Summary: In this life, we deal with chaos and tragedy daily, but there is coming a new day when all that has hurt us will be gone, and we will live face-to-face with the God who loves us immeasurably.
An elderly couple passed away and found themselves at the pearly gates. Peter was there to welcome them. First he showed them their mansion. The husband, overwhelmed by the sheer luxury of it all, asked, "How much does this place cost per night?" Peter replied, "Sir, this is heaven, it doesn’t cost anything." Then Peter took them to the dining room where table upon table was piled high with the most delicious foods you could imagine. Again overwhelmed by the glory of it all the man asked, "How much for the meals?" Peter said, "You forget, this is heaven, it’s free." Peter then took them out back where they saw a fantastically beautiful golf course. As the man stood there open-mouthed Peter said, "Now before you ask, there are no greens fees, this is heaven, everything is free." The man looked at his wife and said, "You and your confounded bran muffins, I could have been here 10 years ago!"
Indeed, we imagine heaven to be a glorious, peaceful, beautiful place, and this vision we heard just a few moments ago from John’s Revelation gives us an idea of why we imagine heaven in the ways that we do. And doesn’t it sound truly amazing? Beautiful like a bride dressed for her groom, no pain, or tears, or death. Yet did you notice the fact that John’s revelation doesn’t include pearly gates, or streets of gold, or mansions filled with the most succulent food? In this final imagery of heaven in the Bible, something else is emphasized; something, which I find to be far more glorious—a new heaven and a new earth, joined together around a Holy City, and at the center of this new city sits God, living (again) among humankind. Now that really sounds like heaven!
But for us to really appreciate the vision of heaven that we get in this passage from Revelation, I think we have to contrast it with the world we live in now. We’ve seen some pretty horrific pictures in the last couple of weeks, haven’t we? It all began with the bombings at the Boston marathon. We will not soon forget, I’m sure, the images of suffering and pain, of tears shed as people fled in panic. Two days later there was an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas; within the enormous blast radius, there were numerous homes, a school, an apartment complex, and a retirement home. Again, we were confronted with pictures of a suffering and mourning community. And as we all know, these are just two snapshots in a world full of such stories. We all experience pain, or suffering, or tragedy at some point.
What are you going through this morning? Is there pain in your heart that is nearly unmanageable? Has someone hurt you deeply? Are you suffering from an illness, a disease? Do you have a daily battle with depression and anxiety? Are you so disgusted by the daily shootings in the news, the continuing occurrences of hate-filled acts like the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, and the bombings in Boston that you feel there is little, if any, hope? Are you weeping over the state of our world? Are you hitting the wall right now, feeling like you can’t go on, like you’ll never make it?
A woman shares a story about her 7-year old daughter, Jessica. Jessica is a deep thinker when it comes to theological questions. Recently, as they were re-reading the story of Adam and Eve and how sin came into the world, Jessica and her mother discussed why bad things happen. Later that week, Jessica was sick and had to stay home from school. Feeling quite miserable, she told her Mom, “If only Adam and Eve hadn’t eaten the fruit, I wouldn’t be sick.” And before her mother could answer, Jessica added, “Of course, if they didn’t eat it, we’d all be sitting here naked!”
Of course, Adam and Eve’s nakedness was a sign of their innocence and purity. And that innocence, that purity has been lost and distorted because of sin. We live in a broken world. Every time we turn on the TV or open the newspaper, our hearts are torn out of our chests. We read about children who have been abducted and trafficked, or mass shooting, or devastation earthquakes. It’s just about too horrible to even imagine. And yet, this is the world we live in.
But the promise of John’s vision is that we can have hope in something far better, and at the center of it all is God, “the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.” “The biblical story began, quite logically, with a beginning. Now it draws to an end, not quite so logically, also with a beginning,” says Eugene Peterson. “The sin-ruined creation of Genesis that we know and experience is restored in the sacrifice-renewed creation of revelation,” The result in the first creation was “the heavens and the earth.” And the result in this ending creation is a “new heavens and new earth.”