Monday, May 02, 2016

Sermon on Revelation 21:9-27, for the 6th Sunday of Easter, "New Jerusalem"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. As we have been surveying the book of Revelation these past weeks, you’ve probably noticed that it is a very visually descriptive book. John witnessed glorious visions of heaven and earth, all of which he was instructed to write down. Sometimes the descriptions seem to flow like a stream of consciousness, as though John were grasping at a multitude of images to try to relate what he was seeing. Things too glorious and wonderful to fully put into words. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then thousands of words fall short to describe the glory. But, on the other hand, we shouldn’t think that John was grasping at straws and at a loss for what to say.
On the contrary, inspired and directed by the Holy Spirit, John’s descriptions are highly intentional and specific. They borrow from and point us back to many rich Biblical pictures and prophecies, found in the Old and New Testament. Today’s chapter, Revelation 21, is just like that. In rapid succession, the New Jerusalem is described as a golden and jeweled city, a bride, and the people of God. The prophet Ezekiel saw visions so much like John’s, that in some cases the details are directly connected. Seeing the city from a great and high mountain. Twelve gates of the city named for the twelve tribes of Israel. God’s presence dwelling with His people. But John tells us more. So when we are caught up in these descriptions, we’re hearing rich language from many parts of the Bible.
What can we learn from these rich descriptions? How does this description of New Jerusalem help us live today on earth? Let’s examine some of the layers of meaning, and see. First, the city is called “the Bride, the Wife of the Lamb.” In Ephesians 5, it says, “husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” The church is the Bride of Christ, because He loves us with a self-sacrificing love. The love a true husband should have for his wife. Jesus died on the cross to redeem and cleanse His church, through “the washing of water with the word”. Jesus protects His church with a strong, self-giving, self-sacrificing love. He rescued us from our sin and our need, and made us His own.
Most of the description in Revelation 21, focuses, however, on the city description of New Jerusalem. Transparent gold, glistening jewels, a city of enormous dimensions. While we can easily get lost in the details, and the reading you heard today skipped over the section that names the 12 jewels that are the foundations of the city, and the measurements of the city, 12,000 stadia long, on each side—these details again aren’t accidental. Borrowing from Genesis, Exodus, and Ezekiel, they show us the new paradise in heaven, is built of many of the “materials” of the original paradise in the Garden of Eden. Paradise was lost because of sin, but will be restored in even greater and more glorious measure. The creation of the universe and of mankind centered on the Garden of Eden—but the end and fulfillment of salvation history, centers on the new city, Jerusalem.
Also, the dimensions of the city, are an enormous cube—unlike any earthly city. 12,000 stadia, in length, width, and height. Converted to English measurements, its somewhere between 1,200-1,500 miles per side. So we’re talking in terms of area, something like ½ to 2/3rd the size of the lower 48 states of America. Multiplied by the vertical dimension. Why such an enormous cube? In the Bible, there is one other place that is a perfect cube—the innermost sanctuary of the Temple. The Holy of Holies. Once obscured and hidden behind a great veil or curtain, and accessible only to the High Priest once a year, God made His dwelling in the midst of His people, in the tabernacle and temple. Only through the mediation of sacrifices and priests, could God’s presence be safely accessed by His people. But now that cube of God’s presence with His people has expanded to the whole of the New Jerusalem, an entire heavenly city where there is no longer any temple because “its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” God is there, present with all His people—no longer through sacrifices and mediation, but shining His light and glory on His people, with open access to His holy ones, in a city where the gates are never shut.
Why is God so accessible and His presence without mediation in the New Jerusalem? Because Jesus has made the once and for all sacrifice that covered all our sins. He interceded for us by means of His own blood, so that we can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence. Jesus’ death on the cross has reconciled the brokenness of our relationship with God, and cleansed us from sin, so His people can be a pure, cleansed, and holy bride, radiant before God.
All of this stands in stark contrast to another image in Revelation. The holy city, New Jerusalem, is half of a pair of contrasting images in the book of Revelation. In contrast to the holy, bride-city of New Jerusalem, is the corrupt prostitute city of Babylon, in chapter 18, which represents all ungodliness, sin, and what is detestable and in opposition to God. That city Babylon, stands as the Satanic parody and mockery of all that is good and true. It represents the lure and seduction of the world that would draw us away from God through sexual immorality, sensuality, luxurious living, and her delicacies. Babylon persecutes the saints of God and has their blood on their hands.
