“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)
2019 is upon us and we’re looking to it with hope that things will be better than they were in 2018. We make new year resolutions because we want things to be better. We want to lose that belly fat and excess weight, we want to save more rather than spend more, we want to be more action-oriented instead of being lazy and passive. Our hope is 2019 will be better.
But whether or not 2019 will be much better for us than 2018 the fact remains that so much of what is wrong with this world won’t change in 2019 and might even get worse. There will still be widespread hunger and famine and crime and corruption and oppression and disease and death. That’s because this world isn’t what it’s supposed to be. It’s a fallen world after all.
Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…”
And it’s not just human beings who were affected by sin; the rest of creation was affected too. In Genesis 3:17 God told Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.”
Thus sin brought death into the world and one of its effects is chaos or disorder: the ground bearing thorns and thistles.
As a result, man’s life became miserable whereas before it was comfortable.
Here is what God said to Adam: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)
And this is what God said to Eve: “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16)
So pain became part of human experience and not only that, even relationships became disorderly. The desire to manipulate one’s husband and the desire to oppress one’s wife now became sad realities of human life.
This is a fallen world, not the world it was originally intended to be. And the root cause of all this is sin. Sin brought death and decay into the world. As a result –
- human beings became depraved,
- the rest of creation became disorderly,
- and human existence is now characterized by dis-easeor discomfort or misery, whether physical, emotional, psychological, relational, societal, or economic.
In fact there was a time that the world became so bad that God had to destroy it by means of a flood. That happened during the time of Noah. And someday it’s going to happen again. Human wickedness will become so great that God will have to decisively intervene and destroy this world once more, but this time by means of fire.
And that’s the backdrop for our message. The old order is passing away, the new is coming, and when it comes everything that’s wrong with this fallen world will be made right because everything will be made new.
I invite you to look forward and further, beyond 2019 and to the new heavens and the new earth which God will someday bring into being.
DOCTRINE: WE ARE LOOKING FORWARD TO THE RENEWAL OF THE COSMOS (Revelation 21:1)
So what are we looking forward to? We are looking forward to the reversal of the consequences of sin: death and decay, decay being merely the beginning of death, the process which culminates in death.
- The reversal of disorder in the cosmos, which involves the renewal of the cosmos;
- The reversal of depravity in human beings, which involves the glorification of the church;
- The reversal of all the dis-ease (sorrow, pain, misery), which involves the abolition of death, the end of all suffering, and impliedly the restoration of everything that sin has taken away.
Today we will take up only the first point: we are looking forward to the new heaven and the new earth that will take the place of the first heaven and the first earth because the latter will pass away. This implies that the first heaven and the first earth will be destroyed.
But why? Because the world as it is is no longer a fit place for man to live in. It has become chaotic and disorderly as a result of sin. Not only is the ground cursed, bringing forth thorns and thistles, the members of the animal kingdom survive by killing other animals. Earthquakes and tsunamis snuff out the lives of hundreds and thousands in an instant. Floods, hurricanes, and raging storms destroy lives and households and communities the world over. There are plagues and viruses and diseases and famine and barrenness and birth defects and genetic disorders – in other words, flaws in the natural order that contribute to the misery of man’s existence in this world. Not to mention that human beings have contributed their fair share in making this world an uninhabitable place by reason of reckless industrialization, irresponsible use of technology and the failure to act as responsible stewards of this earth, which was our original assignment in the book of Genesis. By the way, I will be focusing only on what is wrong with nature. A discussion of what is wrong with human nature will have to wait for another time.
Some might say that this is just the way nature is, red in tooth and claw. All the killing in the animal kingdom, for example, is but compliance with the so-called law of nature which says, “Only the fittest have the right to survive.” But the Bible has a different take on all this. Romans 8:20-22teaches, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”
The cosmos is subjected to futility, it is in bondage to corruption, it is groaning in pain! Those are strange words to describe the non-human world, both living and inanimate, and there’s a lot of mystery here which is hard to understand. But what is clear is that there’s so much that is wrong with it that is has to be destroyed and replaced with a new and better version.
And that’s what 2 Peter 3:7 teaches, “But by the same word the heavens and the earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.”
Further, 2 Peter 3:10-12 says, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!”
But what will the new cosmos look like? How will you describe it? In order to answer that question we will have to go back to verse 1 and try to understand what the words, “And there was no more sea,” mean.
