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This morning, we come to the last stop on our Easter tour through the book of Revelation. As we said when we began, this is an Easter tour, each stop along the way bears witness to the victory that Jesus has accomplished over sin, death and the devil by His resurrection from the dead.
Several have said you've appreciated this tour because as much as you'd like to read Revelation, you find it very difficult to do. In fact, throughout history, some have suggested that the book of Revelation doesn't belong in the bible.
So lets begin by saying that a good way to read the book of Revelation and understand how it fits into God's plan for the redemption of the world is like this. In the beginning, God created the world and all was 'very good' as we heard last Sunday. The focal point of God's 'very good' creation was a place called Eden. It was paradise.
As we know, God's 'very good' creation didn't last very long. Adam and Eve's brought sin into paradise and sin brought corruption and death into paradise and corruption and death turned paradise into a living hell. If you think I'm exaggerating sin's effect, just look around you.
But right there in the Garden of Eden, God made the grand announcement for all to hear – the angels above, the angels below, and the man and the woman and their descendents in between, that He would not accept this situation, or wash His hands of it, or ignore it. Murder, mayhem, chaos and calamity may be the consequences of Adam and Eve's sin and our sin but never does God say, 'if that's the way you want it to be, fine with me. You made your grave, now lie in it." No, this is His creation and you are His beloved and He will make all things new again. He will suffer our murder, mayhem, chaos and calamity. And He will lie in our grave – and on the 3rd day overcome it.
The Old Testament records the way that God prepared the world for the coming of its Redeemer. The New Testament opens with the gospels that record His coming into the world and the way He deals with the sin of the world by becoming sin for us. The Gospels record the life and work of Jesus Christ on this earth and up to His ascension into heaven where He is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
And that's where the book of Revelation picks things up. It tracks the work of God the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ from His Ascension into heaven until He comes again to judge the living and the dead. By His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, 'IT IS FINISHED!' The sin of the world is fully and completely atoned for. But God is still at work in this world through our ascended Lord. And the book of Revelation shows us how God is at work and what He is doing in these last days. Revelation is written for the hope and the confidence of all believers as we await the final consummation of the restoration of Paradise when God will make all things new again.
As we come to the end of this book, we're given a glimpse of the renewed creation that awaits us. I suppose that it shouldn't surprise us that the renewed Paradise bears many striking similarities to the Garden of Eden. In the Garden of Eden, two dominate features that stand out. One is the river that watered the garden and divided into four rivers that carried this water of paradise to the four corners of the world. And the other dominant feature are those two trees in the garden – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life that was in the middle of the garden.
Now here in, John's revelation of the new creation, the two things that stand out are the river and the tree. "Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne and God and of the Lamb, through the middle of the street of the city."
This water flows from God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb. Here is the Trinity acting in perfect unity. The Father seated on the throne, the ascended Son of God standing at His right hand, the Holy Spirit, proceeding from the Father and the Son bringing life of Christ to His creation.
The river is clear as crystal, no impurities or pollutants. It's not only clean but it cleanses and makes pure to everyone who will drink from it and be washed in it. This is what the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of Life, does. From the very beginning in the Garden of Eden, He has flowed from the Father and the Son to the four corners of the earth, flowing right through all time and human history. The Spirit carries the life of the sinless Son into a sinful and dying world that all who thirst for real life and real paradise.
Also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations."
Because of their sin, Adam and Eve were barred from eating from the tree of life. It's hard to visualize what John describes here, a tree on either side of the river. Don't worry about it. The point is that the tree of life which had been off limits to men and women for so long is now fully available in Paradise. And what a life it is. 12 kinds of fruit all from the same tree means that you've got all that you'll ever want or desire right here. Bearing 12 out of 12 months of the year means that it's always full of life, it's the "abundant life" that Jesus promised all who follow Him.
Even the leaves of the tree are precious. They have healing powers and are able to heal all those injuries and wounds we accumulate in the course of our life in this dangerous world. All of the emotional, spiritual and even physical scabs and scars we inevitably suffer from are completely healed.
