Expository Sermon on Revelation 21 and 22
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 11/28/2020
©2020 by Maylan Schurch
(To watch the YouTube broadcast of this service, here’s the link. Other broadcasts can be found by going to “Worship” and then “YouTube Channel.)
Please open your Bibles to Revelation chapter 21.
Well, I can tell you that it was great to hear my brother and sisters singing on those video clips. Back when Chester was pastoring the Chehalis Adventist church, he and Cindy would invite Shelley and me down to their home in Napavine for Thanksgiving. I would bring my guitar along with us, and we would sing, and reminisce, and talk with them and their three children. Those were wonderful times!
I hope each one of you had a satisfactory Thanksgiving holiday. It certainly wasn’t like last year’s. Yet as we look forward into the future, things look a bit more promising – what with the development of the new vaccines – but there are still a lot of uncertainties about a lot of things.
But this morning, as you and I stare ahead into 2021, I would like us to look beyond next year, look beyond to the future God has in store for us. I’ve called this sermon “I’m Looking Forward To . . .”
And this morning we’re going to be looking at the two chapters of the Bible which present the clearest and brightest picture of heaven and the new earth.
Someone once suggested that to quickly summarize what the Bible is all about, you could do it like this. The first two chapters of the Bible, Genesis 1 and 2, talk about God’s perfect world which once existed. The third chapter, Genesis 3, tells how sin entered our world.
And the Bible’s last three chapters are the perfect book ends to these Genesis chapters. The third chapter in from the end, Revelation 20, tells how sin and death will finally be destroyed. And the last two chapters of the Bible – the ones we’ll be looking at today – tell about God’s perfect world which He will re-create for us.
This morning we’re going to look forward to parts of those final two chapters. As I was studying them this week, I discovered four overwhelmingly encouraging things I am definitely looking forward to. Here comes the first one.
Revelation 21:1 [NKJV]: Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.
Are you ready for Sermon Point One? Here’s the first thing I’m looking forward to when this earth’s history is done.
I’m looking forward to a “start-over” environment.
People find it hard to believe me when I tell them this, but before I was in college, people in the Dakotas thought nothing of littering. If you were driving up to Aberdeen, for example, you might first stop at the Dairy Queen and get hamburger and French fries and a shake, and then head north on the state highway. When you were done with the burger, you flung its wrapper out the window, along with the French fry container. Then you slurped down that shake, and when you were done, you threw the empty container, and the lid, and the straw, out the window into the ditch.
We thought nothing of this. We figured that we were providing work for the state highway employee who eventually had to come along and clean up. But since nobody in the Midwest was really environmentally conscious back then, ditch-cleaning was low priority. So as you drove along, there on the edge of the road you would see lots of food containers, Styrofoam coffee cups, paper napkins, all sorts of things.
But during my first year in college, America became environment-conscious. Suddenly, littering was not only a bad thing, but against the law. Posters featuring a cartoon owl with upraised finger said, “Give a hoot! Don’t pollute!”
Suddenly, driving your car at more than about 55 or 60 miles an hour was considered wasteful of our energy resources—and South Dakota’s speed limit was reduced to 55.
President Richard Nixon nobly announced to the nation that he was turning the White House’s thermostats to no higher than 68° in winter. Even before that, Lyndon Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird, made the environment her main cause. She passed laws that dismantled giant billboards along the highway, so that everybody could see the beauty of the landscape.
The man who owned the hugely popular Wall Drug Store, near the Dakota Badlands, managed to wriggle his way on to South Dakota’s highway beautification commission. He earnestly urged that the many Wall Drug billboards needed to stay up, to help the state’s economy. And sure enough, after a while, the only billboards you saw out along I-90 pointed you eagerly toward Wall, South Dakota.
Here in verse 1, John says, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth.” Isn’t that an amazing, refreshing thought? Those horrifying, miles-wide beds of plastic trash floating on our oceans will be gone. Even the oceans will be gone, those huge, land-wasting bodies of saltwater. Everybody will finally be able to drink absolutely pure water, all around the world.
So what should I do, as I look forward to a “start-over” environment? Well, right now I need to develop and nurture the stewardship mindset which God commanded Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He told them to take care of their environment, cultivate it, work with it, cherish it and preserve it.
Because we will need to carry that same attitude over into the New Earth. Remember, this will not be a “reconditioned” or “refurbished” or “second-hand” earth and atmosphere. They will be new, and we will need to be sensitive to taking care of them, because verse 27 says, “But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” If my name is written in that Book of Life, I naturally will do nothing to defile the work of my Creator. Instead, I will be a partner with Him.
Now let’s keep reading and discover something else I’m looking forward to.
Verse 2: Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
One thing we always have to keep in mind about God is that He is extravagantly and aesthetically generous with His resources. God could have made the New Jerusalem out of sturdy, inexpensive cement, reinforced with miles-long lengths of rebar. Then we would see coming down out of the sky this gigantic, dusty gray cube.
