MESSAGE FOR JULY 29, 2007 FROM REVELATION 21-22

“A Taste of Heaven”

MESSAGE FOR JULY 29, 2007 FROM REVELATION 21-22

 

          This morning we begin a short series of messages based on the Biblical truths contained in the book, “The Treasure Principle.”  This book taps into one of the main wellsprings of Biblical truth on the topic of financial giving.  Its truths are anchored in grace and have been a great blessing to many who have seriously applied them to their life.  We are not preaching on giving because the church is currently in financial trouble—we are not.  That is perhaps the worst time to preach on giving.  It tends to create a context where people can easily think the reason for their giving is to pay the churches bills instead of other far more important reasons that relate to our hearts.  One (and only one of many) reason we are preaching on giving now is because the publisher has offered to give us as many “Treasure Principle” books as we need for every family to have one if we will commit to preaching on giving.  Because we want all our families to have a copy of this book, we agreed to this quite reasonable condition.  If you do not yet have a copy of this book, please let us know at the Welcome Center and we will do our best to get a copy for you.  If you have not yet read this little book, please try to do that in the next few weeks in conjunction with these messages.

          The main truth communicated by the book and which is much more importantly a central Biblical truth on this topic is: “You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.” [Alcorn, p.18].  The author’s point, which he spends most of the book developing, is based on Matthew 6:19-21.  There Jesus says, “"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,  20but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The point Jesus makes is that it is at best foolish to accumulate temporary, fleeting wealth and possessions in this life, when you can instead, by liberally giving away these temporal treasures, accumulate lasting, incorruptible treasure in heaven. Alcorn illustrates the point by asking that if a man offered to give you $1,000 now, or ten million dollars a year from now, which is the better offer?  Obviously ten million is larger than 1000.  Yet, even though many professed believers are aware of this truth, they are far more energetic and intentional about piling up temporal treasures on this earth, than they are about giving them away and reaping heavenly rewards. 

This is to say nothing of the repeated and clear Biblical warnings about the strong and spiritually toxic attraction our hearts feel toward temporal treasures.  In Luke 12:15 Jesus says, “…Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."   Jesus issues a warning for us to live in a defensive posture so as to protect our hearts from this seductive enemy of our soul, covetousness.  Another reason for a warning like this one is in Mark 4:19.  He says in the parable of the soils, “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” [Mark 4:19] Alcorn implies the effect of this coveting on our hearts by using a law of physics.  He says, “It’s a matter of basic physics.  The greater the mass, the greater the hold that mass exerts.  The more things we own, the greater their total mass—the more they grip us, setting us in orbit around them.  Finally, like a black hole, they suck us in” [Alcorn, p.34].  The point is—the more energy and time and money we invest in the things of this world, the more “mass” they acquire and despite our best intentions, we will begin to orbit around them.  That truth also means by implication that as that happens--God’s “pull” on us to orbit around him and the things of his kingdom will correspondingly decrease.  Part of the “deceitfulness of riches” is seen in our great capacity to deceive ourselves on the question, “what am I orbiting around?”  We may proclaim with the loudest voice that our life tightly orbits around Christ, while we are at the same time slowly, imperceptively pulling away from him in favor of the things of this world which we are giving more and more “mass.”  That slow pull away from Christ can be spiritually lethal to us. 

So, on the one hand, we have the promise of eternal rewards for our sacrificial giving here on earth, and on the other, repeated and clear warnings about the spiritual dangers of desiring the things of this world.  Yet, in the face of those two Biblical truths, in North America we still have an evangelical church filled with people who are piling up for themselves temporal, material wealth and possessions at a steady pace.

The foundational assumption of Alcorn’s book is that the eternal treasures of heaven are infinitely preferable to the temporal treasures of earth.  That premise however presumes that we are familiar with the glories of heaven and its vastly superior splendor.  It seems that in order for the Biblical principles on the superiority of heavenly reward to carry maximum impact for us, we should first do some serious thinking about heaven.  Our goal this morning is to allow the Bible’s teaching on the glories of heaven to help us see the clear and infinite superiority of heaven and what is there over the cardboard treasures we can work so hard to accumulate here.  The hope is that as we are by God’s grace caught up into a Biblical vision of heaven, the radiance of that eternal glory will burn off the fog of our covetous desire. That fog of materialism can easily obscure our perspective as we become seduced by, and desirous of, the things we can store up here on this earth.  My prayer is as we feast for a few moments at the banquet table of heaven, we will feel increasingly compelled to spit from our mouths the stale bread of this fallen world’s treasures.  As we ponder the great “mass” embedded within the glories of heaven, we will by God’s grace be more and more pulled into a tight orbit around Jesus and less and less rotate around the space dust of this world and its pleasures.

With that in mind, let’s peer into wonders of glory as we read John’s account of it in the last two chapters of the Bible.  He says, beginning with 21:1, “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.  2And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  4He 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."  5And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."  6And 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 from the spring of the water of life without payment. 

