Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 2, 2010
“Extreme Makeover: New Jerusalem Edition” (Revelation 21:1-7)
Have you ever seen a program on television called “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”? In this show, a family is featured that is living in a very rundown home, maybe falling apart, bad condition, a bad place for them to live. Then comes the Extreme Makeover crew, they talk to the family and find out what they really need. The family is then whisked away, so they can’t see what’s going on, and the construction crew comes in and gets to work. They build a brand new home for the family, just terrific, everything they could ever ask for and more. When they’re all done, the family is brought back, but when they get out of the car, they cannot see right away the new home that awaits them. The Extreme Makeover people have parked a huge bus in the way to block their view and to keep things a surprise. But then there comes the moment in the show when the family is standing there on the street, waiting to catch their first view of their new dwelling place, and the excitement and the anticipation is mounting, and at last the host dramatically gives the word: “Move that bus!” The bus moves away, the sight is revealed, the family sees their new home, and a lot of oohing and aahing ensues. “Oh, my God!” they say when they see awaits them. It’s beautiful, spectacular, beyond their wildest dreams! That’s what I call the “Move that bus!” moment.
Dear friends in Christ, in our Epistle readings for today and the next two Sundays, from Revelation 21 and 22–as we look at these last two chapters of the Bible, you and I get a “Move that bus!” moment of our own. We catch a glimpse of the new home that awaits us, where we’re going to move in some day. And it’s beautiful, spectacular, beyond our wildest dreams. So today welcome to “Extreme Makeover: New Jerusalem Edition”!
“New Jerusalem”: That’s the name of the place where you and I will be spending eternity. We’re not ready to move in there quite yet, but we do get a sneak peek here in the Book of Revelation. God “moves the bus away” for the Apostle John, who then in turn relays to us a vivid description. “Write this down,” John is told, “for these words are trustworthy and true.” He did, they are, and we get to read them. These words show us what we have to look forward to, and that builds our faith and our joy and our hope in the here and now. That’s what’s going on here in our text, so let’s begin. “Move that bus!”
“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.” The last couple chapters of Revelation serve as a bookend to the entire Bible, balancing the first couple chapters of Genesis, bringing us full circle. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” In the end, God will re-create a new heaven and a new earth. The first creation got out of whack with the fall into sin. But God is committed to his created order, and so in the age to come, when Christ returns, there will be a new creation. Paradise lost, paradise restored, and then some. And the point about “the sea was no more,” means no more chaos, no more turmoil, no more threatening danger, which is what “the sea” symbolized in the ancient world. In the new heaven and the new earth, all will be at peace.
John continues: “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” The holy city, new Jerusalem. It will be like old Jerusalem in some respect, but different, better. Old Jerusalem was supposed to be a holy city, set apart by God to be special. Jerusalem was the place of God’s dwelling in the midst of his people. This was where people could come to have their sins forgiven at the temple. This was the city from which the Lord God would guard and guide his holy people. It was the home of the Davidic king, and thus the place where one day the great Messiah would come. But when that Messiah did come, Jesus Christ, the son of David, Jerusalem made strange and rejected their king and killed him. Old Jerusalem had betrayed her holy character and lost her standing as the holy city. The old city of Jerusalem was destroyed not long thereafter.
But here in our text we see that there will come a new Jerusalem, and this city will be truly holy. Pure, clean, radiant in her beauty, “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” And notice how the new Jerusalem appears: “coming down out of heaven from God.” This is all God’s doing, it’s his show. We didn’t have anything to do with it. We cannot manufacture a holy city with our sinful hands. No construction crew on earth could come up with this. But the new holy city comes down out of heaven from God. That’s how God works, isn’t it? Think of how he sent our Savior: I believe in Jesus Christ, “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven.” The direction always is from God to us. Our God takes the initiative, he does the work. The Son of God came down from heaven to earth to bear our sin and suffer and die for our salvation. And on that day when our risen Lord returns, so likewise will the abode he has prepared for us be “coming down out of heaven from God.”
