Sermon from November 20th, 2016

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“What Happens When We Die? #3 - The New Heaven and the New Earth”

2 Cor 5:1-5, 16-17; Rev 21:1-4, 22:1-5


By Pastor John Bent



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Sermon Text
Good morning!  Today we finish our sermon series on “What happens when we die”. So far we’ve learned that when believers die we go immediately into the presence of the Lord in a place called Paradise where we are with Jesus until the day of his return to earth.

Then we looked at Jesus’ return, the rapture of the still living Christians, and the resurrection of the body for those who have died. We also read about the Great White Throne judgment.  Today we complete our study by looking the coming of the new heaven and the new earth. Are you ready?

Here’s how Peter writes about this. “The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.  That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we look forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.” 2 Peter 3:10-13

This new creation will no longer be subject to death, disease, depravity, decay, and discord.  I’m ready for that, how about you?

Let’s begin in Rev 20:1 “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them.   And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books…  Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” Rev 20:11-15

Note the reference to the heavenly account books. One book records every deed good and bad done by every person who has ever lived. The terrible reality is that every human being is going to find themselves with a negative balance on their account.

Isaiah said, “All our righteousness, the best we do on our very best day will be filthy rags before the Lord.”  That’s why the Bible speaks of sin not only as rebellion against God but a debt before God that we can’t pay. That’s why Jesus came, to pay and cancel our debt before God.

Then there is a second book in heaven. It’s the book of life. When a person puts their trust in Jesus, God writes their name in the book of life. Their debt has been paid in full by Jesus. There is no record of our debt in the first book. It’s a gift of grace to be received by faith.

Let’s jump down to Rev 21. “I saw “a new heaven and a new earth” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 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 I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell 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 death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Rev 21:1-4


That sounds very nice. But I’ve got a concern here. I’m not a city guy. I like mountains and prairies, bears and bluebirds. I like elbow room and wide open spaces. Cities are fine to visit, but to live there for eternity? Is there a place for a guy like me in heaven?

Jump down to Rev 22.  “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse.

The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.” Rev 22:1-5


If you look carefully, there’s an answer for us in these verses.  Note those words, “No longer will there be any curse.”  What curse? To find the answer, we need to turn back to Genesis 3.

Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden to manage it, take care of it, enjoy it.  It was a beautiful place filled with life, abundance and elbow room. The air was full of birds, animals of every kind roamed the fields and mountains, all kinds of fish filled the water.

But then sin entered the Garden through Adam and Eve. Along with disease, decay, death came hostility and violence. Life became a battle – we call it survival of the fittest. The beauty, peace, unity of creation became a war zone. Why did God allow this to happen?  Maybe to prove that peace is only possible where Jesus is acknowledged as King.

Did you notice in the new creation there’s a river flowing down from the throne of God? Will be full of fish?  Can we go fishing?  Is it catch and release only?  Will the trees be filled with birds singing the praises of God? Will the mountains and fields be filled with critters?

We get a clue in Isaiah 11. “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox…
…The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” Is 11:6-9


Now some of you are thinking. “Does this mean there are no steaks in heaven?  No bacon/cheese burgers.  Nothing but vegetarian pizza, hummus, and bean salad for eternity?”

I can’t answer that. What I do know is there is going to a wedding feast, a banquet unlike any we have ever experienced on earth.  Do you remember what happened when Jesus turned the water into wine at the wedding in Cana?
 
The caterer told the bridegroom, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now!” John 2:10  I think once we’ve tasted the menu of heaven, the best cuisine of this world will taste like sawdust.

This new heaven and earth will be incredible. But there is something here we dare not miss. Not everyone will opt to be there. Some will reject the invitation because they don’t want to spend eternity living that close to God. Let’s go back and look at Rev 22:3-5 again.

“The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.” Rev 22:3-5

Note those words, “his servants will serve him there.”  There will be no confusion in heaven about who the King is and it won’t be you or me.  The reason isn’t because Jesus is some kind of dictator; it’s because he alone is worthy to be king! 
 
He proved it in laying down his glory and becoming the lowliest servant. He gave his life as the sacrifice that paid our debt.  He alone is worthy of all glory, honor and praise. Those in the new creation will be overjoyed at the honor of spending eternity serving and praising him. How about you? Do you want to spend eternity praising, serving, worshipping Jesus? If you do, you’re going to love heaven. If not, you don’t want to be there.

Note that these citizens of heaven will “reign with him forever”.  Adam and Eve were created to reign. They weren’t just one more critter that God placed in the Garden of Eden. They were created to rule, care, manage the wonderful world God had brought into being. The Lord crowned them king and queen of Eden.
 
But they lost that position when they repelled against their Creator.  They were cast out of the Garden. But in the new creation, our position will be restored. We’ll have a new role to play in the care and management of this new creation where heaven and earth are joined.

What an act of grace God is offering us! The question is, “How will we respond?”  How should we live now as we prepare to be kings and queens in a new creation?  Here’s what Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians.
 
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.  Col 3:1-5

…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.  Col 3:12b-14

How do we get ready for the return of the Lord? By getting right with Jesus! How do we get right with Jesus? We confess our sin to him. We ask him to forgive us and write our name in his book of life. We begin to live for him rather than ourselves. When that happens, he promises that we have passed from death to life – eternal life - that nothing in this world including our physical death can ever take away from us. Will you pray with me?

Lord Jesus, thank you for giving your life to restore me to the job you created me to do. I want to live for you, serve you, worship you, not only in the world to come, but right now in this world. Help me do that!

Amen.

Christ Lutheran Church • 5150 River Lakes Parkway, Whitefish, MT 59937 • 406-862-2615

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