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Two years ago I stood at this conference and had recently finished six weeks of radiation and had just begun what would be 18 months of high-dose chemotherapy. The doctors hadn’t given us much hope in the early days of that fight for a long life—or even past a couple of years. But God had plans to blow past the statistics and accomplish a few more things. To be here today and to be here today to preach from Revelation 21-22 is not only an honor but also one of the many mercies of God on my life.
I want to talk with you about hope today.
Some of you come here today with your resignation letter half-written, ready to throw in the towel.
But if you listen to these talks, from beginning to end, God has been saying, “I’m for you. I have no abandoned you. You are not alone.” God has been talking to me, too.
Don’t be such the “shepherd’s shepherd” that you can’t be shepherded.
Hope is necessary for all who cling to Christ. But hope is especially necessary for the pastor.
Without it he finds himself tossed about in a world that can be beautiful and spectacular (weddings, reconciliations, wayward children saved, healthy births after years of praying) but also cruel.
Earlier this year, in roughly a one-month period around Christmas time, we had an 8-year-old special-needs boy who went in to the dentist and had an allergic reaction to the anesthesia and died. And we had to walk into that room and cry and cover our mouths.
We just about had that family settled into care, but we pastor a young church. And then another call came. We had a 3-year-old girl who had a heart transplant but then rejected the heart a year later. It was heavy when you have a 3-year-old at home and you’re doing a funeral for a toddler.
I finished preaching on the victory of Christ. We had a beautiful young woman talk after the service, then that night got discombobulated and walked into a propeller plane and lose her hand, eye, and clavicle.
All this on top of church discipline cases, writing sermons, trying to love my wife like Jesus loves the church, and gather kindling around the hearts of my children that the Holy Spirit might one day ignite for his glory.
I point at all these things knowing I have a great staff and none of these things were done simply by me. And what gives me such an appreciation for so many of you is that you live this and don’t have a team of guys that you love and trust.
Brothers, we are in many ways first responders on the front lines of a cosmos in rebellion. Sometimes we are there before the paramedics because the damage is on the inside. When the sorrows and loss of a sinful world land, they land in the lives of people we love and have been called to serve.
The First Fruits of Hope
The promises are real (Gen 3, 12, 17, 49. Numbers 24, Deut. 17, 18, 2 Samuel 7, Isaiah 7, 9, 53). Jesus fulfilled them. Hecame, He lived, He died, and He rose from the grave. He imputed to me his righteousness and He called me.
I wasn’t looking for Him. God says whom he predestines He calls—and think back on His ruthless and aggressive pursuit and protection of met. It brings me a staggering amount of hope.
The guy in the locker next to be aggressively evangelized me. God did that. He didn’t ask me; he didn’t wait for all my questions to be answered. God opened my heart. My posture changed. He came and got me. He rescued me from the muck and the mire—and he didn’t do it to hurt you. We laugh at the Israelites who grumble right after the rescue. But we do this too.
Acts 8:29: God calls Philip into ministry
Acts 10:19: God calls Peter to Cornelius’ house
I felt this call to The Village Church. I kicked and argued and tried to walk. The last place in the world I wanted to stay was Dallas, the center of evangelicalism. I said everything in my job interview that shouldn’t have gotten me a job. (What would you change? “I wouldn’t know where to start.”) But God wasn’t having it.
When I feel loss of hope, I remember that the Spirit does not lead where he does not empower. Usually I am trying to carry something I wasn’t meant to carry.
Graeme Goldsworthy, “Hope without a time of fulfillment is a delusion.”
We are not a delusional people—even if outsiders think we are absurd. Our hopes are not bankrupt. We are not gambling.
In my remaining time I want to talk about the finish line.
The Fulfillment of Hope
The World Renewed: Revelation 21:1-8
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 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. 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 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.” 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 from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But 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.”
We know this isn’t just a spiritual ethereal existence. This is real and it’s physical.
What we know from the promises of the prophets is that it’s a different kind of world than the world you and I walk on now. It’s one remade.
Isaiah 35:1 tells us that the deserts shall blossom as the rose. So when we think of the desert, we think of dead wasteland, but the Bible says that in the new earth, the deserts are going to bloom like roses.
