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

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