John sees this, and he hears something, too: “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.’” This is the fulfillment of God’s plan all along. This is what was supposed to take place in the Garden of Eden: God and man dwelling together in peace, in perfect communion. But as I say, our sin disrupted that harmony, conflict and death entered in, and we were driven out. Same thing happened in the Promised Land, when Israel entered a land flowing with milk and honey and every kind of blessing. Rebellion, disobedience, and a covenant-breaking people driven out in exile and captivity.
But not so in the new Jerusalem. “Behold,” take a good look, now everything is restored to the right way. God dwelling with man, we will be his own people, everything in its proper relationship. Harmony, communion, not for a moment, not intermittent, but now the “dwelling place” of God is with man. God’s abiding presence, God making himself fully known and present to us continually, to bless us forever.
How will he do that? “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.” Notice how the new Jerusalem is described: by what will not be there! No more tears, no more death, no more sorrow. All the things that make our life in this old world so painful and miserable, gone forever. Can you imagine? Think of all the grief we encounter and experience in this life, in this house of death. Separation, loss, loneliness, all the misery we meet. These will be no more. Only good, only blessing, only life and joy remain. Happiness instead of tears, life in place of death, singing and rejoicing and gladness supplant mourning and crying and pain. “The former things have passed away.”
Does this give you something to look forward to? You bet it does! Knowing that this is what awaits us gives us a new perspective in this life. It puts a spring into our step, as now we must endure suffering and affliction for a little while. This hope strengthens our resolve, gives us confidence in the goodness of God, so that we trust him in the midst of hardships. This sure hope of our eternal home frees us up to take some risks, to let go and love people, to forgive one another, to serve others in their need. Our future is secure, and that makes our present more flexible, less of a white-knuckle experience. Our hands are freed up to help others.
“And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” Not only a new Jerusalem, but “all things new.” That will include new bodies for you and me. We need to be fitted out to live at our new permanent address. These old, dying bodies will be raised imperishable, new and glorified. Oh, you will still be you. You will still have your own identity. But somehow–and we don’t know all the details of this yet–you will have a body that no longer is subject to the old aches and pains and mortal nature. Behold, God is making all things new and glorious.
This new nature will also mean you will no longer be weighed down by sin. The darkness in our heart, that tendency to distrust God, that selfish, loveless nature that we all have in us–that hole in our heart will be filled in, and we will begin to live and love as we ought. What a joy that will be! We get a little taste of it now, because God has given us his Spirit, and we are his new people already now. But then everything will be perfectly realized at last, and we will live as our Creator meant us to live. “All things new,” including our soul.
“And he said to me, ‘It is done!” “It is done!” Does that ring any bells for you? It should. This is the echo of what our Lord Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished!” Christ’s finished work on the cross, winning forgiveness and salvation for us sinners–Jesus’ triumphant “It is finished!” ensures the final “It is done!” There would be no new Jerusalem if Christ had not suffered and died for us at the old Jerusalem. But by his atoning death and victorious resurrection, our Lord Jesus Christ returns to his Father with a completed redemption, his mission accomplished–the salvation of all sinners for all time. Christ has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. “It is done!” Your forgiveness. “It is done!” Your holiness, the passport to the new Jerusalem. “It is done!” Your new home, done for you, completely by the grace of God in Christ. Your “Move that bus!” moment is as sure as the “Move that stone!” moment on Easter day, when God rolled away the stone and we could see that Christ is risen, victorious over death and the grave.
By the nails and the wood of the cross of Calvary, Christ has prepared a place for us that we can live in–really live in! It will be beautiful, spectacular, beyond our wildest dreams, more than we can imagine. God has in store for us a Habitat for Humanity that will be our Habitat for Eternity. It’s “Extreme Makeover: New Jerusalem Edition.” And so with all the church around the world, you and I now can look forward to hearing one last, great and glorious, “Move that bus!”