Amos 9:13 says that the plowman shall overtake the reaper and that the mountains shall drop sweet wine. The mountains this side of consummation are spectacular and they provoke awe, but we Look forward to the new earth’s mountain ranges, where fruitless rocks and frigid snow will put forth abundance, produce sweet wine.
Isaiah 65, we learn that there will be no more sounds of weeping heard on the earth, that the days of God’s people shall be like the days of the tree, that on the earth the wolf and the lamb shall feed together. So all this violence is gone.
We see in Isaiah 11 that no one will hurt or destroy anything in all of God’s holy mountain. And this is true because evil will be vanquished to the lake of fire
Habakkuk 2:14 says the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as waters cover the sea.
1 Corinthians 15 says our body will be a resurrected body. This is a text the Lord used to minister to me during brain cancer.
There is coming a day where we aren’t looking forward to this day. That glorious day won’t be future. On that day, we will be here!
A deer panting for water is not a cute text for a coffee mug. One thing I ask is to behold his beauty. Someday it will be now, not future.
C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle:
The things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story.
All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
Revelation 21:9, “Then 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.’” We will get to see the fruit of God’s work and see the Bride. This is surely more spectacular than when the door swings open and we see our earthly bride. We get to see her!
And it’s here! It’s no longer a future hope. The kingdom has come in its fullness!
And 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, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.
(Revelation 21:10-21 ESV)
The first time we see the church in Revelation (chs. 2-3), it doesn’t look like this.
At Ephesus they had great doctrine but forgot their first love. Good doctrine without love is not good doctrine.
At Smyrna they faced tribulation and poverty.
In Pergamum they put up with teachings that went against the grain and hope of the Gospel.
At Thyatira they loved the sensuality of Jezebel and sexual immorality.
In Sardis they were dead.
In Philadelphia they had little power but were clinging tightly to Jesus.
And in Laodicea they were lukewarm and indifferent towards the things of God. They considered themselves rich and prosperous but were pitiful, blind, poor and naked.
I think many of us can relate to these churches. There are groups within the church I pastor that lean in these directions. And my understanding is that to be a faithful shepherd I’m on the fringes, warning those who are idle, encouraging the timid, and being patient with the weak. That can be exhausting. This is the fire where our hope burns the brightest, and our confidence in God’s power to save must hold us steadfast. The good news for each of us today regardless of what lay waiting for us at home is that it won’t end this way.
Where is everyone of these in the vision of Revelation 21?
1 Corinthians 3:11-13. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.
There are days that I feel like I’m building with wood, hay, and straw. There are people who have been deeply embedded in our community of faith and get outed in their sins. People agree with my rebuke as though I was talking to someone else.
But look at the bride! God is faithfully cleansing his bride.
The Church will cease to be the suffering servant church and be the church triumphant.
We are one day closer. New mercy every morning till everything is fulfilled.
God’s Dwelling and the Trophies of the Nations (Rev. 21:22-27)
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the 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. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
(Revelation 21:22-27 ESV)
We’ll no longer need a tabernacle. The dwelling place for God is with man! There will be no more shadows. This is the sum of the entire bible! Every aspect of hope and redemption is wrapped up in this one phrase.
By it’s light the Nations walk. Think about how hard unity and diversity can be here. But it will be fulfilled.
All that is truly good and beautiful in this world will reappear there and be renewed there, purified and enhanced in the perfect setting.
You have to get over you. I don’t know how else to say it. Don’t hedge your bets. Don’t keep one foot in this world “just in case.” Straddling two world is a miserable way to live life. Sell out. Don’t put your hope in you! You won’t be strong enough.
This is why Paul can call his troubles “light and momentary.” This is why anything here isn’t worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed.
Paul says we need to be “all in.”
Some of you might be in the pastorate becomes it seems like a sweet gig.
Some of you don’t really believe this, and you need to repent.
But for those of us who believe, let’s hope and believe. We’re a couple of days closer! It’s gonna happen. We’re going to get there. We’re going to see the city—we’re going to be the city!
Hope is essential for those who shepherd the bride of Christ. There is a finish line, a day when all will be made new.