Monday, May 16, 2016

Sermon on John 14:23-31, for Pentecost and Confirmation Day, "A Welcome Home for God"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. In our reading John today Jesus is answering a question—so to better understand the answer, we need to know the question! In John 14:22, just before our reading starts, Judas the son of James—not Judas Iscariot, asks this question: “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” It’s the only recorded words we have from this second Judas.
Jesus’ answer begins our reading: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s, who sent me.” So Jesus’ answer is that the way He shows Himself to us and not to the world, is by making His home or dwelling place with believers, and creating in them a love and obedience toward God. Just think of what this means! God is going to make a welcome home for Himself, among us!! In John 14:2, Jesus talks about a dwelling place or a home for us in His Father’s heavenly mansion—but here, in vs. 23, Jesus also promises that He and the Father will make His home with believers now!
Hospitality comes to mind when welcoming a friend, guest, or relative into our home. Warm hospitality makes a person feel at home and welcome. Where does God find such a welcome home? Among those who love Jesus and keep His Word—which is also the Father’s Word. Love and obedience to God go hand in hand. On the other hand, if we were defiant of God and His Word, rejected it, ignored it, or treated it as an unwelcome burden—this shows rejection and unwelcome to God Himself. It would be inhospitable—and we would risk driving God away. This is why the Scripture warns us not to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30), which is to sadden the Spirit of God by our evil words or actions.
Having God at home with us is like another passage of Scripture: “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). God’s home is in our body, as a temple. God doesn’t live in “temples made by man” (Acts 17:24), but “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). This elevates this teaching of Jesus to an extraordinary level. Not only are we as human beings, valued and made in the image of God, but by the price of Jesus’ redemption, we are made holy by the Spirit, as God’s Temple and dwelling place. God’s home is more than just living quarters—it’s His Temple. A place that He makes holy.
To have such holiness, and to have such worth and value in God’s eyes; or to even just to be those who love Jesus and keep His Word—these are awesome treasures and gifts. How can this even be? In ourselves we struggle with pettiness, self-centeredness, with laziness, and sometimes even disregard for our bodies as God’s Temple. We hardly seem a fitting place for God’s Temple. We acknowledge as Jesus said, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”. How can I love Jesus and keep His Word well enough, that God would still want to dwell in me? How can I have the necessary holiness of life, to be God’s Temple?
It all must come from God and go back to God. Just like our confirmands learned some weeks ago about worship; God’s love also originates and returns back to Him. “We love, because He first loved us”… “This is love, not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:19; 10-11). God’s first love creates our love. We don’t love or obey Jesus out of fear, or cold attention to duty, but love and obedience is born out of God’s first love in sending Jesus to sacrifice Himself for us. His greatest love, that Jesus laid down His life for His friends, creates and stirs in us a love that returns to Him, and multiplies outward toward one another. To become a loving person and disciple of Jesus, you must know and receive His love. Then your love will grow in return, because God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, make His dwelling in you. God’s love is always pouring into us infinitely more than He receives in return—but it grows and increases our love, so that we can His suitable dwelling place.
Jesus goes on to promise the disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit, sent from the Father, in Jesus’ Name. “He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit is our heavenly teacher, and the subject that He tutors us in is broad—everything that Jesus taught. Learning and understanding Jesus’ teachings is followed by doing them. It’s not learning abstractions that stay in our head. Just like our confirmands have begun to learn, and will continue to learn Jesus’ teachings, we too must grow in learning and in doing. Today our confirmands confess to you, that this is also their faith. This also is evidence of God showing Himself among us—in actions that display love, and in the boldness to confess our faith before others, that Jesus is Lord. Just like Jesus’ disciples were taught by the Holy Spirit, to remember all of Jesus’ teachings, so are we today. The Word of God is the Spirit’s ever-active toolkit to work faith and obedience in us. Bringing Jesus’ teaching to our memory, we learn to love and believe what He has said.
