First Mennonite Church
March 12, 2023
Heaven Touching Earth
21:1 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. 21:2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 21:4 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.” 21:5 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.” 21:6 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. 21:7 Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. 21:8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
One of the great beauties of the Bible is the way God’s work is presented. Despite the Bible being written over a span of more than 1500 years, it reveals a remarkable unity and continuity. Genesis begins with the story of God creating heavens and earth and Revelation closes with a story of God creating a new heaven and a new earth. The biblical expression “heaven and earth” denotes wholeness, not only of our being but of the world and the entire universe. The expression “heaven and earth” includes everything we know or can apprehend, or experience, but also everything beyond our human comprehension. Heaven and earth is the biblical language used to refer to the visible elements of creation and the invisible realities unknown to us. Heaven and earth are the two poles; one from which we stand and the other to where our sight attempts to reach. Heaven and earth are both: the place where God works and his workmanship.
Even from a philosophical perspective, earth without heaven would be chaotic, hopeless, and pointless. It is like wanting to move, but not having direction. It is like living without a purpose or goal. However, when God created heaven and earth, he gave them purpose and direction, culminating with a total replacement of them. That is also how He created you and me; he put in us a longing to look beyond ourselves. It is in Him that we can find purpose and our ultimate fulfillment.
As Saint John watches the vision unfold before him, he says, “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”. Revelation is where we find God’s creation coming to its full completion. The new world comes from the very presence and glory of God and replaces the old.
This part in Revelation echoes God’s promise found in Isaiah 65, verse 17: “Behold I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind”.
Therefore, at the closing of human history, God will not only redeem his people, but the whole creation. In Romans, Paul says that the whole creation is desperately awaiting the same freedom and glory God’s children are waiting for (8:18-21). The day of God’s full redemption is a hope not only for God’s people but also for the entire creation.
And John continues. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals…”
If God created a garden, the Garden of Eden, when he created the first heaven and the first earth, according to Genesis, in Revelation God’s new heaven and earth, comes in the form of a holy city. It is not a place for two individuals as was in the Garden of Eden, but a city for all nations, peoples, and tribes. It is a holy city where the Holy God and his holy people will dwell. God will make his home among us.
And . . . God will dwell with them
He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 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.” 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.”
Once I was teaching a Bible class on Matthew five and when we came to the verse where Jesus promises that the meek will inherit the earth, I noticed a sudden discomfort among the students. And one of them said, “I think Jesus must have surely meant heaven, instead of earth.” So, I asked him what the trouble is with Earth being the promise. He said because on earth pain, suffering, and evil reign.
But in Revelations, we are told God will create a new heaven and a new earth where he and his people will spend eternity. It is not this old and aching world that we will inherit.
In John’s vision, God will dwell with his people as their God, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them.
In Matthew, Jesus is called the Immanuel—God is with us. And God truly is with us through his Spirit. But the great difference between the Divine’s presence with us today and that of which Revelation is talking is that it will be in its fullness. There will be no blurred sense of his presence. There will be no need of faith to perceive his presence because, as again the apostle John says in his letter: Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
God will be there and your eyes and mine will see him face to face. We will be able to see His glorious face for He will dwell with us!
There, God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. He will erase every pain and the memory of it forever. Death will be banished forever.
But today, we are called to walk in faith. And as we live by faith, we are called to live giving glimpses of what awaits us. We are called to wipe the tears of those who are crying. We are called to share in the sorrows of those who sorrow. We are called to rejoice with those rejoicing and to weep with those who weep. We are called to be a helping hand to those who need. Through you and me, God’s new heaven and earth have invaded our world already. We make the presence of God be felt in our world.
Today we are called to care for each other. In doing so, the world will see glimpses of God presence in this hurting world. This is what Jesus prayed for and taught his disciples when he prayed: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Therefore, through every act of kindness, through every gesture of concern you show for others, God’s kingdom touches the world. With every word of sympathy you speak, with the effort at being patient and considerate to others, you make the will of God on earth as it is done in heaven. Through you and me, the realities and qualities of heaven touch the earth.
Also, the holy city to come is already here, even when not in its fullness. We are God’s holy city—in other words, we are a people God has set apart for himself. Jesus said, “Be holy as your Father in heaven is holy.”
Let me close here
God is present with us today, but he promises a day in which he will make his presence real and intimately close to us. He will dwell with us. He then will remove the travails of human life as we know them today. But as we continue grounding our hope in God’s promises, let us make every effort to reflect that hope even today. As verse seven states: Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. Amen!