“Now the Dwelling Place”
May 28, 2017
The end of God’s Big Story is Chapter 1 of the Great Story.
I. New Heaven, New Earth, New City (Revelation 21:1-2)
II. The Dwelling Place of God (Revelation 21:3-4)
III. It is Done! (Revelation 21:5-8)
Well, we finally made it, the happiest of all the happy endings. We started walking through God’s Big Story last fall. We saw the beauty of his creation and the awfulness of our sin and rebellion. We learned of God’s resolve to rescue his lost love through one who would be a son and a sacrifice, a prophet and a king. We saw Jesus in all the details of God’s story as it wove together in the law and the life of the nation of Israel. And finally we saw the incarnation of the hero-messiah who lived a perfect life and died a sacrificial death, bearing our sins and our sorrows so that we might bear them no more. We saw him rise from the death, in truth, and ascend to the Father. We saw the Spirit come on his people to empower us, to comfort us and to be God with us
All through we’ve seen not just God’s big story, but God’s big idea, that we would be his people and he would be our God and he would dwell with us. This is what he wanted all along, a people who would live in holy fellowship with him for eternity, just as the Father, the Son and the Spirit have lived in holy fellowship as one God from eternity. So it comes as absolutely no surprise at all that the happiest of happy endings is the fulfillment of God’s big idea, what he wanted all along. And it should come as no surprise that this great and loving God has also made this what we wanted all along.
This happy ending is the final undoing of all that has gone wrong and the first chapter of the Great Story that God has long planned. We need this truth. We need to know every day that everything we always really wanted will come to pass. Because this world, even for the redeemed is still a place of death, mourning, crying and pain. We saw it again this week when Salman Albedi set off a homemade bomb to kill 22 and injure dozens at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England. We saw it much closer to home when a man was gunned down approaching a truck on FM 517 in Alvin.
Paul teaches in Romans that creation itself “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation has been groaning in the pains of childbirth until now. 23And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
Creation groans. We groan. Even in our own community countless relationships are painfully, sinfully broken. Marriages fail and the children are torn between loyalties and loves. Abuse abounds. Spouses don’t reveal it, children succumb to threats as anger, violence, and sexual exploitation ravage their homes. Whole extended family structures for whole generations are torn apart by drugs and alcohol, by sin and selfishness. Human nature is resilient, which means many people get by, whether in the aftermath of a bombing or in a Friendswood neighborhood - but it’s not the way it’s supposed to be.
We’re broken. We groan. Even those who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, who trust Jesus as Savior and have committed to follow him heart, soul, mind and strength, follow with a limp. We never do as well as we want. The world, the flesh, the devil, these are weights around our neck, weights that have to taken off and taken off and taken off again even as we run the race. There may be substantial healing, and praise God for it, but it is not yet wholeness. We run with a limp. With creation we groan and cry out to be fully rescued.
But God wins in the end. It is not a coincidence that possibly my favorite verse of Scripture is found in the last 50 verses of the 31000 verses in the Bible. God wins in the end, and the long promise of years and decades and centuries finally, finally, finally comes true: Now the dwelling of God is with man. Let’s read the text. I’m going to break with my norm and preach from the 1984 New International Version, rather than the English Standard Version, because the NIV is written on my heart, and voices what I long for.
Revelation 21:1-8 “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. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 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." 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." 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. 7He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 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."
Revelation 20 ends with what is called “The Great White Throne judgment,” and with the death of death. As earth and sky flee from the presence of God there comes a new heaven and new earth. We’ve talked before about C. S. Lewis’ book The Last Battle, in which those who loved Aslan fled the old dying Narnia into a new world that is one of Lewis’ finest imaginations, a world like the old Narnia but not like. Lord Digory describes it this way: “You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy. All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door. And of course it is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow or waking life is from a dream.” Lewis called this world we live in ‘the Shadowlands.’
Isaiah records God’s promise “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” Peter says “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 in it will be laid bare. . . 13But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.”
It’s foreseen in Isaiah 25: “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine-- the best of meats and the finest of wines. 7On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; 8he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. 9In that day they will say, ‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.’”
So there is a New Heaven and a New Earth, the home of righteousness, the home of those who have trusted in him. In this new creation everything that was lost in the Garden will be restored forever. Eternity will not be spent sitting on a cloud strumming a harp, though I’m sure you’ll be able to play a harp if you want to. But that cloud image is not biblical. The image someone mentioned to me of a big room with a brick floor that happens to be made out of gold, is not biblical. The biblical image is a mountain and a garden. Every glorious whisper that you hear and see and sense around you as you look at this created world will become a chorus of praise and beauty in that re-created world.
