O LORD, from whom all good things do come; Grant to us thy humble servants, that by thy holy inspiration we may think those things that are good, and by thy merciful guiding may perform the same; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Lesson: Revelation 21.
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.
Alleluia, Christ is risen. [He is risen indeed.]
DEAR brethren in Christ, today is the last Sunday of Easter. This Thursday, 40 days after our Lord’s bodily Resurrection from the dead, we will remember his Ascension to the right hand of the Father in heaven. Since Easter Day, 1 April, I hope you have reflected well on what the Resurrection of a Jew from Nazareth, 2000 years ago, means for you today. If he conquered the grave 2000 years ago but it does not change your life today and tomorrow and the day after that, it is of no use to you.
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. St John, at the end of his visions in heaven, after many momentous events and the rising and falling of nations, sees this. After many frightful signs and many encouragements of God’s faithfulness to those who love him, after long spiritual battles between the saints and the wicked, this is the place we are come to in the visions given to John: a new heavens and a new earth, when the first heavens and the first earth are passed away.
Here are three basic truths I would impress upon you today: The new heavens and new earth are real. The wicked will not partake of this kingdom. The kingdom is glorious for those who have a part in it.
The new heavens and new earth shown here, at the end of all things, is real, as surely as the Lord lives today. Many Christians imagine that the end of all things is heaven, a place up high above the earth, away from real life. They think of it as a kind of never-never-land. They think of it as a dream. That is completely backward. The Bible never teaches that we go to heaven when we die, and that this heaven is the end of every Christian. Let me say it in other words: Your destination is not heaven. The Bible does not say you will go to heaven when you die, and it does not say you end up in heaven. What the Bible teaches is something much more real and substantial. What does the Bible say?
I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. What is being made ready now is the holy city, the new Jerusalem, not some faraway thing called heaven. Look at your Bible. Look at John’s vision. Where is this city in the end? This city comes down from God, out of heaven. So where will this new Jerusalem be? The holy city, the new Jerusalem, will be on earth.
And this holy city is a bride adorned for her husband. As St Paul also says of the Church, in Galatians, Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. The bride is the Church, the holy city, new Jerusalem; the husband is Jesus Christ. Think who Jesus is, and you will see whether this holy city that will come upon the earth is real. The Son of God is the realest being there is, because he is God. Anything imagined by you alone is less real than you. If the new heavens and the new earth were just your imagination, it would be as real as your imaginary friend when you were five. But the Son of God is realer than you, because you were imagined by him. If Jesus did not continually imagine and sustain your existence, you could not exist. And for you he was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem, descended from king David. And for you he tabernacled with men, and dwelt with men. And for you he was crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem. And for you, on the third day, he was raised from the dead and walked out of his tomb. And for you he remains a man today, with a new and glorious body. And for you he has imagined the new heavens and the new earth, and has laid it before you as your hope at the end of the world, and says he will wipe all tears from your eyes, and declares that this holy city of the saints, this New Jerusalem coming to the earth from heaven, is his bride. I ask you, Is Jesus such a damned fool as to be married to a mere figment of your imagination?
Hear what Jesus says: Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. Jesus says, these things are true and faithful. What he has showed John, and us, is as good as done. It is done because his own glorious Resurrection from the dead is the firstfruits of our own resurrection. The two resurrections are part of the same thing. For this reason, if Jesus surely walked out of the grave alive, then just as surely we who trust him with our lives will be raised out of our graves and come into his new world. For he himself is the first person to live this reality. The first Adam brought death into the world, and Jesus is the last Adam, bringing life into the world by his own Resurrection. Therefore he says, Behold, I am making all things new.
