It’s so good to see you. And even if you’re still at home, I hope you are crying out to God with us and are well. Wherever you are, we’re really looking forward to looking at Revelation 22, the very last chapter of the Bible. While you turn there… Last week, we talked about how the kings and the nations are bringing into the new heaven and the new earth glory and honor. We talked about the connection between what they’re doing there, and the way Jesus is redeeming culture. He’s redeeming people, but he’s reconciling all things to himself. And we barely skimmed the surface of that discussion.
So, I’m very excited that even though we have to move on from that passage, we’re actually going to be coming back to that theme this summer. We’re devoting Wisdomfest to working on purpose. Working on purpose. That is, how does what we do on Monday, what we do on Thursday, how is that worship? How is that connected to what Jesus is doing in reconciling all things to himself and, as we talked about, what will happen in the future? So, when we finish Revelation, we’ll go right into five weeks with messages, workshops — really practical workshops — How to keep from being Zoom-bombed, (No, we’re not doing one on that.). but how to do work from home, how to do a bunch of different practical things in the workshops. But the main sessions will be getting at what we talked about last week. So, I just wanted to mention it so you can look forward to it. That’s June 21 to July 19.
We often experience what I could call life align. Life align is when something happens that causes us to reevaluate our priorities and to put things into their proper relative priority. One of the first times as an adult I can remember this happening was right after I was married. My wife and I were up visiting my grandfather. My grandfather had just gotten out of the hospital. About six weeks he had been in the hospital, so he was very weak. And he was driving his jeep down a steep hill, lost control, went through a barricade off a cliff, and the jeep flipped and landed on top of him. And this is an old jeep without a roll bar, so it was flat. And the horn is blaring, my father-in-law and I ran down, and in a moment of adrenalin lifted the jeep off of him. We assumed he would be crushed to death. He comes crawling out bloody. But the first thing he says was, “I’m just an old fool.” And then he says (this is a former stunt pilot) … And then he says, “You guys go ahead, I’ll be fine.” Because we had plans that day. We had already packed the car, and he didn’t want to be a bother. He hated bothering or adding to anybody’s burden. So, he’s 82 or 83 years old, covered in blood, crushed by a jeep, and he’s telling us, “Go ahead, I’ll be fine. You guys have plans.” And it’s like, “No, Gramp.” Our plans, your life — which is more important? We have no plans. That’s a life align where things suddenly that you thought were so important on a given day are not that important. Miraculously, he didn’t even break a bone, which was crazy.
I can think of many times through my adult life, my whole life, where God did things like that — put things back into what is really important. And you can, too. And I think this coronavirus experience can be one of those things. If you can set aside all the political and the medical debate for a moment and just see, “Okay, God, you have given us a time in our culture where things have changed.” The normal routine for the most part, in many ways has altered. Can we at least hear what you’re saying to us as a culture, as his people? Are there things that I devote my thoughts and energy to, my affections to, that are not that important, that need to be set aside or other things that need to be elevated? Putting things in their proper relative importance or place, this is a gift from God. It can be a gift from God to align things properly.
You get a glimpse of this kind of activity going on in Psalm 63. David describes what we could call as a life align.
“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my sole thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. [He’s at a point of desperation.] So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.”
At a point of desperation, David is brought to the place where he is forced to evaluate which is more important — my life and the way I think it should go, or your steadfast love and the glory it displays. My life, your glory. And David says, “Hands down. Your steadfast love is better than my life, as I think it should go.” Talk about an alignment. Talk about a recalibrating, realigning what is really important. What am I giving myself to? What is most important? Revelation 21 and 22 will do this to us if we will listen. It is full of spectacular promises. Think about the last few weeks. We’ve learned that the new heavens and the new earth are chaos-free – no sea. They’re tear-free, mourning free, death free. They are virus free, politics free. They are comments-on-social-media free. Woohoo! Think of all the things that will not be in this place. Chapter 21-22 describes a lot that will not be there. But then it also portrays stunning images of what will be there — a city descending, streets of gold, gates wide open (communicating security, stability), nations bringing their glory and honor into the city. Yet all of these images climax in verses 1-5 of chapter 22. This is the part we get to look at today.
You’ll notice in these five verses, three images that we are very familiar with are used to convey this climax. It’s interesting that three very familiar images are used to convey the ultimate in the new heaven and new earth — water, food, light. Water, food (fruit), light. So, let’s look at each one of those.
One, life-giving water. Verse 1,
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city.”
N.T. Wright calls this “liquid life.” “Bright as crystal,” pure, unpolluted.
“Flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city.”
In other words, all of life is animated, brought to life by this water that flows from “the throne of God and of the Lamb,” and it’s going right down the street, highlighting the fact that this is not some alternative remedy in a side shop. This is Main Street. This is a way of life. Life-giving water begetting life in this new heaven and new earth. It’s abundant. It’s a river.
