City of Peace

Right now we fight the good fight, and run the race laid out for us as a part of the church militant. Today we remember those who are in the church triumphant, right now, with the Lord at the marriage feast of the Lamb.

Begin with the End in Mind

2nd Sunday of End Time
Revelation 22:1-5

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus dear fellow redeemed by the blood of Christ, Stephen Covey is the author of a famous book called Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I don’t agree with his theology at all because he is not a Christian, he is a Mormon, but his book gives some very helpful and practical advice to people looking to improve their performance. Well, Covey’s 2nd habit of effectiveness is “Begin with the end in mind.” In other words, before you begin a task, know your goal, know where it is you want to end up. When you know where it is you want to go it will shape your decisions in order to get there. If you don’t take the time to think about your end goal, you’ll undoubtedly make many poor decisions that distract you. He even applies this to life and gives a powerful little exercise where he pictures you attending your own funeral and asking what you want people to be saying about you. It’s unlikely that you want them to be saying: He was so successful, so rich, so powerful, but that you were a good person, loving, good father, good husband, etc. That’s what’s important. Begin with the end in mind. But guess what…God is way ahead of Stephen Covey . God thought of this way before Stephen Covey.
God wants us to “begin” with the end in mind. God wants us to live our lives with the end in mind. So, He tells us what His goal is for each of us and what our goal in life should be as well: Heaven. Eternal life. That’s the goal. But what is heaven like? How do you picture something that you’ve never seen? How do you think about something that is so far beyond our understanding that we can’t imagine how awesome and incredible it is? In 2 Corinthians we’re told about an experience the apostle Paul had – he got to see a vision of heaven. And he says that he saw things that “man is not permitted to tell.” That probably doesn’t mean that God had forbidden him from speaking about it, but that there just simply weren’t words to describe it!
When the Bible describes heaven it often describes heaven not so much as to what heaven is, but what it isn’t. No more tears, no more mourning, no more hunger, crying or pain. Here in our text we’re told that there will be no more curse- no more sin, it’s effects, or death. Think about that. What would it be like to live without any sin? We can’t even imagine life with perfect relationships with all the people around us. We’ve never experienced that. We can’t imagine life without any disappointments, struggles, difficulties, frustrations. We can’t picture it, we can’t imagine it. But hopefully it whets our appetites! There’s all kinds of different things that we anticipate and look forward to in life. Children look forward to Christmas or their birthday, some looked forward many years to seeing the Cubs win the world series, some look forward to retirement or vacation or hunting season.
You’re going to heaven! Can you imagine? You’re going to see God face-to-face! You’re going to get to eat from the tree of life! You’re going to see the most beautiful scenery ever! Think of the most satisfying and joyful day you’ve had here on earth and multiply that sense of satisfaction over and over again. That’s heaven! If we can get excited about purchasing a new car, taking a vacation, or retiring, etc, We have something absolutely incredible, absolutely amazing, absolutely spectacular that we will experience forever!
But how we get distracted from the end goal! How we cling to this world, we get caught up with the things that are here, we lose sight of the glories ahead of us! We throw ourselves headlong into sin and temptation that endanger our faith and jeopardize our eternity! We feed our bodies but we fail to feed our immortal souls. We get depressed and frustrated with life forgetting that our real citizenship is in heaven.
But what if, just what if, God had shown us heaven first, then we were born into this world and could remember what heaven is like? Do think that might change our priorities? Would that change our ideas of what is really important? Would that change our approach to life? Or our approach to death?
But what God has done is given us pictures of heaven so that we can begin with the end in mind. Here in our text we have that imagery. First, we have a river of the water of life pouring out from the throne. It’s a river – a constant supply of water. Water is an essential to our lives. Without water we die very quickly. Water refreshes, reinvigorates, it gives us life. It’s a river that gives us constantly that which is needed for life- this is life, abundant life!
What else is in heaven? The tree of life- from which we will eat. Remember that in the garden of Eden the tree of life was there, yet God had to block access to it after the fall into sin so that humans would not eat from it and live forever in their sinful condition. But in heaven we will eat from the tree of life! Gone is every problem and difficulty, no more arthritis, no more eyeglasses, no more hospitals, no more medications, no more bad knees, no more surgeries. All will be healed.
We’re also told that the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No more conflicts, no more wars, no more fighting, there won’t be any more nations for everyone will be the people of God as one family, all will be perfectly united. No more elections, no more campaigning, no more corrupt governments, no more sinful human leaders! Can you imagine a perfect society where everyone loves and serves God and loves and serves each other? It’s going to be awesome! And we will rule forever and ever!
And why can we be confident of this? Because of the Lamb. Notice that the “Lamb” is referenced twice here. Why will we be in heaven one day? Because the love of God is seen most clearly in the Lamb of God, Jesus, the Son of God, who laid His life down, sacrificed Himself on the altar of the cross to rescue and free us from all sin to win eternal life for me and for you! Because of the Lamb heaven is your home, you will see God face-to-face, you will be healed, you will be in paradise. That’s the goal, that’s where you’re headed!
So, yes, begin with the end in mind. That’s not just a piece of advice for earthly effectiveness, it’s shapes your life. Heaven is your home. Think about that this week when new leaders are elected in our country. Heaven is your home. Think about that when Satan’s temptations come alluring and distracting. Heaven is your home. Think about that when problems, difficulties, and struggles of life come. Heaven is your home. Think about that when believing loved ones get sick and face death. Heaven is your home. Think about that when death approaches fast. Heaven is your home. So begin this week with the end in mind: heaven is your home. Amen.

