November 1, 2009
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, the 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,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’
5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ 6 Then 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 water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.
Amen. The word of God. thanks be to God.
In east-central Minnesota, the county seat of Kanabec County is a small town of 3000 named Mora, spelled M-O-R-A. Several miles to the south lies an even smaller town named Day. The only surviving business there is the Day Fish Market, one of the few remaining distributors of the Scandinavian delicacy lutefisk, which is dried cod fish cured in lye. Lutefisk does not sound like a delicacy to me, but the Scandinavians did not ask me.
In any case, an old joke among farmers in the area is:
“I’ve got to go into town to do some shopping.”
“Yah, but are you going to go to Day or to Mora?”
I guess you have to live there to appreciate that.
A similar situation exists in southwest Ohio, where there is also village called Morrow—spelled M-O-R-R-O-W. The name is a constant source of confusion and comedy when someone wants to get to Morrow.
There is even a song about it. We don’t know who the original songwriter was, but the piece has made its way into the larger music scene, where it has been recorded by, among others, Bob Gibson, the Kingston Trio, and the Muppets. The song exists in several variations. One version goes like this:
I started on a journey, about a year ago
To a little town called Morrow in the state of Ohio.
I’ve never been much of a traveler so I really didn’t know
That Morrow was the hardest place I’d ever try to go.
I went down to the station for my ticket and applied
For tips regarding Morrow, not expecting to be guyed.
Said I, “My friend, I’d like to go to Morrow and return
No later than tomorrow for I haven’t time to burn.”
Said he to me, “Now let me see, if I have heard you right.
You’d like to go to Morrow and return tomorrow night.
You should have gone to Morrow yesterday and back today,
For the train that goes to Morrow is a mile upon its way.”
“My friend,” said I, “It seems to me you’re talking through your hat.
There is a town called Morrow on the line, now tell me that.”
“There is,” said he, “But take from me a quiet little tip
To go from here to Morrow is a fourteen-hour trip.
“If you had gone to Morrow yesterday, now don’t you see,
You could have gone to Morrow and returned today at three.
For the train today to Morrow, if the schedule is right,
Today it goes to Morrow and returns tomorrow night.”
I was so disappointed, I was mad enough to swear!
The train had gone to Morrow and had left me standing there.
That man was right in telling me that I was a howling jay.
I cannot go to Morrow, so I guess in town I’ll stay.
As the song points out, getting to tomorrow can be a difficult proposition, but, of course, that has always been true, especially when “tomorrow” refers to a better time when the problems of today are resolved. In biblical terms, tomorrow — the future, the time that has not yet arrived — is the assurance that the present is never the end of the story.
Tomorrow is the stuff of prophecy. “The days are coming when ...” proclaimed the prophets. Such prophecies were often uttered during dark and dismal days in Israel’s history when not only the present but also the future looked bleak, but “tomorrow” was one way the prophets kept Israel’s faith alive.
Further, tomorrow is one of the keys for understanding Christianity. We explain it something like this: When you embrace the way of Christ, you enter the kingdom of God, which is already here in some ways, but you also inherit the hope of the kingdom to come, where God’s love and power will have full sway, where all wrongs will be righted and where there will be neither sorrow nor suffering anymore.
Today’s reading from Revelation is typical of such biblical thought. The day is coming, says the Lord, when there will be no more mourning or crying or pain, “for the first things have passed away.”
This is the final vision of John the author of Revelation. It is a vision of the future existence of God’s people in fellowship with God. Like all the other visions in the book, the descriptions are symbolic. For example, the “new Jerusalem” that John sees (v. 2) is described later in the chapter as being a cube (1,500 miles along each side, v. 16). Those dimensions would place the top of the city’s walls at six times the altitude of the International Space Station, which orbits at roughly 250 miles above Earth.
The number symbolism is masked by modern English translations, which relates the measure in our conventional unit (miles) rather than the units used by the author (stadia). John talked about a cube of 12,000 stadia with 12 gates, and 12 angels, reminding us of the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles. It becomes apparent that the author is saying that 12 is the sacred number of God’s people, and the New Jerusalem is home to God’s people.
And we are told in v1 that “the sea was no more.” You might wonder how that could be since our planet is mostly water, but again this is spiritual symbolism. The “sea” in the book of Revelation represents evil and chaos. This symbolism appeared earlier in the book when the “beast” arose from the “sea” (Rev. 13:1) as a kind of embodiment or incarnation of evil. The absence of the “sea” in the “new cosmos,” signifies that evil and chaos have ceased to exist.
The “new earth” is more than just a return to the garden of Eden, for God places in its midst a “new Jerusalem” that comes directly “from God” (v. 2). The contrast with Eden is later made explicit in the next chapter (22) by mention of the “tree of life,” which we last heard of in Genesis 2:9, but whereas the earlier “tree of life” stood in the midst of a “garden,” here it stands in the midst of a city. John’s point is that the restoration is not just of the natural environment but extends to civilization and human societies as well. In contrast to the societies corrupted by human sinfulness which John earlier referred to as “Babylon the great, mother of whores” (17:1-6), this renewed society comes directly “from God” and is presented symbolically as “a bride adorned for her husband” (21:2).
