The world according to God
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, the 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, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
6 Then 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 as a gift from the spring of the water of life.
I caught a glimpse of heaven this week – in three places or maybe even more. No, it was not myself looking at myself in the mirror! No, it was not enjoying a rare bottle of red.
It was God making something new happen right before my eyes and ringing in my ears. It was the God of love in action transforming ordinary people and place into his people and place – God breaking into the old city with his new city of which John speaks this morning.
ONE: Hearing, seeing and just being among that large gathering of God’s people at Pastor’s Conference, Convention and Alive 175!; Praying listening to the gospel word, singing….- that was a glimpse of God’s new city breaking in on the old city that is dying.
TWO: Yesterday, seeing a beautiful young bride make her way across the grass at Yalumba to be married before God and two families. This was a glimpse of heaven too. Not because of the bride’s beauty, but because it was a living sign of this word of the Lord where the bride and bridegroom meet in joy in this new city of God’s love called ‘the new Jerusalem’.
THREE: Visiting an aunty late at night in Modbury hospital who was full of faith and joy as she prayed to the Lord to take her home to her rest. He did and she is. The love and quiet joy of the faith-filled funeral on Friday made the glimpse of heaven linger….
John is allowed to see heaven – an alternative view of what is going on down here. He is enabled to see and hear God making things new. God making a new city come down on top of the dying old city. He sees God’s new Jerusalem, adorned as a beautiful and faithful bride coming down to meet her husband. He sees the church still on the journey living amid the dying but still powerful, unfaithful and destructive city, Babylon.
A TALE OF TWO CITIES
In God’s view of our human life, Babylon is the city of tears, injustice, sexual promiscuity, violence, structural poverty, power plays, politics of greed and dying, a city crumbling to complete destruction and death….
In God’s new city that is a present reality, if only we could see it, Jerusalem is the city of light, hope, lasting peace, community, love. It is God alternative city actually operating in parallel to the old city. We actually are taken into this city every time we gather in Jesus name…..
In Paul’s letters it is the church who is the bride, but in Revelation the bride is much more. The bride represents the whole renewed world, radiant and holy. (Revelation 21:3) With great tenderness God wipes away people’s tears.
The old city tries to copy the new but is no match for it. Babylon, with all its bravado, neon lights, human creativity and rebelliousness is dying and crumbling while God’s new city of hope, is growing, being made new every second, taking up its complete victory over the old way, the old city.
The question for modern day Christians is which one will we see. Which one do we seek the most? In which one do find our rest and our home? And by what means do we see it?
How do you see the old city? You see the old city by means of human will, human sight, human vision, human control and skills. It is a city of violence, injustice and human weakness and failure, even though it pretends to be a city of power and future and self-made beauty.
As we survey the old city with all its trouble, we mistakenly believe that we can create the new city of hope, love, joy, freedom, peace by our own means and methods. From autocratic political leaders to controlling fathers, mothers, colleagues and friends, we attempt to “make the world a better place”, as we say. But we can’t. In fact, without God’s intervention in the giving of the gift of faith in his grace and mercy toward his creation, we just have no clue that the new city of God’s light and love even exists, let alone is active in our own lives and our world.
How do you ‘see’ the new city? You don’t really see the new city of God by just your eyesight – but first with your ears. John hears this picture. John hears and he then sees the new city. Only with the eyes of faith in the Lamb who sits on the throne, the crucified and risen Jesus, you hear God’s promises and God’s revealing of how hew making all things new and then you see the new city breaking in on the old. Ordinary things become glimpses of heaven tight here in this dying world.
Again, as you survey your life, which city will you choose to see son or daughter of the Lord? Will we strive to try and make the old city new or will we rest in the new city already made and present by God’s grace?
John lives in both cities, like us. He, like us, is privileged to see and hear both – and like a man bringing home his brand new car to show the family, John gets the share what he now has with great joy.
For the second time only, throughout the whole book of revelation with its four visions, John hears God himself directly address him and his new city.