And in order to do that I have to remind you why the present heaven and earth have to be destroyed in the first place, and that is because these are no longer fit to be the habitation of God’s children once they are glorified. You see, the world has become a fearful place, in which everywhere we turn we are confronted by something that makes us afraid. We are literally surrounded by threats to our well-being, whether we conceive of well-being in terms of the spiritual, physical, emotional, relational, or what have you. That’s what the word “sea” means, at least that’s what I understood from my seminary professor, Stephen Whatley, whose Revelation class I enrolled in many years ago. For the Jews, who were basically an inland people, the sea was where the monsters of the deep dwelt, where you could be lost in the midst of vast stretches of deep water, and where you could be tossed to and fro by wild, angry, gigantic waves. And so, when John the Revelator wrote, “And the sea was no more,” what he meant was in the new heaven and new earth there would be no more reason to fear because evil in all its forms will be completely absent from the new creation. All chaos in creation will be subdued, all disorder will be ruled out. Harmony and peace will prevail in the new order.
Interestingly, John here says there will be no more sea. But in Revelation 4:6 he writes, “And before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass like crystal.” The point is the same, whether or not there will be a literal sea in the world to come. You can find no ripple, not even the slightest, in a sea that is made of glass!
Peace, harmony, no fear – or to use Peter’s words – righteousness. The new world will be a world where everything has been made right. “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:13)
We have a beautiful picture of this Isaiah 65:17 — a long poetic passage but which is worth reading to you aloud despite its length. And the point of it all is God will make things right. He will reverse all the effects and consequences of sin.
Whereas before the ground was cursed, bearing thorns and thistles, now God’s people shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
Whereas before by the sweat of their brow they shall live, now they shall not labor in vain.
Whereas before they were driven out of Paradise, now they shall build houses and inhabit them.
Whereas before the wolf devoured the lamb, now they shall graze together.
Whereas before the mountains would quake and fall into the sea, now no harm whatsoever shall befall God’s people in God’s holy mountain.
The new heavens and the new earth will be full of love, joy, peace, and righteousness without end. This is our future. This is what we are looking forward to.
All this gives a whole new meaning to the promise in Jeremiah “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11) It is a future that goes far beyond what 2019 has to offer. In fact, it is a future far more wonderful, far more beautiful, far more glorious than you can ever imagine. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him!” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
You might say, however, “This is all so wonderful but it still seems so remote. What does all this have to do with me in the here and now as I look forward to 2019?”
Very simple. If you are a born-again believer you are destined to inhabit the new heaven and new earth where righteousness dwells. And that means in 2019 you have to be –
- more heavenly-minded in the way you think,
- more holy in the way you live,
- and more hopeful in the way you respond to suffering.
In other words, you have to align your way of life in the here and now with your future destiny. It’s illogical to do otherwise. Not to do so might even mean that you were never truly a believer in the first place and the reason you don’t live as you should is because you don’t really belong to that great and glorious multitude who will inhabit the new heaven and earth someday.
I intend to take up only the first application at this time.
What does it mean to be heavenly minded?
It means you mind heavenly things more than you mind earthly things.
Colossians 3:1, 2 says, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
It is said that some people are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good. My reply to that is: the only way to do real good on this earth is to become more and more heavenly minded.
It also means you lay up treasures in heaven and not on earth.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)
And finally it means you think less of money and more about doing good.
“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19)
So in 2019, you should think less of accumulating money for yourself, and think more of doing good to others. Why? because in the world to come, the good works we do in this life matter a lot. Although we are saved by faith and not by works (Ephesians 2:8,9,10), we will be rewarded according to our works.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:31-40)
“And behold, I am coming quickly, and my reward is with me, to give to everyone according to his work.” (Revelation 22:12 NKJV)
So what are you looking forward to? What are your resolutions and priorities for 2019? What steps are you going to take in 2019 to become more heavenly minded, how do you intend to lay up treasures in heaven, what good works will you be committing to do in 2019?
Lord, we live in a fallen world full of misery and sorrow, but thank you that you came and died on the cross not only in order to redeem our souls but also to reverse all the consequences of the Fall. We look forward to the new heaven and new earth that you’ve prepared for us. Help us to live in a manner worthy of our calling as citizens of heaven, as a people destined to inhabit the new heaven and the new earth. Help us to be heavenly-minded, to lay up treasures in heaven rather than on earth, and to do good works which you’ve promised to recompense when you return. Amen.
(This is the manuscript basis of a message preached to the congregation of Ikthus East – Bacolod City, Philippines during the 8:00 a.m. worship service last December 30, 2018)