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God Makes Us New

Revelation 21:1-7

A passage of incomparable strength and power and hope is the 21st chapter of the Book of Revelation, beginning at the first verse. This is the Word of God. “Then I saw a new Heaven and a new earth, for the first Heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I 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 great voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more. Neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And lo, He who sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ Also He said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ And He said to me, ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without price from the fountain of the water of life. He who conquers shall have this heritage, I will be his God, and he shall be my son.'” 

Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory.

Let us pray. Now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, oh God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen. 

One of the great joys of childhood is seeing or learning something new. And you know it as well as I do that children’s response to new thoughts or new things are always so refreshing. I had a good laugh out of the story told by Dr. Frank Harrington about the little boy who was studying the subject of death in Sunday School. It was all brand new to him. And needless to say, afterwards, he had a whole list of questions ready for his mother. “Mother,” he asked, “is it true that from the dust we came?” And she said, “Well, yes. The Bible teaches that. I suppose that’s true.” And he said, “Well, then is it true that when we die, we return to the dust?” And she said, “Yes. The Bible teaches that too. I suppose that’s true. But why on earth are you so interested in this?” And the little boy replied, “Well, I just looked under my bed, and there’s somebody under there who’s either coming or going.”

Oh, yes. The response children make to new things is wonderful to behold. Have you ever had that experience yourself? I mean, have you ever actually studied carefully the face of a little girl when she is following the flight of a butterfly who looks very much like a flower floating on the wind? Or have you ever watched the face of a little girl when she takes her first ride on the merry-go-round? Or have you ever looked at the face of a little boy when he’s tied to the sky with a kite string? Or have you ever seen a little boy and noticed the expression on his face when, for the first time, he actually meets a policeman? If you have, then you know the wonder, the excitement, the joy, of something new. 

And you know, that’s why it’s such a glorious, joyous thing to be a child of God, to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, to be a fellow traveler with the Holy Spirit. Because we have a God who actually says, in the Book of Revelation – He says, “Behold, I make all things new.” And I want to invite you today to spend a few moments with me considering three illustrations of the way that promise is fulfilled in your life and in mine.

Consider for example how God makes us new with the gift of sleep. 

Are you aware of the fact that every single one of us spends more than a third of our lifetime sleeping? You know what that means? That means that those of you who are 60 years of age have already passed Rip Van Winkle, and the rest of us are catching up fast. But oh, what a glorious gift sleep really is. You know what I’m talking about? To be able just to stretch out, and to lay aside for a time the conscious control of the events and the experiences of your days, and to entrust yourself to the God who made you, and who sustains you, and who in the end will claim you for His very own. We begin to have some understanding, I think, of the great benefits of sleep when we learn something about those who do not or cannot enjoy those benefits. Talk for example to an insomniac. To one who does not know what Shakespeare calls that balm for hurt minds, that sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care.

Or read the writings of those who have undergone that most hideous of human tortures, brainwashing, and you very quickly begin to realize that sleeplessness is a very important element in that fiendish, demonic process. 

Or study the results of a survey made in the city of London after the terrible bombings of that city in the Second World War. Do you know that that study proves that the people of London were most adversely affected not by the destruction of their property, and not by the threat of the loss of their own lives. Not even by the loss of their loved ones. No. The people of London were most adversely affected by the tension created by the night after night after night bombing that wouldn’t let them sleep. And as a result, the study says, they began to lose their appetite for life itself. Oh, the refreshing, renewing power of sleep. 

I think George MacDonald was absolutely right when he wrote, “Sleep is God’s contrivance to get into us what He cannot get into us when we are awake.” I like that. And I believe it’s true.

You know, when I first started preaching, I used to engage in what I called Sunday afternoon autopsies for the morning sermon. In the afternoon I would, in my own mind, very carefully dissect the sermon, examining very carefully any errors which were there, and also examining with equal care any good points that happened to be there. I felt that that process was absolutely necessary if I was ever going to become the kind of preacher God wanted me to be. I’ve learned a lot better than that now. Do you know what I do now? After the physical and emotional drain of preaching, I go home and I stretch out and I take a nap. And you know what happens? While God is renewing and refreshing me with the gift of sleep, His Spirit is using the words that were spoken as His Spirit will. What I’m trying to say to you is this. God says, “Behold, I make all things new.” And one of the ways God makes us new is through the gift of sleep.

But then consider how God makes us new with the gift of conversion. 