John then hears God speaking from the throne to interpret the vision: “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them” (v. 3). All that which separated us from God is gone.
Furthermore, God “will wipe every tear from their eyes” because “Death will be no more” and so “mourning and crying and pain” will be no more. If even death itself is absent, then truly all “the first things have passed away” (v. 4) and this is paradise.
God declares, “I am making all things new” (v. 5). Notice that nothing is explicitly said about destroying the former things and beginning fresh by the creation of new things. Rather, all things that are now in existence are to be made “new,”. God is not making all new things but rather God renews and renovates all things.
This is a message of hope and comfort that has endured down though the ages. We most often hear about Christianity’s view of tomorrow when we are personally facing sorrow or pain that seems insolvable. “Don’t lose hope,” we say. “There is a better world coming.” “In the end, nothing can separate us from the love of God.” “Tomorrow — some distant tomorrow — you will see your loved one again.” “Tomorrow there will be war no more.” “Tomorrow all violence will cease, and people will live peaceably with their neighbors.”
The Communists used to mock this Christian ideal as a dream from never-never land. There is an old socialist song which sings:
You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die.
When Communism was established in Russia in 1917, they said that they were building a worker’s paradise, which would establish Christian ideals here and now on earth. Of course, they failed utterly. The USSR was more worker’s prison that worker’s paradise, but they had a certain truth. Christian ideals are not just for
The sweet eternal bye and bye
When you get your pie in the sky.
Rather, the vision of God’s kingdom at the end the age is supposed to inspire us to work now for that kingdom. The kingdom is coming, there is not doubt about that; therefore we should be living and working like we are in that kingdom right now.
In the early, dark days of World War II, England was ill prepared to defend itself. Night after night, German warplanes repeatedly bombed London. Many of the city’s children were sent to live with relatives out in the countryside, and the people who remained lived under daily threat. One of the most popular songs in England during that time was “The White Cliffs of Dover,” which proclaimed,
There’ll be joy and laughter
And peace ever after,
when the world is free ...
Just you wait and see.”
The British looked forward to tomorrow, and they risked their lives every day to make their tomorrow possible.
These verses from Revelation 21 are of a great tomorrow, but I have the feeling God is asking us, what are you doing right now to make this a reality? Are you wiping tears from eyes? Are you doing what you can to help others?
We had an example of a movement toward kingdom living this week in Rock Hill. Elwin Wilson was a man who hated blacks most of his life. Back in 1961, he beat up a black man who tried to enter the “whites only” room at the greyhound bus station in Rock Hill. The black man’s name is John Lewis. This week Elwin Wilson apologized to John Lewis and said, “I love you.” John Lewis forgive Elwin Wilson and said, “You are my friend and my brother.” Then Wilson said, “Maybe, just maybe, we can transform the world.” [The Herald, October 30, 2009, p1A]. According to the article that was written by Andrew Dys in this weeks Herald, “Then Lewis and Wilson clasped hands once more and Lewis raised their hands together in the spotlight on the stage. The crowd cheered and Lewis did one more thing for Elwin Wilson. He helped Wilson down the steps, and it sure looked like he was leading a cavalry charge into all our futures.”
Now you could be cynical here. You could say that Lewis and Wilson are just two people. No matter how much good will exists between them, they are not going to “transform the world.” And Andrew Dys overwrites when he talks about them “leading a cavalry charge into all our futures.” Maybe so. We are not in the kingdom yet. The world is sometimes an evil, ugly place. The world is in need of transformation. No one disputes that, but at least those two people took a step in the right direction.
What are we doing? Are we even facing in the right direction? Too often we use the fact that we cannot save the whole world as an excuse to do nothing. We cannot bring down the New Jerusalem from heaven, so let us just sit together and talk about the weather and do nothing.
I am sure you have heard the old story of a woman walking on the beach the morning after a storm. Thousands of starfish had been thrown up on the beach. The woman is picking up starfish and throwing them back in the ocean. A passersby said to her, “You cannot possibly save all those starfish.” She replied, “No, I can’t,” and she bent over and picked up a starfish and said, “But I can save this one.”
We cannot right every wrong, save every child, prevent every crime. I think God would say to us, that is not the point. The point is to do what you can.
There is an odd thing about the work of God in our lives. Many people think that when something divine happens, the heavens break open and a full orchestra starts up, and a deep voice says pay attention—God at work here. But most of the time working for the kingdom is not that way. It is just a person doing something kind for another person.
I can recall numerous incidents when people helped me in some way or another along the road of life. That was all kingdom work. To be fair there have been other times when people ripped me off, they were working for a different kingdom. Which kingdom are you working for?
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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