Revelation 21:1-6 – Making Everything New

Make All Things New by James Janknegt, 2005

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” 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. 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’ 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.”

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. (New International Version)

The world as we now know it will someday pass away. For the Christian, there is a future hope – there is a time coming when it will literally be heaven on earth, a renewed earth. God will descend to dwell with us.

This will bring us full circle to the original design God had in the garden with Adam and Eve –an unhindered relationship between God and humanity in which we are no longer dogged by our sinful nature, a sinful world system, and all the sinful temptations that the devil uses to exploit for his own purposes. 

Tears, death, sorrow and pain will be a thing of the past. Eventually, our struggle with sin, guilt, and shame will be completely over.

The message of the Apostle John to the early Church was a very encouraging vision for them. The Church was facing all kinds of trouble and persecution due to their commitment to Christ. To know that contemporary problems would not last, but that Jesus would change everything, was a great comfort and help to the believers in their very real and present troubles.

One of the problems we experience in this present evil age is that we are an impatient people. We want good things to happen, now!  All of God’s people throughout history have been looking ahead for the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises. The Apostle John was not so much giving a brand new revelation to the Church but upholding and anticipating for Christians what had also been true for Israel: 

“See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
    in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
    and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
    and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
    will be heard in it no more. (Isaiah 65:17-19, NIV)

When Jesus came in his first Advent, God’s people thought for sure all these promises would be fully realized. But, like a young couple in their engagement period, the promises of God had been initiated and promised, but not yet realized or consummated. Some folks might wonder if those good promises are nothing more than a politician’s word.

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 

But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. (2 Peter 3:3-10, NIV)

Jesus had John write this statement down: “I am making everything new.” God is now in the process of moving history to its final stage. Can we be patient, as God is, in letting divine purposes do their work until that final day comes, or will we be impatient? 

“No step taken in faith is wasted, not by a God who makes all things new.”

Rachel Held Evans

We live in an amazing time in which we have instant communications and can travel anywhere in the world in a relatively short amount of time. The earth is a big place, but we can traverse it by plane in less than two days. It used to be that a ship going across the Atlantic Ocean took about three months from Europe to America. Now, we fly across the ocean in a matter of hours. Yet, we freak out that we have to be to the airport two hours before a flight and grump and complain about standing in a twenty minute line to board a plane.

It used to be that communication moved at the same pace as a ship. Knowing about a significant event that happened in Europe would take three months to reach America. Now we can know about what kind of bread some Frenchman ate for breakfast almost instantly after he eats it because he posted it on social media. And we complain if we have to wait a few extra seconds for something to load on our computers and phones, as if the world were about to end.

Well, actually, it is about to end.

Until that happens, we are not to twiddle our thumbs and simply wait for the end to come, spending our remaining time figuring out exactly the day and hour of Christ’s return. Instead, all things are being transformed. And it will culminate and climax in his Second Coming and the final passing away of the old order of things.

We properly anticipate Jesus coming again when we let God change our hearts and lives, our neighborhoods and workplaces, our families and churches, to be just like Jesus. God is now in the business of preparing for Christ’s return by doing away with the old order to make room for the new. 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21, NIV)

The book of Revelation helps us to break our fixation with the past and holding onto the ways we have always done things. It reminds us of God’s capacity and action for renewal.  We can walk now in newness of life. 

We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:4, NIV)

The work of God will ultimately destroy the old and bring in the new. God is now in the process of renewal, changing lives so that Christ can dwell in our hearts through faith as the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, as the One who has no room for any other god.

God knows the whole story. The Lord knows your story. The sovereign ruler of the universe knows how everything is going to turn out. When everything passes away, when all is stripped from our lives, when the world as we know it is done away with, what are we left with? 

We are left with God’s purposes, not ours. Then, our own hearts can beat in sync with God’s heart for all creation. Whenever we seek to do away with the evils and troubles of this world; to eradicate global poverty; to end the world of sex-trafficking; to help others come to grips with the evil of this world through changing old satanic ways of operating; to come alongside others in their trouble; then, God is using us to make everything new.

The end is coming, but it is not yet here. Meanwhile, God is presently working to make everything new by bringing salvation of both body and soul to all kinds of people.

Blessed God, the world seems to be spinning out of control. Keep me alert and disciplined in my prayers. More than anything, help me live in constant, redeeming love for everybody. Let my hospitality be endless, generous, and without complaint. Make my tongue, my hands, and my heart a conduit for the light of Jesus Christ, the source of all goodness. Amen.

Isaiah 43:8-15 – The Supremacy of God Matters

Bring out the people who have eyes but are blind,
    who have ears but are deaf.
Gather the nations together!
    Assemble the peoples of the world!
Which of their idols has ever foretold such things?
    Which can predict what will happen tomorrow?
Where are the witnesses of such predictions?
    Who can verify that they spoke the truth?

