“The Four Last Things:  Heaven (2)”                                     October 9, 2011

Revelation 21:1-22:6

 

SCRIPTURE INTRO: 

We’ve come to the end of our study of the Four Last Things—

   Death, Judgment, Hell, and Heaven.

 

I hope that your faith in the Bible’s teaching of these things has been strengthened.

   And I hope you’ve been reminded that these are not hypothetical questions—

   but matters of supreme importance.

 

What is going to happen at the end of my life as an individual?

What is going to happen at the end of the world?

   The way you answer those will determine the way you live every day.

Bible says that if there is nothing after this life—

   then you might as well eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you may die.

 

But since, in fact, we do have souls that live forever,

   and since there is eternity and a judgment—lives here matter greatly.

 

I told you last week we would spend two Sundays on heaven,

   and that we were going to read the same passage—

   all of Revelation 21 and the first six verses of Revelation 22.

These are the most important chapters about heaven in all the Bible.

 


 

INTRO:  A few months ago my parents told me that they had found an old

   photograph, taken in the 1920s.  It was a picture of my grandmother,

   my dad’s mother, she is about six or eight years old. 

Also in the picture is her older sister, who is about 12, and her father.

   They are standing in front of a tent on the beach.

 

In the 1920s and 30s her family would go to South Florida during the winter—

   especially during the Depression. 

They didn’t have work in Ohio, so they would go down and pick winter crops.

   They lived in tents on beach in a place in Palm Beach Co. called Briny Breezes.

 

If you have ever driven to South Florida you know that coming down I-95

   from north Palm Beach all the way to Miami it’s solid urban sprawl. 

Millions of people, interstates and shopping malls.

   Back then, South Florida was very different.

   And for a little girl from Alliance, Ohio, it was a special place.

 

My grandmother would tell me wistfully what Florida was like back then.

   How she and her sister and other kids in the Briny Breezes tent village

   would drag washtubs down to the surf, and they would catch enough

   fish and spiny lobsters for supper every night.

Of course, there hasn’t been fishing like that for decades.

 

There were crystal clear lakes and rivers, fed by springs.

   There is a river that runs through Ft. Lauderdale called New River.

   My grandmother remembered when it was clear and fresh. 

When Ft. Lauderdale started to grow the Corp of Engineers made cuts to connect 

   to the intra-coastal waterway, they dredged for ships and canals.

The New River is dark and brackish—permanently changed.

 

My grandmother also claimed the climate was different in the old South Florida

   that it was cooler and more pleasant. 

I once asked her why and she thought it had to do with the Everglades.

   They used to be so much larger.  But vast expanses of the Everglades

   have been drained by canals—first for agriculture, then housing developments.  

 

My grandfather thought the only way to save South Florida was to outlaw a/c.

   He was certain that would drive all the Yankees out.

   For some reason he didn’t consider himself a Yankee.

But, of course, even if the Yankees leave, South Florida is permanently scarred. 

   It will never again be what it once was.  Or will it?

There is a stunning promise that the Lord gives us over and over in the Bible.

   The promise is that after Christ returns, after the wrath of God has purged

   all sin and evil, there will be a new heaven and a new earth.

 

This is what I want us to focus on in our final study of the last things.

What theologians have called the final estate. 

   Not just the heaven your spirit goes to when you die, but the heaven you will

   live in after Christ returns and after the resurrection. 

After you have been raised a glorified body.  What then? 

   This is the promise—what Scripture calls the new heavens and new earth.

 

The Old Testament prophets spoke about it. 

We read earlier Isaiah’s prophecy of the new heavens and new earth,

   the lion lying down with the lamb, the fruitfulness and prosperity.

Amos speaks of it very vividly as we read last week, it’s in the Psalms.

   It was a hope of the Old Testament saints.  That’s what Hebrews 11 says.

   They were looking forward to the heavenly country.

   They were looking for city with foundations whose architect and builder is God.

 

The Apostle Peter’s second letter is about the promises of God, and how those

   promises give us power for the spiritual and moral transformation for our lives.

He presents the new earth as one of the greatest of all God’s promises.

   “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven

   and a new earth, the home of righteousness.”

 

I hope to show you that this new world will not be a purely spiritual world,

   or another, totally different world—it will be this world redeemed.

Everything about creation that is good and beautiful will be restored to a glorious

   newness that will even surpass the goodness and beauty of Eden.

We will be given this new earth as God’s redeemed race to enjoy, use, tend,

   and explore for glory of God and the love of Christ.

 

It’s wonderful, it’s beyond our comprehension.  Bible even tells us that.

   It says that our minds cannot conceive what God has in store.

