Summary: A lot of our focus is the here and now, because we want to serve Jesus faithfully here and now. But John's picture of our future in Revelation 21 inspires us to keep the faith and fight the good fight, because we know what tomorrow brings!

November 24 Sermon - Revelation 21:1-8 - New Heaven and New Earth

If you’ve been here for the past number of weeks I hope you’ve enjoyed the look we’ve had at the churches of the book of Revelation.

I’ve done a quick rat-a-tat-tat practical overview of the lessons to those churches and to us.

Those churches remain a reminder to us to

1) Church in Ephesus: Keep very close to Jesus, lest you lose your first love and get lost in good works, which cannot save you. Repent of sin quickly and often to keep your relationship with God alive and vital.

2) Church in Smyrna: God remembers you in your affliction and poverty - He knows your secret - you are rich in faith.

When you are doing all the right things, you may still be slandered. Don’t be surprised about that. Suffering is unavoidable.

Keep being faithful to the end and you will receive the victor’s crown.

3) The Church in Pergamum: Stay true to Jesus, no matter the persecution that comes. Keep the main thing the main thing: Jesus Christ and Him crucified and resurrected.

Don’t fall into error in your thinking about God because of the pressures and hounding from your surrounding culture to conform your thinking to theirs. Stay strong in the faith. Repent when you sin.

4) The Church in Thyatira: Your deeds done in love, your service and perseverance are excellent! Beware of false teaching, and beware of and do not tolerate syncretism (the blending or attempted blending of different religions). Repent when you sin.

5) The Church in Sardis: Don’t be dead. Have and be true to a reputation of being alive in Christ. Don’t leave good deeds unfinished. Hold fast to the gospel, and repent when you sin.

6) The Church in Philadelphia: I know you and your deeds. Even when you feel weak, keep to God’s Word and never deny Jesus.

Endure hardship patiently. I will keep you safe in times of testing. Keep a tight grip on what you have so no one distracts you and steals your crown.

7) The Church in Laodicea. Don’t be meh. Don’t be lukewarm. Best to be passionate about your relationship with God.

Don’t get distracted by temporary things like money and material success. Come to me and you will find spiritual success.

Since I love you and accept you deeply and dearly, I will rebuke and discipline you.

I will transform your life when you give it to me. I want to come into your spiritual house. Here I am, knocking, until you let me in.

So that’s a super quick review of what we learn from Jesus speaking to the churches of Revelation. It’s good stuff, current to us in the 21st century.

God’s Word has a way of speaking loud and clear throughout the ages.

If Jesus doesn’t tarry, a hundred or a thousand years from now the church of Jesus will still be here and around the world.

And the words of the Bible will continue to be powerful and penetrating and redemptive, because the Word of the Bible are the Word of God.

And notice our focus has been on the churches of Revelation, and yet the application is in the here and now.

Starting next week it will be Advent, and we will have our usual 4 Advent service on Advent themes. Then January we will begin to look at the book of James.

However, today, we thought we WOULD look at a section of the book of Revelation that many of us might be quite familiar with.

You may have heard it read at a funeral. You may have read it yourself in your ongoing reading of the Bible.

And whereas our look at the book of Revelation has been very much about how we live today and how to live in the best possible way, the passage today is actually about...your future.

It’s about our future as the church. It is about the hope that we have as people whose sins have been forgiven through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

So today we are looking at a very beautiful part of scripture, A gorgeous piece of literature in and of itself, and part of the Word of God that intends to drive home the extraordinary benefits of belonging to Jesus.

It’s about what’s coming for all those who trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour.

And for those who do not yet believe, and who have not yet received Jesus Christ as their Lord and King, their Master and Saviour, it’s about what COULD be true for you, if you decide to follow Jesus.

So this holds out hope for all - it’s a surefire coming reality for all who now trust in Jesus, and it’s the potential future for everyone, literally everyone else who comes in faith to Jesus Christ.

Let’s dive into the Word!

21 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] 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.

