Restoration (Foundations #7)

Reading: Rev 21:1-8; Rev 22:1-5; Isaiah 60

First: some small print:

• In this sermon I will not be discussing the various views about the second coming of Jesus. In many ways these alternate views are but a distraction to the focus God’s big picture, the restoration of all things under Jesus Christ

• I will not offer any extended discussion of the intermediate state: what happens to the soul of the believer on death and until Jesus returns. Jesus told the thief on the cross that he would be with him in paradise. For now, that is enough. Anyone who trusts Jesus, even in the most simple manner, enters into his presence on death

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Sometimes when I read an exciting novel, I can’t help myself but turn to the last few pages, just to see how things are going to finish. I know it’s bad form: some would say it spoils the whole experience. I am not sure it has ever done that for me.

One thing I am sure about: if I have done that, I know that whatever happens as the story develops, whether good or bad, it will not change the result. It reminds me of how once Desmond Tutu was asked how he retained his faith in the face of so much evil. He is reported to have said “I have read to the back of the book, and we win.”

When thinking of God’s Big Picture, the great climax of all time will be God’s restoration of all things under Jesus Christ.

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We know what restoration is:

Taking something old or damaged, and bringing it back to its original condition. Last year I bought a 1925 Singer sewing machine. For several months I hid it in my shed, restoring it (as best I could) to its original state. It was a gift to my wife, and she loves it. My goal was to take the machine back to its former glory, and bring some delight to my wife in the process.

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Don’t you find yourself longing that the world would be restored? Back to it’s original condition? If you do, you’re like God. Because God is going to make all things right, restore his entire creation.

Interestingly, the idea of restoration does not seem to occupy the minds of many Christians. Most Christians talk more about their idea of heaven.

As it happens, one of the most popular books in Christian circles is a book called ‘Heaven is for real…’ This is the apparently true story of a 7yo boy who experienced heaven during an operation. He had wings, a harp, and found it a bit boring…

And fair enough. Does anyone find this picture appealing? Let’s just say someone invited you to a party, and one of the conditions was that it would be held in a public place, you would have to wear wings, play a harp, and move from one big pile of cotton wool to another while singing songs of praise. Is it a party you would want to attend?

So, are we surprised that there is a degree of ambivalence about heaven? If we’re not sure about heaven, how can we expect people to want to go?

The fact is, the Bible never talks about people in heaven having wings and harps, flitting from cloud to cloud while singing a selection of traditional hymns. So, what does the Bible say about heaven? About this restoration God will bring through Jesus?

Heaven, Restoration and Scripture

In the NT, ‘heaven’ is shorthand for the place where God rules. In the sermon on the mount, and in the NT parables, Jesus often refers to the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ as the place where the will of God is done on earth, where God’s rule is recognised:

• Where God’s commands are lived graciously (Matt 5:19)

• Where greatness is measured in servanthood and humility (Matt 18:3)

• Where justice and mercy dominate all human relationships (Matt 18:23-35)

• Where there is peace between all people (Matt 5:3-10)

The Kingdom of heaven is seen wherever the curse is undone and sin overcome (Col 3:1-17). It is seen as God’s people live his ways, announcing his good news, and living his new good.

We know that until Jesus returns, the efforts of his people to live his new life will be imperfect and incomplete. Even so, such efforts are natural and normal for those people in whom Jesus lives by his Spirit.

The second thing we note about ‘heaven’ in the Scriptures is that the emphasis is not primarily on what God’s people receive, but on God’s acts to restore of all things.
God’s Big Picture is to bring this restoration completely, powerfully, wonderfully and eternally through Jesus Christ the Lord. So much so that human rebellion, sin, grief and the fall will be completely done away with forever.

The total work of Christ is nothing less than to redeem this entire creation from the effects of sin … God will not be satisfied until the entire universe has been purged of all the results of man’s fall. [Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, p.275]

God’s restoration will be universal and cosmic in its scope, including all reality, physical and spiritual.

There are some important considerations here, and the first is that when heaven, God’s restoration of all things, is in view the Bible does not speak about the removal of physical reality. This is surprise to many people in the western world.

The reason many think that heaven will a disembodied existence, with harps and wings and clouds is not because they have been influenced by the Bible, but because they have been influenced by ancient Greek thought. Greek gnostic thinking held that the closer to got to the divine, the more physical things would be left behind, and the more spirit focussed we would become.

Admittedly, we do have references like 2 Cor 5:8, which talk about being away from the body and at home with the Lord. But these refer to the spiritual state believers enter on death, before Jesus’ return.

The ‘heaven’ we are talking about today is the heaven after Jesus has returned and restored all things when all creation will sing “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13, NIV)

The restoration to come under Jesus is not the destruction and removal of everything physical, but the destruction and removal of everything sinful and fallen. So, when we read about the earth being purged with fire (2 Pet 3) we are not reading about the destruction of the earth because it is physical. We are reading about the cleansing of the earth that is opposed to Christ and his rule.

In the language of the NT, heaven cannot be a place of disembodied existence. We see this first and foremost in the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus was not raised simply as soul or spirit, but as a complete ‘true man, true God’ person: body, soul, spirit.

