“Take a Tour of the City” (Revelation 21:9-14, 21-27)

Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 9, 2010

“Take a Tour of the City” (Revelation 21:9-14, 21-27)

I know some of you like to travel, and so do I. This past week Sally got her time-off request approved, and so now we know when we’re going on vacation. And we know where we’re going also, the place. This gives us something to look forward to. I’m looking forward to the beauty and the scenery, the pleasant temperatures and the enjoyable activities, the time to relax and unwind, to spend time with the family. And you know what? Even though we’re not there yet, just knowing that we are going, and I know what to look forward to–that puts a little spring in my step and a smile on my face even now. It lifts my spirits.

Today I want to lift your spirits by lifting your sights. I want to lift your sights to a place where you and I will all be going some day. It’s the new Jerusalem, a place we were introduced to a little bit last week. But today we get to go on a tour. St. John is our tour guide, and he shows us around the holy city. We’ll get to see the wall, the gates, the foundations–the layout of the city. We’ll see what’s there–and what’s not there, too. And even though we’re not there yet, just knowing that we are going there some day, and we have some idea of what to expect–that will lift our spirits and give us something to look forward to, in the midst of all the trials and tribulations of this world. So, next stop, New Jerusalem, as we “Take a Tour of the City.”

Last week we heard that that’s where we’re going, New Jerusalem, as we just got started in Revelation 21. Now today we pick up our text in verse 9 of that chapter: “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.’”

What a jarring contrast of images! First we see an angel who has “seven bowls full of the seven last plagues,” ready to be poured out upon the earth–what could be more gloom-and-doomish than that? And then this angel wants to show us the heavenly “Bride,” a way to speak about Christ’s bride, the Church, adorned in beauty and splendor–an image of joy and celebration! You see, even while it looks like earth is going to hell in a handbasket, we have this heavenly hope to look forward to! The angel lifts John’s sights from the destruction and the judgment coming on the earth to give him a glimpse of the glory still to come for God’s people.

“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.” The angel takes John to a high vantage point, where he sees the new Jerusalem “coming down out of heaven from God.” We heard that same phrase last week, didn’t we? “Coming down out of heaven from God.” When we’re talking about salvation and eternal life, the direction is always from God to us. We cannot rise up to God; he must come down to us.

So this holy city comes down, “having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.” And it is glorious. Radiant. Jewel-like, brilliant, exquisite, full of color and light, every aspect, every angle, revealing new glories. Precious gems, precious stones. You know, in the Old Testament, the high priest wore such stones on his vestments, to portray the beauty of holiness, the twelve tribes of Israel dwelling in the presence of the Lord God. Now this whole city is adorned with fine gems; it’s like it’s even made of them.

We see more: “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. . . .” There it is. Just as in old Jerusalem the high priest wore shoulder pieces set with precious stones, engraved with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, now in the new Jerusalem the city itself, the twelve gates of the wall are inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes. Judah, Reuben, Simeon, Benjamin–all the faithful from God’s Old Testament church will be included in this city.

“And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” Twelve gates, twelve foundations. Twelve sons of Israel, twelve apostles of the Lamb. Old Testament church, New Testament church, all present and accounted for. And these twelve apostles of the Lamb–Peter, James, John, Matthew, and the others–these apostles of Christ are foundational for the church. They were appointed by Christ to be the first ones to preach his saving gospel, and they have laid it down for all time, for us, in the pages of the New Testament, like we have it here today.

So the wall of the city has twelve gates and twelve foundations, abundant entrance and a solid foundation. But what about the fact that this city has a wall? In the ancient Near East, to live in a walled city was a good thing. The wall provided protection from the city’s enemies. But in the new Jerusalem, there will be no more enemies to attack. And maybe that’s just the point. A wall symbolizes safety and security, and there is no more safe and secure place to be than in this holy city, surrounded by the might and strength of God himself.

