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Past Ponderings

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

What If It’s Not Your Plan? (1 Thessalonians 1:1)

VIDEO 

What If It’s Not Your Plan? (1 Thessalonians 1:1)

GIST: God can use unexpected people doing unexpected things in unexpected places to change lives in miraculously unexpected ways.

Today, we’re moving away from an 18-month journey in Revelation to our “regularly scheduled programming” ☺️. Some of you might not realize this, but there is actually a loose schedule to our covering the whole Bible verse-by-verse. In general, we are walking through the books of the New Testament in the order in which they were initially written, taking breaks every summer to work through the book of Psalms so we’re never too far removed from the Old Testament (about because saying Summer in Psalms is really fun for me), and periodic breaks to walk through one of the Gospels so we’re never too far removed from looking at the life of Jesus. Of course, sometimes general outcries will also lead us to walk through what was originally planned as our final study ☺️… 

Today, we’re preparing to dive into a study of what are often considered two of Paul’s earliest letters: 1 & 2 Thessalonians. The only of his letters that might have been written earlier is Galatians, which is also the only of his letters we have covered together.  

We’re actually going to spend time walking through the context of this letter being written as our main focus today, but I did want to give you a bit of a sweeping overview of the themes in this short epistle before we dive headlong into it. Blue Letter Bible provided this helpful “big picture”→  

  • To praise them for their steadfastness under persecution

  • To instruct them concerning holy living

  • To correct any misunderstanding, especially about the second coming of Christ. (In fact, every chapter ends with a reference to Jesus’ second coming.)

Sprinkled in this, there are also not only references to praying for these believers but also actual prayers Paul was praying in the moment for them… which is really a beautiful picture of Christian compassion and pastoral care.

However, in preparation for this study, one thing that has struck me most about these letters is how easily they could never have existed. Though this is something that could be said of much of the Bible, it is undoubtedly true here. Therefore, I want to do something very out of the ordinary with you this morning and chew on this reality before we really break down much of the text at all. In fact, we won’t even get through verse 1 today… which is fine because we have a guest speaker next week anyway ☺️. 


“Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.”

The gist I have for us this morning is simple, but it’s really spoke to my heart this week, so I have a feeling someone else needs to hear this too (and for the rest of you… it promises to be a fairly short message, as well ☺️). Here’s our gist: God can use unexpected people doing unexpected things in unexpected places to change lives in miraculously unexpected ways.


I. Unexpected Messenger

Much of the New Testament consists of letters which were written by the apostle Paul to churches he helped start on his missionary journeys throughout Asia Minor and the surrounding area. Thessalonians is one of those letters, and that, in itself, is miraculous. This might be common knowledge for many here, but it’s definitely worth remembering. Before an incredible and life-changing encounter with Jesus, Paul was a zealous persecutor of Christians fully bent on their complete annihilation. In fact, as the first Christian martyr was stoned to death by Paul’s fellow religious elites, he held their coats and watched in approval. 

We talked about this a bit in the context of the nativity story a few months ago. It is very easy to look at the context of Scripture through the very filtered lens of our modern eyes. We have to be cautious with this. No one expected Paul to become one of the most influential Christian evangelists of all time. In fact, when he was first saved, Christians were understandably nervous about accepting him. He wasn’t candidate #1 for this ministry… but God had a different plan, and He knew what He was doing ☺️.


II. Unexpected Method

Moreover, not only was this messenger an unlikely vessel, but his method was unconventional. After spending several years growing in his walk with Jesus, he was sent with his companion Barnabas to share the gospel with the world…and not just the Jewish world. By the time Paul accepts Christ, we have seen several Gentile conversions. Philip and the Ethopian. Peter and Cornelis. Still, it wasn’t normal. The prevailing thought of the time remained that salvation was for “their community”. (We never struggle with that, right? ☺️) However, Jesus came to seek and save the world, so Paul— being transformed by that same amazing grace— stepped out in faith. 

He went away from his comfort zone into a world steeped in the popular, pagan cultures of the time. Though his go-to method was still to visit Jewish synagogues first, his welcome there rarely lasted long, so his journeys often brought him into contact with people who had little to no exposure to the God of Israel. It wasn’t conventional or comfortable, but—again—God had another plan, and—again— He knew what He was doing ☺️.


