Let me read from the Last Battle, the final book in the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. What’s happened is that Aslan the lion, who represents Christ, has brought the PRESENT world of Narnia to an end, and a NEW world has begun. And our heroes are discovering what this new world is about.
“Peter”, said Lucy, “where is this, do you suppose?”
“I don’t know”, said the High King. “It reminds me of somewhere but I can’t give it a name.”
“If you ask me,” said Edmund, “it’s like somewhere in the Narnian world. In fact, they’re EXACTLY alike.”
“And yet they’re NOT alike,” said Lucy. “They’re different.”
“More like the REAL thing,” said Lord Digory softly. “When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But THAT was not the real Narnia. THAT had a beginning and an end. It was only a SHADOW or a COPY of the REAL Narnia which has always been here and always WILL be here:
“And of course, it IS different; as different as a REAL thing is from a shadow, or as waking life is from a dream.”
It is hard to explain how this sunlit land was different from the old Narnia. Perhaps you get some idea of it if you think like this. You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains.
And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a mirror. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking-glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different— the real ones were deeper and more wonderful.
The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was DEEPER country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it MEANT more.”
The Unicorn summed up what everyone was feeling. “I HAVE COME HOME AT LAST! THIS IS MY REAL COUNTRY! I BELONG HERE. THIS IS THE LAND I HAVE BEEN LOOKING FOR ALL MY LIFE, THOUGH I NEVER KNEW IT TILL NOW.
THE REASON WHY WE LOVED THE OLD NARNIA IS THAT IT SOMETIMES LOOKED A LITTLE LIKE THIS.
“And for us this is the end of all the stories. But for them it was only the beginning of the REAL story. All their life in this world, and all their adventures in Narnia, had only been the COVER AND THE TITLE PAGE: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the GREAT Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
Today, as WE come to the end of the story in Revelation. In fact, as we come to the end of the story of the WHOLE BIBLE. The end of the story of THIS EARTH. There’s a sense in which we’re doing the same. Coming to the end of the cover and the title page. We’ve come to THE END OF THE BEGINNING.
Because these last two chapters describe The REAL STORY. The story we were MADE for.
They describe HOME.
Home at Last
As we begin to see the picture that’s painted, and feel some of the thrill of that, we should LONG to be able to say what the unicorn said,
“I HAVE COME HOME AT LAST! THIS IS MY REAL COUNTRY! I BELONG HERE. THIS IS THE LAND I HAVE BEEN LOOKING FOR ALL MY LIFE, THOUGH I NEVER KNEW IT TILL NOW.
Look for example at Chapter 21 verse 3. Home to a place with no more FEARS. A place with no more TEARS…
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. he will wipe every tear from their eyes There will be no more or mourning or crying or pain… for the old order of things has passed away.”
Everything that was ROTTEN about this world will be GONE. No more crying. No more pain.
Because, you’ll notice, we will be God’s people. And God himself will be with us. And be our God.
And that’s something that, by and large, is a foreign experience – a distant longing.
There are people who might want to talk about their spiritual experiences and their feeling of closeness to God. But the reality in this life, the reality in this world, is that there’s a distance. Paul says, at the moment, we see just a dark reflection. Now we know IN PART. Then we shall know COMPLETELY. Face-to-face.
But that’s going to change. John says, the time is coming when the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
And if the new heavens and earth is WHAT we were made for.
Then God is WHO we were made for. Designed to walk side-by-side with him. Knowing him deeply and intimately. To know just as we are already known.
And to illustrate that, John sees two great images; two final scenes to his vision. That reinforce the same point. Of God living with his people first hand. Of God dwelling at last… with his people.
– A picture of A WEDDING. (With the ideas of Incredible intimacy and expectation and joy)
– And a picture of A CITY. (Active and vibrant culture and community and closeness).
And in the midst of that, there’s what’s almost a new garden of eden. And where-ever you look, there’s life.
