The Ultimate Christmas Story

Revelation 22.1-17

In Genesis 1 & 2, we’re told that God created a perfect world, where heaven and earth were one, a good world where there was no sin and no death. No crime. No hatred or animosity. No need for escape. It was paradise. Sounds a lot like what we just read. But that good world was fractured when we chose to rebel against our Creator, heaven and earth were divided, and now sin and death are a part of our experience on this planet. And if that were the end of the story, it would be a sad tale indeed. Not a movie we would want to see. A sad and hopeless tale full of despair. Maybe that’s where some of you are today. You look around and see a broken world and wonder, “What’s the point?” You are desperately looking for meaning, something that gives purpose to life. You totally get the fractured world part, but the notion of paradise seems like a fairy tale. Surely there’s something more.

There is. You see, even in the midst of our rebellion, God provided hope. A Promise. One day He would send a Hero to heal the fracture caused by our rebellion and to rescue us from sin and death…and not only us, but all of creation. And as history unfolded, God’s people clung to that promise as prophesies of the coming Hero created a fuller, richer picture of who He would be and what He would do. A King, a Priest, the Suffering Servant, a Sacrificial Lamb, the Conqueror of death and the Son of Man.

The good news is: the Hero has come. First Advent. Jesus came as a seemingly helpless Baby in a manager, as Andi read for us in Luke 2. The angels alert us that this is no ordinary Baby, but is in fact, the Hero we’ve been waiting for…the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus, God’s Son. He is the One destined to bring peace on earth…peace with God and men. And not only peace, but also joy and love. He is the One in whom we hope.

However since His First Advent, life on planet earth has continued seemingly uninterrupted, sin and death are still a part of our experience…yet something incredibly significant has changed. The reconciliation of heaven and earth has begun…by believing the truth of God’s Word, we can have true hope, peace, joy and love despite the chaos we live in.

Now flash forward to the end of the Story here in Revelation 22. John opens with this beautiful scene…imagery that reminds of the garden in Genesis 1 & 2. A crystal clear river flowing with living water. The tree of life. The removal of the curse. God’s presence. Seeing Him face to face (Matthew 5; Numbers 6). Realizing the purpose for which God created us…to rule and to reign with Him forever. It’s a picture of paradise, a return to Eden. Perfect peace. Unimaginable joy. Basking in the radiance of God’s love. The consummation of our hope. The end is like the beginning, only better. Our return to the garden is not by going back, but going forward. So paradise lost in Genesis 3 is regained here in Revelation 22.

The imagery of a throne reminds us who is in charge…who has the right to rule. The battle for planet earth will be won…the head of the serpent who deceived the hearts of men will be decisively crushed. The throne of God and the Lamb is a picture of the kingdom of God realized on planet earth…(Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven). Heaven and earth become one again, they are reconciled, the spiritual and physical reunited. Satan & His effects, nowhere to be found. And did you hear what John said? There will be no need for a light of any kind…God is the light and in Him there is no darkness at all. His perfect reign over a restored creation. It really is an incredible picture. God’s purpose for His creation being fulfilled.

After giving us a vision of this return to paradise, John warns us…only those prepared will enter. The time is short and only those who take seriously the return of Jesus, His Second Advent will be prepared. How? By believing that Jesus is the promised Hero who in His first Advent came and lived a perfect life…,and out of His great love for us, He died a bloody, horrible death…the death we deserved, but was raised again to life the third day, conquering both sin and death so that we could have life… eternal life forever, eternal life that begins the moment you trust Him, a life lived on this earth not for selfish gain, but for His purposes. A life lived out of love for your Savior and those He created. That’s the gospel. And when you believe that, death no longer brings fear, but hope…hope that we will see Jesus, our Hero face to face, that we will be united with Him in paradise.

Don’t give up, don’t give in, Jesus wins Jesus’ triumphant return is once again good news of great joy for the clean-robed ones, the ones who have trusted in Him; they will eat from the tree of life…and reign forever with Jesus.