III. Unexpected Meeting

Add to all this that Thessalonica wasn’t even on the itinerary of these unconventional journeys, and we really see how God’s plans don’t always line up with our preconceptions! The book of Acts tells us Paul wanted to travel deeper into Asia but was prevented because the Holy Spirit had other plans for him. He was then given a vision of a Macedonian man calling for help, so he and his companions took that as a sign and traveled to the main Roman colony of the region, Philippi. God did awesome things while they were there, but the environment quickly grew incredibly hostile and dangerous. It’s here that they were beaten with rods and thrown in prison. It’s also here that God sent an earthquake to shake that prison which gave Paul and Silas an opportunity to witness to the Philippian jailer, who accepted Christ.

After a pretty tense encounter with the local magistrates, they were encouraged to leave, so Paul and company traveled through the nearest towns and ended up in the next closest Jewish synagogue. It was about a two-day journey away (approximately 60+ miles by foot) and happened to be in a place called Thessalonica. It was a significant city, but it doesn’t seem to have been part of their original plan. Nonetheless, as we’ll see detailed in this letter, through a fairly turbulent three weeks, the gospel was spread and many souls were saved. In fact, the Christian church has continued to worship in Thessalonica (now Thessaloniki) to this day.


TAKEAWAYS

So, what’s the big deal?

  1. God can use unexpected people. He’s not looking for perfect people with everything figured out. He’s not looking for the ones everyone else would choose. He’s moving in the lives of broken people who want to be used to carry hope to a broken world. He wants to use you. 

  2. God can use unexpected things. Sometimes the things we have seen work before continue to work well for years and years. Sometimes they don’t. And sometimes something unexpected comes along—a change we didn’t see coming, a conversation we didn’t know would happen, an opportunity to walk through a door we never foresaw—and God reminds us He’s the one calling the shots. 

  3. God can use unexpected places. Paul’s plan wasn’t revolutionary. He was going to travel from city to city sharing the gospel with whoever would hear him. He let God take care of the details, and He did!

  4. God changes lives in miraculously unexpected ways. This remains true in all circumstances—God makes the difference. Not our plans. Not our wisdom. Not our articulations. God. And the change He makes—the life-altering, grace-providing, marvelously rescuing change—is nothing short of a miracle every time. 


Maybe you needed to hear that today.



Friday, January 20, 2023

How Should We Prepare For This Incredible Ending? (Revelation 22:6-21)

VIDEO 

How Should We Prepare For This Incredible Ending? (Revelation 22:6-21)

GISTS: Keep His Word, worship the truth (God), share His hope, let Him clean up your heart, come to Him for life, take Him seriously, and look forward to His return! 

After nearly a year and a half, we’re coming to the end of our study of Revelation! I hope it’s been as enjoyable for you as it has been for me, and I pray some of the unnecessary apprehension we bring to reading this message about Jesus’ character and plan has been at least a little alleviated. 

Revelation 22 starts wrapping up a picture of what Heaven will be for those who have experienced Jesus’ rescue. We closed with these words: “They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 22:4-5). Heaven isn’t an empty promise of fleeting comfort. It’s not vague emotionalism coming from a place of concern. It’s not a euphemism. It’s abundance. It’s life really lived. It’s truth, hope, and love permeating all eternity.

Heaven is a place of fulfillment. These verses tell us we will see the face of God. That which throughout all Scripture was too much for anyone to look upon and live will become miraculously commonplace. We will look on the fullness of His glory as we’re held in the goodness of His arms. Our entire identity will be wrapped up not in where we’ve fallen short or who we know we’re not but in belonging wholeheartedly to Jesus!

We will be free. Free from darkness and free to finally see. Night will be no more, and all the anxiety, disappointment, and despair carried in its shadows will be destroyed along with it. Instead, we will walk in His light— knowing with confidence where we’re going, why we’re here, and what life is all about.

In fact, we will be flourishing. There will be no question of purpose as we are actively part of what Jesus is doing… for all eternity. All His goodness. All His grace. All of Him—all the time.