“But you are my witnesses, O Israel!” says the Lord.
    “You are my servant.
You have been chosen to know me, believe in me,
    and understand that I alone am God.
There is no other God—
    there never has been, and there never will be.
I, yes I, am the Lord,
    and there is no other Savior.
First I predicted your rescue,
    then I saved you and proclaimed it to the world.
No foreign god has ever done this.
    You are witnesses that I am the only God,”
    says the Lord.
“From eternity to eternity I am God.
    No one can snatch anyone out of my hand.
    No one can undo what I have done.”

This is what the Lord says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:

“For your sakes I will send an army against Babylon,
    forcing the Babylonians to flee in those ships they are so proud of.
I am the Lord, your Holy One,
    Israel’s Creator and King. (New Living Translation)

I am an ordained Minister in a smallish denomination, the Reformed Church in America. This particular Christian tradition has its roots in the magisterial reformer, John Calvin (1509-1564). Calvin placed a strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God. In other words, all things hinge on God as the supreme Being of the universe. As Creator of all things, God’s actions and inactions are in no way dependent upon us creatures.

I believe in God’s unconditional election of persons to salvation and new life. Maybe that means nothing to you, and to others it means everything. For many folks, it’s just some churchy mumbo-jumbo which is rather irrelevant to the real stuff of the Christian life. 

I do not agree. It seems to me to be quite important. The heart of Reformation faith is a focus on God’s sovereignty, majesty, power, and grace. It is God who justifies, and not any human. That means there are no conditions to which God is beholden to act. That is, God works in the world according to divine free will and is not reliant upon anyone or anything to accomplish good purposes and fulfill good promises.

“We should therefore learn that the only good we have is what the Lord has given us gratuitously; that the only good we do is what He does in us; that it is not that we do nothing ourselves, but that we act only when we have been acted upon, in other words under the direction and influence of the Holy Spirit.”

John Calvin

Today’s Old Testament lesson is a soaring view of God’s grace and powerful control. Throughout all eternity God is God. There is none who can thwart the Lord’s plans. God acts freely and mercifully and nothing can cancel out those actions. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. We might jump from finger to finger in our puny attempts at autonomy, but we are not getting out of God’s hand! 

For me, this is a balm and a comfort to my soul. Not everything is up to me, as if my action or inaction has cosmic repercussions. As a guy who easily tends toward carrying the world on his shoulders, it is good for me to know that the earth spinning on it’s axis isn’t my job.

It seems to me, the assurance of God’s sovereignty in the world really ought to be a comfort to every believer. God’s decrees will be fulfilled, and there is not one thing any wicked person can do to subvert divine initiatives.

Furthermore, there is absolutely no way we can screw-up God’s purposes. We simply do not have such power. Our great task as believers is to rest secure in God’s will and to therefore place our trust in the One who knows exactly what he is doing in the world.

So, take a few minutes, draw in a few deep breaths, and think on the wonderful truth that God is sovereign. To help you, here is the great opening to the Reformed confession, The Heidelberg Catechism, giving us a glimpse into the majesty of God:

Q: What is your only comfort in life and in death?

A: That I am not my own,

but belong with body and soul,

both in life and in death,

to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins

with his precious blood,

and has set me free

from all the power of the devil.

He also preserves me in such a way

that without the will of my heavenly Father

not a hair can fall from my head;

indeed, all things must work together

for my salvation.

Therefore, by his Holy Spirit

he also assures me

of eternal life

and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready

from now on to live for him. Amen.

Isaiah 43:8-13 – God Is Sovereign and I Am Not

Photo by Rachel Claire on Pexels.com

Bring my people together.
They have eyes and ears,
    but they can’t see or hear.
Tell everyone of every nation
    to gather around.
None of them can honestly say,
    “We told you so!”
If someone heard them say this,
    then tell us about it now.

My people, you are my witnesses
    and my chosen servant.
I want you to know me,
to trust me,
and understand
    that I alone am God.
I have always been God;
    there can be no others.

I alone am the Lord;
    only I can rescue you.
I promised to save you,
    and I kept my promise.
You are my witnesses
that no other god did this.
    I, the Lord, have spoken.
I am God now and forever.
No one can snatch you from me
    or stand in my way. (CEV)

I confess that I am an unabashed Calvinist – a Protestant theologian, pastor, and chaplain in the Reformed tradition. What that means to me is that I believe in God’s unconditional election of persons to salvation and new life. Maybe that means nothing to you, and to others it means everything. For many folks, it is just some churchy mumbo-jumbo which is rather irrelevant to the real stuff of the Christian life. 

