An Invitation to the Holy City

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Putting Our Faith to Work   

Scripture: Revelation 22

Point 1: The Holy City, the New Jerusalem, is about life and the absence of darkness.  John chose, in his vision, to describe Heaven in the metaphor of a city – the City of God.  In this final vision we see a description of the theological characteristics of the city and the focus of the city is on life and the absence of darkness.  Now, remember the warning from C.S. Lewis about making literal the symbolism of the Apocalypse.  If you took the description of the Holy City in this reading literally, you might say, “Well, it just doesn’t make sense.”  John is saying, through symbolism, that the God of the universe is a healing God.  Saint Augustine said, “On Earth our destiny is to die, but in Heaven our destiny is to live forever.”  So it is very appropriate that the city is described as throbbing with life.  Because of the hope of that vision, the followers of Christ can say “no” to death (not physical death, but eternal death).  The reading continues “There shall no more be any accursed there.”  The Jerusalem Bible says, “The ban is lifted.”  The ban that would preclude the entry of humans into Heaven is lifted, sin has been forgiven.  Further, the throne of God and the Lamb will be there and, “His servants shall worship Him and see His face.  Night shall be no more.  They need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light and they shall reign forever and ever.”  We need a place where death and darkness are gone.  Our destination is the place where death is defeated and darkness disappears.

 

Point 2:  The words of the Apocalypse are trustworthy and true.  (Verse 6)  At this point I want to say something about truth in faith.  There are two approaches to belief that the faith is true.  One is from assumptions about God and the other is from experience.  So we can talk about deductive faith and inductive faith.  Deductive faith begins with proclamations about God that come from spokespersons – the prophets and Jesus.  Then one moves from the proclamations about God to experience as humans.  If the proclamation says, “God is love,” we say that we believe there is a God and God is love and therefore we ought to live like this.  That is the way most of us start off.  Our families teach us about the Bible and so forth.  We start off with a deductive faith.  But there are many persons who cannot come to faith that way.  The second approach, inductive faith, comes from an examination of human experience – personal and as societies, and it moves from experience to God.  Out of experience, one comes to the idea of God.  Inductive faith begins with no presumption of the supernatural, but looking for what Peter Berger calls “signals of transcendence” in ordinary life.  The argument I use with people who are unable to have faith is inductive – why is it, that as far back as we can trace humans, they have worshiped?  Doesn’t that seem odd that, in every part of the world, as far back as we can trace, humans have worshiped?  Why is that the case?  The first real atheism was that of Ludwig von Feuerbach, who said God was a projection of human imagination and not real.  Berger says the joke is really on von Feuerbach.  For example, the purest activity of the human mind is mathematics.  Humans invented mathematics and constructed equations that look at whether the universe is expanding.  When those equations are tested by looking at the universe, the universe confirms the equations.  In other words, what came out of the human mind is real.  What Berger would say is that the reasons humans have always worshiped is not an imagination that projected out to God, but that there is an inductive stimulation to the idea of God which is universal.  Another example of faith induction is from Albert Schweitzer.  He cites in The Quest for the Historical Jesus, “If you will follow Him {Jesus} by the Sea of Galilee, you will learn, as an ineffable mystery, who He is.”  You see, Schweitzer says if you can’t believe in a god, but you want something else in your life, assume that the deductive faith is true and live it and, in the living of it, it will become true for you.  

 

Point 3:  There is finality to the decisions made in life -- the end is entrance to Heaven or exclusion.   (Verses 10 to 15)  What the angel is saying should happen is that the Apocalypse should be scattered throughout the world and there are some people who will not hear it or obey it.  They will continue to do exactly what they are doing now, until they die.  And the righteous who hear will continue to be righteous.  How you live depends on whether you hear the message and, depending on how you live, the decisions you make in life determine ultimate fate -- whether you are in the Holy City or not.  If you have “washed your robes,” you not only have access to “the Tree of Life,” but you enter in the “open gates.”  And if you don’t, then you are excluded and the exclusion from God, whatever else it is, we call Hell.  

