6th Sunday after Easter
Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23
Thanks be to God! He’s given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, through the glorious resurrection of Christ from the dead! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,
How do you describe something that is indescribable? I mean, imagine you’re talking with a person blind from birth and you’re trying to describe a magnificent star-lit night sky. Or maybe a magnificent summer sunrise over the horizon. Or maybe trying to describe that beautiful stained glass window that adorns the back of our church. How would you do? Sense a problem? The problem is that a person blind from birth has no concept of light, no concept of colors, no concept of visual beauty and scenery. Or imagine you’re trying to describe to a person born deaf what it’s like to listen to an orchestra playing great music. Or imagine an astronaut trying to explain the view of the universe from the moon to people who’ve never been there. Sense a problem? How do you explain something to someone without any real frame of reference?
So how are we going to understand what heaven’s like? Since none of us have been there we have absolutely no real frame of reference to what it’s like!
And that’s the challenge that we run into when God describes heaven to us. Heaven is so far beyond us, so far removed from our present experience that the pictures that God gives us of heaven are going to be mind boggling and beyond full comprehension. And so, since God has to use human language and earthly imagery to help us understand what is indescribable, we’re going end up having some extraordinary pictures of what it’s like.
The apostle John wrote the book of Revelation while he was in exile for telling other people about Jesus. The people who first received the letter of Revelation were believers who were facing all kinds of persecutions for their faith. They were facing torture, death, loss of property, etc. So God had John write the book of Revelation to give them encouragement. And if you’re reading the book of Revelation there’s essentially 3 themes that run through the book that you have to keep in mind to understand it. The first is, on this side of eternity you’re going to have trouble, so don’t be surprised. The second, in the end Jesus wins, no ifs, ands, buts, about it, Jesus wins period. The third thing is, you’ve got an awesome heaven to look forward to. And it’s this third theme of the Revelation that we run into in our text this morning.
Here John is getting a glimpse of what heaven looks like, the bride of Christ, the sum total of all believers in Jesus from all time in all their glory in heaven. It’s a mind boggling scene! Heaven is described as a city, but the city is coming down out of the sky. It shines with brilliance like a very precious jewel. It had a high wall with 12 gates each with the name of one of the tribes of Israel, 3 gates facing every direction, seeming to indicate that people from all over the earth, from the north, south, east, west, will all be welcomed into this heavenly city. The city had 12 foundations, each with one of the names of the 12 apostles. It was the apostles whom Christ Himself had commissioned to preach His Word who were inspired by God to take the gospel message to the ends of the earth and build Christ’s church. (The apostles still do through their inspired writings in the Scripture as Christ himself speaks through the Scriptures working faith in people’s hearts.) In the verses in our text that we skipped over, we’re given the dimensions of this city. It’s roughly 1400 miles wide, 1400 miles long, and 1400 miles high. The walls surrounding the city seem to be 215 feet thick. Now if anyone here has an engineering background, you’re already thinking, that’s impossible, that doesn’t make any logical sense, but that’s what John saw!
Then at the end our text we get another mystery: there’s no temple. Why? God will no longer deal with us through instruments, like He does now through hearing his Word in church, rather, He will just be there and deal with us directly. Then there’s another mystery: there’s no sun or moon or stars. Why not? They aren’t needed. God and His glory are sufficient to light everything. No sun? How can that be? It all goes beyond our comprehension!
Regardless, there’s one thing that is clear about this description: we want to be there! We don’t want to miss out on this! Heaven is too awesome, too incredible, too amazing to miss out on. To miss out on it would be absolutely horrible and awful.
That’s especially true when we consider that there’s only one other option other than heaven and that’s hell. When it comes to after this life there is no gray area, no middle ground, no 2nd chances, believers go to heaven and unbelievers go to hell. And it will be forever. So that makes what happens on this side of eternity, here on earth hugely, hugely important, right?
So, it would make sense that our #1 focus in our lives would be God and would be ending up in heaven when we die, right?
But we so easily become earthly focused, don’t we? If you asked someone to study your life and to do an objective evaluation of your life, what would they conclude is the most important thing in your life? Would it be playing or watching sports? Would it be hobbies like fishing or hunting? Would it be politics or staying current with the news? Would it be our job or making money or shopping or playing with our gadgets?
Or what’s our attitude toward sin? Any sin, every sin, no matter how small or great has the power to lead us astray and separate us from the glory of heaven. But do we view sin as something insignificant or a grave danger to our soul? All the devil needs is a foothold. If he can get a foothold in your life, no matter how small, he’ll take it and he’ll work from there. We must each conclude we are more earthly focused than we’d like to admit. The spiritual ought to be #1 in our lives. If we’re honest with ourselves it becomes all too clear that we are earthly focused and that means each of us ought to be spending eternity not in heaven, but in hell.
Thank the Lord that Jesus didn’t put us off, didn’t put off spiritual things, but instead made spiritual and eternal things His number one priority! He knew what heaven was like. He was there! He saw heaven in all its glory, in all its greatness, in all its awesomeness. Yet he chose to come to this earth to live here, to die here, to rise from the dead here. Why? Because of you. Because he wants you to have life eternal, he wants you to enjoy heaven with him, he wants you to enjoy something far beyond what your mind can imagine!
Now He sends the Holy Spirit to keep you in the faith, sends his angels to protect you, because bringing you to heaven is what’s most important to him! And it’s knowing that love of God that causes us to readjust and refocus our lives. Might it be when God withholds something from me, he does so because he knows that it will lead me to become too earthly focused and cause me to miss out on the eternal joys of heaven? I view life differently. I’m not carried along with the tide of society when horrible things happen- I know my sins are forgiven, I know God sends his angels to watch over me, I know heaven is waiting for me at the end of this earthly life- I know those for sure!
Since God’s given to us what is most important: life eternal, His love, His forgiveness, His peace, that’s what we get to share with others. If you’re a parent, that’s what you get to share with your children, if you’re a sibling, you get to share that with your brothers and sisters, if you’re a friend, you get to share that with someone lost and confused.
God constantly needs to redirects us off this life to the next, He constantly needs to refocus us on what really matters in life. And that’s why He gives us descriptions like this of heaven to whet our appetites for what happens after this life. What love of our God that he again and again reminds of what REALLY matters in life: His Word, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, His love, His forgiveness, etc. Why? Because your God wants nothing less than for you to enjoy a heaven that’s beyond earthly comprehension!