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Heaven - Revelation 20:11 - 22:5

This is a sermon by Peter Birnie from the Riverside Church service on 28th February 2021.

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Rev 20-22 “Heaven”

Only hesitation is unbelieving loved ones – longing and living for heaven is what they need to see most in our lives.

Intro:

Perhaps this will sound strange to you, but some of the most special church services I have ever been to, the ones that stick in my mind more than many others, have been funerals. There are a few funerals that I remember with far more clarity than even many of the weddings I have had the privilege to attend.  Each time, these memorable funerals have been where the person mourned has been a convinced and committed Christian, and most of the family and friends there to mourn have also belonged to Jesus Christ. Of course those services had lots of sadness in them since we cannot pretend to be unaffected at the separation death brings, but the overwhelming emotions amongst the believers in Jesus Christ at those memorable services were ones of joy, thankfulness and even celebration.

And that is because together we could lift our eyes to heaven and know for certain that God had safely brought our loved one through all the difficulties of this life, through the great trial of death itself and into the very presence of the eternal God who loved them enough to die for them. He had brought our loved one HOME. And what a home it is. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2 v 9; ‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’[b] - the things God has prepared for those who love him.”   

Someone pointed out to me that what God has ready for his children after they die (or when Jesus returns) is so good and so amazing that the best we can do to describe it is to talk in negatives – what is NOT there. And in the part of our reading that we are going to focus on most today, Revelation 22 v 1-5, that is summed up by one amazing sentence; v3, “No longer will there be any curse.” Life without sin’s curse will be magnificent. But actually, what is there in heaven is summed up brilliantly too in v4; “They will see his face.” Life where sight of God has replaced faith in God has simply no comparison. 

 

CC Riverside, every day that passes in this world is one day closer to our home. And as God brings us along that road home we will experience much of the brokenness of this world but also much of the delights of communion with God, both of which should make us say “Are we nearly there yet?” As we simply dip our toes into what heaven is like today, my hope is that you will get properly homesick and I pray that God will work powerfully 2 things amongst us and within us; that we would long more and more for heaven and that we would live more and more as people who belong to heaven. If Jesus is your Saviour and Lord you are nearly home and that home is …

 

 

 

1) A healed home (22v1-2)

A healed home. Rev 22 v 1-2 says; “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” 

From the moment in Genesis 3 when humanity sinned against God, when God cursed the earth and sent the people he had made away from his presence, out of Eden, the nations have suffered and brought such suffering upon each other. No person has been able to bring the healing that is needed to this world, and no political system has ever been able to do more good than harm. Yet what is just round the corner for people who belong to Jesus is a real physical life in a place of complete healing and perfection.

Healing for our bodies - wheelchairs will be gone, scars will have disappeared, the wastage of old age will be no more, chemotherapy won’t exist, anxiety and depression impossible. Healing for our minds - J Sidlow Baxter writes this; “Have you ever tried to imagine what it will be like to have a mind that is radiant light with no darkness at all? With never a selfish thought, never a wish that is not translucently pure, never a motive towards others that is not translucently sincere, never a fleck of envy or jealousy or resentment or unholy desire or competitiveness, never a tremor of doubt, never a wisp of fear, or flutter of pride, or whiff of self-assertiveness but the whole interior life filled with love in the sense of self-less otherism?”

That is what we long for – we get a taste and more than a hint of that in our local church as we love one another and feel loved by one another but what is to come is that but made totally pure and totally constant and exclusively present. There will be healing for the physical world – a new heaven and a new earth where natural disasters are a thing of the past. True healing for the nations - no more greedy competition for resources which is at the root of so much hatred and violence and war, no more racism and prejudice and pride. Imagine the nations delighting in God and so with each other, for each other, cheering each other on.  