Are you a stranger here?

2nd Endtime – Saints Triumphant
Revelation 19:1-9

Salvation and power and glory belong to our God forever and ever Amen!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, Are you a stranger here? I had never been that far away before. Katie and I had a wonderful wedding and shortly afterwards we went on a short honeymoon to a resort in Mexico for a few days. It was going to be great. It was an all inclusive resort, several restaurants to pick from, pools to swim in, beach, exotic food and drink, it was going to be great. So we got there and we’re going to have a blast. Then, Katie got sick from the food or the water, from my own ignorance and pride I got the worst sunburn I’ve ever had in my life, anything touching my skin burned and throbbed, it was miserable. And to top it off the travel agency never gave us a time when we were going to be picked up and taken back to the airport some 40 minutes away. Then they were supposed to meet with us at the resort, they never showed up. I tried calling them, I don’t know Spanish and they didn’t know English. Ahh!! Are we going to be stuck here? By the end we felt like strangers and we were ready to go home.

What about you? Do you feel like a stranger here? Perhaps life on earth can be somewhat like a honeymoon gone bad. We have such big plans for life, such big dreams, we look forward to so much. Perhaps we have big plans of going to school getting an awesome job and being very successful.  But then we find ourselves in a job we don’t really enjoy and not nearly as successful as we hoped. Perhaps we have big plans for building our dream house just the way we want it to be. But then it doesn’t turn out quite so nice, there are certain design flaws, we wish we would have done this or that differently. Perhaps we have big plans for our children to settle down and have wonderful loving families.  But then there’s disagreements, quarrels, misunderstandings with in-laws.  We have high hopes for getting this or that, Thanksgiving and Christmas advertisements and flyers are coming out, oooh, I could really use this or that, wow, that’s a good price.  But then that Black Friday deal just doesn’t quite satisfy us as much as we’d hoped, isn’t quite as fulfilling as we thought it would be.  Maybe the person we voted for won, maybe not. Will our country go in the direction we want? Maybe, but probably not.

