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From the Garden to the City,
Trees along the way
(c) Copyright 2007 Rev. Bill Versteeg
Revelation 20:6-9, 21:1-27
6 Then I heard what
sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and
like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
I grew up in a house with six sisters - one of the reoccurring events that I remember well, even from when I was very young was wedding days. They were busy, stressful, as a kid confusing - why make all this fuss. It was incredible the effort the family went through to make the bride ready! Suddenly makeup became important. More hours were spent on hair than you can possibly dream. All for the bride to make herself ready... But that was the purpose of the day - the purpose that was not completed until the vows had been made, the marriage completed.
Today our scripture study on the theme From the Garden to the City brings us to the final stage of history as we know it. Empires have come and gone. Battles have been waged and won. The angels of doom have done their worst. The Anti-Christ has had his day. The great Babylon has been crushed, her smoke arising forever and ever. The martyred saints cry out Hallelujah - for the wedding supper of the Lamb has come and the bride has made herself ready. The picture that we get from our passage is that all this fuss, all this trouble, the sum purpose of all of history, world history, family history, church history and our personal history was for this hour, this day, the bride has made herself ready. All the history books that you have read, all the news you have heard on the radio and seen on TV, it all has one purpose - the bride has made herself ready.
This morning, we want to spend just a admiring the bride, for that is what the scriptures do with us. Let me quickly highlight a few points.
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
This is the processional, the arrival of the bride, except that in John’s culture, the wedding would have happened in a home, and the bride having remained in her bedroom upstairs would descend down the stairs for all to see and admire. John pictures for us the bride of Christ, descending down the stairs from heaven where she has been prepared, made beautiful in every way, pure and holy.
And then comes and announcement, the purpose of this grand event - the wedding proclamation.
“Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people and God himself will be with them and he will be their God.”
These are marriage covenant words, covenant words that have their beginning in a garden where the romance between God and humanity started and then it went all wrong. These are words of reconciliation, the problems, the betrayal has been resolved, the fight is over with all of its pain and sorrow, now an eternal agreement of joy brings two lovers together.
To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.
This is the invitation to celebrate. Join with the church throughout the world, throughout time, come you who are thirsty, come and celebrate, join in the party, this is a time of unending joy, drink up. The only prerequisite is blessed thirst. Are you thirsty for this wedding, this reconciliation, this time of joy between God and humanity? Are you thirsty because life distant from God cannot be satisfied with the sugar laced junk food of this world, your heart desires that pure fresh life giving water from the only one who can give it? The invitation to this wedding is to all who thirst, and the RSVP is “Yes I am thirsty, I will come!”
On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. 21 The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl.
Now the admiration of the bride continues. As John sees her descending down the stairs from heaven the first thing he notices is her necklace made up of twelve pearls. Isaiah saw a similar vision in Isaiah 60 and 61:10. There Isaiah pointed out that the bride would be adorned with her jewels. John sees those jewels, the pearls around her neck, each a single pearl - the twelve tribes of Israel. Some theologians make the point that pearls are created in pain, the irritant in an oyster, something beautiful sculpted out of suffering. Maybe, but we doubt that John would know that detail. Her necklace is beautiful, created in the long history of attention that God poured out on his people because of the promises he made to Abraham.
14 The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. 19 The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone.
Then John looks downward at her beautiful dress, interwoven with every colour, decorated with many differing precious stones. And even though John is describing the folds of her long flowing wedding dress in all of its brilliant beauty, he calls these folds foundations, foundations on which the who church is built. We might think that, Christianity, arising out of Judaism might picture the Jewish faith as the foundation. But John is clear, the foundation is the teaching, the leadership, the beautiful truth communicated through the apostles, the message of salvation in the name of Jesus who is Lord over all. Now, consistent with Romans 9-11, even the Jews benefit from the foundation of the apostles, even the Jews are saved through Jesus, as Paul said: there is no other mediator between God and humanity.
And then John notices the radiance of the bride.
23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.
This is the radiance of love, for God is love, and the Glory of God is to delight in his love and the promise of this wedding is that the bride and groom, the Lamb, the Savior and his church for which he offered his life, as Paul would say in Ephesians 5
Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing a her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
This is the radiance of the bride, it comes from Christ, for it is Christ who makes us beautiful, inside and out. He is our radiance, he is our joy, our hope, our strength, our salvation. He is the one who gave himself up for us. We belong, body and soul, to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
John pictures the bring of wedding gifts. With joy in the blessing of this marriage, the world brings its gifts.
24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.
Its verses like these that arrest me with awe. For the marriage of the Lamb to his bride the church is not only for the church, it is for the whole world, for those who rule, for systems of government, for cultures, for entire economies, for all time, for all the glorious things that have and will be accomplished. God, by his grace causes eternal good to happen in this world, even by the systems and governments that are. And all this is good, pure and holy will be brought as an accomplishment of creation, the nations, the cultures as a gift to the King of Kings and Lord of lords and his bride the church.
And finally, John pictures the wedding register, this wedding witnessed by the following persons
27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Here it is again, those whose names are written in the lambs book of life. The citizenship scroll of the new Jerusalem. The membership role of Christ’s church, his body. There where our names our written, evidenced in our lives by the humility, the repentance for sin, the trust in his saving grace, the witness of the Spirit guaranteeing for us what is to come.
John pictures the end of history - and the whole purpose of history is this wedding, the bride who has made herself ready and the wedding supper of the Lamb. Seeing the picture leaves me with some questions for my self reflection... your self reflection...
Are you invited? Are you thirsty? Are you hungry for the kingdom and its righteousness, knowing that all these things will be added to you? Is your name written in the Lamb’s book of life? Do you have that assurance of the love of God poured in your heart by the Holy Spirit, so powerful, it could only be demonstrated on a cross where God gave his son for you?
Bride of Christ, have you noticed how beautiful you are? So often we see the flaws of the church, we see her imperfections, we see her struggles and failures - but have you seen this picture to, this picture of how incredibly beautiful you are, so beautiful that all of history stands in awe of your beauty. Have you looked in the mirror lately, the mirror of scripture and seen how beautiful you are? Have you seen in your life, Christ, the one who gave himself for you, have you seen a growing beauty?
Finally, Paul tells us in
Colossians 3:17, that in whatever we do, do it unto the Lord. That
means everything we do can have eternal meaning. We might do paperwork
for a living, we might push numbers into the right places, we might
grow flowers or build houses or organize activities or raise families,
the list goes on and on, but the beauty of all our our work is that we
can do it with eternal significance for the best that we have to offer
will be a present, an eternal gift to the eternal bride and groom. Do
you do your work from day to day, preparing something eternal for the
wedding? Do you do whatever you do, as unto the Lord? A gift for him.
In this week, go and prepare, for the wedding, put on the beautiful
clothing, the righteous deeds of the saints. And may we with all the
rest of creation be preparing gifts, eternal gifts for that great and
the Garden to the City - Trees Along the Way
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.