Here Comes the Bride
But first. Picture number 1, and John’s seen it before, back in chapter 19, picture number 1 is a wedding. Here comes the bride. It’s a picture of a bride and groom about to tie the knot.
John says, the dwelling of God will be with men. Jesus and his church will be like bride and groom.
And it’s a picture of incredible beauty. It’s a picture of the wafting two-teired chiffon veil and the piped bodice and flowing white Silk Satin Organza.
And after what’s seemed like an incredibly long wait, endless anticipation, the wedding cars arrive. And the bridal march is playing on the pipe organ. And John says there in verse 2, he sees the bride at last. The images converge. He sees the city. The new Jerusalem. And the city is like a bride.
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
And the bride in the picture, is us. The people of God. And the wedding/ is God and Man. Together as one.
Now look back to chapter 19 for a minute, in the second half of Verse 7. Because we’ve seen the wedding image before. And you can see how the bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.
Then, in brackets, an explanation. The fine linen they’ve been given… fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.
And on the wedding day, there we are. The people of God. Radiant. And finally, dressed how we should be. In righteousness.
It’s often a good thing for churches to spend time thinking about their GOALS. Vision. Planning for the future.
But that can all be so HUMAN-CENTRED. So EARTHLY.
But if you want to know GOD’S future goal for our church, here it is. A bride walking down the aisle. Radiant. Beautiful.
And it’s a goal that his Son, Jesus, is working towards as well. In Eph 5:25 we read,
Eph 5:25-28: Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. NIV
That’s our wedding day. That’s our FUTURE. Our Goal.
But we’re not just sitting back twiddling our until then. We should be working WITH Jesus to get ready.
Bernie’s got so much work to do to GET READY for HER wedding next year, it’s making her head spin!
And we’ve got work to do too. Our beauty – our wedding dress… will be our righteousness. Our love and our patience and our kindness and our goodness and our faithfulness. Our integrity and our honesty. Our purity.
Dressed in white on our wedding day. When we’ll finally dwell with God.
And I reckon we need to have THAT image in mind as we stand in front of the mirror getting READY for that wedding day.
And make sure that our own smaller goals somehow reflect that. That whatever we do as a church is aimed at presenting people ready for their wedding. Whatever we do is part of the process which encourages people in the righteous acts they do because they love Jesus.
John’s vision of the bride, though, merges into something else. And it’s image number 2. The bride he sees, as he looks, the bride is a city. A city… where God dwells with his people.
Can you see, the essence of heaven isn’t that there’s great fishing, or surfing, or partying, or even sitting on clouds playing harps.
The essence of heaven isn’t, as the Muslim martyrs want to say, the number of virgins waiting for you to arrive.
The essence of heaven is that God is there. First hand.
The city, says John, is the new Jerusalem. The Old Jerusalem is over and done with. Take a look at the new one. We saw it already in verse 2:
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.
And the essence of the city is like we saw already in verse 3. Not that there’s a good shopping centre and lots of parking spots.
“Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.”
And THAT’S why… there’s no more mourning or crying or or pain. Because God’s right there with us; wiping away the tears.
And because God’s there first hand, you’ll notice some key things this city from heaven doesn’t need.
You can pick up the description from verse 10; where he gets a second look at the city. Coming down from heaven. Gleaming in jewels. 12 gates named after the tribes of Israel, 12 foundations named after the apostles of Jesus. A city 12000 stadia by 12000 stadia by 12000 stadia, which converts to 2200 kilometres cubed. And it’s shimmering in transparent gold.
But it’s what isn’t there that really catches John’s attention in verse 22. There’s no temple.
The temple was always the focal point of Jerusalem. Because it was the symbol of the presence of God. But the way John sees the new Jerusalem, there’s no temple needed.
I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.
No need for symbols any more. Because we’re face to face with the reality. GOD HIMSELF.
And he says, there’s no sun or moon either. Verse 23.
The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.
The radiance of God. The radiance of Jesus the Lamb. All the light that’s needed. As people from all the nations are pouring in to the city where God is. Where there’s no more crying or pain.