The simplest answer is that it is your coming home; the place where you and all who have placed their deepest hope in Jesus Christ will live with God forever.

When we look at the teaching of the New Testament we get two pictures. One is that this present world will pass away. We see that in passages like 2 Peter 3:10-13:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

And also here:

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Mark 13:31

That’s one picture that we get as we study the New Testament. Another picture that we get is that this present world will be TOTALLY renewed.

That renewal includes being freed from corruption, being purified, being transfigured and being glorified.

We see that a few sentences ahead in our Scripture today when Jesus says: “I am making everything new!” (v5)

We see that in Romans 8:19-22 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

So there are 2 pictures here. And in those 2 pictures, we have an opportunity to pause and reflect for a moment on a key thing that’s involved in the reading and understanding of the Bible.

That is that in order to appreciate and grasp the Bible, we have to learn how to appreciate contrasts and tensions, because the Bible presents us with contrasts and tensions. What do I mean?

Bare with me as I try to explain as briefly as possible.

If you have a guitar that is not strung, and you have a guitar string lying loose on the table, and you try to pluck the string, what sound emerges?

Nothing. No sound. If you take that string and attach it to one end of the guitar and leave the other end loose, and then you pluck the string, what happens? Nothing.

If you take that guitar string and then attach it to the other end of the guitar, and tighten the string, what happens? You get sound.

Where is the sound the best? Precisely in the middle of the string, between the 2 points of connection to the guitar. The truest sounds is between the tensions. The truth is between the tensions.

Here’s an example of what I mean: the Bible gives us many passages that relate to salvation.

Some of those passages put all of the action and responsibility for our salvation upon God:

there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation; Jesus has done it all.

Ephesians 2:8-9 summarizes this truth this way:

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

Other passages talk about the importance of human response to God. We need to obey God. We need to respond in faith and love and action, and that response, that action, is evidence of the faith we have.

“ by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. James 2:17

“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead”. James 2:26

Why both? Some read this and say it is a clear contradiction. The key is, these are NOT contradictions, but rather they are essential tensions.

Here’s why we need both: if humans believe that they have no responsibility to live out their faith, they will be content to live unchanged lives.

We will think: “It’s all God, none of me. Therefore, since I’m saved, I can live as I please. I’m saved, so now my conduct doesn’t matter.

Caring for others? Doesn’t matter. Growing as a disciple of Jesus. Doesn’t matter. Becoming more and more like Jesus, why bother?”

On the other hand, if we think that our salvation is something we earn through works, if we have the slightest self-awareness,

we will live in terror because we will know that we fail daily and that we sin often and that our works are often incomplete. We will never have assurance of salvation. We will live in fear.

God wants neither response, He doesn’t want us to be glib and unchanged, and He doesn’t want us to live in fear or trying to vainly earn our salvation.

And so He doesn’t allow, actually, either response, by including in the Bible BOTH understandings. These are tensions.

And the truth is between the tensions: We are saved through faith and not by works.

And since we are saved, our faith will be accompanied by action.

So that’s an understanding of Scripture that is necessary in order to understand other tensions, other contrasts that exist in the Bible.

Back to our passage.

21 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.

There will be a new heaven and a new earth. A renewed heaven and a renewed earth.

Currently three-fourths of the earth’s surface is water, but the new environment will no longer be water-based and will have completely different climatic conditions.

The word new indicates new in quality, not necessarily new in time and space.

The world of sin, suffering and rebellion against God is destroyed. A new earth and heaven, where God and righteousness dwell, will be the home of believers.

John is speaking of a sight that he witnessed in his mind, a vision of sorts that put into perspective for him his current life and his current place in life.

There were limitations to John’s experience of life. The Apostle John wrote this while in exile on the Island of Patmos.

Exile is not a fun place to be. he spent time on the island, he had time to pray and experience God’s voice and God’s heart.

And so we have John’s first vision, and it’s a new layer of existence…a new heaven and a new earth. The ‘heaven’ he refers to here is what we think of as the sky and the stars.