Verse 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.” Let me warn you that my understanding of the New Jerusalem may be a challenge to you. I’ve taught on this before, but the short version is that the city is the bride and the bride is church, the people Christ has redeemed.
John says that the city was a bride beautifully prepared for her bridegroom, and later ‘the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ But back in chapter 19 the great multitude said “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; 8it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure” - for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” John is telling us that the city is a fully realized metaphor for God’s people. This triumphant congregation of believers, now descends from heaven and takes up residence on the New Earth. This is paradise regained, paradise restored, and we God’s people will be permitted back into that Garden, the place our hearts have always longed for.
But I don’t we’ll spend a lot of time rejoicing in the place, right away, because, what we’ve really wanted is in verses 3 and 4: “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.” From Genesis to Revelation this has been the big idea of the story of redemption. God designed mankind for dependence and for fellowship. This was the grand design ruined by the fall, restored by the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus; partially realized in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It will be finally, forever, and fully realized in that day to come. This is the happy ending: now the dwelling of God is with men and he will be with them; they will be his people and God himself will dwell among them and be their God.”
And in doing so he gives us what we long for. Verse 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 will have passed away." Never again. No more. Everything sad coming untrue. Everything that has caused us pain or mourning in this fallen world. Every death that has ripped us, every hurt that has consumed us, every loss that has torn a piece from us. Ben Shive says there’s a last time for everything: fear and doubt; loneliness; long goodbyes; let downs; having to do without; there’s a last time for everything. Brothers and sisters, there will come a day when our weeping is over; when our mourning is done; when death is dead and pain is past. God himself will wipe the tears from our eyes.
And this ‘enough never again; no more’ isn’t just for our personal comfort. This heals finally, the brokenness and groaning of the world. Andrew Peterson says it well:
After the last tear falls; After the last secret's told; After the last bullet tears through flesh and bone; After the last child starves; And the last girl walks the boulevard; After the last year that's just too hard, there is love: Love, love, love; There is love: Love, love, love; There is love.
After the last disgrace; After the last lie to save some face; After the last brutal jab from a poison tongue; After the last dirty politician; After the last meal down at the mission; After the last lonely night in prison, there is love; Love, love, love; There is love; Love, love, love; There is love. And in the end, the end is oceans and oceans of love and love again; We'll see how the tears that have fallen were caught in the palms of the Giver of love and the Lover of all. And we'll look back on these tears as old tales
'Cause after the last plan fails; after the last siren wails; after the last young husband sails off to join the war; after the last "this marriage is over"; after the last young girl's innocence is stolen; after the last years of silence that won't let a heart open; there is love; Love, love, love; there is love. And in the end, the end is oceans and oceans of love and love again; We'll see how the tears that have fallen were caught in the palms of the Giver of love and the Lover of all. And we'll look back on these tears as old tales.
There is a day coming, as certain as the next tick of the clock, when God himself will come to dwell among us, crying ‘no more; never again; enough!’ He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" These last chapters show how God systematically reverses the effects of the fall. God gives creation a second chance. He is the God of second chances; in him you are new and in the end all things are new, and all will be well and all manner of things will be well. Count on it: these words are trustworthy and true.
Verse 6: He said to me: "It is done.” “Enough! It’s over!” “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.” What I start I finish; what I created for my glory I redeem for my glory. What is marred will be made whole; what is broken will be healed; I redeem the years the locusts have taken.
Then He says “To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.” This water of life shows up again in chapter 22 where the Spirit himself says “Come, you who are thirsty, come and drink from that water of life.” It’s crucial to notice that this good end is not automatic. You have to be among those who have responded to his invitation, who have taken hold of the life he offers, who have believed this good news and trusted in his death and resurrection. This invitation is based on Isaiah’s cry “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant.”
Jesus says to the woman at the well “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but 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.” Those who are invited must come; must drink. It’s a metaphor, Jesus later says, for believing. John 7:37 “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
This is what the Father means when he says, “He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” John has talked to those who ‘overcome’ or ‘conquer’ throughout Revelation. The underlying Greek word is ‘Nike’ like the shoe company. But how do we become overcomers? John tells us clearly in his first letter: 1 John 5:4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith. 5Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” The thirsty who receive the water of life, are those who have turned from self and sin to trust in Jesus.