Is life on this earth often like a honeymoon gone bad? If we marry ourselves to this world, the things of this world, life in this world, it will always be a bad honeymoon.  If we live like this world is our home, our paradise, we will always be disappointed. In a little while we are going to sing a couple verses of the hymn, “I’m but a stranger here, heaven is my home.” Perhaps it gives us an opportunity to ask ourselves: Do I really believe it? Do I live my life in such a way that I make it clear that HEAVEN is my home? Do I approach life that way? Do I see this life as a place that I’m just passing through and is very short?

What would our lives look like if we approached life that way? Well, first of all, spiritual things would be absolutely #1, for only those things will last forever. I would constantly reflect on the wonderful things Jesus has given me. I’d be constantly looking to be patient, kind, gentle, honest, loving and forgiving. I would use my time, my talents, my treasures first and foremost in service to God and His Word. After all, if I’m a stranger here and heaven is my home, wouldn’t my life display that attitude?  And perhaps most of all it would affect how I view death. If I was really putting into practice the truth that I’m a stranger here and heaven is my home, then death would not be a tragedy, death for the believer would be a wonderful victory!  Yes victory!  Why? Because for the believer, death is the time when I enter my eternal home of heaven, get to see Jesus face to face, get to experience the full blessings of all that Jesus has done for me!

So, are you a stranger here? Is heaven your home? Do we live our lives that way? Do we reflect it with our attitudes? Do we struggle with it? Or are we trying to marry this world and make this life our honeymoon? The reality is: that will always be a honeymoon gone bad.

God has a way better answer for us.  He lifts our eyes away from the here and now and focuses us on our real wedding and our real honeymoon. He reminds us that we are strangers here and our real home, our real citizenship is in heaven. One of the places God does this is in our text for this morning.

Here God gives us a picture of an incredible triumphal song we are going to sing in heaven. First, there’s a great multitude, that seems to be the entire heavenly host all believers of all times together with the myriads upon myriads of angels, shouting, “Hallelujah! (Praise the LORD) Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries.” Who is this prostitute? Well, as you know, the book of revelation is full of imagery and symbolism. Often God pictures His people in Scripture as His wife, His bride. In fact, God wants all people to be faithful to Him, to honor and worship Him alone. People “cheat” on God when they believe or teach anything that’s not in God’s Word.  So the Prostitute here seems to be anyone who leads people astray, teaching things contrary to God’s Word, leading people away from God and Jesus, persecuting God’s people and making life miserable for them. In the end they will be condemned and we’ll praise God for defeating our enemies who are also His enemies. In heaven God will have no enemies and so we will have no enemies.  How cool is that?!

Then we have 24 elders and 4 living creatures also praising God. The 24 elders seem to indicate the sum total of believers again. There were 12 Patriarchs in the OT from whom the church was built and in the NT there were 12 apostles whom God used to build the church. The 4 living creatures seems to be either representatives of all creation or 4 mighty angels. Then this chorus of praise reaches a crescendo “Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready.”

This is the wedding celebration we’re all waiting for! In the NT times they had an interesting wedding custom which we heard a little bit about in the Gospel for this morning.  They didn’t have an engagement period. Rather, the two families of the couple who were getting married would get together, the couple would make their vows and promises to each other and would be considered husband and wife.  But, they didn’t live together as husband and wife for normally about a year until the day when the wedding celebration would begin. Then the groom would come to the house of his bride and pick her up along with her attendants and they would go and have a week long celebration at their new home.  Well, Jesus is the Groom, the Lamb, the Lamb of God who died to take away the sins of the world. In your baptism, through God’s Word, He’s betrothed himself to you, you are His bride, what you and I are waiting for is the wedding celebration. That’s what we see here in the text and that’s going to happen when Jesus comes either at your death or at the end of the world to take you home to ultimate wedding celebration in heaven and for the ultimate honeymoon that will be enjoyable beyond all imagine, perfect, and will last forever!

