Second Reformed Church

Monday, November 02, 2015

"The City of God" Sermon: Revelation:21:1-5

“The City of God”
[Revelation 21:1-5]
November 1, 2015 Second Reformed Church
            To the best of our knowledge, All Saint’s Day – and All Hallow’s Eve (“Halloween”) – were first celebrated in 609 A.D. as a time which “commemorated all those martyrs, known and unknown, who in heaven enjoy the beatific vision of God” (J. C. J. Metford, 115).  It is a time when we purposefully meditate on the fact that all those who have died before us in the faith are not dead, but are with Jesus now in Glory and will return with us in the Kingdom which is to come.  It is a time when we remember what Paul wrote:
            “I tell you this, brothers:  flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.  Behold!  I tell you a mystery:  We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.  When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then it shall come to pass the saying that is written:  ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?’  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
            “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (I Corinthians 15:50-58, ESV).
            We still mourn when our loved ones die – as we have seen this past week – but we do so as Christians – we do so as those who have hope that there is a resurrection of the physical body to come – death has been defeated by our Lord Jesus Christ – Who Himself has physically risen from the grave – death is not the end – glory upon glory is coming in the Kingdom!
            The apostle John was exiled to the isle of Patmos, and while he was there, he received visions from God about the end of the age and the coming of the Kingdom.  John wrote down what God allowed him to write, and sent it out to the churches around the world that we suffering under the persecution of the Roman Emperor, Nero.  The book of Revelation, as we know it, or the book of the Unveiling, as it may also be translated, is a book of hope and encouragement for all we who suffer for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
            In the section of the letter that was read, John takes what we know and believe – the dead in Christ are alive with Him now, and they shall be physically resurrected at the end of the age – and explains what will happen so that all the glorious, resurrected saints – all we who believe – are received into the City of God.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.”
We see first, this morning, that the Creation will be made new.
John confirms the vision of the prophet, Isaiah, who recorded God saying, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. … For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the Lord, so shall your offspring and your name remain” (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22, ESV).
The heavens and the earth – everything that God created that has been corrupted by sin – with all we who believe in the Savior that God sent – shall be restored – shall be made new.
Paul put it this way:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in the hope that the creation will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And 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” (Romans 8:18-23, ESV).
Paul explained that the whole Creation was punished for our sin – as we see in the book of Genesis, and the Creation is looking forward to being delivered from that state – to being restored to its original state – at the time that we who believe are resurrected in our bodies – immortal, perfected, and sinless, because when we are glorified, the Creation will be set free to be what God created it to be in the Garden.
Peter uses different language to express this restoration:
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done in it will be exposed.
“Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in living lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heaven will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!  But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:10-13, ESV).
Now, we have to understand, Peter is not saying that the Creation will be annihilated – as some of have taught – that is not what he is talking about here – he is talking about purification – restoration of the Creation through purifying it.  He is using the symbolism of metal workers who heat up metal until it is molten and then take a tool to skim off all of the dross – all of the impurities – leaving only the pure metal.  Peter explains using different language that God is going to purify and restore the Creation that exists
But, then, what do we do with John saying that “the sea was no more”?
I am a beach person, and I used to think this was a terrible thing that John was saying. 
But we need to remember that the book of Revelation is written in symbols that would have made sense to first century Christians.  When they heard the word “sea,” they would have thought of the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea, both of which can become suddenly uncertain, violent, and deadly.  With this in mind, we understand that John is not saying there will be no physical sea – that there will be no sea life in the Kingdom – no, what he is saying is that in the restoration of the Creation, everything that is uncertain and violent and deadly will be removed – all those things that came into existence through human sin – all of the corruption that the Creation suffers for us – which also affects us – will be removed – it is dross – it is imperfect – it is corruption – and it will be no more.
So, as we hear these words that the Creation will be made new, we understand that the Creation will be restored to the way it was prior to human sin, and it will be perfected and glorified – like we who believe will also be – so it can never be corrupted or a danger to us again.
As Isaiah describes it:
“The wolf shall lie down with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fatted calf together; and a little child of Israel shall lead them.  The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.  They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:6-9, ESV).
Second, God will unite with the Church.
“And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”
After God makes the Creation new – after it is restored, and we who believe have all been glorified in our resurrected bodies, God will send the holy city, new Jerusalem, the new “city of peace” to earth, from heaven – the Church prepared as a bride for her Husband, Jesus Christ.
Again, remember that John is using symbols – it is unlikely that we will see a city coming through the skies and landing on earth.  What John is telling us is what Paul explains:
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her that he might sanctify her having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27, ESV).  And Paul goes on to say that the relationship that is intended between a man and his wife is symbolic of the relationship between Jesus and His Church – all we who believe.