So to see the New Jerusalem exalted in glory and free of all that is detestable and false, is a resounding message of victory over the forces of evil that have assaulted and persecuted the people of God. It’s a message that God’s people can at last enjoy rest and security from the countless afflictions, pains, and miseries of this life. How does that help us now? It helps us to reframe and understand the terrors, struggles, and events of this life, in the bigger picture of eternity. It helps us to see the forces of evil in this world as a spiritual assault marshalled against God and His people—but an assault that is doomed for ultimate failure and destruction. It assures us that our feeble struggles are not in vain, but they precede the shining glory of God’s people at rest with Him.
Another unique feature of heaven is that there will be no need for the “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”. The sun and moon give way to the greater glory and eternal light of God and the Lamb. Again, Jesus and the Father stand in parallel and equality as the Light and Temple of God. The description of God as Light is another rich and powerful image found all through Scripture. “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5); darkness is as light with God (Psalm 139:12). ”In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5). Jesus is the True Light that comes into the darkness of our world—a light that can’t be overcome, defeated, or conquered by the darkness. A light that shines into every corner till God’s glory is seen in all creation. The eternal light that is never dimmed or darkened, so that there is also no night in heaven. God is the only Light that we will need for all eternity.
Whenever the darkness of the world threatens or looms, we look to the Light of the World, and shine His Good News brightly into the darkness. Where sin looms, we preach repentance and forgiveness. Where death looms, we preach Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! We preach light, life, and hope, as His life is the light of men. Where loneliness or fear looms, we preach the God who is with us, with His people, whom He will not abandon.
“But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Viewing heaven as a pure and sinless city, with nothing detestable or false in it, can possibly strike us in different ways. For some, it might strike us with the terror of judgment, knowing our sin, and fearing that we could never be worthy to stand in that city. For some, it may concern them that many will be excluded from the city, just as Jesus said the road to destruction is broad, but the way that leads to eternal life is narrow. And for still others, it may be a joy and reassurance to know that the new creation and heaven is purged of sin and every evil, so there is nothing to afflict, divide, hurt, or destroy.
Only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life will enter it. Many might wish to “write off” their own sins. But we are not the author of the book of life. Neither are we its editor. Only One can reason with us, and make the offer, that though our sins be like scarlet stains, He shall wash them white as snow. Only One can author our names into His book of Life. Only One can write down the full amount of debt that we owe to Him, and then pay the price for us in full. You know Him. You have seen Him all through the book of Revelation. The Lamb of God, who gives the saints their blood-washed robes, white as snow, pure as He is pure, forgiven of every sin. The Author of :Life who pens our salvation with the Word of His mouth and the life of His Spirit. The Redeemer, whose boundless mercy assumes the groaning and impossible debt of the world, and repays it in full, in His death on the cross. He’s the One who makes your entrance into that Heavenly Jerusalem—Jesus, the Lamb, and no one else. Look ever to the Lamb, and take your sins in humble sorrow to Him, that you might be forgiven and raised up to His newness of life. Call upon His Name! Come Lord Jesus! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. In Revelation 21, St. John records a description of the New Jerusalem, as he saw it coming down out of heaven. In what way is the church like the Bride of Christ? What did He do for her? Ephesians 5:25-27.
  2. The vision of New Jerusalem seen from a great high mountain, and the angel measuring it, closely matches another Biblical vision. What did the prophet Ezekiel see in Ezekiel 40:1-3 (vision continues through ch. 48).
  3. The vision of the city in Ezekiel 48 also describes 12 gates named for the tribes of Israel. Revelation adds to and varies from the vision in that there is no temple in New Jerusalem. What takes the place of the temple, according to Revelation 21:22? How does this agree with Ezekiel 48:35?
  4. Ezekiel 28:13 describes many of the “jewels of paradise”, from the garden of Eden; which are also found on the breastplate of the high priest of Israel, in Exodus 28:17-21. Many of these same stones are the “building materials” of the New Jerusalem, in Revelation 21:15-20. What does this tell us God has done, in response to human’s loss of paradise through the Fall into sin?
  5. Who gives light to the New Jerusalem? What is no longer present in heaven? Revelation 21:23-25.
  6. What human contributions are brought to the city? Revelation 21:24-26; Isaiah 60:5ff. What is excluded from the city? Revelation 21:8, 27; 22:14-15. To what city do these “unclean” belong? Revelation 18; what is the fate of that corrupt city and its inhabitants? Revelation 19:2.
  7. How does one get in the “Lamb’s Book of Life?” Revelation 3:5; 20:12-15. Who is the Author of Life? Acts 3:15

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