And how do you know it’s true? Look what it says Jesus has given you: Fine linen, bright and clean, was GIVEN her to wear. How do you know you’re going to be there? You’ve been given the clothes to wear: Jesus, your blood and righteousness, my beauty are, my glorious dress.  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Although your sins are as scarlet they shall be as white as snow. The fine linen that you wear stands for literally the righteous decrees of the saints. The fine linen is the verdicts of not guilty that God has passed on you because Jesus died and rose for you!

And since that’s true, you can live as a stranger here, for heaven is your home. Knowing that heaven is your home helps you keep the things of this life in perspective. The big things of this life will seem trivial compared with eternity in heaven. When life seems overwhelming I can still move forward for heaven is my home. When things in life go poorly, I can still live with optimism for I know the final outcome, I know heaven is my home.

And how awesome heaven will be! You’ll get to meet Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Elijah, Daniel, Peter and John, believing loved ones who have gone before you, your parents, your grandparents, your spouse, your child.  You’ll get to look into the eyes of your Savior Jesus, you’ll get to experience the place where joy knows no end, multitudes of people from every nation, tribe, people, and language wearing white robes who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb …never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.  For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their Shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  (Rev. 7:14-17)  Yes, YOU, saint triumphant, will be there, as Christ’s bride at the ultimate wedding celebration forever! So be a stranger here, for heaven is your home! Amen.

The Answer that Quiets the Questions

5th Sunday in Lent
John 11:17-27, 38-44

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins.  To him be glory forever and ever.  Amen.  In the name of Jesus, dear friends,

Only answers quiet the questions.  We don’t like questions that don’t have answers.  For almost a month now there has been a multi-national search for the Malaysian airplane that disappeared.  There has been constant searching, radar screening, satellite viewing and yet there seems to be simply more questions than answers.  Right now there is a desperate search for the airplane’s black box that might offer some answers to the many unanswered questions that abound.  What happened? Why did this happen?  How could this happen?  We humans do not like questions without answers.  We crave answers and especially when it comes to things like loss and death.

Finally, at some point every person has to come to grips with the reality of human death in this world.  People die.  And death and funerals so often make people’s hearts cry out for answers.  Why did this happen?  Why does death make me feel so uncomfortable?  Is there any real hope in death?  There’s got to be more, right?  Is there a real answer to this “death problem”?  Is there a real answer for this death thing that every human being faces?  We crave answers to those questions.

And perhaps questions were going through the minds of Mary and Martha in our text.  You see, their brother Lazarus had been sick, seriously sick.  And so they sent for Jesus.  Jesus had done so many miracles, perhaps He could and would heal their brother.  They sent the message…but where was He?  Jesus hadn’t come!  At least, he hadn’t come yet.  Jesus stayed away for several days.  And Lazarus died.  Then Jesus, the all-knowing Lord, told his disciples that Lazarus had died and NOW it was time to go to Bethany.  Really?  That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, after all Lazarus had died!  What’s the point of going now?  Besides that the last time Jesus was in Jerusalem the Jews had tried to stone him, and now He’s going back there??  More questions searching for answers, but off they went.

When they get there Martha meets Jesus and says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”  Can we sense some questions in her heart? Can we hear her crying out for answers in the face of death?  Jesus, you’re too late, he’s gone.  Why did he have to die?  Why didn’t you do anything for him?  Is there any real hope in death?  And yet at the same time she knows, she believes in Jesus and knows that He can do whatever, she knows Jesus has no limits.

And can we relate with Martha?  Do we experience times where we know Jesus is our Lord, we trust in Him as our Savior, but our hearts and our minds are still full of questions begging for answers.  Have you ever questioned God?  Questioned God’s ways?  Have you ever longed for answers maybe in the face of death or in the face of some other loss or difficulty?  If only we had done this, if only we had done that, if only God had changed this or that circumstance, but He didn’t, why not?  Not all questions are sinful.  However, when our questions lead us to have an imperfect trust in God- that’s sinful.  When we allow questions to lead us to doubt God’s control or to doubt God’s grace and love for us or to doubt God’s power and ability to do anything, then that’s sinful.  And who of us here could claim that there hasn’t been times when we’ve allowed questions to lead us away from God and away from trust in Him?  We all have at times.