Back to the Beginning
You know, behind all the imagery here in Revelation 21 and 22, behind these images of God and Man together… there are hints of a bigger story. Because these final pages of the bible are actually the perfect conclusion… not just to the book of Revelation. But to the bible as a whole. And everywhere you look, there are reminders of the very start of the bible. In Genesis 2 and 3.
You might like to quickly turn back. Genesis chapter 2. And notice the way the story unfolds of how God’s good world was overturned by the desire of humanity… to run things our own way.
The way Genesis pictures God and Man at the very first in the garden. In harmony. There’s free access to the tree of life. There’s a lush river running out of the garden. The way God says, grab anything you like. Except the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The tree of we’ll decide right and wrong for ourselves. If you eat it, God says, if you grab for autonomy, you’ll surely die.
And yet that’s exactly what we’ve grabbed. With terrible consequences. Genesis 3 verse 8 Adam and Eve are now hiding from God in the Garden. Ashamed and afraid.
But worse than that. A world under curse. And inevitable . Verse 17.
To Adam he says, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
And finally, shut out of the garden. The tree of life for ever out of bounds. And only .
A world under curse. A world of futility and . Shut off from the tree of life.
So as we come to the far end of the bible, watch it all coming back together. Because you’ll notice at the start of chapter 22, there’s a garden in the heart of the city. And there’s water flowing out of it. Clear as a crystal brook. Water of life. And on each side of the river stands the tree of life; with a new crop of fruit 12 times a year. Plenty of fruit. And verse 3, “No longer will there be any curse.”
It’s Eden all over again. It’s creation the way it was always meant to be.
You know, a jeweller will usually show you diamonds against a black velvet cloth. And against the blackness, they sparkle.
For the sort of first century Christians we’ve met over the last few months, you can imagine against the blackness of their experience of persecution, how a picture like this is going to sparkle as well. Every day, they’re facing arrest for treason. Because they’re determined to put their loyalty to Jesus over and above anything else.
Against that sort of blackness, the prospect/ of the day when God would finally live with them, the day when God would wipe every tear from their eyes… the day Jesus the Lamb would be in the midst of them, when there’d be no more or mourning or crying or pain… has to sparkle.
And even here in Australia, here in Sydney, even though we try to avoid it and ignore it and pretend it will never happen, we’re still in a fallen world. And surrounded by pain.
And we can build bigger fences and buy better locks, but we can’t shut out the pain that comes from aging. And sickness. And inevitably the separation of . Which by and large we just prefer not to talk about. Or think about.
And John looks ahead and sees a picture of a time when things will be different. A new heaven and a new earth. Where there’s no more or mourning or crying or pain… because everything’s new. And God will be with us first hand. To wipe away the tears once and for all.
The question is, are you going to be part of it?
John closes with words of encouragement. And words of warning.
He says if you want righteousness and life, they’re free.
But he says if you want to hang on to the old stuff, in the city where God is, it’s simply not welcome. Go back to 21 verse 6. Jesus says this:
It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. no charge. He says He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.
But if that’s not what you want, there’s a choice. Because in the new creation there’s no room for evil. I mean, that’s what’s good about it. And so he says in verse 8,
But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the ers, the ually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulphur.
And he says the same again in chapter 22. He says, make up your mind. Verse 15,
Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the ually immoral, the ers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
In the new creation there’s no room for that stuff.
But here’s the point. Verse 17. If you don’t want to be left outside, it’s your call. The tickets are free. Bought and paid for by Jesus. Who says, “Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.
All you need to do is COME. Accept the gift Jesus offers.
And so Jesus finishes with these words. “Yes, I am coming soon!”
To which the Spirit and the Bride and everyone else says, come Lord Jesus. We can hardly wait.
We can hardly wait for a time when evil and and ism and injustice and unfaithfulness and immorality and greed and tears and sadness and sickness and are over and done with.
To which John at the end of his vision and ALL OF US say, AMEN. COME, LORD JESUS.
Say it with me AMEN. COME, LORD JESUS.