   And yet, he gives us hints.  He gives clues.  He wants us to imagine and wonder. 

Two points. 

   Anticipating and applying the promise of the new heavens and new earth.

MP#1  You must anticipate the promise of a new heaven and a new earth.

When you promise your children something fun they anticipate it,

   they start to ask you questions about it. 

If your children had never been to the beach, and you said:

   Guess what?  We’re going to the beach for spring break.

   They would be thrilled, and they would start asking you questions about it.

 

Whenever Christians think about God’s promise of a new heaven and new earth

   they start to anticipate it and ask questions about it.  Lots of questions.

How old will we be?  If a child dies, will they be grown up in resurrection body?

   St. Augustine said we will all be around the age of 30.  That’s speculation.

Will we own things, will there be private property? 

   We don’t have time to consider all the questions—just three.

 

1.  Will there really be a new earth?

Yes.  The Lord makes this promise over and over that his plan is to redeem

   and restore the natural creation.

When God made the world, do you remember the benediction he pronounced

   after his creation work was finished each day?  “And God saw what he had made

   and it was good.”  On seventh day, “Saw all had made and it was very good.”

 

Satan’s scheme was to ruin every part of that good creation.

   So he tempted our first parents to eat the forbidden fruit.  They did.

   And the curse fell on them.  But not just on them—on the whole world.

Do you remember Lord’s words after Adam and Eve ate the fruit?

   “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of

   your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you and you will eat the plants of the field.”

 

It is not just human beings who are cursed by sin—creation is too.

   Satan’s scheme.  Not only to ruin mankind, but to ruin goodness of all creation.

The clearest expression of this is in Romans 8 which describes creation

   as groaning because of the curse of sin and in bondage to decay.

It is not what it once was or what it was created to be.

 

Bible says that the reason Jesus Christ appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.

   That means that Jesus’ redemptive work was not limited to saving your soul.

   If he just saved you soul then Satan would be victorious in physical world.

Jesus Christ came to redeem our bodies as well as our souls and he came to redeem

   all of creation from the curse of sin, set all things right.

Your salvation is the glorious resurrection of your body—like Christ’s body.

A body that is radiant and powerful, a body that is untainted by sin and corruption

   and perfectly in tune with the life and desires of the Spirit.

And you will first flex the muscles of your resurrection body in a world that has

   also been restored by the power of Christ. 

 

2.  Will we recognize the new earth?

Yes.  Yes, but the changes will be so tremendous that we can barely begin to

   comprehend what that new earth will be like.

As you read the description in Revelation, there are thing you recognize—

   a city with gates, walls, and streets, gold and precious stones,

   a tree with leaves and fruit, a river with clear water.

Isaiah speaks of houses and vineyards, and of mountains flowing with wine. 

   Amos speak of bountiful harvests.  Those are all things that we recognize.

 

And yet these things have a glory to them that we cannot comprehend.

   How can a street of gold be crystal clear?

   How can the gates of the city be each made of a single pearl?

   How can the tree grow have leaves that heal the nations?

The Holy Spirit does not intend for us to draw a diagram of these things.

   There is obviously so much symbolism—the repetition of 12 and multiples of 12,

   which is so significant throughout the book of Revelation.

Clearly, this is intended to fill us with awe and anticipation. 

 

And yet at the same time, it is a world that is not completely unlike our own.

It’s this world made wonderful.  1 Chronicles 16:33 says: 

   Then all the trees of the forest will sing, they will sing for joy before the Lord,

   for he comes to judge the earth.

What are the most beautiful trees you have every seen?

For me would have to be the live oaks at the house where Allison grew up in

   Covington, La.  I still remember visiting the DuBoses the very first time after

   Allison and I had started dating.  First thing I noticed when came up driveway.

Massive, ancient trees.  Thick spreading branches, dripping with Spanish moss.

 

When Christ comes to judge the earth the trees will sing.

There will be trees in the new earth.  We will recognize them as trees.

   But they will be so much more beautiful than the most beautiful trees in this

   world that they can only be described as singing.  Singing trees. 

Singing the praises of Christ’s restoring work.

The very last book of the Narnia Chronicles by CS Lewis is “The Last Battle.”

   After the last battle is over, the children go through a door into the new creation.

And to their amazement, the recognize Narnia, but it’s a new Narnia.

   As they go deeper into this new world, even CS Lewis’ imagination fails.

This is how he ends the story:

   “But the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them . . . All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and title page:  now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read:  which goes on for ever:  in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

 

Yes, we will recognize the new creation, but the only way we can describe it now

   is with these wonderful hints and rumors in the Bible. 