I do not agree. It seems to me to be quite important. The heart of Reformation faith is a focus on God’s sovereignty, majesty, power, and grace. It is God who justifies, and not any human. That means there are no conditions to which God is beholden to act.

God works in the world according to divine free will and is not dependent upon anyone or anything to accomplish good purposes and fulfill good promises.

Today’s Old Testament lesson is a soaring view of God’s grace and powerful control. Yes, indeed, throughout all eternity God is God. There is none who can thwart the Lord’s plans. God acts freely and mercifully and nothing can cancel out those actions. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. 

We might jump from finger to finger in our puny attempts at autonomy, but we are not getting out of God’s hand! 

This really ought to be a comfort to every believer. God’s decrees will be fulfilled, and there is not one thing any wicked person can do to subvert divine initiatives. Furthermore, there is absolutely no way we can screw-up God’s purposes. We simply do not have such power. Our great task as believers is to rest secure in God’s will and place our trust in the One who knows exactly what he is doing in the world.

So, take a few minutes, draw a few deep breaths, and think on the wonderful truth that God is sovereign. To help you, here is the great opening to the Reformed confession, The Heidelberg Catechism, giving us a glimpse into the majesty of God:

Q: What is your only comfort in life and in death?

A: That I am not my own,

but belong with body and soul,

both in life and in death,

to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins

with his precious blood,

and has set me free

from all the power of the devil.

He also preserves me in such a way

that without the will of my heavenly Father

not a hair can fall from my head;

indeed, all things must work together

for my salvation.

Therefore, by his Holy Spirit

he also assures me

of eternal life

and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready

from now on to live for him. Amen.

Ephesians 2:1-10 – Saved for a Reason

At one time you were like a dead person because of the things you did wrong and your offenses against God. You used to live like people of this world. You followed the rule of a destructive spiritual power. This is the spirit of disobedience to God’s will that is now at work in persons whose lives are characterized by disobedience. At one time you were like those persons. All of you used to do whatever felt good and whatever you thought you wanted so that you were children headed for punishment just like everyone else.

However, God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead because of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace! And God raised us up and seated us in the heavens with Christ Jesus. God did this to show future generations the greatness of his grace by the goodness that God has shown us in Christ Jesus.

You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It is not something you possessed. It is not something you did that you can be proud of. Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives. (CEB)

Christians are not saved so that they can just sit in a worldly holding tank until Jesus comes back. Deliverance is only one side of the salvation coin. We are saved so that we will engage in good works for in the here-and-now.

Christians know they are saved from sin through the forgiving work of Jesus Christ. It is an act of sheer grace on God’s part. A believer is not born again through personal effort any more than a baby is birthed because of her own doing. Salvation is thoroughly the work of God. Even the faith needed to believe is a gift graciously provided by God.

There is more. The Lord also has some plans and purposes in mind for the people of God. Christians were birthed into a new spiritual community with new commitments to do all kinds of good deeds. It is as if sin were a weight or an obstacle that has been removed so that living a life full of goodness can now move ahead and do its work. To be saved is to be freed for a vigorous moral life.

The great problems of our world are, at their core, spiritual problems which are an opportunity for believers in Jesus to take the lead in agitating for change. Expecting human governments or corporate systems to take the lead in moral transformation is like asking the fox to guard the hen house.

Christians, churches, and faith communities can and ought to storm the gates of hell for the lives of women caught in sex trafficking; provide uplift and the tools to a better life for those in grinding poverty and hunger; challenge the idolatry of the American gun culture; speak up and step out for equality and an egalitarian culture; care for the sick and dying; reform morals; hold the world ethically accountable for its actions; and, hundreds of other realities of living in a fallen broken world.

In essence, when stripped to the center of the issue, these problems are not political, social, or cultural concerns – they are spiritual. Mass murder violates God’s command to not kill. Hunger and poverty too often result from greedy leaders in power who covet resources for themselves, violating God’s commands to provide for the poor and needy. Sexual slavery treats persons as chattel property and not as image-bearers of God. 

God has delivered us from the vice grip of sin so that we are free to tackle the immorality of the world around us. Perhaps you have a boss who is nothing more than a master of a small world and bullies and manipulates his employees. Maybe your local municipal authorities turn a blind eye to moral evil and cannot see they are public servants. It could be that within your own family there are problems of addiction which need to be graciously confronted and dealt with. 

Whatever the issues are in your sphere of influence, God has providentially placed us in the places we inhabit for just such a time as this so that we can do good works, both big and small, taking on immoral establishments as well as little acts of kindness. Doing good comes in all sizes, and all of us are to share our lives for the betterment of others.

Saving God, you have only good plans for your world and your people. Use me today and every day to be an agent of blessing and goodness, working for the benefit of others who need the freedom of Christ’s redemption and the power of his resurrection in their lives. Amen.