In the beginning, the Lord God cursed the woman with pain in childbearing and tension in her marriage to the man. And He cursed the ground making the man's work sweaty, painful and toilsome. Generally speaking, these are the physical, emotional, psychological consequences for our sin.
But now, John sees that the curse has been lifted. "No longer will there be anything accursed." Right now, are all of our sins removed as far as the east is from the west, but we still suffer the consequences of our sin and life in a sinful world. But in Paradise, "he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." (Rev. 21:4)
"The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They shall see His face." Moses longed to see the face of God. But God told him, "You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live." (Ex.33:20). "If you saw my holiness, you would see how utterly sinful and unholy you are and it would kill you." So God showed Moses His back. The same John who sees these things, was one of the three disciples who witnessed the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ at the Transfiguration. John is astounded by the revelation that in Paradise the Transfiguration of our Lord is the way we will all see Jesus all the time.
"And His name will be on their foreheads." These are the 144,000, that figurative figure that stands for all whom God has made His own, writing His name on them in their baptism, sealing them with the sign of the cross both upon their forehead and upon their heart, marking them as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified.
"And they will reign forever and ever." Adam and Eve let the temptation of the serpent rule over them and their sin kept them prisoners. St. Paul pleads with us saying, "Do not let sin reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions." (Romans 6:12) So, who's in charge? Who's the ruler here? As much as we want to rule over our passions and our desires so that they would obey us and conform to God's Word so that everything we do would be pleasing in God's sight, we don't rule. We are ruled by our passions and lusts and anger and greed. But Jesus promised, "If the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed." (John 8:36). And His word always does what it says. He has taken captivity captive. In paradise the people of God reign. We are set free from that which ruled over us and now we are free to be slaves to God and do what we want to do – love and serve God with the whole heart and mind and soul.
And this is where the vision that John is given of paradise restored comes to an end. What follows are words of warning and encouragement to take everything that John has written here in utmost seriousness.
But what we can't help but notice is that the end of the story ends right where the beginning of the story began – in the paradise of God. We've come full circle from Paradise to Paradise. In the beginning, God lived with sinless man in the paradise that He has created for them to live together in Holy Communion with one another. In the end, God lives with man who's sin has been removed in the redeemed and restored paradise where the same Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is right in the center of everything. What was lost because of our sin has been regained by the Lamb – from rivers and trees to true worship, to true peace, to true joy, to paradise.
The beginning and the end come together perfectly and kiss each other. The book of Revelation rounds out the wonderful account of God's redemption of His creation in such a complete way that, even though many have wondered if this book really belongs in the bible, it's hard to imagine that the bible could ever have a satisfying conclusion without it.
So we conclude our tour like this. I would remind you dear brothers and sisters in Christ that this is our destiny through faith in the One who has made all things new. Yesterday morning at the Men's Network Breakfast, we had a wonderful discussion about just how important it is for us to keep our destiny firmly in sight at all times. We talked about middle age men and their mid-life crisis. And frankly, it applies just as much to women.
We are bombarded by powerful words and images that promise us paradise now. In fact, you deserve it. There must be something wrong with you if you're willing to settle for what you've got if you've got the chance to have something better. And so men leave their wives and families for a new wife and a new life, believing that this life is all there is, you might as well live while you're still alive.
Don't be fooled or misled husbands and wives. Anything that must be had by cheating cannot real Paradise. YOUR MID-LIFE CRISIS COULD CAUSE AN ETERNAL-LIFE CRISIS IF YOU LOOSE SIGHT OF WHAT GOD HAS PREPARED THROUGH THE BLOOD OF JESUS CHRIST FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.
For believers who struggle to live by faith and persevere and endure the present darkness in which we live, the book of Revelation is an essential word. It has motivated Christians for centuries to take heart that 'as it was in the beginning, is now and shall be forever and ever." Even to the point of praying, "Amen, come Lord Jesus."
Until then, "the grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen."