Scripture: Revelation 21:1-8
There is wisdom that is passed down in every family. Every family has traditions, sayings, inside jokes, or proverbs that seems to be unique to that family. Even if we do not realize it, these family quirks influence us, shape us, and teach us. I know for me and my siblings there is a prime example in that we grew up knowing to always have a Plan B. This is something we learned from our dad. Because it is how life works, things rarely go according to plan. There are always snags, bumps, wrong turns, and problems. Growing up whenever something did not quite work out the desired way my dad would always say “Time to go to plan b.” Sometimes we end up at plan “D” or “E” before it was all said and done. For example, one time when I was in middle school we got a couch. It had what, at the time was a brand new feature, of having built in recliner seats. It also had a hideaway bed, so that thing was heavy. You would think people who make couches, would know the size of a standard door frame and build their furniture accordingly. This one, of course, did not fit. My dad shrugged his shoulders and went to plan B. This was going through the larger sliding back door. However before we got there, my dad realized the problem was that even if we got it through that door, the couch would not fit through the doorway into the room it was destined for. This led us to plan C. We took the windows out and the couch went right through that opening. Growing up I learned, that if the first way does not work there is always another way to do it. I know because of this my brother, sister, and I always have a “Plan B” in mind. When things do not work out the way we had originally intended them we are all fairly quick to come up with Plan B. You may not have realized it while it was being read, but this morning’s scripture is the fulfillment of God’s backup plan. If had to make a top ten list of my favorite sections of scriptures. I love the beautiful description: “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people and he will dwell with them”. I love the victorious finality of “It is Done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.” This is a description of what creation is supposed to be like, when God created people, this morning’s scripture is what God had in mind. This morning scripture is from the end of Revelation and it describes The End. In the Revelation narrative this section of scripture comes right after the final judgement. After the end of the world, this morning’s scripture describes a new heaven and a new earth. This morning’s scripture from Revelation reveals that the end is actually the beginning.
To fully understand this scripture, we have to go all the way back to the beginning, the book of Genesis where it states: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The Creator God created the universe, a universe full of wonder, splendor, and majesty. Then on the sixth day, God created humanity. In the very image of God, we were created. Humanity was created to care for God’s creation and to being a loving relationship with God. In the original plan we were supposed to be God’s people, and God our God. However, if you are familiar with the Bible, you know that “Plan A” did not work out very well. In Genesis chapter 3, the first people rebel against God. They choose to put themselves first and they choose to follow their will over God. They break the one rule God gave them, not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The first people essentially choose they want to be their own god, and they cease to be God’s people. Sin had entered the world, and all of creation was corrupted because of it. The way the world that was meant to be is broken, the relationship with God is fractured, and plan A is lost.
Within a few generations things were so bad that it says all of people’s thoughts and inclinations were evil all the time. God’s plan B, was to hit the reset button with a flood. With one righteous family, God started over. It still did not work, sin still separated people from their creator. God moved to plan C. God picked one person to make a covenant with. God would be the God of Abraham, and through him would come a people to be God’s people. Through Abraham, came the Israelites, who were God’s people. To fix the broken relationship, God gave them the law. Through following the law, the Israelites would live in a way closer to how God intended people to live. Through following the law, the Israelites would live righteously. They would be God’s people, and God would be there God. Plan C did not work. The Israelites rebelled. God did not give up on them. Time and time again they would turn away from God. Time and time again, God would forgive. God continued to honor his promises even when generation after generation refused to honor their part of the covenant. The relationship between God and God’s people was not yet restored.
God’s final plan, the way to restore the relationship began with Jesus. Jesus came to earth and modeled what living righteously looked like. He also took the penalty of sin and death, so that those who believe in him will be saved. The price of sin has been paid, and those who accept this truth have their name written in the book of life. This final plan started when Jesus was born, but it does not end until this morning’s scripture. This plan is finished when the world ends, and then Creation as God intended it begins. The end is the beginning. The world described in this morning’s scripture is the way that the world was supposed to work in the beginning. Those whose name is found in the book of life, those who have accepted God as their God are the ones who live in this new world. A world without death, mourning, crying, or pain. Creation is restored, we are God’s people and God is our God. Of course the mind bending part is when we realized that God’s backup plan, was also God’s masterplan. Being all-powerful and all-knowing, God knew that the first people would choose to rebel, God knew the chosen people would be stiff necked, and God knew that we could not save ourselves. Yet because God is loving and Got created us to be free, we were given the choice time and time again. Only after we fully proved, what God already knew, that we could not save ourselves did God do the heavy lifting for us.
