It took us the better part of a year, but we’re finally there. Our cover-to cover, high-altitude survey of the Bible has reached its end.
We took our first steps in January, naturally beginning in the beginning, with the story of God’s big bang of grace that created the cosmos and everything in it: Every bird of the air, every fish of the sea, every creature on the dry land.
As the cleansing winds of the Spirit’s breath blew across the chaos and calmed the storm, God and the Word who was with God in the beginning – the Son, Jesus Christ – fashioned us and made us, vowed to protect us and stay with us, and promised to guide us unto the end of our days.
But all was not well in paradise. Life quickly careened out of control and flew off the rails. The forces of evil attacked with the force of mutant ninjas – laying siege to God’s good Creation with loadstones of sin and brokenness, illness and dis-ease, darkness and fear.
Rather than look away in disgust, we jumped in head first, into the deep end of temptation, sucked into murky darkness by none other than the devil himself, then deciding that ya, OK, wandering off to find where demons dwell maybe isn’t so bad.
Truth be told, we rather enjoy living on the dark side. So, let’s dig in our heels, hunker down, and stay put, hard-headed and stiff-necked to the bitter end no matter the cost.
Entirely fed up with our foolishness, God decides to take matters literally into his own hands, coming in Jesus the Christ to pitch his tent among us, holding us close to his heart; so close, in fact, that our tent ropes form a crisscross web of faith and belief. Perhaps less web and more safety net, to catch us when we stumble and fall – which we will, just as we always have, much to the sorrow and consternation of the Lord.
God in Jesus grew and became strong in spirit, along the way experiencing everything that you and I experience – skinned knees, dirty fingernails, and aching joints; homeless days and sleepless nights; betrayal, rejection, and loneliness, to name but a few. Our lived experience – with all its pain and suffering, with all its joy and blessing – became the Lord’s lived experience, too.
Ever and always along for the ride, the devil tempts Jesus into sin, but the Christ always pushes back with an emphatic no.
But in those moments, I believe, Jesus Son of Man empathizes with us, and loves us all the more – so much so that Heaven’s Unconditional Love lets himself be nailed to a cross and buried in a tomb. As our creeds proclaim, Jesus descended to the dead; Jesus tumbled down into hell itself, Light of the World by darkness slain.
Riffing on the lyrics of the same freedom-themed song that we love to sing, “Then bursting forth, on glorious day, up from the grave [Jesus Son of God] rose again,”
And incredible as it sounds, even a morsel of faith that believes in all that is sufficient assurance that your sins are forgiven.
And your turning away from sin unlocks the door to repentance that leads to everlasting life. Which establishes once and for all the power of unending love and the authority of amazing grace.
In the meantime, while we wait, in thanksgiving for the new heaven and earth that await those whom Christ has claimed, we trust in God the Holy Spirit, everywhere the giver and renewer of life, as another of our creeds proclaims.
In a broken and fearful world, God the Holy Spirit in Christ gives us both example and courage to pray without ceasing, example and courage to share the Good News with all, example and courage to unmask the idols and false gods that we worship, example and courage to hear the voices of peoples long silenced and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.
“In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit, we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives, even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth,” with gracious permission to lift up to heaven our honest eruptions of emotional, physical and spiritual pain using three simple words: “Come, Lord Jesus!”
“Come, Lord Jesus!” This morning’s Scripture lesson from the last chapter of the Bible offers a foretaste of heaven’s answer to our mournful cries: “Come, Lord Jesus!”
Listen for the Word of the Lord, written by the apostle John and first sent to a people experiencing the worst of times. Listen for God speaking to you, and to all who live their days seasick and adrift on oceans of utter dismay.
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.
On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
Nothing accursed will be found there anymore.
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.
And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place. See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book. …
“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
“It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” (Selected verses of Revelation 22)
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. …
The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.
Scripture thus begins where it ends.
The story of God with us begins with fallen Eden and ends with recreated Eden, from paradise lost and to paradise regained. Imagine it now with all your senses:
A place where God’s people enjoy an eternal Kingdom – God’s final Kingdom. And unlike the limited duration of the millennia, this party never ends.
A place where God’s people picnic under the tree of life and trek paths with gentle guardrails of bright coneflowers, purple clover, black-eyed susans. Toxic soil gets washed away; walls and fences separate no longer.
Imagine a place where God’s people drink clean, clear water from environments free of corruption and pollution, and springs of new life – both hot and cold – bubble and gurgle ever louder and stronger.
A place where God’s people inhale deep breaths of crisp, fresh air that’s alive and teeming with truth – the winds of heavenly change and transformation finally, at long last, blowing away the putrid stench of lies and falsehoods; the rotten specter of fear, hate and violence; the reeking cesspool of greed, selfishness, and idol-worship.
Imagine a place where God’s people savor the restoration of healthy intimacy and the resumption of sacred authority – one nation under God more fully realized not by law but by grace, by humility and service.
A place where God’s people feel the curse of sin and the crushing load of brokenness fully and completely lifted off their backs; bodies once hunched and stooped by the burden of time stand straight and tall.
It is, as another suggests, the perfect consummation:
No more curse – perfect restoration!
Throne in their midst – perfect administration!
Servants shall serve – perfect subordination!
Shall see his face – perfect transformation!
Name on foreheads – perfect identification!
God is the light – perfect Illumination, forever and ever!
Amen, indeed! Let it be so!
In Christ, by the Spirit, it IS possible: New creation for all the world, refreshment and resurrection for all the saints in light. Along the way, yes, birthing pains will strike and smack. Such painful cramping and contracting are part and parcel of birthing new life – always have been, always will be.
But for people like us infused with the Holy Spirit, deep labor pains never hinder or diminish our many and varied good works that contribute to the revelation of the Kingdom – never in the fullness of grace that John envisions, but nevertheless in the here and now, a community that reflects God’s coming paradise.
Impatiently, the wait for that continues. And ours is to simply-yet-richly offer foretasting glimpses of the paradise that lies ahead when we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus,” and he answers, “Here I am.” The world sorely needs more holy spaces and kinder hearts, and the real holy spaces and kindest of hearts are within the body of Jesus.
The story of God with us has ended in these final verses of Revelation’s book, even as the everlasting story of God with us knows no ending.
Ancient words, ever true! Thanks be to God, you and I are becoming disciples!
Pastor Grant M. VanderVelden shared this message on Sunday, November 6, 2022, as last message of his sermon series, “Becoming Disciples: The Story of God with Us.” Scholarship, commentary, and reflection by David Guzik and Christopher C. Rowland inform the message.