“See”, says God. “See this”. Check this out”! In the original language, “See, new”. “See, new I am making all things”. Not, “I will one day”, or “I could”, or “I might”, but “I am” now making all things, creatures, people, rocks, stars, new.
And the amazing and very unique thing about this? The new hope-filled city of God comes down from heaven. There is no rapture here. God is not found by escaping the old city but God transforms the old city every moment of every day.
We don’t need to look to the skies and seek heavenly realities out there somewhere – the Heavenly Man is here. Heaven is here too. Jesus is here. His crucified glory is here right here in the mess of life. Earth really is our home – a home being renovated, renewed and re-born all the time by Jesus.
A bit of C.S. Lewis may help here….. In his vision of “New Narnia” Lewis depicts New Narnia not as an escape from the old Narnia, but rather an entry more deeply into the very same place. Everything is more radiant. It is “deeper country.” New Narnia is “world within world,” where “no good thing is destroyed” (C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle, New York, Macmillan, 1956, 181).
With the eyes of Faith in the “Lamb who sits on the throne”, the beginning of everything and the end of everything, we Christians see the new Jerusalem right in the midst of the old city we still have to live in – for now at least.
Nowhere, as far as John’s vision of the new city in Revelation, or indeed in Paul’s vision of the local Christian community, or in Jesus’ vision of himself being “glorified” before the world as he is lifted up on the throne of the cross for the life of the world do we see the new Jerusalem than in the worship gathering of God’s people.
Wherever two or three of God’s forgiven and chosen people gather in his name to seek him, hear his voice, drink from the deep wells of his living water of faith, hope and love do you and I as dwellers in the crumbling but still powerful old city receive the alternative reality of the Lord breaking in our little hearts and minds and opening up our vision of God making all things new.
It does not matter if you feel anything much in worship. It is God making you new. It does not really matter what style of music we use. It is the new city being given to us for joy.
It does not matter the building, the type of chairs, the clothing of the priest or the people, it is God’s new city being built right there and then by his powerful Word.
Every time we gather here in this old city town, God allows us to stand with John and all those who have gone before us in the faith and have now entered the heavenly Jerusalem where the Lord himself gently wipes every tear from their eyes. Where Death is no more; mourning and crying and pain are no more, because the first things have passed away”.
What shall we do with our privileged standing? We would be best to do what John was called to do and what people of the new Jerusalem always are called by the Lamb who sits on the throne to do…
As we receive what God is doing on a daily basis with each of us in this sign of the new city in this town, we will hopeful, joyful, peaceful and therefore unstoppable!
We will be that man bringing the new car to show the family who we have behold with our ears and eyes.
We will be John, telling the story. We will live and tell it uncompromising but full of love for the Lamb and for his world.
We will be that husband committed to receiving his beautiful bride as he sees her coming into his life for the longest time.
Friends, it is all done. This is no pipe dream, crazy man’s delusion or poetic license. This is the crucified Lamb sounding out himself – his presence, his active renewal of our old city with its ego and weakness and competitiveness and rebellion into lasting victory over all enemies, all weakness, all sins, all hate, all disunity, all fears and tears.
Will you receive his new city, his alternative view of your world more and more? Or again, will you settle for the little you know and can control?
John had no control and yet he was filled with joy and love and a hope against all hopes. So are we. Not because we are the beginning and end but because the Lord of Church is the our beginning and our end and our in-between.
1. Do you often feel that you need to ‘escape’ the world to somehow find God?
2. What does this text with the new Jerusalem say to you about where God is and where he is to be found?
3. What did you think about the statement in the sermon, “We don’t need to look to the skies and seek heavenly realities out there somewhere – the Heavenly Man is here. Heaven is here too. Jesus is here. His crucified glory is here right here in the mess of life. Earth really is our home – a home being renovated, renewed and re-born all the time by Jesus”.
4. Do you find yourself trying to make things better for yourself and your family and friends in your own way rather than resting in God’s presence and action for you to bring in his new city in your life? If so, how do you do this?
5. What glimpses of the new Jerusalem of God’s love and light have you had recently?
6. How can we help each other “hear” and “see” God’s new city of life and love as a local Christian church?