This message incorporated many of my favorite things about being a preacher. Such as . . .
- A slight poke at Left Behind teaching;
- A reliance on the wisdom of Epic Of Eden by Sandy Richter;
- A pointed word at how human narcissism extends even to our picture of heaven;
- An even more pointed word about the reality of hell AND our feeble attempts to deny its existence;
- A grateful reminder that God doesn’t judge on a curve, thank God.
- A bottom line that re-orients popular conceptions of the end of time: Paradise isn’t a place you go. It’s a Person who comes.
- A closing exercise with the Lamb’s Book Of Life that looked like this:
There’s a fair amount of attention given to the end of the world, isn’t there? Like for some of you, I’m sure a Trump presidency will augur the end of the world. Others, a Hillary presidency will do the same. And if your personal disposition is governed by presidential politics, then REM’s song WON’T be true: PLAY CLIP, because you WON’T feel fine. Gosh, along more explicitly spiritual lines, maybe you read those Left Behind books or maybe you were one of the dozen or so people who saw the LB movies, which gave Kirk Cameron’s (AV) career a much-needed boost. Or if you’re into other kinds of end times novels, there’s the dystopia of Station Eleven (AV) and the very long dystopia of The Stand (AV) by Stephen King.
And then there’s these insights into how print media (explain what that is!) would cover the end. USA Today: WE’RE DEAD. Discover Journal: HOW WILL THE EXTINCTION OF ALL LIFE AS WE KNOW IT AFFECT THE WAY WE VIEW THE COSMOS? Ladies H Journal: LOSE 10 LBS BY JUDGMENT DAY W/ OUR NEW ARMAGEDDON DIET! And my favorite, from Sports Illustrated: GAME OVER. (AV all of the above, dissolve).
I’ve even joined in the end of the world fray. In years gone by I’ve preached messages like What Does The Bible REALLY Say About The End Of The World, a whole series on Revelation called NUMB3RS (AV), and assorted comments here and there that have challenged some of you and comforted others.
So today, as The Light At The Beginning Of The Tunnel nears its conclusion with a message called Final Light, we’ll be touching on that very subject, though in a way completely different from what’s come before and, I believe, from what you might have heard before. And if you’ve been paying attention over the last few weeks, you know the series began with First Light and now with a Final Light conclusion, it should all make total sense because the first and the final will end up having an inordinate amount in common.
So this final light I’m talking about is in an appropriate place in the biblical library: Revelation. Not just Revelation, but the end of the end book. The final pages of the final book in the stacks! Now: before you get all predictive on me, you need to know, you HAVE to know that Revelation is neither calendar nor crystal ball. Don’t look through it and begin checking off events that have happened – oh, there’s the fall of the Berlin Wall, check, there’s the attack of 9/11, check, there’s President Obama, check and figure since THAT has happened, THIS must be next. That’s not the kind of book it is; in fact, in can’t mean to us what it didn’t mean to them, the first readers. And they weren’t overly concerned with either the Berlin Wall or President Obama! So the vast majority of Revelation has to do with the turmoil, upheaval going on THEN, in the 1st century. Yet after all that rush of imagery & violence, things slow down a lot in chapters 21 & 22 and what we get is some imagery about the last days. Not to predict WHEN! (Did you know Christopher Columbus said that for sure the world would end in 1656? His bad!) Not to predict . . . to anticipate.
To anticipate what? Oh, look at 21:2:
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
Ah, the ARRIVAL of a whole new realm of being. Eternity is not about a mass departure of the human race to someplace else! It’s the arrival of a whole new way of being and living and loving! Then look at 21:22-23:
22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 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.
Notice the first thing – not the where, not the what, but the WHO: the Lord himself. And do you see the phenomena in v. 23? READ. There IS light but there’s NOT a sun and moon. Huh. Do you know where and when else that happened? Ah! Genesis 1, where you’ve got 3 days and nights before the sun & moon even created! (One way you know Gen 1 isn’t trying to be a science book.) Then skip down to 22:5 to see it again: READ. Again! In these endless days of the end, the Lord is the light and no alternative source is needed. JUST LIKE AT THE BEGINNING. Tuck that awy.
But now look at 21:24-27:
24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Ah, something gorgeous awaits at the end. That nations – peoples, pagans, Gentiles – all coming into the city. The King of the Jews has opened up paradise up, first to the Jew, then to the Gentile, just like Paul promised in Romans. And 22:1-3:
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 2 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. 3 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.
OMG. The bible is so interesting when you actually read it. The endless end, paradise, is so much less about streets of gold and so much more about a garden of glory. And where else has that image come from, what with a deep river and lush garden? Right! Genesis! Eden! You pile on these images – light without sun and moon, running waters with no end, lush gardens with no tending, leafy greens for all and it’s so clear what the end of the world really is: a return to the beginning. The curse of the first Eden reversed and renewed in the final Eden. Because where the first Adam failed, the Second Adam Jesus triumphed! The last plan is the first plan! The New Jerusalem is the Garden of Eden! The final light is the first light! How badly we’ve missed our understandings of heaven & eternity, REM or not! God will not be frustrated, all will be restored to its pristine, original beauty. Love it love it love it!