But instead, this city is beautiful – and breathtakingly expensive. Glance down at verse nine.
Verses 9 – 13: Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west.
Back in the days when the Soviet Union was still in power, they banned outside tourist travel to most of their own cities. And whenever their propaganda machine got a chance to make America’s cities look bad, they would take it. I saw a Communist propaganda photo one time where the photographer had gone to a run-down, ramshackle slum in Washington DC. The photo showed misery and poverty, but in the distance you could see the US Capitol building. Their message was, “See? America isn’t as great as it says it is!”
But there’s no dark side, no ugly side, to the New Jerusalem. It looks the same on all four sides. You can come at it from any direction and it will still be beautiful.
But let’s lay down Sermon Point Two. Here’s what else I’m looking forward to.
I’m looking forward not only to a “start-over” environment, but a permanent home that’s within my budget!
If I have counted correctly, Shelley and I have lived in eight different homes. The first was a humble eight-foot by 45-foot mobile home in Lincoln, Nebraska. Then we lived in a couple of rental places at Andrews University while I was in seminary.
When we came to do my internship at the Auburn City Adventist church, we lived in a cozy little rental house two blocks away. We were the second Adventist intern pastoral couple to live in that house. Ernie, who owned that house and who lived next door, loved Adventist pastoral interns because they didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, and didn’t have wild parties with boisterous friends.
Anyway, we have lived in several places, the last two of which we made mortgage payments on, rather than pay rent.
I’m looking forward to my condo, or whatever it will be, in the New Jerusalem. One of my dad’s favorite songs was “A Child of the King.” He would often murmur, rather than sing, the words, “A tent or cottage, oh why should I care? They’re building a mansion for me over there.”
Whatever that heavenly home will be like, it will be permanent. It will be always mine. And it will have been designed by my dearest Friend. John 14:2 quotes Jesus as saying, “I go to prepare a place for you.”
And again, this home will not be re-modeled, or re-furbished, or re-purposed. This will be exactly like its Creator wants it to be, and Isaiah says that we will also be given the freedom to do our own building as well, most likely on property outside the city.
A few years ago, one of our church members retired from a major company in this area, and moved out to a rural area. His wife told me that his blood pressure immediately dropped to normal, and he was immensely happy. The pressure was off.
Obviously, in heaven we will never have abnormal blood pressure, because we’ll have perfect bodies, but just imagine looking into a future filled with exciting possibilities that don’t have downsides, and a life that will never end.
So what should I do, now that I know that there’s the possibility of magnificent dwellings in the Holy City? Well, the first thing I need to make sure that I will be there. I need to do what the people who responded to our Question of the Week did. I need to think through the Bible, and read through the Bible, looking for the good news.
We need to read and review how to be saved, of course, but we also need to read much more in the Bible. Because there we will discover a God we can truly love, with our mind, with our heart, with our soul.
Another thing we need to do is to not get too obsessed about where we live down here. Out near the Fairwood area, where Shelley and I live in a 1700 square-foot home, we can drive a couple of miles into an area with truly colossal dwellings. They are high, and they are wide. They have four garage doors.
And when I look at those homes, I chuckle. Not only will I never have that kind of money, but I would never have the kind of energy it must take to keep such a place going.
And I don’t obsess about having this kind of home, and you most likely don’t either. Because we know that we not only have a magnificent dwelling place in the Holy City reserved for us, but Isaiah says we will be able to build our own homes, probably out in the country, and make them exactly the way we want. And best of all, we will have all the time in the world to plan them and build them.
But let’s move on to something else I discovered which I’m looking forward to. Let’s go back and start with verse 2.
Verses 2 – 5: Then I, John, 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 heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”
You know what else I’m looking forward to?
I’m looking forward not only to a “start-over” environment, and a permanent home that’s within my budget. I’m also looking forward to a face-to-face, comforting God.
You know what reading a lot in the Bible has done for me? Sure, it’s given me facts about salvation, about the Sabbath, about what happens after you die, about loving my neighbor, about being a peacemaker.
But reading my Bible has also – and I don’t think you can do it any other way but through reading your Bible – reading my Bible has introduced me to a complicated, very emotional, but very patient and eternally loving God.
Earlier this week I was looking through the online version of the Christianity Today magazine, and I noticed an article called, “You Are Probably Worshiping a False God.” What the author was getting at is that even though we may not worship idols the way people in the Bible did, our ideas about the true God may be so distorted that they make God something that He really is not. In other words, He becomes a false god because of our false ideas.
One of the things I’ve learned about God from reading about Him in the Bible, rather than in a whole series of devotional books, is that God has faced a whole line of appalling challenges. Sure, He might get emotional from time to time, but what would you think of a human parent who didn’t get emotional when their children were in deadly danger?