 

3.  Will there be animals in the new earth?

I’m not kidding.  This is a serious question.  Will there be animals in heaven? 

   Many Christians have asked that question.  I haven’t—but many have.

 

Isaiah says that in the new heavens and new earth:

   “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will like down with the goat, the calf and the

   lion and the yearling together.  The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down

   together.”

That is obviously a metaphor.  It’s a way of saying that the new creation will

   be a world of perfect peace.  There will be no war. 

But is this just a metaphor?  Is that all it is?

 

It can’t just be a metaphor.  How could the new earth, perfectly restored

   by Jesus Christ be any less marvelous than Eden of long ago?

One of the glories of that first creation was the animal world.

   God took great delight in declaring his benediction on animal kingdom.

   He saw the fish and birds, the creeping things and cattle and declared them good.

 

Psalms 104 and 145 describe all animals—wild and domestic, small and large

   as bringing glory to their creator. 

There’s an old hymn that says:

   “This is my Father’s world, The birds their carols raise,

   The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.”

I asked the question about animals to make a point.

   Everything good in creation that declares the Maker’s praise will be present

   in the new heavens and new earth in glorious perfection.

 

Will there really be a new earth?  Yes.

   Christ’s redemptive work is huge.  It is nothing less that pushing back

   the effect of the curse from all creation.

   Every part of life is under the spell of Christ’s redemptive love.

 

Will we recognize the new earth?  Yes.  Just as we will recognize each other.

   We’ll be changed, glorified—but as the old creeds put it, in our self-same bodies.

It will be this world gloriously restored to all its goodness and potential,

   with every evil thing burned away, a home of righteousness.

Will there be animals in the new earth?  Yes.

   And every other good thing that brings glory to God,

   and that helps us to praise him and commune with Him.

 

In the Apostle Peter’s second letter, he says that the promise of the new creation

   is the grand summary of all of God’s promises.

If you believe it, and anticipate it, like a child eager for his first trip

   to the beach, wondering, hoping—if you are like that—

   then the promise of the new creation can be a conduit of divine power

   for the moral and spiritual transformation of your life.

 

How does that happen?  Let’s move on to the second point . . .

 

 


MP#2  You must apply the promise of a new heaven and a new earth.

There is an old saying that if a person is too heavenly minded,

   then he will be no earthly good.  Have you ever heard that?

The thought is that if someone always has his mind on heaven,

   then he’s not going to care about this life very much. 

He’s not going to appreciate things here. 

He’s not going to work hard and build things—because his mind is elsewhere.

 

As we discussed last week, our challenge is we don’t think about heaven enough.

   It’s supposed to be the hope of the believer, and we barely consider it.

But what if it did become important in our minds?  

   What if the promise of the new heavens and new earth captured our imaginations.

   Would we be people who walked around with our heads in the clouds?

 

I want to suggest, that the more heavenly minded we are,

   the more we think about and truly begin to imagine and hope for Christ’s return

   and the new creation—the more heartily we will live here and now.

And our lives will be a commendation of our faith and a witness for Christ.

 

Two points:

1.  If you believe the promise of the new creation then you will relish the foretastes.

You won’t be disengaged from life, you will be keenly aware of it.

   You will notice things, appreciate them and thank God for them as never before.

 

Isn’t that what Jesus was always doing?

In spite of his heavy load, took great pleasure in the little gifts of life.

   He noticed things in his Father’s world and used them to point to heaven. 

He spoke in his parables about catching fish, finding a buried treasure,

   the beauty of the lilies, life of little birds, and the kiss of a father.

 

He picked up little children, he noticed farmers in their fields,

   shepherds with their flock, and vines heavy with grapes.

He enjoyed those things and used them as pointers to the world to come.

   He would point out to his disciples these good, ordinary things in God’s creation

   and he would say:  The kingdom of heaven is like these things.

 

When a woman poured bottle of perfume on his feet that was worth a year’s wages,

   he rebuked his disciples who called it a waste and as he inhaled the scent

   and declared it to be a gift of eternal value.

Ladies, if you ever need a Bible verse defending purchase of expensive perfume,

   this is it.  Better yet, tell your husband you need a foretaste of heaven.

 

Christ chose a wedding feast as the scene of his first miracle.

   Have you ever thought of the glory of that and what it means for our future?

That our Savior chose as his first miracle turning water into wine

   so a party a wedding feast could continue with joy and laughter.

John calls that miracle a sign.  It was a sign-post pointing to the culmination

   of our salvation, the feasting we will enjoy with Christ in the new creation.

If you believe that, you can never look at a wedding reception the same way.

   They might just be serving punch and cheese straws, but you relish it.