Where do these images come from? Well, they take us all the way back to Eden and now being fulfilled in the New Eden, new and improved Eden. But all along the Bible has … And if we had a couple hours, we could trace it all the way through the Scriptures. Let me just limit it to one that vividly tells of this time. Ezekiel 47:1-12, God leads Ezekiel to the temple, and he notices this trickling of water. And as he follows the water out the east, it becomes ankle deep and then knee deep, and then waist deep, and then before you know it, there’s this river of water flowing out to the Dead Sea. And everything the river comes in contact with begins to teem with life. Look at one example in verse 9. This is Ezekiel 47:9.
“Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes.”
Everything will live where the river goes. In other words, this is a vivid picture of what we know by faith now, but what our eyes will see then. Everything that lives, all life, flows from one source, the throne of God and of the Lamb. Verse 12 is the end of that passage in Ezekiel.
“On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing.”
So, this life-giving water begets life-sustaining food or fruit. That leads to the second image in Revelation 22:2b,
“On either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month, the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
We can’t live without water. We can’t live without food. And here, this tree of life, which is most likely what you call a collective singular. You’ll notice it’s a tree that is on both sides of the river. So, whether it’s connected by roots or branches, however it is, it’s a tree that is everywhere, many trees. That’s communicating the fact that this is not a rarity. It produces twelve kinds of fruit. I think it’s highlighting there the 12-month calendar. In other words, this tree is not susceptible to seasonal variations or climate hardships. It is yielding its fruit each month. So, it’s not a matter of having a big feast and then going through famine. There is a continuous productivity to this way of life.
The first time I went to Africa I remember being stunned by the amount (and this is in a very remote region) the amount this particular tribe could consume when they slaughtered a goat, the volume of meat they could eat because they knew they probably wouldn’t have meat for a really long time. So, it was feast and then famine. We, today in America, believe we’ve solved that problem with grocery stores, because you can basically get almost anything anytime. The price for that, though, is a little bit high at times because if you get, for example, a fruit like a tomato in December, it’s going to look red, but taste not red. Tastes like something was injected to make it red. But what we’re trying to get at is what’s described here, a superficial version of this. What the Bible is describing is, no, this this kind of harvest is not seasonal in the sense of you have it and then you don’t. It’s truly sustainable. End of verse 2, “and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” Now, is there any time in your life that you can remember where this verse would be more significant than today? Imagine a leaf that was for the healing of the nations. A medical cure with no side effects that worked 100% of the time. And not just for an individual or group of individuals, but notice the social aspect, the healing of the nations, perpetually restorative. Verse 3, the reason for that is because “the curse [all the way back to Genesis 3] has been replaced by true service, true worship, true work in the light of the glory of God.” A life-giving work and worship.
So, life-giving water fertilizing life-sustaining food, all in the context (third image) of life-revealing light, verse 4, life-revealing light.
“They will see his face [they will see his face], and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light or lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”
We can’t see anything without light. But this light is a different source, from a different source. There’s no lamp. There’s no sun. This is the kind of light that enables us to see what we could not otherwise see. And two things are mentioned in verse 4. They will see his face. But take that in for a moment. That is the climax of the Bible right there. We’re on the tip of the top of Mt. Everest. They will see his face. We will see God, not for who we imagine or want him to be, but for who he actually is. And then as a result of that, when we see his face, his name will be on our foreheads. Communicating the fact that we will see him for who he is, and in light of that, we will, for the first time, see ourselves for who we really are. Our theology will transform our anthropology. We will see him for who he is. We will see ourselves as we really are and be identified in him. Remember, Moses couldn’t look on the face of God (John 1:18). Nobody’s ever directly taken in the full display of God’s glory without being consumed. But here, something’s changed.
One of the things that’s changed is the lighting change. Did you notice that in the context? There is a lighting change. The light source is from a different place. If you’ve ever watched a play where suddenly a character appears on the stage that you couldn’t see before, often that effect is brought about by using a scrim. A scrim is a loosely woven curtain that hangs down. When the light from the front of the scrim shines on the scrim, all you see is scrim. But when that light turns off, and the light shines on the character behind the scrim, all you see is character. The character appears, the scrim disappears when the light is not on the scrim. We gaze through a scrim. All of history has been scrimmish. One day, Revelation 22 is describing a light change. And the light source is no longer natural lighting, because as long as we’re looking through natural lighting our eyeballs would be consumed. We are blind to who he really ultimately is. But in Jesus, with this light change, we will see his face. And when we see his face, we will see ourselves, our name, his name on our foreheads. In other words, we’ll know who we really are. Our vision will no longer be dependent on reflective light sources. It will no longer be dependent on chronological changes like day or night. There won’t be any shadows. Verse 5, “for the Lord will be their light.” No blind spots. Visual limitations removed. Our resurrected eyeballs will be recalibrated. We’ll see him as he really is. We’ll see ourselves as we really are.
Years ago, D.A. Carson told about a time he was driving to a speaking engagement, and a Roger Whittaker song came on. In the middle of the song this verse was sung:
“If my time could end perfectly, I know how I’d want it to be, God’s gift of heaven would be made up of three, my love, Cape Breton, and me.”