New Jerusalem: radiance like a jasper jewel, gates of pearl, street of gold. . . . Yet do not think of this city as some sort of gleaming ghost town, devoid of life, sterile and deserted. Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is, this city will be full of life, full of joy, full of people and God and nature in perfect harmony, as we will see. But we do see, as we start our tour of the city, the things John has shown us so far: the wall, the gates, and the foundations, gleaming in their beauty, glorious in their strength.

Now what we notice next is what we don’t see, the things that are not present in the holy city. We’ll start with this: “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” Odd, isn’t it, to have a Jerusalem without a temple? But in the new Jerusalem, what the temple stood for in the old city is no longer needed, and that is, a specifically located place where God is present for his people. Because in the new Jerusalem, the whole city will be that place! There won’t be any part there that isn’t the dwelling place of God with man! Now it’s the whole city, every nook and cranny, every alley and corner–everywhere you turn, God is there, present to bless. In the new Jerusalem, the only temple “is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” God directly present with man, no intermediate place needed. Then we will see God face to face.

Do you have any idea how wonderful and glorious that will be? Can you imagine? Our little minds right now have a hard time trying to fathom this reality that awaits us. We understand enough to know it will be better than anything we have experienced so far. All our brothers and sisters in the faith–from Abraham to Moses to David and Jeremiah, from John the Baptist and John the Apostle to Peter and Paul, to Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of our Lord, from Martin Luther to C. F. W. Walther to your sainted grandmother and departed spouse–the whole church in all times and all places, finally in one place, for all of eternity. Wow! And an even bigger wow: To be with God, restored to perfect fellowship, loving God with all our heart, our hearts no longer adulterated with mistrust and sinful desires. To behold our Savior, Jesus Christ, the Lamb who was slain for us, now risen and exalted, to see his face, to hear his voice.

So no temple needed, the whole city will be the dwelling place of God with man. What else will not be there? No night. “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. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day–and there will be no night there.” No night means no danger. No nighttime threat of break-ins, no need to lock the doors or close the gates. A city that never sleeps, yet never is tired. A city full of light, where we can see to walk. “The glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.”

No temple, no night. But there’s one other thing that will not be present–will not be allowed in–in the new Jerusalem, and that is, there will be nothing unclean. And this might give us pause for a moment. Listen: “But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false. . . .” Nothing unclean? Hey, what about me? I’ve got this unclean heart, you see, full of unclean thoughts and desires. I’ve got these unclean hands, with which I have done things I ought not have done. I have these unclean lips, having spoken thoughtless words, angry words, gossip and lies and hurtful, harmful words. Who will rescue this unclean man, that I may enter the holy city?

Here is the good news, my friend, and we’ve saved the best for last: Who can enter? “Only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” That’s you! That’s me! Our names are written in that book! For Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, has cleansed us from our sins and put us down in his book of life. That book is signed in blood, the blood of the Lamb, by which we are cleansed. Our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. This is the basis for our hope, the forgiveness of sins. Christ’s atoning death on the cross and his victorious resurrection to life again–this is what we have working on our behalf when our names are written into the Lamb’s book of life. Christ has taken you for his own, dear Christian. He knows you by name, and he has put that name, your name, into his book. And this is your admission–the only admission you need–to enter the holy city, the new Jerusalem.

Today we lift our sights to the city coming down from above. This is a sight that puts a spring in our step and a smile on our face. It truly lifts our spirits. The new Jerusalem, resplendent, glorious, bright and brilliant, full of life and light. It’s where you and I will be living most of our life, by far. The gates are open, your name is in the book, and your Lord will bring you home.

Wide open stand the gates adorned with pearl,
While round God’s golden throne
The choirs of saints in endless circles curl,
And joyous praise the Son!
They watch Him now descending
To visit waiting earth.
The Lord of Life unending
Brings dying hope new birth!

Published in: on May 9, 2010 at 1:23 am  Leave a Comment  
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