So this kingdom, this city, is real; but the wicked do not partake of it. Jesus says, The fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. You’d better believe it. Who has his part in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur? The fearful and unbelieving. Remember who feared the coming new world: those who did not believe in Jesus or love him above the things of this world, those who loved even a sick and dying world rather than Jesus. Those who love the world rather than Jesus, he tells us what that character looks like when taken to its logical conclusion. Unbelief makes people into the abominable, people who deserve to be hated. It makes people into murderers, people who are willing to kill Christians because they hate Jesus that much. It makes people into whoremongers, people who take what is meant for marriage and spoil their bodies by doing it with whores. It makes people into sorcerers, people who refuse to submit to God and instead use witchcraft to try to control the world. It makes people into idolaters, people who serve images of health, wealth, and beauty, who refuse to know God as he truly is and instead indulge themselves with pictures they have made for themselves. These are the fruits of unbelief, and unbelief ends in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.
Think about whether you believe when your belief is tested. Or, if your belief is being tested now by suffering, see if you actually believe. As C. S. Lewis says in his book A Grief Observed, ‘Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not in imagination. Yes; but should it, for a sane man, make quite such a difference as this? No. And it wouldn’t for a man whose faith had been real faith and whose concern for other people’s sorrows had been real concern. The case is too plain. If my house has collapsed at one blow, that is because it was a house of cards. The faith which “took these things into account” was not faith but imagination. The taking them into account was not real sympathy. If I had really cared, as I thought I did, about the sorrows of the world, I should not have been so overwhelmed when my own sorrow came. It has been an imaginary faith playing with innocuous counters labelled “Illness”, “Pain”, “Death”, and “Loneliness”. I thought I trusted the rope until it mattered to me whether it would bear me. Now it matters, and I find I didn’t.’ What is your belief like, and what is your share? Do you trust the rope, do you trust Jesus, or are you the fearful and unbelieving, who will die the second death in fire and brimstone?
But let us speak of better things. The kingdom of God, which will be fully revealed and burst forth out of our hearts when the power of the Holy Spirit has remade the whole world, is glorious for those who have a share in it. This is what baptism promises us. Scripture tells us, by the pen of St Peter, that baptism saves us by appealing to God out of a good conscience, that we might share in Christ’s death and resurrection. Let us look at the resurrection. Let us look at the bride, the Lamb’s wife. If we believe in Jesus Christ, we are that city, descending out of heaven from God. The wall of this city of God has 12 foundations, and in the 12 foundations are the names of the 12 Apostles. Look at the materials of the 12 foundations: each is made of a different kind of stone, like the 12 stones that in the Old Testament were inlaid in the breastplate of the High Priest. The priests led the worship of God. This city is a city of worship, in which the saints lead all creation in praising God. We have heard about the city of Jerusalem, in the land of Israel; but here John calls us to see the glory of what the new Jerusalem will look like on the new earth. The twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.
This imagery is strange to us. We are hardly able to imagine it. God invites us to see it, and our minds are hardly able to look at it. This is the opposite of shadows, which we can easily look at. The world we live in now is not the real world. Because of sin, we are now living shadows of the real stuff we will be when God makes the new heavens and new earth. Whatever is good in this world now, whatever is worth loving in this world now, we love in the world to come because it will be realer then than it is today. Whatever you can lose in this world now, in the new world you will have it realer than you have it today; whatever good you do in this world now, in the new world you will see it realer than you have ever seen it here. What are your realest and greatest joys here and now in today’s world, and what will it be like when the former things are passed away and the real world of Christ’s Resurrection is begun?
The reality is, Jesus is the Lord of the world today, and in his new world this reality will be realer than ever before. The dying bodies we have now will be raised into bodies of glory and incorruption, worshipping God and doing great things with a strength we have never known. What heroism lives in us now, the heroism of Christ living in us and redeeming our bodies, it will be something greater than we can imagine, just as what John saw was beyond what he could fully describe. Justice and mercy, wisdom and power, we will see them real and glorious, stranger and truer than we have ever known.
Let us pray, that the Lord may grant us a share in his Resurrection.
O God, who for our redemption didst give thine only-begotten Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the cross, and by his glorious resurrection hast delivered us from the power of the enemy: Grant us so to die daily unto sin, that we may evermore live with him who died and rose again for us; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.