7The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.  8But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death." 9Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, "Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb."  10And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God,  11having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal…And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb…  23And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.  24By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it,  25and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.  26They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 

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  2through the middle of the street of the city; also, 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.  3No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.  4They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  5And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

There is much about this text that we cannot say in the time we have this morning.  Notice that this section on heaven is dominated by a vision of the church.  As we saw in verse nine, the glorified New Jerusalem is the church of Jesus Christ.  One of the seven angels tells John, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb."  10And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God…” The New Jerusalem is the glorified church, the bride of Christ.  One question is—why would one of the most detailed and lengthy texts in the Bible on heaven be almost exclusively devoted to the church?  There will doubtless be more to heaven than the church. 

Remember, the book of Revelation was written to believers who were undergoing varying levels of persecution within the Roman Empire.  This glorious vision of the church is presented in its heavenly light because Jesus is saying to the church, “It’s not always going to be this way—suffer for awhile now, but this is not your eternal destiny.”  Likewise he says to us who suffer various trials and temptations, “It’s not always going to be an uphill climb.  For now it is--as you daily battle against the temptation to things like materialism and the 1000 other spiritual forces that threaten to pull you away from God. But a time is coming when your life as Christ’s church will look very differently because of what Jesus did for you on the cross.”  Another reason why the Holy Spirit focuses the glories of heaven on the church is because this picture of the glorified bride in the arms of her husband is doubtless the sweetest thing about heaven for the believer.  As we have said many times, if the overwhelming attraction of heaven for you is not to be with Jesus, then you are at present almost certainly not headed there.  That is the main glory of heaven and that is the greatest heavenly blessing promised to Christ’s church.  That is—the glorified church will enjoy a profound and eternal intimacy with Christ in heaven.

          The first reference to this is in verse 2 of chapter 21.  “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” God’s people are repeatedly presented as the bride of Christ in the Bible.  In Isaiah 62, the prophet says of God, “…as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”  The Lord of the universe will rejoice over his bride.  Paul tells us that Christian marriage was patterned after Christ’s relationship to the church and is intended to reflect that foundational relationship.  This is a stunning spiritual reality.  Think about two devout Christian young people who have been led of God into marriage with a partner whom they love with a holy, Christ-like love. They have carefully followed the leading of God to fulfill their desires and have become engaged.  The wedding day comes and the groom stands at the front of the church, absolutely smitten.  His pulse soars as his bride steps into the doorway.  He stands there bedazzled by her elegant beauty and grace that at that moment he comprehends in a new way will be his to enjoy for a lifetime.  Likewise, the bride looks upon her valiant knight and she is lost in what must seem to her a fantasy. The most precious dreams of her childhood are being fulfilled in this moment as she, with an enraptured gaze, beholds her hero.

          In human marriage, the exquisite intensity of that moment fades with time.  Fast forward 50 years from that moment.  The knight has fallen off his horse many times in the presence of his bride in the past half century.  Perhaps he can’t even climb up onto a horse unassisted.  That beautiful woman who stood in the doorway, in spite of the sincere reassurances of her husband to the contrary, knows that she is a pale shadow of her former self.  We live in a fallen world and although God redemptively uses the ravages of this world to make believers and their marriages deeper, the sheer energy and thrill of the wedding day simply cannot be sustained in this life.  It’s not supposed to be.  The purpose of that moment is not that it serves as a template for the rest of the marriage. 

The purpose of that moment in the life of a believer is to point to something that lies ahead in glory.  That is—the bliss that will begin when Christ sees his glorified bride the church adorned in the beauty of a holiness he purchased for her with his own blood—that moment when the church beholds her Bridegroom, the glorified Son of God in all his beauty and majesty and splendor and might.  The power and intimacy of THAT moment will never fade—it will only increase. The deepest longings of the heart of any believer who is walking with God are surely not met in the things of this earth.  They will be ultimately fulfilled only in the eternal intimacy we will enjoy with Christ in glory.

          The Holy Spirit employs another metaphor in verse three to communicate this heavenly intimacy with God.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”   You will not understand these chapters unless you see them as a completion and intensification of what God began with Adam in the garden before the fall.  In the garden, God dwelt with Adam and Eve.  Genesis 3:8 speaks of God walking with them in the garden in “the cool of the day.”  Even after the fall, God continued to dwell among his people, though in less intimate ways.  In the wilderness, he dwelt amid his people in the tabernacle.  Later, he would dwell in the Jerusalem temple and in the incarnation of Christ where as John chapter one tells us, he “tabernacled” among his people.  Finally, at Pentecost he began to dwell among his people through the indwelling of the Spirit.  In heaven God will dwell with his people in the most intimate way.  Verse 22 says, “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb.  And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” 

          There will be no temple structure where a token of God’s holy presence is confined.  The “Shekinah”—the very presence of God will be pervasive!  The continuous light of that glory will be with the saints in the same manner as the sun shines upon us on a cloudless day.  This will be the fulfillment of the blessing of Aaron in Numbers 6:25-26.  “the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; 26the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”   This is the ultimate application of that blessing—the shining face of God manifest in his "Shekinah" glory will be everywhere in our midst.  The holy of holies—that sacred space where only the Old Testament High Priest could enter once a year, will now be liberated to permeate every part of the atmosphere in which we dwell.  Revelation 22:4 carries this truth still further.  They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.”   In Exodus 33, Moses pleaded with God to see his face.  This was not because Moses was simply curious about the form of God’s countenance.  It ran deeper than that.