And there’s more, and it’s better. Circle “Lord God” and “Lamb” in 21:22. Same in 21:23. Same in 22:1. Same in 22:3. And circle “his his his” in 22:3-4. (And notice his “name on the foreheads” in 22:4! We’re so worried bout the mark of the beast that we fail to notice the name of the king!) And then in 22:5, notice & circle again: “Lord God.” All these names and personal pronouns, one after another after another, piled on high, this laser focus on the PERSON IN CHARGE, the Godhead, and it’s becoming so clear what John is doing in painting this picture of the endless end. Paradise, the final light that never goes out, the realm of resurrection, is much less a place and much more a Person. The repeated personal references make that conclusion inescapable. And then you remember 21:2 – 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 its suddenly clear why all our hopes for flying away to heaven and longing to escape earth are so misguided. And so lacking in trust of our God.
Because here’s what the final light means: Paradise is not a place you go. It’s a Person who comes. The person of Jesus, the lamb, the light, first, the last, the alpha, the omega. I don’t have to know much more about mansions, houses, gold, folklore, none of those distractions, to know eternity is about HIM. It’s like Leith Anderson says: READ What makes heaven heaven is God.
See, we have trivialized heaven & eternity by making it about us! Just read the obituaries one day! Heaven gained another angel. He’s up there playing a heavenly 18 holes. She’s hosting a tea party. They’re playing guitar together now. No! Bull! How much more narcissistic can we be?! Heaven is not to make you happy; it’s to bring him glory. And his glory is the brightest kind. Paradise is not a place you go. It’s a Person who comes.
Because you know it’s called The Second Coming and not The Second Going, don’t you? It is! He is coming! When? Dunno. Don’t guess. How? Vividly, unmistakably, suddenly. And his light will shine endlessly. And in that endless end, everything is restored. Look at 22:3 again: READ. The curse of sin is reversed. All is returned to its original, pristine condition. Every flaw is fixed. Every hurt is healed. Every wrong is righted. It’s like the restoration of an antique car (AV Before & After), only all of creation. And get this: even the hurts YOU CAUSED. The people you hit. The marriages you ended. The parents you disrespected. The kids you devastated. Because I know we have a lot of victims here but I daresay some victimizers as well and you’ve wondered if it will ever be made right. In this life, maybe. In the next, certainly. The entire universe will be made whole and returned to the innocence of Eden. Paradise is not a place you go. It’s a Person who comes.
And I don’t know about you . . . but that assurance makes all else in life make sense. It gives perspective. When you KNOW the end of the story, the crappy parts in the middle are a lot easier to take. It may seem small – and I may have told you before – but as a new Xn and a teenager, I’d wake up & still have acne. God didn’t heal it. But I had the strangest assurance: one day it will be gone. And now, at 54 when I’m ALMOST acne free, that’s just a foreshadow of the condition of my resurrected body dwelling in midst of the brilliant glory of the Lamb! The fact that the final light never ends makes the current darkness much more bearable. We fight in this life not FOR victory but FROM it – like pro wrestling!! Paradise is not a place you go. It’s a Person who comes.
But wait wait wait. If you’ve been listening and reading, you may have noticed that I skimmed over 21:27:
27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Uh oh. Meaning: just as there is a realm of never ending light, there is a realm of never ending dark. Just as there is a place defined by the Lord’s PRESENCE, so is there a realm defined by his ABSENCE. It’s called hell. And this is the place where I will often tell a few hell jokes, show some Far Side hell cartoons, lighten the mood, lessen the tension, but not today. You know why? I think we often trivialize hell in order to rationalize the rebellion that lands us there. We make it less awful than it is to make us less sinful than we are. Well not here and not today. God forbid that GSUMC ever give you a “religious tranquilizer” so you falsely feel you have just enough religion so that you’re in a relaxed state when you land in hell. May it never be.
And before you go off thinking, a lovin’ God wouldn’t send nobody to hell, think of it this way: how would you feel about a God who didn’t punish the authors of Auschwitz (AV)? The pilots of 9.11? The assassins of ISIS? The cowards of the KKK? A God who turned a blind, benevolent eye to THAT is a God to be wary of. And since he MUST punish . . . well, where’s the line? Auschwitzers deserve it but then who else? We usually think, “whoever is worse than me!” Ah, that’s not NT thinking! That’s thinking that God grades on a curve and he doesn’t. He judges based on blood. The Lamb’s blood Are you washed in it or not?
Because believing that and entering into never ending light is not about what you do; it’s about who you know. Realizing the one who died and resurrected is THE light at the beginning and the end of the tunnel AND at the end of it all his light is so bright it overwhelms the tunnel itself! It’s so much like the woman I know with bad cancer (as opposed to good cancer!). She says, simply, “if I beat it and live, I win. If the disease gets me here and I die, I’m with the Lord. So I win. Either way, I win.”
Oh, cancer or not, elderly or not, I want that assurance for you. I want that ultimate, ultimate WIN-WIN for you. I want you to live the rest of your days with the rock solid assurance of Paradise is not a place you go. It’s a Person who comes.