Last week, we began to look at series of readings in the book of Revelation, probably the most interesting and misunderstood book in the Bible. As we said last week. Revelation was written down by John based on a vision that he had from God. This is the same John who wrote the Gospel of John and the letters of John in the New Testament. Last week we looked at the story in Revelation 7 where John looks up and sees the great multitude in heaven dressed in white robes. A few other things happen and then the elder who is with John tells him in Revelation 7:15-17 (NIV) who these people are and what they can expect:
They are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
will shelter them with his presence.
Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,
nor any scorching heat.
For 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.
This is one of those really beautiful passages about the peace that God gives to us. It is a peace that only God can give, a peace that passes all understanding.
Today we are going to fast forward to the last two chapters of Revelation where these promises are fulfilled at the end of time. We’ll be looking at these chapters for the next two weeks so, before we delve into them, let me give you a bit of context because context is always important. Revelation 21 and 22 are different from the rest of the book of Revelation. A lot of people think that all of Revelation is about the end times. I respectfully disagree with those people and would tell you that while some of Revelation is about the end times, most of it is not.
Revelation was written to Christians in Asia Minor – modern day Turkey – as they were beginning to go through a time of serious persecution. During that time, they would be hunted down, their businesses would be boycotted, they would be imprisoned, tortured and even killed for their faith. All of this happened for one reason; because they would not bow down to Caesar. It’s not that they didn’t respect Caesar as the Roman Emperor. They just refused to worship him because they believed, as we believe, that there is only one God and God alone is worthy of worship.
So what was this Caesar worship all about? Actually, it was really quite easy. All that was expected was that at least once a year, all people in the Roman Empire had to take a pinch of incense and toss it into a fire on an altar of sorts that was dedicated to Caesar. That’s it. Once a year. That all they had to do. The interesting thing is that the Romans didn’t seem to particularly care if the people believe in what they were doing or not. The important thing is that they did it.
But the Christians refused because there is only one God and all of their worship would go to him. Remember what Jesus said in Luke 4:18 (NIV): “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” That’s pretty clear. The only one to worship is God. So you can’t worship Caesar, not even once, even if you don’t really mean it.
The thing to remember is that it would have been so easy to just go through the motions. Just take that pinch of incense, flick it into the fire and walk away. No muss, no fuss. But for those early Christians, it wasn’t that easy. They understood the importance of faith and commitment. They felt they had to make a choice between two options. There was the easy way out and there was the faithful way. To be truthful, some people choose one option and some chose the other. Some remained faithful despite the persecution that they knew they would face and some chose the pinch of incense.
Revelation answered two of the key questions for the people of the day. First, what did it mean to remain faithful to God in a time of persecution and how do you do that? The second question was perhaps even more profound; how were they to deal with their sisters and brothers in the faith who backed down and went through the motions of worshipping Caesar even if they did it with their finger crossed behind their backs?
Those were tough questions because not only did they pointed to the divisions in society between Christians and non-Christians, they also pointed to the divisions that existed within the Christian community. So you can get a sense of the struggles that Christians were facing back then and how difficult it was to be a faithful follower of Jesus. I tell you that because you need to understand that if you want to make any sense of the last two chapters of Revelation. With that in mind, let’s get to today’s passage.
THE NEW JERUSALEM
Revelation 21:1-6 is about the coming of the New Jerusalem at the end of time. It begins like this in Revelation 21:1 (NIV): “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.” What does that mean? First of all, it tells the Christians of Asia Minor that their suffering will not last forever. Ultimately, God will intervene and make all things right. God will restore justice. God will restore peace. Ultimately, God’s love will prevail. That’s what the New Jerusalem is all about. It is about God making all things right. There will be a new heaven and a new earth because the old heaven and earth with their injustice and suffering will be replaced by something better.
And then it says that there will no longer be any sea. What’s that all about? Good questions. The sea here is not referring to what you might think. It is not referring to a body of water such as the Mediterranean Sea or the Caribbean Sea. It’s referring, rather, to the sea in the temple in the original Jerusalem. That sea was the large copper basin that was placed in the Temple in Jerusalem that held the water that they priests used to purify themselves before attending to their priestly duties of making the sacrifices that were intended to wash away sin so as to please God. This basin was called a sea because it was huge. It was seven and half feet high and had a circumference of forty-five feet. It held 16,000 gallons of water.
