#Brave, Week 4 — The “The More Things Stay The Same, The More They Change” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message:

  • Hinged on two architectural details in John’s description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21;
  • Poked a bit of “fun” at the all-too-Methodist combination of inflexible methods and flexible message;
  • Gave shoutouts to Thomas Oden (T.O. for short in theological circles) and Winfield Bevins;
  • Landed at this bottom line: When God brings what we’ve never seen he builds on what’s always been.


I brought some products up here with me today. Consumer products! And do you know what they have in common? All these products are designed to become obsolete and out of date very quickly. Or they are designed to STOP WORKING very quickly. So here we’ve got a traditional light bulb (pre-LED, I know!). And now here is a college textbook. Remember these? $500 a book and when do you ever look at them after the class is over? Here are some panty hose. A tennis ball (just because I want to). An iPhone. You know the primary purpose of an iPhone 10, don’t you? To make you lust after the 11! And, finally, here are the keys to my car, a 2009 Nissan Maxima. Even this thing I love is designed to make me want the 2019 souped up version. And guess what? I DO!!!

Yep, every one of these consumer products is designed to stop working or, worse, to GO OUT OF STYLE. I think those products work in our economy because as a culture we are preoccupied with what is current and shiny. We think newer is better and younger is smarter. It’s why a lot of you read through tech journals to see what gadgets to buy, it’s why others of you are in search of the latest investments, it’s why I LOVED the ABA basketball (AV) because as a kid I was CONVINCED the red, white, and blue would replace the boring orange. How’d that work out? It’s why a few of you job hop, why others church hop, and why still others … spouse hop. Newer is better and younger is smarter and it’s kind of an unspoken mantra for a lot of you here.

And so, ON FIRST GLANCE, that spirit seems to be what starts the closing section of the book of Revelation. These last three chapters of the bewildering book are when is the most clearly and certainly talking about the end of time. And so look at the beginning of Rev. 21 which begins with the word “then.” Which means this is after Rev. 20 (obvs) with includes the Final Judgment and the public, decisive, separation of the saved and the lost. Look at the rest of the opening:
21 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] 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.

New, new, new, new! The city comes DOWN (suggesting, again, that heaven is less a place you go than it is a person who comes). Then check 21:3-5:

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’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Good stuff! Bliss, favor, and the ‘no tears’ reference that gets cited at almost every funeral. And look again in 21:5 – everything is being made NEW. Why get a brand new used car when you get the real thing? It’s almost like the earth itself is as obsolete as a light bulb or a cassette tape. This is NEW.
Then in 21:6-8, John seems to see all over again the kind of thing he’d seen in Rev. 20 (don’t worry; that’s how the book is put together):

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

A reminder about judgment, torment, finality … there is, it turns out, quite a bit of violence in the NT. It’s just that it’s God owning his own vengeance rather than people carrying it out in his name.
Well, then Revelation 21 describes this city coming down by its dimensions & descriptions, and a whole lotta people have tried to get literal with it and make architectural dioramas, and that’s not remotely the point. Check 21:9-11:

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.

Then in the middle of all this new construction, 21:12 really interests me:

It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Huh. The twelve tribes of Israel? Dan, Asher, Benjamin, Judah, and then a bunch I can’t remember, much less pronounce? That’s so YESTERDAY! I thought God was making all things NEW, and so why in the world does he have to take us back to what is so old? So irrelevant?
See, I could chalk it up to the kind of mistake you make when you are on an extended VR trip (which we’ve seen that Revelation is kind of like), except John does it again, SEES it again, in 21:13-14:

13 There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. 14 The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

The disciples?! This is starting to look like one of those churches we’d NEVER allow GS to become … you know, the ones with people’s names all over the place? Here’s where Ed used to sit. Here’s where gramps gave some money. Here’s the artificial flowers from my aunt and you can’t move them. Here’s the hall with the picture of every preacher we’ve ever had, just to remind you young whippersnapper you’ll never measure up. That’s what this is becoming? I can’t even remember all those names! Peter, James, John, Bartholomew, and a few others. Think they went with Judas – excuse me, think they’re GONNA go with Judas? – or his replacement?
But I pause to reflect on these two surprising architectural additions and we get this sense that everything is new, that newness is overwhelming oldness and then embedded in it are these things that are not just old but ancient. It’s as if John is telling us that our future will be filled with vivid reminders of the past. And when I realized THAT, I kinda wanted to slap myself. I mean, we’re being Brave because Jesus wins and yet I’m treating this planet, this moment, even this teaching as if it is part of planned obsolescence. It’s not.

