On Thursday I was invited as a guest to an Australian citizenship ceremony. This was the first I have ever been to. Three brothers from the Baptist church became new citizens. I asked one of them afterwards what it felt like. He told me it had been a very long wait, but now he was very glad that he had at last arrived to such a good place. As the speaker who led the ceremony said, the new citizens had embarked on a journey to a new life in a new country.
This sounded to me very much like the journey of faith we take as believers. Our faith journey is taking us towards a new country. On this day we remember those who have gone ahead of us to that new country. And as we remember them, I would like us to hear more about that place that God has in store for us.
What does the bible say about last things, about the end of time? What comes after this life? It says different things in different places. One of those places is the book of Revelation, the last book in the bible. The name of the book is a big clue about how it came to be written. John, a prophet, had a series of visions about the final conflict between the kingdom of God and the powers of evil. His church was facing opposition, as it always has, and John’s vision was no doubt great encouragement to his readers. Through the grace of the Holy Spirit in inspiring John, they were to know that no matter how bad things seemed, God had won the victory through his Son.
After the great battles that John describes earlier in his book, and the final victory has been won, John sees a beautiful future in store for God’s people. Everything John sees ahead for us in that country that lies ahead is new: a new heaven, a new earth, and a new city. Everything is new because there is nothing in that future country that is not perfectly good and right. Evil in this new country, and everything evil does, is gone. So too is everything that separates us from God and from each other. The first heaven and the first earth have passed away: God’s mystical city of beauty to come is the very opposite of the suffering and injustices of present cities. Mourning, pain and death come to an end in God’s holy city.
When we think of total newness, it usually means the newest model - the newest model mobile phone, the newest model car, the newest member of our family. However, in the new country towards which we are going, there will not just be a new model of earth. John’s idea of newness goes way beyond that. There will be a completely new heaven and a new earth. And yet they are still called heaven and earth - we will know them by what has existed before. Even the new holy city is still Jerusalem - it will be very different from the old Jerusalem, but yet it will still be Jerusalem.
As it is said on the first page of the bible, God’s first creation in the beginning was ‘very good’ - and in the country to which we are headed, God intends to waste nothing he has made, unlike us who waste so much of everything. So God will not make ‘all new things’ - he will make ‘all things new.’ We might compare it to a great house renovation project: God will be using the old structure, but he will give it a total makeover.
The same people, ourselves and all people of faith, will be in this new heaven and new earth. We will have been resurrected like Jesus.
When God’s newness arrives, it will be the completion of all history. God is not going to delete history in order to start over again with something completely different. Evil will have been deleted. But history on earth has been more than just the evil bits. There have been very good times too. God is Redeemer as well as Creator - whatever can be recovered and saved will be put right.
John talks about a new heaven and a new earth, as though they are two different places. But then he sees the new Jerusalem come down out of heaven from God. Heaven and earth will no longer be two different places but one place. The two will have features of each other and will never again be separated: earth looks like heaven, and heaven has come among us in all its beauty.
God wills to restore this world to a healthful beauty we can scarcely imagine. It will be one city - people will no longer live by themselves or for themselves. God promises water of life for all who thirst, given free of charge. So all the necessities of life in this city will be free - totally unlike this present world where the rich do not share with the poor.
This whole vision of John is like the concluding chapter in the story of Christmas. In the first Christmas God became present among us in the birth of Jesus. In the beautiful future God has in store for us, God’s presence comes down and fills everything in the new city of Jerusalem. There is no place his presence does not complete and transform.
In this new city will be those whom we have loved, and also the people of God from every community and nation. As if to underline it all, a voice from heaven cries: 'Look, I make all things new.’ There’s that word ‘new’ word again.
In the final 3 verses from our reading John spells out the meaning for present times of what he has seen in his vision. Those who conquer will receive all this goodness from the Lord - he will be their God, and they will be his children. For us to conquer means for us to hold on to our faith in Christ at all costs, to show our love for God and our neighbour through acts of love and service.
In taking on our humanity in Jesus, God has joined his life to ours. As we face our everyday challenges of living, we ask the Lord to help us look at others around us and to see our city of Broadmeadows and Dallas as God’s city. Each of our neighbours is worthy of being considered and served, because God, as the voice in the vision tells us, will wipe away every tear.
If we should ask, how can all this be true, the words John then hears give us an answer: “I am the beginning and the end.” It is not our understanding but God’s good intention which brings about our future in a new and beautiful place. And God gives water for the journey not to those who are full but to those who are thirsty.