John sees something that is beyond what he experiences in his day to day life, but, very importantly, not disconnected from what he knows.

He says the first heaven and earth have passed away, and there is no longer any sea.

That which was familiar and perhaps comforting to him, something he was able to grasp and understand, was giving way to something fresh and new.

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.

John writes about the dwelling place of God, the Holy City of Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, and coming to and connecting with the earth…the new earth.

And then John writes something that’s really pretty disarming if you think about it.

This place of God’s dwelling, this holy and beautiful and perfect living space of the most high God enters the atmosphere “as a bride beautifully adorned for her husband”. What?!?

The presence of God, the relationship of God with humanity is like…a wedding?

A uniting of hearts, a combining of lives?

Do you find that surprising at all, that the Holy Scriptures should compare our eternal relationship with God as a kind of marriage?

We know that marriage ends up defining you us a person and describing our soul.

Marriage is a promise to be there, one for the other, no matter what happens.

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."

“Now the dwelling of God is with men”: Something new is happening.

There is distance now between God and humanity.

Of course that distance is mainly in the distinctive character of God compared to humanity…

that character or characteristic is holiness…utter, uncomplex and uncompromised holiness.

And here, on our globe, there is a lot of utterly complex unholiness and selfishness.

Simple stats like how in North America we, with 20% of the world population, consume 80% of the world’s resources.…simple, stark facts like that make it pretty clear that there’s a serious problem here on earth.

Add to that our own struggles to be decent and live decently, our own tendency to behaviours that addict us and entrap us

It’s clear there’s an alarmingly great gulf between God as He is now and humanity as it is now. We’ll come back to that in a moment.

When we understand that God is love, when we understand that God enthusiastically wants this marriage with humankind…

that God is a person in Whom all the best we’ve ever imagined dwells…when we understand that, I think this is really a very encouraging and challenging passage.

We continue with a very tender description of how God cares for humanity in this setting.

4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes.

That’s actually a very intimate action, the kind of thing only a trusted friend or lover could ever really do.

This speaks of God drawing near…of God empathizing, of God feeling all that we feel and entering into our sadness.

In the Biblical picture of heaven, God is there. God is there.

And all redeemed people, all those bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ, who have placed their whole hope in His redeeming sacrifice on the cross for our sins, are also there.

So like now, heaven will not be about me and Jesus. Heaven will be about you and me and all believers dwelling as the people of God, and God Himself with be with us and will be our God.

And then John goes on to describe the way in which mourning and sadness and loss are dealt with by God:

“There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

This shouts to me: “This is something entirely new”. That’s because you and I have known death, we have felt and are feeling the pangs of mourning.

We have cried…and cried…and we have known the pain…the stifling agony of the loss of those we have loved most profoundly.

But here John speaks of all this collective sadness as “the old order”.

It has been replaced in this setting, in this stunning painting of the new heaven and the new earth. It has been replaced.

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.

The authority here…the promise made…is that of The Eternal One, the Everlasting One. The Creator. Maker of Heaven and Earth.

The One to Whom there is no comparison. The One whose glory and beauty are, in a veiled way, evident in the best of humanity and the best of Creation.

The One is Whom there is no darkness.

The One who is, by His very definition, all-consuming and benevolent Love.

The One who sent His only Son in the world because, knowing the alarmingly great gulf between God and humanity,

He was willing to do EVERYTHING possible to ensure that you and I would enter this glorious painting that John the Revelator, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has drawn.

It is a picture or sorts, but, as we’ve perhaps seen, it’s not abstract or aloof. It involves and invites us and all of humanity into what is referred to elsewhere in Scripture as a Banquet.

A place or state of joyful and purposeful and creative continuation of life…but as we’ve seen, not life as we experience it here.

Rather, it is life where tears of sorrow are replaced with tears of joy, where the brutal finality of death is supplanted by life everlasting.

