“Paradise Restored” (Revelation 22:1-6, 12-20)

Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 29, 2022

“Paradise Restored” (Revelation 22:1-6, 12-20)

Paradise lost. Paradise restored. That’s the story of the Bible, from cover to cover. In fact, the Bible literally has bookends, at front and back, telling that story. As we will now see. Thus our theme this morning: “Paradise Restored.”

The last couple of weeks we’ve been hearing about the new Jerusalem to come, in Revelation 21. Today we continue in Revelation 22, the last chapter both of the Book of Revelation and of the whole Bible. Our text begins: “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 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 river of the water of life.” “The tree of life.” All kinds of fruitfulness. Does this remind you of anything? It does me. This description of the new Jerusalem as a garden-like paradise, here at the end of the Bible, sounds a lot like the paradise we read about in the beginning of the Bible, that is, the Garden of Eden. For in the opening chapters of Genesis we get a garden, a river, a tree of life, and abundant fruit. There we read: “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden. . . . A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden. . . .”

That garden was beautiful and verdant and lush with vegetation, to be sure. The whole thing was very good. But the best thing about it was the community that existed, the communion between God and man–and, shortly thereafter, with woman, too. That’s what really made it a paradise: not just the glories of God’s creation, unblemished, but also the harmony of God with people, unbroken. When we talk about the river and the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, we’re talking about life the way our Creator meant it to be. That paradise was designed for us human creatures to live surrounded by God’s abundant blessing. We were designed by God to live with him and with one another in peace and perfect fellowship forever. That was the Master’s plan.

But of course, our first parents messed that all up by their sin and rebellion against the Creator. And we, their children follow in their footsteps. Adam and Eve were driven out of the garden, barred from access to the tree of life. Paradise was lost. Death entered the picture. Disharmony marred the landscape. Broken relationships became all too commonplace. Distrust of God and his goodness became our sad, inherited trait as human beings. All the damage that follows when sin enters the picture became all too familiar: Gardens turned to wilderness. City life turned to urban squalor. People turned against one another. People turned away from God.

And you and I are right there, in the midst of it, responsible for our own part, each one of us, in this whole miserable mess. How often have we repeated the sins of our fathers? We fail to listen to God. We block out his voice. We want to be our own god, making up our own rules to rationalize our behavior. We go our own way, and try to defend it. We hurt our brothers and sisters, serving self instead of others. That is our common human lot, isn’t it? That is the original sin that has been passed down from generation to generation. And it is your own poor miserable sin, is it not? Therefore, each one of us has been driven out of the garden. Each one of us has been infected by the disease of sin and death. We were headed to a grave, not a garden. We were headed to hell, not to life in the kingdom of heaven. Paradise lost.

But that all changed when God sent his only Son into the world: Jesus Christ, the new Adam, the second Adam, the one who gets it right. Adam and Eve gave in to the devil in the garden. Jesus fought the devil in the wilderness, and won. Jesus went to a garden, but it was the Garden of Gethsemane, where he agonized in prayer and was betrayed and arrested. Jesus went to a tree, but it was the tree of the cross, outside the city walls, where he was lifted up as the sacrifice for all sinners. Christ’s tree of death becomes our tree of life. From out of his side, pierced by the soldier’s spear–from the side of Christ flows his life-giving blood, and living water, too.

In the tree of the cross we find our healing. The forgiveness of sins now. The promise of perfect healing in the age to come. In the new Jerusalem, we will drink from the water of life and eat fruit from the tree of life, which will yield its fruit twelve months a year. The leaves of that tree are for the healing of the nations.

“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. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” This is the best part of the paradise to come: We will know God, even as we are fully known. No more obstacle, no more barrier, no more distrust. Life will be the way it always was meant to be. We get a taste of that life even now: God has given us his Spirit so that we do know him. God has placed his name on your forehead in your baptism. When you were baptized, the sign of the holy cross was marked on you and the name of the triune God was placed on you. You belong to God. You are his. You are his dear children, baptized Christians. You bear his saving name.

“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.” Yes, your citizenship is already in heaven. As baptized believers, our sin-stained robes have been washed in the cleansing blood of Christ. Therefore, we are ready to enter the new Jerusalem, through the gates of pearl, by the merits of Jesus Christ your Savior.

This is your way in. There is no other access. Only through Christ, through faith in him, do we have robes ready to enter. If you think your garments are clean enough on your own, you are sadly mistaken, and you will be barred from entering. Likewise, only the thirsty, who realize their need and look to Christ to meet it–only the thirsty will be able to drink from the water of life. If you are thirsting for the righteousness only Christ can give, come to him today and drink freely from the living waters. “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” By grace, through faith in Christ, you have a share in the tree of life and in the holy city.

The new Jerusalem, as it is described in Revelation 21 and 22, has the best qualities of both a city and a garden. That has been the dream of many urban planners over the years, to create a city that combines the best of both worlds. The official motto of the city where I grew up, Chicago–the city’s motto is, in Latin, “Urbs in horto,” which means, “City in a garden.” The hope and vision of the founders of the city way back in 1837 was to establish a city that would have, besides the bustle of a city, the beauty of a garden. “Urbs in horto. City in a garden.” Decades later, in 1909, the architect Daniel Burnham developed a master plan for Chicago that would ensure that that vision would become a reality. The Burnham Plan called for preserving the entire lakefront, running the length of the city, as permanent green space and parkland, never to be ruined by unsightly industrial development. And it established many parks throughout the city. The city of Chicago has more public parkland and green space than any other city in America. “Urbs in horto. City in a garden.”

In spite of that beautiful Burnham Plan, Chicago does have its share of problems: violent crime, rundown neighborhoods, heavy traffic, woke politicians, and the like. But it still has that beautiful lakefront and all those parks, combined with a gleaming downtown skyline, all the museums, and all the cultural advantages of a great city.

“Urbs in horto. City in a garden.” Throughout history, people have wanted to achieve that ideal and combine the best of both worlds, a city and a garden. A city, at its best, is a place of community, of interaction among people. A city is where people can do things together in close proximity that they could not do apart, if they were alone and isolated. But because of the problems that often come with urbanization–crime, corruption, congestion–we also like the appeal of country life: nature, beauty, clean air, fresh water, nice scenery. Oh, if only we could combine the two, city life and garden beauty, and strike the perfect balance!

Well, guess what? That’s where we’re headed! Toward the perfect paradise. The holy city, the new Jerusalem, will truly be a city in a garden. Paradise was lost through our fall into sin, and we were driven out of the garden. Paradise now has been restored through Christ our Savior, and you and I, praise God, are headed there. “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

Published in: on May 28, 2022 at 7:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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