But for those who have not trusted in Jesus it is a warning, paradise will be closed. Come to the waters. Jesus is…the Morning Star who signals the end of darkness and the coming of eternal Light, the Alpha and the Omega, the Hero of our story…only those who have washed their robes may enter the eternal city, only those who have trusted in Jesus. Through John’s vision God says to us “come”. Let the one who is thirsty come. Let the one who wishes take God’s life giving water without cost. Come. If you haven’t trusted in Jesus, I hope you will reconsider. His invitation is simple and straightforward…Come to the waters. By believing that Jesus did come as the promised Hero, in His first Advent to offer Himself as the Lamb, the perfect sacrifice for our sin,,our rebellion against our Creator God, and by believing that He is coming again as the Conquering King to rule and to reign, you can receive the greatest gift of all…eternal life. Hope. Peace. Joy. Love. All wrapped into one. In the present, the ability to view the circumstances of your life from a different perspective, from an eternal one, as opportunities to love others and bring glory to Him. In the future, paradise forever with Creator God.

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on our Genesis series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on twitter: @ccclancaster

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Black and white

The battle lines are clearly drawn. Receive the mark of the beast and life continues seemingly undisturbed – buy, sell, trade, etc. Refuse the mark and life becomes increasingly more difficult. If life is viewed from a purely earthly perspective, then the choice seems pretty clear. Viewed from a heavenly perspective the choice is likewise obvious. But gaining that celestial perspective while rooted on terra firma is a challenging task.

Revelation 14. We’re reminded that while things appear bleak for the followers of God on earth, it is the pursuers of the beast who are in real danger. They will experience God’s divine wrath poured out in full strength. Follow the beast or follow God. Those who trail the beast will live today, only to die eternally. Those who chase after God may die today, but will live eternally. Two reapings. One to eternal life. The other to eternal torment.

But what about the third group? Those who have signed up to follow God, they’ve trusted in Jesus, but are unwillingly to lay down their lives. They live in-between kind of lives. They want to enjoy the benefits of the peaceful life promised by the beast here on planet earth, while still anticipating a future home in heaven…they long for the best of both worlds. However, John doesn’t seem to have a category for the inbetweeners, believers who are unwilling to persevere (who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus). So what does that mean for us today? The church today seems to subsist in compromise, especially the American church. And that can’t make God very happy. It should be one or the other. You are for Him, or against Him. Being for Him doesn’t mean that you won’t still make bad choices at times, but it means that you are making the conscious decision to follow Him no matter the cost. That takes courage and a great deal of trust. May God give us a greater ability to see life from His perspective and courage to follow Him.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Terrifying Encounter

Three years I spent with Him. Three years of amazing, jaw-dropping ministry, seeing everything from the dead being raised to demons being cast out, the lame walking, the blind seeing, the sick healed, the feeding of a great multitude, Him walking on the water…and then, the beatings, the mocking, the persecution, the flogging, the crucifixion, His death…and then His resurrection, His commission, His ascension. It was an incredible three years. And even afterwards with Peter and the guys in Jerusalem, seeing the gospel spread out to the Gentiles, the death of my brother James… I wrote down my experiences, telling the story of Jesus. The most amazing thing to me was His love for me. I never got over it. I spent some time in Ephesus and wrote a few letters to the flock there. But after a lifetime of ministry, nothing prepared me for that encounter…

Revelation 1. John the disciple whom Jesus loved thought he had seen it all, and as he begins his account of Revelation, he is reminded of Jesus’ sacrifice and His great love. He also exhorts his readers, reminding them that they had been called to be a kingdom of priests, the same charge that Moses had given to the children of Israel in Exodus 19. So far, so good. And then John sees Jesus…and falls like a dead man. Here’s how John describes the scene: “Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.” This was not the carpenter from Galilee…This was the All Powerful Son of God, and John was terrified. And from this opening chapter in the book, there is no doubt who this story is about and who is in control!

Revelation is one of my favorite books to walk through. It would be easy to conclude that a book that deals predominantly with future things has little value for us today, but that could not be further from the truth. Revelation is the consummation of the story that began in Genesis. It is the conclusion of the cosmic battle between good and evil that has be waged for millennia. And we care who wins because our fate is tied up with the people of God throughout the ages. I hope you can journey with us through this terribly wonderful book!

Until next time…stay salty.