Because here’s what two unmistakably emphatic reminders show us: When God brings what we’ve never seen, he builds on what’s always been. Yes! When those of us who are “in Christ” when we die or when Jesus comes back, and therefore are with him in glory, our forever future really will have vivid reminders of the past. New has to have a foundation on what is old. Newer is only better and younger is only smarter when they spring from foundations that are ancient, unchanging, and enduring. If it’s true in deciding what consumer products to buy or not buy, it’s more true in deciding the shape of your faith.

It’s like a man named Thomas Oden (AV) who was smart. I mean, whippersnapper smart. Yale, Princeton, England. And he was a religious scholar. Early in his career, he did what all hip, trendy, Ivy educated religious scholars did, he DECONSTRUCTED the Xn faith. Virgin birth? Myth. Hell? Just something invented by the man to keep you down. Jesus? Really good guy, especially if you make your cause his cause. Sex? Whatever feels good as long as it is consensual. And this is the kind of guy we had training pastors!

But then something happened to TO (call him that, please). He encountered the living Savior by reading ancient saints who were anything but trendy and cool. Who had no desire to tear faith down. And his encounter with the living Savior overwhelmed TO’s faddish faith and he realized suddenly: what I’ve fallen for is current, trendy, tickles people’s ears so that they feel good & believe they’re god. So he changed his whole approach, summarized in a dream where he saw his own tombstone with this epitaph on it: (AV) He contributed nothing new to the study of theology. Wow! Why contribute anything new when you can excavate what is old!

When God brings what we’ve never seen, he builds on what’s always been.

It’s why if I stand up and say, I have a NEW REVELATION from the Lord!, you’re free to say “No you don’t. You still hadn’t gotten the old one right!”

I just loved this that I saw online; one of those times social media BLESSES and does not BURDEN: AV Winfield Bevins: THE BEAUTY OF A FAITH THAT DIDN’T START YESTERDAY IS THAT IS IT NOT DRIVEN BY THE LATEST FADS OR PERSONALITIES.” Oh my gosh, I can hardly tell you how much I love that. We just want to be a place that says no to fad, no to personality-centered faith, and yes to the Gospel. When you’re fascinated with religious fads, you feel free to edit the Gospel. When you’re anchored in history – WHEN YOU KNOW THE 12 TRIBES AND 12 DISCIPLES ARE BEFORE YOU FOR ETERNITY – then you never tire of exploring the Gospel’s depths. It never runs out and it’s never boring.

When God brings what we’ve never seen, he builds on what’s always been.

Or it’s even like what happens to me every Easter. I’ve preached about 30 of them now. And almost every time for a number of years, I would dread its approach: “Oh no! Here it comes again! What can I say that’s new?” This year I realized: NOTHING! It comes around every year to remind us: no new message necessary, no new truths to discover, just some ancient ones to uncover. Excavating old truths is hard work but results in treasure. Clicking your way to new truths is easy but you end up with religious trifles. A Gospel of You. A lot of you have fallen for that in the past and paid the price.

Can I tell you something that’s just a little ironic here? And this is a TREND not 100% true, but mostly so. Churches that innovate in their methods tend to be the most grounded in their message. The more modern the presentation, the more ancient the message. Sometimes we see churches with bands and lights – hello! – and think they’ve compromised the Gospel in order to speak to the culture. Occasionally but not often. The reverse is more often true: that those churches with inflexible, unchanging worship styles (often from 1950s) have innovative, flexible teaching. The kind from the FIRST PART of Thomas Oden’s career. A teaching and preaching that fancies itself smarter than Paul, Mark, Moses, and the rest. And that combo of unchanging method with changing message is, sadly, a recipe for death. It’s why the UMC closes churches every year.

When God brings what we’ve never seen, he builds on what’s always been.

Listen: do you want God to do something new in your life? A new relationship? A new attitude? A new beginning? Then dig into what is old. Do you know the 10 Commandments? The Apostles’ Creed? The Lord’s Prayer? The Four Gospels? Paul? Dig there. (Have some kind of give away or purchase opp that day). So many people want the blessings of Jesus without surrender to Jesus and today’s the day I’m calling you out on it. Dig. REFRAIN. And some of you … man we’ve got VBX soon. What better way to make your life count for upcoming generations than to sit with some younger ones and make sure they know starting this year that OLD IS COOL. You … yeah you! Can help make that happen. Every bit of change in your life is built on continuity.

When God brings what we’ve never seen, he builds on what’s always been.

I’ve been a Xn for 40 years now. Probably read the NT book of Romans 30 times during that span. And yet on 3.4.19, WHILE I WAS IN INDIA, I read Romans 9:5: READ. It was like WHOA. I have never seen that before! Oh by the way, the Messiah WHO IS GOD OVER ALL … What a profound declaration that Jesus is not godly, he is God. And I’d never seen it before. It goes to show you, that the old never gets old. You never know it all, you’re always learning, there’s always more ancient beauty to dig into. REFRAIN and let him do that today, in you.