Hmm. Roger, if you could end your life perfectly and go to heaven, and experience the fullness of heaven, best scenario would be three: your love, Cape Breton, and me? So, Roger, your love may be quite the woman, Cape Breton is a stunningly beautiful island on the eastern side of Nova Scotia, and you have a decent baritone voice, but you are aiming way too low. If you think that that’s a perfect ending, that that’s heaven, what are you thinking? You need a life align. You need to get things back into priority. No matter how wonderful the gifts God has given you are — this beautiful scenery, a wonderful wife, how wonderful that is — it is incomparable to what God has planned for you when we see his face. And when we see his face, everything else will be seen rightly, in proper perspective.
Now your list may be different. My list may be different than Roger’s. But we all have a list. We all have things we think are really, really important. But Revelation 22 is saying, “Hey, can you take a moment to imagine what is coming in the future and see how that will change what you prioritize today?” So, how does that work? How do we do that? How does the fact that we have this life-giving water, life-sustaining food, life-revealing light, how does that change the way we think and live today? Let me just give you one way in which the Bible brings it right down to today. Same author, John. 1 John 3:2, he answers that question directly.
“Beloved [you who are loved], we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared.”
Do you see the now and not yet? The world may think you’re a fool, but if you’ve repented and believed in Jesus, you are God’s child now. That’s the now. The not yet, what will be, has not yet appeared. We haven’t gotten to the reality of Revelation 22 yet.
“But we know that when he appears [when Jesus appears], we shall be like him.”
His name will be on our foreheads. In other words, who he says we are will be evident to all. Just as the mark of the beast clearly identified those who were children of the devil all through the book of Revelation, so the name of Jesus will identify his children. Let’s back up a bit.
“When he appears… We know that when he appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”
The reason we know who we are is because we see who he is. Our eyes are resurrected, our vision corrected. With new lighting, we can gaze on God and the Lamb without being consumed. How does this shape today? Let’s back up and read the whole passage, get a running head start so you see John’s answer.
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”
That’s a huge qualification there. Let’s not miss that. “Everyone who thus hopes in him.” Where’s your hope? Your hope is locked in on someone or something. So, everyone who thus has repented of hoping in their own source of salvation and believed, turned, and hoped in him. By the way, Revelation addresses that. Skip down to verse 17 of chapter 22, and you’ll see an invitation. Before we read the last part, I want to make sure we all understand that not everybody automatically hopes in him, right? Right now, some of your hopes may be somewhere else, and so the last part isn’t going to make sense if the first part is not true. And that’s why Revelation ends in verse 17 of Revelation 22:17,
“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come [Right now. One day we’re going get this life-giving water. But right now, God has put a thirst in you so that you will come]; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.”
No amount of performance. If your hope is in yourself, if your hope is in your church, if your hope is in your own performance, if your hope is in other people the last part is not going to make sense. I want to plead with some of you who today God has called here today to repent of your own hopes. Put your hope fully in Jesus. Everything else we hope in is like trying to satisfy thirst with things that will make you thirsty. You look at porn, you want to look at more porn. You buy stuff to satisfy your hope, you’ve got to buy more stuff. You please people, you’ve got to keep pleasing people with the hope that they’re going to be happy with you. You go down that road of trying to satisfy your thirst with anything other than Jesus, and you’re just going to thirst for more without satisfaction. So, you who are thirsty, come. Come to Jesus. That’s the invitation in Revelation. That’s what John is saying. He’s assuming that everyone who has repented of his own hopes and turned to Christ.
“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus Christ,” his righteousness, not mine.
Back to First John 3:3,
“Everyone who thus hopes in him [Here’s the life align] purifies himself as he is pure.”
My hope is in Jesus and all that he has in store for me tomorrow. Therefore, in light of that, I line my life up with that hope. It’s not trying to earn heaven, not trying to make yourself clean in your own power. No, your hope is in him. But in light of that hope, I align my life with who he is and what he has planned. And there are things that don’t fit into my priorities anymore that get set aside in light of that hope. That’s what he means there. I’m lining up my life in line with my hope in Jesus. That’s what John meant when he talked about in 1 John 1. “If we walk in the light” — all this light is pointing toward what will ultimately be, this revealing light.
“If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus … cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin [We’re doing what?], we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins [as Toby talked about it a few weeks ago], he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
As we put our hope in him, he provides everything to wash us and empower us as we look forward to this day. Let’s pray.
Father, you would not have made us the way you made us, given us the intense thirst, a deep hunger, longing for light. You wouldn’t have given us those things if you were not going to provide life-giving water, life-sustaining food, and life-revealing light. So, this morning you’ve given us a wonderful opportunity. First of all, thank you that we can regather. But whether we are in our homes, whether we are here in an auditorium, Lord, we want to repent. We repent of our futile attempts to satisfy our thirst with things that make us thirstier. We need you. And thank you that you invite us to come today. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. And we praise you in Jesus’ name, amen.