In The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis wraps up his Chronicles of Narnia with this description which rings of eternity. “... The things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” 

The promise of Heaven for those who cling to the rescue of Jesus isn’t a story we tell to make us feel temporarily better during difficult times. It’s the vibrant result of the breathtaking love of Christ. If nothing else I say resonates this morning, please hear that. 

The chapter, and the entire letter, now wraps up with essentially a call to be ready. So, in classic Revelation style, I’m going to break this down into 7 observations ☺️. This isn’t “how you get to Heaven” —that is by the grace of Jesus alone, by trusting in His rescue alone. This is Jesus’ call for how we should live in preparation for His return. Here’s our GIST: Keep His Word, worship the truth (God), share His hope, let Him clean up your heart, come to Him for life, take Him seriously, and look forward to His return! Let’s take this a chunk at a time and dive in.


I. Keep His Word

“6 And He said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent His angel to show His servants what must soon take place. 7 And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” 

Here, Jesus starts by appealing to the trustworthiness and certainty of His return. He is the one who inspired all the prophets. He is the source of all truth. And… He says He’s coming back. And He says, blessed are those who keep the words of His prophecy. His words. His truth. 

I want to make two quick observations with this. First→

We should live like He’s really coming back. I don’t want to get too much into the last point during the first, but I want to at least say this: our lives should reflect that we believe this is true. This takes prayer. I know it’s hard not to just live in the moment and “say” we believe while living like we’d never expect it. It might seem like He’s significantly delayed, but we know He’s just not done yet! John was telling us Jesus’ redemptive plan has come to its final stage. All that is left is the saving of souls. When He’s done, He’ll be back. Living like that isn’t real is missing out because, well, second point→ 

Happiness comes from following His path. That’s not the popular perception. Christianity is often viewed as restrictive or out of date/out of touch. It’s not. Instead, we’re called to seek Him first, trusting that He cares about the details, and follow His lead as He guides us away from that which destroys—even if the world promotes its “benefits” —and toward abundant, hope-filled life instead.

Ok, third bonus observation. To keep His Word… you have to know His Word. Please, don’t neglect digging into the Bible.


II. Worship The Truth (God)

“8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, 9 but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.” 

I think it’s funny that this happened once in Revelation. It’s even funnier that it happened twice. Not only does this point to the contrasting parallels being drawn between the prostitute and the bride, but it also reminds us how easy it is to worship “good” instead of God. John was overwhelmed with the good and almost let it supplant God. But the angel is very clear about what’s going on. Don’t get drawn into people, or politics, or whatever else seems really powerful and even positive. Nothing else can carry the weight of your soul, worship truth… which is GOD! 

And we’re not just talking about music here. Worship is turning your heart, in all your life, toward Jesus.


III. Share His Hope

“10 And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. 11 Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.” 

This passage seems to echo the words of Daniel 12: “4 But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase." ... 10 Many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined, but the wicked shall act wickedly. And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand.” (Daniel 12:4, 10). The difference is Daniel was told there were things that weren’t to be shared until the end. Now, we’ve come to that time. All that remains is Jesus’ return. We’re told not to seal it but, but instead to share it. That’s why it’s so important not to miss the point of Revelation. Jesus is coming back. We’re not told to share a code to crack, but a message of judgment and hope.We’re told to share the gospel!

And He’s coming back whether we’re ready or not! That’s the implication of the filthy being filthy and the clean being clean. It’s not an admonition for sinners to live filthy or evil lives—that would impact us all. Instead, it’s acknowledging a sad reality. Jesus is coming back. When He does, our characters we’ll be known for who we are at the core. What defines you? Because the only way you’re in the righteous and holy category is if you’ve let Him do the cleaning. Which happens to be the next point ☺️→


IV. Let Him Clean Your Heart

“12 Behold, I am coming soon, bringing My recompense with Me, to repay each one for what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” 14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”

Jesus is coming with recompense, to make things right, to put things as they are meant to be. This Jesus is the Alpha and Omega—the end all be all, the meaning and source of all life. And He’s come saying: blessed are those I clean. See, we’ve seen this washing of robes imagery before. Revelation 7:14: “14 I said to him, "Sir, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” It’s not something we do; it’s all about what He does. 

Do you see His love displayed in this unnecessary act? He didn’t have to come and rescue us but chose to because of His unmerited love! We are called blessed, truly happy, because we are recipients of His love! 

