Sunday, February 2, 2014

Alpha & Omega

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, the 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, “See, the home of God is among mortals.  He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4he will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”  And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”  Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  Then 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 as a gift from the spring of the water of life.  
Revelation 21:1-6 (NRSVA)

It is common to talk about the things that we will see and enjoy in heaven – gold streets, gates of pearl, a river of life, and so-on.  I would like for us to concentrate on some of the things we will NOT see in heaven…some noticeably-absent human conditions in heaven:

1.             DISTRACTION

Quite a few Bible passages[1] give us the plain picture that heaven is a place of worship.  It is something that we are going to do eternally.  On earth our worship is often distracted by things and people around us who don’t care to worship.

Frankly, the fact that heaven will be filled with worship is going to upset some folks who don’t think too much of worship here on earth!

We should do our best to avoid the distractions of this life as we prepare to do worship in heaven.

2.             DEPRESSION

Heaven is not going to be a place filled with gloom.

You show me the path of life.  In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.   Ps 16:11 (NRSVA)
I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.   John 15:11 (NRSVA)

Our heavenly home is going to be a place filled with life – alive with beauty and splendor provided by God, himself.  Even the walls of heaven, constructed of precious stones, gates of pearl, with gold-gilded streets and gloried light sparkling everywhere will make it an impossible place to be gloomy.

An earthly comparison – when we moved to New Orleans to attend seminary we lived in a mobile home.  It was a good one, but it wasn’t Heaven.  What made me think of Heaven while we were there, far from home, was Norwood and Barbara Hingle.  They were a Methodist couple that “adopted” this lonely bunch of Brownworth Baptists from Florida.  We were strangers and the Hingle family loved us, fed us, and played with our children.  It was the feeling of being accepted that took away our depression. 

And so it will be in Heaven to a far greater degree; we are people of joy.
You won’t see Distraction, Depression or…

3.             DARKNESS

Heaven is a place of light.  A number of passages in Revelation describe the throne as a place from which the light brightly shines.

Elizabeth and I like our surroundings to be cheerfully bright.  We have it that way at our house in Thomasville.  But not every abode is cheerful.  When I came back from Vietnam in 1968 we were stationed in Ft. Knox, near Louisville.  As a married man I was entitled to live off-base.   As a low-ranking enlisted man I couldn’t afford much. 

We checked out one apartment that two elderly sisters wanted to rent.  It was really one room in an old rickety house.  You shared the only bath with the sisters.  Lighting was a light bulb that hung by a single wire from the middle of the ceiling.  It was held together by masking tape!  The floor sloped towards the river.  As we looked at that lonely room I saw a mosquito fly by – he looked like a B-29 looking for a bombing target!  The sisters kept their ad in the papers for the whole time we were stationed there!  It may still be running! 

That place was not Kansas, Dorothy…neither was it a good advertisement for Heaven.  The fact is that God prefers light. 

Everything that describes anything apart or different from God is couched in terms of darkness.  The place outside of heaven is described as the outer darkness.  The abyss is a place of darkness.  Darkness is the place of stumbling and falling. 

Practice being people of light!
No Distraction, Depression, Darkness, or…

4.             DECEPTION

Heaven is a place of truth.
But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. 
     Revelation 21:27 (NRSVA)
Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.     Revelation 22:15 (NRSVA)

Lying is nearly a universally-accepted practice today; unfortunately this is true even in Christian circles.  A little boy in Sunday School was asked to define lying for the class.  He said, “A lie is an abomination before the Lord…and a very present help in time of trouble.”

Deception is going to be noticeably-absent in heaven.  For now, it is a strange thing that the One who called himself the Way, the TRUTH and the Life, has plenty of followers who think telling the truth, or standing for truth, no matter how costly, is optional!

Deception is going to be missing in heaven…we ought to practice the way of truth here!

Finally, besides the absence of Distraction, Depression, Darkness and Deception, you won’t see any…

5.             DEATH

Above all things Heaven is a place of life, because it is the place of God.  According to Paul’s protégé, Timothy, Jesus Christ abolished death (2 Ti 1:10).  The Bible is all about life from Genesis to Revelation:
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.  On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.                        Revelation 22:1-2 (NRSVA)
When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:  “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”   1 Corinthians 15:54 (NRSVA)

You won’t see death in the eternity of God’s new heaven and earth.  Perhaps my favorite piece of poetry is from the 16th century by John Donne.  The poet personifies death; he speaks to it as if it had a face – calls it by name:

Death be not proud, tho’ some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; 
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.     
For one short sleepe past, and we wake eternally;
And Death, thou shalt be no more,
Death, thou shalt die.[2]

Death…you’re gonna die!  That’s bold! 
We are used to saying things like,

·        Well…we all die sooner or later
·        All good things come to an end…
·        You don’t get out of this world alive…

What can we say about the end of death?  Consider the Alpha and Omega.  You have probably heard a preacher say those are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet.  Jesus said that’s his identity.  He is the beginning and the ending, first and last.  He also said he gives from the fountain eternal life. 

For the believer in Jesus Christ, the beginning of life with him is the same as the ending…and the middle.  It is life, life, life – all the way!

Now, the other part hardly needs to be said; but here it is:

For the unbeliever, the one who has never trusted in Christ, the stairway stops at the foot of the cross.  In order to enter into God’s forgiveness, you must come via that cross.  It is only the blood of Christ that cleanses us from sin.

[1] Revelation 4:9-11, 7:11,12, j19:6
[2] Excerpt from Sonnet 10, Holy Sonnets 

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