Gregory the Great, a Christian bishop from the 500’s AD, famously said, “The truth is not known unless it is loved.” That is to say, if we don’t love the truth, we don’t really know it. Knowing the truth is not just an engaging of our mind with an abstract fact—it’s also engaging our heart and life with the truth in love. Disciples of Jesus, confirmands, children and adults who follow the Lord, ought to love the truth. To love God’s truth is to love what is pure, noble, and good, and to detest what is false, filthy, and wrong. We are learning to love and choose the good that God intends, and to avoid selfishness and sinful desire. God shapes in us the love and desire to keep His commands, as we learn His truth. God begins the good work in us, and will bring it to completion in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God has begun His work in these youth of our congregation, and He is not done with them, nor with us! Our whole life should be a growth in loving Jesus and keeping His Word.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” Being a disciple of Jesus brings us an incredible gift—the gift of Jesus’ peace. Jesus is careful to set His peace apart from the peace that the world gives. Why is the world’s “peace” so different? One interpreter sums it up well—the “world is powerless to give peace. There is sufficient hatred, selfishness, bitterness, malice, anxiety and fear that every attempt at peace is rapidly swamped” (Carson, 506). We certainly hear many cries for world peace. There are large sections of the world that protest and decry the evils of war, and desire peace. But for all the efforts and talk, the world is increasingly violent and bloody—to the point that most are forced to face a brutal reality—that not all people in the world actually want peace. Hatred, selfishness, fear, and all the other factors make us enemies of each other, so that we provoke one another instead of pursuing peace. We cannot simply leave it up to the imagined “goodwill” of men, leaders, or nations, to keep us from rushing into war and destruction. We have to face the ugly reality that sin runs deep in all of us. In short, the peace that the world gives—whenever it appears, is fragile, unsteady, and all too short-lived.
Jesus’ peace, by contrast, is lasting as eternity, and it’s a peace that cannot be stolen away. It’s a peace that rests in our hearts and keeps us from fear, even in the midst of trouble in this world. It’s the peace that assures us that Jesus has overcome this sinful world, so we know that there will be lasting joy for those who believe in Him. It’s not the fragile peace between men, but it is the peace between God and man that is established by Jesus’ heavenly pardon.
To be this deeper, stronger, everlasting peace, God must take serious stock of our sin. He must drive us to repentance, so that we acknowledge sin as a deadly poison, and wish to be rid of it. He commands Jesus to go to the cross, so that the world may know that Jesus loves the Father. But even as Jesus goes to His death, the devil has no claim on Him. The devil has no charge or accusation of sin that can stick to Jesus—he’s got nothing on Jesus! Jesus obeyed His Father’s every command, without sin. But by taking our sin upon Himself at the cross, by standing in for our punishment, Jesus can decree our pardon and peace. He can issue that verdict of innocence for those who lay their sins upon Him, and look for His pardon and forgiveness.
Why is this peace so superior to the peace of the world? The peace of Jesus cannot be assaulted by the weapons of the flesh—this peace is secure because it is declared by God. It’s the peace of having our relationship to God restored through Jesus. As the quote in the bulletin beautifully explains, it’s a peace that individually helps us face trouble or fear, and guards it against worry. And on a community level, its Jesus’ peace that gives us harmony with each other, as it leads us to follow His teachings of mutual forgiveness and love toward each other.  This peace endures great hardship and crosses, because this peace is built on the knowledge that Jesus has overcome the world. John 16:33, Jesus says it all, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” May that peace, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. The setting for Jesus’ conversation with His disciples in John chapters 13-16 was the Last Supper with them, on the night He was betrayed (Maundy Thursday). It’s sometimes called His, “Farewell Discourse.” In John 14:28, what does Jesus mean about going away and coming?
  2. What is the relationship between loving God and keeping His Word? John 14:23-24. If someone doesn’t keep His word, what does this mean? 1 John 4:7-11; 4:18-21.
  3. How does God and Jesus make His “home with” believers? 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 2 Corinthians 6:16; 1 John 2:24; Colossians 3:3 How does it affect us to have God’s presence with us in this way? How does it transform our lives and actions?
