Although at remembrance time as we pin on poppies, gather round war memorials and lay wreaths we think mostly of those who fought and lost their lives in the two terrible world wars of the 20th century – let me paint a picture of another tough conflict albeit now some 30 years ago.
It was still dark in the early morning of what turned out to be one of the last full day is of the Falklands war in 1982, when a two man patrol lead by Captain John Hamilton heard the sound of movement behind them. They froze hoping that they would not be discovered on the bare hillside where they were holed up. But they were. They were spotted by an Argentinian patrol and a brisk firefight soon developed. John Hamilton was hit quite early in the engagement, and realising that their position was hopeless he ordered the other soldier to make a break for it, while he remained to give covering fire. The soldier edged away using what little cover there was while Hamilton kept the Argentinians pinned down. He was hit again and his rate of fire slackened. Then he was hit a third time and he was killed. The other soldier made good his escape. Captain Hamilton was decorated posthumously for outstanding gallentry and is buried close to where he fell. He gave his life that another might live.
And at this remembrance time that is the reason that we gather year after year – to remember with great gratitude not only the many, many thousands of men and women who gave their lives in the two world wars, but also those who have lost their lives in a host of campaigns since. And that they did so that we might be able to live in peace and freedom today. So it's very right that we should stop, give thanks and remember the sacrifice of those who risked their lives from the Somme to Port Stanley, from Belfast to Basra, and from Sarajevo to Sangin.
But this opportunity to stop and remember, should also remind us that the battles still go on. Following the so called Great War in 1914, war has been a constant. It never was what it was predicted to be "The War to End All Wars". Since 1945 British forces alone have engaged in 20 major conflicts. In the whole of the 20th & 21st centuries there has only been one year in which the British Army has not lost a soldier in battle – 1968. And there is always a current conflict foremost in our minds at our Remembrance. The peace and freedom that many fight for still seems very illusive. Our world – our lives are still packed full of conflict. And we long for God to act swiftly and decisively to make it stop.
Which is why I thought it would be helpful to look at that Bible reading we had from Revelation 21 this morning – so that we can see how… one day God will make it stop. So that we can not only look back with thankful sorrow, but look forward in joyful hope. For in these verses God reassures us of two things we need to remember in the midst of any conflict – whether international or personal, and they are:
- The promise that One Day God Will Make Everything New
- And the promise One Day God Will Finally Bring Us Peace and Security
So please turn back to Revelation 21 if you will and we'll have a look at those two promises in turn. Firstly let's look at how…
1. One day God will make Everything New
Please take a look at verse one:
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more."
I don't know about you, but I hate a spoiler. I'm the kind of guy who still loves to watch Match of the Day not knowing what the scores were. And I'll avoid any form of media on a Thursday so I don't accidentally find out who got fired from the Apprentice. But this morning it's a bit late to give you a spoiler alert, as those verses we've just read are like flicking to the last pages of a good book and reading the ending. For here in Revelation 21 God is revealing to us how the world is going to end. Did you see that there in verse 1?
These words are written down by one of Jesus disciples called John. The one who wrote John's gospel. But unlike what he writes there, this time he isn't seeing what's happening with his own eyes – he's being given by Jesus a vision of the future. And in that vision he sees Jesus return – personally, visibly, gloriously and triumphantly. And the message from Jesus is clear: "I'm coming back."
Folks, do you know that one verse in every thirteen in the New Testament speaks of Jesus' return. One verse in every thirteen. That is the confidence that the Bible writers had in it. As they saw this future guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The solid historical evidences for Jesus resurrection means that what we're looking at here is not "pie in the sky when you die" as Karl Marx once mocked. No this is a solid hope. As the logical conclusion of the Jesus rising from the dead is… his return. And as John has this future event revealed to him, he sees:
"…a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more."
So this old world in which we're living today will be removed. Psalm 102:26 tells us that God will fold up the earth like a suit of clothes that has been worn out. It will have served its purpose by the time Christ returns and it will be no more. But there will never-the less be some continuity with that world. For in the Greek that Revelation was written in - the word for "new" here is kinos, which does not mean original, but renewed. That's the meaning of "new" here. So it will be a re-created heaven and a re-created earth.