This is the truth confessed all through the ages:

I believe in the Holy Spirit
the holy catholic church
the communion of saints
the forgiveness of sins
the resurrection of the body
and the life everlasting

[The Apostles’ Creed]

NT Wright observes:

If the resurrection is an event that actually occurred in time and space, as well as in the material reality of Jesus’ body, it has implications for other events that must follow.

Indeed it does. Christ’s physical, bodily resurrection is the first fruit of restored reality. The entire universe, recreated.

Finally, the NT teaches that when Jesus returns, his restoration will involve the coming together of heaven and earth.

The Apostle John sees this vividly:

“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”” (Revelation 21:1–4, NIV)

It is nothing less than the coming of an entirely transformed existence, a new universe:

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 22:1–5, NIV)

In this restored creation, all sin is gone, the curse has been conquered, and the tree of life – once barred to humanity in Eden – is now fully available to all.

John adds:

“I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” (Revelation 21:22, NIV)

In the Old Testament, the Temple was a sign of God’s presence with his people. But in God’s restored reality, God’s presence does not need to be signified, because he is with his people at last, and they are with him.

What God started in a garden, He recreates to become a city of light. It is a glorious climax to the life restoring redemptive plan of an all loving and all powerful God – praise His Holy Name!

That the new heavens and the new earth has this physical aspect is troubling to some, and the question naturally arises whether all this physical imagery is just symbolic.
The problem with the symbolic approach is that Scripture is replete with this picture, and some of the most stunning examples are found in Isaiah 60.

We read of a place which will be visited by nations and kings,

Of seas, and boats. Of herds of livestock,

Where exiled peoples come home to a place of freedom and splendour,

Were there is such safety that doors stay open and locks are thrown away

Of glorious natural beauty and majesty

Where violence is non existent

Where the weak are strong and the insignificant are lifted up in honour.

And just in case we doubt whether this could ever happen, the chapter finishes with an eyeball to eyeball guarantee:

“…I am the LORD; in its time I will do this swiftly.”” (Isaiah 60:22, NIV)

So, God’s restoration will reunite heaven (where God dwells) and earth (where humanity dwells).

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” (Revelation 21:3, NIV)

The enmity and separation brought by human rebellion and the fall, the alienation of humanity from God will be completely overcome! Eden is gloriously restored, and everything is ‘very good’ for all eternity.

This is where we are headed, friends! This is the great plan of God: once for all to deal with human sin and rebellion, and restore all things to their rightful place in and under Christ. This restoration is focussed on the glory of our great God and the overwhelming victory he will bring. Those who once were rebels, now raised in Christ, will rule on his new earth, and the glory of the Lord, the profound peace of God – His Shalom – will rule from sea to sea.

Imagine…

Marriages without arguments (I know Jesus says people will neither marry nor be given in marriage – but you know what I mean: harmonious life, peaceful relationships, no more misunderstandings).

No more depression or mental illness.

No more guns and war.

No more fear at night.

No more terror. No more hatred.

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

[John Lennon, 1971]

It’s such a deeply help human wish, that even those far from God find themselves dreaming about it.

Living in the ‘not yet’ with our eyes on God’s forever

God’s restoration of heaven and earth is the ultimate reason to live for him and praise him! This vision draws us into a rich hope, a hope which the Bible says, does not disappoint. It is the best motivation to trust God, to offer him our heart, to ask him to rule our lives!

But we are not there yet. This is why we are people of faith and hope. Following Jesus does not take us out of the world: it send us into it. Not to adopt its values, but to transform them (Rom 12:1-2).

CS Lewis once said “Aim at heaven, and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth, and you will get neither.”

What he is saying is we will only find fulfilment as the values of God’s new creation shape everything we do. As new creation we announce the good news and we live the new good.

How important for us to do this! We have seen much terrible news these last weeks. Whole groups of people, some of them Christians, gunned down by ISIS extremists.

ISIS believe their task is to extend the Kingdom of Allah by force. Use guns and swords and tanks to subjugate people. And those who do not comply, put them to death. That kingdom expands through terror, bloodshed and fear.

God’s Kingdom, God’s restoration, does not come by terror, or violence or human power. It comes by resurrection, selflessness, and the spirit of the servant, Jesus.

God’s Kingdom, God’s restoration, does not come by terror, or violence or human power. It comes by resurrection, selflessness, and the spirit of the servant, Jesus.

“…Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6, NIV)

Jesus’ rule is extended by grace and love. Through the sacrifice of the cross, and the resurrection life of Jesus coming to expression as he rules human lives. While we wait for the ultimate restoration, we live its life now. Doing God’s will on earth as it is in heaven so people everywhere will see men, women, children, communities changed by Jesus.

“No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands. They will not labor in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the LORD.” (Isaiah 65:22–25, NIV)

This is God’s Big Picture. This is the core message of Christianity. In Jesus, God is dealing with human rebellion, our alienation from our creator, the brokenness of our world. In and through Jesus God will restore it all. Read to the end of the book, and you will see that we win.

This is the reality we are headed toward. There are may questions. Some we can answer, some we cannot answer. The biggest question of all, however, is this: Will you be there?

Jesus declares to us and assures us that he is the way, the truth the life. Anyone can come to the Father through him.

This glorious restoration, the glory of God, is reason alone to do just that. To trust him, to honour him, to live for him.

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