“So what?” you might ask. This is important. There’s a good reason why there is no sea in the New Jerusalem. It’s because there is no reason for a sea. The sea was in the temple in the original Jerusalem because the priests had to purify themselves before they could make the sacrifices that were intended to please God. The reason why the sea is not in the New Jerusalem is because there is no longer any need for sacrifices. In the New Jerusalem, there will be no more sin. There will be no injustice. Everything will be as God intended it to be from the beginning. God’s justice and God’s peace will reign. That’s why the sea isn’t there. The early Christians understood this in a way that we don’t.
We move then to Revelation 21:2 (NIV) which says, “I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” This is really interesting because it contradicts some pretty common assumptions that exist in the Church. If I were to ask almost any group of Christians to describe what God has planned for us at the end of time, I expect that most of them would say that we all go to heaven. But is that what this verse says? It does not say that we go up to heaven. It actually says that heaven comes down to us. That’s what the New Jerusalem is all about. The New Jerusalem is heaven coming down to us as God creates a new earth.
That’s significant. It’s also consistent with other things God has done in the past. God has never expected us to go to him. God has always come to us. We see that in Jesus. When we were lost in our sin and unable to save ourselves, God came to us in Jesus, born in a stable in the little town of Bethlehem. One of his names is Emmanuel, which means “God with us”. The coming of the New Jerusalem is the same thing. It is God coming to us because we cannot go to God. As God came down to us in Jesus, so to heaven comes down to us in the New Jerusalem. God comes to us because we cannot go to him. It’s the way it works for us.
GOD DWELLS WITH HUMANITY
Let’s carry on with the story. Revelation 21:3-4 (NIV) says this: “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. 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.’” Up until now everything has been seen. John saw the new heaven and the new earth. He saw the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven. Now he hears. First he saw and now he hears. He hears a voice coming from the throne. And the voice says, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.”
From where does the voice come? The voice comes from the throne. In fact, it is the voice of the one who sits on the throne. But who sits on the throne? Whose voice is it? We’ll find out in a few minutes so stayed tuned.
But what does the voice do? It verifies verbally what John has already seen with his eyes. John saw heaven coming to earth in the New Jerusalem. This is God coming to us. We don’t go to God. God comes to us. Now John hears the voice saying that God’s dwelling place – which has always been called heaven – is now among the people on earth. God has come to us and God will dwell with us. We do not go to dwell with God. God comes to dwell with us.
And what will God do? God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. All of those things that the early Christians experienced at the hands of their Roman persecutors will come to an end. The suffering will cease. The pain will cease. The mourning will cease. Why? Because God comes to us in the New Jerusalem and in the New Jerusalem, peace and justice will reign. The old order of things has passed away and the new has come.
Then the voice continues in Revelation 21:5 (NIV): “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.’” Once more this is an affirmation of what has already been said. It has already been seen and it has already ready been heard. So why say it again? Because it’s important. It so important that it needs to be repeated. It needs to be repeated because it is the most important message that there is. In the end the troubles of this world will pass away. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. The old one will go and the one new will come when heaven descends to earth in the New Jerusalem. The persecutions of the old heaven and earth will be replaced by the peace and justice of the new heaven and earth. John sees it and John hears it. He writes it down so that no one will miss it. This is important. It’s important enough to see and to hear.
It’s the most important message there is especially to people who are going through suffering and persecution because it tells them that their suffering will cease and the persecution will cease. It’s not saying that it will necessarily happen in this life. Maybe it will and maybe it won’t. But it will end because the New Jerusalem will descend from heaven and make all things new.
HE WHO SITS ON THE THRONE
And now we get to the final verse for today. In Revelation 21:6 (NIV) we read this: “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.’” This is the same voice that came from the throne and this verse contains some hints about who it is. The hint is in his description of himself. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” he says. The phrase Alpha and Omega shows up two other times in Revelation. It appears in Revelation 1:9 and in Revelation 22:13. In both of those instances, the speaker says that he is the Alpha and Omega. But who is it? I’ll give you another hint. If you look in a red letter Bible, these words are written in red. That is because they are Jesus’ words. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega. Jesus is the first and the last, the Beginning and the End. It is he who sits on the throne in the New Jerusalem. It is he who will reign forever in justice and peace for all of God’s people.
“It is done,” he said. What is done? The persecution is done. The imprisonment is done. The killing is done. The fear is done. Why? Because ultimately, Jesus wins. The New Jerusalem comes down bringing heaven to earth. And Jesus, who sits on the throne makes all things new.
