Joy Beyond All Sadness

Text: Revelation 21:1-7
Date: Easter V + 4/24/16

In studying our text promising a new heaven and a new earth it struck me how it seems we all-too-easily utter the almost unimaginable doctrine of creation when we say, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,” and “one Lord Jesus Christ…by whom all things were made.” As with everything else of faith we say “I believe” because it is beyond our ability to understand or “prove.” I don’t know about you but just trying to imagine the majesty of the ancient question how all things came into being is truly impossible. I stand in amazement how delicately and orderly is the earth to sustain life as we not only orbit around the sun but also are carried, they say, at about 43,000 miles per hour by the Sun through space roughly in the direction of the bright star Vega in the constellation of Lyra. Even more beyond our imagination is that there is no such thing as a “total size” of the universe! The creation of “Earth Day” on April 22 not to mention the madness of believing that we humans have any control or effect whatsoever on the climate (which we after all didn’t create!) reveals how limited is our knowledge.

Yet it is with this same gift of faith that we are to believe not only that God created everything out of nothing, but promises to create a new heaven and earth after the old heaven and earth pass away. But why will this heaven and earth pass away?

In the beginning God created everything by His Word. God spoke everything into existence. In the beginning everything was good, that is perfect and holy. God spoke directly to Adam and Eve. There was no separation between man and God until the fallen angel Satan deceived the first couple and led them to doubt God’s word and desire his false promises, their nakedness but the ability for the first time to see themselves alone, separated, apart from God. When sin entered the world so did mankind’s separation from God.

Ever since then God has not spoken directly but only mediately through the prophets and apostles. He spoke to Moses through a burning bush. He was with His people in their Exodus from Egypt in a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. He continued to be with His people in the hidden way of the tabernacle and the temple. In order to win us back, to save us from sin, Satan, death and hell however He had to come and deal directly with us. But as we cannot see God directly and live, as God’s holiness is His threatening presence to unholy sinners, He came to us in the hidden way of the new tabernacle or temple in the human body of Jesus conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary and was made man. Only briefly and once did He reveal His divine glory at the transfiguration before the inner group of His apostolic witnesses.

In this body He took on to himself sin, Satan and death for us. He died our death. He died the death of God’s wrath over your sin. Risen from the dead on Easter He now brings the forgiveness of sins and life to you. But still, because we are sinners, He must come to give us forgiveness and life in the hidden way of the water of Holy Baptism, His body and blood in, with and under the bread and wine of His new and last will and testament, and through apostolic ministers ordained to distribute His absolution of our sins.

As long, however, as we are still sinners we cannot stand in the unveiled glory of the direct presence of God but only, still, as He hides Himself for us to find Him where He promises to be.

As amazing as is the doctrine of creation, even more is the doctrine of the creation of a new heaven and a new earth where, now set free from sin, “the dwelling place of God is [once again] with man. He will dwell with them” and speak directly to and with us, no more tabernacle or temple, no more sacraments, only the everlasting worship of God on His throne and the Lamb in the perfect peace of God.

The peace of God. The older name for the holy city Jerusalem was “Salem” which means “peace.” It seems that the related name, Islam, is but a poor imitation of God’s true peace. The new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God is not like the old, earthly Jerusalem. St. Peter reminds us that at the Lord’s coming “the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” “The heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!” But then Peter said, “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:10-13).

John was given the revelation, the vision of our promised existence in our resurrected bodies in the new heaven and the new earth. Oh, it will be real, as real as the pavement you walk on, the golf course you play on, for you will be human the way God originally intended you to be: perfect, righteous, alive, holy, living and breathing in God’s actual presence.

This is to be the great hope for all people. Created by God we all nevertheless inherit the sin of Adam. That’s what we mean when we confess we are “by nature sinful and unclean.” But the sin of Adam not only brought death to all people but even to God’s created world as St. Paul said, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Rom 8:20-22). This is why this, the old heaven and earth, will be destroyed but will be made new by the One who says, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

We can trust this grand promise of deliverance and eternal life as living, breathing beings of God’s creation and redeeming.

Life eternal!
Heav’n rejoices:
Jesus lives who once was dead.
Shout with joy,
O deathless voices!
Child of God, lift up your head!
Life eternal!
Oh, what wonders
Crowd on faith; what joy unknown.
When, amid earth’s closing thunders,
Saints shall stand before the throne! (LSB 671:3)