 

In each of these areas and any area of the human experience the principle is that what good we can see now is simply a pointer to the perfection that will come later. In 1 Corinthians 15, a really important chapter in the bible on the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the future this guarantees for his people, Paul speaks of our bodies as like a seed. Now, our bodies are really amazing things, even when they are brought low by disease they are still the most incredible of creations, but Paul says the difference between our bodies now, and the resurrection bodies God will give his people after he is finished with judgement (we will clear up the order of things in a moment), is like the difference between a plain little seed that is stuck in the ground and the crops and fruit that is produced when the seed sprouts. Our perishable bodies, though amazing, are nothing compared to what our healed, imperishable, eternal bodies are going to be like.

A great person to listen to talking on this subject is the quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada; “Somewhere in my broken, paralysed body is the seed of what I shall become. The paralysis makes what I am to become all the more grand when you contrast atrophied, useless legs, against spendorous resurrected legs. I’m convinced that if there are mirrors in heaven (and why not?), the image I see will be unmistakeably “Joni”, although a much better brighter Joni. So much so, that it’s not worth comparing …. I will bear the likeness of Jesus, the man from heaven.”      

 

The river of the water of life flowing out from God to the whole of the new creation means that the home we are getting closer to every day is a healed home, and unlike the garden of Eden, it will stay perfect forever because it is also a protected home.

 

2) A protected home (22v3)

That’s what verse 3 helps us to realise; No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.” 2 incredible truths that protect the new creation in those verses, firstly, verse 3, “No longer will there be any curse.” Every single bit of brokenness that hurts us and every last drop of bitterness that makes us grimace on this earth is because we live under a curse. Sin started at a point, spread mercilessly and is now everywhere and has brought with it the judgement of God upon all of humanity and upon all of the world we live in.

Famine in Africa – sin’s curse. Ebola, Covid-19 and cancer – sin’s curse. Hitler and the concentration camps – sin’s curse. Alcoholism and drug addiction, Greed and oppression, Grief, mourning and death – sin’s curse. The bloke who swore at you on the street and the lady who blocked your car in so she could park closer to the shop – sin’s curse. The struggle to forgive your friend and the anger that flared up in you towards your family – sin’s curse. Until sin is dealt with and the curse lifted humanity are constrained by sin, they are under its power and they reap the wages of their actions.

This is why Revelation 20 v 11-15 and 21 v 8 are so necessary. If there is going to be newness, wholeness and perfection, then there has got to be a time when God will sit on the seat of judgement and deal with every sin and its impact once and for all; 20v13 “The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” 

We shouldn’t be embarrassed or awkward about the truth of judgement day. It is an absolute necessity that sin and sinners are dealt with justly and finally – the curse has an end-point and it is here at the righteous, fair, totally correct judgement seat of the Holy God. Nothing will be allowed to be part of the new creation that could ever spoil it or infect it ever again. Judgement has got to come before things can be made new.

This order matters so much. The Christians we have already said goodbye to at a graveside or in a crematorium, they are at this moment experiencing wonderful things that we can only wait for. They are already consciously in God’s presence, here is how a theologian called Lorraine Bettner (Boettner) sums up the bible’s teaching on this; “The Scriptures teach that the state into which the righteous enter into at death is one of consciousness, holiness and happiness, which the resurrection and judgement only augment and make more permanent.” A Christian dies and immediately goes to be with God but one day all people will stand in front of the judgement seat and there God will draw a line under sin forever. Sin and sinners who refused God’s mercy will be eternally excluded and then everything will be made new, new heaven and new earth, new physical resurrection bodies - no longer any curse.  

 

And “the throne of God will be in the city and his servants will serve him”. Not only is the curse dealt with and sin forever disposed of, but God is right there in the middle of his people, reigning over them as they happily serve him forever. This is a double protection over the new creation – sin and the possibility of sin excluded, and the very presence of God included. The partial peace and joy that we experience together when we live by faith in God in this sin-affected life will blossom into a total, all-encompassing peace and joy when we are living by sight in the new healed perfect creation.  