  4. Jesus promised the disciples the supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit, bringing them what amounts to “total recall” of what He taught. John 15:26. How would this be important for the work of the apostles as they carried on Jesus’ ministry? Acts 2:42; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:21
  5. Read John 14:27. What kind of “peace” does the world give? How long does it last? Why is Jesus’ peace different and far superior? John 16:33
  6. Who does Jesus call the “ruler of this world?” John 14:30; 12:31; Ephesians 2:1-2. What does it mean that he has “no claim” on Jesus? What would soon happen that might make the disciples worry that the devil had power over Jesus? How does Jesus show that this is not true, and that He remains in full control of the situation? John 14:31; 10:18
  7. Describe the work of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus has promised, for your life, based on John 14:23-31.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Sermon on Revelation 22:1-20, for the 7th Sunday of Easter, "Tree of Life"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Last week in Revelation we focused especially on the heavenly city of the New Jerusalem. Today, in chapter 22, the holy city is still prominent, but new images dominate. One is the Tree of Life. In the midst of the city on either side of the river of the water of life, stands the Tree of Life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit for each month, and having leaves that are for the healing of the nations. The Tree of Life takes us all the way back to the very beginning of the Bible, with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, where a river flows out of the garden and waters it. Many trees grew in that garden, but two were particularly important—the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
So having the Tree of Life appear in the very last chapter of the Bible, is an obvious “bookend” that brings us full circle from the very beginning. To see the saints of God in heaven gaining access to the Tree of Life, we first need to remember how access to the original tree of life was lost. When God made Adam and Eve, He placed them in the Garden of Eden—a perfect home rich with life, for them to inhabit and work in, a garden free of all the trouble and misery that would later come through sin. Of the two trees in that garden—the tree of life, and the knowledge of good and evil—they were only forbidden by God’s command to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This was their command to obey. But they fell to the devil’s deception, and bought his lie that cast doubt on God’s Word. The devil’s guilty question was, “Did God really say?” And you know what happened—Adam and Eve ate of the fruit, and suddenly their eyes were opened and they realized what they had done—they felt their sin and shame immediately, and tried to hide from God.
The final part of God’s curse and punishment for their disobedience, was that they could never return to the Garden of Eden. As God placed an angel with a flaming sword, guarding the way back to the tree of life, He drove them out of the garden and said: “Behold the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever”. So after the terrible realization that Adam and Eve had plunged themselves and the world into sin, they faced the despairing reality that they were forbidden access to the tree of life. They were barred from its fruit, that would give life forever. We were born under that same curse and separation from God, and the tree of life. So fast forward to the very last chapter of the Bible, and the saints are given authority and access to the tree of life! This is cosmic news! It’s not just a visit to your local orchard—this is access to the very thing that God had prohibited mankind from receiving, after the fall into sin. And further, there is nothing accursed in the city of God. The curse has been removed!
How will we get this restored access to the Tree of Life? In verse 14, it says, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” First of all, note that they can come to the tree of life because they wash their robes. This recalls chapter 7:14, where we saw the saints in triumph, and were asked, “Who are these in white robes?” and heard the answer, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb” By the washing of forgiveness, by Jesus’ blood, ever spot, stain, sin, and blemish is washed away. It’s by the cleansing of Jesus’ blood and His Spirit making us holy, that we receive the holiness, which we need in order to see God.
But note also, who cannot come into the city and who does not have access to the tree of life. It is all those who continue in immorality, false worship, and who love and do what is false. For them, access is barred forever from that life. Just as “loving the lie” that Adam and Eve could become like God, led them to the first sin and being barred from the Garden and the Tree—so also those who still love what is false shall never enter that city. No more is there any curse in the New Heavens and New Earth. The curse of sin and all its havoc, is gone forever and undone. This is why there are no more tears, because there is no death, mourning, crying, nor pain anymore (Revelation 21:4). Falsehood, evildoing, or any kind of sin cannot exist in the New Creation, for that would only carry the misery of this life into the next. But God has decisively excluded sin, falsehood, and death from the new creation. By contrast, it’s only those who love and listen to the truth who are in heaven.  
It’s a tantalizing glimpse of heaven. There’s so much more that we don’t know, and that God hasn’t revealed to us—like what does it mean that we will reign forever and ever? What will we be doing? What is the rest of the New Creation like? All of the answers will have to wait—but we can be certain that sin and evil will be out of the picture, and that the fullness and goodness of life as God intended it, has been restored in greater measure than what was lost.
And sustaining this life, along with the tree, is the river of the water of life flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb. This image merges perfectly with the promise that Jesus made in His earthly ministry, to one troubled, sinful woman, who was thirsty. As she traveled dusty paths in the heat of the day, to get a drink from a well, where Jesus was resting, He opened a conversation with her about the water of life. While asking her for a drink of H2O, He told her that He possessed living water, that one could drink and never thirst again. Jesus promised that the one who drinks His living water would have a spring of water welling up to eternal life! (John 4:10-14). Later in the Gospel of John, Jesus explains “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of His heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37-38).
