Click play to listen to the audio version of this sermon.
In the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth, the heavens and the earth and everything was NEW. Not only NEW, as in, right out of the box, never been used. But 'NEW' as in perfect condition. We might call it all "great," "fantastic," "incredible." But God called all that He had made, "good."
There was however one exception. "It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helper fit for him." If there's one thing you should know about God, it is that He's a perfectionist. He's never satisfied with 'pretty good' or 'almost perfect' or 'better than anyone else could have done it.' We should remember that when we try to impress God by telling Him that we gave it our best, or that we had good intentions, or "at least I'm not like that sinner.'
The one seated on the throne has said, "Behold, I am making all things new." If it's not good, He's going to make it good. GOOD AS NEW.
"So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man." (Gen.2:18-21). God made a wife for the man. And only then is God ready to put His final stamp of approval on His creation. "And God saw all everything that He had made, and behold, it was VERY GOOD." (Gen.1:31). "TOV MEOTH." Every piece and part was perfect and all the pieces and parts worked together in perfect harmony – especially the man and the woman.
But as we know it was not 'very good' very long. The perfect bride sinned and the perfect husband sinned and "they knew that they were naked and ashamed." And they knew that they were guilty and they hid from God.
How could God call this 'very good?' Didn't He see this coming when He pronounced His "very good" over the world? Isn't He omniscient? Doesn't He have foreknowledge?
Or could it be that God did see this coming but that He saw even more? Could it be that God saw the solution for the sin of Adam and Eve that would make everything 'very good' once again?
Could it be that when the Scriptures say, "And God saw EVERYTHING…" it means just what it says? That even in the beginning God saw EVERYTHING. Not only the sin of the world but also the remedy for sin – the cross of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
Could it be that He who is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, saw the end even in the beginning and the cross of Christ crucified superimposed over it all. And for the sake of His dear Son, Jesus Christ and His shed blood, "God saw everything He had made, and behold, it was very good." It was all new.
Follow me now. The Son of God became man. Jesus is the NEW Adam. And the Lord God caused a deep, three-day sleep to fall upon this new Adam. And the Lord God opened the side of this new Adam with a Roman spear. And from the blood and water that came from His side, the Lord God made a bride, the bride of Christ. And the Holy Spirit, brought you through the water and the blood to the Man, and the Man said, "You are my beloved. I am flesh of your flesh and bone of your bones so that you may be righteous of my righteousness and pure of my purity and holy of my holiness."
But you say, 'hey wait a minute. That's not me. I'm not righteous or pure or holy. Can't He see that? Frankly, I hate it when my husband tries to make be what I'm not. I can't live up to the standards that he sets for me. I can't be the perfect wife he expects me to be. My name is Dolcenaia. I am a prostitute, a cheat, a liar, a sinner. Can't He see this?'
But of course He does. He sees it all. And yet still, He lays down His life for you and takes you to Himself and makes you His holy bride, because He sees it all. He sees EVERYTHING that He has made and He has made you NEW again.
St. John is "in the Spirit," which means that he sees things that we can't see because, for now, our sin still blinds us. We can't see EVERYTHING. St. Paul describes our present situation like this, "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully even as I am fully known." (1 Cor. 13:12). For however long it lasted, St. John experienced the 'THEN' in the 'NOW.' He saw the 'FUTURE' in the 'PRESENT.'
"Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me saying, 'Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.'"
Now just listen to the words that John chooses to describe the Bride of Christ. "Having the glory of God. A radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal." This is the same OLD bride who was the adulterous, cheat, liar – the sinner. This is the same OLD bride who demanded a divorce and told the judge to 'crucify Him, crucify Him.' But now look at Her. Talk about a total 'makeover.'
Let me say it again, the One who is seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things NEW." Even this wretched OLD bride. No, ESPECIALLY this wretched OLD bride. She has always been His beloved and His love for her has always been unconditional and unfailing, and unchangeable, and unending. His Word is "trustworthy and true" and it always does what it says. He says, "I am making all things NEW." We should count on it. Sure enough, the One seated on the throne says, "It is done!"
And the Son has anchored the Father's eternal Word in time and space. Seated on His cross shaped throne He says, "It is finished."