And to the thirsty he give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Jesus tells us that all who are thirsty can come to him and he will satisfy their thirst. If they thirst for justice, they will find justice. If they thirst for righteousness, they will be made righteous. If they thirst for forgiveness, they will be forgiven. If they thirst for hope, they will find hope. And it will cost them nothing. It will be a free gift of God through Jesus. When we could not save ourselves, Jesus saved us. When we could do nothing to pay for our sins, Jesus paid for them for us on the cross. When we could not defeat death, Jesus rose from the grave, broke the gates of hell and the chains of sin so that we could be alive with him forever more in the New Jerusalem.
In the end, Jesus wins. In the end, New Jerusalem comes down from heaven to earth. And all who put their faith and their trust in Jesus Christ who sits on the throne will join with the great multitude dressed in white and the elders and the angels. And together they will give praise to Jesus who is and who was and who is to come. The Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. It is done.
But it’s important for us today to remember that what Jesus promises at the end of time is already with us here in the old heaven and the old earth. Jesus does not wait until the end of time to make a difference for his people because even now he sits on the throne of heaven. It may not yet have come down from heave but Jesus still reigns.
I want to say to you is that it’s all well and good to talk about the end of
time when Jesus will return to bring and peace and justice to the world. You
don’t have to wait until the end of time to meet Jesus. You can do it right
now. You can do it today. You can experience the peace that only he can give.
He calls us all and says, “To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the
spring of the water of life.” What are you thirsty for? What do you need? Is it
love? Is it grace? Is it peace? Is it forgiveness? Is it the assurance that
someone cares about you more than you could ever imagine? Whatever it is, you
can take it to Jesus and he will give to you freely from the spring of the
water of life.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Holy God, we come before your throne with hearts full of praise for all of your great deeds and wonders. Thank you that we can come to you, that through Jesus Christ we are your adopted children and inheritors of your eternal promise. We thank you for the beauty of creation as it unfolds around us. Thank you for budding trees and warm spring days. Thank you for colours, breezes and new life.
We are so grateful that we are valuable in your sight. You have called us and made us for specific purposes. You have chosen us and set your purpose within each of us. Enable us to comprehend, understand, and fulfill that purpose, knowing that if we accomplish anything it is only through your Wonderful Spirit. Because you live, we also live!
We pray for your healing presence in a world of pain and suffering. We say a special prayer for our soldiers who continue to serve and put themselves in harms way for the cause of peace and justice. There is just needless suffering in this world, caused mostly by those who seek wealth and power. Shine your light to bring healing and peace to your troubled children.
We lift up in prayer the sick of our congregation and community. We remember, especially Herb, Mary and Sharon. We would pray that your Healing Spirit would descend upon him and all others who need your touch, offering hope and light both for now and forever.
We also for your grace to rest upon the family and friends of Bill Heatherington whose funeral was just this past week. Thank you God that any pain is over and that he is resting in your peace.
Heavenly Father, it is our greatest desire to exemplify your love and character, not only in what we say, but in everything that we do. We want our lives to be so much more than just talk. We would be bold to ask that youwould enable us to be constant and consistent examples of your healing and self sacrificing love.
We raise these prayers in the Holy Name of
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
May 19, 2016 / Easter 5
Psalm 23; John 10:22-30; Acts 9:36-43; Revelation 7:9-17
CALL TO WORSHIP
God is our Shepherd;
God is our Saviour;
Let us lift our voices to the Lord;
We will praise the One who was and is and is to come.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Hear our prayers, O Gracious God, as we come into this house of worship. The murmurings of our souls cry out to you for you are the One who gives us hope, both for now and into the future. Speak to our hearts. Touch our lives with deepest blessings. Enliven our spirits to experience your Word, that we may be transformed into images of your love. Come, Lord Jesus, come and flow over us with the sweet waters of life. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
We confess, O God, that we are not perfect. Our motives are seldom pure. Our vision is often clouded. We place our hope in the transitory things of life and dream of fleeting fame. Forgive us, Merciful One, when we do not keep our minds focuses on you and the things of your Holy Kingdom. Turn us around, once more, that we may walk in your way.Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
When we stray, there is one who calls us home. Jesus is our Shepherd. He is the One who laid down his life for his sheep. We are his sheep and we can have complete confidence that when we confess our sins, we are truly forgiven.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Receive our offerings, Generous God, in the same spirit in which they are given. We could never match your generousity but we give what we can, when we can. We thank you for all of your great goodness. Amen.
The time has come to leave this place and venture out into the world beyond these four walls. Always remember that no matter where we go, God is there. The hand of God is upon us. The love of God is within us.