the tribe of Issachar 12,000,
8from the tribe of Zebulun 12,000,
from the tribe of Joseph 12,000,
from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000.

9After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.10And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.” 11All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12saying:
“Amen!
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Amen!”
13Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes–who are they, and where did they come from?”
14I answered, “Sir, you know.”
15And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 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 spread his tent over them.
16Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat upon them,
nor any scorching heat.
17For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd;
he will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

 

Don’t skip over that list.  I know, we’re tempted to skip over long genealogies and groups of numbers, but don’t do it.  You’re missing out.  This is gospel.  This is good news right here.  This is the celebration of the church of Christ, His people, His family, His church.  Twelve thousand from each of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Remember the symbolic nature of Revelation.  This is beautiful stuff.  Pastor Fritsch broke down many of these numbers for you last week.  10, as a number of completion.  And it’s involved again today.  The 144,000 people that will be saved breaks down to this: the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve apostles, and 103.  In other words, the church of the Old Testament and the Church of the New Testament, the people of faith before Christ, and the people of faith after Christ.  Twelve and twelve, times completion, times completion, times completion.  The number who will be in Paradise isn’t 144,000, it’s a full and complete number you can’t count to.  Try it today.  Try to count to 144,000 without making a mistake, or harder yet, without getting distracted or losing your place.

Even better, this is talking about you and me.  This is us. That in the waters of holy baptism, God graciously calls you into His family.  He takes your filth-stained, blood-stained, garbage-smelling clothing and washes it in the blood of His own Son.  Christ’s blood, shed for all men upon the cross.  And when that robe comes out of the blood of Jesus, it’s not dirty any more.  It’s a radiant white that even Tide can’t beat.

Your sins are removed.  Purchased from you, not with gold or silver, but with the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Christ has reached out His bloodied, hole-filled hand, to welcome you into the kingdom.  You are His.

And before we forget it, just as we do nothing to earn the kingdom, we do nothing to stay in it.  This is God’s work for us.  That in His Son our robes are continuously clean, no matter how much we muck them up.  That in faith, all of our sins, past, present, and future, are absolved, forgiven.  He has called you by name, you are His.  And He isn’t letting go.

And as though that weren’t good enough, God calls you not only by name, but He calls you into this vision of John.  You see, we are the 144,000.  We are the great multitude from all nations that cannot be counted as we gather around the throne praising God.  Worshipping Him day and night in His temple, where there is no hunger, nor thirst.  No pain nor famine.  But instead there are springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

Jesus, our Lord, our Savior continues to provide for us even in Paradise.  The gift of life that never ends, the gift of joy completed, of joy that knows no bounds.  The gift of the absence, the destruction of pain and death and suffering.

And there’s a beautiful image here, too.  Of God wiping away our tears.  You can picture a husband doing that for his wife just after some tragedy.  You can see mother sitting there with her child, wiping away the tears caused by another child at school.  It’s an image of comfort, of peace, of relationship, love, and care.  Intimacy, that closeness of being a family.  That’s here.  That’s God with us.

This is your future.  Not your home, or your 401(k).  Not your spouse, or your children.  Not your fancy gadgets, or your money.  Nothing you can bring at all.  You are part of God’s family, you are part of the crowd, the multitude of God’s people.  Don’t let these earthly things, these perishing things, take away from the reality of who you are in Christ.  A son of God.  A daughter of the King.  An heir of Paradise.

The tribulation, the struggles of wanting to fit in in this current age are only temporary. They are passing away as we speak.  They last only a little while.  But life with the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, where He indeed will wipe away every tear, that life in the Lamb lasts forever.  Just as we pray, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.  Amen.”