"O bride of Christ rejoice; Exultant raise thy voice
To hail the day of glory, foretold in sacred story." (LSB #335. st.1).
One of seven angels spoke to John saying, "Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb." And with that, John is carried away to 'a great high mountain' to get an unobstructed view of the bride of Christ. From his pinnacle perch, John's angelic guide points and says, 'there she is.' "He showed me the holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God."
It may strike us as a bit strange that John would describe the bride of Christ, the wife of the Lamb, as a city. We need to keep in mind that John is describing what no eye has seen. How do you explain heavenly things with the limitations of human language? Words will never do, but words are all we have. And God has made Himself and His Bride known to us only through words. One day, He'll take us from the old world into the new world and we see just what John is given to see and understand everything perfectly. "Know as we are fully known." But until then, we need to be patient and trust His Word, walk by faith and not by sight.
Cities are where large numbers of people live. Jerusalem is the city of God. It's where God lives. Which is what makes it a "holy city." Jerusalem is where God and His people live together. And collectively, the people are God are the Bride of Christ. They are the wife of the Lamb.
Everything that John writes about the New Jerusalem stands in stark contrast to the Old Jerusalem.
The Old Jerusalem was known for its bitter arguments with God and rejection of His Word. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! (Matthew 23:37). But the New Jerusalem is built on the foundation of the Apostles of Jesus and their apostolic word. And the city is known for the holy communion that bride and groom enjoy together.
The Old Jerusalem was where the Temple was located. And the Temple was where God was located. There's a good chance that St. John lived long enough to see the Temple destroyed by the Romans in the year 70AD. The first thing he would have looked for in the New Jerusalem would have been the Temple. But John reports, "I saw no temple in the city."
Gone the temple; gone the altar with its sacrificial lambs; gone the curtain that stands between God and man; gone the holy of holies that no one could enter lest he die. "For its temple is the Lord God, the Almighty, the Lamb."
And along with the temple that's gone, gone too is the life of faith that must believe without seeing and wait patiently until the promise is fulfilled. Gone is the hearing of the Word through poor, pathetic preachers. Gone are the sacraments where our Lord is hidden under water, bread and wine. In the New Jerusalem, the Bride of Christ sees her Groom as He is and face to face, and His unmediated Word goes directly from His precious lips into her NEW EARS and her NEW HEART is filled with His perfect peace and true joy.
And gone is the darkness and all that the darkness signifies. The Old Jerusalem loved the darkness because their deeds were evil. But now, it is the unveiled glory of God shining out from the face of Jesus Christ, whose light outshines the stars in the sky. "The light of the world has overcome the darkness." This light that enlightens the New Jerusalem is the same light that shined into the darkness of our sinful hearts and into the darkness of our grave and has overcome it. Even now, while we still live in this Old Jerusalem, He calls us to our destiny saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life."
John writes, "By its light the nations walk." How wonderful to hear that New Jerusalem is not just for one nationality but is truly international. Christ's command to go into all nations, baptizing and teaching has been carried out according to His Word, which always does what it says.
The 12 gates in the great wall face north, south, east and west. Open and ready to receive people from the four corners of the earth. Never will these gates be shut. There's no need for that. There is no more night during which thieves may break in and steal. And there is certainly no one who wants to leave. They remain open for all those who are yet to come faith and are yet to repent and are yet to turn from their walking darkness to walk in the light of Christ.
What you won't find in the New Jerusalem that was plentiful in the Old Jerusalem is "anything that is unclean," or "anyone who does what is detestable or false."
So, where does that leave you and me? Didn't we just confess before God and one another that we are "unclean?" And didn't we just confess before the Judge of the living and the dead, that we have "done what is detestable and false?" "We have sinned against God in thought, word and deed." Does that mean that we may not enter this New Jerusalem?
It does not. It never did depend on you or what you have done. It has always depended solely on Christ and what He has done for you. Those who say that they are clean and have no need of bath are unclean and may not enter. Those who say that they have no sin are detestable and false and the truth is not in them. "But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." GOOD AS NEW.
You are the bride of Christ only because Your heavenly Husband has written your name in the wedding registry with His blood. You are His beloved. And that is the EVERYTHING that God saw. And we are ready for holy communion.