The deepest longings of our soul—ones that God has placed there--will be met when we see the face of God.  Wayne Grudem explains this longing. “In the face of God we will see the fulfillment of all the longing we have ever had to know perfect love, peace, and joy, and to know truth and justice, holiness and wisdom, goodness and power, and glory and beauty. As we gaze into the face of our Lord, we will know more fully than ever before that “in your presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16:11). Then will be fulfilled the longing of our hearts with which we have cried out in the past, “One thing I have asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (Ps. 27:4).  When we finally see the Lord face to face, our hearts will want nothing else. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides you....God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:25–26). Then with joy our hearts and voices will join with the redeemed from all ages and with the mighty armies of heaven singing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” [1]

Another element to this profound intimacy believers will enjoy in heaven is in the first two verses of chapter 22.  There John says, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, 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.”  These images are heavily dependent upon Ezekiel chapters 40-48 where Ezekiel lays out the details for a future temple of God that find their fulfillment here.  In chapter 47, Ezekiel speaks of a river that will flow from the “temple.”  This river gives life to all the creatures—“so everything will live where the river goes.”  Jesus carries the idea further in John 7:37.  On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  38Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.' "   Jesus is the source of these living waters that give salvation and all who come to him will have so much of it that it will flow out to others who will be able to come and drink at the well of salvation he has placed within them. 

          This speaks of our salvation and eternal life with Christ as does the other metaphor, the tree of life.  Again, the connection to Ezekiel 47 is transparent.  Verse 12 says, “And 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.”  That points toward “the tree of life” in eternity that we first see prefigured in the Garden of Eden.  You’ll remember that if Adam would have eaten of the tree of life in the garden, he would have lived forever.  In glory, the tree of life pictures a life of bliss in intimate fellowship with God that is without end.  The “perfect moments” in this life are rare and fleeting.  Those poignant experiences that reach to the depths of our soul seldom last for more than a few moments.  In eternity they will endure forever.  After we have been there 10,000 millennia, not even the first second of eternity will have elapsed.  This intimacy with God will never end.  It will only increase as our finite minds increasingly come to know the power and majesty and grace of the infinite God—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

          Intimacy with God—which we have only just skirted this morning, is only one of the blessings of heaven.  We have said nothing of the others treated in the text.  We have not even mentioned the absence of all pain and suffering.  We have not discussed our communion with the saints of all the nations around the throne of God—have not even touched on our coming reign with Christ or what it will be like with resurrected, glorified bodies or to live in a place where ALL things are new and not subject to any corruption.  We have not even mentioned the glorious blessing of being excluded from the second death—an eternity in the torments of God’s wrath in hell.  If the glory of heaven is an ocean, we have barely tasted one drop.

          The goal was not to be comprehensive.  The point was merely to awaken us to the foolishness of placing our treasure here in what is by comparison, this temporary garbage pit.  We must see the absurdity of allowing the temporal things of this earth to acquire enough mass in our lives to pull us into their orbit—when the eternal glories of heaven are at stake!  If we know our tendency to be pulled away by our covetous hearts, why would we roll the dice by continuing to accumulate more things here?  If we really understood the treasure of heaven, wouldn’t our hearts desire to work hard to simplify our lives so that we would not do anything to place at risk what God has prepared for us in heaven?  If we know our hearts are as Calvin said, “idol factories” with the capacity to make an idol out of anything in a nanosecond, why would we continue to increase our acquisition of new potential idols?  We must not fall into the trap of legalistic asceticism where we view all material things as intrinsically corrupt, but that is not the extreme most of us in North America need to be careful about.

          A second point of application is simply this—as you heard the glories of heaven in these texts in the Revelation explained, was your heart stirred?  As the treasure of heaven was placed before you to savor—as you beheld the banquet of heavenly delights Christ will spread before us—did it intensify your heart’s longing for them?  If not, then one likely explanation is—you’re not very hungry for them.  You have satisfied your spiritual appetites on the inch-deep pleasures of this world—you have given yourself over to the treasures of this life.  If you have not been stirred by these chapters, let that be a warning shot fired across the bow of your boat that is so heavy laden with the temporal ballast of this world.  Repent of your idolatries—ask God to forgive you for your pursuit of the waste of this world—of not seeking first his kingdom.  As you find your treasure increasingly in heaven, you will find you will with great joy give more and more of your earthly treasure there.  Simplifying your life will be something you do with great joy, not something you see as a terrible burden to bear.  May God grant to each one of us the grace to make our treasure in heaven for our eternal joy and the glory of our Bridegroom.

 

 

 [1]Grudem, W. A. 1994. Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine. Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House: Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, Mich

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