As I read my Bible, I’ve discovered that you and I have never given God easy choices. Our stubbornness and our rebellion have made His life very difficult. He knows very well that His own reputation has been on trial ever since Satan started lying about it to Eve.
But God keeps working with us. He could have vaporized this planet centuries ago, but no parent would do that. God agonizes over the choices some of His children make, and He too looks forward to when the final two chapters of Revelation come true.
From time to time over the last few weeks I’ve been reading aloud to Shelley C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. In those stories, Jesus is presented as a large golden lion (Revelation 5:5 calls Him a lion too). In the Narnia books, the children find the Lion at first intimidating because of the way He looks and how loud He can roar, but they quickly come to love Him and feel safe in His presence.
And that’s what reading my Bible, thoughtfully and in large quantities, has done for me. It has brought God out from behind the scary and false pictures of Him which people have come up with – pictures which maybe Satan himself has inspired, and who is certainly delighted with.
If you’re coming north on I-405 through Bellevue, you can look to your left and see a lot of huge buildings. About a month ago I had take the 4th Street exit off 405 and was waiting behind a bunch of cars at a traffic light.
I looked left, and three buildings caught my attention. The first one was very tall, and its front was covered in panes of glass, from the ground all the way up. In that glass I saw the reflection of a building to the right. That second building was also tall, and it was dark gray.
But its reflection in the glass panes of the first building wasn’t correct. The reflection made it look thinner, and all garbled up. That was because the first building’s wall was curved, and any reflection was distorted.
But there was a third building, between them. This third building wasn’t as big, but it too had glass panes which reflected. But its walls were straight, and the little bit of the right-hand building I could see reflected showed that it was a true reflection.
To me, this is a little parable about how to view God correctly. The first building was tall and wide and very expensive. But because its reflective surface was distorted, so were its reflections. But the smaller building—not so expensive and impressive—was able to reflect a truer picture.
I think we need to consider where we are getting our ideas about, our reflections of, God. And I believe that the literal Bible, as it reads, unfiltered by anybody’s curved-glass presuppositions, gives the most accurate reflection of Him.
And look at another of the Bible’s views of God. Verse 4 again:
Verse 4: And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes;
Every parent listening to me right now has grabbed for a Kleenex and patted dry the tears on little faces. What better example of God’s fatherly, and even motherly, love than this?
So what can I do, now that I know that God has such great love for us? Well, one thing I can do is make sure that I behave with that same love no matter how challenging things might get.
I need to review Galatians 5’s list of spiritual fruit, and I need to remember that this fruit comes from the Holy Spirit, and that the Holy Spirit is God. Here they are:
Galatians 5:22: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
You can pause at every one of those spiritual qualities, and you will see that God possesses it. Back in Exodus 34:6, God described Himself using these terms: “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth . . . .”
I’ve talked to some Adventists, usually the older generation, who were raised to be grimly afraid of a touchy, hot-tempered God. Yet I’ve talked to other Adventists of the same generation, who were raised to believe that God deeply loved them. And it’s this last group of people who are the best reflectors, the best witnesses, the most attractive representations, of what God is really like.
Now let’s look at one more thing which I’m looking forward to, once this battered old planet’s history has finally rolled to a close.
Verses 6 – 8: And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Wow. Do you feel a slight tingle of terror when you think about the fate of these people who have used such cruelty to cause such pain? The time will come when Jesus will return, and the people mentioned above will call out in fear, and wish they could tunnel deep under the mountains, and who beg for an avalanche to cover them.
This is not a pretty sight. But it is the natural response that an unrepentant evil person will have to the God who is finally present. Right now, God is at arm’s length to those who want to keep Him there, but soon He will come closer, and a lot of people will simply decide that they have no interest in living in the same universe with Him. But there is no other universe.
After all, they are selfish, He is selfless. He is long-suffering, they specialize in instant self-gratification. He is merciful, but they are merciless. He abounds in goodness, but they are resolutely and abhorrently evil.
And the time will come when they each make a choice for themselves. And if they are screaming that they will be hidden from His face, and calling for rocks and mountains to fall on them, perhaps a final, swift punishment might actually be welcome.
So what should I do, as I look confidently forward to an endless, fear-free life? I need to fervently ask the Lord to scrub from my heart any of the tendencies listed in verse eight.
And I need to keep turning my eyes to the face of Jesus, because He told His disciples that if they wanted to see what God was like, look at Jesus Himself.
And Jesus will finally be the one who will rule. Revelation 13:8 calls Him the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. But Revelation 19 shows Him as arriving as Ruler:
Revelation 19:11 – 13: Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.
And that is Jesus—my Savior, and your Savior. Jesus will be the Ruler when earth’s history of horror will have ended.