You know, in the Bible, that word, conversion, has two very different meanings. It’s used in both ways. It’s used in some instances to describe those people who give themselves to pagan worship, who are suddenly, by God’s power, transformed so that they are ready then to worship the one true God. Those who are outside the Church, but who, by God’s spirit, are converted, and who then become a part of the Church. That’s one of the uses that the Bible makes of that word, conversion. But the New Testament also makes a second use of that word. That word is used to describe people who have been in the Church for some time, but who suddenly begin to take seriously the faith they have been taught. And it’s that second use of the word conversion that I want us to emphasize today.

Because you see, it’s my opinion at least that there are some people in the church who need to be converted. That’s true. Those people I think actually fall into one of two categories. Some of them have what I think I would call a sit-down faith. That is, it’s a faith that’s a kind of casual commitment. It’s a faith that is expressed only as a matter of personal convenience. You know what I mean? On Sunday, when it’s convenient, they wander into church, and they sit down to worship. And then they may on occasion make their way into a Sunday School class, and they sit down and let someone else do the teaching. And once in a while they sit down and write out a check, usually not very sacrificial, to say the least. They have a sit-down faith. They sit down and let someone else take on the business of carrying on the work of Jesus Christ in the world. It’s a casual kind of commitment.

But there’s another group. There are some people who have what I think I would call an heirloom faith. That is to say, they are believers because their parents were believers. Because their parents were church-goers, they are too. You see, they have a secondhand faith. They have a hand-me-down religion. And it’s like most secondhand goods. It just can’t stand the strain of real wear. It doesn’t hold up. It doesn’t last. It’s not their faith. It’s a faith which they have inherited from someone who has gone before them. Now whether these persons have a sit-down faith or an heirloom faith, the fact of the matter is that they need a faith which comes when an individual faces Jesus Christ head-on, confronts Christ face-to-face, heart-to-heart, spirit-to-spirit. These people need to be converted from self-centered living to Christ-centered living, so that Jesus Christ exercises sovereign control over the living of their lives. They may have been in the church for quite some time, and that’s all right. But still they need conversion.

I think here of Jacob in the Old Testament. Jacob came from the ranks of the religious. Jacob regarded himself as being a man of faith. He would have told you that. He was, at least in name, a follower of God. The problem was, Jacob never, ever permitted his profession of faith to determine what his daily living would be like. Never. And then there came that night, that wonderful night, by the banks of the River Jabbok, when Jacob had to face God. He had to face the shortcomings in his own life, and he had to face what God wanted him to become in life. He had to face God. It was a painful experience, and he fought against it for all he was worth. But God prevailed. And as a result, Jacob was changed. So changed in fact that they actually changed his name at that point. No longer was he called Jacob. Now he was called Israel, which means the prince of God. And from that time on, looking back on that night on the banks of the River Jabbok, Jacob always referred to that night as Peniel, which means, “Here I met the Lord face-to-face.”

Well, like Jacob, we may count ourselves to be followers of God. And like Jacob, up to this point at least, that may have meant little or nothing in the living of our daily lives. But if that is true, then I want to say to you today that this place may be your River Jabbok. It may just be that this service of worship will become for you Peniel, the place where you meet God face-to-face, for God in Jesus Christ is right here in this sanctuary at this moment. Face Him. Deal with Him. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that just because you’re listening to this sermon, or just because you put a little something in the offering plate, or just because your Mama and Daddy believed – don’t fool yourself into thinking that that’s all it takes to take God seriously in life. No. The fact of the matter is, God does not want to be just an extra in your life. God wants to be nothing less than the very center of your life.

And when we begin to understand that, when we begin to know what it is that God wants us to be in life, when we offer ourselves, our lives, our way, all that we are, all that we have – when we offer that, surrender that to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior – well, at that point, amazingly enough, life becomes brand new. Everything is changed. All the past is changed. All the mistakes, the errors, the failures of yesterday, are suddenly seen to be nothing more than stepping stones which have led to the salvation which God wills for us today. And not only that, but the future has changed. All of our anxiety about what’s ahead, all of that has vanished. It’s gone forever, because we know in Jesus Christ that no matter what happens in this life out there ahead, in Christ, we can cope with it. And not only that, but we know that our life beyond this life is secure in Christ for all eternity.

Everything is changed. Our direction in life is changed. We no longer live only for ourselves. We start to live for others. Our motivation in life is changed. We begin to live in pursuit of God’s will, not just our own wills. Everything is changed. Everything is brand new. 