Where mourning and crying are replaced with the joy of a ceaseless new day and a fresh landscape upon which to run and dance and play…

in communion with God and everyone else who has chosen this dwelling with God through Jesus Christ.

Where pain is replaced by a kind of pleasure that’s completely indescribable in it’s breadth and depth.

But, if...if I am not receptive to the grace of God, I'm headed for wrath. If I reject Jesus, who Himself said: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”, then I have rejected the only way to God the Father, the only way to heaven.

And, really when you think about it, we are going to spend far more time on the other side of Eternity than this side.

All this is over in a moment. God knows that. That’s why He has made a sure way.

When we respond in faith to Jesus’ sacrifice for us we become citizens of heaven, as we’ve discussed.

Since we know that this is not our final home, and that we are sojourners in the land, ought we to live as citizens of heaven?

We’re called to live in obedience to the law of the land. The law of God’s heaven is the law of love.

They are the laws of the Kingdom of God, perhaps best summed up in the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes.

The passage reads:

8 “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

There’s a corresponding passage in chapter 21 which speaks of the heavenly city. It simply reads:

“Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life”. Revelation 21:27

The section concludes with a challenge urging John’s readers to inherit the promises by persevering faith and to avoid cowardice, unbelief, and immorality resulting in eternal destruction.

Those who choose to carry on living lives that destroy others have no place in this inheritance (vv.7–8):

‘Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life’ (v.27).

Nothing will be ruined by sin. It will be totally perfect.

Are you going through a difficult time right now? One day your troubles will come to an end.

In the meantime, God is with you and will give you a foretaste of the future – his strength for today and hope for tomorrow.

I think what it comes down to is this. God has made a way to Himself. Not 2 ways, not 10 ways, not as many ways as there are religions. That’s a popular myth.

God has made a way to Himself through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In Jesus, He has given us what we don’t deserve,

He has been incredibly generous with His grace.

What we could not earn through our works, because even our best works done without faith, are like filthy rags to God...what we could not possibly ever earn, God has given us freely in Jesus.

Revelation promises that our longings are not mere fantasies. They will come true.

When we awake in the new heaven and new earth, we will have at last whatever we have longed for.

Somehow, from all the bad news in Revelation, good news emerges—spectacularly good news, the promise of goodness without a catch.

The Bible does not present heaven as an afterthought or optional belief. It is the consummation of all creation.

The Bible never belittles human tragedy and disappointment—is any book more painfully honest?—but it does add one key word: temporary.

What we feel now, we will not always feel. The time for re-creation will come. For people who feel trapped in pain—whether in a broken home, in economic misery or in fear

—for all of us, heaven promises a future time, one far longer and more substantial than the time we spend on this earth. It will be a time of health and wholeness and pleasure and peace.

Heaven represents the fulfillment of every true longing.

As C. S. Lewis said, all the beauty and joy on planet Earth represent “only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

The Bible began with that promise in the book of Genesis. It ends with that same promise in Revelation, giving a guarantee of our future reality. The end will be but a beginning.

This hope is a comfort and strength to those going through hardship and difficulty in the present and an inspiration to live holy lives in anticipation of what is to come.

Today we have looked at a very beautiful part of scripture, that drives home the extraordinary benefits of belonging to Jesus.

Do you know the extraordinary benefits of belonging to Jesus? Do you know what it is to feel and to be held in the arms of Jesus?

I hope as we’ve looked at the future home of all who trust in Jesus, those who DO trust in Him will take courage.

Take courage to live boldly and kindly and graciously. To live with the gentleness of Jesus in conduct and in word and in deed.

And I hope that for those yet to trust in Him who may be here today, I hope you have a better sense of why the followers of Jesus around you seem to have something wonderfully odd about them.

We’ve talked about the secret to that...should we call it JOY?

We know who has redeemed us and given us meaning and purpose, who is healing us and transforming us from the inside out.

And I invite you, if you don’t yet follow Jesus, to hear His voice today as we worship, as we study His Word.

He is waiting for you. And He has just 2 words for you: “Follow me!”