 In fact, love is the key to understanding these verses. You have a picture of those who receive His freely offered gift of love within His arms for all eternity those who love falsehood outside the gates. Remember, these are the same gates that are never closed. Hell is a choice; it’s choosing to love yourself over Jesus.

I know we’re getting close on time, so I’ll try to be briefer on the last three here→


V. Come To Him For Life

“16 I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” 17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.”

He sent His angel. That means He told us all this on purpose. This wasn’t leaked; it was delivered! And in this purposeful message, we’re told to→ 

Come to Jesus: The Source and Fulfillment of All Prophecy! All Scripture has pointed to His salvation. All human history centers around His coming. He is the bright morning star, light shining as darkness flees! He is the one who provides life as His gift of grace. His water isn’t free. It’s free to us because He paid the price we never could! 

We’re also told to→


VI. Take Him Seriously

“18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” 

He gave us this message on purpose. It’s a revelation of Himself and His purpose. It shows how seriously He takes both sin and redemption, we have to take Him and His Word seriously. That’s what makes preaching hard. I don’t want to give you my take; I want to show you Jesus. As we approach Scripture, that should be our desire—to see and know Him!


VII. Look Forward To His Return!

“20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! 21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.”

He’s coming back! Are you ready? Are you excited? Would you have regrets if He came back today? JJ told me last week one thing she has always remembered hearing my dad say is that if we live for Jesus, we won’t live a wasted life. We’ll live lives driven by love and directed by righteousness and compassion. Then, when He returns, we’ll look forward to the beginning of chapter 1…of the book where every chapter is better than the one before!

Let’s recap with some→


TAKEAWAYS

1. Keep His Word.

2. Worship The Truth (God).

3. Share His Hope.

4. Let Him Clean Up Your Heart.

5. Come To Him For Life.

6. Take Him Seriously.

7. And Look Forward to His Return! 



Saturday, January 14, 2023

What Is Heaven? Part 2 (Revelation 21:9-22:5)

VIDEO 

What Is Heaven? Part 2 (Revelation 21:9-22:5)

GIST: In Heaven, we will both experience and be defined by holiness, safety, and life.

Today, we’re continuing our discussion of Revelation 21. As we near the end of this amazing book, we’re given a picture of Heaven. However, as we looked at it last week, we noticed this picture is more about who we will be and what we will experience than a physical description. We’ll see that even more today.

In fact, what we see in this description is yet another contrasting image. I want to point that out before we get any further into the text because it seems every time I study this letter, I notice more instances like this. You’re probably tired of me saying that this isn’t meant to be read as a linear recording of future events but pictures that point —again and again from varying perspectives —to the kinds of things that will happen and the truth that will continue to be true from Jesus’ ascension into Heaven until His triumphant return. But… I’m going to point one more out.

Look at how this passage starts: “9 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." 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God…”

Now, look at how chapter 17 starts: “1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk." 3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns.”

Notice the similarities? There are more. We’re first given a picture of what our lives are like when they are controlled by sin. We’re serving a counterfeit god, and everything is a mess. This prostitute is bought into sin so wholeheartedly she’s been marked as belonging to it (remember her forehead tattoo?). As a result, she’s surrounded by self-destruction. This section then endss with John bowing down to an angel and being reminded to worship God alone, and the voice of God declaring this is trustworthy and true. 

In this section, we are given a picture of the Bride of Christ, the Church, those who belong wholeheartedly to Him. They’re marked too, as His! Guess what happens at the end of the section (which we’ll get to, maybe, next week)? John bows down to an angel, is reminded to worship God alone, and the voice of God declares all this is trustworthy and true! 

So, if this is a contrast, what is happening in the middle? We’re given a picture of what surrounds the lives of those who belong to Jesus. This, most fully realized in Heaven, is a picture of what will now define our lives. There’s a lot in this, and I am indebted to the teaching of Kevin DeYoung for pointing out much of this out to me; however, today I want us to consider just three points. Here’s our gist: In Heaven, we will both experience and be defined by holiness, safety, and life.