 

 

3) A loving joyful home (22v4-5)

This is the pinnacle of what is to come for God’s people. Our healed, protected home will be a loving joyful home because we are with our loving God in the closest possible way V4&5 “4They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”

All through this life we have had hints of the happiness that is to come for the children of God. All of the good things we experience in this creation, the love of family and friends, the satisfaction of a job well done, the taste of a brilliant meal, the excitement of a new baby being born, the fellowship of the local church, all of these have been gifts from the God of grace, all of these pleasures and joys have been because he has turned his face towards us. Any light that we glimpse in this dark sin-cursed world is light that comes from the face of the God who made us. Imagine then, staring straight into that face. It is going to be amazing – if you have ever had the feeling that your heart could almost burst it is so full of happiness then that is small fry compared to this.

Of course no lamp or Sun is needed in the new creation, because the God of light is right there amongst his people. When we see his face, then truly we will be home, and it is this more than anything else that makes heaven such a wonderful anticipation. All of our time under the curse we have struggled by the Holy Spirit to let Jesus be Lord of our lives, to let him reign in us, but in heaven we will be changed to reign with him.

J Sidlow Baxter says this; “Heaven is a world of tireless energy, ministry, opportunity, inventive occupation.” There is such gain ahead for the Christian, such love, such joy.

Conclusion

I wish I had double the time today for there is so much more to be said but this is where I want to challenge each of you to action over the coming weeks. Go and hunt through the bible this week and mark out verses where heaven is talked about. And then share those verses with your home group or your close friends in church. Talk about heaven more, speak more about the home we are going to, remind each other more often that all that is going on now is simply the introduction to our real, eternal, curse-free, God-present eternities. Let the brokenness you experience make you long for heaven more. And let the communion with God we enjoy through church and in our own times with God fuel that longing until it burns brightly in your life.

As we finish listen to Bettner again as he muses on what lies ahead for those who belong to Jesus and how this should change our lives right now;

“We may be sure that the first five minutes after death will bring experiences for the soul far more remarkable and awesome than anything that has been experienced in this world. Picture even faintly, if you can, those first moments in glory land. Undoubtedly the person first of all sees Christ his Saviour, the One by whose redemptive work he has been brought to salvation, and whose he is…

The things that the person thought important – his business affairs, the season’s crops, tomorrow’s tasks, his success in pleasing those around him, - all of these no longer matter at all. All of earth’s cares and problems are suddenly left behind. And in their place the things to which he perhaps had given but little attention stand out as all-important, - his attitude towards Christ, his Christian witness to those about him, his prayer life, the motives which underlay his public and private actions … He will wonder, not how much of his money he should have given to the Lord, but why he withheld so much of the Lord’s money for himself. He will see that no material possessions really belonged to him, but that all of the money and lands and other possessions really belonged to the Lord, and that he was only a steward to whom their management was entrusted temporarily.

Five minutes after he is in heaven he will be overwhelmed by truths that he had known all along but somehow had never fully grasped.” 

 

Let us learn to long more for the home to come and live more as citizens of heaven now.

Rev 20-22 “Heaven”

 

Intro: Longing for home.

 

  • A healed home (22v1-2)

 

  • Healing for our bodies

 

  • Healing for our minds

 

  • Healing for the physical world

 

  • Healing for the nations

 

 

Good now points to perfection later: a seed and then a flower

 

“A better, brighter Joni”

 

 

  • A protected home (22v3)

 

  • No longer will there be any curse

 

Necessity and goodness of judgement: Sin has an end-point

 

 

  • The throne of God will be in the city

 

A double protection!

 

 

  • A loving joyful home (22v4-5)

 

“They will see his face”: when we see his face we will truly be home.

 

 

Conclusion

 

Let both the brokenness of this world and our communion with God lead us to longing for heaven.

 

 

Let us learn to long more for the home to come and live more as citizens of heaven now.

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