But Revelation also makes it clear that the rescue of some means the judgment of others. Those rescued are those who by believing have their names written in the book of life. Those judged are those whose names are not in the book of life, judged for their own deeds, not on the basis of Christ’s righteousness. Verse 8: But 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."
If the end of all things is to be the end depicted in these verses, if God is to win in the end, then justice must be served, evildoers must be banished, and death itself made to die. Otherwise evil would still mar the new creation; death, mourning, crying and pain would be given a reprieve. So do you see why these verses are so significant? They are the shout whose echo we somehow hear, the sunrise that we sense in the eastern sky, the answer to the questions that we don’t even dare to voice, the fulfillment of the ache and the longing and the hurt and the confusion that is our lot in this world. They are joy that was set before Jesus, the hope that faith assures us of, the far country that makes this journey worthwhile. They are the answer to our deep sense that even as we journey with Jesus, something here is still dreadfully wrong: creation still groans under the weight of the fall, and we groan under the weight of death and mourning and crying and pain and all the things that lie behind those four vivid words. We long for that day in which Jesus shouts ‘no more; never again; enough.’
No more death: no more children dying while their mothers look helplessly, hopelessly on, whether in Manchester, England or the children’s ward of M. D. Anderson. No more young people cut down in their prime by a bullet or a needle, by foolishness or despair. No more long slow loss of everything that made life beautiful; no more extreme measure to buy a few days more of pain; no more corpses scattered across the streets. And no more death to relationships: no more distance between us; no more coldness; no more foolish words; no more shame and guilt and fear. No more bitterness. No more anger. No more heartbreak. No more striving in the dark to connect. There has been enough of that. It’s done.
Enough mourning - no more loved ones torn away, cut off too soon, separated by a chasm only one, so far has crossed. We’ve experienced that sudden mourning too many times recently. No more holes cut out of our hearts by this last greatest enemy. This is a final answer to his sting. Even now we do not mourn as those who have no hope. But in that day we will be finally and fully comforted for all the tears we have cried, for all the loss we have felt.
No more crying; never again. Not that crying is always bad; I suspect there may be some tears of joy in that day. But there will be none of the anguish that brings tears of sorrow: no more broken relationships; unintended hurts; barbed words; hard hearts; crushing fatigue; wearying work; no more tragedy; no more failure; no more guilt; no more disappointment; no more indifference; no more loneliness; no more parting.
And finally, shout ‘enough’ to pain; never again will anyone have to endure what Sandy Zeek did on her death bed, what Dan Clift did in his chemo, what many endure chronically. No more pain for the sick and injured and starving and dying; no more sickness or injury or starvation or death. No more the pain of the abused, the orphan, the widow; no more the pain of partings and losses. Enough of indifference, oppression, bigotry, hypocrisy; judgementalism. No more depression; misunderstanding; hatred; bitternness; betrayal; addiction; no more self-righteous blindness, no more ungratefulness; no more fear.
Enough. The promise long awaited is fulfilled: Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with us. We will be his people, and God himself will be with us and be our God. 4He will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away.
Months ago, early in this series, I ended a sermon with an extended quote from Lewis’ The Last Battle, the same story I referenced earlier. I loved it so much that I want to end the series the same way.
Shortly after meeting on the ‘New Narnia’ side of the stable, King Peter, Edmund, Lucy, and all the good citizens of the lost Narnia found themselves traveling further up and further in into this new/old country until at last they were at the foot of a smooth green hill on top of which stood trees and a wall with a golden gate. When went through they found their oldest and dearest friends from the beginning of their adventures, Reepicheep and Tumnus the Fawn and others. And inside this walled garden is another Narnia, another world, larger even than the first. In my mind this is the new heaven and new earth.
But Lewis says “And then Lucy forgot everything else, because Aslan himself was coming, leaping down from cliff to cliff like a living cataract of power and beauty. Moments later he came up to them and said: "You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be." Lucy said, "We're so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. You have sent us back into our own world so often." "No fear of that," said Aslan. "Have you not guessed?" Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose. "There was a real railway accident," said Aslan softly. "Your father and mother and all of you are - as you used to call it in the Shadowlands - dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning." And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.
That’s Revelation 21, the beginning of the great story of a king and a kingdom and the presence of God forever. And he will wipe every tear from your eye and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things will have passed away.