Since this is a substantially longer passage this morning, we’re going to read them as we come to them rather than as one big chunk. Since the descriptions of holiness and safety are intertwined, I’m also going to skip around a bit to keep the images together (just in case it looked like I was skipping over stuff ☺️). Let’s dive in!


I. Holiness

“9 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." 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.”

So from the beginning of this picture, we see the church, the Bride of Christ, being described using “city language”, and from the outset of that description we’re described as having the glory of God. This idea is continued throughout this entire passage because so much of the pictures being applied to the Church (radiant, Jasper, crystal clear) have elsewhere been used to describe God. This isn’t because we are becoming little gods, but rather that in Heaven, His transformative grace is completed. Here, those who belong to Jesus are being transformed into His image. We, though imperfectly, are meant to reflect Him to the world. In Heaven, our reflection of Jesus will be complete. 

18 The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 19 The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. 21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. 22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.”

Here, we have the same kinds of pictures. Heaven will be spectacular because God’s glory will flood everything. In fact, when we look at the “safety” portion, we’re going to see a set of measurements…which we’ll talk about when we get there. In that, we’ll see Heaven described as a cube (holy cube?). That made me think of a Borg Cube from Star Trek ☺️, but more spiritual minds have pointed out that there is only one other cube described in the Bible: the holy of holies. This was the place only the high priest had access to. It was the most intimate place you could meet with God. Now, we’re described using the same language!

  Keeping with that same vein of description, we’re given these 12 stones —which I struggle to pronounce. The commentaries I’ve studied were all quick to point out that these mirrored those used in the breastplate of the high priest. Again, we have temple imagery, but we’re also told there is no temple? Why? Because we’re in God’s presence directly. It’s the same reason there is no need for a sun, because we’re surrounded by the light of the world. 

The images of gates being made from a single massive pearl and streets of solid gold echo the same thoughts, as well. Everything in Heaven reflects the exuberant glory of God —and that includes us. 

The end of chapter 21 reminds us why: “26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.” 

All Good, No Bad. As Jesus burns away all that is not love, Heaven is God’s people transformed and untainted. 


II. Safety

“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-- 13 on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. 15 And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. 16 The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. 17 He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel's measurement.”

Here we see some of our 12s. Specifically, 12 Gates & 12 Foundations. These 12 have become familiar throughout the letter and have been used to represent the whole church. We see that pictured here clearly. The gates are the twelve tribes and the foundation is the twelve disciples. The way in and the very foundation of Heaven is the salvation of Jesus outlined throughout all Scripture. 

So, what does this have to do with safety? Well, we have this picture of super high walls and gates. That in itself carries the connotation of security. We also have a picture of all this being measured. The measurements aren’t meant to be taken literally. It’s a picture of Heaven as expansive and all encompassing [about 1,400 miles (stadia) and about 200 feet (cubits)]. But this lines up with several other “measurement” passages in Scripture. Measurement is done to show what belongs to whoever owns whatever is being measured. If you remember back in chapter 11, John is told to measure the temple of God, but not to measure the court outside the temple because that’s where people will be trampled. It’s the paradox of the Christian life: we belong to Jesus and as such are firmly in His arms, but we will encounter persecution from this world because it is not our home. 

What do we not see in this measurement? Any room for trampling. We belong. We’re safe. That’s it. And the picture keeps going too→

“24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day--and there will be no night there.”

The gates are always open! We live in a world of locked doors. Though there are those who rebel against it, contemporary logic tells us locked is safe because outside is unpredictable. Our homes, our cars, our classrooms, our phones, our computers… our hearts. We’ve seen devastation reinforced so often it’s easy to believe we’re only safe when closed in— even if that security still feels feeble at best. But… fear isn’t forever. 

As I studied this chapter this week, this particular verse struck me the most. Why are the gates of Heaven never locked? There is absolutely nothing to fear. All sorrow is gone. All danger is destroyed. Jesus has come victorious over sin and death. All that remains is love because “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” (‭‭Revelation‬ ‭21‬:‭4‬).

This future awaits those who trust Him, and this reality can shape how you face fear today. I know closing the door feels safe, but this picture points to the true foundation of courage. Will you open your heart to the unshakable security of His salvation?