I wonder what picture you get in your head when you think of heaven? Do you think of the Simpson's idea of heaven – in that it is entirely white, it's slightly misty because of all the clouds, and everyone will wander around in white, frilly nightgowns - tuning harps and polishing halos! Well I for one don't look my best in a frilly nightie, and the thought of spending eternity sitting on clouds dressed in chiffon with nothing much to do makes me deeply uncomfortable. But John is telling us that we can dispense that idea – or whatever airy fairy picture of heaven we may have. As this is going to be a gloriously renewed earth. It will be a physical world just like this one.
And though much about this new earth will be familiar to us, there will also be much that is different. Like did you see in verse 1 that there will "...no longer be any sea." Which at first glance sounds desperately disappointing – as no sea, means no surfing or bodyboarding! No water sports. Or Beach Holidays! It's great fun to splash around in the water – But here there won't even be the simple pleasure of rolling up your trouser leg and sticking a toe in the ocean as you go for a paddle! But no! This is not a photograph remember, this is a vision. And John's readers would have looked at the sea and seen it as a place of chaos and uncertainty. And if you've ever been out on the open sea when a storm gets up you will know that. The sea may be a lot of fun, but you must never mess with it. It is never settled. It is not a place of peace.
Do you see? There will be no more, so there will be no more surging tides of evil and human conflict that threaten our peace and security. That's the picture here. Every trace of evil will be destroyed as the universe is refashioned and transformed by the power of God. Now what will that mean? Well it means verse 4 – it means there will be no more suffering:
"He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away."
That is an amazing phrase, isn't it? "He will wipe every tear from their eyes." There is something incredibly intimate here. I hardly feel qualified to describe it as an emotionally repressed bloke. But do you see what the picture is here? The picture here is of the Lord God cupping your face in his hands, wiping the tears from your cheeks like a dotting parent and saying 'Never again. It's all over. It's done.' I don't know what's been in your prayers over the last few weeks. But there is so much in this world that can bring you to tears. Or if you're not the crying type, there is much that should give you cause for tears. There are some of you here who live there every day. It maybe emotional, it maybe physical. But there will come a day when God will personally wipe away our tears and say 'Never again. It's over. It's done.'
And then there will be no more pain, no more hospitals, no more diseases, no more arthritis, no more diabetes, no more Parkinson's disease, no more physical handicaps, no more blindness, no more deafness, no more goodbyes at the bedside, no grief of any kind, no more racism, no sexism, no more robberies, no more broken homes, no more broken hearts, no more broken dreams, no more broken lives, no more wounded pride, no more bitterness, no more divorce, no more fires or floods, no more wars, no more missiles, no more bombs, no more terrorists, no more tyranny, no more refugee camps, no ethnic cleansing, no more slaughter in Homs. I could go on and on, couldn't I? There is going to be no more suffering of any kind when we get to the new creation.
Are you getting how amazing that will be? Have you got the promise of verse 4 fixed in your mind? "No death, no pain." No handkerchiefs, no hearses. We look ahead to that. Our hearts yearn for it, long for it. It will be so great! And can I just say to all those of you who are involved in health care that you will all be unemployed in heaven. And that will be a wonderful thing! As we enter this brand spanking new creation. So One Day God Will Make Everything New. And then also…
2. One day God will finally bring us Peace and Security
Have a look will you at verse 2:
"And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God."
Now here we are now shown what it will be like to be in this new creation as a member of God's eternal family. As if we have trusted in Christ, we will be coming home. And John exploits just about every metaphor he can think of here to communicate the incredible intimacy of that.
- So in verse 2 – God is united to his people as a bride and groom are united in marriage on their wedding day.
- Then verse 3 – As with any married couple, they move in together! God sets up home with his people. And they belong to one another.