Reading this morning’s scripture is a bit like peaking ahead and reading the last few pages of a novel to see what is going to happen. We know the beginning where God created the world and humanity fell into sin. We know the end, creation is going to be fully redeemed and God is going to win. But what about now? Where exactly in the middle are we? God’s plan for final redemption has already begun through Christ, but it is not yet finished. We are living in between times. The age marked by sin and death has not yet come to an end, but the age of new life and reconciliation has already begun. The primary message of Jesus, according to Mark 1:15 is “The time has come. The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.” The kingdom of God will be fully realized in the coming of the New Heaven and the New Earth, but the Kingdom of God has already begun with the coming of the Messiah. This reveals one of the great mysteries of the faith: The kingdom of God is already here but not yet fully realized.
This dichotomy of being both present yet not fully present, of being complete yet not fully realized is a bit confusing. I think this is one of those instances, where a visual representation is probably most helpful. Unfortunately, other than stick figures I am not the best at drawing. However, based on his video, Calvin King, apparently is, so I will let him explain it.
Show video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVHz34eiSPE
The kingdom of God is already here but not yet fully realized. This morning’s scripture tells us what the kingdom of God fully realized is going to be like, and in our in-between time we can begin living as if that future kingdom is our present reality. Looking towards this morning’s scripture for inspiration, there are two key ways that we can begin living kingdom life now.
The first way comes from verse 3, “They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God.” The first way that we can live out the kingdom of God more fully in the present is almost so basic that we can take it for granted. We need to live as if we are God’s people and he is our God. When a major international sporting event comes around like the Olympics or the World Cup, it is very easy to tell who belongs to which country. People clothe themselves from head to head in the colors of their country. It is very easy to tell who belongs where. In the same way, the way that we live our lives should make it obvious that we are God’s people. This does not mean that people know we are Christians by the T-shirts we wear, but they know we are Christians by the way that we love others, show mercy, display forgiveness, and walk humbly with God. We should live authentic lives so that in everything we do, wherever we are we stand out and can be easily identified as God’s people. The video mentioned how at the beginning of the church people actually found the good news to be good news. When we live as God’s people and we live that way authentically, then the good news becomes good. People stop trying to figure out what the catch is, the stop trying to figure out what our sale pitch, or when the other shoe is going to drop. When we authentically follow God we display the good news lived out. We give a glimpse of the more realized kingdom of God where we are his people and he is our God. By living as God’s here and now, this day and every day we help make the kingdom a reality.
The second way comes from verse 4, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” A survey of this last week’s (or any week’s really) headlines will show that we live in a world that is full of pain, full of crying, full of heartbreak, and full of death. This way of things has not yet passed away. It is naive to think that there is anything that we can do as individuals to change this. The systemic systems of violence, bigotry, and hatred are too strong for any one person to tear down. However, that does mean we do nothing. As much as we can we can seek to bring about this aspect of God’s kingdom a present reality. We cannot wipe away all of the tears, but we can certainly be a comforting presence for those we know in pain. We cannot right every wrong, but we can seek to do what is right in our community. It is an old, almost cliché story at this point but it does not lessen their truth. Along a coastline a strong storm blew in and greatly churned waters. The next morning the beaches were littered with a whole hosts of sea creatures that the waves had stranded on the sand. Several people came out to gawk and see the spectacle of the debris. They were surprised to notice one young boy walking the beach, finding star fish and throwing them back into the ocean. One man went down and asked this boy what he was doing, he simply replied, “Saving star fish.” The man, not really satisfied with that answer asked, “Why?” The boy, not quite sure what the man was not understanding replied, “Because they need saving.” Perhaps this man was just having a bad day, but he did not find this boy’s naive outlook very endearing. He bluntly stated, “Why bother? Look how many have washed up on this beach there is no way one little boy can save all of them. Even if you do, they are just starfish. What does it matter?” The young boy reached down, grabbed a washed up star fish, through it back in the sea and replied, “It matters to that one.”
We cannot single handily end crying or pain or wipe away all of the tears, but we can do it for some. We cannot single handily change the world, but by God’s grace and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit we can change a person’s life. We can make an eternal difference in the life of one person, and for that one it matters. The kingdom of God is not measured by square miles, it is measured by changed lives, and every time we can show compassion, every time we can bring peace, every time we can love unconditionally we bring about the Kingdom of God on this earth.
I have full confidence that the Christ who was and the Christ who is, will be coming back. Once he does, once there is the final judgement, then God’s plan will be finished. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. Creation will be redeemed, restored, and be how it was originally supposed to be. We will live eternally with God. We will be God’s people and he will be our God. I look forward to that day, because the end is the beginning. May we not wait until then to begin though. May we, with the full confidence of those who have already been redeemed, live as God’s people now. May we follow God with our whole lives and live lives of authentic faith. May we care for others, love others, and serve others, so that in doing so the Kingdom of God may come upon this earth.