And suddenly we begin to realize that we are filled with a deep-down joy and peace and power and hope that nothing in this life can ever take away. That’s what Paul meant when he said, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” I know a man who had collected his Biblical three-score years and 10, and life has carved deep lines in his face, and time has painted his hair silvery-white. And for all of those years, he’s been a part of the Church. But if you were to ask him today, “How old are you?” Do you know what he would say to you in response? He would say, “I’m 11 years old, because 11 years ago, I took Jesus seriously for the first time in my life. And in that moment I became a new man.”

That’s it. God says, “Behold, I make all things new.” And one of the ways God makes us new is through the gift of conversion. 

But then consider how God makes us new with the gift of resurrection. 

Is this true or not? We don’t like to talk about death. No, we don’t, do we? I mean, we don’t even like to mention the word. So what do we do? Well, we say, “He passed on.” Or, “She crossed over to the other side.” Somehow we just can’t say simply, “He died.” Just the word. And so we don’t make out our wills, do we? Because that seems so morbid. And we go to the bedside of a terminally ill patient, and we paste on a smile, and we say, “Gee, you look fine.” Everything we say, everything we do, if we’re honest, is an attempt to somehow try and conceal the reality of death. We are going to die, and we know it, but we can’t stand the thought of it. And so we try to hide from it.

That’s not the way it was with Jesus. No. Jesus talked about it, talked about it frequently, again and again, and always spoke about it in clear and even winsome terms. Have you ever noticed that about the language of Jesus when he speaks about death? Just one example. The shortest parable – one of them – that he ever told was about the pearl. You remember? He says there was a man who had a collection of valuable pearls. But when he discovered one pearl of infinite value, he traded in all that he had in order to obtain that one pearl. And Jesus says that’s what death is like. 

You see, Jesus knew about pearls. In Jesus’ day, the pearl was the most valuable of all the gems. And not only that, but Jesus grew up in Nazareth. And Nazareth was located on one of the great trade routes that led to the Far East. And so we can be relatively sure that Jesus knew about pearls, may even have seen some of the very fabled pearls of the Orient.

And so Jesus tells this story. Here was this man, a collector, a connoisseur of pearls, had a great collection. But then when he found one pearl that was of surpassing worth, he traded in every other pearl that he possessed in order to obtain that one pearl. And Jesus says that’s what death is like. Do you understand what he’s saying? He’s saying death is the time when we take the pearl of our possessions, all of those things that we’ve worked so hard to gather in this life, and we turn it in. Death is a time when we take the pearl of our wisdom, all of the knowledge that we’ve obtained over the years. We take it and we turn it in. Death is the time when we take the life on this earth, all of the joys that we’ve had as part of it. We take that and we turn it in. We turn in those pearls in order to obtain the one pearl which is of infinite value. The pearl of spending all eternity in the presence of God. The pearl of being made perfect even as God is perfect. The pearl of being made new with a newness which will last forever.

That’s what death is like. That’s what Jesus said. 

It wasn’t very long ago now, I spent some time with a man I deeply care about. He was quite ill. He was dying. His illness had left him little more than skin and bone. He was in great pain. We had a good visit together, we talked together, we prayed together, and we laughed together. That’s right. I want to say to you, it is only Christians, only Christians who can truly laugh in the midst of a circumstance like that. But we laughed. And then it was time for me to take my leave. And as I rose, he said to me – he said, “You know, very soon I’ll be good as new.” And I smiled. There was a trace of a tear in my eye, but I smiled, because I knew what he meant. He meant that very soon, he would be in the presence of his Heavenly Father. And in that moment he would be instantly and altogether made brand new. One week later, it was so.

Here is the message I bring to you from the Word of God for this day. God promised, “Behold, I make all things new.” 

That means that before you go to sleep tonight, you can whisper your own Nunc Dimittis. “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.” And you can go to sleep knowing that God will be at work while you are sleeping to renew and to refresh you for what is to come tomorrow. 

And that means that when you know that you need the power of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in your life, and when you commit your will and your way to Him, that you will experience an enabling, ennobling renewal in your life which will be beyond your power to describe.

And it means that when you are confronted with having to say goodbye for a time to someone you love, you will shed a tear because of the sound of footfalls you will hear no longer, and because of the gentle touch that you’ve grown so accustomed to, but which you will experience no more, and because of the whispered words, “I love you,” which will flood your heart with joy no more. You will shed a tear, yes. But you will also remember that your loved one, by God’s power, at the moment of dying, is transformed into God’s great masterpiece. God promised, “Behold, I make all things new.” God’s promises, my friends, never fail. Never. 

Let us pray. Almighty and most gracious, renew us each day for life on this earth, and for life that is to come. We are the children of the King, the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. Our strength and our hope is in Him. Amen.

 

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