But then Jesus said to Martha, “Your brother will rise again.”  “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day,” Martha replied.  She knew that on the Last Day there would be a resurrection from the dead, that the bodies of all those who have died would be raised to life.  But wasn’t the author of life itself standing in front of her?

But then Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

Do you know what Jesus was doing here?  Jesus directed Martha’s attention to Himself.  “I am” He’s emphasizing himself.  I am –it’s a present tense – I am now and I am forever the only resurrection and the only real life.  And why did Jesus direct Martha to himself?  Why does He direct our attention to Himself?  Because Jesus is the final answer to every question in life that really matters.  When it boils down to it, the most important question for every living human being is: What about death?  What about the death of my loved one?  What about my death?  Is there any real hope?

That answer is what our Lenten season has been progressing towards and that is what the account of Jesus’ life progressed towards.  Jesus is days away from Holy Week.  Shortly after this Jesus will be betrayed, condemned, and die.  Why?  Because as the sinless Son of God, as the Christ, He came to take our sins and willingly go to the cross and suffer and die for every one of them, the wages of our sin is death.  But that’s not all Jesus did.  Jesus also rose from the dead showing that death has no power over him, rather He, as the essence of Life itself, has defeated death.

And so, to pay an advance on what he was about to do Himself on the cross and in the empty tomb just days later, Jesus went to the tomb, being moved with compassion Jesus went into battle, the strong versus the infinitely stronger in order to silence our questions.  He ordered the stone rolled away.  Martha resisted but Jesus assured her that she would see the glory of God.  Then he prayed and then with a loud voice said, “Lazarus, come out.”  And when Jesus spoke death HAD to obey, death HAD to give up its customer, its prey, and Lazarus came out…alive!

We live in a world full of questions, in a world starving for answers, in a world searching for something – especially in the face of this ugly thing called death, but finally Jesus gives the only answer that can quiet the questions.  We might think, sure that was easy for Mary and Martha to get their loved one back or we might wonder what it might be like to have our loved one back (dad, mom, Grandpa, a son or daughter), why wouldn’t God do that for me?  Perhaps our thoughts at times are rather earthly focused and we wish our believing loved one was back with us for a time.  But really that wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying an answer to death as the answer Jesus gives here.  How many of you have met Lazarus?  That’s what I thought.  Why?  Because Lazarus died again.

Jesus didn’t so much do this miracle so that Mary and Martha could have their brother back, far greater than that, Jesus proved in this miracle that He alone has the power over our final enemy: death.  Death is like one of those baseball pitching machines that hurls question after question at us: Is there any real hope?  Is there more than this?  How will I make it through?  Is there an answer to death?

There is only one place of comfort, one place of peace, only one answer to death: Jesus.  Jesus is Life, Jesus is Resurrection, He is the essence of Life, and as such death can have no power over him.  And He gives life.  Whoever believes in Jesus never really dies.  Through faith you and all who believe in Jesus live with Jesus now and will continue to live with Him forever.  Yes, unless Jesus returns before we die, we will all undergo physical death, but for us, it’s just a passing through, we pass through death unhurt, unharmed, unaffected and will live eternally with our Savior.  And we know because Jesus’ death and resurrection one day when he returns he will use the very same power that he used to raise Lazarus to raise our bodies so that we will live forever in heaven with Jesus with a glorious body and soul!

So what questions do you have about death, a loved one’s death, your own death?  Here is the answer that quiets all those questions: Your Savior Jesus who tells you, “By my power, by my death, by my resurrection, I have annulled death, put it out of commission, canceled the wages of your sin, for you, and I have given you life, the true life, the real life, the blessed life, the eternal life and because of that you will pass through physical death untouched and go on living in endless glory and joy forever.”  Enjoy that answer.  Amen.