Although we do not unite with Jesus physically in the same way a man and his wife unite with one another, we are united with Him physically in having the same resurrected flesh, and through our spiritual union with Him and all Christians throughout time and space, which we remember as we receive the Lord’s Supper.
John is explaining that the unity that exists between all those who believe and Jesus – and all of us with one another – will be perfected and glorified at the end of the age – in a perfect portrayal of the marriage union.  We will be united with God, through Jesus, permanently, securely, and beautifully.
Isaiah writes, “Lift up your eyes around and see, they all gather, they come to you.  ‘As I live, declares the Lord, you shall put them on as an ornament; you shall bind them on as a bride does.’ … I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with jewels” (Isaiah 49:18; 61:10, ESV).
At the restoration of the Creation, our unity with God as His Church and Bride will be as a permanent, perfect, and beautiful marriage.
Third, God will be with us.
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.’ 
In the restored Creation – in the Kingdom – in the City of God – we will be in the immediate presence of God.  God will be with us in a way that we who are living have never yet experienced.
Have we ever wondered about what the angel said to Joseph?
“’Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:  ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (Matthew 1:20b-23, ESV).
Does something seem strange?
The angel told Joseph to name the child, “Jesus,” which would fulfill the prophecy that the child would be called, “Immanuel” – but the name Jesus means, “God saves,” and the name, Immanuel means, “God with us,” and Jesus was never called Immanuel.  So what’s going on?
What’s going on is the name Jesus is what people called the Incarnate Son of God, but Immanuel is Who He is and will be – “God with us.”  Jesus is 100% God and 100% human in one person, so when the man Jesus is with us, God is also with us.
When Jesus walked on earth with His disciples, God was with them.  Now, in Paradise, Jesus is with the physically dead saints, so God is with them.  And when Jesus returns to earth in His Second Coming, God will be with us forever and ever in an immediate and present way.  We will be before God – the Incarnate Son – for all of eternity.
We have considered before that we cannot see God the Father or God the Holy Spirit, because They are spirits, and to look upon God in His unmediated state would kill us. Our eyes are finite, and even perfected in glory, we will not be able to see what is invisible to our eyes, so we will see the evidence of the Father and the Spirit, but we will see Jesus in His Glorified Body – God with us – God mediated through human flesh so we can live and worship the God we see.
Later in this chapter, John explains:
“And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.  And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.  By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and it gates will never be shut by day – and there will be no night there.  They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.  But nothing unclean can ever enter into it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:22-27, ESV).
In the Scripture, we who believe are called the temple of the Holy Spirit – both in our bodies, and collectively as the Church with Jesus as our Head.  This is fully realized in the City of God – where there is no need of a physical temple for us to worship in – because we will eternally be in the Glory of God and the Lamb of God will be before us as our Temple, as the Object of our worship – God with us.
Fourth, all suffering and sin will be banished.
“’He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’
            God, like a loving father, will comfort all we who believe – He will give us peace in the City of Peace – New Jerusalem.  We will never experience sorrow or death or any type of pain ever again – they will all be thrown into Hell – never to come back into God’s perfect Creation.
            As we heard Paul before – the greatest suffering that we possible suffer on this earth is insignificant – though it certainly may not feel that way at the time – in the light of what we will receive in glory when we are brought into God’s Peace – our past suffering and sorrow will all seem like nothing.
            Understand, suffering and pain and death are real, and we are right to mourn with each other and comfort one another in the hope that we have in Jesus.  With that, we ought to remember that we brought sin and suffering into the world, and the glory that God will bring us into at the end of the age – with its comfort and peace and lack of suffering and sin, will be so much more that we can possible understand or imagine, that our suffering here will seem like nothing.
            The day is coming, beloved, when we won’t see our loved ones die any more, we won’t be sorrowful and cry anymore, we won’t experience any time of pain anymore, and we won’t be able to sin against our God anymore, because He will have made everything beautiful and right and holy – to His Glory.
            Finally, we see that God swears to renew everything.
“And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’  Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’”
            Let us notice two things:  first, God promised to “make all things new” – not “to make all new things.”  No, everything that is in the Creation and all we who believe in Jesus Alone for salvation will be received into the Kingdom – this Kingdom, this world, this Creation – but perfected and holy – all sin and evil having been permanently sent away from us.
            God is not going to create all new things out of nothing – He is going to restore everything that is to what He originally created it as – with the impossibility of our sin corrupting it and ourselves again.
            And second, notice that God told John to write these things down because they are “trustworthy and true.” 
            God gave His word that everything He revealed to John would happen as He said it would and that the City of God would come to earth in all glory at the end.  The Creation will be restored; we who believe will be resurrected to eternal glory in the presence of God, never to sin, but to be eternally filled with joy.  God gives us His word – and God cannot lie.
            So, let us mourn for sin and suffering and death, but look forward with hope, knowing that God has given us His word – which must come to pass:
            The Creation will be made new.
            God will unite with the Church permanently, securely, and beautifully.
            God will be with us in a new and permanent way.
            All suffering and sin will be banished.
            Reason to rejoice.
            Let us pray:
            Almighty God, we thank You for the plan that You have set out and are bringing to pass to bring all of Your Creation and all we who believe into Your holy and eternal city.  Help us to be encouraged that the physically dead in the faith are with Jesus now, and we will all be together, physically alive, in Your glorious everlasting Kingdom at the end of the age.  For it is in Jesus Name, we pray, Amen.

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