Jesus is the Living Water, and the thirsty drink from Him and find eternal life! Revelation 22:17 echoes this same thought, “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come’. And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” The Spirit and the church invite us to come to Jesus. The one who hears the invitation says “Come”, and we are invited to drink deeply of the water of life, for free! Jesus charges no price for this precious gift, as He offers it to us for free. Eternal life for us issues forth from Jesus and the throne of God, just as the river of the water of life does.
As all these images circle back to Jesus, and enrich us with the many teachings of the Bible, we are also reminded of another tree. The tree of the cross. The tree where Jesus went to die for our sins, and conquer death. In one of the prayers, called the Proper Preface, for Holy Week, the pastor prays, “Jesus Christ, our Lord, who accomplished the salvation of mankind by the tree of the cross that, where death arose, there life also might rise again and that the serpent who overcame by the tree of the garden might likewise by the tree of the cross be overcome.” The prayer reminds us of how Jesus defeated the devil, who deceived by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—but was overcome by Jesus at the tree of the cross. A dead and splintered tree of wood, an ugly cross that was the symbol of execution and death, became the place where Jesus crushed the power of the serpent, the devil. That ugly cross and the curse that Jesus bore on it, became the victory for our redemption and life. New life for us, and victory over the grave, came in Jesus’ rising from the dead in triumph.
So Revelation shows us the great spiritual renewal of the whole cosmos. This Old Creation, the present sinful world, is giving way to the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, and at the end, the New Creation will be entirely free of the sin and corruption that mark this world. This kingdom and victory of Jesus comes not by wars and bloodshed of humanity, but by the death and bloodshed of the One Innocent Victim, Jesus, in His self-sacrifice. Jesus has already risen from the dead to confirm His victory. Scripture promises that  the last enemy to be destroyed, before Jesus delivers the kingdom over to His Father, is death. Once death is destroyed, and Jesus has brought everything in submission to God, Scripture says, that Jesus will submit to the Father, that God may be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:26-28). Revelation shows the New Creation all at peace, when Jesus has delivered the kingdom over to His Father.
The reading gives a dire warning that no one should add to or take away from the words of this book of prophecy—for they will suffer the plagues of this book, and lose their share in the tree of life and the holy city. This warning serves as a notice to us again, not to love falsehood, but to love the truth, the truth of God’s Word. God’s Word must not be tampered with, added to or deleted from, but believed. As Peter confessed to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!” We pray that God would teach us to love and revere His Truth, and Trust Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And while we wait in awe for His coming, while we gaze on the heavenly mysteries, and take courage from His victory over the world, we pray that invitation: ”Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Like the whole rest of the book of Revelation, chapter 22 is packed with images that come from all over the Scripture. What does the “river of the water of life” and the “tree of life” point to? Genesis 2:8-10. What happened to Adam and Eve’s access to the tree of life? Genesis 3:22-24. How is this restored in the New Heavens? Revelation 22:2, 14.
  2. What similarities appear between the river of the water of life and the tree, in Revelation 22:1-2, and Ezekiel 47:1-12, especially verses 1, 7, and 12? What is the source of the river in each vision? For what reason does God give access to the tree of life? Why can they have access to this tree? Revelation 22:14; 7:14.
  3. Why is it good, necessary, and even essential that nothing accursed, or anyone who loves and practices falsehood (Revelation 21:27; 22:3;15), be present or allowed in the New Jerusalem? Romans 8:21; 1 Corinthians 15:26; Revelation 21:4. What must we have or be to see God? Hebrews 12:14; Matthew 5:8; Exodus 33:20, 23; Isaiah 6:5.
  4. In Revelation 22:4, the saints have the Name of God on their foreheads. How did this Name protect them? Revelation 3:12; 7:3; 14:1. How have we been sealed with the Name of God, and had it placed upon us? Matthew 28:19-20
  5. Revelation 22:12-13 says Jesus is coming with His “recompense” or “wages” to repay everyone according to what they have done. How does this agree with what Jesus says in John 5:21-29. How does one avoid coming into judgment? John 5:24; 3:16-18. For what reason is a person condemned? John 3:18-21; Revelation 22:15.
  6. Does this mean that we are saved by works? Or is salvation still by grace? Revelation 22:17. How do good works come out of a salvation that is by grace? Ephesians 2:8-10.
  7. What dire warning is given for altering the Word of God by addition or subtraction? Revelation 22:18-19. How does this teach us to value and regard all of God’s Word? 2 Timothy 3:16-17; John 17:17; Ps. 119:160

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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Listen at:

  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