Heaven is where we will fully experience and be defined by holiness, safety, and →


III. Life

I’ll be brief on this one, but look at how chapter 22 starts: “1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; 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. 3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His servants will worship Him. 4 They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. 5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”

Heaven is alive! Look at all the imagery here. There’s a river. Ancient civilizations were built up around flowing rivers. They were the lifesource that led to their flourishing. There is a tree of life. Doesn’t this ring of the garden of Eden, the picture of paradise before the fall? And what is happening? It’s producing 12 kinds of fruit. The fruit of belonging to Jesus, being the Church will be continually produced! The nations have been healed. Remember the promise of 2 Chronicles 7:14? “ If My people who are called by My name humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” In Heaven, we’ll see that healing completed. There will be true spiritual life here because there is no curse. Sin has been defeated. Instead, we will look upon His face, and be marked as His! There is no darkness here; only marvelous light.

Again, it’s not a sterile white room. It’s abundant life! Let’s hit a few quick→


TAKEAWAYS

1. Holiness: Are you drawing near to Him now? In Heaven, we will be defined by His glory. Are we pursuing that now? 

2. Safety: Are you resting in His provision? This world is so unstable. These past few weeks for me have reminded me very vividly, yet again, of my lack of control. How can we face this life with anything akin to hope, with anything close to a sense of security? Remember, God hasn’t stopped being sovereign, and He is actively bringing an end to all fear.

3. Life: Are you living with a contagious vibrancy while actively pointing others to His eternal life? Are you living for Jesus?


Saturday, January 7, 2023

What Is Heaven? (Revelation 21:1-8)

VIDEO

 What Is Heaven? (Revelation 21:1-8)

GIST: Heaven is God’s transformative grace fully realized: His people in His presence experiencing His love forever.


Welcome back to our study in Revelation. After taking December off to focus our hearts on Jesus’ incarnation, we’re picking up with, well, the end of our study… of the end ☺️. Throughout this journey together (and it has been a journey), we’ve seen that Revelation was never meant to be a mystery to solve but rather a revealing of Jesus to us. It gives us a picture of who He is and how He will work in a broken world until He returns to judge sin, destroy death, and redeem His people. We’ve watched this unfold in a series of images circling back through the same “kinds” of events over and over…until chapter 20 where Jesus’ return was depicted for the final time showing Him victorious over everything. Now, we’re in the last two chapters and what do we see? Heaven. 

So much of these final chapters flows around a driving message: Jesus is coming back, and it will be wonderful for those who have accepted His rescue and Hell for those who have chosen to run from Him. Nonetheless, I just want to walk through what we see specifically in the first eight verses of chapter 21 this morning. Before I say anything else, let’s just look at that→


“1 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. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 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. 4 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." 5 And He who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also He said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." 6 And He said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be His God and He will be My son. 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death."”


A lot of this imagery is probably very familiar to many of us. However, let’s not forget we’re still in the same book we’ve been studying for over a year together. These images are John putting what he saw into the words he knew. We have to be careful not to lose the message by trying to make the pictures work with our understanding of how things should be. I know we all want to know what Heaven is going to look like, and what our bodies will look like, and what we’ll spend our time doing. However, that’s not the kind of picture we get. Instead, we’re told more impactful truths like this (and here’s our gist☺️)→ Heaven is God’s transformative grace fully realized: His people in His presence experiencing His love forever. Let’s break that down.


I. Heaven

New? Ok, before we get into the message portion, I do want to at least address the elephant in the room. Maybe you’re asking this question. Maybe you’ve never thought about it. However, since I imagine someone is, we need to talk about it for a second. This passage, which we’re reading on New Years Day by the way ☺️, starts by saying John saw a new heaven and a new earth.  “1 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.”

So, what does that mean? Full disclosure: I don’t completely know, and I don’t think anyone with integrity will say they do. There’s been lots of speculation. The prevailing thoughts are that either the world will be completely destroyed and then remade, or the world will just be cleaned up, or (something between the two—and this is where I fall right now) something inbetween—the world will be completely transformed or redeemed. This seems consistent with the message of Scripture and other passages like 2 Peter 3:6-7 where Peter compares Jesus’ return and final judgment to the flood. “6 Through these the world of that time perished when it was flooded. 7 By the same word, the present heavens and earth are stored up for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.” (CSB). What happened then? Was the world completely destroyed and then remade? Not really, but it was completely changed. For that reason, I would say it seems like the same kind of thing is going to happen. Heaven will be earth completely transformed: made new, made perfect. Later, we’re going to see Garden of Eden imagery—which is helpful. I’ve said this as often as I can in this study, but we have to fight the sterile white room image of Heaven. Heaven will be vibrant and alive in a way the best parts of this fallen-creation only hint at! 