   You will look at the happy people and think—some day.

 

And what was Jesus doing the night he was betrayed?

   He was doing what had gotten him often criticized by those who despised him—

   eating and drinking with his disciples—celebrating one of the great

   ancient feasts of his people—a feast that pointed to his own work of redemption.

 

And what did he do after his resurrection?

Men, doesn’t John 21 stir your manly soul?  The disciples come to shore with their

   boat full of fish—it’s early morning, chilly, fog on the water of the lake.

And there is Jesus on shore, resurrected.  He has a campfire going with fish on it. 

   And bread.  Meat and bread.  No salad.  It’s a man’s meal. 

   Can’t you picture it?  Can’t you smell it.  You’ve sat around a campfire like that. 

You know how good food tastes when you’ve been out in nature like that.

   What is this scene?  It’s a foretaste of heaven, the new earth.

   Jesus with his people forever.  The freshness of God’s creation.

 

The promise of the new heavens and new earth means that every part of your life

   is under the spell of Christ’s redemptive love.

You should relish times of celebration and the ordinary pleasures of life

   and you should consciously say—this is an appetizer, this is a hint and rumor

   of what Jesus Christ has in store for us in the new creation.

 

That takes work.  Our hearts are naturally cold to all of God’s promises.

   We don’t long for heaven enough.  Don’t believe new creation strongly enough.

You have to be able to see the good things God has given you

   before you can recognize them as signposts of greater blessing.

 

When you sit at the dinner table with your family tonight, look at their faces.

   And before you pray and eat say: “God is good.”

When you see some beauty in His creation, receive some pleasure

   from the good things he has made, say, “God is good.”

Then, when your heart is moved with gratitude toward his goodness,

   start to ponder this promise of a new heaven and new earth.

 

Of course, God is good at all times, even when those things are lacking.

But they aren’t always lacking, this life is full of many glimmers.

   As you think that way, it will empower you to live a godly and holy life,

   spotless, blameless, and at peace with him because you will think of

   Christ’s coming more often.

It will also make you a more content and grateful for even the smallest gifts

   that God has given you.

 

2.  If you believe in the promise of the new creation you will pursue your callings.

I told you last week that I wanted to come back to something fascinating

   John says in Revelation 21.  After describing the new Jerusalem he says:

   “The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.”

 

What does that mean? 

It means that the very best of everything that mankind has produced

   will somehow be brought into heaven.  

The best music, the best art, the best science, and the best architecture,

   the best sports, the best ideas—all that is truly wonderful and good—

   will somehow be brought into heaven, and be part of the new creation.

 

And that means that your best work will somehow be preserved

   and brought into the new creation and you will build on it for the glory of God.

I have no idea what this will look like.  I can imagine some things.

   I can imagine the glory and honor of music being brought into heaven.

   It’s harder for me to imagine the glory and honor of accounting.

 

This week I ran into a Christian I know who is in law enforcement.

   He takes it seriously as a calling from God.

Somehow the conversation turned to heaven and he made the comment about

   being happy that one day he will be out of a job.  No bad guys to chase in heaven.

   He was laughing but he wasn’t joking.  His work is disheartening. 

To be exposed so often to the very worst of depravity.

The promise of heaven being a place where no vile person is allowed—

   that must be very refreshing to him.

And yet, there is some sense in which his work will follow him.

   One of the glories of nations is the enforcement of laws, justice, defending weak.

   What will that mean in the new creation?  I have no idea.

But this is the point for you.  Your callings have eternal weight.

   Speaking specifically of your vocational callings, your life’s work.

 

Whether you are a butcher, baker, or a candlestick maker.

   Do your work well.  Do it heartily as unto the Lord.

   Press on during the dreary times and the hard times.

And not only will you hear:  Well done, good and faithful servant.

   But somehow, in the new creation you will recognize things and say—

   I built that.  I worked on that. 

 

You see, a heavenly-minded person is the most earthly good person there can be.

Because he sees all of life, the good and the bad, and even his work,

   as a foretaste of heaven.  And that carries him along and gives him joy.

 

CONC:  Friends, do you long for heaven?

It’s your destiny and home if you are in Christ.  Cultivate that longing.

 

The Catholic poet Gerard Manley Hopkins once looked at the starry night sky,

   and he imagined that those thousands of pinpoints of light were peepholes

   in the great wall of heaven.

Little holes in the wall of the heavenly city where Christ is, even now,

   with his saints and angels preparing a place for us.

 

Tonight, go outside and look up at the tars and think what a scene and a life

   and a place that must be.  And how you will take your place one day there

   with your Lord Jesus Christ and all his people, in the great banquet hall.