   It is hard to know what Jesus means when He says, “I am coming soon.”  At the time He lived, the universe was 13.7 billion years old – just what it is today. Only 2,000 years have passed.  What is clear is that the early church was wrong in assuming the world was about to end.  Nobody knows what the word “soon” means.  Jesus said, “Nobody but the Father knows” when the end would come.  It might be tomorrow or, in the scheme of cosmic time, a billion years would be “soon” relative to the age of the universe.  The one place where we know the Eschaton will come soon is our own lives.  Each of us has a personal Eschaton and, even if we live to be 100 years old, that is a short time.  So when Jesus said, “I am coming soon,” that certainly applies – that He is coming soon – for us.  

It seems foolish not to think that our personal Eschaton is not too far off.  So, the Apocalypse is clear that decisions made in life have a finality to them.  You can’t change them after the Eschaton has come.  That should influence us in the way that we live.

Point 4:  A living faith always leads to invitation to Christ and the Holy City.  

(Verses 16 and 17)  God is an invitational God.  Therefore, those who love and serve God must have invitational lives.  Notice the sequence: “The Spirit says ‘come.’”  (That is God.)  “And the bride says ‘come.’”  (That is the Church.)  And anyone who hears the message, either of God or the Church, is also required to say “Everyone, come.”  Our church used to do lay renewals where we visited other churches over the weekend.  We did a lot of singing and one of the songs we always sang was called “Pass It On.”  Let me tell you the words, because they are symbolic of what we are discussing:

 

It only takes a spark to get a fire going.

And soon, all those around can warm up in its glowing.

That’s how it is with God’s love, once you’ve experienced it.

You spread His love to everyone.

You want to pass it on.

 

(and then the chorus)

 

I’ll shout it from the mountain top.

I want the world to know.

The Lord of Love has come to me.

I want to pass it on.

 

   Now, the Christian faith, properly understood, is balanced.  It consists of “little m” mercies and “big M” mercies.  The Christian Church is about mercies.  Our faith would be worthless if we did not practice “little m” mercies: giving a glass of cool water, a lunch, a scholarship to a student, or visiting the sick.  Our faith would be dead.  But these are “little m” mercies because they are transient. The water may last an hour, the meal a day, the scholarship several years, but they are transient.  The “great M” mercies are what the Apocalypse is all about.  They are about the forgiveness of sin, salvation, teaching about the Savior, talking about the demands God makes of us.  They are not transient.  They are “big M” mercies and that’s what is being talked about here in this chapter.  John ends the Apocalypse on an evangelistic demand.  He wants to invite everyone to Heaven.  Just as a personal statement, I could not live without Christ.  How then, could I refuse to pass it on?  How could one, having been filled with the love of God, not share it?  It is impossible, it just can’t be done.  The other thing is that, when you are a part of giving an invitation that someone responds to – when one can be just a little bit of a link to someone coming to the City, there is a feeling of great joy and reward.  Those who are long-time members of this class know that, every Sunday, I am teaching for decision.  We are talking about decisions that can change the world as well as an individual life.  

 

Point 5:  The first word of our need and the last word of the Bible are the same – “Grace.”  (Verses 20 and 21)  John comes to the end, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.  Amen.’  Come Lord Jesus.”  From the moment that we become able to think, we are in need of grace – God’s unmerited love.  We need it throughout our lives.   It is the final message of the Bible and we need to know that.  Then this, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints.”  It is wonderful to me that the final word is grace.  In closing, one of my favorite passages is Reynolds Price’s ending of his book The Three Gospels.  He talks about the disciples at the time that Jesus had gone.  Here is what he wrote, 

 

“It would only be slowly that they would come to see how, in the time they shared His life, His hard ordeal and calm return {from death} had ended things as they had been from the start.  He had reconciled God to them and their kind – all human creatures to the end of time.  And whatever they lacked in that final dawn, they gave the rest of their lives to His other task – to make all people know that God is at hand with His flaming love – comprehensible through Christ, at last.  They never lost hope to see Him come again on clouds in the Father’s power to claim them.  One of their cries, in their own language, was ‘Maranatha’ – ‘Lord, come now.’  In other lives their cry has lasted over two thousand years.  It is the experience of Christians through the centuries that when we say, ‘Maranatha – come Lord Jesus’ He never says ‘no.’”

 

So, perhaps the most important thing John says in this final chapter is that – that God’s flaming love is known to the world through the Christ.