It will be the world with no sea. Not necessarily because there won’t be vast bodies of water in Heaven, or Jesus had enough of it the first time ☺️, but because the sea symbolized chaos and destruction in the ancient world. Heaven will be a clear absence of that! The old way of sin has passed away. Life is new. 

Ok, so that’s the elephant. Here’s the meat. Heaven, whatever it will “look like”, will be→ 


II. Grace Fully Realized

 “2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”

Here we’re coming back to two pictures used throughout this letter to describe God’s people: His Bride and His City. Both of these are used to represent→

His People in His Presence. The Church is depicted as the Bride of Christ. Why? Because He loves us. Because He took Hell in our place to present us blameless before Himself that we might be with Him forever. Because only the intensity of a strong marriage relationship even comes close to the level of love Jesus has for us (and it’s just a shadow of His love!). What about the city? Specifically, we’re called Jerusalem, the Holy City, the place where God met with His people. If we had any question about what this means, God’s voices thunders it home for us→ “3 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.”” Heaven is being with Jesus. It is the ultimate place of safety and belonging…because we’re with Him! If that doesn’t excite us, then we’re probably not really looking forward to the reality of Heaven, and we probably need to look at the state of our relationship with Him now.

Heaven is His people in His presence→

Experiecing His Love. I don’t think we need much commentary on these verses: “4 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.” Being in the presence of Jesus is the end of all suffering! Why? Because the God of the universe will personally wipe away every tear! We’ve seen this before in Revelation (Chapter 7), and it gets me every time. I have been around a lot of hurting over the past few weeks. In fact, I tend to be around heart ache most of the time. The thought of Jesus taking away pain and death, the thought of no reason for morning and final tears being wiped away… This is love! 

All the hurting will be taken away because, as Brett Davis put it, Jesus came burning away all that isn’t love! Look at where these verses go next. In fact, we’ll look at this as our→ 


TAKEAWAYS

(But don’t get too excited…because these are kind of like points this morning ☺️.)

“5 And He who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also He said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." 6 And He said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be His God and He will be My son. 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death."”


1. This is true. The God of the universe, the one reigning on His sovereign throne, says: “Trust Me! I’m the Alpha and Omega.” Life is from Him and for Him, and He’s offering life withoutpayment for all who conquer. That conquering, as we’ve seen throughout this letter, is all about clinging to the conqueror. Those whohave been rescued receive etneral life without payment…because Jesus has already paid!

2. We can look forward to a day when His love is all we see. Again, I love how Brett Davis defines the wrath of God: His righteousness burning away all that isn’t love. Life will be defined by Jesus alone. There will be no brokenness here.

3. So…how does this impact your prayers? I know that might seem like an out of place question, but this really struck me, actually while thinking about these verses in the shower… ☺️. When Jesus taught us to pray, He said to ask: “Your kingdom come Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” Think about what this means in light of all we’ve seen about Heaven so far. How is His will done in Heaven? 

This would be praying that God be seen and known as sovereign. When we pray, we should ask for His control to be known and trusted. 

This would also be praying that souls would be saved. Heaven is full of those rescued by His grace because “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9). He isn’t back yet because He’s still saving people! 

This would be praying that God burn away all that isn’t love. Is it ok to pray for pain to go away? That’s what it will be like in Heaven. This should give us strength to ask Him to be who we know He is. It should also give us confidence that He only ever acts according to His nature, so even the things we don’t understand can’t be outside of His loving sovereignty.

4. So…how does this impact your life? “7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be His God and He will be My son. 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” What defines you? If you’re defined by sin, you’re running headlong away from grace and toward the Hell you’re choosing. If you’re defined by His rescue and His conquering of sin in your life, you’re heading toward Heaven. No, you won’t be perfect. But where is you heart? Are you striving to live for Him because you know you’re loved and love Him?