- Or verse 4, as we have seen, when he wipes away our tears - that's a very intimate thing, isn't it? It's a picture of a dad wiping away the tears of his child.
- And if that isn't enough we cut to chapter 22 verse 4 where we are told: "They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads."
Do you see? One of the things these chapters wants to make clear to us is how wonderful it will be to be in even closer proximity to God. Just now things can seem so dim and distant. Sure we can have great moments when we feel that God is near. When we sense him at work in our lives. When we experience just a profound sense of his peace or joy. When we open up his word and we hear him speak to us so loud and clear. But that's not always the case. Those moments can be intermittent. Jesus is always with us, but we can't always see him. But in heaven we will see him face to face. There will be no more doubt or weakness of faith. So think of those most profoundly tender moments - when you have felt close to the Lord. Maybe when you first came to faith. When he brought a friend of yours to faith or helped you in a certain situation. Think about that and then multiply its intensity by a 1000. And then multiply its duration by eternity. Then perhaps you will know what it is to be close to God in this new world.
There was a famous Christian Leader and Writer called John Stott who actually writes of this passage that what we will experience in the new creation is ecstasy. He says that's what it will feel like. Now I may well be prone to a bit of exaggeration, but that was not true of John Stott. He said things in a very measured way. So when he says we will be experiencing ecstasy – that is what it means! It's no wonder that it has also been said that 99.9% of the blessing of the Christian life will be in the world to come - not in this life. It will be wonderfully intimate. We will be with God. And that means it will also be absolutely secure. Have a look at verse 12:
"It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed."
In fact, in verse 25 the gates are never shut because it's so unthreatened by hostile invaders! There is no danger from thieves or assailants. As what this symbolises is the security of God's people. And you know as we think of this security – so much of the conflict in this world is fighting about a place. The trouble spots of the world – what are they essentially about? It's about a desire for land, the control of people. And to go from the macro to the micro – think about when you first moved into where you live now what was the first thing you did? Well you sorted it out, you put your bits and pieces in and then you went to IKEA to get more bits and pieces to put in. You made it yours! Well heaven will be the Christian's place. It will be secure. And to John's first readers – who were a viciously persecuted minority those words would have been wonderful. And as we close, I think I have to ask... Why? Why will it be so perfect? Why will it be so wonderful? Well please flick over the page and see in verse 27: "Nothing unclean..." – This is why it will be so perfect:
"Nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the lamb's book of life."
Well of course not, or it would be ruined, wouldn't it? It would no longer be a perfect world if impurity was allowed to enter it. Of course nothing unclean or impure can enter the new creation. But that means you and I have huge problem. If we are in any way impure. Which we are! Not one of us lives as we want to live – all too often we fail to live up to our own standards let alone God's! None of us can enter the new creation with a clean conscience. So what hope is there for us?
Well remember Captain John Hamilton who I told you about at the start of this sermon – Who gave his life that his fellow soldier might live? Well as we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom now. We need to remember the one who died not just for his friends, but for his enemies. You see God showed his great love for us in sending Jesus to die for us while we were his enemies – While we were unclean and therefore unacceptable to him. And as Jesus gives himself on the cross we find that he pays there the punishment for our impurity instead of us. So the only way I can enter the new creation is not trusting in my own goodness or my own performance. No! I can only enter by trusting in – verse 27 – the lamb into who's book of life I need my name written.
In the Old Testament and in the New, Jesus is described as the lamb of God. As he says: 'I will die. I will be your sacrifice. I will pay in death and blood for your wrong doing. And I will give you the gift of my purity.' So the only question that remains for us is: Will we receive that gift? Well if we have or if we do, then I hope that we've seen this morning that it is completely worth it. As Jesus not only died, but he rose again to give us this glorious hope of a new creation. Let me pray:
"He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away." Father God, we have much to be thankful for this morning, but life is not all that it could be. This world is not as it should be. So we thank you for these wonderful promises of the world to come. Help us to trust in Christ, our sacrifice to see us the storms of life that we would make it home to be with you forever. Amen.