Summary: St. John paints an amazing picture of the future...a picture of heaven that challenges conventional thinking about the afterlife.
Sermon for Retirement Suites by the Lake – September 28, 2008 – “A New Heaven and a New Earth”
Revelation 21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." 5 He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." 6 He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.
This is a powerful passage of Scripture that has meant a great deal to millions and millions of people. It’s been quoted in movies, it’s been read at hospital bedsides, songs and hymns have been written about it.
I think that one reason a lot of people find this meaningful is that it’s a very visual passage on the one hand and it’s a very relational passage on the other hand. It’s been very meaningful to me personally as along with my parents Eleanor and Lewis and our family I have mourned my brother Craig who passed away from cancer in January of 2007.
The book of Revelation was written by John when he was in exile on the island of Patmos. John was someone who experienced life and experienced God in a very creative and/trailblazing way.
Much of the book of Revelation reflects this artistic side of John and his profound way of imaging what he experienced of God.
The early church, after reading John’s book, felt that the book faithfully expressed the heart and emotions of God. So for that and some other reasons, it’s part of the book we know as the Bible. The book of Revelation actually bookends the Bible. The book of Genesis is the other bookend.
So…back to our passage today.
Revelation 21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.
John is speaking of a sight that he witnessed in his mind, a vision of sorts that put into perspective for him his current life and his current place in life. There were limitations to John’s experience of life. Exile is not a fun place to be. As he spent time on the island, he had time to pray and experience God’s voice and God’s heart.
And so we have John’s first vision, and it’s a new layer of existence…a new heaven and a new earth. The ‘heaven’ he refers to here is what we think of as the sky and the stars.
John sees something that is beyond what he experiences in his day to day life, but, very importantly, not disconnected from what he knows. He says the first heaven and earth have passed away, and there is no longer any sea.
That which was familiar and perhaps comforting to him, something he was able to grasp and understand, was giving way to something fresh and new. How often are we challenged to let go of old ideas and consider embracing new ideas, new understandings of life and love?
Old ideas can sometimes, as life progresses, come to feel a little empty and impoverished when we’re face with new situations, new levels of pain perhaps…grief, despair. But here is something new:
2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
There are a lot of different literary style in the Bible…there are historical books, there are legal books, there are letters to the churches, there are the gospels…and there are books of poetry. Poetry does something of course that a science or math textbook cannot.
Poetry doesn’t seek to explain the details of origins and the mechanics of the sub-molecular world. Poetry always touches on matters of the heart. Poetry is language used to attempt to convey mysteries of life and of love and of existence.